“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20, ESV)

We are familiar with this passage as we think of our ongoing mission of spreading the Gospel to all nations. This passage is also very commonly used when we celebrate the ordinance of baptism; especially in Baptist churches or those that practice a baptistic form of baptism. We, as Baptists use this passage as an explanation of why we are Baptists to begin with, differentiated from other denominations that practice infant baptism or christening.

There are many other passages of Scripture that are recited and/or referred to during times of baptism. The teachings they provide include:

  1. Jesus began His ministry here on earth by being baptized. Thus He identified with the sinners He came to save. (Matt 3:13-17)
  2. After His death and resurrection Jesus commissioned His disciples to baptize. Thus disciples identify with their Lord and Savior. (Matt 28:16-20)
  3. The mission of the Church was inaugurated on the Day of Pentecost. The Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation was preached by Peter and those who gladly heard his word were baptized. (Acts 2:22-41)
  4. The teachings of the Apostles explained the meanings of baptism. (Galatians 3:23-29; Colossians 2:6-15; Ephesians 4:1-8; Romans 6:1-4 & I Peter 3:18-22)
  5. Thus, we as Christ’s disciples, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, confess with the Apostle Paul: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:3-7)

So these are the things we as Baptists usually think about when it comes to baptism, but let’s dive a little deeper into baptism. For instance what does the word “baptism” mean and is it always used in association with the rite of baptizing people with water? And, if it means more than just the correct practice of the ritual of baptism, what does it mean for us?

The word “baptize” is not a translation from the original Greek into English, it is a transliteration. It means to “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge and to overwhelm.” It did not get properly translated into English because when the first English translations of the Bible were published the practice of infant christening was the prominent and only legal form of baptism. Anyone who practiced anything different was considered a heretic and was subject to Church Discipline, persecution and even punishment. People like the Anabaptists and the first English Baptists, who knew what the word “baptize” literally meant and who practiced believer’s baptism as described in Matthew 28, were very often severely persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church and most Protestant Churches.

Since christening usually involved sprinkling water on the child’s head, not immersing the child in water, the translators, who were more fearful of the powers that be rather than the God of the Word, left the word untouched except to “anglicize” it into a new word. Ever since, the word “baptize” and its derivatives; baptism and Baptist, have remained a part of our language. Yet, even if we believe we are practicing what the Bible teaches when we baptize believers by immersing them in water, I believe we are missing some crucial truth regarding the depth of what baptism means.

Matthew 28:16 teaches us that we are supposed to be obedient to Jesus like the disciples who “went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them”; so we go to church on Sunday. Verse 17 teaches us that we ought to worship Jesus like the disciples did, so we sing some hymns, listen to some words and pray in church on Sunday. Jesus says, in verse 18 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, so when we pray we like to say “Lord Jesus” in our prayers. Verse 19 teaches us that Jesus wants us to give money to missions and invite our neighbors to church. Then if someone accepts Jesus they should get baptized. And when we baptize somebody we should use the exact words “I baptize you, my brother or sister, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” just before we dip them in the water. Finally verse 20 teaches us to teach new Christians to go to church on Sunday, sing some hymns and listen to some words, give to missions and get people to accept Jesus…etc.; and oh, by the way, Jesus is with us no matter what, right?

We even measure our success, compared to other churches, by carefully counting the number of decisions and baptisms each year as well as attendance at Sunday School and Church. But, in all we have come to comfortably believe about the Great Commission, I wonder if we haven’t missed something about what being baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” really means.

Dallas Willard wrote a book titled “The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship.” A quote or two from that work is worth considering. “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ…” “It is possible to have the administration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Word of God and to have it be simply a human exercise.” “A. W. Tozer expressed his “feeling that a notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles—the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we want to!” 

To be baptized into the Name of the Trinitarian God means much more than just getting wet for Jesus. After people are baptized in water they dry off. And I still believe that being immersed in water is something we must do in obedience to Christ for will the reasons the New Testament gives for obeying Christ in baptism. But while we follow the “letter of the law” so to speak, do we omit the weightier, or perhaps deeper part of the commission to be baptized?

To be baptized is to be immersed, submerged and overwhelmed by the water we are baptized in. Baptism is only for disciples and disciples are followers not just believers. The disciples in Matthew 28 were taught to teach baptized disciples to observe all that Jesus has commanded. But, we so very often dry off our bodies after baptism and also dry up our commitment to obey Jesus.

The “Great Omission” in the Great Commission is our comfortably numb lack of obedience to Jesus Christ, His authority to command not only in heaven but right here on earth, right now in our lives; and our presumption is to just do the rituals the way they are prescribed, then Jesus will be with us.

I believe that baptism means that we are supposed to allow our whole lives to be immersed in God and all that He is as our Father, as our Savior and as our Guide. Being immersed in God is so much more than going to church on Sunday, singing some songs, listening to some words, giving to missions and hoping that our church will grow faster than the other churches around us. Being immersed in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit means to be overwhelmed and drowning in the water of resurrection life that is revealed to us in the Bible and all that the Bible reveals to us about our relationship to God the Creator, Redeemer and Life Giving Spirit; and our relationships to His creation, the people around us and one another.

True Biblical disciples of Christ dive deeper than just the ritual of baptism and they never dry off.