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Baptism: Why All the Controversy Part 2: The First Slight Change--Method, Affusion or Pouring

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Baptism Santa CruzIt is important to know what the Bible teaches about baptism, but it is also helpful to know why certain errors in teaching about Biblical baptism began. One of these errors developed early starting in 251 A.D.


During the first 200 years of the church, all sorts of ceremonies developed about baptism, including offering a prayer or exorcism over the water to cleanse and sanctify it before the person was baptized (Cyprain). This would eventually become the holy water that is now used to baptize infants in several denominations. However, one of the first major changes to Biblical baptism came in the way of baptizing those who were sick or dying in their beds by affusion (aspergo) or the sprinkling or scattering of small amounts of water on a person. A Roman bishop by the name of Novation was one of the first to begin using this practice, and although it received limited usage until the 4th Century, it opened the doorway for the discussion of “abridgment or abbreviation” to the practice of immersion for specific reasons.


The reasoning of many who eventually came around to this practice was this; “receipt of baptism was considered so necessary for salvation that it was better to give a substitute version that not to give it all” (Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church 357). Essentially, this opened the door to a major change in baptism that made this practice of sprinkling or pouring for baptism an accepted exception to the Biblical practice of immersion. The church leaders of that time held that baptism was still for the removal of sins, but a change in how it was administered would not affect the person’s salvation, especially if they were “physically unable” to be immersed.


It is interesting to note that for over 200 years, if someone was sick of dying, they were still told to be immersed regardless of their health issues. It was not for another 100 – 150 years that this option of sprinkling or affusion was offered to those who were not sick or dying, but the roadmap leading away from God’s teaching had already been established by Novation and accepted by many of his peers.


We cannot be a part of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection without our own death (repentance), burial (baptism), and resurrection (new creation) by being immersed in water as God declares in the New Testament (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-8). We should not tinker with the plan of God, even if we feel that it has good intentions behind it!

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