BAPTISM
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According to the Watchtower Society's teaching, the word "Baptism" is defined as follows:

The Greek ba'-pti-sma refers to the process of immersion, including submersion and emergence; it is derived from the verb ba'-pto, meaning “dip.” (Joh 13:26) In the Bible, “to baptize” is the same as “to immerse.” In illustration of this, The Holy Bible, An Improved Edition, renders Romans 6:3, 4 as follows: “Or, are ye ignorant, that all we who were baptized (immersed) into Christ Jesus were baptized (immersed) into his death? We were buried therefore with him through our baptism (immersion) into his death.” (See also Ro; ED.) The Greek Septuagint uses a form of the same word for “dip” at Exodus 12:22 and Leviticus 4:6. (See NW ftns.) When one is immersed in water, one is temporarily “buried” out of sight and then lifted out. (Insight On the Scriptures, 1988, Vol. 1, p.249).

Although some other unconventional denominations do not offer baptism (such as The Church of Christ Scientist, the Salvation Army, Association of Unity Churches, the Unification Church, and the Society of Friends, a.k.a. Quakers, ), the Watchtower Society teaches that the act of baptism is a very important part of Christian life. It is their teaching that all true believers must undergo a Watchtower Society-approved baptism in order to become a recognized member of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

 

THE ACT OF BAPTISM

According to the Watchtower Society's teaching, the mode of baptism should be immersion-only since that was the implied description in Scripture (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:9-10, John 3:23, Acts 8:38). This isn't an unusual viewpoint, as it is also shared by denominations such as the Apostolic Church, the Church of God in Christ, Baptists, and the Messianic Jews, to name a few. The view of Baptism taught to Jehovah's Witnesses is as follows:

Jesus told his followers: “Go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them.” (Matthew 28:19) Jesus himself set the example by being baptized in water. He was not sprinkled with water, and he did not just have some water poured over his head. (Matthew 3:16)... Christian baptism therefore means being fully dipped, or immersed, in water... Baptism publicly indicates your desire to serve God. It shows that you are delighted to do Jehovah’s will... (What Does the Bible Really Teach, 2005, p.175, para. 3-4).

 

QUALIFYING FOR BAPTISM

According to the Watchtower Society, there is a specific progression of events that must occur before a prospective member is deemed eligible for baptism into the denomination:

To qualify for baptism, however, you must take definite steps... By taking in knowledge of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, perhaps by means of a systematic study of the Bible... Attending the congregation meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a big help in this regard. It is important to attend such meetings... As faith grows in your heart, you will find it hard to keep what you have learned to yourself... you will want to share in the organized preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At that point, feel free to talk things over with the Witness who is teaching you the Bible. If it appears that you qualify for the public ministry, arrangements will be made for you and your teacher to meet with two of the congregation elders... If these elders see that you understand and believe basic Bible teachings, are living in harmony with God’s principles, and truly want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they will let you know that you qualify to share in the public ministry as an unbaptized publisher of the good news.... you may need to make some changes in your life-style and habits in order to qualify for the public ministry... Hence, before you ask about becoming an unbaptized publisher, you need to be free of serious sins, such as sexual immorality, drunkenness, and drug abuse... Repentance must be followed by conversion, or ‘turning around.’ You must do more than feel regret. You need to reject your former way of life and be firmly determined that you will do what is right from now on... There is another important step to take before being baptized. You must dedicate yourself to Jehovah God... When you dedicate yourself to Jehovah God in earnest prayer, you promise to give him your exclusive devotion forever... you are moved to serve him without holding anything back or setting any limits in worshiping him. Anyone who wants to follow God’s Son, Jesus Christ, has to “disown himself.” (Mark 8:34) We disown ourselves by making sure that personal desires and goals do not stand in the way of our complete obedience to God. Before you can be baptized, then, doing Jehovah God’s will must be your main purpose in life...
(What Does the Bible Really Teach? 2005, pp.175 -179, para. 4- 16)

When a prospective member decides he or she wants to be baptized as a Jehovah's Witness, that one must first demonstrate that he or she fully understands the teachings which are unique to the Jehovah's Witness denomination. This is done by reviewing a long series of questions with the prospective member in order to affirm that the individual does, indeed, qualify for baptism:

When an unbaptized publisher makes known to the elders his desire to be baptized he should be encouraged to read carefully the "Questions for Those Desiring to be Baptized" found on pages 183 - 215 [Our note: this is a total of 104 questions]... the prospective baptism candidate may use his personal notes made on a separate sheet of paper and may have this book open during the discussions... The presiding overseer [now called the Coordinator of Elders] should be informed of the person's desire to be baptized... the presiding overseer will make arrangements for some of the elders to have discussions based on that material... Usually it is best to review questions with each baptism candidate individually, not in a group. By having each candidate comment on every question, the elders will get a clear picture of his depth of understanding, leaving no doubt as to whether he is ready for baptism or not... A husband and wife may be interviewed together... The elders will make sure that a person to be baptized has acquired a reasonable understanding of basic Bible teachings... If the person does not understand primary Bible teachings, the elders will arrange for him to receive the necessary personal assistance so as to qualify for baptism at a later time.(Organized to do Jehovah's Will, 2005, pp. 217-218)

 

THE MEANING OF A JEHOVAH'S WITNESS BAPTISM

According to the Watchtower Society, the act of Baptism symbolizes one's dedication to Jehovah. A person is not considered to be a Jehovah's Witness until he or she undergoes their denominational baptism:

It is the baptism itself that publicly identifies you as a person who has made a dedication to God and is now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Baptism candidates are fully immersed in water to show publicly that they have made a dedication to Jehovah. (What Does the Bible Really Teach?, 2005, p.182, para. 22)

...baptism is not a mere bath. It is a symbol of something very important. Going beneath the water symbolizes that you have died to your former life course. Being raised up out of the water indicates that you are now alive to do the will of God. Remember, too, that you have made a dedication to Jehovah God himself, not to a work, a cause, other humans, or an organization. (What Does the Bible Really Teach? 2005, pp.182-183, para. 24)

According to the Watchtower Society, baptism symbolizes one's dedication to God because immediately after Jesus was baptized He dedicated Himself to God:

To be among those who enjoy that precious relationship with God, one must make a dedication to Jehovah and symbolize it publicly by water baptism. This is in obedience to Jesus’ direct command to his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you (The Watchtower, April 1, 2006, pp.21-22, para.3)

Just before starting his work as the Messiah, he presented himself to John the Baptizer for baptism. Why did Jesus take that step? “I have come down from heaven to do, not my will,” he later said, “but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6:38) To symbolize his presentation of himself to carry out his Father’s will, Jesus was baptized. (The Watchtower, May 15, 2008, p.18, para. 7).

Baptisms which have been performed under a different denomination are not viewed as valid in the Watcthower Society's point of view. Therefore, if you were previously baptized in a church of Christendom, you will still need to undergo a Jehovah's Witness baptism in order to become a legitimate member of their denomination:

Often the question is asked whether one baptized previously in a ceremony performed by some other religious group should again be baptized when coming to an accurate knowledge of the truth and making a dedication to Jehovah. Because of what has been already said, now there is compelling reason for also saying, Yes, one must be baptized again. Obviously, by any of such religious systems one was never in reality baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit,” because had he been so baptized he would have appreciated the authority and office of such true Higher Powers. And if previously dedicated to Jehovah, the individual would have separated himself from such God-dishonoring Babylonish systems even before letting them baptize him. So the act of being baptized is not the important thing, but, rather, that which the act symbolizes is the element of importance. (The Watchtower, July 1, 1956, p.406, para. 14).

THE BAPTISMAL PROCEDURE

Normally, baptisms are peformed at Jehovah's Witness conventions as well as assemblies (which are more localized versions of conventions). At the end of the baptismal talk (sermon), the group of baptismal candidates are asked two particular questions:

1. On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?

2. Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah's Witnesses in association with God's spirit-directed organization?

After answering in the affirmative in unison, the group is dismissed to change into modest bathing attire and line up at the baptismal pool to await one's turn to be immersed.

 

IS A JEHOVAH'S WITNESS BAPTISM BIBLICAL?

How does the process for a Watchtower-Society approved baptism compare to what the Bible states?

Looking in the Bible, it is notable that there is no indication that a person must first spend a period of time attending meetings, publicly preaching, and eventually answering a long series of questions before becoming eligible for baptism. In fact, just the opposite is supported in Scripture: When Peter spoke to a crowd of three thousand, these ones were immediately baptized afterward; no delay (Acts 2:37-41). Later, God sent Philip to explain scripture to an Ethiopian; it was after only one single conversation that the Ethiopian was baptized (Acts 8:26-39). In both of these cases there was no lengthy process of attending worship meetings, preaching doctrine to others, and undergoing a long roster of questions as pre-requisites to show one is ready for baptism. How does the Watchtower Society explain this difference in process? With these words:

The three thousand Jews and proselytes who listened to Peter’s speech at Pentecost likewise got baptized without delay. Of course, like the Ethiopian eunuch, they were already familiar with the basic teachings and principles of God’s Word.—Acts 2:37-41. (The Watchtower, April 1, 2006, p.27 footnote)

What's interesting, is that the Watchtower Society assumes that these ones in the Bible were "already familiar with the basic teachings and principles of God's Word", and thus were eligible for immediate baptism. HOWEVER.... they don't make this same assumption with potential members who have been closely associated with Jehovah's Witnesses for a length of time. Whether a person has been born and raised into the faith, or is simply a potential convert, the reality of the situation shows that being "already familiar" does not allow for an immediate baptism for anyone wishing to become a Jehovah's Witness. In all cases, the entire process of becoming an unbaptized publisher and undergoing a lengthy battery of questions is considered to be a requirement no matter how familiar a person already is with the Watchtower Society's teachings. There are no exceptions.

Although the Watchtower Society connects baptism with dedication to doing Jehovah's will (as shown earlier in this article), and uses Christ's preaching work as the basis for this connection, in truth the Bible itself never makes this connection. The reality is, according to Scripture, Jesus came as a man for only two reasons:

  • To die for our sins (Matthew 20:28, John 3:16-17)
  • To accomplish Jehovah's will. (John 5:36, 6:38, 14:24 )

In other words, His dedication to Jehovah was not connected to His baptism, it was connected to His original mission for coming in the first place, namely, the doing of Jehovah's will. Therefore, Christ's dedication to Jehovah was symbolized by His active submission to Jehovah (Mark 14:36, John 4:34), not by baptism.

If this is the case, then what was the reason for Him getting baptized?

According to the Bible, John the Baptizer performed baptisms at the Jordan River for people who wished to symbolize repentance from their sins (Matthew 3:1,6,11, Mark 1:4-5). Because John was performing this service for sinners, he didn't understand why Jesus Christ came to him in order to be baptized (Matthew 3:13-14), since Jesus was the only man without sin (1 Peter 2:21-22). In spite of his lack of understanding, John baptized Jesus – by immersion – immediately after which the Holy Spirit came into Jesus (Matthew 3:15-16). Scripture explains to us that Christ's baptism wasn't because of a need for him to repent, but instead it was in symbol of the forgiveness we can gain through His blood (Matthew 26:27-28, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:22, 1 John 5:5-7). This, in effect, counters the Watchtower Society's teaching that baptism is in symbol of one's dedication to Jehovah.

Although John's baptism of repentance is similar to Christ's baptism of forgiveness, these are two very different baptisms. Even though repentance leads to forgiveness (Acts 3:19, 2 Corinthians 7:10), it is the actual forgiveness in tandem with the repentance that saves, not the repentance on its own (Acts 26:18, 1 John 1:9). Forgiveness is by Grace through belief in Christ's blood (Acts 2:38). Therefore, baptism into Christ is a public display of one's belief in redemption through Christ. Because John's baptism into repentance didn't bestow the forgiveness necessary for salvation, Christ commanded that all who follow Him should be baptized under His baptism (Matthew 28:19,Acts 8:12, 16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5). And, it is notable that the Bible states that the act of Baptism into Christ hearkens back to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in connection to our Salvation through His death (Colossians 2:12-14). This is in contrast to the Watchtower Society's view that baptism is in symbol of dying to your former life course and dedicating yourself to the will of God, as mentioned earlier in this article.

 

For a video which shows the stark difference between Jehovah's Witness baptism and baptism as described in the Bible, please click here.

 

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