Baptism by Triune Immersion

The Grace Brethren Churches are some of many churches that practice baptism by triune immersion (lovingly called “triple dippers”).  I don’t haggle over this issue a lot, but I have claimed on occasion that our practice is the original historical mode of baptism.  In other words, when the apostles went to obey Christ’s command in Matthew 28, they baptized people by immersing them three times, signifying their belief in the triune God.

In the current issue of Christianity Today (July, 2005. “Is Christ Divided?”) Timothy George makes the following observation about the early church’s practice of baptism. “Next, turning toward the sunrise, he would say, “And I embrace thee, O Lord Jesus Christ!” This would be followed by immersion three times (emphasis mine) in the name of the Triune God.” 

Thanks to Steve Makofka, who informed me of this article in his blog.

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2 Responses to Baptism by Triune Immersion

  1. Erin_Hib says:

    This confuses me… I’ve actually never understood or maybe even never heard the purpose of the Triune Immersion… But I’ve thought that if baptism is supposed to be a representation of new life with Christ where the believer is burried with Christ (going under water- the grave) and raised up (coming out of the water- raising from the grave) it would make sense to do it only one time.  That wasn’t really stated in a form of a question, but I’m just confused about it I suppose. 

  2. longhikes says:

    Ah yes, the confusion is everywhere!  And the best I can figure, here’s where the confusion comes from…
    There are TWO kinds of baptism, not just one.  John the Baptist said that he baptized with water (type one) and that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (type two).  The confusion comes, I think, from mixing up these two.
    When Jesus commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he was instructing us in water baptism (Matthew 28:18-20).  Note that nowhere in Christ’s command does he say anything about death, burial and resurrection.  No.  The whole point of water baptism is the statement that we now believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  So the symbolism is triune – one ceremony, three immersions.  It is enlightening to note that the groups who have simplified baptism to just sprinkling or pouring still retain the symbolism of the Trinity – they do three sprinkles or three pours.  The church for centuries considered any act of baptism that had only one immersion to be heretical – because it was a departure from believing in the Trinity.  So water baptism is intended to demonstrate belief in and submission to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
    It is baptism with the Holy Spirit (not water baptism) that has to do with death, burial and resurrection. Romans 6:3-5 says that this baptism puts us “in Christ” and therefore causes us to benefit from “his death.”  This Spirit baptism makes it so that “we will certainly also be united with [Jesus] in his resurrection.”  Note that this Spirit baptism actually saves a person.  It doesn’t symbolize salvation.  It accomplishes it.  Spirit baptism is in view in I Peter 3:21 where we are told that the waters of Noah’s flood symbolize “baptism that now saves you.”  The baptism that saves (because it places us in Christ, in his death, burial and resurrection) is not water baptism but is Spirit baptism.  This Peter makes clear when he says this baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ ….”
    So water baptism symbolizes the Trinity.  Holy Spirit baptism actually accomplishes our identity with Christ (death, burial and resurrection) and thereby saves us.
    I don’t really have a problem with people having water baptism symbolize the Trinity AND adding to it symbolism of what happens in Spirit baptism (death, burial and resurrection), but I haven’t found that practice in the Scriptures and I have found it to cause lots of confusion.

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