Christian Baptism, In Whose Name? Part 3

How do the practices of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses compare to the Biblical and Historical Records of Baptism?

An Issue to be examined

In the light of the conclusion arrived at in part one of this series, namely that the wording of Matthew 28:19 should be restored to “baptizing them in my name”, we shall now examine Christian Baptism in the context of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, believed to be Jehovah’s Organization on earth by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We should first examine the history of the baptism questions used by the Organization since its inception.

Baptism Questions of the Organization since 1870

Baptism Questions 1913

Back in the time of Bro C.T. Russell, baptism and baptism questions were very different to the current state of affairs. Note what the following book “What Pastor Russell Said” pp35-36[i] says:

“BAPTISM–Questions Asked Candidates. Q35:3:: QUESTION (1913-Z)–3–What are the questions usually put by Brother Russell when receiving candidates for water immersion? ANSWER.–You will notice that they are on broad lines–questions which any Christian, whatever his confession, should be able to answer in the affirmative without hesitation if he is suitable to be acknowledged as a member of the Church of Christ: {Page Q36}

(1) Have you repented of sin with such restitution as you are able, and are you trusting in the merit of Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins and the basis of your justification?

(2) Have you made a full consecration of yourself with all the powers that you possess–talent, money, time, influence–all to the Lord, to be used faithfully in His service, even unto death?

(3) On the basis of these confessions, we acknowledge you as a member of the Household of Faith, and give to you as such the right hand of fellowship, not in the name of any sect or party or creed, but in the name of the Redeemer, our glorified Lord, and His faithful followers.”

It was also the case that someone who had already been baptized in another Christian religion was not asked to get baptized again, as that earlier baptism was accepted and recognized as valid.

However, over time the baptism questions and requirements changed.

Baptism Questions: 1945, February 1, Watchtower (p44)

  • Have you recognized yourself as a sinner and needing salvation from Jehovah God? and have you acknowledged that this salvation proceeds from Him and through his Ransomer Christ Jesus?
  • On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for redemption, have you consecrated yourself unreservedly to do the will of God henceforth as that will is revealed to you through Christ Jesus and through God’s Word as His holy spirit makes it plain?

Still even up till at least 1955 one still did not need to be baptized to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses if one had previously been baptized in Christendom, although certain requirements were by now attached to this.

20 Someone may say, I was baptized, immersed or sprinkled or had water poured upon me in the past, but I knew nothing of the import of it as contained in the foregoing questions and the foregoing discussion. Should I be baptized again? In such a case, the answer is Yes, if, since coming to the knowledge of the truth, you have made a dedication to do Jehovah’s will, and if you had not previously made a dedication, and if the previous baptism was therefore not in symbol of a dedication. Even though the individual may know he has made a dedication in the past, if he was only sprinkled or had water poured upon him in some religious ceremony, he has not been baptized and is still due to perform the symbol of Christian baptism before witnesses in evidence of the dedication that he has made.”. (See Watchtower, July 1, 1955 p.412 par. 20.)[ii]

Baptism Questions: 1966, Aug 1, Watchtower (p.465)[iii]

  • Have you recognized yourself before Jehovah God as a sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him, the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ?
  • On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation, have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightening power of the holy spirit?

Baptism Questions: 1970, May 15, Watchtower, p.309 para. 20[iv]

  • Have you recognized yourself as a sinner and needing salvation from Jehovah God? And have you acknowledged that this salvation proceeds from him and through his ransomer, Christ Jesus?
  • On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for redemption have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to Jehovah God, to do his will henceforth as that will is revealed to you through Christ Jesus and through God’s Word as his holy spirit makes it plain?

These questions are a return to the 1945 questions and are identical in wording except for 3 small variations, “consecrated” has changed to “dedicated”, “redemption” to “salvation” and the insertion of “Jehovah God” in the second question.

Baptism Questions: 1973, May 1, Watchtower, p.280 para 25 [v]

  • Have you repented of your sins and turned around, recognizing yourself before Jehovah God as a condemned sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him, the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ?
  • On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation, have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightening power of the holy spirit?

Baptism Questions: 1985, June 1, Watchtower, p.30

  • On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?
  • Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?

Baptism Questions: 2019, from Organized Book (od) (2019)

  • Have you repented of your sins, dedicated yourself to Jehovah, and accepted his way of salvation through Jesus Christ?
  • Do you understand that your baptism identifies you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with Jehovah’s organization?

Problems arising

You will note the gradual change of wording and emphasis in the baptism questions so that since 1985, the Organization has been included in the baptism vows and the most recent vows of 2019 drop the Holy Spirit. Also, Jesus Christ is no longer involved in revealing God’s will (as in the 1973 questions) from the 1985 questions to date. How can this be said to be baptizing in the name of Jesus, when the emphasis is on Jehovah and his (earthly) organization?

Conclusions:

  • For an Organization that claims to follow the Bible closely, its baptism does not follow the trinitarian style Matthew 28:19, as of 2019, the holy spirit is not mentioned.
  • The Organization does not follow the original scriptural pattern “in my name” / “in the name of Jesus” as the emphasis is on Jehovah with Jesus as secondary.
  • Since 1985 the baptism questions make you a member of an Organization rather than a follower or disciple of Christ.
  • Was that what Jesus had in mind when instructing the disciples in Matthew 28:19? Surely NOT!

New World Translation

During the course of the research for the previous articles in this series, the author discovered that the original text of Matthew 28:19 was either “baptizing them in my name” or “baptizing them in the name of Jesus”. This raised the question as to why the Organization has not revised Matthew 28:19 when translating the New World Translation. This is especially so, given they have “corrected” the reading of the translation where they see fit. The NWT translation committee has done such things as substituting “Lord” with “Jehovah”, and omitting passages now known to be spurious, etc. It is also all the more surprising since the usual reading of Matthew 28:19 as in the NWT gives some limited support to the Trinity teaching.

However, just in reviewing the trend of the baptism questions over time gives a strong clue as to likely why nothing has been done to Matthew 28:19. Back in Bro Russell’s time, there was much more emphasis on Jesus. However, particularly since 1945, this has migrated to a strong emphasis on Jehovah with Jesus’ role gradually being minimized. There is a very strong possibility, therefore, that the NWT translation committee intentionally made no effort to correct Matthew 28:19 (unlike replacing ‘Lord’ with ‘Jehovah’ even where not justified) because that would work against the current baptism questions and their ever stronger focus on Jehovah and the Organization. If the Organization had corrected Matthew 28:19 then the baptism questions would have to strongly highlight Jesus, when the reverse is now true.

Sadly, as the previous article shows, it is not as if there was no evidence available on the historical corruption of Matthew 28:19. In modern times scholars have known about this and written about it since at least the beginning of the 1900s if not earlier.

  • A scholar named Conybeare wrote copiously about this in 1902-1903, and he is not the only one.
  • Discussing Matthew 28:19 with the trinitarian formula, back in 1901 James Moffatt in his book The Historical New Testament (1901) stated on p648, (681 online pdf) “The use of the baptismal formula belongs to an age subsequent to that of the apostles, who employed the simple phrase of baptism in to the name of Jesus. Had this phrase been in existence and use, it is incredible that some trace of it should not have survived; where the earliest reference to it, outside this passage, is in Clem Rom. And the Didache (Justin Martyr, Apol. i 61).”[vi] His translation of both the Old and New Testaments is a favourite within the Organization for his use of the Divine name and translation of John 1:1 amongst other things, so they should be aware of his comments on other matters.

Infant and Child Baptism

If you were asked the question “Does the Organization teach infant or child baptism?”, how would you answer?

The answer is: Yes, the Organization does teach child baptism.

A case in point is a Study article of March 2018 Watchtower, entitled “Are you helping your child progress to Baptism?”. (See also December 2017 Study Watchtower “Parents- Help your children become ‘Wise for Salvation’””.

Now read the following excerpt from an online article on “How the doctrine of baptism changed[vii]

“BASIC RELIGIOUS INFLUENCES

In the postapostolic age of the second century, an apostasy began that touched most Christian doctrines, leaving hardly a single Biblical truth free of Jewish or pagan ingredients.

Many factors aided this process. One major influence was superstition, which associated itself with the numerous pagan mystery cults, where sacred rites performed by an initiated priesthood with a mystic efficacy conveyed “spiritual” cleansing. As a materialistic concept of the baptismal water entered the church, the significance of the scriptural teaching of repentance in the life of the recipient was reduced. The growing belief in the mechanical efficacy of baptism went hand in hand with a failure to understand the New Testament concept of salvation by grace alone.

Christian parents who believed in the mystical, magical power of baptism administered the “sanctifying” water as early as possible in the lives of their children. On the other hand, the same concept made some parents postpone the act of baptism in fear of postbaptismal sin. For this reason the emperor Constantine was first baptized on his deathbed, because he believed that his soul would be purified of whatever errors he had committed as a mortal man through the efficacy of the mystical words and the salutary waters of baptism. However, the practice of infant baptism gradually became more firmly established, especially after the church father Augustine (died A.D. 430) undergirded the mystical efficacy of infant baptism with the doctrine of original sin.

THE POST-NICENE FATHERS

In the period of the post-Nicene fathers (c. 381-600), adult baptism continued along with infant baptism until the latter became the common practice in the fifth century. Bishop Ambrose of Milan (died 397) was first baptized at the age of 34, even though he was the son of Christian parents. Both Chrysostom (died 407) and Jerome (died 420) were in their twenties when they were baptized. About A.D. 360 Basil said that “any time in one’s life is proper for baptism,” and Gregory of Nazianzus (died 390), when answering the question, “Shall we baptize infants?” compromised by saying, “Certainly if danger threatens. For it is better to be sanctified unconsciously than to depart from this life unsealed and uninitiated.” However, when no danger of death existed, his judgment was “that they should wait till they are 3 years old when it is possible for them to hear and answer something about the sacrament. For then, even if they do not completely understand, yet they will receive the outlines.”

This statement reflects the ever-present theological dilemma when one seeks to adhere both to the New Testament prerequisites for baptism (personal hearing and acceptance of the gospel by faith) and the belief in a magical efficacy of the baptismal water itself. The latter concept gained the upper hand when Augustine made infant baptism cancel the guilt of original sin and was more solidly established as the church developed the idea of sacramental grace (the view that the sacraments serve as vehicles of divine grace).

The historical development of infant baptism in the ancient church marked a milestone at the Council of Carthage (418). For the first time a council prescribed the rite of infant baptism: “If any man says that new-born children need not be baptized … let him be anathema.””

Did you notice some points which led to the acceptance and then mandatory requirement for child baptism? Have you noticed these or similar points in your congregation or those you know?

  • The growing belief in the mechanical efficacy of baptism
    • March 2018 Study Watchtower p9 para.6 stated “Today, Christian parents have a similar interest in helping their children make wise decisions. Postponing baptism or delaying it needlessly could invite spiritual problems.”
  • went hand in hand with a failure to understand the New Testament concept of salvation by grace alone.
  • Christian parents who believed in the mystical, magical power of baptism administered the “sanctifying” water as early as possible in the lives of their children.
    • While most Christian parents would deny believing in mystical or magical power of baptism, yet the very act of accepting the baptism of their children at an early age, and in many cases putting pressure on the children “not to be left behind in the congregation as the only unbaptized youth” nonetheless signifies that in reality somehow they believe that somehow (without substance to back up their view and hence mystically) their children can be saved by early baptism.
  • On the other hand, the same concept made some parents postpone the act of baptism in fear of postbaptismal sin.
    • March 2018 Study Watchtower p11 para.12 stated, “In explaining her reasons for discouraging her daughter from getting baptized, one Christian mother stated, “I am ashamed to say that the major reason was the disfellowshipping arrangement.” Like that sister, some parents have reasoned that it is better for their child to postpone baptism until he has outgrown the childish tendency to behave foolishly.”

In the Organization is there not a prevailing view that being baptised when young will protect them when older? That same Watchtower Study article highlights the experience of Blossom Brandt who got baptized while only 10 years old.[viii]. By often highlighting the young age that some got baptized, the Organization gives tacit support and puts pressure on young children that they are missing out on something if they do not get baptized. The March 1, 1992 Watchtower said on page 27 “In the summer of 1946, I was baptized at the international convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Although I was only six years of age, I was determined to fulfil my dedication to Jehovah”.

The Organization even ignores the history records it has just quoted. After asking the question “Are children in a position to make an intelligent dedication? The Scriptures give no age requirements for baptism.”, in the 1 April 2006 Watchtower p.27 para. 8, the Watchtower article then quotes a historian saying  “Regarding first-century Christians, historian Augustus Neander states in his book General History of the Christian Religion and Church: “Baptism was administered at first only to adults, as men were accustomed to conceive baptism and faith as strictly connected.””[ix], before immediately going on to say 9 In the case of youths, some develop a measure of spirituality at a relatively tender age, while others take longer. Before getting baptized, however, a youngster should have a personal relationship with Jehovah, a sound understanding of the fundamentals of the Scriptures, and a clear comprehension of what dedication involves, as is the case with adults.”  Is this not encouraging child baptism?

A further quote from Augustus Neander about the first-century Christians is “The practice of infant baptism was unknown at this period. . . . That not till so late a period as (at least certainly not earlier than) Irenaeus [c. 120/140-c. 200/203 C.E.], a trace of infant baptism appears, and that it first became recognised as an apostolic tradition in the course of the third century, is evidence rather against than for the admission of its apostolic origin.”—History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles, 1844, p. 101-102.”[x]

Would it not be true to say that true Christianity involves attempting to return to the clear teachings and practices of the first-century Christians? Can it really be said that encouraging and allowing young children (especially under the legal age of adulthood – usually 18 years of age in most countries) to get baptized is in accord with first-century practice by the apostles?

Is Dedication to Jehovah a pre-requisite to Baptism?

Dedication means to set apart for a sacred purpose. However, a search of the New Testament / Christian Greek Scriptures reveals nothing about personal dedication to serve God or Christ for that matter. The word dedication (and its derivatives, dedicate, dedicated) are only used in the context of Corban, gifts dedicated to God (Mark 7:11, Matthew 15:5).

Therefore, this raises yet another question about the Organization’s requirements for baptism. Do we have to make a dedication to Jehovah God before being accepted for baptism? There certainly is no scriptural evidence that it is a requirement.  

Yet the Organized book p77-78 says “If you have come to know and love Jehovah by meeting divine requirements and sharing in the field ministry, you need to solidify your personal relationship with him. How? By dedicating your life to him and symbolizing this by water baptism.—Matt. 28:19, 20.

17 Dedication signifies a setting apart for a sacred purpose. To make a dedication to God means to approach him in prayer and solemnly promise to use your life in his service and to walk in his ways. It means giving him exclusive devotion forever. (Deut. 5:9) This is a personal, private matter. No one can do it for you.

18 However, you must do more than privately tell Jehovah that you want to belong to him. You need to show others that you have made a dedication to God. You make it known by getting baptized in water, as Jesus did. (1 Pet. 2:21; 3:21) If you have made up your mind to serve Jehovah and want to get baptized, what should you do? You should make your desire known to the coordinator of the body of elders. He will arrange for several elders to talk with you to make sure that you meet the divine requirements for baptism. For further information, please review “A Message to the Unbaptized Publisher,” found on pages 182-184 of this publication, and “Questions for Those Desiring to Get Baptized,” found on pages 185-207.”

We need to ask ourselves, who takes precedence? The Organization or the scriptures? If it is the scriptures as the Word of God, then we have our answer. No, dedication to Jehovah is not a pre-requisite to scriptural baptism “in the name of Christ” to become a Christian.

The Organization has instituted many requirements before one can qualify for baptism by the Organization.

Such as:

  1. Become an unbaptized publisher
  2. Dedication to Jehovah
  3. Answering 60 questions to the satisfaction of the local elders
    1. Which includes “14. Do you believe that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is “the faithful and discreet slave” appointed by Jesus?”
  4. Regular attendance and participation at meetings

No such requirements were laid on the Jews, Samaritans, and Cornelius and his household according to the scriptures (see the accounts in Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10). Indeed, in the account in Acts 8:26-40 when Philip the evangelist preached to the Ethiopian eunuch on the chariot, the eunuch asked ““Look! A body of water; what prevents me from getting baptized?” 37 —— 38 With that he commanded the chariot to halt, and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” So simple and so unlike the Organization’s rules.

Conclusion

Having examined the change of the baptism questions through the years of the Organization’s existence, we find the following:

  1. Only the baptism questions of Bro Russell’s time would qualify as “in the name of Jesus”.
  2. The current baptism questions neither follow the trinitarian style nor the non-trinitarian style, but place undue emphasis on Jehovah, while minimizing Jesus role, and bind one to a particular man-made Organization and has no scriptural support.
  3. One can only conclude that while correcting 1 John 5:7 in the NWT by removing the spurious phrase “the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit” as that is used to support the Trinity doctrine, they were not prepared to correct Matthew 28:19 by removing the almost certainly spurious “of the father and …. and of the holy spirit”, because that would undermine at a stroke their growing emphasis on Jehovah at the expense of Jesus Christ.
  4. There is no evidence for Child baptism before the mid 2nd Century, and it was not commonplace until the early 4th Century. Yet the Organization, wrongly, gives overt and tacit support to child baptism (as young as 6 years of age!) and creates a climate of peer pressure, to ensure youngsters get baptized, ostensibly to try to trap them within the Organization with the implied threat of shunning by disfellowshipping and losing their family relationships if they wish to leave or start to disagree with the Organization’s teachings.
  5. The addition of stringent requirements to get baptized that the Bible record does not give any evidence or support for, such as dedication to Jehovah prior to baptism, and satisfactory answers to 60 questions, and participating in field service, attending all meetings, and participating in them.

The only conclusion we can draw is that the baptismal process for potential Jehovah’s Witnesses is not fit for purpose and is unscriptural in scope and practice.


[i] https://chicagobible.org/images/stories/pdf/What%20Pastor%20Russell%20Said.pdf

[ii]  w55 7/1 p. 412 par. 20 Christian Baptism for the New World Society – Available in WT Library CD-Rom

[iii]  w66 8/1 p. 464 par. 16 Baptism Shows Faith – Available in WT Library CD-Rom

[iv] w70 5/15 p. 309 par. 20 Your Conscience Toward Jehovah – Available in WT Library CD-Rom

[v] w73 5/1 p. 280 par. 25 Baptizing Follows Discipling – Available in WT Library CD-Rom

[vi] https://www.scribd.com/document/94120889/James-Moffat-1901-The-Historical-New-Testament

[vii] https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1978/07/how-the-doctrine-of-baptism-changed

[viii] Experience 1 October 1993 Watchtower p.5. A rare Christian Heritage.

[ix] The reference was not given by the Watchtower article. It is Volume 1 p 311 under Infant Baptism. https://archive.org/details/generalhistoryof187101nean/page/310/mode/2up?q=%22baptism+was+administered%22

[x] https://archive.org/details/historyplanting02rylagoog/page/n10/mode/2up?q=%22infant+baptism%22

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[…] For a more in-depth examination of the Watchtower Organization’s changing stance on baptism during its existence, please see this article “Christian Baptism, In Whose Name – Part 3”  […]