Somewhere around 1930, L.O. Sanderson, who was then a minister in the church of Christ at Springfield, Missouri, asked his friend, Thomas O. Chisholm, a minister in the Methodist church to write a song, using Romans 6:3-18. In some autobiographical notes, Sanderson confesses that he had been corresponding with Chisholm about doctrinal matters and wanted to see the other’s understanding of the text. For his part, as a song writer, Chisholm was motivated by a desire to use as much scripture as possible, avoiding flippancy. The result of this collaboration was the hymn entitled “A New Creature,” or sometimes, “Buried With Christ,” with words by Chisholm and the music by Sanderson.
The first line of this hymn is as follows: “Buried with Christ, my blessed redeemer, dead to the old life of folly and sin.” This beautiful sentiment does indeed perfectly capture the words of Romans 6, wherein the apostle Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4; NKJV)
The English word, “Baptism,” is, unfortunately, a word that has seen much abuse in its use and corruption. There are many who, when they think of the word, envision a smattering of water or oil being splashed on a face, or perhaps a cupful of the same being poured upon the head, but it is important to understand that when the word is used in the New Testament, it means something completely different.
The word Baptism, in the biblical text means always, a burial or immersion. In the context of a water baptism, such as is most common in the New Testament, it literally meant the submersion of the body completely into water. Paul’s Roman readers, knowing the meaning of the word, would have had no trouble understanding the full implication of what Paul was saying in Romans 6:3-4 when he talked about being buried with Christ.
Christ had been crucified, and had died on the cross. Thereafter, His body was removed from the cross, wrapped in linen, and buried in a tomb. It was not laid on the ground, covered only by a handful of dirt, rather it was encased in the earth, fulfilling the words of Jonah, “I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever.” (Jonah 2:6a; NKJV; cf. Matthew 12:39) But in further fulfillment of the prophet, Jesus did not remain in the tomb, rather He rose to new life. “Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, o Lord, my God.” (Jonah 2:6b; NKJV)
Jesus told His disciples, following His resurrection, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” (Mark 16:16) and commanded that they baptize would-be-disciples in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:20) Thereafter, on the day of Pentecost, when asked by the Jews, “What shall we do,” the inspired preacher, Peter, commanded them “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins.” (Acts 2:37-38)
This command was not a command to be sprinkled, or to have water poured over them, but to be buried in the water, just as Jesus had been buried in the tomb. As Paul so eloquently explained it to the Roman church: there, in that watery grave, the penitent believer would die to their old self, and rising from the water, they would have a new life, even as Jesus had newness of life.
There was not a single Christian in the first century apostolic church which would not have understood this. In fact, it wasn’t really until the 13th century, over 1200 years after the establishment of the church, that sprinkling as an act of “baptism” began to be widely practiced in the Roman Catholic Church. However, for those that want to do Bible things the Bible way, the word still means what it always meant: a burial.
Those who want to walk in a new life with Christ, need to ask themselves if they have first been buried with Christ in order to rise to that new life. The church of Christ would be happy to study with you further on this and other topics and invite you to worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.