Didache- Baptism in the Early Church

Didache 7

Chapter seven begins a new section in the Didache. Now, we realize that the Didache is not broken into sections for us. We can see distinct focusses as we move through the text. The previous section, chapters 1-6, was the section of first steps—basic, practical Christian living. This section gives basic, practical ecclesiology (church practice). The author(s) has made a transition from personal Christian living to corporate Christian living. This is how local churches were to do things. This section helps us by explaining some things that are not exact or clear in the new testament. The Didache is valuable for this purpose because it was written either in the 60s or 100s AD and by the Apostles or the Apostolic Fathers. These were the practices of the churches in the First Century AD under the direction of Christ’s apostles. While this document does not carry with it the authority of Scripture, we can gain great insight concerning church practice and use this part of the Didache to help interpret the New Testament description of ecclesiology well as we strive to apply God’s word to our own local church practice.

Chapter seven addresses baptism. Where better to begin prescribing local church practice than with the ceremony that officially recognizes a person as a member of Christ’s church? In the First Century and following, baptism was practiced in this way:

  • Basic Christian practice was to be taught before baptism.
  • After the basics of Christianity had been taught, then the new Christian was to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • This was done in running water (like a river). If there was no running water, one could be baptized in other water.
  • Baptism was done in either cold or warm water, whatever was available.
  • If one could not be baptized in a water source, then water was to be poured over his or her head three times—in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Before the baptism, both the one baptizing and the one being baptized (and any others who were able) fasted. The one being baptized fasted for one or two days leading up to his or her baptism.

Baptism was a serious matter in the First Century and directly following. Through the book of Acts, we see baptism practiced often. Sometimes directly following conversion in the story, sometimes before the indwelling of the Spirit, and sometimes baptism is not recorded for those who confess Christ. It can be very difficult to, from the Scriptures, determine when or exactly how someone should be baptized because there are no explicit instructions in the Bible about how or when. Every argument for means, method, and timeframe that uses one Scripture verse or another is an argument from inference. This is where the Didache, this First Century document from the early church, helps us interpret the Bible well.

Baptism was practiced after conversion and only after the basics of Christianity had been taught. Furthermore, baptism was practiced after the new convert bore some of the fruit of salvation, represented by his or her willingness to fast. There was not, by any indication, baptizing of infants or of children who had not both confessed faith and embraced the basics of Christian practice. Only when full emersion was not possible was baptism practiced by pouring water.

This clears up most baptismal controversy pretty well. Yet, even with evidence like this, people will defend paedobaptism, and evangelicals will baptize numbers of people after mere confession so that they can report a number of baptisms to their associations at the end of each year. Where we see people in the Biblical story baptized directly following conversion or not at all, we know that salvation is not dependent on timeframe or method or being baptized in the first place. By every indication, those baptized in the Biblical narrative did, in some way, bear the fruit of salvation.

Baptism was a serious matter in the First Century church. We do not need to rush into it because neither salvation nor the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit are found in the water. We should not baptize those who have not confessed Christ, embraced basic Christian practice, or bear the real fruit of salvation. This was the conviction of First Century Christians under apostolic leadership.

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