The Great Commission is important. It is the last word of Jesus to His disciples before he left them on earth to do His work. I recently had the people in my church read the words of Matthew 28:19-20 out loud. Afterward I told them that all the Greek words in the passage were translated into English except one…baptizo. This Greek word means “to immerse” and is used in the ancient times to describe a sinking ship or a garment that is being dyed. It is more than pouring or sprinkling it is to be completely submerged. We are not talking about tie-dyed tunics in the first century.
When the Bible was first being translated into English the translators couldn’t just translate the word because the practice was no longer to immerse people. They were sprinkling infants at the time, so they simply transliterated the word—making an English word out of the Greek one. That is where we get the word baptize from.
It did not really take the enemy long to attack the simple practice of baptism and knock Jesus’ direction for it off course. Before the close of the first century the church had already parted ways from the New Testament pattern in several ways. They delayed baptism and reserved it for only people who really prove themselves to be Christians. It didn’t take long for baptism to be something that is akin to the Old Testament practice of circumcision and done to infants shortly after birth. Well, you really can’t immerse a newborn baby in water, so they began sprinkling them with water. Soon only the ordained holy men with special robes and ceremony could do such.
By the time the New Testament was to be translated into common English baptism no longer meant to immerse. So they coined a new word for it.
Baptism is not just a church ceremony; it is a key element of disciple-making. It is at the core of the Great Commission. If you take it out of the hands of the ordinary Christian, and reserve it for only the clergy to perform, you take disciple-making out of the hands of the ordinary Christian. I am amazed at all the pastors who want their people to fulfill the Great Commission, but then do not allow them to do so because they will not allow them to baptize.
I have found that when you give people permission to fulfill all of Jesus’ commands they will rise to the occasion. We will never fulfill the Great Commission and live up to the last words of our Savior, until we put the work into the hands of the common everyday Christian.