By Mel Futrell
Four preachers/teachers provided a good part of the initial impetus and direction for the “Restoration Movement” in America in the early 19th Century — Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, and Walter Scott. All of these men were originally Presbyterians who left that religious denomination in search of what Alexander Campbell would later call the “Ancient Gospel” and “Ancient Order”.
The majority of Alexander Campbell’s debates were with representatives of the Presbyterian denomination. And our brethren until fairly recent times have continued to have debates with these people. The Presbyterian denomination did and does practice sprinkling. The Westminster Confession of Faith represents their primary doctrinal statement and it says on this:
“Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.”
Also, related to this matter is a recent statement by a Presbyterian preacher that says:
“While pouring or sprinkling water upon the head is most common, Presbyterians also allow for baptism by immersion.”
So the question, “Does sprinkling or immersion satisfy the New Testament requirement of baptism?” is still debated today just as it was two hundred years ago. Yet, whether in formal debate or informal discussion with a Presbyterian, the issue of sprinkling vs. immersion is sure to arise. And it seems inevitable that an appeal will be made by these people to Hebrews 10:22 in defense of their position.
The verse reads as follows:
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water”.
Their claim is that the Hebrew writer sets forth the sprinkling of water upon an individual as the means to have ones conscience purged of evil. And thus sprinkling satisfies the New Testament requirement for baptism. Let’s examine this verse and determine what it really says about sprinkling and immersion.
One notices immediately in Hebrews 10:22 that two objects are mentioned: heart and body. And two actions are mentioned: sprinkling and washing. Also, one element is specifically mentioned: water and another is implied from verse nineteen, blood. Notice the order of items in Hebrews 10:22:
Heart — Sprinkled — Blood (vs.19) Body — Washed — Water
Now in a Presbyterian baptismal service the head of one’s body is sprinkled with water. But that practice confuses both object and action. It is the body according to the verse that is washed with water and this is undoubtedly a reference to water baptism (immersion). In fact, elsewhere in the New Testament baptism is described as a washing (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5).
The proper understanding then is this; as the body is washed in water (immersion), the blood of Jesus, figuratively depicted here as sprinkling, purifies the heart. It all happens at the same time. The bottom line is that sprinkling will not satisfy the New Testament requirement of baptism. If you are interested in drawing near to God, immersion is the only way to go.