Note from Berean Beacon: This article is adapted from the book Eastern Orthodoxy Illuminated by the Scriptures (Curent: Belgrade, Serbia, 2009) written by Serbian author Ivica Stamenkovic. His research is based upon Holy Scripture and primary sources of Eastern Orthodoxy. Future articles will examine in further detail other Eastern Orthodox teachings on salvation.
Orthodox Baptism and Biblical Salvation
June 19, 2015
Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that water baptism is necessary for a person’s salvation. Let us first examine its claim that salvation comes through baptism. Later, we will examine the response of God’s Word.
Serbian Orthodox theologian Marinkovic writes:
“The Holy Mystery of Baptism: This mystery is the gate to enter the Church of Christ, or the engrafting of the wild olive branches onto the tree… Therefore, the mystery of baptism is a precondition for man to have salvation from and spiritual union with God. Without baptism, there is no salvation. The mystery of Baptism consists of a person dying spiritually and burying his old, sinful man and then being reborn as a new, sinless man.” i
Moreover, Serbian Orthodox teaching manual Catechism in the Home misinterprets Mark 16:16 (“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”) and John 3:5 (“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”):
“Spiritual ‘Rebirth’ or ‘Baptism by the water and the Spirit” is the first mystery of the Orthodox Church, that is, the holy mystery of Baptism… The commandment of the Mystery of Baptism – the baptism ‘by water and the Spirit’ – is contained in the first gospel, the first sermon which the Savior heralded to mankind… Christ issued the command about this mystery specifically, as we have already noted, to His disciples [in Mt. 28:19]. He preached a new Divine doctrine to baptize people ‘with water and the Spirit’ in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit… According to our holy faith, the holy mystery of Baptism cleanses the newly baptized person of the sin inherited from his parents and is spiritually reborn of God for eternal life… Baptism is, therefore, the precondition for our salvation.” ii
Later, the Orthodox Catechumen also teaches:
“Children [infants] are baptized based on the faith of the godfather. In the process of the holy mystery of Baptism, the godfather becomes a spiritual father to that child – a status spiritually conferred by God… The mystery of Baptism is the most important ritual in the worldwide Church of Christ… And the fact is that the name that the newly baptized child receives from his godfather during the baptism is recorded in the ‘Records of People Born and Christened in the Church of Christ’ and ‘the Book of Eternal Life’, a book possessed by the eternal Lamb of God, who was slaughtered from the foundation of the world.” iii
These quotations reveal what Eastern Orthodoxy teaches about baptism:
1. Orthodoxy regards baptism as the precondition to a person’s salvation.
2. Orthodoxy claims that baptism cleanses a person from all sins committed by that person and all his or her ancestors.
3. Orthodoxy accepts the baptism of infants and small children who are baptized based on the faith of the child’s godfather. This godfather then becomes the spiritual father of that child.
4. Orthodoxy believes that the name of the child christened under the godfather is entered in the “Book of Life” possessed by Christ, the eternal Lamb of God, in Heaven.
5. Orthodoxy considers the name of the baptized person as recorded in the annals of “Those Born and Christened in the Church of Christ”.
Eastern Orthodoxy contends that baptism is a precondition for salvation. Orthodox churches view salvation for a person as unattainable apart from baptism.
Yet, upon further study of what the verse in Mark 16:16 actually says, we can clearly see that Jesus teaches something completely different than what Eastern Orthodox teachers allege.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Specifically, the verse actually states that the condition for salvation is faith and not baptism. The Lord in uttering this sentence says, “he that believeth not shall be damned” not “he that is not baptized.”
Consequently, faith brings about salvation, and lack of faith results in lack of salvation. The New Testament defines baptism as an ordinance that Jesus commands everyone who already has put their faith in Him as Savior to receive.
It is essential that we recognize that Orthodox teaching on baptism radically departs from and indeed distorts the clear meaning taught in Holy Scripture. Baptism is not a precondition for salvation, or is baptism a “holy mystery” that cleanses a person of ancestral sin.
Infant baptism based on “the faith of one’s godfather” is more than merely unbiblical. God does not inscribe into the “Book of Life” a person’s name merely because the person was christened under a godfather’s name. Neither does God give any value to the Orthodox Church’s “Book of Those Born and Christened in the Church of Christ”.
All that the Orthodox Church teaches on this issue derived from the influence of certain “Church Fathers” of centuries later than God’s Word. Their teachings have nothing in common with Christ and the apostolic doctrine. It is quite easy to demonstrate this statement.
The Meaning of Baptism in the Church of the First Century
Serbian Orthodox theologian Marinkovic writes:
“Faith is the gift of God and acquired during baptism. Faith is a gift of God and is a sort of divine seed which the Holy Spirit sows in the soul of a person during baptism.” iv
This quotation reveals the Orthodox belief that a man receives faith only at the time of his baptism. Eastern Orthodoxy concludes that a person becomes a Christian only through receiving the mystery of baptism. Orthodox doctrine claims that before one is baptized, a person hates God. However, after the Orthodox Church administers the mystery of baptism, this rite of baptism miraculously transforms a person from a hater of God to a faithful believer.
Such teaching clearly demonstrates that Orthodoxy, a group which prides itself on practicing “right praise”, neither teaches nor practices “right doctrine” when compared to Holy Scripture. Let us examine the response of the New Testament to the quotation from the Orthodox theologian.
God’s Word states:
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (1 Cor. 1:17)
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17)
After his resurrection, the Lord commanded the disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel of salvation through faith. Only when people had faith in Christ would the apostles proceed to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Just as the Lord Himself had instructed them:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, e
ven unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Mt. 28:19-20)
Jesus taught water baptism as an external sign of internal justification by faith that ended a person’s old sinful way of life.
Water baptism of the New Testament is similar to the external sign of circumcision in the Old Testament, which served as a reflection of the “circumcision of the heart”, that is, a rejection of sin.
The Apostle Paul in the New Testament emphasizes the fact that God did not save or accept Abraham or the Israelites based merely on their external physical circumcision. Rather, He saved them because of His grace, which produced within them a sincere desire to serve God. In fact, physical circumcision reflected as an external sign people’s sincere faith and readiness to obey the Lord’s will:
“Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.” (Rom. 4:9-12)
The Apostle Paul teaches that at the time of sincere faith and spiritual birth of the believer, God cleanses man from sin “with the circumcision made without hands.” In other words, God operates in a person’s heart through granting a rejection of that person’s former sinful lifestyle and producing a genuine desire to obey Him:
“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” (Col. 2:11-12)
Unlike Orthodox priests who claim salvation comes through religious rites, the Apostles taught salvation for a person comes solely through justification through faith in Jesus Christ. The apostles taught that faith arises from hearing the preaching of God’s Word.v Consistent with this teaching, the apostle Paul declared that the Lord did not send him to baptize, but rather to preach the gospel.vi
Nowhere in his letters did Paul leave even the slightest idea that water baptism could lead to anyone’s salvation. On the contrary, Paul always emphasized the importance of receiving the message of the gospel (“good news”) of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection from the dead by faith:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16-7)
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rom. 10:9-13)
Paul clearly recognized that the condition for giving a person baptism was that person’s own personal salvation, acquired solely through the conscious faith of that person. Unlike Eastern Orthodox leaders, Paul and other Apostles certainly would never have wasted time in baptizing faithless pagans.
Examples of Baptisms Performed by the Apostles
These next examples demonstrate that the Apostles always baptized people only after they preached the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ the Savior. They baptized only those people who received saving faith. In other words, people whom the Apostles baptized consisted solely of those who moved from unbelief to faith in Jesus Christ:
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost… Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:38, 41)
“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them… But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:4-5, 12)
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:35-8)
“To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.” (Acts 10:43-48)
These Scriptures show us the pattern of how the Apostles baptized believers:
(1) The apostles preached to unbelievers the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ.
(2) A listener responded in faith and repentance to the salvation message of the Gospel.
(3) New believers received water baptism based upon their testimony of faith and repentance in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The apostolic practice of baptism demonstrates that they did not believe in the necessity of baptism for salvation.
However, we also see the obligation for every believer who dedicates himself to Christ by faith to be baptized soon afterward. This is in accordance with the Lord’s commandment in Mark 16:16 that “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”
When we understand the doctrine the Lord Christ taught on the subject, it shows us that every believer ought to be baptized soon after he believes in Jesus. In other words, Christ taught that people who truly believed would receive salvation. As an obedient sign of their faith, believers logically should seek baptism to testify of their f
Contrary to Holy Scripture, Eastern Orthodox Leaders Teach that Water Baptism Produces Spiritual Rebirth
The Serbian Orthodox Catechism in the Home misinterprets God’s Word by asserting:
“When He was teaching Nicodemus, Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is baptized of water and the Spirit.’” viii
Here we see a fundamental belief of Orthodoxy that is closely related to their understanding of the necessity of baptism for salvation. This quotation derives from a book blessed by the late Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle. Once again, it demonstrates that Eastern Orthodoxy misinterprets the text from the Gospel of John. If the Orthodox doctrine on the need for baptism for salvation were correct, then the actual words of Christ quoted in the Gospel of John ought to correspond totally with the Orthodox quote above. Instead, Orthodoxy misquotes and takes Christ’s words out of context.
Let us read the actual words of Jesus in context as recorded by the Apostle John:
“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (Jn. 3:1-10)
What we first notice about the God-inspired text is that Christ the Lord never uses the words “baptism by water and the Spirit”. Christ does mention the word “birth”, but that does not equate to “baptism” as we saw earlier. It is inexcusable to insert words into the mouth of the Lord Jesus that not only did he never speak but also he never even thought.
In this passage from John, Christ speaks of the need for God to render a miraculous “intervention” with every sinner who accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. The Lord calls this act of intervention “spiritual rebirth from above” or “the birth from the Spirit.”
At the beginning of his gospel, when he still has not begun to describe specific events from Christ’s life, the apostle John summarizes the implications of Christ’s first coming to be with humankind by saying:
“That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn. 1:9-13)
Many Jewish people did not accept the Lord Jesus Christ even though they personally saw Him. However, a number of pagans heard about Him through the preaching of the Apostles and accepted Christ by faith. God gave them the power to become His children. The first category consists of Jewish people, regardless of whether they believed Christ or not, born only naturally from earthly parents. However, those who believed Jesus, be they Jew or Gentile, were born in the spiritual way from God Himself.
The True Nature of Spiritual Rebirth
After Nicodemus expressed his astonishment and misunderstanding of spiritual birth, Jesus asked him, “Art thou a master of Israel and knowest not these things?” This Pharisee who knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament ought to have understood the truth which Jesus spoke. Yet, it is obvious that this was not the case.
Despite Nicodemus’s ignorance of one of the most important spiritual messages from Jesus, he should have recognized that the Old Testament recorded several prophecies about “new spiritual rebirth from God. The clearest text that speaks about this “new spiritual birth” is found in the book of the prophet Ezekiel that was written five hundred years before Christ:
“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you,
and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Eze. 36:25-7)
This text says exactly what we learned in the study of the life of Abraham and his justification by faith. The Lord makes these promises to those who heed Ezekiel’s words:
(1) The Lord will cleanse them by “bathing” them in pure water.
(2) The Lord will regenerate them by providing them a new heart and spirit.
(3) The Lord will make their hearts a sanctuary (“temple”) for His Spirit.
(4) The Lord will move them to follow His laws and decrees.
After a person puts his faith in Christ and is “born from above”, that person receives a new nature which avoids sinful living and seeks to please God on a daily basis:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin;ix for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 Jn. 3:9)
The new birth also makes the believer a temple of the Holy Spirit:
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (Jn. 14:16-7)
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (Rom. 8:16)
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)
This fulfillment of the Holy Spirit is also referred to as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. x According to the Bible, this fulfillment occurs before water baptism and in fact is a precondition before water baptism.xi
Eastern Orthodoxy’s Biblically Unorthodox View of Spiritual Rebirth
The truth of God’s Word contradicts the Orthodox allegation that “the idea of the second birth as a religious experience, independent of water baptism, is a recent invention and has no biblical basis.” xii Indeed, just the opposite is true.
The new spiritual rebirth from God signifies the establishment of fe
llowship with the Lord on the basis of sincere and firm faith. This fellowship was never based upon ancestral sin or the spiritual deadness of the Orthodox teaching of baptism.
“Orthodox Baptism symbolizes the actual union of human beings with Christ through spiritual rebirth.” xiii
Even personal experience gives a very basis to refute this claim. One can look at the lives of many baptized people in Orthodox churches (and in many other churches, for that matter) around the world. Many such “baptized” church members are blasphemers, adulterers, liars, disobedient to parents, drunks, and transgressors with other sins. Yet, the Eastern Orthodox Churches pronounce such people as “born again and united with Christ” under Orthodoxy. This contradiction to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles clearly show that such church members neither were ever “born again” nor “united with Christ”. This harsh reality flies contrary to the claims of Orthodox theology that such people are spiritually regenerated.
It would be utter blasphemy to even imagine, let alone declare as church dogma, that anyone who curses God’s name (as the vast majority of baptized Serbs do) could ever be accepted by God as His child and united with Christ.
Just as Jesus spoke to the religious Jews during His earthly ministry, so He also speaks to today’s professing church members who are unregenerate: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Mt. 7:21-3)
Eastern Orthodoxy Wrongly Teaches that “the Godfather” Is a Spiritual Parent of a Newly Baptized Person
From an Orthodox work earlier cited, we learned that children are baptized in the Orthodox Church based upon the faith of the godfather, an adult who becomes their spiritual parent.xiv This spiritual father of a little child gives “birth” to his godchild “for God and eternal life”. Orthodoxy emphasizes the notion that such spiritual connection between the godfather and godchild is vital and almost as thick as blood.xv
What Does God’s Word Say about Godfathers?
The shortest answer to this question would be quite simple: NOTHING!
The New Testament knows nothing about the Orthodox system of godfatherhood, e.g. the spiritual father of the baptized child. In fact, as we have seen earlier, the Bible permits
baptism only for those persons who believe in Christ the Savior. Small children and babies are excluded from the list of those who may be baptized, because they cannot take responsibility nor can they consciously accept the Christian faith. The Holy Scriptures do not contain one single example of baptizing infants and small children, although it does not exclude the possibility that older children (perhaps around 7 years old) could be baptized. Orthodox historian Eusebius Popovic asserts the following:
“During the time of the holy Apostles, anyone who sincerely believed in Christ and thus entered into His kingdom, His church, was baptized without any additional preparation, apart from the fact that they heard strong preaching… Certainly, children were baptized, because we know that Peter baptized the Roman officer Cornelius in Caesarea along with his whole house, as Paul baptized the jailer of Philippi along with his whole house and Stephen in Corinth, again with his whole house. Thus, as the Bible states people were baptized with their whole house, so that must include children as well.” xvi
Although Eusebius Popovic wants to justify the Orthodox code of baptizing young children and infants, yet he tells us that the apostles baptized only those people who believed with sincere hearts. The evangelist Luke confirms this point for us in Acts, when he stresses that Peter baptized Cornelius and those in his house who heard his message and put their faith in Christ (which certainly could include children old enough to understand, but definitely not little children and infants who were too young to hear and believe):
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word… For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (Acts 10:44, 46-7)
“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” (Acts 16:31-4)
However, the very text that Catechism in the Home cites in support of the baptism of babies and the system of godparents comes only from times much later than the time of Christ’s apostles. Data from church history tells us that, for example, a church father from the second century, Tertullian of Carthage (160-220 A.D.), an opponent of baptizing young children, taught that this practice was introduced very slowly under the auspices of the church. In terms of baptizing infants, he advised and taught the following:
“According to circumstance and disposition and even age of the individual person, it may be better to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children. Why, indeed, is it necessary – if it be not a case of necessity – that the sponsors to be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition? Indeed the Lord says, ‘Do not forbid them to come to me’ [Matt 19:14; Luke 18:16]. So as some grow up, some will come to learn, and some will become Christians when they are able to know Christ.” xvii
i Rev. Zhivan M. Marinkovic, The Greatest Teacher (Belgrade, 1996), 246. Author’s emphasis.
ii Catechism in the Home (Orthodox Religion Reader: Belgrade, 1991), 26-7. Author’s emphasis.
iii Ibid., 30, 32. Author’s emphasis.
iv Marinkovic, The Greatest Teacher, 10. Author’s emphasis.
v See Rom. 10:17
vi See 1 Cor. 1:17
vii One needs to clearly understand this: the term “baptism” in the Bible has a wide range of meanings not limited solely to water baptism. Other meanings include the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (see Acts. 1:5, 11:15-16, 1 Cor. 12:13) and “baptism of fire”, e.g., eternal punishment by burning the souls of the unrepentant in the eternal Lake of Fire (see Mt. 3:11-12). Jesus calls His suffering on the cross a “baptism”
Eusebius Popovic confirmed the historical fact that church authorities in the second half of the second and early part of the third century condemned infant baptism, in contrast with later church leaders, who felt that children should still be baptized and alleged that even the earlier apostles practiced it:
“The post apostolic era of Tertullian (202 – 240 A.D.) opposed infant baptism, but Origen (died 254 A.D.) defended the practice of baptizing children from his interpretation of the Apostles.” xviii
Various church fathers held differe
nt views on this critical issue. Some of them decided to completely abandon the Bible’s teaching on baptizing only those who truly believe in Christ according to the apostolic practice. Nevertheless, many official church circles held to the biblical teaching on baptism until the fifth century. Specifically, several centuries after Christ and his first disciples, many church fathers adhered to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures and kept Tertullian’s instructions to baptize children only when on the basis of their understanding of the spiritual lessons learned, as shown in their acceptance of faith in Jesus as their personal Savior and conversion into true followers of the Lord:
“Both the East and the West held to the custom that the children of Christian parents were baptized only when they became adults later in life. This custom arose from different motives, which were attacked by Cyprian, such that it held through the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. But the church teachers fiercely opposed this custom, and finally they supplanted it.” xix
From just the above text we see clearly that the church fathers from later centuries managed to “supplant” the custom of the regular church practice of baptism. In contrast, they set out to introduce another custom alien to the Bible: the practice of baptizing young children based on the faith of another, an adult man (godfather), and then in addition, to even call him his “spiritual father”.
On the other hand, the very notion of “spiritual father” was unknown in biblical terminology in the way that Orthodox theology defines it. Specifically, the Lord said:
“And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (Mt. 23:9)
Of course, the Lord’s commandment does not forbid calling “father” of our male parent, but refers to the absence of other spiritual fathers apart from our God in heaven.xx
(see Lk. 12:50) and uses the same term with regard to the suffering of the apostles (Mark 10:38-39). Thus, it is possible that, in accordance with the entire biblical context of the message of eternal salvation, the Lord Christ in stating Mark 16:16 defines “baptism” not as water baptism, but rather the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. This would certainly support His overall teaching on salvation, which the apostles then preached.
viii Catechism in the Home, 26. Author’s emphasis.
ix The Apostle John is not referring to occasional, careless sin that happens in every believer’s life that the true believer will regret. Rather, John refers to the deliberate and habitual disobedience of God’s revealed will. See James 3:2.
x When the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 12:13 and Gal. 3:27 speaks of baptism, he very clearly defines it as of the Holy Spirit and not of water, contrary to the misunderstanding that Orthodox theologians use to justify their doctrine of baptism.
xi See John 1:32-4, Acts 10:43-8, 11:15-16, Rom. 6:3-4, and Gal. 3:26.
xii What Every Orthodox Christian Believes (The Lamp), 8.
xiii Ibid., 7.
xiv Catechism in the Home, 30-1.
xv Ibid., 30.
xvi Eusebius Popovic, A General History of the Church, Vol. 1, 430. Author’s emphasis.
xvii Tertullian, Treatise on Baptism, (c. 200-206 A.D.), 18, 4, cited in Simo Ralevic, Biblical Baptism, (House of Prayer: Pech, unknown date), 20. Author’s emphasis. See also http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/a110.htm .
xviiiA General History of the Church, Vol. 1, 430.
xix Ibid., 649. Author’s emphasis.
xx Titles such as Father, Patriarch, and Pope translate as “father.” The apostle Paul, however, in several places mentions himself as “father” in the Gospel who gave “birth” to some of the faithful – but that term is used only as a picture of the person through whom some come to salvation through faith (see 1 Cor. 4:14 -15; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 1:10). Paul and the other apostles were never called “spiritual fathers” by anyone, and especially not in the sense of “godfathers” as is the case in Orthodoxy.