Should We Anoint with Oil at Baptism?
Should baptism include anointing with oil? This question was recently posed after anointing was practiced during the rite of baptism at the Baptist church I serve. Our reason for doing this was to restore an ancient and important part of the baptismal rite which has both Old and New Testament foundations.
First, anointing with oil was closely associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Consider 1 Samuel 16:13 as a good example of this: ‚ÄúThen Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward." You can see the connection between the anointing with oil and the Spirit of the Lord coming upon the anointed one - King David.
How did this enter into baptismal practice in the New Testament? Consider Jesus' baptism as recorded in Luke 3:21-22. "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove." Acts 10:37-38 adds to the account of Jesus' baptism. "You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached‚Äîhow God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power..."
In Acts 2:38, Peter also places the anointing or receiving of the Holy Spirit in proximity to baptism. "Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" As you can see from Acts 10, Jesus was "anointed" with the "Holy Spirit" at His baptism. Peter preached about the Holy Spirit coming at baptism. The early Church wanted to follow Jesus in every way. With the connection to the coming of the Holy Spirit on David when he was anointed with oil, and Jesus being anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism, you have the reasoning behind the early church practice of anointing with oil at baptism.
Second, we find another significant Scriptural foundation for anointing with oil at Baptism. Consider Ephesians 1:13-14. "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God‚Äôs possession‚Äîto the praise of his glory." For the early Church, belief was followed by baptism. Tertullian said, "After coming from the place of washing we are thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction." Likewise, Cyprian wrote, "It is necessary for him that has been baptized also to be anointed..." It made sense to them that they should anoint baptismal candidates with oil as a symbol of the seal of the Spirit taught here in Ephesians chapter 1. By their being initiated into the New Covenant, they were marked with a seal - the mark of the Holy Spirit - which set them apart as God's possession.
Evangelicals are beginning to rediscover and recover some of these ancient Christian practices that have fallen out of use over the years. The parents of the three children were presented with the possiblity of having their children anointed with oil as part of the baptismal rite. They responded enthusiastically to the offer. Baptism is already packed with theological and spiritual significance. Anointing with oil adds even more layers of depth and meaning. For these young believers, their initiation into the Body of Christ will be a memory marker of eternal significance!