Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

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Can You Get Baptized When Physical Needs Prevent Immersion?

Can You Get Baptized When Physical Needs Prevent Immersion?

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

I want to be baptized. But I read that the ancient Greek word for baptize means immersion. What if a person has musculoskeletal health problems that prevent them from being thrown backwards under water? 

I have health issues-a detached retina and three herniated discs in my lumbar spine. There's no way a preacher could bend me over backwards into water over my head. The whole process seems too prescriptive with no concern for individuals who would like to participate in believer’s baptism but cannot due to their physical needs. 

Also, there are some people who are terrified to be put in water up to their chest and certainly don't want someone to dunk them under the water for any amount of time. How can individuals like this be accommodated, while still participating in the public declaration of faith?



Dear Believer, 

First of all, I'm so sorry for the pain you are enduring. Life is not supposed to be like this. Nevertheless, it sounds like you handle it well and it's time to be baptized.

Let me give you little background and then reach a conclusion. You are correct, the Greek word for baptism really does mean immerse, not sprinkling as some believe. Real baptisms pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It also pictures the washing away of sin so that we may have a new life in Christ.

It's important to realize that there are times when immersion is not possible. For example, you and your friend simply can't be immersed.

A little history might help. The Essenes were a select group of of ascetics who lived in caves about 40 miles south of Jerusalem. The three major groups in Jesus time were the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes. You may know the Essenes because they are the ones who copied most of the Old Testament texts again and again for safety and security. These copies were discovered in 1947 and are found in the historical archives in Jerusalem.

Since there's not much water in the desert, the Essenes improvised. The rule was that if there was not enough water for immersion, sprinkling over the head was all right. If there was not enough water for sprinkling, then pouring sand was all right.

The point is: be immersed. But if that not possible, it's okay to sprinkle.

It is time to baptized, whether in the baptistery tank or not. Have the one baptizing explain carefully exactly what's happening. You'd like to be immersed, but since you can't, you've chosen to be sprinkled to express the picture of the washing away of sin by the Lord Jesus (or something to that effect). By doing this, your baptism will be pleasing to the Lord and accepted by everyone else.

You will be as fully baptized as those who are immersed. I hope this helps.

Love, Roger

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

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