Thursday, July 01, 2010

Baptism: Another View (Entire Series In A Single Post)

Each title below is a link to the original post for that part.

Baptism: Another View (Part 1)

Since I have been a Christian, there has been an ongoing debate about baptism, and it has gone on for centuries before me. There are two major views I have been exposed to, and the debate is about the meaning of, reason for, mode of, time of and recipients of baptism. The debate I have been exposed to has been in Protestant circles between those who believe in paedo-baptism and those who believe in believer's baptism.

Paedo-baptists believe that children of believing parents (including infants) are to be baptized because they are members of God's covenant people. Those who believe in believer's baptism (sometimes called "credo-baptists"), on the other hand, believe that only those who make a credible profession of Christ should be baptized. This is usually limited to adults, or minors who are old enough to know of their conversion and can express and show their repentance, and it is these who are included in the covenant.

I think that there is room for another view of baptism, different from the two popular views, and I will be writing more parts to this in the form of a blog series. It will be similar to my old "Baptism: A Third View" series, but with some revisions and other information. This new series will be titled "Baptism: Another View" and will appear in the blog series list in the margin. Any input from readers will be welcome.

Baptism: Another View (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I gave a basic outline as to the two dominant views on water baptism in Protestantism as I have heard them. There are more views of baptism than these two, such as the Roman Catholic and certain cult views, with ideas of baptismal regeneration, but I'm addressing dominant protestantism here. Another view I propose here and I will follow with explanation as to why.

Water baptism isn't necessarily the sign and seal of the new covenant, Scripture isn't detailed in any prescription as to mode of water baptism (whether sprinkling, pouring or immersion), nor is it detailed in any prescription as to who are proper subjects of water baptism (adults only, professing believers of whatever age, children of covenant believers, etc.). I will explain this further in future posts in this series. Scripture isn't even absolute in describing proper timing of baptism in relation to either profession, conversion, discipleship or birth. Not only this, but Scripture isn't always clear as to which type of baptism it speaks about in a certain passage, whether water baptism, baptism of fire or baptism of the Holy Spirit. In conclusion, I have decided that a wide array of modes, subjects and times of water baptism upon people throughout Christian history are not contrary to scripture, and therefore scripturally valid, and I am determined not to hold most of these in contempt or nullification simply because any particular church, denomination or theological circle says so. In short, I recognize various people's baptisms as they come from differing traditions.

I realize that what I just said could start excommunication proceedings in many churches and denominations, or it could prevent me from becoming a member in certain churches, and also potentially stands as fuel for intense cyber flaming (which I have experienced on this very topic in the past). So be it. But that is the sad part, in my view. Why is such a thing necessary? In my next post, I will give my personal story as I have interacted with each of the two views I explained in Part 1.

Baptism: Another View (Part 3)

Now for my explanation and personal history of my views of baptism. I've held to both the paedo-baptist and believer-baptist views, and have attended at least one church that held to each, and have been part of more than one theological circle that held to each. I have switched from each view to the other, and held to each view at least once. I admit much confusion over the issue throughout my first 10 plus years as a Christian. I've listened to fierce debaters on the subject from each side, always seemingly one-upping the other in terms of clever arguing, and have read numerous articles, as well as book chapters and systematic theologies on the topic. About five years ago I realized why the subject was so difficult for me, and once I realized why, I gained peace before God for the first time ever. I had a reason for "another view."

The reason is that for all the views I have ever heard or believed, doctrines of baptism have relied so heavily upon systematic views of the new covenant. These views vary wildly, and as a result, so do views on baptism. Baptismal distinctives that I've been exposed to, I believe, are based more on man's theology than on Scripture, with Scripture used to proof-text the view. But one thing is clear to me, believers in Jesus Christ should (at some time and in some way) be baptized in water.

Some views of baptism nullify or partially nullify other views. For example, many believer-baptist churches will require re-baptism of newly professing believers that were baptized as children and raised in Presbyterian or other Reformed churches, but who believe themselves as never having previously come to faith. Some paedo-baptist churches require the same thing. Some Baptists will accept the infant baptisms in paedo-baptist Protestant churches, but at the same time reject infant baptisms in Roman Catholic churches, as will some paedo-baptist Protestants. This last group of modern paedo-baptists, who decry "the error of the anabaptists" of centuries ago, do the same thing they reject. Early reformers generally viewed baptism within the Roman church as valid. Some protestant churches I've been familiar with have lists of churches, cults and movements whose baptisms won't be recognized when considering a believer new to their church. Some views not only hold other views in contempt, but reserve the harshest charges of sin in the practice of those views. I'll discuss this in future posts.

In trying to be consistent with my statement of "another view", I've decided that if a Christian (whether Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Christian Reformed, Pentecostal, etc) is individually satisfied with his own [reasonable] circumstances under which he was baptized, I will allow him that liberty and view his baptism as valid. I will have more to say about this in upcoming posts.

Baptism: Another View (Part 4)

Shortly after writing my first several posts on another view of baptism a few years ago in a different blog series, it dawned on me just how I should characterize the divergent sectarian views of baptism: as traditions.

These are traditions which don't have enough Scriptural warrant to pass as binding law, but there are many defenders of these traditions that seem to think the bible mandates their view. This has, I think, been my problem. I've been asking this question: "Which view does Scripture mandate?", when I should have been asking, "Does the bible mandate a view at all?" Defenders of each view have taken to proof-texting, polemics, and a vocation of anathematizing their opponents. Confusion is often the dominating industry in the baptism debate with plenty of minimum wage, entry level positions. The following is a mock argument, the type of which I'm all too familiar with: (P=paedo-baptist, B=believer baptist)

P: Baptism is the NT equivalent of OT circumcision, so infants should be baptized.

B: There's no evidence in the NT of children being baptized.

P: But the households of new converts were, so there must have been children in those households.

B: You're making assumptions. It could just have easily been believers old enough to know.

P: Well history is on our side, because there's archaeological evidence that infant baptism was practiced as early as the second century AD.

B: But no earlier, of course. It was a Roman Catholic doctrine introduced to soothe the fears of parents who wondered if their unbaptized children would go to heaven if they died. The Reformation was a good thing, but they didn't go far enough in dealing with Rome's doctrines.

P: Well, let's just see what the Westminster Confession has to say.

B: Huh? This is a Scriptural issue, so we should limit our conversation to the bible alone and not bring history into it.

P: "XXVIII, IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized."

B: You're off course again.

P: "XXVIII, III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person."

B: Well, you and they both obviously missed the meaning of the Greek word, baptizo, which means literally "to immerse." The writers of the King James bible, through built-in fear of the dominant Catholic church, neglected to translate the word as "immerse," but instead transliterated the word as "baptize." The result is that the English speaking world is in confusion about even the biblical mode of baptism.

P: Say, you're bringing enough of your own history into this as well. You miss all the biblical references to sprinkling in the OT, and how Col. 2:11 ties baptism and circum...
On and on this goes. Jesus had a lot to say about traditions. He really didn't condemn those who held to traditions, but had a problem with those who held tradition equal or above the word of God. I'm afraid many throughout church history have done just this with their arguments about baptism. I know I did. Forgive me, Lord.

Baptism: Another View (Part 5)

In this post I'd like to offer my opinion of the effects (or lack thereof) of Christian parents or churches having baptism administered to their children. In other words, just how "effecatious" is infant baptism?

Each side in the Protestant baptism debate has its criticisms of the other with respect to the baptizing of children. Paedo-baptists often make the claim that Baptists' refusal to baptize their children has negative results. Because children are not baptized in Baptist churches, Baptists are sometimes accused of neglecting would-be elect children and are denied the very sign of the covenant itself. The failure to baptize children is then viewed as the worst thing that one could do to them. God's blessings come through obedience to the covenant, so Baptists are cutting blessings off from their children. Because Baptists sometimes view their children as unregenerate until a profession of faith is made, parents are tempted to be lax in their teaching and preaching to children because they're looked at as being not yet in the covenant; in other words the presumption of unregeneration until proven false through profession of the faith takes away from the church's duty to the children. Their churches, the argument goes, are then overrun with worldly people within a generation or two, and apostasy soon results. If this is the case, then it stands to reason that we should see a greater conversion rate of children in paedo-baptist churches.

Baptists, on the other hand, often criticize paedo-baptists for baptizing infants because these infants include all future false professors as church members from birth. Their churches, the argument goes, are then overrun by worldly people within a generation or two, and apostasy soon results. This supposedly explains to some degree the problems with theology in mainline denominations. The conclusion is sometimes that baptizing infants is the worst thing one could do to them. The baptizing of only professing adults (or children old enough), safeguards the church from these problems because the non-professing are never allowed heavy influence in church matters. Also, paedo-baptism can lead to a false assurance of salvation because of the "covenant promise." I've heard from Baptists who happen to have attended paedo-baptist churches (maybe because it's the only good church in the area) that a covenant smugness can take over and parents are tempted to be lax in their teaching and preaching to children because they're looked at as being already in the covenant; in other words the presumption of election until proven false through denying of the faith takes away from the church's duty to the children. If this is the case, then it stands to reason that we should see a greater conversion rate of children in Baptist churches.  The argument each side levels at the other is essentially the same.

But I've had enough experience with both types of churches to know that neither has the corner on their children growing up to be true Christians. Baptists are just as good at placing their children as recipients of the blessings of the covenant, i.e. teaching, bible memorization, church attendance, prayer, education, and the rest, as are paedo-baptists. Paul takes up the argument in Romans 2 that when Gentiles do the law, their uncircumcision is counted as circumcision. "If therefore the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?" Rom. 2:26. Both sides see that their children are to be discipled according to the Great Commission.  So, then, I don't think that whether children are baptized or not is the real issue, but whether the parents and churches raise their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord.

I've certainly heard of many wayward paedo-baptists who were not born again until adulthood, after straying from the faith, give testimony to God's remembering them because of the promise through baptism, because their parents had them baptized. Well, there are many wayward born-again-as-adult Baptists who make the same claim with respect to their parents raising them well in the faith as children. I believe it's about adherence to the New Covenant itself, and not a supposed sign, that God honors.  Not that baptism isn't important, as both sides agree that it is, it's just when children are to be baptized that is closer to the center of the argument.

Baptism: Another View (Part 6)

One problem I have with both Baptist and paedo-baptist theology regarding baptism is the lack of clear scriptural descriptions of their views. It seems to me that if baptism is supposed to be administered to only adult believers after conversion, then I think the bible would say so in no uncertain terms. If it is to be administered to infants, then the same should be true. It's that way with circumcision. It's that way with church discipline. It's that way with how to pray, how many times to forgive, who to visit in their distress that describes true religion. It's that way with all duties of man before God. Man's duties are spelled out relatively clearly so that most of us can either "get it" or have somebody easily explain it to us.

Take circumcision for example. In Genesis 17:11-12, a great deal of information is packed into less than two verses:

And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants.

What, where, how, to whom and when are all answered. No guesswork. No thousand page systematic theology volume. No ecclesiastical traditions. It is named "circumcision", it is to be "in the flesh of your foreskin", it is called "the sign of the covenant", it is to be administered to "every male", "who is eight days old." Not seven days, not nine, not in the flesh of your knee, and it's not called "surfing." Church discipline is "if your brother sins" and is "in private", then with "one or two more", then "tell it to the church", then excommunication.

Okay, it's true that many points of theology are quite arduous in their developments and have been hammered out over millennia, and the wisdom necessary to live everyday life is constructed line upon line, precept upon precept and isn't even complete by the time we die. But the basics of our religion are simple, to the point and spelled out by God. Baptism, I think, is no different. The great commission commands that disciples are to be made of all the nations, and they are to be baptized. But...
All the information we need about baptism is spelled out. It is to be done with water, believers should be baptized, it should be done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Liberty as to mode (sprinkling, pouring, immersion) and subject (infant/adult/professor, family/household member/church attendee) I think is allowed for the simple reason than none of these things are clearly spelled out. What is clearly spelled out with respect to children is instruction in the Lord - educating them in the Word, obedience to parents, not provoking them to wrath, etc.
It is interesting that claims of these baptismal things being spelled out are really nothing more than sectarian theological conclusions of non-baptismally specific passages applied to baptism. Theological presuppositions about other doctrines are brought to baptism. When Jesus said, "suffer the little children", he was not speaking about baptism specifically. Only a theological leap in logic does this. Also, nowhere in the New Testament is baptism spoken of as either the sign or seal of the New Covenant, even though circumcision is spoken of as a sign to Abraham (Rom 4). Colossians 2:11-12 doesn't equate circumcision and baptism either. Only the same theological leap does this.
A final word for this post. I'm not against baptism at all. We should be baptized with water. What I'm saying is that Baptists and paedo-baptists should learn not to condemn each other for their non-biblical (I'm careful to not say "un-biblical") traditions of baptism.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much Steve.

    I have been through them all, growing up in ultradispensationalism with no baptism at all like the Quakers. It was considered for Jewish believers only and not Gentiles after Acts 28.

    Then it was Brethren, various Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. churches.

    Then Lutheran (after four years of being very active in their music I was recently banned from participation)and Catholic (not active but attended Cardinal Burke's elevation in Rome, last year).

    I read all the works of the church fathers for the first 250 years and numerous volumes of detailed study on the subject.

    I believe your conclusions are correct. I will never be accepted in any church. Not having been baptized has cost me friendships and made me second class among some. Cardinal Burke said that he would baptize me when he returns to the U.S. Maybe that will make some happy but not among the Evangelicals. There is no way that what I do will please everyone. I will seek to please my Savior and what happens, happens.

    Try substituting baptism for circumcision in Romans 2:25-29:
    "For baptism indeed is of value if you obey the law of Christ, but if you break the law, your baptism becomes unbaptism. So if a person who is unbaptized keeps the intent of the law, will not his not-being-baptized be regarded as baptism? Then the one who is physically unbaptized but keeps the law of Christ, will condemn you who have the ordinance and baptism, but break the law. For no one is a Christian who is merely one outwardly, nor is baptism outward and physical. But a Christian is one inwardly, and baptism is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter of the ordinance. His praise is not from mankind but from God." Romans 2:25-29

    Luther wasn't happy about the book of James but chapter 2 speaks for itself and agrees with the above.

    Thank you for this well thought out post. It probably puts you in trouble with most everyone, as it does me. So be it. Rejoice!


    John Bandow
    Stratford, WI