Monday, February 25, 2008

Evidence Worth Considering

Many thanks to Bro. Robin Foster, pastor, blogger, and one of the proprietors over at SBC Today (he's not the one who looks a lot like Michael Bolton). Robin hosted a Baptist Distinctives Conference this weekend, and I was privileged to play a part. The people of Immanuel Baptist Church in Perkins, OK, are a warm and hospitable people, and I greatly enjoyed my time with them.

Speaking of Baptist Distinctives, can we take a moment to consider believer's immersion? I believe that the Bible is abundantly clear regarding how to baptize someone. Other people advance arguments in favor of affusion (pouring) or aspersion (sprinkling) as appropriate modes of baptism. They also advocate the baptism (by aspersion, generally) of infants against their will as a biblical practice. I think that they make these arguments not out of biblical fidelity but out of blind denominational loyalty. They, doubtless, think the same of me. Which is the case?

Here's one bit of evidence (not proof, but at least strong evidence). What do people decide who have otherwise rejected denominational loyalty? In other words, of the new denominations formed since, say, 1641, how many are immersionist and how many are not?

By the way, we're not counting the subdivision of groups that represent no significant change in theology. So, for example, the PCA and the PCUSA only count under the broader heading of "Presbyterians." And, of course, Presbyterians were around before 1641.


Chris Johnson said...


That is an interesting question to pose. How much tradition is wrapped up in how baptism is understood by those being baptized and by those administrating the baptism? It appears that all denominations fall prey to tradition in some respect, such as the overtly problematic and heretical practice of the Catholic Church who believes baptism is the means to church membership and the beginnings of salvation.

For the most part, I believe the Baptist have the formula right….i.e. that as Christ saves and adopts His children into His family they are baptized as a result of the act of God not as a means to gain privileges. But, even those that may call themselves Baptist, move away from the biblical teaching and fall prey to adding additional meaning to a very straight forward and simple command of our Lord to baptize.

It is a good thing to focus on the teaching of baptism…..and instruct the church of its reality and purpose. I trust the meeting at Immanuel Baptist was a profitable time had by all!


Dave Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Miller said...

As a moderate calvinist, I am troubled by the fact that calvinism as a whole lays claim to being the most biblical and theological of all viewpoints, yet in a simple subject as clear as baptism (I know - my opinion) they choose tradition and creeds over scripture.

It is easy to be intimidated by the hard-core calvinists (5-pointers with evangelical zeal about the 5-points). But in this issue, their key leaders ignore scripture.

It is strange.

Chris Johnson said...

Brother Dave Miller,

I think you are absolutely accurate with the statement “their key leaders ignore scripture.”… especially on the matter of baptism.

It appears our PCA brothers find it difficult to divorce themselves from two things…

1. The Catholic Churches view of baptism being a membership criteria.
2. The overarching “Covenant of Grace concept” relative to their connection of baptism with circumcision.

The arguments tend to be logical, yet both inadequate…if the assumptions of membership and/or the covenants of grace when understood within the PCA framework.

Some of the splintering of the PCA denomination is centered around those issues….so at least there seems to be some questioning of the presuppositions.


Bro. Robin said...


Many thanks to you. One of the deacons said that the conference was not what he thought it would be. I asked him to explain. He said that he thought we would focus on only talking about what Baptists believe, but you preached the Bible. Of which I responded that if one preaches the Bible, he will preach what Baptists believe. :-)

You were a great blessing to our church and me. I highly recommend you to anyone that wants to focus on what Baptists believe.

God Bless


Bart Barber said...

Thanks to all for engaging in generic discussion around the topic. What about the question at the end?

I'll advance the Methodists as one non-immersionist group that came into existence after 1641.

I'll advance the Church of Christ denomination, the Christian Church, and the Pentecostals in their various denominations as immersionists.

That ought to get us started. Anyone else wish to add to the list?

Greg Welty said...

Actually, Bart, you might be interested in the following:

This is the text of ch. XXIII "Of the Civil Magistrate," paragraph 3, from the original 1647 edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

"III. The Civill Magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and Sacraments, or the power of the Keyes of the Kingdome of Heaven: yet, he hath Authoritie, and it is his duetie, to take order, that Unitie and Peace be preserved in the Church, that the Truth of God be kept pure, and intire, that all Blasphemies and Heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in Worship and Discipline prevented, or reformed; and all the Ordinances of God duely settled, administred, and observed. For the better effecting wherof, he has power to call Synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them, be according to the minde of God."

This pretty clearly represents a wide scale intrusion of state authority into the matters of the church, an intrusion Baptists have always (and rightly) rejected. But it represents the standard Presbyterian view from Calvin onwards.

However, when the Presbyterians came to the United States, the American amendments of Chapter XXIII on the civil magistrate were adopted in 1789. All modern versions of the WCF word ch. XXIII something like this:

"3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in the matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the Church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his Church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance."

The changes here are clear. Gone is the language that the civil magistrate has the authority and duty to preserve the unity and peace of the church, to see to it that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, to suppress blasphemies and heresies, to prevent or reform all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline, to ensure that the ordinances of God are duly settled, administered, and observed, and to call synods. According to the 1789 American amendment to the WCF, none of these fall under the purview of the state. Instead, the repeated emphasis in this (revised) paragraph is that the state should not "interfere with" the "full, free, and unquestioned liberty" of religious practice, "according to their own profession and belief." Indeed, a Baptist probably could have written this second paragraph.

I point this out because you label the PCA/PCUSA as a "subdivision of groups that represent no significant change in theology." But unless you think that the matter of getting church/state relations correct is insignificant, the above *does* seem to represent a significant change in Presbyterian theology. Thus, it appears to be a departure from "blind denominational loyalty," on a significant theological issue. So it appears the Presbyterians are capable of this after all.

Now, you might say they *had* to do that in order to flourish (or even exist) in an American context. But is that really the case? After all, as Calvin's prefatory address to King Francis I in the _Institutes_ bears out, Presbyterians were willing to be slaughtered by Roman Catholics in Europe, rather than change their views.

On the other hand, I've lost track of the number of Baptists I've talked to, who appear to hold to immersion and believers' baptism out of blind denominational loyalty. I infer this from the fact that when I press them for an argument, they appeal to their church's practice, rather than to any lexical studies they have done.

I conclude that if "blind denominational loyalty" is a problem, it is at the very least a problem for both sides. And I say this as someone who, of course, is convinced of and ardently defends both immersion and believers' baptism :-)

Richard Durham said...

I thought of two denominations to consider. First, the Salvation Army who eliminated baptism as a church ordinance. They view it as something that has been divisive to the body of Christ, not necessary for salvation and a potential hindrance to the gospel.

More relevant to the stated question is the Wesleyan Church. Although formed by splitting from the Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church's view on baptism is different. The general practice of Wesleyan Churches is to baptize only believers and only by immersion. Some, if not most, of these churches would accept members from other denominations who were not baptized as adults or by immersion. This may be of interest to us, since there are a few Baptists who would support a similar stance.

Just as background, I grew up attending two conservative Wesleyan Churches. The pastors of these churches agreed with the policy of their church at a theoretical level, but they privately discussed the biblical basis of believers’ baptism by immersion with all prospective members. They also would strongly encourage the re-baptism of those "baptized" as infants.


Bart Barber said...


Obviously, I'm loading an awful lot of freight into the word "significant." Perhaps too much. My meaning is to indicate a change in theology significant enough to be recognized as the birth of a new theological tradition.

Also, I hasten to clarify my objective. I am not asserting that no Baptists affirm believer's immersion out of blind denominational loyalty. Obviously, a great many do. Rather, I am proposing one means of evaluating the strength of the pedobaptist argument: When people who have been exposed to the Baptist arguments against pedobaptism have set denominational affiliation aside and have chosen to create a new denominational tradition—presuming, as I am, that these are people less influenced by denominational loyalty than either the loyal members of pedobaptist denominations or the loyal members of credobaptist denominations—how many of them choose and defend pedobaptism?

The answer appears to be: Not very many.

Bart Barber said...


You make a salient point for us to consider. The Baptist and pedobaptist positions are not the only squares on the board, are they? The Quaker viewpoint does seem to be gaining in influence in these days.