Friday, September 5, 2008

Problems with the Historical Baptist View on Baptism

Many of you know that I have not always been a Baptist (though I think I have always had Baptist leanings since my conversion and subsequent Bible study). Before salvation I was a part of the United Church of Christ, after salvation I joined a Pentecostal church and moved from there to the Evangelical Free Church. Now I am a part of a Southern Baptist Church as well as a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I guess one can see my progression from Liberalism to Conservatism.

I normally don't write about disagreements I have with a particular position, instructor, the seminary, or the Convention because it is generally bad form. The following rant, however is more theological in nature and does not directly reflect on my professors or the school.

I am taking a class on Baptist history, and was surprised yesterday to learn of the historical Baptist view of baptism. Baptists believe that baptism must be of a mature believer who has made a proclamation of faith and it must be by immersion ("dunking") according to the model given in Scripture. So far so good, this is completely biblical. Next I will outline the problematic areas and discuss each.

1) Believer's baptism must be performed by a Baptist pastor in a Baptist church, both of which must be in good standing with the Baptist Convention. All of these must have right, Baptist, theological views. The problem quickly becomes apparent. Like the early Donatists and their denial of the validity of appointed bishops, almost any baptism can come under scrutiny and deemed invalid because of any number of reasons. It also denies the believer's baptism of anyone who was baptized outside a Baptist church. This could lead to redunkings (something that Baptists have generally opposed) every time someone moves, "just in case." This feeds into Landmarkianism, the idea that baptism is for a local congregation only.

Many current Baptist scholars and pastors want to preserve this Baptist view, and don't want to accept an "individualistic" view of baptism. While I can certainly appreciate that, distinctions should be made. If the main reason that Presbyterians and other denominational believers cannot receive the ordinances (sacraments) in a Baptist church is because they have not been believer baptized, then should not those same sorts who have be accepted and served? If we split hairs over what the baptizer believed instead of the proclamation and dunking of the believer him/herself, many baptist believers' baptisms will come under the same scrutiny. This is an unsustainable practice.

2) We Baptists really believe in believer’s immersion baptism. We think that it is the only biblical model and therefore the only practice the universal Church should allow. This is due to the Regulative Principle - that what is modeled in the New Testament church, given by Jesus and the Apostles, is what we should do. Baptists would not say that baptism is salvific, however (that baptism is effective for salvation). Yet Baptists often run into inconsistency here. If an individual is not baptized correctly (as outlined above), that one is in sin. Further, he or she cannot receive the Lord’s Supper in a Baptist church which causes further sin because it is commanded of believers by Christ (Luke 22:15-20). So while we (rightly) say that baptism is not salvific, we (wrongly) attribute (cause?) sin by not extending fellowship and ordinances to a true fellow believer. While we should prefer that all would be baptized by immersion, we should not associate that baptism so closely with salvation that we scandalize our brothers and sisters, even causing them, in some cases, to sin.

These areas of baptism and ordinances should be rethought. While we do not want to follow meaningless and individualistic trends in our society, we also need to take into account an individual’s true faith and theology as well as make accommodations to those who are forced to move around due to life circumstances, like work. As far as our brothers and sisters from other denominations or other Baptist churches are concerned, while they may believe some things we disagree with, there should be some reasonable accommodation given to them as well. Membership in our churches should be denied them (unless they are willing to change their view and be baptized) but with the correct biblical warnings given, visitors should not be denied the Lord’s Supper.


Timothy said...


>"If an individual is not baptized correctly (as outlined above), that one is in sin."

So, should one be immersed once or three times?

Should one be naked or clothed?

Early Christians were naked and immersed three times. They were also coated with chrism (oil) before and after baptism.

Who has the auhority to establish the correct baptismal ritual for Christians?

Remember: "If an individual is not baptized correctly, that one is in sin."

God bless...


Steven Douglas said...

Hey Tim!

Glad you stopped by. You have an excellent question. "Who has the authority to establish the correct ritual for Christians?" That is a bigger question than we can answer here. Not that we can't try! ;)

I guess this is kind of what I think of it. I do like the Regulative Principle, even though it has not always been used with consistency (The Calvinists and other Reformed started taking communion standing rather than kneeling because kneeling wasn't in Scripture. Yet when we see the Apostles eating the passover with Christ, it clearly states that they were reclining on their sides! Is that how we should take the communion?). It can all get a little silly when taken to extremity, but I do think that believers should be immersed (whether inside or outside). There is no indication in Scripture as to the clothing or lack thereof of the dunked. I would suggest clothed only for propriety's sake.

Different ages have baptized in different ways and for different reasons. I would appeal to the N.T. whenever possible, but there is not always enough info there to make consistent decisions. I am certainly up for grace in practice. I tend to look at things pretty practically. What is the spirit of dunking? To publicly identify with Christ, his death and resurrection, and to symbolize the cleansing of sin that the Spirit has done within. Do we absolutely have to dunk? No. I think we should, but I am not going to condemn or deny a true believer who has made a public declaration of faith and had a baptism performed, just because that baptism doesn't look like I want it to. Depending on the situation, I may ask him to be rebaptized, but in most cases that would not be a primary goal. Faith and life in Christ is!

P.S., I hope you are well and that life is finally slowing down for you. As you have probably seen on my blog, I am working and attending school again. Busy, busy, busy!

Steven Douglas said...

I found an article by a Baptist thinker (I don't remember the name right off hand) who argues against giving the ordinance of the Lord's Supper to the non-baptized. I will peruse it and post the gist.

Rick Morgan said...

I have been in a Southern Baptist Church since before I was born and I have never heard of any of these rules. My pastor has even allowed a lay person that works as the youth pastor to baptize.

I never heard of a believer needing to be a "mature" believer who would decide what that is.

There is nothing in the Bible to support the withholding of the Lords supper because baptism has not been done.

I have been in 4 Southern Baptist churches in my 45 years on this planet and I have never seen anything about these teachings.

Steven Douglas said...

Hi Rick,

Thanks for joining in! I think there is a pretty wide range of practice in Baptist churches. Gladly, their is some freedom for varying views (which is why Baptists set up a local, congregational, polity rather than a denominational hierarchy).

The views I outlined are the classical Baptist views that have been maintined by some churches. I definitely have trouble with it. I am glad to see that others do, too.

The name of the author of that article was Andrew Fuller. I have read through it but need a little time to post about it.

Thanks again, Rick.