On Baptism

August 12, 2005 § 16 Comments

elsbet_vance is having a very interesting discussion on infant baptism right now, and I promised her an explanation of my stance. Because it is so long, I don’t wish to clutter up her lj post so I will post it here, where it is more manageable. Feel free to read along!

In looking at baptism (or any doctrine) we must not only look at the historical record, but at exactly what the Apostles had to say about it in scripture.

Historically, the early church only baptized those old enough to confess Christ. In fact, the catechumens (those studying to be received into the church) typically went through a mandatory three year process before they were allowed to be baptized. It wasn’t until the 300’s and 400’s that infant baptism (along with many strange doctrines and superstitions) began to take hold and assert themselves in the “Church”. Constantine had mainstreamed the church and muddied the waters of doctrine.

During the Reformation, Luther (a former monk, i believe) did indeed hold on to many Catholic practices (he still considered himself a Catholic) such as infant baptism. The difference during the reformation was the theology *behind* the sacraments. Most of the sacraments were relegated to a more symbolic nature, whereas the Catholic Church had had a more… literal interpretation—baptism as a saving act, the Eucharist being the actual Body and Blood of Christ, etc.

The Anabaptists broke away from the Reformers with their biggest difference being a return to adult baptism. They looked at scriptures (which I will enumerate later) and believed that it is only by a clear conscience, and confession of Christ that one can actually be truly baptized, and so they all rejected their infant baptisms and were baptized anew—hence the name they were given by the Reformers and Catholics—Anabaptists—the re-baptizers.

These Anabaptists restored many scriptures that the Reformers had stopped short of, and were persecuted and killed for their beliefs by both the Catholics and the Reformers—Michael and Marguerite Sattler being two of the more famous of the Anabaptist martyrs.

Today, the debate rages on, but it is not history to which we must look to find the answer but to scripture.

Those that hold to the practice of infant baptism look to only two instances in scripture to support their doctrine. That of Acts 16:15 “When she [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” and Acts 16:32-34 “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.”

While both passages say “the whole family” or “household” there is no indication that there were infants. In fact, in 16:34, it is clear that all who were baptized also believed—something an infant is not capable of.

In studying any doctrine, it is most important to look at all the scripture that references it. All of the scripture must be looked at together in order for a clear picture to be formed.

John’s baptism, as it is described in the gospels, is called one of “repentance.” But Paul makes a distinction between John’s baptism, and the one of Christ—the one that is practiced by the church: Act 19:3-5 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.

This verse also shows that these men were re-baptized upon coming to faith in Christ.

Water baptism first appears within the context of the Church in Acts 2:37-38 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 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.

Peter gives the reason for baptism right there—”for the forgiveness of your sins,” and the mode “in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Other verses explain the purpose and importance of baptism, showing that it is more than just a symbolic act.

Romans 6:3-5 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

Going into the waters of baptism is burying the old man, rising up from the waters, we rise with Christ,into new life, leaving our sinful past behind us.

Colossians 2:11-13 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…

Now, you may say, “Aha!! He said that circumcision IS baptism!” Yes, but look at the following words: ” having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God…”

In all passages referring to baptism, it is inextricably linked with faith—something an infant cannot have. Also, it is described as an act that does something. Not as a mere symbolic act, but something that has a very real spiritual consequence.

The scriptures indicate that something is accomplished in baptism, a washing away of sin, a forgiveness of that sin. But there has to be something that we bring to the table.

1Peter 3:20-22 …who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

An infant cannot bring faith to the table, nor a good conscience. Nor can an infant confess Christ.

My final point is also found by looking at 1Peter3:20-22. He makes a powerful statement—twice: and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also and It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand…

“What about the thief on the cross?” you may ask. Who are we to question God? He is sovereign and does as He sees fit. He has commanded us to be baptized, and through His appointed Apostles, has given explanation why. It is His prerogative to wink in times of ignorance or to save when baptism is not possible.

“I thought we were saved by faith and not by works!” Too true. Anyone could wash and wash all day and not be saved if he does not have the saving faith of God. Baptism is not an empty act, but one in which a faithful heart and good conscience must be present. We are saved by our faith, and here is an act which God applies to show our faith in action. As James said, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James2:18.)

In summation, according to Scripture, baptism is not a mere symbol, but an actual act of obedience that, through faith, has a hand in the salvation process. God has ordained it for the purpose of washing away the old man and the forgiveness of past sin, and a raising up into new life— inducting one into the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.

Because of the saving grace that is applied to baptism, and because of the necessity of being a thinking feeling individual, capable of being aware of ones sin, and need for God, infant baptism is not supported by Scripture.

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§ 16 Responses to On Baptism

  • koinegeek says:

    Very well and thoroughly said! Right in line with what I believe (even as a Church-of-Christ-er).

  • DT says:

    Honestly, I didn’t know I had it in me. lol!

  • koinegeek says:

    Heh, I never had a doubt 🙂

  • Well organized and written.
    Course, you’re preaching to the choir here. 😉

  • DT says:

    hehehe thanks!

  • elsbet_vance says:

    ***These Anabaptists restored many scriptures that the Reformers had stopped short of, and were persecuted and killed for their beliefs by both the Catholics and the Reformers***
    I am not aware of the Reformers having put anyone to death. I DO know that there were rabble rousers who cling to doctrine to make trouble, but they would not be considered to be among the Reformers, the ministers of the Gospel who studied deeply and suffered for their beliefs. Those types can be found clinging to the fringes of any religious or political group, but it does not make them part of it. They are users. There was no establishment that I know of in the Reformed church to hunt down people and put them to death for their beliefs. In fact, the London Baptist Confession of 1689 http://www.grace.org.uk/faith/bc1689/1689bc01.html was based upon the Westminster Confession of Faith http://www.apuritansmind.com/WCF/WestminsterConfessionMainPage.htm to express some unity with us. Read both side by side and you will find them to be very, very close in language. I can’t think that they would have sought unity with someone that they believed was trying to murder them.
    I don’t understand which scriptures we fell short of, either. Our stance is to preach the whole counsel of God, to seek and seek and seek God’s will in His word. There is nothing we want more than to be perfectly right and on target. To ignore scripture because we do not like what it says, or want to do our own thing is sin. But perhaps God has given us light on different subjects. If we could simply pray for understanding on all things, and God granted it completely, all the time, there would be no disagreements in His church. Perhaps these differences of opinion help keep us humble and searching for truth, to not become complacent in our views of Scripture, to know that there is always more to learn.
    This was a very well thought out post, and one which I once would have agreed with. I will say, it is not only those two passages in Acts that convince us, it is the covenantal model that is spoken of again and again.

  • akelavincent says:

    Wow… a fellow Church-of-Christ-er! *waves* Hi!

  • lilia2000 says:

    Yup. Just what I think. 🙂

  • raeveness says:

    Very nicely done. I applaud your effort and resourcefulness. What an interesting subject to debate.

  • koinegeek says:

    Hello! You’re a programmer too? Consider yourself friended 🙂

  • akelavincent says:

    Heheh, awesome… and you likewise!

  • DT says:

    I am not aware of the Reformers having put anyone to death.
    The Sattlers were martyred by the Catholic Church, here, but evidence of Protestant persecution can be found here and here when the Zurich council ordered that Anabaptists be drowned.
    At the time, such rebaptism as an adult was a crime punishable by death. One popular method of execution was drowning, seen as ironically appropriate because of the reformers’ interest in baptizing with water. Manz himself was became of the first martyrs by being drowned on the orders of the Zurich town council. He was not, however, the last. Some estimates place the number of martyrs at around 50,000 by 1535, and it may be that other Christians killed more Anabaptists than Romans killed Christians during their 300 years of persecutions.
    I don’t understand which scriptures we fell short of, either.
    The Reformers continued the traditions started with Constantine of marrying themselves to the state, rather than separating themselves from this world– something that was common to all of the church from the time of the Apostles to the 3 or 400’s, and which the Anabaptis’s re-established. Also, they took very literally Christ’s teachings of turning the other cheek, and not resisting an evil person. The early church very much practiced non-violence, as did the Anabaptists, which cannot be said of either the Catholics nor the Protestants.
    I will say, it is not only those two passages in Acts that convince us, it is the covenantal model that is spoken of again and again.
    This covenantal model developed over years of theology. Scripture stands alone. You say you would have once agreed with what I wrote. All I provided was scripture. Do you have a disagreement with the passages i have chosen?

  • elsbet_vance says:

    The Covenantal model developed over THOUSANDS of years of theology, not hundreds. When I spoke of 500 years of theology, I was speaking only of the time since the reformation, and the writings on scripture. We can include with that the revelation given to Moses, Samuel, David, all of the prophets, and the apostles with this, obviously. There are 66 books of theology which stand on their own, and they are the ultimate authority- the ONLY authority. When the Bible speaks of covenant, and so often as it does, I have to look at what that means, and this is why I hold to these beliefs. I am convinced that the new covenant did not eradicate the old, it merely made it better- some parts were fulfilled, the signs were changed.
    Of course I don’t have a problem with the scripture that you presented. I think we are seeing them, though, from two totally different viewpoints. How many cults have developed by taking one verse out of context? This is why we need to be diligent and live according to our consciences and understanding. I must live according to the light God has given me. If I am wrong, I will stand judged for it.
    I would write more, but we have a thunderstorm coming in.

  • welshwolf says:

    A kindred spirit, a student of Christian History. The modern Church holds on to tradition with a death grip, ignoring what was said in the Bible, which should be the ultimate source, not man’s tradtion.
    Your efforts at education should be lauded and please, let’s see more. It’s been a long time since I’ve delved into Christian History. It’s a subject that holds much fascination for me.

  • DT says:

    I never said hundreds of years– I just said years. But The model as the Presbyterian church sees is is only hundreds of years old.
    Of couse there is a strong emphasis on covanent throughout Scripture. I would not dream of saying otherwise. But I do not see how one can say one is the very same as the other. As infants are not baptised on the 8th day, and they are not being inducted as citizens of Israel, the comparison breaks down.
    Baptism is indeed the entrance into the New Covanent in Chrtist’s blood. How can an infant claim that? Do you believe a baby is a Christian? If not, what purpose does baptism serve?
    You say that this model is based soley on scripture. I do not see how even with this model infant baptism is supported. Convenats are supported, yes, but why support a covanent that is a contract between a child, who cannot reason, and God? Old Covanent circumsion merely meant you were officially Jewish. Paul and Peter tell us that baptism means you are a Christian. You cannot claim a faith for someone else.
    This is why we need to be diligent and live according to our consciences and understanding. I must live according to the light God has given me. If I am wrong, I will stand judged for it.
    I prefer to live by Scripture– not my conscience. The heart is deceitfully wicked. Man is fallible. If I allow my doctrine to be shaped by the traditions of men, I will be deceived. But if I allow Scripture to speak for itself, and then (and only then) see what history has to say about it– going back to the days of the Apostles and just after– I will have an accurate view of how the Scriptures should be understood. And from my study, i have found that the simplest explanation is the best. The epistles were not written to rocket scientists, but to simple plain folk, and a simple plain interpretation is best.
    If one looks at the scriptures I cited (and there are more than just one) then a simple understanding should support my conclusions. All without having to delve into a theology of the Covanental model.

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