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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Evangelicals and weak views of baptism

It has always seemed to me that evangelicals have a very take-it-or-leave-it approach to baptism. Indeed, so much so that when we preach the gospel the message is reduced to "repent and believe the gospel" and baptism does not so much as get a look in.

I suspect that the reason is that evangelicalism has always been transdenominational and evangelicals from different denoiminations have differing views on whether babies can be baptised. We have decided to set aside such issues for the sake of evangelical unity. As a result you will never hear the likes of Billy Graham say, in NT fashion, "Believe and be baptized."

But because baptism is now politely removed from evangelical understandings of how one responds to the gospel evangelicals struggle to know what to do with it.

Baptists. They're good on baptism, right? Surely if anyone pays it attention it is Baptists, right? Sadly — and I generalize here — the answer is No. Baptists are not that good on baptism. My experience is that baptists share with most evangelicals the idea that becoming a Christian is about repentance and faith. Baptism is about a public declaration of one's faith (hence the emphasis on the place of giving one's testimony at baptism). This confession is an outward symbol of what God has already done in your heart. And it is not just the Baptists who take this approach but all those baptistic Christians who follow in their footsteps (e.g., Pentecostals).

I have no time to make the case now but I think it can be easily demonstrated that this view of baptism is deeply sub-biblical. (David Pawson's book, The Normal Christian Birth, is very good on this point, even though I think that there is more to be said for infant baptism than he allows.) In the NT baptism is about conversion; it is about becoming a Christian; it is about getting saved. Baptism is more than a symbol. It is, to borrow later theological language, a sacrament by which God united us to Christ by his Spirit. Baptism accomplishes that which it symbolizes.

Am I a sacramentalist? Of course I am! I believe in the Holy Spirit and in the teaching of Scripture!

Maybe evangelical Anglicans are better on this front. They do get the idea that one becomes part of the church through baptism, right? Alas, No. In my experience, evangelical Anglicans are often just as weak in their view of baptism as Baptists. Their great fear is "baptismal regeneration" because that would mean that all the babies that got "done" are regenerate even if they have never attended church since, have never believed in God, let alone Jesus, and beat up old ladies. Clearly baptism does not make one a Christian. Repentance and faith do that. So baptism tends to create a bit of confusion and fuzzy thinking amoung some (not all) evangelical Anglicans. NT views have to be watered down to accomodate the problem of over-liberal application of baptism in some quarters.

So it seems to me that both the believer baptisers and the baby baptisers often (not always) seem to water down (excuse the pun) the NT stress on baptism as a sacrament of conversion. This cannot be good.

So we need some good ecumenical theological work to put baptism back at the centre of evangelical understandings of Christian initiation (whether it is babies or believers we are speaking of). We need to be able to create versions of things like Alpha courses that make a big deal about baptism.

Perhaps to pave the way for that we need to get past the "no-go zone" of baptism. Perhaps evangelical paedobaptists need to find theological ways of accommodating the practices of credo-baptists (the historical theological work of David F. Wright is excellent here); likewise, credo-baptists need to find theological ways of acknowledging the legitimacy the practice of baptising babies (the new wave of Baptist theologians, like Steve Holmes, have done good work here). Good things have been happening here, even among evangelical theologians, and I am very hopeful for a renaissance of baptismal theologies (note the plural) among evangelicals.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin,
Thanks for this, although it does bring up old wounds for me personally. I come from a Salvation Army background, and have always been taught that water baptism is not essential to being a Christian. I've struggled with this over the years as it seems to me that we are being disobedient to Jesus' own teaching, and it is one of the main reasons why I have sometimes thought of leaving my denomination. Would you mind if I quoted a passage from our Handbook of Doctrine (2010)? I would be really interested in what you make of it....

"The Salvation Army is a permanent witness to the Church as to the possibility, and practicability, of sanctification without formal sacraments. Through the experience of holiness, 'the believer has direct communion with God through the spiritual presence of Christ in the heart... the real presence of Christ is mediated through the sanctification to the believer apart from outward forms'. This ongoing commitment to model the conviction that 'no particular outward observance is necessary to inward grace', demonstrates obedience to a specific calling to a distinctive and prophetic role with the Church. Early in our history, The Salvation Army was led of God not to observe specific sacraments, that is baptism and the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, as prescribed rituals. In this we remind ourselves and others of the danger of trusting in the external rather than the grace it signifies or points to, and are a witness to the evidence and availability of that grace in all of human life. Nevertheless, we would also guard against the possibility that non-observance of the sign may also lead to neglect of the reality that is represented. We do identify with the historic Church through its confession of one faith, one lord, one baptism of the Holy Spirit, one salvation and one Church universal. We confess one sacramental meal, not administered ritually, but presided over by Christ himself at any table where he is received and honoured. We observe the sacraments, not by limiting them to two or three or seven, but by inviting Christ to suppers, love feasts, birth celebrations, parties, dedications, sick beds, weddings...and other significant events and, where he is truly received, watching him give a grace beyond our understanding. We can see, smell, hear, touch, and taste it. We joyfully affirm that in our presence is the one, true, original Sacrament - Jesus Christ. And we know that what we have experienced is reality."

Phew. I apologise for the length, but that is SA baptismal theology in a nutshell. It would be really great for me to hear what you make of this, as an outside observer. I can't come out in the open over this as I am a lay minister with the SA and would probably get 'moved on'.

Grace and Peace.

Robin Parry said...

Well, it will come as no surprise to learn that I think that the Salvation Army (and earlier, the Quakers) made a bad move here.

My starting place is this: Jesus was the one who got his followers to baptize and to celebrate the Lord's Supper. The practices were thereafter followed by all Christians, everywhere, always. So dropping them is a BOLD move!!! You'd have to have an absolutely stunning reason for doing so. I don't think the SA have one. So I do not believe that the Salvation Army were "led by God not to observe specific sacraments."

That said, I think that there was a good heart behind the move. It was the pursuit of inner-reality rather than mere outward action. And all Christians should concur that inner-reality is fundamental. Hollow observation of rituals is of little use. And one can indeed be in a relationship with God through Christ apart from the outward sacraments.

But does the church need to be reminded of the importance of the inward reality by having it highlighted by Christ-believers that do not celebrate the "outward" sacraments? Hardly. Throughout history the church has had renewal movements that have highlighted the need to stress the inward reality of the outward sacraments.

The problem is not what the SA do (all the positive stuff listed in the quote is great) but in what they do not do — i.e., follow the specific commands of Christ regarding Baptism and Eucharist that have been universally followed by all Christians, everywhere, always.

Substituting "baptism in the Spirit" for Baptism always strikes me as an odd move for an evangelical movement. Take Acts 10. Cornelius was baptised in the Spirit. Peter did not see this as making water baptism unnecessary ("he has the inner-reality after all so why bother with the outward rite?"). Rather, he saw this as a reason for permitting Cornelius' baptism. Throughout the whole NT water baptism and Spirit-reception were both seen as essential aspects of Christian initiation. I think the earliest church would have been utterly perplexed by the SA position. Why not simply hold that the rites should be followed but understood as means of grace — means by which God, through his Spirit, works in believers. It is possible to have one's cake and eat it.

Such is my view.

The SA position also further problematizes ecumenical relations. Theologically most Christians would find it very difficult to accommodate the SA (and Quaker) approach to sacraments as a legitimate Christian alternative.

None of which is to say that I don't think the SA are fantastic (nor that I don't think Quaker spirituality — especially older forms of it — have much to teach the church). Simply that on this issue I think their stance is inconsistent with Scripture and tradition and ought to be abandoned. They can retain all that focus on inner-reality (something I think God did indeed lead them to stress) without abandoning the outward sacraments.

jflyhigh6 said...

I believe u r right, evangelicals do have a weak view of Baptism, I see Baptism for only believers, not infants i can't find much in the NT about baptizing children and evangelicals (I am) get into problems of being tradtional-lukewarm

Gary said...

Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

I ask you to consider these points:

1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean?
Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

2. There IS no translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

God bless you!

Gary
http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/06/the-early-church-fathers-believed-in.html

Gary said...

Can you really trust your English Bible to be God’s true Word?

Have you ever had an evangelical or Reformed Christian say this to you:

“THAT passage of the Bible, in the original Greek, does NOT mean what the simple, plain reading of the passage seems to say in English.”

It happens to me all the time in my conversations with Baptists, evangelicals, and fundamentalists on my blog. They state: “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins” was mistranslated. “This is my body…this is my blood” is a metaphorical expression, “Baptism does now save us” is figurative speech for what happens to us spiritually when we ask Christ into our hearts.

What they are basically saying is that unless you speak ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek…you can’t read and really understand the Bible without the help of an educated Churchman!

This morning I came across an excellent article on this subject, written by Jordan Cooper, a Lutheran pastor. I am going to give the link to his article below. I have copied a couple of his statements here:

“So here is a question that we all need to ask ourselves when doing this (refusing to accept the simple, plain, English translation of a passage of Scripture): If a verse seems to disprove your theological beliefs, and you translate it in some way that doesn’t fit with any of the dozens of major English translations of the Bible, and that unique translation just happens to fit your own theological biases, could it be that it is in fact you who are in the wrong? Could you be reading your own preconceived theological convictions back into the text?”

” I know it can be frustrating when you are constantly told that Scripture can’t be understood unless you learn (an ancient) language or read ancient documents that you don’t have either the time or the energy to study. Honestly, if you have a few good English translations at your side, and you take the time to compare them to one another, you have all the tools you need to understand the meaning of the Bible.

Link to Pastor Cooper’s original article:

http://justandsinner.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-wrong-use-of-biblical-languages.html

Gary said...

Maybe the Infant Baptism debate has been approached from the wrong direction. Instead of starting with our disagreements, let's start with what Baptists/evangelicals and orthodox Christians AGREE upon: All persons who believe and have faith in Christ as their Savior should follow his command and be baptized as soon as possible. Agreed?

So the next question is: Can an infant believe and have faith?

Evangelical and Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ: If I can prove to you from Scripture that infants not only can but DO believe and have faith, would you accept infant baptism as Scriptural?

http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/09/the-bible-says-that-infants-can-have.html

Keith said...

Robin an SA captain recently shared with me how a whole bunch from his church were in Israel and visited the Jordan and spontaneously decided to all get baptised!! And he had no problem with that. I think the emphasis of the church is that as a minister you shouldn't but I don't know that they would be so legalistic (besides its none of their business!) if in a personal capacity you exercised obedience. But I'm not in the SA so I'm only going by the officers I've talked to.

Gary if you can show infants believing I'd be quite interested. Currently I'm simply amused at the claim ... : )

Just out of interest do you believe that while Jesus was making it REALLY hard to be his disciple ... take up the cross, do you love me more than ..., count the cost ... he was simultaneously saying to his disciples ... guys if any of you have any babies I'd be happy for you to have them baptised as my disciples???

Personally it seems illogical, unreasonable, contradictory and non harmonious.

Re the early church have you read from Justin Martyrs first apology and the chapters referencing baptism, particularly chapter 61 which greatly overlaps with what the didache has to say on baptism.

Best wishes,

Keith

Keith said...

Robin an SA captain recently shared with me how a whole bunch from his church were in Israel and visited the Jordan and spontaneously decided to all get baptised!! And he had no problem with that. I think the emphasis of the church is that as a minister you shouldn't baptise others but I don't know that they would be so legalistic (besides its none of their business!) if in a personal capacity you exercised obedience. But I'm not in the SA so I'm only going by the officers I've talked to.

Gary if you can show infants believing I'd be quite interested. Currently I'm simply amused at the claim ... : )

Just out of interest do you believe that while Jesus was making it REALLY hard to be his disciple ... take up the cross, do you love me more than ..., count the cost ... he was simultaneously saying to his disciples ... guys if any of you have any babies I'd be happy for you to have them baptised as my disciples???

Personally it seems illogical, unreasonable, contradictory and non harmonious.

Re the early church have you read from Justin Martyrs first apology and the chapters referencing baptism, particularly chapter 61 which greatly overlaps with what the didache has to say on baptism.

Best wishes,

Keith

Steve Finnell said...

KNOWING ONLY THE BAPTISMS OF DENOMINATIONS! BY STEVE FINNELL

If men have been baptized knowing only the baptisms of denominations, are their baptisms valid. Do men, who are baptized for the wrong reason or baptize using the incorrect method, need to be baptized with Christian baptism in order for their sins to be forgiven, in order to be baptized into Christ, or in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?

Apollos, a man who knew the Scriptures very well was teaching incorrect doctrine about New Covenant baptism. He needed to be taught the truth. (Acts 18:24-26...25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.)

John's baptism was invalid after the Day of Pentecost.

Apollos had been preaching in Ephesus. The apostle Paul evidently came in contact with some of the disciples that were incorrectly taught by Apollos. (Acts 19:1-5 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said,"Into John's baptism." 4 Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who to come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

The Ephesian disciples were re-baptized.

John's baptism was not a valid baptism after the Day of Pentecost. Those who were baptized with John's baptism after the day of Pentecost had to be re-baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and so that they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (that is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit).

KNOWING ONLY THE BAPTISMS OF DENOMINATIONS!

If men today are baptized knowing only the baptisms of denominations should they be re-baptized? If the disciples in Ephesus needed to be re-baptized, why then, would not those, today, who have been baptized for the wrong reason or by the incorrect method not need to be baptized in accordance with the teaching of Jesus and that commanded by the apostles?

1. Baptized as simple act of obedience is for the wrong reason.

2. Baptized as testimony of faith is for the wrong reason.

3. Being baptized, believing your sins have already been forgiven is for the wrong reason.

4. Being baptized so you can become a member of a denominational church is for the wrong reason.

5. Being baptized so original sin can be forgiven is for the wrong reason.

6. Being sprinkled or having water poured on you is the wrong method.

7. Baptizing infants is unnecessary. It is for the wrong reason.Sprinkling is also the wrong method.

8. Denying that baptism is essential for the forgiveness of sins is intellectually rejecting baptism. Denying the purpose of baptism, is baptism for the wrong reason.

Jesus said he who is baptized shall be saved. (Mark 16:16)

The apostle Peter said be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.(Acts 2:38)

The apostle Paul said we are baptized into Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

Peter said baptism saves us. (1 Peter 3:21)

Apollos believed the truth when taught by Aquila and Priscilla.

The Ephesus disciples believed the truth when taught by the apostle Paul.

Why do denominations not believe the truth when taught by Jesus and the apostles?

BAPTISMS THAT ARE CONTRARY TO SCRIPTURE ARE NOT VALID BAPTISMS.

(Scripture from: NKJV)
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