[@] Baptism & Fellowship (7)

This post is rightly subtitled, “Why I’m still a Baptist”. For some of you it might be red meat, and for some of you it may be a sigh of relief so that the big yocks, spoofs and snark can resume because for cryin’ out loud, it’s been a long week and the hits are starting to suffer.

So if all of this is true – all 6 parts of my objection to exclusivity on the matter of membership based on LBCF-type credobaptism against WCF-type paedobaptism – why am I still a Baptist? That is, why do I affirm that the right method and form of baptism is for the believer only by immersion only?

My first reason is this: there is no controversy in saying that baptism is for the believer. The WCF and LBCF together admit that the believer is the primary candidate for baptism. We should not in any way construe that to mean that either (or both) documents advance a position that says that all baptized people are unequivocally those with saving faith: both documents advance a position that says, in effect, “those who say they have faith ought to demonstrate that faith in baptism”.

That’s not to put the confessions of men over Scripture. This conclusion is reached by both parties by looking at the same verses of Scripture and coming to the same conclusions – which are the overt, explicit statements of Scripture on this matter. Anyone who confesses faith in Christ ought to be baptized into the church (which is Christ’s visible body).

My second reason is this: Conscience matters. Let me share a little anecdote before I relate this to baptism. My wife and I just spent about a week away from our kids (which, if you have never done it, I recommend), who stayed with their grandfather – my wife’s father who is self employed and could spare the time to stay at our house and take proper care of them. The morning after we came home, we were all at the breakfast table, and my son wanted to say the blessing. This is what he prayed: “Dear Jesus, thank you for this day. Thank you for everyone we have in town. Thank you for this food and bless it for your good, and Jesus – thank you that Mommy and Daddy made it home safe. Amen.”

He’s 6, and we have a formula we pray at meal time, but he added the last part at the end – unprompted, without a reminder. In his six-year-old way, he knows that God brought Mom and Dad home safe. For the sake of reference, when we did this last year, he didn’t think about adding the last part. He just gave me a hug when we came home and then we played with his Legos. There is something new about him and in him that wasn’t there last year.

It’s called conscience. He’s got gratitude for the end result of Mom and Dad coming home from a long trip – and not just to us for making our way home, but to God through whom all things were made and without whom nothing that has been made can be. And in that, God values the confession of faith – the real-world activity of demonstrating what we know to be true about Him.

We could look at the counter-examples of that, like John leaping in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice – but those are not normative experiences. And baptism, all in all, is about the normative life of the church and of the believer.

Third, there is the matter of putting the cart before the horse. I have made the argument in favor of the practice as well as I understand it to this point, but the question is simply this: “Where do any of the NT writers address believers as a class and indicate that baptism occurred prior to their faith confession?” In the worst case, the act of baptism is equated with the faith confession which is the basis for bad things like regenerative baptism to grow out of. Baptism is an act of faith as it is referred to by the writers of the epistles, and in that it comes after one has confessed faith.

Lastly, there is the matter of the sign itself with regard to whether one ought to be dipped or sprinkled. I think it is urgent to recognize that the sign is meant to be a symbol of going into something and coming out again. For example, 1Cor 10 talks about the Israelites getting “baptized into Moses” by coming through the Red Sea – and while they did not get wet, clearly they went into the sea and came out of the sea. 1Pet 3 speaks of Noah’s family being saved “through water” in the ark as a type of baptism, and clearly in this image they went into the water and came out again.

In that, the “best case” is immersion – when the water source is available and clean. But the demand that it must be immersion and cannot be anything else is confronted by the problem, for example, of the baptisms Paul made in Ephesus in Acts 19. It doesn’t seem that Paul arrived in Ephesus, met those who had received “John’s baptism” and rebaptized them by walking them down to the sea or to the river – it seems he baptized them wherever they were. That seems to place reasonable doubt (again, a matter of implicit vs. explicit outcomes) on the event being a case of immersion – and those 12 men spoke in tongues when it was over! So while I think immersion is to be preferred, it does not have to be demanded without qualification.

So I’m a Baptist with sympathy for my Presbyterian brothers and sisters. I’d sit at the table with them – and gladly debate the matter of whether it is better to baptize believers only or believers and their children. But to rule out their view of baptism entirely and say they cannot fellowship with us Baptists because we have a better baptism than they do … it seems a little ungraceful and overbearing to me.