Archive for the ‘Baptism’ Category

There is a great book that I read some time back, titled “Believer’s Baptism: The Sign of the New Covenant in Christ”. There is a chapter titled, “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants” by Stephen Wellum, which is a response to some recent works such as Gregg Strawbridge’s, “The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism”.

Wellum’s chapter summarizes well the whole idea of how baptism relates to the covenant and why covenantal paedo-baptists and credo-baptists disagree. You will want to read both Strawbridge and this book. They represent two of the better current books from both perspectives. Wellum’s chapter is available for free via pdf at this link:

Here is the journal article and I have posted my brief thoughts at the very end. BTW, I am not for baptismal regeneration or supporting the position and practice of the Church of Christ. I am simply asserting that baptismal practice and theology in the early church most accords with this view.

The early church generally practiced baptism in a simple ceremony upon the occasion of professed faith, by some form of immersion, and used the language of “Regeneration” in reference to the occasion. Things were not that monolithic, however, and will quickly diverge as I continue to tackle this topic in future posts.

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Water Baptism in the Ancient Church

Part I

William A. BeVier

[William A. BeVier is Instructor in Historical Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary.]

This investigation was undertaken because of the great and divers divisions in Christendom today in respect to the ordinance of baptism, especially in regard to mode. At the outset it must be admitted that this presentation will not solve the problems or issues to everyone’s satisfaction. The controversy is too old and involved for that. The very fact that so many Christians for centuries have held various views on the matter is proof enough that the Scriptures are not precise on the question. Practically all Christians for all generations have maintained a belief in baptism as an ordinance. The Scriptures are sufficiently clear on this, and on every other vital issue. Therefore, it is to be accepted that because the Scriptures are not definite as to mode in its details, then mode of baptism is not a vital issue, in spite of what some might say to the contrary.

The early church fathers and archaeological findings are resorted to in order to determine how they interpreted the Scriptures on this issue. They lived much closer to the actual presentation of the revelation of God than we do. It is to be accepted that the fathers were all mortal and fallible, and thus they are not a sure or inspired guide. But they are the best area of investigation available beyond the Scriptures, and, in the case of the fathers, the closer they lived to the apostles the better.

Because of the fact that in the early centuries it is impossible in many cases to separate the topic of modes from baptismal regeneration, it has been necessary to include much in these articles that does not strictly pertain to mode of baptism only. It is further to be noted that the majority of the reference material used in this work is from secondary sources, and as a result the source of any given citation must be kept in mind as to whether the author is an immersionist, affusionist, or aspersionist. In the field of baptism the lack of objectivity among historians is appalling. All seem to give

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the truth, but never the whole truth, and, therefore very few give testimony to more than one view in respect to mode. Each has his own belief and presents evidence only in favor of that one.

General Background

Historians are generally in agreement that in apostolic and subapostolic generations water baptism was a very simple service. In the first century most of the converts were from Judaism and baptism immediately followed profession of faith. By the third and fourth centuries most converts were pagans and a period of instruction was set up between profession and baptism, generally of three years duration but sometimes less. By the third century several symbols and much ritual had been added to the simple baptismal service as described by Justin Martyr, and this order of service will be presented below. Some of these symbols were the sign of the cross; giving of milk, honey, and salt; unction of the head; and the white robe. Schools were set up to handle the large numbers and grades of advancement. In the fourth century for these schools baptism was a sort of elaborate graduation exercise. The Coptic Constitutions of the fourth and fifth centuries called for the three years of instruction, an examination, exorcism, an anointing with oil, an oral profession, and a baptism of triune immersion before the convert was allowed into the church and to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The anointing with oil combined with the water in some areas to render the picture of salvation. Water symbolized the removal of sin, the anointing the positive gift of the Spirit. It has been pointed out that from the second century forward the idea gradually gained ground that baptism works more or less magically, the water itself having power.

The place of baptism in these early centuries seemed to make no difference whatsoever as is seen from Hinton’s quotation from Tertullian’s De Bapt. c. IV: “There is no

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difference whether baptism takes place in the sea or in a pond, in the river or the fountain, the lake or the bath; nor between those who were baptized in the Jordan by John, and those who were baptized in the Tiber by Peter.” We cannot fail to notice in this citation the complete lack of distinction on Tertullian’s part between John’s baptism and Christian baptism. From all indications, baptism took place in the nude in the early centuries. Robert Robinson gives a rather lengthy discussion and presentation of the facts of this aspect of the baptismal service. It is stated there was a separation of the sexes, with deaconesses assisting with the women. Robinson suggests there was theological significance to this method, that in such baptism we put off the old man, being typified by the removal of the clothing. Another suggestion was that as we were naked in our first birth, so should we be in our new or second birth.

Certain seasons of the year were the standard times of baptism after the first century, generally Easter and Pentecost, or Epiphany in the East. The favorite hour seems to have been midnight, with a torchlight service. Men were baptized first, and then the women.

In the minds of some of even the later fathers baptism was not enough in itself for salvation. Tertullian called for repentance to accompany it (De poenitentia, 6) and Origen stated that sin must be forsaken (Homily 21, on Luke). Yet we know that in a real sense Tertullian believed in baptismal regeneration.

As to the mode used, Schaff gives two very revealing citations. One quotes Marriott (in Smith and Cheetham, I, 161) as saying: “Triple immersion [italics Schaff’s], that is thrice dipping the head while standing in the water, was the all but universal rule of the church in early times,” and he quotes in proof Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, Jerome and Leo I. But Schaff points out that Marriott later admits (p. 168ff) that affusion and aspersion were exceptionally used,

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especially in clinical baptism. The second citation is from Dean Stanley’s Christian Institutes, who states that immersion was thrice dipping the head of the candidate, who stood nude in the water; but some claim the entire body was plunged under three times. The significant force of these citations is that while baptism may have been by immersion in many cases, it in all probability was not the entire plunging of the body as is practiced today, the claims of some not withstanding.

Most all of the fathers believed that baptism was to “complete and seal the spiritual process of regeneration…” And in both East and West baptism served three purposes, “forgiveness of sins, communication of the Spirit, and the obligation to fulfill the commandments of Christ.”

Early Fathers and Writings

As mentioned above, it is in the early church fathers and their writings that we have probably the best human interpretations of the apostolic Scriptures available to us.

It is most significant that in all the extant writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp—the three outstanding subapostolic fathers—there is no mention whatsoever to water baptism in any form. This is not to say that they did not believe in or practice water baptism, but it is indicative that they did not lay the great stress on the ordinance that was present in the later fathers. This is clear evidence that these who were taught by the apostles themselves put no emphasis on any particular mode, but they did at the same time stress many other doctrines in their epistles. We undoubtedly should learn much from these early pupils of Peter, Paul and John and at the same time save ourselves and those about us a lot of time, effort, and ill feeling wasted on that which is not vital.

It is not until we come to the Shepherd of Hermas, written about 100 A.D. at Rome, that we find the first subapostolic

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mention of water baptism. Hermas, however, presents a well developed approach to the subject and no doubt the doctrine as it appears in Hermas did not originate with the author. Commandment 4.3 teaches baptism for forgiveness of sins, stating the event was “when we went down into the water.” In Parable 9, chapter 16, baptismal regeneration is taught, with water being the seal of regeneration. “So they go down into the water dead, and they come up alive. So this seal was preached to them also, and they took advantage of it, in order to enter the kingdom of God.” The reference here is to Old Testament saints, baptized in death. In the same chapter the reference to the living is: “But these went down alive and came up alive, but those who had previously fallen asleep went down dead and came up alive.” We see from these citations that baptismal regeneration appeared early and from this point on, all manner of elements were attached to this ordinance.

The writings of Justin Martyr (ca. 115) are the next significant ones that are extant. It is to be remembered that this is less than twenty years after the generally accepted date of the death of the Apostle John. Justin (Apol. I, c. 61) wrote concerning those to be baptized, that after prayer and fasting: “…are led by us to a place where is water, and in this way they are regenerated, as we also have been regenerated; that is, they receive the water-bath in the name of God, the Father and Ruler of all, and of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Ghost…The baptismal bath is called also illumination (ψωτισμός) because those who receive it are enlightened in the understanding.” Justin in his “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” (XXX.19) speaks of baptism bringing pardon and the new life, and is therefore necessary to salvation. He also was the first one to demand that baptism be administered by clerics only (Loofs, DG4). But the very fact that he felt called upon to demand such a thing is proof enough that such was not the general practice until that date.

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Justin, seemingly following the pattern of Hermas, regarded baptism as the end act of regeneration; only then does actual forgiveness of sins take place. Another item has been drawn from his writings on the subject of water baptism. He wrote (Second Apol. p. 93): “We were born without our will—but we are not to remain children of necessity and ignorance (as to our birth) but in baptism are to have choice, knowledge…. This we learned from the Apostles.” The fact that the word “choice” is used here seems to rule out infant baptism, because an infant has no power of making a choice. Justin Martyr then appears to present baptism by immersion, clearly believed in baptismal regeneration, and omits the doctrine of infant baptism.

One reference to water baptism occurs in The Letter of Barnabas, 11:11 (ca. A.D. 130, perhaps Alexandria). The reference is to Israel in the wilderness and their baptism, and then allegorically applied to Christians with these words: “This means that we go down into (είς) the water full of sins and pollution, and we come up (ἀνεβαίνομεν) bringing forth fear in our hearts and with hope in Jesus in our spirit.” This would seem to indicate baptism by immersion, and clearly advocates regeneration. A problem here is that the letter is extremely allegorical and its validity and interpretations are not generally accepted.

The next citation chronologically is important. This is in the Didache or “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” This work is significant because it gives a systematic presentation of baptism as to features and more particularly to modes. It dates from about A.D. 150 and probably originated in the region of Antioch. In chapter 7 we read: “About baptism, baptize in this way: After first repeating all these things, baptize in living (running) water, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If you have no running water, baptize in other water, and if you cannot use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour (ἔκχεον) water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and

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Holy Spirit. And before the baptism let the baptizer and the one who is to be baptized and any others who can do so fast. And you must order the one who is to be baptized to fast one or two days beforehand.” (more…)

Trevor Wax interviewed a panel of Romanian Baptist pastors, asking some probing questions about catechesis, baptism, and rebaptism. You can find the link here.

One issue that personally troubles me is that 40% of reported baptisms in the U.S. are re-baptisms. Trevor Wax asked about this issue and I was impressed with Pastor Doru Hnatiuc’s answer:

Trevin Wax: How would you advise Southern Baptists in America regarding this problem of rebaptism?

Doru Hnatiuc: There is no simple answer. The question has major theological and doctrinal implications. The practice of the church in this matter leads to a reorientation around other key doctrines (like church discipline, methods of evangelism, the gospel, salvation, evangelistic invitations, decision/faith, etc.).

In the U.S., I once helped at a church where the pastor offered a Bible to all those who had been baptized the week before. One of the baptized people was his wife, who had declared that her baptism at 10 years old had been invalid. The pastor and his wife were in that church for many years. She had been a teacher in Sunday School. She had led many children to Christ, who had later been baptized. She had taught these children the way of faith, lived in obedience to the Lord, and had raised her own children in godliness.

Was all of this fruit invalid? Or just her baptism? No one at the church was thinking through these sorts of implications. She might have said that her fruit is not invalid just as it is possible for a lost pastor to lead others to Christ and to baptize them, and his state before God not affect the act of baptism.

My question is this: If there is evidence of a new life in Christ, of a life of obedience to him, why then does that evidence not confirm the validity of the early decision and baptism? We need to think about these implications and make some decisions. Otherwise, we are going to wind up in ridiculous situations, teaching deformed doctrines and leading others in aberrant practices.

I share the same concerns as my Romanian brother in Christ. We believe in “One Baptism”, upon which our unity in Christ is partly based. Baptism is an objective act which seals the “believer” in unity with Christ and His Church. One might later be convinced that the baptism wasn’t valid due to a lack of genuine faith, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were already baptized and marked off as a member of Christ’s Church.

Marriage is an objective act as well. One might be later convinced that they really didn’t love their spouse and got married for the wrong reasons, but none of that changes the fact that they are objectively married. You don’t get remarried, nor ought you to repudiate the marriage, but you are called to live in the reality of the covenantal vows that were made, whether you initially meant them or not. There are way too many baptism annulments in the U.S. Church and I am troubled by the lack of understanding on this issue. I think that folks have overemphasized their personal narrative in relation to baptism and this has caused some folks to want to be rebaptized as many as 4 or 5 times in their lifetime, constantly seeking assurance and reassurance. This is unhealthy. The fact is that our walk with Christ, just like our marriages, may go through ups and downs. The solution isn’t to get remarried to seek some emotional catapult, but rather to bring oneself under the discipline of the marital vows. Maybe you never believed, or walked away from the faith, but the fact is that you are still wearing Christ in your baptism. The fact that one is baptized actually makes such sins that much more serious, as they should be dealt with within the jurisdiction of the local church; just as infidelity in marriage is worse precisely because you are married, irregardless of what you thought of your marital vows. The judge won’t care what you were thinking when you got married when settling custody disputes, alimony, child support, etc.

The fault, however, rests much more severely upon the American church. The American church has pretty much abandoned any guarding of the sacraments, membership, discipline, etc. The church has aided and abetted by trampling previous baptisms in annulling them with great joy as they celebrate yet another baptism they will mark in their books as their own. I have been asked about rebaptism from some folks and have graciously explained why I couldn’t, in good conscience, rebaptize them (the only exception being infant baptism, which I don’t repudiate if they hold it in good conscience as their valid sign and seal of regeneration in Christ and the Church). I’m grateful that the folks I have spoken to have been understanding. The common question I pose is, “What makes you so certain that this 2nd, 3rd, 4th baptism is genuine?” and “Do you expect me to baptize you again in a few years should you be convinced that you are not really regenerate right now?

As a father and former child myself, I have found myself searching the Scriptures more and more lately in developing a Biblically grounded theology of children. The Church has been doing this for years and there is hardly any consensus on how exactly our children are initiated into the full membership of the Church community. Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, and so on all have varying convictions on these matters. I am not attempting to resolve this doctrinal matter in its entirety, but do want to commend the following quotes from C.H. Spurgeon (from “Spiritual Parenting”)  as something that I trust we can all get behind and seek in the life of our children and Church. Enjoy.

Importance of training children in the faith: “Parents sin in the same way when they omit religion from the education of their children. Perhaps the thought is that their children cannot be converted while they are children…Let us expect our children to know the Lord. Let us from the beginning mingle the name of Jesus with their ABC’s. Let them read their first lessons from the Bible…But let us never be guilty, as parents, of forgetting the religious training of our children. If we do, we may be guilty of the blood of their souls.”

The sin of low expectations: “Another result is that the conversion of children is not expected in many of our churches and congregations. I mean, that they do not expect the children to be converted as children. The theory is that if we can impress youthful minds with principles which may, in after years, prove useful to them, we have done a great deal. But to convert children as children, and to regard them as being as much believers as their seniors, is regarded as absurd.”

The sin of cynicism: “Another bad result is that the conversion of children is not believed. Certain suspicious people always file their teeth a bit when they hear of a newly-converted child: they will have a bite at him if they can. They very rightly insist that these children should be carefully examined before they are baptized and admitted into the church. However, they are wrong in insisting that only in exceptional instances are they to be received. We quite agree with them as to the care to be exercised, but it should be the same in all cases, and neither more nor less in the cases of children.”

I highly commend these words from Spurgeon. I want to reaffirm over and over again how important it is for us to train the little ones in the Way, the Truth, and the Life. God has ordained instruction as the primary means whereby our children are brought into a faithful relationship with the Father (Deut. 6:4-9). Studies show that our children’s capacity for learning is amazingly high between infancy and 5 years.  Our children’s most tender years are also the most pliable. Their sense of identity and worldview are pretty much solidified by 18-20 years of age. Why is then that many parents have abandoned instructing their kids, instead saying, “I don’t want them to believe just because I believe and taught them. I want them to grow up and then find out for themselves what they believe.” This type of thinking is deadly. We wouldn’t dare keep our children from math, literature, etc because we would rather them grow up and decide whether they want to learn or not. We wouldn’t dare refrain from teaching our children the danger of running into the street and touching a hot stove. How much more then should we be guiding our children into eternal truth for their eternal good? (more…)

My Baptism Bibliography

Posted: August 5, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Baptism
Tags: ,

This is a Baptism Bibliography of works I have read:

Adams, Jay E.. Meaning & Mode of Baptism. Philidelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1979. Print.

Aland, Kurt. Did the Early Church Baptize Infants?. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004. Print.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nac Studies in Bible & Theology). Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2008. Print.

Bridge, Donald, and David Phypers. The Water that Divides: Two Views on Baptism Explored. Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, 2008. Print.

Castelein, John D., Robert Kolb, Richard L., Tom J. Nettles, and Jr. Pratt. Understanding 4 Views on Baptism (Counterpoints: Church Life). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2004. Print.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity     **ISBN: 9780802822215**. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub Co, 2003. Print.

Ferguson, Everett. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

Ferguson, Sinclair B., and David F. Wright. Baptism:: Three Views. Surrey: Ivp Academic, 2009. Print.

Green, Michael. Baptism: It’s Purpose, Practise and Power. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2007. Print.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Origins of Infant Baptism: A Further Study in Reply to Kurt Aland. Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., Naperville, Il, 1963. Print.

Jeremias, Joachim. Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries. Eugene: Wipf &Amp; Stock Publishers, 2000. Print.

Jewett, Paul King. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace: An Appraisal of the Argument That As Infants Were Once Circumcised, So They Shoud Now Be Baptized. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978. Print.

Marcel, Pierre Ch.. The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism: Sacrament of the Covenant of Grace. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1953. Print.

Murray, George R.Beasley-. Baptism in the New Testament (Biblical & Theological Classics Library). 2nd ed. Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1997. Print.

Murray, John. Christian Baptism     **ISBN: 9780875523439**. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed Pub Co, 1980. Print.

The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2003. Print.

What a find.. 3 great debates!

Posted: July 20, 2010 by Matthew Masiewicz in Baptism, Debates, Theology

I stumbled across this site that has  three GREAT debates on it.
1. The classic Dr. Greg Bahnsen vs Dr. Gorden Stein debate on the existence of God. Where Dr. Bahnsen masterfully employs the Transcendental argument.
2. The John Macarthur vs R.C Sproul debate (more competing presentations) on infant baptism.
3. James White vs Bart Ehrman “Misquoting Jesus” the reliability of the New Testament.

Download them asap, these things tend to disappear on the net. Drag this link address to your address bar.

Over on Facebook, Pastor Rick wrote:

…if there was continuity in the constituting [of] God’s covenant people, Jesus would never have told Nicodemus that he must be born again. How dare Jesus be so pietistic as to tell a respected “covenant” member that he needs to be born again.

He echoes a question I once asked: why would Jesus tell Nicodemus that he must be born again if he was already in the covenant by circumcision?

Someone pointed out to me that “…Jesus is not talking about individual regeneration in John 3. Rather, he is talking about the need for a new Israel, a new humanity. Nicodemus needs to follow Jesus into the new world through death and resurrection. Being baptized will unite him with the disciples of Jesus, with those who are following Jesus into a new world.”

James Jordan puts it this way:

Nicodemus is brilliant. He says to Jesus, “You jest, surely. How many times have we been born again? the Flood, Sinai, Elijah, Cyrus. But it has never taken. You would have to back into mother’s womb and start over.”

“Yep,” says Jesus. “And watch me do it.”

Sure enough, Nicodemus is there when Jesus is buried back into mother’s womb. I’m certain Nicodemus knew Jesus would rise again, born anew from the soil. Maybe the disciples had doubts, but Nicodemus knew.

In union with Jesus’ resurrection we are all born anew from mother’s womb.

He also points out that John describes the tomb as a virgin:

19.41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

(Genesis 24.16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known.)

Put this together with Luke’s record of Jesus vs. Sadducees on resurrection where he says that one becomes a son of God by being a son of the resurrection, and Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 about the “birth pangs” of death being unable to stop Jesus, the use of Psalm 2 (“today I have begotten you”) in the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus in Acts, the title “firstborn of the death,” Romans all over the place…. (more…)