This is the first of a series of articles considering the fundamental divide among Protestant churches over the practice of baptism. This first article considers the matter of different administrations of the rite. rmb
Last night (Tuesday) we were continuing in our Bible study of 1 Corinthians and the study guide we are using spoke to the subject of baptism. There was a sentence in the “Theological Soundings” section of the guide which read,
“Different Christian traditions vary on some of the nuances of the administration and implications of baptism, yet almost all agree that it is an outward sign of an inward reality, and it is a physical representation of the work of the gospel in the life of the converted believer.”
Anyone who knows anything about how different “Christian traditions” view baptism would immediately see that this sentence is not true at any level. I do not know why the author wrote this sentence into the guide, but it is completely untrue. Let me explain.
A FUNDAMENTAL DIVIDE
There is a fundamental divide on the subject of baptism that renders the above sentence false, and that divide is expressed this way: Does the church practice (and presumably believe in) infant baptism or does the church practice biblical baptism? There is an immense chasm fixed between these two positions.
Now, where does a given church land in regard to the practice of baptism? Simply put, if the church is Baptist or baptistic, they will practice biblical baptism, and if they are not, they will practice infant baptism. It is really that simple. The reason this is simple is because, if you trace back any denomination or “tradition” to its roots on the practice of baptism, you will find that all those which sprung from medieval Catholicism practice infant baptism, because medieval Catholicism practiced infant baptism. (Of course, all Catholics today continue to practice infant baptism.) This includes Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Church of Christ, Presbyterians, and Anglicans, and there are others.
Before we go into the details, it must be acknowledged that this difference in the practices of baptism is not a “nuance of administration and implication.” The administration of infant baptism (IB) is essentially and fundamentally different from that of biblical baptism (BB), and the implications of doing infant baptism (IB) or biblical baptism (BB) are vast and deep with regard to the theology and practice in the life of the church.
But is this claim of vast differences justified, or are the differences more subtle and nuanced? Let’s consider the different administrations of the rite. The IB position has the parents of the infant bring their child to an officiant of the church, who sprinkles or dabs some water on the head of the utterly passive and defenseless infant. In this way, the speechless, unconverted, unbelieving infant is considered a member of the body of Christ and is deemed by the church to have been “baptized.” Also, because the child has now been baptized as an infant, they are strongly discouraged (or forbidden) from ever seeking any future expression of baptism, based on Ephesians 4:5, “There is one baptism.” That is the basic IB position.
For the church that administers BB, the person who is coming forward for baptism comes by themselves into the baptismal waters. The candidate for baptism is then asked to publicly declare why they are coming for baptism, and this may include the delivery of a personal testimony describing the person’s journey to faith and salvation in Christ. At the very least, the candidate must confess with their mouth their personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Upon their profession of faith, that they are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, the person is then immersed under the water, symbolizing their death to their old life of sin, and they are raised up out of the water, symbolizing their new life in Christ. Some variation of Romans 6:4 is often quoted by the baptizing pastor. “Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
I still remember my pastor’s words upon my baptism when I came to faith at thirty-one.
As we were standing in the baptistry of the church, he said, “And, Roy, who is your Lord and Savior?”
On the basis of my profession of faith, he said, “In imitation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and in obedience to His divine command, I baptize you, my brother in Christ, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Buried unto death in Christ (I went under the water), rise again to walk in newness of life (I came up out of the water).”
ADMINSTRATION COULD NOT BE MORE DIFFERENT
As we compare these two administrations of baptism, it is obvious they could not be more different. They are not different in nuance; they are different entirely. They are miles apart. More importantly, one administration is biblical, and one is not. Which one should we practice? We should obviously practice the one that the word of God teaches.
In this article we looked at the differences in administration of baptism. In future articles we will look at other aspects of this divide.
SDG rmb 6/16/2021 #416