So we're doing this.
Today marks the official start of a new Wednesday series, why i am (still) baptist.
I have been amazed, delighted, and shocked by some of the questions I received in my inbox. It's been serious encouragement, made me have to dig down and think some things out on the page.
I have spent a long time on this blog describing my middle space in life, journeying away from pure Baptist, in particular Southern Baptist formulation, and nearer to a liturgical model, but here I am sharing what has kept me around, as it were, what has kept me still rooted in some things I just can't easily give up.
So, here it goes.
Post any further questions you would like answered in the comments or email me, as well as feel free to argue, cogently and kindly, below as well!
(Just be polite.)
why i am (still) baptist: baptism
Nota bene: Below, I have linked to a blog post or two that I find useful in expanding my own thoughts. Please consider that I may neither totally endorse nor totally support everything said within the post, by the person, or through the entity the post comes from.
Why am I still Baptist? In part, because of baptism.
I believe that baptism is to be given to a volitional professor of the faith and by immersion.
To illustrate why, I shall draw upon Scripture, briefly upon Tradition, and close with a thought about infant versus adult formations of baptism.
There's a lot that could and could not be said here, but I shall break down my views on infant baptism and the Scripture into three points: example, the argument from silence, and covenant theology.
To begin with, all the examples in the Scripture of baptism occur after a person has made a profession of faith.
In the baptism of John the Baptist, the baptism was made in anticipation of the coming Messiah, after His death, resurrection, and ascension, the examples in Scripture of baptism show a person being baptized upon receiving the Holy Ghost. It is interesting too that the command of Jesus is ordered specifically to the disciples: go into the nations and make disciples, baptizing them. He first commands them to make disciples. From what we understand by the Scripture, a disciple of Christ is someone unto whom Christ has said, "Follow," and that person followed. This volitional choice of following is absent in infant baptism and is, instead, made on the infant's behalf by an adult present.
However, some make an argument from silence in the Scripture. Pointing to Acts 16 and the conversion of a jailer by Paul and Silas:
[Paul and Silas] said, “ Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (New American Standard Bible)
The argument, here, is located in the word household, which in the Greek is rendered τὸν οἶκον, and means not merely household as we might understand it today, but the whole of whatever would be considered belonging unto the master of the property, the jailer. That would include his wife, children, slaves, animals, and every spec of dust. The oikos was the locus of a man's might and by his directing the whole was steered. Scholars have at times then argued that if the jailer's whole household had been baptized, as the passage suggests, that would have included infant children unable to profess faith in Christ.
Here's what we should consider: as arguable it is to say that the jailer's household contained infants, there is nothing Scripturally or historically that requires it to. That assertion is a leap, an argument from Scripture's silence. The second is that the passage if read quickly argues that the household was baptized on the basis of the jailer's faith, but it seems more likely to suggest they were baptized on individual professions. It is clear from the account that Paul and Silas preached to the jailer and his assembled household, thereafter, it is pointed out that he himself is rejoicing in his particular salvation along with the household, rejoicing in their own.
Lastly, I must address the idea of covenant theology in the Scripture.
This as a whole needs to be written on a different day, when I can explain why I'm not reformed, so if you'll permit me to simply say that I do not view baptism as some theologians who contend that as circumcision was to the Israelites, baptism is to the Christian. May I direct you here, for now, as a general representation of my thinking, something we can address later if you'd like?
For now, let's turn to look at my next source.
As I have written before, what drew me in part to the Anglo-Episcopal tradition was the observation of the Tradition itself, the desire to submit first to the Word of God and then to the community of believers that have come before us. In this spirit, I am also subject to look to the earliest materials available to us in discerning my stance on baptism.
The Didachae, a first century text attributed to the apostles opens with the entitling line, Διδαχὴ κυρίου διὰ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων τοῖς ἔθνεσιν. (The teaching of the Lord through the twelve apostles to the nations.) Within it, brief passages explain fasting, assembling on the Lord's Day, observing the Eucharist, and baptism. (If you are interested, you can read the full in the Greek here, in English here.) Concerning baptism, the text reads:
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.
Here, I find two things notable.
The first is that while baptizing by pouring or sprinkling is allowed, it is explicitly not preferred. Baptism by other water and warm water are preferred well-before pouring. Indeed, pouring is not excluded, but it is not also exalted as best. Best, it seems, is to baptize by full immersion into living water. While some have pointed to exception and said that since pouring is allowed, we should be content with it, I reiterate a previous argument above that exceptions do not make rules. Applied in a modern context, pouring perhaps should be reserved for the infirm, unable to be immersed, or those close enough to death upon conversion that their desire to be baptized demands hasty action. Here, the permission to pour in baptism is given in full, but it seems the apostles thought it best to immerse whenever possible. If I am to defer to Tradition, I believe I must defer to the tradition given first by the apostles.
Second, the requirements for the baptized is to fast beforehand. It seems illogical to suppose that such a fast would be required of an infant. I recognize that this might appear to some as a weaker argument, but the proceeding passages in the Didache expressly address the way of Life and the way of death, the road of salvation and damnation, and then arrives at its commentary on baptism through the lens of having considered the choice of a person to go in the way of God or not. It is presumed by the opening of the section on baptism that, "Having first said all these things," baptism may follow. It may only follow if the person in question has journeyed the previous development of accepting the Lordship of Christ. It seems apparent, then, that baptism was for those who had made a volitional choice to choose the way of Life over the way of death, a choice that can only be made by an individual capable of choosing for oneself, not a choice made for them on behalf of others. (Note: I have developing thoughts on how this relates to the chronically infirm or handicapped, but this isn't quite the place to discuss that yet. Here, let me keeps these remarks specific to infants.)
Possible Problems Following Infant Baptism
I am running short on words here, as I want this post to generate conversation over defense, but in the last I would like to point to an article from about a year ago from Sean O'Conaill, who has pointed out that infant baptism has left a problem in Roman Catholic formation. While O'Conaill and I would disagree here and there, I would stress the places we agree: that adult education across the Church has been lost. I conclude that infant baptism, in addition to being in my opinion extra-Biblical and outside of the earliest teachings of the Church, is often poor in preparing later catechumens to be properly confirmed.
(I should also like to point out, before someone takes to the comments to refute that statement by experience, that I attend and have attended Anglican and Episcopal churches of the best sort. In that, I knew that children baptized there would be brought up in the faith. My comfort, though disagreement still present, was always found in that. Too often, however, I find this to be the exception.)
But a twist ...
... in that I am not convinced that baptism is merely an action done to profess faith to a community of believers. Later, I shall address the role I believe the Holy Ghost has in baptism, what living water is and is not, and how my sacramental leaning informs my baptismal understanding.
So, in trying to keep this brief, here is a small explanation as to what keeps me Baptist: baptism by immersion for converts who have made a volitional profession of faith.