One of the most pronounced identity markers of the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches is our view of baptism. In contrast to most evangelical churches, we reject infant baptism, insist on baptism by immersion, and consider baptism the moment when salvation occurs.
Baptists generally agree on the first two points but disagree on the third, arguing that salvation occurs at the moment of faith.
And we’ve been arguing about this for 200 years. However, going back at least to the early 20th Century, there have been Baptist pastors who taught baptism for remission of sins. And going back to Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, and David Lipscomb, there have been voices in the Restoration Movement insisting that Baptist baptism, while involving error, is nonetheless sufficient to save and no re-baptism is required.
On his death bed, Alexander Campbell rejoiced at unity efforts between his Restoration Movement and the Baptists. He had actually begun his ministry in fellowship with the Baptists, was disfellowshipped, and had always wanted to restore the broken tie.
And so the paper that I attach should be not only interesting but poignant. With the author’s permission, I attach an essay by Stanley K. Fowler, Professor of Theology, Heritage Theological Seminary Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, entitled “Baptists and Churches of Christ: In Search of a Common Theology of Baptism.” The paper is scheduled for publication as a chapter in Baptist Sacramentalism 2, eds. Anthony R. Cross and Philip E. Thompson (Paternoster).
The theme of the essay is the movement of the Churches of Christ and Baptist Churches toward a common baptismal theology. Not surprisingly, the paper cites works by John Mark Hicks, particularly Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work, co-authored with Greg Taylor (Leafwood Publishers, 2004), among others within the Churches of Christ.
It’s a fascinating study and, I think, clearly shows that the Spirit is moving to heal the old denominational divisions and build unity among God’s people.
And you know what? Just as we’ve been moving into closer fellowship with the Christian Churches in an effort to reverse the split of 1889, we should also be targeting 2024, as the 200th anniversary of the date the Redstone Baptist Association withdrew fellowship from Alexander Campbell’s Brush Run Church. Wouldn’t that be a great date for the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and Baptist Churches to meet to worship and to rejoice that we and the Baptists have come to the same view on baptism? (Of course, sooner would be even better.)
For new readers, my own views on baptism will be found at Born of Water. And some speculation on the subject (but very serious speculation) will be found at these posts (they aren’t very long) —
Finally, a more general note. Very often, when two denominations disagree on something, despite both being strict biblicists, the reason they disagree is likely that the truth is somewhere in between. Both sides easily see the error of the other, and as both sides are anxious to win — often more anxious to win than to seek unity — the fight goes on, emotions become more intense, and the rift grows deeper. This is especially true when the two sides have much in common — as this accentuates the differences that there are.
This is one reason we are much more emotional about our disputes with the Baptists than our disagreements with, say, the Eastern Orthodox, even though we have far more differences with the Orthodox.
The power of Christianity is in the freedom to admit to being wrong and to apologize. And this is to the glory to God.
We should deeply regret and apologize for our part in the antagonism that has for so long divided the Baptists from the Restoration Movement churches. We, of course, shouldn’t be less than truthful about what we believe — but we should admit that our views have been less than perfect and take the first step toward reconciliation. Christians don’t dispute over who should take the first step toward reconciliation. They delight to reconcile. You see, we’re peacemakers.