The Baptists’ Evolving View of Baptism (and the Churches of Christ, too)

BaptismOne 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) —

Baptism, Part 1
Baptism, Part 2
Baptism, Part 3
Baptism, Part 4
Baptism, Part 5
Baptism, Part 5.5
Baptism, Part 6
Baptism, Part 7
Baptism, Part 8
Baptism: How Football Explains Everything

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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18 Responses to The Baptists’ Evolving View of Baptism (and the Churches of Christ, too)

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    Growing up I was always taught that Baptists don’t believe in Baptism. But I went with my Baptist friends to church and they baptized a bunch of folks. So I came home and told my Dad that they did baptize. The main difference was we said it must be done immediately and you salvation hinged upon it if you waited the Lord may come back or you may die and that would jeopardize your soul. The Baptist waited and did it all at one time and said your faith or the sinner’s prayer saved you. Well how interesting that the Baptists are coming to many of the same realizations we have. You can baptize people all day long and have them say the sinner’s prayer but not make one single disciple. Without discipleship, and personal transformation prayers, baptisms and all other religious works and acts are worthless.

  2. jdb says:

    This was a great thread. I really enjoyed the essay and except for a couple of mistakes in our history, I thought it was an enjoyable read. I think he makes great points about both groups moving to the center on this subject. Thanks Jay for publishing it.

  3. Jay excellent stuff. Thanks for the link to Fowler. I recently wrote about Harding and Baptism too:
    http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/2009/

    You are also right about Campbell on his death bed.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine
    Tucson, AZ

  4. Jim Haugland says:

    I found Stanley Fowler's treatise very refreshing. The teaching I received in my upbringing in the Churches of Christ was, in my experience, purely a works oriented approach, which excluded grace and minimized faith (i.e., baptism itself was the sine qua non of the receipent's salvation). This prevented a biblical understanding of the relationship of grace and faith (Eph 2:8-10) in the understanding of on what basis does God justify the sinner (Romans) and how does baptism relate or embody the grace of God and the expression of faith/trust of the penitent believer in the associated promises of God – salvation and the gift of the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit to empower the disciple on his regenerative journey of spiritual renewal and transformation? How powerful is God? Is His power to justify limited exclusively to MY perfect understanding of the purpose of baptism or to the soverign power of God who looks into the content of one's heart based upon the knowledge that one has when one submits to the baptismal command in faith. Surely God can save anyone He desires to save by any means He so chooses, or He has no soverign power at all!

  5. Clint P. says:

    *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.*

    Great point!

  6. Nic says:

    We should cut out your last paragraph, enlarge it and paste it on our refrigerators. Leave out "the Baptists from the Restoration Movement churches" and leave room to write in different other confrontations (way too many) and it can be a permanent fixture. I hope it is in our hearts, if not on our fridges.

    Thanks,
    Nic

  7. nick gill says:

    Speaking of JM Hicks, his most recent blog addresses the Rebaptism controversy that raged (200 articles in 10 years) between the GA and the FF.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    Ed Stetzer likes to point out that the number of people praying the believer's prayers who remain faithful is less than 30%. That certainly contradicts the once saved, always saved theory if the prayer is sufficient to save. On the other hand, the yield on Church of Christ baptisms hasn't been that spectacular either. We both have a tendency to treat someone as saved long before they've made a commitment to Jesus as Lord, which is what Paul says is the confession that saves (Rom 10:9). We both wrongly tend to separate discipleship from salvation. It's our common heritage of revivalism. We've all heard too many sermons about the urgency of making a decision right now! We really need to think hard about how we respond when someone comes forward, asking to be baptized. Sometimes we need to take them aside and make certain they understand the commitment they're making.

  9. willohroots says:

    I was baptized in the Church of Christ. I now serve as a Baptist minister. I was never re-baptized, never will be, and there have been some fights. I was lead by the Lord to the church of my baptism. I don't know if I will make 2024, but I pray that we will be brought together ASAP. There is a move of The Spirit bringing us together, let us not grieve the Holy Spirit but unite in love of Jesus.

  10. Jimmy Prince says:

    I have never understood why we make such a point of disagreeing on the point of salvation… What's the point??? If faith and baptism are both required to enter a saved relationship with our Lord (and I believe they are) why does it matter when we believe salvation officially gets started. If the CoC is wrong then we're actually saved a bit earlier than we think. If the Baptists are wrong then salvation is a bit later. Either way, a saved relationship results and isn't that the real point? Also if we have to have a perfect understanding of the salvation process, we're probably all in trouble.

    I have to ask – is the Lord going to be more upset with us if we're mistaken on the point of salvation or if we insist on drawing imaginary lines of exclusion to fellowship over the exact point when salvation begins??? Doubtful things versus dividing the Lord's body – come on… the answer is paifully obvious.

    We need to evangelize those who are outside the Lord's body, encourage those who we believe are practicing error and engergize all who are serving Him the best way they know how.

    The more I learn about God's grace (and I'm still learning), the more I understand that I am called to accept believers with whom I may have many disagreements.

  11. Pingback: The Baptists’ Evolving View of Baptism, Part 2 « One In Jesus.info

  12. Adam Davis says:

    I grew up Church of Christ and was baptized in that denomination. I was raised to believe [this teaching all the more strongly reinforced at Freed-Hardeman University] that there was no salvation outside of us and a faith + works view of salvation [that is, faith + repentance + baptism "for the remission of sins" + weekly observance of the Lord's Supper + A Capella "corporate" worship + etc etc], basically a version of what Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventists and other cults teach. Such teaching is blasphemous. To say that you can't be saved unless you're in the "one true church" that is unless you're "one of us" a "Church of Christ" Campbelite is to say that your denomination is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the father but by it. That is blasphemy, plain and simple and that is EXACTLY what is taught in many Churches of Christ to this day. I grew up hearing we were the one true church and that we were the only ones who truly obeyed God and the only ones going to Heaven. To my Campbelite brethren, any view you hold that so closely paralells to views held by the aforementioned groups are views that should be re-considered and repented from. I still attend a Church of Christ, but I do not know how much longer. I do not know how much longer I can be associated with a denomination that teaches faith + works, perpetuates division, and teaches the blasphemous view of no salvation outside of their sect.

    Praise God, He cured me of my legalistic and sectarian mindset on the mission field in China, where they don't have the "luxury"of denominations. There, everyone professing faith in Christ is a Christian and a Christian only, something most Campbelites know nothing about.

    I now hold to the "Baptist" view of baptism, although I still attend a Church of Christ. The only reason I'm still fellowshipped where I'm at is because I still go to a Church of Christ. If I didn't, then I wouldn't be fellowshiped. I now hold to this view because to believe otherwise about Baptism is to believe faith + works, it's that plain and simple. No matter how well some Campbelites may try to work around that through semantics. The overall message of the Bible concerning salvation is that it is by grace through faith. Any passages that would seem to contradict this premise must be rightly harmonized with the overall Biblical message, otherwise you get this faith + works view taught in Churches of Christ.

    It is not the act of baptism that saves. If it were, anyone who ever was immersed [in any denomination] is saved. Clearly this is not the case and very few Campelites I know believe the immersed in other denominations are saved [ESPECIALLY the Baptists]. Plenty of folks have been baptized, but not all of them are truly saved. The problem with the Campblite view of baptism is that it doesn't make sense logically. If Baptismal Regeneration is true then it is baptism that produces faith and repentance and the very desire to obey and follow God. Clearly this isn't the case either. If it is the act of baptism that saves, if that is what you believe, then as Paul said to the Galatians, the cross is of no value to you. Any view that so depreciates the cross is a view that needs to be reconsidered and changed. If Baptism is a redemptive work then why would Jesus have to die on the cross? Why? No Campbelite has ever been able to answer that question to my satisfaction.

    In China I was very blessed to work with brethren from a very diverse denominational background. My closest co-laborers were Baptists. When I first met them, I was fully prepared to tell them they were all going to Hell. But God began His work on me there. He had to first show me that they were in fact my brethren. He did that by showing me the fruit of the Spirit in their lives and His presence with and in them. When I saw that, I had no other choice but to do the Christian thing and "esteem them as better than myself." Only when I considered myself in fellowship with them and erased the line I had drawn between myself and them could I legitamately consider their views on such things as Baptism. I did and now hold to what I believe is a right view of Baptism.

    I don't understand why this imaginary line of fellowship has been drawn between "us" and "them". Both Churches of Christ believe the right mode of Baptism is immersion [along with most Charismatic denominations] and that it is penitent believers who are to be baptized. That is good strong common ground, it's a good place to start as far as uniting the entire body of believers. When all of us Campbelites begin to have a proper understanding of baptism that it isn't the act that saves, then the lines will be drawn between those who are unimmersed that they are just as much saved by grace through faith as we are. It doesn't mean we don't tell them to be rightly baptized, but that we embrace them as our brethren.

    May God be glorified in the unity of the Body of Christ.

  13. Joe Baggett says:

    Adam:
    I had a very similar journey. It was when I was invited to lead a bible study with a Baptist buddy in highschool.

  14. David says:

    Jay Guin said:

    "Ed Stetzer likes to point out that the number of people praying the believer’s prayers who remain faithful is less than 30%. That certainly contradicts the once saved, always saved theory if the prayer is sufficient to save. On the other hand, the yield on Church of Christ baptisms hasn’t been that spectacular either."

    Or perhaps it just demonstrates the ineffectiveness of any external ritual or words that are devoid of true understanding and faith in Jesus. If a person places their faith in a prayer or in baptism to save them instead of in Christ then they are missing the whole point.

  15. Theophilus Dr says:

    Getting in on this thread two years late. Story of my life.

    If anyone wants to maintain their doctrinal correctness and another group doctrinal "wrongness," they better avoid members of the other group, because when you see the fruit and power of the Holy Spirit operating in the life of a member of a Baptist or an Assembly of God fellowship (etc), it is really hard to not observe an inconsistency between how God operates much more globally than how we think He operates.

    I once knew another member of the CoC some years ago who was quite legalistic (meaning even more so than I was at the time) and he thought that the line to hell would start with those denominations who baptized but not as a requirement for the remission of sins. He was going to do a Bible study with a Baptist during his lunch hour and convert him.

    Six months or so later, I asked him how the study was going. He said, "You know, we've been studying the Bible together for 6 months, and, wow, I sure am having a tough time time not believing he's a Christian."

    I said, "You've been praying with him, haven't you."

    He said, "Yeah, how'd you know?"

    I said, "You can't pray with someone and see the power of God in their life and continue to think they're not a Christian."

  16. Jesse Winn says:

    Very interesting points, both in the article, and the comments. I have more of a Lipscomb view on baptism myself. Still searching, though. Always want to have unity, but I always want it to be God’s way.

  17. Jay Guin says:

    Jesse,

    Glad to have you as a reader and thanks for your comment.

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