The Baptists’ Evolving View of Baptism, Part 2

BaptismThis follows up an earlier post on the same subject in which I posted an article by Stanley Fowler, a Baptist, noting the convergence of Baptist and Church of Christ views on baptism. That article has now appeared in a book, Baptist Sacramentalism 2, which is not yet available in the US. (You can buy it from UK sources. I have a review copy. It’s great. But I figure I should wait to post my comments until Amazon.com has it. The exchange rate with the UK is none too favorable.)

Anyway, one of the editors, Anthony Cross, sent me an article he’d written for the Evangelical Quarterly arguing for a revision of the Baptist view of baptism along lines that are very similar to the progressive Church of Christ view of baptism — and he got me permission to post the whole article here: “The Evangelical sacrament: baptisma semper reformandum.” The Latin means (I think) “baptism is always reforming.” This is a play on the Reformation slogan Ecclesia reformandum, semper reformanda = The Reformed church is always reforming. And if the Reformation should continue, even today, so should the church’s view of baptism. Amen.

(I hope I got this right. My Latin is, in a word, nonexistent.)

Of course, the same principle is true in the Churches of Christ, despite our efforts to ignore our Reformation roots (which is ironic because Alexander Campbell referred to the Restoration Movement as a continuation of the Reformation — even referring to himself and his followers are “Reformers,” fully intending to further and perhaps complete the work of Luther, Calvin, and the other great Reformation leaders. But I digress.).

In the article, Cross argues that baptism must be considered a part of the conversion process, along with faith, penitence, and the receipt of the Holy Spirit, even citing Everett Ferguson. Cross concludes,

What matters is that people come to new life in Christ. F. F. Bruce’s comment on Galatians 3.27 brings this all together: ‘If it is remembered that repentance and faith, with baptism in water and reception of the Spirit, followed by first communion, constituted one complex experience of Christian initiation, then what is true of the experience as a whole can in practice be predicated of any element in it. The creative agent, however, is the Spirit.’

Pages 210-211. And as I study the New Testament’s teaching on the Spirit and our conversion, I have to agree that the scriptures point much more to God’s work through the Spirit than to baptism as the efficient cause. Until we get the pneumatology (theology of the Spirit) right, we don’t have a prayer of getting the doctrine of baptism right.

Cross ultimately finds,

For centuries, the controversy over the subjects and mode of baptism – believers or infants, immersion or affusion/sprinkling – has been repeated almost by generation and still there seems little likelihood of agreement. Only from time to time has the controversy moved on to the theology of baptism. What I am not suggesting is that Baptists have got it right, while Paedobaptists have got it wrong. Rather, I have argued that in the main neither Baptists nor Paedobaptists at present uphold New Testament baptism.

Page 216. Amen.

We in the Churches of Christ need to be cautious. I mean, here we see an important part of the Christian world turning toward the position on baptism we’ve been teaching for 200 years, and we can’t help but wonder: why has it taken so long? But isn’t the answer obvious?

You see, the great deficiency in traditional Church of Christ teaching on baptism is our exclusivism — the teaching that our view is not only right, it’s the only view that saves. And this is so offensive to the rest of Christ’s church that they have been unwilling to give our views a fair hearing. And it’s our own fault.

I mean, the great Restoration leaders — Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott — also found the notion that God would not overlook error in baptism repugnant. Even David Lipscomb, for all his legalistic teachings, insisted that Baptist baptism was sufficient despite their misunderstanding of it. Indeed, he held that to teach otherwise is to be sectarian. And when you’re called a sectarian by David Lipscomb, you are a sure-’nuff sectarian! (“Sectarians in the Worship.” Gospel Advocate, 1907, 265, cited by Douglas Foster in “The New Birth and Christian Unity: David Lipscomb,” New Wineskins).

I’ve explained in a recent post a number of reasons that we should not consider as lost those who fail to be properly baptized. On the other hand, as Cross’s article demonstrates, admitting the salvation of others hardly means that we don’t contend for better baptismal practice — nor does it mean we won’t be listened to. In fact, experience is quite the opposite: refusing fellowship with the Baptists and Pedobaptists only guarantees that your arguments won’t be heard. And just how pleased could God be with that?

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.
This entry was posted in Baptism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Baptists’ Evolving View of Baptism, Part 2

  1. Randall says:

    What a great post. I hope it is widely read.

  2. K. Rex Butts says:

    Yes, we are not the only ones with a historical practice of secterianism. I once had a conversation with some Christians from a hyper-Calvinist background who told me I was lost because I did not believe in the TULIP doctrine. That too was an interesting conversation.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. James says:

    Jay, thank you for sharing this. I’ve been seeing some of this shift in Baptists I’ve known, but I didn’t realize it was a shift happening to this level. I have here in my office, for example, a 50+ page study of baptism’s place in the conversion story given to me by a Baptist missionary in South America. It is a very thorough study, one that he did of the scriptures, historical Christian views, and modern scholarship. It would fall right into what Fowler is saying, though perhaps leaning even further into the Church of Christ view of baptism. He found me when searching to see if there were any churches teaching what he concluded on his own (he’d never heard of the Church of Christ…he was became a Baptist in NY).

  4. K. Rex Butts says:

    Thanks for sharing this article, I will read it with great interest.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  5. cordobatim says:

    Thanks for providing this. The article is very interesting. I had a (long) phone call last week from a Baptist, trying to save me because my soul was in danger for believing that baptism is part of the salvation process.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  6. Randall says:

    Rex,
    Isn’t it interesting that a person that claims he is saved by grace alone and not by understanding any doctrine correctly would tell someone that they are not saved because they don’t understand doctrine correctly. And of course they don’t even realize they are contradicting their own doctrine.

    But if they paid more attention to scripture (rather than just what their preacher told them) they would not be hyper-Calvinists. BTW, do you know of any hyper-Calvinist (aka hard shell) groups other than the Primitive Baptists? I have only known a couple in my entire life and they both of them had become converts to the CofC. Perhaps in Australia there are additional groups, but refusing to evangelize can be a serious impediment to numerical growth.

    Regrettably both of the guys I knew still believed whatever their preacher told them – they just traded one set of denominational beliefs for another. I suppose that is part of the human condition.
    Peace,
    Randall

  7. K. Rex Butts says:

    Randall,

    When I had this conversation, I had a chukle under my breath as I thought how I have heard that argument before that if your doctrinal belief was not perfect then there was no grace, only it has been used to exclude believers like them from God’s salvation.

    They are the only hyper-Calvinist I have ever met. However, they were part of a pretty famous Christian music group. I have withheld using the name of the group they were part of because I don’t like the practice of naming specific people/groups especially when what I am saying is less than flattering.

    This conversation did take place long before I was theologically informed about the different issues and theological claims regarding determinist and free-will perspectives. Also, that was before my wife and I had experienced the death of a son. If a hype-Calvinist is consistent, they must conclude that all un-baptized babies are eternally dammed (a notion I find very unscriptural as well as personally disturbing).

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  8. WesWoodell says:

    Very interesting.

  9. Edward Fudge says:

    Very interesting piece, Jay! The best book on "baptism in the New Testament," in my opinion and that of many others, is still the book by that title by the late British Baptist G.R. Beasley-Murray whom you have discussed.

    For a brief overview of the history of relations between Baptists and Churches of Christ in the USA, see three gracEmails at http://www.edwardfudge.com/gracemails/Baptists_an… .

  10. Jay Guin says:

    I have that book on my shelf — and I've seen it on the shelves of many Church of Christ ministers. I've always enjoyed the irony of our ministers learning about baptism from a Baptist scholar! 😀

    It's a great book and very supportive of much of what we've traditionally taught on the subject — other than our exclusivism.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Rex,

    There seems to be a movement among the Baptists toward more traditional Calvinism, led by John Piper and others. It’s a serious problem at several levels, and I am surprised that the effort has taken on momentum.

  12. praise2lamb says:

    Jay,

    There is a great article by Robert Stein in Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (2:1, Spring 1998) entitled “Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament.” He states his thesis as–

    “In the New Testament, conversion involves five integrally related components or aspects, of of which took place at the same time, usually the same day. These five components are repentance, faith and confession by the individual, regeneration or the giving of the Holy Spirit by God, and baptism by representatives of the Christian community.”

    I kinda think he may be on to something. He goes on in the article to show how these 5 components are used in the NT– all are said to save alone and all are used in various combinations with one another and are said to save.

  13. Randall says:

    Jay,
    From my observation over more than a half century in the CofC it is quite unusual to find anyone that understands Calvinism any deeper than the caricature that is presented of it. Why do you find Calvinism objectionable and what is surprising that it would gain momentum among the Baptists? Surely you understand it deeper than what has been presented in our congregations.

    After all, many decades ago the Baptists were Calvinists. Thomas Campbell was also a Calvinist all his life though he chose to not make an issue of it. I believe you are aware that the CENI hermeneutic is also closely associated with Calvinism. I find it interesting that the CofC has rejected the best part of Calvinism (the Sovereignty of God) and kept the worst part of it with the hermeneutic that whatever is not prescribed is proscribed.

  14. Terry says:

    John Piper has some very good stuff at http://www.desiringgod.org. He emphasizes the glory of God in his teachings. I think that is what attracts so many (like myself) to his material. He is restoring an emphasis on God's glory. He also has some extremely good material on abortion, racism, and Christian ethics in general. He approaches the Bible with respect for it being the infallible word of God and with thoughtfulness. He also has a passion for missions, because God is glorified when people are exposed to the gospel. I have learned much from him and have been greatly encouraged by him. I may not understand everything John Piper believes, but his writings arre worth reading.

  15. Jay Guin says:

    Randall,

    I reject TULIP atonement theory because I think the Bible teaches something else. I’m closer to classic Arminianism, but I’m really somewhere in between. I explain my views in the “Searching for a Third Way” series.

    Southern Baptists are (mainly) presently semi-Calvinist. Once saved, always saved in the P in the TULIP. Their traditional baptismal theology comes straight from Calvin. But Southern Baptists have rejected the classic Calvinist view of TULI.

    I’ve read some of John Piper’s teachings on Calvinism, and I find him in error. But I’m much more concerned about the trend in some Calvinist circles to treat TULIP as the gospel and Arminianism therefore as a false gospel, insufficient to save. I don’t think Calvinists are damned for the their views, just mistaken — and mistaken in ways that I think are unhealthy for the church.

    I’m surprised that the Baptists are heading back toward Calvinism when they rejected TULI for good reason. It was divisive and was argued by many to oppose the need for missions. (Hence, the Missionary Baptist movement split off in the early 1800s because they supported missionaries.) And I can’t imagine that TULIP helps evangelize the lost. Surely it’s hard to convert someone to the idea that God arbitrarily chose to save some and damn others.

    Are there good aspects of Calvinism? Yes. Is Arminianism free from difficulties? No. Will we be better able to seek and save the lost by becoming TULIP Calvinists? I don’t think so. Rather, as I’ve argued before, we need to find a third way — which respects the sovereignty of God without infringing the love of God for all mankind.

  16. Randall says:

    Jay,
    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’ll try to keep my response brief (at least compared with some) as many here may not be interested in this thread.

    First: TULIP is not an atonement theory – it is the Calvinists’ response to the perceived Arminian heresy as expressed in the five points put forth by the Dutch remonstrants. The atonement theory associated with Calvinism is penal substitution.

    I glad to hear you’re closer to classic Arminianism as so many in the CofC are semi-Pelagian and there were even some full Pelagians in the congregation I was raised in. So I’m glad the CofC is moving toward a better understanding of man’s falleness and inability to fix himself. When I became familiar with TULIP I found it so much more satisfying than DAISY as put forth by so many in the CofC..

    If you feel that hanging onto one point and rejecting four points makes Baptists (mainly) semi Calvinists that is fine, but it may give them more credit than they deserve. BTW, most Calvinists are only four point (dropping the L). Many scholars feel that after Calvin the Calvinists became more Calvinistic than Calvin and the Arminians became more Arminian than Arminius.

    I’m happy to hear you read Piper. I wish I read more of his stuff. Have you ever read The Justification of God – An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9: 1-23?

    May I suggest that Calvinists do NOT treat TULIP as the gospel. The gospel taught by Calvinists is that I rebelled against God and he sent Jesus who died for me and graciously saved me through absolutely no credit/merit of my own. God chose to save me and though he may not have supplied all the details as to why he chose me, he certainly did not do it arbitrarily. Nor did he ever damn anyone arbitrarily. The only ones damned are those that choose to remain in rebellion against him – and he did not force them to do it. They choose to rebel against him b/c that is their nature. Had he not chosen to show me mercy I would have remained one of the “children of wrath even as the rest.” I do not know of any Calvinist that teaches that God chose to save or damn anyone arbitrarily. That is a classic example of the caricature of Calvinism I spoke of previously.

    I glad you don’t think Calvinists are damned for the their views, just mistaken. I never thought that you thought that Thomas Campbell was damned to hell for his theological perspective. God forbid that any of us would think that about someone that is seeking and trusting God.

    The only Baptists that I know of that have not supported missionary efforts are the Primitive Baptists as they are hyper-Calvinists. I do not know of any Southern Baptists, American Baptists or any other kind of Baptists that have opposed missionary efforts.

    As you know a hyper-Anything is someone that takes something to an illogical extreme. Hyper-Calvinists (who are ever so few in number) do not evangelize as they hold the position that God will bring in all his elect w/o their taking part in it. This is illogical and contrary to scripture such as the great commission. Historically, Calvinists have been among the most active to evangelize and support missionary efforts as they realize God has people everywhere and he has told us to go to them and preach the gospel. If God has foreordained the end he has certainly foreordained all the means to that end. So of all people, we can be confident that preaching the gospel will accomplish what he wants it to.

    You concluded by saying:
    “Are there good aspects of Calvinism? Yes. Is Arminianism free from difficulties? No. Will we be better able to seek and save the lost by becoming TULIP Calvinists? I don’t think so. Rather, as I’ve argued before, we need to find a third way — which respects the sovereignty of God without infringing the love of God for all mankind.” — I agree that Calvinism has it problems. It is the result of finite man trying to comprehend infinite God and the nature of our salvation and understand it in a whole world view that is glorifying to God. It draws more heavily on scripture than any other perspective I am familiar with, but still is (in part) the result of human logic. Thus it is necessarily flawed. I look forward to a better view and know that one day I will understand better than now. In the meantime I won’t take every opportunity to bad mouth Arminianism. I hope you will show the same courtesy to Calvinism as it is understood by Calvinists.
    Peace,
    Randall

    sorry this was longer than I had intended.

  17. adam davis says:

    I’m going to throw something out there that to many in Churches of Christ [especially the ultra-legalistic faction] is going to see as radical. . .

    When one realizes they are a sinner and Jesus is their Savior, and the obey God in baptism, they are “baptized into Christ” they are initiated into the Christian community. It doesn’t matter if the baptizing was done at a Church of Christ, a Baptist Church, Pentecostal, etc.. To declare one’s baptism invalid because it wasn’t “at the right church” or “for the right reasons” is one of the most sectarian things we can do. Divisive denominationalism is our doing, not God’s.

  18. Larry Short says:

    There is one tendancy in the above discussion that worries me. Its great to build a theology that has an excellent blend of all God's attributes. But I have to harmonize one scripture with another to construct a better understanding of God, rather than broadly cooking the best combo of God's attributes. Another way of saying it is the only honest view is bottom up, not top down. Stringing together scripture to build the jig saw puzzle seems more honest than top down theology of multiple guesses at what the picture will be.

Leave a Reply