This 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?