Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Believer's Baptism by Immersion -- I thought we believed this

I find the new Baptism survey staggering. If I am reading the survey correctly, a full 87 percent of Baptist pastors hold a faulty or deficient view of baptism. What we say that we believe in the BFM2000 is not what we practice in reality.

Some pastors it appears, view Baptism too narrowly. According to the study, 74% of our pastors would re-baptize someone because their church does not believe in eternal security. Among them, a full 16% would rebaptize someone from another Southern Baptist church!

This reflects, in many cases, a misunderstanding and unbiblical view of Baptism. First, Baptism is not biblically related to eternal security.[1] Persons are not baptized because they believe in correct Baptist doctrine or because they have a sound understanding of soteriology. Rather, they are baptized because they have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Jesus Christ. A person who has, after conversion to Christ, been immersed “symbolizing [their] faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus”[2] have indeed been scripturally baptized. There is no call to re-baptize someone because they have come to a more biblical understanding of the security of the believer. Granted, some have argued that a person who does not believe in eternal security has a deficient faith and is trusting in a “works” salvation (thus the need to be rebaptized). This view, however, demonstrates a misunderstanding of Arminianism and its rejection of eternal security. I have argued against this misunderstanding elsewhere[3] and am, frankly, disappointed at the willful ignorance of pastors on this issue. I am not surprised, however, because similar false doctrinal assertions are made against our 5-point Calvinist brothers because they misunderstand and distort the Calvinist view (which, incidently, seems evident from the other part of the Lifeway study). In any case, the idea that Baptism is tied to eternal security rather than on conversion shows either a misunderstanding of baptism or a misunderstanding of Arminianism, or both.

Second, Baptism, while an ordinance of the local church, is not confined in its application to the particular local church in which the Baptism was performed. While baptism is indeed a “prerequisite to the privileges of church membership,”[4] baptism is not an ordinance that is to be repeated in each local church. There is no evidence in the New Testament of a Christian being re-baptized at all, let alone for joining a new local assembly.[5] While it was a small percentage, a significant number of SBC pastors would require rebaptism of persons coming from a church of like faith and practice – even another SBC church. This view, again, demonstrates a faulty view of baptism.

While these first two groups have understood baptism too narrowly, it seems another group has understood the ordinance too broadly. The study also reported that 13 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism of someone baptized in a church that believed in baptismal regeneration, 3 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism of someone not baptized by immersion, and 1 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism. Thankfully, these are minority positions. I should not have to argue to my Baptist readers that scriptural baptism is (1) believer’s baptism, (2) by immersion, and (3) symbolic rather than salvific. I thought this was a Baptist distinctive.

Again, I find this a significant problem in our application of Baptist theology. A small percentage seem to be accepting ANY baptism as valid. A larger percentage view only baptism performed by Baptists is valid. Only 26%, it seems, embrace the thoroughly biblical view that baptism is the symbolic immersion of a believer. Some accept a baptism whether or not is was symbolic. Others accept a baptism whether or not it was by immersion. Many reject the baptism of a believer, merely because that believer was not a Baptist. All of these are a distortion of baptism as pictured in the New Testament. Whether understood too broadly or too narrowly, who knew that the denomination that is most readily identified with their view baptism would by and large not fully embrace biblical believer’s baptism.

[1] Tom Ascol makes this point in his 2006 blog post.

[2] BFM2000, section VII, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper”

[3]For an Arminian perspective of this issue see the Assembly of God position paper on eternal security here.

[4] BFM2000, section VII, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper”

[5] Appeal to the rebaptism of the Ephesian believers in Acts 19 is not an example of the kind of rebaptism we are talking of here. Their initial baptism was not a Christian baptism at all because they had not been “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” Acts 19:5 (NASB). Rather, in terms of Christian baptism, they were being baptized for the first time.



Anonymous said...

The study also reported that 13 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism of someone baptized in a church that believed in baptismal regeneration

If someone enters a Southern Baptist Church and they are corrected in their thinking that baptism is not needed for regeneration does that mean they need to be baptized again?
How is this any different than those who want to re-baptize a person because they came out of a denomination that does not fully embrace eternal security?

Baptism is an ordiance of the church and should be left up to the local church (as long as it is seen as symbolic, after salvation, and some form of immersion).

Chris g

blbartlett said...

I agree with the vast majority of your post. However, I am struggling on the topic of, "by immersion." When does Scripture require by immersion? I agree that the key metaphor involved in baptism is dying to sin and raised with Christ, but I do not see why this imagery cannot be maintained through sprinkling or pouring (especially, say, in a foreign prison where immersion is not an option).

If we are going to argue that it was "assumed" that baptism was by immersion, and that this is a legitimate hermeneutical tool, then shouldn't we also say that it is "assumed" that wine is used in the Lord's Supper? After all, would they have thought to use anything else? And yet my sense is that the vast majority of churches not only don't use wine in the Lord's supper, they actively discourage and even condemn it as sin.

That said, I agree that there are a lot of unbiblical conceptions of baptism out there.

Todd Benkert said...

Pastor Chris,

Thanks for dropping in :) Here is my two cents: Because a belief in baptismal regeneration speaks to whether salvation is by faith or by works. Salvation by works is no true salvation and consequently no true baptism. Here me correctly, however, I am speaking to those churches that affirm baptismal regeneration -- not churches that are wrongly accused of such. Also, I agree that baptism decisions should be left to the church. I am merely troubled by the number of baptists who, in my opinion have an errant view.



Thanks for taking the time to comment. I would argue that immersion is the normative mode of baptism and that only immersion rightly preserves the symbol of being "buried" with Christ. That being said, I do not argue that there can be no accommodation in extreme cases such as the one you mention. The survey, however, seemed to indicate accepting a baptism where sprinkling or pouring is normative. I am not an expert on all denominations, however, it has been my understanding that those who normatively sprinkle or pour generally view baptism as sacramental and an actual cleansing/forgiveness from sin rather than a symbol of regeneration, being buried with Christ and rising to walk in newness of life. (I am certainly willing to be corrected on this point if there is a denomination out there that proves to be an exception).

As far as the Lord's Supper goes, hermeneutically you are correct. I would suggest that the use of wine likely was normative in the New Testament era. However, the symbol involved in the Lord's supper is not tied to whether or not the wine was fermented, so the parallel is not applicable here (in my opinion :-). Baptist churches may be in error in condemning the use of wine in communion but are not in error for simply using grape juice.

Anyway, thanks for joining in the conversation. I hope you will return.