Friday, November 27, 2020

Salvation and baptism – baptism

In H. A. Ironside's A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement, he discusses an attempt at reconciliation between the so-called "Grant brethren" and "open brethren" in Plainfield, NJ between 1892 and 1895 (pp. 145–170). He quotes a letter signed by B. C. Greenman, S. Ridout, and F. W. Grant in which they list barriers to fellowship, including "insistence upon certain views of baptism" on the part of "open brethren" (p. 148). 

Better and more godly men than I have disagreed about baptism, so I've made a practice of not kicking that particular hornets' nest. But since a couple folks have asked, I'll make just a few general comments on baptism.

I grew up almost entirely surrounded by people who taught, believed, and practiced believers' baptism. I can't count the number of times I've heard someone say that baptism is "an outward expression of an inward reality." 

Eventually – having read way too much on the subject – I was challenged by the statement that while Scripture says other things are types of baptism (the ark, 1 Peter 3:21, and the crossing of the Red Sea, 1 Corinthians 10:1–5), it doesn't say baptism is a type of anything else. I haven't been able to find a place where baptism is called a type, a symbol, a sign, or anything close to it. That's not a slam dunk, but it does undercut the central assumption behind believers' baptism. Scripture treats baptism like a reality, not a symbol.

I know, "slam dunk" is a horrible pun.

For the past ten or fifteen years I've leaned to household baptism, perhaps a little reluctantly. I'm not really interested in getting into fights over baptism, and I'm not willing to make something a fellowship issue without an actual verse. So I'm perfectly happy fellowshipping with other believers who hold a different view.

There is a paper by J. N. Darby on STEM Publishing, "On the Baptism of Households" that seems to me to be a very clear presentation of the household baptism position. It's well worth a read.

Let me just say: household baptism doesn't mean baptismal regeneration. Baptism doesn't regenerate, give life, or justify in God's sight. I absolutely don't believe that an infant, having been baptized, is now no longer a sinner. 

Household baptism is merely the acknowledgement that there is such a thing in Scripture as earthly, temporal, outward salvation as well as eternal salvation. Baptism is connected with the former, not the latter. 

So yes, I believe in baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16). That doesn't mean God forgives sins because people are baptized. I take it to mean that in baptism, we leave a world under sin and judgment and take our place in a new order of things.  It's not for God's benefit that we are baptized. God counts as righteous the one who believes and does not work (Romans 4:5), baptism has no place in that. But baptism is intimately connected with our place in this world.

So that's my take on baptism. I fully admit that I've read too much on the subject, which certainly affects my thinking.

Let me add a short postscript here... Francis Schaeffer's short paper "Baptism": is well worth a read. He argues for infant baptism by pointing out that circumcision is called a "sign" in Scripture (Romans 4:10–11), and Scripture does explicitly say that circumcision was to be an outward sign of an inward reality (Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:28–29). But Scripture still commanded the circumcision of infants. 

That's a compelling argument: if circumcision – which Scripture explicitly tells us is the outward sign of an inward reality – can be practiced on infants, than surely we shouldn't scruple to baptize infants on the strength of the argument that they haven't believed.

1 comment:

Metal Phil said...

Thank you so much for this series! It’s very enlightening and helpful! I’m reading through Darby’s Letters and kept coming up against this and a brother on Twitter recommended your blog series here, after I asked about clarification on Darby’s position. Anyway, be blessed, brother! Thank you!