From Baptism and Back Again

hobbitThere and back again is the subtitle to the children’s book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937). It is the journey of a small hobbit named Biblo who travels from Hobbiton in the Shire to the Lonely Mountain on the other side of Middle Earth to help a host of dwarves recapture their treasure from a dragon.  I cannot tell you more than that in case you’ve never read it, but he makes it there and back again in the end.

There is another epic story that could bear a similar name, though we’d have to call it something like From Baptism and Back Again: A True Story of Biblical Baptism. It is a story of the loss and then the subsequent rediscovering of the practice Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19–20.

I am utterly convinced, as a man swayed by credible evidence, that what is often called believer’s baptism by immersion or credobaptism (clarifying the only proper subject, mode and imagery) is the only type of baptism and that all of the extra-Biblical evidence (first century history, early Jewish practices, the meaning of the word baptizo, biblical context and theology, archaeology, and early Christian history, liturgy and literature) is conclusive to this end.[1]

Allow me to recount how Christianity went away from true baptism and developed other human practices and traditions (wrongly called baptism) and then came back again through the rediscovery of credobaptism during the Reformation.

Essentially the story goes like this…

Early Christians (think Acts and beyond) clearly practiced credobaptism exclusively. However, as Christianity grew in numbers and acceptability (along with a growing fear for the souls of infants), many began to push to expand the envelop of who could be baptized. This process was accelerated with the legalisation of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire in c.312 AD and the beginning of Christendom (when Christianity became the official state religion in Europe). Hereafter these recent unbiblical developments increased at an unprecedented rate. Corresponding to the legalisation of Christianity came rampant nominalism (something those in this period of the Church lamented). If society had become Christian how could all be identified as such within society and find inclusion in it? The answer: baptize every individual, whether adult or child, believer or unbeliever. Baptism would be one’s passport in Christendom (btw- which is why groups like Anabaptists and Baptists were viewed with such suspicion by the state in the Reformation, they were rejecting their passports!). The origin of infant or paedo-baptism as a new phenomenon is well documented by Tertullian (150–225).[2] He provides the first literary evidence for the practice, not because he embraced it but because he opposed its introduction into the church and the rampant nominalism it helped to breed. Listen to what he said[3]:

tertullian

Sadly, however, the tide of nominalism was against people like Tertullian until paedo-baptism became embraced by the Church almost universally. Though Biblical baptism was still practiced at various points, unbiblical forms of baptism remained the norm until the Reformation began in the 1500s and groups like the Anabaptists and Baptists began to reject all other forms of baptism but the historic and Biblical form as unscriptural, nominal and “popish.”

One of the earliest Baptist confessions of faith, the First London Baptist Confession of 1644, states:

No. 39

That Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed only upon persons professing faith, or that are Disciples, or taught, who upon a profession of faith, ought to be baptized. (Acts 2:37, 38; 8:36-38; 18:8).

No. 40

The way and manner of the(1) dispensing of this ordinance the Scripture holds out to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water: it being a sign, must answer the thing signified, which are these: first, the(2) washing the whole soul in the blood of Christ; secondly, that interest the saints have in(3) death, burial, and resurrection (of Christ) ; thirdly, together with a(4) confirmation of out faith, that as certainly as the body is buried under water, and rises again, so certainly shall the bodies of the saints by raised by the power of Christ, in the day of the resurrection, to reign with Christ.

1) Mat. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38 2) Rev. 1:5; 7:14; Heb. 10:22 3) Rom. 6:3-5 4) 1 Cor. 15:28, 29

These believers were violently persecuted at first by other nominal and authentic Christians alike. Since the Reformation credobaptists have come to represent the largest bodies of Protestants in the world: Baptists, Pentecostals, Community Churches, Free Evangelicals, etc. Ironically, many anti-credobaptists still will practice credobaptism with adult converts (my local Anglican church once asked to use our space at the Baptist church for this very purpose).

Thus, though baptism has endured great trials, it has journeyed away from its Biblical origin and then back again so that—thankfully—credobaptism stands once more as a beautiful sign of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

[1] While convinced, I count other brothers and sisters in Christ who differ on this important secondary point (so long as they do not believe baptism has any saving value) as full heirs in the Gospel, however, as disobedient to Jesus’ command in this regard. While not primary this important secondary matter has many consequences when overlooked or neglected.

[2] Tertullian was an elder in the church in Carthage (North Africa). He was a prolific writer in early Christianity and an apologist for the faith.

[3] The quote is taken from Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2009), 364.

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