Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More on Baptism

On the Desiring God Blog today, Abraham argues that "Rejection Actually Hurts" (which we all knew anyway didn't we?), and offers a bit of anecdotal evidence in support of the theory that baptism is optional so long as our personal feelings and beliefs are validated by our personal feelings and beliefs.

As proof, he offers Jeremy Archer's experience of being rejected from BBC's membership because he was poured in the Winter instead of waiting until summer. Apparently, in this particular Minnesota town, there were no indoor swimming pools that could be rented for a half hour or so for a baptismal, and no way to spring for the funds to buy one of the portable baptistries that are now readily available. So rather than wait till summer to be scripturally baptized, he decided to be poured. As a result, he could not join BBC. (You can read the whole story at his blog).

First, to me it seems strange that a member and employee of BBC (Abraham) is going public with his dissent over the church's position. However, since his father has done it in trying to lead change, perhaps it is not troubling there. It would be to me, since once an issue has been settled by the church leadership, it should be over. There should be no more behind the scenes lobbying, or public blogging by employees expressing dissatisfaction. if you don't like it, leave. This, to me, it almost tantamount to trying to undermine church leadership (and biblical doctrine) by appealing to an emotional story.

Second, there is a pretty easy solution for Jeremy. Get baptized scripturally. Then you can join BBC and graduate from Moody.

The discussion over baptism that has recently taken place is troubling to me, not least because it seems to be a discussion about what Scripture is clear about. Scripture is clear that baptism is immersion for believers as a public confession of Christ. In Jeremy's case it is particularly interesting because he was a believer who was poured. You can't argue the "whole house" argument for pouring as a "mode" of baptism. In fact, there is no scriptural argument for pouring.

So Jeremy, I don't know you, but I see a simple solution here. Your personal feelings that your pouring was valid is irrelevant. And should you read this, I do not say that harshly. I say that with love and grace. Biblical obedience cannot be judged by personal feelings in areas where God has spoken. There are a great many people who feel validated in sinfulness for various reasons ... they enjoy it and rationalize it; they are angry and bitter and feel a right to their sin; etc. These do not equal biblical obedience.

Jeremy says,
I finally came to the conclusion that my initial pouring baptism was indeed defective and yet valid. As in all of our obedience, I see a degree of sin and error in it. And at the same time I am counting on God’s grace to “sanctify” my defective baptism that was done in faith and with a desire to obey his word.
Defective yet valid? If it was defective, then fix it. Doing something in faith with a desire to obey his word is not the measure of obedience. Conformity to God's revealed commands is the measure. Pouring is not valid baptism. It does not conform to what Scripture reveals.


Keith said...

If it were really true, the way you mean it that "Scripture is clear that baptism is immersion for believers as a public confession of Christ," there wouldn't be any controversy.

I have no problem with someone saying, "From Scripture, I am convinced of credo immersion." I'm not so convinced, but I respect those who are.

However, if the whole matter were really as clear as you (on the baptist side) and others (on the Grace Brethren, Lutheran, Presbyeterian, Anglican, etc. sides) sometimes want to argue, there would be no need for the argument.

Larry said...

Thanks Keith,

Your response is exactly what some say about eternal security and others says about salvation by works. It doesn't fly there and it won't fly here.

From Scripture, I am convinced of credo immersion, but that is irrelevant. It is what Scripture teaches, regardless of my personal view of it.

I think this is where we too often make a mistake in putting clear doctrines in the categories of "I believe." Something is not true because "I believe it" but because it is true. This is one of those things.

There is no need for the argument.

Keith said...


I cheerfully and heartily agree with you that "something is not true because 'I believe it' but because it is true." I don't think that my previous post indicated anything to the contrary.

Of course, there is a true position on baptism that is not dependent upon the belief of any individual or group of humans. We weren't talking about that (or "eternal security" or "salvation by works") though. What we were talking about was the clarity of Scripture in regards to baptism.

The fact that objective, absolute truth exists, does not prove that the Bible is unarguably clear on every contested issue. Despite your assertions that the Bible is unarguably, crystal clear about credo immersion, it obviously isn't.

In attempt to move the discussion beyond dueling assertions (is to . . . is not), here's one reason why I don't agree with you about Scriptural clarity on this point -- Many men and women who unwaveringly believe that the Bible is the very Word of God and who study that word dilligently, faithfully, intelligently, and prayerfully, have drawn drastically different conclusions about baptism. If the Bible were as unmistakeably clear as you wish to argue, such differences would not exist.

Again, of course, the differing conclusions cannot all be right. Furthermore, positions could be developed which would violate the Scriptural clarity that does exist regarding baptism -- someone arguing that one must be baptized in green jello for example.

Nevertheless, when it comes to taking positions on certain issues/practices/distinctives, conviction is great and admirable, but dismissiveness of those who have come to other plausible positions is, at best, misguided.

Larry said...

Thanks again, Keith ... Let's change it just a bit for the sake of illustration:

Many men and women who unwaveringly believe that the Bible is the very Word of God and who study that word dilligently, faithfully, intelligently, and prayerfully, have drawn drastically different conclusions about salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Does that mean that salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is up for debate?

Of course not. The fact that some people study the Scripture incorrectly means that their belief that the Bible is the Word of God, their intelligence, their prayerfulness, their diligence, and whatever else is irrelevant. They are incorrect.

On the issue of baptism, the Bible seems amazingly clear. Were it not for a wrong teaching on the usefulness of baptism with respect to original sin it may well be that infant baptism never gets off the ground in the early church.

Every biblical example or teaching is of believers being immersed. There is no biblical evidence for anyone but believers, and there is no biblical evidence for anything by immersion.

The fact that "good men differ" is irrelevant. The Bible does not seem in the least to be hidden in this matter.

Keith said...


Yes, the position that salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is up for debate. And, also yes, there is only one correct answer. One side of the debate is wrong.

I am convinced that the historic protestant position on these matters is the best interpretation of the Scriptures. I am convinced that it is the one correct answer. I am even convinced that the Scripture is clear on these matters.

Nevertheless, in dealing with someone who does not see it so clearly (someone who read James before he read Romans for example), my responsibility is to show him why I hold my position. I shouldn't just say, "Well, the right position is as clear as the nose on your face, just read your Bible."

If the protestants could not defend their position on the solas you mention, if they could not win the debate from Scripture, then I might be convinced otherwise. And, frankly, so might you. This is the case even though you and I might be convinced toward error due to inadequacies of the debaters.

The fact that some people read the Scripture incorrectly means that you might be reading scripture incorrectly. So, you've got to make your case. You say it's clear, I say it isn't. Why should someone believe one of us over the other?

Some things are unarguably clear in Scripture -- God exists for example. Other things aren't as clear -- the details of baptism for example.

Last I looked there is not a single example or teaching that clearly demonstrates immersion -- let alone gives the specific details of said immersion (is it forward, backward, once, three-times, etc.)

If the Bible is not the least hidden in this matter, then good men who know how to read would not differ. The differences would come only from dishonesty (bad) or ignorance.

Keith said...


Moving to another point. You wrote, "Defective yet valid? If it was defective, then fix it." Well, upon reading Jeremy's account, he tried to fix it but the baptists wouldn't let him.

Jeremy writes: "Nevertheless, it was also my desire to be re-baptized by immersion so as to honor the policies, leadership, and polity of my church and its elders. Unfortunately, this concession was regarded as insufficient by my elders and they have (thus far) been unwilling to baptize me due to the fact that I still regard my initial baptism as valid and hope to see BBC’s membership policy change."

So, to be a member he not only has to be baptized properly he has to recant a previous action and hold that congregations particular view on an ordinance.

This position surely is not clear in Scripture. Where is this described or taught at all?

Larry said...

Thanks again, Keith. This might be an exercise in futility though certainly not rancor. But let’s give it a sshot.

For you to say that salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is “up for debate” is unconscionable to me. I do not know under what possible reading of Scripture that is “up for debate” unless that reading involves isolated passages or substituted authority (e.g., the “Church and her bishops”). Christianity does not hold that “grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” is up for debate. It affirms it without reservation.

You said that immersion is not clear, yet every case of baptism makes clear that immersion was what happened, from “much water there” to the meaning of the word itself. Now when you talk about the “specific details of said immersion (is it forward, backward, once, three-times, etc.)” then you have correctly identified the discussion about “mode” of baptism (as Hiscox, I believe, pointed out). Mode of baptism is not sprinkling or pouring or immersion. That would be like saying “mode of transportation is car, onion, or open ended wrench.” These things do not belong in the same category.

As for defective yet valid, Jeremy did not want to acknowledge that pouring was not baptism. It may have been well-intentioned, but it was not baptism, and apparently he was unwilling to acknowledge that. I have never been confronted with that scenario, so I am not sure what I would do in a similar case, but I think I would tend towards BBC’s position that you have to be willing to say “What I did was not what I should have done.”

Let’s try it on another ordinance: Let’s say someone was a Catholic who believed in transubstantiation. Would we let them partake of the table believing that their previous view was defective but valid? I wouldn’t. I am not sure that is a fair analogy, so feel free to pick up on it, but I think once we say baptism is “defective,” we cannot also say it is valid. And if it were valid, then why try to be a Baptist and join a Baptist church when you disagree with one of the essential issues of Baptist polity?

Keith said...


1. I suspect that we may be using terms differently. I'm not sure, but it seems likely. Here's why:

By "up for debate" I mean acceptable to debate (question, challenge, critique, answer, defend). People may question or challenge the solas (in fact Roman Catholics and others do). When they so question or challenge, they may even cite some Scripture. Questioning and challenging in and of themselves do not violate the laws of government, church, or family. People who so challenge are not struck dead immediately. They are free to debate (Thomas was not scolded for "doubting" that Christ had risen). It is up to the proponent of the solas to show where and how the Scripture teaches them ("Always be ready to give an answer . . .")

By "up for debate" you seem to mean "changeable." I don't think that the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is changeable.

2. Roman Christianity does not affirm these truths. Protestant Christianity does. But all of that is irrelevant -- what matters is what God has said. And, while it is true that God's people, those who are in Christ, should, without reservation, affirm the solas, that does not mean they are free to exclusively assert them. The Bible itself is full of explanations and defenses of the faith. It is not just a list of doctrinal assertions.

3. Every case of baptism does not make clear that immersion was what happened. That is simply an unsupportable assertion.

"Then they that gladly received his words were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" Acts 2:38,41.

"And he [Philippian jailer] took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family." Acts 16:33

"Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corintihians hearing Paul believed and were baptized" Acts 18:8

How do these cases make clear immersion is what happened?

4. What biblical teaching would direct you to require a renouncing of a previous baptism, which you find invalid, in order to accept an additional baptism which is valid on your terms? A large portion of the church believes that administering water in the name of the Trinity multiple times is more problematic than using a mode of applying the water that some brothers think defective. After this post, I'll post a quote from Packer that explains what I mean here.

5. If a Roman Catholic converted to protestantism, I think that I would allow them to partake of communion if they held that their previous view (I'm assuming you mean view of communion -- transubstantiation) was defective but valid. I'm not sure about this, but I think that description would apply to the reformers themselves.

6. If nothing defective is valid, then none of us have ever done anything validly.

7. I agree with you that those who disagree with a baptist church's published distinctives should not try to join that church. Of course, the question remains, where is it published that baptists must affirm that their previous credo-pouring is invalid?

8. Of course Mr. Piper is already a member of a baptist church. Because he would like to see the baptists change their position slightly, must he resign his membership before even exploring and debating the matter?

Keith said...

Here's why some of us are more concerned about possibly erroneously administering more than one baptism than we are about administering one baptism in a possibly erroneous mode:

All the following, by J.I. Packer:

"Christian baptism, which has the form of a ceremonial washing (like John’s pre-Christian baptism), is a sign from God that signifies inward cleansing and remission of sins (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:25-27), Spirit-wrought regeneration and new life (Titus 3:5), and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as God’s seal testifying and guaranteeing that one will be kept safe in Christ forever (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:13-14). Baptism carries these meanings because first and fundamentally it signifies union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-7; Col. 2:11-12); and this union with Christ is the source of every element in our salvation (1 John 5:11-12). Receiving the sign in faith assures the persons baptized that God’s gift of new life in Christ is freely given to them. At the same time, it commits them to live henceforth in a new way as committed disciples of Jesus. Baptism signifies a watershed point in a human life because it signifies a new-creational engrafting into Christ’s risen life.

Christ instructed his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). This means that the covenant relation which baptism formally confers is one of acceptance by, communion with, and commitment to all three Persons of the Godhead. When Paul says that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” (1 Cor. 10:2), he means that they were put under Moses’ control and direction. Thus, baptism into the name of the triune God signifies control and direction by God himself.

The outward sign does not automatically or magically convey the inward blessings that it signifies, and the candidates’ professions of faith are not always genuine. Peter had to tell the newly baptized Simon Magus that he was still unrenewed in heart (Acts 8:13-24).

As a sign of a once-for-all event, baptism should be administered to a person only once. Baptism is real and valid if water and the triune name are used, even if it is of an adult whose profession turns out to have been hypocritical. Simon Magus received baptism once, and if he came to real faith later it would have been incorrect to baptize him again."

Larry said...


Just a few select comments rather than addressing everything.

1. Apparently we are using “up for debate” dissimilarly. I suppose using your terminology that anything is “up for debate.”

2. As for not all passages making clear that immersion was used, first, that is an invalid argument since the cited passages do not make clear that immersion was not used. Furthermore, they use the word “baptize” which means “to immerse.” So it does make clear that immersion was used.

3. As for a biblical teaching about renouncing, I am aware of no biblical teaching on renouncing a baptism that wasn’t a baptism at all. Remember, “baptism” is “immersion as a confession of faith in Christ.” If he was poured, then he wasn’t baptized. If he wasn’t saved, then he wasn’t baptized. There is no baptism to renounce. He got wet and it did nothing biblical. BTW, as I am sure you are aware, that is how Anabaptists got their name, because they refused to acknowledge their infant baptism as baptism at all; their opponents named them “anaBaptists” or “rebaptizers.” They refused the name saying that this was their first and only baptism.

4. As far as Piper and churches, it is his church; he can do what he wants.

5. As for Packer, I think he is wrong. He says, “Baptism is real and valid if water and the triune name are used.” This is incorrect in omitting immersion. He continues even if it is of an adult whose profession turns out to have been hypocritical. This is incorrect in that it omits baptism as a public profession of inward faith. If someone is baptized and then later is convinced that they were not saved and they received Christ, it would not only be acceptable to baptize them; it would be necessary to baptize them in order to have them in obedience to Christ. But if I remember correctly, Packer’s theology is defective on this matter. It is therefore invalid.

Keith said...


Time constraints, not a desire to be rude, require this reply to be brief.

1. Yes, that was my point -- everything may be debated. Those who have a position of conviction should be able to defend it.

2. My argument here was not invalid. I did not argue that the passages made clear that immersion was not used. All I argued was that they did not make clear that it was used. My point is that they are not clear about mode, not that some non-immersion mode is clear in them.

I charged your previous assertion with invalidity. I wrote, "Every case of baptism does not make clear that immersion was what happened. That is simply an unsupportable assertion." And, I listed cases of baptism in Scripture which did not make the mode clear. Your assertion requires that the every case clearly indicate immersion. My charge only requires one case that does not make it clear -- whether it is clear that it was or was not is irrelevant to logic here.

The claim that the word "baptize" makes it clear is another unsupportable assertion. And, if it were supportable, then we should have avoided all the rest of the discussion since we are discussing "baptism".

3. I understand that baptists believe that nothing other than their form of credo-immersion qualifies as baptism. But again, that's not the point here. The gentleman under discussion was willing to be anabaptized -- he was willing to be immersed by the baptist church, in their way, offering a profession of faith. That wasn't accepted though -- they wouldn't even give him the baptism they think so important unless he renounced his pouring. They want him to renounce something that they consider nothing. They want him to renounce something that he considers defective and that he is willing to, in sumbission and peace, rectify (on their terms). Where do they get that teaching?

4. You go farther than I do here. I don't think it is Piper's church and I don't think he can do what he wants. However, I think (and maybe you don't) that Christians and pastors ought to be able to discuss, yea debate, and work on developing their understanding and practice of the faith.

5. Well, Packer offered a lot of Scripture and argument. You have only asserted. I guess his arguments from Scripture convince me more.

Thanks for the discussion. Peace.

Larry said...

As for passages about immersion being unclear, first the argument is invalid because it doesn’t argue the opposite (i.e., that pouring is clear). Those passages are completely compatible with immersion, and given the rest of Scripture’s teaching, nothing else should be expected. Second, the use of the word baptize, which means to dip or immerse, clarifies whatever may have been unclear from the context.

When someone argues that Baptizo does not mean immerse, it seems to me that they are arguing from a theological position, not a lexical one.

You are correct that in those passages the mode of baptism is not clear. We don’t know if they did it forward or backward, in running water or still, or warm or cold, trine or single. Those are mode question. Sprinkling and pouring are not modes of baptism. They are something wholly different. The words for sprinkling and pouring are used not used in baptism contexts in the NT.

It seems to me that if you are going to say that “pouring is valid,” the burden of proof is on you to show any NT place where pouring was carried out. That’s why your argument is invalid. You didn’t prove anything with it, other than that the text did not include a qualifier such as “because there was much water there,” or “they went down into the water.” So to use that to cast doubt on immersion is invalid, it seems to me.

As for BBC and their policy, I did a little proxy research yesterday through an email, and my understanding is that Baptists are somewhat divided on that question. As a local, autonomous, Baptist church, they get to decide what they do. Incidentally, I think they are correct. Jeremy was not willing to say that his identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection was no identification at all. His argument is, “I meant well. But to satisfy you, I will give it another go in your way.” He is not being baptized because his conscience desires obedience. He is being baptized because of someone else’s conscience. I find that problematic at best.

[quote That wasn't accepted though -- they wouldn't even give him the baptism they think so important unless he renounced his pouring. They want him to renounce something that they consider nothing. They want him to renounce something that he considers defective and that he is willing to, in sumbission and peace, rectify (on their terms). Where do they get that teaching?

I think it is fine to discuss, debate, develop our understanding. I don’t think it is fine to redefine Christ’s command to the church and pretend like it is a non-issue whether we make disciple by baptizing them. I don’t think we have the prerogative to say, “We’ll pour instead, or sprinkle.” Or “We’ll do it to non-believers.”

As for Packer, his paragraph is good in places and could be picked apart, but that would not be a good use of my time, and furthermore, his fundamental issues are summed up in what I said. He does not recognize the meaning or proper subjects of baptism. Like Packer, I can liberally sprinkle my writing with parenthetical Scripture references, and include some statements that are true. But if I miss the fundamental points about the matter—in this case, what is baptism and who gets it—the use of Scripture does not mean a whole lot with respect to the point at hand.

Thanks again for reading and interacting.

Keith said...

I only have a minute during my lunch break to reply.

I do not have to argue the opposite or offer an alternative to refute your statement that "Every biblical example or teaching is of believers being immersed." To refute that statement all I have to do is show one example that does not describe immersion. I think I offered three -- unless the mere use of the word baptizo wins the argument, in which case we shouldn't even have introduced the rest. Of course the word baptizo is used to describe baptism. Nevertheless, there are plenty of folks who don't agree that baptizo must mean immerse -- on lexical grounds. The three examples I gave do not describe the baptism at all.

If someone claims that "Every American likes hot dogs," all I have to do to refute that claim is find one American who does not like hot dogs. I do not have to prove what it is they do like. This is elementary logic.