Thursday, March 17, 2005

Christianity Stripped to the Ankles

It is fascinating to me how modern Christendom has done a fairly good job of removing some of the most important historical aspects of the faith. An area which has my current attention is that of baptism. I recently became a member at Central Wesleyan Church and am encouraged to be baptized. Yet I have already received baptism as an infant in the Catholic Church. Question: Why should I be baptized again? Should a person receive numerous baptisms? What truly happens at baptism? Considering I have already established my historical hermeneutic for establishing Church doctrine and orthodoxy in my previous posts, I pose the following thoughts.

Why should I be baptized again?

I shouldn't; plain and simple. However, it probably would do well to explain this position because the reality is that some churches would disagree. First, let us examine the reasons put forth for why I should be baptized again.

1) Baptism is a profession of a person's faith in Jesus Christ and should be made before a community of believers. It is a great symbol of our regeneration and new life in Christ. Therefore, if you have not been baptized as a believer it is very important to do so in order to profess your faith in the community.

2) It is Scriptural to baptize a person only after they believe in Christ.

Sounds good to me. I do think it's important for new believers to profess their faith to the community. The main problem with this theology of baptism, though, is that it falls outside of 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy. "But wait! Is this view not the most Scripturally sound? I mean, there are no exhortations that we are to baptize infants and it appears that people are baptized after they believe." It is true that it appears that people are baptized after they believe in Christ, however 1) this does not mean baptism is simply a profession of faith; 2) the generalization of this claim is based upon a faulty hermeneutic. Perhaps the problem that the biblical interpreter of modernity finds himself/herself in is the simple fact that our cultural dynamics are quite different from that of the first century. For example, while Christianity is easily accessible in America and a church can be found without much trouble, this was not the case in the first century. The first Christian believers were primarily youth or adults. Can we honestly say that just because the New Testament does not specifically outline that baptism can be received by infants that it is not so? The New Testament does not specifically outline that baptism should be received as an adult!

The reality is that if we take strictly the Scriptural text to develop our theology of baptism we have very little to go on. Sometimes in Scripture the Holy Spirit is received before baptism, other times afterwards. It appears that the mode was mainly submersion (the Greek word baptizo also implies submersion) but there is no mandate that baptism is to be done this way. Baptism appears to be received by believing adults, but what are we then to make of such passages as Acts 16:14,15 or Acts 16:33 which do not even attempt to make any sort of conclusive statement about the spiritual condition of the families whom were baptized? Were they even Christians? Of course we could enter into entirely different territory if we continued with this train of thought so for the sake of brevity I will return to the main objective.

If Scripture does not provide us with imperatives on how to conduct and what exactly baptism is, where else can we look? Should we even look anywhere else or should we just conclude that because there is not a theological expose of baptism in the New Testament it must not be very important? To argue that just because a certain point of theology is not explicitly defined in Scripture is to argue against such dogmatic assertions as the Trinity. The Trinity is certainly not well defined in Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity as we know it is the process of development, led by the Holy Spirit, in the first centuries of Christianity.

So what about baptism? If we allow ourselves to shed this cloak of animosity toward Tradition and toward the declarations of the early Church we can come to a better understanding of what baptism is. In order to do this let us briefly examine four of the most commonly held views of baptism.

1) Roman Catholic View: "Means of Saving Grace"

a) Meaning: "By either awakening of strengthening of faith, baptism effects regeneration." This occurs with the working of the sacrament itself. Faith does not have to be present. The work is solely God's work in the person.
b) Subject: Infants and Adults

2) Lutheran View: "Means of Saving Grace with the Exercise of Faith"

a) Meaning: In order for baptism to be effectual, saving faith must be exercised by the one baptized. Salvation is imparted potentially to infants, actually to Adults. This position differs from the Catholic view only with respect to faith.
b) Subject: Infants and Adults

3) Reformed View: "Sign and Seal of the Covenant"

a) Meaning: Baptism is an act of faith by which we are brought into the covenant and hence experience its benefits. Grace is imparted, but they type of grace is a mystery.
b) Subject: Infants and Adults

4) Memorial View: "Testimony of Salvation"

a) Meaning: It is simply a testimony - a profession of faith that a believer makes. The rite shows the community that the individual is now identified with Christ. There is no objective effect upon the person.
b) Subject: Believing Adults and Believing Children

With these four views briefly established what does this mean for Christianity today? The Church has always held baptism to be a sacrament. The very definition of a sacrament requires that grace be communicated; God chooses to meet and transform his people at the carrying out of the sacraments. If grace is not communicated then baptism ceases to be a sacrament, a position which denies 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy. View number four does just that. The memorial view amputates the sacramental nature of baptism. Furthermore, the only view of baptism which falls outside of Church Tradition and orthodoxy is the memorial view, which technically makes this view somewhat heretical. The other three, the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed views, all find themselves comfortable and consistent with the way the Church has interpreted Scripture for 2,000 years. Obviously there are areas of discrepancy between the three but these disagreements do not fall outside of orthodox teaching. But view four does.

Baptism is so much more than simply a profession of faith that a believer makes. When this view of baptism is held we choose to deconstruct a precious sacrament which God has given to us in large part for our benefit. Why would we "defame" baptism so by making it nothing more than something we do? The memorial view of baptism is completely ego-centric; it is all about me! Yet Christianity is anything but all about the individual! The New Testament emphasizes over and over again that the Church, as the Body of Christ, as a community of believers, is the bride of Christ. The individualistic ideology of Western society (especially American society) is hazardous to our mission as the Church.

Will I condemn someone for believing we are to be baptized only as believers? No, of course not. In fact I recognize the incredible significance believer's baptism can have for a person. I understand the position and I must admit I feel sympathetic to their beliefs at times. Yet I must reiterate; baptism is not all about us, and when it comes down to it I feel much more confident viewing the Scriptural interpretation of baptism through the eyes of 2,000 years of Christian history than I do they eyes of an individualistic society that has existed for only a few centuries. I'll hold onto my pants tight and stick with the orthodox position.


Jonathan said...

I am not a biblical scholar by any means and I may be scripturally wrong depending on hermaneutic (haven't done my research), but this is my view on baptism. First, I'll touch on my own experience. I honestly don't even know if I was baptised as an infant or not. I have never really asked anyone (that I remember) if I was ever baptized. Yet, I imagine that I have been because when my parents first came here, we were sponsered by a church and some members of the church were the ones that actually named me when I was born. I don't know what view I exactly fit into, but I do know that I want to be baptized again even if I already was as an infant. I disagree that being baptized publically is a show of centering on yourself. I think it's the opposite. It publically announces your dedication to Christ; a decision you have come to because of His grace and salvation. It also can encourage others to make a stronger committment in their lives by seeing this demonstration. I know that everytime I see adults being baptized, it really encourages me to see people professing their faith publically and taking a step forward to have a Christ-centered life.

When I don't organize my thoughts, they seemed to be jumbled together and don't make sense. So, hopefully you kind of understand what I am trying to say, but I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't haha.

Ben Robinson said...

"I disagree that being baptized publically is a show of centering on yourself. I think it's the opposite. It publically announces your dedication to Christ; a decision you have come to because of His grace and salvation."

Hey Jon, you are completely entitled to your opinion on baptism, and you know I respect you as a theologian. I did want to point out something from your comment though; from your quote your said that you disagree that baptism only as a profession of faith is not ego-centric. Notice, "It publically announces your dedication to Christ." "a decision you have come to because of His grace and salvation." I am not being mean or anything, but you pretty much portrayed my point here. :)
In Christ,

Jason said...

My poop smells. But baptismis cool, im down bro.