BELIEVER’S BAPTISM CRITIQUE
AN ASSIGNMENT SUBMITTED TO DR. MOODY
September 26, 2015
Baptism, what is it and why does it matter? There are many different interpretations of what baptism is. While most all Christians will agree that baptism is important there is not a universal agreement to the meaning and mode of baptism. Baptist for instance believe one way while Presbyterians (at least the reformed ones) believe differently. In the book edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright Believer’s Baptism there are several authors who examine different aspects of baptism from its institution as an ordinance in the New Testament, arguing against padeobaptism, to the importance of baptism in the local church.
The work crafted by Schreiner and Wright is a tour de force for Baptist understanding of baptism. This books boasts the work of ten authors two of which are the editors themselves. For a book about baptism, it is not a short work, weighing in at 353 pages of text not including indexes. Most of the chapters are twenty to thirty pages long with the exception of the two that focus a lot on padeobaptism, those chapters are between fifty and seventy pages respectively. As previously mentioned there are a wide variety of topics associated with baptism which are discussed in this singular volume. While every chapter has its own amount of validity there were more which stood out apart from others. Coming from a Reformed Presbyterian background to the SBC was a good transition, because of my struggle with padeobaptism.
From the beginning of the book a clear credo-baptistic view is expressed, especially when the author’s say, “We believe that baptism should be reserved for believers because it preserves the testimony of the gospel by showing that only those who have repented and believed belong to the church. Only those who have exercised faith are justified. Hence, only those who have trusted in Christ should be baptized.” The first four chapters of the book come strictly from a biblical standpoint, especially chapters one through three which focus on baptism found in the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles. While chapter four focuses on the padeobaptist argument from the view of covenant relationship. In the following section the church fathers and others from history become the foci of the argument. Lastly, the book concludes with the importance of believer’s baptism in the local church. It is this author’s intent to focus on several of the chapters in particular.
It is important to note baptism is found in all four gospels. While in differing degrees, and John accounting for a few things distinct from the Synoptics each of them plays a role in shaping the way baptism is to be understood. In chapter one on page twenty-nine there is a chart displaying the uniformity between the synoptic gospels. Something interesting to note is “…the absence of references to baptism later on in any of the Gospels, it appears that the baptizing activity of Jesus and his disciples is limited to the early stages of Jesus’ ministry.” With this being noted there is no explicit mention in the Gospels of Jesus or his disciples baptizing babies.
Which brings me to the next portion of the book, it serves almost as a signifier things are heading in this direction. It is the chapter “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants” which by itself would constitute a small book (almost seventy pages). In this chapter the author tries to offer a balanced perspective without being to polemical about the position of padeobaptism verses credo-baptism. In this chapter he lays out the argument from several prominent Reformed theologians for padeobaptism, and by the end of the chapter he has deconstructed said arguments with solid biblical exposition. By the time the reader reaches the end of the book there are several questions which may come to mind, none of the least of these being “How should all of this actually look in my local church?” In this chapter Mark Dever pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. explains how baptism should be viewed in context of the local church compared to how it has been viewed recently. This chapter is crucial especially because of the questions it answers, such as who should do the baptizing, how should it be done, when should it be done, and who should be baptized? All of these are vital questions to the life and health of the church and Dr. Dever does an excellent job of responding to them in a biblical manner.
This book has handled with care the topic of believer’s baptism, vocally espousing its views in comparison to another dominant view, while trying to be generous to said view and not be derogatory towards their opponents. While being filled with great information there are times the reader can become bogged down or confused as to what point the author is trying to make. While reading chapter one it is easy to get lost in the authors train of thought, asking “What is the main point of it all?” Even though it can be deduced from the chapter heading that Baptism in the Gospels was the point there are moments that are not very clear. It would seem the author was mostly concerned about the role of John the Baptizer in the Gospels verses the role of baptism itself. For instance, “As in Matthew, Luke identifies John’s baptism as a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3) and recounts the Baptist’s denunciation of the people’s presumption upon their Abrahamic descent (Luke 3:7-9).”
The greatest take away from the first chapter comes in the summary and implication section, when the author points out four major implications of baptism: 1) baptism is designed for those who have repented of sin and put their faith in Christ, 2) baptism is an essential part of Christian discipleship, 3) the mode of John’s and Jesus’ baptism was most likely immersion, and 4) water baptism presupposes spiritual regeneration as a prevenient and primary work of the Holy Spirit. All of these points finally add up to the argument the author has been trying to present throughout the chapter.
One of the longest (if not the longest) chapters in the book deals with the relationship between the covenants. Out of the entire book this chapter was most intriguing for this author to write previously being of a Reformed Presbyterian background. The argument presented on behalf of padeobaptism was familiar and still illogical. That being said even one of their own theologians is quoted as saying there is no certainty that household baptisms involved infants. The author does well in establishing that the padeobaptists argument comes from a discontinuity of the covenant of grace. It was a little odd that a book about baptism was dealing with the view of covenants, however, as the chapter progressed it became more evident the need for the clarification. A very important point which was made about covenant theology was this,
Generally speaking, covenant theology tends to equate the “covenant of grace” (an overarching theological category) with the Abrahamic covenant (a specific historical covenant which includes within it national, typological, and spiritual aspects). Covenant theology does this by reducing the national (physical) and typological aspects of the Abrahamic covenant to the spiritual aspects, which then becomes the grid by which all other biblical covenants are viewed, specifically the new covenant. Thus, to speak of the “covenant of grace” is really to speak in terms of the Abrahamic covenant reduced to its spiritual aspects alone.
Something else to be noted is covenant theology believes in the “mixed” nature of the church. They argue the church is made up of the visible and invisible church, with those who are regenerate and those who are not. “That is why in a Baptist view of the church, what is unique about the nature of the new covenant community is that it comprises a regenerate, believing people, not a mixed people like Israel of old.” The argument made by Baptist has more validity than that of “covenantal theology” because the New Testament points to baptism being used as an initiatory rite into the church.
After reading this book it ahs become more apparent than any previous time in my Christian walk that believer’s baptism is the appropriate way of showing one’s dedication to Christ. It is not salvific or a means of regeneration, but it is a visible sign to the world one has accepted Christ as Lord and savior. For those who hold to padeobaptsim their arguments fall flat, and require an understanding of Scripture which even Scripture does not affirm.
Schreiner, Thomas R., and Shawn D. Wright, . Believer’s Baptism. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006.