There is a bit of a controversy going on right now, coming mostly from the Baptists, about baptism. I believe the conversation begins with a sermon series by John Piper, though I first learnt of it via Fide-o. Other comments by Jason Robertson (Fide-o) here. John Halton gives us a take from the Lutheran perspective here and here.
Excluding the silliness of those who don’t take baptism and communion very seriously, the argument as I understand it boils down to a plain reassertion of the traditional Baptist position on baptism. Baptists hold to a particular form of baptism: It must be done by immersion; it must be done upon (that is, immediately after) confession of faith. So it rules out sprinkling, and the baptizing of infants. But the tricky part is the position that *only* credal baptism by immersion is acceptable. For Baptists, properly, there are no sacraments, only ordinances (those things which Christ has ordered us to do) – baptism and communion. So the value of doing of those things is not their direct spiritual impact, but the value of obedience. If you didn’t do it the Baptist way, it’s not just a little whoopsie.
This is where Baptists prove that they are still anabaptists – re-baptizers: The argument goes that if you didn’t follow the prescribed ritual, it isn’t that you didn’t do it wrong. You never did it at all. Sprinkled? Unknowingly “christened” in your infancy? It wasn’t obedience; it wasn’t baptism. You’re unbaptized. And unbaptized people can’t take communion. You are officially excommunicated.
And here I got a little theological education. I had been under the impression that to excommunicate was to say, in effect, that the excommunicated was not a Christian. After all, the scripture says to treat such a person as if they were unsaved. Evangelize them, but don’t offer communion. But Frank Turk informs me that you can still be a Christian even while excommunicated. Even though we should treat you like you’re not.
Regardless, the traditional Baptist position on baptism boils down to these two tenants:
- Baptism must follow a specific set of rules in order to be done **right**.
- If it wasn’t done **right**, it wasn’t done **at all**.
The first point usually get’s all the attention, but it wouldn’t carry water without the second coming right behind it. Hence John’s Lutheran response: “I *am* baptized! So there!” And yet, you hear constantly all the arguments for the first point, but never even a hint as to how to evaluate the second. Where does it say that if it wasn’t done right, it wasn’t done at all? I don’t know.
I think I have come up with an interesting criteria for evaluating the doctrine on baptism that if it wasn’t done right it wasn’t done at all: by comparing it to other similar rituals and seeing what happens if a similar rule is applied. I have two such in mind: communion and weddings. Continue reading “Evaluating the Baptist proper rituals standard”