Baptism & Baptists – (Part 8) or “What did Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, & Wesley Say?”

 

Space does not permit an extensive evaluation of what the Church Fathers, paedobaptists and Baptists have said about the mode of baptism, nor is such necessary since their views have been well documented.[1]

The older Baptist works defending baptism by immersion are laced with references to paedobaptists who have acknowledged that baptism was the mode practiced in the Apostolic church. We shall attempt a mere summary of the evidence.

Perhaps the earliest work from the Patristic era to address baptism is the Didache (early to mid-2nd century). It instructs that baptism be in “living water,” but if this was not possible, “baptize in other water.” If neither is available, “pour water upon the head thrice . . . .”

It is evident from this statement that baptism by immersion was the standard practice. In the Epistle of Barnabas (c. xi), we read: “We go down into the water full of sins and pollutions, and come up again bringing forth fruit.” Likewise the Shepherd of Hermas (Similtude ix. c. xvi), speaks of the “water of Baptism in which men go down bound to death, but come up appointed to life.” These latter two statements clearly indicate baptism by immersion.

In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas (Summa III, lxvi, 7) stated:

“The symbol of Christ’s burial is more expressively represented by immersion, and for that reason this mode of baptizing is more common and more commendable.”

Aquinas argued that the mode was adiaphorous, that is, theologically indifferent, as did Calvin after him.

In the Reformation era, Martin Luther spoke of baptism in his The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. After noting baptism is a symbol of death and resurrection, Luther said:

“For this reason I would have those who are to be baptized completely immersed in the water, as the word says and as the mystery indicates. Not because I deem this necessary, but because it would be well to give to a thing so perfect and complete a sign that is also complete and perfect. And this is doubtless the way in which it was instituted by Christ. The sinner does not so much need to be washed as he needs to die, in order to be wholly renewed and made another creature, and to be conformed to the death and resurrection of Christ, with whom he dies and rises again through baptism.”[2]

In Luther’s Order of Baptism, we read: “Then he shall take the child and dip him in the font. . . .”[3] In The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism, penned in 1519, Luther noted both the Greek and Latin words for “baptism” indicate immersion. Although it is no longer “customary” to immerse in “many places,” Luther contended that immersion “is what should be done” because the “old man” must be “wholly drowned by the grace of God.” “We should therefore do justice to its meaning and make baptism a true and complete sign of the thing it signifies.”[4]

John Calvin spoke of the mode of baptism in his Institutes:

“. . . Yet the word ‘baptize’ means to immerse, and it is clear that the rite of immersion was observed in the ancient church.”[6]

John Wesley likewise confirmed the apostolic church baptized by immersion:

“Mary Welsh, aged eleven days, was baptized, according to the custom of the first church and the rule of the Church of England, by immersion.”[7]

Moses Stuart, a Congregationalist who taught at Andover Seminary, wrote a significant work on the mode of Baptism. He stated:

“Bapto and baptize mean to dip, plunge, or immerse, into anything liquid. All lexicographers and critics of any note are agreed in this.”[8]

The remarkable book by W. A. Jarrell, Baptizo-Dip-Only: The World’s Pedobaptist Greek Scholarship, contains a sizeable collection of quotations from hundreds of paedobaptist scholars around the world, all of whom affirm that baptizō means “to dip, to immerse,” and most of whom affirm that it means nothing else in the Greek New Testament.[9]

Finally, we may note that Karl Barth, in his The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism, affirmed immersion as the apostolic practice, criticized infant baptism severely, and urged further theological reflection on baptism.[10]

Methodist I. H. Marshall in an article attempting to defend paedo-baptism, acknowledged:

“The most that can (and must) be said is that both modes of baptism, immersion (certainly) and affusion (at least from the third century) were practiced, depending on local circumstances.”[11]

This statement is remarkable in that it asserts two “certainties”: immersion was practiced in the Apostolic church and affusion was practiced, along with immersion, from the third century onwards. This is a statement with which virtually every Baptist could agree historically.

[1]See, for example, Robert Sanders, The Ante-Nicene Fathers on Baptism (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1891) who demonstrated clearly that the Ante-Nicene Fathers rejected infant baptism and practiced baptism by immersion. Robert Robinson, The History of Baptism (London, 1790); James Chrystal, A History of the Modes of Christian Baptism (Philadelphia, 1861); Isaac Hinton, History of Baptism from the Inspired and Uninspired Writings, rev. by John Hinton (London: J. Heaton and Son, 1864), 131-135; R. Ingham, Christian Baptism: Its Subjects (London: E. Stock, 1871), 393-510 provides one of the most comprehensive surveys of the historical testimony; R. Ingham, A Handbook on Christian Baptism (London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., 1865). Henry Burrage, The Act of Baptism in the History of the Christian Church (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1879), a work which covers the history from the New Testament until 1879; Edward Hiscox, Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980), 386-444; A. Gilmore, ed., Christian Baptism: A Fresh Attempt to Understand the Rite in terms of Scripture, History, and Theology (Chicago: Judson Press, 1959), 187-220; and William Lumpkin, A History of Immersion (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962).

[2]Martin Luther, Three Treatises (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), 191.

[3]Liturgies and Hymns, in Luther’s Works, vol. 53, 100.

[4]Martin Luther, Word and Sacrament I, in LW, vol. 35, ed., E. Theodore Bachman (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), 29.

[5]Charles P. Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and its Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1963), 519-40.

[6]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, in Library of Christian Classics, trans. by F. L. Battles, ed. John T. McNeill (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1320.

[7]The Journal of John Wesley, ed. Nehemiah Curnock, vol. 1 (London: Epworth Press, 1938), 166.

[8]Moses Stuart, Is the Mode of Christian Baptism Prescribed in the New Testament? (Nashville: Graves, Mark & Rutland, 1856), 41.

[9]W. A. Jarrell, Baptizo-Dip-Only: The World’s Pedobaptist Greek Scholarship, 2nd edition, reissued by V. C. Mayes (Splendora, TX.: Splendora Sales, 1978; original edition, 1910).

[10]Karl Barth, The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism, 191-207.

[11]I. H. Marshall, “The Meaning of ‘Baptism,” 20.

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