NOTE: This is the first in a series of posts on the subject of Baptism which I will post over the next few weeks. These articles are a slightly revised version of my chapter “Dipped for Dead: The Proper Mode of Baptism,” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, Thomas White, Jason Duesing, Malcolm Yarnell, eds., (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 81-106.
When it comes to Baptists and Baptism, two twin pillars of truth are evident: (1) immersion is the only biblical and thus proper mode of baptism, and (2) without immersion there is no biblical baptism. The Southern Baptist Convention’s doctrinal statement, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, states the following in Article VII on Baptism:
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior; the believer’s death to sin; the burial of the old life; and the resurrection to walk in the newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
It is the height of irony that while some within Paedobaptist churches are pushing for a recognition and renewal of baptism by immersion, some Baptists are questioning whether Baptism by immersion really should be required of all believers. The Baptist Union of England’s ecumenical embrace has opened the door for a liberalizing of traditional Baptist theology concerning baptism.
Among Baptists in the United States, it is surprising to see some churches giving consideration to relaxing their views on the importance of baptism by immersion as required for church membership. Consider the celebrated case of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which surprised the Baptist world when the elders of the church expressed a desire to drop baptism by immersion as a requirement for church membership back in 2005.
As surprising as this announcement was, some are shocked to discover that even within the Southern Baptist Convention, a few churches have broadened their baptismal policies to allow for membership without baptism by immersion.
The time is ripe to revisit the theology of baptism. Although written with all Baptists in mind, the central focus of this series of articles is on the proper mode of baptism and the implications of such for the Southern Baptist Convention, its theology and practice.
Thomas White, “What Makes Baptism Valid?,” (2006), a White Paper published by the Center for Theological Research, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, at www.BaptistTheology.org.
C. Owen, ed., Reforming Infant Baptism (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1990).
See Bill J. Leonard, “At the River,” in Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, ed. Walter B. Shurden (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), 13-20. Also in this work, G. Todd Wilson, “Why Baptists Should Not Rebaptize Christians from Other Denominations,” 41-48, who questions whether those baptized by a mode other than immersion should be rebaptized. See also John Tyler, Baptism: We’ve Got it Right. . .and Wrong (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2003).
Many British Baptists have an open membership policy with respect to baptism in that they do not require baptism by immersion for those seeking to join the church from other denominational backgrounds. See Beasely-Murray, Baptism Today and Tomorrow, (n. p.: Macmillan publishing, 1966), 86; A. R. Cross, Baptism and the Baptists: Theology and Practice in 20th Century Britain in SBHT, 3 (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2000).
The pertinent section of the proposed constitutional revision (which was placed on hold and to my knowledge has never been acted on) stated: “Since we believe that the New Testament teaches and demonstrates that the mode of baptism is only the immersion of a believer in water, we therefore regard all other practices of baptism as misguided, defective, and illegitimate. Yet, while not taking these differences lightly, we would not elevate them to the level of what is essential. Thus, we will welcome into membership candidates who, after a time of study, discussion, and prayer, prescribed by the Elders, retain a conviction that it would be a violation of their conscience to be baptized by immersion as believers. This conviction of conscience must be based on a plausible, intelligible, Scripturally-based argument rather than on mere adherence to a tradition or family expectations.” Accessed at http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/baptism_and_membership.pdf; Internet.