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Almost every week from April to September 2010 the Church of England Newspaper published letters on baptismal issues.   Though somewhat tedious at times this is reproduced in full below to enable researchers at least to pick up on deeply held views! 

APRIL 9

The symbolism of baptism

Sir, Mr Bartley (Letters: April 1, 2010), has clearly done some significant trawling through my blog www.crunch-chipping.blogspot.com, to find a piece of my doctrinal understanding which he sees as inconsistent.

He cites my views on infant baptism which I wrote about in 2007. I admit fully that my views on this subject are not dogmatic. I have not yet come to a final view. The reason for my apparent indecision actually strengthens my assertion that (despite being a woman) I take my doctrine from the Bible alone.

The reason I neither support nor condemn Infant Baptism outright, is because the Bible is not clear on the subject. I understand the Covenant theology argument often favoured by evangelical Anglicans, I also understand the Baptist argument. However, neither are completely proven by scripture. For me this poses a problem... scripture guides my theology, NOT reason. Therefore, if reason is all I have to make a choice then I cannot be dogmatic.

Baptism is a symbolic act, which reminds us of dying to sin and rising in Christ. It is the 'symbolising' of these crucial biblical doctrines that is clear, not the timing of the event. Therefore I have to stress to Mr Bartley that it is doctrine and reasoned argu­ment based on Biblical text that determines my teaching. When the Bible is unclear I am reluctant to be dogmatic because I am not infallible and cannot fill in the gaps which I may perceive to be there. That would be resorting to a more Liberal approach, surely?

In closing, I do not retreat from the idea that the leadership of the church has a 'body of authoritative knowledge which it knows, teaches and defends against error', as Mr Bartley asserts the church has done. I fully support the idea that church leadership must teach sure truth with authority, as long as that authoritative knowledge is based on sure scriptural principles and nothing else.

Gill Scanning, Cheshire

APRIL 16

Bible sufficiency

Sir, In her remarkable letter of April 9 Gill Stanning overlooks one thing, she is effectively denying the Sufficiency of Scripture regarding a sacrament (Thirty-nine Articles,

Article 6: Of the Sufficiency of Holy Scripture).

Though she is soon to be ordained, by her own confession, she will be unable to inform her future parishioners as to whether their duty is to baptise their infants or not.  She knows both sides but concludes no one can really know as the Bible is unclear on this point.

Her position is completely different to the convinced Baptist or Paedo-baptist for whom the Bible is clear and is a sufficient rule of faith and practice.

Should she care to apply the precautionary principle she must in practice become a Baptist. She cannot assure her parishioners that infant baptism is Christ’s will.

For her it might not be and so it could be an innovation, no baptism at all and therefore best avoided. On the other hand, she must clearly believe that it is rightly done when applied to unbaptised believers answering for themselves. So invoking the precautionary principle, rather than risk sacrilege, she must advise believers’ baptism and that alone.

However this raises the question. If, for people like Gill Stanning, the Bible cannot answer such basic questions — what are we to do? Either the Bible is a sufficient rule of faith and practice and does clearly teach us our duty regarding the sacraments or not. If not, we must have some other rule, we must have some living voice within the Church such an Ecumenical Council or consensus of Bishops either that or some individual such as the Pope or the local Bishop. Is this what she wants or should we abandon all pretence to order and simply allow everyone do what seems right to themselves?

How different was classic evangelical Anglican thinking! Those who founded the Church Missionary Society did in the conviction that our Bible-based principles of churchmanship are essential to our mission to disciple the nations.

            To Gill, her inability to explain the Scriptural duty of baptism is proof of her integrity of submitting to the Bible alone. To me it is simply proof that she is unsure of a foundational doctrine of Christ’s religion.

So no matter how much she boasts of her ability to exegete Scripture, her lack of clarity on this basic principle of our Faith must question her suitability for ordination — not because she is a woman but because it would similarly raise a question in the case of a man holding similar views.

Alan Bartley,Greenford, Middlesex.  

APRIL 23

Infant baptism questions

Sir, How refreshing to read Mrs Scanning’s integrity “The reason I neither support nor condemn Infant Baptism outright, is because the Bible is not clear on the subject”. Not for nothing was a seminal book on the subject entitled “the water that divides”.

In Baptismal Integrity (BI) we seek to maintain in loving tension Committee and Council members holding views at either end of this spectrum but united, as with Gill Scanning, in the importance of the symbolism and the preparation.

What however is vital is that the administration of the sacrament is carried out with integrity, and in accordance with Canon Law. Too often a position is so lightly held that the essentials of proper preparation and commitment and ongoing pastoral care are totally ignored.

In passing, we do strongly encourage the Ser vice of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child as an alter native for the children of believers and others alike. When you have heard teenagers thank their parents for not having them baptized as infants, it really does more strongly emphasise the “symbolism”.

One Rector who practiced Infant Baptism once told me “the full symbolism of baptism cannot be seen until the person has personal faith”.

Roger Godin

Vice Chair - Baptismal Integrity

 APRIL 30

Baptism today

Sir, Roger Godin of “Baptismal Integrity” (letters, April 23) supports Gill Stanning’s supposed integrity and that of his own group’s similar position. He is concerned “that [baptism] is carried out with integrity  but fails to realise the inherent lack of integrity of his “open to both” position. 

Firstly, as explained in my reply to Gill Stanning in the same issue — those who deny the perspicuity of Scripture on this point, deny we can be sure infant Baptism is Scriptural. They lack integrity when they claim to submit to Scripture but immediately practise what they don’t know to be allowed or commanded by Scripture. As I say, integrity should require them to apply the precautionary principle and practise Believer’s Baptism, and that only.

More importantly, integrity requires that those who take office in a Church teach the views of that Church or resign to join a different Church united to promote a different set of religious principles. In the last century liberals have persistently denied we can have any authoritative body of knowledge such as the Thirty-nine Articles, Prayer Book Catechism or even the Nicene Faith and Ten Commandments as originally given and understood.

Liberals have turned the gift of language on its head — instead of allowing us to communicate and have shared beliefs and convictions as the basis of mission they use it to obfuscate and to allow people to use shared words to cover a multitude of incompatible beliefs. What a prostitution of the gift of language that is!

Whether you take the Thirty-nine Articles or the Prayer Book Catechism to be the core doctrine of our Church they both demand the practise of infant baptism. This is a fundamental belief of our Church. It was these shared beliefs that united us and made us a distinctive Church. The proper- ty and endowments of our Church were gifted in trust to promote these our fundamentals.

To me, there is an inherent lack of integrity in taking property given in trust to promulgate our core faith and practise and diverting it to promote divergent private views or to directly or insidiously undermine those core beliefs for which that property was gifted to promote. The moral censure of doing this remains irrespective of the connivance of liberals or their changing our laws and canons to free themselves and their successors from the penalties for such infidelity.

Alan Bartley,

MAY 7

Baptismal assumptions

Sir, Defenders of infant baptism start from the assumption that it was the general practice from New Testament times. Perhaps we should do better to assume that baptism was from the outset a rite for adults. There is nothing in the New Testament to conflict with that assumption and everything to support it.

            Consider the following: John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance was aimed at those old enough to be responsible for their actions. John and the crowds around him would have found the idea of giving infants and young children a baptism of repentance simply absurd.

            John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus was crucified and Stephen was stoned. Could the first Christian congregations really have thrust baptism upon babies and young children? With the threat of persecution hanging over them they would surely have kept them out of the firing line, hope fully bringing them up to seek baptism when mature enough to accept the implications of confessing Christ in a hostile world.

            Acts 8.12 (mass baptism of Samaritans) tells us explicitly that “men and women were baptised” — no mention of babes or children and Acts 9 records that Saul went to Damascus to arrest “both men and women”. This shows that the notion that household” baptisms included babies is a mere supposition.

            The attempt to equate baptism with   circumcision — thus implying baptism’s suitability for babies — is ill-founded. The first Christians were already circumcised. Johnthe Baptist baptised circumcised Jews. The direct link between John’s baptism and that of the infant Church cannot be over-emphasised. John the Baptist shows no interest in circumcision. The word never crosses Jesus’ lips except as part of an argument over the Sabbath in John 7:22. St Paul says bluntly “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avail anything but a new creature”. To say that baptism was the Christian version of Jewish circumcision is as absurd as saying “football is the new cricket.”

It is time to admit there is no reliable evidence in the New Testament for infant baptism. No wonder Gill Stanning is  theology-cally hesitant.

David Perry, South Cave , East Yorks

 MAY 14

Infant baptism

Sir, I fully appreciate there are those such as David Perry, (May 7) who cannot see infant baptism taught in Scripture or confirmed by the literature of the early Church.

            The practice or rejection of infant baptism is fundamental to how a church does its mission, who it acknowledges as Christians, etc. It just does not make sense for baptists to remain in a Church whose belief and practice contradicts their Baptist Faith, Practice and Church discipline.

            The Anglican classic The History of Infant Baptism by William Wall shows the early Christian literature is supportive and boldly speaks of the regeneration of infants. Either Wall is correct that regenerate is used as a synonym for baptised or the early Church really believed our infants to be spiritually regenerate. But if they believed the latter - why would they not have baptised such infants as being believers?

            Our Prayer Book echoes this assertion of the early Church. Alien as this may be to the modern evangelicals it was the belief of Luther, Calvin, Martyr, Owen and many others. It is asserted to be the teaching of Scripture by them, the Dutch liturgy, Synod of Dort, the French Reformed Church, etc.

            The Great Commission (Matthew 28) is broad and clear. We are to convert to discipleship the nations and then baptise them before going on to teach them to be obedient to the faith. Are there no babies and children in these nations? Are not children of believers to be brought up as disciples, in nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4)? So is it wrong to give baptism to such child disciples? On the contrary! Our Lord tells us to receive them in his name (Mall. 18:5), that of such children is the Kingdom of Heaven (19:14).

Alan Bartley

MAY 21

Infant baptism

Sir, It is all very well for Mr Bartley (May 14) to refer to Wall’s History of Infant Baptism (1705) but things have moved on during the past 300 years. In Wall’s day the co-extensiveness of Church and state,underpinned by the Clarendon Code and other repressive legislation, ensured that infant baptism in the established church was the absolute norm. Baptism provided a civic as well as a religious status. England in 2010 is hugely different. We now live in an open plural educated society in which people have a personal freedom of thought, word and action inconceivable in 1705.

            The reasoning behind my letter is that if the absence of infant baptism in New Testament and sub-apostolic times can be demonstrated, it does two things. It creates a new perspective from which to re-examine the content of the Gospel and its working out in the life of the New Testament Church . It also strengthens the conviction of many clergy and laypeople who see the Service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child as being more appropriate for an infant, with baptism following later in life when actual faith in Christ has been kindled and nourished.

David Perry  

MAY 28

Baptism

Sir; David Perry (letters, May 21) misleads your readers into thinking my reference to Wall on the History of Infant Baptism is to do with 300 years ago and not the early Church. Unlike modern scholars, who use word indexes to dip into the Church Fathers, Wall knew them and their language and that they use the word regeneration in place of baptism.

            What David Perry has to explain is whether he accepts Wall’s interpretation that all these infants of the early Church were baptised or whether he prefers to take all these infants as regenerate. If David Perry prefers the latter, he must then explain why it is inappropriate to give outward and visible sign to those whom the early Church affirmed already had the grace signified.

            Should he now retreat to the New Testament, the Great Commission of Matthew 28 is a sufficient answer. It commands the discipleship of all in the nations, it excludes none. Baptism is to be given to all for all, infants and children included, are to be brought up in nurture and admonition of the Lord.

            Since he will want to read a caveat into that text, let him answer the father of Evangelical Anglicanism. Charles Simeon tells us “ St. Paul says, ‘By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body. . -‘ And this he says of all the visible members of Christ’s body (I Cor. 12:13 - 27). And speaking of the Israelites, infants, as well as adults, he says, ‘they were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ,’ (I Cor. 10:1-4)... In another place he speaks yet more strongly still: ‘As many of you (says he) as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’ Here we see what is meant by the expression, ‘baptized into Christ;’ it is precisely the same expression as that before mentioned of the Israelites being ‘baptised unto Moses;’. . . it includes all that had been initiated into his religion by the rite of baptism; and of them universally, does the Apostle say, They have put on Christ.’..

            I will add in closing that it would have been natural for the Jew to assume children would be included in the New Covenant because they were in the Old. Peter on the day of Pentecost seems to do this when he tells the Jews that the Promise is to them and their children. If there is a discontinuity - why is this important fact not clearly taught anywhere in Scripture? If infant baptism was an error that crept into the early Church - where is the evidence of any dispute resisting its introduction?

Alan Bartley  

JUNE 4

Discontinuity

Sir, I am fascinated by the manner in which Alan Bartley believes he can second guess my line of argument. He asks where there is the discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New.

            Consider the following examples: Jesus speaks in terms of the new wine requiring new skins.

            Time and again Jesus says “But I say unto you....”

            St Paul sets out clearly the radical transition made by Christians, outgrowing the paedagogos that leads us to Christ.

            Animal sacrifice is made redundant because of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

            We see the price of the discontinuity where Jesus says “Brother will betraybrother to death and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

            The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 was an exercise in managing the discontinuity.

Paul in Philippians: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Lo! We turn to the Gentiles.

All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers. Jn 10)

Discontinuity is there in abundance, making Christianity a new start for mankind rather than the formation of a sect within Judaism.

David Perry

JUNE 11

Baptismal issues

Sir, still opposing infant baptism, David Perry (Letters, June 4) again attempts to side-step the issue.

There is both continuity and discontin-uity between the two Testaments. Showing multiple examples of discontinuity does not prove that children are to be denied baptism as part of any discontinuity My challenge was not to show some discontinuity. It was to show that children had actually, clearly and unambiguously been disinherited. This David Perry has not done.

            Paul shows us that the Gospel of salvation by faith goes back to Abraham (Rom.4:3). He tells us that the Law of Moses, which was added due to transgression (Gal. 3:19), did not annul the promise made to Abraham and his seed (Gen. 17:7, Gal. 3:17). While ultimately the promise was only effectively made to the godly seed ( Rom. 9:7, Gal. 3: 16), nevertheless all male infants were circumcised (Gen. 17:10).

Jesus tells us that of such, children of included parents, is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 19:14). After Calvary , Peter on the day of Pentecost still tells the Jew that the promise of the Spirit is to them and their children (Acts 2:39). How can this be so unless the gospel itself is to their children? But if the promise is still to them, why not its sign and seal?

            Since all this points to the continued inclusion of infants and children with their parents, I take the Great Commission (Matt. 28) at face value as commanding the discipleship of all in the nations and hence the baptism of all, parents and infants included.

            Alongside this continuity is discontinuity. The types and shadows of the Law were replaced by their fulfilment in Christ. The sign, baptism, is now given to both sexes. These and many other things are made clear in Scripture.

            New wine may need new wineskins (Malt 9:17), but what is this? Our religion is freed from Jerusalem , the old Ceremonies are replaced by the simple rites of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – suitable for a religion for all nations, cultures and times. Nothing necessarily repudiating infant baptism here.

            David Perry’s other examples are again beside the point. Jesus came not to destroy the Law but fulfilled it (Mall. 5:17). No element was to fall until all had been fulfilled (v 18). What he said before Calvary was against the human teaching of Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees that had obscured the inspired writers (Matt. 15:9). This is not a discontinuity between Old and New Testaments but with uninspired Rabbinic Judaism.

            Again, he mistakes strife between brethren and false brethren as something new. it happened in the Old Testament and is predicted to continue in the New and unto the end.

            The gospel net is to catch good and bad fish (Matt. 13:47), tares are to appear among the wheat (v. 25). Hence Christ’s warnings. Again, what direct bearing does this have on the issue of whether infants are to be denied baptism?

Alan Bartley

JUNE 18

Baptism today

Sir, Readers may feel that the correspondence between Alan Bartley and me is turning into a dialogue of the deaf. The trouble is that Alan seeks to deduce what the New Testament must mean in the light of the Old Testament. (A startling corollary of this is his claim that “of such is the kingdom of heaven” [Matt. 19.141 applies only to young children born into the virtuous lineage of Isaac. ie Jesus could not have blessed any children who were not Jews of the purest kind.) My approach is historical, seeking to discover “what actually happened”.

            If baptism in infancy was standard practice from the day of Pentecost onwards, it has left no evidence to that effect. As Jeremias says, “For the first century we have no special (sic) evidence for the baptism of Christian children”. The alleged inclusion of infants in “household baptisms” must have been either speedily abandoned or, almost certainly, never started in the first place.

            Well into the second century we find a wonderfully trusting attitude to the spiritual safety of infants expressed by Aristides in his Apology. “And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins.” There is no suggestion that newborn infants were baptised or that there was any attempt at clinical baptism when they were dying. Instead the parents and the Christian community pract-ised “giving thanks in all things”. However, as the century wore on, St John’s Gospel, notoriously John 3.5, started to make its impact, particularly in the extension of clinical baptism to the very youngest.

            Everett Ferguson puts the point well when he says: “The assumption of the general practice of infant baptism from New Testament times has obscured the significance of the fact that, although we know the names of many children of Christian parents in the fourth century not baptised until their teens or later, explicit testimony is lacking that would permit us to name the first Christian baptised as an infant whose baptism was not a case of clinical baptism.” Ferguson , Baptism in the early Church” (2009) p. 626.

            The routine baptism of healthy infants was nowhere in the frame until Christianity was firmly established as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the last quarter of the 4th century.

David Perry  

JUNE 25

Infant baptism

Sir, Having dispersed David Perry’s smokescreen of irrelevant discontinuities (July 4) by showing evident continuity between the Old and New Testament and again asking for clear Scriptural evidence that God has revoked these promises to the children of believers (June 11), David Perry prefers to return to his questionable interpretation of the early Church evidence (June 18).

            He passes over the fact that the early Church tells us our infants are regenerate and declines to accept the judgement of Wall, that this was their way of referring to them as being baptised. This allows him to suggest infant baptism was an innovation of the late fourth century when we have copious literature but none indicating that there was any such innovation. Does he really believe that such an innovation would not have been resisted and left some record somewhere if this had actually happened?

            Anyone familiar with the literature of the early Church would know how sparse the very early records are and how muddled and contradictory the later thinking was and this is why, with our Reformers, we must return to the Scriptures as our canon or rule.

            Like Cranmer we need to go back to first principles and distinguish between the sign and the thing signified as the one must point to the other. The questions to John (John 1:25) clearly indicate he was doing something expected of the Messiah or his forerunner. If he was  symbolically sprinkling with clean water then this was expected (Ezek 36:25, Isa. 52:15(AV)). Not only is such usage consistent Classical Greek, it ties the sprinklings with blood, water and ashes of the Mosaic Law to the otherwise mystifying reference in Hebrews (9:10). Taken this way, water baptism points forward (Math 3:11) to that baptism in which  the gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us (Acts 10:45).

            So I again come back to the Great Commission (Math 28) and its command to convert to discipleship the nations, that this commences with water baptism and includes the children. Again, since Peter on the Day of Pentecost says the promise of the baptism of the Spirit is to the believer and their children (Acts 2:38,39), it is entirely appropriate that both receive the sign of water baptism as a pledge of this gift promised to both.

Alan Bartley  

JULY 2

Baptism folly

Sir, Our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized as an adult and commands us many times ‘Follow me.’ Romans 6 tells us that baptism is essentially identification in his death, burial and resurrection with him. If I have been baptized as an infant it is extremely difficult to acknowledge this and be immersed subsequently as a repentant believer. Following the Lord’s example is to say to my parents and the Minister, ‘You were wrong and my “baptism” is invalid.’

Understandably we are reluctant to do this, especially if we are ordained and therefore face great sacrifice. But to deny anyone the free decision to receive this most precious sacrament as a consenting adult is to come between the Lord and his follower.

Mervin Spearing, Newcastle upon Tyne

 JULY 9

Adult baptism

Sir, Mr Spearing seems to reproach his parents for having deprived him of the opportunity to be baptised as an adult, when he made a personal and conscious decision to follow Christ. He and some of your previous correspondents who insist on adult believers’ baptism are rejecting two thousand years of church history and put the focus on individual feelings rather than on the Church family.

When we surrender our life to Christ, we experience the wonderful feeling that somehow we have ‘come home”. Of course we want to remember and celebrate this. If we use (re-) baptism for this purpose, we are weakening the Church.

            Also, if we desist from baptising our children so that they can experience adult baptism, we are in effect treating them as unregenerate, not as heirs of the promise.

We focus on our own role in our salvation and not on God’s wonderful gift. Traditionally and gracefully, the Church of England has welcomed children of Christian parents into the Church, baptised them and expected them to grow in “admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

            Those who do not agree with this are free to do so but they should have the courage of their convictions and move to another church that believes like them, ie of the Baptist persuasion. This is imperative of anyone in leadership or in the Church’s employ. It would be hypocritical to receive the church’s money while undermining its cohesion and integrity. Those who take such a position should not expect God’s blessings.

Agnes Tse, Chelsea , London

 Baptism language

Sir, Most major companies produce a working manual detailing what can and cannot be done by its representatives, on threat of dismissal.

For Christians the New Testament is our working manual’ regarding Baptism; and the ‘clue’ to what we should do is in the language used.

            All baptismal language is addressed to those capable of believing it and is understandable, there is no ambiguity. This is clear from a reading of Acts 16:31—34.

            This scripture is often used to promote Infant Baptism which it is said must have occurred within household baptisms.

            But the truth is that Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and to all that were in his house: so household baptisms were of all those who had ‘come to believe in God’. See verse 34. This obviously rules out babies and very small children who are not responsible for their own actions , and in their innocence are covered by the Grace of God.

Philip Youngman, Poole, Dorset

 

JULY 16

Baptism

Sir, Philip Youngman presumes his one plain text of Acts 16:31-34 settles the argument in favour of adult believers’ baptism only (letters, July 9). But does it? We must not take Paul’s reply out of its primary context of answering a very specific question from a single person as to how that single person, the jailer, can be saved (v. 30).

            However, Paul gratuitously adds what is not asked. Paul told the jailer that if he does what is required for his own salvation, then not only will he be saved, but all his household will be saved with him. Note this is a plain and straightforward assertion. There is no hint of this being conditional on their also hearing and responding.

            See how naturally it was for Paul to include the salvation of children with their parents. We have his theological foundation for this in Romans chapter 4 where he builds on the Promise to Abraham (Gen. 17:7 etc.) and argues the promise, being made prior to circumcision, makes it good for all similar cases, whether circumcised or not (v. 10).

            From Abraham onwards the whole direction of Scripture is to include the offspring with the parents. The great plus of the New Covenant is promised to the offspring of Abraham and their children (Acts 2:39).

Paul says the children of believers and their unbelieving spouses that are pleased to accept them are both sanctified and being sanctified  (1 Cor. 7: 14). On the conversion of Zacchaeus, it is our Lord who calls him a true son of Abraham and that salvation has thus come to his house (Lk 19:9).

            In the Great Commission, baptism is the first step for all converted to discipleship (Matt. 28:19, an event, the verb is in the aorist). Note that in the Greek, training follows baptism (v. 20). As children imbibe the spirit of their parents (Eph. 6:4), the Church treats them as converted and in obedience to Christ’s instructions, baptises them.

            So on close examination, Philip Youngman’s best text for restricting baptism to adult believers turns out to be the opposite. There is even the parallel of Lydia in the same chapter. Only her heart is opened, only she hears and attends but all her household are baptised with her (v.15). Like the Great Commission, these presume children are included and are to be baptised along with their parents.

Alan Bartley

 JULY 30

Baptism

Sir, On the issue of baptism within the Anglican Church, which is generally reserved for infants, Agnes Tse (July 9) disparages the notion of adult immersion and equates such as “rejecting 2,000 years of Church history” suggesting also that “re-baptism’ weakens the Church. She waxes eloquent on how “traditionally and gracefully the Church of England has welcomed children of Christian parents into the Church, baptized them and expected them to grow in ‘admonition of the Lord”. This has been given the un-Biblical term “Christening”, usually only applying to babies.

            Although I was baptized as an infant, my parents will admit to me today that they had no such palpable Christian faith whilst I was growing up, which could hardly then be described as “in the love and admonition of the Lord”.

            Unconnected to this I found my own  personal faith at age 15 through the Godly leadership of a local YMCA. Philip Youngman in his letter (July 9) conversely makes the valid point that “babies and very small children are not responsible for their own actions”, and that their actions are “covered by the grace of God”.

            My late grandmother did not come to a close personal faith in Jesus Christ until her mid-60s, and afterwards was imbued with an infectious love for the Lord. However, accompanying her newfound faith was an irresistible desire to be baptized. Having been already ‘baptized’ or ‘sprinkled’ as a baby circa 1918, I was duly informed by the CoW priest that I asked on her behalf that she could not be “re-baptized”. “It’s a bit of a hot potato,” he admitted, and my grandmother did not make the trip to Israel to get baptized in the River Jordan as she had hoped to. Shortly after, she attended a baptismal service in a local Pentecostal Church and underwent the waters of baptism by full immersion donned in a full length gown after an appeal was made to the congregation if anyone was wanting to go forward. This she did, feeling she was doing so in obedience to Scripture.

            If God had intended for infant baptism, He would have demonstrated this in the most perfect example of his own dear Son. Jesus, however was not baptized as a baby, but as an adult at age 30. Rather he was circumcised according to the Law of Moses on the eighth day. Adult baptism does not reject Church history, it reaffirms it by following the example of the early Jewish Church who were all baptized as adults, probably in a ‘mikveh’ ritual bath as members continued to be added to their number. The Gentiles, or non-Jews, in their later Church history ended up concocting a practice so far from its original intention that unbelieving babies were now perceived as “Christian” after a douse of water from a “Christening” font.

            The Bible expressly states in Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” It does not say “Be baptized and then later believe.” Sincere belief must precede the step of conscious baptism. Do we follow amended traditions or the Word of God in the Bible?

Colin Nevin, Northern Ireland

 Ancient errors?

Sir, Agnes Tse argues that infant baptism is justified because it is an ancient practice. But so were the doctrines of papal supremacy and transubstantiation until rejected by the Reformation. Longevity is not necessarily the basis for truth. Moreover, historically baptism has been seen as conferring ‘membership’. But Christians would be justifiably outraged if communists, socialists, conservatives or any other organization were to make a baby a ‘member’ by placing a card around its neck. To say to a growing child ‘You are a Catholic,’ ‘You are an Anglican,’ or ‘You are a Methodist’ can do great harm, as we have seen in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. A person growing up should be free to choose their own memberships or affiliations. Confirmation itself should not be a formal ‘rite of passage’ as regrettably it often is. It could be a question of human rights, even of an infant.

 Scripture shows that repentance, faith, baptism in water and the Holy Spirit were originally proximate in time and place (Matt 3:16; Acts 9:18,18; Romans 6:7; 1 John 3:9). Infant baptism undermines this sequence and may lead us to a long struggle with sin rather than power in the victory of Christ, who was immersed and crucified for us. Could it be tentatively suggested that some future Parliament could bring to an end social, political or religious ritual on a child without its consent?

Mervin Spearing

AUGUST 6

Subjective views of baptism

Sir, Colin Nevin’s letter (July 30) seems to me much too subjective and individualistic in his view of baptism. Baptism, whether administered to babies, teenagers or adults, is a sacrament - a sign of something real. That reality might come before, during or after the ritual. It is not the thing itself. Did he ever think that although he and apparently his parents had no faith at the time of his baptism the church did, and they were the ones faithfully administering the sacrament? Although I am an Anglican and prefer infant baptism and believe it right only for the babies of believing parents — they are welcoming their children into the covenant family with the covenant sign just as the faithful people of God under the old covenant did with circumcision.

I have also been a member of a Baptist Church and witnessed teenagers and adults receiving ‘believer’s’ baptism by total immersion. (I would rather call it ‘professors’ baptism) and it meaning no more to the receivers than the perfunctory confirmation that so often occurs with Anglicans.

On the occasions when the ‘penny drops’ several years later these folk are not required by the Baptist Church to be re-baptised now that they have been converted or believe. Some Pentecostal Churches apparently will re-baptise two or three times in such circumstances. I think this makes a mockery of the sacrament and places too much emphasis on the individual’s feelings.

The Rev David Stuart-Smith, London SEI 9LP

 Baptism

Sir, Colin Nevin and Mervin Spearing take me to task for daring to defend the Church’s traditional belief in infant baptism (Letters, July 30). Colin by his extended stories of experience, his and his grandma’s, only go to illustrate the point I was making that these Baptists build their theology on experience, not Scripture.

            He pedantically censures our use of the term “Christening” as unbiblical when really he dislikes the idea it conveys. Is a word really unbiblical because it does not echo the sound of the Greek or Hebrew original? Which is better, to coin a word like At-one-ment or borrow a term from a foreign language that is meaningless to the unlearned.

            Perhaps he would also take issue with the word Trinity because it too is not found in the Bible. Mervin simplistically asserts infant baptism is just as much an error as “papal supremacy and transubstantiation”. This is despite recent letters arguing the opposite and all the scholars and Reformers against him. When our Lord tells us that those who are not for him are against him, Mervin wants children to be neutral and not indoctrinated with the Truth of Christianity. This is so they can later choose for themselves. In this he contradicts the Apostolic command (Ephesians 6:4). When his philosophy leads him to contradict the clear teaching of Scripture in this way— is there any light in him (Isaiah 8:20)? When he calls upon the Government to step in and punish parents for obeying Scripture – does he realise how absurd his position has become?

Agnes Tse

 AUGUST 20

Baptism concerns

Sir, After all the arguments, there remain serious concerns regarding infant baptism. Frequently Ministers ask non-Christian parents to commit perjury by saying ‘I turn to Christ’. The origin and reasons for infant baptism are exemplified when some denominations permit even unbelievers to ‘sprinkle’ a dying baby to save it from ‘hell’.

It is surely time for us to obey the command ‘Change your minds and be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 2:38, literal Greek).

Mervyn Spearing

 

Is infant baptism biblical?

The Rev David Stuart-Smith in his letter (August 6) states that, as an Anglican, he “prefers” infant baptism, yet he finds my own stance, based purely from Scripture, as too individualistic”.

I do not choose to “prefer” adult “believer’s” baptism as such, but the New Testament describes it as an adult responsibility and an “individual” choice. Yes, baptism is individualistic, and rightly so. All examples of baptism were clearly of believing adults, at least by John the Baptist, including the perfect example of Jesus (or Yeshua) himself at circa age 30. Confirmation may act as an addition to infant baptism, or, by extension, a realisation of its responsibilities, when the “penny drops”, to use Rev Stuart-Smith’s term. Perhaps  Confirmation could be compared to the Jewish tradition of “Bar Mitzvah” or becoming a “Son of the Law” or “Torah” which in Hebrew means “teaching”. This occurs roughly at the age of 13 or so when the child is considered mature enough to be responsible for his own actions in the sight of God.  Yeshua’s parents, we are told in Luke 2:41, “went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of Passover,” however Yeshua or his brothers and sisters are not mentioned until we read in the next verse: “And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the Feast.” That “custom” at this age is likely to have been a confirmation or Bar Mitzvah of His coming of age, as the words in the Hebrew New Testament are “when His twelve years were completed or ‘fulfilled’”, in other words, His twelfth year was coming to completion, and the Biblical New Year fell at Spring time in the Bible, as Jews were not known to celebrate Birthdays in the way the pagans did, as it was self-glorification. His circumcision was at eight days old, but that was not an infant baptism or “christening”. John the Baptist, or Yochanan, as He would have been called in Hebrew, immersed adults in the Jordan River calling them to “repent”. How can a baby repent?

            In conclusion, Rev Stuart-Smith states that re-baptism makes a mockery of the “sacrament”, another un-Biblical term, but it is the imposition of baptising babies which makes a “mockery” of baptism’s original intention. If babies were “dedicated” rather than being physically “baptised” then there would be no need for “re-baptism”, and adults as intended could repent and publicly declare their belief in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah.

Agnes Tse, on the other hand, defends her position by citing my dislike of the term “christening” as un-Biblical, and that it doesn’t echo the sound of tile Greek or Hebrew original.” The word “Christ” is the transliterated English form of the Greek word “Christos”, meaning “Messiah”, so “christening” does have Greek roots, but not directly Hebrew roots. Yeshua, as a Jew, was never proclaimed by Peter or any of the Disciples as “Christos” in Greek, rather they heralded Him as “Mashiach” or “Messiah” in Hebrew, which mean “anointed”. “Christos” would have been a foreign term to Yeshua Himself, as would be His later adapted Greek name “lesous” which came down via Latin to English to become “Jesus”, a name He would never have heard in Galilee . The Jews that wrote the New Testament would have known Him as

“Yeshua”, which clearly to them and any Hebrew speaker meant “salvation” or “yeshuah”. How far has Yeshua’s Name come in derivation since its first proclamation by the Angel Gabriel in Nazareth which was officially named at His circumcision on the eighth day?

(Luke 2:21.) His Name was to be the Name above all names, yet few of His followers actually use it. So too it is with baptism. We have replaced its original intention and replaced it with something that is completely so reinvented that it is almost a totally different ritual than its first induction by Yeshua’s cousin Yochanan in the wilderness of Judea . To adjust the famous acronym: W.W.Y.D. -

What would Yeshua do?

Colin Nevin

 

AUGUST 27

Infant baptism issues

Sir, I do hope the continuing “who’s right?” correspondence on infant baptism over the past three months will not have diverted attention from the more positive and challenging message from Peter Brierley’s article about baptismal statistics (CEN June 18).

            That adult baptisms have increased by 24 per cent since 2002 (28 per cent since 2001) is enormously encouraging to those of us who long for integrity in the administration of baptism. The decline in infant baptisms in the same period (16 per cent) can be viewed in different ways, but in Baptismal Integrity we believe this is not only a sign of increased secularisation but because increasing numbers of parents are not willing to make promises they honestly can’t be sure they will even try to keep.

            Peter points out the positive pastoral opportunities arising when parents still choose to have their child baptised even though this may be influenced by superstition or the “granny syndrome” - a ‘rite of passage for parents’ as he refers to it!

            This may well be true, but here the most important statistic of all is never sought nor given. Just how many of the quarter of a million infants baptised in the Church of England between 2002-2008 were seen again with their parents as part of the ongoing worshipping community? It is all very well to try and justify infant baptism as “an opportunity for Christian interaction with at least two-fifths of the population” - (Peter is presumably adding together baptisms of all denominations t0 reach this figure)- but let’s be honest, don’t we all know the retention factor is at best less than one per cent?

            One figure not analysed in Peter’s article relates to Thanksgivings which to us in BI remains mysteriously low at 6,100 in 2008. There seem to be two main reasons for this:

1.          Relatively few clergy are trained and encouraged to institute the service as an ideal opportunity for “Christian interaction” with parents who feel unable to make the baptism vows. Too often it is deemed “second best” rather than a positive occasion of open hearted welcome and gentle initiation into church life.

2.         The lack of guidance on a formal register may mean clergy fail to make proper records.

            Our website and associated pages contain lots of helpful advice including information  about certificates and registers.

Roger Godin

Vice Chair

Baptismal Integrity, Taunton

 

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