Provocative Questions

My former church history professor (and current Dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University) Bill Leonard recently delivered a series of lectures at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary where he talked about (guess what?) baptism!  Leonard said that after four centuries, believers’ baptism remains the symbol of Baptist identity, but in the 21st century, Baptists must respond to two pressing “problems” with baptism — the widespread requirement that long-term Christians be immersed before joining a Baptist church and the rebaptism of church members.

I don’t know how often we rebaptize Baptists at FBC (do we do that?), but the matter of requiring Christians from other denominations to be immersed before they can become full members is something we will be talking about again this Wednesday night, as we enter Round Two of “Holy Conversations.”

Dr. Leonard posed some provocative questions in his remarks at Baylor.  I’ve copied a few of the more relevant ones below.  If you’d like to read the full article from the Associated Baptist Press, just click here.

I hope these questions will help you think about the issues involved, and I hope you will take some time to pray over these things as well, so that when you come to the Dining Hall this Wednesday night at 6:15 you will be ready to participate in truly holy conversation.

Questions for churches to consider

“Can churches that require immersion of non-immersed, long-time Christians articulate a clear biblical mandate for doing so, especially when ‘New Testament baptism’ is given to those who have made immediate profession of faith?”

“Does immersion given to long-term Christians on the basis of a profession of faith require recipients to repudiate at least implicitly their earlier faith and the Christian tradition that nurtured them to grace?”

“Should immersion of long-time Christians at least be distinguished from the immersion of new converts?”

“Given that the New Testament knows nothing of child baptism, can Baptist churches that require immersion of all members claim ‘the true New Testament baptism’ if they baptize children under the age of 12, when Jewish children confirm their faith?

“Given that many Baptist churches accept children — some even in the preschool ages — as members, how will they define the nature of a believers’ church?

If you have good answers to these questions, or if you have some additional questions of your own, feel free to comment by clicking on the word “comments” below.

3 thoughts on “Provocative Questions

  1. Jim:
    As if the Baptisism issue is not enough, given your DMV story, you now have presented us with the potential reality of calling a “female” to be Senior Pastor of FBC! Where will it all end?
    With a smile,
    Rick Peters

  2. Jim,
    On Baptism – I often find myself thinking in terms of “what Jesus would do” or “What would God have us do?” The issue concerning Baptism is a “no brainer” for me, personally. I believe that God knows what is in our hearts. I also believe that if we are invited to be immersed, rather than required to be immersed, that many would choose to do it! As a new member of First Baptist, Richmond, I have my own reasons for choosing to be immersed in a river, even though I was christened in the Methodist Church.

  3. Just a question: Why 12 for children? The current Jewish practice of Bar Mitzvah (which is at 13) and bringing children in at a certain age did not exist in the time of Jesus, it was a much later invention of Judaism (similarly, the Bat Mitzvah, the ceremony for girls did not begin until the 20th century). Where in Holy Scripture does one find an “age of accountability,” or some indication that one should wait until a certain age, and how can I find out what that age is?

    I guess a comment also: When it comes to one’s previous baptismal experience, an important question to ask would be what that baptism was meant to accomplish. This may seem silly, but I have seen validity in asking the question: What was it meant to do? If the significance of “baptism” in a previous experience were different from what a baptism is meant to accomplish in your tradition, then baptizing someone would probably be appropriate. But Scripturally, I do not think one can be “re-baptized.” The Apostle Paul tells us that there is only “one baptism” (Ephesians 4). In order to baptize someone who has been previously baptized, you cannot recognize their previous baptism as valid.

    One more thing on the form of baptism – certainly the Scriptural model of baptism is immersion, and one should be immersed in baptism as the first option. The Didache, an ancient Christian manual that was written in the first century (probably 50-70AD according to the best and most recent scholarship), which was used around the Church of Antioch and the churches in Syria (though it was used in other places as well), says this:

    “And concerning baptism, baptize thus:
    Having said all these things beforehand, immerse in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in flowing water-
    If, on the other hand, you should not have flowing water, immerse in other water [that is available];
    (and) if you are not able in cold, [immerse] in warm [water];
    (and) if you should not have wither, pour out water onto the head three times in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

    Just some food for thought while you discuss…

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