Dipping into baptism 11: ‘mopping up’

Time to wrap our discussion of a good recent book on the contested waters of baptism is Baptism: Three Views, edited by the late David F Wright just before he died.

The three views are:

1. Believers’ Baptism View: Bruce A. Ware

2. Infant Baptism View: Sinclair B. Ferguson

3. Dual-Practice Baptism View: Anthony N. S. Lane

Final Reflections

Here are some last reflections on the dual practice position and some concluding thoughts of where I am at after reading this book and thinking about baptism for quite a while.

First the responses to Lane’s view – what Ferguson calls the ‘Middle-Lane position’ 🙂

I didn’t find Ware or Ferguson’s responses to Lane that strong.

Ware’s charge that Lane’s use of the historical record gives it too much weight and undermines sola scriptura is not persuasive. Lane is using the historical record as a pointer to what early apostolic practice was. Scripture is still primary.

Ferguson’s criticisms amount to a belief that there was early on and should be today uniformity of practice. As Lane replies, the evidence points to a plurality of practice and suggests this diversity was tolerated from the very beginning of apostolic tradition.

So 10 thoughts of where I’m at:

1. Baptism makes most Scriptural and theological sense when connected closely with conversion. The NT pattern is faith & repentance, receiving the Spirit and baptism.

2. Baptism is effective and is part of the conversion process – it is an instrument where we receive Christ and his salvation.

3. Believer’s baptism should therefore be given due regard as the normative practice of the church – especially in light of the damage done to baptism by widespread indiscriminate infant baptism during Christendom and our increasingly post-Christendom culture.

However, having said that:

4. This is not a ‘gospel’ issue. The practice of the early church is remarkably diverse embracing and tolerating different practices without too much angst.

5. In effect I’m closest to the ‘middle-Lane’ view: I belong happily to a Presbyterian Church which practices infant baptism [we are going to have a particularly cute one baptised on Sunday].

6. In this I am not alone – increasing numbers of Christians in paedo-baptist churches are choosing not to have their babies baptised.

7. I’m not naive enough, nor is it theologically necessary, to propose that believer’s baptism should or will one day replace infant-baptism in these churches.

8. However, I would love to see the Presbyterian Church in Ireland [and other infant-baptising denominations] have a serious discussion about moving away from a default paedo-baptist position; acknowledge the considerable weight of the historical, theological and missional case for believer’s baptism; teach and encourage parents about both positions; and promote both forms of baptism on an equal footing within the life of the church community and then let parents decide what form to follow.

9. And I’d love to see Baptist churches stop insisting that someone who has been a Christian for many years, yet who has been baptised as an infant, has to be baptised as a believer before they can become a member of the church.

10.  In other words, a moving beyond mutual exclusivity to mutual toleration.

That’s where I am at, what about you?


8 thoughts on “Dipping into baptism 11: ‘mopping up’

  1. Im not in a great mood so if this is just lies please bear with me….

    If baptism wasnt so tighly connected to regeneration i wouldnt have so much of a problem with this doctrine. I could simply say that baptism was the start of ones discipleship. With that view i could look at the history of the church and say that when the church was young and not ubiqituos only believers could recieve entry into the church and begin their discipleship and that when the church became “everyone everywhere” then simply being born was entry into the church and hence the pedobaptist view had validity. But it is tied to Regeneration so as i see it i cant see it as just a ceremony to mark the start of discipleship and hence the choice of belivers of pedo baptism is important

    I’ve found this review of yours very thought provoking and also a bit depressing. I dont agree with your final conclusions as I cant see the two views having much commonality other than both say one must be baptised. IF the believers baptism view is correct then baptist churches are COMPLETLY CORRECT to demand that christians from pedobaptist churchs get baptised again for what to them is the baptism of a child only an excuse for a party with no kingdom significance.

    The only way that i can see that what both views could have validity AT THE SAME TIME is if baptism doesnt really matter that much. The reason im a bit depressed by this is because it is clear from scripture it does matter but i will never know which view is correct. Saying that both views are valid can only lead to people treating baptism as if it doesnt really matter and that is where you will finally get mutal toleration- when people dont care about baptism.

    I have a feeling you might disagree with that!!!

  2. I read this book when I was trying to decide whether to have my daughter baptised. Lots of the arguments made sense to me, but nothing convinced me completely. In the end, I decided not to have her baptised, because I want her to have the opportunity to choose baptism as a means of public expression of her own faith (hopefully it’s a choice she’ll want to take eventually — though her Sunday-morning refrain at the moment is “no church!”).

    I was baptised as a baby, and I was at least a little sorry that I couldn’t choose to be baptised when I committed myself to Christ at 23.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I still don’t have a very good understanding of what exactly baptism is, despite having had a very good reason to figure it out 🙂


  3. Richard, Mags:

    I agree that there is a natural connection of baptism with faith, repentance, and regeneration by the Spirit. That is why we did not have our daughters baptised as infants, like Mags. That to me is much the better more biblically persuasive option.

    It is also much more significant personally and missionally if someone who commits herself to Christ later can be baptised as part of her initiation into the Christian faith. Seeing our daughters do that was fantastic.

    So its not as if I don’t think baptism matters. But it is recognising that sincere biblically informed Christians see it in more than one way AND the evidence of church history lends weight to more than one practice of baptism.

    If there is liberty in how it can be practiced from the very earliest times, then this sort of liberty can help us get beyond the current impasse between infant and believers’ baptist views. What both views have in common is the necessity of faith in Jesus – its the timing of this faith that they disagree over.

    What IS really damaging is when paedo-baptism is treated as a semi-magical rite, divorced from faith of parents or of any sign of it in later life from the one baptised – yet it is somehow taken as ‘proof’ that whatever happens the ‘God bit’ is looked after. Baptism can never be separated from faith in Jesus.

    This is where I think the Catholic Church’s practice of baptism – and belief in baptismal regeneration – has had a profoundly negative effect. Everyone is ‘in’ regardless of subsequent life or lack of personal faith.

    And Mags – I’m wondering what happened to provoke the ‘No Church!’ protest!!

  4. I’m wondering that too, but she seems to be over it. She was disappointed when we didn’t go yesterday, and was asking for it today 🙂


  5. I think that infant baptism, along with the infant dedication practiced by Baptistic churches (at least here in the U.S.) satisfies an important sociological need. We need, somehow, to recognize the entrance of children into the community. Believer’s baptism and the corresponding paedobaptist tradition of confirmation recognize the need for each person to make his or her own commitment of faith.

    So each tradition uses baptism to fulfill one of those roles and makes up an extrabiblical (not the same as unbiblical) rite for the other.

    At my own church we practice a kind of beefed up infant dedication, using much of the language/liturgy of traditional infant baptism (recognizing that children truly are gifts from God and part of our community in order that we may nurture them toward faith) and practicing believer’s baptism.

    I would probably put my own views as the dual-practice view. My wife was raised Methodist and was baptized as an infant, and I would be offended by the suggestion that it “didn’t count”. Baptism is hugely important, but not essential.

    We should all remember the thief on the cross when we start thinking about sacraments as “necessities”. They’re gifts to be celebrated, not hurdles God puts in our way.

  6. Welcome Travis,

    I like that last line a lot. Your comments do sound like Tony Lane, so we are very much on the same page.

    Where I think he might dissent a little is taking the extraordinary case of the thief to argue that the sacraments are not essential.

    I know you are not pushing this direction and I know Paul explicitly downplayed the significance of who he baptised and by implication the saving significance of baptism itself.

    But it is very alien to the NT when baptism and the Lord’s Supper aren’t normative rites at the beginning and ongoing experience of the Christian life.

    I’ve met a surprising number of ‘low church’ evangelical Christians who have never been baptised one way or another and who think it really isn’t important at all.

  7. I have only just noticed this blog through a link with Scot McKnight’s blog. So I come to the debate very late.
    I have some varied links with the thread.
    Disappointingly I never got to discuss this with Patrick when he lodged with me for a year.
    I also studied under Tony Lane and have immense respect for him and all his views.
    I have faced this issue despite not having children. First, I had to decide about myself. I had been christened as a baby but by nonchristian parents and I decided that whether one agreed with Ware or Ferguson what I had had was not really Christian baptism. So when I became a Christian I decided when I thought about it that I would be baptised at the Brethren church I was attending.
    More recently I have faced this issue. The possibility of being ordained through the International Presbyterian Church presented itself. After much thought I reluctantly did not pursue it. Infant baptism was not merely a doctrine of the church it had been an issue for division within the church. It seemed ridiculous to sign up as if I agreed with a doctrine that was so dear to them when I did not.
    I have since been ordained through the Baptist Convention of Korea. In the interviews prior to ordination I had to describe and justify my views on baptism (without having read Wright’s book unfortunately).
    One thing about the discussion as summarised by Patrick is the apparent absence of any mention of the baptism of Jesus. It seems to have been ruled out altogether. I wouls, presumably controversially, introduce it as central to any understanding of NT baptism.
    When Paul says in Rom 6 that we were baptised into Christ, and when we reflect that Jesus was baptised it seems peculiar that we attach no meaning from the accounts of Jesus baptism for our own baptism. The doctrine of union with Christ and the very peculiarity of the baptism of Jesus noted at the time by John the Baptist might also suggest that Jesus chose to be baptised as a pioneer of the practice of Christian baptism.
    What might we infer from Jesus’ baptism?
    We can note three obvious things:
    1. That God said, according to one account, TO JESUS, that Jesus was his beloved son with whom he was well pleased. This seems to be a declaration of love from the father to the son.
    2. In another account, the same declaration is made TO THE ONLOOKERS. Thus there was a declaration of love and delight about the son.
    3. The baptism marked the start of Jesus public ministry. It functioned almost as a commissioning. And it is in this sense I take the coming of the Holy Spirit for I cannot believe Jesus knew nothing of the Spirit prior to this occasion.
    If we transfer this to our own baptism
    1. We are God’s children, his beloved children.
    2. He is pleased with us, as a father should be. If this seems to go way beyond what is appropriate in the light of the way our behaviour has fallen way below that of Jesus I would respond that we are ‘in Christ’ and thus are justified by sharing his righteousness. Thus the Father can say that He is pleased with us.
    3. God makes this statement to the onlooker and to the child of God. Thus baptism depicts the proud boast of the Father about His child to the onlooker and the fond reassurance from the Father to His child.
    4. Baptism also acts as a call to service.
    From this I take that it is inappropriate to baptise before the age of comprehension. Baptism functions partly as something said to the child of God for his/her understanding. It also functions partly as a call to arms, something that only someone who has reached the age of comprehension can respond to.
    I also take it that baptism is not primarily something that we do. It is not an act of obedience or of witness, or not primarily. Primarily it is something that God does. And surely this is implied by the very word. One is baptised, passive. It is something done to you rather than by you.
    I do not argue that the above replaces or refutes what others have said about baptism but I do feel that it supplements.

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