Credo-Baptism Answers Is immersion essential to baptism?

Discussion in 'Credo-Baptism Answers' started by Paul1976, Jun 18, 2019.

  1. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    [A little context. I'm a former baptist attending a PCA church and still on the fence regarding paedo/credo, but leaning credo.]

    My understanding is that the large majority of baptist churches as well as the 1689 Confession require baptism by immersion and would require an individual to be baptized by immersion as a believer for church membership and especially to hold office. There seem to be a minority of churches with somewhat more relaxed policies.

    I agree that there is a reasonable scriptural and historical case for baptism by immersion - I'm not asking about that specifically. However, I would not say that the case is airtight. There are no clear instructions for how baptism is specifically carried out in the scripture. I do believe that someone could honestly conclude from the scriptures alone that (say) sprinkling is an acceptable mode. What I'm curious to better understand is why most baptists believe that a water baptism by sprinkling/pouring is sufficiently invalid that an individual with such a baptism must be rebaptized by immersion.
     
  2. SeanPatrickCornell

    SeanPatrickCornell Puritan Board Freshman

  3. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Paul,

    Let me start by saying that there is no need to prove a negative about mode. The command is to believe and be baptized. The 1689 LBC states in 29.4, "Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance." Due administration of this ordinance means the proper administration of the ordinance. That refers specifically to mode. But let's say that mode was optional (although I don't believe it is). A person who was baptized as an infant was not scripturally baptized. Again, the 1689 LBC states in 29.2, "Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. " Here the language is stronger than "the due administration of this ordinance". 29.2 states the professed believers are "the only proper subjects" of baptism. Infants are incapable of being professed believers and, therefore, are not proper subjects for baptism. So, let's say a person was baptized as an infant and wants to join a Baptist church. In most Baptist churches they will be required to be scripturally baptized, not "re-baptized". The difference being that Baptists do not consider infant baptism to be a valid baptism.
     
  4. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    One point where I should have been more clear is that I'm only asking about sprinkling as a mode, not the much more challenging subject of proper subjects of baptism. If the credobaptist position that a baptism of an unbeliever is not valid is correct, then administering a proper baptism is clearly necessary. I'm trying to confine my question to mode only. So, perhaps it would be best to imagine a case of someone unambiguously baptized as a believer in a church that practices sprinkling or pouring.

    Sean - thanks for the link. I skimmed it and would like to look in more detail later. You're right it's not quite what I'm asking about. I agree that the scriptural case and especially the historical case (as I presently understand it)
    favor immersion.

    Here is my thinking. Historical church positions are helpful guides and can be useful when the scriptures do not seem clear. I'm hesitant, though, to take good historical evidence of the dominance of a position and use it to say that another position is invalid without clear scriptural support.

    I should have been more clear in my original question that I was only interested in understanding baptist thinking on mode, not subjects.

    Let me be more specific. As I understand it, most reformed baptist churches would require the individual I mentioned above (baptized as a believer, but through sprinkling) to be rebaptized by immersion in order to become a member. While I agree with the first post (and, very likely, you as well) that there is a solid historical case that this was the normal practice for much of church history, there is also a clear scriptural case that Christians are only to be baptized once. To me, that suggests that baptists believe mode (immersion vs. sprinkling) is essential to a baptism being valid. Personally, although I agree with baptists that immersion was probably practiced by the early church at the time where we have a number of writings (200 AD and later) and that I see immersion as the probable form of baptism in the NT, I don't see a "smoking gun" in the NT that clearly says a baptism by sprinkling is invalid.

    I hope it is clear that the tone I am intending to write in is one of someone genuinely wishing to understand the baptist position better.

    I'm asking specifically because I'm leaning towards paedobaptism and have two young children (ages 6 and 4) I would need to have baptized if both my wife and I settle on that position. I do see the case for immersion being stronger. I also see the case for peace and unity in the church being important. My pastor (a former baptist) is willing to immerse, but not during a church service. Technically, he could be called before presbytery for doing so. So, while I retain a strong preference for immersion, I am on the fence whether the case for immersion is sufficiently strong that it would warrant not holding a baptism before the entire congregation and also implying that I consider fellow church member's baptisms by sprinkling to be somehow less valid.
     
  5. Chris Whisonant

    Chris Whisonant Puritan Board Freshman

    Good morning. First post here. I noticed from some hits to my blog that Sean linked to me - thanks man!

    Regarding the proper mode, there are a few specific links from my Baptism series (https://cwhisonant.wordpress.com/baptism-in-the-early-church/) which I think are most germane to this topic. I know that you don't want to get into the paedobaptism debate here, but in many ways you can see that the emergence of paedobaptism and sprinkling are similar. Firstly, the earliest Christian writings deny both. Tertullian is very key here as he wrote often about the mode being immersion. But he also questioned the practice of infant baptism. This post was one that I enjoyed writing (https://cwhisonant.wordpress.com/2019/03/27/tertullian-on-traditions-which-are-not-in-scripture/)

    But after reading your last paragraph about your concerns with your own children, I would actually like to make a "strange" comment on that. If you will see in the Tertullian (https://cwhisonant.wordpress.com/20...-until-they-can-ask-for-salvation-themselves/) and Gregory Nazianzan (https://cwhisonant.wordpress.com/20...n-381-its-better-to-wait-to-baptize-children/) posts on infant baptism you will note that both of them caution to wait at least a little while. Tertullian would vaguely state to wait until the child could ask. Similarly, Gregory said that it's better to wait until they are able to answer some questions about the sacrament of baptism and why they are being baptized. Gregory stated that 3 years old should suffice for this. So, here is my strange comment. If your 4 and 6 year old children can answer questions about baptism, then according to some of the earliest patristics writing about infant baptism your children at those ages would not be paedobaptized but actually credobaptized as they can ask/assent/demonstrate in some way that they are professors of the Christian faith.

    Some folks may not like that comment of mine and as I said it's "strange". But it's something to consider. Though they should still be immersed. ;) Though I would also ask what is leading you to a paedobaptist congregation.

    As a side note, the paedobaptist will cite something along the lines of "all of church history has baptized babies, so we must as well" - there are far more early church writings stating that immersion was the proper mode than writings that babies should be baptized. As I understand it, there are only 3 or 4 authors who mentioned infant baptism prior to the year 400 - and 2 of them were cautioning against it. Just on my blog I have cited 11 authors prior to the year 400 who argue that immersion is the proper mode. Cyprian is one of the first to mention sprinkling and that was only for cases where the person was sick or in some way could not physically be immersed. For the paedobaptist to be consistent in their appeal to church history, they should all begin baptizing by immersion again. Otherwise, they are appealing to just a part of their tradition that they have accepted (Westminster Divines were just one or two votes away from officially confessing immersion, by the way.).
     
  6. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    The LBC says, "Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance."

    Baptist pastors who share this conviction must immerse in order to administer the ordinance properly. However, the confession falls short of saying that immersion is 'essential' to baptism, as if a sprinkled person has not been baptized at all. Nor does it say that the immersionist convictions of the parents will somehow negate the baptism of their sprinkled children when they humble themselves to the convictions of their Presbyterian church.

    That said, I agree that in your situation it might be best to put off membership for a few years. Your Presbyterian pastor could avoid the awkwardness of immersion; it would give you time to really sort through your differences with the church's doctrine; and it would allow your children to participate in the process when they are older.
     
  7. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    > [from Chris Whisonant] I noticed from some hits to my blog that Sean linked to me - thanks man!

    You'll probably notice a few more. I emailed the link to a baptist friend who will appreciate it.

    > I know that you don't want to get into the paedobaptism debate here, but in many ways you can see that the emergence of paedobaptism and sprinkling are similar.

    You're right that the issues seem to end up connected although I don't see why they need to be theologically (I can see why practically). I'll may post some more paedo/credo questions elsewhere, but I think it's best to keep posts focused on a single topic.

    > If your 4 and 6 year old children can answer questions about baptism, then according to some of the earliest patristics writing about infant baptism your children at those ages would not be paedobaptized but actually credobaptized...

    In my specific case, it's at least ambiguous at this point. My 6-year-old would understand things well enough at least some would consider her a candidate. And, my 4-year-old would meet Tertullian's criteria.

    > Though I would also ask what is leading you to a paedobaptist congregation.

    When I realized I needed to leave a generically baptist church that lacked theological depth or gospel-focused teaching, I researched reformed congregations in my city (Las Vegas). I prefer churches on my side of the city to avoid long drives and for more fellowship opportunities. That gave me a choice between a very solid PCA church and two very dispensational but otherwise promising baptist congregations.

    Personally, although I think baptism itself is very important, I also think there is too much division over disagreement regarding issues where the scripture is not as clear as we would like. I'm saddened to see reformed believers unable to worship together over the issue when baptism is certainly (in part) intended to unite and not divide believers. At the time I was looking for a new church, I was from a baptist background, but realized I did not understand either side as well as I would have liked. I also figured it would take a long time for me to understand both sides well enough to settle on a position. So, a paedobaptist congregation made much more sense to me than a dispensational one since I knew at the time I'd never go back to dispensationalism and consider that far more problematic than an incorrect view of subjects/mode of baptism (whatever view that might be...)

    This particular PCA church is accepting of baptists. They are not eligible for church office, but we have an outstanding baptist member who is allowed to teach adult Sunday School regularly and lead a small group.

    We're connected enough to the church that I would not want to leave even if thoroughly convinced the paedobaptist position is wrong.

    > (Westminster Divines were just one or two votes away from officially confessing immersion, by the way.)

    That's interesting! That really should be included on your very helpful blog on the history of immersion.

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply Chris.

    > [From KMK] However, the confession falls short of saying that immersion is 'essential' to baptism, as if a sprinkled person has not been baptized at all. Nor does it say that the immersionist convictions of the parents will somehow negate the baptism of their sprinkled children when they humble themselves to the convictions of their Presbyterian church.

    That is good to know. While I am fairly convinced that immersion is more consistent with what we have to go on from scripture, I've never been happy with the concept that another form invalidates a baptism.

    > it might be best to put off membership for a few years.

    We're already members. Requirements for church membership only included a relatively basic adherence to the essentials of the faith which I entirely agreed with. When researching whether to join the church, I decided to ask the question "could I attend here as a credobaptist without significant problems?" and concluded that the answer was "yes." I knew that would be a FAR easier question than deciding which view on subjects of baptism is correct.

    While I don't wish to suggest that the question of subjects of baptism as well as mode is an unimportant issue, I am also convicted it should play a secondary role in selecting a church.
     
  8. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    In that case, the Pastor has bound himself to accommodate your scruples. I was not aware that PCA churches allowed Baptists to join.
     
  9. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    I think that may vary some church-to-church. I have heard many PCA congregations in the South probably wouldn't allow Baptists to join. Churches in the West (where reformed congregations are few, and Presbyterian congregations fewer) tend to be more broad.
     

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