The Doctrine Of Baptism
When one thinks of Baptist distinctives, the doctrine of baptism must come up in the discussion. It is so significant that it has given us our name as a group of believers. Baptism should be considered in two categories. The first is the mode of baptism and the second is the theology of baptism.
As to mode, Baptists, along with some others, have recovered the idea of immersion as the true biblical mode of baptism. Early in the history of the church some believers adopted other modes of baptism. Pouring and sprinkling were both practiced. Eventually sprinkling became the preferred method.
There have been a number of theories as to why the church turned to this mode, but the reality is that we really don’t know for certain why it was adopted. However, we do know that well before the Reformation, immersion had disappeared and sprinkling was the mode practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.
During the Reformation, most of the reformers refused to return to the biblical mode of baptism. Tradition had supplanted biblical truth. In fact when the Bible was being translated into English, the Greek word for immersion was transliterated into the word “baptism” to avoid dealing with the real meaning of the word.
Baptists and others challenged this practice and called for fidelity to the Bible, which clearly calls for immersion as the mode of baptism.
Along with a change in the mode of baptism came a change in the theology of baptism as well in the early church. Sometime during the second century the idea of salvation coming through baptism was introduced. This pseudo-baptism was applied to infants within the church as well as adults, who came into the fellowship of the church from the outside.
Again, there have been a number of theories as to why this occurred. But, we really don’t know why the church of the second and third centuries abandoned the idea of salvation by grace through faith. The idea that has appealed to me is that the church did not know how to handle the spiritual position of infants and turned to baptism as a way around the question.
Baptists have insisted, “Salvation must precede ordinances” (B. H. Carroll). For us salvation is always a matter of relationship not a matter of ritual. Again Carroll says, “If ritualism saves, priests are a necessity. If my salvation is conditioned on the performance of a rite, then also it is conditioned on the act and will of a third party who administers the saving rite.”
Salvation prepares one for baptism. Baptism does not open the door of salvation. Baptism is our public profession of a personal relationship with Christ that is already present within the life of the believer.
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