Monday, 25 February 2013

Anabaptism - A source of disunity?

Now here's a bit of a contentious issue for many I'm sure and I have to be brutally honest and say that it's not going to be an easy read for some. It's going to be a splurge for I have just fifteen minutes to scribble this and you'll get whatever it is that I've got when the bell rings!

For I engaged in an interesting discussion today on the attitudes of some churches, fellowships and congregations whereby those who have come from other than the nonconformist traditions are almost invariably passed, once again through, the waters of baptism in what, to be truthful, is an act of disunity and a dismissal of the validity of the baptism of other churches.

As I understand it, There is but one baptism and to rebaptise is to enter into nothing more than a wet witness and make the statement (albeit tacit) that their (subsequent) baptism has greater efficacy or validity than that previously undertaken. Of course this would be a wrong position and one that comes from a measure of ignorance, arrogance and a false understanding of what baptism is (and the way that it was enacted in the early Church).

Now having come to faith in a Baptist church and having myself been guilty of rebaptising others when I was in the pentecostal movement I can say that I know something of the place many will find themselves in. I am also aware that for many the liturgy of the established churches, which for this is example will be Anglican, is but the 'vain babbling of the heathen' and the baptism, even when undertaken as an adult, is considered to be worthless when compared with that pinnacle of the baptismal world: Believer's baptism!

Perhaps we find ourselves standing alongside Stanley Grenz in considering that 'Believer's baptism is obviously superior,' to any other form of baptism and this baptism is, 'a public affirmation of a person's conscious decision to place themselves under the lordship of Jesus!'
(p689, 684 - Theology for the community of God: Broadman and Holman 1994)

Then again perhaps we might care to take a look at the didache or consider the practice of the early Church to baptise, and admit to the Eucharist, infants, children and adults alike? Now some will say that this is a contentious issue and that the only baptism of merit was to be found in that of 'believer's baptism' but rather than extrapolate let's look at the Bible (which is always a good place to start) and consider first of all what constitutes a valid baptism.

We begin with the 'Great Commission' of Matthew 28:
'Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.'

Now here we have it from the Boss's very own mouth. The first step to making disciples is that we baptise them in 'The name of the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit'.

So if the naughty Anglicans (and others) were baptising in any names other than the 'Three in One' then we'd see that what we had was naught but an improper baptism and therefore a rebaptism was not only legitimate, but could be demonstrated as such by warrant of Scripture. After all, here's an account of rebaptism from Acts 19:
'It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples.
He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
And he said, “Into what then were you baptised?” 
And they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
Paul said, “John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.'

Whoo Hoo! Here we have it, rebaptism is legal because it's in the Bible and, Oh dear, what's that Sooty? What's that? The rebaptism was done because what they had wasn't a 'proper' baptism' but was that which John the Baptist did when he called the people to repent and prepare for the one who was to come (whose shoelaces he wasn't fit to tie)?

And not only that but the 'valid' baptism here was 'in the name of the Lord Jesus'
(ἀκούσαντες δὲ ἐβαπτίσθησαν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ in case you wondered ;-) )Not even the name of the 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit' but merely in the name of Jesus (which I'd consider enough myself but what does I know?).
So the evidence is that you can rebaptise where the former baptism was invalid, but of course when it's done in an Anglican (or even RC) church it is done in the name of the Three! So where's the warrant for a re-dunking other than some sort of misplaced need for 'confession from the candidate perhaps?

Well , of course the baptism is the first step and what we are also told is that there should be teaching, and that this teaching should be geared towards teaching obedience of all that Jesus has taught us. Now the Anglicans don't do this with their folk religion and their sprinkling do they? The words might be right but perhaps we can point to that? But of course neither do many of those who I have seen make commitments, get baptised and vanish in the pentecostal and nonconformist world either. And this is about nurture and discipleship not baptism so it seems that the anabaptists have lost the game anyway - and that perhaps their rebaptism is naught but arrogance and vanity mixed with a large dose of 'our church and churchmanship and beliefs and the like are betterer than what yours is!'

A great lecture from a man I admire greatly put it like this:

'When you start a club you recruit those who can hear and understand and respond. They put their hand up and ask to be a part, making the promises they need to make and changing their lives to become what they need to be to take up the full membership. This is what the missionary Church did - it recruited adults.

Then as the adults get married and have children, they wish for the children to be brought under the same canopy - for Christianity is an ethnic reality, not a Sunday thing. So they add their children who are baptised and brought up as Christians and come through to maturity and discipleship in the Church. This is what settled Church did - it includes the whole family in the promise and the covering of Christ's blood.'

So it's simple - both are valid and since I don't see the demand for a 'witness' in the act, just a coming I feel the anabaptist stance falls even further.

Add to that the number of noncomformists who are dunked and fall away, even though they have been done as older children or young adults, and I think you'll find little efficacy in their baptism when it comes to making disciples either. Mind you, that's down to the teaching and the nurturing of the church itself isn't it . . . or perhaps the taint of a first baptism remained and corrupts ;-)

There we go - bell gone and some food for thought

Apologies for typos and edit errors



DrJ said...

I was also baptised in a Baptist church, and later a deacon at another one, but now, after quite a break, am attending an Anglican church (one of the reasons I feel at home in that church is that when I say "I am not really an Anglican", many other people say "neither am I, I just feel at home here.")

But I would still argue that you have your ordering of the commission wrong. The first step is not baptising disciples, the first step is making the disciple in the first place, the baptising comes after that.

As for rebaptising, I reckon it is up to the individual believer. I have never liked the Strict Baptist attitude, having been put off that approach by the ever-increasing subdivisions of the Brethren! Acts records new believers receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit before receiving a water baptism, so I cannot accept that water baptism is in any way essential (nor was it for a certain condemned man on a cross). But I also know a Baptist church which lent its baptismal to the neighbouring Anglicans to baptise an adult convert who felt the need to make an adult profession of faith despite having been baptised as an infant. AS far as I know, it was an occasion of joy and of increasing unity, rather than disunity.

And I am afraid that, though I don't want to get into a battle counting proportions of backsliders (especially having been one myself for a decade), I cannot let your last paragraph go without comment. I am afraid that I regard the "CofE I suppose" brigade, especially those who think that their infant baptism grants them rights to influence a church they have no intention of attending or following its precepts, as immensely damaging to the credibility of the church in Britain. I sometimes wonder if I am the only Christian who is actually relieved by the census data which reports fewer people identifying themselves as Christian, as even with the reduced percentages, I see precious little evidence of faith in anything like that proportion of people. Remember, the Bible also talks a lot about pruning as a good thing.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Excellent response and you have quite correctly addressed my quite tongue-in-cheek comment about backsliders from the other side of the coin too!

A colleague was trying to make a point that those who underwent 'believer's baptism' didn't fall away 'like you Anglucans' - no one has monopoly on keeping people in, or losing them from, a faith life.

Sadly, they have chosen to to respond (though I know they've read).

Sprinkled and nominal members are indeed a source of blessing and curse .


DrJ said...

Aye, and, having long been aware (and vocal about) the curse, I am currently being taught some of the blessings, though the humility is taking some hammering in....