Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Follow Up: The Unavoidable Issue

Some of the commentors on this post doubted whether I was right to suggest that Baptist theology is inherently sectarian. I think this brother's post (as well as the comments) demonstrates my basic contention. He strongly claims that "any believer who has not been baptized upon profession of faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord is failing to obey the authorative instruction of the Lord Christ and follow the apostolic pattern."

Really? Exactly which text from the Gospels demands baptism upon profession of faith? As this dear brother must know, Matthew 28:19-20 has the imperative, "Make disciples," followed by two participles, "baptizing" and "teaching." I would take those two participles as explaining how one makes disciples, which would suggest the exact opposite pattern than he suggests (that is, one becomes a disciple as one is baptized and then instructed).

Exactly which apostolic pattern? The pattern of the Ethopian (Acts 8) and Saul (Acts 9)? The pattern of Lydia and her household and the jailer and his (Acts 16)? Perhaps the Ephesian disciples who were rebaptized after giving no profession of faith and then spoke in tongues (Acts 19)? I know there are Baptist arguments to deal with all of these texts; still, it strikes me that "the authorative instruction of the Lord Christ and the apostolic pattern" is by no means clear-cut. To claim boldly this as one's standard for cutting off Presbyterian sisters and brothers strikes me as shaky and potentially dangerous.

Not only this, but to say that "we alone have the true baptism"--baptism by immersion upon profession of faith--and others who were baptized in the Trinitarian formula by an ordained minister are not baptized is to cut off the majority of the visible church around the world. And this is the heart of sectarianism. It runs against the apostolic affirmation that "there is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). What is important is that God identifies us with himself and with God's visible people in our baptisms, not whether it was by immersion after a spiritual awakening.

Perhaps this divisiveness over baptism was why Paul exclaimed: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Where you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptized any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized into my name" (1 Corinthians 1:13-15). To be baptized as a Baptist (and for some, baptized by a Baptist who was himself baptized by a Baptist) is less important than being baptized, identified with God's own people and granted the sign and seal of God's gospel promise. And this is the case especially for the household of Stephanus, and other households like his (1 Corinthians 1:16).

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