Copyright © 2016 by René Frey
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Part A: The Historical and Doctrinal Context
1. The Evolution of Immersion
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
2. The Linguistic Evidence
René Frey, Saint-Léonard, Montréal, Quebec
3. Baptists, Baptism, Beginnings
Dr. Gordon Belyea, Bowmanville, Ontario
4. The Theological Evidence
Jeff Eastman, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
5. Baptism and Membership
Daniel Saglietto, Pierrefonds, Quebec
Part B:The Implications and Problems
6. Baptism, Membership and The Word of God
Darcy VanHorn, Vancouver, British Columbia
7. Our Identity, Doctrine and Procedures
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
8. Response to the Proposed Change
George Wallingford, Ottawa, Ontario
9. Practical Ramifications of Hybrid Membership
Dr. Rick Baker, Oshawa, Ontario
10. The Issue Is Baptism Not Membership
Dr. Gordon Belyea, Bowmanville, Ontario
11. The Limits of Autonomy
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
12. A Flawed and Dangerous Process
René Frey, Saint-Léonard, Montréal, Quebec
13. Gentle Persuasion Stories
Don Brubacher, Arnstein, Ontario
14. A Practical Guide for Gentle Persuasion
Sylvain Paradis, Terrebonne, Quebec
15. Suggestions for Action
Part C: Appendices
A. Our Roots
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
B. Relevant By-laws
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
C. Le lien entre le baptêmeet l’état de membre
Daniel Saglietto, Pierrefonds, Quebec
D. Why The Dripped Should Be Dipped!
Dr. Jonathan E. Stairs, Cambridge, Ontario
E. Baptism Course Outline
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
F. Consideration for the Membership of Non-immersed Baptized Believers in Fellowship Baptist Churches
G. Affirmation of Faith
About the Authors
It takes humility, love and a listening heart to dialogue with brothers and sisters of like convictions and with whom we have laboured together for so long in our Fellowship. Some now differ deeply about how to obey our Lord’s command to make disciples and to baptize them. We pray that God will grant the writers and the readers of this book those virtues by His Spirit.
All the authors of *Baptism Is … The Immersionist Perspective *are from the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada. Our intention is to communicate the immersionist perspective on the issue of baptism as it pertains to our Fellowship but others may find it of use. The question is, should we accept as members those who have not been immersed as believers but have, as believers, been affused (poured) or in some cases aspersed (sprinkled) with the sincere belief these events are Christian baptism?
If you ask a better question you will likely get a better answer. To uncover the better questions, it is always best to look at the broader context. So in the interest of getting to better answers that apply for Fellowship Baptists we need to take a somewhat deep dive into the history and current context in which we find ourselves. This framework will provide texture and insight to inform the discussion.
Many decades ago at the 50th anniversary of the British Columbia Convention (now Fellowship Pacific Region), Dr. J. H. Pickford said, “… a few Churches in British Columbia found it necessary to raise their voices against subtle and serious deviation from the truth of God that appeared in Baptist theological institutions and Churches … the few Churches had no choice, if they were to remain true to the Word, but to separate.” This was the start of a new “Convention.” There do come watershed times for groupings of Churches. The Affirmation of Faith of the Fellowship has never been amended since 1953. That is what is now under consideration and thus it can be said this may be another watershed moment.
In the 1860s, believers who had been sprinkled or poured were severely persecuted by their parent denomination for using immersion as the mode and for “re-baptizing” those who had not been immersed even though their faith was attested. In fact, the denominational leaders drove the ministers and candidates out of the water with sticks. They were whipped with rods until they bled.1 Why would anyone submit to such treatment if it wasn’t important to them? You might be surprised to learn this was the story of the start of the Mennonite Brethren. They built a movement on immersion but in 1963, they changed the requirement of immersion for membership by a 71% vote in favour of accepting believers who had experienced a different mode. That percentage will not be sufficient for Fellowship Baptists to change their stand because our By-law requires a minimum 75%. Is it important enough to Fellowship Baptists to withstand a similar loosening in doctrine and ecclesiology?
The position of the writers here is that “baptism is by immersion” or as we will argue because of the meaning of the Greek word, “baptism is immersion.” It is not possible to define it any other way. Church history added the fog and imprecision. And that started very early on as we will see. The sincere attempts throughout history to change the meaning to include other so-called modes has no basis in the New Testament. Some would hope to read other modes into the New Testament with arguments from silence. Such thoughts would never come to mind if they weren’t influenced by non-biblical Church practices adopted over time. Thus, those who hold that it is possible for people to be baptized by some other mode as long as they truly believe is untenable. Immersionists cannot diminish or dilute the meaning by allowing for other definitions based on compromise. The reasoning for this position and the implications for Baptist life are what this book is all about.
To satisfy the needs of those with a scholarly bent, there are well over 100 footnotes demonstrating the strength of the historical and theological ground on which we take our stand. More importantly, our stand comes from the Bible and is supported by linguistics, theology and history. Then there are many pages of encouraging stories and advice on how to gently and biblically persuade those who were poured or sprinkled to go beyond the light they had received at the time. Finally, to satisfy the needs of those who are concerned with how a family of Churches should deal with such things, there are many pages of practical history of our movement. We also include the technical matters of how our agreed organizational and structural procedures are impacted and must be enforced. You may choose to read the book as a whole or in part depending on your need for facts—and of course we hope you choose the former.
It is important to note that each of the writers is responsible for his own information and statements. While we all agree that the Fellowship should not make the proposed change, we all come from our own perspectives and don’t speak for the others. We are all willing to lend our individual names to what we have written.
We invite you to ponder the issue from several perspectives. It is our prayer that you will consider stiffening your resolve to lovingly fulfill the Great Commission. Since the word baptism means immersion, we firmly believe that Commission to say this:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, immersing 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV replacing baptizing with its original meaning of immersing.)
For our volunteer editorial team, it is interesting to note that many in our movement are now finding room to consider changing where we have historically stood. The hard fought battle to clear away the fog of history is not over. We believe the clear light of God’s unchanging Word will dissipate the haze for every thoughtful seeker on this issue.
This book is written without anyone receiving a loonie for his work nor for any expense involved. The electronic version is available without profit as are the printed books. This document exists because of the passion of the editors, writers and others who firmly believe in what we affectionately call the HBIO (Historic Baptism by Immersion Only) stand or the HIP position (Historic Immersionist Position).
We love and respect our brothers who differ with us. We sincerely hope their study of this book (and even chasing down all the footnotes) will lead them to change their minds. We long to have them occupy with us the ground on which Fellowship Baptists have always stood.
1For an intersting review of the facts see http://www.ccws.ca/signandsymbol/papers/Baptism in the Mennonite Brethren Church – N. Penner.PDF
The Historical and Doctrinal Context
The response to the convicting message of Peter on the Day of Pentecost was clear.
The question was asked.
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37)
The question was answered.
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
About 3000 people responded as required.
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41)
Those responders demonstrated their belonging.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
That is the baseline record.
This section looks into that record and meaning.
Later, we will focus on the present Fellowship Baptist context.
1. The Evolution of Immersion
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
Immersion isn’t a new concept. It starts with the rich Jewish heritage. It follows through with the startling arrival of John the Baptist who reassigned the concept. It is totally elevated by Jesus as an essential element in spreading the Gospel. The Apostles immediately obeyed by immersing new disciples. In fact, the NT Church couldn’t even contemplate the notion of an unimmersed believer.
Then the wheels started to fall off. In succeeding centuries even the Jews lowered their expectations on immersion for their own context. The Church started to get mushy early on and there was major departure from the NT norm. But I am getting ahead of the story. By the end of this book I expect that those who are “originalists” like myself will see no other option but immersion at the dawn of individual Christian experience.
There are two pieces of the Jewish tradition that provided a backdrop to this distinct purpose of using immersion as an outward symbol of what was going on in hearts.
The first use of immersion was for ritual cleansing in Mikvehs. These were tanks filled with water for the use of men and women desirous of being cleansed and submissive before Yahweh. It took more than just any pool of water. They were designed to be filled with stationary—not running—water. And there were strict rules about where that water came from. Women were to self-immerse for cleansing after their menstrual period or after childbirth before they were allowed any sexual activity. The men had similarly strict rules. In addition, one was seen to be ritually impure if he had contact with a dead body or a person with leprosy. Immersion in the waters of the Mikveh provided a means of transforming an individual (male or female) from a state of ritual impurity to a state of purity. However, deeper than the specific set of rules which evolved over time, was the fact that by submitting to these rituals one was demonstrating his deep devotion to Yahweh. These ritual immersions were outward evidence of heart respect for God.1
The second way in which immersion was used was as part of the grafting in of the Gentile to the Jewish nation. A Gentile could become a Jew by submitting to bringing the appropriate sacrifice to the temple, undergoing the act of circumcision and after healing, following through with total immersion. In performing these three submissive acts of devotion the Gentile was now considered to be a Jew in every way. This was known as proselyte immersion. It is still praciced to this day. I deliberately did not use the word baptism because, as we will see later, there is no division of meaning between immersion and baptism. It was clearly understood then that the word baptism simply meant immersion—nothing more and nothing less.2
When John the Baptist broke on the scene as the road builder for Jesus he really shook things up. I won’t go into detail here because you probably already know about John’s immersion practices. The faithful Jewish people who came out into the wilderness to be immersed by John were already regular participants in the ritual immersion explained above. This was different. The emphasis in John’s message was to ask people to change their minds and turn around—in a word—repent. This immersion was clearly not designed to be the ritual immersion noted above because the immersions were completed in flowing water. Furthermore, Yochanan ben Zechariah transformed the ritual by being the main actor in the immersion of the candidate, rather than the self-immersion with preceded in Judaism. John was demanding (not merely inviting) people to leave their old ways and respond anew as he pointed to the coming Messiah. You probably know how brutal he was when the Pharisees came along thinking this was merely another bolt on ritual. In today’s terms, John would be seen as some raving right wing evangelist with an over-the-top demeanour and message. The religious leaders no doubt thought he needed sensitivity training. That did not deter John. And those who identified with John’s immersion demonstrated deep personal humility and submission. The Jewish and Gentile participants alike submitted themselves to this immersion. This must have been especially distasteful to the Jews who saw the Gentiles as inferior to the nth degree; after all these people were abhorent idolators to the Jews. But there they were all together fleeing the wrath to come. John the Immerser prepared the way for the next link in the continuity of plunging by saying, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11) He uses the same verb—immerse—but with a new level of meaning.
John was well aware that he was anti-establishment. He was equally aware that he was sent from God with the clear message to preach and a role to fulfill. When Jesus came to identify with John’s repentance message and to identify with the act of immersion, it blew John away. John who himself was a devoted, humble and submissive believer was stretched beyond his limit. He knew who he was dealing with. He knew how pure Jesus was. Jesus’ persuasive words were weighty. “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) Jesus didn’t need to repent but he did need to be immersed because it was the right thing to do. John consented. You know the story of the Father’s affirming words demonstrating an agreement within the Trinity. Contemplate for a moment how our Saviour identified with us so much that he saw it as the right thing to do to humble himself down to the Gentile level. The passage from Philippians 2 should flood your mind, should it not?
This was the first bookend on Jesus’ ministry. In the Gospel of John—the last Gospel written—we have a clarifying fact about how this proceeded during the ministry of Jesus. “Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.” (John 3:22) Then in John 4:2 the clarifying point, “although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” John as the final writer of the NT is careful to include these Christian immersions.
What Jesus taught by demonstration culminated at the end of his life with what he taught by declaration in the second bookend. It is very important to note that we move from Intertestamental Jewish custom through the God ordained immersion of John to the direct command of Jesus.
The second bookend on Jesus ministry comes after his death, burial and resurrection. John the Baptist had died for his stand. Jesus died as a substitute for sinners. That fact becomes clearer as the inspired NT writings come to the Church. Bear in mind that much of that NT teaching is in play before Matthew writes down for us that which had been known for a generation. Immersion was and is important. Jesus last words are lasting words. We speak of the words from Matthew 28:18-20 as the Great Commission because it is great, overarching, precise and binding. This is no longer a matter of religious custom or tradition in any sense; it is the command of Jesus.
There had been plenty of time to set aside the sincerity of Jewish ritual baths. John the Baptist’s immersion is a meaningful step in history. When Matthew writes his summary statements about Jesus’ teaching he doesn’t set aside the immersion Jesus taught. Many things had changed. The Church was clearly separated from the Jewish past as illustrated by the main meeting day becoming the first day of the week and no longer the Sabbath. One only need to read the book of Hebrews to be assured of the replacement of the sacrificial system by the new and living way.
Matthew is perfectly clear. He reports that Jesus said we are to immerse those we make disciples at the outset of their personal journey of faith. Then we teach the other elements of obedience taught by Jesus and supsequently the Apostles. If one can’t get the first lesson correct, how could one ever get the rest of it right?
Many reformers, as they were emerging from the fog of ecclesiastical traditions and history argued for infant “baptism.” How could that be, with the clear path from Judaism to Christianity established by Jesus and the Apostles? They had many battles to fight and issues to work through. But why would they cling to this vestige of history without direct Scriptural support? It took some time before there was a groundswell to recapture biblical immersion upon conversion. The Reformers got us started and for that we are grateful. But the question remains, “Why was it so difficult to see what the Bible so plainly teaches about immersion?”
There is no, nor perhaps there can be no, clear answer about why recapturing this NT truth was so long in coming. Could it be that this was a last bastion of resistance perpetrated by Satan himself? If that question implies an uncomfortable possible conclusion, then could it be that human sentimentality was the cause? Evangelicals set aside icons, images and even architecture because they interfered with dissemination of NT truth. Perhaps the setting aside of other sincere but ill-advised practices needs to be given more careful scrutiny. Were it not for the addition over the centuries of rituals beyond the NT commands we would never dream of looking for other modes of “baptism” that might be squeezed into the NT. Maybe belief would flourish again if we were more forthright with the Gospel message and its clear imagery endorsed and established by Jesus himself. Immersion is rich. To set it aside even a little by acknowledging there are other ways to say you are “in” is hard to swallow when you look at the chain of immersion from the Jews to John to Jesus to the Early Church to today.
The rich case for immersion only must be explored carefully before it is set aside for convenience. There are strong arguments to continue accepting immersion as the only form and function of baptism. To change, even a little, requires compelling arguments from the Word—not from logic nor sincere belief, nor history nor sociology.
Staying the course as Baptists has disturbed some who have disagree down through the decades. That will continue. When people get upset because we take a firm stand, it is up to them to explore their own feelings and beliefs. More importantly it is for them to explore the Book to let it structure their convictions. We would hope that over time they would loosen their grip and come to stand with us. It is not so important that they accept our story and understanding as it is that we don’t give in to theirs. It is not arrogance or insensitivity to reject non-immersion and to declare that it is not valid baptism. We are not talking about the Baptist way, tradition or custom vs. their way. We are talking about the teaching of the Bible.
The historical antecedents to Christian immersion are in the category of “nice to know” but perhaps they are not in the category of “need to know.” However, the death, burial and resurrection imagery defined by Scripture must never be set aside. The form of the “baptism” is married to the function to the extent that they cannot be divided. There is no imagery in the Book about pouring water used to symbolize the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, such sincere pouring events may be seen as analagous to someone responding to a useful event of stepping out from a pew and walking an aisle. There can be deep meaning in responding as so many have during the singing of “Just As I Am” but that isn’t baptism—nor would anyone claim it as such. Baptism is the immersion of the believer in water, whereby he obeys Christ’s command and sets forth his identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.
1For an interesting article on a Jewish view of Christian baptism and its parallels to mikveh see: http://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/v02-n10/baptism.
2. The Linguistic Evidence
René Frey, Saint-Léonard, Montréal, Quebec
In the document sent out by National Council prior to National Conference in the Fall of 2015, I briefly set forth the linguistic evidence for immersion in the NT. (See Appendix E.) We will plunge into our subject a little deeper here even though Fellowship Baptists already are virtually agreed that the meaning of baptism is clearly immersion.
The Basic Problem:
The Meaning Of Baptism Has Been “Lost In Transliteration”
The translators of the NT did us no favour by simply transliterating the bapt- word group. The meaning of baptism is immersion. We will revisit the evidence for that statement in the next section. We will also briefly examine the alleged “exceptions” to systematically translating the bapt- word group by immersion. If we rewrote our Bibles to use the evident meaning of “baptism,” that is, “immersion” every time the expression was used by the NT authors 1, we would not have needed to write this book Baptism Is… The Immersionist Perspective. The Great Commission command to make disciples, immersing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, would not have created havoc in Christendom for centuries.
Certain terms in our Bibles have not been properly translated, but instead have been transliterated. Transliteration is the process of conveying the phonetic sound of a Greek word in English rather than conveying its meaning using an English word with the same meaning. The Greek word “baptizō” has been transliterated “baptize” in English. This is the normal Greek word meaning “to submerge or dip.” It was not a ritualistic or theological term at all. A proper translation would be “submerge, dip or immerse.” By not actually interpreting or translating, but merely transferring the phonetic sound into English (thereby coining a new English theological term), various denominations have a screen for importing their own ritualistic spin to the term. The true meaning is “lost in the transliteration.”
This age-old problem was evident in the launching of the King James Version. Edward Wharton offers the following explanation,
“How did we end up with a transliteration instead of a translation? It happened in England during the reign of King James, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. In A.D. 1604, during a conference of the clergy and bishops of the Church of England, King James ordered the Scriptures to be translated into the English language. Forty-seven men of special learning were chosen from Church-men, Puritans and scholars having no [apparent] theological bias. In A.D. 1611, these men produced what is called the ‘King James Version’ of the Bible. In that version there appeared, for the first time, a new English word ‘baptism.’ This new word came into being because these 47 scholars faced a problem. In the Koiné Greek manuscripts was this word ‘baptisma’ which meant ‘to immerse.’
However, King James was a member of the Church of England and this Anglican Church did not immerse. Because of the Catholic apostasy, inherited by the Church of England when they broke with Catholicism in 1534, King James had never been immersed in baptism—he had only been sprinkled. These scholars would not sacrifice their scholastic integrity by saying the word “baptisma” meant “sprinkle.” That would make them the laughing stock of the world so they transliterated the word by putting, in the text of the King James Bible, the English equivalent of the Greek alphabet. Instead of the text reading: ‘…arise and be immersed…’ they wrote ‘…arise and be baptized…’ And they did that in every place where the word or a form of the word ‘baptize’ appeared in the original manuscripts. That is how we got our English word ‘baptize’ and ‘baptism.’ From that point forward, nearly every translation has continued to use the transliterated word ‘baptism,’ which is unfortunate because all it does is add to the confusion of what baptism is all about.”2
That was not the first time expediency trumped transparent simplicity in translation. We need to go back to the first major example of this messy history. The custom of transliterating dates back at least to 405 AD, when Jerome translated the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek into Latin. The Vulgate translation (begun 382 and completed 405 AD) became the new standard for the Roman Church. In Acts 2:38, Jerome wrote: “Petro vero ad illos: Paenitentiam inquit agite et baptizetur unusquisque vestrum in nomine Iesus Christ.” (“But Peter replied to them ‘Do penance and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.’”) Right away, we see two problems: the substitution of “penance” (acts of contrition) for “repentance,” and, specially, the use of baptizetur instead of the normal words for immerse (immergere, mergere, or tingere) as had been done in previous centuries when rendering the Greek. Why? This decision was likely made because by that time, several traditions regarding the manner of baptism were already in place (sprinkling, pouring and immersing), and transliterating the original word allowed the traditions to also stand. In particular, infant baptism was coming into its own. The Catholic Church adopted “baptizō” into Latin without spelling out the meaning. One explanation is that infant baptism, which appeared occasionally in the late second century (in cases of “emergency baptism”—when some parents feared their children might be lost if they died) had become prevalent by the 5th century, with the weighty support of Augustine (354-430), whose doctrine of original sin was used to justify infant baptism. So it is hardly surprising that Jerome accommodated the Latin Church by choosing to create a new word (“baptizō”) instead of rendering the original meaning of immerse. Thus, he just conveniently added this transliteration to a string of other borrowed words such as apostle, amen, satan, angel etc.
This use of “baptize” as the rendering of “baptizō” to obfuscate the otherwise clear meaning of “immerse” unfortunately persists to this day. Henry Neufeld pleads for the use of “baptize” in Matthew 3:11, “I baptize you with water for repentance” in What’s in a Version? (Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 1996). The argument he uses is based on the tract called the Didache probably written in 100 AD.
“Now concerning baptism, baptize in this way. After you have gone over all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water. But if you don’t have living water, baptize in other water, and if you don’t have cold water, use warm. But if you don’t have either one, pour water on the person’s head three times.”
And Neufeld concludes: “So here the method of baptism need not be by immersion, though it appears that a method other than pouring was to be preferred if possible” (page 5, 6). This is a blatant misuse of an extra-biblical text to unduly enlarge the NT meaning of “baptizō” and then transliterate it to include the supposed multiple manners of administering “baptism.”
In another example, Gary F. Zeolla sets out the reasons for his preference of baptism over immersion in his Analytical-Literal Translation3:
“The lexical data definitely does favor ‘immerse in’, and initially, such a translation was used in the Analytical-Literal Translation (ALT). However, I later changed it to ‘baptize in’ for the following reasons: I did not want the translation of one word to hurt the reputation of the ALT as being a ‘bias’ translation… I did keep ‘immerse’ as an alternate translation… people who do not believe in baptism by immersion would not read a version that uses ‘immerse’ in its text and stores might not sale [sic] or promote it.”
It has been argued in the Fellowship National Council paper circulated to the Churches that there is a need to recognize and receive as members all credo-baptists whether they have been “baptized” by pouring or sprinkling or immersing. Is this not the exact same confusion that could be cleared up by eliminating the transliteration in favour of a simple and clear translation of Christ’s commandment to immerse?
The Simple Solution:
Regain The Meaning We Already Know
The meaning of our Lord’s first ordinance is generally not in dispute. The Greek verb baptizō, transliterated by the word “baptize” in English translations, is the intensive or frequentative form of baptō. The verb baptizō signifies “to dip” “to immerse” “to plunge into” or “to submerge.”4 Let’s follow three experts: Schnabel, Ferguson and Conant.
In a significantly fresh and incisive study of the meaning of baptizō, Eckhard Schnabel5 studies every lexical entry for the bapt- word group in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich. Schnabel argues that it is unfortunate that the translators of the New Testament (even most of the modern ones) jump to the unwarranted step of the transliteration of a perfectly comprehensible term, “to immerse” making, in effect, the Hellenism “to baptize” a terminus technicus. In other words, by systematically transliterating instead of translating the plain and main meaning of the word, we end up giving a technical sense to baptizō which it is unnecessary to add to the existing sense. This is not to say that baptizō does not have the “ritual” sense of the initiatory act of being joined to John’s repentant remnant or Christ’s new body. But “immerse” is sufficient. And “immerse” is not a term that can be misunderstood and interpreted in divergent denominational senses. In a careful, methodical manner, Schnabel observes that in every case of the 77 New Testament uses of the verb baptizō, the meaning “immerse” (or the extended meanings 6) are sufficient either in a physical or metaphorical sense.
Schnabel asks the question: “Is there a shift in meaning when New Testament authors use baptizō, a shift toward a technical meaning that can be expressed in English only with the loan word “to baptize”? He concludes, convincingly, that,
Dr. Schnabel is highly respected and recommended by Dr. Henri Blocher and Dr. D.A. Carson answers Moïses Silva’s quote against Schnabel’s research thus,
“Moïses Silva’s argument, I think, confuses two things: (1) the meaning of the verb, and (2) the symbol-laden content it carries when the action to which the verb refers takes place in a certain religious context. Eckhard [Schnabel] primarily focuses on the former, but surely does not deny the latter; Moïses so wants to focus on the latter that he uses it to domesticate or even change the former.”8
Scholar of the early Church, Everett Ferguson, has studied all the evidence concerning baptism in the first five centuries of the Church. His extensive study encompasses Christian art (depictions of baptism), written documents (Patristics), and archaeological evidence (Church buildings, baptistries). His magnum opus, Baptism in the Early Church (953 pages), is the result. He spends over ten pages citing extra biblical examples of the Greek use of “baptizō.” Here is his conclusion:
“Baptizō meant to dip, usually through submerging, but it also meant to overwhelm and so could be used whether the object was placed in an element (which was more common) or was overwhelmed by it (often in the metaphorical usages)…Pouring and sprinkling were distinct actions that were represented by different verbs and this usage too continued in Christian sources. When the latter speak of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit or the sprinkling of blood, they do not use baptize for these actions.” (page 59)9
Our third expert is from another century but well worth bringing back into our debate. Thomas Jefferson Conant wrote [_The Meaning and Use of Baptizein: Philologically and Historically Investigated _]for the American Bible Union in 1860.10 Stanley Morris11 the International English Bible translation expert investigates Conant’s legacy but first of all gives his own conclusion after having covered the six fields of research into the use of “baptizō.” First, the first time the word was ever used in the Golden Age of the Greek language; second, every occurrence in the Septuagint; third, the intertestamental literature; fourth, all the instances found in the New Testament; fifth, the contemporary, first-century Greek writers; and sixth, the Patristic writers or post-New Testament Greek authors.
“From the hundreds of known appearances in ancient times, the ground-idea expressed by forms of baptizō is to put into or under water (or some other penetrable substance) in such a way as to immerse or submerge. This act is always expressed in the literal application of the word, and is the basis of its metaphorical uses. Instances were drawn from writers in almost every area of literature and science; from poets, rhetoricians, philosophers, critics, historians, geographers; from writers on animal husbandry, on medicine, on natural history, on grammar, on theology; from almost every form and style of composition; from authors of various nations and religions—pagan, Jewish, and ‘Christian’—over several centuries. Baptizō retained its central meaning without change from the earliest age of Greek literature for the next two thousand years! The burden of proof is upon someone else to find a single occurrence where the word has any other meaning! So, there is NO example in any portion of all Greek literature where baptizō (or its related forms) signifies a partial application of water by effusion or sprinkling.”
Having drawn from T. J. Conant, prominent Baptist biblical scholar and philologist, Morris then quotes him:
“The obligation to translate this word [baptizein] rests on something more than grounds of philological correctness. There is, indeed, no reason of sufficient weight to justify, in any case, a departure from the simple rule of giving a faithful and intelligible rendering of the inspired word. No other rule can be recognized as right or safe. On the ground alone, were there no other, that the Greek word means ‘to immerse,’ is the translator bound so to render it…Any author, purposely mistranslated or obscured, is falsified by his translator. Just so far as this is done, the translation is a literary forgery; for it conceals while it professes to exhibit what the author has said, or it represents him as saying that which he did not say. When applied to the Word of God, the rule is one of paramount force.” (p. 187)
The Necessary Mythbusting: What About The “Exceptions” To The Quasi-Universal Meaning Of The Bapt- Word Group?
We cannot rely on some of the definitions given for “baptism” in the English language. Some dictionaries affirm that sprinkling, pouring, or immersion are possible definitions for the word “baptism,” which does not agree with the original meaning from the Greek. The Koiné Greek was able to furnish words that indicated any different action than immersion.
Four words correspond to what some denominations, and even in this present debate some in our Fellowship are calling “modes of baptism”: immersing, sprinkling, pouring (effusion), and affusion (applying water to the head of the individual).
Therefore these four distinct words have different usages and cannot be lumped together under the term for baptizō. Baptism is not sprinkling, pouring, or applying water (wetting). Baptizō, baptisma, and their cognates are the distinct Greek words for immersion, and are consistently used for baptism.
But we knew that. So then, what about those examples alleged to differ with the main meaning of the bapt- word group?
Does Mark 7:4, which uses the verb baptizō, contradict the basic rule of the main meaning of that verb? “When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.” We have already appreciated Dr. Schnabel’s fine work in categorizing the extended uses of the root meaning of baptizō (please see note 6). Either dipping hands into a basin or holding out the hands to be cleansed with a copious amount of water remains within the semantic field of the root word.
Stan Fowler and the members of the Study Team that are in favour of the proposed change have written in the report circulated to the Churches:
“Scholars of all traditions recognize that the ‘baptism’ word-group (the verbs baptō and baptizō, and the nouns baptisma and baptismos) normally refers to dipping or immersing, but it is overstatement to say that this is invariably true. For example, in the Septuagint of Daniel 4:33 and 5:21, baptō is used to describe Nebuchadnezzar’s experience of being drenched with the dew of heaven. That was pretty clearly not a case of his whole body being dipped into a pool of dew. In Hebrews 9:10, ceremonial washings of the Mosaic covenant are described as baptismoi, but the purification rituals of the old covenant were not done by dipping the whole body in water. In fact, in the verses that follow, the rituals described there were done by sprinkling blood or water on the persons involved. We have already noted (footnote 4) the good reasons for doing baptism by immersion, but we ought to admit that the question is not answered by linguistics alone.”
As concerns Nebuchadnezzar, this is evidently another extended use of the verb (see note 6) and Dr. Fowler expresses that event with the verb “drenched.” The metaphoric use of baptizō is again seen in 1 Corinthians 10:2, “and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
As concerns Hebrews 9:10, most of our translations use the word ablutions rather than “divers baptisms” for the Greek word “baptismos.” The context shows us we are talking about OT prescriptive purification. But Fowler presses the point, “but the purification rituals of the old covenant were not done by dipping the whole body in water.” Not so fast. Moses prescribed how a man was to purify himself in Leviticus 15:11, “Anyone the man with a discharge touches without rinsing his hands with water must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.”
To specify the meaning and mode of Christian baptism, it is useful to establish the links from Jewish immersions to John’s preparatory rite to Christ’s ordinance.
Jewish immersions were used both for cleansing from physical impurities, extending to moral contagion, and for proselyte initiation.12 These are also attested in the Qumran community.13 The archeological evidence for complete ritual bodily washings by immersion before worship at the temple in Jerusalem is firm: “excavations have revealed hundreds of mikvaoth [immersion pools] in Israel, over 150 from the first century in Jerusalem alone (including those adjoining the temple mount)….”14 The 3000 Pentecost baptisms were most certainly immersions and Keener writes, “Even if only the apostles and a few of their colleagues, a total of perhaps thirty, ‘performed’ the baptisms in thirty mikvaoth [immersion pools], they could finish their task in a few hours.”15
John the Immerser did not create a new form by submerging repentant Jews under water to prepare the way for the Messiah. The newness of his act is that he administered it as a unique experience whereas the former Jewish immersions were self-administered and could be frequent. The form was therefore similar but the function was now specified not only as purification but as preparation for the Messiah’s arrival. John’s ministry was to identify the Son of God in order “that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:31) He did it by immersing Jesus in the Jordan.
The theophany at Christ’s immersion in the river included the voice of the Father authenticating his beloved son as well as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Christian baptism did not change the form but added the meaning of the gift of the Spirit to John’s purification motif.16 As well, Christian immersion is an identification into (“eis”) the name of the Triune God. More specifically, Paul will show that the new believer is identified with the crucified, buried and risen Christ.
At this point, however, without marshalling the evidence from the actual practice described in the NT nor delving further into the theological significance of Christ’s Great Commission ordinance as developed by Paul, we affirm that the linguistic evidence of the bapt- word group affords no other conclusion for practicing this initiatory rite than by the total immersion of the believing disciple. The language of the early centuries of Christianity initially (and correctly) rendered the bapt- word group in words that meant immersion. Yet through the centuries there was a serious erosion away from solid apostolic teaching and practice. In the Middle Ages, the Church went astray. The Reformation had its relatively small hesitations on this matter 17 but when Baptists found their NT moorings, they reaffirmed that baptism is immersion. Those who want to be obey Christ’s command Christ’s way will still “wade in the water.”
1The most interesting recent CJB version uses “immerse” instead of “baptize”: The Complete Jewish Bible /New International Version: Side-by-Side Reference Edition (Peabody, MA, Hedrickson Publishers: 2011).
2Quoted by Cougan Collins in his Church of Christ plea, Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation? http://gbntv.org/user/files/baptismbookfinal.pdf
4BAGD, 131; Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, 305-6; A. Oepke, “baptō”, TDNT 1.529–38; G. R. Beasley-Murray “Baptism, Wash,” NIDNTT. The ISBE lists the meanings of “baptizō” as “immerse, sink, drown, go under, sink into, and bathe” 1, 410. A.Köstenberger mentions the LXX usage of “baptō” in Josh 3:15 and Ruth 2:14 for “dip” as well as Naaman who plunged (“baptizō”) seven times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:14) “Baptism in the Gospels” in Believer’s Baptism T.R.Schreiner and S.D.Wright (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006) 24.
5Eckhard Schnabel is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His chapter The Language of Baptism: The Meaning of baptizō in the New Testament is part of the festschrift for Don Carson’s 65th birthday Understanding the Times (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).
61. to put into a yielding substance (such as a liquid, e.g. water or dyes, or the body of an animal); glosses: “to plunge, to dip, to immerse”; 1a. to cleanse with water; gloss: “to wash” (extended meaning of 1: to remove dirt by immersion in water) 1b. to make ceremonially clean; gloss: “to purify” or “to cleanse” (extended meaning of 1: to immerse in water symbolizing, or effecting, the removal of moral or spiritual defilement); gloss of (later) ecclesiastical language: “to baptize”; 1c. to take water or wine by dipping a drinking vessel (in a stream, a fountain, a well, a bowl); gloss: “to draw” (extended meaning of 1: to immerse a vessel in water or wine to obtain a drink); 1d. to perish by submersion in water; gloss: “to drown” (extended meaning of 1: to suffer death by suffocation being immersed in water [of persons]; or to disappear by submersion in water, to sink [of ships]); 1e. to put to death a living being; gloss: “to slaughter” or “to kill” (extended meaning of 1: to plunge a knife into the body of an animal or a human being); 1f. to tinge fabric with a color; gloss: “to dye” (extended meaning of 1: to immerse fabric in liquid with color pigments); this meaning is frequently attested for βάπτειν, but not for βαπτίζειν.
7Schnabel, The Language of Baptism, op.cit 244-246.
8Email to René Frey 2015.11.06. Permission granted to quote the comment.
9Baptism In The Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans: 2009).
10New York, Thomas Holman: 1860: Forgotten Books, Classic Reprint Series.
12R.L.Webb Jesus’ Baptism (bible.org/article/jesus-baptism-its-historicity-and-implications, published August 3 2005). “In the Hebrew Bible it would appear that actual immersions were only used when the contagion (i.e., that which caused the uncleanness) was something physical. But in the Second-Temple period, the use of immersions expanded to include cleansing from uncleanness caused by moral contagion as well. For example, Sib. Or. 4:165–67 contains an exhortation to “wash your whole bodies in perennial rivers. Stretch out your hands to heaven and ask forgiveness for your previous deeds…” .
13“Baptism” ISBE. See W.S.Lasor’s illustration of a staircase leading to a cistern for purification by means of a ritual bath in that covenantal community, p.414.
14Everett Ferguson, [_Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries _](Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009) 64.
15Keener, Acts, 995. Cf. John 1:25 f., 28, 31, 33; 3:22, 23, 26; 4:1 f.; 10:40.
16R.H. Stein Baptism in Luke-Acts in Believer’s Baptism, 25. “Some have argued that the references to “the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5, 11:16; and 1 Cor 12:13 are purely metaphorical in nature and do not refer to the conversion-initiatory rite of water baptism in Jesus’ name. It is incorrect, however, to understand this expression as contrasting the water baptism of John the Baptist that was associated with repentance and the forgiveness of sins with a purely spiritual “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” These two baptisms are not an example of antithetical parallelism but rather of step parallelism in which the second baptism is an advancement on and fulfillment of the first. They are not portrayed in Luke-Acts (Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5; 11:16) as standing in opposition to one another but in apposition. Christian baptism is not exclusive, but inclusive, with respect to the baptism of John; the former is not only a baptism of repentance with water, but a baptism of repentance with water and the Holy Spirit as well. Christian baptism and the baptism of John both involve immersion in water, repentance, and the promise of forgiveness of sins, but, in addition, Christian baptism involves the gift of the Spirit (2:38), i.e., the “baptism of the Spirit.”
17Calvin, Zwingli and most of the reformers shifted the central aspect of the sign to washing from death and resurrection and pouring became the norm.
3. Baptists, Baptism, Beginnings
Dr. Gordon Belyea, Bowmanville, Ontario[++]
Nothing we do occurs in a vacuum. Our decisions, which we often perceive to be pristine and purely altruistic in their motivation, often have other known and unknown influences. This is no less the case in our current examination, as a fellowship of local assemblies, of the matter of baptism as concerns eligibility for membership in our Churches. In Baptist theologian Philip Thompson’s understanding, the problem of the Baptist movement today is not so much amnesia—forgetting who we are, where we have come from—as paramnesia, a more dangerous manifestation, wherein we don’t even realize that we have forgotten, as we fabricate a sepia-toned past constructed from the present seen through hazy, romantic eyes.1 We thus do well to examine how the rite with which our movement came to be most identified was practised and became foundational to our faith and order, before we seek to modify what we corporately profess about it, to find safety in, as GK Chesterton put it, “giving a vote to that most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.”
While we are not bound by our history, and need recognise that those who went before were influenced by their circumstances as much as we are, we certainly need to be informed by it, lest we risk repeating the errors of those who went before without learning from their wisdom. We are not the people with whom all wisdom dies! (Jeremiah 15:1) How did our forebears deal with this question? What were their views on the subject, and how and why did they come to embrace immersion as that which the Lord commanded? If we are going to make a change, we want to ensure that we are not throwing out the family treasures, while keeping hold of the velvet Elvises, simply because the latter appeal for the present.
For a brief overview of immersion across the history of the Church, please refer to the paper sent out in the fall of 2015 by National Council, section B (Appendix E). This chapter will examine the historical practice and understanding of baptism in the Church, focusing particularly on the establishment of immersion as the normative mode at the point at which Baptists originated in 17th century England. We will see how our forebears dealt with the question of mode and membership, and above all, how practice was understood as having to be faithful both theologically to the meaning of Christ’s death for us and our union with him and biblically to the meaning of the inspired text. We will then draw some conclusions as to how this history ought to inform our dealing with the matter.
Baptism Through the Ages
While we would certainly agree that the NT teaches that baptism is the immersion in water of those who have professed faith in Christ, a glance around the Christian world reveals this not to have remained the case. When did such an unequivocal prescription—witnessed as much in the Lord’s baptism itself as in the meaning of the Greek term itself and in the theological understanding of Christ’s death and resurrection as displayed and contoured by baptism, Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:1-5; 1 Peter 3:20—cease to be understood and practised as such?
It is impossible to say with precision when the Church’s practice on this matter departed from the clear teaching of the NT; however, it was certainly early on. Early teaching documents such as the Didache (ca. AD 100) reflect an accommodation of modes other than immersion, though this appears to be only as an exception, one primarily occasioned by a lack of water2; sprinkling was tolerated, but as an allowance—even affusion (pouring) was not generally practised until later.3 In the aforementioned exceptions, personal belief or sentiment does not seem a consideration; only in the farthest reaches would it seem that immersion was not the rule.
That infant baptism—by immersion or other means—was practised in the early Church is beyond dispute. However, early writings through the time of the Fathers bear out that immersion was the norm, and of adults at that. The letter of Barnabas (ca. AD 80-120) reads, “We go down into the water full of sin and pollution, but come up bringing forth fruit in our hearts…”4 Justin Martyr, AD 140, writes, “As many as are persuaded, and believe…they are then bathed in water.”5 In reference to Novatus being affused while on his death bed in AD 251, Cyprian calls this “an abridgement of immersion.”6 In his Catechetical Lecture 20, Cyril of Jerusalem identified immersion and rising as symbolizing the death and resurrection of Christ.7 This would become, and remain, key in the Calvinistic Baptist understanding and practice of immersion from the 17th century. The missionary Augustine, in the time of Gregory the Great (ca. AD 598), baptized his converts by dipping8; the “other” Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, held to infant “baptism” as an ancient tradition.9
Icons and frescoes, further elements of Christian worship foreign to the simplicity of the Baptist way, also indicate that baptism was understood throughout the ages as immersion. In artistic portrayals up to about the 12th century, the Lord’s baptism by John has the Saviour standing neck deep in water. It is only after this that John is constrained artistically to revert to splashing a scallop-shell full of water on the Son of Man, who is now standing only knee-deep in the water.10 The tide seems to have receded in more ways than one, by this point!
The architecture of early Church buildings tells an important story, if we will hear it. While the theological significance of these buildings to the worship of the Church is beyond the scope of our study, the practical implications are not. The 1st century “House of Christians” at Doura Europos (in the Roman Empire), in use in the first half of the 3rd century for worship, had a baptismal pool of a size that indicates that baptism was most certainly by immersion; texts of the 3rd to 5th century support this view.11 The first separate buildings constructed intentionally for use for worship once the faith had found acceptance with Rome contained pools of dimensions (Mariana, Corsica: 2m in depth; Cazères: 1.2m in diameter, 1.13m deep) that make evident that immersion was the practice even in the now State-approved religion.12 Ruins from later dates show this to be less uniformly the case.
However, the practice of immersion evidently remained current well into medieval times. In the 7th century, the Cressy monastery (Brittany) sought permission of Pope Stephen II to pour in case of illness instead of immersing, reflecting what was still, at that time, the norm. In the days of the renowned Charlemagne (ca. AD 800), a tract by the Bishop of Sens indicates that baptism was to be by immersion, albeit by triple dunking!13 As late as 1311, the Roman Church’s legislature in council had to rule that sprinkling and immersion are equally permissible.14 Well into the Middle Ages, baptismal pools continued to be a part of the buildings and practice of the Western Church—indeed, it is avowed that even Edward VI and Elizabeth I in 16th century England were immersed.15 Only since the days of James I of England has sprinkling been in the norm in the Church of England; yet even the 1662 BCP mandates in the rubrics the dipping of infants—pouring was allowed only in case of illness, which would later occasion Spurgeon to observe that there were an unseemly number of unwell children in the Established Church!
This can only be a brief survey—“time would fail” us to go into the practices of various sects outside of the main Western Church prior to the Reformation. Many of these practised immersion, as well as did the Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodox Church, which never abandoned the practice, in mode if not in meaning, described in their language in the NT. But what is evident upon even a cursory examination is that Christian history shows immersion to be the widely understood and practised method of baptism throughout the first millennium and beyond. While the Constantinian accommodation did not cause its demise, it certainly seems to be connected with its withering. And Augustine’s arguments from tradition aside, the link between the Lord’s action of dying and rising again, and its significance, was an early lynchpin of the Church’s teaching on baptism.
Baptists and Baptism
Contrary to popular belief, the Baptist movement was and is certainly not first and foremost about immersion. The name “Baptist” itself is rather an epithet hurled by their opponents; but it does reflect how our forebears were first understood: as those who immersed. That this practice was the complement and completion of a rigorous soteriology and ecclesiology was somewhat lost on their early critics, even as its pre-eminence and significance seems to be in eclipse today.
Perhaps clarity is obtained by looking briefly at the origins of the Baptists. While some will argue for the existence of Baptist Churches since John the Baptist, an outlook called Successionism, the evidence does not favour such an understanding. Those Churches that did practise the immersion of believers were not organically linked, and in many cases, were theologically suspect. Carroll’s Trail of Blood aside, this desire for some sort of Baptist form of “Apostolic Succession” wants for any real evidence. The perceived need of such a linkage was a sore spot in the early Baptist recovery of believers’ baptism. However, it was eventually resolved that the quest for such a trail was needless, as apostolic obedience to the form of the rite, not apostolic succession in its administration, was seen as the primary concern.
Many would trace the origins of Baptists to the continental Anabaptists of the 16th century. This case has merit and is supported by several eminent Baptist historians. However, it lacks concrete evidence beyond mere happenstance and surface resemblance. There may have been undocumented transmission of ideas and practices beyond those noted below. However, the case for Anabaptist origins is a tough case to make given the reputation of the Anabaptists following the Munster debacle—this painted them in a scarcely better light than that in which ISIL is seen in our day. Further, there were explicit denial of any such links (e.g., in the foreword to the 1644 London Confession). That this is so has some bearing on our current debate: for the admission of non-immersed believers into our assemblies, as in the case of Mennonite fellow Christians, for example, is not the re-establishment of an old family heritage. It would simply recognise as baptism a rite practised by those who are at best cousins, not forebears, and with whom we would have, in love, significant differences not only regarding the practice, but as will be seen, the theology of baptism.
The most likely and evident source of origin for the Baptists, both Calvinistic (Particular) and Arminian (General) lies in the Puritan separatists and semi-separatists of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Their resistance to being identified with the Anabaptists, combined with the fact that the questions they debated and differed upon were those of the magisterial Reformers and not the radicals, support this. As well, these are the only links that are clearly documented in what sources we have had passed down to us. For further reading on this subject, one could do far worse than to consult such sources as Barrington White, The English Separatist Tradition (London: Oxford University Press, 1971); James M. Renihan, An Examination of the Possible Influence of Menno Simons’ Foundation Book upon the Particular Baptist Confession of 1644, American Baptist Quarterly, 15, No. 3 (September, 1996); Glen H. Stassen, Anabaptist Influence in the Origin of the Particular Baptists, The Mennonite Quarterly Review 6, No 4, (Oct 1962): 322-348; and Timothy George, The Reformation Roots of the Baptist Tradition. Review & Expositor. Vol 86, No 1, (Winter, 1989). (http://www.nbseminary.com/Documents/BapConf02/TGeorge.htm).
The earliest Baptist Church in England dates from 1611 with the return to Spitalfields of Thomas Helwys and a group of English exiles from Holland, where they had been involved with the English separatist John Smyth.16 This was a General (Arminian in soteriology) Baptist assembly. While the General Baptists, of whom Helwys and his Church were part, were in many ways similar to the Particular Baptists, they represent a different movement with separate roots.17 Both groups appear to have developed quite separately, quite possibly in virtual ignorance of each others’ existence. The General Baptists were far more centralized, had scant regard for the role of the magistrate, and were rather lukewarm toward Calvinistic soteriology. The Particular Baptists did not develop so much from a transplant of the English separatists who had fled to Holland at the end of the 16th century—though their first pastor returned from there—but were an outgrowth of Puritan separatism and semi-separatism. The JLJ Church, named after the last initials of its first pastors (Jacob; Lanthrop; Jessey) perhaps best represents the beginnings of the Particular Baptists in the 1630s.
Interestingly enough, it was not immersion of believers that caused these two groups to separate from both the Church of England and from mainstream Dissent in 17th century England. It was their ecclesiology that drew them apart. That an assembly should meet freely, that it should be composed solely of believers, that it was competent to call its own officers and to worship without interference or direction by the State or the State Church of mixed multitude and popish practices, was what first drew these believers apart to what would become the Baptist way. They sought a holy assembly in which their souls could safely follow Christ, and in which Christ, not bishop or King, would rule. His lordship, and their freedom to serve in obedience to that kingly rule, was foremost. Thomas Helwys sought a Church that would, as expressed in the 1605 A Third Humble Supplication:
“Assemble together somewhere publickly to the Service & worship of God, to vse & enjoye peaceable among our selves alone the wholl exercise of Gods worship and of Church government viz. by a Pastor, Elder & Deacons in our severall Assemblies without any tradicion of men whatsoeuer, according to the specification of Gods written word and no otherwise…”18
It is in this context that believer baptism became key—for it was the separating marker of the believer to his local Church and thus to Christ. It was not so much merely a matter of adherence to the biblical text—which would first constrain the first Baptists to accept for baptism only believers, then only to baptize by immersion—but an understanding of the sovereignty of Christ and of the normative status of both his life and commandment for the believer and his Church. The English Baptist development of believer immersion is most usefully traced through the Calvinist Baptists, who not only more rigorously defined their theological understanding of baptism, but can best be identified as the roots of our movement, the General Baptists having largely succumbed to Socinianism by the end of the 17th century. As well, the former most resemble our movement in their emphasis on the independence of the local Church and on less formal ties between Churches. It is thus on this latter group that our examination will focus.
The Calvinistic JLJ Church of Southwark, established in 1616, was not, at its inception, a Baptist Church, being perhaps best described as an “Independent Congregational Church with semi-separatist leanings.”19 It is from this gathering that the first Particular Baptist Church would soon arise. This Church experienced a number of splits in successive years, apparently amicable. The records preclude one from concluding that at this point the reason for separation from the Church had anything to do with the preferred mode of baptism. There is reference to a certain Mr. Eaton and others, who having received a “further baptism,” left the Church to form their own fellowship in 1633; whether this “re-baptism” was motivated by a rejection of “infant baptism” itself, or merely of that baptism as administered by the Church of England, is not clear. It is thus possible that a Calvinist Church of Baptist practice existed as early as 1633; at the very least, there was a gathering of Calvinistic separatists who had experienced “re-baptism.” Some who shared Mr. Eaton’s views on baptism, whatever these may have been, are noted as having seceded from the JLJ Church by 1638 to join a group led by John Spilsbury.
It becomes evident that “infant baptism” had come to the fore as a matter of concern among the semi-Separatists associated with the Particular Baptists at this point. While the mode and subject of baptism may or may not have been as salient a concern as the proper administrator of the rite for those who followed Eaton out of the JLJ Church, before long the theology proper of the ordinance came under scrutiny. In May 1640, the JLJ Church divided between Jessey and Praise-God Barebone due to space restrictions. One of those who had earlier left with Eaton, Richard Blunt, returned to the Jessey Church at this time, and began to raise questions about the mode of baptism, “being convinced of Baptism yt also it ought to be by dipping ye Body into ye Water, resembling burial & riseing again. 2 Col:2:12 (sic). Rom:6:4.”20 After conferring about this, they sought further instruction; but knowing no one else in England who practised immersion baptism (evidently knowing or wishing to know nothing of the General Baptists), the Church sent the Dutch-speaking Mr. Blunt to Holland to discuss the matter with the Collegiants, a Mennonite body. Upon his return, he baptized Mr. Blacklock, a teacher, and he in turn baptized “the rest of their friends that ware so minded,” forty-one in all. It is not clear whether Blunt was baptized in Holland, or baptized himself, or whether he and Blacklock baptized each other.
The “re-baptized” group from the Jessey Church then formed two Churches, one under Richard Blunt, the other under Thomas Kilcop. Shortly after Blunt’s return from Holland, the Spilsbury Church then also adopted immersion as the proper form of baptism,21 though unlike the Jessey Church they recovered its practice not by succession (which had presented a considerable concern both to the General Baptists while in Holland and to Blunt, evidently) but simply on biblical authority.22 By the time that the First London Confession of 1644 was issued, representing the views of the Particular Baptist Churches, there were seven such gatherings in London. In this confession is laid down for the first time by any Baptists that immersion was an essential element of proper baptism.
The goal of the 1644 Confession was not so much to establish a statement of Baptist orthodoxy to which all must subscribe as to defend the burgeoning movement against its detractors. It was hoped that once the reasonableness of the Baptists’ beliefs was seen, and the orthodoxy of their views on soteriology and the place of the magistrate made plain, they would be left alone. Indeed, the title page identifies the Confession as being that “of those Churches which are commonly (though falsely) called Anabaptists,” and its express intent is “for the taking off those aspersions which are frequently both in Pulpit and Print, (although unjustly) cast upon them.” What distinguishes the First Confession from other earlier Calvinist confessions is, of course, the view of baptism it espouses. Though only described in two articles, XXXIX and XL, baptism has a distinct significance for the Particular Baptists. The position of the statement on baptism and the space allotted to it is instructive. While seen as a crucial element of biblical Church practice, it is evident that it is subordinate to the proper understanding of God and his works in Christ, and to a general Calvinistic understanding of soteriology and even, to some extent, of Church government. Believer’s baptism flows out of a correct apprehension of these truths. This is consistent with the way by which the Particular Baptists arrived at their convictions on baptism, and shows them to estimate it as important, yet as only inasmuch as it represents a logical outworking of proper faith and practice, not the driving force behind them. Baptism was to be dispensed only to those professing faith, and to be administered by immersion. It was a sign, “answering the thing signified,” which is three-fold:
What is singular in the Particular Baptists’ understanding is the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ;. The two passages regarding this most dear to the Calvinist Baptists, Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12, clearly establish this foundation. This understanding of the significance of baptism reflects a particular Christology: God’s power to save was not seen so much in the obedience and sacrifice of Christ “extra nos”23 as it were, but in the mercy and power by which Christ died, was buried, and was raised again. This must be applied for and with us. Baptist piety has always been a living, lived out response to Christ’s sovereign work of salvation. The Christian’s union with Christ in this death and resurrection was of great significance.
The development of English Baptists, especially the Calvinistic Baptists, apart from Anabaptist influence, is significant to the question at hand. James Renihan points out that Menno’s teachings on baptism have significant differences from those of the Particular Baptists, to the extent that he finds it unlikely for the Baptists to have taken any of what remained into their own faith and practice. For instance, Menno did not insist on baptism being by immersion, but “of a handful of water.” This may seem a quibble, except that the Baptists strongly believed that the central motif of baptism, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, must be signed by the physical dipping under the water, if baptism was to “answer the thing signified.”24 In this simple but rigorous touchstone, do we not hear echoes of a far earlier time, of the Apostles and those who followed them? Far from being an abstract theological emphasis, the Baptist understanding of baptism meant that the physical action must represent what was being signified. A baptism without immersion could not, however one dressed it up, portray the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that it must do, to be understood in the way in which the Particular Baptists understood it. This is just as salvation cannot be understood without the taking of a body and its yielding up by the Eternal Son of God. This linkage of sign to significance, Renihan asserts, was foreign to Menno—and, it is well observed, to non-immersionists in our day.
Is it possible that in our rush to accept other modes of baptism, we are ignoring the theological edifices in which they are housed? Churches that practise baptism of infants, immersion or otherwise, will import an authority, either of Church or covenant, that is absent in the act and command of Christ as witnessed by the NT. Should we not raise similar questions of those who practise sprinkling or pouring of believers, but see no biblical or theological need to properly immerse?
Baptism most evidently represents a part of a theological whole for the Particular Baptists; it is not isolated from their understanding of the rest of biblical faith and practice. Its interpretation and perceived linkage to the life and ministry of Christ, particularly to his death, burial, and resurrection, the atonement that he accomplished by that death, and the future hope in his resurrection that baptism signifies, reflects its true centrality in their thought, no matter how little space it physically occupies in the First London Confession. Baptism occupies a prime location in the theology of all the groups at the time of the Reformation; we should not expect the Particular Baptists to be an exception in this. The later Calvinistic Baptist Confession, the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, while less explicit in its pronouncement on immersion, still holds firmly to it. In the face of almost two decades of persecution under the restored Charles II the need for common cause with fellow Calvinists (the resemblance of the 1689 Confession to the Westminster Confession of Faith is striking) in this situation still did not oblige our forebears to abandon a firm commitment to the immersion of the believer as the only means of fulfilling Christ’s commandment. Of the Churches represented at the 1689 Assembly, only the Broadmead Church, Bristol, held to open membership.25
Debates and Decline
The practice of immersion was not universally accepted or enforced. However, by the 1650s the General Baptists had adopted this as the standard mode. By 1677, “Baptists were virtually unanimous in their rejection of…modes other than immersion.”26 There was considerable dispute amongst these folk—some of whom, like John Bunyan, who held to open communion and membership, were perhaps not strictly speaking Baptists, as much as we might be loath to admit it in his case. Such men as William Kiffin engaged this issue vigorously, arguing for membership and communion closed to those who had joined the Church through immersion, feeling that to do otherwise “destroys order and flatly contradicts the practice of the primitive Christians.”27 However, even he was willing to extend some leeway to other assemblies in the interest of unity.
What remained firm as a theological foundation of the Calvinistic Baptist understanding of baptism is its portrayal of the union of the believer with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. The arguments repeatedly fell back on this rampart, and would continue to do so. As Fowler points out,28 both John Gill (1697-1771) and Abraham Booth (1734-1806) used this understanding to defend the practice of immersion in the 18th century. Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) would assume the traditional position on baptism without argument, as did John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825). The concern for mode overtook that of subject in writings in the 18th century; indeed, closed communion (admission of the immersed only to the Lord’s Table) was the majority view among British Baptists at the beginning of the 19th century, Robert J Hall (1764-1831) being a notable exception.
This would not remain the case. The Evangelical Awakening of the 18th century would pose a challenge to the by now common Baptist practice of closed communion. Much as in our day, it was seen as unfriendly and obstructionist to differ with other Evangelicals on this matter, where so much was shared in common. Writings by Booth (Apology for the Baptists) and William Newman (Baptism An Indispensable Pre-Requisite to Communion, 1805), the latter quite irenic, sought to establish the historic Baptist position amongst fellow Baptists in the face of such influence. It is to be noted that these defences, and Robert Hall’s pleas for open communion, largely dealt with a matter we’ve mostly let drop—the linkage of baptism, membership and the Lord’s Table. But be this as it may, by the mid 19th century, a good half of British Baptist Churches had come to practise open communion. Thus we can take some cold comfort in the fact that we aren’t the first group of Baptists to differ on these matters. However, accompanying this transition, if not caused by it, was a decline in doctrinal strictness.29 This preceded chronologically, if not logically, the Downgrade controversy that C. H. Spurgeon would face with the Baptist Union later in the century.
One might hesitate to connect the two declensions; however, it is noteworthy that American Baptists did not follow their British cousins in being so open to admitting the non-baptized to communion. As has been opined by one author, it may be that, in the very different situation obtaining in the young country, the Baptists had to compete more vigorously for their place in the marketplace of religions and thus were hesitant to let go of such a marked distinctive. It is also to be observed that the bulk of American Baptists did not suffer the manifest decline in theological orthodoxy that afflicted their British fellow Baptists.
As can be seen even by this brief survey, the verdict of history is not always clear, nor clearly in one’s favour. That there have been differences amongst Baptists on the matter of baptism is evident; that both sides of these differences were equally right or prudent, is not. What seemed relatively clear to the vast majority of our 17th and 18th century forebears, in the face of persecution and as yet relatively little influenced by Enlightenment rationalism, did not appear as such to many who followed later on.
What cautions might we take from how our ancestors in the faith dealt with the question of immersion, as we question a change in both our doctrine and accepted practice of membership? However much they disagreed amongst themselves, they were none of them the individualistic, independent readers of Scripture that we pride ourselves on being today. The faith was practised within a voluntarily gathered, disciplined community. Safety in Christ was not sought despite that assembly, but with its aid—whence their separation from the State Church and from other Dissenters. The means of grace—preaching, the ordinances, discipline, fellowship, prayer—that only the local Church could provide must be in conformity with Christ’s commands so that they were safe for the believer. This was evident even in 18th century American Churches.30 For us to encourage diversity on such a basic and foundational element of our practice of obedience as baptism is to expose ourselves to a threat we are ill-prepared to meet today.
Whereas some diversity in the practice of baptism may have been in evidence to some degree in the Churches of our forebears, they were far better equipped to meet the challenge in the 17th century, even as they may well be judged to have failed to do so in the 19th. Our atomized, individualistic society, and thus Churches, do not need another challenge to conformity to the will of Christ as determined by our reception of the Scripture together. Our predilection to story and individual sensibilities represents a significant decline, and reflects the ongoing elevation of the autonomy of the individual over the authority of the Church in our day. This is evidenced, for example, in the ongoing decline in the practice of Church discipline and in the displacement of theology by voluntarism, that was not evident before the 19th century.31
Our new perception of baptism, out of which the question at hand has arisen, may not accord with that of our first forebears. Even those who were more broad on their approach don’t view self and Church the same. That would be an example of Thompson’s paramnesia to think we do. If we show ambivalence on the question of baptism—which is both a simple and overt expression of obedience and unity clearly prescribed as to manner and recipient in the Bible—how will we sound a clear note on other more challenging areas which we must, for Christ’s sake, engage today? Should we not take caution from the missteps of our ancestors of the 19th century, and see in their experience the dangers they did not?
The understanding of the 1644 London Confession in particular, which amplified and developed the Baptist reception of baptism, both tied the observance of the rite to the theology behind it while allowing the conduct of the rite to teach that same theology. In the teaching of the Lord and the Apostles, the Lord’s obedience in immersion was followed by his command to then immerse. Only subsequently did Paul describe the Christian life as being portrayed by immersion of the believer. (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:12) The word and the act of our Lord formed for Paul—and for our forebears—a seamless garment. A rending of the two was something that, confessionally, our first predecessors could not abide. Such a rending by us, their descendents, could well be something that our movement could not survive. We struggle to tie doctrine and deportment, confession and conduct, together. If baptism now begins to be severed from its theological roots, will we not thus rend asunder more complex matters of the Lord’s command and our obedience?
What is noteworthy in the debates of the early 19th century is the friendships that prevailed amongst men badly divided on this matter. But as a cautionary note, observe that the terms of the debate did not remain fixed. The general position of the majority of Calvinistic Baptists on closed communion,—from missionary bedrock Andrew Fuller to evangelist Christmas Evans—would in time become associated with a closed, hyper-Calvinistic minority. The British Baptists by the late 19th century would be wavering on things greater than the practice of baptism. It should well serve as a warning to us who would open this matter to debate that its end may well be unforeseen and beyond our control or desiring. Would that we would preserve the spirit of brotherly love, as gentle as doves, while keeping, wise as serpents, a weather eye on the potential disaster change may bring.
The loss of believers’ immersion as the norm of Christian practice was a long, slow decline—a devolution rather than an evolution, that was pretty much complete by the time that our forebears recovered the biblical practice in the 17th century. The biblical account teaches us that things tend to decay, not self-regenerate. Can we expect any proposed evolution in current orthodox practice to encourage the preservation and promote the understanding of Christ that it does in our present belief and practice, rather than to further hasten yet another decline in orthodoxy of principle and praxis? Our forebears of the 17th century did not invent a new understanding and practice They gave a contemporary expression in word and work of an ancient practice of the Church which had fallen away, restoring Gandalf-like, a decrepit Theoden. Do we wish to risk his lapsing once more into decrepitude, or instead seek to gird him up and hold firm to the old markers, that he might ride again into battle?
The matter of unity amongst brethren was important to our Baptist forebears. This is demonstrated by their efforts to make common cause with orthodox believers of every stripe in the tumult of 17th century England. But in the face of the positive draw of keeping the unity of the faith, in the face of the negative force of persecution for their beliefs, our brethren of that day did not waver on the matter of immersion, both in meaning and in mode. Can we claim such a heritage if we seek now to walk where they chose not to? Would we follow later Baptists, many steeped in Enlightenment patterns of thought, or remain fixed to the sources, from which our first forebears removed the rocks thrust therein by the Philistines, that the seed of Abraham might drink freely from them once more? Would such a departure really be friendly to our fellow believers, for whom Christ died, that they might follow him in word and in deed? Would such wavering present the Rock of Ages to those perishing in their sins? Would such really be friendly to the Friend of sinners, who loved us and gave himself for us? May we remain true to the faith once delivered to the saints, as given concrete expression in the word and practice of our forebears, and ask after the old ways, wherein lies safety, and not as prodigals strike out instead for a far country, risking the loss of all.
1Philip Thompson, “As It Was in the Beginning,” in Recycling the Past or Researching History?: Studies in Baptist Historiography and Myths, Philip E. Thompson and Anthony R. Cross, Eds., (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005): 100.
2…“baptize in running water, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If you do not have running water, baptize in some other…If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times…”, Didache, 7.1-4.
3FM Buhler, Baptism: Three Aspects, (Dundas: Joshua Press, 2004), 14.
4G Duncan, Baptism and the Baptists, (Richmond: Baptist Foundation of BC, 1992), 81.
7S.A. McKinnon, “Baptism in the Patristic Writings”, in TR Schreiner and SD Wright, Eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2006), 184.
13Ibid., 23. As such baptisms were frequently compulsory on pain of death for ‘converts’, this example should not be pushed too far!
14 Duncan, 22.
16H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 38.
17James M Renihan, “An Examination of the Possible Influence of Menno Simons’ Foundation Book upon the Particular Baptist Confession of 1644”, American Baptist Quarterly, 15, No. 3 (September, 1996): 191.
21Haykin, Michael Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church, Crossway (2011): 30.
23This Latin term is used in reference to the location or source of salvation as being completely external to the human being. In other words, to suggest that salvation is “extra nos” is to deny that salvation occurs on the basis of anything inherent in humans, whether a human act of the will or a human thought. Instead, salvation “extra nos” affirms that salvation is completely an act of God; that is, God freely and sovereignly bestows salvation upon a person.
26Fowler, Stan, [_More Than A Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism _](Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2002), 18.
29Robert W Oliver, History of the English Calvinistic Baptists, (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 258-259.
30Hammett, “From Church Competence to Soul Competence,” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry Vol. 3 No. 1 (Spring 2005): 151-2.
4. The Theological Evidence
Jeff Eastman, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Baptism is one of the cornerstones of Christianity. Being one of the practices Jesus left for us to do according to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 it is an initiatory rite of discipleship and obedience, symbolizing identification with and allegiance to Christ. Its importance therefore should neither be over or understated. As a secondary act to repentance and belief in Jesus for salvation caution must be employed to prevent it from becoming elevated to the level of necessity and a determiner of one’s eternal destiny. On the other hand its importance should not be devalued to the point of irrelevance because as previously mentioned it is part of the process of making disciples of Jesus, and as will be shown in the following paragraphs it is a deeply significant tangible representation of the inward reality of repentance and belief in the cross work of Christ for eternal salvation.
Given baptism’s importance each detail regarding it must be properly investigated and performed, including its mode. This is no mere squabble over amounts of water; there are deeply significant reasons behind the practicality of how baptism is actually performed. While it must be admitted that Scripture lacks a how-to manual, linguistics, NT practice, and theological significance all strongly imply immersion. The former two items being outside the scope of this chapter and being addressed elsewhere, the latter will now be explored.
What Baptism Represents:
The Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus
The Bible is replete with pictures and illustrations used to aid understanding. They divide those with “ears to hear” from those who hear but do not understand. Baptism is one such picture, in similar fashion to the Lord’s Supper, where both the activity and the elements used point to the truths they represent. The water represents the judgement of God because of sin (See 1 Peter 3:20-21 where Peter links the Noahic flood with baptism in this way) and as Jesus was baptized with God’s wrath as our substitute (Mark 10:38-39) so too when we are baptized this symbolizes us identifying with Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.
Only baptism by immersion fully captures the picture of the cross work of Christ with which the person being baptized identifies. The three motifs of death, burial and rising are consciously highlighted in the symbolism of the immersion Paul describes in Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:12. Firstly, union into Christ’s death is viewed in Romans 6:3 where Paul asks “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?” Secondly, the burial association is twice underscored: “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4) and “You are buried with Him in baptism” (Colossians 2:12). Thirdly, the rising of the believer in Christ is again twice evoked:[_ “just as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” ](Romans 6:4) and again in Colossians 2:12 [“You are buried with Him in baptism, wherein you also are risen with Him through the faith wrought by the operation of God, who has raised Him from the dead.”_] The picture that arises from the text ought to inform the manner in which baptism is performed. The individual being baptized begins in a standing position identifying with the crucifixion of Jesus, is immersed in the water identifying with Christ’s burial and His fully bearing the wrath of God’s judgement, and is brought back out of the water as Christ rose from the grave. Biblical pictures are very important, and only immersion carries the illustrative force necessary to perpetuate the analogy this vital ordinance represents.
What Baptism Signifies:
Union With Christ
Baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, but for the follower of Christ it represents more than just the perpetuation of an illustration. Baptism signifies the reality of union with Christ, full immersion into and identification with His cross work which provides those that repent and believe with regeneration, conversion, justification, and adoption (Galatians 3:27). Robert Letham puts it this way:
“Union with Christ in his death and resurrection comes to expression in baptism…At the cross there was the unmitigated judgement of God on human sin and the superlative demonstration of God’s grace. Baptism exhibits both elements—death as condemnation of sin and life freely given by God. In our union with Christ we share in his death and resurrection, signed, sealed, and exhibited in baptism.”
If our union with Christ is complete (we are fully immersed in Christ) then it follows that the best representation of that reality is baptism by immersion. As we are fully united in Christ, so we are fully immersed in water as an outward sign of that inward reality.
What Baptism is Analogous To:
Baptism With the Spirit
The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the mark of every true believer in Christ (Romans 8:16) and the language of baptism is often used to describe how He unites with a believer. John the Baptist used this language when he said “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8; see also Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16 and John 1:33) and Jesus reiterated this in Acts 1:5. Paul takes this truth a step further when he says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” indicating that not only are true believers baptized with the Spirit but are by that baptism brought into the one body of believers in Christ, a truth he expands on in Ephesians 4:1-6. The baptism of the Spirit is a fully immersive experience; Christ takes the whole of a believer and plunges him into his Spirit to incorporate him. The believer is also indwelt by Him. If the language of baptism is used of this indwelling, and this indwelling is a complete immersion of the believer both in the Spirit and by the Spirit into the body of Christ, it would seem that the best method of water baptism would likewise be immersion.
What Baptism Simulates:
Sins Being Washed Away
A final point is made by Peter in 1 Peter 3:21 when he says “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,….” The act of baptism does not save, but part of the theological significance of baptism is that it simulates cleansing; not a physical cleansing, although immersion in water provides that, but beyond the action of a physical cleansing to the reality of being spiritually cleansed by the cross work of Christ so as to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Paul recounts Ananias indicating the same understanding of baptism when he instructed Paul to “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16) after God restored Paul’s eyesight. If we have been fully cleansed of all our sin because of the redemption provided for us in Christ, then baptism by immersion accurately pictures this reality.
It seems clear that the Fellowship desires to continue to exclusively practice baptism using the mode of immersion. This was affirmed as one of the statements all the members of the Study Team agreed upon, and is a part of the motion being put forward to all delegates in 2017. Given this, it would seem that the commitment of the Fellowship to immersion as the only valid mode of baptism is firm, rooted in its understanding of Scripture and its history. However, this motion itself is troubling as it seems to violate the law of non-contradiction—logically speaking, one cannot affirm A (a commitment to baptism by immersion) and not-A (a seeming willingness to allow non-immersed individuals to become members of Fellowship Churches) at the same time. Whether intended or not, this motion, should it be affirmed, implicitly states that alternate modes of baptism are equally as valid as immersion, something that once again is in direct contradiction to the assured conviction of practice moving forward.
The lynchpin argument to seemingly resolve this glaring fallacy is that a second baptism is more of an anomaly than baptism by an improper mode; in other words, to follow the Westminster Confession Chapter 27, article 7: “The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.” Here sincerity trumps accuracy. Whether or not an individual was baptized using the proper mode becomes irrelevant provided they were baptized post-conversion (credo baptism) and were sincere when they experienced it.
There are at least three problems with this argument. First, sincerity, while important, does not equal truth. The rich young ruler was very sincere, but as far as the Biblical record is concerned he never followed Christ (Mark 10:17-22). Second, what is under discussion is not exceptional circumstances nor actions done in ignorance, but knowingly baptizing using a mode other than immersion. This immersion is the command that Jesus left to be done in the process of making disciples, followed by the clear imperative: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Those last six words can hardly be expanded without His express warrant. Time and attention ought to be given to doing it correctly, not simply accepting whatever mode might be employed provided it is done from the heart. Would it be acceptable to use Gatorade and bagels for the elements of the Lord’s Supper? Finally, we have at least one example of a “re-baptism” in Scripture in Acts 19:1-7, where disciples of John the Baptist are given the full story of redemption from Paul and upon their further repentance and faith they are immersed for a second time. Admittedly, this is a matter of revelation and not mode, and the previous baptism occurred prior to conversion, but there seems to be a precedent that multiple baptisms are not outlawed in God’s economy.
The proper mode of baptism is immersion as has been shown by the four points outlined in this chapter, and thus it ought not only to remain the ongoing practice of the Fellowship, but a commitment to it ought to be confirmed by a practice which requires it of all members.
5. Baptism and Membership
Daniel Saglietto, Pierrefonds, Quebec
Editor’s Note: The thesis set out here is a fresh and innovative approach from a theological/practical perspective to the dilemma facing our Fellowship. It is given in a form translated (from French), abridged and reformulated by the editors. The more scholarly and very edifying form in which the author sent us his manuscript is included in Appendix C.
In the context of the ongoing discussions within our Fellowship, some have said that the proposed change concerns membership; others that it concerns baptism. In reality, it concerns both and we shall examine the unifying link between the two. Baptism and membership are essential parts of our identity as Baptists.
We must first be sure that we all have the same Biblical definition of these two Church realities. Only then will we be able to respond coherently to the issue presented by National Council that we should receive new members, sprinkled or poured, following their profession of faith, as well as immersed, while adhering to immersion as the normative form.
The historic definition of baptism that has been ours for so many years, not to say centuries, is uni-modal. Immersion is the only way that baptism was ever practiced in the NT. Because we see the definition of baptism now being modified to include supposed “other modes” at par, it will not be possible to find agreement or peace in a local Church. The proposed change brings division by redefinition. This chapter is a Biblical reflection, based on the historic definition of baptism as immersion and aims to show the coherent common bond between baptism and membership in the light of Paul’s fundamental doctrine of union with Christ. This effectively shuts out the possibility of introducing “different modes” through “the side door of membership”.
Here are the three steps to the thesis we propose:
The fleshing out of this thesis goes thus:
Baptism is based on union with Christ.
As Paul talks about baptism in Romans 6, he describes the thing signified (significate) as being Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The thing doing the signifying (signifier) is the act of immersion itself, ordained by Christ. The act in three scenes perfectly identifies publicly what has already been the inward reality of Spirit baptism. The candidate illustrates in a symbolic form what has happened as he identified with Christ through faith. He died to sin in Christ and he rose to new life in Christ. Douglas Moo resumes Paul’s argument very aptly thus:
Dying in Christ, being buried in Christ, rising in Christ, the whole message that the immersed believer portrays is of union with Christ. So the signifier (the act of immersion) is carrying more freight than a washing or even a death and burial. It shows forth the union into something else. In this case, the union of the candidate into the water of that local Church’s baptistry and beyond that, there is the symbol of the union of that candidate into Christ Himself, specifically into His death, burial and resurrection.
So this is something Christ does in us by immersing us in His Spirit first of all to deal with our sin and to impart resurrection life to us. Secondly it is something he does in us to incorporate us into His body.
Membership into Christ’s universal body is the basis for membership into the local body. Since Christ-ordained immersion is the immediate sign of that new reality, membership into the local Church should ensue without delay.
Paul again unpacks this aspect of the significance of Christian immersion, this time in 1 Corinthians 12. When we combine the teaching of verse 13:
“ For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
with that of verse 27:
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
We then understand that immersion in the Spirit has the objective of incorporating the believer into Christ’s universal body (1 Corinthians 12:13) and that the local Church (in this case the assembly at Corinth) is the visible expression of that same universal Church (1 Corinthians 12:7). These two Scriptures are fundamental to our thesis. They link Spirit immersion into Christ’s body to visible incorporation into the local body. Paul uses the language of immersion to make his point about membership.
Therefore when a believer is given Christ-ordained immersion, he is portraying the reality of his having been grafted into Christ’s body (Romans 6:5) by his faith in Christ’s efficacious death and resurrection (Colossians 2:12). This is a communal event in two parts:
a) The candidate is immersed publicly (he has chosen this assembly to manifest his identification with Christ and this local body of believers is witnessing and authenticating this new believers’ testimony to Christ’s salvation),
b) The candidate is choosing to become part of this local Church and to serve Christ there, and the assembly is offering a nurturing environment where the believer can continue to grow.
Daniel Saglietto expresses this convergence of Christian themes about immersion, membership, union with Christ, the believer’s and the Church’s interactive roles thus:
The salvation offered in Christ is not an individual salvation, but we have been saved (albeit individually) through our union with Christ and this union implies an incorporation into the body of Christ. Baptism (Christ-ordained immersion) is the proclamation of that reality. It is also a true dialogue in which the community has a role to play. The Church receives and recognizes the faithful believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. It declares implicitly that the one immersed and the community of believers are all united to the same Lord, that union which is expressed by the act of immersion at this baptism. It then recognizes that person as a member of the body of which it is the local expression: the body of Christ.
We conclude that the two realities, baptism and membership, best practiced together and as close to conversion as reasonable, based on the same union with Christ, both exclude the introduction of supposedly “different” modes of baptism.
We started out by defining baptism as immersion. This was not the place to review the evidence base for that definition, seeing that it is covered elsewhere in this book, in the position paper sent out to all Churches and in supporting literature. It is based on the data from linguistic study, from NT usage in Christ’s and the Church’s mode of application, from the history of the Church and from our own Fellowship doctrine and practice over these last six decades.
Now, that definition which equates the term baptism with immersion is reintroduced into our conclusion. Christ-ordained immersion is the only NT expression of His Great Commission, thereby excluding any other mode of the ordinance which heralds union with Christ. And because this union with Christ is also the condition for membership into the universal and local Church, the two are wedded with no possibility of introducing supposed “other modes” by simply trying to make them “inferior” or “non-normative” forms which could find entrance through special appeal to the membership mechanism on grounds of compassion, inclusivity or sincerity.
The Implications and Problems
In Part A, we sought to show the original continuity of immersion, the linguistic evidence for immersion, the historical correction towards immersion, the theological explanation of immersion and the tight link between membership and immersion.
It is our job to define the boundaries for our own family of churches. It is not our job to find common ground with others of sincere faith who draw different conclusions on where boundaries are to be drawn in their denominations.
We can agree on many things with others who hold to the basics and essentials of Christian faith. And we will continue to disagree with some in other quarters no matter how much we strive for unity.
Fellowship Baptist boundaries were drawn “back in the day.” They are not etched in stone but they are significant. Careful thought needs to be given to any change—especially doctrinal change in our foundations. We believe the considerations are complicated by many factors.
This section brings to light some of those factors. Each author states an opinion that is reasoned and we believe each deserves thoughtful attention.
6. Baptism, Membership and
The Word of God
Darcy VanHorn, Vancouver, British Columbia
When the question first came to my attention several years ago of whether it was possible and indeed wise for Fellowship Baptist Churches to bring into membership believers “baptized”1 by a mode other than full immersion, my initial reaction was one of hesitant sympathy toward the proposal. I had previously been made aware of a discussion of a similar issue involving Dr. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, whom I greatly respect, and whose preaching and writing ministry has greatly blessed me over the years. Dr. Piper had come to hold the position that even believers who had been sprinkled or poured as infants, but who exhibited evidence of new birth and saving faith, ought to be welcomed into membership, if their consciences did not allow them to be “rebaptized” by immersion. While I felt a certain sympathy for Dr. Piper’s argument I came, quite quickly, to a personal conclusion that his proposal was unbiblical and unwise for Churches holding “Believer’s Church” convictions to adopt, feeling that it was inconsistent with the teachings of the NT regarding the close connection of baptism to saving faith. It would eventually lead to serious compromise over the nature of the Church as a company of regenerate believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
However, more recently the question has surfaced in our Fellowship, albeit in a form much more appealing to me as a convictional Baptist, namely: “Is there allowance for local Churches to induct believers into their Church memberships who have experienced believer’s baptism by a mode other than immersion?” As people who hold the Word of God in high regard, and who see in it the great emphasis placed on unity between those who truly belong to Christ, it is understandable that we should desire to affirm that unity in a way that blesses our fellow saints and is visible to the watching world. Allowing believers to come into membership on the basis of their confessional “baptism” seems reasonable at first glance, especially since refusing to allow them to join our Churches on the basis of the how the water was applied could easily be construed as both divisive and pedantic! But I don’t think the issue is as simple as it first appears. As I will try to demonstrate, it is no small thing to esteem our own opinions of greater import than careful, conscious obedience to the Lord’s specific command. Our Savior commissioned us to make disciples by immersing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! We must believe that He gave us this Commission in its specific form for good and wise reasons, and that we would be pursuing an unwise path if we deviate from His clearly expressed will for the Church.
Dr. Fowler’s Understanding of Baptism in the New Testament
If memory serves corectly, the presence of this issue in the Fellowship first came to my attention when I attended a workshop involving Dr. Stan Fowler and others a few years ago at the Fellowship National Convention held in Richmond, BC. There I remember Dr. Fowler’s presentation advocated allowing Christians baptized as believers by pouring or sprinkling to be brought into membership. His thesis was especially founded on the recognition that in the NT, baptism is not so much an outward act of obedience testifying of a past, completed inner experience of conversion, but rather is a means of expressing the repentance and faith that constitute the saving response to the gospel message, and which usually takes place very close in time to the conversion experience. Having come to a similar conviction through my own study of Scripture regarding the biblical testimony of the close chronological connection of faith, repentance, and baptism, I found Dr. Fowler’s workshop presentation very interesting. In agreement with his conclusion, I believe we should link baptism more closely to our presentation of the gospel than we have usually done, and should declare clearly that baptism is the appropriate response to the gospel along with, and as a means of expressing, repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In addition to the question of the timing of baptism in relation to the response of repentance and faith, I would agree, for the most part, about the function of baptism in the conversion experience as proposed by Dr. Fowler. In order to better understand his position, I have recently read his book, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections. In his own words:
“In biblical terms, we become Christians by baptism, because baptism is the divinely ordained way in which we confess repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the formal way in which we say yes to the gospel and accept salvation from the Lord.2
He adds elsewhere:
The view that I am defending here understands baptism as conversion-baptism or faith-baptism, i.e., an expression of repentance and faith that has value only as such an expression. There is no value in the act of baptism as such, no ritual magic invoked in the event. Furthermore, salvation is not a reward for the act of baptism; acceptance of baptism is simply the formal way to receive the gift of salvation.”3
In other words, Dr. Fowler seems to be saying that the occurrences of baptism in the NT are conversion events wherein the person coming to faith in Christ expresses his repentance and trust by submitting to baptism, either at the point of conversion or quite soon afterward. He is not saying that baptism considered as an act in itself actually saves; rather, that it is the normal means by which a person outwardly expresses his faith. Perhaps it could be understood in a manner somewhat similar to how the “sinner’s prayer” functions in the evangelistic paradigm practiced by many Christians today.
While I agree with Dr. Fowler’s thesis generally, I must admit I’m a bit hesitant about his use of the term “Baptismal Sacramentalism” to describe it (as he did in the title of his published doctoral thesis4), mainly because of the connotations that accompany the word “sacrament.”5 I understand why he uses it, and what he means by it. Indeed, he takes pains to say that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, and that baptism as an act does not, in itself, save. So apart from wishing that he used a different term, I agree with his thesis that baptism is more than a symbol pointing back to a past event (though I would add that it is not less than that). In my own words, I would say that baptism in the NT functions as the divinely appointed way, at the point of conversion or afterward, of expressing repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance and faith that bring a sinner into the rich experience of God’s salvation. But I would hasten to add that while this is a true description of the function of baptism in the NT, it is not an exhaustive description of how it functions.
Dr. Fowler’s Position on Non-immersion Believer’s “baptism” as Sufficient for Church Membership
I’ve taken the time here to try to give an overview of Dr. Fowler’s understanding of the function of baptism because—though not the focus of the question being debated by Fellowship Baptists—it is the basis from which he makes the proposal that Fellowship Baptists should accept believers into membership whose confessional “baptism” was by a mode other than immersion. To sum up Dr. Fowler’s proposal before responding to it, he has indicated that because baptism in the NT functions as a means of expressing repentance and faith in Christ at the moment of conversion or fairly soon afterward, “rebaptism after the fact” of believers “baptized” by pouring or sprinkling is a serious anomaly. As a result, Dr. Fowler advocates that we accept such believers into membership,without “re-baptizing” them, in spite of the fact that their “baptism” was less than ideal.
Initial Thoughts in Response—Understanding Baptism Biblically
The question being considered among Fellowship Baptists is the acceptance of non-immersion believer’s “baptism” as sufficient for Church membership. It appears that Dr. Fowler’s promotion of this position is based on certain implications that flow out of his view of the biblical function of baptism described above. These implications are not necessarily warranted by his understanding of the function of baptism, nor entirely consistent with the teaching of the NT as a whole regarding baptism, conversion, and Church membership. While baptism is biblically an important part of the conversion experience, I don’t think he has made the case that its function and normal chronological proximity to conversion rule out requiring it at a later date for believers who were “baptized” by an unbiblical mode. Nor has he made the case that if:
“non-immersion is an anomaly, a second confessional baptism disconnected from conversion and initiation into discipleship is a greater anomaly.”6
It is on the basis of this “greater anomaly” that he proposes Fellowship Baptist Churches be allowed to accept people into Church membership who were “baptized” as believers by a non-immersion mode. I believe his conclusion is mistaken, and will, over time, lead to several unhappy consequences, including the weakening of the doctrinal position we hold as the basis for our unity, and unnecessarily introducing difficulties into the discipleship of the people entrusted to our pastoral care.
I hold as a matter of conviction that the normative NT pattern for the practice of baptism is immersion. Our current Affirmation of Faith, both in the Region where I serve as pastor (Fellowship Pacific) and in the National Fellowship, indicate that we as Fellowship Baptist Churches practice baptism by immersion. One of the proposed ways of allowing our Churches to bring non-immersed believers into membership is a possible change to the Affirmation of Faith. But even this proposed change maintains that our practice of baptizing will continue to be only by immersion, even if previously non-immersed believers are accepted into membership. So there should be no debate among us that we agree that biblical baptism is by immersion.
We all recognize that on very rare occasions down through Church history there have been extenuating circumstances where people are unable to be immersed, usually for health reasons (though the possibility of a scarcity of water caused by drought has also been mentioned). However, we also recognize that these are situations where the person in question desires to be immersed, believes immersion is biblical, wants to express their repentance, faith, and union with Christ in the biblically prescribed manner, but is simply unable to do so. Thus this is the proverbial “exception that proves the rule.” This is very different from people who were previously “baptized” by a non-biblical mode (through no fault of their own), but are now unwilling to be immersed, either for reasons of conscience regarding their previous “baptism” (though they may since have come to accept immersion as the biblical teaching) or because they do not believe immersion to be the only biblical mode (i.e. they do not actually agree with our Affirmation of Faith on this issue).
The works by T. J. Conant and Eckhard J. Schnabel make the point sufficiently well that the biblical usage of the bapt- word group indicates the meaning of immerse/immersion. However, if we regard immersion as the biblical meaning and mode of baptism we should, in principle, have no objection to our English Bible translations using the immerse word group to translate the bapt word group found in the Greek NT. Eckhard Schnabel sums it up nicely in the conclusion to his article in the Festschrift to D. A. Carson:
“There is no linguistic necessity to translate, or rather transliterate, βαπτιζώ with “baptize.” The full and varied meaning of Christian baptism is not tied up with the English term baptize or baptism, nor is the significance of Christian baptism implicit in the Greek terms βαπτιζώ or βαπτισμα. Rather, the ‘theology’ of baptism is expressed in statements about what happens when people come to faith in Jesus as Israel’s crucified and risen Messiah, when they are immersed in water in the name of Jesus, expressing commitment to him who forgives sins, and when they receive the promise of God’s Spirit. The term immerse preserves the meaning of βαπτιζώ quite satisfactorily, and the term cleanse adequately expresses the extended meaning ‘removal of moral and spiritual defilement,’ which God grants to those who believe in Jesus.”7
It is extremely unlikely that any modern English translation is going to begin translating the bapt- word group with the immerse word group, but for the purpose of our discussion of the issue before us as Fellowship Baptists, much clarity would be achieved and much greater fairness to the NT text would be granted if we were to treat the baptize/baptism texts as immerse texts in our ongoing discussion. When we read or appeal to NT texts that use the terms baptize/baptism we should be thinking, and even saying, immerse/immersion.
Moreover, as Fellowship Baptists, we have historically held that immersion is more than just an empty rite—it is a picture, an “acted sermon” that portrays vividly the truth of the believer’s union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, as Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:12 suggest. As Shawn Wright notes, “the Church makes the gospel visible, in part, through the ordinances.”8 He goes on to point out:
“The gospel is all about Christ’s death for sinners, and the ordinances visibly show unbelievers this gospel. The Church—the community of the ordinances—is therefore the gospel made visible. … The gospel bounds our thinking about the ordinances. Christians are saved and nourished by the gospel; baptism and the Lord’s Supper testify to this. In other words the ordinances must be subservient to the gospel. They portray the gospel, magnifying it and highlighting its importance.”9
The term ordinances refers to the fact that Christ has “ordained” these rites as a means of visibly portraying the gospel. Of course Jesus commanded many things, but only baptism and the Lord’s Supper display the gospel in such clear pictorial fashion. They are unique in this and thus are the only two ordinances we should practice in our Churches.10
Or to put it another way, the meaning of the word baptize—immerse—as it is used in the NT, is closely tied to the purpose of the act commanded by the Lord, which is to portray the gospel, the believer’s union with Christ!
In light of these realities, then, as we go forward in our discussion let us not use terminology that obscures the issue at hand. When we refer to the non-immersion modes of “baptism” we are really speaking nonsense, for we are simply saying “non-immersion immersion”. The tendency to say “non-immersion baptism” is really a failure to deal with the issue before us honestly. Non-immersion modes of “baptism” are not baptism, because they are not immersion, because baptism equals immersion. When our Lord commissioned His Church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), He commanded us to do so by immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He commanded us. What we are to teach them must therefore include the command to immerse other new disciples. Let us not lose sight of this fact! If He had wanted to broaden the command, there were plenty of other Greek words He could have used that mean sprinkling, pouring, and general terms for washing. However, in describing the outward response that is to accompany repentance and faith, the NT invariably uses the bapt- word group, meaning immerse and immersion.
Laying Some Groundwork: Three Principles to Keep in Mind
In responding to Dr. Fowler’s position, I would like to lay out three biblical principles that are relevant to the current debate:
This has relevance for those who come to us seeking membership, but not feeling they can, in good conscience, be baptized “again” by immersion, since that would in some way dishonor God or invalidate their previous experience of confessing their faith through another mode of “baptism”. However, this also applies to pastors and Church members who feel that admitting someone into membership who has not been immersed as a believer would be unfaithfulness to the biblical pattern, and would constitute disobedience on their part as they seek to carry out the Great Commission. An important fact to note is that a “weak” conscience does not inevitably need to remain a weak conscience. Instruction in biblical truth can sometimes bring a more mature understanding that enables one to move past issues that previously threatened to violate one’s conscience.
The thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) is the obvious exception that proves the rule. Baptism doesn’t save, and the person who genuinely repents and believes, and then dies before he has the opportunity to be baptized, is saved. A death-bed conversion would provide a similar example in our day.
However, the normal NT pattern is for those who repent and believe to “go public” with their faith by means of baptism. It is fair to say then that in the NT a person was not normally regarded as a Christian if he was not baptized. (He might, in fact, have come to faith in Christ but had not yet expressed it outwardly—only God knows the heart, but thankfully, He does know it!).The third principle is that in the NT, baptism is a requirement of Church membership. Acts 2:41 [_“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” _](ESV)
The pattern seems to be that those who were baptized were regarded as members of the Church in connection with which they were baptized. This is not a point that should need to be debated among us as Fellowship Baptists since the Affirmation of Faith to which we subscribe currently declares “We believe that a Church is a company of immersed believers …”
Moreover, it has been the case down through Church history that “baptism” has been a requirement for Church membership. This has been the case in the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Churches, and among evangelicals generally, both Paedobaptists and Credobaptists. The difference between these groups is not in whether baptism is required, but in how baptism is defined and practiced. Additionally, the argument could be made from the NT that baptism is not only required for Church membership, but that it actually confers Church membership. When a new believer was baptized, he was regarded from that time forward as a member of the Church whose representative baptized him. Normal practices have arisen around the core issue of the necessity of believer’s immersion. For instance, receiving into Church membership those who come with letters of recommendation mentioning their immersion in other like-minded Churches, courses on immersion, and votes to receive newly immersed believers as members.
A Response to Dr. Fowler’s Position
I’d like to continue my response to Dr. Fowler’s proposal that we accept non-immersed believers into membership by first considering this third principle, that in the NT baptism is a requirement of Church membership. A Church either believes that baptism is necessary for membership or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then anyone can be accepted into membership no matter the mode by which they’ve been baptized, whether they were baptized in connection with their faith or as infants, and even if they’ve never been baptized at all. As mentioned above, this has not been the position of the Church down through history, nor is it today (the Salvation Army excepted).
However, if a Church does believe that baptism is a condition of membership, as Fellowship Baptists do, the Church must decide what constitutes biblical baptism. If we believe that biblical baptism is only immersion which is done in connection with saving faith, then by definition according to our Affirmation of Faith, we cannot bring people into membership who have not been immersed as an expression of their faith (i.e. believer’s baptism). This precludes infants who are unable to understand the gospel and exercise faith. It also precludes those who have testified to their faith by being sprinkled or poured. In the present discussion, infant baptism is not on the table. But regarding the question before us concerning non-immersed believers coming into membership, simply put, if we do so, we are making one of two statements by our actions: either that baptism is not a requirement of Church membership, or that pouring and sprinkling are biblical modes of baptism. Logically speaking, we cannot have it any other way. We either change our definition of baptism, or we change our requirement for membership.
Dr. Fowler’s point is that while it is an anomaly to have been “baptized” by a mode other than immersion, “a second confessional baptism disconnected from conversion and initiation into discipleship is a greater anomaly.” But this statement begs the question it is trying to prove. The first confessional “baptism” was not a baptism by the definition we have accepted as Scriptural. Therefore the “second confessional baptism” is not a second baptism at all, but a first baptism. Is it an anomaly that a person makes a profession of faith accompanied by a rite not prescribed in the NT, which is nevertheless a real act of commitment on the part of the one professing faith? Certainly. But the way to correct an error in practice is not to practice a second error.
If I understand Dr. Fowler’s thinking here correctly, his real issue is that a baptism after the fact of conversion, perhaps many years after, shouldn’t happen since baptism is meant to accompany conversion, or at least be much closer to it in time. And I would agree that this is the normal NT pattern, and should be the ideal for which we strive. But I do not accept that his view of the function of baptism as “an expression of repentance and faith” is a complete definition of baptism’s function. Indeed, Dr. Fowler seems to admit as much himself in Rethinking Baptism when he discusses the issue of people wanting to join a Baptist Church years after being saved who have never been baptized by any mode. Dr. Fowler writes:
“I have to admit that baptism for such people does not have exactly the same significance that it has in the biblical baptism narratives, because they are not becoming disciples in the act. Nevertheless, baptism in these cases can still have a sealing or confirming function, and my pastoral experience has shown me that baptism at any stage of life can be a powerful means of grace. Baptism is more than an act of obedience, but it is at least that, and delayed obedience still has spiritual benefits. As a pastor I have baptized many people in this category, and I have observed something powerful happening in their baptism. It is not about power in the water, but it is about a divine-human encounter that occurs when faith in Christ is expressed in such a powerful symbol. If God provided it, then it is no surprise when he does something powerful in the event to confirm our connection to him.”11
I would totally agree with him that baptism has a sealing or confirming function, and can be a powerful means of grace as an act of obedience, even years after conversion. As he said, “delayed obedience still has spiritual benefits.” But if this is true of those who have never been baptized and submit to it when joining our Churches years after their salvation experience, why can it not be of similar benefit to those whose conversion experience included a rite that was called “baptism” but wasn’t? We can help such people see that getting baptized biblically (i.e. by immersion) is an act of current obedience that is honoring and pleasing to the Lord. At the same time we can help them see that their original act of commitment, though not biblical baptism, was still an important milestone of commitment in their spiritual life that they can look back on with gratitude to God.
It is not really much different than crisis points in the walk of faith that we all experience at various times where we take a stand, make a commitment to the Lord, and express it in a concrete way. Such milestones are events we can look back on as markers that strengthen our current faith as we remember the act of commitment we undertook with sincerity before the Lord. I can give a simple example from my own life: as a new believer, even before I had the opportunity to be baptized, I came to a place of conviction about my record collection. (I know, I’m dating myself here!) I believed that faithfulness to the Lord required that I rid myself of many albums which I felt were inappropriate for me to listen to as a follower of Christ, which I did. Now as a (hopefully) more mature believer, some of those albums I wouldn’t mind having back. (Not all of them!) But I don’t look back on that act of commitment with any regret, nor do I feel that I’m dishonoring God or invalidating His work in my life at that time by recognizing that my immature zeal probably went beyond what was necessary for my spiritual health, nor do I feel that I’m dishonoring God by further acts of commitment that I’ve undertaken since.
As pastors in our Churches, can we not help people who’ve been poured or sprinkled as believers understand that their previous act of commitment to the Lord was valid and important to their spiritual journey, while not being biblical baptism? Can we not gently help them to see that their first “baptism” was lacking a clear portrayal of the reality of their union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, yet was a very real act of commitment on their part that was pleasing and honoring to God? Can we not help them see that the next step in their journey is to follow through with a more thorough and accurate obedience to a specific command of the Lord who gave Himself for them? Can we not help them understand that to do so in no way invalidates their previous commitment, but does honor the Lord by taking seriously His command to make disciples by immersing them, a command repeated specifically by His Apostle as the way to respond to the gospel (Acts 2:38)? Can we not encourage them that such a step is evidence that they are honoring Christ by growing in their biblical understanding?
Dr. Fowler seems to indicate in Rethinking Baptism that this line of thinking has merit, since he cites something very similar as support for what he calls “the re-baptism side” (again, I think he’s begging the question by calling it re-baptism):
“Baptism is supposed to be done by immersion, and it is always possible to get it right, whatever may have been done before. The confessional baptism done by another mode may well have been a significant personal experience, but it wasn’t baptism in the biblical sense. Furthermore, the integrity of Church membership demands it. Members of immersionist Churches must be immersed if they really believe what the Church believes.”12
What I don’t understand is why he feels that immersing people years after their conversion when they were “baptized” previously by a non-immersion mode “seems to get the function wrong”13 and thus shouldn’t be done, but he can still agree that baptism years after conversion has a valid “sealing or confirming function” for those who have not had a previous baptism experience. If we’re getting the function of baptism wrong when we baptize people years after their conversion, then we’ve got it wrong, whether they come to us with a previous non-immersion “baptism” in their past, or no baptism in their past! Moreover, the other function of baptism that he mentions in the case of non-baptized believers, that of sealing or confirming, is indeed very important, flowing as it does out of an act of conscious obedience to a specific command of the Lord. This is true whether those experiencing immersion were previously “baptized” by pouring or sprinkling, or not baptized at all.
Dr. Fowler admits that this is a tough issue in his book, but concludes that “re-baptism” is not the right solution because of his belief that “a second confessional baptism simply does not function in the way that baptism is designed to function.”14 While I agree that the most important function of baptism is “a once and for all ratification of faith and discipleship that stands at the dawn of Christian experience,”15 it is not the only function. It is perhaps telling to note that Dr. Fowler admits his thinking here has been affected by the difficulty of working through this issue with an individual who was not allowed to join the Church he was pastoring because of the mode of his previous “baptism”:
“I will admit that my thinking is shaped by my experience of trying to explain to a potential Church member that their confessional baptism is not considered valid by my Church, due to the inappropriate way in which water was applied, and the awkwardness and lack of conviction that I felt.”16
We can all sympathize with Dr. Fowler’s experience, and recognize the expression of his pastoral heart. All of us, however, are also well aware that the pain of disappointing people because the Scriptures require we correct their misunderstandings cannot be allowed to cloud our judgment. I would submit that if it is valid to immerse an unbaptized believer years after his conversion, then it is equally valid to immerse a believer whose previous experience was not biblical baptism. The benefits of the wider function of baptism—that sealing and confirming function—apply to both situations, though neither fulfill the main function of baptism as the “ratification of faith and discipleship that stands at the dawn of Christian experience.”
In the end, if people who seek membership in our Churches cannot submit to immersion because it violates their conscience, we should let them know that we respect their commitment to keep a clear conscience and encourage them to consider joining a Church that believes and practices what they do. This is simply practicing the first principle delineated above. We can point them to other Churches, and bless them as they go, recognizing our spiritual unity in the gospel, while at the same time admitting that on some practical issues where we differ in understanding of what the Scriptures teach, we need to part company, and to do so without hard feelings or resentment. But the principle of keeping a clear conscience also applies to us. If we bring them into membership on their terms, we had better be sure we keep a clear conscience as we do so. One of my concerns is that, strictly speaking, we would be disobeying the Lord’s command to make disciples by immersing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that He commanded us. When we translate the word “baptize” as “immerse” that issue becomes a little more pointed.
Some Pastoral Considerations
There are also additional pastoral issues that will arise if we follow Dr. Fowler’s proposal to bring non-immersed people into membership in Fellowship Baptist Churches. I’m not sure that bringing people into membership who aren’t committed to our view of baptism would be for their benefit, or that of the Church itself, in the long run. There are really only two scenarios in such cases: either the person coming in is now a member who doesn’t believe the Church’s doctrinal statement (i.e. he refuses to submit to immersion because he feels that it is not the exclusive biblically mandated mode of baptism, in contradiction to our Affirmation of Faith); or the person coming into membership believes the doctrinal statement but chooses not to obey it (i.e. he agrees that immersion is biblically mandated, but chooses not to act on what he believes).
In the first case, this person doesn’t accept the exclusivity of immersion as the only biblically mandated mode of baptism, and thus would now be a member of a Church that practices something he disbelieves. Would it be a safe practice to allow this person to ever grow into a leadership and/or teaching position when he consciously does not agree with an important doctrine that has historically been one of our distinctives? Does this not pose the dual danger of potentially compromising the doctrinal position of the Church, and also placing the person in question in the hypocritical position of supporting and even teaching doctrine he doesn’t believe and won’t practice? And if, as a solution, we determine that those accepted into membership without being immersed will not be allowed to move into leadership and/or teaching positions, have we not created a category of second-class members which is much harder to bear than that of having non-members attend the Church with the understanding that certain roles are restricted to members (being those who affirm and practice the Affirmation of Faith)? It seems to me that the concept of members with restrictions on their potential service because of their disagreement with the Church’s doctrine is not a healthy situation.
On the other hand, in the second case above, this person would be a member of the Church having previously experienced a non-immersion mode of “baptism”, but having come to agree that the biblical mode is immersion; yet he won’t submit to immersion because he feels it would dishonor God and invalidate his previous conversion experience. In this case, he would be in position of refusing to do something he has come to agree is Scriptural—i.e. he deliberately chooses to disobey what he believes the Lord has commanded. Again, this is not a healthy position either for this person or the Church to be in. The question must again be asked, would it be wise to allow a person in this situation to grow into a leadership and/or teaching position while they continue to refuse to submit to a belief and practice they profess to believe? In addition, there is the possibility that, though having been admitted as a Church member on the basis of their non-immersion baptism, they do eventually come to the place where they want to be immersed. This is problematic as well, since they have already been accepted as a member which implies their original “baptism,” though irregular, was valid. Now they are seeking, as a Church member, rebaptism. That is something most Baptists would (and should) not feel comfortable with.
To sum up, this is a challenging issue, and I certainly respect those who hold a different position than I do. Dr. Fowler makes many good points in his book, and I especially appreciate his help in articulating why baptism should be understood as an important part of the conversion experience. However, I’m not convinced that he has made his case that this principle rules out immersing believers whose confessional “baptism” was by another mode, especially in light of his recommendation about baptizing previously unbaptized believers who want to join the Church years after their conversion experience. Additionally, in light of the fact that many, if not most, baptisms today take place at a point in time after a person comes to faith and repentance, the question then becomes, How long after conversion is it still appropriate to baptize him, if the only function of baptism is to express faith and repentance at the time of initial conversion? Yes, it is important to connect baptism more closely to conversion than we have often done. But this doesn’t mean we should welcome people into the Church whose conversion experience was accompanied by a “baptism” that isn’t Scripturally mandated. For many people today, praying the “sinners’ prayer” or “going forward” at an evangelistic meeting may be the most notable event they connect to their conversion. We wouldn’t accept either of these acts as the basis for membership because we recognize the Lord calls for something more definite, something that conveys the gospel more clearly, namely baptism. If sprinkling and pouring aren’t immersion, then shouldn’t we be applying the same logic? The Lord called for immersion as the first recognizable outward step of discipleship, a step that is an expression of the obedience of faith.
Only the Church has the authority to practice the ordinances, but the ordinances do not exist by the authority of the Church. They exist because Christ commanded the Church to practice them. Jesus commanded baptism (Matthew 28:18-20); his apostles prescribed it (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-12); and the early Church practiced it (Acts 2:41;18:8; 20:7, 11).17
There is no statute of limitations on obedience to the Lord’s commands! For that reason, we should continue to insist that baptism by immersion is a prerequisite for membership in Fellowship Baptist Churches.
1For the purpose of this paper, I will put the words “baptism” and “baptize(d)” in quotation marks when referring to a mode other than immersion. In other words, I am simply declaring that I hold Baptist convictions about the “bapt”word group in the New Testament meaning immerse as per T. J. Conant, The Meaning and Use of Baptizein (Grand Rapids: Kregal 1977, originally pub. 1864); and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “The Language of Baptism—The Meaning of βαπτιζώ in the New Testament”, in Understanding the Times, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough (Wheaton: Crossway 2011), 217-46
2 Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections (Eugene: Wipf & Stock 2015), Kindle version, loc. 980
3 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 578.
4 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 26. Dr. Fowler’s doctoral thesis was published as More Than a Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism (Paternoster, 2002).
5 Shawn D. Wright, “Five Preliminary Issues for Understanding the Ordinances,” in Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age, ed. Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group 2015), Kindle version, loc. 1845-54.
6 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 696.
7 Eckhard J. Schnabel, “The Language of Baptism—The Meaning of βαπτιζώ in the New Testament”, in Understanding the Times, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough (Wheaton: Crossway 2011), 246.
8 Wright, “Five Preliminary Issues,” Kindle version, loc. 1780.
9 Wright, “Five Preliminary Issues,” Kindle version, loc. 1782.
10 Wright, “Five Preliminary Issues,” Kindle version, loc. 1855.
11 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 679.
12 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 696.
13 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 702.
14 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 707.
15 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 705.
16 Fowler, Rethinking Baptism, Kindle version, loc. 707.
17 Wright, “Five Preliminary Issues,” Kindle version, loc. 1859.
7. Our Identity, Doctrine
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
Imagine for a moment that it is the early 1950s and you are one of the committed, strong-willed leaders who felt they needed to build a consensus of what to include and what to leave out of an “Affirmation of Faith.”
You could even start with disagreement on the title. Should it be a “Doctrinal Statement” or a “Statement of Faith” or any other of several possible names? Then you have to decide at least on what may eventually become the titles of the various divisions in the document. You may find easy agreement on starting with “Godhead” even though the Southern Baptist Convention before started out with “Scriptures.” However, by the time you get to “Local Church” at perhaps Article XI you will debate whether the things you need to say in that section should be defined before or after “Local Church.” You might want a separate statement defining the leadership roles in the Church.
The list of articles could become very long or it could be short enough to give breadth of conviction room to breathe.
This was in fact the challenge of our forefathers. Some of them—now very few—are still alive and hold the same convictions today they held in 1953 when “The Fellowship” as we call it came to be. Some from the outside might see that as an arrogant piece of shorthand but it was never intended to suggest there aren’t other fellowships.
A beloved word of the day was “Fundamental.” Should it have been “The Fellowship of Fundamental Bible Believing Foot Stomping Baptists Willing to Fight Off All Comers”? We do have fundamentalist roots and have been called “fighting fundies” in the past you know! Fundamentalism worked it out to five fundamentals. But there are different lists.
First list: 1. The Scripture 2. The Trinity 3. The Person of Jesus Christ 4. Salvation by Grace 5. The Second Coming. Second list: 1. The Bible 2. The Virgin Birth 3. The Atonement of Christ 4. The Resurrection of Christ 5. Miracles. And maybe there are other lists. Those lists were all designed to make the tent big enough for many more faith communities than Baptists. This was complicated before we got to 1953. Baptism wasn’t in any list of fundamentals. And we freely and gladly acknowledge that heaven will be populated by people from many groupings of Churches.
By comparison, one of our friendly “tribes” is the Mennonite Brethren—officially the “Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.” They have a much longer “Confession of Faith” approved in 1999 which is a total re-write of their original document from 1902, having also been revised in 1975. The current version is nearly 5300 words compared to the Fellowship’s 648 words. The MBs say, “People who respond in faith are united with the local congregation by the public confession of baptism” and “We practice water baptism by immersion administered by the local Church. Local congregations may receive into membership those who have been baptized by another mode on their confession of faith. Persons who claim baptism as infants and wish to become members of a Mennonite Brethren congregation are to receive baptism on their confession of faith.” They gave up their historic “immersion only” stand in 1963. Some would like the Fellowship to lean in that direction. But then the Mennonite Brethren also have strong pacifist roots and say, “In times of national conscription or war, we believe we are called to give alternative service where possible.” They might find some disagreement on that in their own ranks.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance “Statement of Faith” is 553 words. (Possibly the shortest doctrinal statement of one of our peers. I think I hear some cheers.) But they don’t define baptism as for believers nor do they state it is a requirement for Church membership. (I think I hear some sighs at the incompleteness.)
The Associated Gospel Churches in Canada in “Our Beliefs” say, “The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances: Believer’s Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” But they don’t speak of Church membership.
The Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec in its 5800 word statement says “we practise Believer’s Baptism …” “Baptism is the immersion of a believer …” and “The Church is present where the Word is preached and the Ordinances practised, where fellowship abounds and loving service is carried out.” However, it is noteworthy that they don’t take a stand at all on the concept of Church membership in their “This We Believe” document. But in the Addendum they say “Each local Church must thus be made up of believers who, upon their profession of faith and their baptism (almost always by immersion), are incorporated into the local Church through the activity of the Holy Spirit.” Some would find that acceptable in the Fellowship as well.
The Southern Baptist Convention—that behemoth of all the Baptists–say, in their 1300 word “Basic Beliefs” statement, “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water” and “A New Testament Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers.” But then there is word on the street that not all the Churches adhere to that. Some are alleged to accept paedobaptism as acceptable if it follows a sufficient affirmation of belief.
So do you have a headache yet? All Church groups reach their own set of compromises and drive the tent pegs in the ground where they think appropriate. The freedom expressed by Baptists is that the local congregation can choose much on which there is scope for divergence but maintain other things where there is less scope. If they are uncomfortable, conscience should demand that they find a family of Churches more suitable to their convictions or even go it alone as an independent congregation.
A few paragraphs ago, I suggested you imagine you were in that group of founders for our Fellowship. Would you prefer a longer statement or a shorter statement? What would you include? The Fellowship leaves out many things in its Affirmation of Faith on which others have taken a stand. Several other groups have revised their statement from top to bottom. It is unlikely that the boundaries set are completely acceptable to all even after the arduous hours of writing and editing. It is unlikely that you could find a statement that seems perfect in every way. We must all realize that it is far easier to critique what has been said than it is to create it in the first place. Thus, the more you say in your statement the more you will have points of departure with some of the participants. We kept it simple and found sufficient unity with divergent Churches to form one Fellowship.
Specifically, the Fellowship National Affirmation of Faith says, “We believe that a Church is a company of immersed believers” and “Baptism, which is the immersion of the believer in water …” It must be noted that four of our five Regions have adopted the Fellowship Affirmation of Faith for their Region. The fifth Region presently states, “The Church is a congregation of baptized believers” and that “baptism is the immersion in water of a believer.” These statements are in two different articles within the “Affirmation of Faith” but taken together form one unified concept on who fits in with us.
In both cases the statements are clear and leave no room for any other mode than immersion. The word “is” is very strong here. The words were chosen carefully in the first place and any change needs a compelling set of reasons—not merely one or two ideas to make it easier for the very few people in question to join with us. After all we are not primarily engaged in assimilating believers from other faith communities. There is a lost world to win!
If baptism is immersion—not “should be” or “ideally is” then it “is.”
If within our Fellowship a Church is a congregation of baptized believers, then it is what it is. Those who are not immersed are not in the local Church. That is not to say that we can perfectly know if a person is a true believer or that their external immersion is a true mark of the internal faith. All we can do is carefully apply generous discernment and accept what we see and hear from a candidate for membership.
Nothing has changed around us. There are affused (poured) and aspersed (sprinkled) believers now and there were then. We encouraged them to participate where their conscience directed them. They have been welcome to worship with us and participate in various ways but never to become members who participated in the teaching and directing of the Church. If we are wrong now not to cast a wider net, then we were wrong then and have been wrong for over six decades. Some from the outside of the family may be welcomed in even though they aren’t as certain as we have been about the mode of baptism. They are welcome to participate but now the question has become, are they welcome to induce change in where we stand? These are the first days in our existence when the question has risen to national impact.
Within the Fellowship about 10-15% of the paid ministerial staff in the Churches are new every year—that is, newcomers to the Fellowship listed in the national directory. A nearly equal number of leaders move on and leave the Fellowship in the same year. The newcomers are not all from Baptist groups. Often they arrive from one of the groups mentioned earlier.
When an individual arrives it takes them some time to figure out what the Fellowship is all about because their experience is primarily within their local ministry and the national concerns don’t move to their front burner. Normally when new workers arrive in the ministry with a Fellowship Church or entity they do so with a cooperative spirit. At the same time, they come into the “tribe” with their former experience as a starting point. There will be things they like and things they are not so sure about both in their paid ministry and in their relationship with the Fellowship. They usually don’t come with a heart predisposed to changing the Fellowship—few would think it their role to do so at the outset. Over time as they get to know what the Fellowship is all about they will along with the rest of us wish to bring their suggestions for possible improvements. These fresh perspectives are always welcome. If we don’t have open hearts to newness we will surely die. Newcomers come with respect for the history and reasoning that got us to today but they want us to move to an even more positive tomorrow.
Within that understanding, it is clear that doctrine is very resistant to change. Even our By-laws are framed to ensure that it is difficult to change our doctrine. If our doctrine proves to be a difficult fit for any individual, they probably feel the need to find a faith community where they find a better match. We hate to lose people. At the same time, we want everyone to honour their own convictions and thus sometimes good leaders move away from us.
Once we agree to open up the Affirmation of Faith there will undoubtedly be a desire on the part of some to expand or contract other things we say. We must take any steps toward change very carefully. As Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.” This is no simple matter. It has far reaching implications. In the interest of understanding those implications this book has been assembled for your prayerful, thoughtful understanding. Above all, each of the writers would hope you would regard the Bible as the touchstone by which your convictions should be measured and not the convenience of pragmatism. If we should change because the Book indicates it then we should be united to make that change no matter the cost. If we should stay the course, we should do that out of biblically based conviction and not simply the desire to maintain the status quo. Whichever way we turn we will not keep everyone happy. That is a given. There is always a price to pay one way or another.
This is about theology but it isn’t just about theology. The personal, spiritual and sociological implications also affect each Fellowship Baptist whether in the pulpit or the pew. We dare not slip on our evolving pathway where all these must be taken into account.
There are many powerful factors that draw us together. Looking at the Fellowship from its highest level we would all agree that we want a Fellowship where our stated convictions are evidenced by our applied actions. In order to achieve that, we have to think everything through carefully and together. It is naive to think with a group of Churches that we could ever all be in lock step with one another. It is also naive to think we could have a Fellowship without establishing reasonable boundaries.
There are various societies, conferences and agencies who do provide a very wide scope for involvement. Pay your dues and you are in—pretty much. Often these groups have a narrow focus on some particular style of ministry, theological perspective or societal engagement. That is not what any fellowship of Churches is about.
The Fellowship has been crafted with a view to have a reasonably wide and yet Baptist scope. For example, we settled long ago that there was room for various perspectives on eschatology as long as the viewpoint fit into this statement. “We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ; in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust; in the eternal blessedness of the redeemed and in the judgment and conscious, eternal punishment of the wicked.” There is no mention of a literal millennium or lack thereof.
In contrast, our friends in the Associated Gospel Churches of Canada state, “At a time known only to God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ will return bodily and in glory, receive His own, and establish His earthly thousand year reign.” Many Fellowship Baptists find that sentence acceptable, many don’t and still others, while they believe that, they wouldn’t want it in our Affirmation of Faith. Attempts to create a watershed issue on that point have failed.
Wherever we stand there will be boundaries. Baptism by immersion has been one; millennial viewpoints have not. The current initiative to consider a change on baptism comes from the National Council because they have been encouraged by some Churches to do so. Our By-laws are quite well defined on when the National Council is required to bring an issue for-ward for a decision. Here is the Article 2.1 in its entirety.
Article 2.1 Affirmation of Faith
MEMBER Churches, Directors, Officers, Committee members, employees and volunteers of the Fellowship must at all times teach, agree and demonstrate agreement with and sign when required by the National Council the Fellowship’s Affirmation of Faith, the current version of which is attached to this By-Law as Schedule “A.”
The Affirmation of Faith may be amended from time to time in accordance with this By-law. A proposal to amend the Affirmation of Faith may be initiated by National Council or submitted by a MEMBER Church to the National Council in the form of a Notice of Amendment to the Affirmation of Faith provided at least ten percent (10%) of the MEMBER Churches endorse the Notice as evidenced by an executed letter from an authorized representative of each such MEMBER Church and provided the Notice is accompanied by a copy of the minutes of the meeting at which each proposing MEMBER Church determined in accordance with its procedural requirements that it would submit the Notice. The Notice of Amendment to the Affirmation of Faith setting out the proposed amendment shall be given to each Region and each MEMBER Church of the Fellowship at least nine (9) months before the next Annual Meeting of MEMBER Churches and the proposed amendment shall be placed before the MEMBER Churches at that meeting. A Region may submit its objection to the proposed amendment in writing to the Fellowship Secretary at least three months prior to the date of the Meeting of the MEMBER Churches at which the proposed amendment is to be considered. The objection must be accompanied by a copy of the minutes of the meeting at which the Region determined in accordance with its procedural requirements that it would object to the proposed amendment. An amendment to the Affirmation of Faith must be passed by a resolution of the MEMBER Churches receiving at least seventy-five percent (75%) of the votes cast provided the amendment has not been objected to by any Region in writing. Any proposed amendment that has been objected to by any Region in writing must be passed by a resolution of the MEMBER Churches receiving at least eighty-five percent (85%) of the votes cast.
There are several points to note here.
Clearly the framers of this By-law, which was most recently ratified November 12, 2014, set a high bar for any change to the Affirmation of Faith because the Fellowship Churches resist any notion of doctrinal shift. We must not forget that our historical roots make us very wary of drifting from our stand as firmly taken. Some might claim that setting such a high standard is tantamount to elevating the Affirmation of Faith to near scriptural standards. The framers didn’t intend nor support that.
There is also embedded here the assumption that any change proposal is not to be the private initiative of about 50 pastors (10% of the Fellow-ship Churches). It is to be supported by documentation showing the Church has conducted its due process and is well aware of the change. Historically, this has been by the vote of Church members at a duly called business meeting of the Church. The informed membership of the Church speaks for the Church—not the Pastor. Remember that in any given year 10-15% of the pastors in the Churches move on to another place outside of the Fellowship. But certainly the Fellowship does not lose 10% of its Churches every year to another denomination. The Church will go on with a new pastor in almost all cases. No autonomous Church would want to submit itself to the autonomy of the local pastor. Nothing good happens when a pastor tries to unilaterally act on behalf of the Church in such salient matters.
One of the hallmarks of Baptists is that we believe in the autonomy of the local Church. Any Church can change its stand at any time. If they do so outside of the Fellowship boundaries they should do the honourable thing and initiate their withdrawal from the Fellowship. We can part as friends. If they don’t initiate the withdrawal, the onus is on the Region to remove the offending member Church and that creates removal from the National Fellowship. Thus, the Church is autonomous and can chart its own course. But if that course is not in line with the Fellowship they can no longer remain a member Church.
We exist together as a Fellowship for many reasons. Some reasons are stronger than others to some. But taken together they create our culture or in simple understanding “tribe.” We want more and more people to wholly identify with us. We pray that many lost people will be found and become immersed members in our Churches. We rejoice with those who rejoice. We weep with those who weep and come alongside to support in time of need. At least in our aspirations we do. We strive to live by Romans 13:8 individually and as a Fellowship. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” We are well aware that there will be others from many different families of Churches we will fellowship with on the other side when we all see more clearly. Therefore, it can be safely said there are no big “B” Baptists here who believe we are the only ones going to glory! On the other hand, we wouldn’t be Baptists if we didn’t see the indications in the Scriptures that we are on a wholesome course. We want to follow Jesus and the Apostles to create what Dr. MacBain called in his initial President’s address in 1953 “the fragrant blossom of a true New Testament Church.”
This book argues strongly that baptism matters. It does so with the desire to establish a firm footing of biblical fidelity. At the same time, we must recognize the causes and concerns of those who also desire to follow the Book but with a pragmatic eye of love and concern for those who don’t think the mode of baptism should be an issue. Most of these people who currently associate with us are credobaptists. They only want to widen the definition to include differing modes but still hold to believer’s baptism.
Baptism is a major turning point for each believer. It is not inconsequential. It is attested in their soul and a declaration to the world. Thus, for those who believe their former affusion was a declaration of that inner faith it is difficult to disassociate that affusion event from their faith in Christ. To them it was sincere baptism even if they have come to understand that the mode was incorrect.
There is another side to the story they need perspective on. If all their baptism by immersion turns out to be is a redeclaration of their faith, what is wrong with that? What is right with that is that it states publicly for their new Baptist associates that they wholeheartedly are following Jesus. It shows humility. It shows their bonding to the new Church. They should be eager to view that side of the issue. If in eternity our firm stance turns out to have been unnecessary in the Lord’s view we will have at least walked on the same sincere path together. As it were, they cover all their bases and we eat some humble pie. We should all be good with that arrangement. Once they have demonstrated their followership by immersion the question is settled for all time and they get to fully participate in the direction and ownership of their new Church.
Back in days when immersion was rediscovered many Baptists and Mennonites were “re-baptized” by immersion. This included pastors and members alike. Sometimes they did so en masse so that they could have a clear conscience before God. Personally I have seen the relief in they eyes and the new spring in the step of a few who were immersed after initially arguing their affusion should be good enough. They got the blockage out of the way and experienced new freedom in Christ. In those cases, others stepped up and were also immersed. Many of those were of the company of people that formerly said their sprinkling as an infant was good enough to be called baptism. That bondage is often broken when they see others change their mind.
Baptism always preaches a sermon to those who watch. And the pat-tern many Baptists have experienced is that the one baptism leads others to obey. There is often a multiplier effect. One more sincere baptism declaring allegiance to Jesus is never a bad thing. Some are hung up for years—even decades—believing the sincerity of their parents in having them sprinkled should be good enough. But when confronted with the Scriptures and the live testimony of others they often repent of that view and also follow the Lord in immersion. After that the glow of a clear conscience is evident to all.
We have many friends in what is commonly called the Reformed movement who hold strongly to doctrines of grace but see baptism very differently. They find validity in paedobaptism based on a variety of thought processes. It is not our intention to parse their thinking. We will continue to love them but we are so far apart it is unlikely they will ever move and equally unlikely we will either.
So we can all get along provided we agree to disagree. At the same time, it will be rare when one of them or one of us decides to move to the other house. We will continue to maintain different houses. There is no way around it.
Should we open our belief system to those credobaptists who are happy with pouring or sprinkling? Their sincerity is not in question. But if we are right, they are sincerely wrong. If they are sincerely wrong, changing our stance will not further the purification of our message. The suggestion has been made that we need to tie the event of baptism as closely as possible with the moment of conversion. That certainly follows the history of the book of Acts and therefore should be pondered carefully. More emphasis on baptism is better than less.
We must not see baptism as a badge of honour or demonstration of a level of post conversion sanctification. Splitting off the time of conversion from the time of baptism has the great danger of creating this grievous error. However, if because of poor or infrequent teaching about the place of baptism as the first step of obedience and demonstration that the inner change has taken place baptism has been delayed or ineffectively applied we need to get to it right away.
People don’t grow in Christ until they reach the point of baptism. They grow in Christ by being baptized as soon as they are taught it to be their first step. One of our patriarchs Dr. Jack Scott when giving his “three-fold invitation” in reference to his appeal for baptism, almost always quoted the verses, [_“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” _](Matthew 10:32-33 KJV) . Three things. Get saved. Get baptized. Join the Church. Easy. Clear. Foundational.
Here is where we stand on baptism currently. Four of the five regions adopted and maintain the Fellowship Affirmation of Faith.
In relation to belief, baptism and Church membership this is what those four Regions hold.
The Local Church
We believe that a Church is a company of immersed believers, called out from the world, separated unto the Lord Jesus, voluntarily associated for the ministry of the Word, the mutual edification of its members, the propagation of the faith and the observance of the ordinances. We believe it is a sovereign, independent body, exercising its own divinely awarded gifts, precepts and privileges under the Lordship of Christ, the Great Head of the Church. We believe that its officers are pastors and deacons.
We believe that there are only two ordinances for the Church regularly observed in the New Testament in the following order:
The fifth region (Fellowship Pacific) has a more detailed statement.
Of The Local Church
We believe that the Church is a congregation of baptized believers organized according to the New Testament pattern, associated by a covenant of faith and fellowship of the Gospel, and observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by His laws, and exercising the rights, and privileges invested in it by His Word; that its officers are pastors (or elders or bishops) and deacons, whose qualifications and duties are clearly defined in the Scriptures; that the true mission of the Church is found in our Lord’s commission, namely: to evangelize, to baptize, and to teach believers to observe all that the Lord commanded; that the Church has absolute right of self-government free from any outside interference, and that the one and only superintendent is Christ, acting through the Holy Spirit in harmony with the Word of God; that in all matters of membership, of policy, of government, of discipline or benevolence, the will of the Church is final, that it is Scriptural for true Churches to cooperate with each other in the furtherance of the Gospel and in contending for the faith, and that each Church is the sole and only judge of the measure and method of its cooperation.
Of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper
We believe that Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; that it is the direct command of Christ; that it shows forth the believer’s union with the crucified, buried and risen Christ, and his death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is a condition of Church membership and according to the Scriptural order baptism should precede the observance of the Lord’s supper in which members of the Church by the use of bread and wine after solemn self-examination are to commemorate together the death of Christ.
It is safe to say that in the observance of the Lord’s Supper the concept of baptism by immersion as a prerequisite for participation is seldom mentioned and perhaps not believed by some Church leaders. But it is in there.
It may be that the key issue all this history uncovers is that we need to do a better job of guarding the front door with effective, consistent and unified teaching on many subjects or we are in danger of losing our grip.
While we always want to maintain a loving and open heart, we must never fall into the trap of defining ourselves with an “all you need is love” partial truth. The people we are commanded to reach often believe that we all are accepted by “the Man Upstairs” regardless of what we believe as long as we are sincere. That is not the truth. We must never drift toward their story. It is not so significant that they don’t believe our story as it is that we believe it and proclaim it diligently without regard to the consequences. We must never accept their story even though we acknowledge they may well have been obedient to the partial light they had received to that point in time. We have the Gospel and a high view of Scripture as our source of beliefs. Just as in a family the children need the structure created by the parents it is powerful also to have the parent body of the autonomous Churches set clear boundaries. It is not a question of control from the centre; it is about leadership that spurs us on to greater heights.
Now back to those credobaptists who were affused. It is safe to say that the anomaly of a severance of belief from affusion was true in most of their cases as well. Most of them were not affused in close time proximity to their coming to faith any more than the Baptists. To grandfather in their affusion as baptism only muddies the waters for others. Unless one assigns some mystical spiritual benefit to the actual act of the affusion or immersion there is no harm in having the candidate baptized by immersion since their knowledge has become more precise. It is not an anomaly to immerse someone if in fact baptism is immersion when, even though supported by experiential sincerity, their affusion falls short of the New Testament indications. Or for that matter if someone was immersed without the new creation, they got a free bath but they didn’t get baptized. Do it again once faith is alive. If experiential sincerity and family history were the standards then one could argue that coming to Christ at a mass evangelism crusade after walking the aisle was the way they outwardly demonstrated their inward faith. The hypothetical fact that their father had done so a generation earlier would not make such a false doctrine more correct.
To use an analogy, baptism could be compared to “putting on the team sweater” or “getting a tattoo on the arm” to be an outward demonstration of an inward faith for all to see. Sweaters can be changed. Bad tattoos can be removed or fixed. By immersion the affused believer demonstrates not only their outward declaration of faith, they demonstrate a oneness with the people of the Church into which they are being grafted. That is a beautiful picture of Christian humility so many of us have experienced. Why would we rob a Church and the individual of such a blessing obtained through the public demonstration of a clear conscience? They already know that we only immerse believers because we see it in Scripture. This is a wonderful opportunity for them to clear the air!
If there is an anomaly to be avoided, it is the one where we say we believe one thing but are willing to accept another as equally valid. After all we are Baptists. Yes, Christians first but we affiliate with the people called Baptists even if we do spell it with a lower case “b”.
In Acts 19:1-12 we have a story of “re-baptism” that clearly teaches an inferior baptism should be replaced by proper baptism. The twelve men involved did not argue, “But our baptism under John was totally sincere and should be good enough. It was good enough for Jesus it should be good enough for us!” Granted that this example involves a before and after conversion sequence. But these men immediately submitted to a second immersion when their knowledge was expanded by Paul. There was no room for a pragmatic argument.
In fact, if we were to change our view, from a pragmatic perspective we would only water the seeds of confusion. We would create more questions than we need to. “Why is their affusion now considered baptism when I went through the careful study of Scripture to develop Baptist convictions. Are we no longer Baptists?” “Does it really matter anyway?”
The reason most unimmersed people use the word “baptism” to describe their experience has much more to do with their level of exposure to the teaching of Scripture than it has to do with conviction. Most want to stay where they are because they don’t want to change their mind. They don’t want to change their mind for a variety of reasons. Some feel that if they change they will in some way be betraying their heritage. If their heritage was based on the desire to know the truth and to be set free by it, then moving toward more precise truth is in fact supplying the greater honour to the heritage.
Others know how sincere they were at the event of their affusion. Yes, and others also know how sincere they were when they walked an aisle or prayed a prayer. None of those events is properly a replacement for immersion. Immersion clears up their own internal ambiguity before their watching world. That declaration moves people forward—not backward.
Try this question. “If I could show you from the Bible why you should be immersed as a believer and that becomes clear to you, is there any reason why you wouldn’t be baptized in the biblical way?” The honest respondent would say, “No! I want to follow! It is just that I don’t think you could prove it to me.” Now you have the start of a proper dialogue. If the answer is, “No! I just am not prepared to change because what I was taught is good enough and what I feel is what I believe.” Then you have a very different issue. This now becomes an issue of obedience, not intellectual honesty.
Taking this a step further, if that person will resist the teaching of Scripture on one issue what would lead you to believe they won’t have other issues where their own designer theology doesn’t trump the Book? Being tough minded is exactly what we all need. We want tough minded sincere people to fill our Churches because they are the only ones who will break through their own barriers of self and reach to the lost and dying world. Nobody wants to muddy our waters with members who want to create a deep discount Christianity. People who don’t see eye-to-eye with us are welcome to attend with us but we dare not give them equal voice in the affairs of the Church.
Suppose we were to lower our stand then what happens in the future when that affused believer wants to teach or lead? Could you allow that person to say, “Personally I was affused and it was very real. But I understand that we have to immerse here.” We don’t “have to” immerse because of some ecclesiastical dictate; we “get to” immerse because Jesus told us to. Why would we not expect every member to share that conviction?
We need to elevate the doctrine of believer’s immersion with all it means and symbolizes. We don’t need a place to compromise. In the past as a Fellowship we did take a stand on some things that were outside the range of our Affirmation of Faith. In retrospect some of those were very wise, others not so much. Historically we passed resolutions at National Convention with several “whereas” clauses and a final swing with a “be it resolved” clause. On occasion the discussion generated light but more often only generated heat.
We may well be at an inflection point in our history right now. This is when we decide if we will stay the course on our beliefs about baptism or soften our stand. It is also a time for us to think deeply about our original intention to be a grand Fellowship of Baptists from sea-to-sea.
8. Response to the Proposed Change
George Wallingford, Ottawa, Ontario
Editor’s Note: The paper to which George refers is reproduced in its entirety as Appendix F.
The Study Paper initiated by the Fellowship National Council raises several concerns both as to its content and the process by which it was brought into being.
Although I certainly respect National Council’s desire to deal with this issue, I believe it would have been much better if they had asked the Churches in favour of changing our position on baptism to make the motion themselves. This would have avoided the perception that National Council has already taken a favourable position on the issue and maintained the perception of being unbiased.
Secondly, the perception of being unbiased would have also been strengthened if they had allowed the Churches to offer their own views and arguments on the issue rather than bringing in “many of our best theologians” to write the paper “Considerations for the Membership of non-immersed baptized believers in the Fellowship Baptist Churches.” At the same time, I understand the difficulty the National Council would have found itself in; they could not ignore the issue, but allowing the Churches to bring the motion and the argument for the change might possibly have resulted in an examination of the issue that was less rigorous than it deserved.
After all, it would seem that even finding an appropriate title for the paper was difficult, when you consider that the title itself is an oxymoron. It is tantamount to titling the paper “Considerations for the Membership of non-immersed, immersed believers in the Fellowship Baptist Churches.”
The paper states on the first page that the issue revolves around the following question, “Is baptism by immersion a biblical condition of membership?’ My difficulty with this question is that I believe it is the wrong question. Rather, I would be inclined to ask, “Is obedience to the clear teaching of Scripture a biblical condition of membership?” I ask that question because I believe that baptism is an act of obedience, and one that can cause some folks considerable discomfort. I believe this discomfort comes primarily for two reasons; one is a lack of understanding the teaching of Scripture regarding baptism, and the second is a fear of obedience.
While I understand the need to put a human face on the issue and the struggle that some people might have with being “re-baptized,” I find the two stories supplied in the paper inadequate in their conclusions. On the one hand, the stories help us see how emotion on the part of people is an element that cannot be ignored; these are real people with real feelings. On the other hand, how people feel about an issue, although important, is not the measure of truth.
If, as a believer, I allow my feelings to dictate my actions, I would be living as an addict to several sins, and obedience would be the farthest thing from my mind. But, by the grace of God, the truth of Scripture transforms me as the Holy Spirit applies that truth to my life and as I respond with obedience to that truth. This is the way Christians should live. However, this transformation does not happen instantly. It requires time as a person is progressively sanctified. This process requires both a knowledge of the truth, and also the willingness to obey the truth revealed.
In section 4 of the paper entitled, “Understanding the Human Element in the Membership and Baptism Issue” we read two stories. The first story of Steve and Cheryl illustrates the initial emotional difficulty that Cheryl had with being “re-baptized” but also demonstrates how proper teaching had its desired effect. She finally arrived at the place where she was willing to be baptized. It would seem that the truth overcame Cheryl’s initial emotional response and she responded with obedience.
The second story of John and Leanne does not work out this way. We read how John and Leanne grew progressively more emotional and how in a matter of months this couple decided to leave the Church even though they “felt” like God had brought them to that Church. In the story, this couple also “felt” that “it would go against their conscience to be baptized again.”
Normally, I would teach that someone should not go against their conscience. However, when the person’s conscience is telling them something that is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, I would argue that their conscience must ultimately submit to Scripture.
I would suggest that this failure to allow Scripture to dictate their actions led to their unwillingness to obey Scripture and be baptized. In a situation like this, I would be very reluctant to have a person who is unwilling to obey Scripture to become a member.
In commenting on the section, “Section 5. Amid the Differences, what do we agree on?” I have no desire to be disagreeable but there are a number of assumptions being made. I will not highlight those, but will say that the last point seems to be a contradiction of the whole premise of this paper.
“Together we believe in the practice of believer’s baptism by immersion. We affirm that adherents to both views are committed to the practice of believer’s baptism by immersion.”
How can anyone be committed to the practice of believer’s baptism by immersion and yet advocate that somehow believers should not be required to obey this command by the Lord?
The two issues that are highlighted in “Section 6. Historical Considerations of Theological Differences in the Fellowship” are Eschatology and Communion.
Differences in eschatology are referred to here, about which the paper states,
“The majority of both camps held its position to be very important. This is necessary to be reminded of in our day when this issue is less prominent.”
Although eschatology may have been important to that generation, it still remains that there are no commands in Scripture demanding obedience to any particular view of eschatology, while immersion clearly is commanded. Obedience to any biblical command should be a requirement for anyone seeking Church membership.
As a result, I see the issue of eschatology as one of opinion while baptism is clearly commanded in Scripture, with the form of baptism being indicated in every reference to it. Admittedly, in stating this, I do not see sprinkling or pouring as a substitute for immersion and therefore do not view these as baptism at all.
The question of communion that is presented here also seems to be an issue that has little if any bearing on this question of baptism, in that, as stated in the paper, there was no universally enforced practices among either the Regular Baptists or the Independents. To this I would add, that there is no command regarding who may participate in communion other than it be reserved for believers. 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.
I have two responses to the question, “Section 7: Is baptism by immersion a biblical condition of membership?”
“That Believer’s Baptism by Immersion must not be a Prerequisite for Membership in a Fellowship Baptist Church provided that some form of believer’s baptism has been experienced.”
In this section we find the following statement: “We affirm that baptism by immersion is the mode normally defined in Scripture and we continue to advocate that this be our practice.”
I cannot help but find this anything but a very weak statement of the reality of what we find in Scripture. I say this because “baptism by immersion” is not only the “normal” mode defined in Scripture, it is the only mode defined in Scripture. The use of the word “normal” would suggest that some other mode, other than immersion, is also found in Scripture, but we know that this is not the case.
We are asked this question, “Why this baptismal practice and is there any indication in Scripture for baptism by affusion (pouring) or sprinkling?”
The question that is asked regarding, “Is there any indication in Scripture for baptism by affusion (pouring) or sprinkling?” is never actually answered. Instead of going to Scripture, the writer refers to the work by A.R. Cross: Baptism and the Baptists:
“Though the original mode adopted by the earliest Baptists was affusion and it is unclear precisely when immersion was adopted, by 1642 it was being advocated by the General Baptists. While comparatively few Baptist authors have acknowledged this historical fact, much Baptist writing has given the impression that Baptists have always practised immersion and for the overwhelming majority of Baptists, it is true to say that the only legitimate form of baptism is immersion.”
It strikes me as odd to attempt to answer the question “is there any indication in Scripture for baptism by affusion (pouring) or sprinkling?” in this manner. I suppose the total lack of any Scriptural evidence for any form of baptism other than immersion would force one to seek almost anything that would suggest that it was “done in the past” as a justification for doing it now.
The fact that this book is examining a time when Baptists were finding their theological feet and separating from the theology and practices of the Church of England, should cause us to see that they were coming out of the erroneous theology and practices of their time, specifically baptism by affusion or sprinkling, into the Biblical theology and practice of immersion, which they finally adopted: “by 1642 it (immersion) was being advocated by the General Baptists.”
This short jaunt into our history can hardly be viewed as a viable argument to alter our present practices in favour of one that accommodates the errors that previous generations came out of.
The story of the Philippian Jailer Acts 16:23-40 is also referred to with the purely speculative statement, “the jailer and his household may have been baptized by another mode than immersion—perhaps by affusion/pouring.”
This offers absolutely no help and in fact is completely contrary to what the text does tell us:
“At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.” (Acts 16:33)
Simply taking this text at face value would mean that we should understand this to mean they were immersed. After all that is what the word means. Anything else can be nothing other than adding to the text we have.
We read the following:
“What constitutes ‘re-baptism’ and should we practise this?”
“But Baptists do not ‘re-baptize’ the already believer baptized as a normal practice because this would be unscriptural, arrogant and demeaning of the ordinance and say wrong things about Christ and his Church. We want to be careful lest we get the form right, but the function wrong. We are constrained to accept believer’s baptism. We cannot treat such a believer’s baptism cavalierly.”
My question to those statements would be, “Why should we not baptize those who have never been baptized in a manner that Scripture ordains rather than tradition?” In order to arrive at a place where we can accuse someone of re-baptizing, we must first agree that the original form of baptism, in this case sprinkling or pouring, is an acceptable form to begin with.
In the summary of this part of the paper the third bullet point states, “Charity may demand that we not ask believers to violate their conscience by submitting to a second confessional baptism.”
My response is this. If being baptized by immersion violates anyone’s conscience, they need to realize that their conscience must be shaped by the truth of Scripture, rather than forcing the teaching of Scripture to submit to their conscience.
The issue is, “Shall we obey the command of Christ as He intended or shall we obey the command in a way that pleases us?” Although keeping a clean conscience is important for a believer, when our conscience moves us to violate the clear teaching of Scripture, then our problem is with our conscience and not with Scripture.
The fourth bullet in the summary states, “A Christian congregation can be a genuine Church without being an ideal Church.”
On the surface this seems to be not only true, but also quite reasonable. The problem is that we are called by the Lord to be obedient to His commandments.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)
“‘Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.’ Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.’” (John 14:21-24)
Obedience to His commands would include :
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Therefore, when we are made aware of our failure in regards to our practice, surely as obedient servants wouldn’t we desire to make it right?
As Christians we should be constantly growing in our understanding and obedience. This is normal as we are transformed by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit who applies it to our hearts.
Given this truth, why would a disciple who wanted to be obedient balk at being baptized in the manner which not only Scripture, but Jesus Himself, called for. One would think when a person was properly instructed regarding baptism, they would desire to make it right and I believe that as Fellowship Baptists, we should expect as much.
9. Practical Ramifications
of Hybrid Membership
Dr. Rick Baker, Oshawa, Ontario
Along with the significant body of linguistic evidence in support of baptism being the transliteration of immersion, there is plenty of practical wisdom to question the advisability of promoting hybrid membership. There are at least five major considerations where practical foresight needs to be granted at least companion status to the strength of the theological case: 1) the assurance made by National Council that baptism by immersion-only will continue as the sole practice of Fellowship Churches, 2) the claim by National Council that membership transfer difficulties is of the same theological magnitude as eschatological differences, 3) silence concerning the fact that hundreds of Fellowship Churches will have constitutions and By Laws that in intent will not be in compliance with FEBCC Affirmation of Faith on the core definition of our redefined ecclesiology, 4) silence concerning the incongruities of a new generation of baptist (non-immersed) transfers assuming leadership roles as deacons, pastors, and national council leaders baptized by a mode other than the so-called required practice of the Churches they are called to lead, and 5) the confusion in the pew over the apparent hypocrisy in claiming an exclusive exegetical posture on baptism on one hand while accommodating, as ongoing exceptions, an entirely different position with certain people.
First, it is incredibly difficult to imagine that a Baptist movement, willing to loosen its fixed hold on the praxis of a core doctrine thereby granting equal validity to multi-modal baptism among its membership, can also assure Churches that same movement can guarantee an unenforceable promise that Fellowship Churches will continue to practice baptism of believers by immersion only. Without entrenching an “immersion-only” praxis By Law to accompany our shared Affirmation of Faith, any promise made to Fellowship Churches that immersion baptism will continue as our shared practice is disingenuous. There is no reason to believe that Fellowship Churches will continue to practice the baptism of believers by immersion only should Fellowship ecclesiology be redefined to be a collection of multi-modal baptized believers.
Second, the prescriptive ordinance of baptism has little comparison in theological stature to the descriptive nature of eschatology. The task of teaching eschatological possibilities bears little resemblance to the responsibility of bringing the weight of Christ’s commands to bear on God’s people. To give the impression that membership transfer difficulties between Churches of hybrid members and immersion-only members will be no more challenging than membership transfer between Churches having different eschatological differences is at best naïve. Descriptive eschatology is not the same test of fellowship as core prescriptive ecclesiology commissioned to be practiced by Christ’s own words. The future of our movement will include more frustration, confusion, and hard feelings if we fail to preserve the common membership franchise as it relates to baptismal praxis. In effect it just passes the problem along to the next Church. How sad to make transfer from outside of the Fellowship easier by making intramural transfer a greater hardship to the existing Fellowship family. All of us understand the sacrifices necessary for salvation; many of us have no idea why the pain for transfer growth.
Third, thousands of Canadian Fellowship Baptists take great delight in their shared ecclesiology and have entrenched that shared doctrine in constitutions and bylaws that often require high percentage approvals to change. The majority of people in the Fellowship Churches are members because they have a high view of our particular doctrine and praxis. A large percentage of Churches will have no likelihood of succeeding in complying with National changes even if local Church leadership wants to pursue unity in this cause. For many leaders the cost of upsetting the historic position of the local Church for minimal, if any, perceived Church growth probabilities makes the risk reward reality a non-starter. On the other hand many faithful Fellowship Baptists, in having to continue to steward historic constitutions, will find non-compliance with the ecclesiology of their beloved Fellowship perpetually unsettling. Further, this new tolerance of non-compliant affirmations of faith at the local Church level will give precedence to future disunity of theology. So, although no Church will be obliged to change its membership practice, failure to do so disconnects that Church from the National vision and Affirmation of Faith that Church is allegedly aligned to. Are those Churches to believe they have been granted an ethical waiver? Some will have to leave due to integrity and ethical considerations alone, sadly concluding that the local Church no longer shares the ecclesiology of the National movement. The proposal is really asking to redefine our ecclesiology and then teach as if we disagree with that redefinition. Most of us are Fellowship Baptists because we don’t believe in doing things like that.
Fourth, thought needs to be given to the probability that transferees baptized by a mode other than immersion will begin to assume roles of leadership within local Fellowship Churches. These leaders and shapers of the “new” Fellowship will not have a passionate hold on baptism by immersion and will be unlikely stewards of immersion-only as the promised positional mode of baptism of Fellowship Church baptisms. It is possible that non-immersed men could become pastors and National council members who will surely find it disingenuous to be non-negotiable custodians of our baptism position. How can a pastor, baptized by a mode other than immersion, call his congregation to baptism by immersion with conviction? How can one lead with convictions where he has not been and is not going. It is difficult to be convinced that our historically held position can be stewarded into the next decades by member leaders baptized by alternate modes.
Fifth, one would like to believe that a benchmark distinctive of Fellowship Churches is a relentless resolve to take God’s word seriously—to be doers of God’s word and not hearers or academicians of alternative interpretations only. The proposal before us is about to set up an incongruity between what will be definitively taught and what will be permissively accepted. It will not escape the scrutiny of a generation committed to transparency and authenticity that one thing is taught but is not held to as an every time application. When the young person questions a parent on the baptism application taught from the pulpit and discovers that the parent has been admitted to full fellowship by a different application, should it not be assumed that the incongruity between pulpit declarations and political applications will be spiritually unhealthy? Can it not be envisioned that resolve to take God’s word seriously will be dealt a severe blow? If this window is to open, for the sake of the need to accurately applying the Scriptures, it will actually be unhealthy to teach immersion-only baptism as the preferred application.
In summary, the decision placed before the Fellowship is framed as a redefining of our shared ecclesiology and an incongruous application of a word that has a definite fixed meaning. Those who have settled their ecclesiology, and who hold to verbal plenary inspiration believe that associating with the Fellowship is predicated on the leadership’s preservation of these shared values. The artificial tampering with carefully crafted theological and historic Affirmations of Faith poses not only a theological quandary for many, but a real practical one as well. To agree to the change as proposed will force Churches into a new realm of unintended and unpredictable consequences that are practical, ethical, and theological. When one is voluntarily moving into a new family culture, it is most common for all parties to assume that the incoming additions embrace the practices of the culture they have preferred to embrace. The Church is to be multi-racial, multi-generational; there is no Holy Writ warrant to be multi-theological—especially in so core a doctrine to the Baptist family as BAPTISM.
10. The Issue Is Baptism
Dr. Gordon Belyea, Bowmanville, Ontario
The matter at hand, that of permitting Churches to admit into membership those who have as believers experienced a rite of “baptism” that does not correspond to the biblical command and example, has been cast as a matter of “baptism” on the one hand (what can we accept in terms of mode?), on the other, as a matter of membership (whom may a Fellowship Church admit into its membership?). We do well to disentangle the two, as much as is possible, that we may speak and pray with most clarity on the subject before us.
Can we discuss these two interrelated matters separately, akin to severing the trials of two accused in the courts, and say that our question regards membership exclusively? In other words, are we dealing with matters of local Church autonomy and the freedom of conscience of the potential member, his sense of belonging and the assembly’s wishing to have him belong, as long as he feels himself, whatever the mode, to have been “baptized”? Are we dealing with two cherished and biblical beliefs, the independence of the local Church under Christ and the freedom of the believer’s individual conscience to be bound by nothing but the Word of God, upon which Word only he can stand and do no other, before which technical questions of mode must cede ground? Does the Church—or the believer—have the authority to define by the standard of individual sentiment and satisfaction what constitutes obedience to the Lord’s command?
The matter cannot solely be about membership, about a Church’s freedom to admit whom it pleases: for we are none of us alone before Christ. (Romans 14:7) Freedom to do as one pleases, as an individual or as a Church, is only legitimate when it pleases Christ. Thus freedom to enter into Church membership and freedom to admit to Church membership must be contingent on both believer and Church walking in accordance with the Lord’s commandment; and inherent in this Word, this command, is the need for the believer to repent and be immersed, and for the Church to go and immerse, respectively. A Christian and his Church are only pleasing to Christ to the degree that they love and please Christ; and such pleasing and such love are shown by keeping his commandments. (1 John 5:2-3) Thus the command to immerse in accordance with the dominical example and teaching is not incidental to membership of a Church or an individual, but is rather the foundational issue in this case, and that upon which any question of membership must take its bearing.
To discuss membership, we must discuss immesion. To discuss immersion, we must look and cleave to the Lord’s example, command, and the Scripture’s application of this ordinance to our life in Christ. Our first exposure to immersion in the New Testament is at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry, at the immersion of the Lord himself in obedience to the Father’s command. At this point he is acclaimed by our Father and testified of by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:13-17) Immersion points to the Lord himself. In Matthew’s gospel, this ordinance also closes out the account of our Lord’s earthly ministry, as Jesus commands the Church to go and make disciples, immersing them into the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19-20) Immersion points to the Lord’s sovereign authority.
The Apostle Paul casts and defines our union with Christ and the new life in terms of the Lord’s immersion. (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27) Immersion only points to us after it has first pointed to the Lord’s death and resurrection, and their transforming effects. He then speaks of the symbolic acts of the Church in terms of immersion—the crossing of the Red Sea; and of the Lord’s Table—the manna and water in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4) Immersion points to what we have left behind to follow Christ, not what we wish to keep. Peter describes repentance as accompanied by immersion and union to the Church. (Acts 2:38-48) Immersion calls us to leave and to cleave in Christ. He then defines our answer of a good conscience as being expressed in immersion, (1 Peter 3:18-22) such immersion being described in connection with Noah’s escape from judgement in the Flood. Immersion is enclosure in the deliverance that God himself has declared.
Immersion is always first about Christ, not about us or the Church’s authority. Indeed, it can only truly be about us and our good if it is first about our Lord Jesus. And it is as great an error to isolate membership and obedience from immersion as it is to isolate immersion from the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and our life in union with him in them. Membership, in the terms of 1 Corinthians 12:12ff, is itself contingent on the Spirit in whom we were immersed into the one body. It is worth noting that one of the marked differences between the first Baptists and their dissenting separatist brethren, was the focus on immersion, not covenant, as defining belonging to the Church. Clear obedience to a simple commandment outweighed personal adherence to a Church-derived agreement. To assert in our current debate that we are dealing with matters of Church or individual autonomy, even to state that we seek growth and unity by redefining the Church vis-à-vis immersion and re-jigging our practice of admission to membership to be sensitive to the needs of others, even by pronouncement of the Church or Churches themselves, takes the focus off of Christ and his explicit example and command. Immersion is, by divine act and word, an explicit measure of submission to the Lord’s will and of teaching the Lord’s way, as defined by the Lord Jesus himself.
The Lord has delight in our obeying his voice rather than our sacrifices, and in heeding rather than offering what we think is best. (1 Samuel 15:22) What has been revealed clearly is for us to keep, not to quibble at. (Deuteronomy 29:29) No Church or individual autonomy in terms of membership, no desire for growth or openness, can ever be allowed to redefine the Lord’s clear command, whatever we may feel our intentions to be. And when these intentions are mixed with expressions of personal or corporate autonomy, we need be doubly cautious, questioning our hearts. (Jeremiah 17:9)
Membership, the Church’s act by which we seek to recognise through the local Church those whom the Lord has called to himself, must always be exercised in subordination to the actual word and act of Christ. This word and act, at the beginning and at the end of his ministry, was the immersion of those whom God was calling. This word and act as proclaimed in the gospel, is inseparable from the command of the penitent to be immersed. This gospel, as seen in the new life of the believer, cannot be sundered from the death and resurrection of Christ, to whom our union is portrayed in immersion. Our response to this in the life of our Church and fellowship must first be to follow the Lord’s clear command and example, instead of seeking to please what we might think he desires. Immersion, and our obedient reception of this ordinance, is the matter at hand.
11. The Limits of Autonomy
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
Baptists are for the autonomy of the local Church. To us there is no higher court of appeal than the Church itself. But what ought to happen when various Churches are sensing there should be something dealt with at the collective level? We are separate and collective at the same time. How that works out is very important.
Grass Roots Requests
There should never be a “we can’t talk about that” rule. It is a positive thing when people want to discuss an issue and advocate for it. We are on very dangerous ground if we adopt a code of silence demanding that people get in line with the official position of the day, whatever that may be. That informal sort of gag order has destroyed ministries and even countries. Historically we have been a people of liberty where we are encouraged to have opinions and speak our minds without fear of being ostracized from the group. Trying to shut ideas and facts out of discourse is a sign of an emerging abusive environment.
We expect the people we appoint as volunteers or employ as our representatives to show leadership and defend our historic positions not because they are the “company men” but because they affirm our historic positions in their minds and hearts. If they don’t agree on issues beyond the Affirmation of Faith we would expect them to lead us by speaking out for change. If they don’t agree with the Affirmation of Faith they will of course do the honourable thing and resign. We expect them to take our stand. We don’t expect them to recommend changes that lower the standards.
If someone in our midst wants to espouse something that is outside of our range of normal there are degrees of possibility but not on the foundational issues represented in our Affirmation of Faith. For example, if a person in our family of Churches wants to win people over to “open theism” how should we respond on a personal basis? And then how should we respond on a collective basis should that person find a growing group of supporters?
At the personal level the individual ought to have the opportunity to speak to whomever they want on the subject. However, there are limits that are imposed by collective agreement. For example, every Fellowship Baptist Church has agreed to this expectation via our By-laws: “Member Churches, Directors, Officers, Committee members, employees and volunteers of the Fellowship must at all times teach, agree and demonstrate agreement with and sign when required by the National Council the Fellowship’s Affirmation of Faith.” And our Affirmation of Faith simply says, “We believe in one God, Creator of all, holy, sovereign, eternal, existing in three equal Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The meaning of one word there is significant—“sovereign.” In the case of the “open theist” there is not only some careful understanding of that one word to consider, there is the whole history of how its meaning has been applied in our family of Churches. It is probable that the individual will find a place to serve that is a better fit once they understand the Fellowship Affirmation of Faith.
We need each other. We need the correction or caution others in our extended family can provide.
If there is a movement for change in our Affirmation of Faith, we have decided that it needs to be on the initiative of an entire local Church and not one person in that Church whatever their role. Thus there must be documented proof the Church wants the change. The details are spelled out in the By-laws about that documentation. That one Church must find a full 10% of the other Churches in the Fellowship willing to put forward their documentation agreeing with that change. This is not the initiative of pastors alone; it is the initiative of entire local Churches. This assures that the local Church maintains its integrity and autonomy and is not being inadvertently led by one strong person—or even worse—one strong person claiming they speak for their Church when they don’t—be it intentional or unintentional.
Then it needs to be understood from the outset that the 10% of Churches will still have to convince the necessary portion of the other Churches to join with them. Their original 10% of the Churches would need 73% of the remaining Churches to give them the necessary 75% for the motion to pass. 1 Those additional Churches are not required to submit supporting documentation but the delegates are bound to represent the will of their Church.
It always seems unfair to the losing side when a majority want something but their majority isn’t strong enough to effect any change. So for a moment let’s just suppose there are 10% of the Churches submitting the documentation for a change. That is required to put the motion before the whole Fellowship. Further suppose that the change is voted for by 60% of the Churches. That is not good enough to create the change; it is good enough to create discouragement and perhaps even division.
What then happens if the National Council initiates the change? Well first off, they can’t present a change that lowers our stand in any way because our By-laws clearly state each member must support the current Affirmation of Faith. They could propose an amendment to add to or to clarify our position. They may do so without documentation from 10% of the Churches but they should only even start such a discussion of change if there is such widespread support. It is still true that the change would have to have a 75% vote in favour to trigger the change. Therefore there is no point in starting a discussion to change the Affirmation of Faith until they could project that it would carry.
It is a very weighty matter in the Fellowship to propose such a change to the Affirmation of Faith. It isn’t a simple matter of a show of hands and getting a simple majority.
We have so much to accomplish together in Canada and around the world. Every minute invested in failing causes draws us away from that mission. We must be very careful to be sure the will of the collective is in overwhelming support of any doctrinal change or we are investing precious resources of time, attention and money that we may later regret.
The Autonomy of the Local Church
Whenever one Church relates to even one other Church they have to determine the boundaries and the cooperation intentions. Naturally then, when you have many Churches the level of agreement, autonomy and boundaries come into play.
In terms of the Fellowship there are two over-riding documents defining the National engagement. There are various separate documents covering the relationship between the local Church and its Regions. A Church becomes a member of the National by virtue of joining its Region.
It is the intention of all that none of the Regional documentation should be in contradiction to the National documentation. But then, the local Church also has its structure and documents. None of the Regional or National documents dictate to the local Church their own documentation within certain boundaries.
Churches are restricted to one degree or another to function within the framework of their Regional and National commitments. Within the Fellowship there has been concerted effort to leave as much as possible up to the Church. However, from the National perspective there are two over-riding documents. All Churches and Regions agree to these.
The first document is the Affirmation of Faith. Compared to the Affirmation of Faith or Doctrinal Statements of other groups ours is very short. Our founders made their honest attempt to boil it down to the irreducible minimum. In the Affirmation of Faith, it is asserted in speaking of the local Church we have agreed together that, “We believe it is a sovereign, independent body, exercising its own divinely awarded gifts, precepts and privileges under the Lordship of Christ, the Great Head of the Church.” This provides for great latitude.
At the same time, we have a longer structuring document called By-laws. In those By-laws we have agreed to the following statement. “Member Churches, Directors, Officers, Committee members, employees and volunteers of the Fellowship must at all times teach, agree and demonstrate agreement with and sign when required by the National Council the Fellowship’s Affirmation of Faith.”
The boundary has been carefully set that all the key players, including the Churches are only autonomous or sovereign to the degree that they meet that standard. They can freely agree to more than what the Affirmation of Faith states but they cannot agree to less. That is, they cannot agree to doctrine that in any way diminishes or contravenes what is said in the Affirmation of Faith and still in good conscience remain in the Fellowship. The Church is still sovereign in that it can disassociate with the Fellowship by simply declaring it is doing so if it finds itself in disagreement. On the other side, the Fellowship is under an obligation to seek remedy if it is clear a Church no longer believes as we as a Fellowship believe.
It is of note that the By-laws also are very firm on the role of Directors (National Council Members) when it comes to the Affirmation of Faith. Directors cease to be directors at the moment they fail to agree and demonstrate agreement with the Affirmation of Faith. (See Appendix B for relevant By-laws.)
In the case of baptism our Affirmation of Faith is clear as it stands. “Baptism, which is the immersion of the believer in water, whereby he obeys Christ’s command and sets forth his identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.” There is no room for any definition of baptism which excludes the immersion of the believer in water. Those who affuse believers see the symbolism as pouring out of the Holy Spirit. There is no biblical evidence for that imagery. Further, the Affirmation states, “We believe that a Church is a company of immersed believers …” Within our framework there is no space for an unimmersed believer to be within the Church as a company. This is the definition for our purposes. But that was never intended to deny the word “Church” to describe other bodies who believe differently. They just can’t be Fellowship Baptists.
In more general terms we would probably all agree that a Church could be a Church if it meets regularly and is bound together in an accepted order with a more or less permanent and relatively stable set of relationships. We would further hope that such a group would be united according to the Word of God as understood by them and rightly related to God through Christ by the Holy Spirit and to each other as members of one community. But we would agree that when the lead singer in the band says in the arena concert to the crowd of people, “We are gathered here as the local Church!” that he is out of bounds.
Every group of Churches has boundaries. We do too. We have to set the boundary somewhere. If we believe that baptism is immersion, then it is only immersion. The sincerity of others is not in question. But we must conclude they are sincerely wrong if baptism is immersion.
Our Affirmation of Faith doesn’t speak in specific terms of how one becomes a member of the local Church. For example, it doesn’t say that there must be a vote of the membership or of anyone else for that matter to receive a member. That is left up to the Church to decide who is included and at what point they become included as members or for that matter if there is a membership list at all. What was decided and has held true now for many decades is that this company of believers have all been immersed.
Now the implications of the foregoing are up to the Churches. Virtually every Church has people who are official members and others who belong to the Church family in the general sense. Most Churches choose to limit the participation of those who are not official members. The limits could include oversight roles, teaching roles and financial stewardship roles but again that is not defined on our Affirmation of Faith and is therefore up to the Church to decide in whatever way it seems appropriate. But that doesn’t create a loophole for unimmersed people because the immersed believers in the local Church could never with a united spirit give up their beliefs to, for example, a pastor who holds another view.
In the two plus decades prior to the beginning of the Fellowship there was turmoil amongst Baptists with doctrinal controversy emanating from theological institutions. Several of our founders paid a big price to get us started. Based on their principles, some resigned from their Churches, gave up their Church owned homes and even forfeited pensions. There is no record that baptism was an issue but the authority of the Word of God was. They were not willing to associate in a group that did not take a high view of Scripture. Some lost their pulpits, parsonages and pensions to take that stand. Imagine that. They lost their income, their family home and the investment in their pensions because they wanted to stand firm. That is the stuff that got us started. Would they have fought for an immersion view of baptism? History would point to an affirmative answer because there were other groups of Churches in Canada with open or non-immersionist views they could have been adopted into with rights and privileges. They did not. They formed Baptist groups that ultimately became our Fellowship.
The Value of By-laws
The wording of structuring documentation of any kind causes some eyes to glaze over. Who has ever read the BNA Act in Canada? And in recent days, who has read our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Some—not many. However, we are glad they exist even though at times they cause some political wrangling in our country. Who has any idea how many amendments have been made to the Constitution of the United States? Thankfully a quick Google search will tell you there are 27.
Even though some chafe over some things in those documents most citizens are glad they are there. They do provide definition for the country.
Some of us grew up in Churches where there was no Constitution or By-laws. Our Churches seemed to do quite well without them by operating on the doctrine of precedence. “The way we did it is the way we do it until we decide to change it.” But what if the stakeholders don’t know the way it was done in the past? Most Churches today have found it useful to create their own rules and document them. Some have attempted to ensconce everything and others seek to stick to the basics.
The Fellowship now has a set of By-laws that are about 12,500 words in length. That compares to the Affirmation of Faith at less than 700 words. It is interesting to note that at most times most people won’t bother to read or refer to the By-laws until that person needs clarification. Then it could be deemed by those who don’t want to bother with the By-laws, that by referring to a portion of the By-laws that the clarification so defined is an irritation. Actually, the Fellowship By-laws are not that complicated even though the document is over 30 pages.
By their nature, By-laws and Constitutions are designed to be resistant to change. Therefore, there are usually amending formulas to follow.
In the case of the Fellowship—without going into the nuances here—it takes a Special Resolution to change any By-law and that must pass with a 66.7% majority. There are rules about how that Special Resolution can be formed and the notification to the members conducted. If 5% of the Churches meet the standards to bring a change to the By-laws, they can do so as long as they follow the rules in the By-laws to bring their Church documentation to the issue. That is for all the By-laws themselves. However, the By-laws themselves require that a change to the Affirmation of Faith requires a raised standard to 10% (not 5%) of the Churches and can only pass with a 75% (not 66.7%) majority.
Clearly changing any By-law or in particular the Affirmation of Faith portion of the By-laws is a very serious matter. Ordinary resolutions only require a 50% majority to pass. Those are the votes that do not change a By-law. Ironically, these are the ones that tend to pass with 100%. Adding to or taking away from any By-law is quite another matter. But changing the Affirmation of Faith is the most resistant to change element of who we decided we were. It has been said that our Affirmation of Faith isn’t etched in stone. That is totally true. But it is also true that we must have a very high level of agreement at the Church level before any change will pass.
We have to understand why these rules were agreed to in the first place. There are probably many reasons. One is that we set the course in the first place to keep us from revisiting the rules until there would be overwhelming support to do so. If there isn’t a groundswell for change the change is almost impossible to effect. Adding something is hard even when a strong majority want it added. Taking things away is even harder and certainly cannot be done by a vocal minority. The vocal minority won’t change the rules and shouldn’t bother trying if they are wise. That is why we set the boundaries where they are in the first place. No amount of time trying to woo Churches into a change will meet with low hanging fruit. That is just the way it is and always has been.
When resistance comes—and it will always come—it is good to have the assurance that the fences are clearly defined. When someone joins our Fellowship they should only do so knowing full well that while their participation is always welcome, we have a definition of who we are and will likely continue to be for decades to come. That definition was carefully thought through and debated until substantial agreement was reached.
It is possible someone who wants a change will read the foregoing as stonewalling. That is not the intention. The documents themselves create the boundary lines, not the one who points out where the boundaries are.
It must be understood that our By-laws state that all member Churches stand by the Affirmation of Faith. Each Church may also restate these beliefs in other words or add other doctrines they hold dear at the local Church level. But it is false to suggest that the proposed change in the Fellowship Affirmation of Faith has no negative impact on the local Church that doesn’t want the change. It does. The Affirmation of Faith would say that immersion is not necessary in some cases. If a Church says immersion is necessary and the Fellowship says it isn’t then there is a discontinuity that totally fragments our movement. Either we are immersionists or we are not.
Never forget that we are in the mind changing business in many doctrines. This, of course, is energized by the Holy Spirit who is the real Convincer. (John 14:15-21; 16:7-15) Why would we doubt the power of the Holy Spirit to convince unimmersed believers they need to obey and be immersed? Why would we ever leave the Holy Spirit out of this?
If the Holy Spirit is in any change we propose we can trust him to bring us to unity of conviction. That will demonstrate itself by a proposal that pleases the whole group as was so in Acts 6:5 on a completely different matter. Our By-laws were framed to ensure that substantial unity prevails.
It is much easier to start something new than it is to reform something that exists. That is not to say that starting something new is easy because it usually isn’t. For the cause of Christ, it may be that other forms of Church structure rise up to spread the Good News. Our Fellowship was formed with high missional intentions but it doesn’t have a right to exist just because it is here today. It could splinter away some day. It could become a mere piece of history. We definitely need a fresh injection and work of the Holy Spirit to thrive into the future. The Fellowship must meet the heart of God and His Word. If in His sovereign grace the Lord chooses to use someone else we welcome such innovation and will rejoice that the work of God prospers. On the other hand, surely we are not willing to agree there is no place for us in His plans.
1 The math here is a bit complicated. Since the 10% of churches asking for the change is actually all or 100% of those churches, the proposal needs a slightly lower percentage from the remaining 90% of the churches to carry the motion.
12. A Flawed and Dangerous Process
René Frey, Saint-Léonard, Montréal, Quebec
Our Fellowship is in a process of deciding whether to stay with immersion only or to allow aspersion and effusion. The process which got us so far down this tortuous road has several flaws.
We speak elsewhere in this book about some of these flaws: 1) the argument that is put forward by National Council that it is the Churches that drove the issue. (It seems to me like the issue was taken over fairly early by Council.), 2) that it is a membership issue rather than a baptism issue (we are convinced it is both), 3) that not enough place has been given to the immersionist only position during National Conference or in the official publications of the Fellowship and 4) that there has not been enough rigour in bringing forth the names of the Churches who wanted this change, as per our By-laws.
I wish to speak briefly about a fairly recently discovered flaw in the process and it is a delicate topic. National Council entrusted Aaron Rock with the role of leading the discussion about the change proposed. This was evident in at least three ways.
In early February, one of the authors of this book became aware that Aaron Rock, the chair of the baptismal investigative committee was removing his Church from the Fellowship. Our author contacted him and confirmed that, indeed, he had been on a two year journey of considering the removal of his Church from the Fellowship and was in fact even presently in noncompliance with the Fellowship baptismal position, and had served notice that his Church was leaving. This author challenged him by email on the most disturbing optics of his agreeing to chair the committee recommending the possibility of changing the Fellowship ecclesiology. It was an apparent conflict of interest, and a disappointing breach of wisdom at the very least. Aaron did not continue to respond to the emails.
Did Aaron sway the momentum of this movement to change our ecclesiology? Certainly, the Thrive article he wrote manifests that he was, at the time of writing, maybe not at the time of publishing, advancing National Council’s process. Aaron mentions in that article how National Council sent out a paper to all Churches entitled, “Consideration for the Membership of non-immersed baptized believers in Fellowship Baptist Churches”. And he continues in the article:“In addition to this document, the National Council, while respecting the diversity of persuasions on this issue, has submitted the following Motion to our Church family:
“Motion: In response to requests by Member Churches, the National Council is giving Notice of Amendment to the Affirmation of Faith by a vote cast at the November 2017 Fellowship National Conference in Toronto to change the words under “The Local Church” from “we believe that a Church is a company of immersed believers” to “we believe that a Church is a company of believers baptized on confession of faith.” All Fellowship Churches will continue to practice the baptism of believers by immersion in water only. “
These are major shifts in our doctrine and practice. It is obvious that Aaron was a prime mover in that process. I believe, however, that National Council was blindsided by his decision to remove his Church from the Fellowship, admittedly already in clear violation of the existing Fellowship baptismal position.
Aaron and his Church have full liberty to leave the Fellowship at any time. But it is highly unusual for someone who is not in compliance with our Affirmation of Faith to be given and certainly to accept to chair one of the Fellowship’s significant committees! If Aaron was considering whether to leave or to stay at the same time that he was leading the process of change to our Affirmation of Faith, there was indeed an irregularity in this whole exercise. If he had an agenda to enlarge our membership base to include non-immersed believers and was not fully committed to stay within the Fellowship, it was not his place to oversee such a momentous sea-change in our association of Baptist Churches.
Polarization and fracture: BC and QC and ROC
The question about membership and baptism before the Fellowship for the last two National Conferences has become more and more polarizing and we are now in danger of fracturing, not just by specific Churches withdrawing here or there on one or the other side of the issue, but whole regions wanting consensus. As regions become stronger, there is a desire for self-definition and a capacity to flex some muscle even if it is not according to the general direction of the other regions or the national perspective.
There are two Regions that seem to have a higher degree of homogeneity on the question. A higher number of Churches in Fellowship Pacific may want the proposed change and in AEBEQ (Quebec) a higher number of Churches may want to stay with the Affirmation of Faith as it stands. The other regions have not been committal to this point.
Some in Fellowship Pacific seems to have been fairly open about the desire for the change. The question is: What happens in the rest of the Fellowship if the change is accepted in Fellowship Pacific? What happens to Churches within the region who object to the change? Does accepting a change which contradicts the present Affirmation of Faith automatically sever the bond with the Fellowship? National Council seems to have communicated to the Regions that they were oversee a process to ascertain the will of its member Churches.
AEBEQ has generally stayed with the historic position of baptism by immersion only. In May 2015, the Regional Council voted unanimously to stay with the present statement of faith whereby “the Church is a company of immersed believers.” This does not, in and of itself, seem to meet the By-law requirement of “objecting” to the change and thereby raising the bar from 75% to 85% of Churches across Canada to vote for the change in order that it pass, but some might interpret it that way.
As for the rest of Canada (ROC), the regions will be having presentations for and against the proposed change starting in April with FEB Central. It is to be desired that all regions, including FEB Pacific and AEBEQ, would have equal time presentations by committed representatives of the two positions, maybe even healthy formal debates.
There are all types of reactions to the positioning of Churches and regions, ranging from indifference, to benign tolerance, to formal withdrawal. One might apply the ancient dictum ascribed to various leaders in Church history, “In essential matters, firmness; in secondary matters, humility; in all things, charity.” For the writers of this resource, the choice is made; this is not a matter of salvation, therefore not a tier one question, But it is not a secondary matter either. Rather it is an essential part of Christ’s great Gospel Commission to us, an unchanging imperative that we immerse the disciples we make throughout all nations until He returns.
The Pandora Effect
I was present on the Skype session of the Study Team tasked to advise National Council concerning the Baptism/Membership Issue. As we wound down and completed our main objective, which was to produce the prototype of the two positions for and against the change proposed, the question came up as to whether or not to advise National Council as to the feasibility of modifying the Affirmation of Faith in other domains than the present issue.
Different opinions were expressed, then came the vote. Nine voted in favour of modifying several other aspects of our Credo. One voted against.
Some wanted to open it up because the language was dated; others wanted to review issues that did not seem important to them. Still others wanted to include some contemporary issues.
I argued that there would never be consensus, once the Affirmation was opened up. The two year debate that has caused us not a little grief is proof that if agreement for a change about membership/baptism cannot seemingly be found, there is little chance we would be able to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.
This time-honoured document is not perfect, but it is the glue that has held us together all these years. With the rise of new loyalties to coalitions and groups outside our Fellowship, the strain on our unity is evident. The temptation is great to revisit the Affirmation of Faith to see if we can redefine ourselves and maybe inject some more inclusiveness.
However, we must resist that inclination. It would only further polarize and balkanize us.
Once we decide that there is sufficient cause to review and amend our creedal statement, we should courageously set in motion our best minds to search for better formulations of our beliefs. However, the most important and essential reason for even considering changing our Statement of Faith is that new Biblical insight has come to light and we need to add, subtract or modify some doctrine.
We need to analyze carefully whether any change proposed serves to preserve the “hard” character of Scriptural doctrine or if it rather softens the initial stand. It is a tenet of textual criticism that the “lectio difficilior” is the best reading. Subsequent emendations tend to soften the better understanding.
The only thing that will be certain if we go ahead with changing the word “immersing” to “baptizing” is that it won’t be long before someone else or a group of Churches will find some part of our Affirmation with which to take issue. Pretty soon, it will be a grab-bag of what to change, how to change it and how much to leave in. Everyone has a list. We faced the issue of the order of the ordinances a few years back. What a relief that we did not continue to explore that modification to our creed. The issue was wisely dropped with no fanfare and we are the better for it. Now, one Church is set to bring forth an amendment that we effect the proposed change without touching the Affirmation of Faith. That is only superficially better. What good is it to leave “immersing” in the Affirmation of Faith and then redefine and enlarge the semantic field of the word “baptize” in a By-law or a footnote or an appeal to the autonomy of local Churches to deal with the issue locally? Open the Pandora’s box by one change to our time-honoured document and it will be open cherry-picking season.
Our courageous forebears paid a heavy price to discover, guard and pass on the precious doctrine and practice of immersion. It is incumbent upon us to take an equally courageous position against opening the Confession of Faith which we have always believed to be anchored to God’s unchanging Word.
This is just the corollary of the previous argument. He who opens the side door of the Church for new members whose experience was earnest and obedient to the light received at that time but did not include faithfulness to the Christ-ordained command to immerse is likely to see other doors. With time, the tendency is to soften the hard edges, to smooth out the offense of Jesus Christ, and to reinterpret the difficult sayings of Scripture. Other issues than the mode of baptism will crop up, whether it is dating a non-believer, worship wars, association with other denominations, the manner of administering the Lord’s Table, same-sex attraction, doctor-assisted suicide etc. There will be new challenges and our response to this particularly important proposal will determine how we go forward in the increasingly complex issues to be faced. It is time to take a stand for the plain and unequivocal meaning of baptism. same-sex attraction, doctor-assisted suicide Any redefinition now will put us on a slippery sidewalk in the future.
Is this the erosion of a high view of Scripture? Methinks I hear someone thinking that this question exaggerates the action envisaged by the pro-change camp. But let’s face the issue with truth in love. When Jerome transliterated the Greek “baptizein” as the Latin “baptizare,” there was probably accomodation to emerging practices of sprinkling, and pouring, when the hundred or so KJV translators transliterated the Greek “baptizein” as the English “baptize,” there was most likely accommodation. Knowing that King James had not been immersed, the translators feared to use the plain meaning of immerse preferring instead to use the esoteric foreign language term which then left the leaway to put the spin one wanted on the term.
The name of the game was to please the customer. Now we are faced with the curious dilemma of a Baptist denomination actually going backwards. Having courageously for over six decades abided by Christ’s Great Commission to immerse and to observe whatsoever he prescribed, we are now toying with going back to the more accommodating word “baptize,” admittedly allowing for supposed “different modes” of the initiatory rite. We know what “baptizō” means. It means immerse. That’s why we are going to keep that mode as the official operational mode, while accepting, at par, members with modes of “baptism” which simply do not exist in the NT. The high view of Scripture suddenly is lowered, stretched, belittled. We use a more fuzzy word because it suits our purpose. This can only bring more negative consequences as we play fast and loose with words and as we begin to reinterpret how Christ bids us to follow Him on the narrow road.
13. Gentle Persuasion Stories
Don Brubacher, Arnstein, Ontario
Theology and practice are fellow travellers in Church life. As Baptists, our position has always been reformational, namely that Church policy and practice must rest firmly on biblical constructs and guided by the practice of Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Church.
Elsewhere in this book will be found exposition of both the biblical doctrine of Believers Baptism and how it was carried out by immersion in the New Testament.
This chapter deals with the practice of immersing those who come to us as believers but who have been poured or sprinkled, sometimes referred to by the misnomer, “re-baptism.” Although everyone would affirm that theological matters take precedence, it seems to the writer that experience, rather than sound doctrine is the driving force behind the proposed change to our positional statement on membership. In personal conversation, the writer heard what seems to be the essential driving force in pastoral experience. It went something like this, “I’m tired of trying to explain to godly, committed Christians who desire to join our membership, that they cannot do so unless they are immersed. It is really hard to make this demand when they have already been “baptized” as a public profession of faith, subsequent to credible conversion.”
This is a moving sentiment that ought to resonate within anyone who has a pastoral heart. But it is a sentiment that will be experienced to some degree in a variety of situations where difficult choices must be made about following Jesus in our culture.
Stories speak volumes to us because we were designed that way. In fact, the whole of Sacred Scripture is a divine story, explaining the glory and grace of God toward his creation, particularly through the person of Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Stories take sterile concepts and render them into living, flesh-and-blood experience.
The common proverb is demonstrably true, that there are at least two sides to every story. In terms of the immersion/membership discussion, there are stories that speak to both sides of the proposed change. It is not hard to find accounts of solid, serving Christians who, when faced with the requirement to be immersed according to biblical teaching and the requirement of our FEBBC policy, decide against and often move on to another Church. There are also stories with similar parameters but the opposite outcome. Namely, the candidate chooses to accept and proceed with the immersion required for membership. (See story #1 in Appendix F.)
Because of the purpose of this book, there are no stories of people who chose not to proceed with immersion. One fine example is story#2 in Appendix F). It is our intent here to include stories representative of those gently persuaded to be biblically “re-baptized” (a misnamed impossibility) by immersion.
Several of the following stories are as reported by pastor-contributors. Some are baptismal testimonies in their own words. All were lightly edited for coherence and space.
Arlene (by John Boyachek)
Arlene was raised in the Mennonite Church and “baptized” by pouring as a teenager. She was married, and had young children when she came to the Emmanuel Baptist Church, Exeter, where I pastored about 20 years ago. Arlene was a strong follower of Christ. I had the joy of “re-baptizing” her so she could become a member. What is interesting is that it was “a non-event!” I recall nothing particularly “special” about that experience. No great struggle. She willingly did it to submit to the authority of the Church and the pattern in Scripture. Her family was also baptized by immersion.
A Couple in Windsor (by Jim Rendle)
While I was at Campbell Baptist Church in Windsor, we had a wonderful Christian family come to us from Northern Ireland. They became a vital part of our Church. But because of their Presbyterian background, they had been sprinkled, not immersed. The husband was a renowned scientist who taught at the University of Windsor and lectured in other parts of the world. He had been very active with InterVarsity in the past and was an outstanding Christian.
They had many friends in our Church and felt they belonged. Yet they were not members and wanted to be. After a few years they came to me and said that even though they had outwardly testified of their faith and felt that they did not need to be “re-baptized,” yet they felt God led them to this Church and they would humbly consent to the requirements for membership.
I vividly remember the time when they were baptized. Only a few close friends knew ahead of time that they were to be immersed. When they stepped into the baptistry, a sense of awe permeated the congregation. What a thrill it was for our people to see this committed couple humbly consent to follow what we believed to be the Biblical method of baptism.
A Couple in Richmond Hill (by David Daniels)
Recently, while I was at Grace Baptist (Richmond Hill), a young couple came to the Church, believers who had recently moved into the area. The husband, a Jewish believer in Jesus had been immersed as a teenaged believer. His wife came from an Italian, Roman Catholic background. She and her mother had come to faith in Christ through a Bible study. When the question of membership at Grace came up, she already knew (from her husband) that she would not be able to join until she had been immersed as a believer. She had, of course, been sprinkled as an infant. She understood our position, but she was not ready to take the step of immersion. Consequently, her husband came into membership without her. Over the next year, she and I had several conversations, and just before I left Grace last summer, she concluded that her infant baptism was not NT baptism. I had the privilege of immersing her and bringing her into membership.
Serge Kouami’s Testimony
I was born in 1974 in Cameroon. My family was animistic so I was not baptized in infancy, but there was a mix of beliefs and we would sometimes go to Church at Christmas. In 1997, when I was 23, a philosophy professor distributed Gideon Bibles and I started to read concerning God’s judgment. It made me scared. I began to attend one of the Churches of the Evangelical Church of Cameroon, which has a Reformed doctrine and practice. During Bible studies, I recognized that I am a sinner and that I should accept Christ as my Saviour. I withdrew to my room and prayed to receive Christ. Two years later, in 2001 in one of the ECC Churches in Yaoundé, I received “baptism” through aspersion (sprinkling) as is their custom. I married Sandrine in 2007 and we came to Canada in 2011. I reflected on the baptism question and continued researching immersion. I was ready to obey the Lord. We went to the Ahuntsic Church with pastors Sylvain Paradis and Dave Dobson.
In 2011, pastor Sylvain made a call for baptism. I didn’t respond immediately, but when he spoke to me, we started discussing it. He asked me why I wouldn’t join the baptismal class. I attended the class and we studied the meaning of the word baptize, which is a transliteration of the word to immerse or plunge. Two or three other Africans were not of a mind to be immersed, but I was convinced and was plunged in the water with six or seven other candidates.
Sandrine Kouami’s Testimony
I was born in 1981. During my first year, my parents “baptized” me by aspersion (sprinkling) according to the ECC custom. Later, in 2003, when I was 23, I was confirmed. During the ceremony, some were being confirmed and others were being “baptized” by aspersion. But I had not personally really been converted spiritually. Soon after, an evangelical pastor encouraged me to attend a prayer group. I received teaching concerning the need for repentance and I accepted Christ as Saviour. My husband was baptized by immersion in Ahuntsic in 2011 but as for me, it was when pastor René Frey asked if there were some who wanted to be immersed according to Christ’s command just before starting the Church plant in Saint-Léonard. I was convinced by the Word that I was obeying Jesus Christ’s command by being immersed now that I had received the light of salvation. We are serving together in the Church plant in Saint-Léonard.
Wendy Solorzano’s Testimony
I was born in Guatemala. From my birth, my mother guided me and brought me up in the Word. We attended an evangelical assembly of the Centro-American Mission. It was through the testimony of my mother and the explanation of a brother of the Church about the Gospel and the love of God that I learned I needed a Saviour. Because I was a sinner, I understood it was Jesus who paid the price by taking my punishment on the cross. I was only ten years old but I remember that moment well. Since that point, I continued to grow in the faith and a few months later, with no preparation course, I went to get “baptized.” For the occasion, a retreat had been planned to an outlying area for communion and the celebration of bautismo, as they called it. The pastor was a visiting pastor from the Missionary Alliance. In Guatemala we sometimes lacked water and it so happened on the day of my bautismo. They nevertheless went ahead and the pastor took a glass of water and we were “baptized” by affusion (pouring) in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The pastor seems to have acted on the inspiration of the moment because though I was not aware of it, immersion was the ordinary way the Mission baptized believers. I remember how happy I was to have obeyed God by my bautismo. Now I could partake of the Lord’s Supper and that filled me with joy.
After we immigrated to Canada, God used great changes in my life to bring me closer to Him and strengthen my faith. I began to serve in the Church and was very involved in the youth group. It was there I met my husband-to-be. We were married when I was twenty and we continued to serve in the Church. Several years after we were married, we left that Church and God led us to l’Église Baptiste Évangélique de Rosemont.
In 2001, we began to attend regularly during five months before deciding to join as members of the Church. When the time came to take the members course, we were asked the question as to how we had been baptized. My husband had been baptized by immersion, and myself by affusion. I saw nothing wrong with that and wondered why the question?
I discovered that the immersion practiced by the Rosemont Church was according to the model prescribed by our Lord. Pastor René told me that even though the experience I had had was in real obedience to the Lord with the light I had received at that time as a ten-year-old girl, that it was important to consider fuller light from the Scriptures now. He asked me if, for the sake of unity of doctrine and practice in the Church, I would be willing to consider being immersed according to Christ’s command. When I heard that at first, I couldn’t understand why my first “baptism” didn’t count.
I recall lovingly being invited to follow the baptismal course in order to better understand what the Scriptures said about baptism. I said to myself that maybe for them my baptism was not according to the NT model but for me it was as real as any other baptism by immersion. I calculated that God must be thinking the same way I did. However, God put the desire in my heart to take the course and to learn a bit more, since I had never had a baptismal course.
At every lesson, I was surprised to see it is clear in the Bible that baptism is a symbol and for the symbol to be significant, it must represent what it signifies, that is the death, burial and resurrection of Lord. I realized by the grace of the Spirit of God within me that I could freely choose to be baptized in the way He commanded in His word. Not in the way men decided for reason X-Y-or-Z or “it doesn’t much matter how, the important thing is just to do it!” No! God ordained baptism. Jesus Christ himself was immersed. My old life is buried when I am plunged into the water and my birth to the new life which I have in Christ is manifested when I come out of the water. Why shouldn’t I want to obey if it is so clear? God gave me through His word the complete and profound conviction that I should proceed to this act of obedience, without fearing what people who knew me would think.
I feel blessed to have been enlightened and taught in the Word concerning my baptism. Even though I had acted out of ignorance, now I am happy to know that I did what God had wanted all along. If by ignorance, I had done something out of the norm concerning marriage or salvation or any other ordinance of God, I would want to act according to greater light, and proceed to obey God.
I rejoice in participating in the ministry of evangelism in the Church, and when someone makes a profession of faith, we start the baptismal course right away. I say to that person that the word baptize means immerse, that our God pays attention to details and He wants us to follow the spirit and the letter of this ordinance fully, not just partially.
Glory to God for His grace and His love, for His word which is a light to our path to guide us.
Angelin Dossou’s Testimony
I was born in Cotonou in Benin in a Christian Methodist family.
I am a civil engineer by profession and I came to live in Montreal with my family fourteen months ago. Since early childhood, I was initiated into the Christian life in my family and Church. But I made a personal commitment to follow Jesus at a time when my family was going through a rather hard time. I was about ten years old and I was constantly ill, unable to get to school.
It was during one of those prayer meetings that I accepted the Lord Jesus into my life. I had become aware that I was a sinner bound for hell and that the only way to escape was to receive the Lord Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Then I confessed my sins and committed to following Him until the end of my days. From that point on, the Lord changed my life. Fear and doubt disappeared. I gained assurance and confidence in my Creator. Also the teaching I received at Sunday School and from my parents, which I hadn’t had much use for in the past, now became more meaningful and important to me.
Later, I was “baptized” by aspersion (sprinkling) in my local Church as was customary. As time passed, the Lord continued to reveal himself more and more to me through His word and His work in my life. About ten years ago, I began to ask questions about the notion of Christian baptism. I asked myself if the baptism by aspersion which I received was really in conformity with the one recommended by the Lord Jesus. I freely admit that for a long time I avoided the question by telling myself that what was essential for me was that I am saved.
But during my meditations on the subject, the Lord finally convinced me. If He saved me, what is stopping me from obeying Him in all things? Had He not said in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”? It was then that I decided to conform to His recommendation in asking to be immersed today.
I thank God who permitted and planned this event through His love. As well, I will engage to serve Him with you, the community of Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Thank-you all and God bless you.
Anonymous (by Gordon Freeland)
Here is an instance where re-immersion has been requested by a believer. A trusted Spirit filled believer requested a repeat immersion because over the years he recognized that his immersion at age thirteen actually preceded his conversion experience by six to eight years. For nearly 50 years he had put the nagging memory behind him,but at a greatly advanced age he requested immersion again in order to complete the obedience in the biblical order. Though he was already a deacon in a Baptist Church his request was honoured and the event was a great truth lesson to the Church and to himself.
As the writer engaged in dialogue with pastors, and gathered these stories, several more general thoughts emerged.
Surprisingly few stories were available that pertain directly to the matter under discussion. Admittedly, the writer’s research did not reach all that far. He personally contacted at least 24 pastors in 14 Churches for stories. These were mostly older pastors with many years of experience, but even so, most said they did not have experience of the kind leading to the proposed change before the FEBCC. The scarcity of such stories may reflect the struggle many have culturally or theologically to proceed with immersion, coming from denominations that do not require immersion after profession of faith, for Church membership.
On the other hand, the stories gathered indicate that some committed believers are willing to rise above the difficulties and be immersed. In most cases, there was a sense of joy that the right thing had been done—to please the Lord and honour his word.
It is also very clear from the above stories that individuals previously “baptized” by a different mode after a serious profession of faith, needed in-depth clear scriptural teaching coupled with unapologetic encouragement, to be brought to a decision for immersion. The writer wonders if this kind of teaching and motivation will continue where there is an exception made to the immersion only policy, as in the proposed change under consideration by our FEBCC Churches.
On the other hand, it may be that a person has already undergone a Christian ceremony called “baptism”; but now realized that for one reason or another, this event did not meet Scriptural standards. Such a person should be “re- baptized” meeting the standards of Scripture, since his first “baptism” will no longer allow him to have a clear conscience before God.
14. A Practical Guide
for Gentle Persuasion
Sylvain Paradis, Terrebonne, Quebec
I was born in Quebec in a Catholic family and I was “baptized” by aspersion sometime after my birth. About twenty years later, after having discovered the grace of God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, I was baptized anew but this time by immersion. I was convinced by the following evidence from Scripture concerning baptism: the model (Acts 2:41), the meaning (Romans 6:3-4), the symbol (Colossians 2:12) and the apostolic practice, as well as that of the first disciples (Acts 8:12; 10:47-48; 16:14-15).
Later, I had the privilege of serving the Lord as pastor for over 26 years. In the last years of my ministry, the Lord allowed me to serve in a multi-ethnic context in Montreal. At certain periods, there were no less than 17 different nationalities represented in our Church: a beautiful diversity, a great challenge!
I saw people arrive not only from different nations, but from spiritual backgrounds very different from mine, from ours. Some of them had been “baptized” by aspersion, but they demonstrated a real and authentic faith in the Lord Jesus and His Word.
Having been convinced myself of the importance of baptism by immersion, I always believed it was my pastoral responsibility to communicate what is clearly taught and practiced by the first disciples in the NT to everyone who attended our Church. But how should we do that in the right way?
This issue must be treated with utmost respect for we recognize the great importance a decision to be baptized has in a person’s life. Far from denigrating the experience this “affused” believer received, nor treating it lightly, we would affirm their willingness to follow Christ with the light they were given at that time. Probably, they were not given the occasion to study the Scriptures on the meaning of the word, the circumstantial evidence of the practice in the NT and the theological meaning of immersion. We would not want to call into question the sincerity of their decision nor their desire to obey Christ, much less their conversion experience. But rather we would respectfully communicate that neither aspersion nor effusion is the norm in the light of the explanations and practice of the first disciples in the NT.
Here are a few simple recommendations to set the stage and gently lead towards immersion and membership.
Firstly, seek the doctrinal unity of the pastoral team and/or the elder’s council. Ensure that the pastoral team and/or elders, as well as other leaders are united on the issue of baptism as being immersion. It is not always an automatic thing but it is essential. Make sure that your conviction and your position is solidly supported by the NT.
Secondly, be proactive in the welcoming in and the follow-up of new believers. Before broaching the issue of baptism, build bridges with those coming through the doors and suggest meeting with them at their convenience to ascertain their story and spiritual pilgrimage. Be it through the pastors, the visiting team or small groups in the Church, make sure these new folks are welcomed, involved with others and accompanied in their integration. As they are well received and respected, they are encouraged to share their personal experience including baptism. It is time to listen sincerely and gain their confidence. Give them time to discover the people and the life of your Church. Eventually, it is they who will come to you to ask questions. You will have earned the right to minister to them and to express and explain what the Scripture teaches concerning baptism. Meet with them in an intentional way and having listened to their story and spiritual background, you get to know them and answer their questions about the Bible and your Church, including the practice of baptism. Some Churches choose to give a welcome packet during their first visit explaining the services, the affirmation of faith, etc… including the importance of immersion and membership. Remember that the best exchanges and discussions occur in the context of informal and friendly sharing. A visit or a sincere discussion opens windows into the heart and the life and the beliefs of that person, including their understanding of baptism.
Thirdly, when presiding over the Lord’s Table, mention immersion. It is a way to recall regularly to the whole assembly the importance of immersion. It is the approach which often permitted me to answer numerous questions people came to ask me personally, linked to our practice of baptism. This opened the door to friendly and informal exchanges. It was a natural occasion to offer a visit in order to discuss the issue and to give further explanation.
Fourthly, offer and announce regularly a course on the meaning and the NT practice of immersion, open to all without obligation. We have the responsibility to teach and inform the Church concerning what the Scriptures say on this subject, as Paul himself taught the Churches of his time. The aim of such teaching is not only to explain baptism, but also to clearly present the Gospel. I have often witnessed authentic conversions during such courses. Do not presuppose that those who arrive in your Church with a Christian background understand the true significance of baptism. It is surprising to discover that often they have very little knowledge and they have questions about it. They are curious and want to know more. Personally invite those for whom you deem it right to attend the course without obligation on their part. At the same time, continue to proclaim from the pulpit that immersion of the believer is Christ’s Great Commission command, not an option. Do not rush anyone! Rather teach and instruct. Do not fear other people’s position and keep on teaching, demonstrating with conviction to all the Scriptural truths and injunctions. There has been 2000 years of distortions on this subject that it needs to be re-examined in a comprehensive course for interested parties.
Fifthly, what is to be done if someone refuses Scriptural baptism in spite of all efforts? Continue to pray and maintain a respectful attitude. Underscore that immersion is a conviction which has its source in the Scriptures and is the pathway to entering the community in Acts 2, as well as to membership in your Church. Tell them that they are welcome in the Church and that you respect their decision and personal tracking on the subject. Be patient. Hold the position of the Church with grace and winsome persuasion. It is better to be consistent than to lower the standard of Christ-ordained immersion for official recognition in the assembly.
15. Suggestions for Action
You have read this far and are ready for action. This chapter is all about suggestions at different levels to lovingly oppose the proposed amendment to our Affirmation of Faith. What can be done to bring back the good ship Fellowship to the HIP (Historic Immersion Position) stance? In this chapter, we urge individuals, Church Boards, whole Churches, Associations of Churches, Regions and even the National Council to take proactive action in the direction of the historic immersion only position.
Suggestions for Action by Individuals
René Frey, Saint-Léonard, Québec
In the movie, The Power of One, a South-African activist convinces an English fellow that one person can make a difference. By his involvement, he does make a difference, going about the countryside teaching English reading and writing to the uneducated and preparing them to oppose apartheid. We often think, I can’t influence much, why put myself out? But there is much one person, one pastor, one man, one woman can do. Make known your opposition to this proposal. Say it, don’t just think it and wring your hands. Here are a number of ways you can help guard the faith once delivered to the saints.
Perhaps you are concerned enough that you would want to go and see your leaders and listen to their reasons for the changes to our Affirmation of Faith. And, in turn, you hope that your unwavering belief in the NT message of salvation by grace through faith, accompanied by immersion, would be heard and maintained by your Regional and national leaders.
Maybe you can voice your concerns over the phone or on Skype more spontaneously than in writing. There is no need to lecture anyone, just to express concern that our great Fellowship not give in to sentiment just to be nice. Rather, that the clear teaching and practice of Jesus and the apostles be kept intact in our Baptist Churches, all the while respecting other denominations that don’t have the same convictions.
Letters and Emails
They don’t need to be scholarly or long. You just need to say the truth in love. Write to your Regional Director. Write to the National President or to the National Chair. The addresses are easily found at Fellowship.ca. Easy. Effective. When your grandson asks you, what did you do in 2016 when the debate about immersion was going on, you’ll say I wrote in. It makes a difference!
This should have been at the top of the list. Prayer will bring the right heart attitude from the Spirit. Prayer is the way to fight the real enemy of the Church. Prayer puts us in touch with the Builder of the Church against whom the gates of hell will not prevail. Prayer will bring back the unity, even if we have to take actions and voice opposition. Prayer will prepare us to disagree agreeably. Prayer for our leaders will lead us to ask wisdom, insight, and courage for them.
Fellowship Baptists place a high value on going with the flow because we do want fellowship and cooperation. We also place a high value on the truth of God’s Word. When we have conviction we ought to demonstrate that conviction by speaking up in the appropriate way. Paul says, “… speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15) This is the solution to keeping us from being tossed about by teaching winds. Regardless of where we stand on this issue it is important that we speak up in love.
Decide. Are you going to act on one if these suggestions?
Suggestions for Church Board Actions
Dr. Jonathan Stairs, Cambridge, Ontario
Editor’s Note: We urge individuals be they pastors, members or potential delegates to Regional or National Conventions to be proactive in a winsome way, making known their preoccupations with the issue before the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada. We need, all of us, to profess the truth in love.
One example of effective leadership in this regard is that of Dr. Jonathan Stairs, Lead Pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Cambridge Ontario. Let us mention his thoughtful and challenging questions at the workshop about this issue two Conventions back and the depth and maturity of his conviction in personally going to share his heart with our President, Steve Jones on this matter. We also have the privilege of reproducing his article : “Should the Non-Immersed become Members of Fellowship Baptist Churches? Why the dripped should be dipped!”, written by Dr. Stairs in January 2015. Please refer to Appendix C for this fine article which was sent to National Council.
Statement to FEB National
November 10, 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We wish to express our concern of the potential departure of our historical and distinctive doctrine of membership requiring immersion. We are puzzled about a number of items that the National Council’s Paper addresses. First is the issue of practicing modes of baptism other than immersion. In the Introduction, the paper clearly states, “No Church is requesting a change to the practice of immersion in Fellowship Churches.” However, there is an inordinate amount of time spent in the paper arguing for accommodation of other modes of baptism, including citing the Philippian jailer’s baptism in Acts 16:33 as possibly affusion or pouring. We believe this to be conjecture unfounded by archaeology or proper exegesis. Even if there were a fountain or courtyard, as Haenchen and Bruce suggest, this does not preclude full immersion. What is even more troubling is the statement under the section “What constitutes ‘re-baptism’ and should we practice this?” We quote, “Modes may change, but the significance of believer’s baptism does not change.” This seems to open our movement to the possibility of practicing modes other than immersion in the future.
The second issue is unstated, but implied in the paper. It seems that we have decided to grow by transfer rather than conversion growth. Our new goal is to accommodate those coming from other Gospel-preaching Churches that practice believer’s “non-immersion baptism.” Ironically, many of these transfers are coming from Anabaptist traditions, who historically practiced “re-baptism,” but have since come to our Fellowship Baptist Churches and do not want to submit to our practice of immersion, which we believe is firmly grounded in Scripture. We believe trying to grow our Churches with these transfers is a loss of focus because our aim, like our Lord’s, should be to seek those who are lost (Luke 19:10). Furthermore, accepting the non-immersed into membership threatens unity and good standing we have with other Bible-believing Churches in our communities, let alone the unity of the Fellowship Baptists across our broad country.
Lastly, the paper fails to address the following questions: Would all pastors (and Churches) have to accept the majority position, or would pastors (and Churches) who hold to the immersion requirement for Church membership still be allowed to remain part of the Fellowship? Would new pastors, either coming from another denomination, or those being ordained by a Fellowship Church, still be allowed to hold and practice the immersion requirement for Church membership? Would a Church plant approved and supported by the Fellowship (Region or Association) be allowed to put in their constitution an immersion requirement for membership?
With much prayer,
The Elders of Temple Baptist Church, Cambridge, Ontario
Suggestions for Church Actions
Helmut Strauss, Cranbrook, British Columbia
When Pastor Helmut Strauss and Treasurer Bill Greig of Cranbrook Baptist Church, BC went to National Conference in the Fall of 2015, the Baptism/Membership issue was discussed in small groups. There was not unanimity in their small group and each person made his position known, for or against the change proposed to allow non-immersed believers to become members of our Churches.
Going back to Cranbrook, the Church was made aware of the issue and the coming vote. Pastor Helmut delivered a series of messages on the subject and when the Deacon’s Board met, there was unanimous opposition to changing our Fellowship Affirmation of Faith and to going in the direction of the change. One of the Deacons drew up a proposal to the Church Membership informing them of the Board’s conviction of maintaining the immersion-only stance on Baptism. The plan was to have the members vote to approve that stance in early March.
In the desired outcome of that approval by the Church, the aim was to be able to draw up a letter of concern, communicating Cranbrook Baptist’s decision to the Regional and the National leadership. At the Regional Convention in April on the Island, the Church’s preoccupation would also be brought up. The opportunity to voice concern on this matter was also deemed possible at a Leadership Training Seminar in Fernie on April 2nd.
The unity of the Church and steadfastness to the faith once delivered to the saints, including our Lord’s command to make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He prescribed, is one of the main objectives of Cranbrook Baptist Church as well as, hopefully, the majority of their sister Churches. Here is how Cranbrook presented its action plan.
A Call To Action
The reason: The National Council of the FEBCC has chosen to move forward with a motion to amend the constitution of the FEBCC association.
The need for a response: Each local Church is responsible to vote YES to support the motion or to vote NO to defeat the motion.
Guidelines for a response:
Within a week, the local Church should be in a position to take a vote of the membership, and make a formal decision on behalf of the local Church to support or oppose the motion being brought forward by the National Council.
The local Church should draft a formal letter, defining the Church’s position, and send such letter to the national and regional offices, making them aware of the local Church position on the issue.
Suggestions for Association Actions
Jim Clemens, Port Perry, Ontario
Historically, Associations of local Baptist Churches have played a key role in providing pastoral leadership and support amongst their constituents, in drafting confessions (such as the 1644 First London Baptist Confession) to guide other Churches and believers in understanding and expressing the faith in their contemporary situation. They also serve in addressing doctrinal departures and developments collegially, all the while regarding and respecting the Lord’s sovereign authority as expressed in the Holy Spirit’s rule in local assemblies. Baptists have long sought to balance the independence of the local Church with the collegial function of these associations of Churches.
As such, it would be both unwise and rather arrogant in addressing our current dilemma not to take advantage of this historic resource, with a view to discerning the Lord’s will as expressed in the understanding of his people as well as providing guidance to our President, our national leadership and our respective Regions. Indeed, the wise suggestion that the baptism/membership question be addressed at Regional conventions prior to a national vote almost necessitates prior deliberations at the Association level if the stage is to be set for a constructive and well-informed discussion at the Regional level.
As an example of how this might be undertaken, the pastors of the Central Lake Ontario Association, our local grouping, have resolved to meet as representatives of their respective Churches to present their views on the matter, communicating the fruit of this hopefully productive discussion in a written report to the Region (FEB Central) prior to our next Regional Conference. In this manner, the views of local Churches are presented in a concise manner, via their Association to the Region, who after examining the results of our—and perhaps of other Associations—deliberations can pass them on in a summarized presentation in order to advise the president and National Council on the question.
Why is such a process felt to be important? While the small group format used at the National Convention in November 2015 helped gather responses, it had three significant weaknesses. 1) Many Churches were not represented. 2) The participants in the groups had little time to communicate, gain understanding, and then synthesize the various viewpoints. 3) The questions did not lead to significant clarity on where pastors/Churches actually stood on the issue. So, while the report from the convention contains a significant amount of feedback, it seems mainly to reflect that there is a large degree of concern and confusion on the matter. The question of who and how many are either for or against a change to our Affirmation of Faith is left largely unanswered. This proposed additional form of communication from Churches through their Associations, to the Regions and then to National Council, would help to bring clarity on the nature and depth of the disagreement that already exists—and perhaps contain undetected seeds for a resolution.
This is not to say that the process at the Convention was of no help. I am grateful for the efforts of the National Council to give opportunity for discussion and response. I am only suggesting that there is a need for more communication from the Churches to the National Council and president, communication that is less descriptive of various atomized opinions and more prescriptive in terms of what local Churches actually believe should be the outcome of this issue. This is one way to encourage that communication, one felt to be not only the most effective means of getting a broad read on the Churches’ sense of the mind of the Holy Spirit on this matter, but which also draws on our denominational structure and historic organizational strengths as Baptists. It also may forestall an extremely acrimonious and divisive dispute on the Convention floor in 2017, guiding the issue to a measured resolution in which iron will have been able to sharpen iron, long before that.
Suggestions for Regional Actions
René Frey, Saint-Léonard, Montréal, Quebec
Editor’s Note: The following is a proposal sent to the Regional Council of AEBEQ signed by nine pastors in the Province of Québec. This is the translation from French.
The National Council of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada has launched an initiative proposing to ask the delegates of the Churches to vote in 2017 in favour of changing our Affirmation of Faith, that is to modify the word “immersed” to “baptized” in the description of the Church: “The Church is a company of immersed believers”, in order to be able to receive as members in our Churches believers who have been sprinkled or poured rather than immersed. The National Council also made it known in the National Conference Report (2015) that in 2016, it wants to encourage Regional Councils to answer to the proposition so that they can decide what their own process will be to facilitate discussion on this question with the Churches in their Region.
Whereas we are profoundly convinced by the clear meaning of the Great Commission thus mandated by our Lord Jesus-Christ: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have prescribed” the meaning of “baptizing” being, according to the normative sense of (baptizô), immersing those disciples,
And having observed that all baptismal descriptions in the NT take place in the context of an abundance of water, going down, coming out which indicates immersion,
And recognizing that sprinkling or pouring are not immersion and do not reflect the theological sense of baptism developed by Paul in Romans 6:3-11 and Colossians 2:12,
And being conscious of the historical precedent of the faithful Church, which, despite some hesitations here or there, has maintained the ordinance of our Lord to immerse his disciples, notably in our Fellowship for 63 years, and in our own Regional Association since the fifties,
And knowing that the required number of Churches needed to formally request such a change has not been presented by National Council, and concerned that any modification to our Affirmation of Faith on such a fundamental issue opens the door to any number of unforeseen modifications,
And being fully persuaded that this is not simply a question of membership but will transform our assemblies into hybrid membership Churches where baptism has been redefined to permit sprinkled or poured believers to be received as members at par, resulting in confusion in areas of preaching, teaching, service and perceived faithfulness to the interpretation of God’s Word,
And wishing that our Fellowship of Canadian Baptist Churches be united on this point, while still loving other families of Churches not holding to the same conviction of “one baptism”,
Be it resolved that the Regional Council initiates one of the two following measures, following on the unanimous vote already passed in May 2015 affirming our attachment to immersion:
That the Council express an official OBJECTION to the vote proposed by National Council and that letters be sent to the delegates of the June Convention seeking a confirmation of that OBJECTION during that Convention, conscious that our Bylaws stipulate that the bar to adopt such a change would then be raised from 75% to 85%.
That the Council REAFFIRM its position to maintain immersion as the only Biblical way to be baptized and consequently received as members in our Churches and that letters be sent to the Churches to ask for a confirmation of such a measure at the June Convention.
Suggested Action By National Council
The National Council of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada has a tremendous responsibility to lead Churches right across the nation in faithfulness to the Scriptures as the founders of our association cristallised its convictions over six decades ago.
The Editors of this book, and indeed every author of the articles in it, and we believe, the majority of our Churches, urge the Council to withdraw the proposed change from the table. We do not believe that 75% of our churches would favour that change and therefore the proposal will inevitably fail.
However, if National Council can assemble the required documented information from 10% of the churches as our By-laws require, we acknowledge that the vote should proceed.
We encourage our National Council to take a proactive stand and encourage our churches to a renewed emphasis on immersion. This should involve the commissioning of appropriate resources to teach the immersionist perspective for all who associate with us. When we gather we should promote what we stand for as immersionists.
We call upon our National Council to be the guardian and defender of our Affirmation of Faith in every way possible. This means that any who speak, lead or teach during our National events should be required to sign off on the Affirmation of Faith as it is. This would further the intention of our By-law which clearly states, “Member Churches, Directors, Officers, Committee members, employees and volunteers of the Fellowship must at all times teach, agree and demonstrate agreement with and sign when required by the National Council the Fellowship’s Affirmation of Faith …”
Finally, we ask the Lord himself to guide those we have assigned to lead us to take a courageous and gracious stand by taking action that will promote the unity and clarity of our collective Fellowship stand.
Congratulations! You got this far on the journey. You have climbed some steep thoughtful mountains. Perhaps you have floated down comforting streams. Some will have hit stressful rapids. We hope you have settled memorable pictures in your heart, mind and memory. But much more than that we hope you have allowed the Word and the Spirit to corral and direct your thoughts and feelings and establish firm resolve for actions.
While each of your writers and editors here would never claim to see as clearly as we wish, we all stand in one place and believe our family of Churches should stand there.
Baptism Is …
… the immersion of the believer in water, whereby he obeys Christ’s command and sets forth his identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.
The Church is …
… a company of immersed believers, called out from the world, separated unto the Lord Jesus, voluntarily associated for the ministry of the Word, the mutual edification of its members, the propagation of the faith and the observance of the ordinances.
These are words taken from or Affirmation of Faith. (Appendix G) We see no purpose or need to change them. Clearly if baptism is the immersion of the believer in water then it isn’t something else. If the Church is a company of immersed believer, for us, it excluded non-immersed believers.
That is where we stand as the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches in Canada. We believe the steep climb through all the facts can lead to only one conclusion. We, in this case, refers to the writers of this book. We do not speak for our National Council or even necessarily the Churches to which we belong.
The decision for any change must come from the Churches themselves not from any individuals. We pray that our Churches will see the wisdom of joining with us in reaffirming our historic stand. To that end, we trust this book will become a blessing.
The following Appendices are provided to give further information for those who wish to drill down deeper on the facts. In some cases they supply an extension or reinforcement of the foregoing material. In other cases they supply additional or more complete information for consideration.
We have included the “Study Paper” initiated by our National Council. Because of the prior commitment by the majority of the members on that team to initiate change in our doctrine we clearly do not agree with all that has been said there. The body of this book addresses each of our differences. That study team had twelve members. Two of the members of that team have contributed here what amounts to a minority report. In fairness to the overall discussion we have chosen to include that report as Appendix F.
A. Our Roots
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
Historically speaking, Fellowship Baptists were a hard-boiled bunch who bounced off the walls with more passion than people of other communions. At least, we thought we had more intensity. Perhaps we were caught up with our own illusions of a better way. But there was passion back in the day. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Hal MacBain’s inaugural President’s address to the newly formed Fellowship in October 21, 1953.
“Neither let it be thought that we are interested at all in undenominational affiliations. Our doctrinal statement, unanimously adopted at our first convention, makes it very clear that we are a body of Baptist Churches holding forth the precious New Testament truths. While there is much commendable work done by undenominational organizations and Churches, we believe that God’s work is more effectively accomplished by following God’s precise pattern and submitting to the benevolent Lordship of Jesus Christ, who is the Great Head of the Church. Very often we have had said to us while talking to certain non-Baptists leaders: “We are Baptist in everything but name.” They thus recognize the divine plan. What folly it would be for us to wander off this path so clearly marked by the seal of God’s approval and heavenly genius.
Where are we going? We are going along the great highway of historic New Testament truth, seeking to reach the people of Canada for Christ and teach them the riches of the Word of God. We are not blazing any new trails as far as doctrine is concerned. We reaffirm our determination to walk the old paths where Peter and Paul and our blessed Jesus Christ walked. We believe in the complete authority and inspiration of the Scriptures; in a regenerated and separated membership in our Churches; in baptism by immersion in water; in the Lord’s Supper as setting forth His death until He come; in the autonomy of the local Church; in the separation of Church and state, and the great host of Baptist distinctives so dear to us all. We have not joined together to alter one jot or one tittle of these great New Testament truths, but rather to strengthen our voice in setting them forth. It is our hope that not only shall these great doctrines be proclaimed from the pulpits of our Churches with regularity and power but that as a group we may be able to publish a great flood of literature that Canadians may know what Baptists believe and why they believe it.
Furthermore, it is our intention under God, to employ the New Testament policy of establishing Churches in every city, town or village, where the Spirit of God directs, to serve as Gospel lighthouses setting forth the light of salvation. There are many ways of working for God. We are convinced that this is the best. At the time of this amalgamation we have close to 215 Churches. We hope that before many years have passed we shall have 500. Canada is wide open to the Gospel and there are tremendous opportunities that are ripe at this very moment. What we need is men of real conviction and sacrifice who will be willing to bury themselves in some needy place until God by His Spirit brings forth the fragrant blossom of a true New Testament Church. This is the way that most of the Churches which now make up the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists came into being. We, as a Convention, wish to be ready to help in these endeavours by providing prayer and financial support where it is needed.”
Every thoughtful reader will agree that there needs to be compelling—even biblical—evidence and reasons to change the course. We now are at that benchmark of 500 Churches even though a good portion of that growth has come by pre-existing Church groups and individual Churches joining our cause. Our core intention was to start new Churches and see them thrive. Thankfully we have started well over a hundred Churches that still remain. At the same time the number of Churches we have started hides the fact that many other Churches have closed along the way. The Churches didn’t close in ghost towns; they closed where their message was still needed. Looking back to Dr. MacBain’s address, he spoke of 500 Churches “before many years have passed.” But many years have passed and there is new work to begin in new ways. Let us apply our hearts and actions to that newness and renewal where it is needed.
Our Affirmation of Faith does not capture the full ethos of our movement. It does provide the breadth necessary to encompass many different perspectives on various doctrines. But there is more in the patterns of the past that help us understand how we got here.
Starting with the name Baptist we realize that the Greek bapt- family of words created the distinct family. While some Baptist Churches don’t include the word Baptist most do. It is actually a requirement in some of our Regions to have Baptist in the Church name. Some find it in vogue to remove the word Baptist from their name. But of course unless they leave the tribe, newcomers through the doors will find out sooner or later. It is our job to inject the word Baptist with winsome, energized and positive meaning—not to shrink from it. We have a long and proud heritage with far fewer blemishes than many.
This is not primarily a history book. Every book of history contains facts, perhaps also alleged but unproven facts and interpretation of those facts. The few books containing Baptist history in Canada are no exceptions. However, there are some basic historical facts to consider. Even this selection of bullet points could be disputed by some as to their inclusion, order and importance.
There, of course, were many factors in this evolution that separated us from other Baptists and the rest of the evangelicals. A few of the main issues were the commitment to the local Church running its own affairs without interference from a central entity. This was seen as very important in several places across the land. There was a desire for fellowship but never control from a central office. The doctrinal fuel was supplied by a consistent belief in the authority of Scripture and resistance to what was called “modernism” or “theological liberalism.” Many churches found their allegiances unsatisfactory based on doctrinal concerns. This dissatisfaction was an essential element in the roots of the Fellowship. We were the ones who withdrew more often than having been removed from the former associations. However, in the infamous McMaster controversy with TT Shields leading the charge for the historic stand, his Church, Jarvis Street Baptist Church Toronto, was removed and others along with it. That was a major catalyst with sympathy to follow.
One of the binding factors was always and in every case has been a resolute commitment to a saved Church membership made up of immersed believing members. The word “Regular” in the name for most meant that the ordinances were to be regularly observed as a one-time baptism by immersion of the believer followed by a repeated observance of the Lord’s supper by believers only. Some were more insistent than others on how this played out in the Churches. For many, there was a sense that if a person had not been immersed as the external evidence of faith then the internal application of grace was unknown and therefore such an unbaptized believer should be excluded from the Table. Our current Affirmation of Faith reflects this belief to the extent of what should be but does not go so far as to decide for others if they qualify for Communion. If we were to open the Affirmation of Faith on the baptism question undoubtedly some would follow with a movement to remove the concept of the order of the ordinances currently clearly expressed by all Regions and Fellowship National.
Over several centuries now Christians have studied the issue and become Baptists at some cost. If there weren’t the weight of history and tradition to overcome, it would be hard to imagine a study of the New Testament could yield anything but immersion. There is no reason to shy away from what we believe on any doctrine. When we proclaim truth as we understand it with confidence the Holy Spirit uses it to bring others to the truth. We still have a job to do in seeking and saving lost people because that is what Jesus has commissioned us to do. Then we baptize and teach to obey. It is a divine calling.
The Fellowship has about 500 Churches in Canada. Approximately half of those Churches are in the Region we call FEB Central (Ontario and non-French Quebec). The next largest Regions in round terms are Fellowship Pacific (British Columbia and Yukon) and AEBEQ (Quebec) at about the same size just under 100 Churches. The other two Regions, Fellowship Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Territories) and Fellowship Atlantic (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) are the smaller Regions in numbers of Churches. Each of these Regions is autonomous. They are not as some would presume “branch offices” of Fellowship National. They each have their own structure and funding mechanisms.
The continuation on a national basis depends completely on cooperation that is not forced from the top. When a Church meets the standards to join a Region it becomes a member Church of the national entity. Therefore, a member Church responds to regional concerns through their regional structure. Over time these Regions have become more prominent where they have the resources to do so but in some cases feel they are very under resourced.
The By-laws of each region differ. Excerpts from Fellowship Pacific are somewhat typical.
In Fellowship Pacific:
“a Constituent Church” must “include subscription without reservation to the Articles of Faith.”
In the event a Church does not subscribe the following By-law applies.
“Any Constituent Church which is known to be no longer in compliance with the criteria of By-law 2 [Articles of Faith] and has not voluntarily withdrawn itself from the Society, may, upon satisfactory evidence of disagreement being presented to the Board, be suspended from the privileges of membership by a majority vote of the Board. The Board shall immediately give notice of such action to the Church and to the National Fellowship Council.”
In other words, the majority vote of the Board can remove a member Church. However, if the Church wishes to withdraw the following applies.
“A Constituent Church may withdraw from the Society by written request upon a 75% majority vote of its congregation.”
In FEB Central the circumstances are similar. A Church must agree to the “Statement of Faith” or the Regional Board has the right to expel the Church. The Church can withdraw its membership.
“If a Member, in writing, resigns as a Member of the Corporation which resignation must be accompanied by a copy of the resolution of its Members.”
There are various nuances in other Regions. For example, in Fellowship Atlantic a Church may only be removed by a vote at a Convention. In several cases, there is some power given to Fellowship National to remove a Church.
These examples show differences in detail but similarity in essence. A Church cannot be part of the National Fellowship if it is not a member of its Region. A Church can only belong if, among other things it concurs with the doctrinal statement of its Region. That statement is variously described with different titles by common usage and by the wording in the By-laws themselves. The terms “Articles of Faith”, “Statement of Faith” and “Affirmation of Faith” all refer to the same thing..
So for a moment, imagine the complications if Fellowship National makes a change in its “Affirmation of Faith.” Further suppose a Church does not agree with that change. You can clearly see that it is like shaking one part of a mobile above a baby’s crib; the shaking effects all the Churches and regions across the land. Any change must never be taken lightly. Churches that don’t agree wholeheartedly are under a moral obligation to initiate their own withdrawal. Thankfully, on the view of what is acceptable as baptism, this has only happened rarely.
Functionally, the dirty little secret is that there are perhaps scores of Churches across the land that will claim identity as a Fellowship Church but in practice demonstrate little cooperation. Some pastors see no need to be involved and even more see no need to keep their Churches informed of the goings on within the Region or the National Fellowship. If you gave a pop quiz to the people in the seats on a given Sunday, could they even name “The Fellowship” and its role? You could probably give a prize to anyone who could accurately give the legal name of the Fellowship as a whole and definitely you would save your prize if you required also the legal name of the Region! Ah but if something arose that shook their part of the “mobile” the Regional and National offices would quickly hear from them. But only if they believed they would be required to comply to keep their status as a Fellowship Church.
It has been suggested that the proposed change on the table to a soft focus on the mode of believer’s baptism doesn’t make any difference at the local Church level. It is said that the local Church can still set the membership standard as immersion baptism without exception. Clearly that perspective comes from those who think we should or at least could change easily and without deleterious consequences. Many of those who think we should not change will find that an irritating suggestion at best and a betrayal at worst. It is tantamount to an admission that we have been wrong all along because there is nothing that has changed in the field. It is not like there is a new flood of affused people beating at the doors to get in today any more than there was a flood in yesteryear. But if there were a flood of people coming to us there would have to be a reason for their personal movement. Why all of a sudden would they want to join us? Surely they don’t want to change us first so they can make us fit their experience. Therefore, the interest in change must be from within.
This book is designed as a tool to help instruct those on the inside. There will undoubtedly be three groups. Group One: “No! No change on that point.” Such will find comfort here. Group Two: “Yes! We have been too hard nosed.” Any of this group who read this document thoroughly may find it a challenge or unsettling. Group Three: “Maybe! We should take a careful and prayerful look at this.” This book speaks to that group. It supplies a range of ideas from the historical, to the sociological, to the political but mostly to the theological and biblical.
Over a period of the last few years we have invested thousands of personal hours in this discussion. Only if that discussion fortifies us to follow more closely the mandate of the Great Commission the time will have been well spent.
One of the realities we face is the lack of continued participation of some who know the place from which we came. It is difficult for the retired family of pastors to participate in Fellowship Conferences because of health, financial hardship and lack of appointment by their Churches as delegates. It is also true that some lack the will. They feel they fought enough battles in the past and the next generation will have to take over. That is understandable and lamentable at the same time. We debated many things in yesteryear. Some of the topics chosen mattered in the day but faded as time passed. Until now we never came to the place of debating the doctrine of baptism. Many of our patriarchs who remain are heartsick that it has come to this.
The other side of the demographic spectrum includes the younger generation of emerging leaders that need to question in order to improve. They believe we can do better in reaching our world. They sometimes feel like we are in a barnacled ship. Many of them are not sure the extended family of Churches matters much. They certainly don’t have any interest in fighting yesterday’s battles. Nor do they want to fail to bring forward into today and tomorrow the lessons learned in the past that yet remain important. On the issue of baptism many simply don’t see it as important. They know that in the past we had disagreements about Bible translations that have dissolved over time. Some suspect that our firmness on baptism might just be an issue that has no relevance today.
We all want to get this right within the framework of grace and truth—not either or.
The disparities in our movement don’t end with the regional imbalance. In the ideal it would seem reasonable for us as a national entity to seek to balance our representation according to the dispersion of the population within our land. That dream isn’t even close to realization nor are we moving in that direction.
The global trend to migrate to cities applies in Canada as well. People are moving to cities. The cost of real estate in cities is always higher because of the pressures of supply and demand. In addition, land to build a facility on which traditionally and culturally we have called a “Church” is simply not available “inside the city walls.” Municipalities will not allow a Church to build a building without a proportionate amount of land for parking or some permanent alternate arrangement. In some cases, in the absolute city core there are parking garages and/or public transportation that meet the needs. But these circumstances are rare. One emerging exception is places where condominium high rises minimize the presence of automobiles. Even owning a building to meet in may be becoming an exception in cities.
When a Church relocates it almost always does so to a place where there is land to use at a preferred price. That is usually on the edge of town. The larger the city the greater the problem. Abandoning the core was the norm for relocation several decades ago. Now it is rare to have the pressure of a Church bursting at its mortared seams. The simple solution to re-seed the city is to purchase existing buildings from Churches that have shut down. But that comes with an enormous expense to retrofit and seldom with a sufficient parking lot. Other properties with sufficient parking are almost always zoned as commercial. Commercial use property is always more expensive than institutional use. There may be the generous exception from time to time but that only proves the rule. The option of renting schools, libraries, community halls, fitness centres, restaurants etc. may be the only apparent possibilities.
What has this got to do with baptism? Nothing and everything. Our crying need is not to grandfather in the random case of someone with a pure heart from another tradition with which we don’t quite see eye-to-eye. The need is to reach those who know they have never believed and been baptized. We need to lead people to Christ and baptize them as soon as possible. Our emphasis must be on reaching into the vast sea of unsaved humanity and rescuing people with their historic and cultural variety and induce them to change their mind about many things. Of course, all that change is dependent on the Holy Spirit using the human personality to effect those changes of mind. To change one’s mind about baptism to a biblical frame is a small thing in the grand scheme of things.
Another issue of disparity is the fact that a much higher percentage of Fellowship Baptists attend the Churches way above the mid-line sized Church. Something close to 75% of our individual members belong to the top 25% of our Churches as measured by attendance size. Only 5% of our Churches are bigger than 500 in attendance. And a full 25% of our Churches have a typical attendance of less than 50. We are a Fellowship of small Churches with a few larger Churches and even fewer huge Churches over 500 in attendance. The small Churches are spread across the land while almost all the huge Churches are in the cities. There are no denominations or clusters of Churches where this same trending is not true as well.
Some Churches exist in places in Canada where the Mennonites have flourished. Many Mennonite fellowships of Churches don’t define the mode of baptism but affusion is common as is immersion. They see pouring as symbolic of the pouring out of the Holy Spirt. They call that baptism because of the soft focus on the mode. Many within our movement won’t surrender the word “baptism” to them to cover affusion. Nor will many surrender the word “baptism” to the vast numbers of Canadians from traditions within Christendom that sprinkle infants.
Within our biggest region this current discussion of baptism has been a peripheral issue. Very few Churches on record in the last few decades have withdrawn from our Fellowship because they want to accept other modes of baptism. It may be that their number is increasing for unknown reasons. Perhaps the existence of other fellowships of Churches that are capturing more attention bring pressure to bear. Not every group of Churches stands where we have historically stood. If others are growing it would be hard to argue their apparent success relates to their stand on baptism. It is more likely that they are gathering people who want a Church with more evangelistic punch—not one with less water. A thoughtful person will not attribute the other group’s growth to their baptism stance nor will changing our collective baptism stance propel us into a growth spurt. It is thoughtful and intentional stretching to reach the unreached that we need.
Here is an interesting project to ponder. If you were to ask the key leaders in your Church to rate their interest (demonstrated by their activity or involvement) in reaching lost people and assign that interest a number from one to ten representing their personal intensity, what do you think you would get? Would you be satisfied with that number? If not, why not? Would this thought process be inhibited by taking a strong stand on baptism by immersion as a conviction?
Now to stir the juices more, ask “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?” Let’s suggest for a moment you have a room of 10 leaders and a few give you a 10 while a few others give you a 5 with most are in between but the average works out at 7. Ask this question, “What would it take for you to pick a lower number?” Now I know you might think the better question is about a higher number. But that won’t stir you up as much as arguing against a lower number.
Ask the same two questions about the importance of baptism and its place in your Church. Suggest that anyone who uses the word “baptism” with their own meaning is about all you need require for membership and see how far you get. That may be acceptable in some places but not in Churches with Baptist roots. But then some will not place any emphasis on baptism or membership at all. If it is not taught with conviction people won’t believe it. For example, if all you say is something like, “I am inviting you to come to Jesus. This isn’t about baptism or joining this Church …” how many baptisms and new Church members could you project?
Now ask the same two questions about the importance of taking our theology from the Bible as much as we possibly can. You see, if we ask the right questions we will get better answers. Lowering the amount of teaching on any subject will lower the amount of conviction and commitment.
If the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, then we all need to discover the main thing in our Church. What should be the main thing? What can be done to get things aligned properly? There will always be secondary things. The illusion is that if you solve all the secondary issues, you can get around to focusing on the main issues. Attempting to address secondary issues first often leaves you without the will, capacity or opportunity to get the main issues.
If baptism is the immersion of the believer in water, then baptism isn’t anything else. Is accommodation for others with different commitments even close to the main thing? If it is, what changed over the last six decades to make it so? Our focus is to be a belief-then-baptism-by-immersion-and-join-the-local-Church cause not one that seeks to find others who already believe.
While there is no definitive research within the Fellowship, the research within biblically orthodox Churches is clear on the following point. On average, the larger the Church the more participants it takes to create a new convert. The easiest way to measure converts is by the physical event of baptism. For example, in the 1800s in BC Baptists set its goal to see one person come to faith and baptism for every ten participants every year. Thus a typical sized Church with attendance of 60 would see 6 baptisms in a year. How is your Church doing? One larger Church in the Fellowship with attendance on a good Sunday in the 180 range saw 18 baptisms last year. That is 1 for 10. Another Church with average attendance of 717 (actual calculation) saw 14 baptisms in the same year. There are of course differences and exceptions but new Churches (which are almost always also smaller) tend to baptize many more people per capita than large Churches.
Our great issue is to capture the ingredients in the secret sauce of the Churches with the ratio closer to 1 in 10 than it is to 1 in 50. Our issue is certainly not to measure the ratio of affused or aspersed people who are attending our Church.
B. Relevant By-laws
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
Editor’s Note: The following is a selection of text from the National Fellowship By-laws that could become relevant if there were to be a change in any By-law. The full text of the document (over 30 pages is available at www.fellowship.ca.”
MEMBER Churches, Directors, Officers, Committee members, employees and volunteers of the Fellowship must at all times teach, agree and demonstrate agreement with and sign when required by the National Council the Fellowship’s Affirmation of Faith, the current version of which is attached to this By-Law as Schedule “A”.
The Affirmation of Faith may be amended from time to time in accordance with this By-law. A proposal to amend the Affirmation of Faith may be initiated by National Council or submitted by a MEMBER Church to the National Council in the form of a Notice of Amendment to the Affirmation of Faith provided at least ten percent (10%) of the MEMBER Churches endorse the Notice as evidenced by an e of each such MEMBER Church and provided the Notice is accompanied by a copy of the minutes of the meeting at which each proposing MEMBER Church determined in accordance with its procedural requirements that it would submit the Notice. The Notice of Amendment to the Affirmation of Faith setting out the proposed amendment shall be given to each Region and each MEMBER Church of the Fellowship at least nine (9) months before the next Annual Meeting of MEMBER Churches and the proposed amendment shall be placed before the MEMBER Churches at that meeting. A Region may submit its objection to the proposed amendment in writing to the Fellowship Secretary at least three months prior to the date of the Meeting of the MEMBER Churches at which the proposed amendment is to be considered. The objection must be accompanied by a copy of the minutes of the meeting at which the Region determined in accordance with its procedural requirements that it would object to the proposed amendment. An amendment to the Affirmation of Faith must be passed by a resolution of the MEMBER Churches receiving at least seventy-five percent (75%) of the votes cast provided the amendment has not been objected to by any Region in writing. Any proposed amendment that has been objected to by any Region in writing must be passed by a resolution of the MEMBER Churches receiving at least eighty-five percent (85%) of the votes cast.
The National Council may at any time call a Special Meeting of MEMBER Churches for the transaction of any business specified in the notice calling the Meeting. A Special Meeting of MEMBER Churches shall also be called by the Directors upon the written requisition of the MEMBER Churches carrying not less than five per cent (5%) of the voting rights. If the Directors do not call a Meeting within twenty-one (21) days of receiving the requisition, any MEMBER Church who signed the requisition may call the Meeting.
Participation at Meetings by Electronic Means
If the Fellowship chooses to make available a telephonic, electronic or other communication facility that permits all participants to communicate adequately with each other during a Meeting of MEMBER Churches, any person entitled to attend such Meeting may participate in the Meeting by means of such telephonic, electronic or other communication facility in the manner provided by the Act and the Regulations. A person participating in a Meeting by such means is deemed to be present at the Meeting.
If the person or persons that calls a Meeting of MEMBER Churches is or are either Directors or MEMBER Churches, that person or persons may determine that the Meeting be held, in accordance with the Act and the Regulations, entirely by means of a telephonic, electronic or other communication facility that permits all participants to communicate adequately with each other during the Meeting.
5.6 a (ii)
sending the notice during a period of 21 to 35 days before the day on which the Meeting is to be held by telephonic, electronic, or other communication facility to each MEMBER Church entitled to vote at the Meeting.
A Director must be at all times an individual who is not less than twenty-one (21) years of age, someone who has not been declared by a court in Canada or elsewhere to be incapable, not be bankrupt and comply at all times with section 2.1. A Director must be and remain a member of a Church that is a MEMBER Church. At least two of the Directors must not be Officers. None of the Directors may be an employee of the Fellowship or its affiliates.
A Director ceases to hold office when: … (b) no longer fulfils all of the qualifications to be a Director set out in section 6.3.
Subject to the Act, a Director who is present at a National Council Meeting or of a Meeting of a committee of Directors is deemed to have consented to any resolution passed or action taken at the Meeting unless:
(a) the Director requests a dissent to be entered in the minutes of the Meeting; or
(b) the Director sends a written dissent to the Secretary of the Meeting before the Meeting is adjourned; or
© the Director sends a dissent by registered mail or delivers it to the registered office of the Fellowship immediately after the Meeting is adjourned;
provided that a Director who votes for or consents to a resolution may not dissent.
Every Director and Officer in exercising such person’s powers and discharging such person’s duties shall act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the Fellowship and shall exercise the care, diligence and skill that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in comparable circumstances. Every Director and Officer of the Fellowship shall comply with the Act, the Regulations, Articles, By-laws and policies of the Fellowship.
MEMBER Churches may submit in writing to the National Council a Notice of Amendment to the By-law provided such amendment does not include any amendment to the Affirmation of Faith and provided at least five percent (5%) of the MEMBER Churches endorse the Notice as evidenced by an executed letter from an authorized representative of each such MEMBER Church and provided the Notice is accompanied by a copy of the minutes of the meeting at which the proposing MEMBER Church determined in accordance with its procedural requirements that it would submit the Notice. The Notice of Amendment to the By-law shall be given to each MEMBER Church of the Fellowship at least six (6) months before the next Annual Meeting of MEMBER Churches and the proposed amendment shall be placed before the MEMBER Churches at that meeting. An amendment to a By-law must be passed by a Special Resolution of the MEMBER Churches.
Please note that by linking together the clear statements of 2.1, 6.3 and 6.11(b) it is clearly stated that anyone who claims to be a member of National Council and doesn’t hold to the Affirmation of Faith as it stands is by these By-laws is no longer a Director. Therefore, it is not possible for the National Council to have members who desire the proposed change because such individuals clearly do not “at all times teach, agree and demonstrate agreement with and sign when required by the National Council the Fellowship’s Affirmation of Faith.”
C. Le lien entre le baptême
et l’état de membre
Daniel Saglietto, Pierrefonds, Quebec
Dans le cadre de la réflexion actuelle sur l’état de membre au sein de notre Association d’Églises, plusieurs personnes ont proposé que la question se révélait être une question concernant l’état de membre plutôt que le baptême. D’autres, au contraire, affirment que c’était une question concernant le baptême. En fait, il s’agit des deux et nous allons voir le lien qui les unit.
La question qui nous est ici proposée met donc en présence deux pratiques ecclésiales qui sont des ingrédients essentiels de notre identité de baptiste : Le baptême et l’état de membre de l’église locale. Avant de répondre de façon cohérente à la question qui nous est proposée concernant les modalités d’acceptation de membres qui ont été baptisés, suite à leur confession de foi, par un mode autre que celui de l’immersion, nous devons nous assurer que nous possédons ensemble une même définition biblique de ces deux réalités ecclésiales. Cet article a pour but d’offrir des pistes de réflexions bibliques possibles pour répondre à une telle question, et cela à la lumière de la doctrine paulinienne fondamentale de l’union avec Christ.
Dans l’espace qui m’est imparti, je ne reviendrai pas sur le caractère profondément biblique de la nécessité d’une pratique baptismale qui s’adresse uniquement à des croyants1 et cela uniquement par immersion2. Ceci a été déjà traité de façon adéquate dans les autres articles proposés dans ce recueil. Néanmoins, une telle nécessité apparaitra clairement tout du long du développement proposé.
Avant de commencer notre réflexion, il serait profitable, par souci de clarté, de résumer la thèse proposée dans cet article.
La thèse qui sera développée ici n’est pas favorable à une pluralité de modes baptismales pour l’accueil de nouveaux membres3. Cette thèse repose principalement sur le fait que les définitions néotestamentaires, en particulier pauliniennes, du baptême et de ce qu’est un membre de l’église locale sont, tout en étant distinguables, inséparables. Cette unité provient du fait que Paul établit chacune des deux sur un même fondement doctrinal : notre salut dans notre union au Seigneur Jésus-Christ. En effet, le baptême et la reconnaissance des membres de l’église locale sont tous deux des expressions ecclésiales visibles de la rédemption accomplie par Jésus-Christ dans sa mort, sa résurrection et son ascension4 qui nous a été alors appliquée en étant unis à lui dans le cadre de la nouvelle alliance lors de notre nouvelle naissance. Paul affirme clairement que notre union au Christ par l’Esprit, dont notre foi et notre obéissance en sont l’expression, est la base et le signifié5 de la pratique baptismale par immersion. Paul affirme aussi que l’union au Christ est le fondement définissant ce qu’est un membre de l’église locale6. Prenant ainsi conscience de ce fondement commun pour chacune de ces deux choses, il devient alors clair que nous ne pouvons affirmer d’un côté une pluralité de modes opératoires quant au signifiant baptismal (immersion, aspersion, effusion…) dans le cadre de notre politique d’acceptation d’un membre dans l’église locale tout en affirmant de l’autre côté, et cela avec raison, un seul et unique mode opératoire dans le cas de la pratique du baptême proprement dit (baptême par immersion). Si nous reconnaissons que Paul établit le baptême par immersion comme le signifiant exclusif de la réalité de notre salut dans notre union au Christ, nous ne pouvons affirmer en même temps que cette même chose (union au Christ) pourrait être signifiée par un mode baptismal différent lorsque nous parlons de la réalité visible et locale du corps de Christ dans le cadre de la politique d’acceptation de membres. Une telle démarche serait alors contradictoire en elle-même, car nous dirions en même temps que le baptême se doit d’être accomplie par immersion (pratique baptismale) et que le baptême peut ne pas être accomplie par immersion (cadre des statuts de l’état de membre). Une telle incohérence engendrerait à long terme, dans la compréhension de nos paroissiens, une confusion quant à l’exclusivité et la légitimité biblique du mode baptismal par immersion comme seule expression visible bibliquement attestée de la grâce invisible de notre union avec Christ, de notre salut.
1) L’union avec Christ : Fondement de notre Salut et signifié du baptême
Union avec Christ
Si nous devions résumer en une seule phrase l’offre évangélique du Salut offert par Dieu en Jésus-Christ, nous pourrions simplement dire que l’homme est pécheur, et, de ce fait condamné par Dieu à un châtiment éternel, mais que, en plaçant sa confiance en l’œuvre expiatoire et propitiatoire du Christ, il est sauvé. Ce résumé pourrait être lui-même condensé dans l’expression Sola Fide issue de la réforme du XVIe siècle. Cependant, nous nous devons de reconnaitre qu’aujourd’hui, une telle expression, bien qu’elle soit vraie, nécessite d’être clarifiée et précisée pour éviter toute compréhension de celle-ci par le biais du filtre culturel contemporain. En effet, notre société occidentale est entre autre très marquée par l’individualisme, le subjectivisme et l’utilitarisme. Et il ne faut pas nous voiler la face, mais reconnaitre que celles-ci ont bel et bien introduit de la confusion sur le véritable sens biblique du salut par la foi seule. En effet, la foi est trop souvent perçue dans nos églises locales uniquement comme un choix personnel et individuel qui nous ouvre l’accès au salut offert en Christ. Ainsi, la foi est bien trop assimilée à une espèce d’outil mercantile qui nous donne accès à un salut éternel : Dieu nous octroierai notre salut en échange de notre foi. Bien qu’étant un peu caricaturale, cette réflexion souligne les dangers d’une compréhension du salut qui fait dépendre l’efficacité de l’œuvre du Christ à la croix uniquement à « mon acte de foi ».
Une telle compréhension du salut est incomplète et elle peut devenir le terreau d’attitudes individualistes pouvant être à la fois légalistes ou laxistes. En effet, en séparant de façon bien trop radicale l’œuvre de Christ hors de nous dans l’histoire (incarnation) et l’œuvre de Christ en nous par son Esprit (nouvelle naissance), nous risquons de ne plus saisir avec justesse la place et le rôle du Christ mort et ressuscité dans notre vie de foi. Nous ne devons jamais oublier que la puissance de l’œuvre du salut réside premièrement dans l’œuvre du Christ et non dans l’exercice de notre foi : la foi est semblable à cette main qui s’attache au Christ.
Si nous focalisons notre compréhension du salut sur le seul exercice de notre foi, notre compréhension de la place de nos œuvres dans notre marche avec Christ risquerait d’être biaisée.
Une saine compréhension biblique de l’œuvre du salut ne pourra donc se faire sans la pleine appropriation de ce qui en constitue son cœur : L’union au Christ7. Comme le souligne John Murray, la doctrine de l’union au Christ est « la vérité centrale de l’entière doctrine du Salut, non seulement dans son application, mais aussi dans son accomplissement une fois pour toutes dans l’œuvre complète du Christ »8.
Ainsi, nous pourrions dégager dès à présent quelques causes possibles de cette relativisation du mode baptismal dans notre compréhension de la politique à adopter pour l’acceptation d’un nouveau membre dans l’église locale :
Afin de donner une réponse complète, nous allons premièrement nous tourner vers l’épitre aux Romains pour explorer et établir le lien qui existe entre l’union avec Christ et le baptême.
Baptême et union en Christ : Réflexions sur Romains 6:1-14
Un des passages bibliques les plus importants pour notre réflexion se trouve en Romains 6:1-14. Nous ne pourrons pas proposer ici une exégèse détaillée du texte, mais nous essaierons d’en noter les points importants et utiles à notre réflexion.
Après la lecture des cinq premiers chapitres de l’épitre, nous arrivons au chapitre 6, non seulement avec la connaissance du fait que l’homme est un être pécheur dès sa naissance (car il est engendré en Adam (Romains 5:12-21)), mais qu’il est aussi un être au prise d’un roi tyrannique dont le règne est l’expression même des passions de son propre cœur pécheur.
Le chapitre 6 va donc aborder la question de notre relation vis-à-vis du péché alors que nous sommes devenus des croyants. Le croyant vit ainsi dans l’espérance d’un salut futur pleinement consommé qui a déjà fait irruption dans sa vie. Paul va nous décrire alors la réalité de l’existence et de l’espérance chrétienne en utilisant le caractère inchoatif9 de l’inauguration du règne de Christ dans la vie du chrétien : Le croyant, tout en étant déjà libéré de son esclavage au péché, n’est pas encore complétement exempt de l’influence du péché, il est engagé dans une lutte contre le péché.
Ainsi, en suivant le flot du texte, notre péricope s’insère dans cette optique de tension de la vie chrétienne au sein de laquelle le règne de Christ a été inauguré. La question posée en 6:1 est la démonstration la plus probante de cette tension. Paul veut traiter de front la question de la réalité de l’expérience et de l’espérance chrétienne face au péché. Et c’est dans ce contexte précis que Paul va développer de façon dense, et cela avec un langage baptismal10, l’aspect le plus fondamental de l’expérience du salut offert par Dieu en Jésus-Christ : L’union en Christ.
Douglas Moo résume alors très justement l’argument de Paul de la façon suivante11 :
En s’adressant à la communauté des chrétiens de Rome, Paul leur rappelle que s’ils veulent comprendre pourquoi il est absurde de croire que celui qui bénéficie de la grâce offerte en Jésus-Christ puisse continuer à marcher dans le péché (6:1), ils doivent se rappeler qu’ils sont morts au péché (6:2) et que cette mort provient du fait qu’ils ont été effectivement baptisés dans la mort de Christ (6:3b), réalité qu’ils ont confessée officiellement lorsqu’ils ont été baptisés d’eau (6:3a).
Au verset 3, Paul relie deux expressions pour parler de l’expérience du Chrétien : « baptisé en Christ-Jésus » (ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν) et « baptisé en sa mort » (εἰς τὸν θάνατον αὐτοῦ ἐβαπτίσθημεν). Celui qui a été enseveli avec Christ (συνετάφημεν οὖν αὐτῷ (6: 4)), l’a été au travers du baptême dans la mort du Christ12 (διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος εἰς τὸν θάνατον). C’est la mort du Christ qui fut le locus de la mise à mort du croyant : Le croyant a expérimenté sa condamnation à mort, salaire de son péché, en expérimentant la mort du Christ. Cette « mort » doit être alors comprise comme le prélude nécessaire et indissociable de sa nouvelle naissance. Cette vie nouvelle est l’expression de la vie de résurrection qu’il reçoit aussi en Christ en ressuscitant avec Lui afin de vivre une vie pour Dieu (v. 4, 10-11, cf. Éphésiens 2:6).
C’est comme cela qu’il a été uni avec le Christ (v. 5a), en mourant et en ressuscitant avec Lui. Mais ce n’est pas le baptême en tant que tel qui opère une telle chose13, c’est la mort de Christ en nous qui occasionne notre mort en Lui. Nous pensons qu’il convient de comprendre alors ici le baptême comme l’acte visible d’une grâce invisible14. La mort et la résurrection du Christ sont les deux faces inséparables d’un même événement passé dont l’efficacité transcende en quelque sorte le temps. Cette efficacité est alors visible dans la vie des élus lors de leur nouvelle naissance.
L’union et la communion (expression actuelle de notre union au Christ) avec Christ sont ainsi les réalités qui englobent et définissent la totalité de la vie du croyant depuis son point de départ (mourir avec le Christ et recevoir sa vie de résurrection par le Saint-Esprit) jusqu’à sa consommation (ressusciter15 avec le Christ). Cette union en Christ possède:
Ces réalités découlent du fait qu’être uni à Christ constitue un point critique existentiel du croyant à partir duquel il passe d’un règne à un autre : Il passe du règne du péché et de la mort au règne de la vie (Galates 2:20).
Le baptême qui est vécu après la nouvelle naissance est le repère expérimental officiel au sein de l’histoire du croyant à partir duquel il est reconnu par la communauté des croyants comme ayant été au bénéfice de la mort et de la résurrection du Christ. C’est à ce moment que le croyant est déclaré officiellement comme membre de la communauté de la nouvelle alliance, car en étant baptisé il confesse par un acte visible qu’il est bénéficiaire de l’œuvre accomplie par Jésus-Christ dans sa mort et sa résurrection, œuvre du Christ qui est à la fois le fondement de la nouvelle alliance mais aussi son inauguration (le Christ ressuscité en est les prémices (1 Corinthiens 15:20)).
Le baptême devient ainsi ce point d’inauguration historique « officiel et public » (à l’opposé du point historique réel de la nouvelle naissance) à partir duquel l’histoire du Christ (historia salutis) est reconnue comme ayant été efficace au sein de l’histoire du salut de l’individu (ordo salutis) : c’est le moment de la vie du croyant où la communauté reconnait qu’une personne est unie au Christ et qu’elle est au bénéfice de l’œuvre accomplie par Jésus-Christ16.
Ce caractère officiel est souligné lorsque Paul choisit d’utiliser le baptême d’eau comme point de repère pour interpeller ses lecteurs sur une problématique éthique qui concerne avant tout l’individu (marcher encore dans le péché). En effet, Paul aurait pu simplement dire « Ignorez-vous que nous tous qui avons mis notre foi en Jésus-Christ, c›est à sa mort à laquelle nous avons été unis ? ». Cela aurait été juste d’une certaine manière. Mais Paul dépasse le cadre individuel et utilise l’événement public par lequel le croyant exprime au monde son union au Christ pour rappeler à l’ordre ses lecteurs qui se poseraient la question d’une possible marche dans le péché, tout en étant chrétien et intégré dans l’église locale, afin que la grâce abonde (6:1).
Le salut offert en Christ n’est pas un salut individualiste, mais nous avons été sauvés (certes, en tant qu’individus) en étant unis au Christ et cette union implique une incorporation dans le corps de Christ. Le Baptême en est la proclamation. Il est aussi un véritable dialogue dans lequel la communauté elle aussi joue un rôle. Elle accueille et reconnait un croyant et un fidèle du Seigneur Jésus-Christ. Elle déclare ainsi de façon implicite que le baptisé et la communauté des croyants sont tous unis au même Seigneur, union exprimée par l’acte d’immersion lors du baptême. Elle reconnait alors cette personne comme un membre du corps dont elle en est l’expression locale : Le corps de Christ.
Ainsi, si notre politique d’acceptation de membres inclut avec raison le baptême comme prérequis, nous nous devrons d’être cohérents avec nos convictions baptismales. Il ne serait pas acceptable de posséder avec raison une vision exclusive de notre pratique baptismale d’un côté (immersion) et une vision pluraliste du mode baptismal dans notre conception de l’état des membres.
Mais que devrions-nous faire alors dans le cas d’une personne qui arrive, pour diverses raisons, dans une église locale tout en ayant été déjà été baptisée (avec une confession de sa foi) par un autre mode que celui par immersion ?
Il est évident que nous ne devrons pas marcher dans une erreur similaire à celle soulignée par Paul vis-à-vis de la circoncision dans son épitre aux Galates : le baptême n’est pas une condition du salut, elle en est l’expression. Néanmoins, si nous croyons avec raison que le fondement sotériologique de la foi est notre union au Christ par le Saint-Esprit, et si nous croyons que le baptême par immersion est le signe biblique ordonné par notre Seigneur pour signifier cette union, nous serons alors face à une personne qui n’a pas expérimenté le baptême d’eau biblique.
2) Membre du corps de Christ, membre de l’église locale et politique d’état de membre
Certains pourraient alors remettre en question la légitimité de vouloir mettre sur le même plan la réalité locale du corps de Christ (comme définie explicitement en 1 Corinthiens 12) et la question de l’état du membre (politique administrative). Une telle remise en question souligne une problématique d’ordre épistémologique : Quels documents devrions-nous utiliser pour établir les caractéristiques officielles d’un membre ?
Il est certain que notre redevabilité vis-à-vis de l’Etat Canadien implique nécessairement des caractéristiques qui lui seront propres (comme par exemple l’âge minimum d’un membre…). Mais il ne serait pas juste de ne pas incorporer la vision biblique de ce qu’est un membre de l’église locale (expression locale du corps de Christ) dans notre définition de l’état de membres dans nos politiques ecclésiales. Un tel divorce ne serait pas acceptable car il impliquerait l’existence de deux définitions de ce qu’est un membre de l’église locale.
Il est donc important de ne jamais perdre de vue que notre politique ecclésiale d’état de membre se doit toujours d’être le héraut de la réalité biblique de ce qu’est un membre de l’église locale.
Ainsi, c’est en saisissant le point de vue apostolique de ce qu’est un membre de l’église locale que nous pourrons définir les caractéristiques de notre politique d’état de membre. Et si la Bible nous propose une définition du membre de l’église locale dépendante de la réalité de notre union au Christ (dont le baptême par immersion en est la droite expression), notre politique d’état de membre sera tenue d’intégrer cette définition.
3) L’union avec Christ : Cause de notre union au corps de Christ local et universel
Nous allons maintenant développer un peu plus cette notion ecclésiale à l’aide de 1 Corinthiens 12:12-14. Une fois de plus, par souci de clarté, voici la thèse que nous désirons développer :
En 1 Corinthiens 12.12-14, Paul déclare la chose suivante :
“En effet, comme le corps est un, tout en ayant plusieurs membres, et comme tous les membres du corps, malgré leur nombre, ne sont qu’un seul corps, — ainsi en est-il du Christ. Car c’est dans un seul Esprit que nous tous, pour former un seul corps, avons tous été baptisés, soit Juifs, soit Grecs, soit esclaves, soit libres, et nous avons tous été abreuvés d’un seul Esprit. Ainsi le corps n’est pas (formé d’) un seul membre, mais de plusieurs.”
Paul désire ici souligner la raison pneumatologique du fait que le corps de Christ est un : Nous tous qui avons été baptisés dans un seul Esprit pour former un seul corps, nous avons tous été abreuvés d’un seul Esprit. Il avait déjà donné une raison du même ordre quand il avait précédemment souligné que l’unité du corps de Christ était manifeste dans le fait que c’était effectivement le même Esprit qui donnait aux membres de l’églises locales une pluralité de dons complémentaires pour l’édification et l’utilité commune (12:4-11). Mais ici, Paul va utiliser une manifestation fondamentale du salut : le baptême dans l’Esprit lors de notre union au Christ.
Tout d’abord, Paul déclare que les croyants ont été baptisés dans un seul et même Esprit pour former un seul corps (εἰς ἓν σῶμα), le corps de Christ17.
Comme le souligne C. Campbell :
“La nature même de l’idée de corps de Christ souligne les notions d’incorporation, d’union et d’identification du Christ et de son peuple. De façon générale, le qualificatif de corps de Christ pour l’église exprime une relation et une communion intime et spéciale existant entre Christ et son église.”18
Cette formation en un seul corps implique clairement notre incorporation dans le corps du Christ, mais aussi notre union les uns aux autres :
“Ceux qui sont unis avec Christ sont aussi unis les uns aux autres et il est ainsi nécessaire qu’ils se comportent de telle façon que leur unité réciproque croisse.”19
Ensuite, cette profonde réalité ontologique20 s’est faite par une œuvre pneumatologique : nous avons été baptisés dans un même Esprit (12:13a), nous avons été abreuvés d’un seul Esprit (12:13b).
Comme le souligne F. F. Bruce:
“Faith-union with Christ brought his people into membership of the Spirit-baptized community, procuring for them the benefits of the once-for-all outpouring of the Spirit at the dawn of the new age, while baptism in water was retained as the outward and visible sign of their incorporation « into Christ » (cf. Galatians 3:27). And as it was in one Spirit that they were all baptized, therefore it was into one body that they were all baptized.”21
La notion de l’église locale en tant que corps ne doit donc pas être comprise de façon superficielle telle une association de personnes qui adhérerait à la même confession. Ceci ne serait qu’une vision faussée de la réalité du corps de Christ, vision qui serait certainement, entre autre, le fruit d’une vision bien trop individualiste du salut. En effet, une telle vision nous pousserait à comprendre l’église comme une simple association d’individus. Or, le Nouveau Testament nous encourage à posséder une vision organique de l’église locale telle que chacun de ses membres l’est avant tout par nature, car ils ont été incorporés au corps de Christ en étant baptisés dans un seul Esprit, en étant unis au Christ.
Christ est le dernier Adam qui est devenu Esprit vivifiant (ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν (1 Corinthiens 15:45))22, c’est lui qui nous distribue l’Esprit en étant unis à Lui, l’Esprit eschatologique de la nouvelle alliance, le Saint-Esprit, ce nouveau consolateur.
Ainsi, Paul déclare dans notre texte l’unité des croyants en un seul corps, non pas à cause d’une unité confessionnelle (certes, c’est une conséquence de notre union au même Christ définie par les écritures), mais à cause d’une unité pneumatologique : Les croyants forment effectivement un seul et même corps car ils ont été baptisés et abreuvés d’un seul et même Esprit, le Saint-Esprit, signe caractéristique de la nouvelle alliance (Jer 36.26 et Ez 11). Ce « corps » qu’ils forment est le corps du Christ : Ils sont tous unis au Christ, Lui la tête du corps tout entier.
Ainsi, lorsque nous mettons en place une politique d’acceptation de membre pour l’église locale, c’est aussi cette réalité d’unité spirituelle du corps de Christ que nous désirons exprimer. Le baptême de l’Esprit accompli lors de notre nouvelle naissance, expression de l’œuvre eschatologique de la nouvelle alliance qui a été scellée dans la mort de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, est ce qui fonde notre salut et note appartenance au corps du Christ (1 Corinthiens 12:27). Le baptême de l’Esprit est œuvre trinitaire accomplie chez les élus pour leur salut : Dieu baptise ses élus dans le Saint-Esprit (ἐβαπτίσθημεν (12:13a)) en les unissant à son Fils ressuscité, lui qui est devenu, dans son incarnation, le dernier Adam, mais aussi, dans sa résurrection, l’Esprit vivifiant (1 Corinthiens 15:45)23.
C’est finalement le baptême de l’Esprit, alors manifeste par la foi (1 Corinthiens 12:3, Romains 8:9), qui est la cause efficace de notre vie de résurrection actuelle (Romains 8:11, Colossiens 2:12) et ainsi la raison d’être du baptême de chaque croyant. Nous nous faisons baptisés car sommes ressuscités en lui par la foi en la puissance de Dieu qui a ressuscité Christ d’entre les morts (Colossiens 2:12). Il est d’ailleurs très intéressant de noter que D. Moo24 traduit l’expression en Colossiens 2:12b, « ἐν ᾧ καὶ συνηγέρθητε διὰ τῆς πίστεως » par « dans lequel [baptême] vous êtes aussi ressuscités avec lui par la foi… » (version NIV, ESV). Certains exégètes préfèrent attribuer comme antécédent au pronom relatif « ᾧ » la personne du Christ (« en qui [Jésus-Christ] vous êtes aussi ressuscités avec lui » (version Colombe, LSG, Semeur)). Mais grammaticalement il pourrait bien s’agir effectivement du baptême, et ainsi du baptême d’eau25. Ceci est intéressant, car ce serait une confirmation de l’importance du signe du baptême dans notre compréhension des deux facettes de notre union au Christ : notre union au Christ en sa mort et en sa résurrection.
Le baptême d’eau est alors l’expression confessionnelle de notre baptême dans l’Esprit. C’est par ce baptême de l’Esprit que nous sommes ressuscités dans une vie de foi (Colossiens 2:12 et Romains 8:11) et par lequel nous avons été greffés au corps du Christ. Ce corps est une réalité universelle qui transcende le temps et l’espace (Église de tous les temps et de toute nationalité) qui se manifeste localement par l’église locale. Cette manifestation locale sera effectivement une manifestation droitement articulée de la réalité universelle si les caractéristiques qui définissent chacun de ses membres locaux sont une droite expression des caractéristiques universelles du corps du Christ. Ceci concernera principalement la réalité de notre union au Christ inaugurée par le baptême dans sa mort et le baptême dans l’Esprit (application des bénéfices sotériologiques acquis par Christ dans sa mort et sa résurrection), exprimée par l’obéissance de la foi et signifiée officiellement de manière « inaugurale » par le baptême par immersion et de manière « continuelle » par le repas de la cène.
Pour conclure, nous voudrions ajouter que le baptême et le processus de reconnaissance d’un membre dans l’église locale sont tous deux un processus d’identification réciproque identique.
En effet, tous deux représentent une étape de la vie du croyant où le croyant et la communauté locale sont en même temps identifiés et identifiants. Et la substance identitaire de ce processus se trouve exclusivement dans la personne du Christ à laquelle nous avons été unis par la foi.
Dans le cas du baptême, le croyant revêt officiellement l’identité d’un homme alors uni au Christ et il identifie la communauté dans laquelle il se fait baptiser comme la manifestation locale du corps de Christ dans laquelle il est maintenant incorporé et dans laquelle il va servir. De son côté, la communauté des croyants, qui est témoin du baptême, revêt officiellement, pour celui-ci, l’identité de la nouvelle famille à laquelle il est greffé et dont il sera l’objet de ses soins, et elle identifie le baptisé comme un nouveau membre du corps de Christ qui est alors manifesté localement par elle-même.
Dans l’acceptation et la reconnaissance d’une personne comme membre de l’église locale, le croyant revêt officiellement l’identité d’un membre de la manifestation locale du corps de Christ et il identifie la communauté des croyant comme la manifestation locale du corps de Christ dans laquelle il veut servir. De son côté, la communauté des croyants qui accepte un croyant comme membre revêt officiellement, pour celui-ci, l’identité de la nouvelle famille à laquelle il est ajouté, et elle identifie le nouveau membre comme un nouveau membre du corps de Christ qui est alors manifesté localement par elle-même.
Dans les deux cas, le processus d’identification est uniquement centré sur la reconnaissance d’une identité conséquente à notre union au Christ et notre incorporation en son corps. Cette nouvelle identité est la conséquence de notre union au Christ, une union dans sa mort et sa résurrection, par le Saint-Esprit, et qui se manifeste par la foi.
Ainsi, de même que nous ne pouvons fonder le baptême par immersion sur une autre réalité que notre union au Christ, nous ne pouvons pas non plus fonder notre politique de reconnaissance d’un membre de l’église sur autre chose que la réalité mystérieuse du corps de Christ auquel sont greffés les élus lorsqu’ils sont unis au Christ par la foi.
En conclusion, puisque le baptême par immersion est le mode baptismal bibliquement établi pour déclarer qu’une personne est unie au Christ, et qu’elle est ainsi membre du corps de Christ, le baptême par immersion demeure le seul mode valable dans notre praxis pour accepter officiellement des nouveaux membres au sein de l’église locale, manifestation locale du corps de Christ. La seule possibilité raisonnable et cohérente pour accepter des membres qui auraient été baptisés, après confession de foi, par un autre mode opératoire que celui par immersion, serait d’abandonner notre compréhension du baptême par immersion comme seul mode baptismal acceptable pour témoigner de l’union du croyant au Christ. Pour ce faire, il nous faudra alors démontrer exégétiquement que la Bible tolère une pluralité de mode baptismal (immersion, aspersion…) pour signifier notre union au Christ. Ainsi, nous pourrons raisonnablement intégrer une pluralité de mode baptismal pour la reconnaissance d’un membre du corps local de Christ, conséquence nécessaire de notre union au Christ. Nous devrions toujours mettre un point d’honneur à ce que nos politiques ecclésiales et fédératives soient le héraut fidèle des Saintes Écritures, certes empreintes de l’amour et de la douceur caractéristiques de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, mais aussi de sa fidélité exemplaire à l’égard du canon biblique. Finalement, nous pensons que la question proposée par notre Association est un questionnement sur la légitimité du baptême par immersion comme mode exclusif baptismal. Et si nos statuts officiels incorporent une pluralité de mode baptismal dans la question de l’état de membre, les membres de nos églises locales, qui n’auront pas tous été baptisés de la même manière, seront logiquement amenés à concevoir que la méthode dont nous baptisons n’est pas importante. En tant que baptistes, est-ce cela que nous voulons?
1Voir par exemple T. Schreiner & S.D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism, NAC Studies in Bible and Theology, B&H Academics (2006).
3Comme nous le verrons, cet article focalise uniquement sur l’aspect statutaire de la question (règlement et statuts constitutifs de notre association d’église). Nous ne traiterons pas des cas particuliers, en particulier les cas exceptionnels où nous devons utiliser des modes baptismaux alternatifs à cause d’handicap ou de problèmes de santé majeurs.
4Je précise ici que lorsque je parle d’expression, je souligne simplement le fait que le salut accompli par Jésus-Christ est ce qui est signifié dans les deux cas et non que ceux-ci ne soient ni des outils ex opere operato ni des pratiques synergiques qui seraient essentielles dans l’application des bénéfices de la rédemption accomplie par Jésus-Christ au croyant. Mon approche sotériologique est monergiste : La nouvelle naissance est une œuvre rédemptrice accomplie par Dieu en nous unissant au Christ par son Esprit Saint. La foi et l’obéissance qui en découlent sont des expressions de cette œuvre régénératrice accomplie par le Saint-Esprit en nous unissant au Christ Jésus (Eph 2), nous permettant ainsi de bénéficier de la vie que Christ reçut par le Père lorsqu’il fut justifié par l’Esprit (1 Tim 3.16, Rom 8.10-12).
5Lorsque nous parlons du baptême, le signifié du baptême est ce qui est signifié, ce qui est confessé et proclamé par l’acte Baptismal (ou pour reprendre l’expression augustinienne, le signifié est la description biblique de cette grâce invisible proclamée par l’acte visible du baptême). Le signifiant est l’acte baptismal en soi (l’acte visible).
6Comme nous le verrons dans notre étude ultérieure du texte de 1 Cor 12, il est impératif de noter que la distinction systématique qui est parfois faite entre membre de l’église locale et membre de l’église universelle, bien qu’étant utile pour exprimer droitement la réalité de l’église dans l’espace et le temps ainsi que la réalité des tensions actuelles de l’église locale vis-à-vis de sa future consommation lors du retour de Jésus-Christ, ne nous permet pas d’imposer une quelconque dichotomie quant à ce qui fonde chacune de ces deux réalités. Paul parle toujours d’une seule et même église, certes inscrite dans le temps et dans l’attente de sa pleine et entière consommation, mais dont les caractéristiques premières sont des conséquences directes et nécessaires de la réalité de l’union eschatologique du Christ avec Son peuple. Les caractéristiques développées par Paul se doivent d’être les balises de notre propre réflexion quant à la recherche d’une juste et droite politique ecclésiale pour l’acceptation d’une personne comme membre au sein de notre église locale. Dit autrement, notre politique ecclésiale d’acceptation d’un membre se doit toujours d’être le héraut des principes néotestamentaires qui définissent ce qu’est un membre du corps de Christ, à savoir les principes liés à notre union au Christ, Lui qui est la tête du corps qu’est l’église (locale ou universelle).
7Pour approfondir cette question entre le salut et l’union au Christ, voir les excellents ouvrages suivants : C. R. Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ, Zondervan, 2012 ; R. Letham, Union with Christ, P&R Publishings (2011) ; M. Garcia, Life in Christ, Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology, Paternoster (2008).
8John Murray, Redemption accomplished and applied, Eerdmans (1955), p.161.
9Terme décrivant un état qui commence (ce terme vient du latin inchoativus, inchoare (latin classique) qui veut dire « commencer »). Une expression similaire est le « déjà et le pas encore ».
10Douglas Moo (Ibid, p.360) souligne que certains ont compris « être baptisé en Christ » comme l’abréviation de l’expression « être baptisé au nom de Jésus » (Matt 28 :19, Actes 8 :6 & 19 :5, 1 Cor 1 :13). Néanmoins, comme le souligne avec justesse D. Moo, nous ne pouvons limiter l’expression à cette unique réalité, et l’expression « εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν » comporte une réalité spatiale : nous avons été baptisés dans « l’union avec Christ ». Paul exprime d’ailleurs un raisonnement similaire en Col 2.11-12. Pour l’ensemble du développement, le baptême sera toujours compris comme étant pratiqué par immersion, seul mode faisant justice à l’ensemble des données bibliques et particulièrement à l’usage du terme βαπτίζω dans les textes concernés.
11Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, Eerdmans (1996), p.354.
12Nous soulignons que c’est la mort du Christ à cause du verset antécédent qui le précise : « ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν (…) εἰς τὸν θάνατον αὐτοῦ ».
13Une fois encore, nous soulignons que nous rejetons toute lecture exclusivement sacramentelle de ce texte qui donnerait au sacrement du baptême une valeur intrinsèque vivifiante telle que le « ex opere operato » de la dogmatique sacramentelle catholique romaine. En effet, il est important de noter que le texte ne dit pas que le sacrement du baptême est ce qui donne la vie, mais il dit que c’est un acte dont le signifié est le baptême dans la mort de Christ. Paul ne parle pas directement de l’œuvre du sacrement du baptême, mais il s’intéresse au statut eschatologique de ceux qui ont été baptisés. Cette différence est significative, car Paul focalise premièrement sur le statut des personnes et non sur le statut du sacrement en tant que tel.
14Au-delà de voir l’utilisation du baptême comme uniquement métaphorique (Ibid, p.336), Moo (D. Moo, Romans, NICNT, Eerdmans (1996), p.366) souligne avec justesse que Paul utilise βαπτίζω pour faire référence au baptême par l’eau, et que cette association d’idées (sacrement-régénération) est sûrement due au fait de la proximité temporelle du rite avec la conversion au sein de l’église primitive. Ce rite est appelé par Dunn « conversion-Initiation ». Ainsi, Paul utiliserait l’experience baptismale comme une metonymie pour parler de l’œuvre régénératrice dans notre union au Christ sans les confondre (cf. D. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, Eerdmans (2008), p.202-204). Le rite du baptême peut être ainsi comprise comme l’expression ecclésiale de l’appropriation de l’œuvre du Christ pour la personne : toute la puissance réside au sein du signifié du baptême, à savoir le Christ mort et ressuscité (Voir aussi T. Schreiner, Romans, Baker (1998), p.306-307).
15Nous parlons ici de la résurrection finale et non de l’aspect inchoatif de la résurrection que le croyant a déjà vécu au sein de sa nouvelle naissance (Eph 2.4-6).
16Il est ainsi intéressant de noter qu’à ce niveau, nous nous distançons de nos frères réformés pédobaptistes en ce que nous reconnaissons le baptême, non comme le signe (pour le baptisé) de la promesse de la nouvelle alliance alors « accessible » par la foi, mais comme le signe de son « appropriation » de la promesse de la nouvelle alliance pleinement accomplie en Jésus-Christ.
17Comme le souligne G. Fee (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, TNICNT, Eerdmans (1987), p.602-603), l’expression au verset 12 « ainsi en est-il du Christ » (« οὕτως καὶ ὁ Χριστός ») est certainement une forme de métonymie de sorte que Paul utilise « Christ » ici pour parler du corps de Christ. Ainsi, Paul souligne l’unité observable du corps humain comme une métaphore de la véritable unité dans le corps du Christ. Voir aussi D. Carson, Showing the Spirit, Baker (1987), p. 42.
18C. R. Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ, Zondervan, 2012, p.268-269.
19Ernest Best, The Letter of Paul to the Romans, The Cambridge Bible Commentary : Cambridge University Press (1967), p.141.
20D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, Baker (1987), p.43.
21F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, NCBC, Eerdmans (1971), p.121. Nous avons préféré conserver la citation dans sa langue originale à cause de sa densité et afin de ne pas trahir l’auteur.
22Pour une exégèse très pertinente de ce passage, voir R. Gaffin Jr, Resurrection and Redemption, P&R Publishings (1987), p.79-92 ; G. Vos, Redemptive History an Biblical Interpretation, P&R Publishings (2001), p.91-125.
23Voir R. Gaffin Jr, Resurrection and Redemption, P&R Publishings (1987) pour approfondir cette dimension d’union économique entre le Christ ressuscité et le Saint-Esprit.
24D. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, Eerdmans (2008), p.202-204.
25Pour une défense de ce point de vue cf. Ibid.
D. Why The Dripped
Should Be Dipped!
Dr. Jonathan E. Stairs, Cambridge, Ontario
At a recent National Convention of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches, the question was raised and discussed as to whether non-immersed believers should be considered for membership in FEBCC Churches.1 Since the Convention, I have felt pressed by the Lord to study and write a paper on the subject for three reasons: 1) to articulate what I personally believe the Scriptures teach on this subject; 2) to determine what I will teach or will continue to teach and practice at Temple Baptist Church, Cambridge, the Church for which I am the Lead Pastor; and 3) to contribute to the discussion on baptism and what it means. My motive in all things is to encourage unity around Christ and His Word and not to conflate the issue. Therefore, Ephesians 4:4-5 should be the marquee verse in both attitude and application, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, ONE BAPTISM” (emphasis added). In fact, those who are questioning our movement’s historical position are some of my closest friends and pastors whom I respect the most in our Fellowship. Their much appreciated love makes me all the more vigilant to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, and my prayer is that we will all do likewise.
I consider this issue to be a “second-order doctrine” or conviction, rather than an absolute or fundamental of the faith. Albert Mohler is helpful when he writes, “Second-order doctrines would include the meaning and mode of baptism, …but second-order issues resist easy settlement by those who would prefer an either/or approach. Many of the most heated disagreements among serious believers take place at the second-order level, for these issues frame our understanding of the Church and its ordering by the Word of God.”2 May our discussion on this issue create only light and not heat! Because the mode of baptism is a second-order doctrine, I can accommodate my FEBCC brethren having a different view than mine, and I did so when I served and was ordained in the Evangelical Free Church of America, which practices both modes of baptism. Nevertheless, I am going to make as strong an appeal I can for what I believe the Scriptures teach, as I did at my Ordination Council.
[*I believe the mode of baptism is worthy of our prayerful discussion because it is an issue of identity. Are we as a Fellowship going to emphasize Evangelical or Baptist to describe us? *](I take “Evangelical” to be the broader term and more accepting of different modes, while “Baptist” is the more defined term and historically committed to immersion only.) Our Baptist forefathers were so committed to this doctrine of believer’s baptism by immersion that they were persecuted and some went to jail for it.3 This should cause us to take pause and appreciate what our forbearers undertook for us.4 My hope is that we continue to identify ourselves as Baptists, even if it means redeeming the name in our culture. Being a Baptist conveys that we believe so greatly in identifying with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ that we are willing to advertise that truth by putting it in the names of our Churches! Maybe the loss of the word “Baptist” in our Churches’ names and on our Church signs, has led newcomers to not understand this precious and long-held doctrine. I recommend we continue to use the word “Baptist” because [*baptism through immersion conveys the first cost of discipleship! *]Even non-Baptists and non-Christians understand baptism to mean that one is “all-in” as they use the phrase “being baptized by fire.”5
After further, but not exhaustive prayer and study, I[* am convinced that we should maintain our position that all members of Fellowship Baptist Churches must be saved AND baptized by immersion. *]I have come to this conclusion by endeavoring to answer the following questions from the Scriptures: 1) what is baptism? 2) What is membership? 3) What does it mean for Jesus to call us to radical submission? 4) Should the Church change its doctrine and practice to accommodate those who hold a differing view? 5) What about those who cannot be baptized due to a lack of water or are not physically able to be baptized? 6) What might the future be if members do not practice immersion? There might be other relevant questions that I am willing to consider, but these are limitations of this brief paper. Furthermore, this paper is written in a teaching document style with interrogatives, rather than in a thesis format, so that I can use it to teach our Church’s leadership and congregation.
The Meaning And Significance Of Baptism
1) What is baptism? I start with this question because I believe the meaning and mode of baptism are intrinsically connected for baptism to have its full impact. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ironically written by a Lutheran paedobaptist, states, “The basic conception both of Paul and of the New Testament generally in relation to baptism is that of the cleansing bath. (1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 10:22)… Baptism implies participation in the death and resurrection of Christ.”6 This is foundational because some think that refusing the non-immersed is to uphold the form over the function.7 However, you can’t separate the two. Baptism is more than a ceremony; it is an action and so the form informs the function in a similar way that circumcision was a ceremony, but required only a certain part of the body to be circumcised. To circumcise other parts of the body would not be considered circumcision. In a similar way, I believe baptism other than immersion is not a legitimate baptism.
Why? Christian baptism simply means to “dip” or “immerse” under water in the name of the Father, Son8 and Holy Spirit.9 Greek linguists Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker further explain baptism means in Classical Greek “to plunge, sink, drench or overwhelm.”10 In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament), we find the word baptizw referring “dipping of the morsel in wine (Judges 2:14), of feet in the river (Joshua 3:15) and dipping of the finger in blood by the priest for sacrifices (Leviticus 4:6, 17) and of the dipping of unsanctified vessels in water to be purified (Leviticus 11:32).”11 In the New Testament, the word baptizw (baptizō) is used typically in the sense to “dip” or “immerse.”12 Most importantly of these references listed in the footnote below, Jesus Himself when baptized was described as “immediately coming up out of the water” (Mark 1:10), which seems to be an allusion to full immersion, rather than just exiting the water of the Jordan River.
Non-immersionists often point to a few exceptions of baptizō (and its cognates) as permission to practice a different mode. They cite the aforementioned passages in the Septuagint or the Greek versions of the Apocrypha to advocate for pouring because that was how baptizō was understood by the Jews in their day. However, we must remember that the Septuagint was written two hundred years before Christ and by then baptism could have evolved to immersion.13 Furthermore, we don’t find our doctrinal practices in the Apocrypha. Non-immersionists should focus their study of the Septuagint and baptizw on 2 Kings 5:14, where Naaman “ebaptiato” or “‘dipped’ seven times” in the Jordan River. If one wants to see how those in Alexandria understood baptizō when translating the OT, this would be the best example.
Non-immersionists’ strongest reference for baptizō being evidence for sprinkling in the New Testament appears to be in Hebrews 9:13-14, “For if the blood of goats and the bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Presbyterian theologian John Murray states, “Baptism symbolizes, represents and seals the application to us of the blood of Christ for the removal of the guilt of sin. The figure used in the New Testament for this application of the blood of Christ is that of sprinkling (Hebrews 9:13, 14, 22; 10:22; 12:24; 1 Peter 1:2).”14 However, the sprinkling of Christ’s blood was not what saved us, otherwise His circumcision in Luke 2:21 would have made satisfactory atonement. It was His actual death, burial and resurrection that saved us. Christ’s sprinkling of His blood in Hebrews 9:10-23 is an allusion to this sacrifice, not the literal act of sprinkling His blood on an altar.
Another passage that non-immersionists like to use in their argument against immersion is Mark 7:3-4 where the word baptismous is used to describe “the washing of cups and of utensils and of bronze vessels.”15 However, the washings of these inanimate worship utensils did not exclude full immersion. Most likely, the worship utensils were fully immersed in water, just like what occurs when manually washing dishes. I can still hear my mother’s correction as a boy when I tried to get away with only rinsing or sprinkling water on a dirty cup. The dishes needed to be fully immersed to become fully clean. According to Richard France, “the washing in this case is not merely of the hands, but apparently involves immersion of the whole person. Full immersion in a miqwâ as preliminary to worship is well attested both in literary sources and by the discovery of the miqwā’ōt,”16 at Qumran and in Jerusalem near the Temple site. Furthermore, we find a hint about the extent of water needed for these ceremonial washings by how large the jars were that are mentioned in John 2:6—each jar was 20 to 30 gallons in capacity. Therefore, we can conclude that even the washings of the Pharisees and their worship utensils were by full immersion. To baptize in the New Testament is to fully immerse under water.
Evidence of this truth is found in the early Church’s practice of baptism by immersion. According to George Duncan, “The (early Church) fathers often refer to baptism… (and) speak of it as immersion.”17 Study of the Early Church Fathers evidences that immersion was the common practice.18 This paper does not have time to do an in-depth study on all the statements on baptism by the Early Church Fathers, but I will quote from one of the earliest Christian teaching manuals, The Didache, regarding baptism,
“With regard to baptism, here is the teaching: You are to baptize in this way.
Once you have gone back over all that is in the Two Ways, you baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water. However, if you do not have access to living water, then baptize in some other water; and if you do not have any cold water, then you can use warm water.
And if you cannot get access to either (running or still water), then pour water three times on the head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Morever, before the baptism takes place, let both the person baptizing and the person who is going to be baptized fast—along with as many others as are able to do so. Indeed, you must instruct the person who is going to be baptized to fast one or two days before the baptism.”19
We need to remember that The Didache is not Scripture, but it does give insight into the practices of the Early Church. The Didache emphasizes baptism by immersion, but allows for pouring in the absence of much water, especially in the desert climates. This exception to the rule proves the rule. Further insight to Early Church practices is found in the oldest denomination, the Eastern Orthodox, which have, throughout their history, consistently immersed new believers three times to acknowledge the Trinity.20 Also, some authors even argue that early Christian basilicas were designed with facilities for baptism by immersion in mind.21 Baptismal founts were later additions to Churches. A careful study of the New Testament and Early Church history testifies to the practice of baptism by immersion.
Now that I have described the mode baptism found in the New Testament, I need to delve into its significance. Baptism is more than just the amount of water used or the mode by which it is practiced. The decision of how to be baptized is not like the choice between taking a shower and a bath. No, baptism is a holy act and I follow the rich tradition of Regular Baptists22 who hold to the fact that God does something unique and special in baptism by immersion. Regular Baptists ironically followed the paedobaptist and a non-immersionist John Calvin, who taught,
“Baptism is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted to the fellowship of the Church, that being in-grafted into Christ we may be accounted children of God. It is a sign and evidence of our purification. It is a kind of sealed instrument by which the Lord assures us that all our sins are so deleted, covered and effaced, that they will never come into His sight, never be mentioned, never imputed.”23
Calvin was greatly affected by Romans 6:3-4 where the Apostle Paul taught that baptism “into Christ Jesus, was being baptized into His death.” Calvin said that of our baptism “This shows us our mortification in Christ and new life in him.”24 Being baptized by immersion powerfully seals in the mind of the believer that their sins were crucified to the Cross and buried with Christ to be raised and walk in newness of life. As Paul David Tripp states, “In baptism … Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection.”25 This is why I follow the tradition of quoting Romans 6:3-4 when baptizing people. [I believe God powerfully uses baptism by immersion in the life of believer for sanctification. *]There are few better reminders of your identity in Christ than baptism by immersion for the believer. When believers doubt their salvation, we should remind them of Christ’s grace and their baptismal confession.[ *]
Nevertheless, I realize that some in our movement might not be impressed with John Calvin’s views, and hold to the General Baptist or Arminian view of baptism as only a symbol. I encourage them to read the book More than a Symbol by Dr. Stan Fowler, Professor of Theology at Heritage College and Seminary. Dr. Fowler surveys Baptist history and aids our understanding of the significance of baptism. He reminds us that Baptist theologians and preachers through the centuries have wrestled with words like “sign,” “sacrament” and “ordinance” to describe baptism.
I realize that the term “sacrament” is a term that many in our movement rightly shy away from because our Catholic friends use it to convey that one must do something (actually seven sacraments) for salvation beyond simply trusting in Christ. Baptism could be a “means of grace” in the sense of sanctification (not justification), but we need to stay far away from any notion of baptismal regeneration. Nevertheless, if we stick with baptism being an “ordinance,” one of only two commanded by Christ and practiced communally, then at the very least, it evidences the importance of baptism by immersion. [*The commands of Christ are not optional! The lack of baptism will not condemn us, but the rejection of baptism will. *]As Dr. Fowler states, “Just as true faith which brings justification demands ongoing evidence of good works, so also true faith demands initial expression in baptism.”26 If baptism by immersion is significant, both Biblically and historically, shouldn’t we then call people to be immersed? Baptism by immersion should be considered less of a stumbling block or spiritual hoop to go through, and more of a calling to declare what Christ has done in a person’s life. Being baptized is a delight and declaration of the exchanged life—our lives for Christ’s.
Defining Church Membership
2) What is Church membership? Church membership at its most basic definition means that one is committed to a local body of believers. A person joins the Church by declaring they believe what that particular local body of believers hold to, especially regarding faith in Jesus Christ. This public declaration is often done through baptism. We read about this process in Acts 2:41, “Those who accepted his (Peter’s) message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” This verse is one of the strongest cases for Church membership in the New Testament and it records belief and baptism by immersion as prerequisites to membership. I do not think we should deviate from such a formula for Church membership. Baptism is a call to follow Christ and a call to the local Church. As one Anabaptist writer says, “Where there is no water baptism, there is no Church.”27
Baptism As Radical Submission To Christ
3) What does it mean for Jesus to call us to radical submission? At our most recent National Convention, we passed the Fellowship Direction document. Our first value declares, “We unite together in radical submission to God’s Word resulting in Biblical proclamation and personal transformation.” I interpret this value to mean that we need to call people to the highest form of radical submission to God’s Word. If we value radical submission, then shouldn’t we call those who come to FEBCC Churches who have not been immersed to be baptized? Did not our Lord Jesus Himself demonstrate this when John the Baptist tried to refuse to baptize Him and Jesus declared that He needed to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15)? Jesus was willing to fulfill all righteousness and be baptized “to accomplish redemption in obedience to the will of God.”28 We should do nothing less than be willing to fully obey God.
Baptism is that first step of obedience. It is understood as radical. Even non-Baptists understand the significance of being baptized by immersion and often give their family members difficulty when they decide to be baptized by immersion. I teach that people should be baptized by immersion out of obedience to Christ, for the sake of community and for witness. As the Apostle Paul said, “To the Jews, I became a Jew” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul even circumcised Timothy for this very purpose of mission to the Jews (Acts 16:3). Is baptizing somebody by immersion as costly as adult circumcision? I think we fear that we might lose people by calling them to radical submission, when in reality people want to give their time to the things that matter most. This is why Jesus always called His disciples to leave everything and follow Him. I repeat: baptism by immersion conveys the first cost of discipleship.
Accomodation Of Other Views
[*4) Should the Church change its doctrine and practice to accommodate those who hold a differing view? *]This is one of the most challenging questions because we want to exercise love to all. Influential Pastor John Piper and the Elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota publically wrestled with this question. We can learn much from Bethlehem Baptist Church’s process.29 Piper wanted to make sure the door to the local Church was not smaller than the door to the Kingdom of God. I believe this is the correct attitude when it comes to belief about the absolute doctrine of salvation by faith alone. However, I think we should remember that the mode of baptism is a “second-order” doctrine. “Second-order” doctrines cause groups of believers to rally around convictions. These convictions and worship preferences have caused denominations to form for the sake of unity, while still respecting the diversity of other Churches’ beliefs. This upholds our Evangelical ecumenicalism, while maintaining Baptist conviction. Baptism is one of those “second-order” doctrines that define us as a Fellowship. Churches have chosen to limit their complete autonomy when joining FEBCC because they agree to unite around immersion (and other doctrines and values). Individuals also choose to limit their convictions to join a Church.
Therefore, our practice going forward should be what we do for any area of discipleship. We patiently pray and instruct new believers or the unconvinced to study what the Bible teaches (2 Timothy 2:24-26). We don’t change our convictions to encourage growth; we call people to become convinced themselves. It has been my experience over my eighteen years of pastoral ministry that many of the non-immersed have reconsidered and joyfully been baptized by immersion after going through the exercise of studying baptism in the New Testament. They testify that there was something holy different about getting immersed. If baptism was a matter of conscience before studying the New Testament on the subject, it often becomes a matter of conviction after thorough study.30
Physical Limitations For Baptism
5) But what about those who cannot be baptized due to a lack of water or are not physically able31[* to be baptized?*] The lack of water would be rare indeed and not an issue in Canada, which has the largest supply of fresh water in the world. There would almost certainly be a lake or river nearby to be baptized in. If in winter the waterways were frozen, baptism could be delayed a few months. The point is that people work hard at finding water to drink and they should work hard at finding water to be baptized in.
Others cite that the thief on the cross was not baptized (Luke 23:39-43) and try to make a case that baptism is optional. However, I’m sure the thief on the cross would have loved to come down from his cross and be baptized declaring his faith in Christ, but he didn’t have the opportunity to do so. The Early Church responded to this question of baptizing the infirm by performing what was called “clinical baptisms.” “It was more of a ceremony where the infirm declared their faith in Christ, but weren’t immersed. These non-immersed were called “clinics,” not Christians, until they recovered and were fully immersed in baptism.”32 I am not proposing that we call the non-immersed “clinics,” but I’ve attempted to show how seriously the Early Church took baptism by immersion. These rare exceptions prove the rule of being baptized by immersion.
The Early Church reminds us that we should stick to our convictions. If a person from another Church proposed that we include in our Statements of Faith that speaking in tongues is the evidence of salvation or that we should no longer use instruments in worship, we would not change our practices to accommodate them. Instead, we would lovingly encourage them to find a Church that holds their conviction. Therefore, I don’t think we should accommodate those who hold a differing view. There are many believers who do not accept immersion only. If they want to join our Churches, they are required to be immersed. This change would mean we are joining them. Who should be joining whom? And what is the next group we decide to join? The reality is that if someone really believed in baptism by immersion only, he or she would be baptized by immersion.
Nevertheless, if the Fellowship votes to give greater autonomy to individual Churches to decide what constitutes a member, I believe each FEBCC Church should stay within the Fellowship because one should only leave over first-order doctrinal deviancy. My hope is to encourage Temple Baptist Church, Cambridge to remain in the unity no matter the outcome of the decision. I see it as a great problem to leave and potentially risk our witness for Christ to the communities we find ourselves in, by being divisive over a second doctrine.
The Future For Baptists
6) What might the future be if members do not practice immersion? *]This last question is one only of speculation. To join a Church means that one is encouraged to serve based on their gifts. If the non-immersed join FEB Churches, could we have in the future elders and pastors who don’t hold to our precious doctrine of baptism by immersion and teach the mode of baptism is not important or worse, that baptism is not important? [*Will we still be Baptists? I know we are not proposing to jettison the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and become like our friends at the Salvation Army. However, if baptism by immersion has been a core conviction of our FEB Churches and we are willing to let the non-immersed join us as members, what will our Churches hold as convictions in the future? This is not a “slippery slope” argument based on fear, but a legitimate concern.
At first, I thought this issue raised at our National Convention was a distraction from being on mission with Jesus. Why is this issue now being raised? Why change now? It is unsettling. Have we discovered our practice was wrong or at least too narrow? As an adjunct professor at one of our Bible College and Seminary partners, I applaud the quest for new scholarship, but I don’t see new definitions of baptizw and its cognates being discovered, only reinforcing baptism by immersion. Why would our theologians and leaders point us in a new direction? I will choose to assume their positive intent to be more inclusive, though I still uphold the call to be more radical submissive to Christ.
I also questioned whether there is sufficient benefit to changing our position to compensate for what could be very divisive to our Fellowship, especially since this change would only accommodate a few. However, I realized this question of accepting the non-immersed into Church membership could be used by God to further clarify what we believe and more importantly challenge us to call people to the most radical submission to God’s Word – to deny ourselves and take our cross daily and follow Him through teaching and practicing baptism by immersion only. Then we can all heartily proclaim that we have, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
1 This is not the first time our Fellowship has wrestled with this question, but not on a national scale. Some Churches have left the FEBCC over this issue in the past, most prominent being Creekside Church in Waterloo, Ontario.
2 Albert Mohler, “A Call for Theological Triage,” Revive, Vol. 45, Issue 2 (Fall 2014): 18. Some disagree with Mohler and argue that the mode of baptism is not a second order doctrine, but a first order one. However, the fact that the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:17 makes it clear that baptism in itself does not save a person should place it as a second-order doctrine. I am not willing to die for the mode of baptism. However, I would be willing to die to uphold the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and that salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ.
3 More than 40 Baptist Ministers were imprisoned from 1760-1777 in Virginia before the American Revolution. The forced dunking of pastors David Murrow and Edward Mintz in the Nansemond River for encouraging the baptism of confessing believers is an example of persecution of early Baptists. For a synopsis of the persecution of early Baptists, read J.M. Carroll’s The Trail of Blood (originally published in 1931) https://archive.org/stream/TheTrailOfBlood/41344433-The-Trail-of-Blood#page/n0/mode/2up. Accessed December 13, 2014.
4 There is some question as to how committed early Baptists were to immersion. In 1609, English Pastor and Baptist Founder John Smyth led his congregation to reject infant baptism to practice believer’s baptism, but it was not until 1642 that the General Baptists adopted immersion as its practice. FEBPAC raises this point in their document “A Theological Issue Regarding Baptism and Church Membership – A Resource to Assist FEBPAC Discernment.” However, we need to remember that Baptists find their roots ultimately in the New Testament practice of immersion. We should be thankful to the Reformers who recovered the doctrine of grace and we are thankful for the Anabaptists who recovered believer’s baptism, but we don’t think they went far enough in their faithfulness to the Scriptures. Furthermore, we should be thankful for our Baptist founders, but just because they didn’t immerse for the first forty years of their existence does not undermine our conviction of immersion. We would say that their theological rediscovery of immersion was a process, eventually leading us back to the correct mode of baptism.
5 I think it worth to note that even country singer Carrie Underwood understands the importance of immersion by taking criticism for her song “There’s Something in the Water.” http://www.axs.com/news/carrie-underwood-stirs-up-controversy-with-atheists-on-something-in-th-22554. (Accessed January 13, 2015.) If she is willing to stand up for her belief in immersion, why aren’t we as FEB Churches?
6 Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament – Vol. I (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 540-541.
7 “A Theological Issue Regarding Baptism and Church Membership – A Resource to Assist FEBPAC Discernment.” 2014
8 My spiritual heritage emphasizes including the name of Jesus in the baptismal confession in light of the fact that all baptisms mentioned in the Book of Acts and in the Epistles emphasize being baptized into Jesus Christ. For further study on this subject, please consult my father, Dr. Philip Stairs for his Master’s thesis on “The Problem of the Formula Used with Water Baptism” (Winona Lake School Theology, 1968). I think one of my father’s strongest points in his thesis is his statement, “The question of mode affects the formula. If the correct mode is affusion or pouring, then it can be a taken as symbol of the pouring of the Holy Spirit, but instead we are baptized in the name of Jesus and immersion symbolizes his death, burial and resurrection.” (Stairs, 49).
9 Being baptized by immersion in names other than the Trinity, like the Mormons practice, is not valid.
10 Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature – Second Edition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 131.
11 Kittel, 535. It is important to distinguish that the priest in Leviticus 4 is dipping or “baptizing” his finger in the blood and then he sprinkled the blood on the altar. These are two separate acts distinguished by two different words in the cleansing process.
12 Matthew 3:6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 16; 21:5; 28:19; Mark 1:4, 8, 9; 10:38, 39; 11:30; 16:16; Luke 3:3, 12, 16, 21; 7:20, 29; 12:50; 20:4; John 1:25, 26, 28, 31 33; 3:22, 23, 26; 4:1, 2; 10:40; Acts 1:22; 2:38, 41; 8:12, 13, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:37, 47, 48; 11:16; 13:24; 16:15, 33; 18:8, 25; 19:3, 4; 22:16; Romans 6:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 1:13, 14, 15, 16, 17; 12:13; 15:29; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5, Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21. The two exceptions would be Acts 1:5, which refers to Spirit-baptism and in 1 Corinthians 10:2. (I’m grateful to Dr. Wayne Baxter who pointed these exceptions out to me.) Both refer to immersion, but not exclusively to water. 1 Corinthians 10:2 is a peculiar reference to when the Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry land. It seems the ones “immersed” by water in that instance were the Egyptians who chased the Israelites and were drowned by the waters overwhelming them. However, the Israelites were immersed by the cloud of Moses, which in the context seems to refer to the cloud that held the manifest glory of God (Exodus 13:21-22). In this sense, the Israelites were immersed or covered as the cloud went over them from their front guard to their rear guard (Exodus 14:19).
13 In regard to the reliability of the LXX, N.T. Wright states, “In many cases it is quite possible that the LXX gives us access to an earlier Hebrew form, though in many others the LXX seems to represent a sharp move away from the original.” N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 147.
14 John Murray, Christian Baptism (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1972), 24.
15 Some early manuscripts record, “pitchers, kettles and dining couches (tables).” It would be wrong to base a doctrine such as a mode of baptism based on a suspect textual variant. Furthermore, though it is hard to imagine that the Pharisees would fully dip a table in water, they would thoroughly wash the tables by covering it with water – a variation of immersion appropriate for its context.
16 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark – NIGTC (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 282.
17 George Duncan, Baptism and the Baptists (Richmond: The Baptist Foundation of B.C., 1992), 20.
18 George Duncan quotes extensively the Early Church Fathers in Baptism and the Baptists. Everett Ferguson in his book Baptism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009) is another great resource on the subject and provides primary source material.
19 Thomas O’Loughlin, The Didache – A Window on the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 166.
20 It should be noted that though the Eastern Orthodox baptize by immersion only, they don’t emphasize believer’s baptism because they immerse infants.
21 Duncan, 21.
22 This term should not be confused with the group of Churches called the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (G.A.R.B.C.) in the United States. G.A.R.B.C. Churches tend to lean toward an Arminian view, not a Calvinist one.
23 John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion – Volume II, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), 513.
24 Calvin, 515.
25 Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2008), 32.
26 Fowler, 201.
27 Rollin Stely Armour, Anabaptist Baptism: A Representative Study (Kitchener: Herald Press, 1966), 43.
28 D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Commentary – Volume 8, ed. Frank Gaebelin (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 108.
29 Bethlehem Baptist Church has posted their process of this issue at http://cdn.desiringgod.org/pdf/baptism_and_membership.pdf. Accessed December 14, 2014.
30 Baptism is not simply a matter of conscience because it is an explicit command of Christ (Matthew 28:19) and the Apostles (Acts 2:38). Therefore, the choice to be baptized is not the same as the choice to consume alcohol or not as mentioned in Romans 14:21. When calling people to be baptized, we are not placing a stumbling block before them, but an opportunity to obey Christ and to grow spiritually.
31 It is has been my experience that people delay getting baptized due to a fear of public speaking or a fear of water. In both cases, I remind them that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were at Jesus’ baptism and God would be with them as well at their baptism. Romans 1:16 and 8:31 are excellent verses to encourage the timid.
32 Duncan, 20. Duncan does not describe what the status was of those who didn’t recover and were not baptized.
E. Baptism Course Outline
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
Regardless of their spiritual background a true believer always wants to shed the patterns of the past in favour of the thoughts, feelings and actions Jesus requires. This means that anyone who comes to you or your church should be totally open to the “Berean attitude” (Acts 17:11) and search the Scriptures to measure their beliefs to see if they square with the Word. When there are emotional barriers created by incomplete Christian background shedding the emotional overlay to get down to facts is difficult for some. However, when one agrees to look at the facts of baptism it is cer¬tain they will sooner or later either come to accept the teaching of the Word, find a group where they feel more at home or reject the Word altogether.
If we are not strong on what the Bible teaches we cannot expect those who look to us to be strong. You may wish to consider the following material which attempts to honestly look at the Scriptures and the implications that flow from them when it comes to baptism.
What Are the Two Ordinances?
There are only two outward observances which Christ has appointed to be followed as visible signs of the saving truth of the Gospel. They are not sacraments in the sense that they do not convey any extra blessing of God related to the individual’s salvation. They are simply acts of devotion or obedience. All the power for the Christian life comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit—not external acts of religious devotion.
Baptism What Is It?
In the New Testament days, baptism was recognized as a very important event in the life of individual new believers. Jesus clearly taught that as people became committed to following Him, they should demonstrate their commitment by this interesting and physical act.
Baptism provided an outward sign to a watching world that an individual was now a follower of Christ and no longer wished to be identified with his old ways. In the same way today, baptism provides a visible way for every Christian believer to publicly declare his or her allegiance to Christ.
Baptism involves a Christian leader dipping a person completely under the surface of a sufficiently large body of water for a few moments and then bringing him or her to an upright position again.
By allowing this, a follower of Christ portrays the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and also his own desire to be dead to sin and alive unto God and a new life in Christ. This baptism is completed in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as Jesus prescribed.
How Did Baptism Get Started In The First Place?
Baptism Is Not….
What Does Baptism Mean?
Baptism is a symbol or picture, acted out in an open and public manner. It is a picture of what has taken place inside the believer when the Holy Spirit “baptized” that person into the “body of Christ” or the Church.
How Should We Be Baptized?
In the early Church when people were baptized they were always immersed in water. In fact, the word that is translated “baptize” in our Bible originally meant “dip” or “immerse” in the Greek language (the language in which the New Testament was written). Actually “baptize” is not a translation of that Greek word but rather it is an English way of saying “baptizō” the Greek word.
Since that is what was required in the New Testament times, that is what we require today. In addition to the word itself, there is strong evidence from the phrasing of several biblical accounts of baptism that immersion is the method used. Only immersion expresses the picture of death, burial, and resurrection with Christ.
Who Should Be Baptized?
Baptism is for believers only. And it is for all believers. That is, every person who has accepted Jesus as His Lord and Saviour is to show his allegiance to Christ in the water of baptism. It was so obvious in the early Church that over and over again we read that people “believed and were baptized”. It is up to the individual believer to declare his desire to be baptized. He or she is not to wait until someone pushes him into it.
Read Matthew 28:18-20, then number the following three responsibilities in the order in which they are to occur.
A disciple is a pupil or a learner who has made a choice about who he is going to follow. The main verb is “make disciples” and the three other actions are part of that. According to this verse, when should a person be baptized? (e.g. before or after he learns all about Christ’s commands, or before or after he decides to follow Jesus.)
For each passage below, number the sequence or order of the events according to the Scripture.
When Should We Be Baptized?
It is clear that only believers should be baptized. But when should this event occur? Many people feel that baptism should follow a time of spiritual growth in the new believer’s life. But there is nothing in the Bible to indicate this to be desirable. In fact, the pattern in the early Church was that people were baptized very soon after they came to Jesus. In fact, in one interesting story in Acts 16:25-34, people were baptized in the middle of the night after they believed!
It is safe to say that as soon as a believer recognizes baptism as a command to be obeyed, he is ready for baptism whether he feels ready or not.
On the other hand, it may be that a person has already undergone a Christian ceremony called “baptism”; but now realized that for one reason or another, this event did not meet Scriptural standards. Such a person should be baptized meeting the standards of Scripture, since his first “baptism” will no longer allow him to have a clear conscience before God.
References To Christian Baptism
John the Baptist’s Baptism
John pointed the way to Jesus. His baptism wasn’t Christian baptism; it was a sign of commitment and repentance for those being baptized.
We are left to presume that since followers of John were sincerely seeking God’s way they would have been baptized by Jesus’ disciples to welcome them to the “born again” family.
There is no shame in admitting you need completeness. It shows no disrespect to your heritage and the sincerity of it. It isn’t a matter of converting to a completely different faith; it is a matter of a more complete affirmation of the faith you already have. It is also a way of demonstrating to the Church that surrounds you that you are one with them.
The foregoing material could become the basis for a baptismal discussion with anyone open to considering the matter. If you aren’t bold enough to move beyond a general discussion to asking people to look at the Book then you aren’t bold enough.
When a true follower sits down with their Bible and considers this information they open themselves to the new conviction the Holy Spirit will bring. When they relax in Him they will experience their own joyful demonstration in the immersion experience.
Look for this material in downloadable form at BaptismIs.ca.
F. Consideration for the Membership of Non-immersed Baptized Believers in Fellowship Baptist Churches
Fellowship National Council, August 25, 2015
The following paper stems from requests submitted by Fellowship Churches to consider the question: is there allowance for local Churches to induct believers into their Church memberships who have experienced believer’s baptism by a mode other than immersion? The immediate answer to this question is “no”. Our Affirmation of Faith, unchanged since the Fellowship’s founding in 1953, clearly defines a Church as “a company of immersed believers”.
The question then became: Would the Fellowship consider a change to our current position in order to allow local Churches the liberty to induct believers into their Church memberships who have experienced believer’s baptism by a mode other than immersion? This request was rightly deemed to be a question for the National Council to deliberate on since the guardianship of our Affirmation of Faith, and any potential changes to it, is the responsibility of the National Council.
Desiring the input of our Fellowship family, the National Council conducted several meetings, forums, and discussion sessions with regional leaders, conference delegates, and local Church pastors over the last two years. As expected, opinions on this issue are varied and yet the Council concluded that there may be a way to move forward together, balancing sensitivity to the pastoral nature of this issue and our commitment to the practice of believer’s baptism by immersion. While several procedural and doctrinal considerations were submitted, the National Council decided to commission a group from across the Fellowship with pastoral and theological expertise to offer theological clarity and practical options for the National Council to consider. Representing geographical and doctrinal diversity, the “Study Team” did submit a theological paper to the National Council in April 2015, complete with historical, ecclesiastical and practical considerations. This paper was then reviewed and further developed by National Council, the results of which are entitled: Consideration for the Membership of non-immersed baptized believers in Fellowship Baptist Churches.
In addition to this document, the National Council, while respecting the diversity of persuasions on this issue, is submitting the following Motion to our Church family:
Motion: In response to requests by Member Churches, the National Council is giving Notice of Amendment to the Affirmation of Faith by a vote cast at the November 2017 Fellowship National Conference in Toronto to change the words under “The Local Church” from “we believe that a Church is a company of immersed believers” to “we believe that a Church is a company of believers baptized on confession of faith.”
All Fellowship Churches will continue to practise the baptism of believers by immersion only.
This Motion must be understood in light of the following:
Thank you for participating in the life of our Fellowship. Our mutual commitment to prayerfully considering this Motion will aid in our unity as believers and hopefully serve our mission to make passionate disciples of Jesus Christ and ensure that every Church has unforgettable Kingdom impact!
The purpose of this paper is to provide information and give notice of a Motion, to the member Churches and Regions of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, as we respond to a Membership and Baptism issue within the Fellowship.
The Membership and Baptism Issue revolves around the following question which was posed to our Fellowship by local Churches: “Is baptism by immersion a biblical condition of membership?” Some Fellowship Churches would like the liberty to induct believers into their membership who have experienced believer’s baptism by a mode other than full immersion. No Church is requesting a change to the practice of immersion in Fellowship Churches.
This request has come to National Council from some of our local Churches and Regions. National Council’s responsibility is to shepherd a process that allows our Fellowship of Churches to dialogue in a gracious manner giving all parties opportunity to respond in an equitable and fair manner. National Council began the process by hosting workshops on the issue in our Fellowship National Conference in Richmond, BC (2013) and Toronto, ON (2014.) National Council gave opportunity for open discussion during the 2014 FNC among delegates in attendance on the question: “Is baptism by immersion a biblical condition of membership?”
Representatives of all Regional Councils and National Council met in a CONGRESS meeting to dialogue and respond to our FNC delegate’s responses. Delegates and Churches were also informed that a Study Team had been formed, with Regional representation, to study and prepare a paper for National Council. The Study Team completed their task in the spring of 2015.
The following paper is National Council’s response to the issue based on the information received from our Churches, National Conference delegates and Study Team. This paper gives notice of a MOTION to be considered by our Churches along with explanation including biblical and pastoral considerations and the process our Fellowship will take as we respond to the proposed Motion:
“In response to requests by Member Churches, the National Council is giving Notice of Amendment to the Affirmation of Faith by a vote cast at the November 2017 Fellowship National Conference in Toronto to change the words under “The Local Church” from “we believe that a Church is a company of immersed believers” to “we believe that a Church is a company of believers baptized on confession of faith.” All Fellowship Churches will continue to practice the baptism of believers by immersion in water only.”
There will not be a vote on this Motion at our November 9-11, 2015 Fellowship National Conference (FNC) in Gatineau, QC. Further discussion by delegates will occur, and a process will be followed between Nov. 2015-Nov. 2016 as outlined later in this paper (section 9).
National Council has created a Motion that seeks to enable a process to allow Fellowship Churches to decide on this issue. By consensus, the National Council agreed that a Motion that allows accommodation on this issue was necessary because our Churches have asked for this discussion. It is National Council’s role to shepherd the discussion in a process to allow our Churches’ delegates to decide. National Council concluded that if it chose no change, it had not given our constituency an opportunity to fully address this issue. For example:
The National Council believes a two year process (FNC 2015-FNC 2017) is necessary to give adequate time for our constituency to process this issue. In our 62 year history, the Fellowship has never changed its Affirmation of Faith. National Council believes it prudent for our Churches to take some time deliberating together before we decide. Any change to the Fellowship’s Affirmation of Faith needs nine (9) months’ notice to Regions and Churches with a 75 percent vote (Article 2.1)
4. Understanding the Human Element in the Membership and Baptism Issue
The following two stories represent the difficulties this issue raises with believers, pastors, and Churches. These two stories are based on true stories, but the names of the individuals and the Church have been changed.
A. Story #1
Steve and Cheryl were married shortly before coming to Vancouver Baptist Church (VBC). Both were raised in Christian homes and were strong believers. Shortly after arriving, they heard the pastors emphasizing the need for believers to commit themselves to a local Church by becoming members. Steve and Cheryl gladly pursued membership but quickly discovered a problem: Cheryl had grown up in a Church that taught and practised baptism by pouring and therefore she was poured as a teenager upon the profession of her faith.
During a meeting with the lead pastor, Cheryl expressed how upset she was by the Fellowship Baptist policy on membership. The pastor asked Cheryl if she would be willing to walk through some materials that taught baptism by immersion. Despite months of good discussions on the materials, Cheryl stated that she could not be immersed as she felt that this would invalidate her previous experience.
Steve and Cheryl faced a difficult decision. On the one hand they believed in membership, loved VBC, and wanted to make it their Church home. On the other hand, they knew that without baptism by immersion they could not become members. Steve and Cheryl decided to continue attending VBC and to keep working through the issue.
After a few years Cheryl approached the lead pastor and said, “It has taken me awhile but I am now ready to be baptized by immersion.” VBC celebrated her baptism at the annual Church retreat. Steve and Cheryl went on to become members and faithfully served the Church for many more years.
B. Story #2
When John and Leanne arrived at VBC they were pregnant with their first child and were excited about their Christian faith. They deeply appreciated the people, preaching, theology, and outreach of VBC. Just before they could attend a class on membership, Leanne went into labour and, to the great shock of everyone, lost the baby within a few minutes of delivery. The Church rallied around John and Leanne, providing meals, care, prayers, and visits.
As John and Leanne picked up the pieces of their broken lives they conveyed their deep gratitude for the love and care of VBC and, once again, began to pursue membership. In the initial discussions with the pastors, Leanne said, “I was baptized a few years ago but it was by pouring in a Mennonite Church. That won’t be a problem will it?” When John and Leanne heard the Fellowship Baptist position on baptism and membership Leanne became visibly upset: “I don’t understand. Are you saying my baptism was meaningless?”
The pastors tried to affirm her salvation and her sincere heart before God. Leanne was grateful for this but felt that being baptized by immersion would be akin to saying her earlier experience had no meaning. She could not reconcile this with the joy of publicly professing her faith that day.
John and Leanne grew more emotional as they realized that not being baptized by immersion would prohibit them from becoming members at VBC: “We are disappointed by this because we absolutely love VBC. This is our home and our family. We feel like God brought us here. We are on the same mission and worship the same Lord.” The pastors shared about other non-immersed believers who had remained committed to the Church despite not becoming members. Leanne responded by saying, “I cannot help but feel that this would make us second class.” While expressing their pain they also agreed to continue attending while they worked through the issue.
After a few months of thought and prayer, John and Leanne again expressed a deep love for VBC and an earnest desire to be members but felt it would go against their conscience to be “baptized again.” John and Leanne, along with the people of VBC, were heartbroken as they left to find another Church.
5. Amid the Differences, what do we Agree on?
While the members of the Study Team acknowledge the differing views that have been taken on the Baptism and Membership Issue, it is our belief that our Fellowship needs to be and is largely unified around the following doctrinal beliefs relevant to this issue:
These beliefs are held in common by members of Fellowship Baptist Churches, providing a platform for the high degree of unanimity on our theology and practice of baptism.
6. Historical Considerations of Theological Differences in the Fellowship
Theological differences have been a fact of life since the very beginning of the Fellowship. Various groups and factions were brought onto the Canadian scene as a result of the battles with liberalism in the first third of the twentieth century. Two of these groups in Ontario (the Independent Baptists and the Regular Baptists) came to see the benefits of ministering together in the early fifties. Both were thoroughly baptistic but still had significant differences. Both considered their positions important and biblical. Coming together would require a willingness to minister with those who disagreed on certain points. Some similar issues would arise later when The Regular Baptists of BC entered into discussions with the FEBCC with a view to becoming a national fellowship of Churches. Among the questions to be answered were:
The present fact of the Fellowship demonstrates that the answer to the first question was yes. This is simple to state but at that time it was not a foregone conclusion and discussions were sometimes difficult. It is important to note that both groups were committed to finding a way to unite.
There was a number of issues but it seems that two were primary. They were:
With regard to eschatology the Independents were premillennial and largely dispensational. The Regulars were largely amillennial. The majority of both camps held its position to be very important. This is necessary to be reminded of in our day when this issue is less prominent. While some today may not see this as a core issue, it was a very big issue with many who were involved at that time. Years later this would be perhaps the most difficult issue in the coming together of what was to become Heritage College and Seminary.
The result of this discussion was the conclusion that this should not be a make/break issue and each Church was left to take its own position or not to have a specific requirement on this doctrine.
Communion presented an equally thorny question of practice. The resolution of this issue would seem to be the closest parallel to our present consideration.
The very word “Regular” was considered to point to a closed communion. That is, the order of salvation, baptism, (and perhaps) membership and then communion was to be understood as the sequential biblical requirement. This was apparently not universally enforced among the Regulars.
Most, if not all, of the Independents practised an open table. They may have encouraged the above order and certainly accepted it but did not require baptism (and thus Church membership) to participate in the table. Thus the framers of our present statement of faith carefully crafted it to state the normal order without requiring Churches to adhere to it. This would seem to be a significant indicator with regards to our present question as they were dealing with the other of the two ordinances. One would think that these two are equally important in their practice and significance. We do not enforce conformity in several areas of the Lord’s Supper. For instance it is as certain that Jesus used unleavened bread as it is that He was immersed.
There was a good deal of give-and-take on both sides of these two issues. While they were considered by all to be very important, they were not considered to be tests of fellowship among our Churches.
Since the inception of our Fellowship there has been a variety of contentious issues, some more some less. Perhaps the most difficult was the question of women’s roles in ministry. This question was brought to the fore by some of our Churches requesting that a firm complementarian stand be taken by all Fellowship Churches in practice. In this case, after much discussion and some rancour, our Churches voted to require a consistent practice across our Fellowship. This resulted in Churches leaving us.
These are some brief considerations of the past experience within our own Fellowship. There has not been a consistent way of responding to differences. It seems that there was considerably more willingness for give-and-take when we were seeking unity as a high goal in the forming of the union. The framers of our Fellowship appear to have believed that unity could be achieved by broadening some parameters without compromising our identity as biblical Baptists.
7. Two Responses to the question, “Is baptism by immersion a biblical condition of membership?”
The following two sections outline two differing positions on The Baptism and Membership Issue:
A. That Believer’s Baptism by Immersion must not be a Prerequisite for Membership in a Fellowship Baptist Church provided that some form of believer’s baptism has been experienced.
We affirm that baptism by immersion is the mode normally defined in Scripture and we continue to advocate that this be our practice. We also affirm that such baptism is always believer’s baptism and an integral part of the salvation experience as Peter outlines in Acts 2:38:
“Repent and each of you be baptized2 in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NASB95)
Baptism expresses our personal commitment of faith in Christ Jesus. The command for baptism is part of the Gospel proclamation. As Peter affirms, it is “the pledge of a clear conscience towards God” (1 Peter 3:21 NIV2011).
Fellowship Baptists are committed to the principle of “believer’s baptism.” Fellowship Baptist Churches believe that “Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Article XII; [emphasis added]). Baptists understand the New Testament order to be quite clear: “faith comes to baptism”3 and not the other way around. The pattern is that God favours the hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a response of repentance and faith, and those who believe are then baptized (Acts 2:37ff.; 2:41; 8:31-36; 16:14ff., 32ff.; 18:8; 19:4ff.). Beyond this, “passages in the New Testament which provide some of the most important theological insights into the meaning of baptism conjoin faith and baptism, as though they were integral to each other.”4 Baptism “shows forth the believer’s union with the crucified, buried and risen Christ, and his death to sin and resurrection to a new life.” (Article XII) (cf. Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 3:26ff.; Colossians 2:12ff.; cf. 1 Peter 3:18-22). The integrity of Fellowship Baptist Churches’ convictions will not permit them to negotiate on believer’s baptism as our practice.
Believers should be encouraged to accept that repentance, faith and baptism are together expressive of a person’s union with Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27) and their incorporation into His body the Church (1 Corinthians 12:13). Fellowship Baptist Churches believe that “the Church is a congregation of baptized believers” (Article XI, Fellowship Pacific) and that believer’s baptism is “a condition of Church membership” (Article XII, Fellowship Pacific). The prescription for baptism is the believer’s profession of faith; the description of baptism for Baptists is immersion following the New Testament pattern.
Why this baptismal practice and is there any indication in Scripture for baptism by affusion (pouring) or sprinkling?
The practice of immersion by Baptists is argued on the basis of New Testament terminology, perceived New Testament practice and symbolic fitness.5 However, it may be something of a surprise to discover that baptism by immersion was not practised among the earliest Baptists. A.R. Cross writes,
Though the original mode adopted by the earliest Baptists was affusion and it is unclear precisely when immersion was adopted, by 1642 it was being advocated by the General Baptists. While comparatively few Baptist authors have acknowledged this historical fact, much Baptist writing has given the impression that Baptists have always practiced immersion and for the overwhelming majority of Baptists, it is true to say that the only legitimate form of baptism is immersion.6
The fact of this rather interesting bit of historical information should give us pause regarding believers who have been baptized by other modes, even as we assert a solid present conviction and broadly embraced single practice amongst Baptists. There is no indication, as far as we know, that the Baptists who recovered the practice of immersion required Baptists who had been baptized earlier by affusion to be re-baptized. This has been confirmed in a personal conversation with Michael Haykin, a recognized specialist in Baptist history.
Is the record of baptism in the book of Acts immersionist? It is safe to say that the baptisms of Jewish locals and visitors at Pentecost were almost certainly immersions. Literature outside the NT and archaeology also bear this out. Not only do Jewish documents assume complete ritual bodily washings by immersion before worship at the temple,7 “excavations have revealed hundreds of mikvaoth [immersion pools] in Israel, over 150 from the first century in Jerusalem alone (including those adjoining the temple mount)….”8 Keener writes: “Even if only the apostles and a few of their colleagues, a total of perhaps thirty, ‘performed’ the baptisms in thirty mikvaot [immersion pools], they could finish their task in a few hours.”9
Record of the Samaritan baptisms is brief and there is no notice of the actual location of the events. But we would probably not be wrong in assuming that the Ethiopian eunuch was immersed by Philip on the basis that he “went down into the water” to be baptized and “came up out of the water” after (Acts 8:38ff.; cf. Mark 1:5, 8; John 3:23). In the case of Lydia, we are told that “on the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” (Acts 16:13) The expectation was to find a worship place (not a synagogue) naturally watered for purifications across the full range of Jewish life and worship requirements, including personal cleansing by immersion. Lydia, a god-fearer, and her household would have been baptized by immersion.
It is to be wondered, however, whether the Philippian jailer was baptized by immersion. Obviously relaxing the severe security under which Paul and Silas were earlier kept, the jailer, “taking [παραλαβὼν]” the apostles, “washed [ἔλουσεν: aor. act. 3 sg.] their wounds” (16:33) and then “was baptized [ἐβαπτίσθη: aor. pass. 3 sg.].” But where did he take them? The location for Jewish worship was somewhere on the banks of “the Gangites, a tributary of the Strymon; it flowed west of the city, outside the walls”10 and was about 1¼ miles away.11 11 Would the jailer have risked discovery by engaging a midnight trek outside the city gate to the river? Would the gate even have been open at that time of the night? It seems more likely that the jailer took the evangelists to “a spring or fountain in … [a] … courtyard”12 nearby. On the latter hypothesis, the jailer and his household may have been baptized by another mode than immersion—perhaps by affusion/pouring.
Scholars of all traditions recognize that the “baptism” word-group (the verbs bapto and baptizō, and the nouns baptisma and baptismos) normally refers to dipping or immersing, but it is overstatement to say that this is invariably true. For example, in the Septuagint of Daniel 4:33 and 5:21, bapto is used to describe Nebuchadnezzar’s experience of being drenched with the dew of heaven. That was pretty clearly not a case of his whole body being dipped into a pool of dew. In Hebrews 9:10, ceremonial washings of the Mosaic covenant are described as baptismoi, but the purification rituals of the old covenant were not done by dipping the whole body in water. In fact, in the verses that follow, the rituals described there were done by sprinkling blood or water on the persons involved. We have already noted (footnote 4) the good reasons for doing baptism by immersion, but we ought to admit that the question is not answered by linguistics alone.
What constitutes “re-baptism” and should we practise this?
This is a tricky question because it depends upon what we mean by “re-baptism”. If we mean the immersion in water of a person who previously experienced non-believer’s ‘baptism’ (a contradiction in terms according to our understanding of the New Testament), then we do “re-baptize”. However, from our perspective this is not a repeated baptism, but rather the first Christian baptism for the individual. People may have experienced the form, but not had legitimate faith and so it is not re-baptism in such cases because the person previously was not “believer baptized”.
In another sense Fellowship Baptists would vehemently deny that they encourage “re-baptism”. Baptism should occur but once in a believer’s lifetime and that at his or her conversion. The immersion in, affusion or sprinkling with water of someone who will not or cannot personally repent and believe is not a Christian baptism and so, if faith should come to such a person, it would be incumbent upon them to be baptized in accordance with the pattern and order of believer’s baptism. But Baptists do not “re-baptize” the already believer baptized as a normal practice because this would be unscriptural, arrogant and demeaning of the ordinance and say wrong things about Christ and his Church. We want to be careful lest we get the form right, but the function wrong. We are constrained to accept believer’s baptism. We cannot treat such a believer’s baptism cavalierly.
We do want to maintain form as important because of its symbolic significance as well as the inclusion of baptism within the salvation experience. God’s grace can and does work through such experiences, but the experience of God’s grace is not tied to this particular experience, i.e. we do not hold to a mechanistic perspective. What is important is the demonstration in baptism of the fact that life has been graced. Modes may change, but the significance of believer’s baptism does not change. We have to discern which is the greater anomaly, baptism of a believer by a (defective) mode or a second believer’s baptism using a different mode?
Baptism without faith is neither indicated nor practised in the New Testament
Fellowship Baptists are convinced that baptism without faith or baptism on the promise of a later faith is neither indicated nor implied by the New Testament. The decisive issue in the timing of a person’s baptism is not their age, but the clear expression of their repentance and faith in Christ. Where an adult won’t personally confess Christ or an adult, child or infant cannot personally do so, there should be no baptism or reception into membership. By implication, where an adult, child or infant has been immersed in, poured, or sprinkled with water in a religious context without or prior to personally professing faith in Christ, the Fellowship Baptist Church would be right to insist that this was not Christian baptism. When people come to repentance and faith in Christ following “baptism” without profession of faith, they should be encouraged to be believer baptized. By definition, such a baptism would not be a rebaptism as the earlier action was not believer’s baptism.
Proxy faith is not a substitute for believer’s baptism. Obviously much ink has been spilled in some traditions to insist that there can be Christian baptism in the absence of personal faith. Anglicans, for example, assert that faith is indeed present at the baptism of the non-professing in the faith of the Christian community, the non-professing person’s parents and/or god-parents.13 But the New Testament nowhere indicates or advocates vicarious faith14 through proxies. The call to be baptized is always to the individual who personally expresses repentance and faith. As an assertion of Fellowship Baptist conviction and without overt judgement against other views believers from such traditions need to be instructed that personal repentance and personal faith are the invariable prior and attending circumstances to Christian baptism.
A complete presentation of the Gospel includes the command to be baptized.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon is programmatic of the apostolic preaching, a “representative statement of preaching to Jews.”15 His sermon does not end at Acts 2:36 but rather continues right up to Acts 2:40.16 It includes the call to, “Repent and each one be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), as well as “many other words” (Acts 2:40) of warning and pleading. Craig Keener writes: “In Luke-Acts ‘repentance’ is both the content … and the appropriate response … to kingdom preaching.”17 This is also the case for baptism.
The rest of Acts also holds baptism to be part of the apostolic preaching of the Good News.
When Philip “preached the Christ” (Acts 8:5) in a city of Samaria, there was a groundswell of belief amongst the people: “when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). Even Simon the sorcerer “believed and was baptized” (Acts 8:13). But how could such a response have occurred unless Philip’s preaching included the call to be baptized? Later, on the desert road, beginning with Isaiah 53:7-8, Philip tells the Ethiopian eunuch “the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35) and then Luke relates, “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’” (Acts 8:36). The question about baptism arises because the apostles’ preaching included the call to be baptized.
Paul’s Sabbath preaching beyond Philippi’s city gate on the banks of the Gangites river was concerned with the conversion to Christ of any Jews or God-fearers who might be gathered there (Acts 16:13). In that context, a “worshipper of God” (Acts 16:14: “God-fearer”) named Lydia responds. Luke writes: “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home” (Acts 16:15). The modern reader must fill in the narrative gap, understanding from the shorthand that Paul had called for Lydia and her household to be baptized. The same gap must be filled in the account of the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his household. Paul calls for the jailer to “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31) Luke continues: “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.” (Acts 16:32-33)
G.R. Beasley-Murray advises Baptist ministers in the following way concerning their preaching:
Peter’s response … to the cry of his conscience-stricken hearers on the Day of Pentecost was not, ‘Repent and believe’, but ‘Repent and be baptized’ (Acts 2:38). Naturally faith was presumed in repentance, but Peter’s answer told the Jews how to become Christians: faith and repentance are to be expressed in baptism, and so they are to come to the Lord. Baptism is here a part of the proclamation of Christ.18
It is consistent with a biblically grounded understanding of believer’s baptism, its relationship to faith expression, and our commitment to local Church membership to enable believers who have been baptized after conversion by affusion or sprinkling to be considered for membership without insisting that they be re-baptized. Our practice of believer’s baptism as expressive of personal faith must remain unchanged for all of the reasons articulated in this paper. However, our commitment to believer’s baptism and the fact that the mode, while important for various reasons, may not have the same significance as the restriction to confessing believers, leads us to be hospitable to the admission into membership of those previously baptized as believers by another mode.
There is no reason to expect that allowing some Churches to receive as members some people who have been baptized as believers by irregular modes will threaten our ability to work together in common mission.
B. That Believer’s Baptism by Immersion must be a Prerequisite for everyone who is applying for Membership in a Fellowship Baptist Church.
We affirm that baptism by immersion is the mode normally defined in Scripture and we continue to advocate that this be our practice and requirement for membership in Fellowship Churches.
The fourfold basis for maintaining immersion only as the mode of baptism is New Testament terminology, practice, theology, and history.
New Testament Terminology
The translators of the NT did us no favour by simply transliterating the bapt- word group but the meaning is generally not in dispute. The Greek verb baptizō, transliterated by the word “baptize” in English translations, is the intensive or frequentative form of baptō. The verb baptizō signifies “to dip”, “to immerse”, “to plunge into”, or “to submerge”. 20
In a significantly fresh and incisive study of the meaning of baptizō, Eckhard Schnabel21 studies every lexical entry for the bapt- word group in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich. Schnabel argues that it is unfortunate that the translators of the New Testament (even most of the modern ones) jump to the unwarranted step of the transliteration of a perfectly comprehensible term, “to immerse” making, in effect, the Hellenism “to baptize” a terminus technicus. In other words, by systematically transliterating instead of translating the plain and main meaning of the word, we end up giving a technical sense to baptizō which it is unnecessary to add to the existing sense. This is not to say that baptizō does not have the “ritual” sense of the initiatory act of being joined to John’s repentant remnant or Christ’s new body. But “immerse” is sufficient. And “immerse” is not a term that can be misunderstood and interpreted in divergent denominational senses.
In a careful, methodical manner, Schnabel observes that in every case of the 77 New Testament uses of the verb baptizō, the meaning “immerse” (or the extended meanings22) are sufficient either in a physical or metaphorical sense.
Schnabel asks the question: “Is there a shift in meaning when New Testament authors use baptizō, a shift toward a technical meaning that can be expressed in English only with the loan word “to baptize”? He concludes, convincingly, that
To specify the mode of Christian baptism, it is useful to establish the links from Jewish immersions to John’s preparatory rite to Christ’s ordinance.
Jewish immersions were used both for cleansing from physical impurities, expanding to moral contagion, and for proselyte initiation.24 These are also attested in the Qumran community.25 The archeological evidence for complete ritual bodily washings by immersion before worship at the temple in Jerusalem is firm: “excavations have revealed hundreds of mikvaoth [immersion pools] in Israel, over 150 from the first century in Jerusalem alone (including those adjoining the temple mount)….”26 The 3000 Pentecost baptisms were most certainly immersions and Keener writes: “Even if only the apostles and a few of their colleagues, a total of perhaps thirty, ‘performed’ the baptisms in thirty mikvaoth [immersion pools], they could finish their task in a few hours.”27
John the immerser did not create a new form by submerging repentant Jews under water to prepare the way for the Messiah. The newness of his act is that he administered it as a unique experience whereas the former Jewish immersions were self-administered and could be frequent. The form was therefore similar but the function was now specified not only as purification but as preparation for the Messiah’s arrival. John’s ministry was to identify the Son of God in order “that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:32). He did it by immersing Jesus in the Jordan.
The theophany at Christ’s immersion in the river included the voice of the Father authenticating his beloved son as well as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Christian baptism did not change the form but added the meaning of the gift of the Spirit to John’s purification motif.28 As well, Christian immersion is an identification into (“eis”) the name of the Triune God. More specifically, Paul will show that the new believer is identified with the crucified, buried and risen Christ.
New Testament Practice
The meaning of the bapt- word group as it applies to John’s baptism (the backdrop of which are the Jewish purification and proselyte immersions) and specifically Jesus’ post-resurrection prescription is immersion. This becomes more evident when observing the details surrounding the descriptions of this ordinance in the Gospels and Acts.
Support for the observance of this ordinance by immersion is seen in the mention of the River Jordan. Mark mentions that those who were repentant in Judea and Jerusalem “were all baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins” (1.5). Even though John hesitates to baptize Jesus, recognizing that the perfect Lamb of God did not need this purification ceremony, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him” (1.9, 10).29
More evidence that implies immersion is found in John baptizing at Aenon near Salim “because water was plentiful there” (John 3:23), for it is not necessary to have a great supply of water for sprinkling or pouring.30
In continuity with the Gospel descriptions, Luke recounts in Acts 8:38 how the Ethiopian eunuch was evidently immersed by Philip. Luke reports that both “went down into the water” and then both “came up out of the water” (Acts 8:38 f.).
As for Lydia in Philippi, while Paul and his companions were sharing the Gospel on the Sabbath with a number of God-fearing women by the riverside outside the city (Acts 16:13), the Lord opened her heart so that she would be attentive. Having received the message, she was immersed, with her household, presumably in the river (Acts 16:15) after which she invited Paul and his companions to her home.
It has been speculated whether the Philippian jailer was baptized by immersion, but this line of argumentation is from silence and at least two factors seem to indicate that immersion, as the normal understanding of the mode of baptism in Luke’s writings, was practised here as well. First, after immersing Lydia and her household earlier that day why would Paul and Silas change their mode of baptizing when it came to the jailer and his household? Second, in the order of events the jailer washes Paul and Silas’ wounds, is then immediately baptized along with his household, and only then does he bring them to his house (Acts 16:33-34). Clearly from the text the group did not go to the jailer’s house until after the baptism had taken place, and presumably they were baptized at the same place that the jailer washed their wounds. Admittedly this location isn’t given, yet it can be firmly established that it was outside the jailer’s house.31
In summary then, there is no instance in the book of Acts or the NT where water is brought to someone who is being baptized; in every case the person being baptized is brought to the water.32 Thus, there is no direct Scriptural support for the practice of baptizing by any mode other than immersion. Immersion is implied (John 3:23; Acts 8:38ff), assumed (Acts 16:13, 33-34; 19:3-5), and makes the most sense in light of the majority meaning of baptizō.33
New Testament Theology
Baptists hold that immersion is symbolically more consistent with the images of dying/burial and rising with Christ than sprinkling or affusion.
In Romans 6 and Colossians 2, Paul defines baptism in terms of the union or the placing of the believer into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.34 There is no distinction made between the believer’s immersion into water and his being immersed into the Spirit. Both are included.
The three motifs of death, burial and rising are consciously highlighted in the symbolism of the immersion Paul describes. The accent in these two passages is more on the threefold union of the believer with Christ than the ceremony of immersion even though it is not absent.35
Firstly, union into Christ’s death is viewed in Romans 6:3 Paul asks “Do you not know that as many of us as were immersed into Jesus Christ were immersed into His death? “ Secondly, the burial association is twice underscored: “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death” (Romans 6.4) and “You are buried with Him in baptism” (Colossians 2:12). Thirdly, the rising of the believer in Christ is again twice evoked: “just as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) and again in Colossians 2.12 “You are buried with Him in immersion36, wherein you also are risen with Him through the faith wrought by the operation of God, who has raised Him from the dead”.
This triple meaning of water/Spirit immersion is the precious tenet historically held by Baptists as being acted out in baptism by the plunging of the believer into the water. This Pauline teaching is relativized if we accept other modes than immersion. Pouring and sprinkling do not show forth the full symbolism of the water/Spirit baptism Paul defines in these passages.
The history of baptism since NT time is by and large immersion with some notable exceptions.37
According to the Church historian Eusebius, Novatian was lying ill, apparently upon his death-bed, in 253 A.D., approximately. He wrongly believed in the necessity of immersion to be saved, but could not leave his bed. A local “bishop” permitted the pouring of water all about him in place of total immersion (Church History VI. xliii. 14, 17). This was the first known historical substitution of another mode than immersion. Cyprian of Carthage, writing around the same time as the Novatian incident, said that the substitution was appropriate in the case of “emergencies”. However, he clearly stated that this was an “accommodation” and that “everything else must be in order” (Epistle 75:12). The origin of a substitute for immersion occurred in the context of extraordinary situations, (lack of sufficient depth of water or illness, physical handicaps or other circumstances of the candidate for baptism).
But generally, “baptism” still meant immersion. Tertullian writes “Baptism itself is a bodily act, because we are immersed in water . . . (On Baptism, 7). Basil of Caesarea says “We imitate the burial of Christ through baptism. For the bodies of those being baptized are as it were buried in water”-(On the Holy Spirit, XV: 35), and Cyril of Jerusalem says: “For as he who plunges into the waters and is baptized is surrounded on all sides by the waters, so were they also baptized completely …” (Catechetical Lectures, XVII: 14).38
Pouring and then sprinkling continued to gain more and more acceptance as alternative modes and in 753, Pope Stephen declared them acceptable in “cases of necessity.”
In 1017, the Waldensians (Vaudois) originating with Pierre Valdo baptized by immersion. A stone baptistry at Ville Vallouise in the French Alps close to Italy (between Grenoble and Torino) as well as accusations against Pierre and Henry de Bruys are witnesses to their practice of immersion.
Even though infant baptism had become common from Constantine’s time on, for more than 12 centuries, the Catholic Church baptized mainly by immersion as evidenced amongst others by the baptisteries under St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva, (which Calvin “reformed”!)39
There was a great variety of positions on baptism at the outbreak of the Reformation but the practice of believer’s immersion was present throughout. The principal Reformers retained infant baptism. The Anabaptists restricted baptism to repentant believers who were aware that their sins had been forgiven, not unknowing infants. In this view, they defied both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers.40 Unlike many of the 16th century Anabaptists, Rothmann (c.1495–c. 1535) held immersion to be the proper mode of baptism.41 Menno Simmons (1496–1561) mentioned baptism by immersion in his writings but practised pouring. Mennonite Brethren in 1860 in South Russia however adopted immersion as their exclusive mode of baptism at the very outset. From the beginning this group has required those who were baptized by some other mode to be rebaptized by immersion.
Baptism by immersion prevailed as of 1630 in England. A century after the Reformation, John Bunyan and the Particular Baptists were immersionists, as the early Baptist Confessions show.42 Contemporary Baptists such as the Southern Baptist Convention require immersion only. In Canada, the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec affirms the same attachment to immersion only.43 The Fellowship did not stray from baptism by immersion, enacting this biblical and historical tenet into its doctrinal statement.
For all these reasons, believer’s baptism by immersion should remain a prerequisite for everyone who is applying for membership in a Fellowship Baptist Church.
8. Further Considerations
Two further questions worthy of comment relate to our understanding of biblical fellowship and the practical question of what are actually voting on.
A. With whom will we “Fellowship”?
At a local Church level the motivation to address this issue relates more to a theology of fellowship than baptism. All correspondence that has been received makes it clear that some of our Churches, otherwise committed to the practice of immersion, feel at odds with their conscience excluding believer’s baptized by a different mode from Church fellowship. While it is true that “a line has to be drawn somewhere”, a biblical theology of fellowship is worthy of our consideration.
As a movement, we have chosen to include the word “fellowship” in our associational name. In doing so, we acknowledge the biblical mandate to fellowship one with other believers. Appearing over two dozen times in the New Testament, the word fellowship (koinonia and its variants), defined not on the activities of the Church, but helped early believers understand its essence. Believers participated with one another in study, prayer, and financial support but also understood that a radical unity in Christ (John 17:21) defined them. They were a spiritual family, living life in partnership, sharing and bearing one another’s burdens in love.
Assuredly, the early believers were unafraid to confront falsehood in their fellowship and at times even break fellowship to maintain doctrinal purity. Paul warned the Galatians of a damnable curse if the Gospel was corrupted (Galatians 1:9). Peter labels any denial of Christ’s atonement as heresy (1 Peter 2:1), and several passages advocate Church discipline for immorality. It would appear then that fellowship among Christians was held in the highest regard, notwithstanding heresy and immorality.
Few Baptists would argue that a measure of fellowship with believers who hold different views on baptism would be unacceptable. In fact, many evangelicals band together for various community initiatives, the establishment of seminaries and mission agencies. Even among Fellowship Baptists, it is not uncommon for pastors to train in seminaries alongside Presbyterian and Anabaptists, or for Fellowship missionaries to identify with mission agencies that include different denominations.
In light of these biblical and practical considerations, the matter of permitting non-immersed believers to fellowship with us as fully-recognized members of our Churches needs to be considered. Where does the line need to be drawn to forbid local Church fellowship, and are the distinctives we value worth enforcing to the point that fellowship with other believers is broken?
B. What Are We Voting on?
The question, in a very real sense, is “How much autonomy can we allow a local Church to have?” A number of our Churches have requested the option of receiving members who have been baptized as believers by an irregular mode. Our doctrinal statement espouses the autonomy of the local Church. However, in a Fellowship, that autonomy is not absolute. There are certain beliefs and practices that we require of one another to fellowship together.
It would be important to understand that there is no proposal at any level to modify our universal practice of baptizing by immersion. No Church has proposed this to us. Thus, the question is not, “How shall we baptize?” Rather it is, “Whom shall we allow other Churches to receive into membership?” Voting yes on the question presented frees other Churches to have their own policy but does not require any Church to change anything in her own practice. The question, as stated, seeks to maintain a balance between the requirements for fellowship and our belief in the autonomy of the Church. Churches who hold a stricter view would still be free to hold to their present requirements for membership.
There are already areas of doctrine that we do not demand be the same in all Churches. For instance, eschatology is not uniform in all of our Churches. This means that some Churches hold a millennial view that would preclude reception of some members of other Fellowship Churches.
Thus it would be important for Churches, in deciding how to vote, to be very clear that this requires a change from no one. It does permit a change for those who desire it.
9. Suggested Process
a. September 2015: National Council Paper
The National Council’s paper and notice of Motion is sent to all Fellowship Churches.
b. November 9-11, 2015: Fellowship National Conference
The National Council will host a session at FNC 2015 for delegates to respond to the Paper and notice of Motion.
No vote will take place at FNC 2015.
c. December 2015: Fellowship National Communique
The National Council will send a “debrief” regarding the discussion on this Issue to all Fellowship Churches.
d. January-March 2016. Regional Councils
Regional Councils will respond to the National Council’s motion, deciding the process in which they will do this.
e. April-June 2016: Regional Conferences
Each Regional Conference will host a session to provide delegates an opportunity to hear from National Council representatives and respond to the proposed Motion.
f. June-November 2016
The National Council will debrief after the Regional Conferences and decide on appropriate next steps as the process continues from FNC 2016 to FNC 2017.
g. November 2017
Vote at FNC 2017 in Toronto on motion.
1We do acknowledge that some Baptists do feel comfortable pouring or sprinkling believers who are physically unable to be immersed.
2The text has two imperatives: μετανοήσατε – 2nd pers. plural active, “you(pl.) repent” and βαπτισθήτω – 3rd pers. singular passive, “let (each one) be baptized.” The shift in form from second plural active to third singular passive should be noted.
3G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) 274.
4G.R. Beasley-Murray, “The Authority and Justification for Believers Baptism,” Review and Expositor 71 (1980)
5Briefly, the Greek verb baptizō, transliterated by the word “baptize” in English translations, is the intensive form of baptō. That it can carry the sense of “dip, immerse or plunge” is well known and readily acknowledged even by non-Baptists. In the matter of NT practice notices of the baptized going into and coming out of the water (Acts 8:38f.; Mark 1:5, 8) and indications of baptismal places preferred because there was “much water” (John 3:23) at least suggest immersion. Finally, Baptists would argue that immersion is symbolically more consistent with the images of dying/burial and rising with Christ (Rom. 6:3-11; Col. 2:12) than sprinkling or affusion.
6A.R. Cross, Baptism and the Baptists: Theology and Practice in Twentieth-Century Britain (Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs; Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2000) 18f. See also H. Wheeler Robinson, Baptist Principles (4th edn.; London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1960) 16 who writes: “As a matter of history, the return to Believers’ Baptism in Switzerland in the sixteenth century and in England in the seventeenth, as will be shown later on, was not accompanied in the first instance by a return to the practice of immersion. If those to whom we owe the origin of Baptist Churches in this country [i.e., Great Britain] are not to be refused the name of ‘Baptist’, then neither could we refuse that name to those who might feel justified in administering baptism to believers only, by affusion or aspersion.” See further Wheeler, Baptist Principles, 62-65.
7Ferguson, Baptism, 64.
8Ferguson, Baptism, 64. Ferguson notes that “Nearly every excavated stepped mikveh [immersion pool] exceeded the minimum rabbinic requirement of one cubit (about 46 centimeters) by one cubit, with a height of three cubits (138 centimeters or just over four and one-half feet).” (65) Cf. m. Mikwaoth 1-10; Keener, Acts, 994f.
9Keener, Acts, 995. Cf. John 1:25f., 28, 31, 33; 3:22, 23, 26; 4:1f.; 10:40.
10Bruce, Acts, 358. Cf. Williams, Acts, 194.
11Polhill, Acts, 348.
12Haenchen, Acts, 498. So too Bruce, Acts, 365.
13M. Green, Baptism: It’s Purpose, Practice & Power (Downers Grove: IVP, 1987) 91: “The parents express their own repentance and faith, and this is the warrant for proceeding to baptize the child. But that act cannot take place until the child speaks through the godparents, and expresses (in germinal form) that repentance and faith which are the human conditions of the new birth.”
14Green, Baptism, 93 admits as much when he concedes, “The child is said to literally repent (through its sponsors); it is said to believe; and consequently it is said to be born again. It is no more literally born again than it literally repents and believes. This is all the language of faith, of covenant, and it must be taken as such.”
15E. Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 170.
16R.N. Longenecker, “Acts,” ExpBibCom 9:277, speaks of Acts 2:14-41 as “Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.” Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans/Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998) 137 identifies Acts 2:14-41 as “Preaching at Pentecost.” J.A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1998) 264: “Peter’s speech [i.e., 2:14-36] is interrupted by the reaction of those who listen to him. They have been affected by it and inquire what they might do. Peter’s words [i.e., 2:37-41] in response constitute the continuation of his speech, its hortatory conclusion, in which he exhorts them to conversion.” So too E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles, R. McL. Wilson, tr. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), 176; John B. Polhill, Acts (NAC; Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 107; C.S.C. Williams, The Acts of the Apostles (BNTC; 1964; rpt., London: A. and C. Black, 1975), 66 (notwithstanding his title at 65 for 2:14-36).
17Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013) 1:974. (Italics added.)
18G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961) 393.
19Consider Paul’s introduction to 1 Corinthians (1:1-3) and how he defines this group of believers as τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ (the assembly/Church of God) despite the many problems that he identifies within this faith community. This is not an excuse to perpetuate error, but a recognition of our reality as believers in this space-time continuum.
20BAGD, 131; Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, 305-6; A. Oepke, “baptō”, TDNT 1.529–38; G. R. Beasley-Murray “Baptism, Wash,” NIDNTT. The ISBE lists the meanings of “baptizō” as “immerse, sink, drown, go under, sink into, and bathe” 1, 410. A.Köstenberger mentions the LXX usage of “baptō” in Josh 3:15 and Ruth 2:14 for “dip” as well as Naaman who plunged (“baptizō”) seven times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:14) “Baptism in the Gospels” in Believer’s Baptism T.R.Schreiner and S.D.Wright (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006)
21Eckhard Schnabel is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His chapter The Language of Baptism: The Meaning of baptizō in the New Testament is part of the festschrift for Don Carson’s 65th birthday Understanding the Times (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).
221. to put into a yielding substance (such as a liquid, e.g. water or dyes, or the body of an animal); glosses: “to plunge, to dip, to immerse”; 1a. to cleanse with water; gloss: “to wash” (extended meaning of 1: to remove dirt by immersion in water) 1b. to make ceremonially clean; gloss: “to purify” or “to cleanse” (extended meaning of 1: to immerse in water symbolizing, or effecting, the removal of moral or spiritual defilement); gloss of (later) ecclesiastical language: “to baptize”; 1c. to take water or wine by dipping a drinking vessel (in a stream, a fountain, a well, a bowl); gloss: “to draw” (extended meaning of 1: to immerse a vessel in water or wine to obtain a drink); 1d. to perish by submersion in water; gloss: “to drown” (extended meaning of 1: to suffer death by suffocation being immersed in water [of persons]; or to disappear by submersion in water, to sink [of ships]); 1e. to put to death a living being; gloss: “to slaughter” or “to kill” (extended meaning of 1: to plunge a knife into the body of an animal or a human being); 1f. to tinge fabric with a color; gloss: “to dye” (extended meaning of 1: to immerse fabric in liquid with color pigments); this meaning is frequently attested for βάπτειν, but not for βαπτίζειν. [Bold letters and underlining by the Study Team editor].
23Schnabel, The Language of Baptism, op.cit 244-246.
24R.L.Webb Jesus’ Baptism (bible.org/article/jesus-baptism-its-historicity-and-implications, published August 3 2005). “In the Hebrew Bible it would appear that actual immersions were only used when the contagion (i.e., that which caused the uncleanness) was something physical. But in the Second-Temple period, the use of immersions expanded to include cleansing from uncleanness caused by moral contagion as well. For example, Sib. Or. 4:165–67 contains an exhortation to “wash your whole bodies in perennial rivers. Stretch out your hands to heaven and ask forgiveness for your previous deeds…”.
25“Baptism” ISBE. See W.S.Lasor’s illustration of a staircase leading to a cistern for purification by means of a ritual bath in that covenantal community, p.414.
26Everett Ferguson Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009) 64.
27Keener, Acts, 995. Cf. John 1:25 f., 28, 31, 33; 3:22, 23, 26; 4:1 f.; 10:40.
28R.H.Stein Baptism in Luke-Acts in Believer’s Baptism, 25. “Some have argued that the references to “the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5, 11:16; and 1 Cor 12:13 are purely metaphorical in nature and do not refer to the conversion-initiatory rite of water baptism in Jesus’ name. It is incorrect, however, to understand this expression as contrasting the water baptism of John the Baptist that was associated with repentance and the forgiveness of sins with a purely spiritual “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” These two baptisms are not an example of antithetical parallelism but rather of step parallelism in which the second baptism is an advancement on and fulfillment of the first. They are not portrayed in Luke-Acts (Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5; 11:16) as standing in opposition to one another but in apposition. Christian baptism is not exclusive, but inclusive, with respect to the baptism of John; the former is not only a baptism of repentance with water, but a baptism of repentance with water and the Holy Spirit as well. Christian baptism and the baptism of John both involve immersion in water, repentance, and the promise of forgiveness of sins, but, in addition, Christian baptism involves the gift of the Spirit (2:38), i.e., the “baptism of the Spirit.”
29One might ask why this ceremony took place in the Jordan if there were the Mikvaoth immersion pools in Jerusalem. Webb remarks: “Though other forms of ablution were practiced in Second-Temple Judaism (e.g., hand washing, foot washing, sprinkling), John’s baptism involved bathing, that is, an immersion. This is not surprising, since bathing was a common form of Jewish ablution. Most descriptions of John’s baptism associate it with the Jordan River (e.g., Mark 1:5, 9–10). The use of flowing water (or “living” water) was required in the Hebrew Bible for the most severe forms of uncleanness, and in Second-Temple Judaism flowing water or rivers were associated with repentance and forgiveness. In light of this context, John’s use of flowing water for his baptism is quite understandable. The particular river associated with John’s baptism is the Jordan River. While this may have no significance, it does place John in the wilderness context. Both the wilderness and the Jordan River were important symbols of the Exodus and Conquest in the ideology of prophetic movements of the Second-Temple period. Since other features of John’s ministry show links with such ideology, John’s use of the Jordan River probably does have symbolic significance. “Jesus’ Baptism (op.cit).
30Stein writes in Believer’s Baptism (50): “The explanation of this as involving affusion or pouring of water while standing in the Jordan at Aenon is also unconvincing. In a recent attempt that seeks to argue for the legitimacy of affusion, Howard Marshall admits that immersion was the general rule but seeks to argue that affusion was also practiced. It should be noted, however, that very few groups that practice the mode of sprinkling or affusion do so while the person being baptized is standing waist deep in water! See I. H. Marshall, “The Meaning of the Verb ‘Baptize,’” in Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies, ed. S. E. Porter and A. R. Cross, JSNTSup234 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 23.
31Stein, Baptism in Luke-Acts in Believer’s Baptism, 61.
32Stein, Baptism in Luke-Acts in Believer’s Baptism, 61; italicized portion is an addition.
33In the NT the extended uses of the baptizō word group for washing or ablution are clearly discernable from the context.
34Kenneth Wuest asserts that “baptize” is not a translation but a transliteration of βαπτίζω. He defines the term as used by Paul in Romans 6:3, as “the introduction or placing of a person or thing into a new environment or into union with something else so as to alter its condition or its relationship to its previous environment or condition. It refers to the act of God introducing a believing sinner into vital union with Jesus Christ, in order that that believer, might have the power of his sinful nature broken and the divine nature implanted through his identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, thus altering the condition and relationship of that sinner with regard to his previous state and environment, bringing him into a new environment, the kingdom of God.” Romans in the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1955), 96;
35Schnabel, op.cit, 238, says “The subject of 6:1–11 is not Christian water baptism but the reality and power of God’s grace granted through the death and resurrection of Jesus, who justifies sinners and thus deals effectively with the reality and power of sin introduced by Adam into the human condition (3:21–5:21)”.
36This free translation rather than transliteration is warranted. In these Pauline passages, the perfectly clear and legitimate term of immersion dispels the confusion of divergent modes. Schnabel affirms: “there is no reason why the phrase ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν cannot be translated as “we have been immersed into Jesus the Messiah”, 238.
37For the following paragraphs, see Immersion, Pouring and Sprinkling, A History, Bruce Edwards Jr. Truth Magazine May 15, 1975 (http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume19/TM019182.html).
38The first clear reference to infant baptism is found in Tertullian’s writings. He opposed it, nevertheless showing that the practice did have its advocates at the time. Origen is the first to suggest in a positive defense that infants should be baptized, writing in the mid-third century.
39In 1311, the council of Ravenna, legislated that the practice of baptism by modes other than immersion was a matter of indifference in any circumstances of conversion. Pouring became the norm.
40Balthasar Hubmaier, (c. 1480 – 1528), debated infant baptism versus believer’s baptism with Zwingli, who hesitated then turned back to infant baptism and persecuted Hubmaier. It is not clear what mode of baptism Hubmaier practiced, but it seems as though he continued practicing affusion as he had himself been baptized and that the mode of immersion among Anabaptists was a somewhat later development.
41According to historian Darren T. Williamson, “He based his position primarily on three arguments: first, he argued along grammatical lines, interestingly not Greek grammar but Dutch/German. He contended that the meaning of the Dutch translation of baptism must be taken literally. Fortunately, the Dutch words doepen and dumpelen meant literally to immerse or ‘dunk in water’. It is important to note that although Rothmann was technically correct on this point of grammar, it was also as commonly understood that there was a longstanding theological exception as practiced by the Church, namely sprinkling. Second, the Scriptural explanations of baptism in such passages as Rom 6:3-4 (baptism = burial), Col 2:11-13 (bpatism = burial), and 1 Pet 3:21 (paptism = washing of the body, or bath) graphically describe an immersion. Third, he cited a few ancient authorities, Tertullian, Origen and Gratian’s Decretum … who at least to some degreee suppored directly or indirectl adult baptism and immerison”.
42The 1646 Baptist Confession of Faith declares in part in Articles 39 and 40: “…the way and manner of dispensing this ordinance, is dipping or plunging the body under water; it being a sign, must answer the things signified, which is, that interest the saints have in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ: And that as certainly as the body is buried under water, and risen again, so certainly shall the bodies of the saints be raised by the power of Christ, in the day of the resurrection, to reign with Christ. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith Article 29 states in part: “…The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.”
43“Baptism is intended to represent Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection; baptism by completely immersing the candidate in water is seen as the only adequate outward expression for the spiritual faith-union with Jesus Christ. Baptism should be administered only to believers” (Article 5). The “almost always by immersion” provision of Article 4 presumably safeguards exceptional circumstances related to health.
44We are immersionists, not sacramentalists, nor do we hold to baptismal regeneration.
45 It must be admitted that this is a “re-baptism” by an identical mode made necessary because of new revelation rather than “re-baptism” by a proper (and different) mode while based on a similar confession of faith. The reason that this is important though is that these individuals desired one thing- to repent and follow God by faith.
46Given the overwhelming evidence in favor of believer’s baptism by immersion, and the spirit of those in the single Biblical instance who were “re-baptized”, it does not seem overbearing to ask members of our Churches to all conform to baptism done correctly.
47While we agree with the last two affirmations in section 5 of this paper: “Amid the Differences, what do we Agree on?”, we want to point out that the expression “baptism” spoken of is a large category which admits of other than immersion modes (see the section of this paper on NT terminology). We believe that divergent views on the matter will erode the clear scriptural injunction concerning immersion.
G. Affirmation of Faith
(Adopted at its organizational Convention, October 21, 1953)
We believe the Bible to be the complete Word of God; that the sixty-six books, as originally written, comprising the Old and New Testaments were verbally inspired by the Spirit of God and were entirely free from error; that the Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice and the true basis of Christian union.
We believe in one God, creator of all, holy, sovereign, eternal, existing in three equal Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We believe in the absolute and essential deity of Jesus Christ, in His eternal existence with the Father in pre-incarnate glory, in His virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, triumphant ascension, mediatorial ministry and personal return.
The Holy Spirit
We believe in the absolute and essential deity and personality of the Holy Spirit Who convinces of sin, of righteousness and of judgment; Who regenerates, sanctifies, illuminates and comforts those who believe in Jesus Christ.
We believe that Satan exists as an evil personality, the originator of sin, the archenemy of God and man.
We believe that man was divinely created in the image of God; that he sinned, becoming guilty before God, resulting in total depravity, thereby incurring physical and spiritual death.
We believe that salvation is by the sovereign, electing grace of God; that by the appointment of the Father, Christ voluntarily suffered a vicarious, expiatory and propitiatory death; that justification is by faith alone in the all-sufficient sacrifice and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and that those whom God has effectually called shall be divinely preserved and finally perfected in the image of the Lord.
We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ; in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust; in the eternal blessedness of the redeemed and in the judgment and conscious, eternal punishment of the wicked.
The Local Church
We believe that a Church is a company of immersed believers, called out from the world, separated unto the Lord Jesus, voluntarily associated for the ministry of the Word, the mutual edification of its members, the propagation of the faith and the observance of the ordinances. We believe it is a sovereign, independent body, exercising its own divinely awarded gifts, precepts and privileges under the Lordship of Christ, the Great Head of the Church. We believe that its Officers are pastors and deacons.
We believe that there are only two ordinances for the Church regularly observed in the New Testament in the following order:
The Church and State
We believe in the entire separation of Church and state.
We believe in religious liberty; that every man has the right to practice and propagate his beliefs.
The Lord’s Day
We believe that the first day of the week is the Lord’s day and that, in a special sense, it is the divinely appointed day for worship and spiritual exercise.
We believe that civil government is of divine appointment for the interest and good order of society; that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honoured and obeyed, except only in the things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the only Lord of the conscience and Prince of the kings of the earth.
About the Authors
All the authors contributed their portions of this book with minimal collaboration but all from the same Immersionist viewpoint. They all serve in Fellowship Baptist Churches spread across Canada from sea to sea. Following are brief profiles of each of these contributors. They appear here in alphabetical order.
Dr. Rick Baker, Oshawa, Ontario
Rick Baker became Lead Pastor at Calvary in 2001. Rick’s time is spent preaching, teaching, and team leading. His passion is to see the Calvary community impact Durham Region and the world for Christ through total praise and total trust.
Rick is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, London Baptist Seminary and has a Doctor of Ministry from Liberty University. He is married to Lyn and has three grown children and three grandchildren.
Dr. Gordon Belyea, Bowmanville, Ontario
Pastor Belyea was born in Saint John, NB, and raised in Nepean, Ontario. He first professed faith in Christ at the age of sixteen, but it was not until his early thirties that he was baptized as a believer. After a dozen years in the Navy, Gordon and his wife Louise obeyed the Lord’s call and the church’s commendation to vocational pastoral ministry. He was ordained in 1999 and has been pastor of Bowmanville Baptist Church since 2007.
Pastor Belyea holds a Master of Divinity from Tyndale Seminary and Doctor of Theology from Wycliffe College, in addition to degrees in Mechanical Engineering. The Belyea’s two daughters are active with them in the ministry of Bowmanville Baptist Church.
Don Brubacher, Arnstein, Ontario
Don Brubacher received an Electronic Technology diploma from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and then took his degree for the Bachelor of Theology at London Baptist College. He was ordained in 1983 at Victory Heights Baptist then pastored at Shenstone Baptist in Brantford, Calvary Baptist in Oakville and Riverside Baptist in Huntsville, Ontario. Since 2012, he has been pastor at Arnstein Baptist Church.
Don and his wife Zala have two married sons, both serving the Lord, as well as six precious grandchildren.
Gary V Carter, Brampton, Ontario
Gary was raised in a Fellowship Baptist Church since before the beginnings of the Fellowship and has served in a dozen churches down through the years. Gary is variously known as a Ministry Imagineer / Engineer, a Life Coach, a Pastor, a Radio Host, a Church Starting Specialist, a Church Health Consultant, a Writer and Publisher. Those are some of the various vocational roles but he is also a husband, father and grandfather on the family side. Gary’s ministry life now spans five decades.
Jim Clemens, Port Perry, Ontario
Jim Clemens Junior studied at Toronto Baptist Seminary. He pastored in Madoc, then in the United States. He has been senior pastor at Port Perry Baptist Church for 13 years.
Jeff Eastman, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Jeff was born in Saint John, New Brunswick and also lived in Nova Scotia for a number of years. Jeff and his wife Melanie are raising four children. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Theology in 2002 from Northland International University and is currently working towards a Master of Divinity degree.
Jeff was ordained at Northside Baptist Church in St Jacobs, Ontario where he served for almost nine years until he accepted the invitation to minister together with Grace Baptist Church in Charlottetown, PEI in 2012.
René Frey, Saint-Léonard, Montréal, Québec
René Frey was born in Switzerland, received Christ at eight years old and came to Montréal where his father, William-Henri Frey founded the first Fellowship French Baptist Church there. René and Sharon went to France to study at the Faculté de Théologie Évangélique for his Master’s degree in Theology. He was pastor for 35 years at the Rosemont Church his father founded. The past few years he has served as Church Planter and Coach to Benoit Constant in the Église Baptiste Évangélique de Saint-Léonard. René was a teacher and Board member of SEMBEQ. With Sharon they have four children and seven grandchildren.
Sylvain Paradis, Terrebonne, Québec
Sylvain Paradis came to the Fellowship from the Brethren Assemblies. He pastored a French Baptist Church in Ville d’Anjou for seven years then pastored the Église Baptiste d’Ahuntsic for nine years; presently he is Coordinator of the Church-based courses and events of our Quebec Seminary SEMBEQ. Sylvain is married to Ninon and they have six children.
Daniel Saglietto, Pierrefonds, Québec
Daniel was born in France and accepted Christ at 14 years old. He married Marie Claire in 1989. They have three children. Daniel studied at the Faculté Jean Calvin at Aix-en-Provence for the ThM and is considering pursuing doctoral studies. He was a pastoral intern at a Baptist Church in Aix-en-Provence and is now a pastoral intern with l’Église Baptiste Évangélique d’Émmanuel in the west of Montreal. He is teaching some classes at SEMBEQ.
Dr. Jonathan Stairs, Cambridge, Ontario
Jonathan has been the Lead Pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Cambridge since 2012. Jonathan holds a Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Studies from Moody Bible Institute, a Master of Divinity from Bethel Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Liberty University. He is also an adjunct professor at Heritage College and Seminary.
Jonathan and his wife, Lori, have four children. Jonathan considers himself a missionary with Christ and His Church. His overriding passion is to be a multiplier of multipliers for the glory of God.
Helmut Strauss, Cranbrook, British Columbia
Helmut has been in the Lord’s work for fifty years. He studied in the United States and pastored a number of Churches there before pastoring some Canadian Churches. He has been the interim Pastor at Cranbrook Baptist Church in BC for two years. Married to Jean, they have five children, 32 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Darcy VanHorn, Vancouver, British Columbia
Darcy Van Horn is married to Karen and together they served as missionaries in France and Morocco with Arab World Ministries for almost ten years. Darcy has also pastored in Vancouver at Dunbar Heights Baptist Church, and taught at BC Christian Academy. He has been the senior pastor of Renfrew Baptist Church in Vancouver BC since 2004, and holds a Bachelor of Theology degree from Northwest Baptist Theological College and a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of British Columbia. He and Karen have been blessed with two adult children and one grandson.
George Wallingford, Ottawa, Ontario
George Wallingford was called to the Senior Pastorate of Parkdale Baptist Church in 1998. He is joined in ministry by his wife Barbara and children Brandon, Laura, and Cheryl. George studied at Heritage Theological Seminary in Cambridge.
A scholarly perspective and defense of immersion along with a practical guide to assure the doctine is properly taught. The context is a denominational discussion among the Fellowship Baptists of Canada. Some would like to grandfather in believers who were affused (poured) as if they were properly baptized. Others understand the weight of the Word to teach that immersion only is valid and any believer who is not immersed should be as the only valid baptism.