Why I’m a Baptist (w/a big ‘B’) / Ron F. Hale

by Ron F. Hale

Jesus never baptized anyone—with water. John came baptizing with water and declared that one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). If you are saved, you have been immersed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. This spiritual baptism is indispensable. However, the physical baptism in water is commanded by the one that John called the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Baptism is a serious subject concerning discipleship!

Respectfully, this article is a response to an article posted on the Gospel Coalition blog taking the small “b” approach to believer’s baptism. The author baptizes (immerses) new converts won to Christ through the ministry of his church, but also receives as members believers who have been baptized as infants.[1]

While I shall not try to change the mind of Paedobaptists, I do desire to create a few wrinkles in the gray matter of Credobaptists and in the hearts of my fellow Southern Baptists in particular. Why? Our history is rich in New Testament (NT) theology and praxis concerning believer’s baptism. Men and women have suffered death, imprisonment, brandings, and banishment for our doctrinal distinctives; therefore, I see them as worthy of safeguarding!

I shall remain a big “B” Baptist because of the testimony of the Apostles in fulfilling the commandments of Christ, the courage of Anabaptists and early Baptists, and because of the Gospel picture that believer’s baptism by immersion preaches and portrays.

The Apostolic Era

In his book Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green shares the work of C.H. Dodd on the ancient kerygma as he summarizes the messages by the Apostle Peter in the book of Acts, they are:

  1. The Age of Fulfillment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets.
  2. This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  3. By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as Messianic head of the new Israel.
  4. The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory.
  5. The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ.
  6. An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.[2]

If Dodd and others are correct, the Apostles had a very clear message of salvation! Their message pointed people to Jesus and demanded a response. Paul put it succinctly, “…it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (I Cor. 1:21 NKJV).

While later evangels conflated the message of grace, faith, and water baptism into a confusing salvific message, the Apostles did not!

There is no mention of infants and young children being baptized in the NT because it was impossible for them to respond to the Gospel. The antiquity of NT baptism gives not a shred of evidence that baptism was the instrument to regenerate infants or wash away original sin or the initiatory rite into the Covenant of grace.

The overwhelming evidence of the NT is that the subjects of baptism are individuals who have heard the Gospel, have repented and believed (Acts 2:37-41; 8:12-13; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33, and more).

The New Testament is clear: baptism is reserved for believers.

The Apostles were big “B” Baptists as they carefully followed the commandment of their Lord. Like an army private seeking to carefully follow a command by a five-star general, the Apostles had an overwhelming sense of responsibility in explicitly following the commands of their Lord—for they had heard him say, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Anabaptists and Early Baptists

The Anabaptists and early Baptists in Europe believed that the NT practice of believer’s baptism had been lost and the leaders of the Reformation stopped short of purging the Church of certain traditions held by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).

The rediscovery of believer’s baptism can be seen among the Swiss Brethren, where, on the night of January 21, 1525, a group of young radical reformers gathered at the home of Felix Manz. George Blaurock asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him. Grebel agreed. Blaurock then baptized each of the others. Less than a week later, the first Anabaptist congregation was organized in Zollikon. A new free church was now present in Switzerland. New congregations spread in northern Switzerland, southern Germany, and beyond.[3]

Thousands of Anabaptists were persecuted and put to death for refusing to have their babies baptized by the state-run churches of Europe. “He who dips shall be dipped” was the cruel catchphrase of the reformers of Zurich, as Felix Manz (the Anabaptist) was sentenced to death by drowning on January 5, 1527 – 487 years ago.

Martin Luther (in the early days of the Reformation) conceded that the meaning and mode of NT baptism was clearly different from what he saw being practiced in his day:

The term baptism in Greek, and may be rendered dipping, as when we dip something in water, so that it is covered all over. And although the custom is now abolished amongst many, for they do not dip children, but only pour on a little water, yet they ought to be wholly immersed and immediately withdrawn. For this the etymology of the term seems to demand. And the Germans also call baptism taufe, from depth, which in their language they call tiefe, because it is fit that those who are baptized should be deeply immersed. And certainly, if you look at what baptism signifies, you will see that the same is required. For it signifies this, that the old man and our sinful nature, which consists of flesh and blood, are totally immersed by divine grace, which we will point out more fully. The mode of baptizing, therefore, necessarily corresponded with the significance of baptism, that it might set forth a certain and full sign of it.[4]

Anglican Archbishop Whately observed that:

Except upon extraordinary occasions, baptism was seldom, or, perhaps, never, administered for the first four centuries, but by immersion or dipping.[5]

In his Institutes, the famous pastor-theologian John Calvin granted that … “the term baptize means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive church.”[6]

I will remain a big “B” Baptist because of the courage of the Anabaptists (re-Baptizers), and early Baptists in Europe and the American colonies as they sought to follow the command of Christ in an explicit manner. An example of courage would be the first president of Harvard University, Dr. Henry Dunster, who witnessed the public beating of Obadiah Holmes for his Baptist convictions.

This distressing scene spurred the learned theologian to serious Bible study. Coming to Baptist beliefs and refusing to have his newborn infant baptized, Dr. Dunster was forced out of office by the strict Puritan leaders of his colony. Having already given Harvard 100 acres of property, the president’s home, and the first printing press in New England, this new Baptist walked away from so much.[7]

The Best Gospel Picture

Baptists have rejected the idea that baptism is a “seal of the covenant” and correlates with the rite of Old Testament circumcision. We see baptism as a church ordinance that is symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:1-6). Historically, Baptists have shunned “covenant theology” with the accompanying tenets of sacramentalism and the conferring of grace or consecration onto “covenant children.” Zwingli and Bullinger seem to be the first to make the argument with the Anabaptists that infant baptism was the equivalent and fulfillment of infant male OT circumcision.[8]

A careful study of baptism and OT circumcision will lead you to the truths of (Col. 2:11-12), and that circumcision of the heart is the focus—not a circumcision of flesh. Paul wisely counseled that, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom. 10:10).

Nothing so dramatically portrays the true meaning of baptism as that of being lowered into a watery grave, and being raised to walk in newness of life. The meaning and the method are inextricably interwoven. If you change the method, you will destroy the meaning. The method and meaning are bound together.[9]

As I think of the example and command of our Lord, the work and witness of the Apostles, the courage of the Anabaptists and early Baptists in reviving believer’s baptism—I see that carrying out believer’s baptism by immersion is a “hands on” expression of the biblical principle of sola Scriptura.

© Ron F. Hale, June 27, 2014

 

[1]http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-i-am-a-baptist-with-a-small-b

[2] Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 60.

[3] Michael Whitlock, “Anabaptist Beginnings in Zurich” in The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists (ed. Malcolm B. Yarnell III; Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 207.

[4] Martin Luther, Krip. Tyrol. Anab., p.17, as quoted by Thomas Armitage, History of the Baptists, p. 398.

[5] Quoted by Richard B. Cook, The Story of the Baptists, 31.

[6] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chap.xv.,section19.

[7]http://etseq.law.harvard.edu/2007/10/harvards_first_president/ You can also read my article: http://blogs.christianpost.com/guest-views/henry-dunster-harvard-president-1640-the-price-of-becoming-a-baptist-in-early-america-13072/

[8] M.E. Osterhaven, “Covenant Theology,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 279.

[9] Adrian Rogers, What Every Christian Ought To Know, (B & H Publishing: Nashville, 2005), 120.