Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Credo - Baptism

I'm going to go ahead and post this for several reasons. One, cause I can't sleep right now - not sure why. Two, because I'm not in the least ashamed of its contents (save for its imprecision). Three, because I want to be very open about a thing which has been unnecessarily taboo.

This document was originally written about a month ago with two intentions. First, I wanted to give the elders of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church a statement of my beliefs on the doctrine of Christian Baptism. Second, I wanted to demonstrate that there is nothing I believe that cannot easily be found within the confessions of the Reformed Protestant Tradition.

While there are Scripture prooftexts cited for each statement, I should admit that many of the prooftexts were drawn from the Reformed confessions themselves. This was only to further illustrate the harmony of my own beliefs, even in how Scripture is to be read, with the Reformed Tradition.

So, the Scripture prooftexts are not heavily employed here to prove anything. This is not an argument, much less is it an argument from Scripture. It's a confession, a coming clean of sorts.

For those unaware, the most widely adopted confessions of the Reformed Tradition can be divided into two categories: The Westminster Standards (The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Westminster Larger Catechism, and The Westminster Smaller Catechism) and The Three Forms of Unity (The Belgic Confession of Faith, the Canons of Dort, and The Heidelberg Catechism). The observant reader will note that I draw from both of these systems of doctrine, as much as possible, for many of the statements, but that there is perhaps a slight emphasis on the Westminster Standards. This is because the Westminster Standards are more broadly accepted here in the States, and should my beliefs need examination by a Reformed communion in the States, I would like as much as possible to emphasize my preference for those documents (though they are not without their faults). For the reader's interest, I have also cited The Nicene Creed and The London Confession of Baptist Faith where appropriate.

Additionally, I should mention that in my holding to these doctrines, I have cost my wife and myself a great deal. These are not doctrines that I rejoice in believing, but one's to which I am soberly bound by conscience to assert. God save me from error.

Finally, important as these doctrines are to Christian faith and practice, I should like to mention that I do not hold that agreement or disagreement with these named doctrines represent the bounds of the Gospel of Christ by which all Christians are bound together. Requiring that my brother or sister believe these things in order to share in Christ's Church alongside myself would be idolatry. Christ accepts his members in all their weaknesses, insofar as they have him as their head. That is to say, it would be sin for me to require more of my brothers and sisters than God requires.

What is baptism?
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Covenant. (Matthew 28:18-20; WCF 27.4, 28.1; WLC Q165; WSC Q94; BCF 33, 34; HC Q68; LCBF 29.1)

What does it mean for baptism to be a “sacrament”?
As a sacrament, baptism is both a sign and a seal of the work of God. (Romans 4:11; WCF 27.1; WLC Q163, Q165; WSC Q94; BCF 33, 34; HC Q65, Q66; LCBF 29.1)

What does it mean for baptism to be a “sign”?
As a sign, baptism symbolizes the work of God.

What does it mean for baptism to be a “seal”?
As a seal, baptism guarantees God’s promise.

What is signed and sealed in baptism?
Baptism signifies and seals the covenant of grace, ingrafting into Christ, regeneration, remission of sins, and being given up to God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. (Romans 4:11, Colossians 2:11-12, Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:5, John 3:5, Titus 3:5, Mark 1:4, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Rom. 6:3-4; NC; WCF 28.1; WLC Q165; WSC Q94; HC Q66, Q69, Q71; LCBF 29.1)

What else is signified and sealed in baptism?
Baptism symbolizes many other things such as anointing, resurrection, judgment, deliverance, purification, and glorification. In being baptized, one is assured that these things belong to him by faith alone. In short, baptism signifies many, if not all of the virtues of the covenant of grace. (Exodus 40, I Corinthians 15:29, Romans 6:5, Psalm 69, Exodus 14, I Corinthians 10:1-2, Hebrews 9:13-14, Revelation 21; BCF 34)

What is the relationship between sacramental signs and what they signify?
There is a spiritual union between the sign and the thing signified, such that when these things happen, the one is to be attributed to the other. Additionally, it should be noted that there may be a variance in order, and even a span of time between the two things. (Romans 4:11, Genesis 17:4, Matthew 26:27-28; WCF 27.2, 28.6; WLC Q167; BCF 33, 34; HC Q71, Q73)

What does the baptismal rite entail?
Baptism entails the application of water to a person in such a way that the ritual symbolism reflects what is signed and sealed in the sacrament. Whether this involves immersion, effusion, or sprinkling depends on which element of baptismal imagery one wishes to highlight. Immersion well symbolizes death and resurrection. Effusion well symbolizes the eschatological pouring out of the Spirit. Sprinkling well symbolizes the sprinkling of Christ’s blood upon our filthy souls.

Regardless of which baptismal imagery one emphasizes in baptism, Christian baptism is performed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. If one understands Jesus to be the Second Person of the Trinity, then it is acceptable to baptize in the name of Jesus alone. (Acts 8:36, 38, Acts 10:47, Matthew 28:19, Hebrews 9:10, 13, 19, 21, Mark 7:2-4, Luke 11:38; WCF 28.2, 28.3; WLC Q165; WSC Q94; BCF 34; HC Q69, Q71)

Who should baptize?
Normally, baptism should be administered by an officer of the Gospel, duly appointed. (Matthew 28:18; WCF 28.2; BCF 34)

Who should receive the sacrament of baptism, the sign and seal of the covenant of grace?
All who repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ should receive the sacrament of the covenant of grace. Because baptism is a covenantal sacrament, and because covenantal sacraments are applied to entire houses, the sacrament should be applied to the children of covenant members. (Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12-13; Acts 16:14-15, Genesis 17:7-14, Galatians 3:9, 14, Colossians 2:11-12, Acts 2:38-39, Romans 4:11-12, Matthew 19:13, Matthew 28:19, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17, I Corinthians 7:14; WCF 28.4; WLC Q166; WSC Q95; BCF 34; HC Q74)

What is the role of baptism in salvation?
Baptism is an ordinary means of God’s redemptive work. While the Spirit of the Risen Christ is the primary cause of salvation, the Spirit ordinarily works through the baptismal promise, in addition to the preaching of the Word, to accomplish his will. Inasmuch as it can be said that the Spirit ordinarily uses the preaching of the Word to save, so can it be said that the Spirit uses baptism, in conjunction with the preached Word, to bring about faith, and thus to save.

It should be made clear, however, that while God ordinarily works through his ordinary means, God is free to make exceptions. That is to say, salvation is not necessarily withheld from the unbaptized. (Acts 2:38-40, 1 Peter 3:21-22; WCF 28.1, 28.5; WLC Q161; WSC Q85, Q91; BCF 33, 34; HC Q71)

What is the relationship between baptism and church membership?
Baptism is the initiatory rite of membership in the visible church. (I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27-28; NC; WCF 28.1; WLC Q165)

Why is it proper that baptism be related to church membership?
Baptism corresponds to church membership because baptism is a covenantal sign. As membership in the visible church is to be understood as membership in a covenantal community, so it is proper that we view membership in the church according to baptism.

How many times should a person be baptized?
Once. For Christ himself was baptized once – that is to say, he suffered unto death once and for all. Additionally, God’s promises need only be issued once to be true. (Romans 6:3-7; NC; WCF28.7; BCF 34)

NC = Nicene Creed
WCF = Westminster Confession of Faith
WLC = Westminster Larger Catechism
WSC = Westminster Shorter Catechism
BCF = Belgic Confession of Faith
HC = Heidelberg Catechism
LCBF = London Confession of Baptist Faith


Anonymous said...

I simply wish you views were documented scripturally instead of by means of other writings.

Love, Mom

Jake Belder said...

I really like this.

Scott Schultz said...

@Mom - Well, If I was trying to argue for a doctrine of Baptism, I would. But here I was just trying to demonstrate that what I believe is neither radical nor novel. That's why I cited confessional documents.

@Jake - I'm glad. What did you like about it?

Jake Belder said...

Sorry, missed your reply earlier on this...

What I like about it is the robustness of it. Baptism is often treated in such a truncated way--i.e., it is how we become members of the church, or it is a sign of the washing away of sin, which is all well and good, but as you show here, it's something that gives shape to the whole of our life in the Church. It is not just significant that we were baptized, but we are baptized. I'll leave it to you to parse those verbs, but I'm fairly certain you understand what I mean by that.

I also like what you mentioned in the previous comment, that this is nothing radical or novel. This makes it especially interesting to me because while it's not either of those, yet the understanding of baptism in the Church today (especially among evangelicals) has been so watered down (no pun intended) that this stuff does sound radical and novel.