Baptism in History, Part 4: Historical Arguments for Believer's Baptism

Read Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Either we should baptize only believers or we should baptize believers and their babies. One of these must be right; the other must be wrong. One is old and apostolic; the other is newer. For the purpose of this paper, assume this much: The very early church practiced one teaching; the other developed later in the life of the church.

In the baptism debate, history seems unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, history is not clearly on either side of the debate. There were at least a few ancient Christians who seem to have practiced each baptismal system (or something near to it). And many old sources are vague enough that both sides claim them. Together, these mean that everyone comes away believing that they are in agreement with the vast majority of historical figures.

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Baptism in History, Part 3

Baptism of AugustineRead Part 1 and Part 2

We have seen evidence that some in the very early church may have baptized believers only. And we have seen that in the second through fourth centuries there was a mixture of practices, with both infant and believer’s baptism. At the beginning of the fifth century something happened that caused infant baptism to become the widespread practice of the church. That something was a someone—Augustine. Perhaps no single person except Jesus and Paul had a more powerful influence on the teachings of the church than did Augustine. Everyone who sought to be orthodox throughout the Medieval and Reformation periods called himself Augustinian. Though I am not an authority on Augustine and I have not read all that he wrote on baptism, I want to note a few things that might give pause to the acceptance of his thinking on baptism.

In Confessions (A.D. 398) Augustine tells of his formative experiences with baptism.

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Baptism in History, Part 2

Read Part 1.

The writings of the third and fourth centuries reveal varying teachings on baptism. These include baptismal regeneration, baptism as a replacement for circumcision, and baptism as a step of faith. The church accepts some of these arguments today. Others have been rejected. Conclusions some claim are apostolic but which are based on rejected propositions should be viewed with skepticism.

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Baptism in History, Part 1

The very early tradition of the Christian church

An examination of baptism in the first few centuries of the church brings up many questions. The most important of these is, what did the Apostles teach in Scripture? But both paedobaptists1 and credobaptists can easily read Scripture in light of their own tradition. This series focuses on history. What was the very early tradition of the Christian church? Part 1 focuses on the period closely following the completion of Scripture. In this period, each writer has either first-hand or second-hand exposure to an Apostle. Part 2 will explore the next period: what was taught and practiced between the very early church era and Augustine? Part three will focus on Augustine: what was Augustine’s contribution to the doctrine of baptism?

Eusebius: “brought up” then baptized

What did those with close exposure to the Apostles teach? In The History of the Church, written in the 4th century, Eusebius relates this story:

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Our Understanding and Practice of Baptism

BaptismWhat is to be our understanding and practice of baptism today? As I have endeavored to do in recent issues, we need to think separately of form and meaning. There is but one form of water immersion anywhere in Scripture, one person submerging another and raising that other one up out of the water. There are no specific words to be said at such a time. There are no restrictions as to where baptism might be done (in early Michigan, people chopped a hole in the ice for immersions).  There is no restriction as to who might be qualified to perform an immersion. It would seem that the form is completely undebatable, yet for the last ten centuries or so, there have been major differences.

The significance of the action of submerging and raising, as these surveys have shown, has differed with additional revelatory action by God. The immersions of John were a witness of the individual’s repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). Immersions by disciples of Jesus continued the personal testimony of the one immersed and added John’s identification of Jesus as the promised Messiah. The teaching of water immersion was to declare one’s death to a sinful past and beginning of a new walk. Jesus later added the coming of His own physical death to the figure (Matt. 20:22-23).

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Essays on the History of Christian Theology, Part 1

Baptism and the Reformation

by Dr. Stephen M. Davis
BaptismThe history of the development of Christian doctrine provides fascinating insight on issues that continue to hold our attention and generate discussion in our day. Perhaps no other issue was and is more volatile than that of baptism. The Reformed faith has retained the practice of infant baptism, which has been viewed alternately, depending on one’s conviction, either as going back to apostolic practice or as a compromise with the Roman Church. No small dissension resulted from opposing views as seen in the Reformers’ writings, particularly for our purposes, in the writings of Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), the great Reformer in Zurich; George Blaurock (d. 1529), who wrote The Hutterite Chronicle to recount the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement in Zurich; and Menno Simons (1496-1561), from whom the present-day Mennonites draw their name. The Schleitheim Confession of Faith (1527) also addressed this controversy.

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