Written January/February 2007. Some links broken. Comments added at the end of the post.
I’ve enjoyed writing this series. When I first saw Aaron’s second post on baptism by immersion, I didn’t expect to make any response other than to leave a comment that we would have to agree to disagree. But something about Aaron’s post spurred me on to reply – these four posts being that reply.
There are, of course, many other pieces of evidence that could be considered – my previous posts on baptism cover just some of these – but I’m not sure it is beneficial to go over them all. In this last post, I will quickly address the hypothetical situation I put to Aaron and then conclude.
Two men in a desert.
I asked Aaron, in light of his willingness to consider baptism by modes other than immersion where providence did not allow immersion, what he would do in this situation: Two men were lost in a desert, one became a Christian and was baptised by sprinkling or pouring due to lack of water. Unexpectedly, they get back to civilisation and the new Christian wants to become a member of Aaron’s church. Would Aaron re-baptise him by immersion?
Aaron answered this situation in the same way I would have if I held his position – where providence restricted full immersion, other modes were acceptable. However, if that situation changed, it would be proper to take the opportunity to complete the “proper” method of baptism, now that the desire for baptism had the opportunity to fully work itself out.
Interestingly, however, I found a quote of Cyrprian, about 250 AD, in Letter XIV of Fairfield’s letters translated as:
And let not such [those baptised by sprinkling or pouring on their sickbed], if they recover of their sickness, think it needful that they should be baptized again.
While the translation of this sentence is not certain, and seems to be the middle section of a Fairfield cut-and-paste job consisting of three different sections of the same epistle (Epistle LXXV), it is quite possible Fairfield’s representation of Cyprian is being true to Cyprian’s intention, and so incidentally disagreeing with Aaron.
What does this mean? Nothing, really. I only posed the question as a curiosity, not to prove a point. But if I must get a point in for sprinkling/pouring, it is quite legitimate to say Cyprian’s personal opinions about the validity of sprinkling and pouring likely do not line up with today’s Baptist insistance on immersion only.
Christian water baptism as immersion only cannot be sustained by the evidence. I think immersion has useful imagery, but in my experience the insistance on immersion has blinded me from understanding the rite as ceremonial purification and as a continuation and completion of OT washings. It was only when I realised some years ago that Hebrews 9:10 contained the word baptisms and applied to OT rituals that I appreciated the far deeper meanings Christian baptism holds. Up until then I honestly thought Christian baptism had no precedent in the Law, an odd idea considering the amount of OT history behind the other Christian sacrament – the Lord’s Supper.
Why do I consider this matter important? Well, I certainly don’t consider it among the essentials of the faith and it is a very small difference between Christians who agree on almost everything else, but I agree with John Piper’s take on the biblical approach to debatable topics – the answer to debated topics is not to take refuge in fuzzy conclusions, but rather to come to a decision about it and glorify God in your decision. With that in mind, I am more than happy to spend the time to discuss issues and make adjustments to my own understanding. In the end, however, when it comes to the mode of baptism I have only become more convinced of my own position – Christian water baptism is likely to have been done by pouring water over the head, but the very definition of baptism as ceremonial washing allows for other modes in our practice today.
Thanks Aaron for sparking all this off.
Tania February 21, 2007 at 12:33 pm
I was baptised as a young adult 14 years ago today. Our church used to hire a tub/tank for immersion baptisms, but I chose to be baptised by sprinkling rather than wait for the tub/tank to become available (it was quite a wait – my decision to be baptised was not spur-of-the-moment). My minister believed personally that either form was equally valid, but he warned me I would meet people who believed I hadn’t properly been baptised if I hadn’t been immersed, and he said he would re-baptise me by immersion if I ever wanted that. I have certainly met people who don’t think sprinkling is baptism, but I have never wanted to be re-baptised. I have always felt that God was fully involved in that step of my journey as he has been at any other time, and I have never felt that my baptism was inadequate in any way. The physical act is important, but it can surely never eclipse its own spiritual significance. I don’t have anything to add to this debate but my own personal experience, but I have read your posts with interest Ali.
ali February 21, 2007 at 2:44 pm
You are the first person I personally have come across who has been baptised by some other means than immersion as an adult, so I read about your experience with interest. Others who have been baptised by sprinkling/pouring were baptised as infants, and that is a whole different issue…one I’m not sure about.
I’d probably say the same in your minister’s shoes – I really don’t think it’s that much of a big deal, and I’d be happy to leave it up to the individual’s conscience. Of course, tragically, sometimes an individual’s conscience is misinformed because of the strength of feeling and the huge bias toward immersion in today’s Christian community. I’m impressed you have not felt the need to be baptised again.
Thanks for the comment.