The Water That Divides Baptism And Baptists -- By: Larry R. Oats

Journal: Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
Volume: MBTJ 02:2 (Fall 2012)
Article: The Water That Divides Baptism And Baptists
Author: Larry R. Oats


The Water That Divides Baptism And Baptists

Larry R. Oats1

In an article called “We Believe In: Water Baptism,” Arthur Farstad identifies a problem in the broad evangelical world:

If one were writing an article on baptism for a Baptist publication – or a Church of Christ, Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic one – the task would not be too difficult. Each group has well-defined positions on all aspects of this doctrine. . . . Our readership holds differing views not only on the mode but also the meaning of baptism, and perhaps most important of all, the proper candidates for water baptism. Difficult as it may be, in this article we propose to examine the consensus of nearly all Christians on water baptism.2

His article concluded that most evangelicals agree on only three elements: water baptism confers no saving grace, baptism in some way identifies believers with Christ, and baptism is important for obedience and as a testimony to the world of the believer’s identification with Christ.3

In similar fashion, J. I. Packer states,

One of the church’s unhappy divisions concerns the subject of baptism. Nobody defends baptizing all infants as such, but most denominations baptize the children of the baptized. Baptists, however, see this as either non-baptism (because infants cannot make the required confession of faith) or as irregular baptism (because, they say, it is not clearly apostolic, nor pastorally wise). Some hold that by not actually commanding infant baptism God in Scripture forbids it; all urge that to postpone baptism till faith is conscious is always in practice best. (Note that when I speak of “Baptists” here, I am referring to a whole range of Christians—members of Baptist and baptistic denominations, along with some charismatics, independents, and other evangelicals—for whom believer-baptism is the standard practice.)

On the other side, some have deduced from covenant theology that God commands the baptism of believers’ babies after all. Many more maintain that this practice, though fixed by the church, has better theological, historical, and pastoral warrant than the alternative has, and so should be thought of as “most agreeable with the institution of Christ.”4

Baptism divides Baptists (and baptistic churches using Packer’s definition in the quote above) from almost all other denominations. In the current culture, baptism is frequently denigrated...

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