I am writing a paper for my church history class that will contrast sacramental theology in the Westminster Confession of Faith and one of the Baptist confessions–probably the Baptist Faith and Message of 1925. In my research, I just came across an excellent essay by G. Todd Wilson called “Why Baptists Should Not Rebaptize Christians from Other Denominations.” As you read this, remember that, when he speaks about baptism’s “biblical intent,” he is writing in the belief that the New Testament teaches that new believers should be baptized as a symbol of joining the faith community of the church:
If we opt for that alternative [i.e., rebaptism], however, we are put in the uncomfortable position of insisting that while baptism is not essential for salvation, it is essential for membership in a Baptist church. We must also take this view in the realization that we are giving baptism a different meaning from its biblical intent, and this weakens our appeal to the authority of the Bible for our faith and practice. Furthermore, if we change the meaning of baptism, can we really insist that others are not free to do the same, even if they choose to baptize infants? (44)
It does seem that Baptists cannot logically say that both of the following are true: (1) biblical baptism is only the kind of baptism that is administered as a sign of entry into the community of faith; and (2) those who were (unbiblically) baptized as infants, but have been members of the community of faith for years, must be rebaptized before becoming members of a Baptist church. Wilson makes an excellent point that the rebaptism of (2) is not the “biblical” baptism of (1), nor can it be, by definition.I wonder if this argument would have made any different in John Piper’s recently failed attempt to admit certain infant-batized Christians to membership in his Baptist church (see here and here). Here is the second quotation, which, I think, stands alone:
In this same regard it is interesting to compare our practice of baptism with our emphasis in the Lord’s Supper. In baptism we have focused upon the form and letter, but in the Lord’s Supper our concern is with the spirit and substance. We have held firm on the mode of immersion, but we have ignored the “one cup” and “one loaf” so vitally significant to the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the biblical account, not to mention that we also substitute grape juice for wine. Our rigidity in baptism is so different from our freedom regarding the Supper, and this marked inconsistency deserves attention. The integrity of our Christian symbols is at stake. (45)
I would encourage believer-baptists and infant-baptists alike to read the entire article, if possible. Here is the bibliographic information:Wilson, G. Todd., “Why Baptists Should Not Rebaptize Christians from Other Denominations.” In Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, edited by Walter B. Shurden, 41-47. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1999.