Friday, October 10, 2008

History of Baptism

Don't think for a minute that I'm some crazed Presbyterian that majors on the minors! Its just that so many of the folk who visit our church come from a baptistic background and this is an important question for them. There are MANY more important issues to blog about, and I'll go to those soon. Ironically, it is not we Presbyterians who get hung up on baptism, it tends to be the Baptists. I have received numerous phone calls from people who have had to leave town and look for another church due to a job change. Often there is no PCA church in the town and the most Biblically-based church is Baptist. No problem. Except that there has often been a problem for the family joining the church when they are told that their Presbyterian baptism didn't count! They weren't immersed, so they weren't baptized, so they can't join the church unless they are baptized by immersion! We don't ever tell anyone they need to be baptized in order to join our church unless they've never been baptized. So, there you go. Let's think for a minute about Church its not as strong as the Biblical argument, obviously, but we at least need to consider that God is sovereign and is at work through His Church through the ages. For the first 1000 years or so, there only was one recognized organizational center to the church...the Roman church. The church of Rome baptizes infants. In 1054 the Great Schism occurred between the East and the West...the Eastern Church, the Orthodox Church (Greek, Russian, etc) broke off from the Western Church over the place of authority (Rome or Constantinople), the date of Easter (!!!), and other issues. The Orthodox Church also baptizes infants. Those two churches remained until 1517, when, with Luther's 95 Theses, the Reformation began. Luther's followers became, of course, the Lutheran church...and they also baptize infants. Soon after, John Calvin wrote his Institutes, and the Reformed churches began...Presbyterians baptize infants following Calvin's teaching of Scripture. Only AFTER this, did the Anabaptists arise (the word means baptize again), saying that Luther and Calvin didn't Reform enough and were carrying Catholic baggage, ie, infant baptism. MOST of the churches DISAGREED with the Anabaptists. The Reformation spread to England and the Anglican church was born...and THEY baptize infants. John Wesley and others began the Methodist Church in England, and they too baptize infants. In America, the Episcopal Church was started, and THEY also baptize infants. What is clear is that the majority view through ALL of Church History is Infant Baptism. The reason why so many American Evangelicals struggle with baptism is because Americans think the Baptist tradition is the historical majority position. We naturally think that because the Baptists are the largest denomination in America, along with other large Baptistic denominations (non-Baptist, but still practicing believer, adult immersion). But if you step outside of your American Heritage, which is hard for Americans to do, you see a different story and perspective...and that perspective is infant baptism practiced in the churches.

1 comment:

JNoah said...

Bob: having grown up in the Souteast my whole life, I get how big of a deal this is for many believers, so thanks for taking so much time to explain it.
May I make a request, that at some point you do the same for the Lord's Supper? Again, not coming from a Reformed or Presbyterian background, I understand that's it's not merely symbolic, but I'm not sure I get what it is.