Catechism: Baptism

IV. Baptism

§ 1. In the New Testament

1. What is Christian baptism?

The rite ordained by our Lord to be the sign of admission into the church; and the seal of union with Himself and participation in the blessings of the Christian covenant.

2. What is its history in the New Testament?

We have one central record of institution: preceded by certain preparations in the Gospels, and followed in the later books by many illustrative references to its meaning.

3. Is it then peculiar to the Christian revelation?

By no means. It has an Old-Testament history also. Washing with water was part of the ritual of the law; there are many figurative allusions in the Prophets to its future significance; and it is probable that between Jewish and Christian times proselytes of both sexes were baptised.

4. What was the baptism of John the Baptist?

It was a distinct institution: by which those who received it were pledged to repent and prepare for the coming Christ. It was John’s baptism and it was unto repentance (Acts 19:3; Matt. 3:11).

5. Then it was not the first form of Christian baptism?

Strictly it was not: the hour for this rite, like that of the Lord’s supper, had not come: (1) because the Lord was instead of all ordinances; and (2) because the Christian church, for which these rites were intended, had not yet been founded.

6. But His disciples baptised by the Lord’s permission?

Only on the principle that Jesus must increase (John 4:2) by bumbling Himself to all the preparatory ministrations for His coming and work (John 3:30). Of His own disciples He said: Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you (John 15:3).

7. What significance is in the words of the institution?

It was a command to baptise into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; and to disciple all nations in the Name of Jesus (Matt. 28:19, 20), the only meaning of discipleship.

8. Does the baptism here precede the discipling?

The order is left indefinite. But it is to be inferred:

(1) That, whatever may be said to the contrary, children would from the outset have their part; and they were baptised in order to their future instruction.

(2) That in the case of adults the discipleship must be regarded as preceding baptism, or accompanying it.

(3) That the teaching to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you would follow as the end of all (Matt. 28:20).

9. What light does the subsequent historical observance throw on it?

We see that the Lord’s ordinance was always honoured, even when the blessings it sealed had been already given; that households were baptised; and that it was the universally known token of Christian profession.

10. Does the baptism of households necessarily imply the baptism of children?

That is the natural inference, and it is supported by the following important considerations:

(1) Christianity extended the covenant from one holy people to all nations.

(2) Circumcision and the passover both marked emphatically the family character of the old covenant.

(3) On the great day of transition we hear that the promise was to you and to your children (Acts 2:39).

(4) The children of Christian parents, as such, are said to be holy; that is, as specially consecrated to the Trinity, and therefore to be trained in the discipline of the Lord (1 Cor. 7:14). The rite was necessarily the seal of this; and we never read that they were trained for subsequent baptism.

11. How does St. Paul deal with the subject?

He was himself baptised, notwithstanding his vision of Jesus; and notwithstanding his special call as an apostle he sometimes administered the rite (1 Cor. 1:17); and though sent not to baptise, he was sent to teach more fully than any other the meaning of baptism.

12. How may we show that teaching?

Under two heads: first, in the case of believers as parties to the covenant, baptism is referred to as the remembrancer of obligations; secondly, as to the God of the covenant, baptism is always strictly associated with its blessings as conveyed with it.

13. Give instances of the former.

Answering the question, Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (Rom. 6:1) the apostle asks again, Are ye ignorant that all we who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? (Rom. 6:3) The same kind of appeal he makes to the Galatians, and it is silently heard everywhere (Gal. 3:27).

14. And of the latter.

It is regarded (1) as having been the seal of union with Christ generally (Col. 2:12), in His death and life: Having been buried with Him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with Him.

(2) As the seal of the several blessings of the Christian estate. Of pardon: Be baptised, and wash away thy sins (Acts 22:16), answering to St. Peter’s words, Unto the remission of your sins (Acts 2:38). Of the new life: Ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ did put on Christ (Gal. 3:26, 27). Of sanctification: That He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the laver of water with the word (Eph. 5:26). Baptism is connected with all alike.

15. Is it then regarded as the channel of their bestowment?

No, but as the outward and visible pledge that they have been, are now, or will be bestowed. There is but one Channel of grace to man; one Agent, the Spirit of grace; and, in all the passages which introduce baptism, faith and the word are avowedly or by implication included.

16. Does not St. Peter speak expressly of the salvation of baptism?

He certainly says that baptism is an antitype, or like figure, to the water of the flood through which the few were saved (1 Peter 3:20). But they were saved in the ark; and the apostle adds his limitation: Even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the inquiry of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21).

17. But has not our Lord given His own conclusive testimony?

Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5). This undoubtedly unites the seal and the grace; but does not define the bond of their union. By adding, So is everyone that is born of the Spirit (John 3:8), the Saviour shows that the bond is not essential and absolute.

18. Does He elsewhere allude to this connection?

At the end of His ministry: He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but He that disbelieveth shall be condemned (Mark 16:16).

19. What do we learn from this?

(1) We mark the same absence of baptism in the second clause: the condemnation is not absolutely connected with the lack of baptism.

(2) We see that, as the new birth is spoken of in the beginning, so salvation generally is united with baptism at the close, of our Lord’s teaching on the subject.

§ 2. Historical

1. What traces of patristic error appear in early times?

(1) Pardon and the new life were too closely connected with the rite: which led to its frequent postponement, lest such great privileges should be irreparably lost.

(2) The rite itself kept pace in its abundant ceremonials with many superstitious additions to the doctrine.

2. What was its connection with the catechumenate?

An order of catechists was set apart to instruct candidates for baptism, or catechumens: these passing through successive and strict stages into the privilege of full membership.

3. How did this comport with infant baptism?

For a long time a large number of the baptised were adults; and the catechumenate was specially for them. But we have the testimony of antiquity that infants were baptised from the beginning as “apostolical usage.”

4. Can we trace confirmation as linked with it?

Very early the simplicity of our Lord’s institution was corrupted by the anointing and imposition of hands to signify the gift of the Spirit as supplementing the removal of guilt. But this was not separated from baptism by the Orientals, nor by the Westerns until the second sacrament was established.

5. Did antiquity agree as to the manner of baptising?

Immersion was the prevalent early practice, and is still so in the East: a triple immersion. But pouring or sprinkling gradually superseded it in the West.

6. What are the several differences as to the virtue of this sacrament?

(1) The mediæval church, and the council of Trent, determined that in baptism the sin of the nature is taken away: concupiscence, however, or the fuel of sin remaining; and to be conquered by the Holy Spirit given in the second sacrament of confirmation.

(2) The formularies of the reformation rejected this doc trine of a necessary supplement of confirmation; and they denied that the concupiscence remaining after baptism is with out sin. But they differed on other important points.

7. What were their leading differences?

The Lutherans held that baptism is the sole appointed channel of regenerating grace. The Calvinistic Reformed held that, in the case of the elect, it conveys as well as pledges that grace; but conveys it only as an external attestation of the secret work of the Spirit, at the time or afterwards wrought according to the conditions of the covenant, and to its true heirs.

8. What is the Anglican doctrine of baptism?

In Art. 27 it is declared to be “a sign of regeneration, or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the church; the promises of the forgiveness of sins, and of our adoption to be the sons of God are verily signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and prayer increased, by virtue of prayer unto God.”

9. Who were the Anabaptists?

The Anabaptists (ἀνά, repetition) were a fanatical sect which sprang up at the Reformation; holding, among many revolutionary tenets, the invalidity of infant baptism. They must be distinguished from the Baptists, who in the seventeenth century arose in England and have spread extensively in America.

10. What is the general position of the Baptists?

(1) Their view of the Christian church is that it consists of those who give credible evidence of personal faith; (2) they admit as candidates for baptism only professed believers; (3) therefore rejecting the baptism of infants; (4) and they regard immersion in water as the scriptural rite.

11. By what arguments are these principles met?

(1) The Christian church is a continuation of the one church which included children from the beginning. Our Lord precluded all misunderstanding by declaring Of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:14; Eph. 6); and the apostles accordingly never ordain it, but take it for granted: all nations including all families. Hence they address children, and speak of them, as members of the church.

(2) Baptism is the final seal of the Abrahamic covenant in particular: of which circumcision was the first seal. Baptism is the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:10, 11). The baptised are heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:29): the promise which is unto you and to your children (Acts 2:39).

(3) As to the mode of baptism, nothing can be proved against the validity of immersion: the original word admits this meaning, and it aptly expresses the symbolical idea of baptism unto Christ, buried with him in baptism. But it is highly probable that the original practice was pouring or sprinkling (Col. 2:12): from the analogy of the phrases used to signify the application of the blood of sprinkling and the effusion of the Holy Spirit; and from the fact that multitudes were baptised.

12. Does the baptism of children imply that the grace sealed in the sacrament is given to them?

Certainly, whatever blessing belongs to their acceptance by Christ as His own, to their being acknowledged as included in the covenant, to their being received into the Christian church, and admitted to the adoption of children, is sealed and given to them in the Holy Ghost.

13. Is this their baptismal regeneration?

It is their baptismal adoption: regeneration is the change wrought in the nature when the Son of God becomes the power of a new life; and of that, as of internal righteousness and internal purity, unconscious infants are incapable.

14. Is such a distinction tenable?

Let the following considerations be weighed. (1) The blessing of our Christian estate—the new life with its righteousness and sanctification—all have their external and internal signification or aspect: in the case of infants we can think only of the external. (2) Hence in their baptism they are released from the condemnation resting on the race, they are adopted into the Divine family, and they are outwardly sanctified or consecrated.

15. May not that be said of all infants, baptised or unbaptised?

(1) To assert this is to make void the Christian covenant: to the conditions of which God binds us, though He does not bind Himself. (2) Moreover, there is a difference between the general grace that is connate with redeemed children and the special promise of that covenant.

16. But can unconscious children partake of grace in any way?

As certainly as they partake of that sin which needs grace. The Spirit of the chastening and admonition of the Lord is pledged to them (Eph. 6:4): that Spirit of prevenient grace which, neither in adults nor in infants, is full regeneration.

This excerpt is from William Burt Pope’s Higher Catechism of Theology. Read more in Logos Bible Software or PDF (scans from Fred Sanders).