Baptists insist upon baptism by full immersion, the mode Baptists believe Jesus received when he was baptized by John the Baptist. The candidate is lowered in water backwards while the baptizer (a pastor or any baptized believer under the authority of the local Baptist church) invokes the Trinitarian phrase found in Matthew 28:19 or other words concerning a profession of faith. Baptism by immersion is a representation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
For purposes of accepting transfer of membership from other churches, Baptist churches only recognize baptism by full immersion as being valid. Some Baptist churches will recognize "age of accountability" baptisms by immersion performed in other Christian churches of "like faith and order," while others only recognize baptisms performed in Baptist churches. Baptists are known for re-baptizing converts to their faith who were previously baptized as infants or small children. Because of this, the first Baptist congregations were dubbed "Anabaptists" which means re-baptizers.
Saturday, 31 October 2009
I have been thinking recently upon Baptism. I love baptizing; it is one of the most unalloyedly joyful sacraments (except when the catechumen is in the terrible twos; too young to know that he or she doesn't want to be baptized, but plenty old enough to know that he doesn't want his hair wet).
I saw a baptism on Shoreham Beach the other day; a group of black people in nighties were in the sea. When I noticed what they were about, I stopped my walk and remained on the beach out of respect for the Sacrament until it was over and the figures emerged from the waves, shivering in the sharp wind. I gave a surreptitious blessing and went on my way.
Here in Shoreham there is a sort of blow-up pool that circulates among the free churches; I think it belongs to the Baptists. The Baptists hold that for validity, baptism has to be by full immersion, being let down backwards, the formula uttered being either that of the Trinitarian invocation or some other symbol of the faith of the candidate. Here's one account:
There are several curious points here. What does validity mean in this context? If the ceremony cannot convey grace, or change the state of the person, then what means validity? Secondly, I'm not sure that I go along entirely with this total immersion theory. I know it's fashionable right now, and that the East does so, and presumably has done so for a long time. More in a minute. Third, the alternative invocation clearly would invalidate a baptism from our point of view. I had always thought that Baptist baptism was pretty watertight. As it were.
Back to total immersion. Is is really the ancient practice? Consider those ancient baptisteries that have been dug up in the East. They really aren't large enough for a person to lie fully prone, and especially not without bumping his head. The sole argument that total immersion is the only Biblical method comes from the baptism of our Lord, that he went into and came out of the water. (Mt 3:16).
Okay, I'm prepared to accept that certainly people went into and came out of the water, as out from a tomb. Ancient fonts have steps. But think of those ancient representations of our Lord's baptism, such as at Ravenna. In all cases he stands up to the waist in water, while John pours water over his head. In other words, the baptism is by affusion, not immersion. Just as we do, in fact, except that we don't make people stand up to the undies in water. My suspicion is that this is the ancient universal practice, given the small size of floor-fonts and the iconographic evidence. Is there any ancient evidence for full-immersion baptism, other than in presumption?
This Easter, God willing, we should have no fewer than nine baptisms, seven of them adult or teenaged. Do say a prayer for our wonderful catechumens.
By the way, should you wish to attempt a full-immersion baptism of a baby boy, be very aware that the shock of the cold baptism very often causes the child to urinate forcibly. I have known a couple of cases of this, causing embarrassment to some and amusement to others. I have never risked this.
Posted by Pastor in Valle Emeritus at 17:01