Thursday, December 22, 2005

Baptism and the Lord's Supper: What's in a Symbol? Part 2

You know that you are dealing with a difficult subject when you get tired before you even write the post. It is hard work doing theology, and if it isn't, then you probably aren't doing very good theology.

I said in my last post that the sign of the New Covenant is not baptism. I believe that's true; I believe that a cursory study of the Lord's Supper will reveal this. The question then becomes how baptism ties in with the New Covenant. That is what I will attempt to explore here in this post. Where we come out on this issue will largely determine how we view the nature of the Church, so pay attention and keep me honest.

I have argued that baptism symbolizes the fact that a believer has had an inward resurrection from the dead. The old nature has been put away, and the new nature has been brought out to life. Let me quote something from Paul that most who read this will be familiar with:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrectionRomans 6:3-5

I believe that baptism also symbolizes the fact that the believer is washed clean from sin. I further believer that this baptism is a symbol that a believer has been made a member of the body of Christ. This section of Romans implicitly contains all of these aspects about the new birth. However, paedo-baptism does not contain the most important aspect that baptism symbolizes: the death of the old man.

Look closely at what Paul says:
"we were buried with Him."

How is an infant buried with Jesus Christ? How does sprinkling convey the image of burial? (Not the main issue here, but as a rabid Baptist I must point out the obvious.) Also, does it follow that an infant who has been buried with Jesus should now walk in newness of life? It seems clear from this section that those who are buried with Jesus Christ will, without doubt, share in the likeness of His resurrection. This poses two problems for the infant baptizer:

1. Does baptism bring regeneration?
2. Does baptism guarantee rebirth?

The first is rejected by most anyone who has read thus far, and rightly so. The second is more tricky. And it is precisely here that the paedo-baptist tries to turn the tables on the credo-baptist because they cannot answer question 2. If I say that baptism is forbidden from infants because they are not reborn, they rejoin that I baptize people who are not reborn. I will grant this, but it does not pose the same problem for me theologically that it does for them, and here is why I believe that's true.

I believe that for baptism to be a valid expression, it has to symbolize something that has objectively taken place in the heart of a believer. Since baptism is a sign of spiritual rebirth, the sign is void if the reality behind it is non-existent. It would be as if I bought a family coat of arms for the Wallace family and paraded it around saying, "Look, Wallace's are strong, hardy, reliable, kilt-wearing, Scottish descendent folks. That makes me cool." Someone would well say, "Yes, if only you were a Wallace." Or, if I found your lost wedding band on the side of the road and said, "Boy, marriage is great. See my ring?" You would answer, "Yes, but a ring a marriage does not make." No rebirth; no baptism. To take the rebirth out of baptism is to take away the symbol of baptism altogether.

If you have not been reborn, you have not been washed. If you have not been reborn, you have not been united with Christ Jesus. If you have not been reborn, you have no portion in the Church. If you were baptized and you were not reborn, you put on a ring before the wedding.

This does not mean that an infant baptized person is not regenerate nor does it mean he isn't a member of the Church. It does mean that his baptism was no real baptism, and that it completely missed what baptism is a sign of in the first place. Next, I will try to tie this in with my view on the ordinance of the Lord's Supper.


brother terry said...

The reviews are in and:


"A Tour de Force post from Brad Williams."

"Williams cements his position as a budding theologian."

"Two Hymnals way up!"

Merry Christmas Brother!


centuri0n said...

In order to give you a hard time, I am going to reply to something you asked in this post. You said:

How does sprinkling convey the image of burial? (Not the main issue here, but as a rabid Baptist I must point out the obvious.)

Let's begin by saying that I think immersion is the best case for baptism -- the one that, under any circumstances where it is possible, ought to be practiced. And you're right: it is clearly the image of burial and washing together which speaks through the symbol.

But does sprinkling actually demonstrate nothing about burial? The custom under the Law was to wash the body to purify it prior to burial, and in that it was unlikely that the body would be dragged to a large body of water and submerged to be cleaned: it would be washed by hand, which would include (but not be limited to) sprinkling.

You might retort that immersion is symbollic of the tomb and being placed inside the earth, but given that Peter tells us that baptism is like the way Noah and his family were saved in the ark -- that is, the ark is an archetype of baptism -- they were not passed under the water: they were passged thru the water.

Listen: I think Baptists like us -- who use grape juice and not wine -- need to be pretty careful about how much intransigence we show to other historically-legitimate modes of baptism. If our point is that dipping in the only way to baptize, we ought to look had into the mirror and ask why we don't apply that kind of rigor to our demonstartion of the covenant in the Lord's blood at the table. The rule cuts both ways, and it does more harm to us than good to exclude based on strict forumlas of praxis.

ColinM said...

On the blood analogy, that would be credible if we were arguing about actual underground burial vs water baptism, because Christ said 'do this...' while drinking wine (which many I have heard argue is more closely related to Welch's than Boone's). Am I incorrect in thinking that sprinkling came as a result of infant baptism?

Secondly, are we arguing that baptism symbolizes preparation for burial, or burial itself (then resurrection)? I would argue burial itself via Rom6:3-5 above, as I am sure you would. But I think it can be argued that sprinkling convey's no image of burial, while you have rightly stated it may bring to the discerning historian's mind "an image/a remembrance/a thought of" burial. Don't we have to evaluate it in light of the specific reasons the church instituted these other-than-illustrated methods of baptism?

Just some thoughts on that line of reasoning. I would like to hear debate on theses crucial factors: timing of baptism (someone could agree with everything in this post, but say the symbol can be applied despite when the baptism was administered); and, exclusivity of baptism to believers only (not that I will be arguing for this one, but it needs some fleshing out betwen the camps (in my humble and little-studied view)).

Sojourner said...


Are you lobbing me softballs because you are a baptist?:) If the ark symbolizes baptism, then wouldn't it have been weird if they were sprinkled onto the ark? They were 'buried' inside of it.

For the wine/grape juice dichotomy, I don't think that this really matches. Are you going to argue that wine is the only proper way to have the Lord's Supper because it has alcohol in it? I feel like that is arguing that we should only baptize in rivers because Jesus got baptized in muddy, running water. Sterile baptismal pools are a no-no. Nothing is detratched from the symbol by substituting grape juice. However, if you go from dunking to sprinkling, you lose the heart of the symbol.


If I am correct about what baptism symbolizes, then I think the exclusiveness is self-evident. That is, it is meant to symbolize the death of the old man and the birth of the new. You cannot have this with infant or non-believers baptism.

ColinM said...


I am sure you overlooked my blog-table manners, forgetting to adress my first 2 paragraphs to Centurion, and my last to you and everyone.

I agree with your argument on exclusivity. My question was more aimed at how paedo-baptists try to refute that argument, and why they are wrong (notwithstanding this is the 'how they are wrong' part).