One of the hottest debates going on among Baptists at this time centers on the question of receiving into our membership people who have been immersed by someone other than Baptists. Those who refuse to take any baptism but Baptist baptism have been castigated as "landmarkers" or followers of J. R. Graves.
Not even Graves argued that the Baptist name was required, because he knew better than to add a requirement that goes beyond the words of the New Testament. This might open up the person to the awful charge of "adding to the words of this book" and bring down the plagues of the book upon his head (Revelation 22:18). However, his narrow restriction of the term "New Testament church" to Baptist churches (and not all of them) did result in a practical limitation of valid scriptural baptism to the Baptist churches as he defined them. Anyone who stands up today and says that valid scriptural baptism can be performed only in the Baptist name or authority is flying in the face of Holy Scripture -- and I would hate to be in his place!
However, a practice on the other side is, if possible, even worse. Some churches have gone on record in public declaration that they will receive any baptism by immersion so long as it was performed upon a believer. What a travesty upon New Testament baptism! It is certainly important that a person be a believer and that the form be the New Testament form of immersion. But the reason these are important is because they focus upon the most important thing about baptism -- its meaning! To leave out the meaning of baptism as interpreted by the Christian community which performs it is to leave out baptism itself!
Baptism is not a private affair. It is a public act in the context of a Christian community of faith. It requires both the valid personal experience of the believer in Christ and the proper public interpretation of its meaning to the community, or it is not valid baptism. The whole teaching of the church about baptism is bound up with the way it is interpreted and practiced in the act of baptism.
Immersion of a believer is not enough. Followers of Alexander Campbell have been immersing believers for a century -- to help "save" them. When a person has received that baptism at their hands he has given an eloquent testimony to a distortion of the New Testament doctrine of salvation. This is why we should not receive people who say they had private opinions about baptism which contradicted the public interpretation of baptism in their church. We "muddy the waters" and confuse our witness both on salvation and the meaning of baptism.
Now what should we do? We should carefully investigate each case in order to recognize and accept genuine New Testament baptism when it has been performed -- and also to perform a proper New Testament baptism when it has not been already performed. If we go around rebaptizing, just to put the Baptist label on it, we are mocking baptism and calling unholy what is sacred before God.
There are some groups which practice and preach baptism in exact accord with the New Testament teaching as Baptists understand it. If we want to keep a clear and scriptural witness on baptism we had better discover these people when they come and receive their scriptural baptism -- without adding any private Baptist requirement to mock the word of God. And, if they have been baptized all the way under until they bubble, for the wrong reason -- hurry up and baptize them with the right meaning! They have aIready waited long enough! ==========
[From the Baptist Record, "Current Issues in Baptist Life," April 27, 1967, p. 3. Wayne E. Ward served as Professor of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY at the time. Document provided by Ben Stratton, Hickman, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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