A Baptist Preacher Who Has Been Studying Baptism

It is written:

24  Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.

25  This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26  So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:24-26).

Apollos is identified as a disciple of Christ, even though he had an inadequate view of baptism. One of the things which stood out to Luke about Apollos was that he had a heart that was eager to learn more about the Way and to follow the Lord.

In this, I am reminded of the writings of a Baptist preacher who has been studying baptism and the New Testament for several years. His conclusions through his studies have landed him in some “hot water,” but he has pushed ahead courageously. He has written:

“Some of our strongest criticisms were directed at the churches in what is often called the Stone-Campbell tradition, sometimes at the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ (the ecumenically-oriented stream), but more often at the a cappella Churches of Christ (the most exclusive stream). There were various points of tension, but clearly the most significant was baptismal theology. The Churches of Christ were often called Campbellites, because of Alexander Campbell, the preacher who led the movement in the 19th century, and this division over baptism goes back to battles in that century between Campbell and the Baptists. The heart of the debate is whether we get baptized to testify to a previously completed conversion experience (Baptists) or to experience the remission of sins (Churches of Christ). Do I come to baptism as a confirmed believer (Baptists) or as a repentant sinner turning to Christ (Churches of Christ)? Do I get baptized because I have been saved (Baptists) or in order to be saved (Churches of Christ)? Must I have a conversion narrative to tell prior to baptism (Baptists), or is confession of faith in Jesus Christ adequate (Churches of Christ)? The debate can be phrased in various ways, but it deals with the most fundamental realities of Christian experience, and therefore, it is an emotionally charged debate. In my experience at that point, there was little contact between the two camps—we talked about each other rather than to each other. I can still remember my pastor’s assertion that we believed in the “power of the blood,” but they believed in the “power of the tub.” The idea that baptism was instrumental in the experience of salvation was condemned as works-righteousness and a false gospel, and my sense was that members of the local Church of Christ were not to be considered brothers and sisters in the faith. Of course, the same attitude prevailed on the other side of the divide. They did not think of us as brothers and sisters, because we had not been baptized intentionally “for the remission of sins” (in accord with Acts 2: 38)…..But at the same time, I had to admit that there were several baptism texts in the New Testament that seemed to say that baptism was instrumental in salvation, and I found myself somewhat discontent with the standard Baptist rhetoric….In the process, I became more convinced than ever that baptism in biblical terms is conversion-baptism, and thus a meeting-place of grace and faith, the sacramental seal of the experience of union with Christ….When I began reading the foundational Baptist literature of the seventeenth century, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the early Baptists often spoke of baptism in the ways that I had come to appreciate, freely describing it in sacramental terms and sounding more like Church of Christ theologians than the Baptists around me.” (Stanley Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 67-134 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

Mr. Fowler’s studies have been an encouragement to me, for at least two reasons.

First, it is refreshing to see a gentleman who has spent his life studying the Bible teaching about coming to the same conclusions that the Bible itself presents: every passage in the New Testament which mentions baptism and salvation always places baptism before salvation.

Second, like Apollos, I am reminded that there are believers out there who may have misunderstandings about baptism, but who may still rightly be hailed as disciples of Christ. Jesus calls us to follow HIm, taking up our cross courageously, even when it is difficult (Luke 9:23). Let us redouble our efforts to follow God’s Word where it leads, no matter the “hot water” we may be landed in.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑