Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ben Witherington on Baptism

"[I]t seemed unlikely that the church would get very far in its discussion of the matter unless it recognized that no one has managed to avoid adapting the New Testament teaching on baptism without certain theological aberrations" (Troubled Waters, p. 2).

"The fact is, no New Testament document addresses itself to water baptism for its own sake.  It is always mentioned as an illustration or exhortation to make some other point. ... [A]ny deductions about correct Christian practice of water baptism are drawn not from clear-cut prescriptive statements in the New Testament about how one ought to perform the rite, but from what one can conclude from various descriptive statements and theologoumena that reveal who was baptized and what it meant. ... Thus, any evaluation of the New Testament evidence must proceed cautiously, recognizing that deducing a normative practice from primarily descriptive or purely theological statements is no easy task." (pp. 7, 9)

How true.  As time and again I've returned to the Scriptures over whether or not we ought to baptize our newborn son in his infancy, I'm becoming more and more convinced that neither Baptists nor Presbyterians have it right (and they're about the closest we have to the biblical doctrine, while taking very different viewpoints).  At best, both are adaptations of what little teaching we do have about baptism, set in contexts often far different from the spread of the gospel to Jew-Gentile assemblies in the first century.  When I try to read either position back into the New Testament, both end up with significant inconsistencies, especially regarding what to do with ensuing generations born and raised within the church community--a scenario that is not explicitly addressed by the Bible.  It's like trying to read Genesis to settle arguments on how God created the world, considering that the creation accounts and all references to creation are written for polemical or ethical reasons.  What to do?


Halfmom said...

"considering that the creation accounts and all references to creation are written for polemical or ethical reasons" - the Genesis account of creation?

Andrew said...

Yeah, the accounts in Genesis 1-2, also Acts 17 comes to mind.