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Christian Baptism

The importance of Christian baptism is clear for all to see in the New Testament (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, etc.). Every branch of the Christian church has agreed that baptism is a divine ordinance whose observance is part of what constitutes a church. In this the Free Presbyterian Church is at one with all the rest.

DIVIDED OPINION

However, historically there have been widespread differences of opinion among men equally committed to accepting the Bible as our God-given, inspired, and infallible rule of faith and practice. This is true within Protestantism. Evangelical Protestants reject the Romish notion of baptismal regeneration, but they differ among themselves as to the proper mode and subjects of baptism. Historically, the Reformed churches along with the Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregational, and Methodist churches have accepted that pouring, sprinkling, and dipping are all valid modes of baptism. They have also believed that baptism is the sign and seal of God's covenant with His people and that it should be administered to all who are in that covenant. They argue that the infant children of believers are included in the covenant and that therefore baptism should be administered to them.

Over against this view, Baptists and Anabaptists have argued that baptism must follow a personal profession of faith. It cannot legitimately be administered to children who have made no such personal profession. The New Testament nowhere commands or mentions the baptism of infants. The only baptism it knows is believer's baptism.

On the mode of baptism, Baptists insist that only immersion is acceptable because, they say, the verb baptizo means "to dip," and the symbolism of Romans 6 (death, burial, and resurrection) demands immersion. Interestingly the early Anabaptists of the Reformation period baptized believers by pouring.

FOUR CENTURIES OF CONTROVERSY

It is easy to see what controversy the subject of baptism has engendered. Each point made by one side is vigorously contested by the other. After four hundred years of polemics the argument has not abated. Perhaps it will indicate the complexity of the debate to point out that one of the best presentations of the Baptist case is by an ex-Presbyterian, while one of the best apologies for paedo-baptism is by a Baptist pastor who set out to write a defense of his views and was converted to a Presbyterian view of baptism in the course of his study!

DIFFERENCE WITHOUT DIVISION

The Free Presbyterian Church recognizes that good men have differed and continue to differ on this emotive subject. Yet should God's people separate from one another over baptism? Can they not hold their view strongly while allowing conscientious brethren to hold a differing view? We believe they can and should. Thus our Additional Statement on The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 28.3-4, states:

We admit into our fellowship those who believe that covenant infants should receive baptism, the sign and seal of God's covenant with His people--defining an infant as a person who has not matured to the point of being able to respond to the obligations of the gospel call in repentance and faith. We equally admit into our fellowship those who believe that the sacrament of baptism, no less than the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, should be administered only to those who have come to a credible profession of personal faith in Christ. . . . In dealing with this subject that has long caused bitter divisions among God's people, we pledge ourselves to hold our views with a loving toleration and respect for differing brethren, all of us being united in repudiating the error of baptismal regeneration.
We do not undervalue baptism, but we do not want needless division either. We would not wish to be so exclusively Presbyterian that we could find no place for a C. H. Spurgeon just because he strongly adhered to believer's baptism. Nor would we wish to be so Baptistic that we would exclude a Robert Murray McCheyne just because he held strongly to baptism for the infant children of believers.

In the World Council of Churches, Baptists and paedo- Baptists are seeking to work out an acceptable position that will do justice to all their traditions. They are doing this in a spirit of compromise on every major doctrine of the gospel. That is a betrayal. But is it not sad that Baptists and paedo-Baptists who agree in upholding every fundamental of the faith cannot usually find the love, the humility, or whatever it takes, to stand together in the unity of the gospel? We have long enjoyed the benefits of the fruitful coexistence and cooperation of credo-Baptist and paedo- Baptist brethren who have stood with equal commitment for the work and witness of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Free Presbyterian Church.

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