Friday, April 15, 2011

"Baptism" by Dr. Henry Spaulding

My district publishes a weekly "E-Zine." Over the past several weeks it has included an essay on each of the Articles of Faith by Dr. Henry Spaulding, Provost of MVNU. With his permission, I am posting this essay for discussion here:

ARTICLES OF FAITH #12: "BAPTISM" by Dr. Henry Spaulding


Article XII - Baptism

16. We believe that Christian baptism, commanded by our Lord, is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, to be administered to believers and declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and full purpose of obedience in holiness and righteousness.

Baptism being a symbol of the new covenant, young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training.

Baptism may be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, according to the choice of the applicant.


Matthew 3:1-7; 28:16-20; Acts 2:37-41; 8:35-39; 10:44-48; 16:29-34; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-28; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:18-22


Article XII - Baptism affirms:

  • Commanded by our Lord
  • Sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ
  • To be administered to believers
  • Declarative of faith in Jesus Christ as savior
  • Declares the intention of live obediently
  • Symbol of a new covenant
  • Young children may be baptized if parents give assurance of Christian training
  • Can be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion

The Christian tradition teaches that God created the world from nothing out of His love. The God worshipped in the Church was not and is not content to be alone. God's love sought an object and the most intense love comes to rest with the creature with a human face. God and humankind walked together in full fellowship until that creature with a human face decided to ignore the finitude that partially defined him. So the creature whose telos was to be perfected in the love of God went astray. The vast wasteland that the world became was defined by a disordered love. The sickness is so great that even the attempts to love are twisted into evil in one way or another. Into this sickness and darkness a light has come to deliver us unto life. The practices (sacraments) are a part of the way that this deliverance reaches to every aspect of life. According to L. Gregory Jones, Duke University, "baptism is a training in dying - specifically to sin, to the old self - so that people may be raised to newness of life. Further, this new life is given its shape by the Kingdom that Jesus announced and enacted" [Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis, 4]. Baptism is at the deepest level a means of grace. In fact, baptism is an instituted means of grace in the Church of the Nazarene.


The means of grace or the Christian practices are the habits of faith that begin to shape the world for the Christian. This means that it is in and through the waters of baptism that new life comes to those who believe. According to John Wesley, "By 'means of grace' I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace" [John Wesley, "The Means of Grace," Wesley's Works, 5:187].


Augustine, the fifth century theologian, defines a sacrament as visible word. A sacrament is a sign of a sacred thing in that it conveys grace, strengthens faith, enhances unity with Christ, and offers reassurance of God's promise toward us. The sacraments are tied into the life and work of the Church. The sacraments mediate God's grace. Human beings are sign-makers, that is, we sing, write, and draw. Because we are self-transcendent beings, we lift our eyes beyond the immediate to the transcendent. The Christian faith affirms that God's grace can be located both in the immanent and the transcendent. This is the genius of the gospel. Human beings live with our feet on the ground, but with the sense that we participate in something more. The sacraments and the sacramental are means of grace.


Dr. Rob Staples, retired theologian from Nazarene Theological Seminary, sets forth the criteria for defining the sacraments in the Protestant tradition: a) instituted by Jesus, b) necessity of a physical sign, and c) biblical word of promise. Staples adds "The sacraments were practiced mainly because Christ had commanded them, but also because they were a part of the Methodist heritage" [Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality, 22]. John Wesley captures a measure of this in a sermon titled "On Zeal":


In a Christian believer love sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul; namely, the love of God and man, which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival. In a circle near the throne are all the holy tempers; - longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, fidelity, temperance; and if any other were comprised in "the mind which was in Christ." In an exterior circle are all the works of mercy whether to the souls or the bodies of men. By these we exercise all holy tempers, but these we continually improve, so that all these are real means of grace, although this is not commonly adverted to. Next to these are those that are usually termed works of piety; - reading and hearing the word, public, family, private prayer, receiving the Lord's Supper, fasting, and abstinence. Lastly, that his followers may the more effectually provoke one another to love, holy tempers, and good works, our blessed Lord has united them together in one body, the Church, dispersed all over the earth; a little emblem of which, of the Church universal, we have in every particular Christian congregation. [Wesley's Works, 7: 60-61].


The sacramental emphasis of the Methodist heritage distances it from a religion defined purely by subjective aspiration. The practices of the Christian faith are grounded in history and link the particular faith of a community with the broader contours of the work of God. Staples defines a particular dilemma associated with the combining of this Wesleyan heritage with the American holiness tradition, "The dilemma of the American holiness movement of the 19th -century had roots in Wesley's own theology and practice, as he struggles to harmonize this high churchmanship and his evangelical experience. In turn, the American holiness movement passed the dilemma on to its late-20th-century offspring" [Staples, 25].


Staples argues for a sacramentalist vision which is "the theological perspective that sees the physical as potentially the vehicle of the spiritual. It is the view that God can work the spiritual through the material" [Staples, 63]. This vision of the world calls for a renewed emphasis upon the material. Perhaps, this sacramental vision will lead to a genuine spirituality grounded in the ancient practices of the Church and not the subjective aspiration of isolated believers. Staples voices this vision in the following:


The sacramentalist knows that everything we are and have on this pilgrimage from womb to tomb belongs to God. We are but stewards of whatever portion of planet earth's crust has been entrusted to us. Idolatry is not something that only the ancient Canaanites practice; we engage in it whenever we forget that everything we have is a gift. One function of sacraments is to help us remember. In short, baptism and Eucharist, when all their remarkable nuances are appropriated by the religious imagination, stand as sentinels guarding the priceless treasure of the created world whose essential goodness was declared by the Creator himself in the very beginning [Staples, 114].


According Robert Jenson, "Yet true membership in the church is a sign visible only as the baptism that signifies it. That I am numbered among the elect is visible only as my washing in the triune name; no amount of church activity will make it certain nor any amount of vice quite certainly disprove" [The Works of God, 252].


According to Staples five interrelated but distinguishable means present themselves for baptism:

  • It is the mark of our inclusion in the new covenant that Christ established.
  • It is the symbol of our identification with the death of Christ.
  • It is the symbol of our participation in the resurrected life of Christ.
  • It is the symbol of our reception of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ.
  • It is the action through which we are part of Christ's body, the Church.

Biblical Material

The practice of baptism is highly significant in the Bible. Part of the significance is tied up with the confession of the risen Savior. Baptism is administered in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 8:16; 19:5; 1 Cor. 1:13- 17).


The ministry of John the Baptist is important to the NT understanding of baptism. His baptism was closely related to proselyte baptism. Some have asserted that it was the same thing, but important differences existed. In proselyte baptism the rite is self­ administered. The baptism of John was administered by John to others. The proselyte baptism was only for gentiles, while John baptized both Jews and Gentiles. Proselyte baptism was more ceremonially oriented, while for John the emphasis was on morality. John was conscious of bringing in a new age for he took up the moral fabric of the prophets and the Messianic hope and welded them into a combination that has profound significance for the Christian faith.


Throughout history, the theologians of the church have understood the importance of baptism, Barth says, "Baptism testifies to a man that this event is not his fancy but is an objective reality which no power on earth can alter and which God had pledged Himself to maintain in all circumstances" (The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism, 9). He says further, "Its potency lies in the fact that it comprehends the whole movement of sacred history" (10).


Baptism has traditionally been administered in a threefold manner. The Didache says, "Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". A little later we read Justin Martyr saying, "For in the name of God the Father and the Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing of the water" (The First Apology of Justin, 183). Martin Luther agrees, "we are thrust into the water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" (Treatise on Baptism, 56). This bases the meaning of baptism in the Godhead and locates the source of salvation history.


The practices of the Christian faith are visible habits that engender faith. The sacraments are means of grace, that is, through them we receive the gift of grace. Baptism is the name given to the practice of the Christian faith. The practice of baptism relieves the Christian from reducing life to willing.


Next week we will look at the other instituted sacrament of the Church of the Nazarene - The Lord's Supper.

1 comment:

Todd Stepp said...

Thanks, Eric+, for the reprint, and thanks to Dr. Spaulding for his permission to do so.

Todd+