What was it like back in the day?

Old School

The modern Christian movement has enveloped itself in a battle over worship. Unfortunately, the primary issue is style, proving today’s impression of worship; starts and ends with “singing.” However, singing is not the end all of worship, but a single component. Our worship today often resembles a cultural shift based upon our demographic or target group, and I do not think it is safe. The second-generation disciples painted a picture of worship that I think can help us. They lived shortly after the original NT organization. After all, the New Testament church was a recapitulation of what we see in the Old Testament, not the invention of something new!

Could we stand to look into the worship practices of the early church and glean? I think so, and I hope this post will help us to discover some areas in our American Christian worship that could use some reform!

The early church met early on Sunday. This tradition continued from the book of Acts. Justo Gonzalez says, “The reason for gathering on the first day of the week was that this was the day of the resurrection of the Lord” (Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, 107). The practice of Sunday worship still continues. We generally meet on Sunday mornings, albeit a little “later,” but do our people know why we meet on Sunday morning? Maybe we could educate them on the purpose for Sunday worship as day of rest, which we do not observe, as we PACK the entire day with activities. While we pack the day, do we even know why we do the activities, do they have a strategic purpose, do they fit into the big picture of the Kingdom? For the early church, Sunday morning was not about convenience of the week, but about celebrating the resurrection of Christ. The physical day had meaning.

The early church worshiped on Sunday and the central event was the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. This event was originally the Passover, but with the initiation of Christ’s death, He put forward a different approach. Until Christ the meal was celebrated because of lamb’s blood, then it celebrated the final, official sacrifice of the Lamb of God. His body broken, representing the bread, and His blood poured out, representing the wine. Gonzalez tells us, “. . . the main purpose of this service of worship was not to call the faithful to repentance, or to make them aware of the magnitude of their sins, but rather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the promises of which that resurrection was the seal.” (107). The time was celebratory and full of joy. What a TOTAL difference from today!

Involved in the celebration each Sunday morning were readings from the prophets and apostles. A “canon” of sorts already existed in the second-century, although not in its final form. The presbyter, elder, or bishop presented Scripture and expounded. The records do not reflect expositional times resulting in funny stories or hermeneutical dog-and-pony shows. The men read straight from the text and explained the contents, and then exhorted the believers to imitate. That brings me to another critical element of early worship, IT EXISTED FOR BELIEVERS ONLY. Worship was not the time for sharing one’s faith. It was not the time to “evangelize” the lost. It was a time for the believers to unite and celebrate Christ. How can unregenerate people celebrate Christ? In fact, the Scripture clearly teaches they are in full rebellion and opposition to God! Yet we openly invite them to attend a “service” that we have allowed to be centered around them. However, in their blindness they would not be able to comprehend the contents of our worship.

The Eucharist was reserved for regenerate baptized believers. The Didache says, “But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs’” (Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English, 169). We are pretty good about reserving the Lord’s Supper for only regenerate persons, but what about this baptism issue? In fact, the early church displayed long periods of training and waiting before baptism. The individual, known as a catechumen, was instructed for up to three years before baptism. The Didache gives unique early interpretations of the baptismal procedure. So much so it might raise eyebrows of folks today.

Baptism in the early church was not a simple decision. It was a lengthy process of training and growth. A catechumen went through an extensive process to show longevity in genuine evidence of Christ. Some evidence exists that leads us to think they did a mass baptism on Easter Sunday morning for all those who had gone through the catechism. Again, the Didache shows a varied approach to baptism. Based upon certain availabilities, baptism could be performed in various methods. What was always sure was meaning. Baptism was a serious event in the life of a young believer. Identifying with the church in a Trinitarian baptism meant exposure to the Roman authorities. In Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp he said, “. . . let your baptism serve as a shield . . .” reflecting a strong sense of the meaning behind baptism. The church today has dwindled the purpose of baptism to such a symbolic measure that it no longer holds its identifying character. Why not put individuals through a catechism class and make sure they are truly repentant and ready to identify with Christ? Would that help solve some of the church related issues we have today?

Prayer brought together the elements of the worship time. Prayer began and ended the time of worship. After the reading and exposition of the Scriptures, prayer was uttered, urging the people to follow and imitate the truths. Prayer was lifted during the Eucharist as a strong plea to remember the sacrifice of Christ. Gonzalez records, “In this prayer, often lengthy, the saving acts of God were usually recounted, and the power of the Holy Spirit was invoked over the bread and wine” (109). Once the Eucharist was concluded a final element of worship took place.

The service was an occasion to give, for those who were able, to the needy. In the second-century the church still functioned like that of Acts 2. Why would they not? After all, the leaders were disciples of the original Apostles and Paul. These small house churches met in secret for fear of the Empire, and yet gave sacrificially in order to help others. The contribution does not resemble the tenth we insist upon today. It appears to refer to an offering flowing directly from one’s heart. Evidently they needed each other, in more ways than one. How unique would it be to be a part of a fellowship like that?
Listen to the words of Justin Martyr from the second-century in his I Apology, 67.3-6:

The day that is commonly called Sunday all those (believers) who live in the cities or in the country gather, and in their meetings as much as time allows is read from the memoirs of the apostles or from the writings of the prophets. Then, the reader ceases, and the president speaks, admonishing us and exhorting us to imitate these excellent examples. Then we arise all together and offer prayers, bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president in like manner offers up prayers and thanksgivings with all his might; and the people assent with Amen; and there is the distribution and partaking by all of the Eucharist elements; and to them that are not present they are sent by the hand of the deacons. And they that are prosperous and wish to do so give what they will, each after his choice. What is collected is deposited with the president, who gives aid to orphans and widows and such as are in what by reason or sickness or other cause; and to those also that are in prison, and to strangers abroad . . . (Bettenson and Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, 73).

How far have we strayed? Our music is loud and theologically weak. We have the Smartboard sound systems, and digital media. Our choirs belt out and randomly raise their hands during songs. Soloist seek to evoke an arousing applause and standing ovations just before the pastor gets up to share a heartfelt story. The pulpits contain watered down, topical sermons, that do not even come close to being exegetical. What did they do in the early church?

This is a snippet of the early church and their practices, and I pray the twenty-first century American church would get back to the simplistic basics and quit trying to appeal to the masses.

Comments

  1. says

    When unregenerate people become members of Baptist churches, they begin to set policy, and that policy is often designed to satisfy the personal felt needs of said individuals without the filter of God’s Holy Spirit. Hence unbiblical practices designed to compete with the world using the world’s methods in order to meet the world’s goals, i.e. bigger, better, more prosperous, more influential, more acceptable to the world’s citizens.

  2. says

    And on unbelievers coming into the service, it is true that worship of God’s people is not designed for unbelievers. Or it should not be. But Paul contemplated that unbelievers may be present.

    “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 21In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord. 22So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. 23Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”

    And Paul’s instruction lends support to debunk the idea that worship should be designed to attract unbelievers. If they are present, the worship service they encounter should cause them, or be used by God, to fall down before almighty God!

    • Tarheel says

      Amen, Les!

      Seeker friendly worship services are not worship services at all…they’re evangelistic events (of course those are needed and necessary too).

      When we as pastors exchange believers discipleship and worship for weekly evangelism events we’ve only shot changed the sheep and failed to fulfill our commission.

      To be clear – This is not to say that evangelistic endeavors should be non existent Or to say that we shouldn’t call (paul said implore) attendees in worship services to be reconciled to God but it shouldn’t be the primary focus of worship services.

  3. David Rogers says

    The question of the Didache and what it may have to teach us concerning close/closed communion has always been a bit of a conundrum to me.

    First of all, the wording appears to give credence to baptismal regeneration, though not necessarily so, IMO, when it says: “But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, ‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs.'”

    But I think at the same time there is good reason to conclude that at this period in church history there was no distinction between credo-baptist believers, paedo-baptist believers, and non-baptized believers. So the author(s) of the Didache were likely not addressing the differences in treatment between these three groups, but rather simply affirming that the Eucharist was for believers, not non-believers.

    The vicissitudes of almost 2,000 years of subsequent church history have left us today with a very different situation, though: one in which each of the aforementioned three groups make up significant portions of the overall professing Christian community.

    Also, the Didache says things like: “And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.”

    So, if we are going to use the Didache as our authority to support close/closed communion, we are being inconsistent if we do not at the same time allow for baptism by effusion; or if we don’t require people to fast before being baptized.

    There are also a number of other details in the Didache that we as Baptists would not consider binding (or even correct practice) today.

    So we probably shouldn’t pick and choose from a document like the Didache in accordance with that which we like and that which we don’t.

    I’m not saying we can’t learn from the Didache, or that we shouldn’t place the things we learn from the Didache on the table of evidence next to everything else we learn from other sources. But it is not, in my opinion, determinative on a number of issues, for the reasons given above.

    • Keith Price says

      David:
      Great thoughts. Like you I think the Didache should be put on the table of evidence like the other ancient documents and like those it is important to try and look at them in context. I’ve always felt that the Didache had a very significant Jewish component and try to look at it through 2014 SBC eyes is sometimes confusing.

      I think an interesting question to ask is if “there is good reason to conclude that at this period in church history there was no distinction between credo-baptist believers, paedo-baptist believers, and non-baptized believers”, then why? What were they thinking? What problems were they trying to address? What can we learn from that? Do they define the “terms” as we do?

      In some ways from the other paragraph on baptism you quoted it seems they were wrestling with the question of knowing that Jesus had commanded them to baptize the disciples, knowing that baptism was by immersion, but what happens if…? How do we deal with situations that have no living water or even not enough water for a mikvah?

      I think it flows along the same lines of God saying do no work on the Sabbath and then not really specifying what all the word “work” entails. So things like the Mishnah and other writings are produced trying to figure out how just exactly to obey that command. The intention is to be true to the commands of Scripture, but the results are sometimes questionable. I suppose that the discussions were fruitful in some ways to those involved, if their heart was in the right place.

      Sounds kind of like the same type of questions we deal with today in relation to Scripture and dare I say the BFM 2000?

    • says

      David,

      I do not think I placed the Didache over the Bible, but simply implied that we could learn from their early practices. I presume the document was written mid 1st century, and therefore, reflected common practice.

      The passage you quoted, evidences, not the importance upon the method, but meaning and identification. It was a trinitarian baptism, necessary for identification with the “correct” group. Obviously the issue of immersion wasn’t present. Should we see that as a deviation, or a representation? Could be representative of acceptable common practice?

      • David Rogers says

        Andy,

        Thanks for the reply. I did not mean to imply you were placing the Didache over the Bible. Just reflecting for myself over some of the implications of what the Didache says.

  4. says

    Ancient writings are fascinating and we can learn much from them. Including how even church fathers so soon strayed from the teachings of the Bible.

    We should always remember the 66 books of the Holy Bible are our final and perfect rule of authority. Not back to AD 1800 or 1000 or 200, but back to the Bible itself.
    David R. Brumbelow

  5. Andy says

    Thanks other Andy for the historical reminders. I have some positive and Negative reactions to what you have written:

    Positive: You remind us that singing is only a small part of worship.

    Positive: You encourage us to educate our people about various things they likely give very little significance to, such as meeting on Sunday, not being depressed about taking the Lord’s supper, and Baptism.

    Positive: You remind us of the importance of prayer, especially corporate prayer.

    Positive: Instructing and conversing with new believers prior to baptism in order to make sure they understand what it is they are committing to.

    Positive: You encourage us musicians to seek to minister rather than applause.

    Positive: You encourage us to have theologically rich songs and sermons.

    ….

    Negative: You say, “That brings me to another critical element of early worship, IT EXISTED FOR BELIEVERS ONLY.” I think Paul’s comments in 1 Cor. 14 refute this. He very pointedly tells the Corinthian church that while speaking in tongues is fine and good, they should prophesy more, because of unbelievers who might be present…he specifically tells them to ADJUST their corporate worship so it will be more clear to outsiders. It’s not a matter of watering it down, but about making the message as clear as possible.

    Negative: You do not acknowledge that there is biblical warrant for loud music, loud instrumental music even, raised hands, and groups of people singing “to one another.” (Col. 3:16).

    Negative: You do not consider that Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others commonly expounded on a theme, using various passages to teach their point, rather than simply expositing some OT passage. That is not to say Exegetical, Expository sermons are wrong…far from it, but it seems that topical sermons might also be allowable. Why not Both?

    Negative: You describe the use of technology as having “strayed.” Why?

    A final thought: Regarding Music more specifically, every generation has had to make musical decisions about what kind of songs to sing corporately, and what styles of music to use. While it is certainly a task worthy of careful thinking, and the avoidance of gimmicks, a music that has roots in folk culture has been used in the church for quite a long time, and as folk culture changes, the music changes too.

    -another “Andy” :-)

  6. Dave Miller says

    I find it interesting that in the book of Acts, there was nothing that took place between conversion and baptism. Salvation. Immediate baptism. Then discipleship. It seems that the post-apostolic church reversed the biblical order into salvation – discipleship – then Baptism.

    One of my church history profs (at Dallas) had an interesting philosophy of Church history. Don’t know if you CH buffs here agree.

    He said it was amazing how quickly the apostolic teachings and doctrines were lost and corrupted into what became the Roman church, whose doctrines are based on the traditions of the post-apostolic fathers not on Scriptures themselves.

    He said that church history was the long slow process of the church recovering biblical theology and doctrine from the corruption that so closely followed the passing of the Apostles.

    First, the church reclaimed Christology in the Councils of the fourth century. Later, under Luther, soteriology was recovered. Then, ecclesiology was recovered slowly.

    Interesting idea.

    But, the point is that what went on in the post-apostolic church can be interesting and informative, but is not definitive or authoritative. If we had evidence of how services were conducted during the apostolic era, that might be more compelling.

    • Dave Miller says

      To summarize the point I made in a little more lengthy fashion above. Do the practices of the post-apostolic church represent the practices of the apostolic church itself?

      My church history prof maintained that they did not – in both theology and practice. Baptismal regeneration. The rise of unbiblical Christology. The institutionalism and formalism of the Roman church as opposed to the simple faith of the NT church.

      • Keith Price says

        David:

        I’d have to agree with you here about the post-apostolic fathers diverging away from the practices of the apostolic church. I think most would agree with that premise in some way.

        The interesting discussion and argument that will ensue is what were those practices, when did they divert, and why? From there we can discuss how much we may or may not have recovered over the centuries.

        In other words, I may or may not be a part of the “great minds” club! :)

      • Christiane says

        What is the Christology that is considered ‘unbiblical’, DAVID ?

        Actually, the Church defended ‘Who Christ Was’ in the first centuries, and came together in council and the creeds were developed in council as a defense against the spread of heresy in the early Church.

        I look at Catholic and Orthodox Christology and I ask, what is DAVID referring to about it being flawed? Can you be specific so I can sort this out. And thanks.

        (P.S. I am defining ‘Christology’ as the Church’s defining of ‘Who Christ Was’, also related is the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.)

      • Dave Miller says

        The “church” does not determine doctrine. The Bible does. The Christian’s job is to read the Bible and learn its truths, not just to acquiesce to the dictates of church dogma.

        Even in the apostolic era, aberrant Christologies abounded (per John’s warnings about those who deny that Christ was actually come in the flesh). Some of the mystery elements that corrupted the early church thought. Arius was later, but the denial of the deity of Christ was not original to him.

        Of course, the largest corruptions were soteriological – baptismal regeneration, etc.

        The immediate post-Apostolic era, long before what we now know as the Roman Catholic church grew to be the monstrosity it became, evidenced a lot of differences from the apostolic church itself.

        • Jon says

          Dave,
          While I’m certainly a Bible first guy, the fact is that in some sense the Church does determine doctrine. Baptists and Presbyterians both claim to be practicing baptism according to the Bible, and yet clearly their doctrines of baptism differ. So it is not enough to say that the Bible determines doctrine. The Bible may be the source from which we get our doctrine, but our interpretation is what determines it.
          Christiane also has a point about Christology. Certainly heresies arose and some were popular, the same is true today. But there were many who remained faithful to the apostolic preaching of Christ. So it is not really fair to say that the church went astray concerning Christology, even if there were many professing Christians who did.

          • andy says

            It was also the “Church” councils that decided correct doctrine, canon, and other important issues. Soon I will write concerning the issue of the lapsed, or those who surrendered during persecution. This divided the leaders deeply, and eventually the church council would make a decision about what to do. While one may say, just follow the Bible, there isn’t a direct command on this particular issue. They walked where no one had ever walked, and all without extrabiblical helps. I for one think we owe them a great deal of gratitude for striving the best they could.

    • Dean Stewart says

      Dave, I was gathering my thoughts to interact with Dr. Hynes’ discussion on the Didache on baptism. If the Didache or any writing departs from Biblical practice would we not be better served going back to the Bible rather than just “back in the day?” We recognize that discipleship before baptism is a departure from Biblical practice.

      One of my professors at MBTS argued quite convincingly that the order of the Great Commission is clear – go, win, baptize then teach. Comparing the use of “matheteuo” in Matthew 28:18 and Matthew 27:57 we see that Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus but had no extensive time with Christ. This is reinforced in Acts 14:21 where “matheteuo” is paired with the verb evangelize and understood as “won a large number of disciples.”

      The change in the order to – baptize, teach and make disciples was done because of the sacremental church’s influence. After all, they baptize infants and then make them disciples.

      • Keith Price says

        Good thoughts and I’m trying to process them.

        “We recognize that discipleship before baptism is a departure from Biblical practice.”

        So when were the 12 apostles or other disciples of Jesus while he was on earth baptized?

          • Keith Price says

            That was a baptism of repentance, not a baptism into the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit (please do not read this as formulaic). It was not a baptism into being a disciple of Jesus.

          • Keith Price says

            Yep, John, I had a brain fart on that one. The gospels don’t specifically say they were baptized into discipleship, but I would suspect they would be. I would also believe that some of those baptisms were baptisms of repentance as well, since this was Jesus’ message as well.

            I guess for me that “discipleship before baptism is a departure from biblical practice” seems a bit too structured or formulaic. I’m not against formulas (I’m an engineer), but I guess it comes down to the definition of discipleship. When does it start, what is it?

            I wrestle topic with this because those folks in the gospels, Acts and the early church were very biblically literate and had an understanding far above the average Joe walking into our churches. One the one hand, I have no problem baptizing folks that have placed their faith in Christ. But it seems to me that as a church we have failed to follow with “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.” Folks then knew the commands. Folks today just don’t.

            Sorry for thinking out loud…

          • John Wylie says

            No problem Kevin,

            I was just thinking out loud as well. I really appreciate your response. And I do agree that the baptism of John was different than what we know as Christian baptism.

        • Dean Stewart says

          Keith, we see there was baptisms done by the Lord’s disciples in John 3:22 through John 4:1. I am convinced these baptisms were similar to John’s in that they prepared one for the Kingdom. I am equally convinced that the disciples did not receive Christian baptism until after the death of Jesus. The reason is Romans 6:3 teaches that Christian baptism is baptism into the death of Christ. If the disciples were baptized after 2 plus years of being with Jesus it was not because they were being discipled and now were ready to be baptized but rather Jesus had not died and there was no Christian baptism until His death.

          Going back to the quote of mine you highlighted. I am comfortable with the book of Acts providing enough evidence that the norm in the first church was baptism upon conversion. A catechism or a new believer’s class required for baptism is a departure from Biblical practice. I maintain in the Great Commission, making disciples is the beginning of salvation and not the continuation of salvation.

          • says

            Is there reasonable thought to place a time between conversion and baptism? After all the “teaching them” aspect is a continuation for the rest of life. So we can’t say that it was “immediate,” but rather “after” conversion.

          • Dave Miller says

            There are seven, or maybe 8 instances of Christian baptism in the NT. All of them seemed to take place immediately upon conversion – and I mean immediately.

          • Keith Price says

            Dean:

            Great thoughts. You are helping me process this and I appreciate your patience.

            I never would have thought that the disciples were finally ready for baptism. That process just doesn’t fly. When are you ever ready?

            I also agree that a new members class or such would not be a requirement for baptism, but I would think that some level instruction or knowledge of what was going on would be necessary in today’s church.

            I guess I’m just overly sensitive to the sometimes overemphasis on “go” and “baptize” and not on “disciple” and “teaching.”

            Thanks again…

          • Keith Price says

            Dave:

            Yep, they were immediate, but I would also suggest that those folks understood at a much deeper level than people today. I’m not saying I wouldn’t baptize them, because chances are folks today have some understanding of what is going on if we are doing what we are called to do.

            As you mentioned it is subjective. But, I do want to ask a few questions, make sure they know how to plant flowers and such.

          • Dean Stewart says

            Dr. Hynes, I understand “matheteuo” in Matthew 28:19 to be in the aorist tense – that is simply happening in a point in time. I believe Jesus is teaching go, make disciples (win the lost), baptize them and then teach them (which is described in verse 20).

            I maintain that once a minister is satisfied with the conversion there should not be any necessary delay in the convert being baptized. If a pastor needs an extended period of time to be satisfied with the conversion Godspeed. However, I do not believe the Great Commission or the book of Acts teaches that one must go through a discipleship process in order to be baptized. I also believe some of our translations have confused the order in Matthew 28:19 because of the influence of the influence of paedobaptism.

    • says

      Dave,

      As a church history guy, I prefer to presume innocent until proven guilty. I mean, I give the early men the benefit of the doubt in their desire to “practice” correctly. I don’t see deviant men seeking to stray from what they were taught. I do see later attempts for specific reasons to stray. These led to the falsification of the Gospel, and unbiblical practices.

      While some of the thoughts of the early 1st, 2nd, and 3rd century men were taken and misrepresented later, in my opinion that doesn’t mean that was what the early men meant.

      However, as Baptists we quickly jump on the baptism and Lord’s Supper issues!

  7. Nate says

    Another item that the Didache contradicts the book of Acts on is this “putting off” of baptism until a training process and “fruits” of faith be shown. It is impossible to read the book of Acts and come away with any understanding of baptism that isn’t “almost” immediate upon profession of faith. Baptism ceases to be a testimony of what has just transpired (repentance and faith in Christ) and becomes a grade-card of how one has lived since their profession the longer we put it off or require membership classes, catechisms, etc.

    Truly amazing, though not surprising, that withing a couple of generations things could have changed so much.

      • Nick Horton says

        Wouldn’t it be prudent to council people on baptism until we’re sure they are regenerate, specifically because we do NOT live in a first century anti-Christian context? It cost those believers something to profess Christ. It does not cost us here in America. Not like them. Shouldn’t we then be sure are converts are real?

        • Nate says

          Nick, I’m not in complete disagreement, though I would say that a membership class is not so much about what they professed, but what is expected as a member of the local church. One could delay becoming a member of the local church until the membership class is taken and still baptize in a short period of time.

          Moreover, if a person understands the gospel, and professes to have repented and placed their faith, hope, and trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, and desires to live for Christ, should we deny them baptism? Are we not going to be guilty of implying works-salvation? In other words, until “I” watch you and “I” see credible fruit you cannot be baptized.

          Now, I would say that we should not simply let a person walk an ailse and immediately take them to the bapistry, but I am against waiting weeks while “we” to to ascertain their salvation. Again, as long as they can clearly profess who and what they are trusting in, I’m going to baptize them.

          • Nick Horton says

            Sure, I don’t want to withhold baptism unnecessarily. I also do not want to cheapen it to a check mark. It’s a big deal. It means something to publicly proclaim that you are a Christian. I also can’t think of a time I’d be inclined to spontaneously baptize. That’s more relationship and case by case specific, though.

            I could see where someone wishes to be baptized, and you schedule it out if you don’t know them. We are under no obligation to baptize anyone that we cannot affirm are Christians. That’s my point. I don’t want to give someone false assurance because they wanted to complete the “experience” and get dunked. Which, incidentally, can add to a works-based mindset as well.

          • says

            But we have so equated baptism with membership, that by the time they are baptized, the membership class is a formality. I think what we are saying, is there needs to be a strategic effort before there is any membership and identification with the body of Christ.

            After all, if baptism is only a symbol, then why the uproar about a delay in verifying the validity of the symbol? Or was it a serious enough event, that they wanted to take their time to make sure of the legitimacy?

          • Nick Horton says

            Membership should be more than a formality. That is a failure of teaching if we only make it about baptism. Baptism is a necessary prerequisite. Membership classes should cover what that church came from, what it believes (and thus what the prospective member must affirm), what is expected of the member, and the like. By the time someone is looking at joining they should have been baptized, else there is no reason to be in the membership class.

          • Nate says

            Just a curious question Nick. What is the person, who comes forward, clearly expresses repentance and faith in Christ, supposed to say to others while this “waiting period” is going on? Do you tell them they can’t tell others they have received Christ? Do you tell them that they can’t call themselves Christians? Do you tell them not to go and share with others what they have done? Baptism is that testimony and if you are comfortable with them telling others they have become a believer in Christ, then they should be baptized.

          • Nick Horton says

            Nate,

            I’m certainly not advocating a hard rule of faith and practice nor do I look down on those who baptize others in good conscience of their profession of faith. As for someone coming forward, if its during an altar call, no. I will not spontaneously baptize them. (Which is kind of academic, I’m a pastoral intern) I think it wise to counsel this person what they are saying, make sure they can clearly articulate the gospel and their testimony, and make sure they understand what baptism is. If they can articulate those basics (IE they understand salvation, their faith, and why they want to be baptized) I wouldn’t withhold baptism.

            My concern and reason for caution is that we have many cultural Christians. I have walked the streets of my town talking to “good church folk” who when asked about salvation give me works-based answers. I don’t want to perpetuate the lie of their unregenerate state by baptizing easily.

          • Nate says

            Nick, I think we are probably closer than we have been going back and forth. I’m not saying take them from the aisle to the baptistry either, but there doesn’t need to be weeks of time to determine their understanding. Again, the book of Acts is our example. Philip certainly didn’t get to know the Ethiopian eunuch, he baptized him upon his profession of faith.

          • Nick Horton says

            Nate,

            Sure. Though I have yet to be told by an angel to go to a specific place. That aside, again, in my rural Virginia context it costs someone nothing to profess faith. I don’t know that its genuine. Generally with baptisms they are new to the church. I want to get to know them. I am not talking extensive time, but it’s my duty to guard their hearts against false conversion. If I’m reasonably assured then sure, lets dunk them and cheer. Will I get fooled? Yes. That doesn’t mean I can’t be responsible.

            In the context of the Ethiopian, he had already come to worship. He would have been aware of Jesus and the claims of the resurrection. If he still wanted to profess faith and be barred from his former faith community, then yeah I’d baptize him too. It cost him something.

            America is a unique context. Easy-believism is rampant. Though, increasingly the church is shedding dead weight as people renounce orthodox Christianity altogether over various social issues. If they are truly saved, my preference to slow down and counsel them through baptism would not change that. Nor do I think it would negatively affect them. I think actually it would help them feel the gravity of baptism.

            But, as I said before, I don’t look down on brothers who can baptize in good conscience folks whose professions they trust. My conscience dictates I try to make their salvation sure before I would baptize.

        • Dave Miller says

          Nick, I baptize people upon reasonably clear profession of faith. I see baptism as the FIRST STEP in discipleship, not as the result of a process of discipleship.

    • Dave Miller says

      Your first comment goes into moderation until I approve it. It is a spam measure – to make sure you are a real person. but after that, you are free to comment.

      The only times your comments will go in moderation in the future are:

      1) If you are a bad boy and I put you in moderation! It happens…

      2) If you misspell your name – the computer reads that as a new commenter.

      3) If you put two or more links in a post. I have to approve those. Again, an anti-spam measure. But you should be good to go now.

  8. says

    This can be a tricky issue in the pioneer area in which I serve. I agree that baptism seemed to come soon after conversion in the New Testament. Hence in order to teach a convert early on that the Bible is the sole standard for faith and practice I have opted to advocate baptism upon salvation with discipleship following. This could be viewed as problematic, however for me it presents less problems than other options.

  9. says

    So in the immediacy of baptism, what if the questions you ask aren’t answered sufficiently? Do you wait, and make sure, or proceed? What if what we see is an attempt to make sure the individual understood fully and properly? I am not advocating a strict rule of 3 years, but what I am adamant about is nailing down the validity of ones conversion. If that means I spend days, months, or even years then so be it. It might be that the Holy Spirit bears witness through that time to the genuine need they have.
    Also, what do you say, if in swiftness with baptism, 6 months or a year later they are absentee? Do you assume validity, and “backslidin,” or “false profession?”

    • says

      Andy
      These are all legitimate questions and concerns. I would be interested in knowing what the questions are to which you would need “sufficient” answers in order to assume validity in a conversation experience.

        • Tarheel says

          Thinking out loud here too….

          If our hearts are right and our motives pure – might it be best if we best err on the side of caution – waiting for clear articulation and demonstration of a changed life . If one is truly saved and we wait a while before baptizing them because they cannot articulate an understanding of the gospel and faith in Christ, then they are still saved and were at the time of conversion. Dare I say; No harm no foul?

          However, if we hurriedly baptize an unregenerate person – – have we not, at least potentially created confusion with respect to both the one we baptized AND other church members who watched us baptize some dude that wasn’t sincere and is no where to be found in a month?

          Doesn’t that in a way present a danger of trivialize the whole thing? Giving the idea that “if you walk an aisle and get immersed, then you are good.”

          Shouldn’t we present as best we can candidates for public baptism and church membership who have professed and demonstrated an understanding of the gospel…sure we will get fooled – we’re not all knowing – but shouldn’t great effort be taken in that direction?

          • says

            Tarheel
            Point well taken. Again all good questions. I see two extremes. The first would be walk the aisle, fill out a card and get dunked. I have never done that and I know of no one personally who would advocate that, tho I am sure it happens. The second extreme to me would be requiring each candidate to be well versed in Bible teachings before baptism. Obviously you are not advocating that.

            With this in mind the issue should be what does scripture teach not how I rationalize it or logically deduce what the writer is trying to say Admittedly not easy sometime to do.

  10. John Wylie says

    Act 2:41 “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

    If they were baptized that same day how much time was available to see that their conversions were valid especially with that many coming forward?

    • Tarheel says

      True enough, John….but….

      The events detailed on the day of Pentecost were descriptive – can/should we build a whole theology or set religious practice based on the events of that day?

      • says

        Tarheel
        I agree that this is the proper question to ask. It seems to me that we often confuse a New Testament method with a New Testament mandate. However the issue of Conversion and Baptism is at the very heart of what we are all about. If that is true would not Luke have taken great pains to delineate the issue if his intention was not to reveal that Salvation and Baptism are closely liked in time. Perhaps this is one of those times we need to let the obvious meaning be the intended meaning. Just thinking out loud….

      • Tarheel says

        I would answer that by asking myself…”Am I convinced that they have articulated an understanding of the gospel, and demonstrated a changed life”?

        • Keith Price says

          Tarheel,

          I’m sorry, I wasn’t very clear. I meant in THAT context, not ours. A Jew, preaching to Jews, from the Tanack, about the Jewish messiah, in the temple, on the day of Pentecost. They ask what do they need to do? “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

          What then is considered a valid conversion? What did they convert from or to?

          I’m just thinking that context is a little different than the average Sunday in the USA.

          • Tarheel says

            Oh I agree it certainly is a different context….

            The ones whom God appointed to salvation believed, repented and were subsequently baptized – that hasn’t changed…that’s what is taught throughout the NT.

            But that day, Pentecost, was context and event was very different and God physically demonstrated which of the people there received the Holy Spirit….there was no need on that day to wait for demonstrable proof…it was obvious.

          • says

            And after the gift, the context was one of oppression towards Christians: You didn’t get baptized unless you were willing to be persecuted for your faith.
            The Jews persecuted them because they had a Trinity in which Jehovah was three in one; and the Romans/Greeks persecuted them because they would not bow to all the gods and supposedly ate the flesh and drank the blood of another man.

            Today in Saudi Arabia, or another Muslim state, leaving Allah for Jesus can get you killed or tortured or imprisoned or all three. No one there gets converted lightly or without full understanding of what they are doing.

      • andy says

        I think Paul clearly shows that repentance toward God and Faith toward Jesus Christ. I believe this coincides with the new birth Jesus referred to in John 3. Once regeneration took place, a person repented and put their faith in Christ, and then subsequently baptism. The gifts of repentance and faith were demonstrated by a changed life. The word repentance has a deep connotation of such. Something that happened from the inside out. This changed life resulted in immediate change, along with an immediate/progressive holiness. It may be that the immediacy of the changed life allowed for the swift baptismal practice. However, as time moved along and Christianity spread, the immediacy or effective change might have waned, therefore necessitating a gap between the two.

  11. says

    All,

    Excellent comments and discussion. Church History is my field too, so I really appreciate Andy H. bringing this discussion to the blog. I thinks its clear that the normative practice in the NT was immediate baptism upon conversion since the ones doing the baptizing were the Apostles in most of these cases. Much like the sign gifts accompanying some of these baptisms, there was an Apostolic tie to the baptisms. Also, as others have pointed out the likelihood of false conversions or false professions would be less, since baptism and testifying of Christ as Lord would be a death sentence in many cases. We also see anytime that individuals tried to fake gifts or dupe the Holy Spirit, there were serious repercussions, see Ananias and Saphira.

    I think it is reasonable by mid century and into the end of the first century that as the Apostles died out and the second generation church leaders arrived on the scene, that greater precautions were taken in administering baptism as the Didache indicates. So it’s maybe not so much a departing from the Apostles teaching, but a reworking of it as the church grew and Christianity became more developed and spread throughout the Roman world and there were more societal implications regarding Christian practices. As far as when the departing of the Apostles teaching actually happened, my guess would be we would see the most dramatic shift when Constantine came on the scene. Just a conjecture.

    I agree, as far as practicality, we should wait until a convert professes a solid understanding of their confession and why they want/desire baptism, and then baptize them accordingly. Such would be a matter of pastoral prudence and care.

    Blessings gentlemen.

    • says

      “matter of pastoral prudence and care”

      Good statement…this seems to me to be the bottom line. Without such prudence the timing of baptism is inconsequential. A careless approach to dealing with the candidate is problematic if one is baptized soon after conversion or sometime latter.

      • mbwoodside says

        Mike B,

        I read your original post and see that you have done quite a bit of study on this, so I tip my hat to you and certainly am open to correction on my conclusions and propositions. I see some pretty strong evidence in Acts that events surrounding the immediacy of the baptisms put them in the category of them not being the normative practice for most occassions.

        These baptisms were all performed by Apostles (Peter, Phillip, and Paul) and they were accompanied or prefaced by signs and other phenomena (tongues, mass conversions, visions/dreams, an earthquake). I think there is something specific to the Apostolic ministry going on in those baptisms.

        It’s interesting also that baptism is not mentioned in the pastorals, where much of church practice is laid out. Where it is mentioned outside of Acts, the theological implications of it are the focus, i.e. “buried with Christ,” and “one faith, one Lord, one baptism.”

        So my Church History bent wants to give creedance to the Didache as helping the early church dileneate what would be the standard practice of baptism, while seeing the immediacy of the baptisms in Acts tied specifically to the Apostles ministry.

        I am curious what issues arose from an individual being baptized by an Apostle. We know Paul faced some issue with this in Corinth as in chapter one he admits that he is thankful that he did not baptize many of the Corinthians. I think it’s possbile that there were some growing misunderstandings about baptism, especially if someone were baptized by an Apostle. Paul’s words are very interesting that “Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

        I wonder, if the Didache is safegaurding against just anyone baptizing whomever they wish at anytime. I think outside of the Apostles performing a baptism, there could be considerable amount of misunderstanding with converts and the meaning of such. I also wonder if, especially among Jewish converts, that since circumcision and baptism were so tightly connected, that even more confusion arose post-Acts?

        Just some things to ponder. Curious on your thoughts.

        • says

          mbwoodside,
          I appreciate your comments, and agree wholeheartedly. I too see the Didache as informative and instructional for the early church. When heretical issues arose, the men wrote against them and dealt with them. Specifically on doctrinal and theological concerns. By the way, where did you study CH?

        • Mike Bergman says

          I wonder, if the Didache is safegaurding against just anyone baptizing whomever they wish at anytime.

          That old post of mine is some partial gleanings from a (much) longer paper I did on baptism for a doctoral seminar this past summer. In the class, we really didn’t focus on the Didache and other practices of the post-apostolic “early” church, but almost exclusively honed in on textual exegesis.

          From those insights, I’d argue a couple of things:

          1) I disagree with your statement about all the acts baptisms being performed by apostles. In part, Philip is never called an apostle (though, you could say certainly he had close apostolic ties). Also, the text itself doesn’t tell us who did the actual baptizing of the 3000 in Acts 2. We could safely assume that the 12 at least started the process, but overall we’re left with silence on that. We’re not told who baptized Paul, though Ananias seems the most likely candidate and he wasn’t an apostle. Then while Peter was present for the baptism of Cornelius and those with him, Acts 10:48 says he “ordered that they be baptized” almost as if he had someone else do the baptizing.

          So, I think the textual evidence is fairly murky in regard to who did the baptisms in Acts. Certainly apostles were present for several that are mentioned, but in one case a non-apostle with no apostolic presence baptized; and in another a non-apostle likely baptized.

          2) In the broader paper, partially based on the examples of Acts and partially based on Matthew 28:16-20 and how the word “disciple” is used, that essentially “anyone baptizing whomever they wish at anytime” is how NT baptism was meant to work.

          I wouldn’t frame the wording that way, but I argue that Jesus ultimately gave the command to baptize to all disciples and not a particular leadership group set apart from disciples as a whole. With that, bolstered by the descriptions from Acts, basically: if you are a follower of Jesus (which assumes you have been baptized) and you’re out witnessing and you lead someone to Christ, then biblically you have the authority to baptize that person as soon as you find deep enough water.

          I would argue, therefore, that it flies against the Bible’s descriptions and prescriptions to limit performing baptism to a particular group and/or adding an instructional period beyond the basics of “this is what baptism is about” for someone who doesn’t know (or adding an observation period to make sure the person is truly a convert) before the baptism takes place.

          Of course, we don’t have that text that says: “Here is an instructional outline about who can baptize, what you do when you baptize, and when to baptize a person”… So… I won’t argue absolute dogmatism in my understanding of baptism. :)

          • mbwoodside says

            Thanks Mike, I appreciate your response. I agree not having these texts that say explicitly how to do these things makes absolute dogmatism not feasible.

        • Keith Price says

          Mike, MB, Andy:

          Just a couple of thoughts…

          Maybe we are placing too much emphasis on the person baptizing vs. the person being baptized. Baptism or ritual immersion was a common occurrence in the second temple era. Two of the most important aspects of baptism were repentance and immersion in “living waters.” The administrator was of secondary or little importance. I do not think the question of who baptized the 3000 is all that important in the context of Acts 2 and the second temple era.

          In Acts it seems that most of the baptisms were Jewish apostles or disciples baptizing Jewish folks or folks that were well versed in Jewish practice. They had a lot of common knowledge. I think that is why you do not see a time lag between faith in Jesus as Messiah and baptism. They understood repentance, commandments, walking as a disciple, etc. They had been living in the commandments or at least with a heavy influence of the commandments.

          But, as the Gospel pushed into the diaspora and Paul took his mission to the Gentiles there was more of an encounter with people who were very unfamiliar with the practice and needed instruction and guidelines, like in the Didache. Maybe they also needed some instruction in what it meant to walk as a disciple. They were coming out of a pagan lifestyle. (I often wonder what it would have been like for Paul and Barnabas in Acts 11 teaching the many folks for a year). Here perhaps, more of an emphasis on the “who does it” and when became a little more important.
          I think the context changes drastically over Acts and the Didache so

          I won’t be dogmatic either. I also think the Didache can be instructional. They were folks wrestling with how to be true to the commands of God and their Lord Jesus Christ, just like us.

          • says

            Keith,

            I wasn’t placing emphasis upon who baptizes. That is a whole other discussion. However, how you date the Didache, has a direct connection with it being prior, after, or during the writing of Acts. If it is prior or during a similar time, then can it be viewed along side Acts, for instructional purposes, even though it is “inspired?” We don’t have any concrete description about baptism that we have in the Didache, therefore, one must decide is viewing that document is helpful, and in what way(s).

  12. Tarheel says

    “I wouldn’t frame the wording that way, but I argue that Jesus ultimately gave the command to baptize to all disciples and not a particular leadership group set apart from disciples as a whole. With that, bolstered by the descriptions from Acts, basically: if you are a follower of Jesus (which assumes you have been baptized) and you’re out witnessing and you lead someone to Christ, then biblically you have the authority to baptize that person as soon as you find deep enough water.”

    I agree with the basic concept you are arguing for here…that “the performance” of baptism is not taught in scripture as the exclusive responsibility of “church leaders” (today would and in our context would likely mean not the exclusive place of pastors/elders).

    I have always liked the idea of pastors involving others who were involved in proclaiming the gospel message to an individual in the baptism.

    In our church we, provided that the father is saved, will almost default to the father – asking him if he would like to baptize his children…same with husbands baptizing their wives (As an “added bonus” we get to add the teaching of loving and appropriate male spiritual headship of the family as well)

    We have also asked people who led coworkers, or friends or family members to Christ if they would like to perform the baptism.

    Most times however, I think because of tradition, a member of our pastoral staff does baptisms, but I love those times when we can involve others in the opportunity to take part.

    I part ways with you though at your last sentence where you invoked the phrase “as soon as they find water deep enough” – I assume that perhaps that’s a bit of humor…but I do think that baptism should take place within the context of a local church body, under the authority and blessing of the pastor(s), even if they are not the one actually doing the immersing.

    • Tarheel says

      I would add to my last sentence;

      …or the baptism actually takes place outside the walls of a church building.

    • Mike Bergman says

      No, it wasn’t actually meant to be a humorous statement…though the mental image of peoples’ reactions to a spontaneous baptism in a public fountain (not that I’d recommend that!)… :D

      however, I’d argue that you’d have a hard time supporting this statement biblically: “I do think that baptism should take place within the context of a local church body, under the authority and blessing of the pastor(s).”

      • mbwoodside says

        1. Mike, could you make a case that Acts shows us baptism in a missionary context, while the Didache reflects an understanding of baptism once the church is organized and not in its beginning stages?

        2. Do you think at the heart of this historical issue is a free church/liturgical church attempt at reading back into the NT our chuch traditions?

        • Mike Bergman says

          mbw,

          as to 1: I could agree there’s a strong missionary context to most of what we see in acts, but I’m not sure I’d go with the didache as the necessarily proper understanding of how a church should be organized based on the biblical text. In other words, the text doesn’t trace a development towards the didache’s pov. In acts we read how Paul and co. planted some churches, left, and then came back. We assume in his time at the start of each one, he left some basic instructions and maybe some copies of parts of scripture. In some cases, he might have left a representative behind, but overall it seems they left them to figure out a lot of stuff on their own. They didn’t even have pastors/elders until he came back and appointed some now matured men.

          On the return there’s no indication he did baptisms or taught them something different about it, so it would seem they had been operating in that same “missionary” way of immediate baptism and were left to continue to operate that way.

          As you mentioned before, Paul focuses more on the meaning of baptism in his letters, with the exception of the start of 1 Corinthians. There he doesn’t down play the meaning or importance of the act, but basically says, “Look, it doesn’t matter who baptized you as if that somehow made you more special.”

          I think that supports the idea they continued the practice Paul had started with, but now some were saying, “Oh, Fred baptized you, well Paul baptized me so that means I’m better.” To which Paul replies, “Uh, no it doesn’t.”

          As to 2: In part…certainly tradition, whatever ours is, colors our interpretation. And we Baptists are awkward…we like to say we’re free church, forget that liturgy, but we’ve developed quite the line of unwritten liturgy from our practices if baptism and the lord’s supper to order of service, etc.

    • says

      Tarheel

      Your statement “within the context of a local church body…” is IMO a good solid statement. The “Jesus People” movement of years ago in California demonstrates the need for this condition. With everyone baptizing everybody in the Pacific Ocean as was the case the concept of discipleship was practically ignored. While I grant this is an extreme case there is still wisdom (and for me Biblical support) for baptism being under the blessing of the church.

      • Tarheel says

        I think the biblical support for what I said Mike is found, among other texts, in one of the texts you mentioned above…Matthew 28:19,20.

        While it could be argued that Baptism precedes discipleship in that text, it is also clear that discipleship is inextricably connected baptism. One is incomplete without the other.

        In fact, I’d argue that the text is about going and making disciples more than it is about going and dunking converts.

        • Mike Bergman says

          Tarheel, I agree completely that they are linked… But as I argue in that post, I take baptism as the profession of faith at the start of discipleship. Baptism would then be a symbolic transition point between a person being evangelized and a person being discipled, if you will. In other words, a non-baptized disciple is a contradiction of terms.

          but to your point about church leaders overseeing it, I’d say: yes, one cannot properly belong to a/the church without being baptized, but that doesn’t mean a pastor or a church should have to give the okay in some manner for a baptism to properly occur.

          in Matt 28, Matthew calls the group to whom Jesus spoke “disciples”–Jesus gave them the command to make more disciples through going baptizing, and teaching. The idea is they were to reproduce themselves through these things, and teach the new disciples to do the same thing… Hence the 11 disciples there were given authority to baptize, and then everyone who became a disciple after that, being taught to follow all that Jesus commanded, also then were given authority to baptize, and on down the line.

          baptism belongs to the church, in that the church is to exclusively be compromised of disciples and every disciple is to be a part of a local church; but Jesus gave the authority to baptize to each disciple, so no other person or group within the church should have a superceding authority over that.

      • Dave Miller says

        I do not see any biblical evidence that local churches had any real part in the baptism process. Conversion – immediate baptism – then discipleship following is the more clearly revealed process.

        Is that normative? Arguable. But it is the evidence of Acts.

        I’m not sure how the Great Commission in any way limits baptism to within the confines of the local church. That is forcing a lot of meaning on the text, and it is contrary to the evidence of the early church’s behavior.

        • Andy says

          You realize you just denied Baptist succession? If that is the case when did baptism become an ordinance of the church?

        • Tarheel says

          I was only trying, awkwardly, to make the point that baptism and discipleship are linked…and since discipleship happens in the context of the local church…I thought it was a reasonable deduction.

          The NT church was being formed and some of that is detailed in Acts…but I cannot think of a place in Acts where a command is given to baptize immediately….Luke only tells us that is what happened…but all the relevant circumstances were very different – were they not?

  13. says

    Much of this thread centers around the question ” where do we go to determine the authority for our theology of baptism”? We have talked about the New Testament, the Didache as well as some historical observations. This of course is a legitimate research method.

    There is for me a question that needs to be asked. A New Testament professor at SWBTS taught us that it was foreign to minds of the New Testament writers that there would be such a person who wanted to be a Christian and not be baptized. If this is true (I believe it to be), would not the question of baptism and all that it involves be so important that it would be addressed fully in the Canon, thereby making scripture totally adequate to answer the questions that have arisen. Seriously just asking. Am I wrong?

    • dr. james willingham says

      Ah! D.L, seems like I know you, for some odd reason. Any way your answers have been cool, calm, and collected. I have administered baptism from several of the perspectives discussed in this blog (and the discussions have been excellent {Hey, Dave, you are finally getting what you have always wanted: an intelligent, careful and considerate examination of the truth….They all seem to be on the same side, the real way to get at the truth}). As to the failure of people being baptized, it has been my sad lot to discover that this can and does occur even with care and instruction. I must admit that, if I were pastoring a church today, I think I would return to baptizing as soon after they express their desire to follow the Lord in obedience to His command. After all, I have New Testament precedence for doing so, whereas a delay is not noted in the precious word. Indeed, delays in obedience are not countenanced anywhere in God’s precious word…unless it was something He ordered. This is not to say that we should not make every effort to ascertain that the candidate is sincere and understands what he or she is doing. I have sometimes thought that Billy Graham would have been even more effective, if he had had ministers of the various faiths standing up front with the appropriate baptismal fonts and baptisteries. Can any of you imagine that? Although I have to admit the only form of baptism I can imagine is that which actually translates the word instead of transliterating it, dip, plunge, immerse. I remember in Renaissance Art and Architecture at the University of Missouri in the Fall of 1964, thinking, when I saw the photographs of the baptistery at Florence (with the art of Fra Angelico [if memory serves correctly] on the panels of the door which led into the baptistery) which was clearly constructed for immersion, Wow! Then, “They knew the truth then as the Greek Orthodox continue to practice it today, that baptism is by immersion.” But both seem not to notice that baptism is based upon persuasion, understanding, being convince of the truth of Christ presented. By the way, the delays of baptism in the early church (2nd-5th century) were no guarantee against apostasy, falling away, backsliding, or whatever one wishes to call it. Some of this no human can determine. In the ultimate sense, God, God alone, knows the heart, the inner personality, a reality that ought to leave all of us trembling, praying for grace to deliver us not only from outward failings, but also from those most egregious inner problems like lust, pride, etc.

      • says

        Yes indeed Dr. Willingham your name does ring a bell. Who would have known. More to your point I agree waiting does not guarantee anything. I would add a quick time line in baptism also guarantees nothing. I liked what was said above “prudence and pastoral care” is the best way to have satisfactory results. Of course that is the point you are making.

  14. dr. james willingham says

    Yep. I mean, if they take it as a joke or too light heartedly, then it is time to exercise some prudence and pastoral care as you put it. On the other hand, too much of that can stulftify the evangelistic spirit. We all might note that Simon the Sorcerer was baptized before he discovered all of the truth and then manifested a spirit that is called simony in church history, not a good thing.