Notes On Baptism From Michael Green

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
-Acts 2:42

Photo: Luke Addison (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Here are some notes about baptism from Michael Green (b. 1930), in his book, Evangelism Now & Then (1979), pp. 81-3:


They baptized new believers

There can be no doubt that in the first days of the church baptism was administered as soon as possible after profession of faith. Quite apart from the day of Pentecost, the case of the Philippian jailer and the Ethiopian eunuch give a good guide to early practice in the matter. Commitment to Christ, baptism in water, and reception of the Holy Spirit were three sides of the same thing, Christian initiation. In Galatians, for instance, we see that justification by faith or becoming ‘Abraham’s offspring’ comes about through reception of the Spirit, or being baptized into Christ, or believing in Christ (3:2, 14, 29, 26). Ideally, they belong together. In practice, however, one element would come first, sometimes another: such is still the case.

Two second-century developments can be traced back, at least in outline, to the early days of the church. First, there was a growing tendency to postpone baptism, preface it by a period of instruction, and perform it, along with first communion, at the highly significant season of Good Friday and Easter. Scholars have seen many signs in the New Testament itself of a basic catechism leading up to baptism, and many people think 1 Peter was written as a homily for a baptism occasion.

Infant baptism?


Second was the practice of baptizing infants when born into a believing family. This is a divisive subject nowadays, and was to the end of the second century when we find Tertullian discussing is in his Treatise on Baptism. He was advocating delay in baptism when only one parent was a believer: it is clear he wrote against a background where the baptism of infants was common. How could this be justified when originally baptism was the mark of the new birth, and appropriate only for believers?

Well, I doubt if baptism was ever as clear-cut as that. We read in the New Testament of whole households being baptized, and an ancient household consisted of not only children, but the slaves, all of whom were committed by the action of the head of the house (1 Cor. 1:16, Acts 16:33, etc.). You see, baptism was not exclusively the act of man, representing his faith: it was also the act of God, representing his grace. And that free grace of God sent Jesus to the cross to die for us and rise again whether or not we ever respond. It is that once-for-allness of Jesus, his sacrifice and triumph, which is marked upon us in baptism. It should ideally be matched by our total and immediate response. But that sometimes comes later – and sometimes does not come at all. Even if it never follows, that cannot destroy the initiative of God, who gave himself once for us in history: that holds good whether or not we respond – thought of course we cannot make any use of his gift unless we receive it in adoring gratitude. By far the largest part of the Christian church has believed in baptizing not only believers but their children. The Baptist view regards baptism as appropriate only for those who have already responded in faith to God’s gracious initiative. Christians will continue to have differing views on this matter since no clear Biblical teaching clears it up one way or another. And as far as the nurture of new believers is concerned, you will find that some of your converts have already been baptized (generally in infancy) while others have not.

Rebaptism?

I believe that those who have already been baptized should not be rebaptized. It makes no more sense to be baptized again than to be justified again or to enter the Lord’s family again. Baptism emphasizes the once-for-allness of our incorporation into Christ, and by its nature cannot be repeated: communion is frequently repeated and stresses the ongoing side of the Christian life.

- Michael Green (b. 1930), Evangelism Now & Then (1979), pp. 81-3

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