Sunday, September 08, 2002

More On Baptism

Glen Davis has posted a reply to the recent posts by Sean and me regarding the meaning of baptism. I need to take some time to digest it, but some quick thoughts.

Glen starts with scripture and posits that the Bible states that salvation stems from placing one's faith in Jesus. He cites several passages of scripture to support this. Part of the difficulty, I think, is that Glen seems to view the matter as an "either/or" situation. If we speak of a baptism as something more than just a symbol, then we must somehow be discounting or ignoring the importance of faith. I'm not sure if that is true.

Taking his point of view for the moment, the scriptures I cited merely indicate that baptism is important, but not necessarily anything more than a symbol. It certainly is one possible read of the passages. However, many of the references to belief come within the context of water baptism. Take some of the scriptures that Glen cites: John 3:16-18 is set in between Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus and baptizing people in Judea; Acts 16:31 is immediately followed by the baptism of the jailer and his household (Acts 16:33); and Galations 3:27 speaks of those who were baptized as being those who put on Christ. So, although I think Glen's view of these passages is a reasonable one, I'm not sure if I am convinced that it is the only one. And there are more explicit references to baptism than the ones I cited. Take 1 Peter 3:20-22, where Peter refers to Noah being saved by the waters of the flood, such waters being a symbol of the baptism that saves the believers.

I think part of the reason why Glen and I have different reads of what these scriptures mean may be from different concepts of faith. I suspect that Glen focuses far more on an explicit, intellectual assent by a person. I need to give some thought to a response on this point. I will try and do that later this week if I have a chance before flying to NJ to meet my goddaughter.

However, what I find of more interest is Glen's response to my presentation of the views of some of the early Church fathers. In his reply, Glen agrees that the Fathers saw baptism as something more than a symbol. But, according to Glen, they were just wrong.

I find that a touch perplexing without explanation. Let me be clear. I do not mean to suggest that each Father was infallible. But I do wonder why Glen suggests that we are to reject the collective wisdom of the Fathers on this subject. After all, we are talking about many individuals who learned the faith from the Apostles themselves or the first generation of Christians to follow them. Without further reason, I am more likely to think the Fathers correct than a modern group with a position contrary to theirs. Yes, the Church's understanding of the faith deepens over time. But what Glen suggests is more than that; it suggests that the Church may change course altogether. To go from belief that baptism is a sacrament to belief that it is only a symbol is hard to describe as a "development". Given that, one must wonder what else the Church might change its mind on in the future. If I may be so bold, I think Glen recognizes this, which is why he finishes with the caveat that there may have been early Church theologians with views on baptism more agreeable to his own.

Update: A reader suggested in the comments box that I unfairly presented Glen's position on the Church Fathers when I said that he believed "they were just wrong." A fair point. Let me make clear that it wasn't an intentional slight. Glen does present the brief sketch of an analogy drawn from the doctrine of the Trinity. As I replied to the reader in the comments box, I don't find that analogy to be on point. Check out Nota Bene for more on that. So I am happy to make this clarification as I didn't intend to suggest that Glen had not presented such an analogy. The problems that result in trying to post a quick response late at night. However, I do think my questions are still relevant. And, contrary to locdog's suggestion, I ask them as an effort to dive further into the issue and understand how Glen's view plays out, not merely as a debater's retort.

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