CHAPTER 3 A BAPTIST PERSPECTIVE
Beasley-Murray’s book is not primarily a polemical book. The bulk of it consists of his exposition of the New Testament teaching about baptism and could have been written, in his view, « by a scholar in any Christian communion ». He reserves his views on the more controversial subject of infant baptism until the last chapter, although his awn Baptist convictions are clearly discernible in his exegesis of the NT texts.
The Antecedents of Christian Baptism
The Qumran community in the desolate area at the northern end of the Dead Sea practised frequent baptisms. Such customs were common to a number of Jewish baptising sects. Beasley-Murray points out that while attaching great importance to such lustrations the members of this sect had a clear understanding of the limitations of lustrations. They aspired to something more than ceremonial purity and they knew that lustrations of themselves could not bestow the moral purity they sought ….
Although the frequency of the baths of the Essenes (at least three times a day> stands in strong contrast to the once-for-all rite of Christian baptism, nevertheless ‘the first ablution of a novice was more than simply a first bath; it signified an entrance on to the state of purity and consequently an entrance into the company of the purified’ <p 17). Beasley-Murray sees a bridge from Qumram to John the Baptist: for both the End is near, requiring drastic moral preparation and a lustration apart from Temple worship <p 18).
Concerning the question of whether the Jewish rite of proselyte baptism exercised a dominant influence on the Christian rite, Beasley-Murray is strongly sceptical, observing that the decisive turn from ‘death’ whereby the heathen became a Jew occurred at circumcision and not at the bath taken seven days later, making it a mistake to read back the New Testament theology of Christian baptism into the Jewish understanding of proselyte baptism <p 29).
The foundation of Christian baptism
In this chapter Beasley-Murray deals with the baptismal texts found in the Gospels, especially those concerning the baptism of Jesus, the baptising ministry of Jesus and the Dominical institution of Christian baptism.
Why did Jesus come to the baptism of John, and what significance did He attach to His submission to it? After a lengthy survey of the scholarly discussion around this question Beasley-Murray ventures the following assertions:
Jesus came to the baptism of John, among the penitents of Israel responsive to John’s proclamation, to begin the messianic task in its fullness as He interpreted it from the writings of the Old Testament.
As Messiah, representative of people needing deliverance, Jesus demonstrates and effects his solidarity with them in their need. As such it is a momentous action, fraught with consequences to be revealed in the Kingdom and Judgment. In submitting to the baptism of John, the Lord condemns the self-righteous and the wicked for their lack of repentance and takes His stand with the publicans and sinners, as well as more respectable members of society, who look for the Day of the Lord <p 55, 60>.
The eschatological significance of Jesus’ baptism is also noted by Beasley-Murray: ‘both the Messiah and the Spirit belong to the age to come. The opened heaven, the sending of the Spirit and the Voice from the Father all indicate that the last times have dawned, redemption is about to appear’ <p 61).
As far as defining the relation between the baptism of Jesus and Christian baptism, Beasley-Murray is cautious, noting that ‘no writer of the New Testament brings the baptism of Jesus into relation with Christian baptism <p 64>. Nevertheless, he does recognise there must be some relation, mentioning in particular:
The most striking parallel between Jesus’ baptism and ours is the descent of the Spirit on him and our reception of the Spirit in like circumstances. Again, however, the nature of the gift is differenti for He comes to aid Jesus in the messianic task, while the believer is made anew through Him <Tit. 3.5f> <p 66).
Is Mt. 28. 18-20 a product of second generation Christianity, reflecting a theology characteristic of the end of that generation rather that its beginning, as is widely maintained by critical scholarship? After a careful and detailed consideration of the arguments Beasley-Murray suggests that the the missionary and baptising commission is not unique to Matthew, but occurs in all the Gospels where reference is made to the proclamation of remission of sins or baptism. He quotes with approval the observation of Denney:
In all its forms the commission has to do either with baptism <so in Matthew and Mark) or with the remission of sins <so in Luke and John>. These are but two forms of the same thing, for in the world of New Testament ideas baptism and the remission of sins are inseparably associated <p 80).
Beasley-Murray quotes with approval W F Flemmington’ s characterization of baptism in the earliest church as a sacrament of the gospel. He also quotes Schlatter.
He that in baptism ‘calls on the name of the Lord’ <Acts 22. 16) undergoes baptism in a prayerful spirit; it becomes the supreme occasion and even vehicle of his yielding to the Lord Christ. Here is an aspect of baptism to which justice has not been done in the Church since its early days: baptism as a means of prayer for acceptance with God and for full salvation from God, an ‘instrument of surrender’ of a man formerly at enmity with God but who has learned of the great Reconciliation, lays down his arms in total capitulation and enters into peace. Consequently, baptism is regarded in Acts as the occasion and means of receiving the blessings conferred by the Lord of the Kingdom <p 102).
In addition to the forgiveness of sins and incorporation into the people of God ‘The third and perhaps most impressive gift of God in baptism is the Spirit, the possession of which was frequently accompanied in the earliest Church by spectacular charismatic gifts and signs’ <p 104). After making the above statement, Beasley-Murray gives considerable attention to the various anomalies to be found in Acts: Apollos was not given Christian baptism in addition to his Johannine baptism while the Ephesian disciples were; the original disciples did not receive baptism after their Pentecost experience while Cornelius did. His conclusion is:
where submission to the Messiah Jesus is accompanied by the possession of the Spirit, Johannine baptism needs no supplementing; where both are lacking, baptism in the name of Jesus must be administered …. But Johannine baptism without the Spirit is defective and must be followed by the baptism that bestows it <p 112).
A further lengthy review of the problem of the baptism of the Samaritans which remained defective until supplemented by the laying on of hands of the Apostles leads Beasley-Murray to observe that:
Beasley-Murray deals exhaustively with every single text in the Pauline literature that has a direct or indirect reference to baptism. For the sake of brevity there shall only be summarised those portions that bear witness more directly to his understanding of baptism.
Romans 6, 1 f How does Paul envisage the connection between baptism and Christ’s death and resurrection? After noting three different, and sometimes opposing answers to this question Beasley-Murray acknowledges truth in them all and seeks to combine them in the following statement Beasley-Murray finds it impossible to hold to an anti-sacramentalist exposition of this text <eg that of Marcus Barth) which sees baptism as a symbolic attestation of a death and resurrection that have earlier been experienced. Equally, he maintains that baptism is what it is in Pauline theology only because the divine action and human responsiveness are inseparable.
that baptism is the moment of faith in which the adoption is realized – in the dual sense of effected by God and grasped by man – which is the same as saying that in baptism faith receives the Chris in whom the adoption is effected. Through such an alliance of faith and baptism, Christianity is prevented from evaporating into an ethereal subjectivism on the one hand and from hardening into a fossilized objectivism on the other. The two aspects of Apostolic Christianity are preserved in faith-baptism <p 151)
Colossians 2, 11 f Beasley-Murray finds in this text Paul’s authentic commentary on Rom. 6. 1 ff. ‘All that circumcision stands for, and more, has been fulfilled in the baptised believer through his union with Christ in His passion’ <p 155). The transition from the old life to the new is clearly wrought by God, but equally clearly faith plays a vital part in this transition <p 156).
In answer to the suggestion that Col. 2. 11 teaches the replacement of the rite of circumcision by that of baptism Beasley-Murray maintains ‘the two rites were clearly maintained side by side in Palestinian churches and there was no possibility for baptism being regarded by them as in any sense a replacement of circumcision’ <p 159).
1 Corinthians 6, 11 ‘But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ Is this a baptismal saying? Certainly, in Beasley-Murray’s view, although no mere ritual purification is intended but ‘a real release from their iniquity, forgiveness of their guilt and grace to forsake their evil ways’ <p 164).
the baptised is cleansed, consecrated and justified by the Name of the Lord Christ and by the Spirit of our God; not, of course, by the magic effect of pronouncing a name , but by the prayer of the baptised as he calls on the Name of the Lord and by the action of the Lord who is invoked, operating through the Spirit who is His Agent <p 166>.
The fact that this ‘holiness’ is shared by the unbelieving spouse as well as the children means that it is not derived from baptism or inclusion along with the parent in the Covenant of God with his people.
Ephesians 4, S one Lord, one faith, one baptism’. The conjunction of faith ‘with baptism is significant as intimating yet again the connection between faith and baptism, observed frequently in Acts and Paul. Baptism is the supreme occasion of the confession of faith as it is faith’s embodiment, subjectively and objectively’ <p 200).
1. 1 A broken world and a healing God
1.2 A historical survey of baptismal differences and discussions
1.3 Methodological and Procedural ConsiderationsMethodological and Procedural Considerations
1.4 The Goal
2 CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE
2. 1 The Early Church
2.2 The Middle Ages
2.3 The Reformation
2. 4 The Modern Period
2.5 Methodological and Procedural Considerations
2.6 CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE
3 A BAPTIST PERSPECTIVE
3. 1 The antecedents of Christian baptism
3.2 The foundation of Christian baptism
3.3 The emergence of Christian baptism: the Acts of the Apostles
3. 4 The deveopment of Christian baptisa in the apostolic writings
3.5 The doctrine of Christian baptisa in the NT
3.6 The rise and significance of infant baptism
4 A REFORMED PERSPECTIVE
4.1 Soae introductory reaarks
4. 2 The meaning of baptism in the New Testament
4.3 The relationship between the Old and New Testaments
4.4 Some important characteristics of the covenant
4.5 Some important characteristics of the covenant
5 STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
5. 1 The need for Wlderstanding
5. 2 Strengths
5. 4 Neglected areas
6 DEVELOPMENTS IN THE EARLY CHURCH:
6. 1 THE HISTORICAL QUESTION
6.2 The theological approach
6. 3 The historical approach
6.4 Jeremias’s interpretation
6. 5 Aland’s interpretation
6.6 An alternative hypothesis
6. 7 The development of and variations in baptismal doctrine and practice
6.8 The cultural factor
7 BAPTISM AND UNITY
7. 1 Introduction
7.2 The biblical emphasis on unity
7. 3 The significance of Christian unity for baptism
7. 4 The consequences of disunity and schism
7.5 The need for an environment conducive to fruitful dialogue
8 WAYS TOWARDS CONVERGENCE
8. 1 Introduction
8.2 Truth, convictions and dialogue
8.3 Two models of church relations
8.5 The ‘laager’ model
8.6 Growing together
8.7 Steps that Baptists and other churches practising
9 HIERARCHY OF TRUTHS?
9. 1 Introduction
9.2 The concept of a hierarchy of truths
9.3 The witness of the Old Testament
10 SOME CASE STUDIES AND THE BEM DOCUMENT
10. 1 Introduction
10.2 Four congregations in the Cape Peninsular region
10. 3 Church Wlion schemes involving Baptist denominations
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
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