Monday, January 31, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Conclusion

After a short summary of Strong's ecclesiology, Strong's doctrine of baptism was presented. As with most of his ecclesiology, Strong presents a Christocentric doctrine of baptism. Overall, his doctrine of baptism is orthodox and congruent with Baptist theology and the Biblical text. Upon analysis, helped by the study of his contemporaries and the study of the Acts 18:24-19:7 pericope, it was determined that Strong's view of 're-baptism' betrayed a anthropocentric shift in Strong's thinking. This resulted in a flawed view of 're-baptism' and a theoretical exaggerated de-emphasis on the administrator of baptism. The latter was probably also partially generated in reaction to the landmarkist debate. In addition, point was taken with Strong's understanding of the baptism of John as Christian baptism. All of these, though, are minor details that do not invalidate the value of his doctrine of baptism.

I hope that this series has been beneficial for you. Personally, it forced me to think about some issues that I had not thought of much before.

Below are links to the entire series.


A Christocentric Church - Summary of Ecclesiology Part I
The Organization of the Church - Summary of Ecclesiology Part II
Relation Between Local Churches - Summary of Ecclesiology Part III
Baptism, Christocentric at its Core
Baptism, Not Primarily the Entrance into the Church
Baptism, Not for Regeneration
The Administrator of Baptism
The Baptism of John
Looking at Strong's Contemporaries - Part I
Looking at Strong's Contemporaries - Part II
Looking at Strong's Contemporaries - Part III
Looking at Strong's Contemporaries - Part IV
An Analysis - Part I
An Analysis - Part II
An Analysis - Part III
An Analysis - Part IV

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - An Analysis - Part IV


When discussing 're-baptism,' one first needs to define what is meant by 're-baptism.' For example, were the Ephesian twelve 're-baptized' or was it their first baptism, the former one not being considered a baptism?[80] Re-baptism proper has to be defined as the repetition of baptism when the previous baptism was valid. This cannot be seen in Scripture, as was shown above, and does not make any theological sense. Baptism should be performed only once.[81] One can agree with Luther, Weston, and Strong that allowing the repetition of baptism (re-baptism proper) when one's faith is rekindled after a period of doubt can only lead to an infinite repetition of something that should be done once and for all.[82] So, the question is: if the baptism of someone is not found satisfactory, is there a warrant to baptize that person anew? Dargan sees precisely that in the Ephesian pericope: a "warrant for the rejection of an immersion not found satisfactory, and the performance of a true one in such case."[83] That being the situation, what renders someone's baptism not satisfactory or invalid, requiring it to be done anew for the first time? While, for the twelve, the question might be more complicated to answer, what about nowadays: what makes baptism invalid?

Since this is an analysis of Strong's view of baptism, his definition of baptism will be used: baptism is "the immersion of a believer in water, in token of his previous entrance into the communion of Christ's death and resurrection,– or, in other words, in token of his regeneration through union with Christ."[84] What invalidates this definition? Obviously, the lack of any component would invalidate it. Hence, the absence of immersion in water would render a baptism not valid. If the one who is being baptized is not a believer, one who has "entered into the communion of Christ's death and resurrection," then the baptism would not be valid.

This is where the tension is with Strong's view. The controversial scenario given by Strong is the case where a person is persuaded that he mistakenly thought himself regenerate at the time of his baptism. Here, Strong advises that, if the ordinance had been administered "with honest intent, as a profession of faith in Christ," it should not be administered again. The thrust of the argument is on the intent of the person being baptized, but intent is not in Strong's baptismal definition. Regeneration, though, is in his definition; accordingly then, in his scenario, regeneration was missing upon the first baptism, therefore rendering it equivalent to a public bath and requiring a proper baptism after regeneration does happen.

Strong argues for his position due to the fact that the intent of the person was correct, therefore placing intent and the person at the center of the issue. This anthropocentric approach is alien to the rest of his ecclesiology. Had he continued to be Christocentric, therefore placing Christ at the center of the issue, he would have correctly focused on the need for a regenerate candidate, instead of focusing on the candidate's intent, and would had to have come to a different conclusion.

[80] W. O. Carver, agreeing with Strong, states that in the case of the Ephesian twelve, "baptism–not re-baptism" was administered to them. See: Beth Allison Barr, The Acts of the Apostles: Four Centuries of Baptist Interpretation (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009), 690.

[81] Akin, ed. Theology for the Church, 785.

[82] Wilburn T. Stancil, "Rebaptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention: A Theological and Pastoral Dilemma," Perspectives in Religious Studies 21, no. 2 (1994): 136; Johnson and Weston, An Outline of Systematic Theology, 337; and Strong, Systematic Theology, 950.

[83] This is Dargan's conclusion from the Ephesian pericope discussed above. Dargan, Ecclesiology, 364.

[84] Strong, Systematic Theology, 931.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - An Analysis - Part III

The Baptism of John

The question of the relation of the baptism of John to Christian baptism is one that is still very much disputed and could be the topic of a paper of its own. As seen in the overview of a few of his contemporaries, some ignored the issue and some refused to discuss it. Therefore, due to the lack of uniformity of thought on the issue, it would be tempting to ignore it. Unfortunately, Strong's position on the matter is integral to his view on 're-baptism.' This makes its discussion necessary, but also allows it to be limited to what is necessary to analyze Strong's understanding of 're-baptism.'

Looking at the testimony of Scripture, some believe John himself differentiates his baptism from Jesus', and therefore have argued that the baptism of John was not a valid Christian baptism. This is why Paul baptized the twelve Ephesians (Acts 19:1-7).[65] But, if the words of John are taken at face value, Jesus' baptism is not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16), so would that mean that Christian baptism has nothing to do with water baptism? Also, is one to understand that Jesus' disciples, some of which were John's disciples before they became Jesus' disciples, were all re-baptized by Jesus in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Central to this discussion, and to Strong's discussion of 're-baptism,' is the understanding of the Acts 18:24-19:7 pericope. In this pericope the reader is presented with two situations involving people who had received the baptism of John.

Acts 18:24-28 Sub-Pericope. The first situation involves Apollos, who is said to be eloquent, mighty in the Scriptures, having been instructed in the την οδον του κυριου, and ζεων τω πνευματι, "though he knew only the baptism of John."[66] One day, while he is boldly speaking in the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla hear him, and subsequently take him aside to explain to him "the way of God more accurately." He is then sent on to Achaia with the blessing of the congregation there in Ephesus, with no mention of his being re-baptized with a Christian baptism.[67] The phrases την οδον του κυριου and ζεων τω πνευματι are central to the understanding of this first part of the pericope. First, Apollos had been instructed in the ways of the Lord, not just in the ways of God (Cf. Acts 18:26). Even if he seemed to have some minor deficiencies, he knew enough about the Lord to be able to teach "accurately" about the things of the Lord. Second, he was fervent in spirit.[68] The close verbal parallel with Rom 12:11 has led many commentators to assume that this meant he was probably a Christian,[69] even though he lacked Christian baptism.

Acts 19:1-7 Sub-Pericope. The second situation involves the Ephesian twelve. Unlike Apollos, these are described as μαθητας and as ignorant of the Holy Spirit; like Apollos they had only been baptized "into John's baptism." Paul's interaction with them is markedly different from Aquila and Priscilla's interaction with Apollos. He explains to them that "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." At this, they "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus," and then received the Holy Spirit. The two aspects central to the interpretation of this passage are the use of μαθητας and the twelve's apparent ignorance concerning the Spirit. The use of the appellation disciple has been interpreted in various ways,[70] but ultimately Marshall's interpretation makes the most sense. He notes that "Luke is not saying that the men are disciples but is describing how they appear to Paul."[71] As for their ignorance concerning the Spirit, most agree that this is not a total ignorance about the Spirit, because Jews, John's disciples, and Christians would all have heard of the Spirit. So, they must have been ignorant of the coming of the Spirit.[72] Therefore, due to their lack of knowledge about Christ and their lack of the Spirit, it can be concluded that these twelve were not Christians; consequently, they still required baptism when they believed after having heard about Christ Jesus.

From this pericope one can then conclude with Barrett that "it is probable that the two stories reflect different ways of receiving disciples of John the Baptist into the church."[73] John's baptism was "not inherently lacking" but "had as a primary purpose the leading of persons in a christological direction," and when "actualized in the Spirit-baptism of Jesus," it was considered valid, as in the case of Apollos.[74] This was similar to what would have happened to the apostles who were baptized before Pentecost, and then received the Spirit at Pentecost.[75] While in the case of the Ephesian twelve, the lack of any Christological understanding and the lack of the indwelling of the Spirit pointed to a lack of belief in the Messiah and a lack of regeneration.[76]

John's baptism, under the special circumstances described above, was apparently accepted by the early church as a valid substitute for Christian baptism,[77] but this does not make it equivalent to Christian baptism. Using Strong's own definition, John's baptism did not constitute a token of one's "previous entrance into the communion of Christ's death and resurrection."[78] So when he claims that Jesus' baptism pointed forward to his death and resurrection, and believer's baptism, wherever it is administered, "whether by John the Baptist, or the apostles, or by the later ministers of Christ's church," points backwards to the same, he is being inconsistent with his own definition.[79]

[65] Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:24-27, 33; cf. Luke 3:3. See: Akin, ed. Theology for the Church, 785 n45; 616. In an attempt to weaken the Baptist arguments for immersion, some Methodists have historically taken an extreme position and denied any relation between John's baptism and Christian baptism. See "John's Baptism," Quarterly Review of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South 6, no. 4 (1852): 592-617.

[66] Scripture quotations throughout the paper will be from the NKJV.

[67] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, Rev. ed., New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 360; John B. Polhill, Acts, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 397; C. K. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 898; Cf. Paton J. Gloag, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870), 189.

[68] Cf. the NIV with "spoke with great fervor"; Alfred Firmin Loisy, Les Actes Des Apotres (Paris: E. Nourry, 1920), 712.

[69] Barrett, Acts of the Apostles, 888; Polhill, Acts, 396; Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 359; Gloag, Acts, 186-87. Gloag also states that "on account of the article before πνευματι, some, and especially the Fathers, suppose that the Holy Spirit is meant" (187).

[70] Some have understood this as referring to believers: Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 363; and Gloag, Acts, 194. Some have understood this as referring to them as disciples of John: Polhill, Acts, 398-99; and Christopher B. Kaiser, "Rebaptism of the Ephesian Twelve: Exegetical Study on Acts 19:1-7," Reformed Review 31, no. 1 (1977): 59.

[71] Quoted by Barrett in Barrett, Acts of the Apostles, 893.

[72] Gloag, Acts, 195-96; and Polhill, Acts, 399.

[73] Barrett, Acts of the Apostles, 898. Beasley-Murray, in George Raymond Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1962), 112, also concludes that "it would appear that the baptism of John was good enough in one case but not in another."

[74] J. B. Green, "From 'John's Baptism' to 'Baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus': The Significance of Baptism in Luke-Acts," Journal for the study of the New Testament. Supplement Series, no. 171 (1999): 168.

[75] Beasley-Murray, in Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, 110, sees Apollos as "representative of an unknown number of disciples of John who passed quietly unto the sovereignty of the Messiah Jesus and who were graciously visited by the Spirit without any further ecclesiastical intervention."

[76] Similarly, Dargan states that "the invalidating defect in the immersion which these men had previously received was not that of an unauthorized administrator – that not being in question – but clearly that of ignorance on their part of fundamental truth which they should have known as necessary to an intelligent reception of baptism." See: Dargan, Ecclesiology, 364.

[77] Cf. Ben Witherington, Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 77 [on-line]; accessed 10 October 2010; available from; Internet. Here Witherington writes that "John’s baptism is no satisfactory substitute for the true Christian rite in view of the accomplished work of Jesus, which is the foundation and background to the Christian water rite."

[78] Strong, Systematic Theology, 931.

[79] Strong, "The Baptism of Jesus," 235.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - An Analysis - Part II

The Administrator

To be fair to Strong, his primary view of the administrator is in harmony with the one presented by his contemporaries and by modern Baptist theologians, for he sees baptism as committed "to the charge of the whole church to observe and guard."[62] For Strong, therefore, it is the church that appoints the administrator, and the de facto administrator is the pastor.[63] It is only in the section on the subject of baptism that Strong, probably reacting to the impact of Landmarkism,[64] apparently diminishes the qualifications of the administrator to nil. It is also in this section where one sees a shift from Strong's consistent Christocentric ecclesiology to a more anthropocentric ecclesiology.

[62] Strong, Systematic Theology, 905.

[63] See: Garrett, Systematic Theology, 531; Hammett, Foundations for Baptist Churches, 261; White, Duesing, and Yarnell, eds., Restoring Integrity, 116; as well as Weston and even Dargan's concept of "under authority" and Carroll's understanding of baptism being committed to the church. Cf. Carroll's emphasis on the officer and Dargan's characterization of Strong's view as the liberal view. After quoting Strong's view, Dargan states three objections to it: "The first objection is that it goes against the two inferences from Scripture; that the agent should be himself immersed, and act under authority. So far as these inferences are entitled to any weight, they make directly against the liberal theory. A second difficulty is that this theory is denominationally inconsistent. . . . The third, and perhaps strongest objection is that this theory of the agent does not sufficiently safeguard the proper observance of the ordinance. It is too sacred and important a matter to leave to the conscience of the candidate alone, so that if he is satisfied with his immersion by an unbaptized person the Baptist churches ought to be" (Dargan, Ecclesiology, 390-91). To be fair to Strong, here Dargan misrepresents Strong's position and ignores the other statements made by Strong about the administrator.

[64] See Garrett's discussion on the rise of the issue of proper administrator among Southern Baptists (Garrett, Systematic Theology, 531-32), in parallel with Strong's de-emphasis on the qualifications of the administrator and the lack of need for a Baptist apostolic succession (Strong, Systematic Theology, 948-49).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - An Analysis - Part I

Overall, Strong presents an orthodox doctrine of baptism, especially for a Baptist context, as can be seen by the uniformity with his contemporaries and by comparison with modern systematic theologies and ecclesiologies.[61] There are, however, some features where there was disagreement with his contemporaries. These will be the focus of this analysis.

[61] For a few examples see: Daniel L. Akin, ed. A Theology for the Church (Nashville: B&H, 2007), 785-89; James Leo Garrett, Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, 2nd ed., 2 vols., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 502-36; John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 257-77; Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcom B. Yarnell, eds., Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 63-136.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Looking at Strong's Contemporaries - Part IV

H. G. Weston (1820-1909)

Weston[58] also has a similar view of baptism. For him, baptism is "the believer's acceptance of the terms of salvation, his confession of repentance and faith: Godward, it is the declaration of forgiveness; manward, it is the declaration of faith in Christ." Therefore, "it commemorates the burial and resurrection of Christ" and "it symbolizes the death of the Christian to his old life, and his entrance on a new life." Baptism should be by "immersion in water in the name of the Trinity, on a confession of faith in Christ," therefore limiting it to only believers. As per the administrator, Weston, sees the ordinance as a church act, therefore it "may be administered by any one appointed by a church."[59]

Weston does not refer to the baptism of John, but does opine on 're-baptism'. Here, like Strong, Weston states that if someone has been baptized "on a credible confession of faith" but later "supposes he was not regenerated at that time," baptism should not be repeated. He offers three reasons for this: 1) by doing so the focus is taken off the church, whose ordinance baptism is, and placed on the individual; 2) "in the repetition there is only what there was in the first instance–a credible confession"; 3) if it's allowed to happen once, this process could go on at infinitum.[60]

Now, having looked at the 'data', I will proceed, in the next several posts with an analysis of Strong's doctrine of baptism.

[58] Weston, after having been a missionary for three years, served as a pastor for twenty two years before becoming the first president of Crozer Theological Seminary. There he also served as chair of preaching and pastoral duties and lecturer on New Testament writings. See: E. H. Johnson, "President Henry Griggs Weston, D.D.," Bibliotheca Sacra: A Religious and Sociological Quarterly 57 (1900): 785.

[59] E. H. Johnson and Henry G. Weston, An Outline of Systematic Theology, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1895), 331-33; 337. Weston's Ecclesiology was bound at the end of Johnson's Systematic, for Johnson saw the doctrines of the church as pertaining "to another department of instruction, that of Practical Theology" (iv), and accordingly did not himself have a section dedicated to ecclesiology.

[60] Ibid., 336-37.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Looking at Strong's Contemporaries - Part III

E. C. Dargan (1852-1930)

Dargan,[53] similarly to Strong, comprehends the act of baptism as representing "the burial and resurrection of Christ, and our death to sin and resurrection to a new life," therefore it is "not spiritually efficacious in any sense, but is symbolical and declarative." It is the declaration of a faith that involves repentance, obedience, and consecration. It is for "believers and believers only" and has as its mode single immersion.[54]

As in the case of Carroll, Dargan and Strong do not totally agree on the question of the agent of baptism. Dargan believes that "the agent should be himself immersed, and act under authority." Therefore, he finds fault with Strong's emphasis on the recipient's intent to obey Christ's command to the point of possibly disregarding the status of the agent. Ultimately, though, while Dargan thinks that all the evidence lies "against the propriety of accepting any of these so-called 'alien immersions,'" in good Baptist form, he acknowledges that the individual churches "have an undoubted right to decide the doubtful question for themselves."[55]

As for John's baptism, Dargan, while refusing to opine on whether John's baptism was Christian baptism, sees it as having "only illustrative value . . . as it was only introductory to properly Christian baptism."[56] He also sees Paul's actions in the Acts 19 pericope as giving "warrant for the rejection of an immersion not found satisfactory, and the performance of a true one in such case."[57]

[54] Dargan, Ecclesiology, 466-67; 463; 467-68; 407; 329.

[55] Ibid., 390-392; 394.

[56] Ibid., 401; 361. Dargan states: "We do not here enter into the debated question whether John's baptism was Christian baptism, but so far as the act and recipients were concerned there is no reason to consider them essentially different" (361). Goodspeed, a conservative Canadian Baptist contemporary, in Calvin Goodspeed, Baptism: An Argument and a Reply, 3rd, rev. and enl. ed. (Toronto: Dudley & Burns, 1892), 91, expresses the same sentiment of not wanting to enter a debate comparing John's baptism and Christian baptism, making one conclude that this must have been a contemporary topic of discussion. Unfortunately, no record of such a dialogue has been found by the author.

[57] Dargan, Ecclesiology, 363-64.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Looking at Strong's Contemporaries - Part II

B.H. Carroll (1843-1914)

For Carroll,[46] "baptism is a profession or declaration, public and visible, of our faith in Jesus, as the Sent of the Father and the Anointed of the Spirit, to be our Prophet, Priest, and King." As such, "it is a monument or memorial of [Christ's] resurrection, and a pledge and prophecy of our own."[47] For Carroll, as for Strong, baptism is the immersion of a child of God who has shown evidence of "personal discipleship–personal repentance and personal faith."[48] Also, like Strong, Carroll is "not surprised to find baptism so closely associated in time with the faith which it professes. In apostolic days there was nothing like the modern interval between them. Baptism was at the threshold of religious life. It preceded every other obligation enjoined on the converted." As Carroll continues, though, there begins to be a slight divergence from Strong's position, for this close association of profession and baptism leads him to conclude: "We can thus understand why some called it the 'initiatory' ordinance, and others 'the door' into the church, so interpreting 1 Cor. 12:13."[49]

The greatest difference between Carroll and Strong on the topic of baptism is seen in their view of the administrator of baptism and the intent of the recipient of baptism. For Carroll:

The law of baptism was committed to his church, to be administered by officers of its own appointment … An official act must be performed by an officer. An officer must have been put in office by the organization under which he holds office and to which he is responsible for the exercise of official function.[50]
Therefore "baptism is null and void unless administered by legal authority, no matter what the intent or act of the subject or administrator."[51]

Carroll did not elaborate on the baptism of John, with the exception of his use of it as an example of the correct mode and order of baptism. His view of the inception of the church, though, could be of interest to the discussion at hand. For Carroll, Jesus "instituted his ecclesia on earth. . . . But though the new house was built, it was empty until our Lord ascended into heaven, and fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit as the indweller of this new habitation."[52] This is different from Strong's 'germ' idea that leaves room for John's baptism to be Christian baptism. Carroll also did not opine on 're-baptism'.

[46] During his life, B. H. Carroll was the pastor of First Baptist Church, Waco, organized Baylor Theological Seminary, and founded Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. At the latter, he served as the first president until his death in Fort Worth, on November 11, 1914. See: Carroll, Ecclesia, 171-73. McBeth, in McBeth, Baptist Heritage, 676, lists B. H. Carroll in the Pastor-Theologians section of his chapter on Southern Baptists, noting that he "proved one of the most influential thinkers, as well as doers, of his day."

[47] Carroll, Ecclesia, 93-94; 98.

[48] Ibid., 91; 87.

[49] Ibid., 94. Carroll also would claim that "the conditions of membership in the church on earth are regeneration and baptism. But for the church in glory the conditions of membership are justification, regeneration and sanctification of soul and glorification of body" (23). Cf. Strong, Systematic Theology, 949.

[50] Carroll, Ecclesia, 83. Carroll's use of a civil analogy here is not convincing.

[51] Ibid., 84.

[52] Ibid., 25.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Looking at Strong's Contemporaries - Part I

Reading through Systematic Theology, one cannot ignore the fact that Strong was writing in conversation with and in reaction to a variety of groups. Just in the two chapters dedicated to his ecclesiology, one can see interactions with and reactions against Romanists (also referred to as papists), Presbyterians, Campbellites, the Salvation Army, and the Society of Friends. This helps the reader have some understanding of the historical context against which Strong reacts. For example, Strong, like many Baptist theologians of his time, elaborately discusses the disqualification of infant baptism in his doctrine of baptism due to the continued conversation with paedobaptist groups. Theology, even when not reactionary, is rarely formed in a vacuum. Therefore, also of interest to this analysis of his doctrine of baptism are the doctrines of his Baptist contemporaries, both Northern and Southern. For this purpose the doctrine of baptism for some of his contemporary Baptist theologians will be reviewed. The hope is to identify commonalities and oddities, with respect to his historical context, in his doctrine.

I will only look at three of his contemporaries: B.H. Carroll, E.C. Dargan, and H.G. Weston. B.H. Carroll was chosen as a representative of Southern Baptists who espoused a different view of the universal church than Strong did. E.C. Dargan was chosen as a representative of Southern Baptists who spoused a similar view of the universal church to Strong's. In addition, Dargan directly interacted with Strong's ecclesiological ideas in his work, Ecclesiology. H.G. Weston was chosen because, as a Northern Baptist, his path intersected Strong's in many ways. It could be argued that Pendleton, Hiscox, or others could have been better choices; maybe one day I will have time to look at these gentlemen. What are your thoughts? Who would you have picked?

[45] Küng, in Hans Küng, The Church (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1976), 22-23, points out that concepts in ecclesiology are influenced by current forms that change throughout the ages. If one can identify the change, one can get to the constant "essence" that the temporal influences are masking. While not agreeing with Küng's ultimate conclusion that therefore only a glimpse of the essence of the church can be regained, based on his observation, one can see the value of looking at the historical context in which a particular ecclesiology is developed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Rebaptism

This brings up the second peculiarity of interest, viz. Strong's views on rebaptism. His views on the topic reflect the teaching of Brooks as found in "Rebaptism."[42] Strong believes that "since regeneration is a work accomplished once for all, the baptism which symbolizes this regeneration is not to be repeated." He also believes that there is no reference to a "second baptism" in the NT: the case of Acts 19:1-5 was not a rebaptism, "for the mere outward submersion in water to which they had previously submitted" was not a baptism.[43]

He expounds this concept in several scenarios. The first one is the case where a person is persuaded that he was mistakenly thinking himself regenerate at the time of his baptism. Strong advises that, if the ordinance had been administered "with honest intent, as a profession of faith in Christ," it should not be administered again. Here, Strong focuses on the intent of the person being baptized, as is made clearer by his second case. The second case is the one of someone who had previously experienced Campbellite immersion. If the person has "gone down into the water, not with the intent to profess a previously existing faith, but in order to be regenerated," then baptism should be administered to them when they eventually believe in Christ. But, if the person had been baptized with the intent to profess an existing faith, and therefore a previous regeneration, then baptism should not be re-administered, even though the original baptism was administered by the Campbellites for the purpose of regeneration. The third scenario is the case of a "fickle believer" who seeks rebaptism whenever his faith and joy have been rekindled. Here, since faith existed at the time of the original baptism, even though "much unbelief and many wanderings" followed it, the original baptism should be considered valid.[44]

Before I analyze and discuss Strong's doctrine of baptism, let's us take several post briefly looking at what some of his contemporaries believed.

[42] See: Kendall Brooks, "Rebaptism," The Baptist Quarterly 1 (April 1867): 129-42.

[43] Strong, Systematic Theology, 950.

[44] Ibid.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - The Baptism of John

During his defense of the institution of baptism by Christ, Strong presents the first of two peculiarities in his doctrine of baptism. While he claims that Christ instituted the ordinance of baptism, he also claims that "John's baptism was essentially Christian baptism, although the full significance of it was not understood until after Jesus' death and resurrection."[39] According to Strong, "the baptism of John was an application to Jews of an immersion which, before that time, was administered to proselytes from among the Gentiles," and therefore was an "adaptation of the rite to a new class of subjects and with a new meaning."[40] This new meaning included repentance of sins as well as "faith in the coming Savior." He does not see Acts 19:1-5 as the baptism of believers who had only been baptized according to the baptism of John, therefore invalidating it as Christian baptism. On the contrary, he believes this passage describes "the baptism for the first time of certain persons who had been wrongly taught with regard to the nature of John the Baptist's doctrine, and so had ignorantly submitted to an outward rite which had in it no reference to Jesus Christ and expressed no faith in him as a Savior." So, according to Strong, these had not known John's baptism and therefore, had not experienced "true baptism." Their immersion did not have the right intent, therefore invalidating it and explaining why Paul commands them to be baptized.[41]

We will analyze and discuss these ideas in a later post.

[39] Strong, Systematic Theology, 931-33.

[40] Ibid., 932.

[41] Ibid., 950.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - The Administrator of Baptism

As for the administrator, he "is simply the organ of the church."[34] Strong does claim that one of the "duties" of the pastor is to be the administrator of the ordinances, but curtails this statement when he writes that the church is not "absolutely dependent upon him in the matter. . . . In an emergency any other member appointed by the church may administer [the ordinances] with equal propriety, the church always determining who are fit subjects of the ordinances, and constituting him their organ in administering them."[35] Ultimately, for Strong,

baptism is primarily the act, not of the administrator, but of the person baptized. … Since baptism is primarily the act of the convert, no lack of qualification on the part of the administrator invalidates the baptism, so long as the proper outward act is performed, with intent on the part of the person baptized to express the fact of a preceding spiritual renewal.[36]

To which he adds that "nothing but the absence of immersion, or of an intent to profess faith in Christ, can invalidate the ordinance." Therefore, "we have no need to prove a Baptist apostolic succession. If we can derive our doctrine and practice from the New Testament, it is all we require."[36] This is why, in the context of the formation of a new church, Strong, pointing to the benefits of forming a council of churches for advisory purposes while insisting on the autonomy of this new church, states that if a group were "providentially precluded from access to existing churches, [they] might rightfully appoint one of their number to baptize the rest, and then might organize, de novo, a New Testament church."[37] It therefore comes as no surprise that Garrett claims that "Strong was not influenced by the Landmark rejection of 'alien' immersions."[38]

[34] Strong, Systematic Theology, 906.

[35] Ibid., 916-17.

[36] Ibid., 948-49.

[37] Ibid., 902.

[38] Garrett, Baptist Theology, 302.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Baptism, Not for Regeneration

Since proper candidates for baptism are only those who have been regenerated, baptism itself is devoid of any regenerating power. For Strong, "baptism no more makes one a Christian, than putting a crown on one's head makes him a king." Even its sanctifying "efficacy is not in the outward act but in the spirit which accompanies it." Strong ties the concept of baptismal regeneration to the rise of infant baptism, which he rejects and reprehends. He also warns against the start of the new tradition of baby dedication, for sinful humanity will pervert any addition to the NT. Yet, Strong does allow children, even of "a tender age," to be baptized and granted church membership, when the church has evidence of conversion and Christian character.[33]

[33] Strong, Systematic Theology, 951-59. Of historical interest is this narration of what possibly is the start of baby dedication in America. "In Key West, Florida, a town of 22,000 inhabitants, infant baptism has a stronger hold than anywhere else at the South. Baptist parents had sometimes gone to the Methodist preacher to have their children baptized. To prevent this, the Baptist pastors established the custom of laying their hands upon the heads of infants in the congregation, and 'blessing' them, i.e., asking God's blessing to rest upon them. But this custom came to be confounded with christening, and was called such. Now the Baptist pastors are having a hard struggle to explain and limit the custom which they themselves have introduced. Perverse human nature will take advantage of even the slightest additions to N. T. prescriptions, and will bring out of the germs of false doctrine a fearful harvest of evil" (957).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Baptism, Not Primarily the Entrance into the Church

The concept of baptism as the entrance into the individual church is not central to Strong, as evidenced by the fact that one does not find a section dedicated to the topic but only a few references to it scattered throughout the text. Due to his Christocentric stance, he finds a flaw in adopting this concept as the main meaning of baptism. He states:

Baptism is sometimes figuratively described as "the door into the church." The phrase is unfortunate, since if by the church is meant the spiritual kingdom of God, then Christ is its only door; if the local body of believers is meant, then the faith of the candidate, the credible evidence of regeneration which he gives, the vote of the church itself, are all, equally with baptism, the door through which he enters. The door in this sense, is a double door, one part of which is his confession of faith, and the other his baptism.[30]

In the same vein, Strong points out that his definition of the church is not "a body of 'baptized believers,' because baptism is but one of 'Christ's laws,' in accordance with which believers unite themselves."[31] So, baptism, as an outward representation of an inward regeneration, is a qualification for membership,[32] but to make this the central or only meaning of baptism probably would be too anthropocentric for Strong.

[30] Strong, Systematic Theology, 949.

[31] Ibid., 890.

[32] Ibid., 900. Regeneration and baptism: "i.e., spiritual new birth and ritual new birth; the surrender of the inward and of the outward life to Christ; the spiritual entrance into communion with Christ's death and resurrection, and the formal profession of this to the world by being buried with Christ and rising with him in baptism."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Baptism, Christocentric at its Core

In "The Ordinances of the Church," Strong continues to be Christocentric. Ordinances, like the sacramentum oath taken by Roman soldiers to follow their commanders to the death, are sacraments, not in a Romanist sense of conferring grace, but "in the sense of vows of allegiance to Christ our Master."[20] Strong, therefore, defines Christian baptism specifically as "the immersion of a believer in water, in token of his previous entrance into the communion of Christ's death and resurrection,– or, in other words, in token of his regeneration through union with Christ."[21] Garrett summarizes Strong's doctrine of baptism as: "baptism has immersion as its mode, symbolism as its nature, and 'only persons giving evidence of being regenerated' as its proper subjects."[22]

Central to Strong's view of baptism is the defense of baptism as "an ordinance of Christ," for Christ instituted it and intended it "to be of universal and perpetual obligation." This ordinance has as its mode "immersion, and immersion only." Strong defends his position on immersion based on the Greek text, figurative references to the ordinance, and the historical testimony of the practices of the early church. He argues against any church's modifying "the method of administering the ordinance, because such a change vacates the ordinance of its essential meaning."[23] Since the subject and the mode are what is essential in baptism, "mere accessories are a matter of individual judgment." Nevertheless, the formula should be "into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," as prescribed by Jesus.[24] In addition, to relay better baptism's essential meaning, Strong advocates public baptisms and not relegating baptism to a private celebration.[25] He believes that baptisms "should follow regeneration with the least possible delay, after the candidate and the church have gained evidence that a spiritual change has been accomplished within him."[26] Strong also offers answers to common objections to immersion. It is in this section that one starts seeing Strong's focus on an individual's intent to obey Christ's command, over strict mechanistic obedience. It is also in the midst of this argument that Strong makes the first mention of baptism symbolizing the entrance into the church in addition to its primary meaning of symbolizing one's personal faith in Christ as Savior and Lord.[27]

Nevertheless, the believer's communion with Christ's death and resurrection constitutes the core of Strong's understanding of baptism.[28] Quoting Denney, in the Expositor's Greek Testament, Strong states: "baptism, inasmuch as one emerges from the water after immersed, is a similitude of resurrection as well as death." For Strong, though, baptism signifies more than just the death and resurrection of Christ. It also denotes the purpose of the death and resurrection of Christ, the accomplishment of that purpose and the method in which that purpose is accomplished in the believer, and the future death and resurrection of the body as a completion of the work of Christ in the believer. In addition, baptism, more aptly and accurately than the Lord's Supper, portrays Christian unity.[29]

[20] Strong, Systematic Theology, 930. Dargan in Edwin Charles Dargan, Ecclesiology: A Study of the Churches, 2d and carefully rev. ed. (Louisville: C.T. Dearing, 1905), also presents this etymology of the term sacrament.

[21] Strong, Systematic Theology, 931.

[22] Garrett, Baptist Theology, 301-02.

[23] Strong, Systematic Theology, 933-39.

[24] Ibid., 951. Here, Strong states his opinion that the use of natural, rather than artificial baptisteries, should not be "elevated into an essential."

[25] Ibid., 943.

[26] Ibid., 950.

[27] Ibid., 939-40. The objections to immersion tackled by Strong, and the summary of his answers are: 1) it is often impracticable - here the will to obey can be taken by Christ for the deed; 2) it is often dangerous - in this case it is no longer a duty, but it should not be replaced by something else, rather one should wait for a time when it is no longer dangerous; 3) it is indecent - therefore care should be taken to prevent exposure; 4) it is inconvenient - but Christians are not to consult convenience in matters of obedience; and 5) other methods have been blessed - only because God condescends to human ignorance.

[28] In Augustus Hopkins Strong, "The Baptism of Jesus," in Philosophy and Religion (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1888), 235, Strong, speaking of the baptism of Christ which he deems a picture for us, states: "I also must die to sin by having Jesus' death reproduced in me. I must rise to a new life by having Jesus' death reproduced in me. I must enter into communion with the death and resurrection of my Lord–yes, I must participate in both."

[29] Strong, Systematic Theology, 940-02. His comment on unity obviously refers to the unity argument for open communion. Strong subsequently lists his objections to open communion at the end of his section on the Lord's Supper (977-980).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - Relation Between Local Churches - Summary of Ecclesiology Part III

The last topic covered by Strong, before transitioning to a whole chapter on the ordinances, is on the relation between local churches. Strong postulates "the absolute equality of the churches," where churches fellowship, cooperate, and care for each other as should individual Christians. He continues this parallel between churches and believers, as he writes of taking and giving advice, and of a church's labor to reclaim a sister church that is erring.[17] He advocates the involvement of "other rightly constituted churches" in ordination councils so that if a pastor transfers from one church to another, ordination need not be repeated.[18] He also considers useful the calling of a "council of churches" to advise a group of believers on the "desirableness of constituting a new and distinct local body." This council, though, only has an advisory role, not a constitutive role, for each church is directly under the headship of Christ, and all are "on an equal footing." Not only that, but "all are independent of interference or control by the civil power."[19]

After this overview of Strong's ecclesiology, in the next post we will start to interact with Strong's doctrine of baptism.

[17] Strong, Systematic Theology, 926-29.

[18] Ibid., 922. In addition to the inclusion of other churches, Strong insists on the presence of non-ordained members in ordination councils, since "the whole church is to preserve the ordinances and to maintain sound doctrine, and [because] the unordained church member is often a more sagacious judge of a candidate's Christian experience than his own pastor would be" (920-21). In keeping with this logic, Strong advocates that "the candidate for ordination should be a member of the ordaining church" (920). Conversely, with regard to pastors of other denominations wanting to pastor a local Baptist church, he advocates their re-ordination (924).

[19] Ibid., 902; 898. With regard to the state, Strong also adds that "the church as an organized body should be ashamed to depend for revenue upon the state" (899).

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