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.

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