Baptism and faith

Richard of Connexions has posted a question from DH regarding baptism:
I’m really interested in what people think about believers baptism. Can one truly be called a “Christian” without a profession of one’s Faith just by being Baptised? I’m just curious.
This is a worthwhile question that many find difficult to answer. On one hand, we see a general pattern in Acts in which new converts confess belief in Jesus Christ as Lord. But we also know that heads of families confessed belief in the place of the family members. We also have the episode of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who gets baptized without any recording profession of faith (Acts 8:26-40).

Modern evangelicals tend to have a very individualized and quasi-Pelagian conception of baptism and faith, in which the individual qua individual—on his or her own initiative—must profess faith publicly in order to be a true Christian. The positive dimension of this practice goes back to the Anabaptists in their rejection of Christendom and their insistence upon an intentional faith community. The negative dimension is found in the modern myth of American self-realization, captured best in the classic American folklore which present an idealized, romanticized individual who realizes him- or herself alone, without any assistance and against all odds. We call this the “pursuit of happiness,” and label it a basic constitutional right. Sadly, Christianity gets pulled into this Pelagian vortex of self-realization and baptism becomes a spiritual event of self-actualization rather than an act of discipleship in which we follow our Lord and Savior in humble obedience.

There are plenty of theological resources capable of combating the problems associated with this Enlightened individualism. No theologian has written more against the sin of self-realization than Eberhard Jüngel, and no modern theologian has written more about the nature of humble discipleship than Barth or Bonhoeffer. But I wish to offer an extended quotation from T. F. Torrance on the question of faith that bears directly on baptism from his marvelous short work, The Mediation of Christ. I heartily commend this work to everyone. Torrance writes:
We must think of Jesus as stepping into the relation between the faithfulness of God and the actual unfaithfulness of human beings, actualising the faithfulness of God and restoring the faithfulness [of] human beings by grounding it in the incarnate medium of his own faithfulness so that it answers perfectly to the divine faithfulness. Thus Jesus steps into the actual situation where we are summoned to have faith in God, to believe and trust in him, and he acts in our place and in our stead from within the depths of our unfaithfulness and provides us freely with a faithfulness in which we may share. . . . Admittedly, this is a matter which many people, especially in our Western culture with its stress upon the integrity and freedom of the individual person, find it rather difficult to accept at its face value, for they automatically tend to reinterpret it in line with their axiomatic assumptions—for example, in the stress upon what many people call ‘believer’s baptism’. . . . [I]n the teaching of the New Testament as well as in that of the Old Testament people’s faith is held to have its proper place within the polar relationship between God and mankind. But in the Gospel that polar relation has been actualised in such a way that we are yoked together with Jesus in his bearing of our burden and are made to share in the almighty strength and immutability of his vicarious faith and faithfulness on our behalf. Through his incarnational and atoning union with us our faith is implicated in his faith, and through that implication, far from being depersonalised or dehumanised, it is made to issue freely and spontaneously out of our own human life before God.

—T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1992), 82-84.


Halden said…
My thoughts on this topic are here.

I think the early church's practice on this point is very open to debate, as is the passage about the Ethiopian in Acts. The Aland-Jeremias debate about this issue is pretty instructive.
Anonymous said…
The Didache also seems to imply (i.e. note the exhortation to fast prior to baptism) a "believers baptism".

7:1 But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize.
7:2 Having first recited all these things, baptize {in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit} in living (running) water.
7:3 But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water;
7:4 and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm.
7:5 But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
7:6 But before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able;
7:7 and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before.

I would agree, the Acts passages aren't conclusive (i.e. either "side" would have to argue from silence on this point).
Anonymous said…
Enlightened individualism seems to me to have as many problems from an ethical perspective as it does from a spiritual one. Interesting post.