WHAT IS ALIEN BAPTISM?
Throughout most of the history of Baptists they have had problems with what is called "Alien Baptism." Indeed, this was the primary cause of the first separation of Baptists from other professing Christians, and it is one of the main problems that keep the Baptists a separate people. So far as we know, no case of recognized alien baptism has ever arisen in the Protestant or Catholic ranks. The reason for this is that neither of these recognize any kind of baptism as alien. In fact, Catholicism admits that it will even accept the baptism of those whom it considers heretics, if that baptism was only administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
All of this sounds very broadminded, and many people therefore judge that it must be the true, Biblical position to hold for this reason. But most people do not remember that our Lord was hardly what one would call broadminded in His attitude toward error. He continually confronted and rebuked the Jewish religious leaders for their corruption of the truth by their traditions. Nor was broadmindedness ever inculcated by any New Testament writer where any doctrine or ordinance was concerned. The times when the saints were admonished to be broadminded was when personal liberty and incidental matters were involved. Then, and only then, believers were admonished to "bear and forbear" with their fellow saints (Rom. 14). But this is not the case where the ordinance of baptism is concerned.
Both of the ordinances are ordained by positive precept, and so they obtain all of their weight from the authority of the Lord that commanded them. Positive precepts are in contrast to moral precepts that have an intrinsic morality about them, and so, obtain their authority from that fact. They are duties because of their characteristic morality, whereas positive precepts would not be obligatory except for the authority of the one that commands them. This is an important distinction to be considered, for it bears on the duty of the ordinances. Because both ordinances are positive precepts, commanded by the Lord Who alone has the authority to command religious duties, no one has the option of choosing whether or not to obey these, nor in what manner to obey them. Who can hope to escape a just censure if he refuses to obey the command of the Lord, or if he professes to obey it, but does it in a way that is contrary to what the Lord has commanded. There is no ambiguity whatsoever in the command to baptize, and therefore no one is excused from obeying this command if he is saved, nor is there any excuse for changing the commandment. J. M. Pendleton says:
"Surely the language of this commission is plain. Matthew informs us that teaching, or making disciples (for the verb maqhteusate-matheteuo means make disciples) is to precede baptism-Mark establishes the priority of faith to baptism, and Luke connects repentance and remission of sins with the execution of the commission. No man, can, in obedience to this commission, baptize an unbeliever or an infant. The unbeliever is not a penitent disciple, and it is obviously impossible for the infant to repent and believe the gospel. I lay it down as a principle of common sense, which commends itself to every unprejudiced mind, that a commission to do a thing or things authorizes only the doing of that thing or things specified in it. The doing of all other things is virtually prohibited. There is a maxim of law-Expressio unius eat exelusio alterius-The expression of one thing is the exclusion of another."óThree Reasons I Am A Baptist, pp. 11-12.
It should be evident to all that inasmuch as baptism is a positive precept, it can only be altered by the same authority that instituted it, or by a -greater authority. But it is also evident that this ordinance has been altered many times and in many ways by men that claimed to have no such authority. What then? These acts become alien baptisms, i.e., they are alien to the New Testament pattern and precept, and so, are in reality psuedo-baptisms. Let us look at the following matters.
I. ALIEN BAPTISM DEFINED.
The word "alien" means foreign, strange, or not native to its original design, and when this is applied to baptism, it betokens a defective baptism, and so, is no longer Christian baptism at all. It is henceforth merely a humanistic and traditional ritual. If there is such a thing as alien baptism, and who can doubt this when so much baptism is not according to New Testament pattern, then by its very designation it is not correct Christian baptism, but something else, a mere humanistic rite, a tradition of men.
The first thing to ask then is, Does such a thing as alien baptism exist? Evidently so, if we may judge from the practice of the Apostle Paul as recorded in Acts 19:1-7. When he came to Ephesus, Paul found a small church comprised of twelve men, but as he became acquainted with these people, he observed that something was defective in their faith. His question Did you receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? Brought forth the answer that they had not so much as heard of the Holy Spirit. Johnís preaching had emphasized that the Messiah was to appear shortly after he came on the scene, and that the Messiah would baptize in the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16-17). But these twelve Ephesians manifested that they were wholly ignorant of these things. Paulís second question was "Unto what then were ye baptized?" which indicates that there is more to baptism than merely the act. He did not subscribe to the Catholic error that so many Protestants have bought into that baptism saves ex opere operatoóby the very act. These Ephesians could only answer his question by saying "Unto Johnís baptism."
Most of the Protestant world has rejected Johnís ministry and baptism as Jewish or else as some sort of a hybrid cross between Jewish and Christian, but in any case as not Christian, because their own beliefs and practices are at variance with Johnís teachings. These people have been quick to avail themselves of Acts 19 as a supposed proof that all of Johnís disciples had to be re-baptized because they had not Christian baptism. However, this meaning cannot be put upon the words of Paul. Jesus Himself had commended John as the greatest prophet "born of woman," being surpassed only by Jesus Himself, who was, as the inspired text literally reads, "a little later in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 11:10-11). Yea, Jesus and all of His earlier disciples had only the baptism of John, which was never called in question by anyone. Paul himself admitted the scripturality of Johnís ministry, and gave the essence of his preaching when he said, "John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ" (Acts 19:4).
If this is the case, then for what cause was these menís baptism found faulty? For this reason: they were not baptized by John, for he had now been dead some thirty-five years. They were only baptized "unto Johnís baptism," not by him, and so, were only, in a manner of speaking, second generation disciples of John, which, in the very nature of the case, made them not Johnís disciples at all. Someone, probably Apollos (Acts 18:24-25), who had been baptized by John in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, but who had not heard of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, had endeavored to perpetuate Johnís ministry. But Johnís ministry was uniqueóit was preparatory for the coming of Christ and was never intended to be perpetuated, and hence no one had Divine authority to continue it beyond John. Apollos, being very zealous, came and preached at Ephesus what little he knew of Johnís preaching, and forthwith baptized the twelve acquiescing men into the fragmentary faith that he had heard from John.
Apollosí administration of baptism being without divine authorization, God did not recognize this group of men as a church, and consequently they did not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them as a church, When Paul came upon the scene, he detected the defect, and he too refused to recognize their baptism as valid. He then proceeded to explain to them the truth, which they joyfully acceptedóa mark of a people with a right spirit about themóand were scripturally baptized by some of Paulís missionary party. When this defective baptism was corrected, the Holy Spirit came upon them in authentication and acknowledgment of their true church status.
Most of Protestantism does not dare accept this explanation of this portion of Scripture, because it would immediately unchurch them, and give great advantage to Baptists, for their practice of rejecting all baptisms that they deem to be defective. It was in part from this practice that the Baptists derived their name, and not from John, as so many people think.
In the second and following centuries when the plan of salvation began to be so greatly corrupted, and men were baptized in the hopes that the baptismal waters would somehow save them, a reaction set in and numerous individuals and churches refused to recognize such baptisms as Christian baptism. These "reactionaries," as some would all them today, put the blood before the water, and taught that salvation is necessary to baptism, and not that baptism is necessary to salvation. They therefore would not accept anyone into their churches who had been baptized either as a child or an adult for the remission of sins, but required that a person profess to have already been born again before baptism, then submit to be rebaptized. For this reason they were called Anabaptists, or "re-baptizers." Though known by other names, this was the one general term under which they were all classified.
In the fifteenth or sixteenth century these same people began to be called simply "Baptists," for most of the rest of the professing Christian world had ceased to administer the ordinance by immersion. And so, technically these reactionaries were no longer Ana-Baptists, or "re-immersers," so the prefix ana was dropped, and they were called simply "Baptists," or "Immersers" to distinguish them from the rest of the professing Christians. Therefore the name by which Baptists are presently called is the result of their refusal to acknowledge any spurious baptisms, and their practice of administering the ordinance to all whose original baptism they had reason to suspect was defective. Baptists however are impelled by conviction, not contumeliousness to be scrupulous in the matter of baptism. W. M. Nevins says:
"It is of tremendous importance, and we must ever bear in mind that if any one of the four elements is wanting we have defective baptism, and not scriptural baptism. Just as God said to Moses about the Tabernacle, Be sure that thou make all things according to the pattern shown to thee in the mount,í so He says to us, `Keep the ordinances as I delivered them unto you.í If you alter them, you disobey God, you destroy the truth, you bring about confusion and division in the Christian world where there ought to be unity and peace."óAlien Baptism And The Baptists, p. 14.
These four necessary elements, to which he alludes are: (1) A Scriptural subjectóa saved person. (2) A Scriptural design-a confession of salvation, of faith in Christís resurrection and atonement, and our own future resurrection. (3) A Scriptural mode immersion. (4) A Scriptural administrator a New Testament Church. Let any one of these be lacking and you have a defective, or alien baptism.
Baptism may be alien because of any of these four things, but the most common defect in the baptisms of the modern professing Christian world is in regard to a proper administrator. It should be obvious to every unprejudiced person that if Jesus authorized one administrator of the ordinances, then none else can administer them without presumption. It may be illustrated in this way. Suppose that a foreigner comes to this country, and in the process of time he comes to love this nation, and he desires to become a citizen and to serve his new country. And suppose that he voices this desire to one who is already a citizen, and that citizen should say, "Wonderful! In loving this country, you have already met the most important requirement for citizenship, and since I am already a citizen, I will administer the oath of allegiance to you, and you will then be a citizen like me."
Would all of the sincerity in the world of two such individuals justify their actions? You will certainly say, "Of course not! The citizen did not have the authority to administer the oath of allegiance, for he was not the official authorized to do so." And you would be right. But how much more wrong and even presumptuous would it be for one non-citizen to say to another non-citizen, "I will administer the oath of allegiance to you for this country so that you will be a citizen"? Yet this is exactly what is done when any individual presumes to be the administrator of baptism. The ordinances were not given to individuals per se, but to the churches, and they alone have the right to administer them. Nor were the ordinances given to every organization that calls itself a church. J. R. Graves well says:
"ĎHow, then,í you may ask `can I know the proper officer to administer Christian baptism?í It is certainly not by an examination of men and their credentials; but it is required of you to find a church that administers the act which Christ commanded, and for the purpose and to the subjects Christ requires, and that church will furnish the proper officerfor it is the church that administers the rite and not the officer, per seas he is but the hand, the servant of the church. The ordinances of baptism and the Supper were not entrusted to the ministry to administer to whomsoever they deem qualified, but to the churches, to be observed by them `as they were delivered unto them.í (1 Cor. 11:2)."óThe Act Of Christian Baptism, pp. 51-52.
If only regularly constituted churches can administer the ordinance of baptism, then it becomes obvious that every one of the churches which came out of the Reformation either directly or indirectly, are without a regular baptism, for all of the reformers denounced Rome as fearfully and finally corrupt, and so, without authority. Yet these same reformers had no other baptism than that of Rome. This is what J. R. Graves called, in his book by the same name, "The Trilemma" of Protestantism.
No one has a right to originate baptism de novo, although some that bore the name of Baptist in the past have done so. And the General Baptists (Arminian) of England, believed that this was a proper way to start a church if no other Scripturally baptized believers could be found. However, it is clear that this belief springs from the basic error of Arminianism, for those that put an undue emphasis and value upon the works of man would naturally assume in the case of baptism that manís works in originating baptism would be as acceptable to God as that derived from divine authority.
It is noteworthy that in the only two recorded cases of se-baptism, or originating baptism, neither group was divinely blessed so as to reproduce any other churches. We speak of the case of John Smyth in England in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and that of Roger Williams in Rhode Island in 1639 or 1640. No one, so far as we know, has ever proven that any of the Baptist churches of America descended from Roger Williamsí group. The First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island claims this as its origin, but without any proof. How could they when Williamsí group was disbanded by mutual consent just a few months after it was conceived.
However, some have claimed that all or most of the English Baptist churches were direct descendents of Smythís group, and this is a common teaching in numerous of the more liberal Baptist seminaries. John T. Christian, who was one of the most well-informed Baptist Historians of the last century, has the following to say about this.
"It may be of moment to remark that the baptism of Smyth did not affect the baptism of the Baptist churches of England. It has been affirmed that the General Baptist churches of England originated with this church of Smythís; that this was the mother church of Baptists; and even that the Baptist denomination originated here in the year 1609. After prolonged investigation, we are unable to find the evidence that any Baptist church grew out of this one. We are able to find that after Helwys settled with this church in London, some churches affiliated with it in a certain correspondence with some Mennonites in Holland; but that they had a common origin is nowhere manifest. If such proof exists it has escaped our attention."óA History of the Baptists, Vol. 1, p. 225.
Baptists of the past have almost unanimously repudiated se-baptism as an unwarranted presumption, and only in the last century or so has it become common to find Baptists who endeavor to justify it, but this attempted justification almost exactly parallels the de-emphasis on, and ignorance of, Baptist History.
If the vast majority of Protestantism is without a Scriptural baptism, then it goes without saying that they are also devoid of Scriptural church status, for these two things go together, and they cannot, therefore, administer a Scriptural baptism. And we fully realize that in holding to this view, we immediately unchurch a great portion of the Christian world. But we are not malicious in holding this view, for we recognize and rejoice to acknowledge that there are many genuinely pious people in other denominations. But churchdom is not co-extensive with Christendom, and we cannot recognize any society as a church that has a corrupted baptism. If the doctrine of the Word of God unchurches others, are we to be blamed for adhering firmly to Scripture teachings, or are they not rather to be blamed for departing from them?
II. ALIEN BAPTISM DETERMINED.
In seeking to determine if there is a case of alien baptism, the first question to be asked is, Do we have any divine authorization to go on a witch hunt for heresy? The Great Commission enjoins Going, Making disciples, Baptizing them and Teaching them, and there is no evidence that we are authorized to examine another churchís teaching or practice except where it relates to our own church constitution. In Acts 19, it was not until Paul detected a deficiency in those twelve men that he inquired into their baptism. Yet he was the Apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13), and had "the care of all the churches" committed to him (2 Cor. 11:28). Would it not be the height of presumption for us of today to presume to sit in judgment over the Lordís churches? J. M. Pendleton says of Baptist churches:
"They are all independent of one another, so far as the exercise of governmental power is concerned. Every local congregation, united in church fellowship, is as complete a church as ever existed, and is perfectly competent to do whatever a church can of right do. No one congregation is at liberty to interfere with the affairs of another. Every Baptist church is an independent and a pure democracy. The idea of independency should be earnestly cherished, while that of consolidation should be as earnestly deprecated."óThree Reasons I Am A Baptist, pp. 150-151.
Every church is so constituted as a sovereign and independent bodyóthe very "Body of Christ" in its own location, that it is accountable alone to its Lord and Head. For any individual or church to presume to sit in judgment upon a church is to assume a prerogative that not even an Apostle claimed. In Revelation 1 Jesus is seen walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks which "are the seven churches" (Rev. 1:20). But as He walks, His feet are revealed as "like unto fine brass" (v. 15), which is symbolic of judgment. Christ alone, therefore, has the right to sit in judgment over His churches.
The only time we are justified in examining the baptism of an individual is when he presents himself unto the church for membership. Then we must ask certain questions of the applicant. The first question, and one that is very important, but which is often carelessly omitted is, "Are you saved?" If the answer is in the affirmative, then a second question of almost equal importance is, "How were you saved?" or, "On the basis of what do you believe that you are saved?" The applicant might be trusting in church membership, good works, baptism, or half a hundred other things instead of in Christ. If the applicant bases his hope of salvation upon repentance toward God, and faith in Christís finished work of atonement, then the next question must be, "Have you been baptized?" Almost all of the religious world, with the exception of Baptists, are content with an affirmative answer here. But an affirmative answer here makes necessary yet another question: "How were you baptized?" for many persons who have been sprinkled or poured upon are satisfied with their supposed baptism, and may not know that these are not valid baptisms. All too many Baptists are content if they receive the answer of "immersion" to this question, but while "all baptism is immersion, yet all immersion is not baptism"ói.e., it is not all Scriptural baptism. This is where alien immersion comes in, which is the most insidious form of alien baptism. This conforms to the Scriptural mode of the ordinance, but scorns the Scriptural authority for it, and thereby exalts human organizations and human authority to a place of equality with the authority that has been given solely to the Body of Christ.
This is the extent of our responsibility, and it must be the extent of our inquiry. We have no right to demand a spiritual genealogical chart of a sister church before receiving a member from her, for there is not a church upon the face of the earth that does not have "spots, wrinkles and blemishes." And it is very doubtful if any church could trace its ecclesiastical genealogy back for more than two or three generations without finding some serious disorders.
Nor do we believe that there is any great danger of introducing alien immersions into the church if the above questions are asked of the candidate, for these questions will detect all but the most doubtful of cases, and these will be rare. We agree with T. T. Martin that:
"Only two doctrines are essential to a New Testament church. Other doctrines are important, precious, but only two are essential to a New Testament church. They are the WAY OF SALVATION and the WAY OF BAPTISM . . . A body of people holding these two doctrines and in this New Testament order may be in error on other doctrines; yet it is a New Testament church.óThe New Testament Church, quoted with approval by Roy Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 85.
This may seem overly simplistic, but there is a lot more involved in these two requirements than at first appears. But if these are the two absolute necessities to real church constitution, then the authority for baptism cannot possibly become alien until either the "way of salvation" has been corrupted, or else one of the other three requisites in the "way of baptism" has been. In either case, the questions that we have proposed above would detect the alien element.
This writer does not believe that the occasional reception into the membership of the church of one that is not Scripturally qualified will immediately invalidate that churchís status as a true church. If this were the case, then the Jerusalem church was so disqualified from being a true church before it was ever commissioned, for it had an alien member. Judas Iscariot was never saved, and therefore was not qualified to be baptized and a member of the church. His baptism was alien, plain and simple, yet John the Baptist was not reproached for having baptized him, nor did Jesus excommunicate Judas, and reorganize that first church. Indeed the Lord had chosen Judas to be an apostle knowing that he "was a devil" from the beginning (John 6:70).
It is likely that almost every church has some members who are in this same state, yet this does not invalidate the church status of the group. This writer has, like most pastors, had occasion several times to administer a Scriptural baptism to persons that had come to realize that they had not been genuinely born again when first baptized. .And when they truly repented and believed, they were given a Scriptural baptism, for the original baptisms were alien, for there was no proper subject.
I think that no one would account a church guilty of sin that unknowingly received such a person into its membership. The only thing that a church can do is accept a personís word that he has trusted in Christ, and leave the judgment of the reality of his profession to the Lord, who alone can discern the truth of the matter. The same thing applies to churches. We are all too fallible to be able to discern whether a once sound Baptist church has so far departed from the faith as to have its candlestick removed. If a church has once been a Scripturally constituted church, we cannot sit in judgment on her baptisms without assuming judgment rights over her, something no church, much less an individual, ever had in the New Testament.
Indeed, consider the churches of the New Testament, some of which had some glaring errors in doctrine and practice, yet the Lord Jesus continued to acknowledge them to be His churches. We dare not presume to be more judgmental than He was, for we have not the right of judgment that He has, yet sometimes people judge churches more harshly than their Head does. It is sadly true that at times saints are motivated by pride to act as if they had been appointed a Baptist Pope to judge all others.
III. ALIEN BAPTISM DEPRECATED.
We would not be misunderstood on this score. We do not seek to justify or whitewash alien baptism in any form. There can be no justification for it by any manner of reasoning. This writer does not approve of it, has never approved of it, nor practiced it, and the Lord granting grace enough, will never do so. To do so would be to wound the conscience, and to pervert the ordinance.
Paul thanked God that the Roman Christians had obeyed from the heart that "form" (Greek tupon-tupos, "type," "mould," or "pattern") of doctrine that was delivered to them, Rom. 6:17. This seems to be a reference to the ordinance of baptism that had been discussed extensively in verses 3-5, in which case to depart from the Scriptural order is to break that "mould" that visually shaped their beliefs. Thus, J. B. Thomas well says:
"It is noticeable that, in fidelity to the original, the marginal rendering in the common version is the exclusive form in the New. If the `mould of doctrineí here alluded to be, as will here be maintained, the ordinance of baptism, then the significance of the present issue will be manifest. For, in that case, he who breaks the mould imperils the doctrine."óThe Mould of Doctrine, p. 22.
We deprecate alien baptism for this reason, namely, that it is a departure from the New Testament precept and practice, and that it actually imperils the doctrine that is symbolized. And history has often proven this to be true, for when the symbols of truth are corrupted, the truth itself does not long remain inviolate.
Yet, at the same time, we do not believe that we are at liberty, either as individuals or as churches to sit in judgment over one of the Lordís churches. Even Paul, to whom was committed the care of all of the churches, denied having dominion over the faith of a duly constituted church. "Not that we have lordship (so the same Greek word, kurieuousin-kurieuo, is rendered in Luke 22:25) over your faith, but are helpers of your joy; for by faith ye stand," (2 Cor. 1:24). And this church to which Paul wrote this had some serious disorders in it. Perhaps as many as almost any New Testament church today might have. On the basis of Jesusí statement in Luke 22:25, such lording it over others is as paganistic as what unsaved Gentile kings would do.
When we disapprove of the sins of others, we have cleared ourselves. It is not our business to correct the sins of others. The most that we can do is offer fraternal advice, and even this must be done in such a way as not to presume to be judges or authorities over one of the Lordís churches. When the matter of the incestuous member of the Corinthian church was brought to Paulís attention, he advised immediate withdrawal from him (1 Cor. 5). In 2 Corinthians 7:11, Paul commended this church for clearing itself, and in all things approving itself to be clear from guilt in this matter. How did they do this? Simply by manifesting their disapproval by separating from this man. We likewise clear ourselves of the sins of others when we disapprove of them, and separate ourselves from them. We have no obligation to correct the errors of others, for we have far too many of our own to usurp Jesusí role as the judge.
Some brethren are quick to judge baptisms as defective and they are equally as quick to repeat baptism, but the needless repetition of baptism is also wrong, for it testifies a lie as much as the reception of a defective baptism. We have heard of church members being baptized a half dozen times or more simply because too much emphasis was put on "feelings." Feelings are deceiving, for they spring principally from the flesh, and so, they cannot be trusted. The Word of God alone is to be the authority that we trust. What is needed in such cases is not to repeatedly lead such a person to the Lord, and then multiply baptisms, but rather to teach him a steadfast reliance upon the Lord, which will do away with doubts. Granted, it inflates the ego more to be able to boast of having "won (?) a soul to Jesus," but when one is already won and baptized, there must be an indoctrination so that the convert will progress past the infantile stage. There is a happy Scriptural medium between the acceptance of a defective baptism, and the needless repetition of baptism.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS. Many thousands of persons were baptized in the days of the apostles, yet there is only one record of the rebaptism of individuals, and this involved only twelve men. Surely this is significant. Are we putting more emphasis upon the matter than the New Testament does? Perhaps we are, and yet, we have to acknowledge that we are living in the last days, concerning which our Lord Himself asked, "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find the faith (so the Greek text) on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). "The Faith" is often used in the New Testament of the whole body of doctrinal truth that is the object of the faith of the saints. Paul likewise was moved to warn about the great apostasy of the last days (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim.3:1-5).
Certainly every preacher and every church ought to realize that there are more important things to do than go on a witch hunt for heresy. Our Lord has given us a full time job to do in the command to "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to make a practice of all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20), literal rendering. But this duty requires that we stand firm and earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). May God grant us spiritual eyesight to see clearly, and in the right prospective, and a heart to faithfully do our duty.