I have heard it said, “The one thing that we can learn from history is that no one learns from history.” It does not take much to validate this statement. We see it in politics where present governments repeat the mistakes of past governments, we see it in families where children repeat the mistakes of their parents, and we see it in religion where traditionalists misapply the truth behind practices of the past. We all return like dogs to the vomit of our predecessors, and we like them all reject the nourishment of those who by wisdom rejected the viscous cycle of willful obstinacy.
And in the case of religion whereas this traditionalism against truth reared its fleshly head in the Jews who were thus blinded to the Messiah for whom they were looking, and in the Catholic church whose papal decrees and councils blinded it to the Gospel of our Lord, so too now many Baptists have taken up with great zealotry the doctrines of believer’s baptism and baptism by immersion without regard for the foundation upon which it was built. These have perpetuated divisions in God’s church by holding onto the spoils of a battle long past, and these have cherished the spoils and yet have forgotten and even contradicted those who fought the battle that produced the spoils.
To understand how we have drifted from those who spilt their blood for the sake of what is called believer’s baptism, we must understand the context in which that battle was fought. It began not too long after the Reformation began, where the church of Christ was being delivered out from under the oppression of the Catholic church that was much more political than it was spiritual. Because of the Catholics and their power, they ravaged the church of Christ and through fear of superstition gained power over the peoples of Europe, even to the extent of making the Pontiff of Rome the king of the kings of the nations. Because of this, there was a welding of the church and state whereby there was no distinguishing between the church and the government. The government was the church, and the church was the government. It was a most natural thought to the citizens of these Roman controlled states, and it is for this reason that the early reformers did not seek to break the division between church and state. They had no categories for such a division, so they attempted to practice holiness and righteousness within the confines of that which they had only ever known.
A since the church was the state and the state was the church, the ordinance by which men were admitted into the church was the same ordinance by which they were admitted into the state, namely baptism. Therefore, when a baby was baptized by the church, he was simultaneously admitted into the institute named the “church” and was made a citizen of the state in which he dwelled. Therefore, the ordinance of baptism was not merely an ecclesiastical issue, but it was also a political issue, and, therefore, to reject the doctrine of the baptism of infants was not merely considered heterodoxy, it was considered treason against the state.
It is in this context in which we find those who were called Anabaptists (meaning baptized again). These, despite many of whom were heretics, saw in the Scriptures that the church of Christ is not an institution that is synonymous with the state, but it is the elect of God, it is those who were called by God out of the world (ekklesia meaning called [from the Greek root kle] out [from the Greek preposition ek]). These saw from the Scriptures that the church was not to be comprised of both non-believers and believers (as it was in the state-church system), but the church was to be comprised of the elect only, purifying itself by the Word of Christ and by discipline in holiness. The church was to be to the world a city on a hill, a light for the unregenerate people, and salt to the earth, flavoring the unrighteous world with righteousness.
For this reason, when they saw in the Scriptures that it was only those who have believed in Christ and repented from worldliness who were baptized and admitted into fellowship with the saints, these rejected the doctrine of infant baptism whereby all people, elect and reprobate, were allowed in the church of Christ thereby defiling the church and making her a harlot rather than a purified Bride of our Lord. And since these rejected infant baptism and re-baptized those who were regenerate alone, they were counted by the state and the church as rebels and traitors. The church and state fell upon them as they would a terrorist, and many of them lost their lives brutally both to Catholic and Protestant states.
And it is in this context that we are to judge the zeal by which we as Baptists propagate our most holy of doctrines–baptism by immersion alone. Do we do it in the same line as those who spilt their blood, namely for the sake of the purity of the church and growth in holiness, or do we do it for the sake of some tradition in which we find ourselves and for the sake of our supposed biblical accuracy with regard to our practice of the shadow of baptism? I would ask you to survey the typical Baptist church in our country and think upon what you see. Do you see a church that is actively seeking to purify itself of worldliness by only fellowshipping with those who are of Christ, boldly teaching God’s people the Word of our Lord and disciplining its members? Or do you see a church that is so enamored with preserving the proper administration of shadow that they have neglected the very purpose for which those who fought for its proper administration died?
Sadly, it cannot be denied that the latter is the case. Many American Baptists have become so dogmatic and legalistic with the proper administration of baptism that they have wholly forgotten what its significance is. These are like modern day Pharisees who would circumcise on the Sabbath if it were the eighth day, and yet they wholly forgot that, “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical; but a Jew is one inwardly and circumcision is a matter of the heart by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rm. 2:27,28). We like them, have become so ensnared by a symbol and a shadow that we have forgotten the reality for which they stand as symbols and shadows. For if you were to ask any Baptist what baptism truly is, I doubt that you would scarcely find five out of a hundred who could testify to you the marvelous work of the Spirit of Christ for the sake of our obedience, righteousness, and glory (cf. Rm. 6-8:17; Ez. 36:25-27).
Despite our misunderstanding of baptism and our supposed allegiance to its historical adminstration, we as Baptists have with our present day practices spit upon the dashed bodies of our forbearers. These who fought and died to separate the church of Christ from the godless state would be appalled by the way by which we not only do not repel the world from our fellowship but tempt the world to come into our midst. We as Baptists, with our church growth philosophies and our Field of Dreams mentality, Sunday after Sunday, week after week, and year after year, devise new schemes to make ourselves more attractive to the fallen world. We, opposed to our predecessors, do not view the church as the gathering of God’s saints alone for teaching and reproof, but we view the church as the concert hall by which we entice the world with our rock-star portraiture of Jesus so that we can trick them into praying some conjured prayer and into filling out a membership card so that we can add another butt to our seats and another tithe to our offering plates. We therefore preach “relevant” sermons that do not offend, and we paint pictures of emasculated Jesus who frolics in fields with fluffy lambs and who is going sob for you until you choose to make him your Savior. We care nothing about the holiness of our people, we only care about numbers; we do not care about their faith and repentance, we only care that they have written their spiritual birthday in their Bibles; and we do not care that they are generous to the widowed and the orphaned, we only care that they give ten-percent of their untaxed income so that we can fund our middle-class lifestyles and build bigger buildings and flashier stages by which we can lure more of the world into our midst.
So then, if you as a Baptist wish to honor the deaths of those who went before you, do not seek it through building monuments to them and through the dogged administration of a shadow, but seek it through the purification of God’s church from worldliness and worldly growth tactics. For I promise you that the modern paedobaptist church who actively seeks to cleanse itself from worldliness through godly discipline and accountability pays a greater tribute to the martyred first Baptists than we who bear their name.