I recently mentioned how some traditional members of the Protestant Church of Christ (CofC) are rightly struggling to maintain sect-wide orthodoxy regarding baptismal regeneration. However, it seems to me that the CofC’s inability to understand pouring as a proper mode for Baptism is one reason why the heresy is growing in popularity.
I’ve covered every biblical passage that aids the CofC’s understanding of proper modes and eligibility for Baptism throughout this website (available in book form here). I’ve also shown how the CofC’s own arguments, when studied, actually supports the Catholic understanding: that both immersion and pouring are proper modes for Baptism. It seems to me the CofC could better defend its traditional acceptance of baptismal regeneration if it would consider how Scriptural language and imagery work together.
The CofC rightly recognizes St. Peter’s First Letter as support for Baptism, but what it lacks is a more thorough understanding of how St. Peter’s language fits into the defense of baptismal regeneration; the CofC’s amplified mission to stress immersion as the only acceptable mode for Baptism, it seems, nudges the passage’s theological nuance that supports regeneration into a less important status. St. Peter used symbolism from the great flood as a background for his general letter.
When God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (1 Peter 3:20-22).
The passage, of course, is prefaced by chapter one, in which St. Peter prepares his readers for Baptism by tying it with the words, sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood (1 Peter 1:2). And we, both the Catholic and Protestant Church of Christ, know that this sprinkling refers to Baptism, but the CofC does not emphasize the importance of the word sprinkling because the language draws attention from its only accepted mode for Baptism. Its allergen to pouring as a valid mode drives an unnecessary wedge between sprinkling and verse three’s use of the words born anew(anagennao/regeneration); sprinkling is the grace of Baptism—the vehicle that now saves you.
The CofC often refers to a portion of just one sentence to rightly show that baptism … now saves you, but it rarely considers the full passage—to what baptism corresponds to. True, Baptism does save, but the context likens Baptism to imagery that is not immersion, but pouring: which corresponds to this (this = the flood/rain). St. Peter referred to how Noah was saved through rain, saved through water; and like the Egyptians that St. Paul and St. Maximus alluded to in a previous example (available here), the evil people of Noah’s day were immersed, and not saved.
So, it is good that the CofC rightly references St. Peter’s words, baptism … now saves you, but its reluctance to address his imagery of pouring forces the weight of the passage to bypass the language that would help defend baptismal regeneration: born anew(anagennao/regeneration). In other words, it seems that the CofC’s stance on baptismal mode supresses its ability to defend the baptismal effect.
But wait, there’s more! (At no extra charge!)
St. Luke linked pouring (mode) with rebirth (regeneration) just like St. Peter!
In the book of Acts, St. Luke recorded St. Peter speaking about Baptism and the Holy Spirit, and how the gospel is accessible even to the Gentiles: Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?(Acts 10:47).
The natural reading of the text does not suggest that St. Peter was asking for a portable Jacuzzi for the Gentiles’ Baptisms, but rather, for water to be brought in a reasonable way—a way that could be carried, yet still achieve and produce the effect of Baptism. In other words, the most likely mode that was used is one of pouring.
Scriptural nearness is an intentional writing strategy, and St. Luke presents the passage in a context that also adds weight to a probable pouring mode. The two verses that immediately precede the passage are:
And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God (Acts 10:45,46).
The nearness of the imagery is not accidental. The Holy Spirit had been poured, and it is the same Holy Spirit that resides in all Christians when they are baptized. In other words, the Holy Spirit’s mode and effect is described/achieved by the word “pouring” (ekcheo), and it appears that St. Luke chose, in a literary way, to illustrate the nearness of Baptism with its effect, by the nearness of his subject of Baptism with the word “pouring” and its effect—a word rich with symbolism within the remainder of the New Testament as well; used to communicate Jesus’ sacrifice, sacramental grace, and the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, Acts 2:33; and Titus 3:6 which, again, is preceded by the word “regeneration/rebirth” from the fifth verse, and communicating nearness of effect).
Put differently, the context of both examples suggests that Baptism and “pouring” are literarily, scripturally, theologically, and physically (modally) linked; and the effect of the Sacrament is precisely the stance that traditional CofC Christians struggle to defend against its more liberal members: baptismal regeneration. In other words, the CofC’s aversion to pouring as a valid mode for Baptism limits its ability to argue for what is more important: baptism’s effect.
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