Contemporary Theologies Of Water Baptism

Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

In this section we find that in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, baptism itself is a saving sacrament. For Eastern Orthodox churches, baptism begins the process of salvation and growth toward participation in the divine nature. In the Western tradition, baptism washes away the guilt of original sin. For Martin Luther also, baptism remained a saving sacrament that carried the power to drive out original sin. Subsequently, all three traditions continued to baptize infants. In the...

An Eastern Orthodox Theology Of Baptism

In the Orthodox churches, baptism is understood principally by means of scriptural language: baptism marks an infant's or an adult's repentant turning away from Satan and toward Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It begins the process of salvation and growth toward participation in the divine nature.

A Roman Catholic Theology Of Baptism

This article describes a Roman Catholic theology of baptism by examining the images and actions of the liturgy itself. Note the close connection between the theological position and the liturgical action that is always an important characteristic of liturgical worship.

A Lutheran Theology Of Baptism

Lutheran theology maintains a sacramental view of baptism. It links the effectiveness of baptism not with the water itself, but with the Word of God. It also values the role of faith as a response to God's Word in making the sacrament fruitful. These themes are more fully explained in the article that follows.

A Reformed Theology Of Baptism

For the second generation of Reformed theologians (Heinrich Bullinger [d. 1572], John Calvin [d. 1564], John Knox [d. 1572]), baptism is a seal confirming and ratifying God's promise in the Word to save. Infant baptism does not accomplish salvation or free the child from original sin; rather, it sets the infant on a path toward repentance, conversion, and personal faith, a path that takes place within God's covenant community, the church.

An Anglican Theology Of Baptism

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Anglicans retained the Catholic understanding of baptism as a sacramental washing away of sin. As the evangelical party emerged out of the Wesleyan revivals of the eighteenth century, some nineteenth-century Anglicans challenged the theology of baptismal regeneration. It was, in turn, defended by Edward Pusey and Frederick Denison Maurice. During the twentieth century, some Anglicans have called for the sacrament of confirmation to be reunited with baptism. This reunification has not occurred, and most Anglicans have simply admitted baptized children to Communion before they have been confirmed. Some twentieth-century Anglican theologians have abandoned the theology of original guilt. Infant baptism then becomes a demonstration of the priority of God's grace in salvation. However, Anglican baptismal liturgies retain traditional forms, including the renunciation of Satan and the interrogative recitation of the Apostles' Creed.

An Anabaptist Theology Of Baptism

Anabaptists rejected infant baptism because they insisted that the purpose of baptism was personal transformation and conscious adult commitment to Christ. Although dependent on personal faith, baptism occurred in the church and set the person baptized on a trajectory of witness for Christ that, in the sixteenth century, often led to persecution and even martyrdom. In later centuries, this visible witness for Christ increasingly manifested itself in a sectarian distinctiveness from the dominant culture-hence, the plain dress and way of life characteristic of the Amish, most Mennonites (until the mid-twentieth century), and Hutterites.

A Wesleyan Theology Of Baptism

Arguing from tradition, apostolic practice, and a theology of covenant, John Wesley insisted on infant baptism as the ordinary means of salvation consisting of both outer sacrament and inner regeneration. To adults, however, he also preached the possibility of a conscious conversion, an experience of inward regeneration that may not necessarily be tied to the sacrament. Wesley's understanding of baptism not only formed the basis for the Methodist movement, but also contributed to a variety of Holiness denominations, which, in turn, contributed to the early twentieth-century Pentecostal movement.

A Restorationist Understanding Of Baptism

Churches of the so-called Restoration Movement are often marked by their theological view of baptism, as well as the emphasis they place upon it. The Restoration Movement's theological position on baptism can be summarized in one sentence: adults are immersed for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Compared to most of the major theologies of Christendom, the combination of the Restoration Movement's emphasis on adult immersion and its view of the necessity of baptism is unique.

An Evangelical Theology Of Baptism

The evangelical tradition is not monolithic in its understanding of water baptism. Furthermore, the importance that the Protestant Reformers gave to baptism seems to be diminished if not absent among many evangelicals. This diminished importance is perhaps due to revivalistic theology that supplanted the significance of baptism with the individual's conversion experience, which often occurred outside the church. The following article will note the divergences and the commonalities among evangelicals.

A Pentecostal Theology Of Baptism

Although the various Pentecostal denominations that have flourished since the beginning of the twentieth century emphasize the experience of sanctification by the inward baptism of the Holy Spirit, they have consistently retained the practice of water baptism. Water baptism, according to Pentecostals, has no saving efficacy but is enjoined on believers as a way of obeying Christ's example. Infants are not baptized. Baptism is normally, but not exclusively, by immersion and in the name of the Trinity. Rebaptism of those baptized in other Christian communions who later join Pentecostal groups is common. Repeated baptism as a mark of renewed commitment to Christ is not unknown.

A Charismatic Theology Of Baptism

Charismatics tend to practice believer's baptism and to maintain the practices of the worship traditions in which they stand. They distinguish between water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.