Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 39 - Baptist Baptism (Video)

No. 39. >> Out here in Wyoming, there aren't that many Lutheran churches. But there sure are a lot of Baptists. They seem to be the most popular church around. I've talked to many Baptists over the years. And I know what they believe about baptism, that it is for adults and that you must be immersed. Are those the only things that make them different from the Lutherans? >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: Josh, I know exactly what you mean. I was a pastor in Tennessee. And there were an awful lot of Baptists. In fact, sometimes we felt like we were completely surrounded. And that we as Lutherans were such a distinct minority that we would never get out of that kind of situation. So it can be very challenging. But what it also did was force us continually to be on our toes, to be ready to give an answer for the hope that was within us. Because honestly speaking, Lutherans hadn't been in middle Tennessee all that long. In fact, my congregation was formed in 1959. And it was the third oldest Missouri Synod congregation in the middle Tennessee area. The old congregation had been formed about 20 years previous to that. So we, Missouri Synod Lutherans, were Johnny-come-latelys to that part of Tennessee. The Baptists had gotten there very early on. And they had been very effective, I might add, in terms of the way that they had reached out to people, particularly in the American south during the 1700s and 1800s. In fact, during the 1700s, no church grew faster than the Baptist churches. More congregations were added to the Baptists per capita than any other of the Christian churches in America during that time. They would be passed by the Methodists in the 1800s. But during the 1700s and very early 1800s, they were growing very quickly. Now, why is that? And what does that mean over against Lutherans? Well, you mentioned that you know the difference between Lutherans and Baptists on who should be baptized. They say adults. Of course we would say children and adults. And how one should be baptized. They would say only by immersion. We would say simply using water with the Word. Those are important differences. But there are other differences, as well, that come into the mix. And let's talk a little bit about those. First off, where did the Baptists come from? Well, Baptists as Baptists have their roots, interestingly enough, once again, in the Church of England. In the 1600s there were Baptist communities that became more and more convinced of the need for adult baptism. Not necessarily immersion at that point in time. But for adult baptism. As indicative of one makes one a Christian. That is to say that baptism was understood as the public profession of an already existing faith. Those communities, as I said, are already evident in London and other areas around London by the first part of the 1600s, 1610 and following. But here they are taking a bit of a cue from an earlier movement. We need to distinguish between the two carefully. But also note the linkages. That earlier movement was called Anabaptism. And already at the time of Zwingli, Luther, Calvin and so on, there were those people who were saying that it was not enough to have been baptized as a child. This illustrated the unhealthy relationship between church and state where one became a member of the church basically by default. And baptism simply made that happen. No, said these Anabaptists. One becomes a Christian by choice. By willfully taking upon oneself the responsibility outlined in God's will and God's Word, particularly in the keeping of the law. And baptism then becomes a public profession of one's willingness to work with God in this respect. Many of these early Anabaptists were persecuted because of their confession. Several were drowned. Several were murdered. And there were instances where they fell into some of the most unhelpful kinds of excesses. Even taking over a city in Germany and proclaiming that the new Messiah had come and the me Lillian age had dawned. In the wake of such tragedy and destruction ultimately in that particular case a movement was made to redefine Anabaptism over against the state, shall we say. That is to not try to take the state over by force. But simply to withdraw from it into passivist communities. And Anabaptists would say those who are willing to work with us in these particular ways, to recognize and to testify through their faith by their adult baptism, these will be part of our community. That particular theme, the adult baptism, is picked up later on. The necessity of personal responsibility and personal faith are the elements that are picked up by the English Baptists in the first part of the 1600s. And they as begin their work, they, too, are persecuted. Driven out of the churches. And in some cases they simply remove themselves as separating dissenters saying the Anglican church is not capable of reform. However, given that relationship between church and state, it's very are difficult for them to find a place for themselves within the Church of England. Some escape to the Netherlands. Although, life is not ideal for them there, either. And so some begin to make their way to the American colonies. Interestingly enough, one of the earliest Baptist communities grows out of one with of the Puritan communities. Namely, the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And the manner in which it happens is really quite fascinating. A Puritan divine by the name of Roger Williams comes over from England with some of the first settlers to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While he's here and beginning about 1636, a terrific scandal rocks the community. A woman by the name of Anne Hutchinson is involved in teaching and even preaching services one might say in an informal way among members of the community. Initially women. Later on women and men. She's accused of creating disorder in the colonies. And particularly for her rigorous criticism of the existing clergy. She says they have ceased to teach salvation by grace and are teaching salvation by works. As a result, she is brought up on charges of false doctrine and is examined by both the church and the governing authorities of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Now, Roger Williams, who is one of the Puritan preachers, has no problem with the church disciplining its own, but he says the state, the governing authorities, have no business in overseeing a heresy trial within the church. To make a long story short, Anne Hutchinson is driven out of the colony. She moves to Long Island. Roger Williams then finds himself in the situation where he is accused of being a troubler of Zion. He's accused now of being guilty of disorderly conduct because of his own criticism of the way that particular trial was held. In the end he simply removes himself from the Puritan colony in Massachusetts, moves to Newport, Rhode Island. And there establishes a new community. One of like minded professing believers who see themselves as independent of the state. And that will be one of the first Baptist communities here in the American colonies. Others will begin to sprout up in of all places Connecticut so that by the early 1700s, the areas of Baptist strength here in America are in the northeast. Particularly Rhode Island and Connecticut. However, the old problem seems to be repeating itself here in Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well. Especially the latter. For the Puritans who were so critical of church and state intermingling in England now have repeated that particular form in their own polities. That is to say in Massachusetts, in Connecticut, for example, to be a member of the church guarantees the one the right to vote. Without church membership, one cannot vote. However, even without church membership one must pay taxes that go to support the church, both its building and its pastor's salary. So the intermingling of church and state. An established church in the state. Baptists become increasingly vocal over against this intermingling. And as a result, they increasingly experience the anger of the members of the established church. The result is they begin to push west and south. Areas that are more fruitful, if you will, for them to worship freely and to worship according to their conscience. So western parts of Virginia, western North Carolina, western South Carolina, Baptist congregations begin to appear, Baptist associations begin to develop. And from within these emerging Baptist communities, we see the first expressions of the later dominance of the Baptist tradition in the south. Now, Josh, one of the things you asked was: Is the subject and mode of baptism, are those the only things that make Baptists different than Lutherans? No. One of the other things that makes them different is their insistence on a particular kind of polity for their churches. They emerged in the setting of the congregational churches of New England. They pick up that church from the congregational churches. They insist that the Bible teaches a specific form of church polity. And it is congregational in nature. That means every independent local congregation is a coherent unit. Has an integrity as church. Therefore, has all the power of the church that is described within the New Testament. Hence, preaching, administering the sacraments, these things should and must be done only within the context of the local congregation. Establishing the office of the ministry done within the local congregation. Who should be a minister determined by the local congregation. And that gets us to a second point -- interesting point that the Baptists differ on the Lutherans with. Namely, how do you get to be a pastor? From Luther's time, it's been a rather typical order for men who enter the office of the ministry. You begin your studies as a -- typically as a fairly young man. 12, 13, 14. Maybe even younger in some cases. You go to university. You finish out your studies. At which point you are a candidate. You're examined by your peers. You must pass your -- more than one set of ordination exams. Very demanding. Following which one would then be affirmed for receiving a call and being ordained. Education, examination, call and ordination. Those four. It often took ten years or more for a person preparing for the office of the ministry to enter it in the Lutheran tradition. Among Baptists, particularly Baptists on the American frontier, that process was entirely compressed. Where if one felt compelled to preach, felt moved by the Spirit to share the Word of God, then one should simply stand up and share. Speak. Preach. And if one enjoyed a certain success in this preaching endeavor, then that was an indication of the favor of God, the presence of the Spirit. One didn't need a theological education. One didn't need examination by some kind of adjudicatory. One did need, however, examination by the people of God. So what's your examination? The Word of God. Pick up the Bible. Here you see the formal principle of the Baptists coming out very strongly. The Word of God, sola scriptura. Once again. However, the material principle, as I mentioned some time ago, expresses itself in the autonomy of the local congregation. The people of God gathered around that Word, who then become normative, if you will, for the life and activity of that particular church. Which is to say if that group of people examines you, finds you biblically based and agrees that you have the gifts of the Spirit and you should be a preacher, then that community ordains you. And in the most classic examples of Baptist ordination, it's not the other clergy who come and lay hand on the candidate for the ministry. It's rather, the people of the congregation themself who do the laying on of hands and the sending of the candidate. Very much unlike what we saw with the Anglicans in our discussion of the Apostolic Succession just a little while ago. Thus, a very, very different understanding of how one enters the ministry. At the same time theologically there are some differences, as well. Given the fact that the Baptists emerged from the English church and that particular tradition, we shouldn't be surprised -- and we're not surprised -- to see that they are influenced by the Reformed tradition. From early on there are two emphases within the Baptist tradition in respect to theology. One group tends to emphasize God's electing actions. They are called Particular Baptists. That is to say God has made a particular choice regarding individuals for election or reprobation. Particular Baptists. On the other hand, you have those who are called General Baptists. That is God makes a general call to all people through the Gospel. And they, having heard that Word, moved by the Spirit, are enabled to respond and to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. It's a bit of an oversimplification. But it gets the point across. The early history of Baptists in the American colonies especially features Particular Baptists. As time goes by, namely through the 1800s, General Baptists become more and more typical of the variety of Baptists who are here in the United States. But there are a lot more varieties of Baptists than that. And in fact, one of the things that always strikes me is just how many different Baptists there are. Maybe that's another question for us to address.