The Letter and The Query
"My Dear Brother. — I beg you will give me your views, as to re baptizing persons, who have been baptized (immersed) by Pedobaptist ministers. I do not ask this as a question of theoretical theology. I am deeply interested in the matter, as an urgent practical question. I am a Baptist minister, and pastor of the church, in the State of .
My wife was member of the Methodist church, is truely converted, and, on a profession of her faith in Christ, was baptized by a Methodist. She wishes to unite with the Baptists; but she says she has been baptized, and dares not repeat the ordinance. The Church requires her re-baptism. You see how painful is my situation. Give me your views on this subject, and oblige one who truly loves you. Yours in the best of bonds, Baltimore, Jan. 20, '57."
"My Dear Brother. — I sympathize sincerely with you, and pray that God may guide your wife and self in this important matter. I know how to appreciate the feelings of your wife, for the question is not a new point with me. I was a member of a Pedobaptist church, and was immersed. On joining that Church, I required it of the pastor, for, as a Greek scholar, I was satisfied that baptism was immersion. When conviction compelled me to become a Baptist, I reflected on the subject, was baptized again, and for two reasons: First, I then knew that I had never been converted to God before. And, Second, My first baptism was clearly irregular. The first preachers were themselves baptized, and baptism by an unbaptized administrator appeared to me manifestly irregular. I, therefore, resolved to correct this irregularity, and leave nothing informal in this solemn act."
Here Fuller gives the reason for his re-baptism by the Baptists. It was not because he thought his first baptism was invalid due to the mode, for he was immersed. It was not because he thought the administrator, a Pedobaptist pastor, was unqualified. Rather, it was because he believed that he had "never been converted to God." He also gives as a second reason the fact that the baptism was "irregular." But, as we will see, the irregular nature of the baptism, in the view of Fuller and others, in itself, did not make the baptism invalid.
"Your wife, however, does not regard the matter in this light; and, therefore, the enquiry arises, "Ought the Church to require her re-baptism?" I think not. The distinction between an act which is informal and an act which is null and void, all will admit. A marriage may not be performed by one every way qualified according to the provisions of a civil statute, but it would be monstrous to pronounce it void, and their children illegitimate, on account of this want of some qualification in the person who officiated. If the parties acted in good faith, and took upon them the marriage vows, shall their co-habitation be declared fornication, and their children bastards, because a magistrate, for example, had not complied with some ceremony specified by law as incumbent on magistrates? Certainly not. The magistrate may be punished, but the marriage is not null and void. Let us now apply this to the matter in hand, and enquire if the baptism of a believer is null and void, because the officiating minister has neglected his own duty as to this ordinance."
Here Fuller clearly denies that the irregular nature of baptism by a Pedobaptist, by one who was never immersed, and therefore never really baptized according to Baptist thinking, did not make the baptism invalid.
"Now there is one argument which, of itself, goes far to settle this question. It is that if no baptism be valid without an administrator, whose baptism is regular, then there can be no valid baptism. The validity of baptism would depend on an unbroken succession of regularly baptized administrators from the days of the apostles; and if there be a defect in this chain, that defect violates all the subsequent baptisms. The oft exposed fiction of the apostolic succession is ridiculous enough, but the baptistical succession is even more puerile."
To me this argument, made by Fuller, Waller, and other anti Landmarkers, is irrefutable. Shortly we will see how Dayton responded to this argument. To argue that valid baptism requires a qualified administrator casts doubt on the validity of any and all baptisms. For, in order to prove valid, one must be certain that the chain of administrators, going back to John the Baptist, must have no unqualified administrators. Further, as I have shown, the Hardshells clearly have many unqualified administrators in their church and baptismal lineages and so none of them, by their own criteria, can be sure of having valid baptism.
"It may be replied, however, that this argument, though a reductio ad absurdum, only demonstrates that there can be no valid baptism; it does not prove that baptism by a Pedobaptist minister is valid. Let us, then, look at the point. I think such a baptism, though irregular, yet valid. If the candidate is dissatisfied, the ordinance may be correctly administered. "Baptism is the answer of a good conscience towards God." If the disciple have not this answer, let him have it. But, in a case like that of your wife, the party should not be compelled to repeat the act. Such is my opinion, and my reasons are these:
1. The Commission says: "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved." The party has believed and been baptized. Here are two personal acts, one internal, the other external. A defect in the administrator of baptism, can no more invalidate baptism than any imperfection in the preacher can nullify the faith.
2. Consider the use and design of baptism. It is a public profession of allegiance to Christ. It is "putting on Christ." "Were ye baptized in the name of Paul," viz. "Did you confess yourselves as saved by Paul and devoted to him ?" Now the party has made this public profession of loyalty to Jesus.
3. Reflect upon the metaphors by which baptism is represented, such as "Buried," "Planted," etc. Has not this been realized?
4. In the New Testament, baptism is always mentioned as a personal duty, like repentance and faith. The administrator is never referred to as at all affecting the validity of the act. This idea, that a minister confers any virtue on an ordinance, whether baptism or the supper, is a remnant of Popery. As to baptism, this superstition goes beyond Popery. For while the Church of Rome contends rigorously for the power of the priest to consecrate everything, it yet admits the validity of baptism by a layman. In referring to baptism, the inspired writers lay no sort of stress on the administrator. They never allude to him except as a matter of history. They simply mention the fact of baptism as they do of conversion. The eunuch was baptized by a deacon. As soon as converted, the most convenient water and administrator were employed. The reference to the "baptism unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea," shows how little the Holy Spirit regards the administrator. For there, the only ministry was that of the elements."
I think these arguments are cogent and destructive to the Landmarker view. It is, as Fuller says, "a remnant of Popery," and even an error that exceeds that of Romanists, for even Romanists allow that a layman may administer baptism, but this is denied by Hardshells and many Landmarkers who contend that only ordained ministers in good standing in their churches may administer baptism.
5. Where would the requirement of qualifications in the minister terminate? Suppose he had been immersed, but not with the same formula used by us, say, "in the name of Jesus," and not "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" Would this invalidate all baptisms performed by him? If so, the ordinance by the apostles was void; for they had only John's baptism, which was certainly not with the formula prescribed in the Commission. Suppose a minister had been immersed, but holds some doctrine which we regard as erroneous. Does this vitiate the baptism he administers? Surely heresy as to truth is at least as fatal as error, as to an ordinance. But where would the scheme lead us? Who shall decide what error vitiates and what not? I fear some churches would not be satisfied to receive a member from another Baptist church, because he had been baptized by a minister who did not hold election, or perseverance, or limited atonement, or close communion. And how monstrous would this be. Lastly, suppose a minister proves an apostate, are the baptisms he administers all void? This has never been pretended; and shall we be so bigoted and superstitious, as to attach more importance to an error about an ordinance than we do to gross immorality, or down right hypocrisy?"
What Fuller does is to show how Landmarker ideas on the necessity of qualified elders to administer baptism has created consequences that are monstrous and troublesome for the peace of churches, what in the preceding posts was the creating of a "worse precedent." In the case of the Hardshells, as history will attest, the one who decides which churches, ministers, and baptisms are valid are either associations or some leading minister. Certainly not the local church!
"These, my dear brother, are my sentiments. They are written in haste, but were formed after much thought and deliberation. The matter has often disturbed churches, but I hope the day is at hand when these controversies will forever cease. Yours in the Lord Jesus, R. FULLER."
And how often has it "disturbed churches" among the Hardshells! But, more on that later.
Dayton's response to Fuller deserves notice. He wrote:
"It is, I believe, very generally conceded among the Baptists of the South, that when Elder Richard Fuller, of Baltimore, has made an argument for or against any position, it may be regarded as the very best that can be made. What his capacious intellect and cultivated mind, with all the advantages of the most thorough mental discipline, and his long and large experience cannot achieve, no other need attempt.
Ought a church to require the baptism of an applicant for membership, who is said to have been already baptized by a Pedobaptist minister?
Elder Fuller says, No, provided the candidate be satisfied; and Yes, provided he be not satisfied. I will venture to differ with Elder F., so far as to say that the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the applicant, has nothing at all to do with the decision of the question. It is a question for the church, and not for the candidate to decide. The question is, whether the ceremony which has been performed was true and scriptural christian baptism. If it was, it must not be repeated, for Christ requires a christian to be baptized but once. Now, it either was or it was not, and that quite independently of any opinion which the recipient may have come to entertain upon the subject. This is self-evident."
One wonders how Dayton and the Landmarkers want to say that the conscience of the Christian is not factor in the matter. Dayton says that "the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the applicant, has nothing at all to do with the decision of the question." "Nothing at all"? Is baptism not a very personal matter with the newly converted disciple? Here we have a case where baptism was in every way valid except that the administrator is judged to be unqualified and on that basis alone the baptism is said to be invalid and the person urged to be baptized. It is amazing to me how the Landmarkers can be so insensitive to the conscience of the believer in such cases.
Dayton is on record as affirming, and for good reasons as we have noted, that when baptism has been administered, it "must not be repeated," because it is to be done "but once." Why say this and then seem so careless about seeing that it is not repeated? Is it not a sin to force a disciple to be baptized again when in fact the first baptism was valid? I think so. So does Dayton. But, he will not allow that invalidating baptisms performed by non-Baptists is doing the very thing he warns against.
Some Hardshells, and other Landmarkers, in trying to convince some to be immersed again will sometimes argue like this: "well, what's the harm? It is just being safe and making sure that you have a valid baptism. Also, it is what your brethren desire of you." It is easy to see how they do not realize that it is sin to make disciples to be baptized again when their first baptism is valid.
"Now let us go to the Book and ask, Who are required to administer baptism? Just as we are accustomed to go to it to learn who are to he baptized.
1. "Go ye and teach all nations baptizing them." Who are these ye? baptized or unbaptized? Eld. Fuller says, they "were baptized." Is any authority given elsewhere to any others who were not baptized? No one will say so. Is there any example of any one baptizing who had not been baptized? Eld. Fuller cannot find one. How then with this law given to the baptized, and without one solitary precept or one single example contravening it, can it be pretended that it was ever permitted to any other."
But, there is an example! John the Baptist! He was not baptized himself and yet he baptized others! For Dayton to argue that Fuller and other non-Landmarkers "cannot find one" is simply astonishing. Further, when the commission was first introduced, baptism had not yet been corrupted. There was no baptism of infants, no sprinkling or pouring as a mode. That would come later. So, though all to whom the commission was given were immersed disciples, that does not preclude others, through ignorance, being unbaptized disciples because they were sprinkled. To argue as the Landmarkers is to be logically forced into saying that no Pedobaptist is able to preach the gospel! If it is granted that PedoBaptists, or "Reformers," or any non-Baptists, preach the gospel, then the argument of Dayton becomes itself invalid.
2. Eld. Fuller says, "consider the design of baptism." I have considered it, and am compelled to the conviction that the great practical object which baptism was intended to accomplish could only be accomplished when administered by one already in the kingdom and acting under the legal authority of the kingdom."
Dayton here asserts what he failed to prove from scripture. Recall that Dr. Gill and the first Particular Baptists would disagree with Dayton.
But, again, this is all assertion without scriptural support. Dr. Gill would not agree with Dayton. He did not think that baptism automatically put one into a particular local assembly. I agree. Which local church was the eunuch put into when he was baptized by the deacon Philip?
Further, I see Dayton contradicting himself in what he writes. On one hand he wants to argue that baptism is that act of "initiation" which puts one into the local church. Then, on the other hand, he says that baptism does not do this automatically but makes him "eligible to membership."
Again, Dayton asserts things about baptism's administrator without any proof. Further, his statement - "when a Baptist Church recognizes it as a valid baptism, she of necessity recognizes that society as equally with herself a part of the visible kingdom" - is not sound. It is, as we will see, one of the leading arguments made by today's Hardshells. They say that to accept the baptism of any non-Hardshell churches would be to give recognition and approval to those churches. But, this line of reasoning is not sound. Here are the reasons.
1) In the NT there were several churches, founded by the apostles, that entertained serious heresies and corrupt practices, such as the church at Corinth and the churches of Galatia. Yet, in spite of this, there is no invalidating, by the apostles, of their baptisms, ordinations, or other valid work.
2) The argument falsely assumes that baptism represents an official act of a church which the scriptures no where affirm and as Dr. Gill taught. If we assume that the Eunuch, being baptized by the disciple evangelist Phillip, was not initiated into any particular church, then accepting the validity of a baptism does not equate with accepting a particular church.
3) The argument also falsely reasons that accepting the validity of an individual's baptism requires the accepting of the administrator in all respects.
4) The argument falsely assumes that accepting any single thing in heretical churches requires accepting all things in those churches.
5) The argument falsely assumes that non-Baptist churches do not preach the gospel or teach per the great commission.
3. But here is another thought: No Baptist Church could consistently receive and sanction as valid any official act performed even by one who had been a Baptist minister, after such minister had been deposed from his office and excluded from the Church.
Where is there scriptural warrant for making such a blanket statement? Though such would be irregular, it would not be invalid. Further, this rarely happens. Also, one can envision circumstances where the deposed and excluded minister baptized believers and they would be valid. Are not some ministers falsely excluded? What if such a minister were to be in a place where there had been no Christians and made converts. Suppose those converts desired baptism. Would it not be the minister's duty as a disciple to baptize them?
"But if, says Elder Fuller, we require that the minister shall have been baptized, "Where will our requirements cease?" Must he be sound in faith? Must he be this, or that, or the other thing? I wonder that any one should be embarrassed by such difficulties as these. We surely ought to know that for a Baptist Church to recognize ones official acts he must be a Baptist minister in good and regular standing in some Baptist church. It is not because he has been baptized that we recognize his official acts, but because he is a member and a minister duly authorized to perform them; and when he ceases to be either the one or the other, those churches who know the facts, must and will, if they be faithful to their duty, disown him as a brother, and repudiate his official acts if he should continue to perform them. The validity of his official acts does not depend on his baptism, or on his piety, or on his orthodoxy, but on the authority which he has received from the Church. So long as he retains this authority, therefore, his acts are valid, and when it is withdrawn the churches must regard them as invalid, as they must the official acts of one who has never received such authority."
But, authority to baptize, like the authority to preach, teach, disciple, and convert, does not come from the church, but from the word of God, and from the word of Christ given in the commission. It is the same with church organizing. Does a church require another church or minister to make them into a church? Landmarkers would say yes. The premise behind such an idea consists in believing that authority to preach, teach, organize churches, baptize, observe the Lord's Supper, etc., reside in the church. But, it does not. Rather, as our Baptists forefathers who wrote the first London Confession taught, it resides in the word of God. This being the case, we can imagine a people who live in an area of heathendom where there is no divine revelation and where there are no Christians. In such a case we can imagine them receiving a Bible for the first time. They read it and many become believers. They want to be baptized, become a church, eat the Lord's Supper, etc. Can they do all this with only Bible authority? Our forefathers believed that they could. So do I.
"But one thought more and I have done. If that alone be valid baptism, says Elder F., which is administered by one who has been himself baptized, there is no such thing as valid baptism. For who can say that somewhere in the lapse of eighteen hundred years there may not a link be wanting in the chain of our baptismal succession. And so because there may have been such irregularities in the past as he is advocating, we must sanction them now. Because some church may at some time in past ages, ignorantly or inadvertently have given her sanction to an irregular and invalid baptism; does Elder Fuller think, or can any Baptist think, that therefore, every church ought now knowingly and willfully to sanction every such case that may come before her?"
Notice that Dayton acknowledges the difficulty but accepts it! He is basically admitting that he cannot be certain of the validity of his own baptism nor of anyone else's!
"There were those in England after the so called reformation, who contended that it would be right and lawful to baptize themselves, and so begin anew. But there is no proof that they did so, for we know they sent to the Continent to receive a baptism which would have no suspicion concerning its validity. And thus, I do not doubt, it has ever been. God has preserved the scriptural baptism in all that is essential. And if a baptized administrator is essential, (as we have proved it is,) then he has never permitted the children of his visible Kingdom to be thrust into it by those who would not enter in themselves."
But, Dayton is wrong on affirming that the first Baptists in the early 17th century "sent to the Continent to receive baptism." I referred to this claim in previous postings, involving what is called the "Kiffin Manuscript." This manuscript is the only proof of the claim and it has been thoroughly debunked by men like John T. Christian. Further, John Spilsbury's own words show it to be false.
Further, Dayton says that "God has preserved the scriptural baptism in all that is essential," and this includes preserving a valid succession of administrators. He states the fact but he cannot prove it, either by historical facts or sound reasoning. Logic alone would destroy his claim. He cannot prove that all the administrators in a particular chain of baptisms are valid, but he accepts it as true based upon faith!
In the next posting we will finish looking at sections of Dayton's book, at both the pro and the con of the debate.