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Baptism as an important doctrinal distinctive

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series

"Worship and Doctrinal Distinctives"

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Last week I showed how views concerning the Lord’s Supper constitute an important doctrinal distinctive that lead to the creation of various denominations during and after the Reformation. Views concerning baptism are no different.

Unlike with the Lord’s Supper, Luther and Zwingli agreed on the matter of baptism at Marburg, but this ordinance has created denominational division with others.

Baptism1-600x340Tom Wells cites four separate categories of disagreement on the matter of baptism: mode (immersion, affusion, and aspersion), proper candidates (paedobaptism vs. credobaptism), proper administration (an issue for groups like Landmark Baptists and Churches of Christ), and effect.1 Each of these categories became significant matters over which various groups coalesced into denominations.

Most of the early Reformers agreed with Rome on candidates for baptism (infants) but disagreed over its effects. Rome taught that a baptized infant was forgiven for both original and actual sin.2 Lutherans believed that faith was a prerequisite for baptism but insisted that infants could exercise faith.3 Calvin taught that “infants are baptized into future repentance and faith, and even though these have not yet been formed in them, the seed of both lies hidden within them by the secret working of the Spirit.”4 Baptists, however (as Anabaptists before them), differed most significantly from other groups by insisting that baptism is a visible sign of profession and thus must be administered only to those who have expressed faith in Christ, and they practice the mode of immersion.5

Clearly, these different views would prevent the groups from joining together in formal ways.


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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Tom Wells, “Baptism and the Unity of Christians,” Reformation and Revival 8, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 100–08. []
  2. Pope Eugene IV, in the Bull “Exultate Deo” (1439): “The effect of this sacrament is the remission of all sin, original and actual; likewise of all punishment which is due for sin. As a consequence, no satisfaction for past sins is enjoined upon those who are baptized; and if they die before they commit any sin, they attain immediately to thekingdom of heaven and the vision of God.” See Charles George Herbermann, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church, vol. 2 (New York: Appleton, 1907), 259. []
  3. “He comes to Christ in baptism, as John came to him, and as the children were brought to him, that his word and work might be effective in them, move them, and make them holy, because his Word and work cannot be without fruit. Yet it has this effect alone in the child. Were it to fail here it would fail everywhere and be in vain, which is impossible” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 40 : Church and Ministry II, ed. Jaroslav Jan; Oswald Pelikan, vol. 40 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999], 244). []
  4. Calvin, Institutes, 4.16.20. []
  5. “That Baptism is an Ordinance of the new Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed only upon persons professing faith, or that are Disciples, or taught, who upon a profession of faith, ought to be baptized. . . . The way and manner of the dispensing of this Ordinance the Scripture holds out to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water” (London Confession in H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage [Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990], 50). []