Kenneth J. Stewart serves as Professor of Theological Studies in Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, GA. He has Free Church roots. In fact, Rob, his brother, serves as a District Superintendent in the Lower Pacific District of the Evangelical Free Church of Canada (EFCC).
I have appreciated much of what I have read from Kenneth. He is currently writing Evangelicalism Navigates the Past (to be published by IVP). As he works on that, he leaks out certain writings upon which he is reflecting. One of those that he released recently was titled “Should Evangelical Churches Re-baptize Catholics?: An Irenic Proposal.”
Here is how he introduces this topic:
“On what terms might persons who had been baptized, reared, catechized and confirmed into Catholicism be received into Protestant churches?”
Today we return to this question because of two profound demographic shifts: a) Catholic immigration (now chiefly from Central and South America) and b) a Catholic migration including (but not confined to) Hispanics, into our churches. In cities such as Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta former Catholics now gladly associate themselves by the thousands with evangelical Protestant churches. These new allegiances involve vastly more people than the often-highlighted reverse process: the “going home to Rome” phenomenon. The crux of the question is: “Should re-affiliated Catholics be required to be re-baptized?” How one resolves this issue is determined by the way one answers collateral questions.
In theology and practice, the EFCA is primarily believer baptism by immersion. But this is also one of those areas of doctrine and practice in which we will “debate but not divide,” which in the EFCA is referred to as the “significance of silence.”
How then would you respond to the question raised by Stewart? If one is truly a Christian, if one is truly converted, if one has truly been born again (and other ways that can be described), would you require that person to be rebaptized before becoming a member in the local church? This is not having experienced no baptism at all, but one who has experienced infant baptism who is now a true believer.
Here is Stewart’s conclusion:
We have accommodated ourselves both to considerable lapses of time between believing and being baptized (among credobaptists) and to similar lapses of time between being baptized and believing (among paedobaptists). As a result, we have in many cases only approximations of the baptismal ideal. Still, our two evangelical understandings do succeed in preserving the importance of both believing in Jesus Christ and being baptized. In the end, since baptism belongs to Jesus Christ who received it (Matt. 3.13-17) and authorized it (Matt. 28.19, 20), since the church Jesus founded affirms but “one baptism” (Eph. 4.5) and since our own personal spiritual biographies regarding Christ and baptism are non-uniform, we ought to extend the charity we grant to one another to persons who received Catholic baptism. At their professions of faith, we should welcome them unreservedly into our churches.
A few questions to ponder.
- Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of such a position?
- Would you allow a non-baptized believer to become a member?
- How do you apply this “significance of silence” in the local church where you serve?