The Particular Baptist vision of the church clearly ran counter to a major aspect of the mentalité of most seventeenth-century, Anglophone Christians—Anglicans, Presbyterians, and New England Congregationalists, for instance—namely, the idea of an ecclesio-political establishment, where religious uniformity was maintained by the arm of the state and infant baptism basically required for citizenship. The Particular Baptists were convinced that the church is ultimately a fellowship of those who have personally embraced the salvation freely offered in Christ, not an army of conscripted men and women who have no choice in the matter. And baptism was the first place that one bore witness to this personal embrace of Christ.
Given this divergence in perspective, it is not surprising that the chapter on baptism in the Second London Confession had significant differences with the Presbyterian Westminster Confession and the Congregationalist Savoy Declaration. According to the first paragraph of the chapter on baptism, the Baptists affirmed that this rite was designed “to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life” (XXIX.1). The Presbyterian and Congregationalist documents agreed that baptism was a sign, but “a sign and seal of the covenant of grace” (Westminster Confession XXVIII.1; Savoy Declaration XXIX.1). The Baptist confession did not use sealing or covenantal language with regard to baptism. For these Baptists, the only seal in the New Testament is the Holy Spirit, and thus, baptism could not seal anything. Yet, baptism did signify four things. First of all, it was a sign of the believer’s fellowship with Christ in his death and resurrection, a description not found in either of the two other confessions. It also spoke of “being engrafted” into Christ, which refers to the key New Testament idea of being in Christ. Then, it declared that the person being baptized had also experienced the “remission of sins.” Finally, according to the last signification, baptism was a vow on the part of the person being baptized to “live and walk in newness of life” through Christ.
While the language of these last three significations is drawn directly from the Presbyterian and Congregationalist confessions, their meaning is obviously quite different. The subject of baptism, according to these statements of faith, could be the infant son or daughter of a believing parent (Westminster Confession XXVIII.4; Savoy Declaration XXIX.4). The Baptists disagreed: “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance” (XXIX.2). Biblical support for their disagreement, the Baptists found in Mark 16:16 and 8:36–38, where those being baptized are clearly believers.
The third paragraph of this chapter states that the “outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The language here is identical with the parallel passage in the Savoy Declaration apart from two changes—the term “wherewith” is used instead of “wherein,” and the third person of the Godhead is described as “Holy Ghost” (XXIX.2). This paragraph made two key points. First, baptism involves water—how much will be detailed in the final paragraph. Then, true baptism is in the Triune Name, for baptism is, as the first paragraph implied, veritably an oath of allegiance to the true and living God who is both Three and One.
Both the Presbyterian and Congregationalist texts concluded this paragraph by stating that genuine baptism can only be administered by “a minister of the gospel, lawfully called” (Westminster Confession XXVIII.2; Savoy Declaration XXIX.2). This is absent from the Baptist text, not because the Baptists disagreed with this idea, but simply because they had already stated as much in the previous chapter (XXVIII.2).
Both the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration had four more paragraphs—the Baptist statement of faith but one: “Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance” (XXVIII.4). In their parallel passages, the two Paedobaptist texts maintained that “dipping of the person into the water is not necessary.” Baptism can be properly done by “pouring or sprinkling” (Westminster Confession XXVIII.3; Savoy Declaration XXIX.3). Again, the Particular Baptists disagreed with their Puritan brethren: immersion is necessary.
The 1680s was a decade in which baptism was a subject of major controversy on a number of levels, among them its mode. These Baptists knew that immersion was culturally outré. But they were also convinced, on the basis of Romans 6:3–4 and Colossians 2:11–12, that the only symbolic action that could represent baptism was immersion under the water, which stood for death, and emersion from the water, which stood for resurrection.
Comments on Application for the Local Church1
Baptism is part “of religious worship of God” (XXII.5), “appointed” (XXVIII.1) and “ordained by Jesus Christ” (XXIX.1). It is thus to be taken seriously as a biblical ordinance in the context of a local church.
When someone “actually profess[es] repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience, to our Lord Jesus,” (XXIX.2) they should be baptized. This excludes not only infants, who cannot meaningfully repent and believe, but also any who have been caught up in unbiblical presentations of how someone becomes a Christian. This is not to say that it is straightforward to ascertain the “proper subjects of this ordinance” (XXIX.2). Questions remain: Should we simply believe anyone’s profession? To what extent should we expect fruit and progress in sanctification before baptism? How long should we wait before someone is baptized after they have made a profession? Godly pastors who affirm our Confession will disagree in answering these questions.
The person baptized should be baptized in water (XXIX.3) by immersion (XXIX.4). For some churches that means making use of a baptistry inside a church building, whereas others will use bodies of water like a river or a lake. All churches holding to this Confession, however, will baptize by full immersion.2 The baptism is also “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (XXIX.3).
In chapter 14, our Confession of Faith mentions baptism as a means by which the faith of the believer “is increased, and strengthened” (XIV.1). The practice of believer’s baptism is therefore not simply a theological battleground, but a public act of obedience to the Lord which does great good to the saints. It is “a sign of … fellowship [between the Christian and Christ], in his death, and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ to live and walk in newness of life.” It is an ordinance which we should deeply cherish in the local church.
Saturday 12th February 2022
1 This blog post was written by Michael Haykin. The brief section at the end on application for the local church was written by Daniel Funke.
2 Benjamin Keach, in his A Short Confession of Faith ([1697; repr., Glasgow: Parresia, 2021], 43) explicitly denies “sprinkling, or pouring of water, or dipping some part of the body in water, after the tradition of men.”