It is a pleasure to welcome you to Issue 63 of Foundations, the theological journal of Affinity. Let me introduce myself as the new editor: I am the husband of Anna and the father of Sophie, Zachary and Jacob. After a seven year career lecturing law at the Universities of Durham and Birmingham, I trained for pastoral ministry at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) and Westminster Theological Seminary (London). I am currently Assistant Pastor at Aigburth Community Church, Liverpool and hold honorary research positions at WEST and the University of Birmingham.
This first editorial gives me the opportunity to share with you my vision for the journal as I, along with the Affinity Theological Team and Board of Associate Editors, seek to steer Foundations in the years ahead. The first issue of Foundations was published in 1978 and since that time it has enjoyed a reputation for providing rigorous theological analysis of contemporary issues of direct relevance to the church. I am committed to that remaining the vision of the journal. As a former lecturer I greatly value academic rigour and as a church pastor I am convinced of the importance of applying such rigour to real life issues arising in the life of the church. For that reason, the majority of contributions will continue to be from serving church pastors and missionaries.
We have decided to introduce a system of peer review for the journal. This is intended to ensure that academic excellence is maintained and that contributions benefit from the input of expert opinion prior to publication. The Board of Associate Editors has also been added to with Bob Fyall (Cornhill Scotland), David McKay (Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland), Ted Turnau (Anglo-American University, Prague) and Keith Walker (SIM) joining the team. I am sure the journal will greatly benefit from their expertise in Biblical Studies, Apologetics, Systematic Theology and Missiology. In the years ahead we intend to continue publishing articles and reviews by experienced church pastors and theologians who are committed to the confessional standards of Affinity. We also hope to develop as a forum in which younger pastor-scholars can start out on a writing ministry with the benefit of the rigorous peer review process that is now in place. Although most issues will feature articles from across the spectrum of topics covered by the journal, we will from time to time publish issues dedicated to a specific theme (such as the current one). Since the journal exists to serve the needs of the church, I am keen to hear from you about ideas for submissions or themes for future issues.
Turning to the current issue, I am delighted to be able to present five articles and two reviews examining the topic of baptism. In 1977, Donald Bridge and David Phypers co-authored a book outlining opposing views on baptism with the title The Water that Divides. As Robert Letham has pointed out (A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Baptism [Fearn: Christian Focus, 2012] p 1), it is tragic that baptism should be viewed in this way since it is the sign of our union with Christ and his church and ought to compel us to unity rather than division. Nevertheless we must accept that throughout the history of the church the topic of baptism has divided, and continues to divide, conscientious Bible-believing Christians. Sadly, debates in the past have often been characterised by more heat than light. Claims that the Bible provides “no basis for infant baptism” or that “Baptists are proof-texters who neglect the redemptive-historical hermeneutic” rarely persuade. In truth, debates have all too often been characterised by an uncharitable ignorance of the opposing side’s view. It is hoped that this issue of Foundations will go some way to addressing popular misconceptions.
The distinction between primary and secondary issues is one that has Scriptural warrant (1 Cor 15:3) but which is prone to mislead if taken beyond its original Scriptural context. Baptism is often said to be secondary because it is not a gospel issue – we can hold different views on baptism without denying the gospel of grace. That is true, and something that all Protestants would want to affirm, but describing baptism as a secondary issue gives the misleading impression that it is relatively unimportant or non-essential for the health of the church. This is incorrect because, while not a gospel issue, baptism certainly is an ecclesiologically-determinative issue. What we believe about baptism and the proper subjects of baptism necessarily impacts our ecclesiology because baptism is the sign of entry into the church; it determines who we consider to be members of the visible church. Therefore it is impossible to be indifferent about baptism without being indifferent about the nature, constitution, health and purity of Christ’s bride. Furthermore, since baptism is one of only two sacraments given to the church by the Lord Jesus, to treat it as secondary and unimportant is to neglect and show indifference to one of Christ’s most wonderful gifts. One wonders whether contemporary indifference towards baptism is a symptom of the pervasive influence of a super-Zwinglian doctrine of the sacraments which adopts an anthropocentric rather than a theocentric focus. Finally, since most Christians agree that baptism is a biblically-mandated command, whether that be a command to baptise (Matt 28:19) or to be baptised (Acts 2:38), indifference about the nature and timing of baptism is nothing less than indifference concerning obedience to Christ. Thus while baptism most certainly is not a gospel issue it is nevertheless a crucial issue for the life and health of the church. Accordingly, it is appropriate for a whole issue of Foundations to be dedicated to it.
In the first of our five articles, Derek Thomas provides a comparative analysis of the doctrine and practice of baptism in the Westminster, Savoy and Baptist Confessions of the seventeenth century. He shows that while the Baptist Confession conceives of baptism as a sign of faith and of the possession of spiritual realities, the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration see baptism as a sign to faith and of the promise of these spiritual realities held out in the gospel to those who believe. Thomas shows that there is a fundamental difference between the Confessions in their understanding of the nature, scope and continuity of the covenant of grace between the Old and New Testaments. He also assesses the significance of the Westminster and Savoy statements on the efficacy of baptism, insisting that neither teaches baptismal regeneration effective ex opere operato. Rather, he suggests that they reflect the baptismal realism evident in the New Testament itself.
The articles by John Stevens and Kevin Bidwell provide contrasting covenantal arguments defending credobaptism and paedobaptism respectively. Stevens disputes the claim that circumcision was a sign of regeneration, mortification and justification, insisting instead that it pointed to God’s covenant-keeping faithfulness and the consequences of apostasy from the covenant. As such, the sign of circumcision was fulfilled and rendered obsolete in the coming of Christ. Christian baptism differs in that it is a symbol not of God’s promise of salvation but of the receipt of the blessings of the inaugurated new covenant. This new covenant is radically individualistic in contrast to the typological corporate categories of the old covenant – and therefore baptism is a sign for believers alone. Stevens uses this biblical theological framework as a basis for discussing the timing of baptism, age of baptism, the status of children in the church and the relationship between baptism and church membership.
Bidwell’s article seeks to defend the covenantal view of baptism as set out in the teaching of the Westminster Standards. He argues that circumcision was the shadow of baptism in the Old Testament and that both signs point to the shed blood of Christ, circumcision doing so prospectively, baptism retrospectively. Bidwell seeks to respond to three common arguments raised against paedobaptism and challenges Calvinistic credobaptists to consider whether a focus upon baptism symbolising an individual’s visible gospel obedience and faith betrays an Arminian tendency in the doctrine. In the final section of the article, Bidwell considers the relationship between baptism and evangelism suggesting that the church needs to rediscover its responsibility towards its members (both adults and children) in building them up in the faith. It is right to distinguish between the children of believers and unbelievers and a return to whole family public worship, regular times of “family worship” and catechising will help to facilitate the Trinitarian discipleship of families in the local church.
Lee Gatiss’ contribution examines the theology of baptism as found in the foundational documents of the Church of England. He identifies the Protestant and Reformed nature of the Anglican doctrine but shows that it is non-Zwinglian, emphasising that baptism is not only a sign of our confession of faith but also a sign, instrument and seal of the grace of God. Gatiss identifies an example of the Articles’ dependence on Calvin’s Institutes and shows that the Articles are not prescriptive concerning the biblical basis for infant baptism or the necessity of baptism. In his discussion of the Book of Common Prayer, Gatiss addresses its language of baptismal regeneration arguing that it is liturgical language, claiming in the judgment of charity and faith what has been prayed for throughout the service. He takes issue with Broughton Knox’s relegation of the importance and appropriateness of baptism and contends that there is a need for Anglican evangelicals today to be better equipped to defend the biblical theological basis of paedobaptistic practice.
In the final article, Mike Gilbart-Smith addresses the vexed question of the age at which people should be baptised upon their own profession of faith. He reasons from the concurrence of baptism and church membership that, since the responsibilities of church membership (participating in the Lord’s Supper, administering church discipline and maintaining doctrinal purity) are inappropriate for children, baptism as the entry point of church membership should be delayed until adulthood. Gilbart-Smith addresses a number of common objections raised against this view and argues that delayed baptism does not imply that children are incapable of being genuine disciples but rather that the appropriate locus of their discipleship ought to be the family, rather than the church.
Before ascending to heaven, the Lord Jesus told his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20). May God use the contributions to Issue 63 of Foundations to help each of us to be faithful in living out that Great Commission.
Derek W. H. Thomas
Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary (Atlanta Campus), Minister of Preaching and Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC and Editorial Director, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.
National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).
Kevin J. Bidwell
Minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church (part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales).
Director of Church Society, Visiting Lecturer in Church History at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Editor of Theologian (www.theologian.org.uk).
Minister of Twynholm Baptist Church, Fulham, London.
Member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC
Editorial director for 9Marks and author, most recently, of Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Crossway, 2012)
Director of the North West Ministry Training Course
Foundations is an international journal of evangelical theology published by Affinity.
Its aim is to cover contemporary theological issues by articles and reviews, taking in exegesis, biblical theology, church history and apologetics, and to indicate their relevance to pastoral ministry. Its particular focus is the theology of evangelical churches which are committed to biblical truth and evangelical ecumenism. It has been published by Affinity (formerly The British Evangelical Council) from its inception as a print journal. It became a digital journal in May 2011.
It is published twice each year online.
It is offered in two formats:
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