Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

18 Apr 2013

Have You Studied the Issue of Baptism?


Adoniram Judson, pioneer missionary to Burma, was not afraid to, and it changed his view and cost him dearly.  I encourage, yes, challenge you—do not think you hold to a biblical mode of baptism that is not believer’s baptism by immersion, unless you can read this missionary’s reasoned study and refute it by God’s Word. If you do hold to believer’s baptism by immersion, do not think that the mode and timing of baptism is a matter of non-importance if Christ commanded us to do it! Judson’s story and sermon will strengthen your understanding.

Judson, originally a Congregational missionary holding to paedobaptism (infant baptism), took time to study the issue on his and Ann’s sea voyage to India. One account follows:

On the five months’ sea voyage Adoniram gave himself to an in-depth study of baptism. He was prompted by the question of what procedure he would employ with converts.  He was also concerned as to how he would defend paedobaptism when he was with the British Baptist missionaries at Serampore [William Carey and others].  Adoniram read everything he could find on both sides of the subject. Ann [his wife] resolutely declared that nothing would change her views. She used every argument she could to dissuade Adoniram from changing his position. But eventually she came to the Baptist position herself. This was seismic in its outcome. It spelled the end of all their support…. In a letter to a friend, William Carey wrote, “since their arrival in Bengal brother and sister Judson have been baptized. Judson preached the best sermon upon baptism that I have ever heard on the subject, which we intend to print.” (in Adoniram Judson and the Missionary Call by Erroll Hulse, p. 14)

That sermon was published as “A Sermon on Christian Baptism.” A version is available to read on Google Books here and it will take you less than an hour to read it. If my challenge to you to read it above was not enough, I leave you with the words of Judson himself from his sermon’s conclusion:

To believe in Christ is necessary to salvation ; and to be baptized [as a believer by immersion as he has argued] is the instituted method of professing our belief. It is, therefore, not only an infinitely important question to all men, whether they believe in Christ; but it is also a very important question to all Christians, whether they have been baptized. If you love Christ, you cannot consider this question unimportant. You will be desirous of discovering the will of him whom you love, and of testifying your love, by joyfully obeying. (93)

If, when your mind adverts to this question, you fear the consequences of an examination, and dread those sacrifices, which a discovery that you have been mistaken may enforce on your conscience; or if you feel the influence of long established sentiments, and imagine, that the subject is too dark and intricate for your investigation; look to the Son of God, who hesitated not to make the greatest sacrifices, and to endure the most painful sufferings for you; and look up to the Father of lights, to send the Holy Spirit according to the promise of his Son, to guide you into all truth. Especially, my brethren, diligently use the means of discovering the truth. Put yourselves in the way of evidence. Indulge free examination. Though the sun shines with perfect clearness, you will never see that light which others enjoy, if you confine yourselves in a cavern, which the beams of the sun cannot penetrate. Be assured that there is sufficient evidence on this subject, if you seek to discover it. But if your love for truth is not sufficiently strong to make you willing to labor for the discovery of evidence, God will probably leave you to be contented with error. (93-94)

9 Responses

  1. Anthony Mullins

    Interesting article. When I studied this issue, I actually left the view I had grown up hearing preached without any support (immersion) in favor of the credobaptist aspersionist view. I’m glad conservative evangelicalism/fundamentalism is big enough to be tolerant of different views on this nonessential issue. (Romans 14:5-6)

  2. Anthony, I encourage you to read Judson’s presentation. Mode of baptism has not historically been an essential for fellowship in fundamentalism. I would not put it in the category of “non-essential” either. More a matter of “importance” if we are faithful to the Scriptures.

  3. Anthony Mullins

    Thank you for your response. I have read Judson’s presentation and the presentation of many immersionists. Indeed, the arguments he put forth would have been my own through my early adulthood because that was all I had ever been taught. And to be fair, I would agree with Judson’s arguments on the candidate of baptism.

    But when Judson says things like “The word which denotes the act of baptizing, according to the usage of Greek writers uniformly signifies or implies immersion” (p.7), I have to politely disagree. What about I Corinthians 10:2? When were the children of Israel immersed? And what about the Philippian jailor? There is no indication that they left the jail in Acts 16, and I doubt they had a baptismal pool in the jail. “Uniformly” just seems like an inaccurate word choice to me.

    I realize I am commenting on a Baptist blog, so there would be few readers that would agree with me, and that’s fine. I’m not looking to make any converts. I do think baptism is important and a topic worth studying, especially from godly sources who would disagree with my own position (which is why I am happy to read Judson). Perhaps a good place to start for the non-immerision credobaptist view would be the writings of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, especially Great Doctrines of the Bible).

    I am thoroughly convinced that immersion was not the primary mode of baptism in the New Testament, and I am sure you would say quite the reverse. For that, I rejoice, for our unity is not found in the mode (or candidate for that matter) of baptism, but rather in Christ Himself and His atoning work on the cross.

  4. I could grant that rather than say “uniformly” he could have said “with only slight possible exception” . . . though I still think those passages can be explained, and Judson does so quite reasonably on pages 15-16.

    I think by far the much harder case is from your standpoint- showing infant baptism or non-immersion taking place clearly in the NT. With all due respect, if you are “thoroughly convinced that immersion was not the primary mode of baptism in the NT” after reading the New Testament and Judson’s work, then I am probably not going to have much chance of convincing you otherwise here.

  5. PLJ,

    Anthony identifies himself as a credobaptist so I do not think he would have any interest in trying to demonstrate that any infants were baptized.

    It is also not necessary for the credobaptist position per se to demonstrate that anyone was sprinkled. He only needs to show that the mode is not taught as essential.

    It seems to me that it is one thing to say that immersion is the predominate mode or even that it is the best and most consistent representation of both the symbolism and example of the New Testament and quite another to say that the immersion is a necessary and essential element based solely on the text of the New Testament.

  6. Kevin, thanks for catching that mistake on my part–I look back and see he did say credobaptist, so that is a step closer to what we think is best.

    Obviously, Baptists have historically considered this a matter of great importance, most only allowing a professing believer to be identified with the local church if they have been immersed as a believer. On the other hand, we hopefully have charitably made room for differences in the Body of Christ for other local churches who are trying to be faithful to the Scriptures.

    1. It is my view that immersion is the mode that is best supported and that identification with Christ through baptism is a necessary part of a persons confession of faith and subsequent acceptance into fellowship. Whenever I baptize people they go under! I just wanted to be careful to accurately represent the position that I thought Anthony was defending.