"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.III No.XII Pg.14-15
July 1941

Glimpses Into The Baptismal Controversy

Warren E. Starnes

When did the baptismal controversy begin? It did not have its beginning in the primitive, or apostolic period of the church. The controversy on infant baptism began, in the early part of the ancient period, in the time of the "church fathers." In that same period clinic baptism had its origin, which led to skirmishes related to debate. The question was: Whether copious effusions upon sick, bed-ridden persons should be accepted as baptism, as in the case of Novatian. Can the reader not see that, if during the apostolic period of the church, the primitive period, if during that period there had been any use for copious effusions upon sick, bed-ridden persons, the world would have known it? Did they not have sick folks in those days? Did they not have infants in those early, first days of the church? If humanity had lost its fecundity and they had no infants, two generations would have exhausted the human race. Besides, sickness, disease, illness were still invading the bodies of men. If not, Novation would not and could not have been a subject for the (mode) of baptism which led to the debate. Cannot any one see that the occasion of the first skirmish that even resembled a controversy, that near to the apostolic period, was a departure?

Who, then, is responsible for the origin of the controversy? and, who is responsible for its sinful propagation? The debate is going to continue. It cannot cease. Notwithstanding its sinfulness, despite the fact that it is a reproach to Christ and to His church, the debate cannot be avoided; for the ever-living Christ is the Author of the ordinance, and it will continue to be an ever-living controversy, or, it will bring an abiding peace.

Let the reader now try to imagine on what ground a controversy could arise, either about infant baptism, or clinic baptism, that near to the primitive period of the church. What would the reader think of a man today, who would affirm that there is no such thing as infant sprinkling, effusion, and pouring for baptism, with that thing going on all around us, with Methodist and Presbyterian church records as cautiously guarded in setting down their additions to their respective churches, as they do in marking the birthdays of new-born infants in their homes. Why argue or debate, in the early days of the second period of the church about whether a weeping infant should be sprinkled, or whether adult manhood should receive an effusion, if that thing had been going on at any time during the apostolic period of the church? The reader should remember, that in years the apostolic period of the church is the shortest of all the periods, howsoever divided, as we have the divisions today. There were people living at the time the controversy began, who had the most reliable traditions of the church from Pentecost, up until the day Novatian took his illness. Add those traditions to the fact, that they still had the New Testament, and it will be easy to see how the controversy got started. It was a departure, that is all; and no thinking man can justly criticize the repetition here: That the sin of this thing shall lie at the door of those who started, it and remain in the polluted sanctuary where it is being foisted.

Baptism was preached and administered to all the Jewish sectaries, throughout all the provinces the assembled multitudes represented on the day of Pentecost. Besides, during the life time of the apostles, the gospel invaded all the cities and provinces of the Gentile world. The facts seem to show that a directive providence took a precaution, for which all the denominational preachers of the world cannot account, from the premises they occupy; and which, all the wisdom of this world cannot set aside.

Glance at it for a moment. Baptism, as we have it in the commission was a new word to both Jews and Gentiles. It was not such a new word, as far as the four letters in it are concerned; but as it appears in the commission it was a new word to both Jew and Gentile. Faith was an old word to the Jews; yet, as Jesus used that old word to the Jews in the fourteenth chapter of John, it had a freshness and newness of meaning, which the five letters in that word never had before. Look at it: "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." (John 14:1).

Those seven letters making up that word always meant "faith" to a Jew; but those letters had something projected into them in John 14:1 which never resided there before in that sense. The same thing is true of the untranslated word "Baptize," as Jesus gave it in the commission. The seven letters of baptism, making up the "baptism of John," are in appearances and formality the same as that word anywhere else, except in the commission of our Lord. In that commission, there is latent and inherent an element of animating, life-giving power, not found in that word anywhere else. "New" therefore does not mean that they had not seen that word before; but it means "new" in another sense.

This "new" word to both Jew and Gentile required definiteness in statement. If that definiteness in statement did not reside in that word as every man heard it in his own tongue wherein he was born, on the day of Pentecost, then the Holy Spirit, not the apostles, sowed the seed which had inherently in them, all the elements of dissension and dissolution. Notwithstanding the formalities of John's Baptism; notwithstanding the act performed by the twelve and the seventy, this baptism of the great commission has something all the others did not have.

Let us now consider the premeditated caution of a directive providence. That there should be words expressive of different uses of water, as well as different applications of water, is a necessity of language. This is simply self evident. To choose therefore, the word expressive of a specific mode, or action in the use of water is the consideration now before us; and this choice will take care of the necessity of language to accommodate itself to whatever Jehovah wants done in any or all of His uses of water, especially, regarding baptism.

The Holy Spirit made choice, and gave utterance on the day of Pentecost, a word which wrought unity and unanimity out of all kinds of confusion, and the continuation of the "apostles' doctrine" etc., of that occasion, kept uniformity and peace through the apostolic period of the church on baptism; for there was not a jar on that subject until the ancient period had begun which was after the apostles and their contemporaries were dead. There is one side to the baptismal controversy which can account for this; there is one side which cannot do so from its premises. Which one is the truth side?

Every reader knows that the Holy Spirit did the speaking on Pentecost, through the apostles. Those apostles were not merely. "moved to speak," beyond that, they were used for speech. "The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." (2nd Pet. 1:21) There is a graduated, higher difference between being simply "moved to speak" and being "used for speech." "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:4) What does "utterance" mean? "Utterance, the act of uttering words." The Holy Spirit not only moved them, to speak; He used them for speech: He used their vocal organs, selected the words Himself, their verbal utterance; so the apostles neither selected the thoughts nor the words of the occasion for what they said. The Holy Spirit Himself selected the word, from all the languages understood and spoken by the various representatives from all the provinces, and that word meant the same thing to each individual present, whether a Mede or an Elamite. When the Holy Spirit did that, He struck off an imprinted sheet of inspiration from which no one present ever departed, even if there were diversities of tongues, notions, etc; together with all their traditions of parent and infant relations in the same covenant, under their former religion.

Ah! Indeed the apostles spoke as "they were moved by the Holy Spirit;" but they were also used for speech in striking off this stereotyped copy of inspiration which was kept inviolate during the apostolic period of the church. "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." "There are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord." (1st Cor. 12:4-5).

In the reports from Pentecost, to the close of the first period of the church, all classes, ages, and sexes were commanded to be baptized, and were baptized, except one class only. Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles; those who worshipped idols and those who worshipped God under the influences of an old religion; treasurers,' centurions, jailers, sorcerers, and murderers;-- but no mention or hint of the most innocent helpless and beloved of all classes; no infants.

Let the Paedo Baptist side to this controversy extricate itself from all this, or else permit the sin of the departure from the word of God, lie at the door where it originated, and remain behind the threshhold of the polluted sanctuary where it is harbored.