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Reasons given against immersion

August 2, 2013 1 comment

broadusChapter 6. General Reasons Against Immersion.

Others, without going into an argument as to the teaching of Scripture, while neither admitting nor denying that it teaches what we claim, urge general reasons why they cannot believe that immersion is obligatory.

1. They will say, as before, that immersion is sometimes impracticable, and so it cannot be necessary to baptism. We answer, when baptism is impracticable it is not our duty; when it is practicable, let us practice it and not substitute something else.

2. But immersion is often really dangerous. What! a cold bath dangerous, taken promptly, when a person is sustained, too, by strong excitement, and its effects quickly removed? In a few cases of illness or extreme feebleness it might be dangerous, but then it is not our duty. There is, perhaps, nothing in this world which may not sometimes be dangerous.

3. Immersion is indecent. Will you allow a bit of personal experience? My boyhood was spent in one of the counties of Virginia, where Baptists were numerous. The country church to which the family belonged commonly repaired, for baptizing, to my father’s mill-pond, which was a very convenient and a very pretty place. I always went to witness it with eager interest. I was, of course, like other boys, not too good to have noticed and laughed at anything indelicate. But when I grew up and went to the university, and a Presbyterian student one day said that he thought immersion was indecent, the idea was to me utterly novel; it had never, in all my life, entered my head. Such a notion is a mere prejudice of education. If you think baptism indecent, I should beg pardon for saying you have not been “well raised” in this respect. In many circumstances of life there may be personal exposure through bad arrangements, or awkwardness, or accident; as in alighting from a horse or a carriage, in passing a muddy street-crossing, in descending the steps of a church. What does that prove except that, wherever there is danger of exposure, we must take care to avoid it? If, in any of these cases, or in baptizing, there is great awkwardness or bad management, we condemn the managers. If there is merely accidental exposure when a lady alights from her carriage or when a lady is baptized, well-bred people will only feel regret and sympathy. Besides, what about sea-bathing? The very persons who oftenest complain of immersion as indecent are among those who most delight in sea-bathing.

4. So many good people have believed in sprinkling, and felt that they were blessed in receiving, administering, or witnessing it. This is with some a favorite argument. But consider: Transubstantiation has, from early centuries, been believed in by multitudes of deeply devout people, including such men as Thomas Kempis and Pascal. They have felt that they were blessed in worshiping the host as the very body of Christ. So, also, as to the worship of the Virgin Mary; many who were deeply devout have found in it great delight. Good people are not infallible. And God may, and doubtless does, bless people in holding opinions and observing practices that are not in themselves according to his will. This must be so to some extent – else who would be blessed? David was greatly blessed of God, and David was a polygamist.

Now, if it is true, to some extent, that he blesses those who have principles and practices which he does not approve, we cannot tell how far it may be carried, and must leave that to God. But one thing follows inevitably : that we must not take the fact of God’s blessing a man, or an association of men, as proving that he approves all their doctrines and all their practices.

5. But sprinkling has not only been widely believed in and practiced by good people – it has been defended by many able and devout men, and after careful investigation. Very well, we may answer. You are a Methodist, or an Episcopalian; what do you think of the doctrine of Election, Reprobation, Limited Atonement? Yet you know that for ages these doctrines have been held and rejoiced in by many good Christians, and defended, after careful investigation, by some of the greatest intellects of the human race. Or you are a Calvinist; what do you think of the doctrine popularly called “falling from grace”? Yet you know that it is held and defended by not a few of the most zealous, fervent, and useful Christians on earth.

But, it may be said, this is not a parallel case; these are doctrines. That makes no difference as to our argument. If grave errors as to doctrine exist, and have long existed, among persons very devout and often richly blessed of God, the same must certainly be true as to the less important matter of ceremonies – something may be quite erroneous, though held and earnestly defended by some good and wise men.

But take the case of Church Government. You are a Presbyterian, and do not believe that Episcopacy is Scriptural or expedient; yet how many pious people believe in it and live under it with joy and with religious growth and usefulness; and how many great men defend it after careful investigation, for example, in the Church of England? Or you are an Episcopalian; how many Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Lutherans there are in America, Scotland, England, France, Switzerland, Germany who are neglecters and opposers of Episcopacy, yet are devout, learned, honest?

What is the conclusion from all this? Why, that we are compelled to think for ourselves. We may err, as so many have done; but we must not be content, without the most earnest efforts, to escape errors that our circumstances will allow. I repeat, there is not only a right of private judgment, there is a duty of private judgment. Every man shall give account of himself unto God. And how can we square it with our consciences if we do not personally strive, in all possible ways, to find the truth in all things? There is here but one alternative. Either we have no right to be sure that anything is true, or we are bound to assure ourselves by personal inquiry. Either universal skepticism, or private judgment. One or the other position is inevitable. To believe all that all have said is to believe nothing that any have said. We must then choose between them, and decide for ourselves according to the evidence and our best judgment.

John A. Broadus-Immersion Essential to Christian Baptism