Baptism: A Radical Act
Believer’s baptism by immersion was no insignificant step when Baptists championed it in the 17th Century. This radical and public act was a break with over 1300 years of recognized practice in Christian society and it won few converts in the early years. Why was it so unpopular?
Infant baptism was important to almost everyone. With it came a Christian name, a recognized family and community relationship. For the church it meant another communicant who would obey its teaching and support it financially, either through offerings or taxes (or risk severe punishments!). Since church and state were wed across Europe, infant baptism was significant because it was the first point of accountability and authority which a person met.
Baptists, on the other hand, saw no scriptural basis for infant baptism and no need to succumb to the authority of the church in this way. Dedication of children to the Lord was permitted, but scriptural baptism was something else. A believer’s baptism by immersion was a profession of his faith in Christ as Savior and Lord … it was a picture of his death, burial and resurrection. When Baptists immersed new converts, the believers knowingly and voluntarily sought baptism and church membership, thus exercising each individual’s precious liberty of conscience. Believer’s baptism was an act that no parent, guardian or sponsor could do on one’s behalf. It was a personal, public witness of faith.
For those who defended the baptism of infants, the public spectacle of immersion was disgraceful, unbecoming and unhealthful. More than that, believer’s baptism was an affront to church tradition, control and authority, and certainly the continued well-being of both church and state.
Believer’s baptism by immersion … ...