A Short Credo on Baptism: Douglas Wilson

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A Short Credo on Baptism
Douglas Wilson
I believe that the phrase baptismal regeneration, when taken in a wooden ex opere operato sense, has been the source of much rank superstition and idolatry. Baptism in water is a sign and seal of the new covenant, and as with all covenants, the new covenant has attendant blessings and curses. The blessings are appropriated by faith, not by water, and the curses are brought down upon the head by unbelief, against which curses the water provides no protection whatever.

I believe that unless a man is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, baptized by Him, sealed with Him as an earnest payment, and truly converted to God, he will never see the kingdom of heaven. If a man is so regenerated, baptized, sealed, and converted, nothing can prevent him coming into his everlasting inheritance.

I believe that this doctrine of baptism in the Holy Spirit is far from contradicting a high view of water baptism, and deny that it makes water baptism "œdispensable." Rightly understood, this doctrine establishes the other. When two witnesses agree, the testimony of each supports the other. A second confirming witness never makes the first witness dispensable. Without the second witness, the first is forlorn and establishes nothing.

I believe that the phrase baptismal efficacy may be helpfully used to describe an ex opere operato connection to the new covenant, with its attendant and standing responsibility to repent and believe. Reprobate covenant members who refuse to do this are no less covenant members for all that.

I believe that doctrines of baptismal impotence, far from being a protection against superstition and idolatry, have simply provided the occasion for covenant members to cultivate other superstitions and idolatries which, unlike water baptism, have no scriptural warrant.

I believe that baptism is covenantally efficacious. It brings every person baptized into an objective and living covenant relationship with Christ, whether the baptized person is elect or reprobate. Baptism is always to be taken by the one baptized as a sign and seal of his ingrafting into Christ. If the person is reprobate, he will be cut out of the vine, and if he is elect, he cannot be cut out. An unbelieving covenant member incurs all the curses of the covenant, while the believer appropriates all its blessings by faith alone.

I believe that while baptism as a sacrament of the new covenant has attendant curses for unbelief, God in His grace requires us to speak of it in terms of faith, obedience, and love. Some Corinthians died because of their handling of the cup of blessing. Uzza died because he touched the ark of the covenant, getting too close to the mercy seat. Nevertheless, we do not rename the cup the cup of blessing and cursing. And we do not call the mercy seat the mercy and damnation seat.

I believe that the real culprit in baptismal controversy is a disparagement of the biblical doctrine of the Church. We rush to discuss the role of water baptism in the connection of individuals to Christ, failing to recognize that in Scripture we are connected to Christ and to the Church together. I believe that baptism in water establishes the one baptized as a member of the Church, and the Church is one with Jesus Christ, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh.

I believe that there is a sacramental union between the sign (signum) and thing signified (res) in baptism, so that we are warranted (and required) to think and speak of them together. We may, for the sake of theological analysis, distinguish the sign and thing signified, but we must never under any circumstances separate them. This sacramental union means that the union between signum and res cannot be considered as merely linguistic or memorial.

I believe there are two unlawful ways to separate the signum and res. The first is the way of the hypocrite, who keeps the sign and rejects the thing signified. The second is the way of the over-scrupulous pietist, who keeps the thing signified and disparages or rejects the New Testament language of baptism. In both cases, what God has joined together man tries to separate.

I believe that water baptism is the laver of regeneration (Tit. 3:5). Baptism now saves us (1 Pet. 3:20-21). In baptism we call upon the Lord, washing our sins away (Acts 22:16). I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Only an evangelical faith can see this without superstition.
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