Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Fellow blogger and "real-life" friend John asked in a comment in the "Credo" post regarding why some synods (re)baptize some protestants (the example of Baptists was used) and not other Protestants. My response was so long that I decided just to put it in a post on the blog proper.

The issue of whether to baptize converts from other Christian confession or to receive them through some other means has its roots early on. It began while Christianity was yet illegal in exchanges between Pope St. Stephen of Rome and St. Cyprian of Carthage (both canonized saints) and never has received consensus within the entire Orthodox world. Most Orthodox who delve into the issue (which, of course, I cannot resolve here) cite the first Ecumenical Council, wherein the issue at hand had to do with triple-immersion baptism versus those done with a single immersion.

There were, at the time of the Council, certain heretics who baptized with one immersion that, upon being reconciled to the Church, were received via baptism, as their baptism was not according to the triple-immersion standard of the Church (and, incidentally, reflected a heretical theology). Those who baptized with triple-immersion were received via chrismation, regardless of their heretical theology (i.e., Arians were received via chrismation).

The issue in those days was one of making sure that form and belief were both present in the lives of those received; the former had to be given if such form did not exist prior to membership in the Church, while the latter could be corrected via chrismation and repudiation of heretical belief and confession of Orthodox doctrine (or, if chrismation had already been done in the previous confession, mere confession was done). The end result was supposed to be that all would eventually be baptized in the proper form and (ideally) hold the right belief.

Today this is more an issue of exactly into what or (in our case) into Whom we seek to baptize those coming into the Orthodox Church.

There are some -- the Baptists, for example -- who baptize with single immersion because, as they say, the Lord was buried once, not thrice, and we are baptized into his death, as St. Paul says (though, strangely to me, they deny that baptism is itself the moment wherein this baptism into His death is accomplished, in spite of their insistence that the rite reflect this very truth). So the objective, for them, is to reflect the burial and resurrection of our Lord as the already-finished τελος, or goal, towards which the baptism retroactively points.

The Orthodox would say that, though we are, indeed, baptized into His death, we are thus baptized so as to participate in the life of the undivided Trinity, hence our insistence on triple immersion. Three dunks, one baptism = Three persons, one Godhead. It is into this that we are ultimately baptized, and such a form reflects the much-developed trinitarian theology of the Church.

It used to be that the OCA had the following guidelines (citation HERE, emph. mine):
  • Those converting from Judaism, paganism, and Islam, as well as those who distort or do not accept the dogma of the Holy Trinity, or where the baptism is performed by a single immersion, by means of baptism.
  • Those whose baptism was valid but who either do not have sacrament of chrismation or who lack a hierarchy with apostolic succession (or if it is questionable), by means of chrismation. This group includes Lutherans, Calvinists and Episcopalians (Anglicans).
  • Those whose hierarchy has apostolic succession and whose baptism and chrismation (or confirmation) was performed in their church, by means of repentance and repudiation of heresy, following instruction in Orthodoxy. This group includes persons of the Roman Catholic and Armenian confessions. If it happens that they were not chrismated or confirmed in their churches or if there is any question about this, they are anointed with the Holy Chrism.
So there was a separation in OCA practice between trinitarian theology and baptismal rite, a separation which our bishops have nowadays deemed acceptable to widen, while still maintaining the uniqueness of Orthodox mysteries. Now, in the OCA, water baptism "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" is enough of a vessel (albeit, an empty one) so as to be "fillable" with the grace of the Holy Spirit via chrismation, though the number of immersions used to be taken into greater considerations, as it still is in other synods.

One wishes, at this point, that we could all simply stop at "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins" in our mutually-beloved Creed, no?


John said...

Thanks for the explique. I was just curious as to why Baptists, in particular, seemed singled-out in this regard. In the Church of Christ, I was immersed one time (like the Baptists), but unlike the Baptists it was for the remission of sins-just like the Creed says. We in the CoC used to argue endless with our Baptist friends about this. It is not without irony, now, for the correct answer wasnt (a) how the Baptists do it, or (b) how the Church of Christ does it, but (c) none of the above. Thanks again for taking the time to expand on this subject.

Rhology said...

I was just curious as to why Baptists, in particular, seemed singled-out in this regard.

Probably b/c David Bryan came out of a Baptist bkgrd and knows it fairly well.

I'd add that it's interesting that this Stephen-Cyprian exchange is an illustrative polemic against the claims to primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Cyprian was wrong (as I recall) but refused to submit in the face of the Bishop of Rome's appeals to his authority as B of R.

David Bryan said...

Actually, t'was not my singling it out; there are some Orthodox synods that (still) baptize converts coming from Baptist backgrounds due to the single-immersion method used in Baptist churches. John just brought this to light in the other thread. Groups like (iirc) the A of G, who baptize triply, would be received via chrismation due to the acceptable form. Personally, I wish the OCA still did this.

As to Ss. Stephen and Cyprian, yes, depending on which ending of a very influential letter of Cyprian's you read (one favoring Catholic ecclesiology, the latter, amended one favoring the Orthodox), his is a very good example of standing up to a fellow bishop, even that of Rome. As to St. Cyprian's being "wrong"...well...that's what's never really been decided in the Church as a whole. Seems there's always been one part that receives most everyone through baptism and chrismation -- saying that there are no sacraments outside the Church, so we do it all, every time, to everybody -- and another part that seeks to reach out and say that we can, at least, accept the form of the baptism and fill in with the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit that which is lacking -- a more pastoral, gentler approach, in other words. Nowadays, we have self-titled "traditionalist" groups that practice the former, while most Orthodox groups practice the latter.

I see wisdom on both sides, since both seek to preserve the uniqueness of Orthodox sacraments, while accomplishing different secondary goals, as well (the former being bearing witness to the deficiency of other confessions' mysteries, the latter being bearing witness to that which yet remains sound in said confessions).

The Ochlophobist said...

One of the things that has always gotten my goat on this issue is that Baptists are singled out for one immersion, but Lutherans, Calvinists, Episcopalians, and Catholics do not really immerse at all - they sprinkle. Three times, sure, but it is not an immersion. Such baptisms are an absolute iconic poverty, in my opinion.

To answer John's question a bit from the other thread - in recent decades we have seen a tendency among the older free churches. They have tended to move (in praxis) either towards the charismatic movement, or slightly towards a high church direction. This is more pronounced in England than here, but it is seen clearly here. Most American Baptist Churches headed in something of a high churchish direction, even if only slightly. Because they are Baptists, this gets expressed in a wide variety of ways on the local level. For instance, I would guess that 20% of American Baptist pastors baptize with triple immersion. My father always did so, the first immersion in the Name of the Father, second in the Name of the Son, Third in the Name of the Holy Spirit (they were machine gun quick immersions). Probably 10% of American Baptist clergy have followed their English brethren and have adopted clerical robes during Sunday services. There is also, increasingly, the use of readings with responses, some of which are akin to litanies. Remember that while there are Evangelicals in the American Baptist Churches, most clergy are not Evangelical, but more oldline/mainline in posture. While American Evangelicalism has produced a homogenous banality of wave your hands anti-liturgy, in which praxis is determined by what is being sold at your local Zondervan bookstore, the historic free churches that have not gone Evangelicalish have tended towards a richer appropriation of historical Protestant praxis, even as they so often have flushed their theology down the toilet, though many who linger in these churches are not liberals. I think especially for those who are not liberals, they look at the Evangelical/charismatic abyss, and they run fast towards some practices that grant a wee bit more of a feeling of rootedness.

But as to American Baptists saying the Creed, let me assure you that so far as I know none of the clergy who did it were able to maintain it as a weekly practice indefinitely - it was usually sporadic or spaced out so as to not offend members. And remember that with the Baptists, the next pastor can change everything, or there can be a hostile takeover of the Deacon Board which changes everything. So playing with tradition takes on a consumer quality. Here today, gone tomorrow, according to taste.