The Water That Divides (Mentor Imprint), by Donald Bridge and David Phypers
I have to say, this is an excellent book. It gives you the history of baptism and chronologically follows the changes of views on baptism throughout Christian history. Not only that, it gives you the context of the situations that played a role in the changes throughout the centuries.
For example, I did not know that the controversy between infant baptism and adult-only baptism goes back to the very earliest church fathers. The controversy is, by no means, a recent issue of contention.
I was also surprised to learn that the controversy between submersion and sprinkling is also not a recent debate; it goes back to the early church fathers as well. It is documented that they did both. For some early churches, baptism would often include exorcism as well as anointing with oil. You get the impression that baptism may have been unique to each group, maybe, based on their culture. You could make the case it is that way today.
This information has changed my point of view. Not that I have changed my view on baptism, but it has made me less dogmatic about my position. Many theologians, such as C S Lewis, G K Chesterton & James Packer, feel the different views should be held on creative tension and not destructive competition. I think that might be the answer. I mean, what about letting other explore the issue for themselves? Maybe a person’s baptism is part of their story, part of their relationship with God, and part of their unique journey and revelation.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas." "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity." - Attributed to St. Augustine.
One of the important points brought out in the book was the use of the word sacrament in conjunction with baptism with the early church fathers. Because the term has very specific and legal connotations in ancient Latin, it may help us understand how the early church fathers viewed baptism.
The word sacrament comes from the Latin word sacramentumj which in ancient times, it was a deposit of money for a legal case held in escrow at a temple or it was also an oath of allegiance for soldiers. In either case, the word sacramentum involved a religious ceremony in a sacred place. Augustine defined sacramentum as 'a sign of a sacred reality'. By the second century, baptism was called a sacramentum. This is an import fact in understanding the early Churches view and understanding of Baptism.
This early understanding of the word flows through even to today. In the sacrament of Baptism in the Church of England, the ceremony follows like a Roman soldier's oath of allegiance. The person performing the Baptism will say:
"Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified."
In reply the person being baptized will say:
"Fight valiantly under the banner of Christ against sin, the world, and the devil, and continue his faithful soldiers and servants to the end of your lives."
This understanding of the word sacramentum supports the case that baptism is a response to faith in Christ and is a way people can signify their belief or pledge allegiance to Christ.
Does baptism have anything to do with a person’s salvation? If faith is most important why baptize?
To answer why we baptize is easy, because Jesus said too. (see Matthew 28:19) End of case on that question. However, it leaves behind an issue that many people feel strongly about. Mainly, that baptism, in some way, plays an important role in a person’s salvation. If the original meaning for baptism was that it was a sign or pledge, where did the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation come from?
Think of it this way, if you believe Jesus is the Messiah and savior and He says to go and make disciples by baptizing them, why wouldn't you? Baptism, then, is the obedience of faith so closely linked that you almost can't have one without the other. (Almost) Not that baptism bestows salvation, but that it is an evidence for salvation.
This intimacy between baptism and faith leads to some confusion. In the 12th century, sacraments, because they were so closely linked with faith, began to be described as a means of grace. This is often described as 'ex opere operato' or 'by the work being worked' or 'baptism saves you,’ which means that baptism automatically saves you. People often say that this is what Catholics believe. However, from the Middle Ages on, the Catholic Church has not held to this view. For Catholics today, belief in the doctrine 'non ponentibus obicem' (in case of those who place no impediment). This basically means that baptism brings God's grace so long as there is nothing to stop it, such as a lack of faith.
Thus, calling baptism a sacrament, gives us some insight into the intended meaning of those who used the word so long ago.