June 04, 2011

An Unlikely Anglican

One of the most frequent personal questions I get is how in the world I ended up Anglican? I was born and raised Baptist, attended Baptist schools, and even ordained Baptist. I have a number of family members who are Baptist pastors and missionaries. Some of my best friends are Baptists. So I love Baptists! And I’ve learned a lot from them, for which I’m grateful. But for a number of reasons I migrated over the years from the Baptist church to Presbyterian and Reformed churches and, finally, to the Anglican church.

As I set out to write about my journey, someone asked if I had read Robert Webber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail. I had not, so I did, and it saved me a lot of work! I’m no Robert Webber, of course, but my journey mirrored his in nearly every way. So now I’ll just refer my curious friends to his excellent work. (I also highly recommend Thomas McKenzie's The Anglican Way and Mark Gali's Beyond Smells and Bells.)

Webber, too, was born and raised the son of a Baptist pastor. He was educated at Bob Jones University and ordained a Baptist minister. He was best known as a prolific author and professor of theology and worship at Wheaton College and Northern Seminary. And along the way he, too, migrated first to Presbyterianism and then to Anglicanism.

I won’t attempt to summarize Webber’s book here but suffice it to say he lists six reasons for his pilgrimage: a return to mystery, a longing for the experience of worship, a desire for sacramental reality, the search for spiritual identity, embracing the whole church, and growing into a holistic spirituality. Six other contributors share similar stories. And I identify with all of them.

One thing Webber’s book does not address, which unfortunately can’t be avoided, is the question of infant baptism. This was the biggest hurdle along the way for me. And there is so much disagreement on baptism in the Church today because Scripture is not clear on this. However, history is very clear and persuasive.

Infant baptism was universally practiced from the earliest days. So the church fathers had to be wrong, contend my many baptist (Baptist, non-demon, etc.) friends. But this response always bothered me. Are we really to believe that we’re right and they’re wrong? That something as fundamental to the faith as baptism was so quickly and thoroughly perverted without any historical record of a controversy or debate? When everything else of significance was vigorously debated? Including baptism itself when the truth was supposedly recovered in the 16th century?
To get around this problem, many baptists believe that baptism was indeed secretly debated in the early church, the truth lost somehow, and it's adherents were forced underground until the Reformation. But this “trail of blood” theory of baptist history has been entirely discredited. For more on this see the work of church historian and Baptist-turned-Presbyterian James Edward McGoldrick. His conclusion is that Baptists were 16th century schismatics within the Anglican Communion—so, in a sense, I’m a most unlikely Anglican who returned to the mother church.

All that remains is reconciling infant baptism with Scripture’s alleged silence on the topic. Under the old covenant, circumcision was the believers’ rite of passage into the community of faith, along with their households, infants included. Peter, preaching at Pentecost to these same people on entry into the new covenant, said:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2).

Based on their prior understanding that the believers’ rite of passage included infants, this Jewish audience would have naturally assumed the same of the new covenant, especially when Peter proclaimed “the promise is for you and your children.” Had infants not been included Peter would have said so. Thus the “argument from silence” in Scripture supports rather than refutes the idea of infant baptism. And in this context we see subsequent “household baptisms” in the New Testament as including infants.

This is classic covenant theology as expounded by the church fathers from Irenaeus and Augustine to Calvin onward. And now you know why I’m no longer a baptist. But in answering this question I’ve probably raised others, particularly about the current state of Anglicanism. That’s something I love to talk about, but let’s leave it for another day.

Here's a related sermon: Anglican 101: What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?

1 comment:

  1. One thing I learned from my Baptist friends, and continue to learn, is what it means to be missional. They get this right like nobody else!