Bingham calls for baptismal instruction in SBC churches
Church historian Jeffrey Bingham called Southern Baptist churches to reinstitute the practice of theological instruction immediately before or immediately after baptism during Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 2012 Day-Higginbotham Lectures, Feb. 2-3.
“If God would grant me one answered prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention, it would be that we would return in all our churches to doctrinal instruction associated with baptism,” Bingham, department chair and professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, said.
“As the United States becomes ever more quickly post-Christian, as the fundamental Judeo-Christian narrative of redemption fades away as part of the American metanarrative and as more and more of our missions focus on Muslims and various types of paganism, I believe that extended, pre-baptismal instruction in Baptist churches becomes more warranted and needed.”
Bingham referred Baptists to their Anabaptist forebears, who often trained new believers in Christian doctrine for six to eight weeks before they baptized them. Baptist churches should follow this example, he said, adding that churches should at least train new believers in the faith immediately following baptism if they do not do so beforehand.
For clarity, Bingham noted that this time of teaching “must provide instruction on the following aspects of our faith: the doctrine of the one true God who exists only as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who created all things in heaven and on earth, immaterial and material; and who saves us in body and spirit—material and immaterial—through the incarnation, real death, burial, resurrection, ascension and return of his Son, Jesus Christ, who will return and raise our mortal, corruptible, shameful bodies to be like his glorious, incorruptible, immortal body, in unity with our purified spirit; and who by his grace through the Son gives us the Holy Spirit, by whom we are made truly spiritual in both body and spirit and, thereby—and only thereby—made fit for the kingdom of God.
“What must be passed on is that redemption and regeneration unto God is the act of the triune God, where and when all three are present and active in their ministry upon us,” Bingham added. “To baptize someone in the name of the triune God—Father, Son and Spirit—when he or she has not been instructed or will not be immediately instructed in the great Trinitarian narrative of salvation makes little sense. And to perform baptisms in front of those who have not been repeatedly schooled in the redemptive ministry of the Trinity is a lost opportunity. This all takes time. We must not be afraid of its lengthy duration. To not do this is the more frightful thing. Those who have started well in the faith are more prone to finish well in the faith. As Baptists, we should connect this essential instruction to Baptism.”
An expert in the history and theology of early Christianity, Bingham drew this lesson from his study of the second-century church father, Irenaeus of Lyons. In three lectures, Bingham showed that, for Irenaeus, both baptism and biblical interpretation were essentially doctrinal in nature.
“From the great inaugural right of baptism, then, to the enduring daily practice of Bible reading and interpretation, I hope to show how early Christian life had a central doctrinal core, how doctrine characterized the Christian journey,” Bingham said. “In this way, I hope to demonstrate that faith, theology and doctrine is the nectar that quenches the thirst of the Christian soul. It is what we believe that justifies us. I hope that in an age of evangelical Christianity that seems to value the sentimental, the experiential and the romantic over the theological, that these lectures might help us return to our Christian heritage."