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The Philippian Jailer and His Household

Acts 8:37Putting On Christ • Wycherley Critique

Believer's Baptism, Household Baptism, & Infant Baptism

A series of letters, written by, and to, New Zealand resident Charles W. Wycherley (CWW) to J. Collie-Smith between April 28, 1910 and July 15, 19101, have been brought forward to support the baptism of infants in Christian households.  In this article, several serious errors, omissions, and cleverly worded statements in the Wycherley letters are noted.

  1. In letter No. 3, dated May 14, 1910, CWW writes, "I call your attention to Mark 16:16:  'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned'.  Here salvation follows baptism, and does not precede it ... ."
    CWW fails to note that the word "believeth" comes before the phrase "is baptized".  Several passages of Scripture show how this works out.  See Acts 2:37-41; Acts 8:26-38; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 16:30-33; and Acts 19:4-5.
  2. In letter No. 5, dated May 25, 1910, CWW writes, "As circumcision was in Judaism, no uncircumcised persons could partake of the privileges of the house of God; to attempt to do was profanity.  In like manner, no unbaptized person has any footing in Christianity."
    Here CWW attempts to link baptism with circumcision, as if baptism in New Testament times is analogous to circumcision in Old Testament times.  It is not, as I have shown in the article entitled Baptism and Circumcision.
    CWW also uses the expression "footing in Christianity".  Where does the implication that baptism gives a person a "footing in Christianity" come from?  The next letter's postscript may provide some insight.
  3. In the postscript to letter No. 6, dated May 31, 1910, CWW's correspondent quotes James Butler Stoney and another brother as stating (inconsistently), "every baptized person is in the house" and "It is the Spirit brings you into the house, baptism only brings you into the precincts of the house", respectively.
    According to Ephesians 2:13-22, we are "fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God" by the preaching of the glad tidings — "in Christ Jesus ye who once were afar off are become nigh by the blood of the Christ.  ... he has preached the glad tidings of peace to you who were afar off, and the glad tidings of peace to those who were nigh".  The doctrine that baptism brings a person "into the precincts of the house" is not Biblically accurate.  Frederick Raven uses this expression also, as cited in the article entitled A Few Reflections Concerning Baptism.
  4. In letter No. 7, dated June 6, 1910, CWW writes, "There is, of course, no thought in Scripture of indiscriminate baptism of children as such.  It is always in connection with the faith of the parent, and I judge that the reason there is no 'Thus saith the Lord' is to preserve the element of faith; and though there is no strict 'letter' (which is foreign to Christianity) there is abundant spirit to gather that such is the mind of the Lord."
    CWW's clever use of the phrase "strict letter" and his immediate parenthetical note "(which is foreign to Christianity)" tends to unfairly bias the reader's mind to devalue the authority of Scripture.  What would CWW say of Paul's exhortation in 2 Thessalonians 3:14:  "But if any one obey not our word by the letter, mark that man, and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed of himself; ... ?"  Why didn't CWW simply write that there is no commandment and no exhortation in Scripture to baptize infants of believing parents?
    young Christian being baptized in a swimming pool
    A young Christian being baptized in a pool.
  5. In letter No. 9, dated June 25, 1910, CWW writes, "Peter had heard the Lord say, 'Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me'.  [Matthew 18:5].  To what were they received?  How do you receive a little child in His name?  How do they who hold 'believers' baptism' receive a little child, and to what do they receive him?"
    Clearly a little child can believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, receive Him into his or her heart, and be baptised.  A dear Christian friend and relative once told me of her little 4-year old son receiving the Lord Jesus into his heart during a gospel preaching.  Furthermore, the context of Matthew 18:5 indicates that Jesus was speaking there of a person — "one such little child" — who is converted and becomes as a little child. 
    • "Verily I say unto you, Unless ye are converted and become as little children, ye will not at all enter into the kingdom of the heavens.  Whoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens; and whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name, receives me."  Matthew 18:3-5 (Darby translation).
    CWW's remarks — attempting to divorce the reception of a little child from any thought of the child being a believer — are spurious.

I trust these few remarks concerning CWW's letters will suffice to show that his letters contain seriously flawed teaching.  May we be taught of God through His word, rather than carelessly absorbing the varied teachings of men.  "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, if they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world."  1 John 1:1.

Stephen Hesterman
December 19, 2005

— • —

My brother recently sent me another letter about baptism, written to CWW and dated April 13, 1913, and I have jotted down a few impressions.

  1. In this letter, Wycherley's correspondent quotes from 1 Corinthians 10:2  "All were baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" about which he writes, "Thus the children in the faith of the parent were carried through death and brought in figure to the place where God is known and owned".  Here, the writer fails to discern that God was then dealing with Israel nationally as His people, whereas in our dispensation, the day of grace, the people of God are believers – those who are "God's sons by faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26).
  2. In this letter, Wycherley's correspondent writes, about Acts 16:31, "That households were baptised cannot be disputed, and Scripture shows clearly that this was not on account of the faith of each individual, but on account of the faith of the head of the house.  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house".  [The Darby translation more accurately renders this verse, "Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house".]  The writer's interpretation of this verse is contrary to J. N. Darby's interpretation of the verse in his Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, volume 4, pages 44-45, where JND writes, "the gaoler himself is converted, and his family" and "We must not pass over in silence this energy which subdued whole houses, and subdued them to the christian faith".  JND was well-versed in New Testament Greek, and I believe that JND's interpretation is accurate.  This Philippian Jailer article elaborates on Acts 16:30-34 more fully.
Based on this Mt Victoria Historical Society article, it appears that Charles Wycherley was a successful horse tack purveyor and also a distributor of Bibles, books, and tracts, but he certainly failed to accurately purvey the truth about baptism; and at least some persons2 – perhaps many – have been led astray by his teachings.  See 2 Timothy 3:13-15.

1 Charles Whittingham Wycherley, Letters on Baptism, 1913 (Kingston-on-Thames: Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot).  C. W. Wycherley was about 67 years old and J. Collie-Smith was about 27 years old when these letters were written.
2 These Letters on Baptism are (or have been) available from Brethren Archive, Christian Doctrine and Gospel Publishing, and Kingston Bible Trust.

Stephen Hesterman
May 28, 2015


Response to C. W. Wycherley's Letters Concerning Baptism