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The Philippian Jailer and His Household

Acts 8:37Putting On ChristWycherley Critique

Believer's Baptism, Household Baptism, & Infant Baptism

"Household Baptism"GSB Observations

"And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'.  ... Those then who had accepted his word were baptised;"  (Acts 2:38-41).

Acts 2:38 In recent years, as I came to appreciate the ministry of Charles Henry Mackintosh, I wondered why it had fallen out of favor among the Christians with whom I gathered for many years.  I learned that a disagreement over the truth of baptism was largely responsible for this.  John Nelson Darby wrote, "I have no doubt as to infant baptism of the children of a Christian."  (Letters of J. N. Darby, volume 2, page 47) whereas C. H. Mackintosh wrote, "I have for thirty-two years been asking, in vain, for a single line of scripture for baptizing any save believers or those who professed to believe."  See On Baptism, from "Things New and Old".  Yet it is evident that Frederick Edward Raven, Joseph Pellatt, and other Christian brethren at the time valued both of these brothers and their teachings.  At a 1902 Bible conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, after J. N. Darby and C. H. Mackintosh had departed to be with Christ, these remarks were made:

  • J.P. – "I suppose to mention some well-known names we might have said we were in fellowship with J.N.D. or C.H.M., but we could not say that now."
  • F.E.R. – "We have the benefit of what they gave, but you could not speak of fellowship with them."
  • W.M. – "We can continue in their doctrine."
  • F.E.R. – "And have fellowship one with another in their doctrine".

This conversation appears in Ministry by F. E. Raven, New Series, volume 17, page 247.  These brothers clearly regarded J.N.D.'s and C.H.M.'s ministries as beneficial, and noted that we can continue in their doctrine and have fellowship with one another in their doctrine.

Through a series of events that I believe were ordered by God, my wife and I have come to realize that C. H. Mackintosh's teachings concerning baptism were Biblically accurate, and that what certain others had taught among Christians with whom we fellowshipped was not consistent with the truth of Scripture but was rather based on the traditional teachings of men.  See Mark 7:13.  During recent years, we have had time for "searching the scriptures if these things were so" (Acts 17:11) and finding "the knowledge that cometh of reflection" (Proverbs 8:12), to work through this exercise with the Lord.  We once believed that infants in a Christian household should be baptised, but we now realize that this teaching is not Scriptural.

Let us consider what Jesus taught concerning baptism, then let us test what others have taught in the light of the Holy Scriptures.

  • Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined you."  And Jesus said to them in Mark 16:16, "He that believes and is baptised shall be saved, and he that disbelieves shall be condemned."

In an article entitled "The remainder of Mr. J. Kelly's letter, ..., with some notes in reply by Mr. J. N. Darby", J. N. Darby writes:

  • "There are those among the "Brethren" who are not content with the baptism they received in infancy, and have thought it more scriptural to have adults baptised on their believing; thus the manner or circumstances of baptism have been differently judged of by many amongst them; but, instead of its being an open question, I never heard of baptism itself being a question at all among them."  (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, volume 14, page 236).

Jesus' words at the end of the gospels, as well as C.H.M.'s article on baptism and this comment of J.N.D.'s, have helped adjust our thoughts concerning baptism, and we have proved what Jesus said:  "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."  John 8:32.

Noted below are some additional teachings which we have tested in the light of Scripture.  Some of them agree with Scripture and some do not, but reviewing them in the light of Scripture has further confirmed us in our exercises.

J. N. Darby wrote, concerning Matthew 28:19:

  • "... the commission to the twelve was not from heaven, nor consequently immediately connecting with heaven, but from Galilee, and a commission to bring the nations into connection with an accepted remnant of Jews on earth — not to bring Jew and Gentile into the body in an ascended Christ ... .  That was only to disciple Gentile nations and baptise them.  Of the carrying out of this we have no account in scripture ... ."  (Letters of J.N.D., volume 2, pages 47-48).

I believe that J.N.D.'s view of this passage is too limited; and this is amply demonstrated by what took place in Acts 2:5-41 and Acts 10:34-48.  In the first instance, a large number of "... Jews, pious men, from every nation of those under heaven" believed the gospel preached by Peter and were baptised.  In the latter instance, in Cornelius' house, Peter says, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him."  These Gentile persons, who received Peter's preaching of the gospel and upon whom the Holy Spirit fell, were baptised.  In both of these passages, we see Peter answering to what the Lord Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19:  "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  Note the references to "every nation" in both Acts 2:5 and Acts 10:35.

F. E. Raven's comments at a Bible conference in 1900 are also troubling:

  • F.E.R. – "Baptism brings people into the precincts of the house, 'the court which is without' (Revelation 11)".
  • ...
  • Question: – "Are not all baptised people in the house?"
  • F.E.R. – "Infants are not in the house.  By baptism they are brought into the precincts of the house where the Spirit dwells."
  • Question: – "I have always understood that baptism brought you into the house.  Has it not always been taught in that way?"
  • F.E.R. – "It appears to me that Christ is the Builder of the house.  No one could be in the house without the Spirit, for it is a spiritual house."

This conversation appears in Ministry by F. E. Raven, New Series, volume 14, pages 232 and 233).  The full text of the referenced verse, Revelation 11:2, reads, "And the court which is without the temple cast out, and measure it not; because it has been given up to the nations, and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty-two months."  Why would brother Raven speak of baptism bringing a person into a place which, in the very verse he quotes, is referred to as being "cast out?"  How is this a good thing in God's sight?

In these remarks, F.E.R.'s teaching shows the influence of unbiblical Anglican church teachings and practices as to baptism:

  • "Baptism brings us into the external bond of Christian fellowship.  ... .  There is a measure of truth in the church of England idea; the sponsors take up the vows for the child at baptism, but when he is confirmed he takes up his own responsibility in connection with the vows."  (Ministry by F. E. Raven, New Series, volume 4, pages 86 and 87).

At Newcastle, Australia, in 1936, brother James Taylor ministers rightly as to baptism:

  • "He [the believer, according to Romans 6] has been under the waters of baptism and it is not only that there is baptism to Christ but unto His death, and His death meant being engulfed.  He went to the bottom of the mountains.  Deep called unto deep as He was in death.  The earth and the bars were round about Him, He says, Jonah being a figure, so that baptism is intended to be a real symbol for the Christian, that is, that he has been not only baptised unto Christ.  Sprinkling might do for that in a way, but being baptised unto Christ's death requires more than sprinkling as a symbol.  It requires immersion.  That is to say that the believer in principle accepts that Christ's death was really intended to be his."  (Ministry by J. Taylor, volume 56, pages 47-48).

At Rochester, New York meetings in 1941, J. Taylor said this:

  • "Moses is the great baptiser; he is introduced to us as in the water.  As it says in 1 Corinthians 10:2, 'All were baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea'.  We are told all!  Oh, you say, infants?  Certainly, but households is the proper word."  (Ministry by J. Taylor, volume 75, page 376).

This passage, "They were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2), cannot be used to justify infant baptism because God was then dealing with the children of Israel nationally as His people, whereas in our dispensation, the day of grace, the people of God are believers — those who are "sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26).

Later, at Indianapolis meetings in 1943, an unnamed brother helps J. T., to a degree, as to the truth of baptism.  First, J. T. says he would not baptise a person [who had been sprinkled] again, but after the brother reminds him of the truth of baptism relating to burial, J. T. says that he would have no difficulty doing it — indeed he adds "by all means do it" if it is necessary for a good conscience.  Here is the reference:

  • Remark: – "If a person has been sprinkled with water instead of being submerged would it be right to baptise him again?"
  • J.T. – "Well, if it has been done in the name of the Lord it is accepted in heaven and I would not baptise a person like that again; he is baptised and as such is held responsible by heaven."
  • Remark: – "Persons should be actually buried in the water."
  • J.T. – "That is the moral thought but still heaven accepts the other.  The whole christian profession is held responsible by heaven and almost all in it are baptised like that.  At the same time I would say that if a person's conscience would not be satisfied without being baptised again I should have no difficulty doing it; if it is necessary for a good conscience by all means do it.  I was asked about that by a Roman Catholic who did not know whether or not he had been baptised and I said, If you were born a Catholic it is quite right to assume that you have been baptised; however, if your conscience disturbs you by all means have it done again.  The Lord is merciful and it is good to satisfy your conscience but there is hardly a christian living that heaven does not regard in the light of having been baptised."

This conversation appears in Ministry by J. Taylor, New Series, volume 81, pages 407-408).

Two years later, at a Summit, New Jersey Bible reading in 1945, a sad departure from the Scriptural truth of baptism is evident:

  • G.V.D. – "Speaking about quick learners, it is encouraging to have that kind of material added to us, taking on the truth of household baptism, for instance."
  • J.T. – "I am glad you bring that up because household baptism was put on the shelf fifty years ago.  Most of the leading brothers put it on the shelf and refused it and suffered accordingly, most of them; whereas the Lord has broken through and the Spirit of God has led the brethren generally to that point, because Paul's doctrine requires household baptism.  ... ."
  • A.N.W. – "We should not let our minds be disturbed by people injecting what they call infant baptism into it.  It is household baptism."
  • J.T. – "That is right.  It is not infant baptism at all that is being advanced; it is household baptism.  It is not that infants are of importance, although they are said to be holy — the infants of Christians — but it is the household.  ... ."

This conversation appears in Ministry by J. Taylor, New Series, volume 56, page 269).  One wonders why J.T. would say, "It is not that infants are of importance".  Surely if the infants of Christians are holy (as they are, according to 1 Corinthians 7:14), then they are important in God's sight!  Here J.T. downplays the importance of infants whom he justifies including in household baptism.  And when J.T. says that it is not infant baptism that is being advanced, is he not playing with words?  When an infant in a Christian household is baptised, of course it is infant baptism (even if the teaching of baptismal regeneration does not accompany it)!  It is also sobering to consider the evil that arose in J.T.'s family1 several years earlier in light of his comments about most of the leading brothers putting household baptism "on the shelf", refusing it, and suffering for it.2

After reading even a few attempts to justify baptising infants in Christian households, I can see why C. H. Mackintosh wrote, "For my own part — seeing the question has been thus forced upon me — I can only say I have for thirty-two years been asking, in vain, for a single line of scripture for baptizing any save believers or those who professed to believe.  Reasonings I have had, inferences, conclusions, and deductions; but of direct scripture authority not one tittle."

May God bless those who read this article with an honest and good heart.

Affectionately in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Stephen Hesterman
March 22, 2006

See also:  Origen's Influence on the Teaching and Practice of Baptism.

1 See Letters of James Taylor, volume 2, pages 164 and 172.

  • On February 13, 1940, he writes, "My wife and I appreciate your sympathy with us in our great sorrow.  It is great to us bearing on us personally.  We think it right to so regard it, but we seek to look at it as affecting the saints, the Lord's name and His testimony, and we are assured that this is more to us than the shame attached to ourselves and family." (page 164).
  • On March 4, 1940, he writes, "Still the matter was so grave, affecting three of my family, that I have the sense that I should stand by until adjustment takes place." (page 172).
2 In Acts 16, when Lydia (a merchant woman) and her house were baptized, there is no indication that infants lived in her house.  Furthermore, the Greek word oikos (translated house) can mean (1) an actual house or home, (2) a family, more or less related, literally or figuratively, or (3) the persons living in a house, including the head of the house, his or her immediate family, and the household servants. 
Before the jailer "and all his" were baptized, they had all heard the word of the Lord spoken by Paul and Silas.  After being baptized, they rejoiced householdly, having believed in God — or, more literally, they "exulted whole-housely, having believed God".  J. N. Darby remarks as to this occasion, "the gaoler himself is converted, and his family" (Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, volume 4, page 44).

Published by Stephen Hesterman, Barnegat, New Jersey, USA.  Search.

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