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"Household Baptism"


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"Household Baptism" • GSB Observations

Matthew 28:19 In this narrative, we will consider what I believe to be an important reason why things have gone so terribly wrong among the Christians (a branch of so-called Exclusive Brethren) with whom some of us fellowshipped for many years.  In particular, we will consider:
  1. how Frederick Raven and Joseph Pellatt commended John Darby's and Charles H. Mackintosh's ministries; yet Mackintosh's name was hardly mentioned among us during the 1950s and 1960s.
  2. how Charles Mackintosh taught that only believers and those who profess to believe should be baptized, warning of "most disastrous results" if "infant baptism" was pressed upon God's people.
  3. how James Taylor Senior, in 1936, rightly taught that baptism requires a believer to be immersed in water but, in 1941, opened the door to rephrasing "infant baptism" as "household baptism".
  4. how James Taylor Senior, in 1943, taught that a Roman Catholic who had probably been sprinkled as a baby could assume that he had been baptized and, in 1945, rejected what "most of the leading brothers" had taught and practiced 50 years earlier concerning believer's baptism.
  5. how these developments during the 1940s led to disastrous results, as Charles Henry Mackintosh had prophesied many years earlier.
I trust these insights will bless, and provide some closure to, many persons who have been deeply hurt by their experiences in what has become a cult of personality.

During the mid/late 1960s, I was a teenager living in Chatham, New Jersey.  Our family fellowshipped among a "Raven/Taylor" branch of so-called "Plymouth Brethren" in New Jersey.  During this period, we often heard that there were "three great ministries" — JND (John Nelson Darby), FER (Frederick Edward Raven), and JT (James Taylor).  JBS (James Butler Stoney) and CAC (Charles Coates) were also mentioned, viewed by some — to use another's term — as "second tier" ministries.  These brothers' printed ministry was repackaged and reprinted by Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot during the 1960s.

But CHM (Charles Henry Mackintosh), another well-known ministering brother, was rarely mentioned while I was growing up.  CHM's ministry was not reprinted by Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot.  Yet, his ministry is appreciated by Christians worldwide, among various "branches" of brethren, within the Calvary Chapel movement, and elsewhere.

Indeed, after both JND and CHM had departed to be with Christ, FER and Joseph Pellatt conversed about JND and CHM at an Indianapolis Bible conference:

  • 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.  (JND and CHM both lived during the 19th century and departed to be with Christ in 1882 and 1896, respectively.)  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.

Some years ago, I learned that a disagreement over the truth of baptism was largely responsible for CHM's ministry falling out of favor among brethren with whom I walked in Christian fellowship for most of my life. 

  • J. N. 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).  He also wrote, "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" (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, volume 14, page 236).
  • 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" (Short Papers on Scripture Subjects by C. H. Mackintosh, volume 2, page 273).

So let's consider how this disagreement played out in the ensuing years.

At Newcastle, Australia, in 1936, brother James Taylor ministered rightly concerning 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).
Five years later, at 1941 Rochester, New York meetings, J. Taylor said:
  • "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 baptizing infants now, 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).

Two years later, at Indianapolis meetings in 1943, an unnamed brother helps James Taylor, 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).  In this conversation, we see a departure from the scriptural truth of baptism — i.e. baptism of infants and baptism by sprinkling.

Two years later, in 1945 at meetings in Summit, New Jersey, during a period when brethren baptizing their infant children was becoming commonplace, this conversation took place:

  • 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 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 ministry 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."

This conversation appears in Ministry by J. Taylor, New Series, volume 56, page 269.  A. N. Walker and James Taylor, both likely aware of CHM's warning against "pressing infant baptism" upon God's people, resort to renaming infant baptism as "household baptism".  It is evident from this conversation that, during the late 19th century, brethren were, increasingly, practicing believer's baptism — and that CHM was, by no means, the only "leading" brother who taught believer's baptism during that period.  Yet JT here rejects their teaching and practice, presuming to know the reason for whatever suffering they endured at the time.

Consider the disastrous results that arose among us in the ensuing years:

  1. JT's daughter, Stella Petersen, divorced her husband a few years later, while JT was still alive.  Some time after the Aberdeen/New York division, Stella moved from New York to New Jersey; years later, shortly before she departed to be with Christ, Stella told my mother, "They made me divorce my husband".  I believe this was a precedent for the heartbreaking break-up of marriages and families that followed.  "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate".  Mark 10:9.
  2. JT's son JT Jr went on to lead brethren to the point that, in late 1970, after New York brethren withdrew from him, some brethren locally were so committed to him that they said, "We need to be 100% with JT Jr", sentiments that led to formation of a cult of personality. 
  3. G.V.D. was the brother who made the announcements in our Summit, NJ meeting room, and he announced (the day after brethren in New York withdrew from JT Jr) that we were breaking bread in fellowship with JT Jr, Neville Walker (one of ANW's sons), and James Taylor the 3rd (one of JT's grandsons).  Several of us stated that we could not agree with that announcement; we simply separated from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19) and remembered the Lord Jesus with our families in Bob and Helen Dadd's home that morning.
Well, if we try to play word games with the Holy Scriptures, God will not be mocked.  Galatians 6:7.  CHM's warning was indeed prophetic: "I believe the course of some of our friends, in urging on this question of baptism will, unless God in His mercy interpose, lead to most disastrous results.  I complain not of any who conscientiously hold this or that view on the subject; but I do complain of those, who, instead of preaching and teaching Jesus Christ, are disturbing the minds of God's people by pressing infant baptism upon them [emphasis added]."  (Extract from On Baptism, by C. H. Mackintosh.)

Stephen Hesterman
August, 2019

"For ye are all God's sons by faith in Christ Jesus.
For ye, as many as have been baptised unto Christ, have put on Christ".
Galatians 3:26-27.

"He that believes and is baptised shall be saved, ...".
Mark 16:16.

"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".
Matthew 28:19.

Christian Baptism - "Household Baptism"