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Observations for Baptism Consultation

Press Release: Believers’ Baptism Consultation

Report: Believers’ Baptism Consultation

A Consultation on Believers’ Baptism was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, from January 8 through 10, 2015.

What Christians believe about how we are to practice water baptism is usually divided into two camps: the believers’ baptism of the credobaptists and infant baptism of the paedobaptists.

In my opinion, the consultation on water baptism was especially significant for Pentecostals in a number of ways. First, and most directly, exploring Pentecostal history and theology of water baptism was an eye opening experience for many. Dan Tomberlin’s presentation on “Believers Baptism in the Pentecostal Tradition” brought to light the incredible diversity that exists on this subject across the spectrum of Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The tendency to assume a “one size fits all” view of Pentecostals (on this or any other topic) is once again thoroughly debunked. Tomberlin aptly opined that “the” Pentecostal tradition on water baptism displays clear tendencies to Spirit baptize diverse inherited traditions. For him, the diversity and multiplicity of tongues at Pentecost (Acts 2) suggests a fertile theological principle for developing a “theological imagination” for interpreting the significance of water baptism from a perspective of ecumenical appreciation. Along this line, Assemblies of God Pentecostal scholar Mel Robeck’s longstanding dialogue with Catholics (who are not credobaptists!) brought an insightful angle to the ecumenical aspect of the consultation.

Second, we were led to wrestle with the undergirding theology of water baptism from a Pentecostal perspective. Accordingly, during the dialogue sessions my own discussions on water baptism tended to emphasize a few guiding themes. First, I stressed that baptismal theology is shaped by gracious divine agency, participatory and transformational soteriology, facilitatory ecclesiology, holistic and synergistic anthropology, and teleological eschatology. Second, baptism in water is a means not an end, and therefore is not a final state or status but an ongoing calling or vocation, the beginning of a journey to be lived out in obedient faith. Third, I argued that water baptism should be viewed as Trinitarian act, communal event, and individual appropriation (in repentance and faith).

Fourth, for me the objective/communal and subjective/individual poles are kept in appropriate tension, that is, the complementarity and unity of both should be maintained (ritual event and religious experience). Fifth, infant baptism may be considered in terms of prevenient grace; but, this generates difficulties with adult (believers’ baptism) which, in terms of those baptized as infants, would not be considered initiation but (re)affirmation. Sixth, infant dedication is likely a viable alternative to infant baptism, with biblical precedent, affirming the necessary aspects of prevenient grace while avoiding complications of baptized but unconverted adults. And finally, the rite of water baptism does not exhaust the significance of Spirit baptism which fulfills the initial and original vision of water baptism in its individual, ecclesial, and, ultimately, in its eschatological and cosmological dimensions.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2015

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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