Rebaptism Bridge Over Troubled Water

Rebaptism Bridge Over Troubled Water

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This article reflects on questions related to the issue of rebaptism within Nordic Christianity. Because infant baptism is not recognized as valid within the Pentecostal tradition, new members are asked to undergo rebaptism. Many of those coming from a Lutheran tradition, however, seem to have a “ritualized remembrance” of their infant baptism, thus indicating the ability to build bridges between now and then by being in touch with a spiritual reality across time and place, tied to an overarching interpersonal theological discourse. In moving from the Lutheran to the Pentecostal tradition, how important is the amount of water as long as compatible theo- logical reflections are present? And conversely, to what extent can we talk about a sacramental potential in Pentecostalism? When considering such questions, the goal of expressing a “com- mon understanding” and admitting “a mutual recognition” does not mean complete agreement in all details.


Pentecostalism, baptism, rebaptism, church affiliation, ecumenism, postmodernity, Pentecostal sacramentality, freedom of conscience


Urban Pentecostal churches in Norway face a specific challenge regarding the doctrine and practise of baptism: Due to their background in a predominantly Lutheran tradition, many of those who attend Pentecostal services are not nec- essarily members of Pentecostal churches. Most of them were baptized as infants. Traditionally, Pentecostal church regulations would require rebaptism

* I thank the reviewers of this article for their constructive feedback. Their comments have improved the content and sharpened the focus of the article.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013

DOI: 10.1163/15700747-12341315



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since infant baptism is not recognized as valid within Nordic Pentecostalism. So, should all of them have to be rebaptized in order to achieve membership in a Pentecostal church? How important is the amount of water as long as the person’s theological stance is compatible with the Pentecostal tradition? Fur- thermore, how can the doctrine of baptism acquire even more substance within the Pentecostal tradition at the same time as new bridge-building prac- tices are established across denominational borders? Is there a bridge over troubled water? The question is legitimate because the practice of rebaptism still represents a huge ecumenical challenge that creates tension between dif- ferent church bodies.1

Two Scenarios

Let me give you the first scenario: Turn to any of the largest Pentecostal churches in the Nordic countries and ask for the topic that evokes the most interest. Probably all of them will point to the relationship between baptism and church affiliation with regard to those many people coming from the Folk church tradition, who have therefore been baptized as infants and who now define a Pentecostal church as their spiritual home. At present they cannot become members unless they are rebaptized.2 Only a few of them are ready to be baptized again in order to become a member of a Pentecostal church. The fact is that many of them still consider their infant baptism as valid and impor- tant. To a greater or lesser degree they have grown up as believers and have lived their “baptismal covenant” all their life. They indeed have a living faith,

1 Even though my research context is the Norwegian Pentecostal movement, the situation in the entire region is similar because of the majority status of the Lutheran Church in all the Nordic countries.

2 In Norway, as in the other Nordic countries, the majority of the population are members of the state church (in this case the Church of Norway), an evangelical Lutheran folk church. The state church system was established in Denmark-Norway in 1537 as a consequence of the Lutheran reformation. The Church of Norway, which practices infant baptism, has 3.9 million members (around 79 percent of the Norwegian population). On May 21, 2012, the Norwegian Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that granted the Church of Norway increased autonomy. Until this historical amendment Article 2 in the Norwegian Constitution stated that “the Evangel- ical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State. The inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same.” In the new wording of the Constitution there is no longer any reference to an “official religion of the State.” Article 2 in the Constitution now says that Norway’s values are based on its “Christian and humanist heritage. But still the public Church Law of 1996 designates the Church of Norway as “a confessional, missional, serving, and open Folk Church” with baptism (normally infant baptism) as criterion for membership.


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received in a Lutheran context and nurtured in the “room of faith” of home and church. According to Lutheran theology the prerequisite for the baptism of children is the expectation that the baptized will appropriate a living faith, although after the time at which their baptism took place. Through the emerg- ing faith they will receive what Christian baptism proclaims to provide. If you ask them about their infant baptism — an event they do not remember — they still consider it as a valuable part of their faith life. They even reveal a theologi- cal awareness in relation to their baptism that sometimes goes far beyond what many members of the Baptist and Pentecostal traditions show with regard to the content and nature of this doctrine.

Pentecostal pastors and theologians, on their side, often refuse to be engaged in active insistence on rebaptism because of their intuitive respect for the char- acter of baptism as a one-time action.3 Instead, some of them ask whether new theological and liturgical criteria for affiliation with a Pentecostal church can be established.4 One condition seems to be obvious: Such criteria cannot per – mit a situation in which the doctrine of baptism suffers a shapeless compro- mise or ends up in the theological backyard.5

The second scenario: In 1982, 120 theologians from a hundred different denominations came together in Lima, Peru to finish their ecumenical work on the declaration on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.6 The BEM declaration gradually became the most famous dialogue document from Faith and Order. In many ways this statement makes for good reading, characterized as it is by mutual respect for different doctrinal positions and its awareness of both the objective and subjective sides of the New Testament baptismal texts. Section IV/13 however, is a demanding read for churches that coexist with infant- baptizing majority churches: “Baptism is an unrepeatable act. Any practice

3 This is my clear impression after several dialogues with pastors within the Pentecostal move- ment in Norway.

4 A few Pentecostal churches in Norway have decided to welcome new members without ask- ing for baptism at all. Their argument builds upon a reflection of the sufficiency of the status of faith alone for the establishment of membership. Thus these churches get around the topic of rebaptism for the act of affiliation. In light of important passages in the story of the primitive church, however, and in order to construct a sustainable foundation for the process of Christian initiation, you can hardly separate the doctrine of faith from the doctrine of baptism. See the fol- lowing passages: Acts 2:38-39; 8:12-13; 10:44-48; 19:4-5; 22:16.

5 For a discussion within a Scandinavian Pentecostal context, see Jan-Åke Alvarsson, ed., Medlemskap: En tvärvetenskaplig studie av medlemskap i Pingströrelsen (Membership: A Cross- Scientific Study of the Question of Membership in the Pentecostal Movement) (Uppsala: Institu- tet för Pentekostala Studier, 2011).

6 Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (the BEM Declaration), Faith and Order Paper No. 111 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982).



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which might be interpreted as ‘re-baptism’ must be avoided” (BEM, p. 4). Is this a formulation in line with the gradually established ecumenical “code of conduct,”7 or is it an example of use of power language by the historical churches that demonstrates lack of sensitivity to the complex questions that arise from rebaptism? Is it a legacy from the condemnation statements in the Augsburg Confessionor is it, on the contrary, an attempt to safeguard Christian baptism as a sacred act of unity?

The official comment from the Church of Norway characterizes this specific statement in BEM as “a source of great joy.”8 Other churches considered the paragraph about rebaptism to be too short and too bold, not taking sufficiently into account that the issue of rebaptism does not unilaterally concern the Baptist-oriented churches. The Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland could not agree that “an a priori universal bar should operate” regarding the question of rebaptism (ibid., 48). In an additional commentary in BEM, Faith and Order described the section as a natural fruit of an ecumenical approach, stating that the closer the churches come to each other, the greater is the desire to refrain from practices that cause embarrassment with regard to the theological and sacramental integrity of other churches. This development probably has to be understood in light of the substantial changes over the last decades — spurred on by postmodern insights — in the general attitude toward otherness.

Preference Given to Understanding

Behind the desire to build bridges over troubled water we find a significant amount of empirical evidence showing how churches have gradually come

7 In Charta Oecumenica the historical churches in Europe commit themselves to working toward “visible unity of the Church, expressed in the mutual recognition of baptism and in Eucha- ristic fellowship, as well as in common witness and service.” Source: .uk/charter2.html. The churches want to “recognize that every person can freely choose his or her religious and church affiliation as a matter of conscience, which means not inducing anyone to convert through moral pressure or material incentive, but also not hindering anyone from enter- ing into conversion of his or her own free will.” The churches also intend to “overcome the feeling of self-sufficiency within each church, and to eliminate prejudices; to seek mutual encounters and to be available to help one another.” The churches propose especially to “defend the rights of minorities and to help reduce misunderstandings and prejudices between majority and minority churches. . . .” The final version of the text of Charta Oecumenica was received at the SEC/CCEE Ecumenical Encounter held in Strasbourg in April 2001, containing guidelines for the growing cooperation among the churches in Europe.

8 Baptist, Eucharist & Ministry: Report on the Process and Responses. From 1982 to 1990, Faith and Order Paper No. 8 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1990).


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closer to one another.9 This is also perceptible in the field of academic theology. 10 The development takes place through an intriguing movement on the ground level in local churches, making the limitations of the old denominational lines a thing of the past. Churches have become “guests in each other’s house,” and to a large extent they are guests who do not want to leave! The reason is clear enough: the one obtains important impulses from the other. Moreover, post- modernity stimulates a feeling of equality.11 People listen in new ways and are able to understand more constructively the other’s affairs without being para- lyzed by fear and prejudice. Gradually, representatives of different traditions admit and acknowledge the spiritual treasures coming from other traditions. It is to be hoped that people from one tradition could consider these gifts as “medicine” that would heal the wounds and diseases of their own church. Following that, the children of faith and Spirit will get a distinct feeling of belonging to each other. They can retrieve insights from others that help them to define themselves more clearly. Moreover, there is a missional and perhaps also a prophetic perspective here, given by one of the most esteemed Norwe- gian Pentecostal evangelists of the last sixty years, Emanuel Minos. In his latest book Minos writes that the time has come for various Christians to come together, both from the high- and the low-church traditions. “We should not overlook the differences between us, especially in the view on baptism. But the challenges are larger than that, because our country is in the process of being de-Christianized,” he writes. Minos concludes, “United we stand, divided we fall.”12 In light of this, it is relevant to ask how transfer activity across the

9 As an example, see the latest dialogue document from WCC: The Church: Towards a Com- mon Vision, Faith and Order Commission, Document No. GEN 06, 2012. The same development seems to be perceptible on the local level as a result of the ecumenical involvement by churches from different traditions. Young people show the way by their desire to move beyond church borders. Through impulses from other churches they achieve ecumenical competence. Source:

10 A remarkable case is the development within the framework of the Norwegian School of Theology, an old Lutheran bastion. During the last decade the school has given a wide range of educational programs in Pentecostal, Methodist, and Catholic theology. This is based on substan- tial reflections about how to cooperate in the academic field without erasing, but rather listening and learning from, the distinctiveness of each church tradition. Torleiv Austad, Teologi i kirkens rom: Menighetsfakultetet som kirkelig og luthersk fakultet [Theology in the Context of the Church: The Norwegian School of Theology as Ecclesiastical and Lutheran Seminary] (Oslo: Lærerrådet, 2001).

11 Dave Hill, Peter McLaren, Mike Cole, and Glenn Rikowski, eds., Postmodernism in Educa- tional Theory: Education and the Politics of Human Resistance (London: Da Costa Print, 1999). 12 Emanuel Minos, Det har ringt for tredje gang [It has tolled for the third time] (Skjetten, Norway: Hermon Publishing, 2009), 159.



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confessional borders can strengthen the identity of each church instead of causing confusion. This is especially the case when it comes to the doctrine of water baptism. Must the issue of baptism necessarily separate us? What is needed for the opposite to take place? Can various voices within the churches together provide building blocks for “a bridge over troubled water”?13

If, as Paul declares in Ephesians 4, there is only one baptism, as there is only one Lord and one faith, how important, then, is “the order of factors” in the initiation process as long as the elements of faith, baptism, and discipleship are taken seriously in the different church traditions, regardless of whether those who are baptized are children or adults?14 In light of the preference given to mutual understanding, is it possible to create a theological modus vivendi, a new way of living together as churches? How can the content of baptismal fullness be secured at the same time as new bridge-building practices are established? Ecumenists, theologians, and pastors may provide constructive assistance for one another. Let us first look at some historical considerations.

The Baptismal Debate: Dialogue versus Confrontation

Normally we define our identity by highlighting certain parts of our life story. During my years as youth pastor I came across a tract in which the biblical foundation of adult baptism was presented on the left side and a correspond- ing account of the doctrine of the Lutheran infant baptism was rendered on the right side. The left side was full of Scripture references, while the right side was completely blank, without any text. The message was clear and in line with the strategy of T.B. Barratt, the founder of the Pentecostal Movement in Norway. Barratt, who was probably shaped more for conflict than for dialogue, had a strong polemical style in his writing and issued a direct pronouncement against the baptismal practice of the Church of Norway. The result was a clear aware- ness of what the Norwegian Pentecostal movement was against. To a lesser extent, the Pentecostals were equipped with a reflected understanding of their own doctrine of baptism.15 Barratt’s position also typified the limited interest

13 Borrowed from a song written by Paul Simon in 1969 and recorded in 1970 by Simon and Garfunkel.

14 Ingrid Eskilt and Ingunn Folkestad Breistein, “Ecumenism and mission in an Alliance Per- spective,” Norwegian Journal of Mission Studies 62, no. 4 (2008): 229-44. As late as 1939, infant baptism and adult baptism were practiced in Germany within the same Pentecostal assemblies. Nils E. Block-Hoell, The Pentecostal Movement (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1964), 164-67.

15 In my PhD dissertation I survey the central aspects of the ecumenical positions within the Pentecostal movement in Norway. While the initial years were characterized by ecumenical


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within the revival culture for the historical context of the Church of Norway and its long-standing tradition of a broad and valuable interface with the popu- lation. In his 1956 doctoral dissertation on Pentecostalism, Nils Bloch-Hoell asked with wonder why baptism became so important when it was not given a sacramental meaning. He presumed that its significance was connected to its ability to act as a confessional demarcation line, indicating a break with the old churches.16

On the other side, one need not search very deeply into the writings of an outstanding Lutheran dogmatist, Leiv Aalen, to find similarly stigmatizing descriptions of adult baptism. Today these would hardly be recognized as well grounded. Aalen could warn against “the Baptist delusion of the question of baptism. Where this doctrine is spread, it is a deadly danger to the Christian Church.”17 We can see clearly how doctrinal debates about baptism have been historically colored by their own contemporary context. The confessionalism of the majority churches was, in the Free Church tradition, met by a similar profile of resistance. At that time it could probably appear as necessary. The strength of the Folk church model demanded an offensive defense. Today it appears neither fruitful nor constructive (Hegertun, «Det brodersind som pin- seaanden nødvendigvis maa føde», 93-95). The reaction can be seen, however, from the perspective of the history of ideas, going back to the Anabaptists and their fight for freedom of religion and conscience as well as the voluntary ele- ment in the Baptist self-understanding.18 Can this particular ideal of freedom of conscience, so integrated as it is in the human rights tradition today, be applied so as to talk about baptismal freedom of conscience?

I believe so. In my view, a valid ecumenical approach presupposes an under- standing of identity that at its base is open to new experiences. Without such

ideals and the movement was placed in an interconfessional framework, a narrowing of perspec- tive took place after Barratt’s own rebaptism in 1913. Gradually this led to ecumenical isolation and homogenizing categories of agreement, especially regarding the doctrine of baptism. Terje Hegertun, “Det brodersind som pinseaanden nødvendigvis maa føde”: Analyse av økumeniske posi- sjoner i norsk pinsebevegelse med henblikk på utviklingen av en pentekostal økumenikk og fornyelse av økumeniske arbeidsformer [“The Mind of Brotherhood to Which the Spirit of Pentecost with Necessity Must Give Birth”: An Analysis of Ecumenical Positions in the Pentecostal Movement of Norway, Regarding Generating a Pentecostal Ecumenism and a Renewal of Ecumenical Methods] (Trondheim: Tapir Akademiske Forlag, 2009), 73.

16 Nils E. Bloch-Hoell, The Pentecostal Movement, 164-67.

17 Leif Aalen, Dåpen og barnet: Barnedåp eller “troendes dåp?” [Baptism and the Child: Infant Baptism or “Believer’s Baptism”?] (Oslo: Luther Forlag, 1945), 45.

18 Peder A. Eidberg, “Baptist Values Historically Illuminated,” Baptist: Journal of Baptist His- tory, Theology and Practice 13, no. 1 (2007): 19-35.



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an approach, any potential reorientation would normally be interpreted as an unattractive theological compromise. According to French philosopher and literary theorist Jean-François Lyotard, one of the distinctive features of post- modernity is that confrontation is replaced by truth-seeking dialogue and a more intuitive openness to the fact that the power of definition is not managed only by the one part.19 This makes dialogue easier but also more challenging, because it threatens the safety that we, including theologians, are seeking. The risk of dialogue is that when we listen to the other, we might possibly come across insights that we have not yet acquired.

With regard to the way in which a church has emerged historically, perhaps with a strongly marked theological (baptismal) profile, Pentecostal theologian Murray W. Dempster points out that what may have been the distinctive fea- ture of a denomination in the past does not need to be the central sign in the future.20 A reorientation of attitudes is possible without changing the core concerns of a faith community. Consequently, Dempster distinguishes posi- tions colored by their historically contingent conditions from factors of theo- logically substantive character. This leads us to the question of the relation between form and content.

The Relation between Form and Content

The inflexibility of the baptismal debate has had consequences for the relation between form and content. Strangely enough, within the Free Church tradition the form has been subject to a greater attention than the content — the nature and function — of baptism. But to some extent the formhas been determined by circumstances and context.21 Of course, it can be said that the external fig – ure is an integrated part of the baptismal act and therefore not insignificant. But there is something more than the question of immersion that makes

19  Jan-Olav Henriksen, På grensen til Den andre: om teologi og postmodernitet [At the Border of the Other: On Theology and Postmodernity] (Oslo: Ad notam Gyldendal, 1999).

20 Byron D. Klaus, Douglas Petersen, and Murray W. Dempster, Called and Empowered: Global Mission in Pentecostal Perspective (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991).

21 Already from the time of the first century of the church, we can observe the flexibility with reference to the question of the quantity of water. A striking example is the advice coming from the oldest surviving written catechism, Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles). The sec – ond part of the text begins with an instruction on baptism. If possible, you have to use “living water” (natural, flowing water). But if the water is insufficient for immersion, it may be poured three times on the head. But note that the ideal was flowing water. Source: ccel/lake/fathers2.v.html.


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baptism a specific Christian act: namely, that it takes place within the frame – work of the believing community, that Scripture is read and water used as ele- ment, that the name of the triune God is proclaimed, and that there is some kind of statement of faith linked to the action.22 These are normative elements for the baptismal act, and they belong to way the doctrine has to be communi- cated and carried out. Baptismal practice, on the other hand, has been subject to adjustments throughout church history. Without theology at the center of our attention a sort of “practical fundamentalism” may occur, with the result that the deep intent of the doctrine of baptism is muddled.

In light of these reflections, it is legitimate to ask whether Christian baptism is not, in fact, satisfactorily realized through more than just one baptismal form. If the two different baptismal acts in use in the global church today apparently do the same work, if they foster a common understanding of the relation between faith and baptism, and if the baptized becomes a disciple of Jesus and a citizen of the kingdom of God — regardless of whether faith is fos- tered before or later than the actual time of the baptismal act — what does this mean for the question of rebaptism?Given a common understanding of the theological content of baptism, developed through ecumenical dialogues, may not in fact the two forms be mutually appreciated as valid Christian baptism? Can form really invalidate content?23

“Ritualized Remembrance”

When the night came on the cotton farms in the old days, the slaves used to sing: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” This is a strange question. But yes, we were there! As it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived . . .” are “things God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9-10). Remembrance in order to recapture what is given me through the death and resurrection of Christ is an important

22 In the Lutheran tradition there is a clear distinction between form and content. If a person is baptized in accordance with these conditions but in another tradition (such as the Baptist tra- dition) he or she does not need to be rebaptized to become a member of a Lutheran Church. In deciding whether a prior baptismal act should be regarded as valid, the amount of water is of no relevance. In Pentecostal circles the position is almost the opposite: the act of immersion is evalu- ated as just as important as other liturgical elements. Here baptism is linked to the image of the funeral of one’s old identity, which probably becomes more clearly expressed through the Baptist tradition of immersion.

23 Of course there are also other objections from a Baptist-Pentecostal perspective, that infant baptism is not based on a voluntary decision and that it is not preceded by conversion.



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perspective in liturgy as well as in pastoral counselling. The eucharistic meal functions as a retelling of the salvation story, proclaimed to us and received by faith in a transcending way. We could say that it makes present the effect of something performed in earlier times. Through this “ritualized remembrance,” the believer has the ability to build bridges between now and then and be in touch with a spiritual reality across time and place. The experience pushes beyond what is remembered cognitively, and is as much tied to an overarching interpersonal theological discourse.24

In the same manner as the baptized are able to appropriate content from the overarching theological discourse to form their own salvation story, they can also “live out” their baptism in their everyday life independent of concrete psychological and social memories. Theories of cognition allow for the possi- bility of uniting theology and history to get a current experience of being car- ried on the wings of salvation by the eternal word of God’s promise.25 That is why believers who are baptized as children think of their baptism not in cate- gories of time but through an understanding of content.

This opens up a new perspective for Pentecostal theologians: the question of the sacramental potential of Pentecostal theology. Wesley Scott Biddy reflects on how much of a distance there really is between Pentecostal spirituality, with its emphasis on physical expressions, intercessory prayer, and laying on of hands (Acts 8:17; 19:6) on the one hand, and, on the other, the doctrinal concep- tion of classical theology in which the visible world may contain invisible real- ities.26 Why could not spiritual realities be expressed through baptism and Holy Communion and thus have more than a symbolic significance? And what about the Pentecostal view of speaking in tongues as an outward sign of an inner spiritual fullness? Worship in charismatic churches has long been a kind of “liturgy” in the sense that the participants expect the special presence of God during this part of the service. When both Pentecostal spirituality and classical theology teach that Christ is near by the Spirit through an incarnate spirituality,

24 The kerygma — the message proclaimed — upon which the Christian life is built is the righteousness that is able to say that “the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart . . .” (Rom. 10:8). See also Ephesians 1:1-12, where “the blessings,” “the grace and peace,” “the adoption of sonship,” “the redemption,” “the forgiveness of sins,” “the wisdom and understanding,” the mys- tery,” “the purpose of his will,” “our hope in Christ,” “the message of truth,” “the promised Holy Spirit,” and “the redemption” are given as proclaimed treasures, totally without our own involve- ment and personal ownership as such.

25 These non-empirical and non-perceptible reflections cross the line of Hume’s doctrine of empiricism by not being “faded copies of earlier sense impression” or “figment of the imagination.” 26 Wesley Scott Biddy, “Re-envisioning the Pentecostal Understanding of the Eucharist: An Ecumenical Proposal,” Pneuma 28, no. 2 (2006): 228-52.


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what is, then, the difference between a Pentecostal who seeks spiritual gifts by the laying on of hands and a Catholic who goes to the Communion table in faith, convinced of the real transformation of the elements at the table?27 It might actually be argued, with reference to Biddy, that Pentecostal spiri- tuality provides fertile ground for thinking about the means of grace as events in which living encounters with God can take place through physical actions. Since Pentecostals think like this when it comes to the presence of the Spirit in the service, when the word of God is announced, in worship, and in interces- sion in which the name of Jesus is proclaimed, why not when baptism and Communion is administered in the same name of the Trinity, actions so clearly commanded by the Lord?

“The Saving Baptism”

Studies of how Baptist and Pentecostal theologians and pastors have been thinking about the content and nature of baptism actually indicate a signifi- cant improvement in theological understanding. This in turn leads to a closer approach to other churches. One does not go untouched in and out of each other’s houses. The continual disagreement, however, appears to be in the anthropology of children. The English Baptist Keith Clements expresses how Baptist theology would be well served by developing a more nuanced theology of the child in the church in general.28

A profiled booklet on baptism published by the Swedish Pentecostal move- ment (Pingst) states that “faith and baptism is the way in which the Scripture effects the status of faith and fellowship with God.”29 The booklet opens the way for a sacramental understanding by using the phrase “the saving baptism” (p. 19), and continues by declaring that baptism contains a hidden reality in which God acts with those who are baptized. Thus baptism is more than only a public confession. Those who become baptized are given the fellowship of life with Jesus Christ and with the church, the body of Christ on earth. This, in turn,

27 Odd Arne Joø, «Sakramentene: Et baptistisk standpunkt i de bilaterale samtalene mellom Metodistkirken i Norge og Det Norske Baptistsamfunn» [The Sacraments: A Baptist Position in the Bilateral Talks between the United Methodist Church in Norway and the Norwegian Baptist Union,], Baptist: Tidsskrift for baptistisk historie, teologi og praksis [The Baptist: Journal of Baptist History, Theology and Practice] 8, no. 1 (2001): 19-46.

28 Nigel Wright, “ ‘Koinonia’ and Baptist Ecclesiology: Self-Critical Reflections from Historical and Systematic Perspectives,” Baptist Quarterly 35, no.8 (1994): 363-75.

29 Dopet: Trons hemlighet. Vägledning i den kristna trons grunder [Baptism: The Mystery of Faith. Instruction in the Foundations of Christian Belief ] (Stockholm: Pingst/Libris, 2006).



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leads to healing from the substantial damage in the relation to God and our- selves caused by sin (p. 36). The formulations described above lead toward a deeper understanding of the doctrine of baptism. In this way Pentecostals today are able to reflect theologically without being stuck in the obsolescence of polemics and demarcation.30

Concurrent Dimensions

Through ecumenical dialogues and joint texts some common theological pre- conceptions of baptism have been established between the churches.31 To a certain extent also the Nordic churches and Free Church denominations have been involved.32 The main perspective is that repentance and faith on the basis of the preached word, baptism, and the bestowal of the Spirit are converging dimensions associated with the beginning of the Christian life. That appears to be the overall picture of the New Testament texts of salvation, specified in the programmatic statement in Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The contextual framework for baptism is the church, and discipleship constitutes the basic identity of the Christian lifestyle. The baptized person is to become a participant in the great drama that unites her with people of faith in the past, present, and future. Here the collective dimension is even greater than the individual. A transfer of ownership has taken place. Baptism has taken on the character of a personal interpretation of life. Baptism has become the “ID” of the believer: “I am baptized, therefore I am.” Thus, baptism is linked more to the believer’s everyday life than to

30 Similarly, Swedish charismatic church leader Ulf Ekman states that nonsacramental churches normally have a rationalistic conception of the sacraments, something that might hin- der growth in the Christian life. It is not recognized that the grace of God is conveyed in manifold ways. Grace is there through the presence of Jesus whether we believe it or not, but it is of no use if we do not receive it in faith. Ulf Ekman, Grunden för vår tro [The Foundation of Our Belief] (Uppsala: Livets Ords Förlag, 2003).

31  BEM 1982, 2-6. See also the document from 2011: One Baptism: Towards Mutual Recognition. A Study Text, Faith and Order Paper No. 210 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2011). Source: rected_for_reprint.pdf.

32 During the last ten years the Pentecostal movement has become a member of the national ecumenical councils in Norway and Sweden respectively. Consequently, Pentecostals have drawn extensively on insights from the dialogue processes and have become familiar with the theologi- cal language that has been established over the years.


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constructions of dogmatic theories, and it centers on salvation history as proclaimed gospel and as an appearance of the grace of God (Tit. 2:11). Because baptism definitely is related to the beginning of the Christian life, all baptisms at a later stage on the path of faith will in part deplete baptism of its theological substance and cause only a fragmentary contact with the biblical material.33

The New Testament texts about baptism are deep and wide ranging. One’s old life is placed under the judgment of the cross and a new life has begun — in itself a huge ethical imperative. Media morte in vita summus — in the middle of death we are still in life! The baptized have to count themselves as dead to sin but alive to God in Christ (Rom. 6:11), because in baptism they are “buried with him through baptism into death” (v. 4).

This thought is rather radical. In the spiritual sense, the believers could be considered lying in the same tomb as Jesus. But right there is also his whole church, in which every member on the body of Christ is linked together in a life and community that makes the church to be one.34 Being baptized implies giv – ing to God the proprietary right of one’s life (1 Cor. 6:19). I commit myself to the community of faith with which I share the tomb of baptism. I am no longer a private practicing Christian (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore you may talk, as a Lutheran does, about salvation in baptism or, as a Baptist does, about baptism in salva- tion.35 Every means of grace is built upon, and administered in accordance to, the mystery that is Christ in you, the hope of glory — hidden for ages and gen- erations, but disclosed to the people of the Lord (Col. 1:26-27).

33 One example is the Pauline ascertainment in Galatians 3:26-27 that “in Christ you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed your- selves with Christ.” This shows that it is the relationship between faith and baptism that is the adequate point of departure, not distance and differentiation. Baptist theology seems to have only two options: to continue a practice in which the conscious consideration of baptism gradu- ally will be diminished, or to deepen the kind of reflection that connects baptism with the entrance to the Christian faith and life.

34 According to paragraph 22 in Unitatis Redintegratio, the Decree on Ecumenism from Vati- can II, baptism “establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it. But of itself Baptism is only a beginning, an inauguration wholly directed toward the fullness of life in Christ. Baptism, therefore, envisages a complete profession of faith. . . .”

35 Lars Eckerdal and Per Erik Persson, Dopet — en livstydning: Om dopets innebörd och liturgi [Baptism — an Interpretation of Life: On the Content and Liturgy of Baptism] (Stockholm: Ver- bum, 1981). See also Lennart Johnsson, Baptist Reconsideration of Baptism (Uppsala: Faculty of Uppsala University, 1999).



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A Christological Center

In both Pentecostal and Lutheran theology there is a close connection between the doctrine of baptism and Christ, between Jordan and Calvary.36 Unity in Christ is given through faith and confession, not by making uniform practices that in turn have their origin in different historical circumstances. The aware- ness of Christ as the unifying center establishes a tool for discernment that allows the universal church to have a span of insight and a variety of practice. Baptism does not refer back to the act itself or to the person being baptized. It always refers to Christ. And if baptism does not lead to, reinforce, and strengthen the faith in Christ, any model of practice will be considered flawed. In fact, no unambiguous outward rite is able to guarantee the unity of the church, but only “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” ( Jude 1:3).37 Baptism’s deep sign character points to the fundamental Christian identity of being “in Christ.” Those who are one in Christ are also part of his people. In a way equally fundamental to the way you belong to Christ, you belong to everybody in the church of the Lord, independent of denomination. Because we are baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13), what happens in one church is not insignificant for the others. As long as the churches are baptizing in the same name of the holy Trinity, every member and every church has a relationship of mutual accountability. This also affects the question of, and attitude toward, rebaptism.

The Inner Relation between Baptism and Faith

In a Scandinavian context, some Lutheran theologians may sometimes talk about the relation between faith and baptism with even greater clarity than many Baptists do.38 In his commentary on the confessions of the Danish National Church, Peder Nørgaard-Højen declares that “if you break the

36 For a Pentecostal perspective in the Norwegian context, see Ragnar Rudmoen, Kristen dåp [Christian Baptism] (Oslo: Filadelfiaforlaget AS, 1986). For a Lutheran approach, see Edmund Schlink, The Doctrine of Baptism (London: Concordia Publishing House, 1969), 120-30. 37 Kjell Olav Sannes, “Dåpen, troen og Ånden — et luthersk perspektiv” [“The Baptism, Faith and the Spirit — a Lutheran Perspective”], Norsk Tidsskrift for misjonsvitenskap [Norwegian Jour – nal of Missiology]62, no. 4 (2008): 220-28.

38 This is also articulated within the growing presence of the Catholic adult baptismal tradi- tion in Nordic countries. When the candidate arrives at the church, she is met at the door by the priest, who asks: “What do you seek in the Church of God?” The answer is: “The faith.” The ques- tion continues: “What are you given by faith.” The candidate answers: “Eternal life.”


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relationship between baptism and faith, in reality you cause a factual abandon- ment of the doctrine of justification (Rom. 1:17).”39 In his opinion, the New Testament narratives of personal faith stand in the way of the notion of a vicar- ious faith (fides vicaria) applied to infant baptism. Sooner or later the baptis – mal fruits have to be acquired personally. In his 1945 book Dåpen og barnet (The Baptism and the Child), Norwegian Lutheran dogmatician Leiv Aalen wrote that if no one is able to guarantee that children receive a Christian education in public schools and at home — what I describe as “the room of faith” — infant baptism must cease, because training in faith and baptism are inextricably linked (p. 74). Though the baptismal act still can be regarded as valid, the baptism is not effective without faith.40

Contemporary analyses within the Free Church movement point in the same direction. One asks whether the religious and cultural environment in Scandinavia and Europe — despite all baptismal acts within the Folk church frame of reference — in reality has come quite close to the New Testament missional context. If so, baptism may appear more as a missional act than an anti-ecumenical action in the eyes of those who have lived as if God and the church did not exist and who, accordingly, ask for baptism when they come to faith.41

In order to save the topic of faith and baptism from being reduced to a matter of theological theory and instead permit it to stimulate faith-building

39 Peder Nørgaard-Højen, Den danske folkekirkes bekendelsesskrifter: Kommentar [The Confes – sions of the Danish National Church: A Commentary] (Copenhagen: Forlaget Anis, 2001). See also: Tro og Dåp eller Dåp og Tro? Bidrag til diskussion af dåbssynet i tilknytning til Det økumeniske Fællesråds studierapport 1977 [Faith and Baptism or Baptism and Faith? Contribution to the Dis – cussion on Baptism in Connection with the 1977 Report from the Danish Ecumenical Council] (Copenhagen: Det økumeniske Fællesråd, 1982). See also Peder Højen, Tro og Dåb i exegetisk, øku- menisk og systematisk belysning [Faith and Baptism in the Light of Exegetical, Ecumenical, and Systematic Perspectives], Lumen: Studierapport (Copenhagen: Det økumeniske Fællesråds Dåb- sgruppe, 1977).

40 In the Augsburg Confession the role of faith is obvious. Article IV (On Justification) states that the reformers “teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works; but are justified freely for Christ’s sake through faith.” Article XIII (On the Use of the Sacra- ments) underlines that “men must use Sacraments so as to join faith with them, which believes the promises that are offered and declared unto us by the Sacraments.” The first edition adds that “they condemn those that teach that the Sacraments do justify by the work done (ex opere oper- ato), and do not teach that faith which believes the remission of sins is requisite in the use of Sacraments.” Source (in Latin and English translation): iii.ii.html.

41 Nils E. Bloch-Hoell, “Dåpen som økumenisk problem” [Baptism as an Ecumenical Problem], Kirken og nådemidlene [The Church and the Means of Grace], ed. Ivar Asheim, Torleiv Austad, Åge Holter, and Magne Sæbø (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1976), 100-17.



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practices, it is natural for other churches to bring these critical concerns to the table in ecumenical talks wherever the Folk church has its representatives.42 It is not only clergymen and scholars within the historical churches who share their criticism; the BEM Declaration, as well, is concerned about these perspec- tives when the report challenges the majority churches to make “a self-critical rethinking of the meaning of the baptism” with the assumption that it is per – formed in a “seemingly uncritical manner.” The contemporary educational reform program in The Church of Norway can be seen as a response to this criticism. Nevertheless, BEM section IV/13 needs to be discussed with even more seriousness within those churches whose practice of infant baptism means that one form of baptism always takes precedence over any other bap- tismal form.43


These reflections lead to the following conclusions and proposals:

1) Variety of views. Instead of talking about each other’s doctrine of baptism as

wrong or right, it is more constructive to argue that there are both weak and

strong aspects of the various views of baptism, with regard to both content

and practice. No one can readily proclaim that they represent “the New Tes –

tament baptism.” Every church tradition has its special challenges but also

its good intentions.44

2) Vitalization. Theological sober-mindedness with regard to what baptism is,

and recognition of the theological closeness of faith, baptism, and Spirit,

represent the most important prerequisite for developing a new practical-

theological thread in dialogue with believers of another sacramental

42 While some Lutheran churches strongly stress the connection between baptism and faith, there are also instances of its being downplayed, for instance in the “drop-in baptism” of the Swedish Lutheran Church.

43 Terje Hegertun, “Refleksjoner omkring Ånden, troen og dåpen” [Reflections on Spirit, Faith, and Baptism], Norsk Tidsskrift for misjonsvitenskap [Norwegian Journal of Mission Studies], 62, no. 4 (2008): 212-19.

44 It is legitimate to acknowledge that Pentecostal congregations today are more inclusive than they were thirty to fifty years ago. Many who have been baptized as infants take part in the services of the congregation, including the communion table. They might be part of a cell-group, sing in the choir, and even teach in the Sunday school. They are de facto part of the congregation but are not yet allowed to be formal members. This may appear as a moral dilemma of Pentecos- talism in the Nordic countries today: they are not allowed to be formal members, but all the same, they take part in the sacramental life of the congregation.


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tradition. Without such doctrinal depth the issue of baptism will be further

weakened, to no one’s benefit. Each church has a responsibility to revitalize

the proclamation of baptism and to integrate it as a natural part of the

ongoing church work, regardless of the tradition in which each individual

church may be embedded.Baptism is much more than just a naming cere-

mony or a confession of obedience. I also recommend the Pentecostal com-

munities to include elements of prayer for the fullness of the Spirit to

overwhelm the newly baptized, in accordance with models from the early

church. Likewise, I recommend the Lutheran church to link its baptismal

practice clearly to an educational program differentiated for various age


3) “Invalid” baptism? Since a greater understanding of the theological content

of baptism is emerging among the churches, it is difficult to imagine bap-

tism being used as a proselytical act of separation. Baptism is by nature a

baptism of repentance into the kingdom of God. It belongs to the very

beginnings of Christian faith. Baptism is not suitable as a way of becoming

a member of another church. The unitary nature of the global church makes

it difficult to maintain the claim that baptism performed in another recog-

nized Christian church simply can be characterized as invalid, as long as it

takes place within “the room of faith” in home and church.

4) Freedom of conscience? In the future there will be people who, as a matter of

conscience,reassess their first (infant) baptism because it does not seem to

carry the weight of the biblical texts of a baptism that links repentance,

personal faith, and baptism and therefore ask to be baptized as adults. The

same principle also applies to churches that perform these baptisms on the

basis of the new faith and confession of the baptizands, churches that con-

sider these analogous to the missional baptisms of the New Testament.

Thus it is necessary to discuss the issue of rebaptism in light of freedom of

conscience, for churches as well as for individuals. Here pragmatic ideals

confront theological normativity.A consistent practice dictates that such a

principle would also have to be applied for those who do not want to be

baptized again, since they are already living within the sphere of the theo-

logical content of baptism, even if they were baptized in another church

and in accordance with a different tradition.45

5) A potential model. Based on the ideal of raising the theological awareness of

baptism, church affiliation practices that in reality privatize the doctrine of

baptism should be prevented. Baptism will always be an important church

45 Inspired by Kevin Roy, Baptism, Reconciliation and Unity (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1997).



T. Hegertun / Pneuma 35 (2013) 235-252

affair. So-called “transmitted membership” may therefore win distinction as

a possible model. This model emphasizes that the church is a congregation

of baptized, personal believers. It also recognizes the fact that for many

the road to faith and service is a result of the contributions of other baptiz-

ing churches. They have brought these persons not only to baptism, but also

to a living faith and discipleship. That should be more than enough. For

those previously baptized that want membership without being rebaptized

because their theological understanding of baptism is largely in agreement

with the church they want to attend, a liturgy needs to be developed that

emphasizes their commitment to Christ as Lord and their intention to work

in loyalty to the new community. Furthermore, it is expected that new

members will be loyal to the intent and form of baptism that is practiced in

the congregation. Within the framework of the churches that practice adult

baptism, these new members have to be aware of the fact that the inclusion

of their children, in the next phase, will take place during a blessing cere-

mony — a “baptism” without water. A church cannot be forced to intro-

duce two different practices.

6) Toward a common understanding. To express a “common understanding”

and to admit a “mutual recognition” and a “responsible commitment” is not

the same as having a “unanimous comprehension” in all details. The latter

is hardly possible. It is really possible, however, to discern an “inner factual

coherence” with regard to what baptism is all about in the global church at

large. By expanding the theological language and by becoming familiar with

the theological grammar already established by the churches through the

ecumenical dialogues of the last decades, we already have in our possession

the most basic insights for succeeding in the baptismal conversation.


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