New Foundation Fellowship

Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

There are at least two difficulties connected with the concept of baptism from the Quaker understanding.  One has to do with the fact that most people have a generally accepted concept of what baptism is.  To present the Quaker view of baptism means to offer a radically different view, and most people do not easily give up long-held understandings.  The second difficulty lies in the fact that, unlike most words in the Greek New Testament, the word baptizo was never translated into English; early translators simply took the Greek word and pressed it into the English language.  Combine these two difficulties and it becomes quite an uphill climb to offer a different understanding in a convincing way.

However, once one has been convinced, the Quaker view of baptism becomes quite clear and understandable.  It is helpful to always remember that Quakerism is essentially radical, and by that I mean "always endeavoring to get to the root".  I feel safe in saying that the majority of non-Quakers, who are at least somewhat religiously aware, have a concept of baptism that involves the use of water in a Christian ritual geared toward initiation into a congregation.  While this concept is probably accepted at face value by many, Quakers, as is their habit, ask, "What is baptism at its root?"  To get to the root, it is necessary to examine the early Quakers' interpretation of Scriptures.

Two passages from Scriptures form the basis for the Quaker understanding of baptism.  The first passage occurs early in the Gospels (Mt. 3:11-12, Mk. 1:7-8 and Lk. 3:15-18), and tells of John the Baptist offering a prophetic contrast between the kind of baptism he employs, and a new type of baptism, performed by someone mightier than John.  Baptism typically requires some kind of medium; John uses the muddy Jordan River.  The new kind, which John infers supercedes his kind, will employ the Holy Spirit and fire.  However, the contrast does end there.  John's baptism was directed toward repentance, or expressing regret and a changed mind about sin.  The new kind of baptism, however, will be much more thorough; John prophetically uses the imagery of grain harvest to proclaim that this new baptizer (which Quakers rightly understand to be Christ) will involve the separation of chaff (to be burned with fire) from grain (to be reserved in the granary).  George Fox writes, "And Christ, he baptizeth with the Holy Ghost, and with fire, whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garners; but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."  The chaff, of course, is sin; and the grain is, on the one hand, righteousness, and on the other hand, it is Christ himself in Seed form.  And the granary is the heart or inmost being of a convert.

The other passage from Scriptures is from Ephesians 4.  In this passage, Paul is urging the Ephesian Christians to lead "lives worthy of the calling."  The way to do this is to humbly, meekly and patiently live in loving and peaceful unity with one another.  To inspire his readers toward this kind of unity, Paul reminds his readers that, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all."  As to the "one baptism", Quakers will ask, "Which is the 'one baptism'?  Is it John the Baptist's hydraulic kind?  Or is the one which John said would supercede his, Christ's baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire?"  It makes sense to Quakers that Christ's kind of baptism, which cleanses the heart and brings in righteousness, is the "one baptism" which Paul is referring to.  Quakers will point out that (as well as the Salvation Army) one of the issues that has caused disunity among Christians involves the particulars of hydraulic baptism.  Quakers will also point out that Christ's baptism brings Christ into individuals, and in Christ there is no "strife, but life and peace."  In other words, Christ's baptism is more likely to incline a believer to live the life of unity described by Paul.

As for the Greek word baptizo, it is a word that the early Christians borrowed from the cloth-dyeing industry.  The early Christians likened their experience with the Holy Spirit to the process of immersing a piece of uncolored cloth into a vat of dye.  The dye had the power to transform an ordinary, uncolored cloth into a piece of colored fabric.  Power to transform is of utmost importance to Quakers; ordinary, earthly water has no power to transform.  Water is limited and subject to decay, just as we are; because it is not eternal and heavenly, it cannot fundamentally transform us.  The Holy Spirit and the unquenchable fire of God (for God is an unquenchable fire, Hebrews 12:29), however, are powerful.  Because they are not of our earthly level, but supernaturally greater than us, they are able to fundamentally change a believer.  It is the power of the medium of baptism, not the rite itself, that is of ultimate importance.


Views: 444

Comment by Rod Pharris on 9thMo. 23, 2011 at 14:54
I must add more to "Water or Holy Spirit & Fire".  I neglected to fully explore (and when finished, still may not have) one crucial element to George Fox's interpretation of the events in the texts of Mt. 3:11-12, Mk. 1:7-8 and Lk. 3:15-18.  In John's gospel, which I did not take into account, John the Baptist states that he "came baptizing with water, that he (Jesus Christ) might be revealed to Israel." Jn. 1:31.  Fox comments that John the Baptist "clearly declareth for what end he was sent to baptize with water, namely that Christ might be made manifest to Israel, the Jews, that had the figures and shadows of Christ; for John does not say, he came baptizing with water, that Christ might be made manifest to the Gentiles or heathen, but to Israel." (Works of Geo. Fox, Doctrinal Books III, Volume 6, p. 290)  Paul, the apostle of the gospel to the Gentiles, states, in I Corinthians 1, that he was glad that he did not baptize any Corinthian converts, except for a couple; and then he broadly affirms that his Christ-given mission is not to baptize but to preach the gospel.  Fox concludes that it makes perfect sense for Paul not to be baptizing Gentiles in light of what John declares, that water baptism is for the express purpose of revealing Jesus to the Jews.

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of New Foundation Fellowship to add comments!

Join New Foundation Fellowship

The NFF exists to preach the Christian Message that was proclaimed by the Early Friends. Christ has come to teach his People himself

Visit Our Literature Site

To find New Foundation Fellowship books and materials, go to our literature site. Items for free download can be found on our Downloads page.

Want to join this New Foundation Web Site?

Please note also that this site is primarily a means for the New Foundation Fellowship to preach the Gospel, and an online community for established New Foundation Workers.

If you are thinking of signing up, may we please direct you to this note, before signing up?

Allistair Lomax, on behalf of the site working committee

NFF Events

Please Note

Blocked Email Domains

Created by Allistair Lomax 7thMo 26, 2013 at 11:13am. Last updated by Allistair Lomax 7thMo 26, 2013.

The 'Do-Not-Reply' Note

Created by Allistair Lomax 7thMo 28, 2011 at 9:38pm. Last updated by Allistair Lomax 12thMo 29, 2018.

Contact Address for New Foundation Fellowship

Created by Allistair Lomax 5thMo 25, 2011 at 8:11pm. Last updated by Allistair Lomax 3rdMo 8, 2013.

© 2021   Created by Allistair Lomax.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service