I’ve done some reading off and on about this subject over the years, but the old question of baptism by immersion vs sprinkling popped up on my radar again, so I decided to read this very short little book that had somehow ended up on my shelf.
It’s very short, but immensely helpful.
It was written in 1884, by presumably a Presbyterian Minister – though all we’ve got is his initials and last name to go by – W.A. Mackay. While I’m not sure of the exact circumstances surrounding this book’s publication – the situation is remarkably similar to our own time.
Basically, as the author states in his opening section, you could go 20 or 30 years in a Presbyterian / Reformed church and never once hear a sermon on why we baptise by sprinkling or pouring vs immersion. Meanwhile, the Baptists of the day (the same as now) were making it quite clear to the Christian world that they didn’t consider anything other than an adult immersion baptism as a valid baptism. And considering that is the sign of being a Christian (according to Baptist theology), it’s a serious charge to level.
So Mackay sets out to finish the issue. The book is divided into two parts – the first half is dealing with the sprinkling vs immersion issue. The immersion section was excellent, because it looked at the the original Hebrew/Greek words (which is ultimately where you need to go) and also highlighted some of the reasons why Baptists were misunderstanding the Reformers’ position (which is also important). The section on infant baptism was good as well, but I still prefer the book Children of the Promise by Randy Booth for the best discussion on that particular topic. (However, the Booth book doesn’t touch immersion vs sprinkling, so the Mackay is still a great one-volume treatment.)
After reading this, I went and had a flick through the Baptist book I’d read back when my eldest daughter was little. At the time, I hadn’t been convinced by the Baptist argument, and I’m still not.
I understand how they arrive at their position, and I understand why it makes sense to them. I also believe that it’s not the make-or-break point of Christianity. But I’d encourage everyone – Baptist or Reformed alike – to make sure they understand the theology behind this sacrament, because if there’s one thing you can’t ignore – it’s that baptism is an important sign.
To try to ignore it and pretend that it doesn’t really matter is missing out on a really spectacular ritual that God has given to us.
5 out of 5.