Heretic Baptism

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

  • Acts 19:1-7

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

  • Romans 6:1-4

After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

  • 1 Peter 4:19-22

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

  • Ephesians 4:4-6

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

  • Matthew 13:24-30

“Augustine was the first to develop the doctrine of the ‘invisible church’. Not all within the church are genuine Christians — many are Christians in name alone. We cannot distinguish the true from the false. It is God alone who can read the human heart and who knows who are his. Thus the boundaries of the true church are invisible, known to God alone. Augustine distinguishes between the visible church (the outward organization) and the invisible church (the body of true Christians), seen only by God. For Augustine, the invisible church lies entirely within the Catholic Church – there are no true Christians outside it. His contemporary, the Donatist Tyconius whose ideas influenced him, held that the invisible church is the true people of God within either the Donatist or the Catholic churches. This attitude, which today is commonplace, was all but unparalleled in the early church.
“ ‘In the unspeakable foreknowledge of God, many who seem to be outside [the church] are really inside [because they will be converted] and many who seem to be inside are really outside [because they are only nominal Christians] … It is clear that when we talk of inside and outside in relation to the church, we must consider the position of the heart, not the body … It was the same water that saved those who were inside [Noah’s] ark and destroyed those who were left outside. So it is by one and the same baptism that good Catholics are saved and bad Catholics and heretics perish.’ (
Baptism, Against the Donatists S.38-39)”

  • Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), born Aurelius Augustinus, was bishop of Hippo in northern Africa.  Early in his life, he studied philosophy, drifted from the faith, but returned when his philosophy could not explain the problem of evil adequately.  He rose within the church and is considered one of the greatest Christian minds of his time.  Many mark the emergence of Augustine as the end of Gnosticism.  In the quote above, he takes on Donatism, bringing those who denied Christ under threat of death back into the fold.

The emperor Diocletian was persecuting the Christians, but he would allow the Christians to live if they burned their family Bible and offered a little incense to the Roman gods.  Many did what they thought was a couple of meaningless acts in order to continue living.  Many others chose martyrdom.  The church chose to refuse the people who burned their Bibles back into the church.  Enter Donatus who refused to allow a priest to baptize anyone if the priest had any fault whatsoever, especially denying Christ to save his skin.  And if you dug deep enough, no priest could qualify to perform baptisms.  Thus, the church became split.

Saint Augustine argued that Noah’s family was saved from the flood while everyone else died.  Thus, the death of self, in the symbolism of baptism, would be the method that the separation of the wheat and the weeds accomplished in Jesus’ parable.  For the baptism symbolism, see Fourth Century Baptism and the quote from Cyril of Jerusalem.

It is like the argument that Jeremiah told the leaders of Judah what God told him to say, but the leaders did not listen. Jeremiah was successful as a prophet in that he said the right thing. The words are either used to repent or that are used to condemn if the person does not listen. St. Augustine argued the water in baptism accomplished the same thing.

In this argument, Saint Augustine seemed to settle the issue, but he also introduced the concept of the invisible church.  As many experts said many years ago, that one in three of those in the pews are true believers.  The joke is that if you look to the left and the right and find someone that you could never believe they were not saved, you better take account of where your true heart lies.  But that is not the way statistics work.

In the various Scriptures about baptism above, John the Baptist (Baptizer) used a baptism of repentance.  Repentance should be part of our sanctification, but the baptism after Jesus ascended involved the Holy Spirit coming into us, but symbolizing our rising from the water a new creation and resurrection is ensured through Christ’s resurrection.

Baptism does not wash the dirt away as much as it washes our hearts clean as the Holy Spirit goes about His work in our lives.  But what if the person doing the baptism was a weak priest who saved his neck?

It was not the priest that baptized the person and washed them clean as much as it was the sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ.  The priest was just the person guiding you in and out of the water. At least that was Augustine’s further argument.

For strong-willed Donatists, Saint Augustine’s argument did not sway them, but St. Augustine was not done in trying to readmit the splinters of the church back into the fold.

Saint Augustine is too important in the development of the early church to stick with a single post.  We will return with St. Augustine next week, maybe as he took on Pelagianism.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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