Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Baptism Allegory

Robert Stein--Senior Professor of NT Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary--penned a very interesting and helpful article a few years ago on the NT teaching on baptism and salvation: Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Spring 1998): 6-17.

He concluded his biblical survey--which is well worth reading--with this allegory. If it doesn't make sense, you may have to go back and read the whole article, which contains a critique not only of paedobaptism (of Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic varieties) but also of Baptist theology as currently practiced.

An Allegory

For many centuries there lived in the distant land of Allegoria the “Ringist” society. This society obtained its name because of an ancient custom which dominated its culture for many centuries. Among the “Ringists” there was an ancient law, “The Law of the Ring,” which decreed that no one could wear a ring on his or her finger unless that person was married. It also decreed that one must wear such a ring if married and that it must be placed on the left hand during the marriage rite. There were different variations of the marriage rite but every one of them involved the placing of a ring on the left hand of the man and woman being married. This custom existed for many centuries and was so influential that becoming married was often referred to as “putting on the ring.”

After a time the legality of “The Law of the Ring” was challenged, and as a result the national court of Allegoria declared this Law invalid. The wearing of a ring could no longer be limited to those who were married. Consequently there arose in the “Ringist” society an immediate economic boom among ringmakers, and soon various practices arose. A group arose who called themselves the “Pre-Ringists.” They placed rings on their children at a very early age. When asked why they did so, they responded that they did so in the hope that one day their children would become married and this would encourage the child’s future nuptials. There also arose a “Post-Ringists” group who did not wear rings until at least two years after marriage. They argued that a marriage should first be proven as successful and stable before they dared to wear rings and present themselves as examples of what marriage is to be like. Needless to say, they would never dream of putting a ring on the hands of their children. Of course, there were “Traditional-Ringists” who sought to maintain the old Ringist cultural practice, but this group became divided over whether the ring should be worn on the second or third finger of the left hand. One of these groups experienced an additional split centered around whether the ring could be made of material other than gold. Both of these splits further weakened the traditional viewpoint.

As time progressed the “Traditional-Ringists” died out, and there arose considerable debate between the “Pre-” and “Post-Ringists” as to which of their practices was superior. Psychological studies were made as to the influence of ring-wearing on children. Sociological analyses were conducted as to the value of ring-wearing for children raised in the “Pre-Ringest” and “Post-Ringest” denominations.

An ancient manuscript was one day discovered stemming from the earliest “Ringest” society. This manuscript was many centuries older than any “Ringist” manuscript in existence. As scholars began to study it, they came across an expression that caused great confusion. That expression was “putting on the ring.” At the present time there is animated debate among the “Pre-” and “Post-Ringists” as to what this expression means.