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baptism of converts

David Young

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We have spent hours discussing infant and believers' baptism, but it would interest me to know how you understand the baptism of converts from Islam, atheism, or other wholly non-Christian backgrounds. At what point is the person 'born again'? Putting it another way, at what point does he or she become a child of God? or yet another way, is united in spirit with Christ? Is it when (s)he believes in Christ as Saviour, Lord, Son of God, or is it at the moment of baptism?
 

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The "one baptism" is first and foremost found in Christ: "with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized" (Mark: 10.39 | OSB/NKJV). We partake of that in varying degrees whenever we participate in the Kingdom Of God, though especially so in the sacraments of the Church (such as baptism—it is never repeated, because that is an icon of the one baptism). I like to apply fuzzy set theory to these types of questions, as there is not really one point in a person's life where they are completely lost (though they can be lost in certain ways), nor is there a point where they are completely healed (eg, Jesus healed various people physically, but this didn't confer sainthood): it's all a loving relationship. So is a person born again, united with Christ, and saved when their mind is renewed? Yes. When they profess belief in Jesus Christ? Yes. When they are baptized? Yes. Orthodox Christianity is very maximalistic about these sorts of things, while not in any way denying the sacraments.

If you're looking for more, that is in God's hands. There has been a tendency, such as during Medieval times, in the RCC to focus on the human side of belief almost to the point of sacraments being "magic", allowing humanity to manipulate divinity! Unfortunately, this same idea is deeply rooted in Protestantism, which is why there remains such a concern about "status" (as if we could save ourselves!)—that's part of why it is much easier for a Roman Catholic to talk to a Protestant, because the latter may be in protest but they are still chained to a brand of Roman Catholicism and seem to be unable to move beyond the RCC, even centuries later. There have been RC/Protestant-influenced groups in the East, particularly during the 20th century, that taught similar things (cf any discussion about some group "having grace"—that's clearly magical heterodox thinking). But that's not part of the EO phronema.
 

RaphaCam

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At what point is the person 'born again'?
The Confession of St. Dositheus of Jerusalem, which tends to be received as dogmatic, states regeneration happens upon Holy Baptism. Everyone alive receives general preventive grace, but particular preventive grace, which allows one to cooperatively do spiritual as opposed to merely moral good, is for the regenerated. This is not the usual language of Orthodox theology, but it was written specifically to respond to both Protestantism and post-Trent Roman Catholicism.

Putting it another way, at what point does he or she become a child of God?
Baptism is a valid answer, as taught in the Holy Theophany, but it's not the only answer. St. John Chrysostom observes this expression is also used in the Old Testament for the Israelites, although conveying a lesser glory. Of course, circumcision was the forerunner of baptism. St. Paul the Apostle, however, even says adoption will only happen in the endtimes (Romans 8:23), which St. Theophylactus of Ohrid differs this concept as a "perfect adoption".

This is a good example of how biblical theology isn't that worried with fixed concepts, a traditional followed by Orthodoxy.

or yet another way, is united in spirit with Christ?
We understand that, when St. Paul claims Christ dwells in him, he's not talking about something that happens automatically after baptism. Off the biblical text, it makes grammatical sense to see it as something that comes after the crucifixion he talks about. We call the advanced state of holiness that he's talking about "theosis".

Is it when (s)he believes in Christ as Saviour, Lord, Son of God, or is it at the moment of baptism?
Their mind/heart/nous has not been illuminated by the Holy Spirit before baptism. Believing in Christ without having been properly baptised is an intellectual decision that ends up being taken by people who are the image of the God, living under His general grace. In Orthodox psychology, the intellect manifests and organises the mind just like the Son manifests and prays to the Father. It's not a coincidence that they're both called "logos" in Greek. Our spirit, of course, is an image of the Holy Spirit, both giving life and being associated to the unity of, respectively, our personhood and the Holy Trinity.

To sum up, without an illuminated mind, one cannot do spiritual good.
 

David Young

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The Confession of St. Dositheus of Jerusalem,
Thank you. Much to ponder here. Say more, if you have further explanation or clarification to offer. It is not that I am considering converting to Orthodoxy, but that I am struggling to understand your teaching on this matter, as it is so alien to ours.
 

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Thank you. Much to ponder here. Say more, if you have further explanation or clarification to offer. It is not that I am considering converting to Orthodoxy, but that I am struggling to understand your teaching on this matter, as it is so alien to ours.
The Orthodox teaching came first.
 

David Young

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The thing is, there seems a fairly wide consensus among us Baptists that we have got it wrong, in that we make too big a gap between coming to faith and baptism. We baptise people too long after they come to faith. In the NT the two came together, part of the same event. We also feel that you Orthodox have got it wrong the other way round - you baptise people too long before they come to faith. But unravelling theologically (or soteriologically) the two events - the act of baptism and the inward birth or beginning of faith - and seeing how they relate is not easy.

Let me try to express my question - my difficulty, if you like - yet another way. What effects (not affects - effects, brings about) regeneration? Is it faith, or is it baptism? If you say (as I believe you do) that it is baptism, how do you explain or understand the many nominal Orthodox who do not evince any love for Christ? or desire for progress in godly living and closeness to Christ or hunger for 'the things of God'? If (as we do) you say it is faith that effects regeneration, what role does baptism play in God's pattern for Christian living?

There are many people who are not baptised, either in your sense or in ours, who profess strong, lasting and deep faith in Christ, with the evidence of godly living and the 'fruit of the Spirit'. We would say you have not been baptised; you would say we haven't; we would both say that Quakers and Salvation Army people haven't.
 

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The thing is, there seems a fairly wide consensus among us Baptists that we have got it wrong, in that we make too big a gap between coming to faith and baptism. We baptise people too long after they come to faith. In the NT the two came together, part of the same event. We also feel that you Orthodox have got it wrong the other way round - you baptise people too long before they come to faith. But unravelling theologically (or soteriologically) the two events - the act of baptism and the inward birth or beginning of faith - and seeing how they relate is not easy.
This togetherness in the Acts should be interpreted symbolically. This doesn't mean necessarily that St. Luke cherry-picked the accounts, specifically to show togetherness, but he was a classic historian, so it would make sense, too. This togetherness implies something very important happens upon Holy Baptism, just like the sending of the Holy Spirit upon Christ in the Holy Theophany (which is when He was baptised). Going back at the "son of God" part, it's also important to see that Holy Theophany was the first time that Christ was declared a Son of God. The details of Holy Theophany are really important, since Christ commanded us to imitate Him there.

Many things can move one to be baptised, alone or together. Being illuminated by God's general preventive grace that is open to all, having Orthodox parents (or even a partner), verifying the truth of Orthodoxy by intellectual means, etc. We even have at least one saint that got baptised as a joke, and another (not formalised) whose irreligious mother baptised out of superstition because he was sick. In each and every case, Holy Baptism is essential, just like, unless one is talking about a baby or someone with some severe disabilities, faith.

Let me try to express my question - my difficulty, if you like - yet another way. What effects (not affects - effects, brings about) regeneration? Is it faith, or is it baptism? If you say (as I believe you do) that it is baptism, how do you explain or understand the many nominal Orthodox who do not evince any love for Christ? or desire for progress in godly living and closeness to Christ or hunger for 'the things of God'? If (as we do) you say it is faith that effects regeneration, what role does baptism play in God's pattern for Christian living?

There are many people who are not baptised, either in your sense or in ours, who profess strong, lasting and deep faith in Christ, with the evidence of godly living and the 'fruit of the Spirit'. We would say you have not been baptised; you would say we haven't; we would both say that Quakers and Salvation Army people haven't.
Keeping in mind the distinction between mind/heart/nous and intellect/logos I made above, the baptised can have their minds illuminated. The remission of sins allows the Holy Spirit to dwell there and operate for our transformation. This is not easily recognisable, which is why the Greek word for sacraments is mysterion, which could be creatively analysed as "what is behind shut eyes".

Our fallen intellect alone can also organise our minds, but in a limited fashion. One can look exactly like an Orthodox saint for most people looking from the outside, but this may be anything from a mere intellectual disposition inspired by Christianity to full-blown demonic possession. Spiritual discernment, on the other hand, is particular to the illuminated mind, mostly manifesting as feeling either peace or anxiety near spiritual phenomena.
 

noahzarc1

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The thing is, there seems a fairly wide consensus among us Baptists that we have got it wrong, in that we make too big a gap between coming to faith and baptism. We baptise people too long after they come to faith. In the NT the two came together, part of the same event. We also feel that you Orthodox have got it wrong the other way round - you baptise people too long before they come to faith. But unravelling theologically (or soteriologically) the two events - the act of baptism and the inward birth or beginning of faith - and seeing how they relate is not easy.
Baptists assume all people come to faith without baptism and that the baptism is merely symbolic, not accomplishing anything other than an outward expression of the faith one displayed apart from it. The simplest way to look at it, perhaps from an Orthodox perspective, is the belief people come to faith because of baptism, due to the regeneration the baptism itself imparts, particularly on infants.

"We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins" i.e. the baptism acts beyond a symbol.

Let me try to express my question - my difficulty, if you like - yet another way. What effects (not affects - effects, brings about) regeneration? Is it faith, or is it baptism? If you say (as I believe you do) that it is baptism, how do you explain or understand the many nominal Orthodox who do not evince any love for Christ? or desire for progress in godly living and closeness to Christ or hunger for 'the things of God'? If (as we do) you say it is faith that effects regeneration, what role does baptism play in God's pattern for Christian living?

There are many people who are not baptised, either in your sense or in ours, who profess strong, lasting and deep faith in Christ, with the evidence of godly living and the 'fruit of the Spirit'. We would say you have not been baptised; you would say we haven't; we would both say that Quakers and Salvation Army people haven't.
How do you explain the thousands of years of persecution Orthodox survived in countless lands even in our current century? For example, Paul made use of athletes running a race. I think I am a nominal athlete for my age compared to the youth of today, but athletically I continue to compete to the max extent my body and physical capacity will allow me. So compared to an Olympian, I am nominal, compared to others my age, I believe I continue to run the race well.

Perhaps you will be better served by a better definition of "nominal" in relation to comparative Christianity.
 

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Orthodox have got it wrong the other way round - you baptise people too long before they come to faith.
Give a place to God. With baptism, Christian life does not end, but only begins. Baptism is not just a rite, but a sacrament that changes a person's relationship with God.

No matter how hard it was, but I told his mother that the baptism of her son is not possible now because of her son's complete unbelief and lack of desire to ever believe. They left — a sad and drooping mother and a son who almost did not hide his joy. And I, left alone in the baptismal church, experienced some inner pain, sat down, got up, walked from side to side, could not find a place for a long time. Finally i'm entered the altar, stood in front of the престолом and said: "My God! Well, what did I do wrong? Am I wrong to refuse to baptize an unbeliever?" And then, as it were, an answer poured out, essentially benevolent, but, nevertheless, it was a reproach (I will never forget the taste of bitterness in this reproach):
 

David Young

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Baptists assume ... that the baptism is merely symbolic, not accomplishing anything other than an outward expression of the faith one displayed apart from it.
That is true of many, perhaps most, Baptists, though I confess (it's the fault of you Orthodox!) that I do take a sacramental view of baptism, and I expect I am not the only Baptist to do so: namely, that God blesses the person who obeys the command to be baptised in a special, maybe unique, way at the moment of his or her immersion in the water. A spiritual grace is imparted at that moment, the benefit of which need never be lost. (I might add that you have influenced me in a similar way regarding the Lord's Supper, which you call the Eucharist - but I don't want to wander off into a discussion on that, as many hours have been spent on it since I joined in 2008.)
 

David Young

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1) How do you explain the thousands of years of persecution Orthodox survived in countless lands even in our current century?

2) Perhaps you will be better served by a better definition of "nominal" in relation to comparative Christianity.
1) I was very impressed with Jim Forest's book "The Resurrection of the Church in Albania", and the obvious explanation was that God was there among you just as he was among Baptists in Romania and Pentecostals in Bulgaria in the same period. Reading about them all seemed to me to breathe the same spirit (or Spirit).

2) As regards "nominal" I am thinking of the many people who for whatever reason have the label 'Christian' but show no interest in God, live lives of sustained and deliberate sinfulness or crime (I don't mean people who struggle against their sins and keep failing, and feel genuinely bad about it); and also people whose lives are not starkly sinful but simply passed with no thought of God and no involvement with his church or his people. What do we have here in Britain? I am not sure of statistics, but maybe 75% describing themselves as 'Christian' and 2% going regularly to church. The rest is a convenient label for official forms, and for births, marriages and deaths, and means no more to them than that, and they will tell you so quite frankly if you ask them about it. "Christian" is no more than a name - nominal (from Latin nomen) for them. I am sure you have such people who claim the name 'Orthodox', just as we Protestants do.
 
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