Baptism and Laager Mentality

This is a very soulless image of a laager, but it was between this and the glorification of colonial slaughter of the Zulu, so I guess this is the second-most-soulless.

This is a very soulless image of a laager, but it was between this and the glorification of colonial slaughter of the Zulu, so I guess this is the second-most-soulless.

In South Africa, we refer to a certain variety of beer as lager. I don’t know what it is called elsewhere in the world. I know they have lots of varieties of beers in the UK, including lager I think, and they don’t make beer in the US. They just have Budweiser and the like. #lazyburn

But a laager is something else. It refers to a defensive wagon formation in which they would form a circle around the vulnerable like a wall, and defenders need only be posted at the gaps.* Laager mentality therefore refers to the tendency to get defensive about your ‘camp’ and to barricade your group off from criticism.

* (Wikipedia tells me that this is called “circling the wagons” in the US.)

In researching the stand-off between ‘camps’ on the matter of Christian baptism, I found that bad arguments are common from advocates from each camp—whether for the baptism of infants or of believers only. Yet, I was quite surprised that some of the best examples of fallacious arguments came from highly regarded biblical scholars, and all I can ascribe it to is the tendency for us to ‘retreat behind the wagons’ on controversial matters such as this—we end up defending our camp rather than honestly interrogating our own position.

For example, on the matter of immersion one such scholar insists that all NT references that hint at the mode of baptism imply full immersion, and that the word itself means ‘to immerse’. This ignores at least Mark 7, which says that the Jews “do not eat unless they wash (baptize). And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing (baptism) of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches”. In this text, baptism is clearly a reference to ceremonial cleansing, and it clearly could not have been performed by full immersion each mealtime in the case of dining couches.

It also ignores that several paedobaptist denominations insist that even infants ought to be immersed in baptism, so even if this argument carried water it hardly solves the problem.

three_viewsLaager mentality also cripples IVP’s discussion of baptism in their “Three Views…” format. In this book, key proponents of the two major baptismal positions (and one more minor one) present their positions and then each have an opportunity to critique one another’s view. These books can be a great way of being introduced to the main issues and to what is at stake, but it also forces the scholar to represent his team in the most typical way possible. In the case of the baptism debate, it really only perpetuates the same-old arguments that have failed to be persuasive for centuries, and serves to deepen the sense that it is a debate at an impasse.

Laager mentality makes for defensive and polarized discussions, and it means that really hearing one another or making room for new ideas are impossible. Troubled Waters aims at working out the baptism argument from its foundations, and finding a new route through an old problem. I hope that it can shed some light on the way forward in this debate.

The ebook of Troubled Waters is currently on promotion for free download here.

It can be printed on demand through Amazon (substantially less free) here.

TW Cover Final


3 thoughts on “Baptism and Laager Mentality

  1. Ray Wilson says:

    Hi Jordan,
    Donovan Morling has recently arrived here in Western Australia and in my conversations with him he has recommended your eBook. It’s very stimulating and valuable.

    Very helpful is the way you put the idea of baptism into the area of discipleship. You make excellent distinctions. I will recommend it to others as a solid contribution to the discussion.

    I will have to think about it further, to see what other implications may accrue from this. It’s actually quite obvious, and I’ve often used that sort of language without nailing as neatly as you have.

    There is so much that is helpful in your treatment, especially the way you treat the fallacies coming from both sides of this debate. Having been a “premillennial, dispensational, believer’s Baptist” myself in the past I recognise many of the faults that I’ve seen on both sides of the debate.

    Might I suggest that a key area of continuity in God’s covenant of grace is evident in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I think a good scriptural case can be made that there is much more continuity in the ministry of the Spirit than you suggest. It has implications for our gospel mission, and for baptism.

    Another area where I’d appreciate your thoughts is in contemplating more of what John’s baptism of Jesus really was. In my believer’s baptist experience we always talked about “following Jesus through the waters of baptism”. (Have you come across that description?) I think a strong scriptural case can be made that Jesus’ baptism “to fulfil all righteousness” was to fulfil the requirements of the law for entry to the Jewish priesthood. We can’t follow Jesus in that! I think it’s significant in the way many believer’s baptists frame the debate. If my understanding is true, then it increases the struggle to maintain the credo-baptist view as the further logical consequences of that play out. I know that I found it to be so as I moved in my thinking!

    As you state in your conclusion, the bigger picture is God’s glory in the grace of Christ as we’re filled by His Spirit to love and serve. Thank you for your hard work and your ministry of “iron sharpening iron”.

    in Christ
    Ray Wilson

  2. Jordan Pickering says:

    Dear Ray,

    Thank you for reading and commenting; I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your kind words.

    I would be interested to hear more about how you see the continuity of the Spirit’s work in the covenant. I do remember once that the organisation for which I used to work had a retreat and a lecturer from Baptist college here was our speaker, teaching us from Deuteronomy. He viewed there as being near-total discontinuity between Old and New Covenants, except on the matter of salvation by the same Holy Spirit. This was almost the inverse of what I believe (not least because Pentecost is surely the start of a new work of the Spirit?). In short, I am not completely sure what you are referring to, but it reminded me of this interaction. If you find the time, feel free to spell that out a bit more specifically for me. I clearly haven’t got that angle covered yet.

    On your second query, about Jesus being our example (or not) in baptism, I think that I am happy with the idea that Jesus was identifying himself with John’s ministry and with those who had submitted to John’s ministry, because it would have discredited John for the Messiah to have had little or no connection to him (given that John was supposed to be preparing the way for the Messiah). Jesus may also have seemed to be siding with the unrepentant religious Jews if he rejected baptism, and it is a persistent pattern in his life that He chooses to humble Himself and make Himself nothing, in order to stand in solidarity with sinners. In spite of the objections to it, I am also not convinced that we shouldn’t see even the baptism itself as the anointing of Jesus as king—it is certainly followed by a declaration of Jesus as ‘Son’. Jesus is always very deliberate about the kind of king that He will be seen to be, so to be anointed by the same rite that identified the repentant is quite fitting for the Messianic Servant figure.

    So although “fulfilling all righteousness” seems to have something to do with keeping the obligations of the Law, I don’t see clear connections to the priesthood as you do (though I am happy to concede that I really am not sure what righteousness Matthew has in mind). Nevertheless, I would certainly agree with you that there are some ways in which we cannot follow Jesus through the water, at least not in the sense that we are baptised for the same reasons as He was. It probably marks Him as the representative of the repentant and as baptiser with the Holy Spirit, and so if we follow Him through, it is as servants follow a king, not in mimicry of His baptism.

    So it depends what is implied by that phrase. I’d be happy with the idea that we follow Jesus through the waters if by it we mean that His baptism initiated the community of disciples, and we then join that community.

    I hope this helps.


    • Ray Wilson says:

      Thank you Jordan. You’ve put it all very well. I’ll put a few thoughts together on the continuity of the Spirit’s work. Maybe the best way to send it to you would be by email directly. (??)
      Your take on anointing to kingship makes sense.
      Thank you for the encouragement to keep on sharpening and clarifying in order to think God’s thoughts after Him as we seek to glorify Him in the calling He’s given us.

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