Catechism for Adults

I was reading an article that is a sort of self-contained discussion with a Baptistic view of Church Membership (HERE) that Rick recommended from John Frame and Vern Poythress’ site. It is a very good article on how to deal with professions of faith within the Church. Something Rick told me about, on a seemingly unrelated subject (Augustine, was it?), was that the Church, in that time (Augustine, was it?) was having a debate about whether instruction on the meaning of Baptism should occur before or after the Catechumen is actually Baptized. I think it is a legitimate question to ponder on, and Poythress actually addresses the move in the early Church to catechize (in general) adult believers before they are baptized. Here is the quote:

Hence, baptism in the name of Jesus functions in the New Testament to mark the beginning of the Christian life.3 Baptism was not merely for those with mature, tested faith, but for those starting the Christian walk. Therefore, in Acts adult converts were baptized when they professed faith. Later in church history, baptism was delayed until after people had gone through catechetical training. But I believe this practice represents a deviation rather than an improvement. Most catechetical training belongs after baptism. Baptism is at the beginning, because it signifies the inception of union with Christ (Rom 6:1-4). Following baptism one enters on a whole lifetime of discipleship, including catechism or doctrinal training that brings us into deeper knowledge of the gospel and the Christian faith.

I think that Poythress is right on the issue of Baptism as an initiatory and pre-catechetical sacrament, but should the believer be instructed as to the meaning of Baptism itself before or after he is baptized?

I think that the meaning of Baptism should be generally explained to the recipient (all of this for adult believers, in case you were wondering…) before their baptism, but I can’t defend pædo-baptism in principle as strongly if I demand that Baptism is preceded (by adults) by doctrinal training, even if the subject is Baptism itself. I am thus torn. And, conceding that weakness, I am in no way saying that the practice of baptizing babies would be in any real danger, as the covenant relation of parents to their seed in the Bible would still stand as the strongest evidence for the orthopraxy of infant baptism.

Any thoughts? Credo-baptists are welcome to comment on the issue (or the article as a whole!) if you are pleased to do so.

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