Summary: The who, how, and why of Christian baptism.
The Church; Its Baptism I Pet. 3:21
INTRO.: Alexander Campbell was a Presbyterian minister from Scotland who immigrated into the United States in 1809. His father, Thomas, had come to the new world two years earlier. Thomas had settled in the area of Washington, Pa. And had begun The Christian Association of Washington and established the Brush Run Church, an independent congregation. After a separation of 2 years, each discovered the other had been engaged in an intense examination of their religious beliefs in the light of the Bible and had come to many of the same conclusions. They combined their efforts to strengthen the Brush Run Church and preach a powerful plea for Christian unity based on the Bible.
Both Campbells were intensely interested in the biblical teaching about baptism but did not wish to make it an issue because they were afraid it would interfere with their efforts toward the unity of all believers. They sort of "put it on the back burner" while concerned about things they saw as more urgent.
One day, while calling, the elder Mr. Campbell became acquainted with a carpenter named Brown and he promised to lend Mr. Brown some books. Instead of delivering the books personally, he sent them with his son Alexander. The Browns had a daughter named Margaret and she and Alexander fell in love and married. Their first child was a daughter they named Jane, after Alexander’s mother.
This presented a problem to Alex and Margaret. Reared Presbyterians, they were faced with the question of whether or not to have little Jane sprinkled in accordance with Presbyterian teaching. No longer able to ignore the subject, Campbell became passionate in his study. He carefully studied, in the Greek, every passage where the word "baptism" or any of its variations appears. He came to the conclusion that only believers were candidates for baptism. He was also convinced from his studies that baptism is properly immersion. Not only did they decide not to baptize Jane, they became doubtful of their own baptism and decided to be immersed.
Interestingly, Thomas Campbell had come to the same conclusion. He and Jane would also be immersed. Alexander’s sister, Dorothea, also had confided a desire to be immersed.
The baptismal service was conducted in 1812 at the farm of David Bryant on the banks of Buffalo Creek near Bethany, Virginia. The service lasted 7 hours as both Campbells were lengthy speakers. A Baptist preacher named Matthias Luce immersed a total of seven persons that day on the basis of a simple confession of Jesus as the Son of God.
An interesting sidelight; One of David Bryant’s sons had time to leave the service and go to town to be sworn into the army for the War of 1812, and returned in time to hear an hour of the preaching and witness the baptisms.
In regard to the Church’s baptism, three questions are important; Who should be baptized, how is it to be done, and for what reason. Let’s look at these: