This book has been suggested as "a must read" because it examines the common quotations from historical sources often sited by paedobaptists and shows how believers baptism was the common practice until the late 4th cen.
The best part of "Baptism in the Early Church" would have to be that it is written by two paedos! That's right.

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This book is available from the ARBCA office
401 E. Louther Street
Carlisle, PA 17013

Telephone: (717) 249-7473
Fax: (717) 258-0614
The practice of baptism remains a hotly debated issue in the modern church and many scholars have used early church practice as evidence for their own views. As a result of misleading accounts gleaned from modern secondary works, many Christians have been left confused and with unanswered questions on the subject. Responding to the need for Christians to read the primary texts for themselves, the authors have compiled a valuable source book of the writings, art and tombstone inscriptions of the Church Fathers which is objective, scholarly and accessible to all.


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Dr. Jim Renihan has written a very helpful Foreword where he says:
"The present work is another foray into this historical battlefield. One might question its importance and validity -- is it simply another attempt at polemics, interpreting the primary source documents from a denominational perspective? Herein is its value. The authors, two internationally known and highly regarded classical scholars, members of paedobaptist churches, present a dispassionate examination of the problem, based on a careful treatment of the primary sources. They approach the issue from their area of specialty and expertise, through the discipline of classical historiography, not denominational polemics, and produce a work singularly authoritative . . . This is a helpful book. It demonstrates that believer's baptism did not simply appear after the apostolic era, but continued to be the accepted position for centuries. Infant baptism became part of the ecclesiastical practice gradually, apart from apostolic injunction. For this reason, it must be called into question, and rejected as a suitable practice for Christian churches."
About the authors:
Professors Hendrick F. Stander & Johannes P. Louw are recognized authorities in the field of patristic studies. Prof. Stander is currently head of Greek at the Department of Ancient Languages at the University of Pretoria (South Africa) and has written over 400 books and articles. Prof. Louw was also head of Greek at the University of Pretoria until his retirement and has published around 120 articles an books.
Publisher Info:
Cary Publications
a division of Evangelical Press
P.O. Box 825
Webster, New York 14580, USA
(866) 588-6778 – phone
(866) 588-6778 – fax
www.evangelicalpress.org

Book reviewed by Michael T. Renihan
Professors Hendrikus Stander and Johannes Louw have provided an invaluable resource for students of the Patristic era of Church History. It is also a provocative volume for inquirers bold enough to look beyond their historical presuppositions regarding baptism. A word of warning: objectivity is required or this book will be a frustrating read.
Stander and Louw are both classical scholars in their own right. Each man’s work can be readily examined in the books, monographs, and articles he has published. Each is a world class scholar. Dr. Stander studied at Yale. On those occasions that took him to the libraries at Harvard, he would travel within a quarter mile of where I presently live. He is a kind and gracious man. Dr. Louw, along with Eugene Nida, is an editor of the acclaimed Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. The careers of Stander and Louw dovetailed at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. They have been associated with that institution for many years.
The denominational allegiance of the authors makes Baptism in the Early Church remarkable. They belong to churches that are paedobaptist and covenantal by confession and heritage. Yet, their desire was (and is) to be objective, honest, and thorough in their quest to understand how the Early Church understood and practiced baptism. In the end, they gently and graciously remove one of the three legs on which the three-legged stool of covenantal paedobaptism sat for many years; the other two being (from this writer’s perspective) theological necessity and eisogetical induction.
In the Twentieth Century, much work was done in the fields of archeology and history with regard to baptism and the initiatory rites of the Early Church. It is sad that so much has been neglected or dismissed willfully with a few strokes on the keyboard. Everett Ferguson’s volume The Encyclopedia of the Early Church (which contains articles by Prof. Stander) is a repository for many of these recent discoveries.
Baptism in the Early Church is comprised of twenty-five chapters of varying length. The final chapter contains conclusions that flow naturally from the research and study. There is very little extraneous material. The style is compact, to the point, and engagingly thorough. The only drawback to the work is its slight Afrikaans flavor.
The work unearths many surprising early writers in order to present their views to a new generation. Individually and collectively, these works show that the history of infant baptism is not “An Unfinished Tragicomedy” as Peter J. Leithart recently styled the subject.[1] In that essay, Leithart dismisses all that came before Tertullian with a sentence fragment. Stander and Louw don’t get to Tertullian until chapter seven. There is much to consider before this unique character ever wrote his treatise on baptism; a work that is highly allegorical and uses all the water passages of the Bible to say something about baptism. Leithart is partly right; Tertullian is the first to draw our attention to the baptism of those who were not adults. It is, however, not necessarily to infants that our attention is drawn, but to children. In the history of this debate, there is a difference. The words are not exactly convertible from one to the other. Infants are those who are nursing. A child is one who has been weaned, but has not reached adolescence. In our congregation, we have about forty children, only three infants. This difference is subtle but significant. Teachers of God’s Word need to be exact and not guilty of any equivocation to promote their own agenda.
Stander and Louw deal with the standard works that have covered this material before them. Chapter one is a wonderful work on the right use of history and historiography. History, in a technical sense, is the study of the writings of men. Historiography is the study of the writings of historians. Our authors set out the problems and go on to give real answers to the difficulties involved with understanding, interpreting, and applying things historical. As an academically trained historian, I admire their abilities in this area. This work is a model for all to follow. They eschew their own presuppositions as much as they are able in order to test them by the providential record that has been maintained by a succession of Christians through the ages. There are assumptions that remain unspoken. One is that the Churchmen maintained and copied the works they found most helpful and useful. This accounts for the material on this topic recovered in the Renaissance that fueled the Particular Baptists and Antipaedobaptists of old and continues to feed those who honestly and eagerly look into these matters today.
Archeology is used to buttress the doctrine and practice found in the ancient texts. Early Christian tomb inscriptions are shown to corroborate the author’s overall perspective.In the Early Church, art and gravesite epitaphium were genres to communicate sentiments of final importance. Baptisteries large enough for immersions have been found in ancient ruined churches or places of worship. As the science of archeology presents its data to the world, there will be more and more to be said about ancient baptisteries and the art that decorates them.
The rest of the work is well-presented and well-argued prose. It examines all the major works that relate to the practice of baptism in the Early Church. There are other works that have been unearthed. Future scholarship will use these to shed light and there will doubtless be more to follow.
The two main errors in the Early Church were baptismal remission and baptismal regeneration. The former viewed baptism as the act that would wash away all sins to that point. That is why Constantine delayed baptism until late in life when he thought himself to be near death. He wanted his sins to that point to be forgiven, leaving but a few sins to deal with through other legal means. That he was baptized by a heretic, Eusebius of Nicomedia, is another matter altogether. The latter view believed baptism was the act that initiated the regenerative process of God in man. Forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit are two aspects of the New Covenant promise brought to fruition at the first Christian Pentecost. Ancient deviations in the doctrine of baptism accentuate one of these to an unnecessary extreme. Baptism is a sign of the presence of New Covenant realities. In the Early Church, there is something lacking in the perspective of any theologian. That lack is a vital covenantal link between the infant’s interest in the covenant of grace and circumcision borrowed from the historical covenant made with Abraham. Any analogy between circumcision and baptism that leads to the baptizing of believers and their seed just isn’t to be found in that era. It must have been a later invention. It was not part of the Apostolic, Post-apostolic or Early Church’s theology. It was brought into the body of thought from somewhere else for some other reason. That reason is the unstated theological necessity to preserve a system that has no basis in the Scriptures, but in the medieval development of sacramental theology that carried over into the Modern Reformed and Post-reformed Churches via human tradition.
Where Roman Catholicism used infant baptism to control the masses in a religious form of Feudalism, some Protestants used it to maintain the status quo while changing the rationale and motivation. The Reformed repudiated the papal-sacral order, while retaining its means of introduction and initiation—infant baptism. It was the main vehicle to perpetuate the State Churches of Protestant lands and, if not the State Churches, great denominations organized in national units. These megaliths remain, although, without their spiritual vigor in an historical sense.
History gives us neither imperative nor normative material for living the Christian life. Its value is that of corroboration. The Early Church validates what the apostles taught and practiced. May it ever be so. This work shows us how small changes can morph a doctrine from one form into something almost entirely different. The documentation of that shift is found in these pages. May the Lord use it to drive men back to the source, the Scriptures, to be corrected by what they actually say, rather than what men want to find them saying. Stander and Louw can be the good guides in God’s providence to bring that reforming activity to pass. Brethren, take up and read!
[1] Peter J. Leithart, “Infant Baptism in History: An Unfinished Tragicomedy,” in Gregg Strawbridge, ed. The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2003), 246-262. In this work, I thank the editor for his kind use of material from my doctoral dissertation on John Tombes


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