A Brief Commentary on a Commentary

by Pastor Harry Bultema

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Dr. Lewis Sperry Shafer, President of the Evangelical Theological College in Dallas, Texas, has of late written a book on “The Ephesian letter, doctrinally considered.” The book is what it pretends to be: a brief doctrinal exposition of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is Calvinistic and sound as we would expect from Dr. Shafer who, by the way, has written many good books. His works on Grace and on Satan are known as classics in the world of Fundamentalism. In reading through this brief Commentary on Ephesians, I was wondering what the esteemed author would say about the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5. Here it follows verbatim:

“There is “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5. The New Testament distinguishes between the REAL baptism with the Spirit from the RITUAL baptism with water; and since, according to this passage, there is but ONE baptism, it is needless to inquire as to which baptism is in view. In explaining this emphasis upon the one baptism some claim that REAL baptism is so much more important than RITUAL baptism that RITUAL baptism could not be mentioned with propriety in the midst of these heaven-high verities in which the one baptism appears. Others point out that the two baptisms, like substance and shadow, are so closely related to each other as to form one baptism, and thus both are INCLUDED in the one. On the one hand, to those who believe that RITUAL baptism is in itself an individual, diverse, and unrelated procedure, having no relation to the baptizing work of the Spirit, this latter view will not be agreeable; and for these, in spite of the statement that there is but ONE, the question continues unanswered as to which baptism is indicated in this passage. TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT RITUAL BAPTISM IS BUT THE OUTWARD SIGN OR SYMBOL OF REAL BAPTISM, THERE IS NO DIFFICULTY CREATED BY THIS EMPHASIS UPON ONE BAPTISM. Apparently no one ministry of the Spirit accomplishes so much for the believer as does His baptism, by which we are joined to the Lord, and, being thus in HIM, we are made partakers of all that He is, even every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. Certainly this all-important REAL baptism is not here set aside as unworthy of consideration and as SECONDARY to RITUAL baptism that it is a unifying agency. The history of the Church is a counter-witness to this. However, the REAL baptism which joins all believers to Christ is certainly a UNIFYING agency beyond measure.”

A few questions to our esteemed brother Shafer. Does he himself obviate the difficulty of the two baptisms, where he still clings to a ritual baptism as the outward sign and symbol of what he calls the real baptism? Why still a little ritualism? Why still a sign after we have the substance? Has the Word of God not always bound up the signs with Israel the earthly nation? Even if the one baptism is symbolical and a shadow after the reality has come, is it even so not another baptism? And are two baptisms consistent with the one baptism? Why not lay aside that ritual baptism that has been so long an apple of discord among God’s dear children? Why not glorify God with the Apostle and say: “I thank God I baptized none (but a few) for God sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel.”