Peter E. Gillquist: Potato? Potahto?
Let’s call St. Vincent of Lerins
By Peter E. Gillquist
Christians in the heart of the Bible Belt know how often we get into seemingly unsolvable doctrinal debates. You know how the discussion goes.
“Anyone who believes in infant baptism is out of his mind.”
“Well, my pastor doesn’t even believe in baptism.”
“It’s what your heart tells you.”
These sessions can go half the night and still nothing gets settled.
Why do people from various denominations and nondenominations say they follow the Bible but can’t agree on what it teaches? Is there anywhere to turn for help?
Enter St. Vincent of Lerins. St. Vincent was born in Gaul, probably in the late 300s. He is famous for one short phrase: “Hold fast that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” That phrase, the “Vincentian Canon,” gives the Church guidance in interpreting the Bible.
We’ll start with the ridiculous. You’re at the water cooler and overhear someone say, “If you’re truly a Christian, you should eat only raw potatoes.” You recall the Vincentian Canon.
Everywhere. How broadly is this doctrine believed geographically? Is it universal, or is it believed only here and there?
Always. How old is this belief? Was it present in antiquity? Or did the doctrine come upon the scene only recently?
By all. What is the consensus of the Church? Was this teaching debated in the great Ecumenical Councils and held by the Fathers?
If we measure the potatoes-only doctrine by St. Vincent’s canon, we find that it has been believed nowhere, never, and by none.
A less ridiculous matter is baptism. Someone has called baptism “the waters that divide.” There are as many views on it as there are people in the room. But the belief of the historic Church is that we Christians bring our infants to be joined to Christ in holy baptism and – very importantly – bring them up in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Those who practice infant baptism might turn to Luke 18:15, 16: “Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; … Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.’ ” Baptism is how babies have been brought to Christ.
We might turn to the Book of Acts, where Cornelius and the Philippian jailer are baptized along with their households, which, presumably, included children. Finally, we might point out that New Testament baptism fulfills Old Testament circumcision. You don’t hear of guys in the Old Testament holding out for adult circumcision.
The proponents of “believers’ baptism,” on the other hand, insist that a person must first come to faith in Christ before baptism. They might point to the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch – also in the Book of Acts – who first believed and then was baptized. They might turn to Mark 16:16, where Jesus says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
So you’ve got an arsenal of passages. Who’s right?
St. Vincent specialized in such dilemmas, which leave modern Christians divided. He can help, though, only if the parties in the debates agree to embrace what the Church has taught, even if they don’t like it. Let’s put infant baptism to the test.
Everywhere. There is no known place where the Gospel spread – east or west – that the Church did not baptize her infants.
Always. Early Christian writers who address the subject view infant baptism as a foregone conclusion: The children of Christians were baptized. Obviously, nonbelieving adults who came to Christ were baptized, too. Infant baptism is ancient. “Believers’ baptism” enters after the Reformation.
By all. “Everybody’s doing it” is certainly true of infant baptism. Even today, at least 80 percent of Christendom baptizes babies.
So, when a friend criticizes infant baptism – or bishops, or weekly Communion, or whatever – as not biblical, you’ve got a friend to guide you in how, historically, the Church decided what the inspired Scriptures teach. He’s St. Vincent of Lerins.
The Very Rev. Peter E. Gillquist is chairman of the missions and evangelism department for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
Festival of Orthodox Christianity:
The Very Rev. Peter E. Gillquist and other speakers will lead a free conference from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 10 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 13555 Hillcrest Road in North Dallas. For more information, call 972-980-8826.
(c) 2001 The Dallas Morning News