Todd Stepp

Author's details

Name: Todd Stepp
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Wesleyan/Anglican: Infant Baptism IV: What Happens When Infants are Baptized? — January 22, 2015
  2. Wesleyan/Anglican: Infant Baptism III: Why Wesleyans/Methodists Baptize Infants — January 22, 2015
  3. Wesleyan/Anglican: Infant Baptism II: Nazarene Practice in Historical Context — January 22, 2015
  4. Wesleyan/Anglican: Infant Baptism: The Beginning of a Topic — January 22, 2015
  5. Wesleyan/Anglican: James Varick, Founding Bishop of the AME Zion Church — January 10, 2015

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  2. Wesleyan/Anglican: Pan-Methodist Full Communion — 1 comment
  3. Wesleyan/Anglican: No "Archbishop" for the UMC, and No more Guaranteed Appointments — 1 comment
  4. Wesleyan/Anglican: Does Numerical Growth Equal Spiritual Growth? — 1 comment
  5. Wesleyan/Anglican: Wesleyan-Anglican Society/Fellowship In Formation — 1 comment

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Jan 22 2015

Wesleyan/Anglican: Infant Baptism IV: What Happens When Infants are Baptized?

Original post at

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

In my previous posts on this topic I have attempted to set the practice of Nazarenes baptizing infant children within historical context. I then gave some of the reasons why we Wesleyan/Methodist Christians do baptize our young children. - This final post in my series on Infant Baptism has already generated some discussion in the comments section, and I have already given enough away in that section so that readers already have a pretty good idea where I am headed in this post.

Let me begin by identifying what seems to be the most common thoughts by Nazarene theologians (in writing) concerning what happens in infant Baptism. I will attempt to do that by looking to the two most recent Systematic Theologies produced by Nazarene theologians.

In A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (Beacon Hill P. '94), Kenneth Grider says, "Even as God entered into a covenant with the male infant who was circumcised on his eighth day of life, God enters into a covenant to give special helps to an infant who is baptized. - This leads to the suggestion that infant baptism affirms the doctrine of prevenient grace - so important as a doctrine for Arminian-Wesleyanism" (503).

Ray Dunning, in Grace Faith and Holiness (Beacon Hill P. '88), says, "This may be interpreted as saying that baptism is the ordinary (a term Wesley insisted on) means by which the child appropriates prevenient grace, which would nonetheless by efficacious apart from baptism even as adults may be born again without the administering of water" (548, second group of italics mine). - (I would mention that Ray Dunning was my Theology professor at Trevecca Nazarene University. I hold him in high esteem and credit him with being the first to introduce me to a more classical Wesleyan Theology . . . though, at this point I have to say, I think he missed it.)

And, finally, the ritual for "The Baptism of Infants or Young Children" in the Manual (the Nazarene Book of Discipline) states clearly, "While we do not hold that baptism imparts the regenerating grace of God . . . Christian baptism signifies for this young child God's gracious acceptance on the basis of His prevenient grace in Christ and points forward to his (her) personal appropriation of the benefits of the Atonement when he (she) reaches the age of moral accountability and exercises conscious saving faith in Jesus Christ" (p 236).

Thus, it becomes clear that most Nazarenes seem to identify the Baptism of infants as a means of proclaiming that prevenient grace is at work in the child.

There are a couple of problems with this position, from my perspective. First, (except in the case of Dunning, above) this position removes Infant Baptism from the category of sacrament. A sacrament for Wesleyan Christians is an outward sign of an inward grace and a means whereby we receive the same. In the position espoused above the Baptism of infants is no longer a means whereby grace is received, but rather merely a means of proclamation . . . that prevenient grace is already at work in the child. (Dunning manages to escape this trap by identifying Baptism as "the ordinary . . . means by which the child appropriates prevenient grace," even though he goes on to say that it would nevertheless be efficacious without Baptism.)

In addition to the problem of stripping Infant Baptism from its "sacramental status" is the issue of what "prevenient grace" refers to. - Certainly, it refers to God's grace that "goes before" we can do anything. And, in as much as that is true, Infant Baptism does proclaim the prevenient nature (at least) of grace. However, when speaking of prevenient grace, one usually refers to that grace that extends to all humanity due to the Atonement of Christ, which is at work in every sinner's heart, seeking to awaken, convict, convert, and sanctify, and granting us the gracious ability to respond to the call of the gospel (cf. An Introduction to Wesleyan Theology. Greathouse/Dunning. Beacon Hill P. '89. p 60 & 72). In the case of infants, what is essentially being said in baptism (according to the view espoused above) is that our children are "covered by the atonement" until they reach an age of moral accountability. - Keep in mind, this is true whether we baptize them or not. Infant Baptism is seen as simply proclaiming that particular aspect of God's grace.

The problem is that while the practice of Infant Baptism is consistent with Wesley, and the doctrine of prevenient grace is consistent with Wesley, the combining of those two doctrines in the way that Nazarenes have (above) is completely foreign to Wesley (and the ancient Church). In fact, such a view seems to have only recently originated within the Wesleyan-holiness tradition (though there may be evidence of it in some earlier Methodist writings).

So what was Wesley's view? - Frankly, Wesley believed that infants who were faithfully baptized were then and there regenerate and "born again." Wesley does not identify Baptism as being the same thing as the new birth. And he recognizes that a person may be "born of water," and yet not "born of the Spirit" (Staples 184). And, one may experience being "born of the Spirit" by faith prior to Baptism, as seen in Acts. However, of infants Wesley says, ". . . all who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time born again . . ." (Wesley's Works 6:74).

Such a view does not mean that the child does not need to "own the faith" for his/herself when they are old enough to do so. They, like all of us, must do so. Neither does it mean that they cannot fall from grace (as in a kind of "once baptized, always saved" idea). It is also important to note that Wesley rejects a mechanical ex oper operato doctrine. Rather we are called to bring our children to the sacrament of Baptism with faith in Christ.

I am of the opinion that John Wesley's view is more consistent with that of the Church Fathers, and I am in full agreement with him on this point.

Now, how does a Nazarene maintain such a position? If I were a United Methodist, the answer would be simple: Wesley's Standard Sermons are a part of their doctrinal standards, and Wesley, there, espouses this position. But we Nazarenes do not have that standard listed in our Manual. - Nevertheless, I would maintain that such a view is not contrary to our Articles of Faith (though it certainly is not espoused there). I recall a very helpful conversation with a former professor of mine concerning the sacraments. I ask him how he reconciled his own views with the Manual's so very weak (sacramentally speaking) statements on The Lord's Supper. He replied that he believed our Manual statement . . . he believed "at least that much." - My views on infant Baptism, I think, fall into the same category.

It is true, however, that our ritual for infant Baptism seems to outright deny Wesley's position as even a possibility. In order to make it compatible one would have to invoke a technicality that says Baptism does not impart regenerating grace; God imparts regenerating grace through Baptism. But it must be admitted that the intent of the ritual is to rule out such a view.

I take solace in knowing that we are not bound by the rituals in our Manual, and thus not by doctrinal positions placed there which are absent from our Articles of Faith. This is illustrated in a number of ways. First, with the exception of the ritual for membership, the Manual does not require the use of our rituals. Second, it was the Manual Editing Committee that commissioned Dr. Jesse Middendorf (now General Superintendent) to write The Church Rituals Handbook, which our publishing house produced. And finally, if our rituals are not used at our General Assembly by certain of our own General Superintendents, it surely means that we are not require to use them.

Therefore, while I may be awfully lonely, I believe myself to still fall within Nazarene boundaries when espousing Wesley's view of infant Baptism.

One final clarifying note on adult baptisms: such a view of infant Baptism does not imply that every adult who is baptized is thereby "born again." In the case of adults, the call is still to exercise faith in Christ, to repent and to be baptized. Also, while it may be maintained that Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation (i.e., a person may be "born again" prior to being baptized), nevertheless it must also be recognized that it is a command of our Lord, and the New Testament knows nothing of "unbaptized Christians."

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Jan 22 2015

Wesleyan/Anglican: Infant Baptism III: Why Wesleyans/Methodists Baptize Infants

Original post at

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

In this post I do not intend to list all of the reasons why those of us in the Methodist tradition baptize infants. What I intend to do is briefly rehearse four of the reasons John Wesley gave. I find each of these to be strong arguments, but combined, I think them irrefutable arguments for infant Baptism (though I'm sure that my Baptist brothers and sister would disagree).

Prior to looking at these arguments, I want to make it clear that the Church of England affirmed the practice of infant baptism in its Articles of Religion, as well as in its rituals. So, too, Wesley not only followed the practice (having, of course, experienced it for himself in infancy), but passed the practice on to American Methodism through his Articles of Religion and the rituals of The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. The Church of the Nazarene, from its beginning, likewise retained the practice in its Articles of Faith and rituals as found in the Manual (our Book of Discipline).

In his "Treatise on Baptism," Wesley sets forth his reasons for retaining the catholic (i.e., universal) Christian practice of baptizing infants of Christian parents. For a thorough understanding of Wesley's thoughts on the matter, I commend his "Treatise" as found in the Jackson Edition of Wesley's Works vol. 10:188f. (Unless I've overlooked it, the Bicentennial/Oxford edition of the Works has not yet published a volume containing this "Treatise.")

The first compelling argument focuses on the covenant of God and the God given sign of the covenant. - It is clear from the Old Testament that the mark of the covenant was circumcision. All of the requirements of the Abrahamic covenant would seem to imply that infant children would be incapable of entering such a covenant. And yet, it is quite clear from Deut. 29:10-12 that "little ones" entered into covenant with God. Further, the mark of the covenant, viz., circumcision, was performed when the infant was only eight days old. Thus, it is clear that infant children of faithful Jews entered into the covenant with God through circumcision.

St. Paul identifies circumcision (the mark of the "old" covenant) and Baptism (the mark of the "new" covenant) in Col. 2:11-12. Baptism is now the sacrament of initiation into the covenant of God through Christ. Thus, there is in Scripture a continuity within the covenant before and after Christ, but through Christ, circumcision is replaced by Baptism. Wesley concludes "Infants are capable of entering into covenant with God. As they always were, so they still are, under the evangelical covenant. Therefore, they have a right to baptism, which is now the entering seal thereof" (10:195). - The continuity between the covenant mark of circumcision and Baptism is a strong argument for baptizing infant children of Christian parents.

The next argument I find compelling looks to Matthew 19:13-14 and Luke 18:15. There we see infant children being brought to Jesus. When the disciples tried to stop this from happening, Jesus rebuked His disciples. Jesus goes on to declare "it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." In fact, Jesus tells us "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." Thus, "infants are capable of coming to Christ [and ] of admission into the Church . . ." (10:195). - If Jesus makes the point that the kingdom belongs (uniquely) to these young children, and that we must enter the kingdom like them, then surely they should bear the kingdom mark in Baptism. Wesley concludes that infant children ought to be brought to Christ and admitted to the Church through the initiatory sacrament of Baptism.

The third and fourth compelling arguments focus on the tradition of the ancient Church. - Wesley argues that if the apostles baptized infants, then we must do the same. This proposal holds utmost strength, for me. - The problem is the New Testament does not give explicit proof that the apostles did baptize infants. However, Wesley is aware that the Jews baptized all infant children of proselytes. Since this was the practice, since Jesus and the apostles knew this practice, and since Jesus did not instruct the disciples otherwise (in addition to Jesus' clear teachings cited above), it seems very likely that the apostles would have baptized infant children of Christian converts. Further, the Scripture does record the instances of entire households being baptized. This is a term that would include any infants of that household. Finally, Wesley points to the words of St. Peter which, upon instructing the people to be baptized, declares "For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away . . ." (Acts 2:39 NRSV italics mine).

As an extension of the previous argument, Wesley's final compelling argument turns to the practice of the catholic (i.e., universal) Church. He argues that if the Baptism of infants was "the general practice of the Christian Church in all places and in all ages, then this must have been the practice of the Apostles, and, consequently, the mind of Christ" (10:197). Wesley goes on to list the Church Fathers as witnesses to the Church's practice of infant Baptism in all places and all times. Further he cites those Fathers who explicitly affirm that the practice was handed down by the holy apostles, themselves. And the Church has continued to baptize infant children of Christian parents to this day. (For more on this point, cf., my previous post.)

As I've stated, each of these arguments provide a strong rational for the practice of infant Baptism, but, when combined, they seem to me to be irrefutable. There are, undoubtedly, other arguments employed by Wesleyan/Methodist Christians for baptizing our children, but these four I find more than sufficient to settle the question.

In my next post in this series, I will turn to the question of what I believe is going on in the baptism of our infant children.

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Jan 22 2015

Wesleyan/Anglican: Infant Baptism II: Nazarene Practice in Historical Context

Original post at

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

A couple of words before I proceed: First, I'm discovering that this blogging deal is not quite like writing a term paper! The venue seems to demand a bit more brevity, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of footnoting in the few blogs that I've checked out. That being said, a great place to read up on the shaping of Nazarene baptismal practice is in Stan Ingersol's article, "Christian Baptism and the Early Nazarenes: The Sources that Shaped a Pluralistic Baptismal Tradition," Wesleyan Theological Journal. vol. 25, Number 2, Fall 1990. - And now, on with the article . . .

In the "Historical Statement" of the Nazarene Manual (our Book of Discipline) it is stated that the Church of the Nazarene has ". . . taken care to retain and nurture identification with the historic church in its . . . administration of the sacraments . . ." So, we begin there, with the historic Church.

Infant baptism has been documented as being practiced and considered valid since as early as the 2nd century. Tertullian's writings at the turn of the second and third centuries are the earliest writings that we have that make explicit mention of infant baptism. Significantly, he argued against it. Equally significant, his argument was not based upon it being a "new invention," or that it was less than valid. Quit the opposite. Tertullian's arguments against infant baptism assumed that it was indeed real, valid, Christian baptism. His argument was based upon the concern that sins committed after baptism might not be forgiven. In fact, he not only argued against infant baptism, but against baptism prior to marriage (in case one might fall into sexual sin, before marriage). Tertullian's concern would logically call us all to put off baptism until near death. - Nevertheless, what we find as early as the end of the second century is clear documentation of the practice of Christian parents baptizing their infant children.

Within thirty years of Tertullian's writings, Hyppolytus in the West, and Origen in the East both identified infant baptism as the norm for Christian parents. Further, they both considered the practice to be of apostolic origin. (cf., The Water that Divides. Bridge & Phypers. Mentor P. 1998.) Of course, there is further evidence of infant baptism in the early Church. There is the testimony given by Polycarp, whose life overlapped that of the apostles, themselves. And then with the explicit writings of the early Fathers identifying infant baptism being of apostolic origin, there are the implicit writings in Scripture, itself; the "household" baptisms recorded in Scripture, along with Jesus' words to let the little children come to Him, for to such belong the Kingdom of God.

From these beginnings, the catholic (universal), orthodox Church has continually affirmed infant baptism. In fact, even today, with the popularity of rituals of infant dedication in evangelical circles (a practice that only dates to the 16th century), the vast majority of Christian parents around the planet have their children baptized. (e.g., Roman Catholics, Orthodox, those in the Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist and Reformed traditions nearly universally baptize infants or at least provide for their baptism. Only those whose roots are found in the Anabaptist-Restorationist traditions or the Pentecostal-Charismatic traditions tend to reject infant baptism.) - Those Nazarenes that baptize young children stand firmly in the broad catholic tradition.

The Church of the Nazarene is connected to the early Church through Anglicanism. It is connected to Anglicanism by way of John Wesley through Methodism and the Holiness Movement of the 19th century. While it is uncertain the exact position of the southern branch that merged to form the Church of the Nazarene, it is clear that infant baptism was, at the very least, allowed in the other two merging branches. It also seems likely that it was at least allowed in the southern branch, as well, since it too emerged from a Methodist context, and since the practiced mode of baptism in that branch was pouring.

What is certain is that, like the other churches in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, from the very beginning, the united denomination included infant baptism in its Articles of Faith on Baptism. That is not to imply that everyone in the united denomination agreed with infant baptism or practiced it (some came from Quaker or Anabaptist backgrounds), but it did mean that they were willing to be a part of a denomination that included it in its Articles of Faith. From the very beginning until this day, the Manual has included a ritual for baptizing infant children. In our earliest days, founding general superintendents (Wesley's term for bishops) Phineas Bresee and Hiram Reynolds, along with early general superintendents Roy Williams, J.B. Chapman, and John Goodwin, were sought after to baptize infants at district assemblies. Such was the prevalence of the practice.

But, alas, the tide has changed somewhat in the Church of the Nazarene. The denomination has been impacted by those who embraced the biblical doctrine and experience of entire sanctification as taught by Wesley, but who came out of an Anabaptist background. More recently Nazarenes have been hugely impacted by the dominance of the Southern Baptists in evangelical circles. Those impacts were reflected in the Manual in 1936 when a ritual for "The Dedication or Consecration of Children" appeared along side the one for infant baptism ". . . for use in those cases where the parents . . . do not care to have children baptized but simply dedicated . . ." - To this day, the Manual includes both ritual options (though the preface of the latter has been removed.) Further, with the "baptisification" of the denomination, infant dedication has become the dominate preference. In fact, it is so dominant that many Nazarenes have never seen a baby baptized and have no idea that we do baptize babies.

Still, there is something of a resurgence (perhaps still small in size) in the area of sacraments in the Church of the Nazarene. This is owed largely to the wonderful work of Rob L. Staples' book, Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality (Beacon Hill 1991). - While I do not look for the Dedication of Infants to ever go away (it will remain a valid option within the denomination), it is my hope that the practice of our spiritual forefather, John Wesley, and that of the historic Church; that practice which I believe to be of apostolic origin, will continue to (re)gain momentum within the Church of the Nazarene so that our children might gain the benefits of the grace of God poured out through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

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Jan 22 2015

Wesleyan/Anglican: Infant Baptism: The Beginning of a Topic

Original post at

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

In my previous post on The Great Triduum, I mentioned that during our main service of Easter Worship at Grace Church of the Nazarene, I had the great privilege of baptizing. The person that I baptized was a nine-month old little boy. His parents, having previously been baptized, also took the opportunity to renew their own baptismal vows.

It was a wonderful and joyous time. The church was packed with people (not a few of whom were family members of the child being baptized)! Of course, there was the cuteness factor! The little boy slept through most of the ritual . . . until the water was poured on his head! Then he awoke with three little sneezes. The congregation laughed and awed.

But beyond the cuteness factor, there was great meaning in that part of worship; meaning for the parents and their extended family; meaning for the congregation, and, indeed, the entire Body of Christ; and meaning for that little nine-month old child. - There was meaning, not only because the people involved filled the event with their own perceived meaning, but there was meaning, because God was there and at work through that Holy Sacrament.

In talking about baptizing that nine-month old, it strikes me that not everyone out there knows why we baptize babies. In fact, it strikes me that there are countless members of my own denomination that don't even know that we do baptize babies (I used to be one of them, prior to college!), because the ritual of Infant Dedication has often replaced the sacrament of Baptism for infants in many Nazarene settings. (A fact which I, personally, lament.) Therefore, I hope to write a series of posts during the upcoming days concerning infant baptism. - I hope to briefly put the practice of Nazarenes baptizing babies in historical context. I will explain why I, and other Wesleyan/Methodist Christians, practice infant Baptism. And I will touch on what I believe is going on in the sacrament of infant Baptism.

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Jan 10 2015

Wesleyan/Anglican: James Varick, Founding Bishop of the AME Zion Church

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Dec 11 2014


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The Wesleyan-Anglican Society has an opportunity to possibly have a table in the exhibit hall during the Church of the Nazarene's Mission 15 Conference, February 9-11.

The M-15 Conference is the largest all-church gathering for Nazarenes in the U.S. & Canada between general assemblies. To have a table in the exhibition hall at this even would potentially give the WAS A LOT of exposure!

The cost of having a table is $400, and would be due in January. However, because of the lackluster response to our official membership process, we do not have the money needed to purchase a spot. Therefore, even though membership in the Society runs from Aldersgate (May 24) to Aldersgate, we are offering everyone who goes to our website, fills out the membership application and pays their dues during the month of December, not only current year membership, but 2015-2016 membership, as well! (And, yes, we will grandfather in those who have been faithful and have already paid dues AND filled out membership applications. Some have not done both!)

The WAS website can be found, here.

Join the Society, today!

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