Pilgram Marpeck: Christian Baptism follows a Christ-established order

As Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary prepares to host its conference celebrating the Anabaptist Movement on January 30-31, 2012, Jason G. Duesing presents his synthesis of Pilgram Marpeck’s (d. 1556) view of believer’s baptism in his five-part series, “Pilgram Marpeck’s Christian Baptism.”

The essence of Marpeck’s critique of infant baptism can be summarized by seeing the practice as a failure to follow Christ’s command.[1] Marpeck believes that this command of Christ, found in Matthew 28, contains more than just instructions, but also a specific order for baptismal practice.[2] For Marpeck’s immediate audience, this was an important point of clarification as there were many Spiritualists who claimed that with the death of the Apostles there were no longer any pertinent commands in Scripture concerning baptism.[3]

Thus, Marpeck gives ample evidence for why Christ’s commands are not only still applicable, but also the commands of the Apostles with regard to baptism. He states, “It will be found in Scripture that such ceremonies must remain as long as there are Christians, that is, until the end of the world, for, in His command to baptize (Matt 28), Jesus had in mind not only His present disciples but also all future disciples throughout time until the end of the world.”[4]

Jesus Christ commissioned this new order and practice of Christian baptism for “not only the world of His time, but also the world which will remain and the nations which exist until the end or the last day.” [5] This order Marpeck finds in Scripture is the modus operandi for the church with regard to Christian baptism.

Upon combining Matt 28 with the writings of the Apostles,[6] Marpeck distills the order of Christian baptism to teaching, faith, baptism, and entrance to the church. When discussing Peter’s plea for all to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38, Marpeck explains, “Those who gladly accepted his word were baptized. There the order of God and man was observed: first teaching, then faith, and only then baptism.”[7]

He repeats this order in his Admonition of 1542, “If a man is to come in an orderly way to salvation and to the kingdom of God, he must first of necessity hear God’s Word and be instructed in it. It is then the task of a man to believe the gospel, to receive willingly the knowledge of Christ, to be obedient to the truth. Only then does it follow that a man is to be baptized.”[8] Entrance to the church naturally follows these three in Marpeck’s view, as will be shown.

TEACH

While the command to teach appears to follow the command to baptize in Matt 28, Marpeck’s order sees teaching as the equivalent to “making disciples” or teaching the unbeliever the gospel of Christ. Marpeck would define the instruction to teach in the latter part of Christ’s commission as something that happens to believers after they have been baptized or admitted to the church.

Marpeck asserts, “First and foremost, the apostles had to teach the people with the instruction of truth so that they would be willing to come to baptism, be moved to be baptized, and then rightly allow themselves to be baptized.”[9] Teaching, in the sense of leading people to Christian baptism, comes first.

FAITH

Faith follows teaching in that Marpeck believes it is necessary that “whoever seeks to bind himself with God in baptism must first be a newborn spiritual man.”[10] Marpeck recognizes this as a clearly articulated biblical principle and he cites the example of Christ’s statement in Mark 16 as evidence, “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved; whoever does not believe is condemned [Mark 16:16]; where there is no faith all teaching is of no avail and baptism is no baptism.”[11]

Furthermore, Marpeck points to the teaching of the Acts of the Apostles, as taught specifically by Philip in Acts 8, which led the eunuch to believe the gospel followed by his concluding that immediate baptism was an appropriate response to his new faith.[12] Elsewhere, Marpeck emphasizes that baptism “springs from faith in Christ,”[13] and must be “through one’s own faith, and not that of another.”[14] Faith is the essential prerequisite for New Testament Christian baptism.

BAPTISM

Only after right teaching and personal faith does Christian baptism follow. The fourth section below will outline Marpeck’s understanding of the meaning and significance of the practice as a witness, but it is helpful here to state that Marpeck clearly saw Christian baptism as an external act. The internal baptism is that work done by the Spirit at conversion and is also the result of faith. But it is the external and outward act that serves as the expression of Christian baptism.[15]

It is also helpful to note that by 1542 when Marpeck wrote his Admonition he was not precise as to the mode of baptism. He states, “To baptize means the same as to immerse in water or dip in water, and baptism is the same as immersion or sprinkling with water.”[16] In addition to this ambiguous commentary on the physical practice of Christian baptism, Marpeck provides in his Response a sample confession for use by the baptismal candidate,[17] and also explains that Christian baptism is a singular event without need of repetition.[18]

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

Entrance into membership of the local church is the final stage of the baptismal order. Ironically, this is one point of common agreement between Marpeck and those who advocate infant baptism.[19] All agree that “this is the common function of baptism in the church.”[20] For Marpeck, it one’s public identification with Christ’s death and resurrection that show one’s willingness to identify with the local assembly. While commenting on Jesus’ ecclesiological declaration in response to Peter’s confession of faith and its relationship to baptism (Matt 16:13-20), Marpeck writes that “before such individual and true confession has been made, no one may truly be called a member of the community of the church of Christ, a member of the church, for upon this foundation, upon the confession of the faith of Peter, the Lord built His church. Thus, baptism is a door, an entrance into this church.”[21]

It is this confessional nature of Christian baptism that serves as the entrance requirement to the body of the church.[22] However, while the baptismal order ends there, the effects of Christian baptism have only begun, or as Marpeck says, only after Christian baptism does “the school of Christ really begin for the first time.”[23]


[1] To clarify this connection between Christ’s command and the perils of infant baptism, Marpeck states, “If people would have stayed with Christ’s one simple order or command it would not have been necessary to raise so many other orders of baptism.” He continues to say, “But, because of infant baptism, this command and order has been totally obscured and darkened, yes, even completely destroyed and rejected,” in “The Admonition of 1542,” 213.

[2] With regard to Matt 28, Marpeck states, “Christ gave the commandment to baptize only in Matthew 28,” in “The Admonition of 1542,” 180. In ibid., 172, Marpeck states further that “it is true and correct Christian baptism only if it happens according to the command of Christ.” And later, “A Christian baptism is one which is carried out according to the command and order of Christ,” 185. In his “Response,” Marpeck states with regard to Matt 28 that Christ “gives a whole commandment and not half a one,” 139.

[3] Marpeck, “A Clear Refutation,” 47. Bender explains that in Strasbourg at this time Marpeck faced opposition from both the Spiritualists and the Reformers. The former, led by Schwenckfeld and Bünderlin, preferred only to have “the invisible church and inward spirituality without outward forms and ceremonies.” Marpeck provided the Anabaptists in their midst with “Biblical [sic] realism” that ensured a future for his followers as the Spiritualist philosophy did not lead to any future or “permanent ‘church,’” in “Anabaptist Theologian and Civil Engineer,” 246-7.

[4] Pilgram Marpeck, “A Clear Refutation,” in The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, ed. William Klassen and Walter Klaassen (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1978), 47. Also known as Marpeck’s Clare Verantwurtung.

[5] Ibid., 51. Marpeck cites the following as support: Matt 24; Mark 13; Acts 2; Rom 15; Deut 31; Ps 78. He reiterates this in his “Response” as well saying, “In his baptismal commandment in Matt 28, Christ gives it not only to his present disciples but to all future disciples, i.e. those who would believe in him across time until the end of the world,” 99.

[6] Ibid., 65. Here, Marpeck surveys the various writings of the New Testament for what he terms “Apostolic Order.”

[7] Marpeck, “Confession of 1532,” 154.

[8] Marpeck, “The Admonition of 1542,” 212. Also he states, “John baptized people unto repentance; they should confess their sins and improve. The apostles, however, baptized believers in the name of God or of Christ; those who were baptized turned themselves over to God and were joined to Him in Christ, whom the confessed by faith in the gospel, and according to whose standard they were to conduct themselves,” ibid., 176.

[9] Ibid., 181.

[10] Ibid., 191.

[11] Marpeck, “Confession of 1532,” 111.

[12] Marpeck, “A Clear Refutation,” 65-66. Marpeck states clearly that “faith always precedes baptism.”

[13] Marpeck, “Confession of 1532,” 110.

[14] Ibid., 153.

[15] Marpeck states, “Whoever has been inwardly baptized, with belief and the Spirit of Christ in his heart, will not despise the eternal baptism and the Lord’s Supper which are performed according to Christian, apostolic order,” in “A Clear Refutation,” 65. Also, he says, “Likewise, it is a portal of entrance into the holy communion or church of Christ,” in “The Admonition of 1542,” 186.

[16] Marpeck, “The Admonition of 1542,” 172.

[17] Marpeck writes, “Baptism is an externally offered and inwardly given truth. Before it is given, the candidate says as follows: ‘The Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished in me what he offered me. I attest to this gift before God and those who offered it to me, as he already attested to it in me. They ask me if I have received it and if I desire from the witness of baptism.’ This kind of form is intended to make clear that the whole transaction has to do with an offer and the reception of that offer,” in “Response,” 79.

[18] In contrast to the repetitive nature of the practice of the Lord’s Supper, Marpeck explains, “There is one difference between outer baptism and Lord’s Supper as they were instituted by Christ. The believer needs outer baptism only once, namely, his entry into Christendom or into becoming a Christian,” in “Response,” 107.

[19] Marpeck, “The Admonition of 1542,” 258-260. It is implicit in Marpeck’s discussion of the two kinds of infant baptism that both the Roman Catholics and the Reformers both intend to admit those newly baptized into the church.

[20] Ibid., 294. See also 199-201, 214.

[21] Ibid., 227.

[22] Marpeck states, “Holy baptism is the second thing with which the church is built. It is the entrance and the gate to the holy church. According to God’s order, nobody is allowed to enter the church except through baptism,” ibid., 294.

[23] Marpeck, “A Clear Refutation,” 76.