Pilgram Marpeck: Christian Baptism always leads to a new life

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.”

Marpeck believes Christian baptism should have an everlasting effect on the life of the Christian and on the life of the church. With regard to the Christian, Marpeck starts again with Matt 28, “Christ says, with reference to baptism, that we are to baptize them in the name of God (Matt 28:19). It is the same as if He would say, ‘baptize them in such a way that they may call upon the name of God and remain in God.’”[1] Remaining in God, for Marpeck, is the result of a life transaction through which the Christian undergoes upon conversion.

Christian baptism is the external expression of this inward transformation and Marpeck states this in several ways. In his Admonition of 1542, Marpeck describes the message of John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance as instructing his recipients to “confess their sins and improve.”[2] Marpeck then contrasts this with the message of Christian baptism as representing those who confess Christ “by faith in the gospel.”[3] Marpeck notes that a change has taken place by those who have undertaken the latter baptism. These now see the gospel as the new “standard [by which] they were to conduct themselves.”[4]

Christian baptism is the external expression of this inward transformation.

Elsewhere, Marpeck explains that living under this new standard is the equivalent of laying “aside their old being entirely and, henceforth, be inclined to live a new life.”[5] Marpeck also employs the metaphor of marriage to describe the new relationship saying that, “Baptism is similar to a betrothal or a marital union between the believer and Christ; the believer is cleansed from all sins, has given himself over to Christ, and has committed himself to live and die according to His will.”[6] Marpeck’s clear intention is to highlight the newness of life that accompanies a believer after Christian baptism.[7]

In other places he notes this change will manifest itself as a believer “denies the desires of the flesh . . . and desires with his whole heart to carry out the will of God.”[8] All of this descriptive language is employed to communicate the inward experience to which the external represents. Marpeck summarizes it completely:

[I]nsofar as we can search the Scriptures and understand them, we find that baptism takes place when believers are baptized and leave the realm of the will of flesh, give themselves over totally into the will of God, and commit themselves to it. That means to be born again in Christ and to be baptized in the name of God, to bury the flesh, to be raised with Christ, to wash off sin, to put on Christ, and similar expressions which the Scriptures use with reference to baptism.[9]

With regard to Christian baptism’s effect on the life of the church, Marpeck emphasizes the way in which the baptism of individuals unites and edifies the entire congregation. Receiving those baptized as new members into the church, Marpeck states, is the visible depiction of the church being “joined together, formed, and united in one body of love.”[10] Christian baptism’s visible nature helps reinforce and remind the church members of the significance of what has transacted both in the life of the newest member and in the life of the congregation.[11]

However, should a member pursue a course of impurity, Marpeck explains that the church has the responsibility to maintain the purity of the church and the purity of Christian baptism. This is accomplished by the ban, or church discipline, so that “baptism would remain pure, unstained, and good; it would be in the world before the face of God and men.”[12] For Marpeck, Christian baptism always produces a new life, for “true baptism is to preach and believe according to the command of Christ.”[13]

[1] Marpeck, “The Admonition of 1542,” 171.

[2] Ibid., 176.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 186.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The concept of the “newness of life” is used by Marpeck frequently. In reference to 1 Pet 3:21 Marpeck states, “And this is the covenant in baptism; through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we lay aside the filth of the world and flee from it, and, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we unite ourselves with Christ into a new life,” ibid., 189. And later, “Nevertheless, whoever seeks to bind himself with God in baptism must first be a newborn spiritual man . . . .The believer must receive the washing of the Word so that he may henceforth bury the old being and walk in newness of life,” 191.

[8] Ibid., 187.

[9] Ibid., 193.

[10] Ibid., 295.

[11] Ibid., Marpeck states, “This, then, is the actual function of baptism, that the believers be joined together visibly and accepted into a holy church.”

[12] Ibid., 220.

[13] Marpeck, “Response,” 76.