98. Baptism and a Painting analogy

The National Fellowship is considering a motion that would allow those who have been baptized as adults through a mode other than immersion to be accepted as members of Fellowship Baptist churches.  Immersion would continue to be the sole practice of baptism. A discussion is ongoing between those who promote and those who oppose the move.  Below is my response to a comment made on a blog from the “Immersionist” side suggesting that there are some issues of language and interpretation that are not being fully considered.

[Gary V Carter’s blog post: Two Little Words … By … Is
There is more than one way to apply paint. You get to pick between rollers and brushes and sprayers. (Oh, the paint sprayer was invented in 1892.) But you don’t get to pick the mode of baptism. There is only one option because of the meaning of the word.
Baptism is not by immersion; baptism is immersion. There are no other biblical options. Those who truly believe that the words of scripture are inspired one word at a time know this and live by it if they have looked into it sufficiently. Sadly, most in Christendom haven’t looked into it yet. Have you done the study yet? Don’t you think you should?]

My Response:

Thank you for the painting analogy. It started me thinking and I wonder if the analogy more naturally supports the opposite perspective? That is, if I see a blue house, my concern is not how it was painted (the mode: brush or roller), but that it is painted (the result is that the house is blue).

Of course, the objection could be that the boss had specifically said to use a brush and not a roller, in which case the painter would have been disobedient if he refused to use a brush. But perhaps it was not quite as straightforward as that. What if the boss had handed the painter a brush and instructed, “Brush on the paint”? The literal understanding would be that the painter must use the brush. But what if the question of obedience and disobedience is not based on the literal word “brush,” but on an intended message to paint the house blue? If the essential concern is that the house be blue rather than how the house is painted, the painter might feel free to be creative with the mode (particularly if the boss considered the painter a friend and a partner in his mission who understands why they are painting the house) as long as the mission was accomplished and the house was painted blue.

Linguistically speaking, the boss said “brush” and handed over a brush. That should be evidence enough that the boss intended for the brush to be used. “Brush” is a clear and unambiguous term and “brush on the paint” is an unambiguous action. However, the meaning of the verb “brush” could also be intended as a more general “paint the house;” such use of language is not uncommon. For example, an appropriate response to the command “run to the store and get some milk” would be to drive the car. If the point of the task was that the house become “blue” then it would not be surprising if the boss came back and asked “did you paint the house?” with the full intention of seeing the instructions (“brush on the paint”) and the action (painting) as equivalent even though a brush was not used. In fact, when recalling the work done, it would not be surprising if “the house was painted” was used rather than “the house was brushed with paint” because the purpose of the work is fully represented with the one word “paint.”

Nonetheless, the objection could be raised that the point is not just that the house be blue but that the boss’ intention was that a brush be used to paint the house. Perhaps a roller would splatter, paint was limited, or the brush would leave a particular pattern. In any of these cases, the boss would be disappointed and point out that the painter had not entirely obeyed, even though the house was now blue. The questions then become: Is the house sufficiently painted blue so that the job does not need to be redone? Can the house be considered appropriately painted because it was not done using a brush as specified? Perhaps rather than repainting the whole house, it can be touched up, maybe in some symbolic way that would adequately indicate a concern for the use of the brush.

I guess it comes down to the purpose of the task and how we determine what the boss intended.