Baptism: 1840 to the Present

This outline highlights the development of doctrines and practices concerning water baptism, between 1840 and the present, among Christian brethren who fellowshipped with Bible teachers such as John Darby, Charles Mackintosh, Frederick Raven, and James Taylor.

  • On November 4, 1869, from Elberfeld, Germany, John N. Darby wrote, "I have no doubt as to infant baptism of the children of a Christian".  See Letters of J. N. D., volume 2, page 47.  In several other letters (whose dates are unknown but whose themes are similar to the 1869 letter), Darby wrote, concerning baptism, "He is received by it; he bows to it as the appointed way of his reception by the church".  He also wrote, "What I see in baptism is admission into the professing body or house.  ... Baptism is the formal admission into this – it is christening.  The person is received outwardly into the habitation of God, as set up in this world".  See Letters of J. N. D., volume 2, pages 276-291.
  • On December 22, 1871, Charles H. Mackintosh wrote, "... I have for thirty-two years [1840 thru 1871] been asking, in vain, for a single line of Scripture for baptizing any save believers or those who professed to believe".  See On Baptism, Short Papers on Scripture Subjects, volume 2, pages 273-274.
  • In 1900, during a Bible study in Devizes, England, Frederick E. Raven said that baptism brings people into "the precincts of the house, `the court that is without'" (Revelation 11) rather than into the house of God.  Infants and Simon (Acts 8) are cited as baptized persons who are not in the house.  See Ministry by F. E. Raven, volume 14, pages 232-233.
  • In 1902, during a Bible study in Indianapolis, Indiana, Frederick Raven and Joseph Pellatt converse appreciatively about JND's and CHM's ministries.  See Ministry by F. E. Raven, volume 17, page 247.
  • In 1910, Charles W. Wycherley of New Zealand wrote a series of letters to J. Collie Smith that promoted the baptism of infants in Christian households.  These letters, which were apparently quite influential at the time, are critiqued in A Response to C. W. Wycherley.
  • On September 1, 1923, from Brooklyn, New York, James Taylor wrote, "There is scarcely a brother in fellowship now who does not recognize the obligation to the Lord to baptize his household, and correspondingly, the proportion of the children of the saints who turn to the Lord and accept the fellowship of His death is, I believe, much larger than it was in earlier years".  See Letters of James Taylor, volume 1, pages 195-196.  Several years ago, testimony from Joan Knauss and Gordon Diplock (and more recently from Evelyn Hjort) has confirmed that many young children were baptized around this time, whether they were believers or not, including one young lad who was quite resistant to getting "dunked in the water" despite his parents' insistence.
  • On June 2, 1930, during an address in Hallsberg, Sweden, James Taylor said, "In type the mother of Moses delivered her child to death.  This corresponds with what we do when we let a child come under the waters of baptism, the type of the death of Christ".  This Exodus 2:1-3 application is critiqued in Origen of Alexandria's Influence on the Teaching and Practice of Baptism.
  • On February 13, 1940, James Taylor wrote to Stanley McCallum, "My wife and I appreciate your sympathy with us in our great sorrow.  It is great to us bearing on us personally.  We think it right to so regard it, but we seek to look at it as affecting the saints, the Lord's name and His testimony, and we are assured that this is more to us than the shame attached to ourselves and family.  ... Still there is a voice for me – the evil being in those so near naturally and I am discerning 'a thorn in the flesh' and hence seeking to be governed accordingly".  See Letters of James Taylor, volume 2, page 164.
  • On March 4, 1940, James Taylor wrote to Alfred J. Gardner about a matter in Westfield, New Jersey, "Still the whole matter was so grave, affecting three of my family, that I have the sense that I should stand by until adjustment takes place".  See Letters of James Taylor, volume 2, page 172.
  • On March 17, 1945, during a Bible study in Summit, New Jersey, James Taylor said, "... household baptism was put on the shelf fifty years ago [about 1895].  Most of the leading brothers put it on the shelf and refused it and suffered accordingly, most of them".  See Ministry by J. Taylor, volume 56, page 269.
  • Circa 1950, James Taylor's daughter, Stella, divorced her husband, (telling my mother years later, shortly before she died, "They made me divorce my husband").  During the following decades, brethren separated (and tried to separate) many married couples from each other, disobeying Jesus' commandment in Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9. See Marriage and Divorce.
  • James Taylor departed to be with Christ on March 29, 1953, and brethren gradually came to regard JND, FER, and JT as the "three great ministries".  (Some years ago, a brother told me that CHM was "a second tier brother".)  The paper Reflections on Believer's Baptism, Household Baptism, and Infant Baptism, reviews these teachers' views about baptism in the light of the Holy Scriptures.
  • Between 1955 and 1970, James Taylor's son, James Taylor, Jr., rose to prominence, teaching novel doctrines and precipitating a serious division in late 1970 due to his words and actions at an Aberdeen, Scotland Bible conference.  See Aberdeen & New York Conflicts, 1970.
I believe that JND and FER were unduly influenced by Anglican creeds and practices concerning baptism, yet FER taught rightly that baptism does not bring a person into the house of God.  But in trying to preserve the notion that baptism brings a person somewhere, he mistakenly cited "the precincts of the house" – "the court that is without" in Revelation 11.  JND's and FER's views about baptism are critiqued in Putting on Christ.

During the late 19th century, it appears that brethren were beginning to accept CHM's biblical teaching about baptism.  But FER's comments in 1900 and CWW's letters in 1910 began to influence brethren, and they started reverting to baptizing infants.  Some years later, in 1923, JT concluded that the practice of baptizing all household members during the preceding ten or twenty years was yielding better results than in earlier years when baptism was often limited to believers.  However, longer-term results have been disastrous, as young people grew up and tried to teach and "shepherd the flock of God" (1 Peter 5:2-3) without themselves putting on Christ by being baptized (Galatians 3:27).  The persons whom the apostle Paul addresses here in verse 27 are those whom he has just called "God's sons by faith in Christ Jesus" in verse 26.

Stephen Hesterman
May, 2015

Baptism Timeline: 1840 to the Present