Felton, Gayle C. The Gift of Water: The Practice and Theology of Baptism Among Methodists in America. Nashville: Abington Press, 1992. Paperback edition 2004. 249 pages. ISBN: 978-0-6873-3327-1
Pastor Dennis Hartman

THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2007. Volume 25. Page 1-2

This is a welcome edition to any library of any pastor in our great Methodist family because it traces the history of the debate of modes, as well as infant baptism through out our Methodist history. In this respect, it is a totally indispensable tool. Dr. Felton's skill, craft, and cunning in writing not only makes the reading gratifying, but the information presented most commendable to laymen, pastors, and scholars alike. This is truly a gift to our Methodist family of believers.

I begin with this example. She traces the change of John Wesley on the view of modes. Most do not realize that while here in Georgia he generally preferred the mode of immersion. He even went as far as to ask the Moravians if one of their women would accompany him to the Indians to help baptize their women. Surprised? However upon his return to England, she happily reports that Wesley, by the grace of God, reconsidered the subject over a period of about ten years. His conclusion was this,

What God has left indifferent, it becomes not man to make necessary... Besides, pouring or sprinkling more naturally represents most of the spiritual blessings signified by baptism, (viz.) the sprinkling the blood of Christ on the conscience, or the pouring out of the Spirit on the person baptized, or sprinkling him with clean water, as an emblem of the influence of the Spirit; all which are the things signified in baptism as different representations of the cleansing away of the guilt or defilement of sin thereby.

She also points out how Charles Wesley incorporated this subject into his hymns. One example follows.

The infidel his doom shall bear,
In endless torment cry,
But never doth our Lord declare
"The unbaptized shall die."
In education's fetter bound
Who miss the outward way,
Yet love their God, shall all be found
His people in that day.

She fully develops how our British brothers developed the concept of infant baptism too. Here again she left no stone unturned.

Dr. Felton's coverage of this debate is no less rich, as she reveals how American Methodism handled baptism. She points out that the American Methodists concentrated their debate around the mode and the proper subjects of baptism. She quotes the greatest Bishop of all, Francis Asbury, and how he agonized over the way the Baptists were dogging his preachers on this subject. "The Baptists endeavor to persuade the people that they have never been baptized. Like ghosts they haunt us from place to place. O, the policy of Satan!"

From this point she flings herself into the American debate. Felton reports the anger of the Methodists when Adoniram Judson translated the word baptizo into immerse in the Burmese language. Nor does she forget our hero Peter Cartwright and his battles with immersionists.

Her coverage of the horrific Methodist divide and how this subject was handled in both Churches was not lost. In this regard our friend Thomas Summers is not forgotten. Perhaps one of the biggest hoots in this debate took place when the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. Whitsitt gave a gift to our old time Methodist brothers. He contended that the "Baptists had baptized by sprinkling until 1641." This does seem to be verified by the historical record. This revelation of truth, along with the Methodists, helped to hasten his resignation. She notes that in 1880 the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church changed the "order of words in the Discipline so as to list immersion as the last choice."

While I have given the idea that Dr. Felton deals only with modes, I would be amiss if I did not emphasize that she did a real exquisite job at tracing the concept of infant baptism and the issue of rebaptism throughout the Methodist story too. As the book progresses however, one gets the sense that by 1928 the fire around the issue of modes begins flicker and then goes out within mainstream Methodism. All that is left is the issue of infant baptism.

The book is very readable. She presents all her material in a sensible fashion. Above all, it is very informative. This will be a classic work on Methodism and baptism, if it is not that already.


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