A study of the Special Commission on Baptism (1953-63) and developments in baptismal doctrine and practice in the Church of Scotland since 1963

Morrison, Ruth Helen Bell (2016) A study of the Special Commission on Baptism (1953-63) and developments in baptismal doctrine and practice in the Church of Scotland since 1963. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3153044


In 1953 a Special Commission on Baptism was appointed by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, under the convenorship of The Very Rev Dr Thomas F. Torrance, to carry out a fresh examination of the Doctrine of Baptism, in order to lead the Church to theological agreement and uniform practice. The Commission had emerged after years of disagreement related to the meaning of baptism and its administration, especially in light of infant baptism. What followed was seven years of Interim Reports and the production of a Biblical Doctrine of Baptism. Since then, Act XVII (1963) pertaining to Baptism has been revisited on several occasions.

It is the contention of this thesis that Torrance greatly influenced the work of the Commission and shaped substantially the doctrine that emerged. The result was an understanding of baptism that whilst rooted in the Reformed tradition, departed from it. By suggesting that baptisma was closely aligned to Christ’s vicarious death, and that the sanctifying nature of the incarnation was the primary justification for the baptism of infants, a different trajectory was proposed. This created a tension between two differing paradigms, one that led to discriminate baptism and another, that could have led to indiscriminate baptism. The result was confusion in the General Assembly, and failure to unify doctrine and practice.

In light of this, this thesis will explore the baptismal theology of Thomas F. Torrance. It will then examine the reports of the Special Commission, the minutes of their meetings, and the verbatim minutes of the General Assembly during that period, in order to establish Torrance’s influence upon the Commission and the reception of the reports within the church. Identifying that the main areas of tension lay in sacramental and covenantal theology, it will then offer an overview of both the Reformed tradition and the Special Commission to see points of agreement and disagreement, in order to assess the extent to which the Special Commission departed from Reformed principles. Finally, it will explore the influence of the Special Commission’s work on the Church of Scotland since 1963, highlighting the watershed in baptismal theology that occurred in 2003, with the acknowledgement that believers’ baptism, and not infant baptism, was the theological norm.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Baptism, Church of Scotland, Special Commission on Baptism, Thomas F. Torrance, doctrine.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BT Doctrinal Theology
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies
Funder's Name: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Methuen, Dr. Charlotte
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Rev Ruth H B Morrison
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7276
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 03 May 2016 12:03
Last Modified: 17 May 2016 08:16
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/7276

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