Just Add Water (3 of 4)

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As this series continues, I wanted to remind you of a couple of disclaimers:

  1. The opinions and arguments here are mine and not the arguments of the Alliance.  Hate the player and not the game in this case.
  2. The arguments I will make here are also not the position of the local church I attend.  In spite of that church being baptistic in confession, they practice a more open form of communion than I would advocate for.  I'm not an elder there, so as I make my case for what I think is a robust response to Mark Jones, I speak for myself and not my church at BCLR.org.

(the rest of) The Meaning of Baptism

Before I dig in, I'm disappointed Dr. Jones (he said to call him "Mark," which I will do the next time we have lunch) has had to withdraw.  I thought there was going to be some of the sweet science of Theological rough-house here, and instead I get shamed by Carl for picking on Aimee's tender condition.  Hmph.

There is a bit of clean-up to be done after the last installment which speaks to the meaning of Baptism - because I wanted to keep that post a decent length.  In the first post, we trotted out what it means to be a Christian - according to Jesus.  In the second post, we really walked off what it means to perform and participate in a sacrament - particularly the sacrament of Baptism.  But getting there in the flight path we used leaves out a lot of stuff, like this:

Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him: as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.

There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified; whence it comes to pass that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it, but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

And it's cumbersome to paste in 168 words in order to really get the last 8, but it's what we do to make a point as seriously (sic) as possible.  In the background of me making great jokes at the expense of Dr. Jones and Dr. Trueman and Pastor Pruitt and Mrs. Byrd, the truth is that none of us disagree that Baptism (and really: the Lord's table, which is what is really at stake here) is "a promise of benefit to worthy receivers."  It's just that curious phrase, "worthy receivers," which gets both sides soaking rags in tar and honing the tines of their respective farm implements.

Both sides are explicitly concerned that receivers of the sacraments are "worthy receivers" - so much so that our Lutherans "brothers" accuse us of being Law-entrenched Works-based knuckle-draggers for asking such questions.  But because we both agree that sacraments are not common commodities for use like shopping carts at WAL*MART, we should be careful not to paint the other guy's definition of "worthy" in a way that he wouldn't accept it or recognize it.

So that would be a third problem with Dr. Jones' representation of Baptist closed-table communion: he paints our view of "worthy" in a way which is, at best, uncharitable - but is at worst intended to misrepresent what the closed table means in order to create a moral qualm where none is actually in evidence.

That said, let's get to my third point.

The Meaning of the Lord's Table

Here's the part of the WCF which means something to us for the sake of this discussion:

Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament, yet they receive not the thing signified thereby; but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table, and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.

There are so many good parts to this, I'm going to have a hard time keeping this to the right length.  Let me start by saying that it's unfortunate that the WCF bundles up "ignorant and wicked" here as descriptors of the unworthy - because you Presbyterians who ought not to be taking communion are not intentionally wicked or somehow willfully ignorant.  I think you're just missing the point of all that book learnin' you have subjected yourselves to.  So for my purpose, let's stick to "unworthy" and leave the ignorance and wickedness of you to the discernment of your wives and elders.

The way in which you are "unworthy" then is (as I assume you read into the previous post) that your have no baptism at all - that is, because faith comes before good works, and you did not have faith when you were baptized, it was as effective as baptizing a dead body - you wouldn't call that a baptism, would you?  What about baptizing your wife for the sake of your mother-in-law?  Or baptizing the next fellow you find at the Starbucks or Whole Foods?

My biggest concern here, since Dr. Jones brought it up, is that you were never rightly added to the church, and you were never rightly obedient in faith in the first step, so jumping ahead to the second step is fairly pointless - because you are, if I may be bold enough to say it as the WCF says it, unworthy.  

I can hear all the tongues clicking and the heads shaking, but ask yourself my question this way: why is it that any child you have baptized cannot take communion until after his or her confirmation?  Confirmation is not a sacrament: it is something else.  And while you have derided our "baby dedications" (which are not sacraments, nor do they try to be), we don't use them to say that somehow a previous sacrament is now at full power or efficacy, or that somehow the baptism finally "worked".  In our view of it, one who is baptized is a full (since we are using this word) sacramental member of the community and is therefore worthy of the table.  In your view of it, somehow the worthiness is laggy - and that reveals, it seems to me, the inherent problem with paedobaptism.

I think the remedy for worthiness is pretty clear and simple - it's the one Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt used to become members of their local churches so long ago: rather than trust something done to an unbeliever by well-meaning people, be baptized since you now believe in good Acts 2 fashion.  Now that you have faith, let's just add water (and the word) as a sign and seal of what God has actually done and we can stop having these silly fights.

Closing thoughts and parting shots in the last installment, yet to come.

Posted October 1, 2014 @ 4:20 PM by Frank Turk
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