Results tagged “Baptism” from Reformation21 Blog

Evangelism, Baptism and Evaluating Church Health


If I've heard it once I have heard it a thousand times: Christians who are members in Reformed Churches tripping over themselves to apologize about how poorly the Reformed Church does evangelism. Related to this is the tried and true self-deprecation: "We need to see more adult baptisms." What turns my stomach most of all, however, is hearing such individuals says things like, "Evangelical churches win people to Christ and then we disciple them." Such a statement is almost entirely untrue. In this post, I wish to challenge the assertion that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism by focusing attention on the sacrament of baptism.

It has been both my pleasure and privilege to baptize more adult converts than I ever could have imagined when I first became a pastor. However, it is probably the case that the majority of baptisms that I have performed have been those of the children of believers. For some-- even among those who gladly wear the Reformed and Confessional label--this is not a good thing. "We need more adult baptisms," they say. Generally speaking, those who talk like this seem to have embraced a scale by which they judge baptisms: Infant baptism, good; older children (in a family that has transferred from a non-Reformed Church) baptized by profession of faith, better; college students/young professionals baptized on profession of faith, even better; middle aged or senior converts, even better still. The problem with this scale is that people who unnecessarily create levels of baptism unfortunately reduce the beauty of covenantal baptism, and unwittingly undermining baptism itself. Covenantal (i.e. household and infant baptism) is baptism. We should, therefore, rejoice in the same manner and with the same passion and emotion at each and every baptism. Sadly, it is often the case that, for many, simply speaking of "infant baptism" subtly undermines baptism.

Those who have adopted a baptism scale miss what is actually taking place during the baptism of the infant of a believer. When the child of a believer is baptized we are doing evangelism and we are making disciples (Matt. 28:18). At every baptism we rejoice in the work of God in these waters as we witness another baptism, another disciple being made and another member added to Christ church. From this perspective the Reformed Church is quite good at evangelism.

One of the things that the Reformed Church universally acknowledges is that re-baptism isn't baptism. When I was 19 or 20 years old, having undergone a profoundly religious experience and a turning from sin to Christ, a group of Christians was encouraging me to be re-baptized. The ironic thing about this experience was that the group encouraging me to do this, on the one hand, absolutely insisted on it (so much so that membership was not allowed without it); while, on the other hand, they were equally clear that baptism doesn't really matter that much. They told me that baptism was about me taking a step of obedience and proclaiming my new life. The reason I was told I had to be re-baptized was because I had been baptized as an infant. To the group insisting on re-baptism, this baptism didn't count. I came to see, however, that my baptism as an infant was really baptism and my experience in the backyard pool at 19 or 20 was nothing more than a religious incantation which I was forced to undergo.

There is no such thing as re-baptism. There is only baptism. Baptism is not repeatable. There is only one baptism. One is either a baptized person or one is not a baptized person. The Reformers and the Reformed Church have consistently defended the fact that baptism cannot be undone--no matter the state of one's heart or one's church standing.

Grasping this principle helps us understand, in part, why we see fewer adult baptisms than infant baptisms in our church. Additionally, it helps allay the thesis that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism. One very clear reason why we see fewer adults being baptized in our church is because a large number of people come to repentance and faith in Christ many years after having been baptized as infants. In that case, they join our church by reaffirmation of faith rather than re-baptism. That was my experience and it is the experience of many who live in areas where the Gospel has been at work for Centuries.

In contrast to such an approach to baptism, evangelicals of all stripes insist that those who have had a spiritual experience and have come to Christ in repentance and faith must enter their waters. By virtue of that, Evangelical churches have more adult baptisms than Reformed Churches. This is, of course, nothing new. This is the Anabaptist way. The fanatics (as Calvin called them) were doing the same during the Reformation as they are doing in our day. By the looks of things, they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Does the fact that we do not see more adult baptisms really mean that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism? Au contraire; it may simply mean that we have a different way of evaluating and calculating effectiveness. Simply put, this difference stems from a different way of viewing baptism.

Calvin on the Sacraments

For some, John Calvin seems to be at his most feisty when he writes on the sacraments. Against those who complain that infant baptism is a travesty of the Gospel, in the Institutes he stoutly insists, "these darts are aimed more at God than at us!" But a little reflection reveals he is also at his most thoughtful, and his analysis of sacramental signs can strengthen credobaptists as well as paedobaptists.

If repentance and faith are in view in baptism, how can infant baptism be biblical?  Calvin responds: the same was true of circumcision (hence references to Jer. 4:4; 9:25; Deut. 10:16; 30:6), yet infants were circumcised.

How then can either sign be applicable to infants who have neither repented nor believed? Calvin's central emphasis here is simple, but vital.

Baptism, like circumcision, is first and foremost a sign of the gospel and its promise, not of our response to the gospel. It points first of all to the work of Christ for us, not to the work of the Spirit in us. It calls for our response. It is not primarily a sign of that response. So, like the proclamation of the gospel (of which it is a sign), baptism summons us to (rather than signifies) repentance and faith.

In fact all believers are called to grow into an understanding and "improvement" of their baptism. This is as true for those baptized as believers as for those baptized as infants.

Consequently, whether baptism follows faith or precedes faith, its meaning remains the same. Its efficacy in our lives is related to (life-long!) faith and repentance. But its meaning is always the same--Christ crucified and risen, outside of whom there is no salvation.

To see baptism as a sign of my repentance and faith, then, is to turn it on its head. It diminishes, if not evacuates, the sign of its real power in our lives--which is to point us to Christ and to the blessings which are ours in him, and thus to draw forth faith.  Grasp this whole-Bible principle, holds Calvin, and all the New Testament's teaching on baptism beautifully coheres.

While Calvin was a theologian of the ages and his theology comes to us clothed in the garments of the sixteenth century some things never change--including many of the arguments, pro and con, in relation to the baptism of infants. This he passionately believed to be a biblical doctrine.

Calvin meets many of the arguments against infant baptism head on. Typically he deals with them by underlining ways in which they depend on a mis-reading of Scripture.

Thus faced with the insistence that regeneration is required for baptism, he questions the use of Scripture that lies behind such thinking.  Rebuffed by arguments that the order of biblical language ("teach, baptize") presupposes instruction prior to baptism, he points out that of course this is the order when adults are hearing and responding to the gospel for the first time. It would be a logical fallacy to think that the corollary of "adults should hear, believe and be baptized" is "infants must not be baptized"!  One would no more deduce that infants must not be fed because Paul states that 'those who do not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10).

But there is one argument that credobaptist proponents, then and now, have often used as a kind of reductio ad absurdum: if you baptize infants, you ought also to give them the Lord's Supper.

Calvin sees a serious flaw here. For while both baptism and the Supper point to Christ, they each point to different aspects of union with him. Baptism points to a once-and-for-all initiation into Christ. It is done to us, not done by us. We do not baptize ourselves, we are baptized.

The Supper, however, is not a sacrament of initiation but of communion.  That is why we are active and engaged at the Lord's Table. For it is essential to be able to

• Discern the Lord's body 
• Examine oneself 
• Proclaim the Lord's death 
• Celebrate the Supper "in remembrance" of Christ.

Just why is Calvin so passionate about this--when, after all, baptism is never more than a sign?

One of the perplexities we modern Christians encounter in admiring magisterial Reformers like Calvin is the severity of their attitude to, and treatment of, Anabaptists. In Calvin's case this may seem all the more mysterious since he married the widow of a former Anabaptist! Our problem is partly--if only partly--due to the unspoken assumption that credobaptism involves, virtually by definition, personal faith and a commitment to evangelical fundamentals.

Sadly it has become clear that there is no necessary connection between the two. If a credobaptist can point the finger at the baptized babies who now have no connection with the church, the paedobaptist can note churches of fourteen thousand members baptized on profession of faith with a weekly attendance of only eight thousand. The sign is not the reality it signifies.

Perhaps this makes it possible for us to understand Calvin a little better. For him "Anabaptist" was not a synonym for "Evangelical."  After all, the best known Anabaptist with whom he had long-term, if profoundly unhappy personal dealings, was Michael Servetus. Horrific though it may sound to an enthusiastic credobaptist, Servetus held to "believer's baptism."  His attempted demolition job of orthodox Christianity--none too subtly titled Christianismi restitutio (guess what book that rhymes with!)--included an attack on infant baptism.

Calvin responds in the Institutio with twenty theological "karate chops." Again his underlying contention is that a false hermeneutic is at work--"He always falls back into the same false reasoning for he preposterously applies to infants what was said concerning adults alone."

It is in this context (Institutes IV. 16. 31) that Calvin reveals the reason for his passion in the whole controversy. Baptism is intended to give the Lord's people the assurance of sight (in the visible sign) as well as of sound (in the audible word of promise). Ignore the sign of the promise and little by little the promise itself will be obscured.

For Calvin, the obscuring of any, and every, divine promise is attributable ultimately to one being: Satan. That being the case, the little Frenchman will muster all the weapons he can to vindicate the promise of God that--even after our death--our God and Father will be to our children everything he has been to us--all within the context of faith. The sign is no more than a sign, but it is never a bare sign (signum nudum)--not so long as the one who gives it is the covenant making and covenant keeping God!

Calvin next turns to the theme of the Lord's Supper. His concern is twofold: (i) to provide a simple explanation of the Supper and (ii) to resolve difficulties related to it. What he does in IV. 17. i is worthy of imitation, namely the provision of a simple but rich exposition of the meaning of Communion. This at least we should share with Calvin: a concern that the Lord's people understand what they are doing at, and how they are to think about, the Supper: What is the Lord showing us at the Table?

The Supper is the Father's provision of nourishment in Christ for his children (Calvin's use of adoptio--adoptive sonship--is particularly striking here, and underscores again how important this is in his theology--as it was in his life). By it the Father means to give assurance to his children.

In essence the Supper is a gospel drama:

• Christ is set before us as the One who was crucified for us 
• Christ is offered to us as food to be received by us 
• Christ is received by us so that we feel him to be working in us.

Calvin's poetic eloquence here should be allowed to stand on its own:

This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, 
he has made with us; 
That, becoming Son of man with us, 
he has made us sons of God with him; 
That, by his descent to earth,    
he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; 
That, by taking on our mortality, 
he has conferred our immortality upon us
That, accepting our weakness, 
he has strengthened us by his power
That, receiving our poverty into himself, 
he has transferred his wealth to us; 
That, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us) 
he has clothed us with his righteousness.

So--urges Calvin--let us make neither too little of the signs by severing them from the living Christ, nor too much so that we obscure him.

As he moves forward in his teaching on the Supper, Calvin's great concern is that Christians should "rightly use the Lord's Supper." He is, from beginning to end, a pastoral theologian. In seeking to serve the church he wants to be sensitive to two things: (i) the mystery of the Lord's Supper, and (ii) the nature of communion with Christ...

With respect to (i) he urges those who can to go beyond him. With respect to (ii) a number of  reformed writers have felt that he has already gone too far!  Statements such as his words in Institutes 4.17.8-9 are typical: "Whoever has partaken of his flesh and blood may . . . enjoy participation in life...The flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing forth from the Godhead into itself."

These words need to be read in context. Calvin's logic here is: 

• The Father gave life to the incarnate Son so that he might give us life. 
• This life is in the incarnate Son. It is not a commodity extraneous to him. 
• In order to enjoy this life we must be united to the incarnate Son. 
• This union with the incarnate Son is realized through the Holy Spirit

In a word--our salvation and eternal life are resourced in Christ, incarnate, crucified, buried, raised, exalted, ascended, reigning, and returning. Our experience of salvation comes only from Spiritual union and communion with his still-incarnated Person. There is no other source of salvation and life than this incarnate Person. The life he received from the Father he now gives to us.

In our Table communion with Christ, we share his life--just as we share that life in all communion with him.  What is unique about the Supper, therefore, is not so much the mysterious nature of the communion, but the focus in that communion on the bodily Christ specifically as crucified and now risen.

For Calvin, therefore, the communion of the Table is not a communion with the Spirit, but a communion with Christ in and through the Spirit. But there is no other Christ with whom we can have communion than the embodied Son of God.

Sometimes Calvin's view is described as "spiritual." Indeed it is Spiritual (i.e. through the Spirit). But it is so because it is Christological. The Spirit glorifies the incarnate Son in our eyes. In this way, in our Table communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, we "feel his power in partaking of all his benefits" (Institutes 4.17.9).


*This post originally appeared as a series of posts on the Institutes, published at Reformation21 in November 2009. 

Transfigured Hermeneutics - Introduction

The Transfiguration holds great significance within the narratives of the Synoptic gospels and considerable promise for Christian theological reflection more generally. Yet it receives relatively little attention in many quarters, its importance lying underappreciated and unexplored. This neglect may arise in part from the apparently irruptive character of the event; to many, the glory of Christ witnessed at the Transfiguration may seem akin to an actor who has mistaken his cue and prematurely burst onto the stage. Much as the special musical episode of a TV series, the Transfiguration accounts appear to many as if detached from--or, at the least, uncertainly related to--the gospels' narrative progression, its dramatic revelation of Jesus' glory incongruous with the veiling of that glory in the accounts that surround it.

The purpose of this ten part series of posts is to establish the importance of the event of the Transfiguration and explore its theological potential. In my opening posts I will begin by examining the event within its immediate literary context in the gospels, gradually expanding the horizon of my enquiry to situate the event within the large sweep of redemptive history, before devoting close attention to the Transfiguration's fruitfulness for our theological reflection and Scriptural reading.

Baptism and Transfiguration

A more adequate appreciation of the Transfiguration will probably need to begin by demonstrating ways in which the event relates to the larger sweep of the gospel and to the Scriptures as a whole. The Transfiguration occurs at a pivotal moment in the gospel narratives, immediately after Jesus' first teaching concerning his death and Peter's confession. From this point onwards, Jesus' face is set towards Jerusalem.

Jesus' baptism and his transfiguration are correlated in a number of respects. If Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan was the revelation of his identity that initiated the first stage of his ministry, the Transfiguration is the revelation of his glory associated with the second stage of his ministry, leading up to the crucifixion.

The two events have a number of parallels and relationships that emerge within the literary structure of the narrative. Both are preceded by clear testimony to Jesus' Messiahship, against the backdrop of the crowd's speculations (e.g. Luke 3:15-17; 9:7-9, 18-20). Prior to Jesus' baptism, John the Baptist bears witness to him as the coming One; prior to the Transfiguration, Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. John the Baptist's death shortly precedes the Transfiguration, bringing the chapter of the gospels framed by his ministry to a close. Herod and the crowds are speculating whether Jesus is John redivivus (9:7-9) and it is at this point that the true nature of John's mission was revealed and both its preparatory relationship to and similarity with Jesus' own highlighted:
And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"
Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13)

John the Baptist, the Elijah that was to come, has gone first and been put to death. Now the time has come for Jesus to make his way towards his own death (the speculations about John the Baptist's resurrection, mentioned in Luke 9:7, may also represent an interesting parallel with Jesus' own resurrection). John's work was a preparation of the building site, a felling of trees and a purging of the threshing floor (Matthew 3:10-12 ); just before the Transfiguration, Jesus announces the start of the great building project (Matthew 16:17-19). Both the Baptism and the Transfiguration are followed by a showdown with Satan and his demons--Jesus overcomes the tempter in the wilderness following his baptism and casts out the unclean spirit in the child after descending from the Mount of Transfiguration. He then passes through Galilee to stay in Capernaum (Matthew 4:12-13; 17:22-24).

The events of the Baptism and Transfiguration themselves are similar in some noteworthy respects. When he was baptized, the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the Father's voice declared Jesus to be his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased. At the Transfiguration, the Spirit descends in the form of the bright glory cloud [2] and the voice of the Father announces that Jesus is the Chosen Son, and that the disciples should hear him. Understood in such a manner, both the Baptism and the Transfiguration are overtly Trinitarian theophanies. In Luke's gospel, there is also a characteristic emphasis upon prayer common to both accounts: both of the events occur while Jesus is praying (3:21-22; 9:29). Such associations between the Baptism and the Transfiguration--great disclosures of Christ's glory and mission that initiate successive stages of his earthly ministry--are indications, far from being an anomalous event within the larger plot, the Transfiguration may be structurally integral to the progression of the gospel narratives.

Alastair Roberts did his doctoral studies in Theology in Durham University. He is one of the participants in the Mere Fidelity podcast and is also the contributing editor of the Politics of Scripture series on the Political Theology Today blog. He blogs at Alastair's Adversaria and tweets using @zugzwanged


[1]  Solomon's Temple was built on a threshing floor (2 Chronicles 3:1) and John the Baptist alludes to a prophecy about purifying Temple worship in his statement about purging the threshing floor (Malachi 3:1-3).
[2] See Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority [second edition] (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1997), pp.201-202 on the connection between the Spirit and the glory cloud.

For Paedobaptist Parents

Infant baptism strikes the fear of God into me.

Baptism really establishes - in a public, visible manner - a covenant relationship. A love relationship, involving promises and responsibilities, blessings and curses, is begun by a gracious God, who must always begin a covenantal relationship to his people. But the responsibilities, promises, and threatenings are not tied solely to the individual. They are corporate responsibilities, promises, and threatenings. Baptism is baptism into Christ, and all that that means (i.e., baptized into his body).

The fear of God results from the fact the God has chosen to identify himself with my children. In other words, my children are not, fundamentally speaking, my children. They are, through baptism, God's children. Baptism is an adoption ceremony, whereby the child baptized is publicly brought into God's kingdom, his family. The thought of raising God's child is solemn, indeed.
Baptism is not a sign of my child's faith. Rather, baptism is a sign that my child must look to, and embrace by faith until he/she dies. Circumcision was not a sign of faith, but a sign that faith embraced or looked to (cf. Rom. 4:11). Baptism represents Christ (Gal. 3:27), in whom our faith must rest. In baptism, God takes the initiative with our children. He speaks favour to them in baptism ("You are my child, whom I love") and they are to respond in faith to his "wooing." 

Crucially, as a parent, when the waters of baptism are poured upon the head of my child, I'm confronted with the sobering, yet glorious, reality that I am raising God's child for his glory. Because my covenant children belong to God and Christ, in terms of the nature of the visible church, the stakes are high. Very high. 

Yes, we have the promise (Acts 2:39), but baptism is also a solemn reminder to those who do not respond in faith, hope, and love to the God who set his seal upon them. The seal of baptism is more permanent than a tattoo, because the seal has eternal consequences, whether for good or bad. Baptism is a warning to parents that they cannot take it easy or presume upon the grace of God. They are, after all, invested with the responsibility of raising God's child. And so parents must be, like the pioneer of our faith (Heb. 12:2), examples to their children of what it means to live by faith. 

That's why a public baptism is so important: parents make vows in public before God and the church. In baptism, God visibly speaks to us words of grace and we, in turn, respond. That is the covenantal orientation one finds in Scripture. 

Now if the reality that you are raising God's child causes you to be lax in your approach to family worship, corporate worship, nurture, admonition, teaching, discipline, etc., regarding your children, then you may not have an adequate understanding of the God of the Bible. 

The covenantal dynamic that parents and children enter into is one whereby rejecting Christ, who is offered in baptism, brings those who reject such grace under a divine curse. That is why in the Lord's Supper you can eat and drink judgment upon yourself if done in unbelief (1 Cor. 11:29).

Thus, infant baptism is God taking the initiative to preach the gospel, and calling the child, for the rest of his life to repent, believe, and live for the glory of the one into whose name he is incorporated or face the terrifying reality that covenant breakers will face a stricter judgment than those who never received such blessings. Parents mustn't be ignorant of such things. For to whom much is given, much is expected.

As Luther well said, "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam
agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance." Not bad for someone who believed in baptismal regeneration - a topic I will turn to in the Fall, Lord willing.

Daddy, am I a Christian?

I appreciate IX Marks ministries, and their desire to take ecclesiology seriously. But I did read this from IX Marks and thought it would be good to interact a little with this perspective:

Daughter: Daddy, am I a Christian?
Me: If you're repenting of your sins, and putting your trust in Jesus, then yes.
Daughter: I am.
Me: If you are, then praise God! Keep doing that, sweetheart!
Daughter: Can I get baptized?
Me: At some point, honey. Right now, while you're young, let's continue to learn and grow. We'll think about this more when you are older. I want you to stand on your own two feet as a follower of Jesus, and not just believe these things because I do. But I'm so glad you want to follow Jesus with me! This is the most important decision you'll ever make. There's no one better than him.

Notice a couple of things. First, I don't formally affirm her as a Christian. Instead, I give her the criteria (repentance and faith) and I make conditional statements (If...then...). Second, I do rejoice with her in what she believes to be the case when I say "Praise God." But again, I don't go as far as employing my parental authority to say, "You are a Christian." I honestly don't believe God has given me such authority as a parent. Instead, I believe he has given the local church this affirming authority (Matt. 16:19; 18:18, 20).

As I read this, I am left asking some questions, hopefully in a spirit that will cause those who hold to the above-mentioned position to think through their view even more carefully, even if we still chose to agree to disagree. I recognize not all Baptists hold to this view, and some Baptists may (partially) join with me in my critique. So by "Baptists" (in this post), I'm talking about those Baptists who delay baptism until the person approaches or enters adulthood, whenever that may be - an interesting question, biblically speaking, for another time. I get the sense from the linked post above that Mr. Leeman is more comfortable with adulthood as the appropriate age for baptism. 

I raise this issue because we live in a day and age where people are struggling with their identity. They need to know who they are. But what about the child described above?

In the scenario above, the Baptist father doesn't "formally affirm her as a Christian," even though his daughter believes she is repenting of her sins and trusting in Jesus. She may believe that she is repenting and trusting Jesus, but the father casts doubt upon this because she is not yet standing on her "own two feet as a follower of Jesus." His words, "if you are" (the second time), are regrettable. "Since you are" - based on the judgment of charity - would be a more appropriate response to such a wonderful declaration by a child, in my view. 

Does anyone else think the daughter might be really confused after this conversation as to whether she is a Christian or not? She believes she meets the conditions for being a Christian, but she is told she can't be baptized. Why? Because the church refuses to formally affirm her (child-like) faith. In short, she has to "prove" herself. She also may not grasp the semantic games that are being played by the "theological" father.

When the daughter asked if she was a Christian, the father could also have said, according to the position offered by Leeman: "Well, let's let the church decide because I can't formally affirm you in your faith. And even if you do claim to believe in Jesus before the elders of our church, your profession will only really be taken seriously when you are 'closer to adulthood', because that's when the church will allow you to be baptized since you're finally standing on your own two feet." 

Daughter: "So am I a Christian or not?" 

The father above could say, based on the model provided: "If you are, praise the Lord. But we're afraid that some don't always maintain their confession (see #5 in Leeman's post), so we feel it would be better not to formally affirm you, ecclesiastically speaking, by baptizing you at this point in your life. We just want you to stand on your own two feet, not just please mom and dad." 

Since when did we ever have to stand upon our own two feet as Christians? This is crassly individualistic. Of course we have to believe as individuals, but our belief is never an isolated faith. The body stands together, with Christ as the head. We are the family of God, all joined together so that we don't have to stand alone to be considered genuine. I hope and pray that I aid the faith of my children, and I see nothing wrong with them loving God, in part, because they want to please me. If they only said they loved God to please me then we have a problem, but that desire is not necessarily wrong in and of itself. Nature is not opposed to grace.

Now consider this issue from a Presbyterian perspective:

My children, who have been baptized, do not ask me, "Daddy, am I a Christian?" 

In family worship, they worship the true and living God. They pray to him. They learn from his Word. They sing his praises. In corporate worship, they do the same. Between family worship and corporate (big family!) worship, there is consistency. They are baptized because God has chosen to identify himself with them, and they are to continually, by faith, identify themselves with him. Each day is a day of faith and repentance. 

So we can understand the difference between the two positions by asking the following questions:

1. When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, can I assure them that their sins are forgiven? 

The Presbyterian father says "yes". The Baptist father above would perhaps say: "I don't have that authority" or "if that is true" (because we can't know for sure at such a young age) "then praise God."

2. When I ask my children to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask my four-year old son to forgive his twin brother? 

The Presbyterian father says, "forgive one another in the way that Christ has forgiven you. That is why you can and must forgive your brother."

The Baptist father can't consistently use an indicative to drive home the imperative. Because if the indicative is present (e.g., Christ died for your sins) then how can another indicative (i.e., baptism) not be allowed? In other words, if we allow for the thing signified to be present then surely the sign must be present. Thus the Baptist father has to keep saying "if".

3. Can my children sing Psalm 23 (esp. v. 6) or Be Thou My Vision (as they do) with the assurance that God is indeed their shepherd or their breastplate and sword for the fight? Can they sing "Jesus loves me, this I know" ("...little ones to him belong...")?

The Presbyterian father says, "yes". The Baptist father would never forbid his child from singing those songs, but he would have to qualify strongly whether the child can receive all of the assurances given to believers in those songs. For, if he doesn't strongly qualify, then there's no reason to delay baptism. 

4. When my children pray during family worship to their heavenly Father, what are the grounds for them praying such a prayer? Do they have any right to call God their "heavenly Father" (Rom. 8:15)? 

As a Presbyterian father, when my children pray to God as their father, I don't question whether their prayer is genuine. I simply rejoice that out of the mouths of babes and infants God has ordained praise. And I have no reason to doubt that God listens to them the same way he listens to me when I use the covenantal name for God (i.e., Father). I say "Amen" to their prayers in the same way I say "Amen" to my own prayers.

Because they are baptized, it makes sense to me that I can affirm them in their child-like willingness to receive the promises of God in Christ Jesus. I don't need to cause them to have a crisis of assurance simply because I don't know whether they are genuine or not. 

In one respect, the most fundamental thing our children need to know is who they are. I'd rather allow for a hypocrite to be baptized than deny a true child of God that right given to him/her from above. 

In the end, the view that insists that we delay baptism till adulthood is a position whereby Christianity is only for adults, as far as the judgment of the church. Because baptism is the visible sign of incorporation into Christ, whereby the church formally marks out those who belong to Christ, the position described at the beginning of this post views the kingdom of God as a kingdom where children are not present according to the judgment of the church. 

This is not, I'm afraid, the type of kingdom I think the Bible speaks of (Matt. 19:14).

Whichever view one takes on this matter, we have to accept that this isn't about semantics. These are important issues. My children have a fundamentally different understanding of who they are than a child who has Christian parents, but isn't allowed to sing "Jesus loves me" (as is the case with many children I've met).
Is Paul also among the sacramentarians?

When the Apostle uses a word six times in five verses, it is probably worthwhile to pay attention and ask what he is up to. This is what he does with the verb βαπτίζειν in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17. You can see the instances in bold below.

10 Παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἵνα τὸ αὐτὸ λέγητε πάντες, καὶ μὴ ᾖ ἐν ὑμῖν σχίσματα, ἦτε δὲ κατηρτισμένοι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ νοῒ καὶ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ γνώμῃ. 11 ἐδηλώθη γάρ μοι περὶ ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί μου, ὑπὸ τῶν Χλόης ὅτι ἔριδες ἐν ὑμῖν εἰσιν. 12 λέγω δὲ τοῦτο ὅτι ἕκαστος ὑμῶν λέγει• Ἐγὼ μέν εἰμι Παύλου, Ἐγὼ δὲ Ἀπολλῶ, Ἐγὼ δὲ Κηφᾶ, Ἐγὼ δὲ Χριστοῦ. 13 μεμέρισται ὁ Χριστός; μὴ Παῦλος ἐσταυρώθη ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, ἢ εἰς τὸ ὄνομα Παύλου ἐβαπτίσθητε;14 εὐχαριστῶ ὅτι οὐδένα ὑμῶν ἐβάπτισα εἰ μὴ Κρίσπον καὶ Γάϊον, 15 ἵνα μή τις εἴπῃ ὅτι εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν ὄνομα ἐβαπτίσθητε• 16 ἐβάπτισα δὲ καὶ τὸν Στεφανᾶ οἶκον• λοιπὸν οὐκ οἶδα εἴ τινα ἄλλον ἐβάπτισα. 17 οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλέν με Χριστὸς βαπτίζειν ἀλλὰ εὐαγγελίζεσθαι, οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ λόγου, ἵνα μὴ κενωθῇ ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ."13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (ESV)

Paul was dealing with strife and faction in Corinth among a group of believers who had forgotten, or had chosen to ignore, the ground of their unity, which was nothing other than God's calling them to call in faith upon the name of the one Lord Jesus Christ ("To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Cor. 1:2]; see a previous post here). Instead, they had formed parties that rallied around a favorite Apostle or teacher, whether Paul, Apollos, or Peter. 

But to do this was absurd. These men were only servants (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5): they were not the ones who had been crucified for sinners and into whose name those sinners had been baptized. The questions in v. 13 are calculated to show this very absurdity; of course the answer to those questions is "no" (and in fact, in Greek the question is asked in such a way as to expect a negative answer) [1]. If this is the case, then why were they rallying around mere men? Paul is incredulous.

Nevertheless, rally they did; and perhaps one of the grounds that gave them claim to belonging to a particular clique was their having been baptized by one of the men mentioned: they had not actually been baptized "into" the name of Peter or Paul, but perhaps they had been baptized by a man bearing one of those names--a "credential" (should one wish to call it such) that they then made entirely too much of, even to the extent that some apparently said that they had been baptized "into" one of these names (v. 15). There seems to have been some blurring of the distinction between the human agent of baptism and the divine name into which the candidate was baptized.

Hence Paul moves from saying "baptized in(to) the name" to "I baptized" in vv. 14-16. And it was true that Paul had baptized some at Corinth: two men with Roman names, Crispus and Gaius, as well as the "household" (οἶκον) of Stephanas. There may have been others; but, if so, Paul does not know. [2] Very few, then, could claim to be "Paul's men" based on at least this one criterion.

Indeed, he downplays the importance of baptism throughout these verses, which culminate in Paul's striking assertion at the end of the section: "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." With his antithesis, Paul seems to make these two activities mutually exclusive: "Christ did not send me to do this, but to do that." Can that possibly be the case?

Not quite; after all, he has just said that he baptized certain people while ministering in Corinth. But what he is indicating rhetorically is that baptism is strictly subordinate to preaching--and not just to any preaching, but to the preaching of the cross (Ὁ λόγος ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ, 1:18; κηρύσσομεν Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον, 1:23; Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν καὶ τοῦτον ἐσταυρωμένον, 2:2).

What Paul says here is in harmony with the Great Commission: πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη,βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος... ("Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."). The main emphasis is found in the finite verb ("disciple"), while the participle ("baptizing") finds its place in relation to that action. Paul, in fact, already has observed the same order in his rhetorical questions in v. 13: "Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" The matter of first importance is given first; the question of being baptized "into" someone's name as Paul outlines it here only makes sense when the bearer of that name has been crucified. 

To return to where we began: the Corinthians had forgotten or ignored this crucial point, which was the only possible ground of their Christian unity. When that is done, dogmatic and sacramental chaos follows. The Corinthians should have recognized that baptism can only be understood aright in light of the prior fact of the Gospel--of God's saving action toward man--which cannot be performed, but only testified to, by Paul, Peter, Apollos, or anyone else. Had they acknowledged this salient fact, the Corinthians' practice of "life together" would have been consistent with their calling in common "upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." By neglecting or refusing to do so, they had evacuated baptism of its Christian meaning and from it had created a force that sought to tear Christ apart, a force that was not just unChristian but anti-Christian. 

We can thus perhaps better understand Paul's dramatic statement in v. 17: without the preaching of Christ, and him crucified, baptism is in the best case useless, and in other cases something worse.


[1] It is unclear to me why the ESV, quoted above, does not reflect this.

[2] This marks an interesting hint about his priorities, to be filled out more in what follows.

[3] The point could easily be expanded for baptism into the triune name: one is only baptized into the name of the God who saves him from sin and death.

[4] And all while still being addressed as "brothers"!
How many baptisms upon profession of faith have you administered or seen? I asked my church, as well as fellow pastors and ruling elders in the PCA, the same question. Overall, the answer was, 'very few.' Now, one of the easiest things to do is rationalize the numbers by explaining why they are so low (e.g., We do not re-baptize. Therefore, if someone was baptized as a teenager but came to faith in her thirties under our ministry, we do not administer the sacrament again). Examples like that do occur, but with the growing number of non-Christian households in this nation (i.e., USA), we would need far more instances like the aforementioned to sweep our shallow numbers under the proverbial rug.

I have announced to my congregation, on several occasions, that we want to see non-Christians come to saving faith and be baptized. And as I have been considering how to mold our church, humanly speaking, into a people who are zealous to see that occur, I was struck by the exhortation found in Colossians 4:5-6. Here is Murray Harris' expanded paraphrase of that passage.

"Be tactful and wise in all your relations with unbelievers; buy up every possible opportunity to influence them for the kingdom of God. Let your conversation always be graciously winsome and seasoned with the salt of wit and pungency, so that you may know how you should give an answer suitable for each occasion and each need to each separate individual" (198).

Before considering that a bit more, however, please allow me to say, 'thank you.' This is my final post at Reformation 21. No one has asked me to leave. In fact, I am surprised that I was never asked to leave. Next to Carl Trueman and Mark Jones, I may have caused the most trouble, especially with my posts about ethnicity and sex. Despite the unrest I may have created, I will no longer write for this blog simply because I have decided to refocus my attention a bit. Having a young family, planting a church, working toward my PhD in Hebrew, and many other things keep me quite busy. And writing for this great blog does take a percentage of my time that I can utilize in other places. Regardless of my reasons for leaving, again, I say, 'thank you.' Thank you to the readers, but also to Robert Brady, Gabriel Fluhrer, and Derek Thomas. You all have been great to me. You took a risk. You knew that I would write about things that are unpopular in our circles and that have not been previously considered on this blog. So again, thank you. 

At any rate, in a sermon titled, "And the Nuts and Bolts," Dr. Dale Ralph Davis, of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, in response to Colossians 4:5-6, said that Paul is exhorting Christians to responsive evangelism. Dr. Davis said, 

"Keep walking in wisdom toward those on the outside. Now, those are pagans, those who are not Christians. And you're snapping up the opportunity. Well, what opportunity might that be? Well, he mentions in verse 6 [that] your speech must always be with grace, seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to give an answer to each one. It's talking about your relationship to pagans, those who don't share your faith. Don't look on them as a hurdle; don't look on them as a hinderance; don't look on them as a frustration; nothing like that but snap up the opportunity that they may give you. Dick Lucas makes a helpful point. He says basically what you have is responsive evangelism.... There are opportunities that come to you. You don't have to concoct them; you don't have to try to worm your way into them. It's something that comes as presented to you and you snap up the opportunity. And you did it with speech that is both gracious and seasoned with salt."

Provided Paul's exhortation to the church, at least in this epistle,  is to integrate 'responsive evangelism' in their, and our, lives, how can we do this if we do not spend much time with non-Christians? How can we do this if we do not cultivate relationships with pagans so that we can snap up, or buy up, every opportunity to "influence them for the kingdom of God"? 

This is another deterrent to evangelism: Christians do not spend much time with non-Christians. 

Christian fellowship and hospitality are amazing. The glories of spending time with other saints is one of the blessings of being a part of Christ's Church. And yet I believe we should also spend time with non-Christians. We need to snap up the opportunities that are given to us in order to share the gospel and invite non-Christians to church. How can we do that if the majority of our interactions is with Christians?

If that is you, that is you spend very little time with non-Christians, let me suggest two ways to change that.

1) Start local. Unless you live in Grand Rapids, MI, (that is a joke), you have non-Christians on your street. Begin by reacquainting yourself with them. Invite them into your home for a meal. Get to know them better than you do now. That will require you to spend more time with them.

2) Consider those at work. Consider inviting those at work into your home for a meal. Be hospitable to them.

As you begin getting to know other image-bearers, it is my prayer that the Lord will enable you to snap up every opportunity to influence them for the kingdom of God, and in his perfect timing, may he bring those persons to saving faith that you may rejoice with the angels in witnessing their profession of faith and baptism.

A Baptist preacher I know once informed me that while Presbyterians trace their lineage to the 16th century reformer John Calvin, Baptists trace theirs to the first century prophet John the Baptist. Though most Baptists I know aren't hugely invested in the antiquity or catholicity of their peculiar beliefs, the implications of this preacher's claim for the validity of our respective traditions -- and specifically our convictions regarding baptism -- were intended to be fairly obvious. I responded with a remark about the glaring absence of Baptist fossils in the church historical record between the 1st and 16th centuries. He thought discussion had turned to a subject he enjoyed even more than that of denominational differences -- namely, evolution -- and the conversation moved on.

If the first person to administer Christian baptism, at least to a convert if not to his/her children, counts as the first "Baptist," then that title does very likely belong to John or one of Christ's apostles (depending on how one relates John's baptism to Christian baptism; cf. Acts 19.1-7). If, however, by "Baptist" we mean one who by conviction claims that none but those who make a mature and credible profession of faith should receive the sacrament of baptism, then I posit that the very first proven "Baptist" theologian was the late 2nd/early 3rd century African theologian Tertullian.

Tertullian wrote a book on baptism (De baptismo) in the first decade of the 3rd century --roughly 170 years after Christ instituted the sacrament of baptism (Matt. 28.19). In that work we encounter the earliest argument to my knowledge against the practice of baptizing infants; which practice, his argument as such clearly indicates, was rather common in the church in Carthage (and presumably beyond), despite the rather extraordinary, recent claim by Michael Haykin that the "Ancient Church largely" knew only believer's baptism "up until the fifth century."

Tertullian writes:

It may be better to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children. Why, indeed, is it necessary -- if it be not a case of necessity -- that the sponsors too be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition? [...] Let [children] come, then, [when] they grow up...; let them become Christians when they [are] able to know Christ! Why does the innocent hasten to the remission of sins?

Tertullian's suggestion that infants -- those brought to the baptismal font not by virtue of their own choice but by the hands of "sponsors" -- be denied baptism until later in life rests on a number of significant assumptions: 1) that baptism positively effects the remission of sins; 2) that infants, though born relatively "innocent" (Tertullian lacks a developed doctrine of original sin), will often grow up to commit fairly significant sins; 3) that since one cannot be re-baptized for "the remission of sins" later in life, one might -- depending on the gravity of his/her sins later in life -- cut themselves off from the hope of salvation by their post-baptismal sins.

Tertullian argues, then, that baptism would best be postponed until one reaches an age and station in life where he/she is less likely to make their baptism superfluous by sinning so seriously after baptism that he/she ends up damned. If parents are prevented (by death) from fulfilling their own promise to raise their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, or if, despite their best efforts at parenting, an "evil disposition" develops in their child, then let that child get the serious sins out of his/her system and only then, when better prepared to live the Christian life, be baptized. Tertullian at this stage in his career believed that God would forgive every baptized person one serious sin (adultery, apostasy, etc.) in their Christian life. He later came to the conviction that God would forgive no serious sins after baptism. Either way, best to commit your serious sins before baptism and let them be washed away by the same.

Of course, the force of Tertullian's logic could lead one to postpone baptism until rather late in life (though that would involve something of a gamble, since one might die unexpectedly, thereby losing the opportunity while living to have his/her sins remitted). In fact, Tertullian himself extends the logic of his argument to young, unmarried persons, who -- he believes (or perhaps remembers) -- might find themselves particularly prone to serious sexual sin:

For no less cause should the unmarried also be deferred [from baptism], in whom there is an aptness to temptation, ...until either they are married or are better strengthened for continence. Anyone who understands the seriousness of Baptism will fear its reception more than its deferral.

Whatever the (de)merits of Tertullian's theology of baptism, one thing is particularly noteworthy regarding his argument against infant baptism. That is the failure to advance what would have been, in his day, the most compelling point of all against the practice: that it was novel and/or unfamiliar to Christians in other parts of the Mediterranean world. In the ancient world, antiquity and uniformity were universally valued more than novelty and/or provinciality. Ancient Christians regularly signaled their preference for what was old and regular in their apologetic for Christian beliefs and practices against Judaism, Greco-Roman polytheism, and Gnosticism (think, for example, of the repeated claim among Christian apologists that Plato had learned his monotheism and doctrine of creation from reading their Scriptures). All Tertullian really needed to do to convince Carthaginian Christians to stop bringing their newborn children to the baptismal font was say, "Hey, we Christians never did this before!", or perhaps, "Hey, Christians aren't doing this in Alexandria or Rome!" (the beliefs and practices of which churches were well known to those in Carthage).

The reason Tertullian couldn't advance such an argument should be fairly obvious: Christians in each of these regions had been bringing their children to the baptismal font for as long as they could remember. The antiquity of the practice is reflected, I suggest, even in the slight hesitation Tertullian himself expresses about his argument: "It may be better," he writes, not "we must" or "we should." He himself would have baulked at urging too strongly the cessation of a well-practiced custom.

And so, while debates continue (as they must) about Scripture's teaching on the question of whether children of believers should receive the (new) covenant sign (as they had the old), we can at least make headway in determining who was the very first theologian to explicitly pose that children of believers should not be baptized. It was, I suggest, Tertullian (and after him, almost nobody until the sixteenth century...). Kudos to my Baptist friends for having such a distinguished, and old, theologian as the first certain defender of their cause, subsequent gaps in the Baptist fossil record notwithstanding.

And let me point out to my Baptist friends that the actual practice of paedobaptism is documented prior to Tertullian's rejection of paedobaptism. Indeed, it's documented by Tertullian's own work; Tertullian was, after all, objecting to something that was happening, not to a hypothetical scenario in which some harebrained believer took it into his or her head to baptize a baby. So the earliest documented practice of paedobaptism precedes the earliest explicit objection to paedobaptism. My tradition is older than yours.

Just Add Water (3 of 4)

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

(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.

Just Add Water (2 of 4)


This is the second of 4 parts in response to Dr. Mark Jones on the question and meaning of Baptism and the Lord's table as the question stands between Baptistic types who practice a closed table and Presbyterian types who practice a more-open table.

Two items as caveats, as listed previously, before you read this and start hurling fruit at my kind hosts here at Ref21:

  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

The Meaning of Baptism

There are a lot of important ideas to run down from where we left off last time, such as the meaning of maturity and how we can know the difference between immaturity and actual apostasy or faithlessness, but the scope of this essay is the question of Baptism.  If we accept the WCF's definition of saving faith (and I have, previously), do we really need anything else to understand who is and isn't "a Christian"?

The answer, obviously, is "no" and "yes."  In some important sense, we really don't need any more hair-splitting to answer the question of who is and is not a Christian - we just have to see it through to the end.  That is, we have to agree that someone who starts down the path of obedience to Christ ought to continue down that road (we hope with few pit-stops and detours, but we also know that even Peter actually denied Christ after declaring him to be the Son of God), and as James says in his letter we should show our faith by doing works. 

There's absolutely nothing controversial about this as the WCF says plainly:

Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.

These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

And all good Protestant warning labels stipulated to this statement.  But foremost among these things "commanded by God in his holy Word," certainly not "devised by men out of blind zeal," are the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper -- and this is where the "yes" part comes in.  For my money, we Baptists would be best served to use the Presbyterian word here for two good reasons: (1) we are talking about the means of corporate worship in these items and not merely the more-common acts of obedience which the Bible commands, and (2) I think it clarifies what is at stake as we approach the question of how one influences the use of the other.

That relationship is the one which Dr. Jones' essay misses broadly as it considers why some of us Baptists are closed-table at the supper - because surely when Dr. Jones accuses Baptists of denying the Christianity of Presbyterians he isn't denying that one's baptism ought to come before one participates with the body of Christ and in the body of Christ at the Lord's table.  Of course not - what he is saying is that because baptism makes one a Christian, denying that one is baptized (by drizzling, before personal faith) denies that one is a Christian.  He isn't denying the logic that only the baptized ought to participate in the Lord's supper; he's questioning the meaning of denying the baptism of those baptized as Presbyterians are inclined to do -- which is to say, to baptize infants.

This is why the question of what makes one a Christian had to be addressed first.  In the Presbyterian view, what makes one a Christian is the sign and seal of Baptism.  It puts one inside the covenant in some way which may or may not be finally determinative -- I'll leave that for the FV and non-FV readers to settle in a back alley after school today.  This is why, after all, it is also called "christening" by many - it is what makes one a Christian in a formal and regulated way as opposed to the rather disappointing "asking Jesus into your heart" sort of way which doesn't really mean anything biblically or ecclesiologically. 

But let's be honest: Jesus didn't put it that way.  Jesus' mentioning of baptism comes at the end of all his other statements about the life of obedience, and at the beginning of the great mission of the church.  When the Apostles went out , they didn't first baptize anyone and then preach to them repentance until it made sense to them.  The message of the Gospel comes in the NT first by the preaching of repentance, then by the washing of the water for the sake of a clean conscience.  What is true under the new covenant is what was actually true under the old covenant: the right offering to God is a broken spirit and a contrite heart; God does not desire sacrifices but obedience; he desires that we love Him more than we commit to duties and rituals.  That doesn't eliminate the rituals by any means, but it does put the rituals in a place subordinate to the truth which they are communicating.

And that, frankly, is the actual Baptist objection to Presbyterian baptism - not that one does not have right faith now, but that one has somehow allowed that the ritual means anything prior to the real condition of the one practicing the ritual.  We may be guilty of waving off the baptism of babies as "sprinkling," but the meaning there is not that there's not enough water added: it is that somehow adding water takes the place of the faith the water ought to represent.

Honestly, only the Baptist with the hardest heart toward formal theology would deny any of the following from the WCF:

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.

But we would have to be gullible to read the phrase, "a sign and seal of regeneration," and not ask the question: doesn't regeneration imply faith?  We certainly commit our (baptist) children to the waters when the waters definitely imply faith - because we ask them to make a confession of faith to be admitted to the waters.  And in that way, for us the sign and seal overtly demonstrate that faith which this child has as it has been given by God, and show them being raised in newness of life in the forgiveness of their sins on the basis of faith.

The problem we are objecting to, then, in paedobaptism, is that the sacrament is not a King James Version of "just add water."  We deny it's a baptism because we deny it's a sacrament unless it is preceded by faith.  That is:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful and can not please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.

The problem is not that you are not Christians now: it is that when you were wetted down, you were not Christians then.  You did not have faith then.  And with full respect to those who did have faith when they did this to you,  the sacrament is meaningless apart from the faith for which the sacrament is a sign -- which is, your faith, the faith God gave, not the faith which God might give.

Because of this, we would say you have not been baptized.  And without baptism, of course you cannot come to the Lord's table.

More on that next time.

Just Add Water (1 of 4)

Well, I was going to go on a bit more about the necessity of the local church in the posts headed to this space, but our dear brother in Christ Dr. Mark Jones has done what Presbyterians are prone to do when they interact with Baptists about Baptism, and as the new resident Baptist here I guess it's my job (by vocation if not by assignment) to disambiguate his confusion over why I would personally see his being sprinkled as an infant as no baptism at all, and why therefore I would say he's not to take the other ordinance (the Lord's Supper) in church.  Let me preface these remarks by saying I envy anyone whose name is "Dr. Jones," and even more any in this fine class who has the self-control not to change his first name to "Indiana."

Two items as caveats before you read this and start hurling fruit at my kind hosts here at Ref21:

  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

So the main thrust of Dr. Jones article is that somehow the closed-table Baptist is declining to allow that Presbyterians are Christians at all if he doesn't allow one paedobatized to take the Lord's Table when it is presented during worship.  There are probably a dozen things that bother me about this innuendo, but the one which undoubtedly seems the worst to me is to consider all the baptized people a Presbyterian would refuse to serve at the table - that is, all the children which are Christians by the covenantal formula "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just add water." I'm looking forward to Dr. Jones' defense of paedocommunion under the pains of being accused of turning out babies from the family of God in his next installment, but I think it probably isn't coming.

Seriously now: if the charge that Dr. Jones has put forward here has any weight at all, it rests on the idea that refusing participation to the table demands a metaphysical statement about those refused - namely, that they do not belong to Christ at all, in any sense.  That's always the charge of Presbyterians against us poor and uncatechized Baptists - think of all the people we make into no Christians at all.  It's a middle-class, civilized version of the Reformation argument that we are schismatic - and I appreciate the good will it takes to get us this far (I have my copy of the Augsburg Treaty in hand if necessary), but the difference is only in whether or not there are torches and pitchforks involved.  I think there's a better way to discuss this, and a better solution.  And for those of you worried about it, I have put all my best jokes right here in the introduction.  The rest will be appropriately dour and solemn.

Let me provide you an outline of the posts in this (brief) series.

My Outline:

A. The meaning of being a "Christian"
B. The meaning of Baptism (especially for the local church)
C. The meaning of the Lord's Table
D. Conclusions/Parting Shots

The Meaning of being a Christian

I think, with very serious and deep respect, that the worst way to pose the problem here is as Dr. Jones did - which is to somehow intimate that either side here has a problem which wrongly frames the doorposts of the Kingdom of God - that is, that either side has either included or excluded the wrong people inside the group Jesus is on about in Mat 16.  Because let's face it: the actual ultimate state of any human person is a slippery fish.  I'm not comfortable hanging any argument on whether or not "I think" anyone is "a Christian" because I can barely tell you which kids in the gym belong to me - and I see them every day and know them better than I know any of you (esp. - you Presbyterians).  What "I think" sounds too much to me like doing what seems right in my own eyes, and we all know where that gets us (given that you are as well-read in the OT as Presbyterians ought to be).

All that to say this: I don't get to define who is and is not a Christian, and neither does Dr. Jones.  Jesus is the only one who has the authority to do this.  And fortunately for us, he was pretty liberal to tell us what he means by it - at least, as the label came into popular use in Antioch.  In Jesus' terms, anyone who is a "disciple" is a "Christian."  I could just toss that out here and expect the reader to fill in the blanks from his Greek NT, but briefly here are 3 references  that I would use to show that this is Jesus' meaning.

Mat 28:18-20 (ESV)
Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

That's fair enough, right?  It even includes the ordinance of baptism in it so that it plugs into the discussion.  But in Jesus view of it, those who are His disciples are His because of His authority, and in that authority they observe what he has commanded.  That is: the role of the disciple (the Christian) is one of being under the authority of Christ (rather than, as I mentioned above, the authority of "me").  Without writing a book here, this is a perfectly covenantal view of it as the disciple is something because of what Christ has done, but the disciple is therefore also running on new rules in Christ.

I'm sure plenty of you are breaking out the sheet music now to the "distinct imperative/indicative" overture, but it's not a violation of the Gospel to say that those who receive it, who believe in the name of Jesus, become children of God in more ways than just the final way in glorification.  The path of sanctification is necessarily part of the Gospel as Jesus didn;t just do something, but did something for us.

Mat 10:34-39 (ESV)
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Personally, I like this one because it's inflammatory by Jesus - set up so that you really can't misunderstand what Jesus means here.  In Jesus' view, it's not merely intellectual assent which is the hallmark of a disciple: it's being set against the world and its value system.  When he says this, Jesus is saying that his disciples will not just know something about him: they will go and do things which express their confidence in Him over all other relationships, and all other comforts.  But it underscores that the disciple is not merely a learner or hearer of the word of God (and the Word of God), but a doer of those things He has made clear.

Mat 16:21-28
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."

This bit I love because poor Simon just got it right not 3 sentences earlier, but then Jesus starts saying that being the Christ means suffering and dying in Jerusalem.  That's too much for Peter who rebukes the Son of God (as he said), but Jesus says plainly that not only must he do this, but that there's no one who can follow him unless he follows him to the cross.  Look: that's not just a new way to think about how religion works: that's a way which leads a man to his own death for the sake of others.  It's a kind of doing which is not merely duty but doing for the sake of one's own soul.  We might here ask whether there are actually enough categories in the "imperative/indicative" paradigm because in this case it seems like Jesus is saying that there are some things one does because he must want to do it.

All of that to say that the meaning of being a Christian is not merely external (that is: what has been done for you) or merely internal (that is: what you think or affirm) but is somehow wrapped up in a new trajectory, a new path one is walking on.  That's probably why, in the book of Acts, it turns out that the movement these people manifested in the world was called "the Way."

This leads us to some interesting issues, such as how we can apply this paradigm to guys like the Thief on the Cross who was never baptized.  He was in paradise that very day with Christ - and no decent Baptist would reject the idea that the Thief was a Christian.  But it at least gets us to a place where we can know what we are talking about if we have to ask the question, "Is 'X' a Christian?"  If we are asking that question, I hope we are answering it like Jesus did, which is to say, "if a person is following Jesus, and dying to world daily, and seeking to do what Jesus commanded, that person is a Christian."  The WCF would say it this way:

The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.

By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatesoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently, upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principle acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory; growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

So the problem that we face in this discussion is not about whether or not I (or any other closed-table Baptist) would not allow R.C. Sproul or Dr. Jones to be Christians.  The problem is about something else which, it seems obvious to me, Dr. Jones has swept under the covenantal rug.

I'll elaborate next time.  And good thing the comments are closed!

Baptism: What's On My Bookshelves

When I first arrived at seminary, I was appalled that anyone claiming to be Protestant would baptize infants. In my limited understanding, only Roman Catholics conducted themselves in such an unbiblical manner. In my mind, infant baptism may have been as close to heresy as one could get without quite being labeled heresy. 

This shallow view of baptism sent me on a journey to study the sacrament. Since my journey began years ago, I have collected several books on this important topic. I have concluded that the sacrament of baptism is much more than simply placing water on someone's head (or immersion if you prefer). Baptism has direct implications for the way in which one reads the Bible (i.e., covenant theology, dispensationalism, etc.), the way one views the sacraments (i.e. sacramentology), the way one understands the church (i.e., ecclesiology), and the way one interacts with his or her child(ren) in the home.

While I am not endorsing all the information in the books listed, here are some of the books, along with the Bible, that are on my bookshelves. I have not included books on covenant theology nor dispensationalism, though these topics are approached in some of the books listed. If you are wondering which books I would recommend on either side of the debate, I have placed those books at the end of this post. Let me be clear, however. Simply because I am recommending these books--among the others--does not mean I am endorsing everything in the books nor I am necessarily endorsing the author's views on other topics not mentioned in the books.

A Baptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Baptism in the New Testament by G. R. Beasley-Murray
2. Christian Baptism: A Fresh Attempt to Understand the Rite in terms of Scripture, History, and Theology edited by A. Gilmore
3. Antipaedobaptism in the Thought of John Tombes: An Untold Story from Puritan England by Mike Renihan
4. Pilgrim Pathways: Essays in Baptist History in Honour of B. R. White edited by Brackney and Fiddes
5. Lectures on Baptism by William Shirreff
6. A Decisive Argument Against Infant Baptism Furnished By One of its Own Proof-Texts by John L. Dagg
7. Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright
8. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace by Paul K. Jewett
9. The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Verses Paedobaptism by Fred Malone
10. The Scripture Guide to Baptism: Containing A Faithful Citation of All the Passages by R. Pengilly
11. Baptism and Christian Unity by A. Gilmore
12. Should Babies Be Baptized? by T. E. Watson
13. Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism by Douglas Van Dorn
14. Concerning Believers Baptism edited by F. C. Bryan
15. Baptism and the Baptists: Theology and Practice in Twentieth-Century Britain by Anthony Cross
16. From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism: A Critique of the Westminster Standards on the Subjects of Baptism by W. Gary Crampton
17. Biblical Baptism: A Reformed Defense of Believers Baptism by Samuel E. Waldron
18. Christian Baptism by Adoniram Judson
19. A Conversation About Baptism by R. L. Child
20. More Than a Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism by Stanley K. Fowler
21. Baptist Sacramentalism by Anthony Cross and Philip E. Thompson
22. Baptism Sacramentalism 2 by Anthony Cross and Philip E. Thompson

A PaedoBaptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Return to Grace: A Theology for Infant Baptism by Kurt Stasiak
2. To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism - Covenant Mercy for the People of God by Douglas Wilson
3. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism by J. V. Fesko
4. The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge
5. The Sacraments in Biblical Perspective by Ronald P. Byars
6. Christian Baptism by John Murray
7. Infant Baptism and the Silence of the New Testament by Bryan Holstrom
8. The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism by Peter Leithart
9. The Promise of Baptism: An Introduction to Baptism in Scripture and the Reformed Tradition by James Brownson
10. Children of the Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism by Robert Booth
11. A Christian's Pocket Guide to Baptism by Robert Letham
12. The Meaning and Mode of Baptism by Jay Adams
13. What Christian Parents Should Know About Infant Baptism by John Sartelle
14. Baptism by Francis Schaeffer
15. William the Baptist by James Chaney
16. Children of the Promise: The Case for Baptizing Infants by Geoffrey Bromiley

An Historical Approach to Understanding Baptism:

1. The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant: An Historical Study of the Significance of Infant Baptism in the Presbyterian Church by Lewis Schenck
2. The Origins of Infant Baptism: A Further Study in Reply to Kurt Aland by Joachim Jeremias
3. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries by Everett Ferguson
4. Baptism in the Early Church by Hendrick Stander and Johannes Louw
5. What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the End of Christendom by David Wright
6. Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective - Collected Studies by David Wright
7. Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries by Joachim Jeremias

3 Views on Baptism:

1. Baptism: Three views edited by David Wright

If you are struggling through the issue--along with your Bible--here are some books on each side of the baptismal font/tub that may help as you study this important sacrament.

A Baptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Baptism in the New Testament by Beasley-Murray
2. Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism by Van Dorn
3. A Decisive Argument Against Infant Baptism Furnished By One of Its Own Proof-Texts by Dagg
4. Should Babies By Baptized? by Watson

A Paedobaptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Strawbridge
2. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism by Fesko
3. To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism - Covenant Mercy for the People of God by Wilson
4. A Christian's Pocket Guide to Baptism by Letham

Also, if you are interested, here are two debates on the matter, as well as a short, non-exhaustive series I wrote on the topic nearly two years ago.

1. Strimple and Malone
2. Shisko and White
3. Baptism: The Doctrine That Caused Tears

When we are tempted to sin, to what or to whom do we look? The standard answer, which is appropriate, is Christ. We look to him, the great healer and physician, the alpha and omega of our faith, by faith. That lens through which we look to Jesus (i.e., faith) is that intangible reality whereby we receive and rest upon Christ alone for our salvation. Unfortunately, however, our faith is not always strong. It wanders during times of temptation. 

I am sure we all desire to use our faith to look to Jesus during those times, but sometimes our faith is weak. Additionally, during those times of temptation we cannot see our faith nor observe the Christ of our faith, which can be a problem. It might be easier if we could purchase two pounds of faith at the grocery store and place it on our dining room table to remind us of the reality to which it points, but we cannot. It might also be nice if someone could pour a cup of faith for us to jar our minds back to the reality of a crucified and risen savior, especially during times of temptation to sin, but that is not going to happen.

Thankfully, God understands the weakness of our faith. It is an intangible reality that wavers like the waters of the ocean. It sways like the wind during the spring time. Therefore, due to such inconsistencies, the Lord God almighty provided us with tangible realities that grant an objective meaning free from oscillation. In particular, one of two corporeal realities the Lord gave was baptism.

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, baptism is "a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's" (WSC 94). This is the objective meaning of baptism. It does not change.

What does this have to do with temptation to sin?

When we are tempted to sin, look to our baptism. Our baptism provides our identity. In the midst of temptation, our faith can waver to the point of feeling nonexistent. It will, then, be extremely difficult to use that same mediocre faith to trust in and rely on the promises of God free from anything tangible. 

Our baptism declares that God has placed his triune name upon us and we are his. He is for us and not against us. In baptism, we are ingrafted into Christ and made a partaker of the benefits of a gracious covenant. 

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, baptism also announces the "remission of sins by [Christ's] blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life" (WLC 165).

This is who you are. Although the strength of your faith may vary, the announcement of who you are in Christ, as depicted by your baptism, does not. In fact, one of the blessings of baptism is that its reality is demonstrated tangibly. That is, although you cannot see your faith (you may observe the product of it), you can see and feel your baptism. Allow the certainty of the streams of water poured over your head remind you of the certain and sure promises of Christ your savior and your identity in him! 

This ought to help you during times of temptation. When the trees of temptation are standing around you, it is hard to recognize the streams of faith that should lead you out of the forest to Christ. Therefore, look to your baptism. The promises are God are tangibly revealed therein. You felt it; you touched it. And just as sure as you felt those waters of baptism, remember what God did for you and has said about you. When you are tempted to sin, therefore, look to your baptism.

But, pastor, I have a question. Doesn't looking to your baptism require faith to believe the promises signified therein during times of temptation?

Until next time...

A few brief thoughts on being Baptist

A few things:

First, on the basis of the post on paedobaptism and Presbyterianism, Paul Levy should undertake to leave any future instruction of his interns in grammar, spelling, and the like, to others. A failure to do this will evidently hinder a man for life.

Second, the discussion so far has failed to reckon with Congregationalism (or Independency), of which no less a man than John Owen came to be an advocate. One cannot dismiss paedobaptist Independency without facing him.

Third, while I am happy to acknowledge that there is a link between a man's view of the sacraments (or ordinances) and church polity generally (including, in measure, church government), I think that Ben Williamson offers an over-simplification of the matter, perhaps based on flawed assumptions concerning much Baptist polity and practice (recognising that there are Baptists and Baptists, just as there are Presbyterians and Presbyterians, and so I must take care not to assume that all Presbyterians think alike on all things, just as I hope others will recognise that not all who are labelled Baptists share the same convictions, or lack of them). So, to take just the one point on catholicity, a confessing Baptist would profess the following, in language which will be substantially familiar to a confessing Presbyterian or Congregationalist:
1.         The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
I acknowledge that the Baptist does go on to confess that:
2.         All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ, according unto it; not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.
However, I do not think that paragraph 2 somehow undermines or destroys paragraph 1. Indeed, the concern of paragraph 2 is not so much radically to individualise the members as to identify the parts of the whole. (I am not going to enter in to the issue of the nature and efficacy of baptism here.) The chapter in the 1677/1689 Confession on the communion of the saints (however different Baptists might interpret it) also puts something of a spanner in the works of those who would suggest that independence and isolation are synonymous.

Third, I think that most consistent and Biblically-governed Baptists would wish to contend that they have derived their ecclesiology not by tenuous extrapolation from their view of the sacraments, but by searching the Scriptures for what the Lord teaches about the nature, organisation and government of his church. I would hope that my Paedobaptist brothers would affirm the same. We may and do disagree at significant points, but we agree on this: the Lord has spoken concerning it, and therefore it matters.

Fourth, but only incidentally, there are plenty of Baptists who, for various reasons, are not and have no intention of becoming part of the FIEC, including some who do so because of their convictions regarding the church and its government and the nature of relationships between individual congregations.

Results tagged “Baptism” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 28.4

iv. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but alsot he infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized. 

The fourth topic treated by the Westminster Confession's teaching on baptism pertains to its recipients. Who is to be baptized? The answer is unequivocal: believers and their children are to be baptized. Here we see a plain statement in favor of infant or (as I prefer to call it) covenant baptism.

There are a number of good books or booklets that present the overwhelming biblical case for covenant baptism; that is, the practice of administering baptism to the covenant children of believers. I would especially recommend: John Murray, Christian Baptism, Bryan Chapell, "Why Do We Baptize Infants?" and John Sartelle's, "What Christian Parents Should Know about Infant Baptism." It is interesting, however, to peruse the proof-texts to the Confession on this subject as a way of unfolding their thoughts. From the proof-texts, here is the main argument in favor of infant/covenant baptism:

1.    God's covenant promise, which includes believers' offspring:

"And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you" (Gen. 17:7).

2.    The essential continuity between circumcision in the old covenant and baptism in the new covenant, both of which are applied to believers' children:

"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:11-12; this is also suggested in Gal. 3:9, 14 and Rom. 4:11-12).

3.    Peter's Pentecost promise, which includes children among those to be baptized:

"For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:39).

4.    Christ's known zeal for receiving covenant children to himself:

"Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).

5.    The New Testament's teaching of covenant headship, by which the children of believers are considered holy:

"For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy" (1 Cor. 7:14).

In addition to this compelling case, we might add two more factors that are not emphasized in the Confession's proof-texts:

6.    The many examples of household baptisms in the New Testament (3 out of 12 overall baptisms recorded). In these three cases, the believer's households are also baptized, without our being told that they first believed:

"She was baptized, and her household as well" (Acts 16:15).

7.   The continuity between the Old Testament practice of presenting children for circumcision and the New Testament practice of presenting children for baptism. The New Testament is clear when abrogating Old Testament practices (see Acts 10:20-26). The most natural thing for believing parents to do in the new covenant is present their children to the church for formal inclusion into the covenant community. 

Rev. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.

Chapter 28.2, 3

ii. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

iii. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

 The Westminster Confession's third concern pertaining to baptism is its mode. Since this sacrament was instituted by Christ, it must be administered in accordance with his instructions and with relevant biblical examples. According to the Confession, a valid Christian baptism involves three elements: water, the name of the Triune God, and a validly ordained Christian minister.

It is obvious from biblical examples that baptism is performed with water. Peter urged the baptism of the centurion Cornelius and his believing friends, saying, "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:47; see also Acts 8:36, 38). Jesus' own teaching makes clear that Christians are baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19). Third, it is clear from the New Testament examples that baptism is not administered by just any believer but by an ordained minister. The vital question, "Does this person have the right to receive baptism?" can only be answered by the elders, who therefore administer the sacrament. Moreover, Presbyterian polity notes the integral relationship between the sacraments and the ministry of the Word, which means that baptism should only be administered by teaching elders, that is, by ordained ministers.

Most Christians are settled on the three basic features of baptism. The burning question pertains to how the water is administered: by immersion or by sprinkling or pouring? Before answering the question, it is worth noting that the Westminster Confession does not place this question in the first rank when it comes to the mode of baptism. The three clear essentials are water, the Triune name, and a minister. Only in a follow-on paragraph does immersion vs. sprinkling come up. This is entirely appropriate, for the simple reason that the Bible does not expressly prescribe how the water is to be administered. Unlike the Lord's Supper, which receives procedural specificity, this question is going to be answered by inference from other passages. For this reason, the Westminster Confession recognizes and accepts dipping, while arguing that the right administration involves "pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person."  Following this example, we should accept that thoughtful and faithful Christians may differ on this matter.

Most Baptists will argue that the Bible does specify dipping as the mode of baptism. They will point to the passages that speak of persons going into the water.  Matthew 3:16 says that when Jesus had been baptized "he went up from the water." Likewise, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch "went down into the water" and then "came up out of the water" (Acts 8:38-39). Does this not prove immersion? The answer is no, for the simple reason that these passages might very well be saying that they went into the river (both clearly involved rivers, since water was needed), whether baptism was administered there by pouring or by immersion. In this matter, Paul's baptism is very instructive. Ananias entered the house where Paul was staying, laying hands on him. Paul then regained his sight, "Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food he was strengthened" (Acts 9:17-19). A straightforward reading of this passage states that Paul was baptized while still inside the house, which would make immersion virtually impossible in his case. But does not the Greek word bapto mean "immersion?"  The answer is not necessarily.  The Jewish practice of ceremonial washing involved both the immersion of hands and the pouring of water. If anything, in fact, the Jewish background for baptism favors pouring.  

There is undoubted ambiguity in these texts, although I do believe the data leans heavily on the side of sprinkling/pouring. Most potent is the connection between the covenant ceremonies of the Old Testament and their analogy in the New Testament. A good example is seen in Exodus 24, the worship service to institute the Mosaic Covenant. There, Moses applied the blood of the covenant by sprinkling it on the altar and then on the people: "Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, 'This is the blood of the covenant'" (Ex. 24:8). Hebrews 9:13-14 says that this symbolism was fulfilled when Christ, having died for atonement, went into the heavenly tabernacle and there sprinkled his blood. Just as Moses sprinkled the blood on the people, Christ also sprinkles his people in baptism, not in blood but in water, since his presentation of the atonement in heaven has put an end to blood for sin. This perfectly fulfills the new covenant promise given in Ezekiel 36:25, which strongly supports sprinkling as the biblical mode of covenant baptism for the people of God: "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you."

Rev. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.

Chapter 28.1, Part Two

i. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, or remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.

The Westminster Confession's second important theme in treating baptism concerns the efficacy of baptism. This is a vitally important matter today, in which Christians must avoid errors that fall on both sides of the Bible's teaching. On one side, Baptists and many other evangelicals err by denying that there is any efficacy to baptism, instead treating the sacrament as a bare sign. On the other side, hyper-covenantal Reformed Christians err by granting too much efficacy, or rather the wrong kind of efficacy, to baptism's role in Christian salvation. This latter concern is especially associated today with the so-called Federal Vision movement, which treats the rite of baptism as being essentially the principle instrument of salvation.

The Confession takes up this matter by making the classic statement that baptism is "a sign and seal of the covenant of grace." As a sign, baptism points to the blood of Jesus which cleanses our sin and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit that enables us to believe and be saved. As a seal, baptism presents an authentic offer from God and an official authentication of saving faith when it has been acknowledged by the elders of the church. Properly defining the word "seal" is essential, since some readers take the Confession to mean that the grace of Christ is more or less infused by baptism into the recipient's spirit. Instead, baptism serves as a seal in the way that a government seal makes a passport official. Those who profess true faith in Jesus receive baptism as a seal that makes the covenant relationship official, together with all its benefits.

A particular controversy today concerns the claim that the Confession's teaching that baptism confers "ingrafting into Christ," "regeneration," and "remission of sins." This is the Federal Vision teaching that states that baptism confers the reality of these saving graces, so long as one upholds his or her baptism by remaining in the church. This is not what the Confession teaches, however. The Confession teaches that baptism confers the "sign and seal" of these things.  Union with Christ, forgiveness of sins, and regeneration come only with faith; baptism presents the sign and seal of these things, upon the confirmation of saving faith. Appeal is made to paragraph 6, where the Confession states that "the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost."  This is true, so long as we remember that the grace promised in baptism comes in the form of sign and seal. Baptism never confers the reality of union with Christ and its saving benefits, but rather the sign and seal of those blessings which only faith may receive. This understanding is confirmed when we consult WCF 14:1, which says, "The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word." Salvation is received only through faith in the Word of God (see 1 Pet. 1:23). That statement goes on to say, "by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened" (WCF 14:1). In other words, union with Christ and its saving benefits occurs through faith alone in God's Word, and that saving faith is then strengthened by the Word, the sacraments and prayer.

WCF 28:6 makes the interesting point that the "efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether or age or infants) as that grace belongeth to, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time." This answers the objection that many are baptized without believing (often as infants), so that they cannot receive the grace offered by baptism. The Confession answers that the grace of baptism is nonetheless conveyed at the time of saving faith, at whatever time that God has willed. Here again, we must remember that the Confession speaks of baptism conferring not saving grace but signing and sealing grace - that which signifies and confirms salvation through faith. The point of the Confession is that whenever true and saving faith occurs, that is when the sign and sealing grace of baptism is actually received.

Consider two situations. When a non-Christian adult believes, the subsequent baptism conveys the sign and seal of the covenant that faith has received. What about a covenant child who was baptized as an infant, who then comes to saving faith later in life? In this case, the saving faith looks back to what was offered and exhibited in baptism, the reality of which has now been conferred through the gift of faith. Understanding this teaching helps us to realize that when a covenant child is baptized, the grace of salvation is really offered and exhibited to him or her, and the sign and seal of that grace (to be received through faith) is really conferred. With such a beginning to the child's life in the church, our covenant nurture of the child must continue to offer and exhibit the covenant of grace. Later, when faith marks the child as truly possessing salvation, that faith receives the grace that was set before the child from the beginning of his or her life in the church, through baptism, which grace now belongs to the believing child through the Spirit's gift of saving faith.

Rev. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.

Chapter 28.1

i. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace... Which sacrament is, by Christ's appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.

The Westminster Confession's teaching of the sacrament of baptism may be understood under five headings, the first of which is the necessity of baptism. This sacrament is "by Christ's appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world." The point is that the church is obligated to administer baptism and Christians are likewise obligated to be baptized, as Christ's prescribed manner for joining his Church.

One argument against the necessity of water baptism is made by Quakers, who assert that there is no gospel precept for this sacrament and that we are instead to baptize in the Spirit (see Mt. 3:11).  To the contrary, however, Jesus expressly charged the church with instituting baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a necessary accompaniment to evangelism: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19). It is evident that this does not refer to baptism in the Spirit, for the simple reason that the Church is not able to regenerate the sinner's heart.* Instead, the example of the New Testament makes it perfectly plain that the Church is to administer water baptism in the name of the Trinity, so that believers and their households may properly receive admission into the visible body of Christ's people (see Acts 8:36-38, 9:18, 10:47-48, etc.).

Christian baptism is necessary, therefore, because it was instituted directly by the Lord Jesus Christ, together with his express command for it to be administered "in his church until the end of the world" (WCF 28:1), even as Jesus extended his Great Commission "to the end of the age" (Mt. 28:20).  This gives us the answer to a number of important questions. Is it necessary for a believer in Jesus to be baptized? The answer is Yes, at Jesus' institution and command. Is baptism necessary for church membership? The answer is Yes, since Jesus linked evangelism to baptism in bringing disciples into his church (Mt. 28:19). Is baptism necessary for admission to the Lord's Table?  The answer is Yes, since the public rite of admission to the church and its privileges, including the Lord's Supper, is baptism. This naturally accords with the uniform example that we see in the New Testament. When Peter preached to the crowd after the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, about three thousand believed and "those who received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:41). During Philip's evangelizing ministry in Samaria, those who believed "were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12). So it goes throughout the book of Acts, including the conversion/baptism of Paul, Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailor, Crispus, and the Ephesian converts (Acts 9:18, 10:48, 16:15, 33, 18:6, and 19:5).

When we speak of the necessity of baptism, however, we do not mean that the rite of water baptism is absolutely necessary as a condition for salvation. The Confession guards against this view, saying that although "it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it" (WCF 28:5). The great example is the thief on the cross who believed in Jesus and was saved, without being baptized by water (Lk. 23:39-43). He was not in a position to be baptized, as it true of others who are soon debilitated or die after trusting in Christ. The point is that baptism is not necessary as a condition of salvation, but rather as a consequence of salvation (either the believer's own salvation or that of his or her parent's, as we will see).  

Baptism is necessary in that it is required of Christians and the Church that they obey Christ's commands and give him glory by faithfully administering the sacraments of his church. This means that new believers who have not been baptized, as was my case when I came to faith in Christ at the age of 30, should feel an obligation to receive baptism, thus joining the church and giving a public testimony to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As we will see in our next study, this manner of public testimony also grants a sealing assurance to the believer that he or she really does belong to Jesus.

*Properly speaking, baptism in the Holy Spirit refers not to the individuals' regeneration at the moment of conversion but rather Christ's outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost. Peter made it very clear in Acts 2:33 that Jesus' baptism in the Spirit took place at Pentecost, and the symbolism of the Spirit descending in tongues of spiritual fire clearly fulfills the expectation established by John the Baptist's teaching: see Luke 3:16 and Acts 2:3.

Rev. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.