Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Monday, July 24, 2006
Question 2: Does the New Testament record that infants were not baptized?
For most of my life, the first question settled the issue in my mind about infant baptism. In all the baptisms in the New Testament, there was no record of an infant being baptized. But when I began considering the circumcision connection with baptism, question (1) at first settled the issue negatively. But the question was restated in the form to question (2) to me. Can I point anywhere in the New Testament that infants were not baptized?
Admittedly, proving the negative of something is often a lot harder than proving the affirmative. For instance, proving that God exists presents one level of difficulty. Proving at God does not exist means you must examine many more things to show that he does not exist. Philosophically, that is a much harder question to prove. In a similar way, proving that infants were not baptized in the New Testament is, in principle, a more difficult issue to prove than proving an infant was baptized.
Question: Are paedobaptists being unfair when asking the question that the New Testament records that no infants were baptized? Perhaps that depends what side of the issue you fall on this. When the question was first posed to me, I held to a believer's baptism only position. The question itself was not the major pivot that turned my mind around. The major pivots for me were seeing the continuity of the covenant of grace from the Old Testament into the New Testament and seeing the connection between circumcision and baptism. The issue that the New Testament does not show that no infants were baptized acted as removing an obstacle from embracing paedobaptism. The other two considerations are what propelled me into the paedobaptism position.
I initially objected. Surely in each baptism there were no infants or small children baptized. Consider:
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 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.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2: 37-44, ESV).
In considering whether or not children were baptized, this passage does record that Peter gave the command to repent and be baptized. It is often pointed out that infants do not have the capability to repent. However, if we remember how converts came into the covenant people of Israel in the Old Testament, they were to convert and then be circumcised, they are their household. That included infants. Infants were just as incapable of being converted then as repenting in the New Testament. However, that did not prevent the infants from receiving the sign of the covenant. The words of Peter that the promise was for you and your children fit with the covenantal pattern from the Old Testament. Therefore we cannot say that children were not baptized. In weighing the interpretation in light of God's continuity of the covenant of grace, it is plausible that children were baptized.
In Acts 16 we see Lydia and her household were baptized and the jailer and his household were baptized. In Lydia's case there is not much comment given. In the jailer's case, Paul and Silas tell the jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts later records, "he was baptized at once, he and all his family."
Again, it could be argued that belief was required before baptism with any infants. However, given the pattern of practice of circumcision, and its connection to baptism in the New Testament, it again is plausible that if there were infants in those households, those infants were baptized. Indeed, in my mind, it is more than just plausible; it is the probable thing that happened. Further, it is hard to imagine that all these households lacked young children, adding further weight to the probability that small children were baptized.
Household baptisms -- did they occur in the New Testament? Yes. Did those households include small children? We cannot say with any certainty, but it would seem probable that they did.
Household baptisms in the New Testament is not the kind of evidence that will turn people's minds from holding believer's baptism to paedobaptism. It didn't for me. However, when looking at the other evidence, it does not present an obsticle to paedobaptism, and it tends to add support when considered with the other evidence.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
In Genesis chapter 17, we read the of the Covenant that God established with Abraham:
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. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. … This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring ... So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.(Genesis 17: 7-14, ESV)
Notice this is an everlasting covenant. When we look at the New Testament, we see that God is remembering his covenant with Abraham in the birth of Christ. Both Mary and Zechariah, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, tell of this:
He has helped his servant Israel,in remembrance of his mercy,as he spoke to our fathers,to Abraham and to his offspring forever. (Mary in Luke 1: 54-55,
to show the mercy promised to our fathersand to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham… (Zechariah in Luke 1:72-73, ESV)
Other passages in the New Testament confirm this. Hebrews 3 – 10 tell how the Old Covenant under Moses was preparing for the New Covenant. In Hebrews 11 we see that Abraham had the faith of the New Covenant, he looked forward to the new land, the city without foundations. The point of Galatians chapters 3 and 4 is that covenant God made with Abraham is the covenant of grace that is continued through Christ. This covenant was not annulled when God gave the law to Moses 430 years later (which is the Old Covenant). The Mosaic Law was a guardian. When Christ came, there was no longer any need for the guardian. Hence the everlasting covenant of grace with Abraham was not annulled, but it continues. This is important to understand because the Covenant of Grace is the unifying theme in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It unifies all of Scripture.
This is why we see there is much that continues from the Old Testament into the New Testament, unless the New Testament specifically modifies the practice. This is what we see in the transition from circumcision to baptism. The physical bloody application of the ordinance of circumcision changed to the bloodless seal of baptism, now applied to both males and females. No other changes where called for, thus the other practices of circumcision (e.g., it is applied to children of believing parents, as well as new adult converts) continue into baptism.
Monday, July 17, 2006
There are a variety of issues that Christians, Protestant Evangelical Christians, disagree on. One of these issues is baptism.
First of all, I want to express my deep appreciation for my Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with me on this position. We both are believers, deeply committed to God's Word, holding to its inerrancy. Many of these believers also hold to the Biblical doctrines of grace, also known as Reformed Theology. Those who hold to the Biblical Reformed faith do so in opposition to the majority of the general Christian community. In the area I live in, while there is a larger than typical conservative Reformed community, we still comprise a minority of Evangelical Christians. Out of the Reformed group, those who hold to believer baptism (strongly convinced, versus those who just "lean" in that direction but are willing to yield on this issue) are probably a very small minority in this area. I want those believers, who often feel left out in the cold, to know that I deeply appreciate you and your service to the kingdom of God. God has gifted many of these believers with keen insight, able minds, generous spirits, and a deep dedication to God's work. These people are sprinkled throughout many of the conservative Presbyterian churches in this area. They are invaluable members to those churches. I cannot emphasize that enough.
Back to the discussion, how do churches generally handle disagreements in baptism? There are three general ways:
(1) My way or no way.
(2) My way, but accommodation.
(3) Neutral, accepting multiple approaches.
In "My way or no way" (1), there is one view on baptism in the church. To be a member in that church, you must subscribe to their view of baptism and/or only be baptized in their particular way. In many Baptist churches, you must be baptized as an adult to become a member. In some Baptist churches, that particular church must baptize you in order to become a member.
In "My way, but accommodation" (2), there is one view on baptism, but tolerance or acceptance of members with differing views. Many PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) churches follow this approach. In these churches, the officers (elders and deacons) are required to hold to the official view of baptism (accepting and encouraging infant baptism), but the members are not required to do so. The members are asked to respect the teaching of the church on the matter. They can express their disagreement as long as it is not disruptive to the church. Further, if a member wishes to have their children baptized by immersion where the church session has expressed the policy that pouring (or sprinkling) is the mode of baptism in the church, these churches will often assist these members to find a local church in the area that will perform the mode of baptism that particular member prefers. The session will recognize that baptism as valid.
In "Neutral, accepting multiple approaches" (3), the church has no official policy on infant or believer's only baptism, except that they will practice both. Few churches and denominations take this approach. One denomination that does this is the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination I grew up in. While that was the official policy of the denomination, often churches in certain areas only practiced one form of baptism (usually believer-only baptism), and would perform the other only when really pressed for it. Usually, most churches practiced both, but often the majority of baptisms were believer-only baptisms.
The approach in my church is "My way, but accommodation" (2). We practice this approach because we are convinced that covenant baptism is what is clearly taught in the Bible. However, we recognize that earnest Christians can come to different conclusions on this topic. We also recognize that membership to Christ's church is based on faith in Christ alone and on his life and death as the payment for our sins and the claim for our righteousness. There are no other requirements to belong to Christ and we cannot place restrictions to membership in our church that Christ does not place himself.
As I conduct discussions on baptism in my blog, I desire to practice this accommodation in my discussion. I greatly respect those brothers and sisters who disagree with me. I treasure them. I will present my position to try to convince, but I don't expect any who participate to be persuaded to change their minds. Also, for those who attend and who are members at my church who disagree with me, you are most welcome in our church, and are welcome to discuss this topic with me here or at our church. You are most valued members and friends. In this spirit, I think we can maintain unity in the church while we respectfully disagree.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
I am a slow learner. My wife had quoted 1 Colossians 2:11, citing there was a connection between baptism and circumcision. Being rather pigheaded, I did not take the time to listen to her. It was a few years later, when working with an elder in helping someone out in our new church, that he too cited 1 Colossians 2:11.
11 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, 12 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. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (1 Colossians 2:11-15, ESV)
I remembered what my wife had said, I began to think about it.
I saw in this passage, there is a connection made between baptism and circumcision. The connection is made in verses 11 and 12. Christ is the connection between baptism and circumcision. Christ was both circumcised and baptized on the cross. Baptism and circumcision applied by itself to us does nothing. It is our union with Christ, accomplished by God, that is our circumcision and baptism. God’s Spirit that awakens us, gives us faith, and joins us with Christ brings about this union.
Baptism and circumcision are both signs and seals of Christ's baptism and circumcision on the cross for us. By faith we are united with Christ's circumcision on the cross. When we are united in Christ, we participate in Christ's circumcision and baptism.
Circumcision was an ordinance that all males were to have done to them upon entrance into in the covenant community. Circumcision was applied to the newborn baby at their birth because they were entering the covenant community. Converts into the covenant community were also to have circumcision applied to them. Circumcision looked forward to the coming of Christ and his death on the cross. Baptism looks back on Christ's death. Because of this, baptism and circumcision are closely linked in Paul's mind as he writes this passage. Baptism and circumcision are so closely linked that these are almost interchangeable in Paul's mind.
Because there is such a close association between baptism and circumcision, I found I needed to pay attention to the common meaning of circumcision and baptism. Further, because circumcision was commanded to infants in the covenant community, I needed to reevaluate the arguments I had used against baptizing infants.
I looked at one passage that was the prooftext, in my mind, that baptism was for believers only:
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 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 2:37-39, ESV)
This said in black and white: "repent and be baptized." The order is clearly and unconditionally given. Or was it? The question I asked myself is what if Moses, or Abraham, or Peter sent back to their time, were preaching to those outside the faith of Israel? It would be a very similar message, "repent and be circumcised". But verse 39 throws added light to this, "the promise is for you and your children, and all who are far off..." Peter preached this to Jewish people, who were familiar with this pattern given to Abraham in Genesis 17. The pattern fit with the covenant established between Abraham and God, a covenant sign and seal was to be given to all males upon entrance into the covenant community. Again, circumcision points forward to Christ's death, it is a sign and seal of belonging to God and being set apart by God. In a similar way, baptism is a sign and seal of belonging to God and being set apart by God.
God’s particular ecclesiastical people, Israel, and the priests administered the covenant community in the Old Testament. In the New Testament and beyond, God grafted the Gentiles into the promise given to Abraham, and the Church Universal is that covenant community. God gives children inside this community a special status. Paul notes this:
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 Corinthians 7:14, ESV)
Children of at least one believing parent are made holy in some sense. This does not mean that Children are automatically believers, or are unconditionally God's elect. But these children are set apart, in the similar way that children in Old Testament Israel were set apart. Faith was required for belonging to God in the Old Testament just as it is required for belonging to God now. However, because of the child's status of belonging to the covenant community, circumcision was applied to that child, even though circumcision was a sign and seal of God promise to them to save them. In this light, we see that children also have the privilege of being a part of the covenant community of God, and receive its sign and seal, baptism.
In this light, the typical arguments against baptizing children of believing parents don't hold water. Let's look at a few:
(1) You are to repent, and then be baptized. The problem with this argument is twofold. The form of the command is from a historical narrative of the gospel message being given to those outside of the faith. They are to do precisely what those in ancient Israel were to do, repent and then receive the sign of the covenant community. Secondly, this argument neglects what follows from this command, which it is for you and your children. This fits the covenantal pattern from the Old Testament and would be understood as such by the audience hearing that message.
(2) This is no benefit to the infant receiving baptism, because the infant is too small to understand, remember, exercise faith, etc., that make baptism useful to that infant. This is much wrong with this argument. First, when we note the connection, and virtual interchangeability of circumcision and baptism, we see that circumcision's usefulness did not depend on the infant's awareness of circumcision while it was being done to him, or remembering that event. Circumcision had a great deal of benefit for the infant. Humanly speaking, it marked the child as being a part of the covenant community. That, in itself, meant the child was to receive the special privileges of belonging to that community. That included being brought up by that community, being instructed, cared for, and nurtured. Further, every time anyone witnessed a circumcision, they were also reminded that they too went through this, even though they may have no memory of it. They would be reminded that they belong to God, that God has claimed them. They would be challenged to remain in the community, to confirm that they indeed belong to God. Humanly speaking, baptism also works the same way that circumcision did in the Old Testament. Further, baptism is a means of grace where God strengthens and assures the believer, even long after the event occurs. This activity of God does not depend on the personal recollection by the recipient of baptism. But, as the child and adult remembers of being told they too were baptized, they can be reassured that they belong to God, and remember the duties and responsibilities they have in belonging to God.
(3) Baptizing infants is saying you believe they are God's elect, but we know that God elect are only those who place their faith in Christ. This argument is particularly weak because: (a) those making those arguments fail to understand what paedobaptists understand when they baptized their children, and (b) they do not apply the argument consistently to themselves. First of all, when we baptize our infants, we recognize that does not mean they are necessarily elect, nor does it mean they will be ultimately saved. But neither does it mean that for those who are baptized professing faith. Not all who call, "Lord, Lord" will be saved. There are many adults who have been baptized who never were true believers in Christ, even when closely examined first by elders, pastors, and others in the church. When we baptize our children, we are looking to Christ and his work on the cross to save those children. We as parents, and we are the church, are promising to raise these children in the Lord. We look forward to the time when they will profess, on their own, their faith. We are also obeying Christ's command not to hinder children from God's kingdom. When those children later act with the faith given to them by God, they and us will receive great comfort and strength that God will complete the work he began in them.
Believer's baptism only advocates will come with many other arguments. Please feel free to comment and state your disagreements or agreements. I will be happy to discuss this further.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
One of the things I find interesting is that the arguments against infant baptism can be tried with subsituting "circumcision" for "baptism". Why do this? For several reasons. First, Paul ties the New Testament ordinance of baptism to the Old Testament ordinance of circumcision. All new converts to the covenant community were to be circumcised, just as all new converts to Christianity are to be baptised. But -- the Old Testament clearly commands infants of covenant communities to be circumcised. Secondly, if you retry the arguments against infant baptism to arguments against infant circumcision, you begin to see why those arguments does not work for infant circumcision. This gives you some understanding about the purpose of circumcision in the Old Testament. Much of that understanding can then be applied to baptism. What this process does is help expose some of the unstated assumptions about baptism made by those who argue against infant baptism.
I conducted this analysis on myself a few years ago when I first became convinced of the doctrines of grace in going to a conservative Presbyterian church. I was a firm believer in believer's baptism. But, as I analyzed the issue in this way, I found that many of my previous assumptions about baptism were unwarrented, and the case for household covenant baptism became clear for me. That is when I saw, believe and be baptised, you and your household, was a command I needed to follow, and my children of the covenant needed to be baptized -- and they were.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
I will keep my daytime job. But I like to play with the consequences of philosophical ideas. This one plays with some possible interpretations of Quantum Physics.