Thursday, April 28, 2011

Paedobaptism Defended, Part 5

Today we conclude our short five part evaluation of the standard anti-paedobaptist objections. I say "short" because anyone familiar with the subject and the vast amount of biblical and doctrinal ramifications,  will know that waaaaaay more could easily have been said. I did save the best for last, however. It seemed logical to me to demonstrate how the Scripture very plainly deals with all of the other objections first. By doing that we have already cleared the way for the bulk of what could be said here. Plus we have shown that Scripture does indeed speak to the subject. So without further ado:

5. Infant baptism is not in Scripture.

By this, the objector usually means that we have no clear-cut, explicit command or example in the New Testament to baptize our children. What these objectors are asking for is a verse that flatly says, "Thou shalt baptize thy newborn offspring." Yet if everything we noted yesterday is true (and it is true), then we DO have clear Bible warrant, both in precept and by example to baptize our children. If, as we demonstrated yesterday, baptism is the New Testament form of circumcision (and circumcision was explicitly commanded to be applied to infants), then we actually have very explicit Biblical command to baptize our children.

Baptists frequently overlook the fact that they have biases and these biases color how they view things. If they don't acknowledge this, they are simply naive. The same force of logic and appeal to Scripture which a Baptist uses to argue for the Trinity is what I use to argue for paedobaptism. It is simply impossible that their rejection of the continuity of the covenant of grace in the Old and New Testaments should not affect their doctrine of the Church and therefore their doctrine of the Church's sacraments.

God instituted the family and purposes to save not only individuals, but families as well. This is not only true in the Old Testament. It is taught and exemplified in the New. Paul said to the Philippian jailer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household” (Acts 16:31). This is why circumcision was done not only to those who professed faith, but on their descendants as well. This is why we read in the New Testament of households being baptized, not just individuals. Thus we find that Scripture reporting that not only the Philippian jailer was baptized, but also his entire family (Acts 16:33). Of Lydia we read, “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home” (Acts 16:15). Paul remembers the family of Stephanas. He says, “Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else” (1 Corinthians 1:16). Since we have seen that Scripture teaches that circumcision and baptism are essentially the same sacrament, how can anyone claim that there were no infants present in these households?

Moreover, the VERY FIRST TIME that baptism in Christ's name was ever administered, Peter explicitly says, "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:39). Every Jew present that day would have instinctively known that God's covenant is with him and his children. Had children been barred from baptism, there would have been an uproar. The absence of any mention of the issue here actually argues for the paedobaptist position.

So what does it mean to put the mark of God's ownership upon a child? Does it mean that he is automatically a Christian? Does it mean that he is magically regenerated? No, it means that we believe that God has promised to call His people from among our descendants. We express faith in God’s promise by presenting our children for baptism.

God commanded Abraham to circumcise both Ishmael and Isaac in Genesis 17, yet Ishmael remained a reprobate. It was with Isaac that God established his covenant (Genesis 17:19). Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Both of them were circumcised, yet only Jacob was elect.
Think of what Paul says about this. He writes, "Rebecca’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that Gods purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written: 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'" (Romans 9:18).

Although God made His covenant with Abraham and his descendants, ultimately the covenant was made with the Lord Jesus Christ. “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). That is why those who are elect believers in Christ are called Abraham's children by faith. 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28, 29). “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).

So it is that we present all our children for baptism, because God himself has commanded it. Not all who are baptized are elect, not all will be believers. Even in the Old Testament, not everyone who was circumcised was a believer. We place the mark of God’s ownership on them, because we are to dedicate ourselves and all that is ours to the Lord of the Covenant. We place no trust in the outward sign. Rather, we prayerfully look to our gracious Father that he may, in his own good time, save our children.

Something should also be said about the Church's historic practice. There is no doubt that the Church in her earliest days baptized children. There are clear indications of the practice in the writings of Irenaeus. It was not until the Anabaptists of the 1500's that anyone who claimed to be within the pale of Christianity ever rejected the practice. Moreover, credo-baptists should chew on this: Are we to believe that God forsook His entire Church to error for over 1500 years? He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. Yet that is what must have happened if the Baptist position is true. Ever greater is this problem: No one has ever questioned that for baptism to be valid, it has to be administered by one who was, in turn, validly baptized as well. Yet if the Baptist assertion is true, that there was no valid baptism in the Church for over 1500 years, then no one is validly baptized today.

The five objections we replied to were:
1. Infant baptism is a remnant of Popery.
2.Infant baptism does not accurately reflect the nature of the Church.
3.Infant baptism is inconsistent with the message of the Gospel.
4.Infant baptism is not a replacement sign for the Abrahamic sign of circumcision.
5. Infant baptism is not taught in Scripture.

In conclusion, let me say this: The doctrine of baptism may not be, under normal circumstances, an issue to break fellowship over. But that does not mean that it is not important. The same may be said of the several eschatological schemes believed by devout men and women of God throughout the ages. This, again, does not mean that the doctrines are not important. I am more and more convinced that nearly all of the division in the Church today, in doctrine and practice, is a result of brushing off theology as nonessential and divisive. The Church has always been united by Word and Sacrament. Once these are neglected for other things, no matter how appealing or apparently edifying, we all suffer. And no one suffers more than our children. On any given Sunday in pulpits around the world, one will hear congregations exhorted to train their children "in the way that they should go" so that "when they are old they will not depart." Yet the tried and true practices of baptizing and catechizing children are neglected with reckless abandon. Baptists always insist on "believe and be baptized" in that order. Yet when Christ told His Apostles to disciple the nations, He told them that this was to be done by "baptizing them and teaching them" in that order. Baptizing our children is part of obedience to the Great Commission.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Paedobaptism Defended, Part 4

As we continue to evaluate the arguments of the anti-paedobaptists, we move on to the fourth objection.

4. Baptism is not the replacement sign for the Abrahamic sign of circumcision.

In reply to this objection, I reply: WRONG!!!

In many ways, this is the heart, because the practice of infant baptism - like many other New Testament doctrines, such as the Trinity and justification by faith alone - rests squarely on an Old Testament foundation. Remove that foundation, and infant baptism collapses.

How should we view the Old Testament? Should we reject it as having nothing to say to us today? Or should we obliterate all distinctions between the two Testaments? Two extremes must be avoided as we deal with the Old and New Testaments: that of the Dispensationalist who sees little connection and continuity between the Old and New Testaments, on the one hand, and an approach that flattens redemptive history as if there were no true significance to the Cross. A biblical approach to the two Testaments comprehends that there is virtually nothing “new” in the New Testament, because it is all rooted in the Old Testament, but it also understands that almost nothing from the Old Testament comes into the New without being transformed in some way by the work of Christ.

As with other New Testament institutions, baptism does not exist simply as a New Testament phenomenon; it is the Spiritually enriched, outwardly modified continuation of an Old Testament ordinance, circumcision.

When God made the covenant with Abraham, God Himself passed through the severed parts of the slaughtered animal, thereby signifying that He would take the punishment and be "cut" the same way if He broke the covenant by not fulfilling His promises to Abraham. That is the significance of circumcision. The cutting is a sign and a seal of the covenant. When a Jew refused to be circumcised, he was to be "cut off" from Israel. He was essentially rejecting God as His mediator and saying, "No thanks; I'll do it alone." Refusal to submit to circumcision was to reject God and His gracious covenant. God's promise to Abraham came to fruition when Christ was "cut off" (Daniel 9:26). He was circumcised for us by being "cut off" for us.

God gave Israel an outward sign and seal of this covenant: “Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:10). They cut off the foreskin to remind the people of the blessings and obligations of the contract. It was a symbolic way of saying, “May I be cut off in damnation, if I do not live up to this covenant.” Christ took the brunt of this cutting when He bore the sins of the elect.

Christ was circumcised in His crucifixion. But this is what the New Testament sacrament of baptism signifies. Jesus asks James and John, "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38). As Christ our Lord and Covenant Head hung on the cross, He was baptized with the judgment of God against human sin. He was also circumcised by the divine justice as His life was cut off.

Paul equates circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11 & 12. He says, “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11, 12). In other words, the circumcision not done by hands, the circumcision of the heart (a spiritual image found frequently in the Old Testament), is the circumcision of Christ - which is BAPTISM. All believers were circumcised with Christ in His death upon the cross. This is why in the New Testament, not only males receive the sign. Just as circumcision was a sign of God's covenant in the Old Testament, baptism is the sign of God's covenant in the New Testament. The sign has changed because the bloody "cutting off" was fulfilled in Christ's death. This is why Paul equates religious circumcision with a rejection of God's grace in Christ.

Circumcision was much more than a sign of national identification for the nation of Israel. It was a spiritual act full of spiritual meaning. If you were inclined to imagine that most of the Bible's references to circumcision are in the Old Testament, you'd be mistaken. Most of the Bible's teaching about it is actually in the New Testament. Perhaps the fullest treatment on the subject is found in Romans. Paul tells us here that “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (Romans 2:28, 29). The meaning of circumcision, then, is not some outward thing. It, in fact, points to the work of the Holy Spirit in giving a new heart. Circumcision reminds us of the need for regeneration.

Moreover, Paul tells us that circumcision is a sign of being justified by faith. He reminds us that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11). In other words, Abraham believed, he was justified by faith, and then he received God’s sign and seal of this in circumcision. Sometimes people are married and cannot afford wedding rings. Years down the road, they can afford them, buy them and start wearing them. They are no more married now than they were before. They simply have the outward sign as symbol of their true state. Abraham was right with God the moment he put his trust in him. He was no more saved before circumcision than he was after it. Regeneration and justification by faith are the spiritual realities to which circumcision points.

To be circumcised was to wear a sign that said, “I am a believer; God accepts me as righteous with His righteousness. He has established his covenant promises with me.” It was to bear the seal of God’s ownership. Circumcision was the Old Testament way of saying that Christ would die for your sins and to confess that you were united to Him as He is offered in the gospel. After all, the same gospel was preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:3). Abraham was circumcised because he looked forward to the day of Christ (John 8:56).

It should be obvious by now that everything we have said about circumcision can be equally said of baptism. This is because baptism is New Testament circumcision. Under the New Covenant the Gospel extends to all nations. It is more inclusive, which is why females also receive the seal of faith alongside males today. Circumcision, like the other great symbol of the Old Testament, the Passover, required bloodshed. However, the death of Christ has fulfilled the shedding of blood once for all. The outward form of circumcision is different from that of baptism, but the inward meaning is the same. This is why the form of the sacrament changes from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Any objection that can be made to infant baptism could, with equal force, be made against infant circumcision. Why would God require Abraham to put the seal upon his children which symbolized that they were believers who were justified by faith? Yet that is exactly what God commanded him to do in Genesis 17:9-14. And it was Moses’ failure to carry out this commandment which so angered God that he sought to kill him before he entered Egypt (Exodus 4:24 ff.). 

God told Abraham to place the mark of divine ownership on his household because it was God’s purpose for them to belong to him: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7). The Bible brings the same idea out hundreds later, on the plains of Moab, as God’s people were about to enter the promised land: “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Deuteronomy 30:6 had both a present and a future meaning for Moses’ hearers.

God has always included the children of believers in the company of His Covenant people. It is extremely strange therefore when someone insists that the Gospel is so much most extensive and inclusive than the Old Testament, yet he simultaneously excommunicates all the infant children who would have been included under the old economy. Scripture explicitly teaches that the New Testament is the very same covenant which God made with Abraham. This is why even people who reject Covenant Theology along with its sacrament of baptism teach songs to their children like "Father Abraham." If Abraham's Old Testament children were to be admitted to the Covenant by the sacrament of circumcision, why then are his New Testament children not brought into the Covenant by baptism?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paedobaptism Defended, Part 3

We now move on to the third of the anti-paedobaptist arguments.

3. Infant baptism is not consistent with the Gospel

Define the Gospel. It is God saving sinners. Are infants not sinners? If nothing else were said this is sufficient. Does God save sinners by baptism? Of course not. No Reformed person has ever said so. However, the hallmark of Reformed theology is its emphasis on the Covenant. Baptism is the Sacrament whereby one is admitted into the Covenant people of God: the Church. If, as we noted yesterday, covenant is not coextensive with election, then there is no viable reason why our infant children would not be admitted into the Covenant people. Throughout redemptive history the children of believers were always included in the covenant.

What does baptism mean to the infant. James Usher wrote:

“But what is to be thought of the effect of Baptism in those elect infants whom God hath appointed to live in yeers of discretion?

“In them we have no warrant to promise constantly an extraordinary work to whom God intends to afford ordinary means. For though God do sometimes sanctify from the womb, as in Jeremy and John Baptist, sometime in Baptism, as he pleaseth; yet it is hard to affirm (as some do). that every elect Infant doth ordinarily before or in baptism receive initial regeneration and the seed of faith and grace . . . .. But we may rather deem, and judge that baptism is not actually effectual to justifie and sanctifie, until the party do believe and embrace the promises.”

James Usher, A Body of Divinitie, or the Summe and Substance of Christian Religion . . . ( London, 1658), p. 417.

Christ uses an infant as an example of who gains entrance into the Kingdom. An infant brings nothing to the table. An infant is utterly helpless and dependant. An adult is not brought into the Covenant people of God by an act of his own (such as faith) any more so than an infant is. There is no way around the force of Christ's words

Therefore saying that the practice of paedobaptism is somehow inconsistent with the Gospel, is itself inconsistent with the Gospel, and we have the authority of Christ Himself for such a statement. Baptism doesn't guarantee salvation. If a child is baptized and then later in life proves to not be elect, his infant baptism will serve to be a judgment against him. The same could be said for one baptized as an adult.
Neither we nor our children are to base our hope of salvation on anything apart from faith in Christ's finished work. Careful self-examination which strong, soul-searching preaching should lead us to, is certainly in order. We must encourage our children to look to the Lord Jesus, to turn to him daily from their sins with godly sorrow, and to believe that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. Yet we must press them to self-examination and remind them that it is only those who have the positive fruit of faith and repentance who should regard themselves as Christians. Their baptism lays on them, as circumcision did in the Old Testament as the obligation to make our “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).

We do not base the assurance of our salvation on our baptism, our joining the church, nor our coming to the Lord’s Table. Our assurance of salvation comes from the Holy Spirit bearing witness in our hearts, not because we were baptized on the basis of our parents’ faith (Cf. Romans 8:9-17, especially verse 16 and Galatians 5:22-24).

Baptizing an infant, thus admitting them to the Covenant community, is in no way inconsistent with the Gospel. In fact, it actually demonstrates the message of the Gospel: everyone, including the newest born baby, stands in need of the washing of Christ's blood for his or her sins. Insisting upon a "credible confession" of faith before baptism smacks of Arminianism anyway. Someone has called it Sacramental Pelagianism. It places way too much emphasis upon the personal decision. If decisional regeneration is erroneous, then why isn't decisional baptism equally wrong? Why should my admittance into the Covenant hinge upon my personal decision of faith when I deny that my salvation hinges upon this decision? It makes no sense.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Paedobaptism Defended, Part 2

Today we continue and respond to the second of the anti-paedobaptists arguments.

2. Infant baptism is not consistent with the nature of the Church.

In an earlier post, I dealt with the relation between our view of the Church and our view of the sacraments. This objection to the practice of paedobaptism is a perfect demonstration of that point. As we noted in that earlier post, there are two basic views of the Church. One the one hand there are those who view the Church in a strict sense and are therefore exclusive when it comes to membership. They confuse the Visible Church for the Invisible Church. The result of this view is a strict process of membership, at least, and a stricter process of admission to the sacraments. As an aside, it is interesting to me that the ones who fight so fiercely for absolute guarantees of regeneration before admission to the sacraments are also the ones who usually reject the term "sacrament" and its inherent theological meaning in favor of the watered down "ordinance."

Back to the point. Baptism is, among other things, the rite of admission into the Church. If we view the Church as a community of no-doubt-about-it regenerate believers - which must be proven to be so before admission to membership, then our doctrine of baptism will follow suit, and the only live option is believer's baptism. However, if we view the Church as the Covenant community then our admission to membership is based on covenant, not election. No matter what any Baptist tells you, the minister always baptizes upon presumption. No one but God can see the heart of the person being baptized, hence there are no 100% guarantees that the one being baptized will not apostatize later on, demonstrating that he/she was never elect in the first place. Requiring a regenerate membership violates the Word of God. In the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, the tares are sown “among the wheat” (Matthew 13:25). The field where this all happens is the world, (Matthew 13:38) but the tares are actually in the Kingdom. The angels are commanded to weed OUT of the KINGDOM everything that causes sin and all who do evil (Matthew 13:41). The Baptist in his zeal for a "pure church" would pull up weak believers along with the tares. To which plan Christ replies, "No. You may pull up some wheat while you attempt to remove the tares. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:28-30).

"What about the Church that is without spot or blemish?" you ask. That is God's prerogative. Paul said that not all Israel was Israel. Membership in the Church does not indicate, nor does it guarantee election. Covenant is not coextensive with election. We are not to deny access to the covenant because we cannot ascertain one's election. Not only is this presumptuous to the Nth degree, but it requires insight into men's hearts that no one but the Omnipotent God possesses. We may frequently be mistaken about men's hearts and the people we admit to membership. Paul warned of "wolves" (Acts 20:29, 30). His solution was not hoops of fire to jump through, but prayerful vigilance (Acts 20:28). Corinth is a case in point. They had a righteous remnant, despite the fact that there were those who drunks, adulterers and some who even denied the resurrection of the body.

This does not negate the need nor the practice of church discipline as 1 Corinthians 5 clearly demonstrates. People who deny the faith by rejecting clear biblical truth or by an unrepentant way of life, and continue as such must be put out of the Church. But the Church may not exclude others; her doors must be open to all.

How then do we maintain the purity of the Church? By affirming that the sacraments are means of grace. Word and Sacrament - that's how. These two ordinances (I use the term with utmost caution), i.e., Word and Sacrament are a means of grace to the elect and they are simultaneously purgative to the reprobates.

In the Lord's Table true believers receive the Lord Jesus, really and truly. Those however, who rebel against God receive his curse, which may include sickness and death (1 Corinthians 11:39). The preaching of the Word creates faith in Jesus Christ, but it also repels hypocrites. Paul claimed that it was the odor of life or of death (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16). Those who are being saved will smell the sweet fragrance of life in the preaching of the Word. Those who are perishing (not the present progressive tense) will smell nothing but the death of their own rotting corpses.

Formal church discipline is likely to be rarely necessary in a congregation where the whole council of God is preached. Sound preaching of the Word drives out the self-righteous who know nothing of the grace of God. For the reprobate Word and Sacrament function as a curse and a condemnation. John Calvin comments on 2 Corinthians 2:12-17:

He, accordingly, replies, that faithful and upright ministers of the gospel have a sweet odor before God, not merely when they quicken souls by a wholesome savior, but also, when they bring destruction to unbelievers. Hence the gospel ought not to be less esteemed on that account. “Both odors,” says he, “are grateful to God—that by which the elect are refreshed unto salvation, and that from which the wicked receive a deadly shock.”

. . . for God is glorified even in this, that the Gospel becomes an occasion of ruin to the wicked, nay, it must turn out so. . . . it does not become us to be offended, if the preaching of the Gospel is not salutary to all; but on the contrary, let us reckon, that it is quite enough, if it advance the glory of God by bringing just condemnation upon the wicked.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. It is under preaching that people are truly won to Christ. Protecting the Church from hypocrisy is certainly a noble desire, but it often overlooks the fact that God's people have always been a "mixed crowd." Whether or not the Church is full of hypocrites is a matter of debate. What is certain however, is that the Church is always full of sinners. It isn't as though only paedobaptist churches are the only ones churning out sex scandals, divorces and frauds, as the televangelist world amply demonstrates.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Paedobaptism Defended, Part 1

There are a variety of arguments used by opponents of paedobaptism, all of which boil down to one of five basic heads. Our intention is to treat these five objections.

Definitions first. By paedobaptism, we refer to the Reformed practice of baptizing the infant children of believers. Reformed believers have always held that this practice is in accord with the message of the Gospel, it is clearly taught in principle through the Scripture as a sign and seal of God's everlasting covenant with His people. Because the elect are God covenant people, infant baptism perfectly demonstrates the nature of the covenant of grace, the nature of the Church and the message of the Gospel.

The five objections usually submitted by opponents of our Reformed Covenant theology are:
1. Infant baptism is a remnant of Popery.
2. Infant baptism does not accurately reflect the nature of the Church.
3. Infant baptism is inconsistent with the message of the Gospel.
4. Infant baptism is not a replacement sign for the Abrahamic sign of circumcision.
5. Infant baptism is not taught in Scripture.

1. Infant baptism is a remnant of Popery.

I consider this to be the weakest of all arguments posed by opponents of paedobaptism. It is little more than a cheap parlor trick. Saying that the Catholic Church believes something, or at least professes to believe something, is irrelevant to the point at hand. I do not deny that family is important in God's eyes simply because Mormons profess to believe this also. No self-respecting Christian rejects the doctrine of the Trinity simply because the Roman Catholic Church professes belief in it.

While the Catholic view of the sacrament of baptism is faulty, that does not argue against its practice nor against the antiquity of it practice. The Catholic view of baptism is that it is salvific; in other words, you are regenerated by being baptized. We Reformed folk usually refer to this false view as "baptismal regeneration."

Anyone familiar with the doctrinal integrity of the Reformers has to be almost intentional in assuming that they somehow overlooked this aspect of theology. Even a cursory reading of Luther and Calvin would dispel that myth. Neither Reformer, nor any Reformer after them simply took a doctrine for granted because this is what they had been handed by Rome. It is an insult to the Reformers and an indicator of almost unpardonable ignorance to make such an assertion. Familiarity with the explicit treatments of baptism in Calvin's Institutes and his commentaries, the defenses of paedobaptism by the likes of Flavel, Owen, Witsius, Ursinus renders the "Infant baptism is a remnant of Catholicism" argument truly laughable. I have always told folks that if they do not want to be convinced that paedobaptism is truly Christian because it is truly Biblical, then do not read the defense of it by John Owen.

The mode of baptism also usually comes into question as well. Those of the credobaptist persuasion typically insist that nothing but full-body immersion is true Christian baptism. An appeal is usually made to an original, literal meaning of the Greek word BAPTIZO. It is said that this meant dipping or immersing something. Hence anything less than full immersion is not Christian baptism. This theory fails on several counts, but the important thing is this: Whatever BAPTIZO originally meant, it became the New Testament's technical term for the initiatory rite of entrance into the covenant people. Literalistic interpretation of words based on their original meaning is always fraught with danger. Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they love (AGAPAO) the chief seats in the synagogues. No one in his right mind would insist that this means that the Pharisees had God's unconditional love for the chairs. The English word "nice" originates from a Latin word equivalent to our modern use of the word "idiot." None of us takes offence, nor intends insult by the use of the word "nice" today. BAPTIZO may mean immersion, but Scripture is clear that Jesus truly and literally baptized the Church with the Holy Spirit - and the mode of baptism was pouring:

“For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; cf. Matthew 3:11; Mark 3:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:25-33).

“In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’ . . . God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:17, 32, 33).

Immersion, no doubt paints a beautiful picture of our union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:1-10; Colossians 2:9-12), but pouring more accurately depicts the means whereby we are united with Christ, which is the work of the out-poured the Holy Spirit. And another mode: SPRINKLING signifies how this is made legally possible: our hearts have been sprinkled by the blood of the Jesus.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1:1, 2).
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:21, 22).

Baptism has, no doubt, been administered in different ways. One cannot ask immersion of people in desert regions where water is scarce to begin with. Nor can it be expected in the frigid north where the water exists mainly in the solid form, ice. Frankly, I am not really bothered by the person who believes that BAPTIZO always means immersion. I worry about the one who refuses to see that equally godly, sincere and sound students of Scripture disagree with this for reasons that are equally sound to them. I have no use for people who brush off those of opposing opinions without the slightest attempt to understand them fairly or to even attempt a fair presentation of their views. If you wish to reject the validity of paedobaptism - fine. But realize that if you simply brush it off without a fair hearing, you are ignoring the scholarly work of men like Calvin, Owen and Ursinus.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Baptism, by Francis Schaeffer

In introduction, there are several things to emphasize as we begin this study.

1. We do not believe in Baptismal Regeneration. Let me remind you that it was over the question of the sacraments that Calvin and Luther differed during the Reformation Period. To Calvin, and those who have followed him, the important thing is the individual's coming directly to Christ for salvation. In regard to baptism, we who are Presbyterians, are interested primarily not in the water baptism but in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which takes place when the individual accepts Christ as his personal Saviour.

Our Confession of Faith, Chapter 28, Section 5, makes it very clear that our subordinate standards do not teach Baptismal Regeneration: "Although it be a great sin to condemn 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, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated." Let us again say then, once for all, we do not believe in Baptismal Regeneration.

2. Further, in introduction, let us remind you that no one has to accept our view of baptism to join our churches. The door to membership in these local visible churches rests upon the individual's credible profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour.

3. Historically, Presbyterians have not made an issue over baptism. However, if we never teach or preach it, people forget the Biblical facts upon which our view of baptism rests. We should not ride our view of baptism as a hobby any more than any other teaching, it is not the center of our theology, but neither should we fail to teach it in its proper place.

4. At times people say that they believe in our view of baptism but do not practice it because of the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church. If this is good reasoning, then let us give up all use of the Lord's Supper, for the heart of classical Roman Catholic error has been its teaching concerning the Mass.

Further, let me remind you that the Cambellites, "the Christian Church" who practice immersion and adult baptism, are as in error concerning the teaching of Baptismal Regeneration as is the Roman Catholic Church. Hence, on this reasoning, those who are Baptistic should give up immersion and adult baptism. Further again, there are many outstanding modernists who are Baptists. Thus it is that the abuse of baptism by various parties proves nothing either way.

5. Finally, in introduction, let me remind you that we have good fellowship with our Baptistic brethren. We all realize that a Christian's view of baptism should not be the determining factor of such fellowship. Even further, those who are Baptistic are welcome to the Lord's Table in our church, and I praise God that we are welcome at the Lord's Table in many of the churches of our Baptistic brethren, This is as it should be. However, this does not mean that we are lukewarm in our view of baptism. We believe that our view is Biblical, and that the position of baptism by immersion only, or for adults only, is a mistake.


First, in regard to immersion, let me say that, personally, I will 'Immerse If the individual desires this mode of baptism. Second, it is well to remember that the Greek Catholic Church and certain groups of Brethren have immersed babies as well as adults, and hence there is no necessary link between the mode of baptism used and the question of the baptism of infants. I have never immersed an infant, but I would not refuse to do so.

As a matter of fact, from evidence from the Catacombs before 200, it would seem probable that effusion, pouring, could have been the most common mode of baptism in the early church. That is, they stood in water and then had water poured on their head. Our position as to the mode of baptism is that immersion is not the only mode.

The words baptizo and bapto in the classical Greek are used with great latitude. Neither of these words can be said always to mean immerse. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word "baptize" is used in such a way that it could not possibly always mean immersion. For example. in Daniel 4:23 in the Septuagint, it says that Nebuchadnezzar was baptized with dew. Certainly no one would say that he was immersed in dew. In the New Testament use of the word, it is equally true that the word 'baptize" cannot always mean immersion. For example, in Hebrews 9:10, we read: "Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation." The King James Version uses "washings" instead of "baptizings", but the Greek says "baptizings." This passage refers to the Old Testament ceremonial cleansings, such as the red heifer, and the Day of Atonement. These Old Testament cleansings were never by immersion, but always by sprinkling. Notice how Hebrews 9 itself, verses 19 and 21, emphasize the fact that the Old Testament ceremonial cleansings were by sprinkling.

I Corinthians 10.1, 2 is another such passage:
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." In this case the Jews certainly were not immersed.

Mark 7:4 is also clear: "And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables." Again in the King James Version, the word "washings" is used, but the Greek again is "baptizing". If baptize always means immerse, it means that the Jews, each time they came from the market place, had to fill a tub with water and go under, head and all. This is impossible, for most of them had no such accommodation in their homes. Further, this passage would also say that they constantly immersed their tables. This is again obviously impossible. Many of the ancient versions add "and couches" to this passage. To say that they regularly immersed their beds, even if they did use bed rolls, is foolish.

At least three of the baptisms mentioned in the New Testament are difficult to imagine as immersion. The eunuch was baptized by a desert road. The jailer was baptized in the middle of the night. Three thousand were baptized on the Day of Pentecost. It is easy to see how these took place if sprinkling or pouring were used, it is difficult if immersion is taken as the only mode.

Baptistic Arguments

The Baptistic argument that "Jesus went down into the water and came up out of the water" means nothing. One year we took our vacation at the seashore. one of my little daughters went down into the water and came out of the water every' day, but she would not put her head under for all our coaxing. The simple fact is that the meaning of this passage is altogether fulfilled if Jesus went down until His feet were in the Jordan.

As to Romans 6:3,4b: "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death". This passage cannot be used to prove immersion. In the first place, if it is taken to mean water baptism, many of us believe that it proves too much, and that we would then logically have to believe in Baptismal Regeneration. Surely, it is not the water baptism which baptizes us into Christ's death, but the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, however, even if it is taken to mean water baptism, this passage means more than the totally inadequate picture of burial that going under the water can give. What these verses teach is. the great and marvelous reality that, when we accept Christ as our Saviour, we actually have died with Him.

These things are enough to show that the Word of God does not teach that baptism must be by immersion only.

Lastly, concerning this matter of immersion only, we would remind you that it immersion is the only mode, then the catholicity of the sacraments is destroyed. The Lord's Supper obviously can be given anywhere. Sprinkling can be performed anywhere, but if baptism is by immersion only, there are many parts of the world in which Christians must be denied this sacrament. Those in the desert, those in the land of unending cold, and those on beds of sickness cannot be baptized by immersion, even if they want to.

The fact is that the position that baptism is by immersion only is not tenable.


We do not believe that those who are Baptistic have any more Biblical grounds for teaching adult baptism only than they have for teaching immersion only.

As we begin our thinking on this subject, let us place ourselves in the position of a Jew who has been saved in the early Christian era. He is a Jew, and now he has put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His mind has not changed overnight, and certain great truths which his people have known and believed for two thousand years are much in his thinking.

Salvation by Faith Alone

First of all, a Jew saved in the early Christian era would realize that even as he had been justified by faith alone, so also Abraham had been justified by faith alone two thousand years before. Romans 4:1-a makes this abundantly clear: "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory'; but not before God. For what saith the scriptures? Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Galatians 3-6 is just as definite: "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

The fact is that the Bible carefully emphasizes that Abraham was justified by faith and that only, lust as we are. It is a serious mistake to believe that anyone in any dispensation, has been or can be saved in any other manner than by faith plus nothing. Religious or moral obedience has no place as far as personal salvation is concerned in any dispensation. Notice that it is Paul's writings that stress this fact so clearly.

The Covenant Is Immutable or-the Unity Of the Covenant

Secondly, the Jew saved in the early Christian days would realize that the Covenant made with Abraham is Immutable, that is, unchangeable. Hebrews 6:13-18: "For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could sware by no greater, he sware by himself. Saying, surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily sware by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us."

This passage is very' definite that, first, the Covenant made with Abraham is unchangeable, and that, second, it includes us who are saved in this dispensation.

Covenant Is Primarily Spiritual

This Jew would also remember that the Covenant made with Abraham was primarily spiritual. For those of us who are Gentiles saved in this era the national promises made to the Jews do not apply, but the spiritual promises do apply. Romans 4:16 is clear concerning this. The 13th verse tells us definitely that God is here speaking of the promise to Abraham, and yet verse 16 is equally clear that we, the Gentiles saved in this present era, are the fulfillment of that promise. "Therefore, it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all." Therefore, the promise could not be primarily national, but spiritual. Galatians 3:7,8,13,14 and 25 tell us exactly this same thing. We, the Gentile Christians, are the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham; therefore, (though there is a natural, national portion of the Abrahamic covenant) the promise is not primarily national but spiritual. These passages also show that there is a spiritual unity in all dispensations.

Galatians 3:17 makes it abundantly plain that the spiritual promise made to Abraham was not set aside by the giving of the Mosaic Law four- hundred and thirty years afterward. The spiritual unity was not broken by the giving of the law on Sinai.

This Jew of ours, therefore, would have in his mind that Abraham was saved in the same manner as we are saved; and that the promise made to Abraham is Immutable and primarily spiritual; and further, that we who are saved in this dispensation are included in that promise. He would have in mind the Unity of the Covenant.

The Outward Sign

This Christian Jew would also remember that the spiritual promise in the Old Testament days was sealed with a physical sign. Romans 4:10, 1 la: "How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith, and that after he was justified, circumcision was given as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised." This passage says that Abraham was justified by faith, and that after he was justified, circumcision was given as a seal of the righteousness which was his by faith before he was circumcised.

The Old Testament and the New Testament alike also remind us that the circumcision of the flesh was to be an outward sign of the true circumcision of the heart. In other words, that true circumcision was a spiritual thing. Deuteronomy 10:16 reads: "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked." Romans 2:28, 29 says the same thing; "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." Circumcision, therefore, was primarily spiritual.

Further than this, we must never forget that circumcision is not just a sign through the years of Abraham's faith, but it is a sign of the faith of the individual father. The case of the proselyte and his child proves this. Exodus 12:48; "And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall he as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof." In other words, when a Gentile became a true believer in the living God and wanted to have a part in the religious observances of the Passover, first of all he had to be circumcised, but all his children had to be circumcised too. Thus, circumcision was the sign of personal faith and not just the faith of Abraham.

Therefore, this Jew, saved in the early Christian era, would remember that not only was the promise made to Abraham primarily spiritual, but the outward seal, that was given to show the individual's faith, was also primarily to be of spiritual meaning.

This, of course, is exactly what baptism in the New Testament is; and, therefore, circumcision in the Old Testament was in that dispensation what baptism is in this, Colossians 2:11, 12 is the final proof of this. The King James Version is not as clear as it might be. The American Revised is more accurate and we quote from it. By omitting that which should be in parentheses, this is when we have: "In whom ye were also circumcised in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism." This being so, the Bible declares that Old Testament circumcision was what baptism is in the New Testament.

Sign Applied to Infants

Now, however, realizing that baptism in the New was what circumcision was in the Old, the Jew of whom we are speaking, saved in the early days of the Christian era, would also know that, in the Old Testament, circumcision as a sign of personal faith was applied not only to the believer himself, but also to all the boy babies in the home.

In applying this sign to the boy babies in the Old Testament, circumcision was still primarily spiritual and not just national. The sign was applied not only to Isaac who was the sole representative of the racial blessing, but to Ishmael as well. Deuteronomy 30:6 makes it plain that the circumcision of the child was primarily spiritual just as was the circumcision of the adult. "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live."

The Jew living in the early New Testament days would know something further. He would know that in the Old Testament there were two great ordinances the Passover and Circumcision. I Corinthians 5:7, 8, as well as the fact that Christ instituted the Lord's Supper at the time of the Passover meal, makes it plain that the Lord's Supper took the place of the Passover. Colossians 2:11, 12 and the other facts which we have considered make it evident that baptism took the place of circumcision.
These things all being so, it would be impossible for the saved Jew not to expect that, as in the Old Testament the Covenant sign was applied to the believer's child, so also the sign of his faith, baptism, should likewise be applied to his child. Why should he expect less in this dispensation of fullness than he would have possessed in the Old Testament era?

New Testament Practice

These questions would be further aggravated by what this saved Jew himself would have heard taught in the New Testament time. For example, he would have heard Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2: 38, 39: Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Remember, Peter said this to Jews, Jews who were used to having the outward sign of their faith applied to their children.

With all these things in his mind, he would expect his child to be baptized. If it were refused, what would you have done in his place? You would have asked the Apostles the reason why. So would the thousands of Christian Jews in that day. The question would have been asked in a hundred meetings; and Peter, John. Paul, and the others would have sat down and written in their Epistles to clear up the matter, just as they answered other questions that arose. The New Testament would have contained the clear answer as to why in the Old Testament the Covenant sign was applied to the infants of believers, but in the New Testament it was to be withheld from them.

The only reason possible for the New Testament not dialing with this problem is that the problem did not exist. The only possible reason that there was no problem in the Jews' minds was that the believing Jews did apply the covenant sign to their children. They baptized their babies as they had circumcised them in the Old Testament dispensation.

In the light of the teaching of the whole Bible, for w not to baptize babies there would have to be a clear command in Scripture not to do so. Instead of that, the emphasis is all the other way. Of the seven cases of water baptism mentioned in the New Testament, three were of families. Someone may say, "But it does not say that them were infants involved." I would point out to you that in the light of the natural expectancy of the saved Jew, if babies were not baptized, the Scripture would have made it clear that such was the case. God deals with families in the 0. T. and in the N. T. too. The promise made to the Philippian jailer, Acts 16:31b, "And thou shalt be saved, and thy house," adequately shows this. No matter what interpretation we, individually, may hold concerning this passage, certainly God here does show that He deals with families not only in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well.

Let us never forget, God's use of signs is found in every era. He gave Noah the rainbow He gave circumcision and the Passover to the Old Testament Jew. He has given the visible church in this age the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

The dispensational change from Circumcision to Baptism is no more than that of the change from the seventh day to the first as the day of worship.

Church History

Church history continues with the same lesson concerning infant baptism. Origen was born about 180 A.D. and he was baptized as an infant, Remember, this was eighty years or less after the death of the Apostle John. There are still earlier references which seem to speak of infant baptism, but there is no question in the case of Origen.* The first ones who argued against infant baptism, for example Tertullian, did not do so as though it were a new practice being brought in, but did so because they had come to the un-Biblical position that one should wait until just before death to be baptized.* Their arguments are therefore an incidental proof that the Church baptized infants from the beginning, for, if it were an innovation, these men who were against it because of their un-Biblical views would have delighted to have pointed out that infant baptism was not an Apostolic practice. Saint Augustine, writing concerning infant baptism, said, "This doctrine is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained." Those who would teach that the practice of the early Church was not infant baptism should be able to show in Church History when it started. There is no such break recorded.

In the light of this, the claim that infant baptism is a product of the Roman Catholic Church is totally mistaken.

Therefore, for now almost four thousand years, since the day of Abraham, those who have been saved by faith have been marked at the command of God by an external sign, and this external sign has, without a break, been applied not only to them but to their children.

We believe in Infant Baptism because of the unity of the spiritual promises in all dispensations. The national promises are for the Jews alone, but there is a unity of the spiritual promises throughout the whole Word of God. The basis of this unity is the great central fact of Scripture that all men of all eras are saved on the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith in Him, plus nothing, or they are not saved at all. This spiritual unity does not disturb the fact of the differences between the different eras, nor does it disturb our peculiar privileges as those saved and living in this age.

Baptistic Arguments

Let us look at the usual Baptistic arguments against infant baptism.

a) "Believe and be baptized." Notice that the same thing was said in effect to Abraham concerning circumcision, "Believe and afterward be circumcised," but that it is altogether clear that the sign of his personal faith was to be applied also to his child.

Further, in the case of the first days of the Christian era, everyone who believed was of necessity baptized an adult, because, the new Testament teaching being new, no one would have been previously baptized as an infant. The same thing is true on any new mission field of any day. There are no baptized infants until there are some Christian parents.

b) Often those who are Baptistic ask why we baptize both boys and girls, when only males were circumcised in the Old Testament. Galatians 3:28 gives the answer: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye all are one in Jesus Christ." In this era, there is no difference between the man and the woman before the Lord in worship.

c) The question is sometimes asked, "If baptism took the place of circumcision, why did baptism and circumcision exist side by side for a time among the Jewish Christians?" Many Jewish believers in the early Christian Church kept various Old Testament practices at least until the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. As long as these were not thought of as adding something to Christ's finished work for personal salvation, they were allowed. Notice in this regard Paul's circumcision of Timothy, Acts 16:3, and also his partaking in the Temple worship, Acts 21:20, 26. The Bible says that Paul did these things for the sake of the believing Jews who still kept these practices. The answer, therefore, as to why baptism and circumcision existed together for a time is that this was part of the gradual clarifying of the dispensational changes.

d) Perhaps the most used Baptistic argument is that there is no definite command in Scripture in baptizing babies. There is also no command in Scripture to change the day of worship from the seventh day to the first. In certain parts of the United States, there is a small group known as the Seventh Day Baptists. I feel that they are mistaken on both of these counts, but at least they have the virtue of consistency. To be consistent, everyone who ii Baptistic should worship on the seventh day.


In conclusion, as we have our babies baptized, let us realize that it is not a matter of magic. As parents, what we do is to covenant with God to be faithful toward the child. It is the parents' work to train the child. It is the parents' privilege in many cases to lead the child to Christ. Christian parents should not depend upon the church's evangelistic services when the child becomes an adolescent, or even a full-grown adult, to lead him to Christ. The little child should learn of Jesus Christ from his parents from his earliest childhood, and in many cases when he is yet a child he should be led to a personal acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior by his father or his mother.

Take advantage of this God-given privilege of infant baptism. The Christian parent's heart, moved and guided by the indwelling Holy Spirit, has a natural urge to bring his child to God. This is so strong that even those who are Baptistic have come to the place of dedication of their children. There is no command for the dedication of children in the New Testament, but the saved parent feels such an urge to this that most Baptistic churches of necessity have dedication services for the children. They are not wrong in this - their only mistake is that they do not go far enough.

Let us not stop short of all that God means us to do and to have as Christian parents. If you are a Christian, your child is a child of the Covenant, and God means him to have the engagement sign of the Covenant. As a born-again parent, it is your privilege to apply it to him.

In the Old Testament, God disciplined those who did not circumcise their children. Moses and Zipporah found this out to their sorrow. God does not deal with His people in this age in this way. We are not killed for picking up sticks on the Lord's Day, but we keep the Lord's Day nevertheless because we love our Lord. We are not killed in this age for not baptizing our children, but we should do it nevertheless because God wants us to. The Baptism of your infants is a part of your privilege as a Christian. Take it with thanksgiving along with the other good things God gives you.

Questions Asked Publicly of Parents Before Infant is Baptized

1. Do you yourselves know that you are saved through faith in Christ, not through anything you have done or ever will do, but simply through your faith in Christ's finished work on Calvary's cross - as He died in space and time, in history?

2. Do you realize that this is not a saving ordinance and that this child will have to accept Christ as his own Saviour when he comes to the age of accountability?

3. Have you covenanted with God to give back this child to Him, so that, if He sees fit in His providence to call this child home to Himself, you will not complain against Him, or if the child grows to adulthood and is called to some form of special Christian service, you will not stand in his way but rather encourage him?

4. Do you realize that this sacrament is not a matter of magic, but that in it you covenant with God to raise this child in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to pray for and with him, to keep him in the house of God and with God's people, to be faithful in your home life for Christ as you live it before him, and to do your utmost personally to lead him to a saving knowledge of Christ at an early age?

*Baptism of Infants, Philip Schaff, Vol. 1, p. 209. Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tripartite Tripe

Many of us were reared in or introduced to a form of Christianity which taught what is referred to as "trichotomy," which means that man is composed of three parts: body, soul and spirit. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this was never the orthodox position of the Church! I have heard similar expressions of shock from others who came from the same Pentecostal background that I came from. Traditionally, Christianity has always maintained that man is made of two parts: body and soul - and that soul and spirit are terms which are used interchangeably in Scripture.

A cynic might just ask, "So what?" After all isn't this obscurantist speculation? But upon further reflection, we should at least admit that ideas do have consequences.

Historically trichotomy has either contributed to or directly led to heresies. Apollinarius was the first prominent purveyor of trichotomy in Christian circles. He was quickly labeled a heretic. Because of its origins in Greek philosophy, trichotomy leads to the various forms of Gnosticism in the early Church. At its core Gnosticism almost always viewed matter as evil. Our spirits animate our bodies, they reasoned, thus they are bad too. But our souls, which are not corporeal, are pure and they are our tool to tap into true knowledge, secret knowledge, of God. Trichotomy, in every case in the early Church led to some form of Gnosticism. Among modern-day purveyors of this teaching (Pentecostals), it has led to Gnosticism as well, and frequently to Pelagianism. If nothing else, there is a historical warning for us. 

Gnostic views have always led to either antinomianism or ascetic legalism. Created matter is either as an insufferable evil that must be put down at all costs. Thus it leads to asceticism. The monk vilifies his flesh and seeks to deprive it of all nourishment and comfort in order to promote the life of the soul. This works on the assumed premise that soul and flesh are at enmity with each other. At the other end of the spectrum, people have thought that since the immaterial realities of the soul are that which are truly important, then the body and spirit are irrelevant. Hence once one's soul is converted to God, it doesn't matter what the body does. This leads to all sorts of debauchery and vice under the guise of grace.
Scripture consistently present two natures in the universe corporeal and incorporeal - material and nonmaterial. Anyone who has done a word study on the terms soul and spirit can attest to the fact that these words are used interchangeably all throughout Scripture. Someone might rush in with Hebrews 4:12, which mentions dividing "soul and spirit." This proves nothing for the trichotomists case however. For the same verse mentions "joints and marrow," yet no one asserts from this wording that man is composed of four parts, two immaterial parts and two material parts. If the blade cuts one way, it cuts two ways - no pun intended.

When Charles Hodge deals with this in his Systematic Theology, he makes what I take to be a very powerful observation. Our own consciousness of ourselves testifies to our dichotomous nature. We are all consciously aware of our bodies as the material part of our being, but who, except for a schizophrenic, is consciously aware of TWO internal immaterial parts of his being?

Is this just obscurantist speculation? Think of the trichotomist impact on the person of Christ. Orthodox Christianity has always affirmed the Hypostatic Union of Christ. This means that Christ is fully God and fully man - two distinct natures, not intermingled - by a mystery of divine wisdom hypostatically united in One Person. Try to square this with trichotomy and you rush headlong into blasphemous heresy. You will end up trying to divide Christ in an Apollonarian way. This will make Christ a human body that had the Second Person of the Trinity, the Logos, in the place of a normal human soul. You must postulate two spiritual natures in Christ. You don't want to know where that will lead you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reasons to Suspect Yourself of Pelagianism

10. You believe that God has done His part, now you have to do yours.

9. You believe that every time you repent, God wipes your slate clean.

8. You believe that people are saved because they responded to an altar call.

7. You believe that it is unfair for God to command things people can't do.

6. You believe that God helps those who help themselves.

5. You fear that the Rapture might take place before you get a chance to repent of your latest lapse from Christian character.

4. You think the Book of Life is written in pencil.

3. You feel compelled to remind everyone that obedience is necessary lest they think that because salvation is of grace and not works, grace is a license for sin.

2. John Wesley is your hero.

1. You believe Charles Finney was the greatest evangelist of all time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Effectual Calling by Turretin

This calling is an act of the grace of God in Christ by which he calls men dead in sin and lost in Adam through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, to union with Christ and to the salvation obtained in him. In it, the two terms "from which' (a quo) and "to which (ad quem) are to be considered. The term 'from which' (terminus a quo) is the state of sin and condemnation in which we lie (Eph. 2:1); darkness (Eph. 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:9); the world (Jn. 15:19); and the things which are behind (to wit, earthly and mundane, Phil. 3:13). The term "to which' (terminus ad quem) is union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:9); holiness (Rom 1-7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Thess. 4-7); marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9); the kingdom of God (1 Thess. 2:12); eternal glory in Christ (1 Pet. 5:10); eternal life (I Tim. 6:12). Hence it is at one time called a "holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9), not only by reason of the principle (because God the author of calling is holy, 1 Pet. 1:15), but also by reason of the end (because it tends to holiness).

What of the reprobate?

Are the reprobate, who partake of external calling, called with the design and intention on God's part that they should become partakers of salvation? And, this being denied, does it follow that God does not deal seriously with them, but hypocritically and rarely; or that he can be accused of any injustice? We deny.

This question lies between us and the Lutherans, the Arminians and the patrons of universal grace, who (to support the universality of calling, at least as to the preaching of the gospel in the visible church) hold that as many as are called by the word are called by God with the intention of their salvation. For otherwise God would trifle with men and not deal seriously but hypocritically with them, offering them grace which, nevertheless, he is unwilling to bestow.

Now although we do not deny that the reprobate (who live in external communion with the church) are called by God through the gospel; still we do deny that they are called with the intention that they should be made actual partakers of salvation (which God knew would never be the case because in his decree he had ordained otherwise concerning them). Nor ought we on this account to think that God can be charged with hypocrisy or dissimulation, but that he always acts most seriously and sincerely.

To make this more distinct, we must remark:

(1) the external call is extended to the reprobate as well as to the elect; but in a different manner-to the elect primarily and directly. For their sake alone the ministry of the gospel was instituted to collect the church and increase the mystical body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). They being taken out of the world, preaching would no longer be necessary because the word of God cannot return unto him void (Is. 55:11). But to the reprobate, it is extended secondarily and indirectly because, since they are mingled with the elect (known only to God, 2 Tim. 2:19), the call cannot be addressed to men indiscriminately without the reprobate as well as the elect sharing in it (in order that the end ordained by God may be obtained); as a fisherman in casting his net intends only to catch good fish, but indirectly closes in his net the bad also mixed with the good.

(2) The end of calling can be considered in two ways: either on the part of God or on the part of the thing (which is called the end of the worker and the end of the work). Although each is conjoined in the elect, yet in others they are separated (as in the legal proclamation, the end of the thing is life by the law, but the end of God after man's fall cannot be the happiness of man, which through sin has become impossible to him by the law; rather the conviction of mans weakness and leading of him to Christ is the end of the law; so in the gospel call, the end of the thing is the salvation of man because by its nature it tends to the bringing of him to salvation by faith and repentance; but not at once with respect to all the called is it the end of God, but only of those to whom he decreed to give faith and salvation).

Further, that end on the part of God is either common to all the called or special with respect to the elect or the reprobate. And as to the common, we ought not to doubt that it is the demonstration of the mode and way of salvation.

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