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.

1 comment:

  1. Referring to I Corinthians 10:1-2, Neil MacMichael, a Scottish Presbyterian minister in the 19th Century, teased Baptists (i.e., credobaptists), in this way (I especially love #4):

    "1. The Israelites were baptized, both adults and infants, for the Apostle declares it.

    2. They were not immersed, a fact which Moses and other inspired writers testify.

    3. The Egyptians who pursued them were immersed.

    4. The Israelites had baptism without immersion, and the Egyptians immersion without baptism.

    5. The baptism of the Israelites was salvation, and the immersion of the Egyptians drowning."


Visitor Counter

Flag Counter