Monday, July 29, 2013

Infant Baptism Defended, Argument 1

We are going to take up again the subject of infant baptism. The form this series will take, Lord willing, is as follows: We will present a detailed, multi-point defense of the practice of infant baptism. In this part of the presentation, we will appeal to the historical practice of the Christian Church in a very limited way. While I believe that this is a legitimate argument, I will attempt to limit this aspect and appeal much more to scriptural arguments. Then we will present and reply to eleven objections, which was all I could come up with from my research into the subject. Granted many of these objections are simply variations on the first one (that infant baptism isn’t taught in the New Testament). Finally, we will deduce a few practical ramifications from both the arguments in favor and the refutations of objections. 

Lets us begin with the positive arguments.

1. All of God’s dealings with his people have always been covenant based in which the infant children of believers are included.

No one disputes that this was the case with Adam. Had Adam not sinned, his offspring would have automatically inherited his sinless nature. We know this to be true because Scripture explicitly teaches that all men sinned in the transgression of Adam. Since Adam stood as the federal head of all mankind, he acted for us all and we all acted in him. This is the nature of covenant in general and the Covenant of Works in particular.

The covenant God made with Noah after the flood, as far as this point goes, was of the exactly the same nature. God said, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your seed” (Gen. 9:9). The covenant God made with Abraham was equally comprehensive. God said to Abraham, “Behold, my covenant is with you and your seed after you” (Gen 17:9). The covenants of Sinai and Moab also included the children of the immediate participators. The language is clear in attaching to them as well as to their offspring the promises and the threats of those covenants respectively. Therefore, when Moses was about to leave the people he addressed them in the words of Deuteronomy 29:10 – 12, “standing before the Lord their God with their little ones, and their wives, to enter into covenant with the Lord their God.”

When we come to the New Testament administration of the covenant of grace we still find this same interesting feature, not only retained but more conspicuously displayed. On the day of Pentecost, Peter addresses the crowd with a promise strikingly reminiscent of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 17, when he says, “The promise is to you and your children, as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

This has been a most noticeable feature of God’s continuing covenant of grace with his people. Are we to assume then that the New Testament, or Christian covenant, which is the same in substance with what preceded it, and excels the Old Testament administration in all the benefits, privileges, and glory of its promises, lacks this notable feature? The idea is absurd.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Practical Implications, Part 5

We conclude this series discussing the usefulness of creeds and confession by looking at the final two practical inferences which are derived from our defense of creeds and confessions and our refutation of objections.

In short, the final two inferences are these:

A. It is a duty of great importance for all members, but especially the ministers, to study and to spread the knowledge of their church's creeds and confessions of faith. We pointed out before the creeds and confessions of faith lend themselves to a serious study of scriptural doctrine. Happy is the church which has the backbone and the fortitude to require their minister to believe and preach what he has subscribed to. And happy is the minister who has a doctrinally literate congregation.

And secondly,

B. It is a sad mistake to think that by abandoning creeds and confessions we are rendering the Church any essential service. Ever since the days of the apostles, the Church has found it necessary to adopt formal statements of doctrine as a test of orthodoxy for both members and ministers. What service can one possibly render to the Church by removing her ability to delineate between truth and error?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Practical Implications, Part 4

Our defense of the use and utility of creeds and confessions leads us to a fourth practical implication. 

From all we have established so far, it is easy to see how a single imprudent or unsound minister can do extensive and irreparable mischief in the church. If this minister be a man of talents and influence he can with great ease by addressing popular feeling and availing popular prejudices, do more harm in a short time then he could do good in a long time by a faithful and diligent application of all of his talents and skills. Think of the widespread havoc that has been wreaked upon the entire body of Protestant evangelicalism at the hands of a single man: Jacob Arminius. The progress and fruitfulness of the Reformation was hampered and hindered as a result of this one talented man's obstinate adherence to error. The history of the church abounds with examples of similar import: Marcion, Mane, Nestorius, Eutychus, Sabellius, Arius, Pelagius, Valentinius, the list could go on and on. In some cases, the church is still reeling from the wounds inflicted by these men.

Large portions of 'respectable' Evangelicalism arre infected with the Gnosticism of Mane. Marcion's bifurcation of the covenant of grace survives to this day from the low esteem in which the Old Testament is held by countless Christians to the radical discontinuity of the covenant exhibited in Dispensationalism. Why would we refuse to use a useful tool to stymie and quell the negative influence of false teachers?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Practical Implications, Part 3

A third practical inference from our foregoing defense of creeds and confessions is this:

We may determine how an honest man should act after subscribing to a public creed and confession. Once a man has subscribed publicly to confession of faith in order to attain a position of leadership in that church's ministry, he will feel it to be his duty to adhere sincerely and faithfully to that creed and confession publicly and privately. If at any time he should alter his views concerning any part of that creed or confession it is incumbent upon him to inquire whether the points in question are of such a nature is that he can conscientiously be silent about them and give no offense to the body to which he belongs. If this is possible, in other words, if he can reconcile this with enlightened sense of duty, then he may remain in place. If he can keep it to himself and perform his ministerial duties conscientiously, then he should shut and do his work. But if the points concerning which his views have changed are of so much importance in his estimation that he cannot be silent, and that he must propagate them, then he should quietly withdraw and join some other branch of the visible church where he can walk in a harmonious way. He has no right to insist on remaining and being permitted to publicly oppose what he has solemnly vowed to receive and support.

Someone might object that every man is under obligation to obey the great Head of the Church and that this obligation trumps anything which may bind him by ecclesiastical engagement to obey the church. In other words, he must obey God rather than men. But in this case, this is no objection at all. It has nothing to do with the subject under consideration. A man cannot bind himself always to believe as he now believes, but he can certainly promise that he will be a regular and orderly member of that body as long as he remains part of it. The moment he ceases to be able to do this, without sinning against God, if he be an honest man, he will silently withdraw.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Practical Implications, Part 2

Another implication or inference from all of our foregoing arguments is this:

Subscribing to a creed or confession is not a mere formality. It is a very solemn transaction, full of meaning, and inferring the most serious obligation. It ought to be entered upon the deep deliberation on prayer. Is there any sin more egregious than lying to the Holy Spirit? In other words, it is dishonesty and insincerity in the highest degree to seek membership in the church, or admission to her ministry, by knowingly harboring doctrines which are diametrically opposed to the doctrine to the church which is admitting you to membership ordaining you to ministry.

In all the forms of subscription used by churches that require it of their ministers, there are two parts. There is an affirmation that the minister will believe and affirm the doctrines contained in that church's confession of faith. But there is also a second part. The minister must also affirm that he will not oppose the doctrines contained in the church's confession of faith. In many cases, it seems that only the second part of the subscription has any force. I think it is clear though, that if we were to take this principle to the test of reason, to the test of Scripture, and the test of the original design of the confessions, it is horribly deficient. How can it be adequate to simply not teach error? How can it be acceptable and sufficient to simply not oppose one's own creed and confession of faith? If that minister were to practice this form of reasoning in a court of law, he would be deemed guilty of perjury. It is not enough to simply not speak against truth; a minister must proclaim the truth of the gospel as he sees it. In a minister must have the decency to relinquish his position of leadership in the church when the attaining and maintaining of that leadership hinges upon subscription to that church's articles of faith.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Practical Implications, Part 1

All that has been said so far regarding both the utility of creeds and confessions and the imaginary objections against them, leads us to a few practical inferences, the first of which is this:

We see how little reason we have to be afraid of creeds as “instruments of oppression.” Everyone dreams of being the hero who fights tyranny and oppression. But how anyone can connect these ideas with creeds and confessions anywhere in the free world is beyond me. No one in the United States, Canada, Mexico, or indeed any free country in Europe, Asia, or Africa, has ever had a gun put to their head forcing them to join any particular church and subscribe to their confession of faith. We all know people who have switched church affiliation and/or denomination several times, for good or for bad, because they have found substantial disagreement between themselves and the stated doctrine or practice of that church or denomination. Those of us who live in free countries have no hindrance in our way barring us from pulling up stakes and moving to another church whenever we find that doctrinal differences no longer allow us to fellowship with the peaceful conscience. There is no conceivable reason why a person should be admitted to a church when his or her admission will only cause discord because he or she holds doctrines which are subversive of their faith. There is no conceivable reason why a congregation or denomination should be forced to surrender their right of conscience and their liberty en masse simply to entertain the right of conscience and liberty of a dissenting applicant who can easily find plenty of other churches who promulgate his views. Rejecting creeds and confessions of faith because they supposedly lead to oppression and tyranny, in fact establishes oppression and tyranny.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Objections Answered, Part 5

5. The final objection that I wish to consider is that rather than producing unity and communion, subscription to creeds and confessions has been found to produce the opposite: discord and strife.

Some will claim that the creeds and confessions, rather than binding the members together in close unity, have in fact proven to be a bone of contention. They have been a means of provoking mutual charges of heresy. They had been the cause of ill feelings among those who might otherwise have been gotten along in harmony.

Again, those who assert this need a history lesson. My first reply to this alleged fact is that it is utterly false. It is not true that creeds have generated contention and strife in the churches which have adopted them. It would be easy to show that in churches where creeds and confessions have been most esteemed and regarded there has been union and peace in a remarkably high degree. The fact is that division and strife have only entered the church on the heels of an unfaithful regard to creeds and confessions. I would go one further and defy the opponent of creeds and confessions to show me a church, established without a creed or confession, which has a history of more than a few years without some form of internal division and strife.

My 2nd remark would be this: even granting the false premise of this argument, that creeds and confessions are indirectly connected with conflict and contention in the church, it would still form no solid argument against their use. Whenever Christians in all ages have ardently devoted themselves to what they deemed to be truth, they have always adopted creeds and confessions of faith. Whenever Christians have found it necessary to defend the truth of Scripture against the incursions of heresy they have adopted formal statements of what they believe as a standard of measure and test of orthodoxy. To say that a sound, scriptural creed is the cause of division, turmoil and strife is tantamount to saying that medicine causes the disease it is intended to cure. The Bible commands us to contend earnestly for the faith and to hold him accursed who preaches another gospel. When such a contention becomes necessary, whose fault is it? It is certainly not the fault of the advocates of truth. It is the fault of the advocates of error who endeavor to corrupt the body of Christ. And it is their dissension and patronizing of error which renders the contention for truth a duty. We would not of course deny that in this conflict much unsanctified character may be on display on the part of those in error as well as the contenders for the truth. But this does not render the truth any less precious, nor does it render the duty of contending for the truth any less imperative.

An essential part of the peace of the Roman Empire was the mutual acceptance of various forms of paganism within the pale of the Empire. The foundation of this peace was the opinion that error was innocent and all classes of religions were equally safe. Enter Paul and the apostles proclaiming that there is no other system of truth and that there is no other means of salvation by faith in Christ, and the boat of peace and tranquility has been rocked. At heart, this is the root of all of the hatred and persecution against the church in those early centuries of Christendom. Now let me ask the burning question: Who are we to blame for the unspeakable scenes of horror and violence in those persecutions? We will, of course, not blame Christianity, but rather the corruption of human nature and the blindness and violence of pagan malice. If the early Christians had been willing to give up the truth and act on the principle that all modes of faith are equally safe, they would have escaped all of the dreadful persecution which they were called to endure.

The only thing I might farther say in this regard is that it seems to proceed on the assumption that error should never be confronted. Granted, Scripture commands us “if it be possible, as much as lies in us, to live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). But it is not possible to be at peace with some men. We cannot have peace with those who advocate error, wickedness, falsehood and shameful lusts. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Objections Answered, Part 4

4. Another objection brought against creeds and confessions is that they have largely failed to answer the purpose professed to be intended by them.

It is no secret that there are churches, and by churches I mean denominations, that are creedal and confessional, but whose current doctrine and practice, is in direct opposition to their stated confessions. Take for example the Church of England. For nearly 300 years she had a set of Articles that were decidedly Calvinistic. All of the candidates for her ministry were required to subscribe to these. But for about 200 years now Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism have polluted this important branch of the Reformed Church. In more recent times, nearly every form of heresy and aberrant doctrine has appeared in her communion. The same can be said for the Church of Scotland, who has a ministry far from being unanimous in loving and honoring her public standards. Now, if creeds have not produced the benefit intended by them, even in the most favorable cases, why bother with them at all?

This objection proceeds on the principle that a remedy which does not accomplish everything is worth nothing. Because creeds haven't completely banished dissension and discord in the churches which have adopted them, therefore they have been of no use. Is this sound reasoning? Does it concur with common sense? The Constitution of the United States has not completely defended our country from political animosity and strife. Is it therefore useless? Is it therefore worthless?

The proponents of this objection will contend that creeds are unnecessary because the Bible is amply sufficient for all purposes as a test of truth. My cheap answer to this statement is, “Has the Bible banished dissension and discord from the church?” No one would ever pretend that it has. Yet why not? It is certainly not on account of any error or defect in the Bible, but on account of the perverseness of depraved man, who in spite of all the provisions of infinite wisdom constantly wars against the peace of the world.

But in fact the case is actually the opposite. And history proves the practical influence of creeds. The Calvinistic 39 Articles of the Church of England kept her doctrinally pure to a remarkable degree for a very long time. During the reign of James I, very few opponents of Calvinism dared to publicly air their opinions, and those who did were either severely disciplined, or they kept their opinions to themselves. The inroads of error were indeed blocked by the Church's faithful adherence to the 39 Articles. It was not until years after the Synod of Dordt, through the influence of Archbishop Laud, that Arminianism was gradually and secretly brought in. In the process of this change the faithful application of the 39 Articles as a test of orthodoxy and admission to the ministry, was discontinued. The Articles still continued to be subscribed, but the spirit of administration under them was no longer the same. Hence the church became predominantly Arminian. In short, the creed of the Church of England, i.e., The 39 Articles, operated as an effective bond of union and barrier against heresy as long as it was faithfully applied in the manner for which it was originally designed. When it was no longer used the way it was supposed to be, it ceased to produce the desired effect. Why should anyone be surprised by this? That's like questioning the effective of a medicine that you didn't take. It's not the aspirin's fault that you still have a headache if you have refused to take it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Objections Answered, Part 3

A 3rd objection often used against the subscription to creeds and confessions is that they are unfriendly and not conducive to free inquiry.

While this argument is as specious as the preceding two arguments, it strikes me as being more adolescent. This objection seems to suppose that a man who has taken on himself the solemn responsibility of being a public instructor of others, has not himself examined, with all due diligence and deliberation, the doctrinal standards of the church he proposes to lead. Is it not criminally weak on the part of this man to assume the role of instructor when he has no idea, or firm convictions regarding the substance of the faith he was hired to teach? Why is it desirable to suppose that he must remain in a suspended state of indecision? Is this not simply a denial of the knowability of truth? This is of course an absurd situation; and that for two reasons. (a) On the one hand, why teach at all if truth is unknowable? (b) And on the other hand, the statement that truth is unknowable, is itself a statement which professes to be true. Hence, if it is true, it is false!

This objection is sometimes proposed in a slightly different form. The objection is made against a man's making any public declaration of his views, either by preaching or in writing, lest he later obtain more light and yet be tempted to adhere, contrary to his conscience what he had previously espoused publicly. Does any preacher of the gospel, with any shred of honesty - or brains, think that it is his duty not to preach or express his opinions because he may afterwards change them? If a Mormon preacher changed his views and became orthodox, we would expect him to quit his job, to give up his salary, and seek employment with the church that holds his newfound views. We would expect the same of an evangelical who perverted to Rome. So what’s the big deal? Are we to assume that an honest man when he changes his mind on the subject of his religion will not also change his situation? Are we to assume that he must never make a public statement of what he believes, lest he should not always think as he presently does?

As I said earlier, I think this objection strikes at the very heart of the knowability of truth. As a former Arminian and Pentecostal I will be the last to deny that a man may change his views based on farther investigation of the contents of Scripture. But this is a far cry from saying that one should never publicly state his views lest he later receive new light and convert to views diametrically opposed to his former ones. To assert that it is desirable for any Christian, let alone a minister of the gospel, to remain in a state of perpetual indecision is tantamount to saying that the truth is subjective. As I have already asserted, for this to be true it must be false.

But there is a 2nd problem with this objection. It would appear that no advocate of this argument ever takes the trouble to see where his position will logically take him if consistently applied. If one were to remain logically consistent in the application of this principle he would have to hold that no parent should ever teach his children what he deems to be the most precious truths of the gospel, lest he fill the child's mind with prejudices and present an obstacle to free inquiry afterwards. There is no doubt that early parental instruction, more or less presents an obstacle in the way of a subsequent change of opinion on the subjects which that instruction embraced. 

Yet our Father in Heaven has expressly commanded us to instruct our children in everything that is excellent, both in principle and practice. So if this objection be valid, then no one should ever discharge any duty, for he may one day cease to think that it is a duty. Upon this principle, he ought to disobey God's plainest commands because he made someday entertain different views of those commands than he holds that the present. This form of argumentation not only applies to religious issues, but to practical secular issues as well. Should I cease from taking vitamins because I may one day come to believe that they are not as beneficial as I once assumed? Should I stop drinking water because dietitians haven't made up their minds how many glasses a day I should drink? Should all forms of education be abolished simply because we may come one day to hold views radically different than we do at present? As idiotic as all this sounds, this is where the force of this objection, if logically applied would take us.

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