Posts Tagged ‘Baptism’

The Promise of the Father to You and Your Children

Back when I was willing to debate who should be baptized,1I don’t engage that debate any more. I’ve found that it generates a lot of talk and little understanding. Though I have clear and strong convictions on this, I chose to leave the topic alone, especially on the Internet. I often ran into an argument for the baptism of infants based on Acts 2:39:

For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

“The promise is for you and your children so baptize your children, that’s how the people who originally heard this promise would have responded to it after all.” I’ve written on this a bit tongue in cheek here2I need to redo the formatting on that post. but as I was preparing to preach on this passage, I again saw how really weak that argument is. No, not weak, inappropriate.

First of all, in context, the promise is not baptism or the covenant but the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8, 2:33). What Peter is offering them is to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). So if infants automatically receive the promise because their parents did, then our children are automatically Spirit-filled. If they have received the Holy Spirit, they received the seal and guarantee of the New Covenant (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14, 4:30). Surely that’s more than what most paedobaptists are arguing for from this verse, but it does follow. So what did Peter mean by “for you and for your children”? Keep reading. The promise is also “for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And that was exactly Peter’s point at the beginning of his sermon. People were confused as to why, listening to these Galileans, they could “hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). Peter’s answer is that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, not just judges, kings, and prophets, just as the prophet Joel said He would be (Acts 2:17).

Second, there is explicit reason in the immediate context to say that only those who professed faith were baptized:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

It is a huge “yeah-but” to say that it was they and their children when the verse is clear that it was “those who received” Peter’s word.

The entire point of chapter 2 is the arrival of the Holy Spirit on “all flesh” because of Jesus’ resurrection. To extend it to support infant baptism really misses the point. The tremendous promise is that Jesus received the Promise of his Father and has given that promise it all who believe in him. You can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

1 I don’t engage that debate any more. I’ve found that it generates a lot of talk and little understanding. Though I have clear and strong convictions on this, I chose to leave the topic alone, especially on the Internet.
2 I need to redo the formatting on that post.

Implicit Baptisms or Not?

I’m not a Baptist but I am baptistic. There is no biblical support for the practice of infant baptism, no example of an infant being baptized, no necessary inference that leads to infant baptism, and church history does not support the Reformed argument for infant baptism. So when the accusation that I might implicitly be fudging on infant baptism by performing an infant dedication seemed to land too close to home, I stepped back.

“Baby dedications? Really? Why not just throw some water on the baby and call it a baptism? After all, Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’ You baptists are so inconsistent.”

I have to admit, these arguments, properly fleshed out, had me very skeptical of doing baby dedications for a long while. What got to me was the assumption that infant dedications in the Bible were support for infant baptism. Since I rejected infant baptism, it seemed that I would have to reject infant dedications.

But it is very easy to be for or against something in theory based on the arguments of those who are for or against it, but when you have to face it in real life it causes you to think much more clearly about it. That’s what’s happened to me on this issue. I’ll be doing a dedication on Sunday and that helped clarify this for me.

I finally saw that the problem with the argument Reformed infant baptizers lob against infant dedication lies is in the fact that there are infant dedications in the Bible and they are not equated with baptisms. Ever. Samuel was dedicated to the Lord by Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:21-2:11 but there is no connection to baptism anywhere. Isaiah was called from his mother’s womb in Isaiah 49:1-6 and God did the same thing with Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5. The fact that Isaiah and Jeremiah entered their prophetic offices means that they had been dedicated to this role from birth. In Luke 1 John the Baptist is dedicated to his role as the forerunner of Christ from his inception. His parents complied with the angel’s instructions and set him aside from his birth. Baptism only enters his picture when John starts his ministry, not in his dedication to that role at his birth.

We could also speak of Moses and others but what we’re seeing in this biblical picture of infants is not baptism but dedication. There is no command to dedicate children to the Lord but it doesn’t hurt to do it and there are hints that children of covenant members (i.e. believers) are blessed and holy. Consider Matthew 18:1-4, 10-18 and 1 Corinthians 7:14. An infant dedication isn’t a form of dry baptism, it is simply recognizing what the Bible says about our children and honoring it in an official ceremony.

To The Barn or Not

John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me … will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12)

Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will winnow wheat to the barn and chaff to the fire. The baptism with fire in this verse is not a blessing but judgement. Israel must be winnowed, believers and unbelievers must be separated not in preparation for the coming of the Lord (i.e. Jesus) but by the Lord. John is the one calling out in the desert to make ready the way of the Lord (2:3) but he is not the one who makes rough places plain. That is the Lord’s role. This is why John protested when Jesus came to be baptized. John, along with the rest of the nation, needed to be winnowed by Jesus but Jesus needed no winnowing. When Jesus was baptized it wasn’t for repentance or judgement, but so that God’s favor on Jesus might be shown. (2:17)

After Jesus’ temptation in chapter 4, his righteousness is established and the rest of his ministry is winnowing. The nation is divided between true Israel to whom the Gentiles will be joined and “Israel who is not Israel” or hardened Israel who will be judged.

History and Leeches

The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. – Proverbs 18:17

leech-art-wikimedia-bosscheJust because a practice is historic doesn’t mean the position is. The practice may have been in place for years or centuries but the reason for that practice may be new. For example, Western medicine has historically used leeches as a form of treatment. Contemporary medicine is starting to use them again but for very different reasons. It is a similar thing with Protestant, Presbyterian infant baptism. The practice of infant baptism is documented from the 300s but the Presbyterian reason for doing it was first articulated during the 1500s.

So when I was looking at the Ligonier podcasts, I chaffed when I saw this:


Do you see what’s implied by the titles? The credo-baptism position is not historic but the paedo-baptist position is. Had they swapped the word “practice” for “position” the titles would be better.

I listened to the podcast and RC started out saying that we have to be very precise when we discuss it. He also said that since we don’t have an explicit command or prohibition to baptize infants in the New Testament, we need to be charitable and patient with each other on this. He even went on to say that there is no “identity” between circumcision and baptism. The rest of the podcast was him drawing parallels between the two.

I won’t get into a critique of his presentation on baptism except to say that I felt he made many misstatements and some broad assumptions in defending it. Rather, I’d like to stick to the point that his position on infant baptism is not much more historical than a baptist position. Also, I’m not sure John MacArthur is the best person to offer a Reformed Baptist position. Still, I’m sure he did a fine job.

After I came to embrace Reformed theology I heard RC present the history of infant baptism and I was nearly persuaded that it was a necessary implication of covenant theology. I had previously resisted covenant theology but it was the Bible that persuaded me that it was right. I fought but then surrendered. I thought I was facing the same thing with infant baptism. After listening to RC but before adopting that position, I read the 1689 London Baptist Confession and I think I read a pamphlet from some Reformed Baptist friends. When I weighed the two positions, I found that scripture won out over history but I was left with the question about the long history of infant baptism. Didn’t the Presbyterians win on that front?

After investigating, what I found was that the way most Presbyterians, including RC Sproul, justified the practice was new to the time of the Reformation. No one, from what I have found, used circumcision to justify baptizing infants until then. There is one place where Augustine mentions circumcision but he doesn’t us it as a basis for infant baptism, merely that it was a similar practice. Actually, in church history the reasons for infant baptism are very different. Some supposed that baptism removed original sin and since the infant mortality rate was so high you should baptize your baby so they don’t die and go to hell. Others believed that baptism removed original sin and so they would put off being baptized to a point as close to death as they could. That way it would be harder to commit a sin between being baptize and dying. There was a lot of variety on the issue.

I have some references for this stuff somewhere. What I lack references for, actually I’m not sure there are references for it, is what I presume to be the reason infant baptism spread so widely throughout Christendom. The reason is because church and state mixed. To be German was to be Christian just as to be from Saudi Arabia was to be Muslim. It was a national identity thing. Sure, there were exceptions but generally geo-politically if you were of this tribe that was your identity. So of course you would baptize your babies, that was what Christians did and your babies were Christians too. Don’t press this too much, it is a generalization and of course there are exceptions. But think about the fights that broke out when the anabaptists showed up or when the Reformation took hold. The kings and princes and such were heavily involved as it was a threat to their sovereignty. Same thing with the Anglican church. Could Rome tell the British monarchy what to do?

All of that to say that the position of Presbyterians on infant baptism is as new as the Reformation and a historic Reformed Baptist position existed from at least 1644 when the first London Baptist Confession was written though clearly it would have had to have existed before that to be codified in 1644.

Yeah, but.

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. – Acts 16:32-33

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. – Acts 18:8-9

Some theorize that there were infants included in the household baptisms even thought they’re never explicitly mentioned. For some reason the “and were baptized” is assumed to apply to them but when the entire household “believed in the Lord” that does not. “But the infants are not capable of hearing and believing but are capable of being baptized,” they explain. That just seems like fairly large “Yeah, but” to me. If you just ignore the question of infant baptism for the moment, would you presume that infants were involved here?