Roulette of life

If I knew then what I know now
Would I take that same road
Would I travel that same path, the one I walked with you

I would take my chances and cut another route
Through the brambles and the thorns
Cutting new scars over vaguely familiar ones
Marred from some other time and place

What I wouldn’t give to try again
To try again with someone new
Surely who I am can’t disgust the second time round
Surely this go-round would spin at another rate and she would grab hold and laugh

And we would stand in the middle, we two
And see in each other’s eyes
Stability and stamina and grit and will

But the go-round is slowing and here I am alone
Hoping the roulette of life will slow enough for me to look up through the dizzying whirl and find her standing there.

Unknown compounds

Chemical reactions are so hard to predict
Especially when the compounds are unknown
It matters not the way you mix them
Before, aft, too little too much

The combination of you and me will always issue clouds
Clouds are little mushrooms throughout our endless days
Size doesn’t seem to matter much when the shockwaves that follow make up for lost time

Chemical reactions only change when the compounds are altered
And so it seems I must die again and again
But the fragments of myself that hinder us
Are the ones that willn’t fade away

Self centered clouds litter the horizon
Of our lives and the ones in the following sea
Bearing on our heading
The wake of our wreck trails behind us
Echoes of our life and the reflection of our soul

What can I say

That might change your mind
Say to change the way we look at this
Tilt your head more to the side
Now squint your eyes and look beyond
And through around and behind us too

Chorus
The walls are up but they can be razed
Your heart my mind his idea and her display
The walls are up but we won’t be fazed
Your love my thoughts his muse her mainstay

What was it you sayd that shook me to the core
I was so set and sure in my ways
The chips and the chisel and the wheel and the water
The shape thereof and the form therein

Chorus

Where we were there
Here we are now
so much pain in the change
It’s the difficultest thing to do
Where we are now
There we were then
If we hadn’t closed our eyes
If we hadn’t touched the handle on the plow

For GrahamN
Inspired by your presence at the Berlin Wall

Baptists are from Mars, Presbyterians from Saturn

The great debate about the proper subjects of baptism is hampered by the sin of talking passed one another. One side (hence, the Baptist) says one thing and the other (hence, the Presbyterian) another and neither side is listening. Well, except for me (!). I am listening and what I hear is a lot of arguments against straw men. All of the ins-and-outs of this or that errant teaching on baptism are irrelevant. Don’t bring them up. Don’t bring up Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, or any other faction with which one might disagree. As a reformed Christian who believes the proper subjects of baptism are infants and those more mature, the arguments against Rome and the East won’t do here. Their arguments for baptism are not mine.

Here is the fundamental issue: the nature of the covenant. What one believes about the nature of the covenant is what is at stake. It is an issue of hermeneutics, interpretation, and application of the two. For instance, how does one interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew about his parousia? Jesus does not simply come to the issue for the first time in chapters 23-25. He has been addressing his audience on his parousia from the beginning. When Jesus talks about the sun, moon, and stars in upheaval, to what is he referring? This is an issue of hermeneutics and there is only one right answer.

After hearing my presentation of my hermeneutics on the passage above another might simply disagree with my methodology and that is the same with the baptism issue. It is an issue of definition and terms. History is a helpful guide but she is not the master. What the second or third century generation did and practised is basically irrelevant to the discussion for both parties. Both sides of the debate have quotable authorities from the early church. What of it? Much of what is used in the debate is actually an argument from silence on both sides, so let’s not do that.

Let us argue from the scriptures and by that I do not mean let’s look at the NT and note where it mandates baptizing infants. Don’t even go there. Don’t bring it up. I already concede it’s not there. What is there? Silence. There is silence for both parties. For the Baptist, there is a silence as a mandate for the baptism of infants. For the Presbyterian there is a silence for change in protocol from the application of the covenant sign to infants (that is, the NT does not change what the OT establishes). Both must argue, then, from better cornerstones.

Sidebar: Here I will address a red herring which is often used in arguing for the Baptist position. One of the principles of the Baptist position is to argue for the mode of immersion in baptism. Many Baptists argue that immersion is the biblically mandated mode for believer baptism. When a person is baptized the proper way to perform the rite is immersion. His reasoning is based upon the language of many NT texts which say that both the one baptized and the one performing it “went down into the water.” The conclusion drawn is this. The preposition into denotes the use of more water than merely sprinkling or pouring.

Not denying this, the Presbyterian will answer that into doesn’t have to imply that more water is used than would fit into one’s hand or hands. Yes, both went down into the water but the water was merely applied to the new convert and that not in excess.

Both parties of the debate can argue for their position based upon the language of the text and so, if both arguments can be validated, they negate each other and ought not be used too particularly. On the one hand, the Baptist argument is valid because in the Greek, baptize can denote full immersion. On the other hand, the Presbyterian will argue that this same word can also denote a thing simply being washed and not immersed. Both are true and so neither ought solely to be rested upon.

End of the sidebar.

First, in the arsenal of the Baptist there is an silence of mandatory infant baptism in the New Testament. Much of his hermeneutic is summed up thus: whatever from the Old Testament is repeated in the New is to be observed. So for instance, in the case of the sign of baptism, there is no evidence of its being applied to infants in any of the New Testament writings. Therefore, in this system applying the waters of baptism to infants is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

This however, does not threaten to undo the Presbyterian. In fact, he rejects this hermeneutic per se. From his perspective this way of interpreting the Bible is only one side of the coin. That is, suppose someone were to say, “Well, the New Testament doesn’t repeat the prohibition not to copulate with animals, therefore, it is now allowed.” “No.” the Presbyterian would say, “Even though the NT does not repeat this prohibition, it is still in effect.” Therefore, this principle in theory is rejected. The other side of the coin is this. In principle, whatever the Old Testament establishes is still in effect if it is not prohibited. Therefore, since the principle of applying the covenant sign to infants is not rescinded, it is still in effect.

Here is where the impasse appears. Does either side of the debate agree to or at least understand these principles? If the Presbyterian rejects this argument, the Baptist must go elsewhere. If the Baptist rejects the Presbyterian argument, then the application is the same and so the argument must be based upon other grounds.

So where does one begin? One begins at the beginning.

Why do most Baptists reject paedobaptism? I shall offer only two examples as far as I can tell. One is hermeneutics. In this area the Baptist looks at the NT and reads of men and women (primarily in Acts) converting and receiving baptism. The only record in the NT of the recipients of baptism are those who are able to respond to the message of the Apostles. For the Baptist, then, this is fundamental to his interpretation and application of what he reads. He then surmises that only those who respond in faith receive baptism. In my opinion, this is really the only place for the Baptist to hang his hat.

The other reasons for a Baptist to reject paedobaptism becomes personal, existential, and emotional. That is, the Baptist rejects this position solely because he is reacting emotionally to what he believes is an errant view of baptism. For instance, many Baptists will argue that history shows that many Christians have taught that the waters of baptism automatically and actually remove sin and in effect “save” the recipient; based on this fact, the Baptist will reject this view of baptism. Another reason to reject infant baptism as a Baptist is the historical view that baptism “regenerates” a person or is the cause of making a person spiritually alive from the death of sin. Lastly, the Baptist rejects infant baptism because the infant is not able to decide for himself that he would like to be baptized. The child is baptized, so-to-speak, against his will and this appears to many as tyrannical and despotic and the NT example is that of men and women deciding for themselves.

All of these examples though are personal in essence. That is, the Baptist will reject the idea because it doesn’t fit into his view of what sin, salvation, faith, and people are and not upon the Bible’s view of the nature of the covenant.

A similar point can be made regarding Christians who reject the sovereignty of God in salvation. Some believe man is solely responsible for his conversion to Christ and any thought that God alone chooses whom he will or will not save is personally abhorrent to that person. What is the issue here? Is it the Bible? Not primarily. It is one’s personal views on who God is, what he does, and who man is and what he is capable to doing. The Calvinist will point to his interpretation of certain passages and the Arminian will reject that interpretation based upon his existential reaction to the information. He simply does not like this view of God and man. He is a hopeful optimist and the Calvinist position is too pessimistic. His view is not based upon what the Bible says, but upon his own personal feelings. This is the same with the Baptist view of baptism.

The only approach saving the Baptist from losing the argument is two-fold. On the one hand, there is the argument based upon the demonstration of baptism in the New Testament. On the other, is the Baptist’s argument that the nature of the New Covenant is different than that of the Old Covenant. So, finally, all of this debate depends upon the nature of the covenant to which we now turn.

**In the symbolic world of the Bible’s language much of what is said is covenantally analogical. That is, something is said or done as if it were actually true because the action is taking place within the sphere of the covenant. In the case of baptism, one reads in Acts,

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What is to be understood from this passage? Regarding baptism, there are two things one learns. First, baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Second, baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the passage says. Think about this. Were a new Christian to read this passage on his own without knowing anything about church history, what would he conclude? Would he have any presuppositions preventing his taking this passage at face value? Most likely not. Most likely he would read this passage and begin to speak like the Bible speaks.

However, to speak this way about the efficacy of baptism puts many people ill-at-ease. Within the covenant, though, speaking this way is fundamental. In order for a person to have a right relationship with God, his sins must be dealt with. The guilt and death that belongs to a person still in Adam must be removed before entrance into the covenant is effected. This is just one aspect of the symbolism of the rite of circumcision. Access to God’s presence in the OT was mediated by the presence of the tabernacle and in order to be close to God’s presence, sin had to be removed (or covered as the Bible speaks). Symbolically, then, circumcision did this. Not to be circumcised (only for the priestly nation of Israel since Gentiles were saved with a “circumcision made without hands”) was still to be in Adam symbolically and therefore in death and sin. To be circumcised was to be cleansed symbolically from death and sin on the eighth day. For seven days, the son was dead in trespasses and sins, but on the eighth, new day, he was made alive by God.1

Interestingly, the same result is given to the mother in an analogous rite. The circumcision of the male child lessened the time of uncleanness for the mother. When she had a daughter and there was no circumcision ritual, her days of purification were doubled. The doubling of the days of purification, then, seems to function as a symbolic circumcision. For the male, there was actual physical circumcision while for the female the rite was communicated through a different rite. All of this is symbolic covenantal language. The point to be made here is the rituals were symbolic ways of conveying God’s holiness. To have access to God, one’s defilement needed to be covered.

Think back to the Abrahamic covenant. Were we to use today’s vernacular to communicate this story we might say this:

God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be [baptized]. “And you shall be baptised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be baptised throughout your generations, who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants, who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be baptised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “But an un-baptised male who is not baptised in the flesh…that person [will be hated by me]; he has broken My covenant.”

The practical application of this is the Baptist will not be able to behave as he would like. He would like to behave by teaching his child that God loves him and that Jesus died for him and to pray and sing to God. But in the Baptist’s theology, he cannot. He must needs bring the child through the rigors of conversion before anything positively can be done toward God by the child. Here is the irony. One would expect the Baptist to behave baptistically. He doesn’t. He can’t. Instead he behaves presbyterianly. He treats his child the same way as the one against whom he is arguing. He is in fact, discipling a child in the way he should go.

This is not mean to sound over simplified and as if a straw man is being constructed to destroy. Is there anyone in the history of Baptist theology who lived consistently with his belief about baptism? If he did, he would discourage his child from praying, singing, or confessing with the family before there is evidence of a true conversion. How can God listen to a sinner who is still in his sins? Isn’t that the point of conversion?

One argument made by Baptists is that faith is the only thing that saves. Without faith there is no salvation. God will not save without faith. If a person dies without faith in Christ, he dies as an enemy and still in his sins. Unless, of course, one is talking about infants. Baptists believe infants are not damned to hell for at least two reasons. One, infants have no original sin. If this is true, then, when an infant dies, there is no sin for which to atone and so God welcomes all infants into glory regardless of the covenant. Second, infants are born sinners but God is merciful and kind and loves his image in them and so based upon his goodness to them, saves them in spite of their sin and, indeed, despite the fact that they have no faith.

The irony in both of these instances is that to some degree, the Baptist believes what the Presbyterian believes; the Baptist presupposes what the Presbyterian does and he doesn’t even know it. The only difference is he doesn’t baptize the infant. The Baptist position is that the New Covenant is only made up of those who truly profess the faith because for him, to be “in covenant” with God is to be truly saved. The question becomes, are infants (regardless of being born to believing parents) in covenant with God? The Baptist will say, No. Pagan child or Christian, the infant cannot be in covenant with God without faith. And yet, he will grant a position in the covenant and salvation to infants who die before being able to even hear the Gospel based upon his view of God’s mercy. The presupposition is that God saves the child without requiring him to exhibit faith.

As the premise of this essay shows, it is the nature of the covenant that answers all of these difficult questions. The Presbyterian position to the above caricature is that infants are in covenant with God through baptism but that being in covenant with God is not automatically salvific. The Presbyterian position to the above caricature is that infants are Christians through their baptism but being a Christian is not automatically salvific.

Baptism is a sign of being in the covenant wherein there are stipulations for the covenant member. Baptism is a sign of ordination and obligation to serve God faithfully under the threat of death. For the infant who lives out the positive implications of his baptism he is saved not by baptism in and of itself but with his baptism and by faith. For the infant who lives a life of faithlessness contrary to his baptism and dies in unbelief, he baptism will stand against him as witness to his violation of the covenant and his baptism will not save him without faith.

Baptism is a symbolic teaching tool the believer is given to use for his edification and discipline. Peter says in his epistle that baptism is an answer to God for a clean conscience. The Baptist argues that an infant cannot appeal to God for a clean conscience. But Peter does not intend to define baptism so narrowly. Peter’s words are meant to bring assurance to those who being baptized use that baptism as an appeal to God for a clean conscience. Paul’s appeal to the Roman soldier based upon his being born a Roman citizen is an apt analogy. Paul was born into his citizenship and did not understand its import until he was strung up to be beaten without trial. What does he do? He appeals to the governing authority for his deliverance. He says, I am a Roman citizen by birth, therefore, grant me parlay. It is the same with baptism. The mature Christian uses what was given to him as an infant to appeal to God for an audience. Baptism then (contrary to Baptist thought) does provide assurance and that for the infant it is a latent privilege to be used all throughout one’s life.

Baptism does not have to be understood the moment it is applied in order for it to perform its role. In a real sense, baptism is for the parents. Think about it this way. God says to the parents, this is your physical child and I have given him to you for safe guarding and training in the faith. In this rite of baptism, I am claiming your child as my own and ordaining him for service into my kingdom. Your child was dead in sin and trespasses but now he is born from above to walk in newness of life. He is your responsibility. You must instruct him in the way he should go that he might not depart from it. In this sign, I am making all things new. His being in Adam is over and his being in Christ is begun.

The Baptist argues from a false premise from the opposing view that baptism binds God’s hands to act simply because the water is applied. The question for Baptists becomes, does God save everyone who cries out to him for salvation? Is everyone saved who has ever prayed the sinners prayer? Baptist theology is in the same bind here. In both cases, it can be said that God is bound to save anyone who prays for salvation but the fact is, not every one who has done this perseveres in the faith. Saying the sinner’s prayer is no more magical than is baptism. So, he cannot reject the paedopabtist position based on this argument since he must use the same structure for his position.

1 And I will say this. Baptism as much as circumcision is God’s action. He commanded it and so, he determines its meaning. If God says a certain thing is to be done and when it is done it is a “done deal,” there should be no quibble. Circumcision’s symbolism was priestly. There were four “horns” which were “circumcised” for priestly service: the right thumb, the right toe, the right ear, and the penis. Circumcision was a maledictory oath meaning this. For the right ear, having it “pierced” open to hear God’s command one could either listen or not. Positively, the piercing meant the priest would listen to God; negatively, it meant were he not to submit to God’s law, his ear would be severed off by God in judgement. The same symbolism stands for all the other “horns.”

The benefits of paedocommunion

The Christian life is pedagogical. From infancy this is much more primary but it is just as true of an adult coming to faith and beginning the journey. So, Christian parents raise their children in the Christian faith by teaching them the rituals of biblical faith. Only a reformed and presbyterian position makes sense of all of this however. This is the case because only the reformed position of the Bible’s view of sin, man, covenant, and the sacraments are consistent and so the covenant child is taught the truths of scripture as a disciple. A child of a non-reformed family cannot be a disciple until faith is professed but will be raised as a disciple nonetheless. Both families want their child to benefit from the communication of grace and both begin to do this as the child grows from infancy. Participation in the life of the church avails direction and tutelage for all; however, in both Baptist and Presbyterian circles they limit the participation in grace found in bread and the wine. They do this because they believe this rite is only a right of the mature. It is the purpose of this essay to argue that all of the Church’s rituals (regardless of age) belong to each and every one of God’s people and as such are of great benefit for those who have been baptised into the Name.

Jesus had a very, very strong reaction to his closest disciples who forcefully kept children from bothering their Master. He rebuked them severely and warned them not to keep the little ones from touching him, or being with him. This is the same reaction he would have today were he to see his pastors directly keeping children away from the table of bread and wine: “Do not hinder them from coming to me.”

There is no need to use time and space to argue or show how profitable it is to teach a child how to pray or sing, or worship God. Lessons learned in one’s infancy, toddledom, elementary years, and further on are always done with an eye to the future. That is, while the lessons learned will not always be fully understood and practiced well in youth, the expectation is that a person will grow in his ability to live out the things learned. And this is deemed most natural and matter of course. “Of course, Johnny will know more as he matures and grows up. We are planting seeds that will come to fruit much later.” All of this is Gospel centered which is to say, the truths of scripture that exalt Jesus as King and Saviour of his people are at the center of these instructions.

What is learned when a child learns to pray? He learns the Gospel. He learns of sin, and death, and God’s wrath and mercy. What happens when a child is taught to hymn to God? He learns the Gospel and how to sing prayers to God. What happens when a child (or adult for that matter) learns to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear his word preached? He learns the Gospel. The reader knows where this is going. When a child is kept from the table of Jesus, from what is he kept? He is kept from the Gospel which was freely given to him in his baptism.

Consistency demands that children who are not allowed to the table until a mature confession before men is made would not be allowed to participate in any of the rituals of the church. Indeed, his (latent) theology demands it. His active covenant theology opposes it, and, so, this makes him the foil of a good Baptist. But he doesn’t live this way. He lives contrary to his theology and so is as un-reformed as his Baptist brethren. This is so, because from a non-reformed position salvation is always cognitive. A person must have a certain understanding of x before y and z can be done. How much must a child understand in order to pray? Almost nothing. If anything, teaching a child to pray is the precursor to eating at the table: it’s all do as I say aping. The child apes his parent in prayer without really understanding what is going on. If the parent eats, but not the child, the child should then conclude, “Then why pray? If I am good enough for the one, then why am I not allowed the other?”

Here is the irony: the Baptist acts like a Presbyterian by teaching his child to worship before he is converted. The Baptist has no theology to teach him this, so he borrows from the Presbyterian. Therefore, a non-reformed parent who teaches his two year old how to repent and ask God for forgiveness (before he is “saved”) is actually acting like a reformed believer all-the-while denying the power thereof. However, the Presbyterian acts like a Baptist by requiring his child to jump through a hoop Jesus isn’t even holding.

Children ape their parents. A parent who sings has a child who sings. A parent who prays has a child who prays. A parent who celebrates the supper… The child instinctively apes his parent and this is the way God orchestrated it. But when the plate comes around with food and drink and the child reaches for it because that is what Mom and Dad are doing, he is barred. This places a disconnect in the social dynamic. Do I belong or don’t I? The sin of unintended consequence it this: that which the child naturally does and wants (which is to belong) begins to change and diminish. He eagerly, joyously wanted to participate but soon he stops reaching to belong because he has been shown that he does not.  This results in now having to argue and persuade her to want to participate at a later point in life. What used to be natural has now become a battlefield of faith.

The benefit of communion is this: eating is belonging. What Jesus began in baptism, he maintains in communion. Paedobaptism introduces the child into the life of faith and he is tutored all along the way. Paedocommunion as much as baptism means the same thing for adult as child: eating is believing; eating is belonging.

Again, “On baptism” 2

Does the Bible teach that baptism is for disciples only? In the following exchange, I will be arguing the affirmative for a number of reasons, namely, the positive institution of baptism, the revealed participants in biblical examples of baptism, the specific Scriptural meaning of baptism, and biblical covenant theology.1

Matthew 28 records the institution of New Covenant baptism: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” I agree with Wallace that “baptizing” and “teaching” are two participles of means, so that the way by which Jesus’ followers were to make disciples was to baptize and to teach.2 Obviously, the paedobaptist wants to put a wall between these two so that somehow, baptism is to be given to those who cannot be taught Jesus’ commands, such as a 2-week old baby.

But that wall does not stand. From this Great Commission, Jesus’ followers immediately went out making disciples by teaching and baptizing those who could respond to the gospel call. At Pentecost in Acts 2 3,000 responded to Peter’s preaching and were baptized. Notice what Peter says in verse 38-39, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 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.” Paedobaptists often appeal to this text to support infant baptism because the phrase “to you and your children” supposedly re-establishes an Old Covenant principle of either household faith or entrance into a covenant through physical descent. But, the context is not re-affirming a principle of the Old Covenant, but is actually the demonstration of New Covenant blessings and the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.3 Consequently, paedobaptists usually ignore at least three things.

First, verse 41, says “so those who received his word were baptized.” It doesn’t say “so those who received his word and their children were baptized,” as if someone else’s profession of faith merits the baptism of any person. Only those who responded to the call of the gospel were baptized. Second, it is very clear that the promise in verse 39 is neither the Abrahamic covenant nor the covenant of grace, but the specific promise of the Holy Spirit that was prophesied in Joel 2, which is quoted in verses 17-21. Third, notice Peter’s command in verse 38. The command “repent” is second person plural, matching “of you,” while the command “be baptized” is third person singular, matching “each one of you.” So a literal rendering is, “You all repent and each one of you all – that is, the ones repenting – be baptized.” There is no question that in Peter’s perspective, the ones to be baptized are the same ones who repent.

This concept of believer’s baptism continues throughout the NT. Acts 8:12 recounts, “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized.” After Peter sees the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 10:47 he says “can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit?”

Even the household baptisms in Scripture demonstrate the baptism of disciples. This is ironic because household baptisms supposedly support infant baptism. But, this argument fails firstly because no infants are said to be in any of these households. Secondly, in almost all of these cases the members of these households cannot be infants. The family of the Philippian Jailer was baptized after Peter preached “the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house.” Verse 34 also says “he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (Acts 16:34). How is it possible for a two-month old baby to rejoice because the father converted to Christianity? And why would anyone in the household rejoice at their father’s conversion while they remain in their sins and in rejection of the very same word that was spoken to them? The fact is, this is household faith, just like we read earlier in John 4:53 with the Roman official, “And he himself believed, and all his household.”

Paedobaptists also often quote I Corinthians 1:16 where the household of Stephanus was baptized. But they fail to mention 16:15 where we read that “the household of Stephanus were the first converts in Achaia.” Again, household faith. Acts 18:8 says, “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.” Again, the whole household is not just being baptized, but they’re believing as well. Acts chapter 10 records the conversion of Cornelius and his household. But notice what these baptized people were doing. They are described as: having heard the word (10:44); having received the Holy Spirit (10:44-47; 11:15-17); having spoken in tongues (10:46) as at Pentecost (11:15); as believers (implied in 11:17); and having repented (11:18).4 So since infants cannot hear the word, speak in tongues, believe, and repent, it is evident that Luke does not intend for his readers to assume that infants were involved in the baptism mentioned here (10:48). The household of Lydia in Acts 16:14-15 doesn’t give much information. But given the pattern we’ve observed of the early church, there is simply no basis to conclude that this was anything other than household faith and baptism. It would be a radical departure for the church to start baptizing unrepentant individuals like infants and to have household baptisms without household faith.

In this brief survey we’ve seen how the institution of baptism and the fulfillment of that institution in the early church are in favor of the baptism of disciples alone. Infant baptism is neither instituted, nor recounted in the early church, nor even mentioned anywhere in Scripture. And since I agree with the Westminster (21.1) and London Baptist Confession that an ordinance of the church must be positively instituted by Scripture itself, no argument from silence is sufficient to allow the baptism of infants.5 So if you hear my opponent demanding a verse that specifically excludes infants from a covenant or church membership, you can be sure that he’s missing the point and making a poor argument.

The meaning of baptism also contradicts paedobaptism. Scripture teaches that baptism signifies new life and union with Christ in the one being baptized. The authors of Scripture always assume that those who have been baptized have also personally trusted Christ and experienced salvation. Galatians 3:27 says “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” He does not say “some of you who were baptized have put on Christ,” or “As many infants have put on Christ.” The Apostle assumes, practices, and teaches the baptism of disciples alone.

Romans 6:3-4 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.” Paul could not have said “all infants who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death,” unless you believe in regenerative baptism. This text teaches that baptism signifies both the death and resurrection of Christ for the one being baptized. One is reminded of Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8:38-39 where “they both went down into the water” and then “came up out of the water.” Colossians 2:12 says the same thing: “you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Baptism does not signify being potentially buried and raised with Christ, as if infants are baptized into “future repentance and faith,”6 but baptism is meant to signify actually being buried and raised with Christ.

Most paedobaptists and credobaptists agree that baptism is a sign or initiatory rite of entering into the New Covenant. But what is this New Covenant?

I again agree with the Westminster and Baptist Confession of Faith when they assert that we must go to the places of Scripture that speak most clearly on any given issue (1.9). And I would argue that the nature of the New Covenant is most clearly addressed in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8. I also believe in a consistent, Reformed hermeneutic that gives primacy to the New Testament interpretation of the Old. All of this means that we must pay special attention to how the author of Hebrews understands the New Covenant promise in Jeremiah 31 since he directly quotes and explains it for the church.7

Hebrews 8 of course, is a defense of the superiority of Christ and the “covenant in his blood.”8 And what’s interesting and challenging to many paedobaptists is that the focus is on discontinuity, not the continuity between the Old and New Covenant. In fact, the author says the Old Covenant is “obsolete” and fading away (8:13). So, how is the New Covenant so radically different? Verse 8-11 says,

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

Most paedobaptist and credobaptists agree that the knowledge in verses 10-11 is a saving, internal knowledge of God. There were many in the Old Covenant who didn’t have this. One thinks of Eli’s sons who were priests in the Old Covenant. They knew about the Lord. But I Samuel 2:12 says they did not “know the Lord.” Their knowledge was merely external, no less external than their circumcision. One could list countless others who bore the covenant sign of circumcision but weren’t true believers like Esau and Ishmael.

According to Hebrews 8, those days are over with the coming of Christ. The New Covenant people of God consists of true believers – covenant members are the true “Israel of God.”9 It is a covenant in Christ’s blood, where all who are in it have their sins forgiven.10 While the Old Covenant was a breakable and mixed covenant consisting of elect and non-elect, believers and unbelievers, the gathering of God’s people in the New Covenant is the gathering of those who profess Jesus Christ. Ezekiel 36:25-27 speaks of the same New Covenant age when it talks about how God will remove their hearts of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Romans 11 provides another picture of the New Covenant, where unbelieving Jews were a branch broken off the tree of Israel, and believing Gentiles are grafted in so that the end result is a single tree, a unified people of God who all know the Lord. Paul provides an additional picture of a “new man” in Ephesians 2:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two. (Eph 2:11-15)

In short, the members of the New Covenant are all of God’s elect; there is no remnant in the New Covenant like there was under Abraham, under Moses, and under all the pre-Christ covenantal administrations. For that reason, the New Covenant is the fullest expression of the Covenant of Grace, since only God’s elect are members.11 The mediator of the New Covenant is not Moses or any priest, but Christ Himself, our high priest.12

So the New Covenant is not merely an expansion or renewal of the Old Covenant. It is better qualitatively, not quantitatively.13 Classic Reformed theologians such as John Owen have masterfully argued this point.14 If this is true, and if the sign of a covenant corresponds to the nature of a covenant and the participants of that covenant, then baptism should be given only to those who are in the New Covenant, that is, to those who know the Lord. The same obviously applies to the other New Covenant ordinance of the Lord’s Table.

Presbyterians shore up a number of defenses for paeodobaptism, including the assertion that baptism is the NT equivalent of OT circumcision and that this is taught in Colossians 2:11-14. But this text says nothing of physical circumcision at all; a parallel is being made between regeneration (“circumcision made without hands”) and baptism.15 We must also remember that the nature of a covenant determines the sign of that covenant, and baptism and circumcision signify two different covenants and thus different realities. Circumcision marked out a male line of descent from Abraham to David to Christ, served as a physical sign to mark out a nation and to distinguish them as people who would prepare the way for the Messiah, and was part and parcel of Mosaic law.16 None of this is true for baptism.

But, didn’t circumcision point to new life like baptism does?17 Yes, but there’s a difference between looking forward to something and looking back to something after Christ has accomplished his work. As Sam Waldron puts it, “Baptism, therefore, professes what circumcision demanded. Circumcision did demand a new heart, indeed, but it did not profess a new heart. Baptism professes a new heart.”18

This is the teaching of the NT. Romans 2:28-29 says “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” Colossians 2:11-14 says “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh.” Clearly, those in the New Covenant in Christ are those who are believers. Faith, and not physical descent, is what determines who are covenant members. That’s why Paul can say in Romans 9:6 and 8, “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel…it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Galatians 4 asserts something similar in talking of two sons of Abraham. Verse 28-29, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.” Clearly, the children of the promise that are counted as Abraham’s offspring are born of the Spirit, not those born of the flesh. That’s why Paul said earlier in chapter 3, “the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe,” and then in verse 27 and 29, “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

The paedobaptist confuses all of this. They suggest that because infants were circumcised according to their physical posterity in the Old Covenant, infants should be baptized just the same in the New Covenant. But this conflates the spiritual seed of Abraham with the physical seed, so that the church is actually supposed to baptize the physical seed (infants) of the spiritual seed (believing parents). This teaching isn’t found anywhere in Scripture, and it ignores the fact that members of the New Covenant are spiritual children (those born of God) not physical children (those born of the flesh).19

Of course, one may try to appeal to other texts that mention children, like when Jesus said about children in Luke 18, “for such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” But none of these texts are speaking of infants, none mention or contain baptism, and none identify the parents of these children as believers. Appealing to these kinds of texts to support infant baptism is desperate argumentation.

As for historical theology, we have no record of infant baptisms until about a hundred years after the writing of the NT, and even then, infant baptisms were given for reasons other than those offered by my opponent such as to regenerate infants or remove original sin.20 In fact, some of the earliest historical references such as Justin Martyr, the Didache, and the Apology of Aristides lend support to the baptism of disciples.21

Space has run out, but I think it has been made clear that baptism should be given to believers, those who confess faith, disciples of Jesus Christ alone. I thank Pastor Finley for participating in this exchange, and pray that it is edifying to the church.

Works Cited

1 For fair arguments in favor of believer’s baptism, see Shawn Wright and Thomas Schreiner, eds. Believer’s Baptism (Nashville: B&H, 2006) and Fred Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Versus Paedobaptism (Cape Coral: Founder’s Press, 2007).

2 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 645.

3 See Jamin Hübner. “Acts 2:39 in Its Context: An Exegetical Summary of Acts 2:39 and Paedobaptism (Part I)” and “Acts 2:39 in Its Context: Case Studies in Paedobaptist Interpretations of Acts 2:39 (Part II),” Reformed Baptist Theological Review, 8:1 (2012).

4 See Robert Stein, “Baptism in Luke-Acts” in Believer’s Baptism, 62-64.

5 See W. Gary Crampton, From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism: A Critique of the Westminster Standards on the Subjects of Baptism (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2010).

6 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.16.20.

7 See chapter 4 of Samuel Waldron and Richard Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2004).

8 See Lk 22:20.

9 In Gal 6:16 Paul uses this phrase to describe the church. See G. K. Beale, “Peace and Mercy Upon the Israel of God: The Old Testament Background of Galatians 6:16b,” Biblica 80 (1999): 204-23.

10 See Part 2 of Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptistic Perspective (Birmingham: Solid Ground, 2011).

11 See Part 1 of Nichols, Covenant Theology.

12 See Heb. 7.

13 See both segments of James White’s series, “The Newness of the New Covenant,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 1:2 (2004) and 4:1 (2005).

14 See John Owen and Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2006).

15 See Richard Barcellos, “An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12.” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 2 (2005): 5; Martin Salter. “Does Baptism Replace Circumcision? An Examination of the Relationship between Circumcision and Baptism in Colossians 2:11-12.” Themelios 35.1 (2010): 15:-29.

16 Lev 12:1-5, Josh 5:1-9, John 7:22-23, Rom. 2:25.

17 See, for example, Dt 30:6 and Jer 4:4.

18 Samuel Waldron, The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Webster: Evangelical Press, 2005), 351.

19 Remember the important distinction Jesus drew in John 1:12-13, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Cf. Heb 2:13, Is 53:10, and the Lord’s “offspring” and Jesus in Lk 8:19-21 and Mt 12:50. See Alan Conner, Covenant Children Today: Physical or Spiritual? (Owensboro: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2007).

20 See Part 1 of J.V. Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).

21 See Steven McKinion, “Baptism in the Patristic Writings,” in Believer’s Baptism.

Preterism by any other name would be “Olivetian”….ism

Preterism by any other name would still be Olivetian

To what extent is every Christian Olivetian? To the extent that one attributes fulfillment of one kind or another to the Olivet Discourse. The so-called Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25 is often misunderstood by many Christians today. On the one hand, this is due to the heavy influence of dispensational theology; on the other hand, it is due to a lack of familiarity with the Bible. Dispen-sational theolgy has so infiltrated the evangelical church that many who would eschew much of the fallacious teachings are still affected by the residual fallout. For instance, ask yourself this: is there any chance of an imminent return by Jesus? Or this: does the Bible teach that Jesus could come back at any time to end the world as we know it? Many Christians believe so, but this is not biblical. The Bible teaches no such thing and yet many who would deny the main tennents of dispensationalism hold on to this one. Regardless of whether or not one is dispensational or reformed in one’s eschatology, there are certain occurrances in the first century which are fulfillments of Jesus’ words in this famous address and so to that extent, many do acknowledge first century fulfillments and are thus, Olivetian.

So, every Christian is somewhat Olivetian because there is something within the speech of Jesus in Matthew’s record that a person will see fulfilled within the first century. It might not be fulfillment in toto, but there is fulfillment to some degree. The basest fulfillment is the destruction of the temple and nearly everyone will concede to that: Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple and within the timeline he demarcated, it happened. What many do not realise is that the entirety of Jesus’ words in the discourse were also fulfilled within that same time frame and is given escathological meaning in the destruction of the temple. Everything Jesus promised in Matthew 24-25 has come to pass. If one does not acknowledge that, it is due to the two causes mentioned above. This essay will seek to establish that every thing after the Olivet Discourse is about the Olivet Discourse (OD).

The New Testament is not an isolated record of events that do not follow what has been anticipated by the Old. Now, that might seem a bit elementary to say, but there are many issues addressed in the New that must take the Olivet Discourse into account. And so, everything after the OD is about the OD. For instance, the four Gospels are followed by the Acts of the Apostles but how many who teach it see it as an expression and application of the Olivet Discourse?

Too many treat the NT as a new paradigm without any ties outside of the redemptive work of Christ. True, the NT does explain the death of Christ in terms of fulfilling the OT expectation, but then no one seems to give any heed to the parameters set by Jesus in the OD. Some generically do attribute and acknowledge that there are passages that must be taken as having first century relevance; consider, for instance, the book of Hebrews. Not only does this epistle elaborate on the finished work of Christ in surpassing the levitical system, but the ramifactions of this supercession find their meaning in the OD. This sheds light on the warnings in Hebrews against unbelief and reverting back to the Egypt that is the Old Covenant system. The OD has been uttered and therefore everything after it is coloured by its tenents. Everything.

The fundamental principle laid out in the OD is that of Jesus’ return to end the age and judge the temple. His presence as the King who rules the world is anticipated in every NT epistle and when those expectations are expressed, it is in terms of imminency. The book of Hebrews is a crucial epistle for the supremancy of Christ over all things “passing away” (Heb 8:13) and there are many ill treated passages wherein an exclusive first century intrepretation is traded for a generic trans-historical one.

So that, when we read, therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking…

We are not hearing Paul give generic warnings against not listening to the gospel. It matters that the author uses the first person plural. One must ask, what does Paul mean when he says, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great deliverance? He is talking about the Olivet Discourse and the judgment coming upon the old world in the destruction of it in the Temple.Or take the last statement above. What is the world to come that is mentioned? It might help to know that the Greek is specific here, too. The language is more immediate than the ESV intimates. It is more akin to this: For it was not to angels that God subjected the oikumene about to come, of which we are speaking. Notice the “about to” nature of the statement. This happens in the NT epistles more than is translated.

Lastly, consider this well-known and quoted verse: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Again, this is not some generic proof text for having to go to church. The day drawing near is not the “final return of Christ” at any moment that many take this to be. The judgment day coming is the one Jesus presented in Matthew 24 and 25.

In the Acts of the Apostles there are many occurrences within its narrative that relate to the OD and yet many who preach through it do not emphasize its genetic dependence upon the Gospels in one crucial aspect. Luke does narrate what many denote as the “beginnings of the early church,” but they then go no further as if general principles of growing pains are all that are to be gleaned from story. Again, generalities are to be garnered appropriately, but if the radical influence of the OD is misunderstood and misapplied, the rest of the NT will be read with grievous consequences.

TO BE CONTINUED