Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Credo Vs Paedo - Seeing Through It

The arguments have been collected, the data has been gathered, it’s time for me to pass out the trophies.

The Most Helpful Resource award goes to Ligonier for making the infant baptism debate between R.C. Sproul and Alistair Begg available to the public, for it was that more than any other which moved me into a position to understand the whole shooting match. The point in particular was that both men agreed right away (and I think this is the key) that Baptists and Presbyterians have a radically different view of what baptism actually is. To the Baptist it’s the oath of allegiance to Christ as King which signifies your submission to Him, and functions as a testimony to the truth of the gospel. To the Presbyterian baptism is the sign of entrance to the covenant community, signifying His promises are true, and functioning as a symbol for a number of related things. That’s why the Presbyterian churches are much more relaxed about this topic than the Baptists, because to them baptism is much more like a secondary issue.
“You believe adults need to be baptized right? Well you got enough of it right to matter.” But when the Presbyterian enters a Baptist church things are very different; the Baptist is a thousand times more likely to fence the Lords Table against the Presbyterian, because he's misunderstood a principal very close to salvation.
  • This is the whole reason Baptists and Presbyterians speak past each other on a number of different points. I gave up counting how many times I saw the following from the Baptist: “Infant baptism is a positively harmful doctrine since infants who are baptized will think they’re saved.” What’s the problem here? I mean aside from sounding suspiciously like what the Arminians falsely say about assurance, this isn't how the Presbyterians view baptism. Even Alistair made this mistake when he said, “there’s a great potential for the thing to function in reverse…” And likewise going the other way, all of what I read from Horton completely missed the point.
  • The fact that there are two completely different ideas about what baptism is perfectly accounts for why Baptists think the very concept of infant baptism is totally bonkers crazy. You might as well speak of a square circle or a jumbo shrimp to speak of an infant voluntarily putting on the uniform of Christ. For years I couldn't account for the mistake apart from an irrational emotional impulse, a kind of strange cultural behavior on par with the Catholics worshiping Mary or perhaps Charismatics rolling around on the floor pretending to speak in tongues. Similarly, the mode of pouring (rather than the proper form of immersion) was a practical compromise necessary to avoiding drowning the infants. A prudent move, but ultimately unbiblical.
  • This dichotomy also explains why a fair and honest Baptists using the actual Presbyterian definition still feels no compunction about baptizing infants. “If the Presbyterian defines baptism as entering into the New Covenant,” he reasons, “and that is means entering under the discipleship process and the truths of Scripture, then why do my kids need to be baptized? Are my children not already being discipled? Are they not already being taught Scripture?” I'm convinced this comes from a tendency to push baptism away. Either forward because we feel no real concern for the immediacy of the thing (since a man is saved by grace through faith, not water), or upwards to read all the New Testament passages and understand them to mean a Spiritual Baptism.
  • And lastly, this explains why a Baptist sees the Presbyterian position as a strange hermeneutical construct. He believes it arises from adopting a curious covenantal framework which is sub-biblical and imposes its views on the text, rather than taking its views naturally from the text. To the Baptist the argument looks like a really weird and a terrifically unpersuasive argument about circumcision and Abraham.
    “Look dude, just read the Bible and you’ll see that adults should be baptized.”
    “Yeah, but Abraham applied the sign of the covenant to his infant son!”
    “Huh? What does that have to do with it? Are you going to try and prove communion from the book of Jonah next?”
    In his eyes the Presbyterian has Christianized the Old Testament and Judiazed the New.
  • On a person note, this accounts for my confusion over baptism when growing up in the churches of Christ. When we baptized we’d say to the teenager, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for the remission of sins.” Needless to say this really set me adrift since John the Baptists also had a baptism of repentance. Attendance in the Baptists church tradition for years helped me get straightened out because their commitment to the oath model was total, and therefore much more air-tight. Now I see that I was all mixed up because the churches of Christ had blended the Presbyterian and Baptist understandings together by throwing out all creeds and confessions and points of doctrine that couldn’t be established directly by the New Testament evidence.  The result was something of both models, partly iron, partly clay.

The Humiliation Award goes to me. No surprises there. I write the above which seems to condemn the credo-baptist position as judgmental and standoffish because I’m just expressing the inward thoughts I had for many years. I’d always simply dismissed the Presbyterians as strange but nice, prone to apostasy and liberalism because they’d not sufficiently held to the supremacy of Christ like our side did. Having an understanding of the issue now, I'm sorry I acted so judgmentally. 

The Most Clever Argument goes to Doug Van Dorn for asserting baptism is something which is about priestly washings, and therefore there’s no discontinuity in withholding it from children. He asserts that baptism is older, larger, and more important than some flesh cutting that dates to the patriarch, and can be found in a large number of places in the Scriptures. As a result, he ties washings to priestly preparation, and then shows that Baptism in the New Testament simply replaces baptism in the old. I liked the gutsy, shark like predator feel to it, but I’m afraid it was based on evidence that was stretched too thin for me.
  • The evidence that our baptism follows after Jesus baptism to make us priests isn't great. There's also no real evidence that the people going out to John the Baptist were becoming priestly servants to God or that Naaman the Syran became a priest.
  • In the baptism-as-priestly-washing scheme Jesus was speaking of baptism (Matt 20:22) as His pericardium being pierced, not a suffering ordeal He was going to face. That's forced.
  • The evidence that Jesus was baptized as a priest for service isn't great, and it's this more than any other on which the argument depends. It’s far more likely the event was to conclude John’s purpose in pointing to Christ, or to fulfill our righteousness.
  • Baptism wasn't the sign of the Levitical covenant. There was no sign given, and without this piece of evidence the model is substantially weaker. Further, if the covenant with Levi is the covenant at Sinai, then the sign is the Sabbath rest and baptism is demoted.
  • Presbyterians make circumcision the sign of the righteousness of Christ that comes faith that comes through the gospel in the Old Testament because that’s what Paul says in Romans and Galatians.
  • The children of Israel were baptized in the Red Sea, and this included infants. So there is biblical precedence for baptizing infants. Stated another way, baptism can't just be to make priests clean.
  • Levitical priests had to be older than 30, as did Jesus, so where is this age requirement relaxed in the New Testament? Where is the mandatory age floor removed? To say “It just is, because I need it to be” is not a good answer. If we're being consistent then why don't we all wait until 30 to be washed into service?
  • If it was obvious from Scripture that baptism was about priestly washings, then why is this argument so relatively obscure and novel?
  • Worst of all, there’s nothing particularly compelling that makes the Presbyterian give up his viewpoint. They simply shrug and say, “We agree, baptism is a big and important concept that runs all the way through the Bible.”

Therefore the argument is good on the drawing board once you strip away all reference to covenant to avoid the fatal weakness, but when you go to load it down and put it to work it collapses. Nonetheless the observation I think is a very good one, that in the New Covenant God is going to weave together all the other themes in the Bible, particularly washing and cleansing.

And now it's time to give out the award for Most Biblical.

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Steve said...


I could have told you this - "Baptists and Presbyterians have a radically different view of what baptism actually is," and perhaps saved you some reading. :) Though, to be more specific, the "radically different view" between the two is not really over baptism - both confess it to be a "sign" (see WCF 28.1 and LBC 29.1) - but over the new covenant of which it's "a sign." That's the actual question, what's the new covenant? (Presbyterians have a harder time explaining what exactly is new about it). Since the new covenant is spiritual - not genealogical, as was the old - it's sign is only properly administered to those who may be legitimately considered members of the new covenant community, i.e., "who do actually profess repentance..." (LBC, 29.2).

To be fair, there's no problem with the oft-repeated Baptist concern: “Infant baptism is a positively harmful doctrine since infants who are baptized will think they’re saved" - I think you're missing the concern over the de facto state of many Presbyterians, not the consistency of their doctrine. Of course, there's no inconsistency with Presbyterian theological understanding of baptism, but what's the actual impact on people's lives? Many think they're saved because they were sprinkled as babies - it's the (however, unintended) inevitable fruit of a bad doctrine. It's similar, for example, to our concerns over Roman Catholicism, which does believe salvation is by faith through grace - and recoils at any suggestion that teach it's "by works." But what's the practical effect of their sacramental understanding of salvation by grace? Roman Catholics think they're saved by their works.

Paedobaptism is undeniably is a later accretion to the church - no evidence of it's practice earlier than later 2nd or 3rd centuries (look at baptismal archaeology - they're pools for immersing adults!). Of course, it became enforced practice after Christianizing Rome, a century later. There is no exegetical argument for it, which is what Luther confronted during the Reformation when opponents argued that if he carried his argument against Roman tradition to it's logical conclusion, he'd have to throw-out infant baptism, too - which would've sent European society into chaos. So, he invented the "household" argument from Acts and infant baptism has been built on that house of cards in Reformed traditions, ever since. And when you push Presbyterian historians and theologians, eventually they will admit this, "it's tradition" and it's later appearance is a sign of the church "maturing." Now, I believe in doctrinal development, but the church got baptism wrong for it's first couple hundred years?! C'mon.

So, the real key to this debate is understanding that infant baptism can only be deduced from the Bible if you assume it to be the inevitable conclusion before you actually study the Bible - it's a tradition searching for a biblical text. Sadly, people still think they've discovered some and then de-form into Presbyterians. I, however, feel sure of better things in your case, brother (Heb 6:9) - and trust the "most biblical" award goes to 1689 LBC, 29. :)

Phil said...

I've held the LBCF for many years now, and I think it's very good. But... without Jeremiah 31 in play or dispensationalism lending a hand I don't see there's any hope.