Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Personal Evaluations

One of the things that either Immanuel Baptist Church or old age has taught me is that taking your time before making big decisions (when there's no urgency) is never wrong. As a consequence I've held off on making any kind of judgments on the topic of baptism until I've understood it well enough that I could do the following for both sides:
  1. Explain it to my four year old in a way he understands.
  2. Defend myself in a knife fight in a dank and dimly lit arena against all theological comers, particularly the competent ones.
  3. Immediately and simply point out why the objections are wrong.
  4.  Not have to say the words "I don't know."
Some people I know have recently switched from Baptists to Presbyterian on less data. They felt comfortable either still being a little mixed up or saying "I really haven't thought about that objection to infant baptism yet" because they felt the weight of the New Testament evidence was on the side of the padeo. Not me. For me it was mastery or bust because mystery doesn't cut it.
My mania got so bad the kids actually started praying aloud for me at bedtime.

Also unlike them, this particular study was an accidental outgrowth of working through understanding the covenants in the Old Testament. Eventually I became convinced that covenants were objective revelations about Jesus because that view gave the subjective for free, took me back into the text, and made the most sense out of the rest of the Bible. The subjective interpretation of the New Covenant does none of these things nearly so well. For this reason I dismissed the credo-baptist argument from Jeremiah 31 outright as being groundless. See my reasoning for doing so here, here, and  here.

Not being a dispensationalist however I immediately began to feel the weight of this decision with regards to the signs.
“If covenants are objective and signs are objective, then why is the New Covenant sign of baptism given in a subjective fashion? Why are the Presbyterians wrong to give the sign objectively to their infants?”
Reason demanded an answer.
“Obviously because the New Testament doesn’t support it,” came my riposte.
Doesn’t it? Aren’t you just assuming that? Would that convince the padeobaptist? Do better.”
“Alright, the New Testament doesn’t support applying the sign of baptism to infants because of the evident discontinuity between the Testaments. The physical seed element is fulfilled in Christ and now we are a spiritual family, a spiritual people.”
“On what grounds? Show the evidence for the discontinuity from the text, don’t just assume it.”

On what grounds. Those three words haunted me. Unlike every other covenant which features children by dent of the familial solidarity, physical children are now kicked out of the New Covenant. On what grounds?  It was fine if it was true, I just needed to show my work.
Turns out I couldn’t. But I figured someone smarter than me could. So I began to study. And woe to me, I immediately came across the argument from Dr. Gaffen regarding Romans 4:11 which stated that the covenant sign with Abraham was of the objective righteousness of Christ. That was real trouble because it comported exactly with the conclusion I’d come to regarding covenants, and made perfect sense. And now I was no longer on a walk-about through this doctrine, I was fighting for my life as a Baptist. So I read fanatically. I read  Grudem, MacAurthur, Begg,
Van Dorn, Cosby, Welty, Wellum, White, and Piper for strength, and Bavnick, Hodge, Dabney, Sproul, Duncan, Renihan, Warfield, Strawbridge, Poythress for weaknesses. I read terrible arguments from famous men like Horton, and I read gems from internet nobodies. I listened to my own pastors discuss the issues and read the lengthy argument Bob Gonzalez posted the matter. 

I read until I eventually noticed the pattern: regardless of how good the presenter was or how competent his argument was, the Presbyterian always went to the New Testament to show how the old carries forward, while the Baptist always went straight for the reason for the discontinuity. As you might guess that didn’t make me happy because that approach is going to result in the evidence stacking up for the padeo-baptist while not accruing equally for the credo-baptist. And it did. The evidence staked up for the padeo-baptist side. 

I became so desperate that I broke my impartiality rule and went all in for the Baptist side: I'd quit the whole debate and focus exclusively on looking for the weakness in the Presbyterian model. I began to feel stupid because although I could put my padeobaptist hat on and point out the flaw in the credo-baptist model, I couldn't find it going the other way. The best I could do was claim pedobaptism was built on shaky interpretive principles—a construct, an imported pre-existing sub-biblical scheme of looking at the text. But hadn’t I leveled exactly this same charge against Calvinism? It brought little comfort since it didn't explain the discrepancy in New Testament evidence.
Looking more closely still I decided what I didn't like most about the Presbyterian scheme was the idea of putting the symbol of an objective righteousness on someone before they had saving faith. Sign before faith? That didn’t make any sense at all. The conclusion was pretty stupid, actually, because it was God who instituted the scheme to begin with.

The same night I realized that happened to be the night we did question 19 of the new city catechism. "Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God's favor?"
My 4 year old shook his head sadly and said no, man was sinful and it was hopeless for him to try. I praised him for his good answer but urged him to think about it again. 

"Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God's favor? Don't only think about earning salvation this time."
"Ooh!" My 6 year old had it, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household."
"Ah there it is. Yes we are justified by faith. Well done."
Then I read the answer on the card,
"Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer."
Oh. So my Baptist chatechism is making me give Presbyterian answers now is it? I had trained my children to think like a Baptist, to work out of the Baptist framework, and even the Baptists admit the scheme isn't right. But of course the card was right, wasn't it? It was self evident. Jesus is the redeemer.

The next evening my pastor urged me to just "get it over with already and come to a decision."

So I sat down and went back over the results of my study dispassionately. It was clear the Presbyterians have more circumstantial evidence in the New Testament for their view than the Baptists do. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that Sproul outperformed Begg on the baptism debate, asking questions Begg had no answer for, putting his finger exactly on the weak point of the credo-baptist. It’s also a fact that this is a challenging study to make, because you also have to listen not only to the circumstantial arguments that are made but to the ones which aren’t made. The silence is as critical as the sounds. And the silence lies on the side of the Baptist. There's no evidence baptism is a man centered pledge. It's clearly the sign of God's promise to us.

So I give the Most Biblical award to padeobaptism. Not that I like that decision mind you, but they’ve presented a compelling argument from the Bible as to why they’re right and I’ve not been able to see a weakness in it. Not wanting a conclusion to follow isn’t grounds for a defense, and holding out hope against reason and the Bible for a mysterious piece of evidence to come along and strengthen my case seems like something atheists would do, not committed Christians.
And… well… perhaps that piece of evidence is out there and I’ll have it someday. If so I’ll switch back. But in the meantime to my Baptists brothers I say qui capit ille facit. And to my Presbyterian brothers, victori spolia.

1 comment:

Robert Briggs said...

Phil it might help those of us who find your musings more amusing than biblical if you actually showed some exegetical proof of the paedobaptist position being 'more biblical'. You assert it but you don't prove it even in the slightest. Even your assertions are unsupported. Give me one example of infant baptism in the bible from a biblical text? Just one. Show me where the scriptures teach that the Abrahamic covenant is exactly the same as the New Covenant? Just one place is fine. Show me a text that proves that infants without faith are in the New Covenant? Let's get to the scriptures for the discussion before claiming paedo baptism is the most biblical position. As you said brother, you need to do better. I do think that one of the two ordinances of the church would need to be exemplified for us if we would practice it. No problem citing believers baptism, but paedo baptism is simply not there unless I have missed something. As for the New City Catechism is that not Keller's catechism? Hardly a Baptist one is it? Or did I miss something there too.