Friday, February 19, 2016

Credo vs Paedo Baptism: Pushback Part II

After deciding that paedo-baptism is the more Scriptural of the two views, my Baptist pastors concluded that a few comments left on this blog was insufficient to fix the mess and that a full intervention was necessary. I welcomed this, as I was sure that I'd missed something important, and I was hopeful they could show me what that was. To my dismay however the battleground they selected was the idea that Baptists and Presbyterians understand baptism in two completely different ways. 

I'd put in months worth of work organizing, understanding, and categorizing both sides, debated online in multiple venues, listened to hundreds of hours of sermons and podcasts, and this was where they were going to counter-attack? No. My initial assumption in the introduction to this series that the two views were pretty close together was wildly off base, I'm certain of that. It was a foregone conclusion then that my Pastors were going to lose this one. Take a look at how the Baptists all frame baptism as our profession of faith.

The London Baptist Confession of faith, chapter 25, part 1 satates that baptism is
a sign of his fellowship with Him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

The Baptist Faith and Message which guides the Southern Baptist convention is even more explicit about this when it says,
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water. …It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.
Baptism, an act of full immersion following Christ’s example, is undertaken by those spiritually mature enough to understand its profound, symbolic significance: resurrection to new life in Christ.
The prince of preachers Charles Spurgeon says about baptism,
...It seems to me that baptism is connected with, nay, directly follows belief…Again, baptism is also Faith’s taking her proper place. It is, or should be one of her first acts of obedience. Reason looks at baptism, and says, ‘Perhaps there is nothing in it; it cannot do me any good.’ ‘True,’ says Faith, ‘and therefore will I observe it. If it did me some good my selfishness would make me do it, but inasmuch as to my sense there is no good in it, since I am bidden by my Lord thus to fulfill all righteousness, it is my first public declaration that a thing which looks to be unreasonable and seems to be unprofitable, being commanded by God, is law, is law to me.
William Pinson who runs the website 'Baptist Distinctives' says:
Thus, baptism is symbolic and not sacramental. Baptists believe that the Bible teaches that baptism symbolizes that a person has been saved and is not a means of salvation. Baptism is not a means of channeling saving grace but rather is a way of testifying that saving grace has been experienced. It does not wash away sin but symbolizes the forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ.
Bob Vradenburgh of Friendship Baptist church (and who could not sound more like a typical baptist if he tried) says the following,
Baptism is the only true expression of one's profession of faith in Christ as Savior and Lord that is set forth in the New Testament. It is a true picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. When a person is scripturally baptized, he is openly identifying himself with Christ, acknowledging that he has both died and is raised again. He has died to self, to sin, and to false religion, and he has been resurrected spiritually…
In the early days of Christianity, the sign or badge of being a follower of Christ was baptism. Christians were hated and persecuted. A man might profess Christ as much as he liked, but until he submitted to baptism he was not willing to be "branded for Christ". He wore no badge that identified him with the despised Nazarene in the eyes of the world.
Today, Christianity as an institutionalized religion is much more fashionable (at least in the western world), but the badge remains the same. Are you a believer of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Have you sincerely repented of sin and received His mercy and forgiveness? Then PROVE IT by publicly wearing the "badge"?
The Presbyterian Mission Agency in contrast says,
"Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God's redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is God's gift of grace and also God's summons to respond to that grace. Baptism calls to repentance, to faithfulness, and to discipleship. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world."
Notice how different that is. The Reformed see baptism first and foremost as beginning with God and reaching down to us, not vice versa. 


Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.
God's sign, communicated to a child as by an impressed seal, confirms the promise given to the pious parent, and declares it to be ratified that the Lord will be God not only to him but to his seed; and that he wills to manifest his goodness and grace not only to him but to his descendents even to the thousandth generation." 
And B.B. Warfield is really on point for Presbyterianism when he says
Baptism is the form that the circumcision which God gave Abraham in the old covenant takes in the new. The apostle therefore called it "the circumcision of Christ," Col. ii. 11, the circumcision, that is, which we have received in this new dispensation in which Christ is now Lord and Master. In the passage from the old covenant to the new the form of the rite was changed, not its substance. It remains a "sign" which God has given his people, marking them out as his, and a "seal" binding them indissolubly to him and pledging them his unbroken favor. Baptism, as circumcision, is a gift of God to his people, not of his people to God. Abraham did not bring circumcision to God; he "received" it from God. God gave it to him as a "sign" and a "seal," not to others but to himself. It is inadequate, therefore, to speak of baptism as "the badge of a Christian man's profession." By receiving it, we do make claim to be members of Christ, and our reception of it does mark us out to the observation of our fellowmen as his followers. But this is only an incidental effect. The witness of baptism is not to others but to ourselves; and it is not by us but by God that the witness is borne. We have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and God gives us this sign as a perpetual witness that this faith is acceptable to him, and as a seal, an abiding pledge, that he will always treat it as such. He who has been baptized bears in himself God's testimony and engagement to his salvation.
More could be said of course, but I think that's sufficient to demonstrate the real and substantial difference that exists between this and this. Presbyterians and Baptists have a very different understanding of what baptism is. This is undeniable.  

Continue on to the final post in this series



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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Baptism – Miscellaneous Objections Answered

After deciding the Presbyterian understanding of the Scriptures was the superior one, my Baptist pastors and I sat down to lunch to discuss my conclusions and challenge my findings. They each brought up a point worthy of consideration, and because I’m still trying to hold this discussion with an open hand I promised to suspend making any further decisions until I’d completely and fairly wrestled with them. Here’s what they challenged me with.

Baptist Objection 1 

If 1 Cor 7:15 requires the child to be baptized, then it requires the unbelieving spouse to be baptized as well since the Bible speaks as both being sanctified by the believer.

It took me awhile to figure out why the Presbyterians dismiss this without answering it and why the Baptists always bring it up, but eventually I was able to put my finger on it—this argument is effective only after the Baptist presuppositions are granted. As a result, the paedo-baptist can’t make heads or tails of it, because to them the credo is overdrawing the comparison or being obtuse.
I don’t understand what you’re saying. What does this verse have to do with baptism?
Your principle compels you to baptize people who don’t confess faith, like infants. Right? And since you’ve removed the requirement of professing faith before baptism, that means adults don’t need to confess before they’re baptized either. In other words if you baptize infants then you might as well baptize non-believers.
Oh. Well I suppose if I used your definition of baptism then that would be true. But I don’t.”
The Baptist has failed to appreciate that in the paedo scheme there’s absolutely no conflict in baptizing the child but not water-boarding the unwilling spouse. The one is under the teachings, instruction, and authority of Christ, the other is not. The one is a disciple, the other isn’t. The child is under the lordship Christ, the adult is someone who rejects Him but likes to hang around in Mayberry where the people are pleasant and the crime is low. Both are being sanctified, but only one is holy. Look again:
“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”
What Paul is saying is that the principle of familial solidarity which makes the child holy also makes even an unbelieving spouse sanctified. Christ is so powerful that merely looking at Him changes you, and even hearing the truth about Him changes non-believers for the better. Notice also that that Paul assumes the children are automatically holy. He takes it for granted and throws that statement in almost as an after-thought, because it's so obviously true. And this matches reality as well. What’s happening to the children is the same as what happens to the believer, in that the truths of Christ are literally defining and creating the thought patterns on which their mental processing is based. Their learning about Him causes them to be renewed in a Christian fashion. The truths of Christ fill up their whole mind and form the blueprint by which truths are compared against and understood. They may later as adults reject it, but by then it’s already made its inroads. The sanctification doesn’t get all the way through the mind of a non-believer, but it absolutely does the mind of a child growing up in a Christian home.  

Besides all this, the verse doesn’t prove the Presbyterians are right about baptism so much as it proves the Baptist is wrong about covenants. That’s why this gets brought up so much in debates by the padeo-baptist, because it clearly and definitively establishes the principle of familial solidarity for the New Covenant, not because it directly proves infant baptism.

Baptist Objection 2 

Early baptisteries were large enough to baptize adults, indicating believers baptism was the Apostolic practice. See “Baptism in the Early Church” by Everett Ferguson.

Let me say after slogging through all 1,000 pages of this book that I’m convinced this is a class specific item quite unsuitable for general consumption. People of the church of Christ will find in it a comfort that someone on their side has put in a lot of work on the topic, but Baptists will find it an almost totally useless resource for their purposes. Growing up in the CoC gave me a very comfortable familiarity with the style, but it was nonetheless a tough book to get through, particularly when Ferguson went through gnostic and pagan water rituals in North Africa in the fifth century. I will say though, to his credit, that he did a very convincing job of demonstrating that baptisteries around the Mediterranean were generally 75cm deep, (about 2.5 feet) in early Christendom, were octagonal, cross, or square shaped, and tended to get shallower across the centuries as church history progressed, which is the factoid my own pastor was after.

Now for the formal statement of the argument:


P1: If Presbyterian beliefs are projected back to the early church then we would expect to find small baptisteries.
P2: Archaeological evidence conclusively demonstrates that the early church used baptisteries averaging 75cm deep by at least 135cm across.
C: Presbyterians are wrong about baptism in the early church.

I find this argument to be wanting however, since there’s a tacit assumption in premise one that the Presbyterians only baptizes babies, which allows the conclusion that the presence of an adult size baptistery is proof against them. This is a faulty understanding of their position because they too baptize adults who profess faith, so there’s nothing gained in pointing out that early baptisteries were large enough to accommodate a full grown man. That argument does nothing against them.

Or perhaps the argument isn’t about the person, but the mode? Something like, “full immersion going backwards is the only valid mode of baptism, therefore infant baptism is wrong. Therefore these adult sized baptisteries are conclusive evidence against paedo-baptism.”
To which the amusing answer is, “Full immersion eh? Then why were the early baptisteries a puny two and a half feet deep? Seems to be cutting it close don’t you think?”
And the serious answer is, “Even if you prove that full immersion going backward is the only valid mode of baptism, that still doesn’t settle the question of if infants may be baptized or not. The two arguments are completely different.” 
Some Baptists might use the practice of sprinkling to argue against padeo-baptism in general, but I don’t see this as having any weight.
John the Baptist never sprinkled, therefore infant baptism is wrong.
Hang on though; the sprinkling isn’t really relevant here, and I don’t even care about it. I’m trying to figure out who is a viable candidate for baptism, not how it should be done.
So I find this argument entirely unconvincing.

Baptist Objection 3 

The New Covenant is a spiritual, not physical covenant. We are children by faith.

You’re not going to find me disagreeing that we are adopted into God’s family by faith.
But remember that this argument trades on the Baptist definition of baptism (which I reject as sub-biblical) and relies on dispensationalism to make the crucial claim that the previous covenants in the Old Testament were not spiritual, but earthbound and worldly. It sees circumcision as not being about the righteousness Abraham had by faith, but about a promise to have land one day. I reject that. And I assert again the question that has plagued me, “on what grounds are children removed from the new covenant? On what grounds has familial solidarity been abolished?”

If someone can show me the grounds without using Jeremiah 31 or dispensationalism then I’ll go back to rooting for the Baptists. And as I said before, until that time, I have to assume that the principles that give shape and definition to covenant are still in force.

Presbyterian Argument 

Christ’s real presence on Earth cannot be the total fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.

I came across this from Dabney and thought it interesting. It’s an argument built on the Abrahamic covenant guaranteeing a blessing to the Gentiles. If Christ Himself is the fulfillment of the covenant in such a way that the Abrahamic covenant is concluded (or completed if you like) with His real presence (as the Baptists claim) then its terms cannot be fulfilled. For how can the Gentiles be brought in when the thing is closed and done with? How can Acts 11 come before Acts 1?
I suppose the Baptist could argue that it’s not the birth of Christ that brings the Abrahamic covenant to a close but the death which does it. His payment for sin on the cross is what brings all the nations of the Earth the blessing. Still, it’s hard to see how those who curse Him are cursed if He closes the terms that covenant at His death.
For that reason the Abrahamic covenant cannot stop with Him, but must continue on. It must be a covenant which is not brought to an end in Christ but a beginning. Therefore the Presbyterians are right about it.

Baptist Objection 4

Early church history is on the side of the credo-baptist.

This one required me to do some serious research, so it’s the topic of its own post



The Historic Case for Paedo-Baptism from Cyprian of Carthage

Although I've been forced to conclude that the paedos have the weight of Scripture on their side, before I make any decisions I need to check my work by examining the testimony of early church history—which means the game isn't over yet. But a comeback isn’t going to be easy. First the credos must explain how in the generations immediately following the Apostles the clear teaching on baptism was lost and its opposite took over as the uncontested practice of the church for over a millennia. Second, they have to show not merely that the early church baptized adults (because paedos also baptize adults), but that infants were specifically excluded from the sacrament. Then thirdly they have to explain why the Reformation challenged everything unbiblical in the church except this glaring error, and fourthly why the majority of Christian denominations still practice paedo-baptism today. The challenge isn’t insurmountable, but it is steep.

Although I set down this path knowing that credo-baptism would be working from a disadvantage, I also had a high degree of confidence that it would come back and win handily. Imagine my surprise when I found what Cyprian said at the council of Carthage in the year 253AD: "As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born." (Letters 64:2)

In other words, infant baptism is the Apostolic position, case closed. For if credo-baptism was the dominant paradigm the synod would have instead said: "Baptize an infant Fidus? Baptism is for adults who've professed a credible faith, to demonstrate their seriousness about following Jesus. What makes you think a newborn can repent and believe?" But they didn’t. They said “keep doing what you’re doing and don't bother waiting a week to baptize.” Which convinces me that paedo-baptism was the uncontested doctrine of the early church.

Why? Because nobody contested this ruling that's why. That’s either because the watching world agreed with the synod, or because nobody cared enough to protest the ruling, but it can’t be that the decision went unnoticed since we have a record of it today. Yet if credo-baptism was the norm then the objectors would’ve cared a great deal, and when the synod told Fidus to baptize infants they would've come down on the schismatics like a fireball during the time of Elijah. But instead there's only a consenting silence.


The second major blow this delivers to credo-baptism lies in the fact that a synod made this ruling, meaning the credo-baptist can only be right if the synod is wrong. That means either the bishops who made up this gathering were malicious or they were ignorant. As to the first, what are the odds that the globally recognized leaders were openly injecting malicious doctrine into councils and not being challenged on it? As my device physics teacher used to say about our test scores, "Nnn, nnnn, not good. Not good." As for the charge of ignorance, for all the bishops to make an honest mistake at the same time means that by 250AD the debate had been settled to such an extent that no self-respecting theologian even though to challenge paedo-baptism. Which brings me to my next point. Granting that credo was the Apostolic position doesn’t actually get the credo-baptist anywhere. 


The first reason for this is because the definition of baptism used by the credo-baptist is water tight and totally resists transmutation into paedo-baptism. You can’t start at credo-baptism and then arrive at infant baptism by pushing the age of consent downward, since once you hit 2 or 3 the child ceases to have a solid profession of faith. Nor does the credo-baptist definition of baptism allow us to jump sideways into the belief that baptism confers actual forgiveness of sin given that it's a sign of existing forgiveness and not the forgiveness itself. Modern credo-baptism is a sound system—a complete system—and it doesn’t morph into something else even when you force it. 

The second reason why granting that the Apostles held to credo-baptism doesn’t improve the situation is that there’s simply not enough time to make the switch. What I mean is, Polycarp (who died in 155AD) was discipled by the Apostle John. So until 155AD anyone can go to someone trained by the Apostles themselves and get direct answers to their questions. That effectively prevents a 180 degree switch on baptism from happening since the second generation Christians can put up their hands and say “my mentor, the Apostle John, who mentored me, didn’t teach that.”
On the other side, by the year 250AD the issue had been settled in favor of paedo-baptism to such an extent that not only was infant baptism both normal and expected, but nobody even thought to have a different opinion about it. So the switch had to have happened no later than 210AD to allow enough time for the amnesia to kick in. Therefore in slightly less than 55 years infant baptism becomes the unchallenged practice across the whole world with no notable record of its conquest. I cannot stress enough how unlikely this is. Scholars like Aland who claim that infant baptism started around the year 200 just make this worse, because that gives infant baptism only something like 20 years to sweep over (at minimum) the whole of Africa. 

The third problem of why granting the switch doesn't work is because the magnitude of capitulation on the part of the credo-Baptist would make it make it a totally unique, never-to-be-repeated event it in history. I don't mean the credo has to answer the question, “what other radical doctrinal reversal has completely captured the whole world without even a trace of the dispute in under a hundred years?” I’m mean they have to answer, “what other radical doctrinal reversal has completely captured the whole world without a trace of a battle ever being fought?” There's no record of the conquest. This isn't a small issue that might have slipped under the radar of the council at Carthage either, these two positions are dramatically different from one another. But even if that wasn't true and this was a small issue, the synod still took the time to write down and address a question as small as "Baptize on day eight or day one?" So if they took the time on the small things then surely something like a massive doctrinal shift wouldn't have gone unremarked at a time when all kinds of key doctrinal points were being debated and worked out. That there was no debate means any scenario where the church switches from one view to another is impossible.

“What about the evidence starting in the year 330AD that infant baptism wasn’t the universal practice?” the credo-baptist asks. “What do you do with the fact that we have records of men who were not baptized as infants, but later as adults? Take for example Constantine, Augustine, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Rufinus.” I take it and use it to prove my point, that’s what. We have a record of this doctrinal shift. Interestingly, Chrysostom and Ambrose speak out against delaying baptism for infants and cite the Apostolic practice as justification, rebuking their own parents for their failure to follow apostolic teaching. Since we have a record, it can’t be used to prove that credo-baptism quietly and immediately lost to paedo-baptism a hundred years earlier.

But let’s pretend that paedo-baptism conquered the world without anyone realizing it and only until 330AD did the world wake up and remember that the Apostles had told them that infant baptism was wrong. Why did the church return to infant baptism after the advent of credo-baptism? History shows that by 401AD the debate was over and everyone went back to baptizing infants. Why? Well from what I can tell because the adult-only movement was based on the premise that it was easier to remit sins with baptism than with prayer and confession. So men waited until their deathbed before being baptized so they could receive a full cleansing (see Constantine for example). Paedo-baptism was strong enough to put the debate to rest until the Anabaptists showed up many, many years later, which indicates it was the Apostolic practice. Again, notice that this notion of adult baptism persisted for approximately half a century with plenty of records, including a birth and death certificate. It came, it went, and paedo-baptism remained. There’s absolutely no way the early church flipped from believer’s baptism to infant baptism without note, record, or debate in under a hundred years. We have been vigorously debating this topic for over 500 years, there’s no possible way paedo-baptism won the fight all those years ago without everyone knowing it.

Now that’s not all the evidence I unearthed looking at early church history either. In the next post I’ll jot down some other pieces of evidence that I found fairly compelling.





Next: the historic case for paedo-baptism from other sources



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Credo vs Paedo Baptism: Pushback Part I

If you've been following this series you may have noticed my two Pastors commenting on my work.  Phil it might help those of us who fi...