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

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