Friday, February 19, 2016

Baptist Definition of Baptism

Since I've come to the conclusion that Baptists and Presbyterians actually understand baptism in two different ways, and thus have two different definitions for it, it's only fair that I now prove this assertion.

THE BAPTIST CREEDS

According to the London Baptist Confession of faith, chapter 25, part 1, 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.
So here we see baptism is first and foremost a sign of our union with Christ. It's an outward event or picture that conveys the truth of our inward situation. 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.
The American Baptist Association says the same in their own way,
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.

INDIVIDUAL BAPTISTS

If that cross section of Reformed Baptists, Southern Baptists, and something-in-between Baptists wasn't enough, here's further proof from selected individuals that this is what baptism is. We can of course do no better than to appeal to the most famous Baptist of all, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers on the matter,
...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.
And to which later Baptists fully agree. Take for example William Pinson who runs Baptist Distinctives when he says this regarding baptism:
The New Testament records that baptism always followed conversion, never preceded it, and was not necessary for salvation (Acts 2:1-41; 8:36-39; 16:30-33). Since Baptists look to the Bible as our sole authority for faith and practice, we believe that baptism is only for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
I find this quote particularly helpful because it plainly shows why baptism absolutely has to be the sign of our faith: because it can be nothing else. Once we require a personal confession before we allow someone to be baptized we've cut off every other options, at that point baptism has to be principally about our professing faith.
Bob Vradenburgh of Friendship Baptist church (and who could not sound more like a typical Baptist if he tried) says it like this,
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"?

All of this matches perfectly with what my hero in the faith Alistair Begg says. Baptism is a "putting on of the Christian uniform."

PRESBYTERIAN DEFINITION

The paedo-baptist however has a very different view of what baptism is. Notice that they see it first and foremost as a sacrament, and a sign of the faithfulness of God, and only secondarily as our statement to Him. The Presbyterian Missions agency 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."
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.
Calvin says baptism is,
the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God's children"(Inst.4, 15, 1)
And B.B. Warfield 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. 

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


Although I've been forced to conclude that the paedo-baptists have the weight of Scriptures on their side--essentially a "game over, thanks for playing" result--before I can rest I still had to wrestle through the contention that credo-baptism is the Apostolic view according to history. That's because if the Baptists are right about paedo-baptism being a third century innovation then the apostles were baptists and I need a slice of humble pie while I make a theological u-turn. 
As a personal note, growing up I was taught that believers baptism was normative until the Catholic church pawned their unscriptural practices on an unsuspecting world through the power of the magisterium about 400AD. You can imagine my surprise then when I buckled down to really look into the issue and came across 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 the Baptists were right the synod would have instead written: "Baptize an infant Fidus? What madness is this? Where did you and the rest of the maniacs get this ridiculous idea? Baptism is for adults who've professed a credible faith, to demonstrate their seriousness about following Jesus. It's symbolic of the forgiveness they experience by belief. How did this ever come up?"
But instead of a puzzled rebuke they nonchalantly issue a direct instruction to baptize the newborns immediately rather than wait even eight days. It’s 180 degrees from the Baptist presupposition and zero degrees from the Presbyterian one. It's so radical that I feel the need to say this again for emphasis: the synod ruled that this new-fangled idea of waiting a week to baptize an infant after their birth wasn’t a valid option for Christians. The weight of this is so powerful that even granting that the Apostles were credo-baptists makes absolutely no difference either. Even supposing the Baptists were right about the first generation being against paedo-baptism still results in the argument against them being iron-clad. 

Granting The Baptist Position

For the synod to speak with such comfortable thoughtlessness on this topic means that the debate was clearly over and not even worth bringing up by this point--a strange thing considering the charge "the Apostoles didn't teach that" could have been leveled against them. It would mean that by the year 250 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 on it even though the Apostles taught otherwise.

There are two explanations for this. Either we give up and admit the Presbyterians are right and the reason everyone was so comfortable about this was because infant baptism was the Apostolic practice, or all the experts who were chosen to issue a definitive ruling on this topic at the council were woefully and totally ignorant about the sacrament. The first is death to the Baptist, but honestly, what are the odds the second being true? As my device physics teacher used to say about our test scores, "Nnn, nnnn, not good. Not good." In fact every point on the continuum is a problem for the Baptist. In the worst case the bishops are malicious and trying to advance infant baptism into an unsuspecting world. I think we can go ahead and rule this out for a number of reasons, not least of all because an aberrant decision would've brought the rest of the Christian world down on them like a fireball during the time of Elijah. As for the best case scenario, for all the bishops to make an honest mistake at the same time means that by 250 the debate had been settled to such an extent that no self respecting theologian would have argued against paedo-baptism. The baby baptizers had so completely and utterly devastated their opposition by the use of the Scriptures that there was not a single person left to raise their voice in protest.

Which would mean that by roughly 210 (at the absolute latest) infant baptism had won over the whole of the Christian world. Worse, John dies in the year 100, so up until that point there's been no way for an opposition to get going. Before 100AD an Apostle can just put up his hands and tell everybody to knock it off since paedo-baptism is wrong, so it's only after his passing that opposition is even possible. Therefore in slightly less than 100 years immediately following the death of the apostles the doctrine of baptism undergoes a major transformation, resulting in infant baptism becoming the unchallenged practice across the whole world with no notable record of its conquest. I cannot stress enough how unlikely this is. Our modern credo-baptist has about as much chance of being right about the apostolic tradition as a tornado going through an automobile junkyard and accidentally assembling a working 737. What other radical doctrinal reversal has completely captured the whole world without even a trace of the dispute in under a hundred years? Even the Arian heresy took longer to be stamped out, and that concerned the obvious truth of the trinity. So how did paedo-baptism take the world by storm so quickly without the credo position even putting up a fight? 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, and then go on to be unchallenged by everyone else. It's flatly impossible for a number of reasons.
  1. This isn't a small issue that might have slipped under the radar of the council at Carthage. There's a substantial discrepancy between the Presbyterian and Baptist understanding of a sacrament. Why then don't we have a record of it?
  2. If the synod took the time to write down and address a question as small as "Baptize on day eight or day one?" then surely something like a massive doctrinal shift wouldn't have gone unremarked during a time when someone could just as well have said, "But dad talked with the Apostle Peter about this and he said infant baptism is completely wrong."
  3. All kinds of key doctrinal points were being argued over and worked out during this time. That there's a uniform silence in history on this topic means there was no debate. That there was no debate means any scenario where the church switches from one view to another is impossible. 
  4. That this debate is dropped entirely for over a thousand years is remarkable, considering we are vigorously debating it since the issue "resurfaced." 
  5. The definition of baptism which the credo-baptist uses ensures that infant baptism cannot be arrived at by pushing the age a child is baptized at downward over the years. Nor does the definition allow us to arrive at paedo-baptism via the idea that baptism confers real forgiveness of sin. There's just no mechanism for a change, no reason it should have come up in the first place

Therefore this synod is evidence so convincing that it's all we need to prove that the Baptists are wrong. 

Evidence Other Than The Synod

And yet, if that wasn't enough, there's ample further evidence that infant baptism was indeed the Apostolic practice. Justin Martyr in First Apology (150-155AD) wrote,
"Many men and women who have been disciples of Christ from childhood..." 

This is a quote not at all consistent with the Baptist interpretive framework. And since this comes from the year 150, our timeline is again compressed, this time to within 50 years of the Apostle John, or about the time of death of Polycarp his most notable student. Effectively then the Presbyterian understanding of discipleship and child inclusion is the Apostolic one. But there's more. Hyppolytus, writing in Aposotlic tradition (written down 215AD) said,
"First you should baptize the little ones...for those who cannot speak, their parents should speak."
Origen, who wrote about 248AD said,
"In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants." (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3, and another in Leviticus 14).
"The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9.
Chrysostom (349-407),
"Our circumcision, I mean the grace of baptism, gives cure without pain and procures to us a thousand benefits, and fills us with the grace of the Spirit; and has no determinate time, as that had; but one that is in the very beginning of his age, or one that is in the middle of it, or one that is in his old age, may receive this circumcision made without hands; in which there is no trouble to be undergone but to throw off the load of sins, and to receive pardon for all past offenses (Homily 40 in Genesis)
Augustine, in debating with Pelagius, pointed out that a denial of original sin meant a denial of infant baptism, since what other sin is being remitted on the infant? Pelagius answers,
"Men slander me as if I denied the sacrament of baptism to infants. I never heard of any, not even the most impious heretic who denied baptism to infants."
For both of them not to have even heard of anyone who disagreed with paedo-baptism is telling. Not as telling as the council of Carthage mind you, but telling. And when you put these quotes together with the others (even those I haven't selected) it becomes pretty overwhelmingly clear that there was no dispute in this matter, and that the early church baptized infants because they got the thing from the Apostles. 

The Adult Baptism Movement


Now having said that, there’s one minor argument left to deal with, and it goes something like this, “What about the evidence starting in the year 330AD that infant baptism wasn’t the universal practice? 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.”

But there’s the problem right there. We have a record of it. It’s a discontinuity that sticks out like a sore thumb. 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. That's a huge strike against the baptist. Further, there’s no reason why the church should return to infant baptism after making the jump out of it, but by 401AD at the latest, they did. The adult baptism movement dies out. Why? Well from what I can tell because this movement was based on the premise that it was easier to remit sins with baptism than with prayer and confession. So men were waiting until their deathbed before being baptized so they could receive a full cleansing. See Constantine for example. Infant baptism, being the apostolic practice and having all the weight behind it, later shot that idea down in short order (~40-60 years) and the whole debate went quiet for 1,200 years until the Anabaptists showed up.

Again, notice that this notion of adult baptism persisted for approximately half a century with plenty of records, a birth and a death certificate. It came, it went, infant baptism remained. There’s therefore absolutely no possible way the early church flipped from believers baptism to infant baptism without note, record, or debate in under a hundred years. To assert anything else is simply wishful thinking, and therefore I’m well convinced that paedo-baptism is both the Biblical and the Apostolic practice.


Let me now summarize all my reasons for accepting it (since we’ve covered a lot) before bringing this series to a close.