New Blog and New Post

I have a new blog I started a couple of months ago, since I became the pastor of Faith PCA in Cheraw, South Carolina.

My latest post is on “Why the Church Needs the Gospel” and I think it’s a really important message we all need to hear again and again (and I include myself in that “we”).

http://ponderingsofapilgrimpastor.blogspot.com/2011/06/why-church-needs-gospel.html

“The contemporary American evanglical church faces a number of serious problems. We are entangled in a mixed-up mess of legalism, moralism, antinomianism, sentimentalism, shallow theology, self-serving ideologies, an idolatrous thirst for political power, a trite and entertainment-driven approach to worship and a tendency to either unquestioningly protect or attack tradition
just because it is tradition.

The solution to ALL of these many problems is the same: the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a wrecking ball to the oppressive edifice of legalism, as it declares that Christ and Christ alone has fulfilled the Law’s demands and earned a perfect righteousness for us.

The Gospel deflates the hollow pretense of our moralism by . . . “

http://ponderingsofapilgrimpastor.blogspot.com/2011/06/why-church-needs-gospel.html

Baptism Post #4

The New Covenant in Jesus

Then the prophet Jeremiah made a great promise of a coming new covenant that would not depend on human effort as the older covenants had:

The time is coming,” declares the Lord ,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers

when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord .
“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord ,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord .
“For
I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more
.” –Jeremiah 31:31-34, NIV



This promise of a new covenant is a promise of a covenant that would accomplish what the others could not. Instead of tablets of stone, God will write His law on His people’s hearts, and instead of the covenant being broken by the people’s sin, God will forgive and forget His people’s sins forever. 



When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night of His betrayal, He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20, see also 1 Cor. 11:25). It was Jesus’ blood that accomplished what all of the old covenant sacrifices could never accomplish—it took away our sins and made peace with God. And yet this new covenant is still a covenant. We are still called to keep the covenant, to be ministers of the covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), and there are still signs of the covenant that we are called to take upon ourselves to mark us out as the people of God.  



In keeping with the pattern of God’s covenants, the children are also included in the covenant promises of the new covenant.  Jeremiah 32 says that God will establish this new covenant with His people, “
for their own good and the good of their children after them (Jer. 32:39, NIV).”  Taken together with Peter’s statement at Pentecost (“the promise is for you and your children”), this covenant pattern begins to strongly lead us to the conclusion that, if the sign of the old covenant (circumcision) was given to the children, then the sign if the new covenant (baptism) ought to also be given to the children.  But to better understand this idea of the covenant sign, we need to explore the concepts of the covenant community and the sign of the covenant community.
  

The Signs and the Community of the Covenant



When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with the words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” He was giving His people a covenant sign. When we drink the cup at communion we are reminded of the blood that Jesus shed for us on the cross. The cup is a sign that points us to the heart of the covenant, Jesus’ death for us on the cross. The same is also true, of course, for the bread, which reminds us and points us to Jesus’ broken body. 



The Lord’s Supper is not the only sign of the covenant. Jesus also commanded us to baptize in His name—as we have already seen. Jesus gave the church these two covenant signs—or sacraments—to be “visible signs of invisible grace,” as Augustine called them, visible demonstrations of the essence of the new covenant that He has made with us. Later, we’ll explore in a little more detail what baptism demonstrates to us, but first we need to answer the question of whether or not the infant children of believers should receive the signs of the covenant.



The answer to this question is found in two places: the community-forming nature of the covenant and the pattern of covenant community sign-giving that God has established in His word. The covenant, by its very nature, creates a covenant community: those who are called to be “the people of God.” So we can speak of the “covenant people” and the “covenant community” as other terms for the people of God—those who have received the promise from God that He will be their God and they will be His people. In the Old Testament, the community of the people of God was called Israel. In the new covenant, the community of God’s people is the church.



Does this community of the promise include the infant children of believers? Clearly, the Bible teaches that it does. God told Abraham to mark the infant sons at the age of 8 days, so they would be physically set apart as members of God’s covenant community. As soon as they were old enough to ask questions and understand answers, these children were called to participate in the covenant community’s most sacred meal—the Passover. These children were members of God’s people from birth, and they received the signs of being members of God’s people as soon as was feasible.



W
e see the same thing in the new covenant, which is more expansive and inclusive than the old. In the Gospels, we see Jesus welcoming the children and saying “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matthew 19:14, NIV).” Then, at Pentecost, we see Peter proclaiming, “For the promise is for you and your children.” Later in the Book of Acts, we see the apostles baptizing entire households of people, not just the adult parents (Cornelius’ household in Acts 11, Lydia’s household and the household of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16). And even later, in the epistles, we see the Apostle Paul addressing the children as members of the covenant community, as he reminds them of their obligations under the covenant (see esp. Ephesians, where children are included in the letter as part of the group of “saints” at Ephesus).



From all of the evidence of the New Testament, we can conclude that the children of believers were included in the covenant community. There is no evidence that they were excluded or that God had changed His mind about their place in the covenant community. What is clearly stated to Abraham in Genesis, and is clearly preserved throughout the Old Testament, is maintained in the new covenant, too. Therefore, if the children of believers received the signs of the old covenant because they were members of the covenant community, we ought to conclude that children under the new covenant should have the same privileges.



Now, if we say that the children are members of the covenant community, then we should also be prepared to give them the sign of covenant membership. The only appropriate sign given in the Bible is that of baptism. Sometimes Baptists, wanting to acknowledge their children’s place among the people of God, will dedicate their children to God, appealing to a ceremony performed for the firstborn children under the old covenant. But the New Testament does not give this ceremony any place in the church. The appropriate sign of covenant community membership is baptism, just as it was circumcision under the old covenant. If we want to acknowledge that our children belong to God and to His people, the way to do that is in baptism.  



This conclusion does involve making a connection between the signs of the old covenant and the signs of the new covenant. Specifically, we need to see the connection between the sign of circumcision, which was given to infants in the old covenant, and the sign of baptism, which Presbyterians want to give to infants under the new covenant. Is there a strong connection between these two signs? Is the connection strong enough to justify applying baptism to infants based primarily (although not exclusively) on the fact that circumcision was given to infants?

Baptism Post #3 – Overview of Biblical Covenants, Part One

Do we really need to study covenants in order to talk about baptism?  Only if we want to understand the Presbyterian position on infant baptism.  The Presbyterian position is directly tied to their view of the covenant and how it is administered. They see baptism as a sign and seal of the covenant that should be given to all those who are included in the covenant and its blessings. 



So, what’s a covenant? Well, a covenant is a divine promise of relationship. The heart of a covenant is the repeated promise of Scripture, “You will be my people and I will be your God.” It is a promise of relationship in which God gives Himself to His people in order to save them and establish an eternal, spiritual relationship with them.



The covenant relationship we are all most familiar with is marriage. In marriage, a husband and wife promise to continue in faithful relationship with one another. The covenant involves love, sacrifice, self-giving, faithfulness, and obligation. The husband gives himself to his wife and in return she is obligated to give herself to him, and vice versa. So the covenant is a promise and a self-giving that comes with obligations for both sides. 



The Covenant with Adam:
The very first covenant between God and man was made at the very beginning of history. When God made Adam and Eve, He entered into covenant relationship with them. He loved them and blessed them with Himself. God’s initial covenant relationship with Adam and Eve can be found in Genesis 1:28: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 



This was a promise of blessing that involved obligation for Adam and Eve. But where was the relationship? Genesis 3:8-9 says, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you? (NIV)’” Here we see a picture of the intimate fellowship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God before the Fall. In fact, all of the subsequent covenant relationship promises are designed to get humanity and God back to this level of intimate fellowship. 



What does any of this have to do with infant baptism? Well, notice that God includes their children in the covenant when He says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it.” More clearly, when Adam and Eve break the covenant, God includes their children in the consequences of the Fall.
God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel (Gen 3:15, NIV).” The consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin were passed to all their offspring in subsequent generations. All men and women are born sinful, all women suffer pain in childbirth, and all men continue to work hard for their food and die. 



If we understand that Genesis 3:15 is also a reference to Jesus Christ as the Seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent, we can begin to see some basic elements of a covenant emerge:

1. A covenant involves a relationship with God (walking with God in the garden).

2. A covenant brings great blessing to those who keep the obligations of the covenant (“Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion . . .”).

3. A covenant has requirements/ obligations that, if broken, bring a curse (“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”- Gen 2:16-17, NIV).

4. All covenants really point to Christ (the real Tree of Life and the Seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent).

5. A covenant involves believers (those in covenant with God) and their children.  Both the blessing and the consequences of the covenant are passed to the children of the covenant. 

Let’s take a brief look at the other major covenants of Scripture and see if we can find these same elements in them, too.   



The Covenant with Noah: (Genesis 6-9)
 



1. A relationship with God: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord . . . Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” –Gen. 6:8-9, NIV
 

2. Great blessing to those who keep the covenant: “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.” –Genesis 7:1, NIV and “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” –Genesis 9:1, NIV 

3. Covenant requirements/ obligations to avoid a curse: “I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it . . .”- Genesis 6:13-15, NIV  

4. Points to Christ: Christ is the real ark of safety from the judgment of God.

5. Involves Noah’s children: “I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark-you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.” –Genesis 6:18, NIV and “Go into the ark, you and your whole family . . .”-Genesis 7:1, NIV and “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you.”-Genesis 9:9, NIV  



The Covenant with Abraham: (Genesis 12, 15, 17)
 



1. A relationship with God: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.’” –Gen 12:1-2, NIV

2. Great blessing to those who keep the covenant: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” –Genesis 12:2-3, NIV

“‘I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.’” –Genesis 17:2-3, NIV

3. Covenant requirements/ obligations to avoid a curse: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised . . . Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”- Genesis 17:10, 13-14, NIV

4. Points to Christ: Christ was circumcised (cut off) for us on the cross. The blood of circumcision points to the blood of Calvary.

5. Involves Abraham’s children: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”-Genesis 17:7, NIV



The Covenant with Moses and the Israelites (Commonly Called “The Old Covenant”): (Exodus – Deuteronomy)



1. A relationship with God: “God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.’ –Exodus 3:4-7, NIV

2. Great blessing to those who keep the covenant: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” –Exodus 19:5, NIV

“I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.” –Leviticus 26:9 

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” –Deuteronomy 7:9, NIV

3. Covenant requirements/ obligations to avoid a curse: “I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the covenant.”- Leviticus 26:25, NIV

“The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.” –Exodus 31:16, NIV


The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)

4. Points to Christ: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” –Galatians 3:24, NAS

“These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” –Colossians 2:17, NIV

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” –Matthew 5:17, NIV

5. Involves the children/ descendents: “He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” –Exodus 34:7, NIV

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” –Deuteronomy 4:9, NIV

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” –Deuteronomy 29:29, NIV 



The Covenant with David: (2 Samuel 7)



1. A relationship with God: “’This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone” –2 Samuel 7:8-9, NIV

2. Great blessing to those who keep the covenant: “I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.” –2 Samuel 7:9-10, NIV

3. Covenant requirements/ obligations to avoid a curse: “I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.”- 2 Samuel 7:14, NIV

4. Points to Christ: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” –2 Samuel 7:16, NIV

Jesus fulfills this promise by being the Son of David whose throne endures forever.

“As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” –Matthew 9:27, NIV

5. Involves David’s children: “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.”-2 Samuel 7:12, NIV



T
hrough these covenants, we can see a pattern in God’s dealings with His people. In fact, if you take all of these covenants together, you can see that they are all part of a larger covenant between God and His people. This is the overarching relationship that God enters into with His people in order to save them, bless them and draw them into obedience and eternal fellowship with Him. The heart of this covenant promise is repeated throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, in God’s most precious promise:

ü “I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” –Genesis 17:8, NIV

ü “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” –Exodus 6:7, NIV

ü “Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.” –Jeremiah 7:23, NIV

ü “So you will be my people, and I will be your God.” –Jeremiah 30:22

ü “You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” –Ezekiel 36:28, NIV

ü “As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” –2 Corinthians 6:6, NIV

ü “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” –Hebrews 8:10, NIV (quoting Jeremiah 31)

ü “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” –Revelation 21:3, NIV 



We see here that, from the time God speaks to Abraham, until the time when Christ returns again, God has given His people one covenant promise, Himself, and has promised to redeem one people, His people, and thus there is ultimately only one covenant. This is why the New Testament can refer to Christians as the “children of Abraham” (Romans 9:8 and Galatians 3:7).  We see clearly throughout biblical history that there is one people of God and one promise for the people of God. If we have faith in God and trust Him, He will be our God and we will be His people.



Ultimately, God accomplished His covenant promise on the cross, where Jesus died to make peace between (or “reconcile”) a sinful people to a holy God. Jesus’ death, life, and resurrection are the fulfillment or accomplishment of the covenant promises, as our sins are taken away and we are made God’s people forever. The Bible refers to this final accomplishment as the “new covenant.” This covenant, accomplished by Jesus at Calvary, will be finally consummated when He comes again.  



Each of the older covenants had a fatal flaw: the sins of the people always kept them from seeing God’s promises come true for them. Whatever requirements God set for His people, they always broke them and God had to bring the punishment for breaking the covenant. Time after time, God started again with His people, and time after time they broke His covenant and received the punishment instead of the blessing.

Baptism Post #2 – Two Key New Testamant Passages on Baptism

Passage #1

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

–Matthew 28:18-20, NAS

  

This is Jesus’ clearest and strongest commandment about baptism, so it makes sense for us to start our discussion here. Grammatically, this passage is relatively easy to understand, with one tricky exception, and that is the question of who is to be baptized. The basic command Jesus gives is to make disciples of all the nations. Baptizing and teaching are two activities that are done in order to carry out the main command to make disciples. In other words, Jesus isn’t commanding three things here: make disciples, baptize and teach. He’s giving one command, make disciples, and two things that need to be done to carry out that command, baptizing and teaching. This is clear because “make disciples” is the main verb of the sentence.

The question debated by Baptists and Presbyterians is, “Who should be baptized?” Baptists argue that the grammar indicates that only disciples should be baptized.  They say the antecedent reference for “them” is “disciples.” The problem is that, in the Greek, the word “disciples” does not appear as a separate noun. Rather, the verb is “make disciples” or “disciple.” A more literal translation could read “Go therefore and disciple all nations, baptizing them . . . ” Written this way, the clear reference for “them” is “all the nations.” So, is Jesus teaching universal baptism? No. The reason why Jesus makes “all nations” the object of His command is that the apostles are being told to expand their ministry beyond Israel to the gentile world.   

Jesus is giving His disciples a command to make disciples of all kinds of people, not just Jewish people. Earlier, He had restricted their ministry to the House of Israel only (see 10:6 and 15:24). Now, He is sending them beyond the House of Israel and into all the nations. They are to make disciples of all kinds of people by first baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and then by teaching them to obey all of Jesus commands. 

So, who is to be baptized? All kinds of people who are being made into disciples of Jesus are to be baptized. Does this include the children of believers, even from birth? Well, the question is really whether or not Christian parents are making disciples of their children from birth, teaching them to obey the commands of Jesus.    I think most Christian parents would say that they are called to disciple their children, that is, to teach them to obey Jesus’ commands from birth. If it is appropriate to disciple children by teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands, why would it be inappropriate to baptize them? Jesus gives two elements of making disciples—baptizing and teaching. Should Christian parents exclude the one and continue in the other? Nothing in this passage would justify that position.  

Passage #2  

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” –Acts 2:38-39, NAS   

Here we see Peter at Pentecost carrying out the Great Commission that Jesus gave him ten days earlier at His ascension. After explaining who Jesus really is and what God is accomplishing through the work of Jesus, Peter urges the crowd to repent and be baptized. This is the clearest command about baptism given to a mass group of unconverted people in the Bible, and it is also the first command to receive Christian baptism given in the history of the church.    

Peter gives two commands, a promise, and a statement about the nature of the promise. The two commands are “Repent” and “be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.” The fact that he adds “each of you” personalizes the responsibility for each person within hearing of his voice. The basic meaning of these commands is that the people are to turn from their sins and identify themselves with Jesus in baptism in order to be forgiven of their sins.    If the people obey these commands, they will receive the Holy Spirit, just as the 120 disciples had already received Him.

Then, Peter adds a statement about the promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He says, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”    I think Peter’s main point is that this is not an isolated promise just for those 3,000 who received it that day. Pentecost was not an unconnected event.  Rather, the promise given at Pentecost was part of God’s unfolding plan of redemption for the whole world and for all generations (the “far off” and the “children”). God was beginning the process of calling people into His new covenant, marked by baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and it was a process that would expand geographically beyond Jerusalem and the Jews and generationally beyond the people gathered on that day.   

In this passage, Baptists typically tend to emphasize the order or “repent” and then “be baptized” and they insist that a person must be old enough to repent of his or her sins before he or she can receive baptism. On the other hand, Presbyterians tend to emphasize Peter’s statement “the promise is for you and your children” as they teach that Christian parents should claim God’s promise for their children in baptism.    

The demand that one must repent and believe before being baptized cannot necessarily be taken from this passage and applied to the children of believers. Peter is addressing a group of unconverted adults, and his immediate and primary audience cannot be forgotten. For unconverted adults, repentance and faith must precede baptism, but children of believers are different than unconverted adults.  At what age do Christian parents start teaching their children to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus? If not from birth, then certainly they start at a very young age. Christian parents teach their children to show the fruit of repentance (humility, confession of wrong, making amends) and of faith in Jesus (prayer, worship songs, etc.) as soon as they are able to do so.    

The point is that Peter is not talking to the infant children of believers here, but to a group of unconverted adults.  If baptism is assumed to be proper for these infant children, this passage does not provide sufficient grounds for refuting it. The children of believers are not unconverted adults, and it is unreasonable to apply the same standards to them.   

The Presbyterians don’t quite get off the hook, either. They tend to emphasize Peter’s statement, “the promise is for you and your children,” and they often virtually ignore the rest of the verse. The promise is not only for you and your children, but also “for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” While the children are singled out as specific recipients of the promise, they are not the only ones mentioned here. It is just as important that the promise is going out to the nations as it is that it is being passed on to the children.  The recipients of the promise are “as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself,” some of whom are the children of those present and some of whom are still far off (gentiles). Ultimately, it is those whom God will call to Himself who are the heirs of the promise.   

Still, Peter does mention “your children” as being among those for whom the promise is given, and this is important for our consideration of infant baptism.  God does seem to single out the children of the new believers as specific heirs of the promise.  The nature of this promise and how it is for the children of believers is a little unclear, so we’ll need to investigate it further by examining other passages of Scripture that have similar expressions.     If we do, we’ll soon find that Peter is using covenant language here. The idea of a promise being given, especially one “for you and for your children” is at the heart of a biblical covenant. So, if we’re going to understand what Peter says here about the promise given through baptism, we’re going to have to do a little background study into covenants.

What the New Testament Does and Does Not Say About Baptism

With this post, I am beginning a series on the issue of who should be baptized, or whether or not it is fitting and proper to baptize the infant children of believers as “covenant children.”

____________

I remember a tract I read when I was a junior in high school. I was attending a Baptist church at the time and, having been baptized as an infant at Knox Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma, was told that I needed to be baptized again if I wanted to join my church. I was intrigued when I saw this tract, as I thought it might help me with my problem. It was titled, “What the Bible says About Infant Baptism.” I opened it, hoping to find a compelling argument, and I saw that it was totally blank inside. The back said something like, “That’s right. The Bible doesn’t teach infant baptism at all. Why then should anyone practice it?” It was short and to the point, and enough to convince me at the time. I was re-baptized shortly thereafter and joined the Baptist church. 

Today I realize that Presbyterians could just as easily produce their own tract on baptism entitled, “What the Bible Says Against Infant Baptism.” It, like its Baptist counterpart, would be completely blank inside, and the back would read, “That’s right. The Bible does not condemn infant baptism at all. Why then do some Christians speak so strongly against it?” Well, exchanging tracts probably won’t get us very far in this long-standing debate. This issue needs more careful discussion and patient explanation than any tract can provide in a few brief paragraphs.

Few issues divide great Christian leaders, who otherwise agree on so much, like the issue of baptism. Every year, R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries holds a teaching conference in Florida. The speakers are all good friends who see eye-to-eye on almost everything. They all believe strongly in the inerrant authority of the Word of God, and they would all consider themselves “reformed” in their theology. Yet every year, some of the speakers believe in infant baptism and others strongly disagree with it.  

The Bible teachers and preachers whom I respect most deeply are all strongly divided on this issue: Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, J.I. Packer, R.C, Sproul, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, John Stott, and John Bunyan. These are all men of God and faithful students and teachers of the Word. I have learned much from all of them, yet I find that they are divided on this key and basic issue.

For a long time after I was re-baptized at the age of 16, I read Baptist explanations of baptism with all of their apparent support from the New Testament, and I was very convinced. I became so convinced, in fact, that I began to ridicule Presbyterians– “This is so stupid. Haven’t these people read their Bibles?  The Bible is so clear.” I was dumbfounded that I could figure out that baptism was only for believers, but that men like Sproul and James Boice were so blind to the obvious teachings of Scripture. I was taught that infant baptism was just a remnant of Roman Catholicism that Luther and Calvin didn’t want to eliminate, and I felt sorry for these poor Presbyterians with their Catholic leftovers. 

Well, over time, I began to listen to what Presbyterians had to say about infant baptism. My life circumstances and some of my other convictions had led me back to a Presbyterian church, and I found myself very uncomfortable whenever an infant was baptized on Sunday morning. I started listening to some teachings by Presbyterians. I hoped to understand how they justified their position– not to be converted in my own opinion, but simply that I might understand theirs. I heard for the first time the connection between baptism and circumcision (which we will explore later), and I thought it was interesting, although misapplied. I heard for the first time the use of the word “covenant” in connection to baptism (which we will also explore later), and I again thought it was interesting, but off base. 

Wanting to give the Baptists a fair shake in the debate, I scoured the Internet for articles on baptism from both sides. I found both sides making good points, but typically talking past each other.  Finally, I resolved to go back to the Scriptures and re-examine thoroughly and systematically what the New Testament had to say about baptism. I had learned some Greek by this time (taught to me by a Baptist), so I thought I could examine the teaching more clearly. I spent hours pouring over the texts. I read the contexts. I read the cross-references. I read sermons by Spurgeon on some of the more interesting texts, and I searched my New Geneva Study Bible for notes on others. I came to one conclusion: The New Testament says a lot about baptism and gives a lot of examples of baptisms, but it does not say clearly whether or not the infant children of believers should be baptized.  The New Testament contains no “magic bullet” verse to abolish one side or the other in this debate, although both sides sometimes act as if it does. The New Testament does not say, “You shall baptize the infant children of believers when they are 8 days old, just as Abraham had them baptized when they were 8 days old.” Nor does it say, “The infant children of believers must not receive the sign of baptism until they make a credible profession of faith.” Those verses simply do not exist.

Biblically, this issue of baptizing the infant children of believers remains difficult, even upon close examination, and that is why good Bible teachers remain divided by it. Now, to say that this issue is difficult is not to say that there are no definite answers to the questions it raises. I believe that as Christians we are called to live our lives in accordance with Scripture in everything, including in how we practice baptism. I hope that my personal struggles in this area will help me to present my case in a fair and balanced manner. Steve Brown (a Presbyterian) once said, “Never go to someone about a difficult matter unless they first agree that it is a difficult matter.” I know from experience that those who believe this issue is so “cut and dried” (as I once thought it was) are not of great use to those who are honestly grappling with it. I hope you will find this consideration thought-provoking at least and perhaps even convincing. 

Well, now that we agree that this is a difficult matter, what does the New Testament say about baptism?

More Thoughts on Federal Vision

I think that Federal Vision makes a lot of sense from a human perspective (the church as we see and experience it) and is a guard against many errors and problems.  It reinforces the idea that baptism does bring us into the church and into covenant relationship with God through Christ.  I think there is a strong sense in which we can thus say that the children of believer are Christians, or Christian kids, from a human perspective, even from birth.  It also reinforces the idea that only those who persevere to the end are saved; that if you fall away and commit apostasy, you are lost.  It is an answer to the “once saved, always saved” philosophy that presumes upon the grade of God too much and uses the grace of God as a license for sin and unfaithfulness.  It also emphasizes the fact that we are in a covenant relationship with God and that the covenant community of God’s people is a family of families and that everyone in the church has obligations under the covenant before God. Having said all of that, I think the point of departure is in the use of the term “seal.”  To say that baptism is a sign and seal of our union with Christ is NOT to say that baptism actually joins us to Christ.  In fact, using the language of sign and seal explicitly guards against saying that baptism actually joins us to Christ (which is essentially the RC position).  A seal is a promise, or guarantee, and so baptism points to our union with Christ and promises us union with Christ, which promise is made to the children of believers.   The breakdown for me, which makes FV unacceptable is:

  1. It breaks the ordo salutis and the Golden Chain of Salvation by putting adoption and sanctification before repentance and faith and justification.  This is out of order.  It also says that someone may really and truly and spiritually experience many of the benefits of redemption and being “the elect” without receiving all of them.  This is simply contrary to the WCF, the WSC, the Five Point of Calvinism, the Doctrine of Election and the Whole Counsel of Scripture. 
  2. It obliterates the distinction between the visible and the invisible church.  While the language of “visible” and “invisible” is not found in Scripture (neither is the word Trinity), the concept is nonetheless taught, and the language is certainly very clear in the WCF and the Reformed tradition.
  3. It attributes too much actual efficacious saving grace power to the sacraments, which are signs and seals of grace and means of grace, but which do NOT, in and of themselves, impart saving grace to anyone.
  4. It obscures and redefines what the Bible and the Confession mean by the terms “elect” and “in Christ” by applying these terms to people who may not persevere unto the end and be saved.

Federal Vision (New Perspectives)

I want to explore the Federal Vision theology that is growing in influence among conservative, Reformed folks and classical educators.  I have read and appreciated and benefited from the writings of Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart and N.T. Wright, but I am confused and frustrated by this Federal Vision theology.  I am confused because many of the arguments made by Federal Vision folks sound like arguments I make for the interity of the Christian family and the biblical case for infant/covenant baptism.  On the other hand, other arguments they make sound very un-Reformed to me and seem to fly in the face of own of the most central truths in Reformed theology, the Golden Chain of Salvation, outlined in brief by Paul in Romans 8:28-30 and fleshed out in the Reformed concept of the ordo salutis (order of salvation).

I would like to attempt to briefly outline my understanding of Federal Vision theology and then ask a few questions.  I invite people from both sides to respond.  I may even invite you to join as a contributor of your own posts if your comments are excellent and you are interested in getting more involved.  For the record, I agree wholeheartedly with the conclusions of the PCA Study Committee and the recent action taken by the PCA General Asssembly.

My Understanding of Federal Vision:

1.  Baptism unites a person to Christ and to the Church, His Body. (No attempt is made to distinguish between the visible and the invisble church at this point.)

2.  Not everyone who is “in Christ” is necessarily united to Christ in the same way.  Different people in the Church are “in Christ” in different degrees.

3.  Everyone who is united to Christ through baptism and is in the Church is a child of God, adopted into God’s family, and is truly a member of the Body of Christ.

4.  These members of the Body of Christ are called to place saving faith in Christ alone for their salvation.  They should trust in Christ’s sinless life, atoning work on the cross and His bodily resurrection and ascension as the only and all-sufficient grounds for their salvation.

5.  However, whether or not a person is justified, declared not guilty, is an eschatological event, something which happens at Judgment Day.  Only then will we know who has saving faith, which is also a persevering faith, and is thus justified.

6.  Christ’s righteousness is not imputed to us.  Some FV folks say we need no merit, no positive righteousness, to be saved, whether that is Christ’s or someone else’s or our own.  Other FV folks say that our own works and/or our own perseverance serve as a kind of merit, which is not the grounds for our justification, but plays some role in it.  In other words, we do get credit for persevering in our faith and good works.

7.  Children may be offered communion from a very early age because their baptism, received as infants, does truly unite them to Christ and make the Christians.  Their understanding of communion may be immature, like their faith, but that is no reason to deny them their rightful place at Christ’s table.

So, my first question is: Is this an accurate and clear summary of many of the key points in the current dispute?

My second question: Where does the Bible teach differing degrees of being “in Christ”? 

Question #3: How can one be a Christian and yet not be justified?  How can one be in Christ and yet not cleared of condemnation?

Question #4: How can one be in Christ and a child of God without necessarily being elect?

I’d like to know how we can understand the Book of Romans clearly?  What do these key verses from Romans mean?

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” – Romans 5:1-2

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” – Romans 8:1-2

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” – Romans 8:28-30

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

This statement hits very close to the whole problem: “Baptism marks them out as God’s elect people, a status they maintain so long as they persevere in faithfulness.” (from Auburn Avenue’s Session).  This is an unbiblical, contradictory  and confusing statement.



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.