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Archive for the ‘Baptism’ Category


This was my final article for Tabletalk Magazine, published after I left Ligonier Ministries.  It is a short review of Randy Booth’s book Children of the Promise.

I read many books on the subject of infant baptism, but their arguments never connected with my experience.  When I read that Robert Booth used to be a Baptist minister, I thought he could explain it in a way I could understand.  I was not disappointed this time.

He begins his argument with a thorough explanation of covenant theology.  The question of how to interpret the Bible in regards to covenant theology cannot be minimized.  We tend to read the Bible as post-enlightenment, 20th century, individualist Americans.  The original audience(s) understood covenants and the idea of headship.  Keeping this in mind makes the going easier.

Booth then argues for the continuity of the covenant community between New and Old Covenants.  He does this from a variety of New Testament passages.  This is an important part of the argument, and the biblical evidence must be reckoned with before reaching a conclusion.

The ideas which had presented a problem for me were those of signs and seals of the covenant.  Booth explained them in a way which made sense and made infant baptism nearly unavoidable.  His comparision of circumcision and baptism was most helpful.  They are not identical, but the continuity is important.  There is much misunderstanding concerning the meaning of circumcision today.  This chapter is useful in correcting this problem.  He also reminds us baptism represents what God has done, not what we do.  Here, too, there is much confusion to be removed from the conversationn.  Booth’s presentation is clear and powerful.

The last sections of the book deal with the concept of household baptism followed by a summary of the argument for infant baptism.  In these chapters, indeed the whole book, Booth interacts with the ideas of baptistic theologians like Jewett, Kingdon and Strong.  Booth answered all of the objections to infant baptism I had.  This book, published by P & R, can help those who struggle with this issue.

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Still working through the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Here are the sections on the Covenant and Christ our Mediator.

Chapter VII: Of God’s Covenant with Man

80. What is a covenant (in terms of God’s relationship with man)?  It is a bond sealed in blood by which God has redeemed His people, and outlines how we are to live as His people.

81. What is meant by the “covenant of works” (or, “of life”)? Does it have a present validity?  It was the covenant under which Adam lived in the Garden.  It is the covenant under which we all fell into sin with him.  All who are in Adam remain in the covenant of works and shall experience the just condemnation due them.

82. What is meant by the “covenant of grace”?  It is covenant in which Jesus is offered as our Redeemer who perfectly obeyed in our place  that we might receive covenant blessings, and died in our place suffering the penalty for our sins committed under the covenant of works.

83. Explain the statement that there is one unified covenant of grace with various administrations. Distinguish from dispensations. The revelation of that covenant was progressive and expansive.  Each successive covenant provided greater clarity and blessing rather than replace previous covenants.  In dispensationalism, each successive dispensation replaces the previous dispensation.

84. What are the signs and seals of the covenant? Circumcision and Passover in the OT; Baptism & the Lord’s Table in the NT

85. Are you personally committed to covenant theology? Yes.

 

Chapter VIII: Of Christ the Mediator

86. Why is the office of Christ as Mediator necessary for the salvation of God’s elect?  Apart from the work of a Mediator, we perish in our sins.  God is just and he can’t just wipe the slate clean.  Someone must be punished for our sins, and we need real obedience to receive covenant blessings.

87. Could God have pardoned sin without Christ’s sacrifice?  No, for no mere man is able to perfectly obey God but sin each day in thought, word and deed.  God is just and must punish sin.  No other substitute was available.

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Here are my answers to the study notes as I prepare for my oral exam next week.  I thought some people might be interested in the types of things I must know.  Since there are over 300 questions, I’ll go chapter by chapter through the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Please …. I’m not putting them up to debate issues.  I recognize that not all Christians will agree on these matters.  It may not represent your doctrinal standards, but it is mine.  If you think I misunderstood the Confession of Faith, I’m open to correction as long as you keep in mind that perhaps you have misunderstood the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Chapter I: Of The Holy Scriptures

1. Distinguish between “general” and “special” revelation.  “General” revelation is available to all men everywhere.  The creation declares God’s invisible attributes (Ps. 19, Rom. 1).  “Special” revelation is the Scriptures.

2. Is general revelation clear? Is it authoritative? Is it sufficient? To what end?  “General” revelation is clear, and it is authoritative.  It is sufficient only that we may know that God exists.  Our sinful nature distorts and twists “general” revelation such that people either deny there is a God or they worship a false god.  It is insufficient for us to know how we may be saved.  As a result, it is sufficient to condemn us.

3. According to the Confession, why are the Scriptures necessary? They are necessary that we might know what we are to believe concerning God and what duty He requires of us.  They are necessary due to the lies and attacks of the flesh, Satan and the world against God and truth.

4. What are the four attributes of Scripture and what is meant by them?  Authority, sufficiency, infallible, & clarity.  The Scriptures have authority on all matters to which they speak because they are God’s Word to us. They are sufficient in that they tell us all we need to know for our salvation and life of godliness.  They are infallible meaning they are fully reliable and not deceived or deceiving.  Clarity means that all that we need to know is clearly expressed.  Non-essential matters are less clear.

5. What is meant by the Scripture’s self attestation?   Scripture itself teaches that God is its author.

6. Describe for us your understanding of inerrancy?  The original manuscripts contain no errors or falsehoods, therefore Scripture is reliable.

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Many a tree has been killed over the topic of the proper mode of baptism.  I am not referring to the use of the trinitarian formula.  I am referring to whether or not one must be immersed or if sprinkling and pouring are also legitimate modes of baptism.  For some people this is pretty much a hill to die on.  For others, this is not an essential of the faith and they permit some flexibility in the matter.

As a credobaptist (believer’s baptism) I often heard that the Greek verb means “to immerse, to dip.”  The total argument was based on the “meaning of the word.”  Let’s briefly investigate this claim.

From The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged):

The Meaning of

baŒptoµ and baptéŒzoµ. baŒptoµ, “to dip in or under,” “to dye,” “to immerse,” “to sink,” “to drown,” “to bathe,” “wash.”

I don’t know about you, but I do not often immerse myself when I wash.  I essentially pour water over my hands, or body when I shower.  Such an understanding would be within the semantic range of the verb.  Immersion is a legitimate mode of baptism, but possibly not the only legitimate mode of baptism.

So far, not very convincing.  Right?  What if I pointed out an instance in Scripture where baptism did not mean “immerse”?

There are 2 parallel passages that help us to see the fulness of the term found in Scripture.

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 1, NIV)

Jesus is speaking about the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  The disciples were going to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.  This event takes place in Acts 2, and Peter offers a biblical theological explanation for what the people just experienced, or witnessed (in the case of the crowd who did not yet believe).

16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  (Acts 2, NIV)

Peter informs the people that God promised this would happen.  It was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2).  This “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is described as God “pour(ing) out (His) Spirit.”  The semantic range is more limited- “to pour out, to shed (as in blood).”  We are not immersed in the Spirit

Using this parallelism, in which one verse helps us to understand another (called the analogy of Scripture in the Westminster Confession of Faith & the London Baptist Confession).  This is also part of how we do theology in Scripture.  You include the range of meaning, look at synomyns, other grammatical concerns and historical context.  Here we see that baptism can also mean “to pour.”

If you want to immerse when you baptize- have at it.  But it would be biblically improper to limit the proper mode of baptism to immersion.  Those who have been sprinkled and poured by legitimate churches are just as baptized as you.  The issue is not how much water touches your body.

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My, he's a squirmy one!

My, he is a squirmy one!

It was long overdue.  This is what happens when you don’t have a call and you are a Presbyterian.  My membership is with my Presbytery, not a local church.  This complicated & delayed the process of baptizing CavSon.  [I have a few posts on the Reformed position on baptizing infants- not all views on infant baptism are the same.  I forgot to put a post up about mode of baptism.  This week, Lord willing.]

Amie has now joined the local PCA church in which we worship.  Yesterday morning we had him baptized.  Our friend Danny, who is the Associate Pastor, handled the explanation and vows.  I handled the squirming son, and the actual baptism.  It took quite some time as Danny kept losing his place due to the side show going on around him.  CavSon kept wanting to play with the ear piece from the wireless system I had on since I was preaching.

May blessings break upon his head.

May blessings break upon his head.

He did much better when I actually poured water on his head.  He seemed to like that.  Of course, he had been working up a sweat.  Afterward he wanted to play with the rest of the water, which was not a surprise to either of us.  It was great for CavDaughter to watch this.  She was up there with us initially, but she was quite antsy too, so we had her sit with friends.  She’s on the video.  We talked with her a little bit about it the previous day or two.  She knows she has been baptized, and we should show her that video.  She’s fascinated by pictures of herself when she was a baby.

We received word while we were in Jacksonville that his new birth certificates had arrived at the lawyer’s office.  I picked them up this morning.  Now we can work toward his U.S. citizenship.  But he is now part of the visible church, which is great news in my book.  May his adoption into our family eventually result in his being adopted into God’s family.

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Justin Taylor (Between Two Worlds) linked to a post by Ray Ortland  that is a good reminder for all of us who are Reformed in our theology (I spoke with a potential real estate agent about that this morning).  Here is some of what he says:

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

Paul answered the theological aspects of the Galatian error with solid theology. But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). In other words, “The legalists want to ‘disciple’ you. But really, they’re manipulating you. By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them.” It’s like chapter two of Tom Sawyer. Remember how Tom got the other boys to whitewash the fence for him? Mark Twain explained: “In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Paul saw it happening in Galatia. But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It re-sets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself.

So, while I agree with J.I. Packer and Roger Nicole that “Calvinism is the gospel” (meaning the most accurate understanding of the biblical gospel), I need to be wary of my little inner Pharisee which tends to make that a litmus test.  I have been fortunate to be friends with people from a variety of Christian ‘traditions’, and continue to be.  But sometimes my inner Pharisee appears and I try to convert them to Reformed theology instead of waiting for Jesus to sort all that out.  Oh, I should be willing to discuss it with them but I shouldn’t feel the need to argue them into it.  (Apologies to all those I’ve done this to … there are more of you than I probably know.)  One phrase I used in seminary was “you don’t have to understand gravity for it to still have an effect on you.”  It is the same way with grace- we don’t always have a good understanding of the “hows” but what matters is that it has effected someone savingly.  The understanding will come later (sometimes MUCH later).  And that goes for me too, for all of us have blind spots in our theology.  But if they grasp Jesus by faith- they are Christians, part of his church, body and bride.

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Phriday Phun Photo


sprinkling.jpg

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