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Posts Tagged ‘infant baptism’


I know, that is an ambitious title. These things are connected in our theology; or at least they should be.

When I interact with those who advocate for believers’ baptism they often point to the New Covenant which is said to be very different than the Old Covenant (it is in some significant ways). The New Covenant, they say, leads them to hold to a regenerate or pure church such that the difference between the visible and invisible churches to be nearly insignificant. While there is nothing in any of the direct statements about the New Covenant that prohibit infant baptism or demand believers baptism they think it does. They are using a good and necessary consequence argument to defend believers’ baptism. We Reformed paedobaptists also use an argument based on good and necessary consequence. The difference is that we acknowledge this but they usually don’t.

The author of Hebrews refers to the promise of the New Covenant twice: in chapters 8 and 10.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8

The author wants them to know that 1) the New Covenant is better and 2) the Old Covenant is obsolete. This does not mean the covenants are completely different and disconnected. The word used here for “new” is “kainos” instead of “neos”. “Kainos” can mean renewed rather than absolutely new. It can also refer to “more recent”.

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As usual, I depart from the usual blogging practice of listing the best books of a given year. I focus on the best books I read in that given year. So here are the best books I read in 2012! Perhaps some will make great gifts for Christmas or upcoming birthdays. Click those links!

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. This is one of my favorite books on marriage. Keller just has a way of expressing himself, and bringing in contemporary issues in a way I haven’t thought about before. He does some good cultural exegesis in addition to the biblical exegesis needed to resolve that cultural quandary. There is enough here for singles to think about to make it worth while for them too!

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp (my review). This moves beyond marriage into various relationships and how the gospel is at work in the mess that they are. That really is the point- the mess is part of how God changes us. So, it isn’t about mess-less relationships, but growing and loving in those relationships.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken. I find Newton to be a fascinating man. Aitken does a good job telling us his story. He shares his shame without trying to be scandalous or make him look bad. He shares his success without trying to glorify him. It comes across as a balanced, hopeful book about a man much used by God in his own generation.

Towards Spiritual Maturity by William Still. This small book is full of “spiritual dynamite”. It is a great little book on sanctification. It is obviously not meant to be exhaustive. But he hits on some much neglected realities in our sanctification.

Union With Christ by Robert Letham. This is an historical and scriptural study of our union with Christ. This is a much neglected subject that is of great importance. While it is more “intellectual” I think he does a good job of showing the benefits and implications of this doctrine that is foundational for Christian experience.

The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges. What if you took the best ideas from most of his books and put them into one book? You would get this book! It is a great book about how the gospel changes us. Easy to read and full of great stuff.

Loving Well (even if you haven’t been) by William Smith. Yes, another book on relationships. This is for the person who really wasn’t loved well by their parents (which is most of us). You’ll still learn something if you were loved well. This is a great book about what it means to be loved and how God has loved us well in Jesus Christ. So, it isn’t about trying harder but being loved so you can love.

Fearless by Eric Blehm. This is the story of Adam Brown, a member of Seal Team Six who overcame great obstacles to even become a Seal. It is also about his faith in Christ and the destructive power of addiction (Christ is greater!). It is a very moving story, but not for the squeamish.

Jesus Loves the Little Children by Daniel Hyde.  This is a great little book arguing for infant baptism. He makes Meredith Kline’s arguments accessible to mere mortals. Well worth reading.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. I re-read this book as I was preaching through the life of Daniel. Hers is an amazing story of a middle aged woman who became a resistance leader, was imprisoned by the Nazis and was set free to preach God’s love in Christ to generations hardened by the war.

Union with Christ by J. Todd Billings. Billings approaches the subject from a different angle than Letham did, but wrote a very helpful book as well. He is a Calvin scholar and focuses on Calvin’s work on the subject, but by no means limits himself to Calvin.

How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas. This short book is a treatment of Romans 8. It is a great treatment of Romans 8. I think it is must reading for all struggling with assurance or painful providence.

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. A great little book on sanctification. It is not exhaustive, but I think he pretty much hits the struggles most contemporary Christians have in this area. He draws from Scripture, the Reformed Confessions and various theologians. It is an edifying read.

The Masculine Mandate by Richard Philips. There are lots of lousy books on mahood. This isn’t one of them. He doesn’t just proof test a theology derived from movies, he established a solid theological framework from Genesis to help us understand our calling within the context of our covenant relationships with God and others.

Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Phil Ryken. This is like an updated version of Edwards’ classic Charity and Its Fruits. He follows the essential pattern, but in each chapter brings us to how Christ has loved us illustrating the particular aspect of love. Lots of other great stories to illustrate it as well.

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper. The last (?) in the series The Swans are Not Silent. He begins by handling a difficult passage in Colossians 1 and then illustrates his conclusion thru the lives of William Tyndale, John Paton and Adoniram Judson. That conclusion is that the suffering of the church and missionaries is how God males the gospel known and delightful among the nations. Our suffering is not simply caused by the gospel but meant to be the means of propagation.

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. This is in anticipation of its greatness. I’ve started to read it, and it holds plenty of promise. As usual, Keller is pulling a number of threads together to create a beautiful picture of God’s intentions for our vocations. I’m sure it will be very good.

A few thoughts:

My reading is often directed by my ministry and needs for personal growth.

This year was light on the classics. I’ll have to remember that for 2013.

While there are 4 biographies there, I should probably be reading more of them.

I filled in some gaps in my theology. This year I addressed our union with Christ. There are not many books on the subject out there. I’ve got a few more to read in 2013.

It is heavy on sanctification and love. I recognize my need to grow in grace and its manifestation in love. Books alone don’t mean I am growing. But they can be helpful in the process.

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One of our members is a Baptist in transition. He is interested in understanding more about covenant theology and particularly how this informs and shapes how we treat children in the church. He asked about books to read in this subject. I couldn’t really think of any. We are great about defending infant baptism, but after that ….

Then I came across Our Covenant With Kids: Biblical Nurture in Home and Church by Tim Sisemore (it was previously released as Of Such is the Kingdom). I don’t like the title, finding it misleading. It isn’t our covenant, but God’s covenant with us that includes our children. But I suspected I ought to read it to gain a better theoretical understanding and therefore begin to move the congregation toward better nurture of our covenant kids in the church.

“The purpose of this book is to examine the entire teaching of the Bible that relates to children, to systematize it, and use this foundation to develop strategies that more adequately enable us to minister effectively to our children.”

This is, in many ways, a big picture book. He is thorough, and covers much ground. Numerous topics are covered, and covered well, but not exhaustively. For instance, in the chapter on the salvation of children, he talks about those dying in infancy. He covers the main views succinctly, and briefly argues for one over the others. I agree with him. But this discussion could have taken up many more pages. Sisemore displays great restraint and discipline as he approaches these topics. He gives information to help you sort through some things and make better decisions.

He begins with the nature of the task, parenting in a world hostile to our faith. The culture has affected the Church in general in a few significant ways: the loss of truth (we disregard doctrine), the loss of humanness due to evolutionary thought and the animal rights agenda (we’re okay with slaughtering children, but not seals, whales etc.), and the adultification of children (the world seduces them from an early age). As a result, he sets out to give us a theology of children, not merely instruction. So much of this is often assumed in parenting books. He wants to make it explicit so we can see if we are deviating from biblical norms in how we think of children. If we are deviating from biblical norms, our approach to instruction and nurture will be ineffective and possibly harmful.

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In his book Children at the Lord’s Table?, Cornelius Venema includes an appendix on the issue of baptism. This appendix, he notes, is his chapter in The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge. This is an interesting irony since Gregg is one of the people mentioned who advocates for infant communion in the PCA.

“The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established His church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His Church and as such entitled to its ordinances.” B.B. Warfield

Venema rightly goes after the presuppositions that operate in this discussion. The case is not won on the basis of proof-texts because each side brings different presuppositions regarding the nature of the covenant of grace in its varying administrations. This appendix is here because Venema also sees this problem as the basis for the infant communion debate. He uses the appendix to spend more time explaining the proper relationship between the various administrations of the covenant of grace.

Venema admits both sides have arguments from silence. Just as there is no statement explicitly keeping children in the covenant community (no command to baptize them), there is no statement explicitly removing them from the covenant community. If there was, the would have been a serious battle in the church shortly after Pentecost.  We don’t see this. Rather, we do see, from the beginning, the repetition of the phrase “this promise is for you and your children”. Peter continues to expand it to the Gentiles. Peter is speaking the language of Genesis 12, 15 & 17 in the context of the sign of initiation into the covenant community (just like Genesis 17). But, I get ahead of myself.

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The final chapter, though there is an appendix, in Children at the Lord’s Table? has Venema’s concluding observations and an evaluation. Most of the chapter reviews the material presented earlier in the book. It is fairly redundant, as one other reviewer noted.He does remind us that since this view is out of step with the Reformed Confessions, the burden of proof is on them to show from Scripture that they have it right and we’ve gotten it wrong for 500 years (it is possible). But they failed to provide sufficient evidence (in his opinion, and mine).

But his evaluation includes some thoughts about the different view of the covenant that functions under the surface of their arguments. In other words, he moves on to their presuppositions. This is where the disagreement really lies. The subject of infant communion is just the visible evidence of the different presuppositions (the same is true for the infant-believers’ baptism debate).

The advocates of infant communion operate with a view of the covenant that claims that all members of the covenant “enjoy a full and saving union with Christ.” This got me to thinking. It sounds remarkably like the argument for the “pure church” used by many credobaptists. Their argument for paedocommunion is completely consistent with that view of the covenant. But is that a proper view of the covenant? Is the pure church a proper understanding of the covenant community? Why then practice excommunication (apart from being commanded to) if they have a saving relationship with Christ because they’ve been baptized?

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In his book, Children at the Lord’s Table?, the next thing to be examined is the Reformed Confessions of Faith.  Is the practice of infant communion consistent with or inconsistent with the doctrine (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy) of Reformed Confessions?

Why Confessions? Scripture is our ultimate standard. But people disagree as to the meaning of Scripture. Confessions of faith are summaries of the teaching of Scripture. As such, they define allowable interpretations of Scripture for a community of believers. We are concerned with Reformed Confessions in this discussion because we are talking about the practice in the Reformed community, not other communities.

The charge is made by credo baptists and paedocommunionists that advocating infant baptism and believer’s communion is inconsistent. But this ultimately means that the sacramental theology of the Confessions must be wrong. Covenantal credo baptists argue from a different sacramental theology than Reformed Theology has traditionally held. The presuppositions they hold make our position seem inconsistent. Is the same true for Reformed paedocommunionists? Do they have presuppositions that result in a sacramental theology that is different from that found in the Reformed Confessions?

“In the opinion of proponents of paedocommunion, the insistance that covenant children profess their faith before they are received at the Table of the Lord denies to them a privilege that ought to be extended to every covenant member.”

There are 3 main ways to look at the sacraments. First is the view of the Roman, Eastern and possibly Lutheran churches toward salvation, or grace, being communicated by the sacraments. This means that the sacrament actually accomplishes that which it signifies. As a result, baptism always regenerates sinners and cleanses from sin. Communion would be understood to always strengthen faith (presuming the previous regeneration of the celebrant).

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While I was in seminary the topic of paedocommunion (infants receiving communion) was largely unaddressed. I may have overheard a conversation or two, but it was very much under the radar. During my time in the ARP, the subject was not even on the map. While candidating for a position in a PCA church in New Jersey, the retired minister who was their stated supply encouraged me to study this subject (and I thought “why?!”).

Now that I am in the PCA it is time. There are pastors who hold to this view, though they are not permitted to practice it. One of my elders read Children at the Lord’s Table? by Cornelius Venema so I decided to read it for myself.

“Though it is true that the church’s practice ought to be formed by the teaching of the Scriptures, which are the supreme standard for faith and practice, the Reformed churches read the Scriptures in the company of the whole church and may not ignore the lessons of history.”

The first argument for paedocommunion that Venema examines is the argument from church history. As noted above, sola scriptura is about our final authority regarding practice. Properly applied we also examine church history and historical theology to see how the church has thought and acted in the past. We recognize that the Spirit has been instructing the church in the meaning of the Scriptures for 2,000 years. We don’t start from scratch. But not all the church has thought or done has been in accord with the Scriptures.

Those arguing for infant communion assert an early and widespread practice of infant communion. They claim that the western church has departed from this practice and should return to the practice. Venema examines this claim first. He notes the ample early evidence for infant baptism (he depends upon Jeremias’ work). The evidence for infant communion is note nearly as strong or as early. The first clear statement affirming the practice of infant communion is from Cyprian in the middle of the 3rd century. Prior to this we find statements indicating the church did not practice infant communion. For instance, Justin Martyr (mid-2nd century) says that “no one is allowed to partake but the man (person) who believes that the things which we teach are true…” (First Apology). So the practice he was familiar with was communion after a period of instruction in the faith. Clement of Alexandria (150-219) also teaches that those who receive it have been instructed and receive it “by faith” in Instructor and The Stromata. In the east, Origen, also says that children were not given communion in his Homilies on the Book of Judges.

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