Recently, a couple of lectures that John MacArthur gave on infant baptism have been making their way around the web. MacArthur begins by bringing up the issue of baptized non-Christians and unbaptized Christians. Then he talks about how his church broadcasts baptisms over the radio (boasting of baptisms over the radio is a little strange). He goes on to say:
But there’s a world of people who don’t get it, who don’t understand it. And there are people who don’t know that it is important and who don’t think the methodology is important, or even the time when a person is baptized. There are folks who are just plain confused about baptism, what is its method, and what is its meaning, and in particular, what about the baptizing of infants, which is how you get a world full of non-Christians who have been baptized as infants.From this paragraph alone it's very clear that Johnny Mac believes that baptism is a law that we need to accomplish and that we need to do in a very specific way. He is also troubled by the great number of people who were baptized as infants and at least according to him are non-Christians. As a former Baptist I can tell you that there are plenty of people on the membership roll of Baptist churches who have been baptized according to the standards set forth by Baptists who are not living as Christians and don't attend any church. It does not follow from the fact that some people do not live as baptized Christians that there was something wrong with their baptism. MacArthur goes on to say:
Many churches are so designed to be pragmatic and baptism isn’t really a very pragmatic thing to introduce into people’s lives. And so it just gets left behind. Pragmatism has been the death of the sacraments, we might say. But what concerns me is that we need to understand baptism because it is in Scripture a command…a command. The Great Commission is very clear at the end of the gospel of Matthew in chapter 28, you know these words. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” All nations need to hear the gospel and those that believe need to be baptized.Once again we find MacArthur emphasizing his belief that baptism is a command that must be fulfilled. It is all Law for him. Baptism is not Gospel for John MacArthur. You'll notice that MacArthur is reading his own tradition into the Matthew 28 text. Jesus did not say "All nations need to hear the gospel and those that believe need to be baptized." In the Greek the only flat-out command in the verse is to disciple the nations. "Baptizing" is a participle that tells us how disciples are made. Disciples are made by baptizing them. The text doesn't say anything about a person having to be able to express his faith in order for that person to be baptized.
Peter in the first sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 says, “Repent and be baptized.” On that day there were thousands of people, three thousand baptized, thousands more day after day after day in the early days of the church as it began to grow. It is clear in Scripture that Baptism is a requirement, it is a command, both to the individual believer and to the church.Notice that in the text itself, baptism is not something the person does but something that is done to the person. It's passive. Peter doesn't say, "Baptize yourself." Peter says, "Be baptized." If we read Acts 2 we find that Peter does not say, "Be baptized to fulfill God's Law." Peter says, "Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins." For Peter baptism is Gospel. For John MacArthur baptism is Law. If you were starving and I handed you a sandwich and said, "Take, eat, and be full" you wouldn't think you were fulfilling some strange Law. You would take it as good news that someone gave you something to eat to keep you from starving.
But for the most part, historically, Christianity has been marked by infant baptism. In fact, from about the fourth century on, infant baptism has been the norm in the Christian church. The Reformation in the 1500’s didn’t change that. So in that sense, it was an incomplete Reformation.MacArthur's claims simply aren't true based on the historical evidence. I deal with these claims in a series of blog posts I did on Baptist successionism. The historical evidence actually shows that infant baptism dates back to the time of the Apostles and nobody argued against it until the 1100s. MacArthur regards the Reformation as incomplete because it didn't do away with infant baptism. But the Reformation was all about doing away with those practices which had developed over the years that were contrary to Scripture. The Scriptures say to baptize the nations for the forgiveness of sins. The Scriptures do not say to leave certain classes or types of people out. MacArthur then tells us he's going to give us five reasons not to baptize infants.
Here’s the first one and this would be enough, infant baptism is not in the Scripture. Infant baptism is not in the Scripture. Scripture nowhere advocates or records any such thing as the baptism of an infant. It is therefore impossible to support infant baptism from the Bible. It is not in the Bible. There’s not an incident of it, there’s not a mandate, there’s not a call for it, there’s not a description of it. It doesn’t appear. In fact, if you go back in history, and I’m going to do that a little bit with you, you will find that historians have affirmed this fact. Theological leaders in generations past have affirmed this truth.
There's no specific Scriptural command to baptize John MacArthur therefore John MacArthur should never have been baptized. There is no explicit command against abortion, therefore abortion is okay. Infants should be baptized because they are part of the nations. When the Apostles went and carried out the Great Commission they baptized households. The only specific examples where individuals were baptized without the rest of the household are Jesus, Paul, and the Ethiopian eunuch. None of them had households to baptize.
For example, Friedrich Schleiermacher, the German theologian wrote, “All traces of infant baptism which are asserted to be found in the New Testament must first be inserted there.” And he would come from a Lutheran tradition, but affirm…you would have to put it into the Bible because it isn’t there. The host of German and front-rank theologians and scholars of the Church of England have united to affirm not only the absence of infant baptism from the New Testament, but the absence from apostolic and post-apostolic writers. This is the Anglican Church, the Church of England that does infant baptism. This is the Lutheran Church that affirms and does infant baptism saying it’s not in the Bible.Schleiermacher was the exact opposite of a confessional Lutheran theologian. He grew up in a pietist home. Pietism was a movement that developed in reaction to Lutheran orthodoxy. Lutheran orthodoxy is known for its emphasis upon the objective work of Christ in the Word and in the sacraments. The pietists believed that subjective religious experience was much more important. You can actually find much of the language of pietism in John MacArthur. He tends to emphasize looking for assurance of salvation in a gradual growth in righteousness rather than in the crucified Christ objectively proclaimed. Pietism did not deny that the Bible recorded real history but tended to minimize the historical statements of the Scriptures. As one of the founders of modern liberal theology, Schleiermacher took this one step further. He denied that the Bible is a revelation from God and instead taught that it is a collection of religious experiences. He doubted the reliability of ancient history in general. Schleiermacher does not back up his assertion with evidence.
The theologians that MacArthur makes reference to are all in the liberal camp. They deny the authority of Scripture and are not confessionally Lutheran. So apparently, what makes a front-rank theologian in the eyes of John MacArthur is denying infant baptism regardless of the fact that they deny that the Bible is God's revelation to man. It's hardly honest for MacArthur to act as if the Lutheran church as a whole teaches that infant baptism is not found in the Bible. I suppose instead you could draw the conclusion that the less you believe the words of the Scripture to be true, the more likely you are to believe that infant baptism is not found in the Bible. Joachim Jeremias has written a very well-researched, scholarly work showing infant baptism in the New Testament Scriptures. MacArthur goes on to say:
It arose, first of all, started appearing in the second and third century, became normalized in the fourth century. B. B. Warfield who was a noted Presbyterian, Presbyterians do infant baptism, affirmed that infant baptism does not appear in the Scripture. We might think that if this is true that the Calvinistic regulative principle might be applied, the regulative principle of the Reformation said if Scripture doesn’t command it, it is forbidden. If Scripture doesn’t command it, it is forbidden, that was called the regulative principle.In regards to the claims about the origins of infant baptism, please refer to the blog posts I already mentioned about the Trail of Blood. As for Warfield, MacArthur is misrepresenting him. I don't think Warfield's methodology is the best way to go, but it's typical of Calvinists to argue this way. Warfield argues covenantally for infant baptism and he does find baptisms of infants taking place. MacArthur then tries to explain how it could be that such a supposedly unbiblical practice has been so widespread throughout church history. He says:
It was considered a heresy worthy of death. Anybody who violated baptism as ordained in their country, whether a Catholic or a Protestant country, came under the punishment of this civil code. This was around for a long time. If you go back to the year 391 you read the following order from the emperors. “Whoever forsakes the holy faith and desecrates the holy baptism through heretical superstition shall be excluded from human society.”
In other words, if you go against infant baptism, you’re excluded from human society, may give no judicial evidence, can as has been before prescribed, make no will…you couldn’t leave a will, take possession of no inheritance or be appointed heir by no one. So if you came along and said believers need to come to the place of faith in Christ and then be baptized, which is what the New Testament teaches, you were persona non-grata in your society. The document also, this translated into English, says, “We would also banish such person to far distant places if we did not deem it a more severe punishment to make him dwell among men without having the pleasure of fellowship with them. But he shall never regain his former legal capacity, nor can he at any time make amends for his crime by repentance, nor hide the same under invented evasions and excuses because those who profaned the faith which they placed in God and as traitors to divine mysteries associate with the unbelieving, cannot be justified by tissues of lies. For one comes indeed to the help of the fallen and erring but to the infamous who profane the holy baptism, no amelioration can procure mitigation as in the case of other offenses.” You’re done if you affirm any other than an infant baptism. You are finished in the society.MacArthur is quoting from the Theodosian Code. You'll notice that in the section MacArthur quotes there isn't actually anything said about people who were rebaptizing because they denied the validity of infant baptism. Historically there is no evidence that there were any movements prior to the 1100's that denied the validity of infant baptism. Instead, as the quote suggests, this law referred to those who had apostatized from the Christian faith after being baptized and engaged in pagan worship. It may refer also to those who denied the validity of their baptism because of the person performing it. There were schismatic groups who believed the validity of baptism was tied to the holiness of the person carrying out the baptism. Then very oddly, MacArthur says:
Further quoting from the writer Wormes, “Originally indeed these severe laws of the civil code were not issued for the defense of infant baptism, but were to secure the existence of the state church against rebaptism in any Christian circles. And the property of such persons was confiscated. They were branded violators of the civil law, punished by death and the loss of all property.” Consequently, infant baptism reigned supreme because people didn’t want to lose their lives.
I have not been able to determine who this Wormes guy is that MacArthur is quoting from. From what MacArthur says later it sounds like he is some sort of Roman Catholic historian. I emailed MacArthur's ministry and asked for the title of the book and first name of the author and received the following reply:
Thank you for contacting Grace to You. Unfortunately, we do not have the information you are requesting. Sorry about that!But the quotation that MacArthur provides actually contradicts what he is trying to prove. Wormes is saying that these laws were not written against groups that denied the validity of infant baptism but against other sectarian groups. These groups would most likely include anti-Trinitarians. Anti-Trinitarians are not Christians. These laws may have later been used against those denied the validity of infant baptism but those who denied infant baptism did not yet exist when these laws were written. Infant baptism reigned supreme because it remained an unquestioned practice from the time of the Apostles to the 1100s. MacArthur says:
The Catholic Church hated the Anabaptists even through the Middle Ages, the Reformers, the Reformed Church who got their soteriology right, hated the Anabaptists, the rebaptizers, because they bought into the Roman Catholic view of infant baptism. And one of the sad realities of the Reformation is that Reformers who believed in sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, sola Christus, all the solas, drowned people who baptized believers. You want to be baptized, we’ll put you down and won’t bring you up until you’re dead.Many of the Anabaptists were revolutionaries. Some of them were very violent. It was for this reason that the group as a whole was treated badly. It wasn't just because the anabaptists didn't want to baptize babies. MacArthur says:
There were always those who believed in baptism, as the New Testament teaches it, Bohemian Brethren, Waldencians, pre-Waldencians, the broad name of Anabaptists which was a nickname meaning rebaptizers.MacArthur is correct when he says that there have always been those who believed in baptism as the New Testament teaches it, but there have not always been those who denied infant baptism. Denial of infant baptism sprung up in the 1100's and died off after a couple of hundred years only to spring up again around the time of the Reformation. MacArthur says:
You would have thought that if one of the great hallmarks of the Reformation was sola scriptura, that if they really believed that everything had to come from the Scripture, they would have set aside infant baptism since it wasn’t anywhere in the Bible. But in spite of its absence in Scripture, they defended it and practiced it as if it was biblical and the pressure was that the Catholics had these unified states that were unified both by political and military power, but also unified by religious power and everybody was a Catholic because you were baptized a Catholic. And so you were under the tyranny of the church and that way they controlled their populations which made them powerful forces. And the Protestant states that they didn’t do that would be weakened by disparity and diversion and they had to make sure that all their people were also part of everything and there was absolute solidarity so they could defend themselves against the Catholic nations. So they held on to something that I am convinced that even Martin Luther knew wasn’t in the Bible and wasn’t really right.So it's all a vast conspiracy. Has MacArthur even read what Martin Luther says about baptism? You can read what Luther says in his Large Catechism about infant baptism here. It sure sounds to me like he thought infant baptism was Biblical and right. He does more than just pay lip service to it. John MacArthur must have psychic powers that allow him to get inside of Luther's head and know that Luther didn't believe all this stuff he taught. Maybe MacArthur is speaking in code. Maybe MacArthur really knows that infant baptism is found in the Bible. I've often found that those who accuse others of something without any proof are often guilty of what they are accusing others of. Maybe MacArthur is afraid he'll lose his job if he comes out in support of infant baptism so he has decided to present the worst possible arguments against infant baptism to make those opposed to infant baptism look silly. MacArthur then says:
Well, they say, “What about Matthew 18 where it says, ‘Except you become a little child, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’” I don’t read anything about baptism there. All that’s saying is childlike faith is necessary to come into the Kingdom.MacArthur says that God just has a special care for children. Luke specifically says that there were infants present and Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. MacArthur is ignoring the plain teaching of the Scriptures and using his own tradition to interpret the Scriptures. If these children are part of the kingdom of God they should be baptized. Entrance into the kingdom of God is only possible through faith, so Jesus is saying they have faith. MacArthur just turns it into a story about how God likes kids. Then MacArthur goes into the passages about household baptisms and insists that no children could have possibly been present.
Well what about Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16, “Let the little children come to Me for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I don’t see any baptism there. Our Lord is simply saying that God has a special care for children, not the children of believing parents and not baptized children. Jesus never baptized any children, nobody in the Bible ever baptized any children. Nobody was ever told to baptize children. All children were precious. The children that He held in His hand and blessed were not necessarily the children of believing parents and there is no baptism in any way…in any case anyway.
And the next time you have a household is in the sixteenth chapter of Acts in the jailor’s house, all heard the gospel and all were baptized. The ones who were baptized were the ones who heard the gospel and believed.
What do the Scriptures say?
Acts 16:30-34 (ESV) Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Notice that contrary to MacArthur, the text does not say that all in household expressed belief prior to baptism. It says the jailer believed and his household was baptized.
In the account of Lydia and Stephanas, the same thing would be true as in those very explicit texts. All hear the gospel, all believe the gospel, all receive the Holy Spirit, all are baptized. That’s what’s going on in the book of Acts.
What do the Scriptures say?
Acts 16:14-15 (ESV) One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
The text says Lydia believed and then here household was baptized. It doesn't say Lydia believed and her household believed and then all her household was baptized. We never read of someone in a household being excluded from baptism and we never read of someone who grew up in a Christian household and got baptized after making a confession of faith. MacArthur says:
Point two, infant baptism is not baptism…it’s not New Testament baptism. This may surprise you, it’s nothing, it’s totally meaningless. Well you might have got emotional when you took your little child in there ‘cause you love your little child and you hope the best for him, or her. But as far as the spiritual condition of that child, it had absolutely no effect whatsoever. Infant baptism is not in the Bible, it is not New Testament baptism. And this is an uncontestable fact because when you do go in to the Bible in the New Testament and you talk about baptism and you study baptism, it is absolutely crystal clear what baptism is. The only people who are ever baptized in the New Testament are people who have come to faith in Christ. And baptism is always immersing them in water, it is never sprinkling water on their heads from a tiny little fountain.What MacArthur is doing is taking examples of certain people in the New Testament who received baptism, assigning certain attributes to them, and then determining that everyone who receives baptism must have those attributes. There simply is no statement in Scripture that says you must be able to articulate your faith in order to be baptized. Paul ties circumcision and baptism together in Colossians 2:11-12. In the Old Testament if a Gentile wanted to become a Jew, the father would be circumcised after confessing the faith and then all the male children in his household would be circumcised including any infants over the age of eight days old. Baptism is more inclusive than circumcision. Both males and females receive baptism. But we don't find any indication that it is more exclusive in any way. There is no indication that anyone in the early church thought that it should be withheld from infants. Instead, they are counted among the nations that Jesus said to baptize. You simply can't read a narrative about what happened and assign prerequisites based on the description of the person being baptized. If all we had recorded was the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, should we conclude that only castrated men should be baptized? Also, MacArthur does not believe that baptism has a spiritual effect on the person being baptized at all. So I'm not sure why MacArthur would specifically say that it has no effect on babies.
Then MacArthur goes into the traditional rant of all modern Baptists about how the Greek words for baptism always mean immerse. But what do the Scriptures say?
1 Corinthians 10:1-6 (ESV) For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.This included all the Israelites. They were ALL baptized in the cloud and in the sea. This included all the Israelite children that were alive at the time. They were "baptized" in the sea when they crossed over the sea on dry land. They were not immersed. They were kept dry. The Egyptians were not baptized but they were immersed. All the Israelites really partook of Christ, regardless of their age. And Paul uses this same passage to warn the New Testament church. Paul is demonstrating continuity. He doesn't say, "This is the way it was in the Old Testament, but now we don't baptize babies because that would be out of character with the New Testament."
You can read Dr. James Dale's multi-volume work on the meaning of the Greek words on Google books. The Greek words do not tell us mode despite the claims of the modern Baptists. They are used in Greek literature for all sorts of things. From the time of the Apostles there is record of baptisms taking place through a variety of modes including pouring. In the Scriptures what makes a valid baptism is not the subject or the person performing the baptism but God's Word joined with the water applied to the person. God's Word does what it says. The baptismal formula found at the end of the Gospel of Matthew is spoken while water is applied to the person. MacArthur says:
This ordinance was so designed by God and conveyed by the correct, inspired words to fit the symbolism of the ordinance. Immersion is commanded of every believer as a picture, as an object lesson, as a symbol, as a visual analogy of a spiritual reality. It is the way that God designed to publicly declare the truth of personal salvation. What does it symbolize when a person is immersed, submerged? Clearly unmistakably throughout the New Testament, Christian baptism is a picture of the union of a believer in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. That is clear from Romans 6, Galatians 2, Galatians 3, Colossians 2.MacArthur is reading his own rationalistic and doubting Baptist tradition into the Scriptures. The Scriptures don't speak of these things as bare symbol or picture or object lesson. The Scriptures speak of baptism as actually doing what it says. I always think its strange when people bring up Romans 6 as proof that immersion must take place. Jesus wasn't buried in a hole in the ground with dirt thrown on Him. Jesus was buried in a tomb. So I guess if the point was to provide a picture of that you should carry the person sideways into some kind of dome, seal the dome up and then pour water on top of the dome making sure that none of the water touches the person. Maybe we should embalm them and put them in burial cloths too.
When you come to faith in Christ, you are placed into union with Christ. You are immersed into Him and therefore you are in Him in His death, His burial and His resurrection. Romans 6 makes that clear. “We were crucified with Him, buried with Him and we’ve risen with Him to walk in newness of life.” This is spiritually symbolized in water baptism. Immersion into water was and is the inseparable outward sign of a believer’s union with Jesus Christ. That’s why you go into all the world to preach the gospel to everybody, baptizing them…that’s the public confession of their union with Christ in a beautiful dramatic way. The only other ordinance ever given to the church is the Lord’s table. We can love the Lord, we can go to the cross, we can celebrate His death, we can rejoice in His death, we can seek forgiveness of sins, repent, confess without the Lord’s table but He’s told us to do that as a public declaration, a public proclamation, a visual remembrance of the cross. When we take that bread it’s His body, we drink that cup as a symbol of His blood, we understand that symbolism. That is true with baptism. You can make a confession of Christ, you can be a true believer and not be baptized. But you are being disobedient at that point, just as you are if you absent yourself from the Lord’s table because that is a way that the Lord has ordained for you to openly declare the union between yourself and Him in the great reality of His death, burial and resurrection.
Notice the sharp contrast between MacArthur and the Scriptures. In the Scriptures baptism is all Gospel, in MacArthur it's all Law. The Scriptures say that through baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins and baptism now saves us. MacArthur say you must be baptized so that you can obey the command of God. In MacArthur's baptism we receive nothing. This is the real problem with the extraordinarily shallow complaint among the Baptists that the Reformers didn't go far enough. The Baptists in this case are more Roman Catholic than the Roman Catholics. By failing to understand the theology behind Roman Catholic practice and what the Reformers were actually criticizing the Roman Catholics for, the Baptists end up falling far deeper into error than the Roman Catholics ever did on the sacraments. Luther's main critique with the Roman Catholic understanding of the sacraments was that they took the focus off of Christ giving Himself for us and put the focus on the priest offering up Christ to God. In the Baptist system all that happens is a person does something for God and receives nothing. In the Scriptures baptism and the Lord's Supper are given for our benefit, not God's. MacArthur says:
In every case of New Testament Baptism, true saving faith, personal salvation is presupposed. It can’t function in the case of infants. It is nothing more than a bizarre fabrication.
In this statement, MacArthur reveals that he doesn't understand what faith is Biblically. According to MacArthur infants are incapable of faith. According to the Scriptures, faith is a gift of God that God can work in anyone through His Word. The Psalmist speaks of hoping in God while on his mother's breasts and this was something taken upon the lips of every Israelite and also upon the lips of everyone in the early church. John the Baptizer leaped in faith while still in the womb. But MacArthur has taken the gift of faith and turned it into a work that we perform and has attached his own requirements to make it impossible for infants to have faith.
Thirdly, infant Baptism is not in the Scripture, it’s not New Testament Baptism, and it is not, please, a replacement sign for the Abrahamic mark of circumcision. One of the other things that Reformed people say is that infant Baptism takes the place of circumcision. I’ve heard that argument for years. So my response is, what verse says that? Where is it? Show me the verse. Where in the Bible does it say, by the way, Baptism is a replacement of circumcision? Where does it say that? It doesn’t say that anywhere.MacArthur must have gotten a hold of the scissors again and cut Colossians 2:11-12 out of his Bible.
If you make infant Baptism the substitute sign for circumcision, does that mean then that we now have a church that is a false church, or a rebellious church, or an unbelieving church, or an apostate church but it’s still a church and somewhere in the middle there’s a remnant of true believers? You see, circumcision was only a sign that people belonged to an ethnic group, a group called Jews, a nation called Israel. It said nothing about their spiritual condition. Baptism is always tied to salvation. There’s no parallel. There’s no connection.
So contary to the Scriptures, circumcision is now just a sign of ethnic identity. It has nothing to do with Christ according to MacArthur and if you can't fill out a card you shouldn't receive it. Paul was wrong to tie baptism and circumcision together. Bad! Bad Paul!
Circumcision didn’t apply to girls. Circumcision was really a gift from God to protect Jewish women from forms of infection, to protect and preserve the nation. Say at all about their spiritual condition.
Wait a second...I thought it was all about ethnic identity. It was like wearing a Jewish Power t-shirt. Now you're saying it's for hygiene. 9 out of 10 doctors recommend getting circumcised three times a day.
Well, there are people who believe that it saves them. It saves them.
Like Peter, Paul, and Jesus?
And so they serve their babies paedo-communion. They put the bread in a cup in a blender and feed it to their infant. It’s called presumptive regeneration. That’s the viewpoint that if your baby has been baptized, your baby must be presumed to be regenerate.
They put the bread in a cup in a blender? Doesn't that damage the cup? Are they going to eat the cup? Who does this? The Eastern Orthodox take a small piece of bread and dip it in the wine and give it to the child but as far as I know they don't get a blender out. I'm not going to take up the issue of paedocommunion here. I'll leave that for others to debate, but there are many in the Western church who believe that baptism saves and do not practice paedocommunion. If you take bread in a cup and put that cup in a blender you don't call that presumptive regeneration, you call that a broken cup. Presumptive regeneration was a theological idea attributed to Abraham Kuyper in the Reformed camp who believed that we should baptize infants because we presume that they are already regenerate. Abraham Kuyper did not teach paedo-communion or tell anyone to damage their drinking vessels by putting them in blenders. You cannot hold to presumptive regeneration and believe that baptism saves because if you believe in presumptive regeneration you believe that the baby is already saved prior to the baptism.
I've noticed in the past when I've had discussions with Baptists that for some reason they will often take the beliefs of all the various groups that practice infant baptism and jumble them all together into a big mess. According to John 3 baptism regenerates, but that's not what most Presbyterians or Reformed people believe. Some believe that the child is ordinarily regenerated prior to baptism, some believe the child is regenerated at a future date, and a small number believe that the "elect" are regenerated at the time of baptism.
I’m regenerate. My wife, Patricia, is regenerate and I will promise you with our four children, it was easy to presume that they were not regenerate, from the very beginning. It would have been a well-nigh impossible to make the presumption that our children were regenerate and shirk the responsibility to bring them to the true knowledge of Christ.Well yeah, you didn't bring them to baptism where God promises to regenerate them. But notice what MacArthur implies. MacArthur says that if you baptize the child that will result in you shirking the responsibility of bringing the child to a true knowledge of Christ. But why? I catechize my children every day. Every day I try to teach them more about Christ. But MacArthur makes the same mistake as many evangelicals. He's acting like once you get the Jesus thing straightened out, then you get baptized, and then it's time to move on to life principles and good works and self-examination. For Lutherans, the whole thing is about Jesus. You don't move beyond Jesus. Jesus isn't something you graduate from after baptism. Faith must be nurtured daily with more Jesus. If you baptize a child and never bring him back to church to get more Jesus, then his faith will die.
I was locked up in a room for seven hours as one of the most well-known Reformed theologians on the face of the earth. At the end of seven hours, they said okay. What do you have to believe to be a Christian? You say, “If you’re in the church, you’re in the community of faith and you’re okay. What do you have to believe to be a true Christian, to which he replied, “That’s a good question,” and wouldn’t give me an answer. That comes right out of that kind of concept. There’s this idea that they’re sort of federally included. It gets to the point where salvation is a collected thing and you get into the collected saved group by infant Baptism.
How this could survive in a Reformed community where people hold on to the doctrine of justification by faith and all the solas is hard to understand. But eventually what it will do, it will eat away at the doctrine of justification and the people who are now coming out bold and strong for this kind of collective salvation, N.T. Wright and others, all the way down to many others in many forms. There’s sort of this collective community of believing people brought in by Baptism will eventually jettison the true doctrine of justification by faith and individual personal salvation.
According to MacArthur, baptizing infants will destroy justification by faith alone. The Lutheran confessions contain the most robust and detailed statements of any confession in defense of justification by faith alone. They also have much more to say about the baptism of infants than the Reformed confessions. Not only that, they hold to a higher view of what baptism actually does. We believe baptism does exactly what the Scriptures say it does because it is not just plain water but it is water included in God's command and combined with God's Word. We have great Lutheran hymns that go on for twelve verses or so and tell you everything about justification you would ever need to know. I've heard MacArthur speak about justification and the language he uses is not as strong as that found in the Lutheran confessions. The Lutheran confessions refuse to speak of faith as the condition of our salvation but I've frequently heard MacArthur speak in this way. Lutherans do not view justification as some one time event in the past but something that happens to us daily. Daily we are declared righteous and we receive that declaration through the gift of faith. The core teaching of Lutheranism is that we are justified by God's grace through faith in the crucified Christ alone.
In fact, MacArthur's sermon would be completely unacceptable to a confessional Lutheran congregation. MacArthur's sermon is nothing but Law. It delivers absolutely no Jesus. It justifies nobody. It's all about how smart MacArthur thinks he is and how dumb everyone else is.
However, MacArthur does bring a legitimate critique here of the Reformed. The Reformed have a looser definition of justification in their confessions. The Westminster Confession of Faith especially was written to accommodate some differing views. The Reformed also deny that baptism is salvific in the way that Lutherans do. They do not teach that baptism does what God's Word says it does. Instead their core teaching on baptism revolves around drawing various covenantal inferences and different theologians go different ways with it. Much like their position on the Lord's Supper, it's a very difficult position to defend Biblically. The combination of the wiggle room in the realm of justification and the wiggle room in the realm of the covenant have caused problems with the Reformed being able to clearly teach justification by faith alone.
It does matter what you believe about this. It matters a lot because it confounds, and this is the fourth thing I want to say, it confounds the nature of the church. Infant Baptism is not in the Scripture, it is not New Testament baptism, it is not the New Testament equivalent to circumcision. And infant Baptism is not consistent with the nature of the church. Infant Baptism confuses hopelessly the church. You can’t distinguish between believer and non-believer. The local church becomes the true church. The baptized become the church. Paedo-Baptism, to say it another way, destroys the reality of a regenerate church.God promises to work regeneration, so to deprive children of baptism will result in a gathering of few regenerate people. There are plenty of people who have been baptized as adults and have fallen away from the faith. Just because someone was baptized as an adult doesn't mean that they currently believe. But God has promised to work through baptism. By MacArthur's logic we shouldn't bring children to church either because people will see them walking in the building and won't be able to tell if they are real Christians or not.
What are we to think of them? What are they? To be in the church, you must put your trust in Christ. At the beginning, when Luther sort of led the Reformation, he had a lofty idealism, some writers say. He was contending for Christianity that would embrace freedom and renounce force and live only by the Word of God and by the Spirit of God. To him, in the early days, as to us, the Scripture was the only standard for all issues of personal life, including the issue of Baptism. Let me quote Luther.I have been unable to locate the source and context of the Martin Luther quote. I haven't been able to find it in Martin Luther's collected works. I find variations of it on the Internet but without any reference as to where it is from. I was able to find a similar quote from the Anabaptist Claus Felbinger:
“I say that God wants no compulsory service. I say it a hundred-thousand times. God wants no compulsory service, no one can or ought to be compelled to believe for the soul of a man is an eternal thing, above all that is temporal. Therefore only by an eternal word must it be governed and grasped for it is simply insulting to govern in God’s presence with human law and custom, neither the Pope nor a Bishop nor any other man has the right to decree a single syllable concerning a Christian, apart from his consent. All that comes to pass otherwise comes to pass in the spirit of tyranny,” end quote.
You can’t force anything on any one, superimpose on them some required religious duty, not in Scripture. That’s how Luther started. However, by 1527 he turned back to the state church because he was afraid he needed to maintain oneness of doctrine in order to maintain solidarity and power, political military power. So as it had through the Dark Ages from the fourth century on, the church became buried in the state church and essentially the state church extinguished the true church.
God wants no compulsory service. On the contrary, he loves a free, willing heart that serves him with a joyful soul and does what is right joyfully.Regardless of whether or not Luther said what MacArthur attributes to him, Luther clearly believed that infant baptism is taught within the Scriptures. He did not regard it as a human law or custom. So MacArthur's quotation of Luther doesn't really help him defend his position. Luther would not regard infant baptism as something forced upon the infant anymore than bringing the infant under the preaching of the Gospel. You bring the child under the preaching of the Gospel and baptize the child because you care about his spiritual health and these are the places God has promised to work. If MacArthur is consistent he should tell parents not to bring their children to church.
As for the statements about Luther's supposed change in position about the relationship between the church and the state, I don't think its necessarily true. Luther never advocated for a complete separation of church and state. In fact, the Anabaptists of Luther's day weren't teaching a complete separation of church in state. They simply thought the state should be controlled by Anabaptist theology. Luther's theology of the two kingdoms provided clear definitions as to what the roles of government and the church are in relationship to one another that was lacking among the Anabaptists. There are both positives and negatives associated with a state church. There is no direct command in the Scriptures telling us we must or we may not have a state church. There is Christian freedom. The fact that a church is a state church does not automatically make it a false church.
The only way you know what the true church is, is by personal faith in Christ. The testimony to that is given in Baptism.If I'm reading MacArthur right, the "true church" is defined by believer's baptism. So in MacArthur's view, the true church does not exist where infant baptism is taking place.
Luther finally wound up having to defend the fact that infants have faith. He said, “The Anabaptists are right, the Baptism without faith profits nothing, and that thus in fact children ought not to be baptized if they have no faith.” We agree with that. Luther said, “The Lord says most decidedly, ‘He who believes not shall be damned. But the assertion of the Anabaptists is false, the children cannot believe. If children are to be baptized, they must be able to believe, they must have faith,” end quote.Luther argues based on the Scriptures that God works faith in the infant in baptism. The Scriptures say that baptism is "for the forgiveness of sins" and that "baptism now saves you." The Scriptures speak of the infant faith of the Psalmist. The Psalmist says that He hoped in God while on his mother's breasts (Psalm 22:9). This was not some private confession but part of the Psalms that was taken upon the lips of every Israelite and was taken upon the lips of every Christian as part of their hymnbook. Jesus Himself says that infants belong to the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul says that faith is not of ourselves but a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). You'll notice that MacArthur does not provide any Scriptural proof that infants are incapable of faith. He just scoffs at the idea. He scoffs at the clear teaching of God's Word. Faith is worked in us through the power of God's Word. God's Word does not become ineffective when it is used in baptism. Water doesn't destroy the power of God's Word.
How could a child have faith? With Luther, it was the vicarious faith of the parents or the godparents. That’s where godparents came from, surrogate parents whose faith would intercede on behalf of the child. With Luther, vicarious faith of the parents or the godparents wasn’t enough. He even went further and said, “The children themselves must believe. If one asks how is that possible? One receives the answer, the Holy Spirit helps them to believe. The Holy Spirit comes to the children in the holy Baptism by this bath of regeneration He has richly poured out on them.”
Martin Luther? Who discovered salvation by grace alone, through faith alone and Christ alone? Some even called it unconscious faith. So there were those who were holding to surrogate faith on the part of parents and godparents…that wasn’t enough for Luther.
MacArthur ends his sermon/lecture with a prayer where he thanks God that He is not like those sinners who baptize babies. In this lecture, MacArthur is serving as a mouthpiece for the devil. God's Word does not tell us not to baptize babies and it does tell us that baptism is salvific. MacArthur has created his own law and denies that baptism is salvific. The sermon was Christless. MacArthur doesn't seem to understand that it is the job of the pastor to preach Christ-crucified. MacArthur is not doing his job.
The following Sunday, MacArthur gave another lecture on baptism. I will skip over what he repeats in this lecture/sermon.
Frankly, it has been many, many years since anyone has written a book emphasizing Baptism. To the writing of books, there is absolutely no end…no end. To the writing of Christian books, there is no end. To the writing of Christian books on the Christian life there seems to be no end. And look, as I may, I can’t even find a chapter on Baptism and rarely a chapter on the Lord ’s Table.Maybe MacArthur is just shopping at the wrong bookstores. I can think of several books on baptism and the Lord's Supper that have come out in just the last few years. Maybe I should send him a Concordia Publishing House catalogue.
I don’t feel like there’s a great movement in the church toward elevating Baptism to the priority that it deserves in the church.I think that's largely a result of MacArthur's theology of baptism. If it's just something to say to the world "Hey, I'm a Christian" why get baptized? If it's just another law to fulfill, who really cares? A return to a Scriptural view of baptism that actually saves would result in a greater priority being given to baptism.
I want to give you a little insight into that. Turn to Matthew 3…Matthew 3, John the Baptist in his ministry, verse 6, “They were being baptized by him, not with the water from the Jordan River, but in the Jordan River. They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.” And how much into the river did they go? Verse 16, “After being baptized, Jesus…who was baptized there by John…came up immediately out from the water, out of the water.” He came up out of the water. So we have there in just those two references a visual picture of what John the Baptist was doing, placing people into the water, including the Lord Jesus, and then bringing them up out of the water.MacArthur is reading quite a bit into the texts. The text does not say that John the Baptist placed Jesus into the water and then brought him up out of the water. The text says that after Jesus was baptized He came out of the water. There are a number of very early baptismal paintings that picture a person standing in water while water is poured on his head. The depth of the Jordan river varies quite a bit depending on where you are standing in it. In some places you could drown, in other places it's only ankle deep. John was in the wilderness. It's not as if he could turn on a faucet and get some water. So it makes sense regardless of what mode John the Baptizer used that it would be convenient for him to baptize in the river. The text does not say that John baptized there so he could "get them under." It is possible that John immersed people. It is highly unlikely that all who were baptized on Pentecost were immersed. There were thousands of people, not enough water in the city of Jerusalem to baptize them all, and its unlikely that whoever was in charge of the water supply would let all those people contaminate the water by being dunked in it.
In chapter 3 of John’s gospel, we get another insight into the baptizing ministry of John the Baptist. In verse 23, “He was baptizing in a place called Aenon near Salim.” Why was he baptizing there? “Because there was much water there.” You need enough water to get them under.
What was important for baptism for the early Christians was God's Word being joined with the water in baptism. From the earliest records we find that they preferred to baptize in cold, running water but that simply pouring water on the head while applying the baptismal formula was a valid form of baptism.
In the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, this is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. “They were going along the road. They came to some water and the Ethiopian said, ‘Look, water. What prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip ordered the chariot to stop.” Verse 38, “They went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him, he submerged him, he immersed him. When they came up out of the water, a Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away.” Again, it is crystal clear what baptism is, it is immersion, it is immersion. And, of course, as we’re going to see, that’s the only thing…the only means by which you can actually symbolize what baptism is trying to articulate, trying to demonstrate.
The text does not say "he submerged him, he immersed him." Notice that as MacArthur says "they came up out of the water" meaning Philip and the eunuch. The coming up out of the water was not the baptism. Its what they did after the baptism was over. Otherwise Philip would have been immersing himself while he performed the baptism. I doubt that MacArthur goes down under water with those he baptizes. I was surprised that MacArthur made this argument. I've heard this in KJV-onlyist Baptist churches before but I thought MacArthur had a little better understanding of the Bible.
In John 1:29 when he first saw Him, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He knew He wasn’t an ordinary man. He knew He was the final and everlasting sacrifice. He knew He was God’s anointed, the spotless sinless one. And since John understood baptism and he understood that baptism was the confession of sin and repentance, and the death of the old life and the beginning of a new life, and he knew Jesus was sinless and didn’t need to leave a sinful life and embark upon a new righteous life, the whole exercise seemed ridiculous to him, nonsense. Why would the sinless one want to be baptized? And so, John tried to prevent Jesus and said, “No, no, no, let’s turn it around. You baptize me.” John resisted baptizing Jesus for the opposite reason that he resisted baptizing the Pharisees and the scribes that came to him and the Sadducees. Back in verse 7, “Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance.’” He wasn’t about to baptize them, he rejected them because though they were in need of repentance, they were unwilling to ask for it. He refused to baptize them because they were not willing to admit their sin. Opposite that, he refused to baptize Jesus because He had no sin. Hebrews 4:15 says, “He was without sin.”MacArthur gets the chronology messed up. John had already baptized Jesus when he said "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" According to the early church fathers, Jesus took our sins upon Himself in His baptism. He cleansed the waters of baptism for us and took our sins upon Himself. Jesus is the Messiah--the anointed one. He was anointed in baptism. All MacArthur can see is Jesus being obedient, so now you be obedient too. He completely misses the point. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness! We have nothing to add to Jesus' righteousness! Jesus stood there and received a sinner's baptism in the place of sinners. Our baptism is not done to fulfill all righteousness. None of the Apostles ever command people to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. In this lecture/sermon MacArthur often quotes passages that say "Be baptized" but he leaves the end of the sentence off. "Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins." That is what the Scriptures say. We receive baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. It's not an act of obedience that we perform.
But Jesus prevailed upon him. Why? Why did Jesus insist upon being baptized? Well He says it, doesn’t He, there? Verse 15, “Permit it at this time for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Some have suggested that Jesus wanted to be baptized in order to identify with the people who were making ready for Him. He just wanted to be a part of that group of people. Some suggest that He wanted to set an example for them, identify with them.
No, I don’t think that’s it. It was really a matter of fulfilling all righteousness. It was a command to be baptized and Jesus obeyed that command the way He obeyed every command that God ever gave. This is critical to His active righteousness which is imputed to us at salvation. His passive righteousness is in His dying. His active righteousness was in His living. Since it was a command of God, since it was a ceremony ordained by God, commanded by the prophet of God who was the voice of God, Jesus said, “Although I don’t fit the symbol of it, I do it because it is righteous to obey every command…every command.”
"Do you not know,” Romans 6:3, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” When you come to Christ, you’re literally immersed into His death.No MacArthur. Can't you read the verse you just quoted? It doesn't say "when you come to Christ." It says "all of us who have been baptized into Christ."
That’s the whole point. Salvation is placing a person in union with Jesus Christ and in some amazing, supernatural way, we participate in His death, in His resurrection, spiritually. Now again, there’s no water in Romans 6. There’s no water in Galatians 2. There’s no water in Colossians 2. This is what Peter calls the baptism that saves. This is what Paul calls the washing of regeneration, or in Acts 22:16, “The washing away of your sins.” It is immersion into Christ. And that is what is depicted ceremonially, symbolically in baptism.
The Scriptures do not speak of two baptisms, but one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). The Scriptures do not distinguish between water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. MacArthur reads this distinction into the text because a plain reading of the text does not fit his theology.
You say, “Well wait a minute, it says in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” I take it that the construction indicates there when paralleled with Matthew 12:41, “Repent and be baptized because of the remission of sins.” Baptism was an immediate, inseparable, public testimony of a true conversion.Matthew 12:41 says:
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.So, because Jesus said that the people of Nineveh repented that means that when Peter told the people to be baptized for the remission of sins that really means Peter was telling them to be baptized because of the remission of sins? Really? MacArthur is simply allowing his tradition to overrule the plain teaching of the Biblical text. Peter says that baptism is for the remission of sins. We receive the remission of sins through baptism. MacArthur would never just go out and say what Peter says here because MacArthur doesn't believe what Peter believes. I find that one of the surest ways to tell if somebody in interpreting a text correctly is to ask the question, "Would this person actually say what the Bible says without adding all kinds of qualifications?" If our theology is Biblical we are able to speak the language of the Bible. If our theology is unbiblical we cannot speak the language of the Bible. We'll spend all our time trying to explain to people that what a text means isn't what it sounds like it means.
In Ephesians 4 when it says there’s one Lord, one faith, one baptism, that’s talking about water baptism as the symbol of salvation. It was what they did. Now salvation is by grace through faith, not of works, right?Right, salvation is not by works. And according to the Scriptures baptism is not a work that we perform. It is something done to us. This is why in many ways the baptism of an infant is an even better example of what baptism is all about than the baptism of an adult. The baby doesn't have any crazy ideas in his head that he's performing some work to fill God's glory tank.
Any doctrinal treatment of salvation makes it clear that salvation does not depend on water. You can use the thief on the cross as an illustration, if you need to. But the outward sign was water baptism.We really don't know if the thief was baptized or not. He seemed to know who Jesus was and may have been baptized earlier. But even if he wasn't that doesn't prove that baptism is not salvific. The Scriptures say that baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the preaching of the Gospel are all for the forgiveness of sins. If you're dying on a cross next to Jesus and he tells you that you will be with him in paradise you don't need to find some way to get someone to baptize you. But that's not the situation that most people find themselves in. And we should go to those places where God has promised to work. God can work apart from baptism but He has not promised to.
Fifth question…ah, with all of this being so clear, why is there so much confusion regarding baptism? Well, of course, Satan wants to break the pattern of obedience at the beginning.Well yes, Satan wants to distract us from the plain meaning of God's Word and listen to rationalists like John MacArthur.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that if a baby dies without being baptized, it goes to Limbo.This actually isn't true. This was popular unofficial medieval teaching but a few years ago the Vatican came out against it.
The Lutheran church following the lead of Martin Luther, Luther never shook the grave clothes of infant baptism, as I told you last week, he even wrote a small book called, The Small Baptismal Book, 1526 he wrote that book. In it there’s a required prayer. This is Luther’s prayer at a baby baptism. “O Almighty, I invoke Thee concerning this child, Thy servant who asks for the gift of Thy baptism and desires Thy grace through the spiritual new birth. Receive him, O Lord, and thus extend now the good to him who knocks that he may obtain the eternal blessing of this heavenly bath and receive the promised kingdom of Thy gift through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” Praying for the infant’s salvation on the spot through this heavenly bath. The infant is then asked, in Luther’s book, “Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works and nature?” And the parents say on behalf of the child, “Yes.” Then the question, “Dost thou believe in God the Father in Jesus Christ His Son, in the Holy Spirit, and the one Christian church?” The parents then say, “Yes.” And the child is baptized. Then the prayer, “The Almighty God hath begotten thee a new through water and the Holy Spirit and has forgiven thee all thy sins. Amen.”Yup, Luther taught what the Bible teaches about baptism. I'm not sure why MacArthur speaks as if Luther was trying to shake it off and just couldn't do it.
Well, the picture’s clear, don’t you think? This is what baptism is and this is how God has designed it and ordained it.
The teaching of baptism is actually very clear if you confess what the Scriptures say it is. I really don't understand how MacArthur can have the strong reputation that he does.
There is very, very little about Christ in either of MacArthur's lectures and there is very little actual Scripture. MacArthur is not doing his job of delivering Christ to people. Instead he's just delivering skepticism of what the Bible teaches.