Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Review of a Calvinist/Lutheran Debate

For a while now I have been trying to organize a Calvinist vs. Lutheran backyard debate and barbecue. I have not been successful. However, just recently someone made me aware of a Calvinist/Lutheran debate that took place a few years ago and can be listened to on-line. John Kent takes the Lutheran position and Mike Brown takes the Calvinist position. Given the time constraints I thought the debate went pretty well and is well worth the listen. I think it could have been better if it were about twice as long. I do have some criticisms but it's easy to sit back and critique a debate that you didn't have to participate in. It was certainly better than any of the political debates I've seen.

John Kent did a great job of explaining the Lutheran position. He did not do as good of a job critiquing the Calvinist position. I got the impression from what he said that he did understand the Calvinist position but he did not adequately explain why the Calvinist claims to believe in the "real presence" is really a denial of  the "real presence" in the same way that the liberal theologians claims to believe in the resurrection is a denial of the resurrection. I really think he could have demonstrated this if he had more time but the way he framed it was unconvincing. It made it sound as if he just didn't understand the Calvinist position and Brown jumped all over him for this. Brown successfully made it appear that Kent really didn't understand the Calvinist position.

Brown provided us with a machine gun fire of theological terms and accusations about the Lutheran position not being Trinitarian enough. The machine gun fire of theological terms reminded me of certain pastors I've heard who try to impress people by throwing out terms that they themselves do not understand. I'm guessing Brown probably does understand these terms but it would have been more helpful to provide a thorough explanation of the Biblical passages. Brown provided very little in the way of exegesis. He relied pretty heavily on Hebrews 12 and a few other passages that don't specifically talk about the Lord's Supper. The Calvinist position is that the Holy Spirit lifts us up to heaven to spiritually partake of Christ's body and blood. I find it impossible to get this out of the words of institution and Hebrews doesn't seem to be talking about this either. If I were Kent, I would have demanded more Scriptural proof for the Calvinist position.

In one part of the debate Kent made the claim that Calvin's doctrine of the Lord's Supper is a new doctrine that was not taught prior to Calvin. Brown pointed to the quotations in Calvin's Institutes of the church fathers. Unfortunately this is as far as it went. There really wasn't time for either party to prove his position. In a future post I plan to examine Calvin's use of the church father's in support of the his doctrine of the Eucharist. Along with a bunch of other things, reading the church fathers is one of the things that led me away from Calvinism to Lutheranism.

Brown lamented a few times that Calvin didn't make it to Marburg to debate with Luther. Brown was convinced that if this had happened there would be only one Protestant doctrine of the Lord's Supper. I don't think this is true. When you look at Calvin's arguments against the Lutheran position they do not differ substantially from Zwingli's. There was a period of time when Calvin was serving as a Lutheran minister under the unaltered Augsburg Confession but I suspect he was interpreting it in a different way than was originally intended. From what I understand, Calvin regarded himself for a time as being a defender of Luther's doctrine of the Lord's Supper but Calvin could not read German. Bullinger sent Calvin letters with translations of Luther's works and after that Calvin seemed to have a more negative view of Luther's position while still trying to distinguish himself from Zwingli. Eventually Calvin would write the the Consensus Tigurinus. This was intended to be a common confession between the Church of Zurich and the Church of Geneva. Even if some language could have been agreed upon by Calvin and Luther, Luther never would have approved of the Consensus Tigurinus. After the Marburg Colloquy, Zwingli published his own edition of the results. In that edition he included marginal notes that denied the plain teaching of the articles that were being agreed upon. Zwingli regarded the document as a political document while Luther regarded it as a theological document. Zwingli was looking for the lowest common denominator. Luther was looking for a firm confession of the faith. This distinction between the various ways of viewing confessions continue in Lutheran and Calvinist churches to this day. The Lutheran confessions have not been changed and remain the same regardless of region. Historically people subscribe to them because they believe the confessions are in agreement with the Scriptures. The Calvinist confessions vary by region and were revised when people had to deal with the different political realities found in the United States. They are subscribed to insofar as they agree with Scripture.

I appreciate the effort made by both parties in the debate. I just don't think there was enough time. I doubt that anyone changed teams as a result of the debate. The Zondervan Counterpoints book on the Lord's Supper is probably a better choice for those who want to be able to seriously evaluate the different positions. But the Calvinist guy in that book doesn't do a great job of defending his position. He spends most of the time trying to convince us he's just like the Lutherans. The Lutheran does a great job.

What we probably need is a Calvinist/Lutheran debate over how we know what we know about God and the use of logic in doing theology.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Plastic Donkey: Paul Washer and Free Advice for Calvinists

In his "Ten Indictments" sermon that has been floating around the interweb lately, Paul Washer refers to infant baptism as the "golden calf of the reformation." To be fair to Paul Washer he says this is only in an IMO kind of way. I'm not sure why pastors feel the need to make IMO statements to begin with or why anyone would want to listen to an IMO statement from a pastor since his job is to proclaim God's Word but oh well. It should also be pointed out that Washer wasn't directly attacking infant baptism but instead attacking the sinner's prayer. He talked about how the sinner's prayer has sent more people to hell than anything else in Baptist and evangelical churches just as infant baptism has sent more people to hell than anything else in churches that practice infant baptism. I do support the baptism of baby people and am strongly opposed to the sinner's prayer but don't know how Washer could conclude that either or both are responsible for the greatest number of people going to hell. Perhaps he has received direct revelation from God but my guess is that this falls under the IMO category. I would think that most people go to hell because of unbelief, but what do I know?

There are a number of critiques I could make of the sermon. First of all, despite the fact that the first indictment Paul Washer gives being about "a practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture," the whole sermon is a practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. It is a list of Washer's pet peeves and not grounded in a clear exposition of the Scriptures. Washer admits as much by hesitating to call them "God's indictments." The pastor's job is to proclaim God's Word, not his own irritations.

Second of all, there is a misuse of God's Law. God's Law always kills but Washer acts as if just proclaiming the Law will make people better.Washer preaches the Law in such a way that many of those present are thinking to themselves, "Yeah, I hate people that do that!" Our old Adam loves to hear the sins of others condemned. It helps boost our self-righteousness.

Third, Paul Washer fails to clearly preach Christ. Christ is mentioned but Christ is not delivered in the sermon. So much of the sermon seems to be dedicated to Paul Washer setting himself up as some kind of Maverick and preaching Paul Washer. Paul Washer's job is not to convince everyone about how bold Paul Washer is but to bring the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ to people.

But the bigger problem is that many Reformed and Presbyterian folks would not have a problem with what Paul Washer said at all if he just hadn't said that mean thing about baptism. Paul Washer is not Reformed. Paul Washer is not Presbyterian. Paul Washer is a Baptist! We should expect Baptists to teach Baptist theology! The reason that there are denominational divisions between the major branches of Christianity is because there are different theologies. Either theology is correct or it is wrong. If it is wrong then it is sinful and idolatrous. If Paul Washer didn't think that infant baptism was sinful and idolatrous he wouldn't be a Baptist.

The real problem is syncretism. Various groups have developed that try co-operate for the sake of the Gospel by ignoring theological differences. Those who are involved in the Reformed and Presbyterian camps tend to have a similar view of the sacraments as their Baptist counterparts in the group but they happen to baptize babies. Then a Baptist will say something about infant baptism being sinful and all of sudden people are in an uproar.

In Reformed and Presbyterian circles there has been a drifting away from the Reformed and Presbyterian confessions for quite some time. Some think of Calvinism as nothing more than TULIP. If that's the case it makes sense that Baptists and Presbyterians can all live together under one roof and sing kumbaya together. Others drift away from the confessions by focusing narrowly in on some singular theological development that the confessions don't even directly address and accuse those who disagree with them as being heretics.

In another fifty years, nobody will be listening to Paul Washer. He will fade away like all the other celebrity pastors eventually do. Some other "dynamic" personality will replace him and the cycle will continue as people chase after various celebrity pastors. The sectarian groups will become smaller and split to form even more numerous and smaller denominations. But the confessions will remain and the future belongs to those who dare to confess what they believe rather than rally behind some shooting star who doesn't really believe what the confessions teach. After a short period of visually appealing growth and emotion the Great Awakening left the churches emptier. The Second Great Awakening left them even more emptierest. The power of God's Word is not found in dynamic personalities but in the Word itself. The church does not need fireworks. The church needs faithful oxen who faithfully carry out their duties as pastors and who are often only recognized by their congregations, and often even ridiculed by their congregations for being nothing but an ox. YouTube videos do not visit you in the hospital or when a loved one has died. YouTube cannot apply the Gospel to you personally when you suffer and Law the personally when you sin. YouTube videos do not put Jesus in your mouth (well, maybe your Reformed/Presbyterian pastor won't do that one either).

It's kind of bizarre for someone like Kevin DeYoung ask where the Lutherans are. It's much easier if you travel around the country to find a confessionally Lutheran church than it is to find a confessionally Reformed/Presbyterian church. I think this is at least in part because Lutherans generally don't rally around the superstars in the same way that Reformed/Presbyterians do. During the Great Awakening Lutherans were busy building stuff instead of holding revivals. When Lutherans are healthiest it's because they are being Lutherans instead of trying to become some Lutheran/Baptist hybrid. On occasion Lutheran churches act silly and think they need to read The Purpose-Driven Life or some other silly product of evangelicalism but generally they are not left with the impression that they really wish Rick Warren was their pastor. On the other hand, I think many in Reformed and Presbyterian circles really wish John Piper or Paul Washer was their pastor.

Part of this problem in Reformed and Presbyterian churches stems from the lack of emphasis on the sacraments. It's not uncommon to hear Reformed or Presbyterian pastors preach a sermon on the occasion of someones baptism in which they basically warn you against thinking the baptism does anything. At the time of the Reformation, Calvinists were trying to join together with the Lutheran churches. The Lutheran churches regarded the differences on the Lord's Supper to be significant enough to keep this from happening but the Calvinists never tried to join up with the Baptists. But today things are different. Many Reformed and Presbyterian folks feel much more comfortable with Baptists than Lutherans. Reformed and Presbyterian churches tend to view church as the place where you go to hear a lecture to learn stuff about the Bible and give glory to God.

Meanwhile, those who are part of Generation X and younger are looking for something more substantial than the baby boomers were. Some of them are turning to Calvinism. Calvinism does offer more intellectually than generic evangelicalism does. But this can only go so far. You're not going to learn something new every week that you go to church and end up disappointed or at least start to value their home Bible study above the weekly gathering of believers.

More often, those in the younger generation head either towards a more historic manifestation of the church or to the emerging/emergent churches. Although evangelicalism, Calvinism, and fundamentalism are different in many ways they also share certain traits that make the emerging/emergent churches attractive as well as the more historic churches like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Evangelicalism, Calvinism, and fundamentalism don't like unanswered questions and have a tendency to come up with some kind of answer even when no Scriptural answer exists. They also tend to be unresponsive or retaliatory when questions are raised. When a person starts questioning the practices of his church that are not necessarily grounded in Scripture the response of these churches is often to try to find some obscure proof text rather than just say it's a matter of Christian liberty. This type of response can result in the person in question either completely abandoning the faith or heading towards forms of Christianity that allow for greater mystery. I think it's a extremely important to be able to speak with certainty where the Scriptures are clear but also to be able to just let the mysteries hang there when the Scriptures are not clear. The emerging/emergent churches do not share the same fear of mystery that many Calvinist, evangelical, and fundamentalist churches do. Unfortunately do not always provide clear answers when the Scriptures are clear.

Evangelical, Calvinist, and fundamentalist churches can also be unfriendly places for those who are suffering. The person who is suffering is often treated by the church in the same way that Job's friends treated Job. They look for something the person did wrong so that they can convince themselves that that type of thing could never happen to them. Or they ignore the person's suffering. Or they tell the person to focus on their blessings. The suffering person feels like an outsider. But the Scriptures tell us that suffering is part of the Christian life. The Scriptures don't look anything like the popular Christian movies where all suffering goes away when someone becomes a Christian. In the Scriptures, suffering increases when someone becomes a Christian. The emerging/emergent churches have room for the suffering. They don't usually provide true Scripture comfort centered on Christ-crucified but at least they provide room for the suffering where they don't have to feel like outsiders.
I propose that the Calvinist churches do not need to spend great amounts of time critiquing the emerging/emergent churches or warning people about the dangers of Roman Catholicism. There is a place for that. But I think it's more important to create an environment where Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the emerging/emergent churches are no longer attractive. The ministry was instituted by Christ to give out the forgiveness of sins and administer the sacraments--not to give out lectures. The pastor should preach the Law as if there is no Gospel and the Gospel as if there is no Law. The central message should ALWAYS be Christ-crucified for sinners. If Christ-crucified is truly the central message it becomes impossible to pretend you have it all figured out. God dying on the cross is a wonderful paradox. If Christ-crucified is the central message it is impossible to think that suffering is the result of not trying hard enough. I really think a rediscovery of the historic liturgy in Calvinist churches would also help a great deal in achieving this. The historic liturgy is all about Jesus. I think a robust understanding of the sacraments would also be helpful. I think too many pastors think the antidote to Roman Catholicism is to adopt a Zwinglian view of the sacraments but this only drives people to Rome. The Scriptures clearly reveal that the sacraments are not bare symbols. I've been to Calvinist baptisms where the pastor basically spent the whole time talking about all the things that baptism doesn't do and didn't seem to be able to come up with anything that baptism does do. Communion should be celebrated at least once a week. The church's worship has always been centered around the Lord's Supper.

Christ-crucified for your sins never gets old. If you receive Christ-crucified every week in the context of a liturgical service (not some goofy concoction but the historic liturgy) and receive the mystery of the sacraments as gifts of God and not something you do, then Rome, Paul Washer, and the emerging church just look like silly people who don't have a clue as to what is going on. If you deprive people of these things they will go poking around elsewhere. They might not be able to put their fingers on the real problems but they know something is very wrong.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Ascension and Omnipresence of Christ

Most evangelicals and Calvinists understand the ascension to result in an absent Jesus. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God now and we are waiting for Him to come back. The Holy Spirit is present and perhaps Jesus Himself is present in some way but not in any bodily sense. Lutherans have maintained that since Jesus promised to be with us always and spoke this as a person who had real flesh and blood that He is with us as a person with real flesh and blood. Calvinists and Zwinglians believe that Christ's bodily presence on earth in a multiple places is a denial of His true humanity. They point to the Ascension and say that Christ according to His humanity is not with us but seated at the right hand of God the Father. Things get more complicated if you ask them where the right hand of God is. If I go up high enough can I find a giant right hand of God somewhere with Christ sitting next to it in a chair? As Saint Stephen was being martyred he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Either Stephen had extraordinary eyesight or the right hand of God is not some far away thing. Stephen did not yell, "JESUS! SIT DOWN! YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SITTING!" In Acts 23:11 Paul says that Jesus stood by Him.

Lutherans believe that God's right hand is wherever God is acting. We work with our right hands and our right hands are just a shadow of the true right hand of God. We may not be able to work with our right hands in more than one place at a time but God certainly does. Given some of the discoveries of quantum mechanics it has become a matter of debate as to whether or we can be in more than one place at a time--it can no longer be said with certainty that we cannot be. However, regardless of whether or not we can be in more than one place at a time it seems rather arbitrary to declare that Jesus cannot be. Jesus did all kinds of things with His body that we cannot. During the time of His humiliation He only made use of the power of His divinity for the benefit of others. But even then we find Him walking on water and passing through the midst of a crowd that is trying to kill Him. After the resurrection He passes through walls and vanishes and appears at will. I can't do any of these things with my body and I assume you can't either. It seems very arbitrary to say that He can do all these other things and still be considered a real human being but if He were to be in more than one spot at a time that would somehow be a denial of His true humanity. The Scriptures never tell us that Jesus can only be in one spot at a time and Jesus promises in the Supper that we receive His body and blood and promises to be with us always. If we say that He can't possibly mean that because it would be a denial of  His true humanity we are really saying that our own conceptions of what it means to be human are a higher authority than the Scriptures. I recently had someone tell me that natural revelation teaches us that humans cannot be in more than one place at a time. But this can't mean anything more than what the person observes on a daily basis. If natural revelation is defined in that sense then natural revelation also teaches us that people cannot rise from the dead and that God cannot become incarnate and the Christian faith is a sham.

The Calvinist charge is that Lutherans are Eutychians but this charge doesn't stick at all when you take the original intent of the ecumenical creeds into consideration. Even the Nestorians agreed that we receive Christ's true body and blood in the Supper which means that Calvinism is a form of hyper-Nestorianism. The Calvinist tendency is to view the relationship between Christ's Divine and human natures as if they were two boards that were glued together. The illustration used by the orthodox church fathers is that the the relationship between the human and the Divine natures is like that of iron being held in a fire. The iron doesn't become fire but takes on the properties of the fire. The Divine nature is forever Divine and the human nature is forever human but the human nature acts through the Divine nature and the Divine nature acts by the human nature.
Ephesians 1:22-23

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV)
Ephesians 1:22-23 teaches that the whole Jesus according to both His divine and human natures are able to be wherever he wants them to be. He fills all in all. This is just speaking of His divine nature since according to the passage there was a time when He did not fill all and in all. As both God and man Jesus promises to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name (Matt. 18:20). The presence of Christ in the Supper is not visible but there is no reason to conclude that it is any less real or that it is only some kind of spiritual presence. On Sundays, in His post resurrection appearances Jesus would often appear and disappear at well. He would appear to the disciples in the breaking of the bread and then vanish. This formed the basis for the centrality of the Lord's Supper in Christian worship as we find in the book of Acts where the disciples met "to break bread." Jesus promises to be with us as a complete person and in the Supper we receive Him in our mouths for the forgiveness of our sins. Reason may raise her objections but reason also objects to God dying, the incarnation, the virgin birth, and the resurrection of the dead.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Hunger Games

I just finished reading The Hunger Games Trilogy. For those who may not be familiar with the basic plot click here. At times I got a little irritated with the Katniss's boy troubles. It just seemed that if you grew up providing for your family and now the world collapsing around you, you might not be thinking quite so much about choosing between two boys. Katniss does not engage in any premarital sex but Peeta is often sleeping in bed with her. Peeta is in love Katniss and Katniss is unsure of her feelings about Peeta. It seems like if this type of situation were to occur in real life that more than sleeping would be taking place. While I appreciate the lack of premarital sex the book could lead teenage girls into thinking that you can have extreme forms of intimacy without having to worry about any actual sexual intercourse. Sometimes the books seem to over-explain. Rather than Katniss just being amazed at the amount of food in the Capitol, Katniss seems to keep having to explain that they do not have much food in her district.

Overall though, the trilogy was well-written and very enjoyable. The author is a Roman Catholic but the books make no explicit references to religion whatsoever. Religion seems noticeably absent from this futuristic society and may in fact explain some of the utter hopelessness in the book. The Capitol is definitely evil but so is much of the leadership in the rebellion. The Hunger Games create an environment that encourages people to put their own survival above everything and anyone else.

Although there are no explicit Christian messages in the book there a number of Christ-figures in the book who sacrifice themselves for others. Katniss sacrifices her life for her sister. Finnick also sacrifices himself on a number of occasions. Finnick's devotion to Annie is especially interesting. Annie went mad after winning the Hunger Games but Finnick remains devoted and faithful to her. This stands in stark contrast to the attitude of the world and even many Protestants like Pat Robertson who think that if someone has lost his or her mind he or she is no longer a real person.

But Peeta is probably the most obvious of the Christ-figures. Throughout the books, Peeta remains faithfully devoted to Katniss even though Katniss often appears to have no love or concern Peeta. The relationship between Peeta and Katniss can often be seen as a picture of Christ and the Church. There seem to be allusions to the Eucharist with Peeta's bread. In Peeta's initial encounter with Katniss, Peeta suffers great personal harm for giving bread to Katniss. Through the bread Peeta gives life to Katnniss's family and hope to Katniss. After receiving the bread Katniss sees a dandelion and understands it as a symbol of hope for new life. Peeta spends three days "dead" in a cave only to have a sort of resurrection. Peeta is the only character who refuses to return evil for evil.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

All of Scripture Teaches It

In theological debate I've noticed that when asked where something is taught in Scripture, some people will respond with "everywhere" aren't able to provide a specific passage. They say that the Scriptures when taken as a whole teach this particular doctrine but are unable to provide a passage where they believe it is taught clearly. When pressed they will say something like, "The doctrine of the Trinity isn't taught in any specific passage either, but the whole of Scripture teaches the doctrine of the Trinity." But this isn't really true. You can find the Trinity in passages like Matthew 28:19. They say that what they are teaching is taught everywhere but in reality it is taught nowhere.

I've noticed the "everywhere" invoked especially when it comes to this idea that every Christian is an evangelist/missionary and it is every Christ's duty to individually carry out the Great Commission. I say, "The Great Commission says to disciple the nations by baptizing them." They say, "It says teaching too." I say, "Yes but it goes hand in hand. It doesn't say go out and yell at people on street corners or hand out tracts and it doesn't say this is the duty of every Christian. Every Christian is called to be ready to give an answer for what they believe but every Christian is not a missionary." They say, "But all of Scriptures teaches that."

All of Scripture really means none of Scripture. All of Scripture means, "This is what my church has been teaching for the last fifty years." When passages are eventually given, they tend to involve the person reading his activity that he is already doing back into the Scriptures and missing the point entirely. "Look, Paul is outside, I'm outside too." Narrative texts are read as commands and people are made to feel guilty for not imitating what is found in the narrative passages even though the people in the narrative passages aren't even doing what people are being told they should do to prove they are real Christians. People are made to feel guilty for running by someone on the track at the gym without trying to get the person to make a decision for Jesus.

This is just one example. It is the result of a theological system that regards what can supposedly be teased out of the Scriptures as more important than what the Scriptures actually say and what is teased out is never Jesus. It's always something we need to do or believe to prove we are real Christians. The Bible is understood to be a giant puzzle. The puzzle box has a picture of Christ-crucified on it but we are told to ignore that picture. "The faith" is something that is understood not to be something that is handed down to us but as something that is in continual development. Those early church fathers simply didn't understand that the picture of Christ-crucified on the puzzle box was just for foolish children who weren't ready for the real meat.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Dweam Within a Dweam Chapter 4: Baptism, what is it good for?

Please read the Introduction and chapters 1, 2, and 3 first.


Baptism, what is it good for?

Johnny: “KNOCK! KNOCK!”

Marty: “WHO’S THERE?”

Johnny: “JOHNNY!”

Marty: “JOHNNY WHO?”


Marty: “Come in. What is it we’re discussing today?”

Johnny: “Today, we were going to discuss what baptism does. Don’t try to pretend you don’t remember. You’ll be crying for mercy when I expose the heresy of baptismal regeneration for what it really is!”

Marty: “What is it?”

Johnny: “HERESY!”

Marty: “Why do you believe it is heresy?”

Johnny: “It’s a denial of justification by faith alone! Our good works cannot save us!”

Marty: “You would be right if baptism were a good work that we perform. But the Bible doesn’t say that baptism is a good work we perform. Martin Luther, more than anyone else, popularized the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But he also believed in baptismal regeneration. Why do you believe baptism is a work we do?”

Johnny: “Jesus commanded the Apostles to baptize. It’s something we are told to do. So it’s a good work that we perform.”

Marty: “What about the preaching of the Gospel? Do you believe we are saved through the preaching of the Gospel?”

Johnny: “Yes, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”

Marty: “But didn’t he command the Apostles to preach the Gospel too? Isn’t that just as much of a work as baptism?”

Johnny: “Baptism is just water. Just sprinkling some water on someone can’t save them!”

Marty: “You’re right that sprinkling water on someone cannot save them. However, baptism is not just plain water. It is water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. God speaks His Words of Gospel in baptism through a human instrument just as He speaks His Words of Gospel through the preaching of the Gospel. In both cases there’s a human instrument involved. In both cases God’s Word is present. Why would adding water to God’s Word somehow make God’s Word incapable of doing what it says?”

Johnny: “We are saved by faith alone!”

Marty: “Absolutely. But God delivers that faith to us through His Word in baptism.”

Johnny: “Nuh-uh.”

Marty: “Yuh-huh.”

Johnny: “Nuh-uh.”

Marty: “Yuh-huh.”

Johnny: “Nuh-huh.”

Marty: “Yuh-huh.”

Johnny: “Nuh-huh.”

Marty: “Yuh-huh.”

Johnny: “Yuh-huh.”

Marty: “Nice try.”

Johnny: “Look man, John the Baptist said that HE baptized with water but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit are two completely different things.”

Marty: “What John was doing wasn’t Christian baptism. It was a preparatory baptism to get people ready for the coming of Jesus. In Acts 19 there were some disciples of John who had received John’s baptism but had not received the gift of the Holy Spirit. When they received Trinitarian baptism, then they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through means. John’s point was not that Jesus didn’t baptize with water but that John only baptized with water. In John 4 it says that Jesus baptized more people than John did. Jesus Himself did not physically carry out the baptisms but His disciples did and the same is true today. But because they are baptizing by the authority of Jesus, ultimately Jesus is the one doing the baptizing. Jesus just uses human instruments to carry out the baptisms. But it’s not until Matthew 28 that we find the institution of Christian baptism. In Matthew 28, Jesus says to disciple the nations by baptizing them into the name of the Triune God. This is the way disciples are to be made.”

Johnny: “What about Simon the Sorcerer? Bet you didn’t think about Simon did you? You got served.”

Marty: “The text says that Simon believed. You can’t believe without the Holy Spirit can you?”

Johnny: “It wasn’t true saving faith. It shows in the text that Simon was just trying use the special Holy Spirit power to make a buck.”

Marty: “Acts 8:13 says that he really believed. It doesn’t say it was a false belief or anything like that and Simon was baptized. But later on Simon gets attracted to the power he sees in the more miraculous gifts and tries to buy them. When people become Christians they usually continue to struggle with whatever sins they committed prior to becoming Christians and Simon fell into great sin.”

Johnny: “If baptism actually regenerates as you heretics claim, then why would Paul say he wasn’t sent to baptize but to preach the Gospel? Hmmm?”

Marty: “Paul is dealing with a particular problem in the Corinthian church. People were becoming followers of certain charismatic leaders and seemed to think that there was some great importance attached to who they were baptized by. Paul was sent to these Corinthians who had already been baptized in order to preach the Gospel to them. Paul doesn’t say that baptism isn’t important. He says he’s glad that in the Corinthian church there aren’t very many people who can claim to be part of some schismatic group that follows Paul. The Christian is about faith in Christ-crucified, not faith in a charismatic leader.”

Johnny: “Romans 6 says that by being immersed we have a symbol of our spiritual transformation.”

Marty: “We’ll talk about mode tomorrow. But it doesn’t say any of that in Romans 6. Romans 6 says that through baptism we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection. It doesn’t say it’s just a symbol or picture.”

Johnny: “It’s obviously talking about spiritual baptism and the water baptism is just a picture of what happens in that spiritual baptism. Otherwise we would be saved by works.”

Marty: “No, that would only be true if baptism is a work that we perform. Baptism is something we receive, not a good work we perform. In our last conversation you seemed pretty doubtful about infants having faith. But now you’re telling me that baptism is a work that we perform. So if infants are performing the good work of baptism, doesn’t that mean they must have faith?”

Johnny: “No. That’s ridiculous. Someone is just bringing them to church to have them sprinkled.”

Marty: “I don’t agree with you, but if you believe that the baby isn’t doing anything doesn’t that mean that it’s not a work? Otherwise you would have to conclude that the baby getting baptized is proof that the baby has faith, wouldn’t you?”

Johnny: “No. That’s just crazy. The baby just shouldn’t have been baptized in the first place. People should be baptized after they become disciples just like Jesus says in Matthew 28.”

Marty: “But Jesus doesn’t say to be baptized after you become a disciple. Jesus tells the Apostles to make disciples by baptizing them. But let’s get back to the discussion over what baptism does. The Scriptures don’t say that baptism is a symbol. The Scriptures say that baptism is for the forgiveness or remission of sins. The Scriptures say that baptism now saves us.”

Johnny: “No! That passage in 1 Peter 3 is very clear. It’s not water baptism that saves you but the inner spiritual baptism that saves you. Water baptism is just the pledge of a good conscience. We receive water baptism because we have already received spiritual baptism and a good conscience.”

Marty: “The Greek actually says that it is an appeal to God for a good conscience. The Greek word didn’t take on the meaning of “pledge” until much, much later. God has promised to give us a good conscience.”

Johnny: “But the passage clearly says that water baptism doesn’t save anyone, it’s the inner spiritual baptism that saves.”

Marty: “The passage is saying that baptism saves because it is more than just an outer washing with water. It’s not separating the water baptism from the spiritual baptism.”

Johnny: “That just can’t be true. Lots of people who are baptized as babies end up going to hell. Just look at someone like Steven Hawking. He was baptized as a baby. Does he go to heaven just because he was baptized?”

Marty: “The Scriptures speak of people falling away from the faith. If our faith is not nurtured it will die and some people for reasons we don’t always understand end up rejecting the faith.”

Johnny: “But John says in 1 John 2:19 that if someone departs from the faith it means that they never really believed to begin with.”

Marty: “John is talking about specific people who were teaching false doctrine. He’s saying they never believed the truth about Christ to begin with. They left because the church would not put up with their false teaching. It doesn’t say that everyone who falls away from the faith never had true faith.”

Johnny: “But Jesus says in John 10 that nobody can snatch His sheep out of His hand.”

Marty: “This is most certainly true. But people jump out of the hand from time to time. It’s kind of like if you were to fall into the ocean and drown to death and someone pulls you up into a ship. They pump the water out of you and miraculously bring you back to life and feed you and give you everything you need. It’s not like you have to work to keep yourself alive. However, you could decide you have no need for this silly ship or tell yourself that the ocean is much better or tell yourself you’re going to swim the rest of the way and jump out of the boat. If you jump out it’s not like you were never saved to begin with and there’s nothing defective with the boat that makes you jump out. You don’t jump out because the boat isn’t strong enough. We do read in the Bible about predestination and election and we know that all whom God elected will certainly be saved. But the Bible doesn’t tell us that only the elect will ever have true faith or be regenerated.”

Johnny: “But that doesn’t make sense. Why would God regenerate someone and then allow them to fall away? Is the Holy Spirit too weak to keep a grip on them?”

Marty: “It’s not a matter of the Holy Spirit’s weakness. I’m not saying it all makes sense. God says His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We shouldn’t expect it to all make sense. The main way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself is in Christ-crucified. There’s nothing sensible about God dying for sinners. In the Psalms, David prays that God would not remove His Holy Spirit from him.”

Johnny: “That was just a reference to his anointing as king and that was under the old covenant before the Holy Spirit became a seal of our salvation.”

Marty: “It was in the Psalms, so it wasn’t just some private prayer of David. It was part of the songbook of the Israelites and later on the Christian church. If it only applied to David it wouldn’t be incorporated into the Psalms. In the New Testament Epistles we find real warnings that say that those who continue in sin will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. This would all seem unnecessary if those who have “real” faith have no real danger of perishing.”

Johnny: “So you’re saying that Jesus saves us but now it’s up to us to stay saved?”

Marty: “Not at all. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. We don’t do anything to accomplish our own salvation. Salvation is all of God and damnation is all of us. But if we cling to a sin and deny that it is a sin, we are refusing forgiveness. If we no longer believe we need saving or deny we are sinners then we will be damned. We would be actively working against the grace of God and the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures speak of people resisting the Holy Spirit and resisting God’s grace. It’s a scandal to the Calvinist who believes that God would not allow Himself to be resisted but it’s what the Scriptures say. God comes to us in weakness. He comes to us in the weakness of the preaching of the Gospel. We see God’s power most clearly in Christ-crucified but in Christ-crucified we also see God in His humility. It’s pretty remarkable when you look at church history. Up until the middle ages there really isn’t anyone teaching a limited atonement or the perseverance of the saints. There isn’t really anyone who denies baptismal regeneration or that infants should be baptized either.”

Johnny: “I read a book by Michael Horton called Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. In that book he provides a bunch of different quotes from the church fathers showing that they did teach the perseverance of the saints and the limited atonement.”

Marty: “You’ll notice that Horton doesn’t provide any references for those quotes. A lot of them aren’t from the church fathers themselves. He takes portions of quotes from different works by the same author, inserts commentary from other sources, and then passes it off as a quote of the church father. You should check out this blog post:

Johnny: “I’ll take a look when I get a chance. I have a lot to think about.”

Marty: “Okay. Tomorrow let's talk about the proper mode of baptism.”


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Looking Beneath the Surface in Theological Debate

While information-gathering for A Dweam Within Dweam it has become more and more obvious to me that the typical way in which debates take place on the Internet does very little to change the minds or aid in understanding people of different theological persuasions. There are problems that hinder understanding caused by lack of focus and other problems caused by being too narrowly focused.

Typical debate centers chiefly around external practice. Should babies be baptized? What qualifies as a valid baptism? When a Lutheran and a Baptist debate (or just about anyone from two distinct theological positions) it's almost impossible to get anywhere because both parties have a list of several ideas in their minds that each contribute to the respective position. For the Baptist, baptism is all about someone who has already made a profession of faith is now making a personal testimony that he or she is a Christian by being immersed in water. Whatever arguments you might make for the baptism of infants are lost on them because they are absolutely convinced that to baptize means "immerse" and you are not immersing and are obviously wrong in your practice. For a Lutheran a valid baptism consists of God's Word joined with the water. A person receives a valid baptism even if that does not believe. The baptismal formula is of great importance to the validity of baptism for a Lutheran but plays little to no role in the validity of baptism for a Baptist. Our minds are incapable of handling several aspects that play in to whether or not we should baptize the baby at the same time. The Baptist is generally incapable of conceiving of a baptism that does not involve both profession of faith by the person being baptized and immersion. It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation with a Baptist on what baptism is without discussing the proper recipients, mode, and meaning of baptism. But it is equally impossible to have a meaningful conversation about baptism while trying to discuss all these things at the same time. There must be a systematic progression that takes the debate through recipients, mode, and meaning without trying to deal with them them simultaneously. Otherwise we just keep the old Adam happy by reinforcing his tendency to think that other people believe differently just because they are idiots. There are reasons for why people believe what they do. Those reasons aren't always good but they should be honestly evaluated.

There are deeper presuppositions that stand behind beliefs about proper recipients, mode, and meaning. Baptism is only one example. The same holds true for any other issue. The person holding to a particular belief about the meaning of baptism may not in fact even be consciously aware of the presuppositions that they hold to. Opposition to baptismal regeneration, for instance, is often the result of several different presuppositions. The Baptist Greek grammarian, A.T. Robertson, has to admit that the most natural way to read the Greek of Acts 2:38 results in the teaching that we receive the forgiveness of sins through baptism. However, he opposes this teaching because he believes the teaching of baptismal regeneration to be in conflict with other passages of Scripture. Specifically, he says that baptism is a work and the Scriptures teach that we are not saved by works. In order to have a meaningful debate with a Baptist on the issue of baptismal regeneration, it is necessary to debate the issue of whether the Scriptures teach that baptism is our work or God's work. This will inevitably lead to discussions about how God works faith in us. Most Baptists will acknowledge that God works faith in us through the preaching of the Word but will deny that God works faith in us through baptism. In the mind of the Lutheran, baptism is God's Word in and with the water and adding water to God's Word doesn't in any way destroy God's Word. In the mind of the Lutheran, God's Word simply does what it says. In the mind of the Baptist, as seen in the writings of A.T. Robertson and others, God's Word commissions the baptism but has nothing to do with the actual baptism. The actual baptism is an immersion and this immersion takes place because God commanded that the immersion takes place. But the baptismal formula only commissions the baptism, it's not strictly speaking part of the baptism in the mind of the Baptist.

If you argue long enough, you will find that part of the Baptist opposition to baptismal regeneration is tied to their belief in either the Perseverance of the Saints or Once Saved Always Saved. It becomes necessary to address these issues in order for debate to continue. Often these beliefs are not explicitly stated and require further questions to uncover or both parties will end up talking past one another. The key is to carefully listen and try to determine what the person's real concerns are. The other party might say something like, "If baptismal regeneration were true there wouldn't be people like Christopher Hitchens." What the person means is that Christopher Hitchens died as an unbeliever and this would be impossible if the person was truly regenerated in baptism. The Scriptures point pretty clearly to examples of people who showed they had faith but fell away from the faith. Some are restored again and others are not. Peter makes his great confession that Jesus is the Christ, but then acts as the mouthpiece of Satan trying to persuade Jesus not to be crucified, denies Christ, and denies the resurrection. In fact Jesus tells the Apostles prior to his death that they will all fall away (Mark 14:27). The Baptist will tell you that this was before the Holy Spirit was given to Peter or that this was some non-salvific sort of falling away or produce some other explanation. Often 1 John 2:19 is quoted: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." John's point is that these false teachers that he is referring to never held to the true faith to begin with but the Baptist/Calvinist interprets this passage as referring to every individual who ultimately falls away from the faith. If someone ultimately falls away they take that to mean that the person was never "saved" to begin with. They then get around passages which seem to refer to the person as having faith by using adjectives to speak of "historical" faith or some other kind of faith that is not "saving" faith.

The possibility that you are able to get this deep in a conversation with someone is unfortunately pretty low. But if you were able to do so another remarkable phenomena would occur. All the endless branches that are the cause of the single external practice will work their way down into one single root. In The Religious Bodies of America by F.E. Mayer, Mayer describes the formal and material principles of the various divisions in Christianity. The formal principle is the source of doctrinal authority. Most Protestant bodies will regard the Scriptures as the sole source of doctrinal authority. The material principle is the central teaching of a religious body. In Calvinistic church bodies, the material principle is the glory of God. In Lutheranism the material principle of justification by faith in Christ alone. Things get a little more complicated in Baptist theology. More Calvinist Baptists will have the glory of God as their material principle. Others may have the Lordship of Christ as their material principle. This single material principle will lead to all the other doctrines unique to that religious body. Things would be much simpler if we could simply spend our time debating what the proper material principle is, but it's often difficult to convince people that they have a material principle. They say things like, "We just teach the Bible." People are often unaware of the presuppositions that they have when they come to a Biblical text. The old Adam would have us put greater trust in our reason than in the Scriptures. Sometimes without even realizing it, we assume things the text does not actually say because we trust our reason more than Scripture. The text might say "Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins" but we think it can't possibly mean what it sounds like it means. We discard the faith of the child for the unbelief of the grown-up.

The Scriptures themselves direct us to a material principle. Jesus said the Scriptures are all about Jesus. Paul said He preached nothing but Christ-crucified. Christ-crucified is the material principle that Paul gives us. We are justified through faith alone in Christ-crucified. If we abandon the guidance of Scripture we can easily become convinced that "God's glory" is the central teaching. We will concoct all kinds of teachings derived from this bad starting point. When we are tempted to put faith in our logical inferences derived from bad material principles we must remember that God's ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. There is nothing reasonable about Christ-crucified. Our realization that our salvation is completely dependent on Christ-crucified should humble us and give us patience to deal with those who are having trouble seeing their own presuppositions that color their reading of Scripture.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Dweam Within a Dweam Chapter 3: Babies are People Too

Please read the introduction and chapters 1 and 2 first.


Babies are People Too



Johnny: “Where should we start?”

Marty: “Y U No Baptize Baby?”

Johnny: “There isn’t any of this baby baptizing nonsense in the Bible. The Bible don’t know nothin’ about baptizin’ no babies. People are baptized after they have made a confession of their faith. The baptism of infants is a man-made tradition that is tied to baptismal regeneration. Even people like B.B. Warfield who support infant baptism admit that it’s not found in the Bible. Don’t try to confuse me with all that covenant theology mumbo jumbo either. The Old Covenant was with Abraham and his descendants but the New Covenant is with believers only. The children of the flesh are not children of God but the children of the promise.”

Marty: “People is people.”

Johnny: “What?”

Marty: “Typically Reformed and Presbyterian folks tend to defend the baptism of infants based on their understanding of the covenant. But that’s not the case with Lutheranism. Would you say that babies are people?”

Johnny: “Of course.”

Marty: “Jesus commands the apostles to disciple the nations by baptizing them. Babies are part of the nations and so they should be baptized.”

Johnny: “Then why not just go out with super soaker and baptize them?”

Marty: “Baptism makes the devil our enemy and if the faith given in baptism is not nurtured it will die away. Also, baptism isn’t just water but God’s Word with the water. Just throwing someone in a pool or pouring water on them is not a baptism. But we can talk about that more when we discuss the proper mode of baptism.”

Johnny: “But what good does sprinkling some water on a baby do the baby. The baby doesn’t know what you are saying.”

Marty: “The power is in God’s Word. God’s Word does what it says. The power is not in me. Don’t you believe that faith is a gift from God?”

Johnny: “Absolutely.”

Marty: “Why can’t God give a baby faith?”

Johnny: “I guess maybe He could, but how would we know? Unless the Bible specifically says that the baby had faith how would we know they have faith? How can a baby repent or call on the name on the Lord?”

Marty: “When you were a baby did you love and trust your mother?”

Johnny: “Of course.”

Marty: “Why didn’t you buy her a Mother’s Day card?”

Johnny: “I was just a baby, I couldn’t do that.”

Marty: “But if we love and trust people don’t we do nice things for them?”

Johnny: “Well yes, but I was just a baby.”

Marty: “Exactly. You demonstrate your love to people in different ways based upon your own abilities. Just because you might lack the ability to show your love and/or trust in certain ways doesn’t mean you do not love or trust the person. A baby loves and trusts his mother but couldn’t explain that to you or give you a definition of what a mother is.”

Johnny: “But it’s just silly to baptize people who don’t even know what’s going on. What’s the point?”

Marty: “We’ll get to the point when we discuss what baptism does, but didn’t parents bring their infants to Jesus to receive a blessing from Him.”

Johnny: “Yes, but that’s not baptism.”

Marty: “You’re right, it’s not baptism but a blessing can only be received through faith. The blessing wouldn’t do these babies any good if they were incapable of faith and Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children. The kingdom of heaven is received through faith and if the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, shouldn’t they receive baptism?”

Johnny: “Jesus didn’t say the kingdom of heaven belonged to these infants, He said that the kingdom of heaven belonged to people who were like these infants. He’s just telling us to show humility like these little children. He’s not actually saying that these little children are part of the kingdom of heaven. He’s just saying we have to be like them to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Marty: “Doesn’t it seem strange that these children would be used as examples of how the kingdom of heaven is received if they were incapable of receiving it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use someone as an example who is actually part of the kingdom of heaven rather than someone who incapable of receiving the kingdom of heaven? You wouldn’t tell someone to be a great baseball player by being like someone who couldn’t play baseball, would you?”

Johnny: “I think Jesus might be saying that the children are without actual sin and are part of the kingdom of heaven because they haven’t reached an age of accountability yet.”

Marty: “So Jesus is telling the disciples that they are all going to hell then? If the disciples have to become like these little children by somehow not reaching the age of accountability how they are supposed to do that?”

Johnny: “I guess I’m not sure how they would do that, but it doesn’t say that these infants have faith. If they had faith they would confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord.”

Marty: “So do all mute people go to hell because they can’t say that Jesus is Lord?”

Johnny: “No, that’s ridiculous. But mute people can communicate that they believe in other ways.”

Marty: “But if they lack all ability to communicate does that mean that they automatically don’t have faith? The Scriptures say that faith is a gift of God. So can’t He give to whoever He wants to give it? If you got hit by a truck and became a vegetable, would that mean that you no longer had faith because you couldn’t communicate it? Do you stop having faith when you sleep because you can’t communicate your faith at that time?”

Johnny: “I guess not, but we still couldn’t know that the baby had faith.”

Marty: “Doesn’t it say in the Bible that John the Baptizer leaped in his mother’s womb?”

Johnny: “It says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit and that’s why he leaped. It doesn’t say he had faith.”

Marty: “Can you be filled with the Holy Spirit and not have faith?”

Johnny: “Maybe not. But he was unusual. That’s why the Bible makes such a big deal about him. That’s not the way God ordinarily works.”

Marty: “In the Psalms, David says he hoped in God while on his mother’s breasts.”

Johnny: “It doesn’t say he had faith. It says he hoped.”

Marty: “How can you hope in God if you have no faith?”

Johnny: “I guess you’re right, but that’s just David’s experience. He was pretty unique.”

Marty: “David wrote this as part of the Psalms. Every Israelite would have taken these words upon his lips. The Psalms became the hymnbook of the early church as well. This wasn’t just some private things that David wrote only about himself.”

Johnny: “But there’s still nothing in there about baptizing any babies. There’s not a single instance of a baby being baptized in the entire Bible.”

Marty: “What about 1 Corinthians 10:1-2? Paul says all Israel was baptized in the cloud and in the sea. Weren’t there babies present when they passed through the sea?”

Johnny: “I guess. But this isn’t Christian baptism. This is part of the old covenant. Only believers are part of the new covenant. In the New Testament we only find people being baptized after they have first believed. Believe and be baptized.”

Marty: “It doesn’t say “Believe and then be baptized. It just says “Believe and be baptized.”

Johnny: “But that’s the order we see in all the New Testament baptisms. First people show that they believe and then they are baptized.”

Marty: “I don’t think it’s right to read the stories as if they are commands. Just because Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch doesn’t mean that you have to be Ethiopian or a eunuch before you can be baptized. We don’t read any explicit examples of women partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Does that mean that women should not be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper?”

Johnny: “Of course not. But that’s different. Women are still able to show that they believe and in all the examples in the New Testament we don’t find a single instance where it says a baby was baptized.”

Marty: “What would have happened under the old covenant if a Gentile wanted to convert to Judaism? Wouldn’t the believing father make a profession of faith and be circumcised? And then all the eight day old males and up would be circumcised wouldn’t they?”

Johnny: “Well, yes. But that was circumcision. That was the old covenant. The new covenant is with believers only.”

Marty: “In all the New Testament examples, when we read about specific cases baptisms, we read of several household baptisms.”

Johnny: “Yes, but it doesn’t say there were infants in those households.”

Marty: “You’re right. It doesn’t specifically say there were infants but it doesn’t say infants were excluded either. It doesn’t say certain people in the household were not baptized because they did not believe. In the case of Lydia, we just read that Lydia believed and then her household was baptized.”

Johnny: “Obviously they all believed before being baptized.”

Marty: “The Bible doesn’t say that.”

Johnny: “But we can assume that they did because that’s what happened in the other cases.”

Marty: “I don’t think we can. The only instances we find of entire households not being baptized were the baptism of Jesus, Paul, and the Ethiopian eunuch. None of them had households to baptize. We don’t read of household members being denied baptism or of people growing up in Christian households and being baptized at a later date.”

Johnny: “In Acts 16 we read about the Philippian Jailor and his conversion and it says that his household believed. That’s why they were all baptized. This is the pattern in Scripture, people believe and then they are baptized. We can safely assume that Lydia’s household followed the same pattern. It just isn’t explicitly stated.”

Marty: “It doesn’t actually say that the whole household believed prior to baptism. The text says that they spoke the Word of Christ to them and then the household was baptized. In the next verse it says that the jailor rejoiced because he believed in God with his entire household. It doesn’t say that they all believed prior to baptism. Nor would it be unusual to refer to someone’s household as a believing household even if there were some members present who were incapable of communicating belief. If there were a family at your church with babies you would still call them a Christian family. You wouldn’t say they were a mixed family of believers and unbelievers. And we’re still dealing with narrative texts that tell us what happened. Just because Paul used to kill Christians and then was struck blind and received his sight again later doesn’t mean that every person must start by first killing Christians and then be struck blind by Jesus. And we don’t find anything within the texts about baptism that would lead us to believe that it’s something more exclusive than circumcision. We know that unlike circumcision, females are baptized, but we don’t read anything that suggests that while circumcision was applied to all household members, baptism is only applied to those who can articulate their belief. I just don’t see anything in the texts that suggests that baptism is more exclusive in its application. Jesus says to baptize the nations. He doesn’t say baptize believers only. The command given to the Apostles doesn’t say anything about making sure that they can make their belief known first. But the Baptist comes in and tries to tease out requirements from the baptism narratives.”

Johnny: “But the word ‘baptize’ means immerse. You can’t immerse infants.”

Marty: “We’ll deal with the issue of mode another day, but you can certainly immerse infants. The Eastern Orthodox immerse infants.”

Johnny: “That sounds scary. Won’t the baby drown?”

Marty: “They’ve been doing it for a long time and there are safe ways you can immerse a baby. You can sort of roll him in there cradling him in your arms or you can hold him by the armpits.”

Johnny: “I did not know that.”

Marty: “Now you know and knowing is half the battle.”

Johnny: “G.I. Joe. But I still think it’s wrong to try to tie circumcision to baptism in that way. Baptism is not just some new version of circumcision. Circumcision is part of the old covenant. What is the “new” version of offerings for the first born male and all that jazz?”

Marty: “Paul ties circumcision and baptism together in Colossians 2:11-12. Paul says that when we were baptized we were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.”

Johnny: “That’s spiritual baptism. That’s not talking about water baptism.”

Marty: “We’ll talk about what baptism actually does another day but even if the water baptism could be separated from spiritual baptism the water baptism has to point to something and at least in an indirect way he would be tying baptism to circumcision.”

Johnny: “But why did they continue to circumcise then?”

Marty: “In order to avoid offending the Jews, Paul had Timothy circumcised. But when the Jewish Christians started saying that you had to be circumcised to be a real Christian Paul refused to have Titus circumcised. God almost killed Moses for not circumcising his son but it became a matter of Christian liberty after Christ came. Christ is the fulfillment of what circumcision promised. Jewish Christians were allowed to continue to circumcise as long as they didn’t look to it for their justification. In addition to pointing to Christ, circumcision was also about the cutting away of sin. Baptism is the washing away of sin. In some respects, circumcision is a shadow of baptism.”

Johnny: “But you people who practice infant baptism don’t give babies communion. Why would you baptize them?

Marty: “The Eastern Orthodox churches both baptize babies and give them communion. I think there are good arguments on both sides on the issue of infant communion. The Scriptures don’t give the same warnings about being baptized in an unworthy manner as they do for communion. They don’t warn people about being able to discern their baptisms when they are baptized. In the Old Testament people were circumcised on the eighth day but at least some people believe it wasn’t until they were much older that they partook of the Passover. If we should be allowing infants to partake of communion that doesn’t really prove that they shouldn’t be baptized.”

Johnny: “I guess it doesn’t prove that you are wrong to baptize but it does show that in the case of communion you recognize that people need to show they are believers before receiving but you don’t have the same qualifications for baptism.”

Marty: “The different practice is based on the different statements of Scripture about each.”

Johnny: “But the Bible doesn’t talk about babies being baptized or babies taking communion.”

Marty: “The Bible doesn’t specifically talk about women taking communion either, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t. You’re creating an artificial category. The Bible doesn’t say anything about left-handed people being baptized or 90 year old grandmothers being baptized. Jesus said to disciple the nations by baptizing them.”

Johnny: “But why didn’t infant baptism catch on until the fourth century which was around the same time baptismal regeneration caught on?”

Marty: “Infant was taking place well before this. The validity of infant baptism wasn’t questioned until the time of the Petrobrusians in the middle ages. Before that time we don’t find any record of anyone denying the validity of infant baptism. The church fathers tended to write about issues that were being disputed. You don’t find that much about infant baptism in the very early church fathers because infant baptism was not disputed. The earliest dispute about infant baptism in the church centered on whether babies should be baptized on the eighth day in order to correspond to the regulations about circumcision in the Old Testament or whether baptism can be performed sooner. The church decided that infants could be baptized sooner.”

Johnny: “What about Tertullian? Didn’t he deny infant baptism?”

Marty: “No, Tertullian did not deny the validity of infant baptism. He just didn’t think it was necessary. He didn’t believe the babies had any sin and he thought it put an unnecessary burden on the baptismal sponsors. He never denied that infant baptism was valid or taught that people needed to be baptized again as adults.”

Johnny: “What about The Trail of Blood by J.M. Carroll? Doesn’t he show that there were always Baptists?”

Marty: “What Carroll does is take just about any group that was rejected by the church and without any evidence declares them to be Baptists. The Petrobrusians are the first group in which there is evidence that they denied infant baptism. Even the Petrobrusians don’t meet the criteria that Carroll lays out at the beginning of his book defining what a Baptist is. Many of the groups that the Carroll says are Baptists denied the Trinity and many of the other central doctrines of the Christian faith.”

Johnny: “I’ll have to study all this some more.”

Marty: “Alright. Why don’t we meet tomorrow to talk about what baptism is?”

Johnny: “Ok. See you tomorrow.”