Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Baptism of Infants and Children


The next two Sundays I have the privilege of baptizing two covenant children recently born to our congregation. Let's face it, baptism is one of the most debated subjects in the Church of Christ. Personally, I have run the gamut of thinking on baptism, arriving at my covenantal position in 1994 or so. I was raised Roman Catholic, I entered "evangelicalism" through the Bible Presbyterian Church, which practically views baptism as baby dedication with water. I then went to Moody Bible Institute where I was thoroughly immersed (no pun intended) in Baptist theology. Frankly, the Baptist-dispensational position never resonated with my understanding of a unified bible (sorry to use the "d" word as I know many of my baptist brothers and sisters would disagree, however, to be baptist means some measure of discontinuity between the testaments, hence, every baptist is at least a little dispensational), but I had great respect for my various mentors in the faith at Moody, and I still do, so I kept trying to adopt their "believer's baptism" position. I wanted to be baptistic- no one wants to diss their mentors, yet, Scripture just wouldn't let me. Toward the end of my time at Moody I came to believe what the Westminster Confession described as the bible's teaching on baptism. I was particularly struck by the shorter catechism questions and answers concerning the sacraments, and baptism specifically:


Q. 92. What is a sacrament?

A. A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.


Q. 93. Which are the sacraments of the New Testament?

A. The sacraments of the New Testament are, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.


Q. 94. What is baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.


Q. 95. To whom is Baptism to be administered?

A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.


I think the Westminster Divines did a good summary job of what Scripture teaches. I don't think the Westminster Confession and Catechisms are comprehensive, however they are very accurate in what they do address. Obviously Scripture must be supreme.


All this to say, and in the midst of never ending debate about baptism among all sorts of professing believers, I really appreciate what my denominations Book of Church Order (BCO) further states about baptism and the administration of such to covenant children. There is a helpful pastoral edge to what is written therein. I have baptized well over 100 people since becoming the senior pastor here in 2001, yet I am constantly searching Scripture and the perspective of godly people attempting to better understand this sacrament. I have spent time reviewing BCO 56 in preparation for the next two baptisms at Redeemer.

56-1. Baptism is not to be unnecessarily delayed; not to be administered, in any case, by any private person; but by a minister of Christ, called to be the steward of the mysteries of God.

56-2. It is not to be privately administered, but in the presence of the congregation under the supervision of the Session.

56-3. After previous notice is given to the minister, the child to be baptized is to be presented, by one or both the parents, or some other responsible person, signifying the desire that the child be baptized.

56-4. Before baptism, the minister is to use some words of instruction, touching the institution, nature, use, and ends of this sacrament, showing:


a. That it is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ;

b. That it is a seal of the Covenant of Grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, and of our union with Him, of remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and life eternal;

c. That the water, in baptism, represents and signifies both the blood of Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and actual; and the sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the dominion of sin, and the corruption of our sinful nature;

d. That baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifies the cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ, together with the mortification of sin, and rising from sin to newness of life, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ;

e. That the promise is made to believers and their children; and that the children of believers have an interest in the covenant, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the Church, under the Gospel, no less than the children of Abraham in the time of the Old Testament; the Covenant of Grace, for substance, being the same; and the grace of God, and the consolation of believers, more plentiful than before;

f. That the Son of God admitted little children into His presence, embracing and blessing them, saying, “For of such is the kingdom of God”;

g. That children by Baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the Visible Church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their Baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh;

h. That they are federally holy before Baptism, and therefore are they baptized;

i. That the inward grace and virtue of Baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and power thereof reaches to the whole course of our life; and that outward baptism is not so necessary, that through the want thereof, the infant is in danger of damnation;

j. By virtue of being children of believing parents they are, because of God’s covenant ordinance, made members of the Church, but this is not sufficient to make them continue members of the Church. When they have reached the age of discretion, they become subject to obligations of the covenant: faith, repentance and obedience. They then make public confession of their faith in Christ, or become covenant breakers, and subject to the discipline of the Church.

In these or the like instructions, the minister is to use his own liberty and godly wisdom, as the ignorance or errors in the doctrine of Baptism, and the edification of the people, shall require.

He is also to admonish all that are present to look back to their Baptism, to repent of their sins against their covenant with God; to stir up their faith; to improve and make right use of their Baptism, and of the covenant sealed between God and their soul.

He is to exhort the parent to consider the great mercy of God to him and his child; to bring up the child in the knowledge of the grounds of the Christian religion, and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and to let him know the danger of God’s wrath to himself and child, if he be negligent; requiring his solemn promise for the performance of his duty.


The minister is also to exhort the parents to the careful performance of their duty, requiring:
a. That they teach the child to read the Word of God;
b. that they instruct him in the principles of our holy religion, as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, an excellent summary of which we have in the Confession of Faith, and in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, which are to be recommended to them as adopted by the Church, for their direction and assistance, in the discharge of this important duty;
c. that they pray with and for him;
d. that they set an example of piety and godliness before him; and endeavor, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring up their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

56-5. The minister shall then read the covenant promises:

For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. (Acts 2:39; Gen. 17:7; Acts 16:31)


There are plenty of theological sites which debate the above, that's not my purpose here. Rather, I wish to relish the rich history of interpretation and explanation I am part of. We do what we do for a reason- a reason we believe is biblical.

10 comments:

Rick Calohan said...

Tony,

Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Lord. I was going to write you concerning this issue before my cousin was anabaptized since he was christened as a Roman Catholic, but took on the view:

“1) God the Father is drawing people to Himself so that He can present a bride to Christ as a gift for Him. Christ suffered the infinite agonies of hell on the cross. Christ deserves the reward for his sufferings. The reward is people who become children of God. Having said that, my baptism was in a Catholic Church, which as far as I’m concerned, might as well have been from a baal worshipper. The RCC is leading people to the lake of fire.

If I were to tell someone you love (Dorothy) something that would lead her astray and then lead her to eternal destruction, we wouldn’t be talking, and you would do everything in your power to get her away from me. I believe (at this point) that the RCC is a cult. The people who are in it who buy into their doctrines are heading for the lake of fire. The RCC is affecting the eternal destiny of souls. The RCC does not speak for God, they speak for His enemy.

Why would my original baptism be valid in the eyes of the Lord?

2) From my reading of Scripture it looks like belief is required for baptism. I know baptism doesn’t save me. When I get to verses where someone asks “What would hinder me from being baptized?” and the answer is “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you can be baptized”, that implies that if you don’t believe you shouldn’t be baptized. As an infant I didn’t believe anything, so I can’t see how it was valid.
3) I haven’t found any examples in Scripture where Baptism was done on an infant. There is an occasion where an entire house was baptized, and the “assumption” is that there might have been infants, but we really don’t know that.


I understand there are people who believe that infants are baptized as a way for the parents to publicly proclaim that they will raise the child in the Lord. That seems fine to me.

Thus he was anabaptized as Southern Baptist two weeks ago.

I understand his line of reasoning and the PCA Position Paper on Baptism of 1987

http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/2-078.html

If I understand it correctly then my cousin had taken the right course of action. However, I hold firm to Luther, and more specifically Calvin that being baptized once was sufficient. Much in the same light as once saved always saved.

So, since my wife was baptized a Catholic (she was 12 years old and it was delayed until after her father’s death and he was an Seven Day Adventist and her mom a Catholic)was and is her baptism sufficient? Was my baptism sufficient since I was baptized in the United Presbyterian Church on December 9, 1979 ? (Only kidding on the second question, but we all know the PCUSA is an apostate now.)

Also, since John Patrick will be born sometime in March 2008, and Dorothy and I believing in Covenant Baptism, what is the earliest our son to be can be baptized and do we have to be members at the time of baptism at Redeemer?

In His Grace For His Glory,

Rick

AJF said...

Rick,

1. Roman Catholics don't "christen", they baptize. Their particular view of baptism is wrong, in so far as efficacy is concerned, but they do baptize.

It is my conviction that the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the person or church baptizing, but the promises of God attached to the Scriptural words of institution (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the use of water. Therefore, I believe RC baptism to be valid and would not advise a person to be re-baptized.

Remember, the efficacy of the sacraments is not tied to the one baptizing (thankfully!). The Westminster Larger Catechism says wisely-

Question 161: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
Answer: The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted.

2. Baptism is the fulfillment of the covenant sign of circumcision, therefore, it can be rightly deduced that the covenant sign on the other side of the cross-baptism- should also be administered to children of believers. On this point, see monergism.com concerning baptism for the full treatment of covenant baptism and it's biblical basis. Also, listen closely this Sunday and next, to my explanation.

3. Again, see monergism.com on this subject.

4. Yes, both of your baptisms were valid. As for your son, in the PCA we require membership in the church before baptizing your children. It's a matter of a two way commitment between you and the covenant community you are asking to take vows concerning the nurture of your child.

You're signed up for the "meet the pastor" class beginning 12/9. You'll likely be a member soon, I hope.

Kampfgruppe Hoppa said...

I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church, my wife was baptized in the Roman Catholic church as an infant, and later as a teenager (because the Baptist view has been believer's baptism). All of my children were baptized at Redeemer. I cam to the covenantal view of baptism after sitting under Tony's and Nathan's biblical teaching. I always appreciated Tony's 'exposition' on baptism prior to him administering the sacrament.

Rick Calohan said...

Tony,

Thank you for your ‘exposition’ on Sacrament of Baptism and Covenant Baptism, that unfortunately my circle of family and friends who come from various Christian backgrounds, mostly Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Non-denominational, who have resisted the Reform view.

As I explained to a cousin and an aunt who were anabaptized, your first one took! However, they were adamant that a believer’s baptism is necessary, to which I would give them the padeo-baptism apologetic, yet that did not suffice.

As I indicated in my earlier post my cousin’s view is his staunch anti-Catholicism based on his born-again experience. As for my aunt, she felt that her Pentecostal believers- baptism at the age of 12 was coerced.

As for Catholics, I agree with your statements the efficacy as a means to salvation or as a Nun in the Philippines called the Seven Catholic Sacraments, “Channels of Grace.” The man made non-Biblical traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church are in grave error but the sacrament of Baptism in itself is not.

However, 490 years after the 95 Thesis of Martin Luther, and close to 2000 years since John “The Baptist” baptized Jesus, the debate lingers on.

Dorothy and I look forward to becoming members at Redeemer, and look forward to the day that our son shall be baptized by you, “In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

By the way, since you are from New York, do you know of a good Mohel for Goyims to perform the Bris? Oy Vey!

In His Grace, For His Glory!

Rick

rgmann said...

Hi Pastor,

I have a few questions, if you don’t mind. You wrote:

It is my conviction that the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the person or church baptizing, but the promises of God attached to the Scriptural words of institution (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the use of water. Therefore, I believe RC baptism to be valid and would not advise a person to be re-baptized.

If baptism can only be validly performed “by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto” (WCF 28.2), then how can Roman Catholic baptism be considered valid? Are Roman Catholic priests “lawfully called” ministers of the Gospel? Are Roman Catholic priests genuine “ministers of the Gospel,” even though they openly condemn and reject the doctrine of justification by faith alone? Using this same line of reasoning, would Mormon baptism be valid as well? After all, Mormons baptize their converts with water “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and they likewise reject the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Also, as far as I’m aware, Roman Catholic baptism does not involve the use of mere water, as required in Christian baptism (“The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water” WCF 28.2), but requires the use of adulterated water, the efficacy of which depends upon the deliberate and ritual corruption of the water with “chrism” (a mixture of balsam and oil). Wouldn’t this invalidate Roman Catholic baptism too?

AJF said...

Roger, you raise the classic argument against the validity of Roman Catholic baptism. As I'm sure you know, this is a hotly debated subject among reformed Christians.

Cutting right to the chase, I struggle to consider RC priests ministers of the gospel, however, I struggle to consider Arminian pastors similarly. Liberal mainline pastors? What if I'm a fraud in what I profess? Are the baptisms I have administered all invalid? It cannot be tied to the piety of the minister, keeping in mind all pastors and all churches are an admixture of truth and error. It is my understanding of Scripture that the sacraments cannot be valid based on the personal views of the particular minister, at least not solely. It's not a cut and dry issue, it's sticky and gray matter in which many a reformed person has debated. I certainly respect the many brothers and sisters who think RC baptism is invalid. If a person insisted on being rebaptized, I would probably be inclined to follow their request.

Interestingly, I was baptized RC. When I joined the Bible Presbyterian Church the pastor required me to be rebaptized. That was their position. Most reformed denominations don't require such.

Calvin struggled with the validity of RC baptism, he wrote after sayng that baptism doesn't owe it's efficacy to the minister administering it:

(Book IV, chs 15, 16 “By this consideration, the error of the Donatists is effectually refuted, who made the force and value of the sacrament commensurate with the worth of the minister. Such are our modern Katabaptists, who strenuously deny that we were properly baptized, because we received the rite from impious idolators in the papacy; and they are therefore ferocious for re-baptism. We shall, however, be sufficiently guarded against their nonsense, if we remember we were baptized not in the name of any man, but in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and therefore baptism is not of man, but of God, no matter by whom it was administered.”

So, Roger, I know the worthy arguments against RC baptism, however I see it as a very slippery slope to believing baptism is based on the piety of the minister, something I think the WC and Catechisms seems to guard against.

The constitution of the water RC's use is an interesting argument I haven't thought of, however, I don't think such an admixture of water is totally common, I've been to RC baptisms and am reasonably sure only regular water was used. Further, what is "pure" water anyways? Does chlorine skew it's make up? What about river water with who knows what in it? Heck, I baptized one member of our church with water from the Jordan river (they had water frozen from a previous trip)! I'm not sure what to do with this kind of consideration.

As for Mormon "baptism", it is not Trinitarian- the correct Scriptural institution is not used, therefore it shouldn't even be considered baptism. Mormonism isn't even within Christendom...they not only deny Justification by Faith, but the deity of Christ. I know, some will say heresy is heresy and the RC's are heretics- I just happen to think there is a line somewhere, and the Mormons are on the other side of it.

So, Roger, I respect those who do not see RC baptism as valid, but in the end, I am comfortable holding the same view John Calvin did and I think our denomination has recognized this as a valid position.

Thanks for the great question.

AJF said...

Roger, and anyone interested, here is a good link to an overview of the Reformed tradition's handling of RC Baptism:

http://www.perumission.org/Roman%20Baptism.pdf

rgmann said...

Hi Pastor,

Thank you for the detailed response. You wrote:

It's not a cut and dry issue, it's sticky and gray matter in which many a reformed person has debated.

I agree, and this is not an issue I would choose to fight tooth and nail over. As the Confession points out, “grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto [baptism] as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it” (WCF 28.5), so this isn’t an issue over which one’s salvation is in jeopardy.

However, I also believe that the Roman Catholic Church is one of those churches that has “so degenerated as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan” (WCF 25.5) -- ditto for the LDS/Mormon Church. Thus, I find it impossible to recognize a Roman Catholic priest as “a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto” (WCF 28.2) who has administered a valid baptism. I agree with you that baptism cannot be “tied to the piety of the minister” (since we cannot infallibly know any man’s heart), but the Confession seems to insist that the one baptizing must at least be recognized as “a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.” Shouldn’t a man have to openly “profess the true religion” (WCF 25.2) before he is recognized as a valid “minister” who has performed a valid “baptism?” It would seem that way to me.

Keep in mind that the original Confession of faith states that the Pope “is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God” (WCF 25.6). Since that was pretty much the universally held position of the early Reformers, I don’t see how Calvin could logically support the validity of Roman Catholic baptism. It seems quite incongruous with the above characterization of the Pope, to say the least. The Pope is the “Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God,” but the priests under his authority are “ministers of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto” -- huh? Perhaps Calvin can make sense out of that, but I sure can’t.

The constitution of the water RC's use is an interesting argument I haven't thought of, however, I don't think such an admixture of water is totally common, I've been to RC baptisms and am reasonably sure only regular water was used. Further, what is "pure" water anyways? Does chlorine skew it's make up? What about river water with who knows what in it? Heck, I baptized one member of our church with water from the Jordan river (they had water frozen from a previous trip)! I'm not sure what to do with this kind of consideration.

I believe that J.H. Thornwell has decisively answered these types of questions in his 1846 response to Charles Hodge on this issue. For example, he wrote:

“The significancy of the rite is affected; it is not made to consist in simply washing with water, but in washing with a water duly consecrated with oil. In the present case attention is called to the mixture; great importance is attached to it; and it is in consequence of the chrism that the mixed substance is used in preference to the pure, simple, natural element. It is not because it is water, but because it is sanctified by oil, that the priests employ it in baptism. This is certainly not making the significancy of the rite depend upon washing with water; it makes it equally depend upon the oil of the mystic unction. The very purpose of the mixture is to increase the significancy of the rite -- to declare more fully the nature and effect of the baptism. The oil is, consequently, made a prominent element in the compound, and it is precisely that which in ordinary cases fits the water for its use. In other cases the foreign element is left entirely out of view [such as in river water, that may have impurities in it -- RGM], and the adulterated substance is used as water, and nothing but water. But here it is not notwithstanding the mixture, but because of the mixture, that the corrupted water is employed. It is not used as water and nothing but water, but as water invested with new properties in consequence of the oil. The presence of the foreign matter is an improvement, when canonically introduced, upon the original appointment of the Savior…” (Sacramental Sorcery: The Invalidity of Roman Catholic Baptism,” pg. 28-29)

If you’d be interested in reading his entire argument, just let me know and I’ll bring the book in this Sunday.

As for Mormon "baptism", it is not Trinitarian- the correct Scriptural institution is not used, therefore it shouldn't even be considered baptism. Mormonism isn't even within Christendom...they not only deny Justification by Faith, but the deity of Christ.

Are you sure that Mormons don’t employ the Trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”) in their baptisms? As far as I know they do. Also, I don’t believe that Mormons deny the “deity” of Christ per se; they deny the essential “unity” of the Godhood, making the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit three separate “gods.” I’m not trying to defend Mormonism (as it is clearly heretical), I’m just pointing this out for the sake of accuracy. I’m pretty sure I’ve understood Mormon theology correctly on this point, but if not I’m certainly open to correction.

I know, some will say heresy is heresy and the RC's are heretics- I just happen to think there is a line somewhere, and the Mormons are on the other side of it.

I would agree that the LDS/Mormon Church has gone further astray than the Roman Catholic Church (which is really saying something!). I would probably have to rank it as Arminianism, Romanism, Mormonism, with Mormonism being the most heretical. I guess the boundary “line” for me is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. While Arminians teach the heresy of “free will,” most of them don’t openly reject the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Roman Catholics do. Thus they cross the “line” in my estimation.

Anyway, thanks again for your reply. I’ll read the article you linked to as soon as I can find the time. Take care, and may God continue to bless you!

In Christ,
Roger

Frontier Forest said...

Wow Pastor Tony! I take my hat off to your blog bravery!

AJF said...

Roger,good points. Check out the paper, it adresses some of your concerns and also surveys what various reformed folk have said on the matter.