Thursday, February 25, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
In response to my previous post, Arthur wrote:
So based on your line of reasoning, someone who is elect but not baptized by their believing parents is not part of the covenant community but someone who is not elect and will spend eternity in hell is part of the covenant community because their parents sprinkled them with water as an infant?
In short, yes. But in order to avoid possible confusion, let me add a word of explanation. By “covenant community” in the prior post, I mean the visible church. There are, as it were, two churches of God: the invisible church, “which consists of the whole number of the elect,” and the visible church, which “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and their children.” (For a fuller, but brief statement, see the Westminster Confession of Faith, ch 25, available with appended Scriptures at http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/.) Baptism, as a sign of the covenant properly belongs to all those who are legitimate candidates for membership in the visible church; that is, those who profess the true religion and their children. The children have the right to the sign, which God considers very important. But if the parents withhold the sign from them, God considers them no part of his visible church. On the other hand, a child of parents who profess the true religion may be baptized. In that case he is legitimately a part of the visible church, with all the rights and responsibilities of its members, and subject to its discipline, even though he may not be elect. Nonetheless, because he has rightly received the sign of the covenant, God considers him to be rightly a member of the visible church.
Just to make it clear, the visible church is not identical to the invisible church. That there is overlap between them is certainly the case, as in those intersecting Venn diagrams that plagued us all as children in early math classes. But one may legitimately be a member of the visible church, even if non-elect. Likewise, an elect person, for various reasons, may not have received the covenant sign of baptism.
Now to give a couple of illustrations. Jacob and Esau both received the sign of the covenant, and were legitimately members of the visible church. Esau, however, was not of the elect (see Mal 1:2-3 and Rom ), hence not a member of the invisible church. Judas Iscariot had received the sign of the covenant, and was legitimately a member of the visible church. He was even legitimately one of the twelve apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Matt 10:1-4). But he also was not elect, and his betrayal of Jesus and subsequent suicide proved that he was no member of the invisible church.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Infant Baptism: The Advantage to the Child
A question often asked of those who argue for infant baptism is, “What good does it do the infant?” Those who ask this question generally think they have nailed the defender, as there is no obvious benefit to the infant. The infant hardly seems to be aware of what is transpiring, let alone being aware of any benefit. Many who were baptized as infants, coming to faith as adults, desire to be baptized as adults, rationalizing that their baptism didn’t mean anything to them.
Such an approach to baptism, however, fails to recognize the true character of baptism, and fails also to recognize the real benefit of the rite to the infant. As to its true character, baptism (infant or adult) is not a public profession of a faith in Christ already acted upon. This view of baptism is readily drawn from a mistaken examination of Acts 2, which is then imposed on other texts having to do with baptism. The main problems with this understanding of Acts 2 are that first, it makes the mistake of drawing doctrinal conclusions from narrative texts; and second, it fails to recognize the transitional character of the situation in Acts 2.
Baptism rather is a sign of the covenant. That baptism is a covenant sign follows from the identification of circumcision and baptism (
If baptism is the New Testament equivalent of circumcision, and thus a covenant sign, we must look to the Old Testament and its discussion of covenant signs in order to determine what the advantage there is for the infant who is baptized.
The first covenant sign mentioned in the Old Testament is the rainbow (Gen 9:8-17). In this passage, we learn that the covenant sign is not for man only. Certainly it is understood that man benefits from seeing the rainbow, and remembering that God has established this as a sign that he will not again destroy the earth by a flood. But the emphasis of the text itself is on the importance to God of the sign. “When I bring the clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh” (Gen -15). That is, the sign functions for God. The same thing occurs in regard to the second covenant sign discussed in the Old Testament (circumcision—Genesis 17). “My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant” (Gen -14). That is, if God does not see the sign of the covenant in the child, he considers that child no member of the covenant people. This understanding is what lies behind the otherwise cryptic passage in Exodus 4, regarding Moses on his return to
God takes the covenant sign seriously. Thus a child, who would otherwise be a member of the covenant people, God considers him to be no part of the covenant people if he does not have the sign of the covenant. So a child of believing parents who is not baptized is considered by God to be none of his. It matters not how much care the parents may lavish on the child, or how much they may teach him the Bible. They have disobeyed God on one point, and their children are cut off.
The advantage to the child is thus two-fold. First, God considers that child a member of the visible church. Thus, according to his promise, he blesses all the parents’ efforts on behalf of the child. This is not to say that God may not bless the efforts of parents who are disobedient in the matter of the covenant sign. But such parents have no promise from God that he will bless in their labors.
[Just as an aside, it is curious to me that Presbyterians actually make more out of baptism than Baptists do. Baptists apparently, for example, see no problem with repeated baptisms, as long as the subject of the repeated baptism considers that he wasn’t really converted when he was first baptized. Second, Presbyterians talk about improving our baptism (LC Q 167), making everyone’s baptism important to us, whereas the Baptist sees baptism as of real importance only for the professing believer being baptized.]