Some Infant Baptism Thoughts - Negative, OR Some Lousy Reformed Arguments

1. "Believer-baptists accuse us of baptising unregenerate people, but believer-baptists do it all the time! How can they live with the fact that people fall away?"

This is unfair. What the believer-baptist is saying is that infant-baptists *delieberately* baptise people who are not regenerate.

For an infant baptist, the church kid who chucks in the faith in high school is a true member of the visible church who has betrayed of their ultimate calling. For the believer baptist, the convert who falls away was never a true member of the visible church - their membership was a sham.

2. "Don't call us 'infant baptists", call us 'convenant baptists'".

Seems sneaky to me. Believer-baptists believe in covenants too, and they believe that baptism is a sign of the covenant. They just happen to believe that the covenant is restricted to regenerate believers.

3. "I don't want my kid to go to Hell. Therefore infant baptism is true"

This is emotional, immoral and illogical:

  • Emotional: Things are not true cause we want them to be true.
  • Immoral: Why can you sleep better knowing *your* kid won't go to Hell, but don't care two hoots about the child of the non-Christian?
  • Illogical: It does not necessarily follow that belief in infant baptism means belief in salvation of your kid.

4. "Baptism is God's promise.... we raise our kids in faith not in fear"

Belief in infant baptism does not mean belief that your kid will go to heaven. Clearly many kids from Christian families fall away from the faith and *don't* go to heaven. So there is some fear, isn't there? And if kids from Christian families don't go to heaven, what do we make of God's alleged 'promise'?

We need far more clarity here. I would prefer to remove these vaguely worded promises altogether. But for the sake of clarity let's map out three possible infant-baptist views:
  • Presumptive regeneration: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. We presume that all children of Christians are regenerate and predestined. We know that in the mystery of God's will some are not, but our default position, and expectation, is that they are. (I don't like this view, but it is the one where is 'faith not fear' sort of logic works best)
  • Sign of external blessings: Baptism is a sign only of the external blessings of belonging to the visible church and hearing the gospel, nothing more. Baptism, then says nothing about the salvation of the individual.
  • Sign of internal and external blessings: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. But we do not give it to children of Christians because we presume they have received the reality. Rather, we consider that it is fitting to give them the sign of regeneration, even though they aren't necessarily regenerate.
5. "Household baptisms in Acts."


6. "We believe in the unity of the covenants."

So does a believer baptist. We both believe that there are some points of discontinuity. The believer baptist just draws the line at a slightly different point.

A strength of Reformed theology is that it is integrated and it joins the dots between its various doctrines really well. The problem is that as a result, Reformed theologians can often argue that every peculiar Reformed doctrine is central and fundamental to the gospel itself. I once read an article that said that Amillenialism, paedobaptism, presbyterian government and limited atonement were all totally central to the gospel and to deny any of them was to let the gospel itself crash down in a heap.

Some Infant Baptism Thoughts - Positive

  1. Believers-baptism is the default position. It does take time and care to argue for infant baptism, just as it takes time to argue for predestination or the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. This doesn't necessarily make it 'too many steps of extrapolation'. Some theological structures just take time to establish. Especially if we are clearing the ground of pre-existing ideas and assumptions.
  2. Baptism is never defined in Scripture as being only for believers. It is often used in metanomic figures of speech (eg Rom 6, Gal 3) to stand for repentance, faith and conversion. But this does not mean that baptism is primarily a sign of faith. The closest we come to this is 1Peter 3:21. But even here, is God saying 'baptism can only be given to someone who is capable of a rational pledge of conscience' or 'baptism is only true, saving baptism when it is accompanied by a rational pledge of conscience'?
  3. Better to see baptism primarily as a sign of God's grace, God's gospel, God's promises. Adult converts receive the gospel, and hence the sign of the promises of the gospel. Children are raised under the preaching of the gospel, raised inside the visible church. On this grounds alone, it is fitting to mark them with the sign of the gospel which has been held out to them from birth. But more, the OT and NT argue that God has a 'general electing love' for the physical offspring of his people (see 8 below). Baptising them is an expression of this love.
  4. I like the section in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion on infant baptism. A lot of arguments for infant baptism that have become simplistic and sloppy in the hands of later apologists - such as 'Let the little children come to me' - are written with care and subtlety by Calvin.
  5. A believers-only view of the visible church feels very 'modern': a voluntary society of individuals. Do you know what I mean?
  6. From a believers-baptism point of view, it is hard to know how to make sense of children of Christians. Are they the same as any other non-Christian guest? Not really. Surely they are 'members of the church' in some sense.
  7. Baptising a child at birth is said to be artbitrary and without scriptural warrant. At the same time, most believer-baptists hold off on baptism until some arbitrary point. Few believer-baptists baptise confessing two-year-olds. If we are going to baptise kids of Christian parents at some abitrary point, perhaps birth is as representative as any other time.
  8. John 1, Romans 2 and other such passages are not saying that physical descent has no significance whatsoever. They are merely saying that physical descent is not the *necessary* nor *sufficient* ground for eternal salvation. Romans 3, 9, 11 and 15 all teach us that there is significance to physical descent. There is a 'general electing' love of God as well as a 'individual electing' love of God.
  9. Colossians 2 does not say (as some infant-baptists argue) that baptism *is* the New Testament's circumcision. There are four steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. With circumcision of sinful nature 3. Having been buried with Christ 4. Through baptism) not two steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. Through baptism). But what it does teach is the the spiritual significance of circumcision and baptism is the same. They may not be identical but they are parallel.
  10. We must pay more careful attention, brothers, to the way we use Covenant of Grace and New Covenant. As a rule, the believer-baptist has a stronger emphasis on the distinctions between Old and New Covenant. They tend to use 'New Covenant' to speak about the things that are particularly unique about the new dispensation. Infant-baptists are a little more vague. 'New Covenant' can mean simply 'the Covenant of Grace as experienced in the new dispensation'. For a believer-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' means 'regenerate, predestined person who *will* go to heaven'. For an infant-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' can often just mean, 'member of the Covenant of Grace, even purely because they are members of the visible church'.
  11. Believer-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for making sure the church is only made up only of the Elect. It is an "opt-in" ecclesiology: you can only join if you can prove your conversion. You might say the believer baptist *presumes* to purify the visible church. Infant-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for accpeting all who confess faith, and disciplining those who betray their confession. It is an "opt-out" ecclesiology: you are only rejected if it your unbelief can be proved. The infant-baptist *assumes* that a person's confession is true unless evidence is given to the contrary.

Integrity and Having Fun

I have been struggling for over a year to convey to Crossroads the importance of a whole-life spirituality, a worshipping God in the everyday outlook.
A word that I think helpfully sums up this goal is 'integrity'. Not just in the sense of 'honest' or something, but in the sense of 'integrated'. This has been a helpful buzzword for the church, but I think we still have a long way to go.
So then I come across the values statement of the 'David Allen Company'. One of their values (they call them 'principles' and 'rules of engagement') is:

  • We bring joyful engagement to our work and our lives (aka we have fun)
So then I start thinking. Perhaps John Piper is right in a whole other sense. Perhaps enjoying ourselves, or 'having fun' is the way we can make sure our lives are integrated. At the very least it is one clear proof that our lives are integrated.

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part VI

Both the Presbyterian and Anglican denominations in Tassie are top-heavy. Both are bigger administratively than they are numberically. A couple of thoughts:

  1. How do you allow a denomination (or a church for that matter) decline gracefully? How do you avoid this top-heavy, maintenance of structures that were a good idea when you were huge, but are kinda disproportionate now?
  2. Although both are top-heavy, the Anglicans seem *relatively speaking* too top heavy and the Presbyterians *relatively speaking* not top heavy enough. So the Anglicans have several full-time denominational officials each with their own secretaries. The Presbyterians have no full-time denominational officials at all. We should do a swap....

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part IV

Interesting comment over dinner:

  • In all of Tasmania there is really only one mega church: the Door of Hope. It is strange for a city the size of Hobart to not have one megachurch.

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part III

Cool things:

  • Met lots of lovely, gospel-hearted, supportive women pastors
  • One pastor who had gotten angry at me for something I didn't intend to do approached me and sought to resolve the matter at the beginning of the conference. They didn't want this misunderstanding to get in the way of them benefiting from my preaching
  • I got a book called 'Supporting Christians at Work' by Mark Greene which looks like just the thing for me and my church
  • I really like the idea of having a good solid church service each morning at a conference, rather than getting all sloppy
  • I don't think there was much I said that wasn't in the prayer book stuff we recited before my sermons. This is a good think about the prayer book.
  • (I don't think there was much I said that wasn't in the prayer book stuff we recited before my sermons. This is also bad think about the prayer book: they don't listen when it's in the prayer book, but only when it's preached.)
  • The bishop set his vision for the Tassie Diocese, and it was a good, exciting, Christ-honouring vision
  • There was a lot of talk about 'giving the Diocese a language for talking about discipleship.' I think this is really positive.

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part II

Strange things:

  • A tab on the bar one night before dinner
  • Cable television in our roooms
  • A prayer book service first thing each morning (Rather than a couple of praise songs before the sermon)
  • A lot of women pastors
  • Golf and winery tours in the afternoon
  • Visiting the Door of Hope megachurch to hear Philip Yancy one evening
  • Grindelwald
  • The resource-review involved getting handed around a pile of free books or sample DVDs... we even got an entire photocopied book handed to each of us with these words: "I got permission from the publishers to photocopy the whole thing. The actual book is on order and I will give that to you when I get it"

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part I

I was invited to speak at the Tasmanian Anglican Clergy Conference this week. Monday-Thursday @ Grindelwald, a mock-Swiss town just outside of Launceston. I told Crossroads that this was a week that woudl be exciting, scary and funny all at once. I preach three times on the topic of life (to tie in with 'Jesus All About Life').

Some favourite words and phrases used over the week:

  • connect
  • journey
  • conceptual framework (not model)
  • mutuality
  • conversation
  • context
  • community
  • engagement
Some gifts they gave me:
  • A 2002 Pinot Noir
  • A Phantom comic