Why shouldn’t you get rebaptized?

July 31, 2017 in Baptism, Ecclesiology, John Calvin, Quotations, Sacraments, Word of God

There are actually many answers to this question – but consider the following from John Calvin:

“Our opponents ask us what faith we had for many years after our baptism, in order to show that our baptism was in vain, since baptism is not sanctified to us except by the word of promise received in faith. We answer that although we were blind and unbelieving for a long time and did not embrace the promise which had been given us in baptism, yet the promise itself, since it was from God, always remained steady, firm, and true. If all men were false and liars, still God continues to be true; if all men were lost, still Christ remains a Savior. We confess, therefore, that when we totally neglected the promise offered to us in baptism, without which baptism is nothing, we received no benefit at all from baptism… Yet we believe that the promise itself never expired…. By baptism God promises the forgiveness of sins and will certainly fulfill the promise to all believers; that promise was offered to us in baptism; let us, therefore, embrace it by faith.”

In short, Calvin reminds us, baptism is not primarily my word to God, my promise to God, but God’s promise to me. Baptism is a visible word. It invites me, summons me to believe the One who has promised to cleanse my sins through the death and resurrection of Christ. The “solution”, therefore, to someone who has not believed his baptism thus far is not to get baptized but to repent and to believe and receive the promise symbolized in that baptism.

Word and Sign Go Together

August 2, 2016 in Bible - OT - Genesis, John Calvin, Quotations, Sacraments, Word of God, Worship

“…since no living image of God can exist without the word, whenever God has appeared to his servants, he has also spoken to them. Wherefore, in all outward signs, let us be ever attentive to his voice, if we would not be deluded by the wiles of Satan. But if those visions, in which the majesty of God shines, require to be animated by the word, then they who obtrude signs, invented at the will of men, upon the Church, exhibit nothing else than the empty pomps of a profane theatre. Just as in the Papacy, those things which are called sacraments, are lifeless phantoms which draw away deluded souls from the true God. Let this mutual connexion, then, be observed, that the vision which gives greater dignity to the word, precedes it; and that the word follows immediately, as if it were the soul of the vision.”

John Calvin, Commentary upon the Book of Genesis, p. 388 (on verse 46:2)

The Sign and the Thing Signified

September 30, 2014 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 1 Peter, Ecclesiology, Federal Vision, John Calvin, Justification, Quotations, Reformation, Regeneration, Sacraments, Sanctification

When Peter writes “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” (1 Pet 3:21) in reference to baptism, “he speaks not of the naked sign, but that the effect must also be connected with it… the external symbol is not sufficient except baptism be received really and effectually…

“But the fanatics…absurdly pervert this testimony, while they seek to take away from sacraments all their power and effect. For Peter did not mean here to teach that [baptism] is vain and inefficacious, but only to exclude hypocrites from the hope of salvation, who, as far as they can, deprave and corrupt baptism. Moreover, when we speak of sacraments, two things are to be considered, the sign and the thing itself. In baptism the sign is water, but the thing is the washing of the soul by the blood of Christ and the mortifying of the flesh. The institution of Christ includes these two things. Now that the sign often appears inefficacious and fruitless, this happens through the abuse of men, which does not take away the nature of the sacrament. Let us then learn not to tear away the thing signified from the sign. We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

“What then ought we to do? Not to separate what has been joined together by the Lord. We ought to acknowledge in baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renovation, and yet so as to leave to Christ his own honour, and also to the Holy Spirit; so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter, pp. 118-119.

The Edenic Covenant: Covenant of Works or Covenant of Grace?

June 9, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Creeds, Federal Vision, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Old Testament, Quotations, Sacraments, Sanctification

     “The Adamic covenant should not be considered in such narrow terms that it is seen only of the eating prohibition and its consequences. It is also improper to call this covenant a covenant of works. The implication then would be that other covenants are not covenants of works, or that this covenant, which obviously had its inception before the Fall, is not a covenant of grace. Then grace can only be evident in matters which have to do with redemption, which is a post-fall activity.
     “Such distinctions should be abandoned. All covenants between God and man should be seen as covenants of grace. The metaphor of covenant portrays a relationship between a sovereign and a vassal. The sovereign is under no obligation to initiate this arrangement. That he does so is a matter of grace. But the vassal is going to benefit from such an arrangement.
     “When we see the first biblical covenant in this light we will find that it frees us from the problems introduced by a covenant of works concept. First, it removes the idea that Adam could have worked for his salvation.
     “Second, it puts the entire original creation into a different perspective. The creation, with Adam as its head, is seen to be under covenant obligation to the Creator-Sovereign.
     “Third, there are implications, in an original Creator-creation covenant, for the concept of free will. Is a creation which is in covenant relationship free to do whatever it wants? When man and the rest of creation with him chose to disobey the creator this was an act of rebellion. It was willful breaking of the creation covenant.
     “The covenant with Abraham, Aaron (Levi) and David are covenants of promise. God promises to do something for Abraham, Aaron or David and their descendants. But when we consider what happened to some of their descendants we find that God rejected them and God stated that they had broken his covenant. Implicit in every covenant is the obligation of obedience. Along with promise-covenants is the understanding that those to whom the promises come must obey the Lord. Failure to obey marks the one under promise-covenant oath a rebel.” John M. Zinkand, Covenants: God’s Claims (Sioux Center, IA: Dordt University Press, 1984), pp. 54-55.

Christ, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper

February 28, 2014 in Baptism, Book Reviews, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Federal Vision, Lord's Day, Sacraments

A couple months ago I read Leonard Vander Zee’s book Christ, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. This was another helpful book explaining the biblical role of the sacraments for the life of the Church. Vander Zee does an excellent job identifying the true dividing line in sacramental theology: the true dividing line in different views of the sacraments is between those who view the sacraments fundamentally as a human declaration to God and those who view them primarily as God’s declaration to us. The Reformed position is the latter. In the sacraments it is primarily God who is speaking – speaking to us and about us, identifying who we are, the promises he has made to us, and the hopes we have for the future. I would recommend it. You can find it here.

Against the Church

February 27, 2014 in Baptism, Book Reviews, Federal Vision, John Calvin, Reformation, Regeneration, Sacraments

I just finished reading Against the Church by my friend Doug Wilson. I found Doug’s book extremely helpful and think that all those concerned about the Federal Vision controversy will profit from it. Doug emphasizes repeatedly here the absolute necessity of individual regeneration, rebirth, effectual calling for those inside, outside, and beside the covenant. You must be born again. You must move from death to life, from slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness, from tares to wheat, from darkness to light not only objectively but personally. All these things Doug has said repeatedly before but some have insisted that he must not really be saying that because why would sacraments and liturgy still be important? Thom Notaro did us a great service years ago clarifying in his book Van Til and the Use of Evidence that Van Til’s critiques of the wrong use of evidence didn’t mean that Van Til was completely opposed to the use of evidences in the right way. Hopefully Doug’s book Against the Church will serve a similar function to dispel the myth that an emphasis on the objectivity of the covenant, an emphasis on the significance of baptism and the Supper, does not entail a repudiation of the necessity for personal rebirth, faith, and righteousness. Rather the two go are to go together. Pick it up here.

A Biblical Case for Infant Baptism

February 6, 2013 in Baptism, Ecclesiology, Old Testament, Sacraments

Our men’s group is currently reading Book IV of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Finding ourselves in the midst of his defense of infant baptism, I decided to take the time to reformat a paper I wrote some years ago when I was still a credobaptist and moving toward paedobaptism. As Calvin makes clear in his defense, the linchpin of the argument for paedobaptism is the correspondence between circumcision and baptism. Being keenly aware of that I did a fair amount of meditating and wrestling with that very issue. This paper was the fruit of that meditation. I hope you enjoy it.

The Significance of Circumcision

A Letter on Infant Baptism

September 13, 2011 in Baptism, Faith, Sacraments

I’ve received numerous questions about infant baptism of late – here is one (inadequate!) response I wrote.

Dear ________,
Great question! Below I’ve appended an account of infant baptism that I sent to another fellow who asked about it. It summarizes why I changed my position from believer baptism to infant baptism.

A brief biographical background: I grew up United Methodist – but was merely a nominal believer. God grabbed hold of me in college and I joined a non-denominational church. I became convinced that infant baptism was unbiblical and led to presumption – assuming one was saved when one actually wasn’t. I maintained this position throughout college and seminary despite attending a school that officially taught infant baptism. It was less than 10 years ago that I finally “took the plunge” as it were and became convinced that infant baptism was not only acceptable but biblical.

Infant baptism is no “guarantee” of personal salvation any more than adult baptism is. Baptism is a covenant rite that identifies us as the people of God. The question is – are only adults counted among the people of God or are the children of believers likewise included in that number? I gradually became convinced that the children of believers are included in that number. So why the change? A couple books were helpful. Doug Wilson’s book To a Thousand Generations was helpful to me as I worked through these issues. Also helpful was John Murray’s Christian Baptism. Most helpful was my own reading and study of the Word of God. It took an immense amount of time for me to work through this issue – some find it easier. But for me it was very challenging. I was a convinced Baptist.

There are a number of links in the chain that led me to conclude that infant baptism is biblical:

1. Notice the way in which God introduces Himself to Moses. “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6-7). The meaning of mercy for thousands is clarified later in Moses’ words to our fathers, “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repay those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them.” (Dt 7:9-10) God introduces Himself here as a God who deals with generations of men – not simply with fathers but with their children and children’s children. And note that since this is the character of God, we have to ask, “Does God change?” And the Scriptural answer is no – God is the same today that He was then. He is still a God who delights to bless generation upon generation of those who love Him.

2. Given that this is the character of God, it is no surprise, therefore, that every covenant God makes with His people involves not only them but their children with them. In the covenant with Noah both Noah and his family are rescued from destruction. In the covenant with Abraham, God commands Abraham to bring up his children in the fear of the Lord so that they will serve Him and love Him. God establishes His covenant with Abraham for the express purpose of blessing “all the families of the earth” in him – so he must be one who blesses his own family (see Gen 18:17-19). In God’s covenant with Israel under Moses, on the night of Passover, God does not simply pass over the adults but the children of His people. He rescues entire households – and indeed gives a very clear definition of a household in His words to Moses about the Passover. A household includes the parents, children, and slaves – hired servants are excluded as are visitors to the house (cf. Ex 12:24, 43ff). If foreigners wanted to partake of the Passover then they had to be converted, joined to the people of God by circumcision. Finally, in God’s covenant with David, He makes promises not only to David but also to his children (2 Sam 7:12-16).

3. Consequently, God lays claim to the children of believers. They are His children (cf. Ez 16:20,21; 23:37).

4. Is this true in the New Covenant, the Covenant with Christ? A number of things indicate that the New Covenant includes not only believers but their children:

a. The prophecies of the OT speaking of the New Covenant anticipate God’s blessings flowing not only to believers but to their children (e.g., Is 59:21; Ez 37:24-28).

b. When Jesus ministers, He gives explicit attention to the children of His disciples. His ministry is not simply to the adults in Israel but to the children; according to Luke, to the infants (cf. Lk 18:15-17). Jesus insists that infants are integral members of His kingdom, there to teach the rest of God’s people important lessons.

c. When Peter preaches the first sermon at Pentecost he insists that the promise is “for you, and for your children, and for those who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself” (Acts 2:39).

d. When the disciples baptize folks in the book of Acts, the baptisms frequently describe entire households being baptized. While no infants are explicitly mentioned, the definition of household offered in Exodus 12 continued to be operative in Jewish society and was identical in the broader Roman society. Infants and children, had they been in the household, would have been included (cf. Acts 10:2; 16:31-34; 1 Cor 1:16).

e. The fact that this is the definition of household which the apostles themselves held is revealed in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. To whom does he address his exhortations? To husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves – in other words, to households.

f. Further, God continues to hold out promises to the children of believers. In Eph 6:1ff Paul takes an OT promise and applies it to the children of believers. Further, in 1 Cor 7:14 Paul distinguishes the children of believers from the children of unbelievers as “holy” – that is, set apart, members of the covenant community. God lays claim on our children – they are His children and every Christian parent will answer for the manner in which he shepherded them.

5. It would appear, therefore, that the children of believers are members of the New Covenant – received by God into the Church and numbered among His people. They are given precious promises and held accountable to the terms of the covenant they have entered. The terms of the covenant are the obligations to believe in the Lord, to love Him, to cherish His commandments, etc. Hence, as I raise my children I speak to them as believers, call them to believe in the Lord, to serve Him, to delight in Him, to love His law, to cherish His ways. But I never treat them as though they are “out there” – I don’t give them the option to “not believe” any more than I would give them the option to take drugs. I consistently call them to faith, I bring them up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4), the very thing that my father Abraham was commanded to do with his children thousands of years ago.

6. This means that merely being baptized is no substitute for faith; rather, baptism is a call to faith, a summons to belief and obedience. All those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are called to love Him and serve Him. In the same way that there were circumcised Israelites who were nevertheless “uncircumcised’ (Rom 2:28-29), so there are baptized Christians who are nevertheless “unbaptized” (e.g., Acts 8:13, 20-23). Unless baptism is joined with faith, it is a curse upon the one baptized rather than a blessing for it brings greater responsibility (Mk 16:16; Lk 12:47-48).

7. Baptism is a covenant rite – it brings us into a binding relationship with God, it makes us members of the New Covenant. However, from the Reformed view – which we think is biblical – being a member of the covenant is not synonymous with being “saved.” One can be a member of the covenant community and fail to lay hold of the promises that God holds out to His people (Heb 6:1ff). Hence, we must constantly call not only our children but one another to faith – “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God, but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:12-14). Notice that Hebrews calls these folks “brethren” – they are members of the covenant community – and yet warns them lest they depart from Christ. Why is this? Because we can never know the heart condition of others; so we constantly remind one another to trust in the Lord and to cling to Him.

This is probably a bit more than you asked for – but thought it might be helpful. If you have any other questions feel free to ask.

Blessings,

Baptizing Babies

February 9, 2011 in Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Sacraments

This is a meditation on some baptisms from this past summer:

Not ten years ago I would have recoiled from that which I rejoice to do in just a few minutes – baptize some babies. And I know that for many of you this practice will seem, at the least, questionable, if not positively absurd, or radically unbiblical. Since this is the first infant baptism we have had as a congregation in a while, I thought it fitting to explain briefly why we baptize babies.

In Ephesians 2 Paul writes to the Gentiles declaring that though at one time they were strangers and aliens from the covenants of promise, they have now been brought near by the blood of Christ. Jew and Gentile alike, in Christ, are heirs of the covenants that God has made throughout history. So, for instance, we who are members of the Church are called “sons of Abraham” because we are the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant; we are called a “royal priesthood, a holy nation” because we are the heirs of the Mosaic covenant; we are called “kings and priests to God” because we are the heirs of the Davidic covenant. We are no longer strangers and aliens but are the rightful heirs of all God’s covenantal promises throughout redemptive history.

So what does all this have to do with infant baptism? Exactly this – in every one of these covenants that God made with our fathers, He promised to be a God not only to our fathers – not only to Abraham, not only to the twelve tribes in Moses’ day, not only to David – but to their children and their children’s children. In every single instance the covenants included both believers and their children.

In the Abrahamic covenant, for example, God speaks of His calling of Abraham this way: “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice.” God established his covenant with Abraham that Abraham might disciple his household, might bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and pass on to them the faith that had been entrusted to him. Consequently, the sign of the covenant with Abraham – the rite of circumcision – was applied not only to Abraham but to the members of his household, including infants. Circumcision declared to Abraham and to these children – I am the Lord and you are my people, so love Me, fear Me, serve Me, and worship Me all your days.

In the New Testament, this emphasis upon household identity continues with the children of believers being accepted, blessed, and brought into the community of God’s people along with adults. When Paul writes to the Ephesians and Colossians, for example, he addresses his exhortations to the households in the congregation – to husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. And in these exhortations he freely applies the promises of the covenant made with Moses to the children of believers – Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth. God continues to act not only with believers but with believers and their children.

Why does God act this way? Because it is a reflection of His own nature. God works from generation to generation among His covenant people. When God passed in front of Moses and revealed His Name to him, this is what the Lord declared:

And the Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Ex 34:6-7a)

God declares that it is His nature to keep mercy for thousands – and our question is this, “Thousands of what?” The answer is thousands of generations. As Moses declares later in Deuteronomy: “Therefore, know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Dt 7:9).

So why do we baptize infants? Because God has promised to be a God not only to us but to our children and our children’s children. So our calling is to believe Him, to trust His Word, and to bring our children before Him. For these are His children not ours, given to us in trust, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God has revealed Himself to us “in order that [we] may command [our] children and [our] household after [us], that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice.”