Monthly Archives: October 2014

You should consider becoming a Presbyterian, part 9

I think this series has gone on long enough. I will just address these last two issues briefly:

History is on the side of Presbyterians

You will hear Presbyterians say that the Reformers, the Puritans, and all the greatest preachers in history up to today baptize infants. You might even hear them say that infant baptism has been the dominant practice from the time of the Apostles all the way up until Baptists came around in the late 1600’s.

There are elements of truth in that. HOWEVER, let us be clear that Catholic infant baptism is worlds apart from Presbyterian infant baptism. Presbyterians do not believe that baptism regenerates their child! So we are all relatively new in that sense. Also, there is strong evidence that Ulrich Zwingli (contemporary of Martin Luther) was personally Baptist, but simply did not want to practice it for a number of reasons. Lastly, Presbyterian ecclesiology is not fully worked out until Westminster (1640’s), at the same time the 1st London Baptist Confession of Faith came out. And if you want to argue that 2nd London Baptist (1689) is really when Reformed Baptist ecclesiology was fully worked out, fine. You beat us by 40 years.

Still, the most that all tells us is that there have been more Presbyterians than Baptists over the years. It does not tell us who got the Bible right on the issue of infant baptism.

Practical reasons to become Presbyterian

There are many aspects to Presbyterianism that are attractive: no need to worry about “re-baptisms”, being governed by sessions and presbyteries rather than voting congregationally on everything, becoming a part of the same camp as Ligon Duncan! Etc.

However, there are difficult questions practically that make it easier to be a Baptist: What if a 12 year old resists baptism? What if a 15 year old falls away from the faith for 20 years, then comes to Christ, seemingly for the first time as an adult? Why sprinkle infants and sprinkle adults, OR, why sprinkle infants and immerse adults? Why do we withhold the Lord’s Supper from a child who has the New Covenant sign of baptism? Etc.

My point– these are never reasons to make a decision on what you believe.

Conclusion

If you have never considered Presbyterian theology, educate yourself. Thank God for the rich tradition that finds its roots in John Calvin and John Knox and continues to this day in men like R.C. Sproul and Kevin DeYoung. But also thank God for the rich Baptist tradition that also finds its roots in the Reformers (we are all Protestants!!!) and continues to this day in men like John Piper and David Platt. Praise God for the gospel. We will all stand before the Judgment Seat one day and all these debates will be sorted out. And let us pray for greater unity in all things as we move closer to that day.

TGC Hawaii Overflow Reflections

It was a blessed weekend with John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Michael Oh. Three reflections:

  • God graciously answered prayer- over 800 people came to the conference; very smooth weekend (one hiccup with power that pushed everything back 5 minutes– I’ll take it); God kept a hurricane from hitting our islands; a sense of unity across a WIDE spectrum of denominations; God empowered these preachers uniquely; John Piper shepherded all of our churches for good with many things he said; the speakers all seemed to have a good time
  • Christians love the Shepherd’s voice- I would guess half the room had heard of John Piper, but not listened to a sermon before; even more had not heard Carson and Oh. But the room seemed gripped with every sermon. Hard things were preached. Toes were trampled on. Even Piper’s first sermon was up in the “Edwardsian” clouds a bit. But Jesus Christ was so exalted through the preaching, that the crowd never dwindled. You could sense we were beholding God’s glory in every session, and the people loved it.
  • God is doing something great in Hawaii- I heard several comments about how the conference was good, but that people loved their own local church experiences just as good or better. Praise God! First, everyone should know that if your local church’s worship service is better than going to a conference, it is because of men like these that God has used. Second, we should pray for that attitude to spread. If God makes our local churches stronger, that is Revival in my estimation, and what God will use to finish the Great Commission. It seems that work has started, and was helped greatly this weekend.

You should consider becoming a Presbyterian, part 8

I am a Baptist. But I think every Baptistic person should consider becoming a Presbyterian at some point in order to see how strong their arguments are (and then, after seeing counter-arguments, becoming more Scripturally convicted), in order to show respect to their rich history, and even to love them and see how united we really are in the gospel.

To really understand the paedobaptist position, you have to understand that they are not looking for explicit commands that say, “baptize your infants.” In a Presbyterian’s mind, the OT was abundantly clear that infants should be included in the covenant people. They say to Baptists, “where is the command to not baptize infants?” Here are some of the passages that exclude infants from automatic inclusion:

  • Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36: Jeremiah prophecies that in the New Covenant, every covenant member will have the law written on their heart and have their sins forgiven. Ezekiel prophecies that they will be sprinkled clean, receive a new heart, and receive God’s Spirit. The point is that God promises to do something for New Covenant members that Old Covenant members could not do on their own. You have to decide what is new about the New Covenant: is it that God does radical things now for New Covenant members, or is it that God will probably do radical things for most New Covenant members?
  • Romans 6.3-4 and Galatians 3.27: Paul says “us who have been baptized” and “as many of you who have been baptized.” He appeals to the experience of baptism. Let me just say, you do not have to remember your circumcision in order to know you were circumcised. By contrast, the only way you can know you were baptized as an infant is if somebody told you, and that would make these verses lose a tiny bit of punch. Also, in both passages Paul connects baptism to our union with Christ. He does not just connect them conceptually (which he does), but experientially. You are to think of your baptism as the visible sign that you are– not might be one day– united to Christ.
  • Galatians 6.15: Paul contrasts two things– circumcision and “a new creation.” Why? Because Paul thinks covenantally, and the Old Covenant sign is circumcision and the exact parallel is not baptism, but a new heart. There is one way in to either covenant: circumcision for the Old, regeneration for the New.
  • 1 Peter 3.21: Peter says “baptism…saves you.” How can he say that and still believe in justification by faith alone? Simply, baptism is “your appeal to God for a good conscience.” Baptism is your “sinners’ prayer.” Baptism is your public profession of faith. If I was a child in the first century hearing Peter’s words here, I would think it odd that Peter excludes me and all my friends my age from the baptism discussion.
  • Acts 15.1-35: it is sometimes good to argue from silence. There is a glaring silence about infant baptism in the Jerusalem council. The question at hand was if Gentiles needed to be circumcised. Why not mention that baptism replaced circumcision as the covenant sign? As a Baptist, I say, it’s because it does not replace it in the way regeneration does, and so the question about circumcision is really about whether this is a Jewish religion or not. Presbyterians would say baptism does replace circumcision, but the council is trying to address the heresy of justification by works. Two responses: one, no they are not. They are dealing with Christians in Acts 15. It is naive to say that all those influenced by Judaizers are non-Christians preaching a different gospel (think Galatian churches). Two, talking about baptism would still have ended the debate, if indeed the early church understood that you must baptize infants the way you used to circumcise infants.

In God’s providence, the entire NT was written 20-70 years after the ascension of Christ. Are you telling me, with all the number of children that would be born through those years, with all the Gentile churches with non-Jewish backgrounds mixed in, with the importance of the sacraments, there would not be a single mention of infant baptism?

You should consider becoming a Presbyterian, part 7

Problem passages for Baptists

  • Acts 2.39 says the promise of salvation is “for you and your children” (sounds similar to circumcision)– Simply read the text. It is a conditional promise. If you repent and are baptized (if you display your faith in Christ through repentance, in other words), you will receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. That does apply to you and your children. Plus, the promise is for “you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” It is all God’s elect people in every nation whom this applies to. Not really a problem passage at all.
  • Acts 16.13-15, Acts 16.33, and 1 Corinthians 1.16 all refer to whole households being baptized (if I see a basic continuity in Scripture, it follows that the households includes the baptism of infants, if there were indeed infants)– All Presbyterians would assume that each household had infants. I could just as well assume each household did not have infants. Or I could just as well assume each “household” refers to every adult, every believing child, and every believing servant, minus infants who are not able to decide to be baptized. These passages do not settle the issue; they are only fodder for whatever you already believe before coming to these passages.
  • 1 Corinthians 7.14 refers to the children of believers being sanctified (It would fit really nicely to see baptized children as being holy/set apart from the world by parents, while pagan children are not)– Though this is a difficult passage to understand, it simply does not state that the sanctification of children is connected to their infant baptism. Otherwise, you would have to argue that the sanctification of an unbelieving spouse was also connected to a baptism. This passage simply is not making any connections to baptism.
  • Ephesians 6.1 commands children to obey parents (no distinction is made between believing and unbelieving children; no distinction between children we see as part of the Church, and those we do not; perhaps it is because every child in the church is baptized, and therefore a part of the church automatically)– This is a good argument, but still a text that you come to already believing something about baptism. This verse does not settle the issue. I am a pastor at a Baptist Church, and I would tell all children in our church– baptized or unbaptized– to obey their parents in the Lord.

I am open to hearing from anyone about more “problem passages” for Baptists. But the problem passages for Presbyterians are much harder to deal with (next post).