Category Archives: Covenant Theology

Baptism of children, part 4

The usual objection to all I have said thus far is “what if they’re not really saved?” or “what if they’re just saying what we want to hear?” or something along those lines. My response to anything like that is: “that is the reality for any adult too.” Let us not set double standards.

Sometimes the hesitancy comes in the form of “but they’re just not ready.” And I just want to know what people mean by “ready.” The only “readiness” needed for Christian baptism is faith in the Lord Jesus (remember this is a Baptist post). So if what people mean by “not ready” is “I don’t think they’re a Christian,” fine. But surely we cannot wait until we are 100% sure. Or even 95% sure. Or even 90% sure.

We can only go by someone’s profession of faith and corresponding credibility of that profession. And if there is no obvious, unrepentant sin, then how can we withhold the baptismal waters? If a child sits under the preaching of the gospel for even a year, hears about the holiness of God, hears about their own sin, hears about the glorious work of Christ, and then constantly hears the call to faith and repentance and baptism, is it a shock that a six year old will desire baptism?

For the rest of this series, let me propose to you why the Reformed Faith offers the best context for baptizing young believers. The Reformed Tradition should be a comfort to any parent who is hesitant about their child desiring baptism. To be clear, here is the type of scenario I am envisioning: a child under 10 years old has been sitting in the entire worship service for about a year, his/her family has been committed to this church for a little longer than that, and over the last few weeks the child has been asking mom and dad if they can be baptized too. How do I know if this is prompted by the Holy Spirit or not?

Let me tell you why you can have much more confidence this is of the Lord if this is a Reformed Church. It is because of the Reformed Tradition’s emphasis on:

  • the right preaching of the gospel every single Sunday
  • a careful administration of baptism
  • a careful administration of the Lord’s Supper
  • a serious and explicit teaching on church membership
  • children in worship
  • family worship
  • theologically rich worship

All these taken together made us not only comfortable, but eager to have our 8 year old baptized last year. Let’s tackle each of these one by one

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Baptism of Children, part 3

We should baptize people of any age upon a credible profession of faith. That means there is an openness we should have to even very young believers. And that means there is a binding upon the church’s conscience to make sure that every believer is indeed baptized. Three passages should help us see that:

Romans 6.3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him therefore into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Paul expects we can appeal to any believer’s baptism to help motivate them in repentance. The fact that every believer can remember their baptism is an argument for believer’s-only-baptism; but the fact that every believer should have a baptism to remember is an argument for baptizing every believer, so help us God.

Galatians 3.27: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This again is an encouragement to all believers about what their baptism meant. Separating a child’s baptism too far from their initial faith in Christ (putting on of Christ) really takes a lot of punch out of this passage.

1 Peter 3.20-21: “…while the ark was being prepared…Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Just as Noah and his family expressed faith by going in the ark and being ‘saved’ in the ark, those who go down in baptism are ‘saved’ in baptism. Baptism saves by virtue of what it means when you do it–it is the New Covenant initiatory act of faith in the resurrection. Any who believe in the resurrection should express it (and be allowed to express it) in baptism.

If you’re just not sure if your child has faith, I get it. It’s not easy. But make sure that is all you are wrestling with. I have heard “they’re just not ready” a lot over the years. If what you mean by “they’re not ready” is “I don’t think they believe in the resurrection,” fine. Just keep preaching the gospel to them (and calling them to repent). But if you mean anything else, that has got to be one of the worst double standards we can possibly set for our kids.

Baptism of Children, part 2

From the Baptist perspective, we should baptize believers of any age upon a credible profession of faith. The emphasis in these posts is that we should not put a minimum age on baptismal candidates. And the obvious reason is because the Bible never does. Let me speak to the fairly obvious inclusion of children in baptism:

Mark 10.14: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Paedobaptists wrongly use this verse to argue for infant baptism. Baptists wrongly respond that this passage says nothing about baptism. Yes, it does not say anything explicit about baptism. But it is commanding us to allow children to come to Christ! So the question is “can a child desire to be a follower of Christ?” And if the answer is ‘yes,’ which it is, then we must think about how to help a child rightly respond to that faith.

Acts 2.38-39: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For 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.” Paedobaptists wrongly use this verse to argue for infant baptism. Modern Baptists appear to ignore this verse: instead of “repent and be baptized,” in most Baptist churches it is “pray this prayer” or “walk this aisle.” So sad. The historic Baptist use of this verse seems right: if you or your child or anyone in the world hears the gospel, and desires forgiveness and eternal life, what should they do? Repent and be baptized. It does not get much simpler than that.

Acts 16.31-33: And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” Paedobaptists have then wrongly used all the “household”-type baptisms to assume that infants were included. Baptists have wrongly responded that we cannot assume infants are in these households. But if our understanding of Acts 2 is correct, then every “household”-type baptism in the NT should be understood as ‘everyone in the household who believes in Jesus repents and is baptized.’ It is a fairly simple hermeneutic. The command need not apply to infants, but to anyone who can hear and understand the gospel, including children of many ages.

Granted, much of the way we read these texts is based on our presuppositions and hermeneutics. But that is pretty much always the case. However, the above way of understanding these passages appears to not have to “force infants in” or “force children out” of any of the texts. Our only concern should be “what should a human being do when they hear the gospel and they want to respond in faith?” The biblical answer is ‘repent and be baptized.’

I hope these texts show a rightness to baptizing every believer with a credible profession of faith. Next time let’s look at the urgency of doing so.

Baptism of children, part 1

This is a post that assumes the Baptist position on baptism. If you are someone who has never understood why some traditions baptize infants, you should read up on that first. I don’t believe you have really understood baptism until you have first wrestled with whether or not you should sprinkle your newborn. Perhaps start here

In my circles, because we believe God commands believers to be baptized, we wrestle with when is the appropriate time to encourage our kids toward baptism. Often our children ask to be baptized, and we are left telling them, “not now.”

Mark Dever, who I consider a virtual mentor, is on record many times as teaching that we should not baptize young children. It is not that he does not think they could become Christians; he believes it is too difficult for the local church to discern real conversion in young children. He has also seen too many times people come to his church, having been “baptized” earlier in life, then realize they only now believe the gospel, and then having to “re”-baptize them.

I TOTALLY understand his concerns. We have members in our church who are extremely mature in the faith who basically have the same approach. But over the next few posts I want to walk through our decision to allow our 8 year old to get baptized last summer. She had just turned 8 at the time. She is the youngest person we have ever baptized at our church. And I am totally open to her not being the youngest ever.

I believe we should baptize believers of any age upon a credible profession of faith.

But because of where we are in church history, there are so many different factors to think through regarding this. But one thing I want to be clear from this first post: Baptists do not believe that only adults should be baptized. If you know a Baptist who speaks like that, they are speaking wrongly about the Baptist position. We do not believe only adults or older children should be baptized. We do not see a minimum age in the Bible. We believe only believers should be baptized, and that all believers should be baptized (Matthew 28.19). It is the implications of “only” and “all” that are very complex in our day and age, but it at least gives us a direction to walk towards. In the next post, let’s first think about some of the biblical data.

Sabbath Application, v4

The more I have thought about this, the more I realize that discussions about applications and questions and objections could go on forever. So this is my LAST post on Sabbath stuff…for now.

The 1689 Confession says on the Sabbath, Christians should “give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.”

On “public and private acts of worship,” I have heard pastors and Christians say Sunday is the least restful day for them, because of all that goes in to the Sunday morning gathering. I want to challenge that notion. I never heard an Israelite priest complain about Saturday. I think any stress on Sunday flows from a wrong view of “rest” and fear of man:

  • Sabbath rest is not physical rest (see Genesis seventh day!!!). It is spiritual reflection on who God is and what He has done. It does not matter how much you have to do on Sunday, that is great refuge for your soul.
  • I wonder how much stress on Sunday comes because of a fear of man- having to put on a good face, having to sing, pray, read Scripture, or preach/teach in front of others, or just having to manage your kids in front of others. What causes stress, Christian?
  • As far as private acts of worship- I think if your church does not have a Sunday night service (which ours does not), you should try to make a habit of having a second “quiet time” or adding more to the normal family worship, or something of that nature. Make it a habit. It is awesome.

On “carrying out duties of necessity and mercy”:

  • God does give us a lot of freedom with Jesus’ interpretation of the Sabbath in Matthew 12- it is of great help to us. One principle is: use common sense! If your sheep falls in a ditch, get it out. If your child has to go to the emergency room, take them!
  • If your job “requires” you to work, it is a work of necessity. But if your job does not “require” you (picture me pointing a finger at your face) to work on Sundays, it is NOT a work of necessity.
  • “Mercy” really is a broad category with lots of freedom- this would be similar to the fruit of the Spirit: “against such things there is no law” (Gal 5.23). You do not have to worry about “should I be doing this on the Sabbath or not”– against such mercy, love, and good works, there is no Law.

Remember that Sabbath is mainly about worship for the Christian, spiritually reflecting on who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. So as I have held to for years now, guarding the Lord’s Day worship gathering is prime and central to guarding the Sabbath. I just heard Lig Duncan preach on how the Pharisees made the Ceremonial Law more important than the Moral Law, and that they should have heeded “obedience (Moral) is better than sacrifice (Ceremonial)”. I fear Christians in our day have chucked obedience to the 4th Commandment in favor of looking for some excuse to sacrifice the Lord’s Day–even some seeing that as virtuous. God help us.

Sabbath Application, part 2

I hope we can all agree the Sabbath Commandment is about rest. So what are we to rest from? The simple answer is we are to rest from work: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath…” Clearly, that Sabbath day is a day where you rest from the work you had been doing the other six days.

A couple thoughts of clarification come to mind:

  • This may be obvious, but we are not called to rest from being awake. In other words, the Sabbath command is not a call to sleep. No matter how busy you get, 8 hours of sleep a night is PLENTY sleep. That has little or nothing to do with Sabbath observance (not saying at all you should not sleep on Sunday afternoons; I do it all the time; that is simply not what the Sabbath rest is calling you to)
  • This is more than a call to rest from your 40/hr a week job. In other words, Christians should attempt to not work their “job” on Sundays, but it is resting from more than that. In response to my brother’s comment on the last post, we are not called to positively work six days at a secular job.

So what are we truly “resting” from? What is the “work” that the Lord is calling us to rest from? I think this is where we have to broaden our categories for work. I think of “be fruitful and multiply” and “have dominion” as the work God had given Adam and Eve. I also think of “do all things for the glory of God” as the continual work He has given us.

That applies to all things we do throughout the week: jobs, chores, and recreation. It’s all the “regular” stuff we do for the glory of God, and I would say it’s all the stuff that are not 24-7 realities (like being a parent or husband). Our “work” days should be full of doing and serving and accomplishing and playing (even hobbies are a kind of practicing dominion over the earth).

So the 1689 Confession says Christians should rest on the Sabbath “from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations.” When it says “worldly” it does not mean “sinful”. It just means your “secular” job. Well, that raises a lot of questions about whether a Christian should ever work their secular job on Sunday. And what about “recreations”? Can we watch football on Sunday or not!? (that’s really what this whole blog series is about, isn’t it? Not really, but it is the kind of question that is impossible to avoid). Please give me a few seven-day cycles to ponder…

Sabbath Application, part 1

Here are some of the questions I (and I’m sure many) have about application of the Sabbath command?

  • Can we not work our regular jobs at all on Sundays?
  • Must we refrain from things we are free to do on other days?
  • Are we not supposed to cook then on Sundays?
  • Are we causing others to sin if we go out to eat?
  • Travel on Sundays?
  • Is it sundown to sundown or midnight to midnight?
  • 24 hour period exactly?
  • 24 hour worship?
  • Isn’t Sunday tiring for a lot of Christians? Pastors? How is the Sunday gathering restful?

What other questions come to mind for you?

Let me give another big apology: I cannot do just one more post on this. There’s too much application to think about. So pretend this is a brand new series, just on application. And I will not say how many posts I intend. I have no idea right now. I’m thinking and learning as we go.

Let me address just one point of application: I said in an earlier post “if you focus on do’s and don’ts, you have become a Pharisee.” I’m thankful for one of our members, Ezra Mell, pointing this out– it is not bad to think about what we should do and not do. That is mere Christian obedience. So I think I misspoke.

What the Pharisees tended to focus on were definitely a lot of “thou shalt nots” at the expense of “thou shalls” (think of rebuking a healed man who carried his bed on the Sabbath). And they tended to think a lot about specific kinds of obedience at the expense of getting the more important heart matters right (think of tithing mint, dill, and cumin, but forgetting justice and mercy). So I think what I meant to say is “if you focus on external quantities of obedience when it comes to the Sabbath or focus on all the things you should not be doing at the expense of focusing on what you should be doing, you have become a Pharisee.” (I’m sure there’s a more concise way to say that)

I do believe the Law of Christ written on believer’s hearts now helps us to think more about the 10 Commandments the way Jesus intended. So what I would caution against is things like:

  • make sure it’s an exact 24 hour period that you guard (whether Sunday midnight to Monday midnight, which makes no sense; or Saturday sundown to Sunday sundown), or anything along those lines.
  • make sure you never cook, never make anyone else cook, never make your dog or cat hunt, never go to your regular job, never do anything that will support someone else doing their regular job, etc. Avoid a “thou shalt not”-only mentality.
  • seeing Sunday as better than other days, in that if I sin on Sunday it’s worse than sinning on Monday, or if I do my quiet time on Sunday it’s better than any other day.

I think we can all agree that what the Pharisees struggled with was focusing on the letter of the Law rather than the spirit of the Law. So my hope is to never get bogged down with an exact 24 hour period or how many different things I must never do, but simply aim to guard one day in seven as holy unto the Lord. And clearly, we are to guard it for rest. Where my mind goes (and what you may never have thought much about) is “rest from what?” and “rest in order to what?” So that’s what I plan to tackle next.