From the Teacher…
I am delighted that you have written, wanting to base your faith on sound teaching.
I will try to offer you a clear response to your questions but feel free to correspond with me on points where I am lacking.
As a matter of interest, and nothing more, you may know that both of my parents and others in my family were ‘Baptists’. I suppose therefore my first encounter with challenging Christianity would have been from that group of people connected with my parents. I owe them a great deal.
Now let me try to address your email not ‘holding back’ or seeking to offend you. Offending you is the last thing in the world I would want to do, for you will know, that in seeking to answer your questions I want ONLY TO HELP YOU SEE THE TRUTH OF THE SCRIPTURES
Q = Question, A = Answer and C = Comment.
C1 Your comments on William the Baptist I have some sympathy with though, in my view, there is a great deal of good in that little book.
C2 Your comments that “…Currently I hold the position of believer’s baptism…” is also the teaching of the Word of God. It is not your holding that believers are to be baptized that is at issue but rather that you hold [it appears] that infants are not be baptized and that Christian water baptism in the Word of God is immersion. The infant question is one of who is to be baptized and the immersion question is one of how is baptism to be administered. I hope that is a fair understanding of your general current position.
C3 Your comments that “…I have been prepared to look fully at the arguments…” In this I rejoice. Granting that in this discussion the only rule of faith and life is the Word of God, coupled with your willing to hear “the arguments”, I predict, that in due course, you will be perfectly at peace with the issues you currently wrestle with. A great day awaits you, make no mistake, I know, for I have come through this myself!
C4 Your comments that “…The one method [the regulative principle] of explaining scripture validates one of your positions, but invalidates two others…” This is your understanding only because the invalidation of the “two others” is apparent and not real. The regulative principle is something that every true-hearted Christian accepts. It is in the application of it that Christians differ. Every true-hearted Christian refuses to accept into the worship of God and the practice of their faith what they believe God detests. That is your position and it is mine. The moment we agree that God alone is Lord of worship and faith you agree with the regulative principle. This seems plain enough.
Now to begin with the questions.
Q1 You ask “…how does a child who has been baptized fare better than my own children…”
A1 A great deal. If baptism is the NT replacement of circumcision [and this is easily shown] and we refuse to administer it to the proper recipients then God’s anger is against us. As Moses was with circumcision, namely, disobedient, then so might we be. You will recall how Moses in Exodus 4.24ff is seen to be neglecting to circumcise his son. God therefore we read, …[v 24] met him, and sought to kill him… In other words, the anger of God was upon “him”. Some think “him” is Moses others his son. But no matter which the anger of God was shown at his not obeying God’s command to administer the “sign and seal” of the faith. And we know that circumcision was the “sign” and “seal” of every true-hearted Christian’s faith for Paul tells us in Rom 4:11 that Abraham “…received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe…” Here is the teaching: if circumcision is in the OT what water baptism is in the NT [and I will show this in a moment] then a believer not giving the “sign” and “seal” of “the righteousness of faith” incurs the displeasure of God. Well, one may say, “…how does my child differ in getting the blessing compared to one that is baptized?…” Right here; God’s way with rebellious professing believers is not the same as God’s way with obedient professing believers. Thus we read in Heb 2.2-3 “… For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape…” You will remember, that the threatenings of the 2nd Commandment [Ex 20] says “…for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;…” All sins, even the sins of believers, are hateful to God and incur the frown of God and bring often terrible consequences. Surely, then, if we are disobedient to God we can hardly expect his blessing on us or “our children” See also Heb 12.29.
Can I show that baptism is the replacement of circumcision? Yes, beyond doubt. Paul in Col 2.11-12 says, … In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.…
And this collocation, …ye are circumcised…Buried with him in baptism… is surely an end of all argument. Circumcision was a spiritual “sign” and “seal” it signified a spiritual reality and sealed all the proper recipients of it as being included in an arrangement [covenant if you will] sovereignly imposed by God. Circumcision, like baptism today, marked out the kingdom of God on earth commonly called the “visible church”. I suppose we could say much more but I will leave that point there for now.
Q2 You ask “…How is it [baptism] a sign of the visible church, when many people baptized as infants don’t become believers…”
A2 Baptism is a “sign” and a “seal” of the “visible” church insofar as it is the responsibility of professing believers to obey God in being baptized and obey God in baptizing their children. It may be that many baptized as infants never truly believe, but it equally is so that many baptized adults never truly believe. This is the teaching of the parable of the wheat and the tares of Mat 13. You have a right to water baptism because you credibly profess faith in and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and in so doing you publicly enter the kingdom of God on earth, the Church visible. Water baptism is an initiatory rite. It is to be administered to the proper recipients on the basis of the command of God. God says “believe and be baptized” just as God teaches us Abraham believed and so was circumcised. Even in Abraham’s house Ishmael was circumcised and he was never [it appears] like Abraham, a man justified by faith. Yes, many receive baptism who are never true-hearted believers but this is equally true baptized adults as it is of infants. I will leave that there for now.
Q3 You ask “…How can they be recipients of any of the promises of God for believers, if they are not yet believers?
A3 This is answered exactly for infants as adults. You, as an unbelieving adult received the blessing of the covenant namely, that God would be “…a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.…” This unspeakable blessing was given to you in the preaching of the gospel and you, as Abraham, received it. But the blessing of that promise was begun in you when you were still “dead in trespasses and sins”, in fact, those blessings were yours “from before the foundation of the world”! It is all sovereignly imposed by God. He gets all the glory and we all the good! Superb – eh! Now baptized infants outwardly receive the ordinance of water baptism on the basis of a parent’s credible profession of faith. That is the same relationship with God as Abraham’s is. As Abraham was to circumcise all his household because God had sovereignly imposed this arrangement or relationship upon him [covenant if you like]. The “sign” and “seal” of this relationship was confessedly promissory. As I say, it was in these words of Gen 17:7 “…And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.…”
Circumcision then is exactly what baptism is now. It is a “sign” and a “seal” of a sovereignly imposed and gracious relationship. Circumcision spoke of a renewed heart hence it is so often spoken of as such [Deut 10.15; Jer 4. etc], and so does baptism. As circumcision was a “sign” and a “seal” of a promise from God “…to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee…” so it promises just that, not because of the “sign” but because of God. In fulfillment of this “promise” God is now called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! How can they be the recipients of the promise while not yet believers? Well, as I say, exactly the same way you or I were as adults! Salvation is of the Lord! It is his promise and if he commands a sign and a seal our business is obedience! The actual salvation of any is always and every time connected to his promise. That is why Abraham is called the “Father of all them that believe”. Is it not absolutely wonderful?!
I will leave that there for now. I hope it helps.
Q4 You ask “…How can they be recipients of any of the promises of God for believers, if they are not yet believers? And how does that fit into the doctrine of election? Do you believe that all children of believers are of the elect?…”
A4 This is answered by simply saying, that the actual saving application of all that the promise contains is a matter for God. We never make ourselves right with God, so Paul says in Rom 8.33 “…Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.…” Thus we can say,
- God makes all the terms of salvation, he initiates, accomplishes and applies it.
- God commands outward “signs” and “seals” of this arrangement, namely, circumcision [OT] and water baptism [NT].
- It is the business of the true-hearted believer simply to obey. As the old hymn puts it “trust and obey for there’s no other way”! Even if you do not understand all the implications of the teaching of the Word of God, once you see a matter is biblical, your business is obey it. Consequences belong to God obedience belongs to believers. So we read of Abraham in Heb 11:8 that “…By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.…”
Isn’t it wonderful to be a Christian!
I will also leave that there for now.
Q5 You ask “…Jesus was baptized in the Jordan (if you were just sprinkling, why get “in” the Jordan?) and “coming up out of the water” , rather than just shaking your head if you were being sprinkled? (it may be something really obvious, but I haven’t seen it addressed yet)…”
A5 This was about “fulfilling all righteousness” viz., John’s baptism was not Christian baptism, it was an OT cleansing right just as many other “baptisms” were. We know that John’s baptism was not Christian because it was not trinitarian. We know that John’s disciples were baptized, and not only was it not immersion, it was not trinitarian, and they all had to be re-baptized as Acts 19.1-7 shows. The words “…they were [John’s already baptized disciples] baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus…” is simply a way of saying all three persons of the godhead. It simply means that John’s disciples at that point receive Christian baptism, i.e., trinitarian.
I will also leave that there for now.
Q6 You ask “…Jesus was baptized in the Jordan…why get “in” the Jordan?) and “coming up out of the water…”
A6 The answer is simple. Jesus went “in” and “up out of” the water because he needed to go down into the water to be baptized and come up out of the water to go on his way. The words “into” or “in” and “out” or “out of” do not mean under. Nowhere is there the practice of immersion as the mode of Christian water baptism in the NT. The expression “coming up out of the water” in Mark 1 is simply and literally “…apo tou hudatos …” which is literally away from the water. There is no indication here that Jesus was immersed apart from the word “baptized” and we can see from biblical usage that that word is used other than immerse. Thus ironically John the Baptist describes the giving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost as a “baptism”. That baptism is described as a “sitting on” and “filling” in Acts 2. Elsewhere the baptism of the Holy Spirit is described as a “falling on”. So in Acts10:44 “…While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word… and again in Acts 11:15 “…the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning…” And Paul discussing divisions in 1 Cor 10.2 says that they “…were all baptized unto Moses …” Why raise the issue of baptism when discussing divisions? The answer is simple. Baptism is a “sign” and a “seal” of spiritual union. The OT people were in union with Moses and were “baptized unto Moses”. Thus “unto” was not an under but an allegiance with. This was not immersion. Surely, this is an end of all strife. I say it again, contrary to popular belief, there is no indication in the NT that believers were immersed. The entire theological edifice of the Baptist view is built on ignorance.
I will also leave that there for now.
Q7 You quote others saying “…the onus is on the side of believer baptism proponents to prove a leaving of the accepted order established in the old testament…”
A7 That if necessarily the case. Whatever else is true it is agreed that Abraham’s whole house received circumcision. Children were included in this imposed arrangement and coming from the OT to the NT the natural expectation would be the inclusion of infants not the exclusion. I would argue that the “blessing” asked of Jesus in Luke 18.15-16 shows that infants of such as believe in Jesus should be received into the visible church and therefore receive the NT “sign and seal” of water baptism. Consider carefully what the words of the verse and their implications. We read, “And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” I think you will agree that this “touching” was asked of those who thought the touch of Jesus would bring a blessing. It would be hard to deny that. Well here then are believing women asking that Jesus would give their infants a blessing. Now, note the words “…Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.…” Here is admission to blessing “to come unto me”. It is the disciples that Jesus says are to admit them “you allow them” is the basic meaning of “suffer little children”. And “…of such is the kingdom…” is simply saying such as these [i.e., infants of believers in me] are part of my kingdom and the “kingdom” on earth is, of course, Jesus church. So from the passage we see
- infants of believers.
- Church officers admitting [the apostles in this instance].
- The declaration that such are part of the kingdom. This passage plainly shows that infants form a part of the church of God on the earth and being in the “visible church” they [as in Abraham’s day” should receive the mark of the kingdom in the NT water baptism. Not everything in the Bible is on the surface of the page. Jesus teaches the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead from the tense of a Hebrew verb when he says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. They were dead and “God is not the God of the dead but of the living”. Jesus words of Luke 18.15-16 establish the principles of infants of such as believe in him belonging to his kingdom.
The Baptist problem is that he reads the Bible back to front. He views from the NT to the OT whereas God reveals from OT to NT.
The dogmatic position of the Word of God is that INFANTS OF PROFESSING BELIEVERS ARE PART OF THE CHURCH and NOWHERE IN THE ENTIRE NT IS THERE IMMERSION AS THE MODE OF CHRISTIAN WATER BAPTISM.
I hope this helps. I will also leave that there for now.
Q7 You ask “…why not say, they [infants] don’t have to be circumcised, because they are baptized instead?…”
A7 Much of what I say above should answer this point. However, the Apostles did not address the problem of circumcision as you mention simply because they did not deem it the best way to address it. The circumcision issue of Acts 15 was not is it baptism or circumcision; both were already practices widely in the church. The circumcision issue was one of do you need to be circumcised to be saved. Thus we read, “…Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.…” And thus we are told that it was about “…purifying their hearts by faith…” and that [v11] they pronounce that “…through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they…” It was a justification issue. This is why the judgement of the council of Jerusalem was [v19-20] that “…we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.…”
A debate about is circumcision replaced by water baptism is a different debate from do you need to be circumcised additionally in order to be saved.
I hope this helps. I will also leave that there for now.
So ends another chapter in the chronicles of my search for truth about baptism. I am not yet convinced that infant baptism is valid. I am not even convinced that it is not heresy. I am however, firmly convinced that the men to whom I have addressed my questions are gracious, patient, diligent searchers of the Word. Because of this, I will continue to question, and continue to pray.