There are two ordinances that Christ gave to the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both were instituted and commanded by Christ Himself, and yet, they remain two of the least understood practices of the church. What does the Lord’s Supper signify? Who should be allowed to observe it? Why do we baptize people at all if salvation is by faith alone? What exactly does baptism mean? Is anything significant accomplished by these ordinances?
I’d like to recommend a couple of excellent books that answer many questions regarding the ordinances. This time I’ll recommend a book on baptism and later a book on the Lord’s Supper.
Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ is a collection of articles written by Baptist scholars such as Tom Schreiner, Shawn Wright, Robert Stein, Duane Garrett, and Mark Dever. It is by far the most helpful book on baptism that I have read. The book is primarily written to respond to evangelical paedobaptists (those who believe in baptizing infants), "primarily in the Reformed tradition, who baptize infants not because they believe that baptism regenerates the child but because they believe that baptism brings the child into the covenant community where he or she will have the blessing of hearing the gospel preached as they grow up as members of the church" (7). Conversely, the authors promote credobaptism (or “believer’s baptism”), the doctrine that “Christian baptism should be reserved for believers…in the Lord Jesus Christ” (6).
Stephen Wellums’ chapter – “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants” – is worth the price of the book all by itself. In it he lays out a detailed and faithful presentation of the most common theological argument for paedobaptism – the covenantal argument. If you have never understood why our Presbyterian brothers and sisters baptize infants, read this chapter and you will. Wellum then evaluates the argument, concluding that “at the heart of the paedobaptist problem…is a failure to understand correctly the relationship between the biblical covenants. In fact, a truly covenantal approach to Scripture…demands an affirmation of believer’s baptism” (160).
While the book is specifically a response to paedobaptism, its exegesis of the relevant passages in the New Testament serves as an excellent primer on baptism in general. If you want to know why we baptize, what it means, and when it should happen, the book will answer those questions and many more. The exegetical chapters – “Baptism in the Gospels,” “Baptism in Luke-Acts,” and “Baptism in the Epistles” – consider every passage on baptism in the New Testament. So even if your interest is not in understanding paedobaptism vs. credobaptism, you will come away blessed with a greater understanding of this ordinance.
The only thing that could improve the book would be a chapter refuting the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. (In an upcoming sermon series on baptism, baptismal regeneration will be addressed, so stay tuned.)
The book concludes with a chapter by Mark Dever on how baptism functions in the life of a local church. In it he answers a host of questions including:
· Who should baptize and who should be baptized?
· Should the unbaptized come to the Lord’s Supper?
· Should the unbaptized be admitted to church membership?
· Should those not coming into membership be baptized?
· Should baptism ever be delayed?
Overall, the book is an excellent resource. It was a blessing to me and I know it would be to you, too. Highly recommended.Posted by Greg Birdwell