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Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Commitment to Love One Another

In our Wednesday night study of ecclesiology we are looking at the issue of church membership. Our discussion last night was so beneficial that it seemed like a good idea to reproduce part of it here.
While there are no passages that instruct us to officially join a church, there are responsibilities given to us in the New Testament that do necessitate a commitment to a particular body of people. 
In Ephesian 4:1, Paul exhorts us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”  The preceding context indicates that what Paul has in mind is our calling to live as one regenerate body united in Christ.  What follows in ch4 is an explanation of what it looks like to walk in a manner worthy of this call.  There are three commitments that are wrapped up in walking in a manner worthy.  The first is a commitment to love.  Eph 4:1-6:
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
These verses speak of loving commitment to one another in keeping with the unity that Christ forged when He reconciled us to God.  Think carefully about those first few words in v2: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.  Why are those words necessary?  What do they imply?  They imply that we don’t always get along.  We have different preferences, convictions, and tastes.  We sin against one another and offend one another. 
All of us could probably testify that those differences and offenses have been present at every church we’ve ever gone to.  That seems to be the one constant.  We have differences with people no matter where we go.  That’s why Paul writes this. 
Every church everywhere is a collection of people with different preferences and convictions, who rub each other the wrong way and sin against one another.  And we have a sinful tendency when those differences arise to latch onto those differences and make them a serious issue.  We allow them to become lines in the sand that separate us into constituencies within the church. 
Sometimes, we allow those differences to provoke us to one of two negative reactions.  Metaphorically speaking, we resort to either fight or flight.  We may decide a preference or conviction is something worth fighting for.  And we convince ourselves that we are in the right, not realizing that all we have done is taken our own preferences and convictions and elevated them to the level of essential doctrine for everyone else. 
Or we resort to flight.  “This place is never going to see eye to eye with me on this.  Maybe I don’t belong here.  Maybe I should go somewhere where people have the same preferences and convictions.” 
Sometimes it’s not preferences and convictions, but rather someone has sinned against us or offended us in some way.  We can sinfully resort to those same to negative responses.  We can fight and make a war out of it, or we just retreat from the relationship until the other party learns to appreciate us and treat us with respect.  
It is to that tendency that Paul writes these words, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called.  When it happens that “you hurt me” or “they’ve offended us” or “we disagree with that,” and we’re tempted to either fight or fly the coop, that’s when this exhortation finds its fullest meaning and most crucial application.  That is when we must walk in a manner worthy, walk in committed love for one another.
Our culture seems to have no concept of commitment.  I’m committed to you…unless things get difficult.  That’s the opposite of commitment.  Commitment is undetectable when everything is going well.  Commitment proves itself to be commitment when things are not going well, when someone has offended you, when someone has insulted one of your convictions or disagreed with one of your preferences.  Walking in a manner worthy is a commitment to love one another no matter how we offend one another or annoy one another.
God spilt the blood of His Son to unite us in one body in reconciliation to the Father, and it should take a whole lot more than personal differences to pry us apart.  The gospel constrains us to love one another, with humility and gentleness and patience.  “I will bear with you in love.”  That is commitment.  The unity of the body and the picture of reconciliation that it shows is more important than our preferences and convictions and offenses. 
Unregenerate people can remain committed to one another when there’s no friction.  But it takes gospel power in the life of a person born again to be committed when there is friction, and that’s precisely why God is glorified when we do it.  He is glorified when a body of selfish, crazy people are able to love one another in spite of each other.  Only God can do that.
That we are called to humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love assumes two things: 1) We are not going to agree on everything.  And (2), we are expected to be committed to one another anyway.  And we must keep at the forefront of our minds, when those differences, annoyances, and offenses begin to really bother us, that this is an opportunity to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. 
Whatever things there are that make us different, we can’t allow them to separate us.  Why?  We have the most important things in common.  v6: One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  We’re united by the gospel.  And that gospel places a heavy responsibility on us, the commitment to love one another.
I mentioned that there are three commitment shown in this passage.  We’ll look at the other two next time.
 Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Inconsistencies of Paedobaptism

Last Sunday, we took a close look at the covenantal argument for paedobaptism.  Lord willing, this Sunday we will spend our time seeing how well that argument corresponds with Scripture.  My intent is to finish up the baptism series then.  In order to do so, there are a few more things I would like to address here on the blog.
Whenever we hold a view that is not supported by Scripture, it will be the case that inconsistencies crop up in our theology and practice.  This is definitely true with the theology and practice of paedobaptism.  Please consider with me four inconsistencies within paedobaptism.
The first inconsistency is one that I pointed out last week on this blog.  I won’t reproduce the whole things here – you can go back and read it if you missed it.  The short version is that paedobaptists tend to inconsistently apply Acts 2:39 (“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”).  They appeal to this verse to support the idea that the children of believers are members of the New Covenant and should be afforded the sign of baptism.  Yet, they do not equally apply the phrase “and to all who are far off.”  To be consistent, they would have to consider “all who are far off” to be members of the New Covenant as well and give them the sign of baptism.  However, they do not do this and in that way they are inconsistent.
A second inconsistency is that paedobaptists do not baptize entire households.  They use the “householdbaptisms” in Acts to support the practice of baptizing the infants of believing adults, assuming that “household” signifies everyone in the home regardless of their response to the gospel.  Yet, paedobaptists do not baptize “households” – that is, they do not baptize adult children, spouses, or other members of the household upon the conversion of the head of the household.  Three rebuttals are often given by paedobaptists to this objection.  First, they claim that the other adults in the household most likely heard the gospel and believed.  However, this line of reasoning makes the paedobaptist guilty of the error that they ascribe to others, namely, reading details into the household baptism texts that are not there.  Second, they respond that forced household baptisms would be considered unacceptable in our culture.  But when is it ever appropriate to disregard a command of Scripture because of cultural considerations?  Never (Acts 5:29).  Third, they respond that this is one of the discontinuities between the Old and New Covenants.  But this works against their whole argument for including children in the covenant (“God created the church in the days of Abraham and put children into it.  He has nowhere put them out.  So they must remain in.”)  For just as God put children into the covenant, He put all of Abraham’s family in, including grown adults.  If He has nowhere put them out, they also must remain in the covenant.  In the end, the responses to this inconsistency work against the argument for infant baptism, not for it.
A third inconsistency is that paedobaptists require faith of the parents of baptized children.  In other words, a child can only be baptized if one parent has made a credible profession of faith.  What is wrong with this?  They baptize on different grounds than were required for circumcision.  The circumcision of a child in the old covenant was never conditioned upon the faith of the parent.  Rather, “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised” (Gen 17:12-13).  For any male, whether physically descended from Abraham or merely living among the Israelites, circumcision was required.  No male was allowed not to be circumcised, regardless of whether or not he or his parents had faith.  To baptize only those whose parents make a credible profession of faith is inconsistent with the strict continuity inherent in the paedobaptistic position.
A fourth inconsistency is that paedobaptists do not allow their children to partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Paedobaptists lean heavily upon the idea that baptism has replaced circumcision in the new covenant.  But what is even clearer in the New Testament is that the Lord’s Supper has replaced the Passover as the covenant meal.  Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper while He was sharing the Passover with His disciples (Matt 26:17-30).  Under the Old Covenant, all the members of the household were invited to partake of the covenant meal. Regarding this the Lord commanded, Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb (Exo 12:3-4). And later He reiterated, All the congregation of Israel shall keep it (Exo 12:47).
To respond to this objection, paedobaptists appeal to 1 Cor 11:28-29: Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  They argue that these verses require that a person be able to engage in self-examination in order to partake of the Supper, which would preclude the participation of small children.  However, they do not interpret baptism passages in the same manner.  That is, when confronted with Scriptures that indicate the necessity of repentance and faith before baptism, they say such Scriptures only apply to adults.  In other words, they use one principle to interpret passages on baptism and an opposite principle to interpret passages on the Lord’s Supper.  There is a hopeless inconsistency there.
It is not my intention to beat up on my paedobaptist brothers and sisters.  They are champions of the gospel and faithful servants of the Lord.  But there is a lesson for us to learn here.  None of us are immune to blind spots in our theology.  One of the telltale signs that we have erred is that we will find inconsistencies and contradictions appearing in our theology and practices.  When we do find them, we should return to Scripture, reevaluate our positions in light of it, and conform our beliefs and practices to God’s Word.  No one does this perfectly, but by God’s grace may we strive for that ideal.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Acts 2:39 and Infant Baptism

As we have been studying the issue of baptism together on Sunday mornings, we’ve read one passage each of the last two weeks that is sometimes used as a support for paedobaptism (infant baptism).  It is Acts 2:37-39.  Peter has just preached his Pentecost sermon and the people want to know how they should respond:
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
38 And Peter said to them, "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.  
39 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." (Act 2:37-39)
The critical words are in v39 – “for the promise is for you and for your children.”  As I mentioned last week (and will explain in greater detail this week), paedobaptists lean heavily on the connection between the covenants to support the practice of baptizing infants.  They hold that just as circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, baptism is the sign of the New Covenant.  Since infants were circumcised under the Abrahamic covenant, they should also be baptized under the New Covenant.  Believers and their children were members of the Abrahamic covenant and the same should be true of the New Covenant.  Acts 2:39 is seen as an indication that this is what God intends for us to understand.  The New Covenant is for believers and their children. 
John Murray, a systematic theology professor at Westminster Theological Seminary until 1966, wrote, “The argument, reduced to its simplest terms, is that the seals of the covenant pertain to those to whom the covenant itself pertains. But that the covenant pertains to infants is clear from…Acts 2:39.  From God’s ordinance his grace extends from parents to children.”[1]  Thus, paedobaptists understand the text to indicate a special promise to the children of believers, which ensures that they are part of the covenant community and different from the children of unbelievers.
Whether or not it is legitimate to make such a tight connection between the Abrahamic covenant and the New Covenant is something we will address in the next couple of Sundays.  For now, let’s concern ourselves with whether or not it is appropriate to use Acts 2:39 in this way.  The main problem with this interpretation of Acts 2:39 is that it seems to remove one phrase from consideration.  That is, it seems to interpret the verse as if the verse reads, “For the promise is for you and for your children, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  But the verse actually reads, “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.”
First of all, what is the promise? V38 tells us, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  The explicit promise is the reception of the Holy Spirit for those who repent.  To whom is this promise made?  The promise is made to “you”, “your children,” and “all who are far off.”  “You” refers to the Jews listening to Peter’s sermon, and “your children” refers to the Jews’ offspring.  “All who are far off” seems to be a reference to the Gentiles (cf. Eph 2:11-13).  So the promise is made to all the Jews and the Gentiles.  In other words, the promise is for everyone, which Peter then qualifies by saying, “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  
The three phrases (“you,” “your children,” and “all who are far off”) are parallel and must be taken together.  According to Acts 2:39, the promise is equally applied to the three.  We cannot say that there is something special about the first and second group (“you” and “your children”) that is not true about the third group (“all who are far off”).  So if this verse is a warrant for considering one group to be members of the covenant, it is a warrant for considering all three groups to be members of the covenant.  If it is a warrant for baptizing one group, it is a warrant for baptizing all three.
The final phrase of the verse (“everyone to whom the Lord our God calls to himself”) must be considered in order to determine the implications for the argument for infant baptism.  The word “calls” can be interpreted in two different ways, neither of which are a help to the paedobaptist.  If “calls” refers to the outward, general call of the gospel, then the promise is for all who hear the gospel.  In this case, paedobaptists must explain why they do not baptize all people who hear the gospel, regardless of their response to the gospel.  In other words, this promise does nothing to distinguish the children of believers from anyone else who hears the gospel.  If they baptize their children and not everyone else who hears the gospel, they are selectively applying the verse.
On the other hand, if “calls” refers to God’s irresistible grace, then the promise is for the elect only.  In this case, in order for paedobaptists to use this verse to support the baptism of infants, they must be willing to presume the election of their children, a presumption without Biblical support.  No, if the promise is for the elect only, then only those who give a credible profession of faith should be baptized, which is precisely what happened in the following verses, for it was only “those who received his word” who were baptized (Acts 2:41). 
It is an inappropriate use of Acts 2:39 to employ it in defense of infant baptism.  In order to be consistent, either paedobaptists need to support the baptism of all who hear the gospel or they need to admit that they presume the election of their children.  But paedobaptists do neither of these things, which points to the inconsistency of the position. 
What is the appropriate way to understand Acts 2:39?  All who repent, whether Jew or Gentile, will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But what about baptism?  Only those who receive the gospel, who actually repent, should baptized (Acts 2:41).
Posted by Greg Birdwell

[1]John Murray, “Covenant Theology,” in Collected Writings of John Murray (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1982), 4:239-40.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What about the "household" baptisms?

Last Sunday, we started a sermon series on the doctrine of baptism.  To address this doctrine and the related issues fully would require many weeks.  In order to keep the series to a manageable length and still answer as many questions as possible, I’ll be addressing some of the minor issues here on the blog.
In the last message, I made the statement that there are no examples of an unbeliever, adult or infant, being baptized.  Some paedobaptists might concede this point by adding the word explicit.  There are no explicit examples of an unbeliever being baptized.  They would hold, however, that there are several possible implied baptisms of unbelievers, specifically, infants. 
In the book of Acts there are numerous narratives in which households are described as being baptized.  These include the households of Cornelius (Acts 10:48), Lydia (Acts 16:15), Crispus (Acts 18:8), and the Philippian jailer (Acts16:32-33).  If it is recorded in Acts that “households” were baptized, is it reasonable to assume that these households included infants? And if there were infants in these households, is it reasonable to assume that they were baptized as well, thus supporting the concept of the baptism of infants (unbelievers)? 
One of the four household baptisms is quite detailed and helps us a bit with this issue.  The baptism of the household of Cornelius does give us reason to believe that the baptism of a household does not imply the baptism of unbelievers or infants.  The first clue is in 10:2, which tells us that Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” What is important here is how the word “household” is being used.  The “household” is presented as fearing God, just like Cornelius.  This is crucial because it tells us that either there were no infants in the household since infants do not have the capacity to fear God, or if there were infants in the household, the word “household” is not intended to refer to literally every soul in the home. 
Later in the chapter, when Peter and the other men came to Caesarea, “Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends” (Act 10:24).  So, these people and Cornelius’ household were present for the rest of the narrative in Acts 10, which concludes with these verses:
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Act 10:44-48)
Who is the “them” commanded to be baptized in v48?  They are give four descriptions: those on whom the Holy Spirit fell (v44); those who heard the word (v44); those who were speaking in tongues (v46); and, those who were extolling God (v46).  All of these descriptions would seem to apply only to someone who is a believer, but at the very least they would not be things that could be true of infants.  This makes it extremely doubtful that we are intended to understand that infants were included in this household baptism.
It becomes even clearer in ch11, where Peter relates this story to the circumcision party in Jerusalem, saying that Cornelius “told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household’” (Act 11:13-14). Again, the use of the word “household” is crucial.  Either this household did not include infants, or “household” is not intended to mean literally every soul in the home.  Whatever the case, we cannot be expected to understand “household” to mean “everyone including infants” since none of the things explicitly attributed to this household could be attributed to an infant.
But what of the other three passages concerning household baptisms?  The baptism of the Philippian jailer and his household also demonstrates that “household” should not be understood to include infants.  The jailer asks Paul and Silas,“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Act 16:30-31).  Are we intended to believe that if the jailer alone believes, he and his entire household will be saved?  Of course, not.  The intended sense is that if the jailer believes, he will be saved and if his household believes, they will be saved.  Again, this tells us that the word “household” applies to those with the capacity to believe, i.e. not infants.  The rest of the narrative supports this idea: the jailer and his household heard the word of the Lord (v32), were baptized (v33), and rejoiced in his salvation (v34).
The baptism of the household of Crispus continues the theme: Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized (Act 18:8).  As with the previous narratives, either there were no infants in this household, or “household” is not intended to mean “every soul in the home.”
Only one instance of a household baptism does not give us this kind of information.  Acts 16:14-15 tells the story of Lydia: (Act 16:14-15 ESV) The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.  This passage says nothing to indicate that Lydia’s household believed before they were baptized.  Please note that what we have here is silence, not explicit evidence to the contrary.  The question then is, should we allow that one instance of silence to overcome all the other explicit teaching in Acts and the rest of the NT that baptism is exclusively for believers?  Or should we use all those other passages to help us interpret this one? 
I would suggest that we use the same interpretive principles here that we do everywhere else.  We should use Scripture to interpret Scripture.  If we do that, we cannot use this or any other household baptism as support for the baptism of infants or any other unbelievers.
There is another household baptism outside of Acts, but it does not help the paedobaptistic argument.  In 1 Cor 1:16, Paul says that he baptized the household of Stephanas.  He later writes, the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints… (1 Cor 16:15).
The evidence then is that we should not assume that these “household” baptisms included the baptism of infants.  Rather, these cases are consistent with the NT teaching that baptism is for believers only. 
 Posted by Greg Birdwell