Thinking About Infant Baptism

Note: I have updated the first bullet point with a few thoughts from Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans.

I often joke that I am one sprinkled baby away from becoming a Presbyterian. Aside from infant baptism and their church governance structure, I am fairly aligned with most of the theological convictions of the PCA (the conservative branch for those of you who get worried when the word “Presbyterian” comes up), the RCA, or the EPC.

I doubt I will ever baptize an infant, or have my children baptized as infants, so let me get those cards on the table now. I am a credo-baptist (“believer’s baptism”). In light of this, I have some honest questions for paedo-baptists (“infant-baptists”). These four bullets are not exhaustive (of course), or an attack on my infant-baptist brothers and sisters. I love you and appreciate your desire for gospel-saturated, Christ-centered ministry. These are just thoughts that sprung to mind this morning.

  • Romans 6:1-4: You would be hard pressed to fit infant baptism into this scenario Paul presents to the church in Rome. Can an infant say he has died and risen with Christ to new life? Can an infant say he can “walk in newness of life.” This is what Paul connects with Christian baptism. In saying baptism is “connected” to the newness of life, it does not mean baptism brings about new life. Rather, it is a symbol of what is true in the heart. According to Doug Moo, Paul would think it an oxymoron to meet an “unbaptized” Christian. He says, “Baptism is introduced not to explain how we were buried with Christ but to demonstrate that we were buried with Christ” (NICNT, Epistle to the Romans, 364). Moreover, it seems that a baptized unchristian (an infant) would be just as unbelievable because of the context. Moo also notes that “in the early church [they] conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which [J. Dunn] calls ‘conversion-initiation'” (Romans, 366). If an infant has not exercised faith and received the Holy Spirit, why would they be baptized? They do not need to be “initiated” since they do not belong to God’s family yet.
  • Matthew 28:19-20: Would the disciples have assumed a connection with circumcision and baptism in this scenario, so as to baptize infants, even though they cannot be taught and thus become disciples before regeneration? Furthermore, Is not the promise of heart circumcision connected to, and what makes obsolete, flesh circumcision (Rom. 2:25-29)?
  • Though it is true Acts speaks of “household baptisms” (twice, in Acts 16:15, 31) it nowhere says that infants were, in fact, baptized. Of course, infant baptism is nowhere forbidden in the New Testament. Nevertheless, is this the case because the apostles would have thought it absurd to do such a thing? On Pentecost, the men responded to Peter’s sermon by asking, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “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” (Acts 2:37-39). Peter indeed says the promise of the Holy Spirit is for “your children” but there is a conditional clause: it is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Not all children of Christian parents–not even all baptized infants–are effectually called and saved by God. Will a child experience the blessing of being raised by a Spirit-filled parent? Of course! Will that Spirit be imparted to them apart from God’s grace and a true belief in Christ? No. So I ask: would Peter have expected a baby to stand in line that day? Probably not. Peter connected repentance and baptism. In the same way, John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), which Paul said pointed to Jesus’ coming (Acts 19:4). Jesus’ whole ministry expanded on his opening words: “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Again this is something a baby–not even a toddler–can do. Paul’s own testimony connects baptism with the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16), something that cannot be given to a baby who is unregenerate.
  • Finally, as a side note: it is interesting that the same Reformed theologians who say that “household baptisms” occurred in Acts, thus giving credibility to infant-baptism is Scripture, will be the first to say that Acts was not “normative” as it concerns spiritual gifts (i.e. the so-called “sign” gifts). In order to be consistent with the issue of what is, or is not, normative in Acts, those theologians would have to say that all gifts continue until today or say that “household baptism” are either 1) not normative for today, or 2) may not have implied infants were members of those households.

No matter what side of the debate you are on, what are your thoughts?

Psalm 16 and Jesus

Have you ever noticed how seemingly flippant the apostles quote the Old Testament in relation to Jesus? On the surface, it appears that they use the Hebrew Scriptures as a grab bag, just pulling whatever the want out of context in order to built up Jesus’ reputation. This could not be further from the truth.

In Luke 24:27 and John 5:39, Jesus said that the law and prophets bear witness to him. So in Acts 2:25-28, when Peter quotes David in Psalm 16, he is following Jesus’ most basic interpretive principal: everything in the Bible is about Jesus.

In Psalm 16, David asks God to preserve him and be a refuge for him. Peter quotes verses 8-11. In the context of David’s life, he’s making a holy argument for why God should not abandon him, and he seeks ultimate hope, joy, and pleasure in God.

Peter interprets this Psalm through the lens of the resurrection. He says in Acts 2:29-32, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet…he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”

Peter’s main point is this: Jesus is the true and better David. David’s corpse is still rotting in a grave. Jesus has risen. David prayed to avoid Sheol. Jesus abolished Sheol. Jesus will never see corruption or be abandoned to Hades because he is the only one whose life has never been corrupted. He is the only one who has perfectly set the Lord before him. He is the only one who perfectly rejoiced in the Lord. He is the only one whose pleasure in life and all things was ultimate a pleasure in the Father. Though Jesus did die, his flesh did not see corruption in the grave. Because of Jesus’ perfect life, the Father justified him by resurrecting him from the grave. Jesus therefore defeated corruption and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

Only when we see Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 16 will we overcome the grave and the corruption it brings. Only then will we avoid eternal judgment and wrath. Only when we look to Jesus, who sought true joy and pleasure in his Father, will we experience pleasure forevermore.

Christian and Unbaptized? Unthinkable.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

How could someone, Paul argues, who has died with Christ through the public display of baptism (the external display of an internal reality; the symbolic representation of our death and resurrection with Christ) still continue to obey sin as a master?  Baptism is a display of what Paul spoke of in 2:29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  Baptism is an outward act that one has been circumcised in the heart and wants to display it to the world.  Baptism is what signifies our death and resurrection with Christ.  It is not the instrument through which we die and rise with Christ.  John Piper gives the analogy of a marriage and the wedding ring:

All of us who have put on the ring of marriage have, by putting on this ring, forsaken all others to cleave only to our wives. Therefore by this ring I am united to my wife alone and dead to all others.

Now you could press the language and say, “Aha, it was the actual putting on the ring that caused your forsaking all others and your cleaving to Noel alone. You said it explicitly: ‘By this ring, I am united to my wife alone.’ What could be plainer? The ring does it all.

But that is not what I would mean by these words. I would mean that putting on the ring is a sign of my forsaking all others and cleaving only to her. The decisive leaving and cleaving is in the promise, the covenant, the vows. “I plight thee my troth.” “I promise you my faithfulness.” Then comes the ring, the symbol.

The vows stand for faith in Christ, and the ring stands for baptism. And the point is that we often talk this way. We often speak of the symbol as though it brings about what it only signifies.

But is baptism just a symbol? In Galatians 3:27, Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  This, and Romans 6:3, does not mean baptism saves you.  Grace through faith alone justifies a person before God (Rom. 3:24-26, 28; 5:1; Gal. 3:5-6; Eph. 2:5, 8-9).

However, baptism in Paul’s day has a much more significant meaning than it does today.  We have cheapened the meaning of baptism in the Christian church. In his commentary on Romans, Doug Moo writes, “J. Dunn…points out that the early church conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which he calls ‘conversion-initiation’” (Moo, Romans, 366).

In Acts 10, when Peter is preaching Jesus to the Gentiles, in the middle of his message, the Holy Spirit came upon them and immediately.  Peter did not wait and have them complete a spiritual gift survey or go through a membership class or a doctrine class.  He said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people?” (v. 47).  In Acts 8, when Philip preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch, the Ethiopian believed and immediately asked Philip if he could be baptized (v. 36).  In Acts 16, Lydia and her whole household were saved and on that same day they were baptized (v. 15).  The point is that when people believed in the NT, they were immediately baptized as a public declaration that they identified with and were saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. To these new believers, and the New Testament writers, it was unthinkable, even inconceivable, that a person would believe in Jesus yet not be baptized with water.

Would Paul have a category in his mind for a Christian who believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior and repented of their sin, yet was not baptized? No. There are many reasons that baptism isn’t done immediately today, but I won’t discuss that here. The point is this: if you are a Christian and are not baptized, what is holding you back? Don’t disobey. Believe and obey, and get baptized today!

Thoughts on church planting from a guy who doesn’t know anything

I don’t know a lot of things. I’ll be the first to admit. I’d like to think of myself as a well-read, intellectual person. But let’s be honest. I’m average. The good news is that I’m okay with that (most of the time). As a matter of fact, most people are just that. Average. The quicker we actually admit this, we’ll actually start to see the beautiful things that resemble the image of God in our lives, instead of focusing on what we lack.

So when I offer my thoughts on church planting — or, well, really anything on this blog — keep in mind that I’m your average, everyday nobody. If you can log onto the Internet, you can start a blog. Before you know it, a Google search here and there, and thousands of people are reading.

I want to be in pastoral ministry. I want to preach the gospel. It doesn’t have to be to thousands. It might be to tens or hundreds. God decides that anyway. I just want to avail myself to gospel ministry. Christ-centered, Bible-saturated, God-exalting, others-oriented ministry. My wife wants this too. The role is different for her, and she knows that, but she wants what I want: people to meet Jesus and be transformed.

I’ll be honest: in Evangelical churches today, especially Reformed ones, I think “church planting” is a fad. It’s the hip, cool, post-modern thing to do today. All of a sudden (once Mars Hill and Acts29 took off in the early to mid 2000s), all the 25-35 year old men in America wanted to be the next Mark Driscoll. News flash, Mark Driscoll is Mark Driscoll. I am not. You aren’t either.

The funny thing is that the act of “church planting” has been happening since Jesus left the earth after his resurrection. Here’s the skinny: people treasured Christ enough to tell others about him, and those people got saved and gathered with those preached the gospel to them to “do church.”  They not only gathered to “do church,” but they lived to “be the church” in community, that is, they encouraged and exhorted each other. They challenged each other and reminded them of the gospel when temptation and sin arrived. They submitted to those in spiritual authority and taught their children about Jesus. They gave their time, money, energy, and possessions to those in need. They lived by faith and grew in holiness. They suffered when called to do so. When they prospered they counted it as loss. Then these communities grew and spread and other churches popped up.

Paul, James, John, Peter, and the other Apostles played a foundational role in the church spreading. They traveled and preached the gospel. They evangelized non-Christians and discipled and taught believers. They set up local churches and gave instructions for church government. This spreading hasn’t stopped. In fact, it has increased over the centuries thanks to missionaries, like Paul, who left their home countries to tell other peoples about the risen Christ. And it needs to continue. It always needs to continue.

I’m trying to reevaluate why I want to be a “church planter.” Is it because I want to run a super-cool church with an indie-rock feel, and have a sweet website made by the guy sipping Starbucks coffee working a MacBook? Is it because I want to react against the Purpose Driven mega-church model that so many American churches have adopted? Is it because I want to be associated with words like “hip” and “urban” and “missional”? Is it because that’s just what 25 year-old white guys who want to be in ministry?

Or is it because I want to be on a mission to make Jesus famous in a city that desperately needs him?

Try to be absolutely clear when you say, “I am a Christian”

I don’t really like labels in Christianity, because on the surface, they seem to divide people who are Christians.  That can be true.  But it is also true that labels can be helpful when talking to people who are not Christian, but say they are.  In today’s pluralistic, postmodern, theological buffet-type culture, we must be able to distinguish our beliefs from other false ideas about Christianity.

To say to someone, “I’m a Christian,” is biblically correct, and should be sufficient (it would have been in the first century).  At the same time a friend might say to me, “I’m a Christian,” but it’s evident that they are no more a Christian than I am an oak tree.  How can I make sure that my misguided friend understands the difference  in our beliefs?

Consider this analogy.  I ask my friend what being Christian means to him.  He says, “I go to church.  I pray before meals.  I try to be a good person.”  Then he asks me what being Christian means to me.  I say, “I am a born-again, Evangelical.  That means I believe the Bible is the infallible, authoritative word of God and that the only way to be forgiven of sin, escape the wrath of God, and have eternal life is justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ , who died on the cross and rose from the dead.”

When I defined being a Christian for myself, I put a label on myself (I use the word “label” here kind of loosely).  I labeled myself as an Evangelical (I could have even included the word “Protestant” in there too).  But the important thing is that I gave the label a precise definition.  The term “Evangelical” was practically synonymous with “Protestant” during the Reformation era.  The two main issues during this time were authority and justification.  The Catholic Church believed authority belonged to the Pope, and that justification could be purchased through indulgences.  The Reformers believed that authority was in the Word of God, and that justification was by grace and faith alone in Jesus.  This mean they protested (Protestant) against the false doctrines of the Catholic church, and identified themselves with the evangel (the true gospel of Scripture).

Because some people believe that Jesus is no more than a great moral teacher, and that the Bible is just a grab-bag story book with some good insights, we must be crystal clear in communicating what being “Christian” really means.  And sometimes, whether we want to or not, lableing ourselves might be helpful.