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Theology

Baptism, Communion, and Ignorant Sin, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the developing debate in the blogosphere regarding Mark Dever’s comments that a proponent of infant baptism is sinning (though unintentionally and with sincerity of heart) and is therefore not welcome at the communion table.   I will first address whether or not being a paedo-baptist is a sin, then I’ll talk about whether or not paedo-baptists are welcome at the Lord’s table at a credo-baptist’s church (such as Capitol Hill Baptist where Dever preaches).

In his original post, Dever wrote that practicing paedo-baptism was sinful.    I agree with Dever for the simple fact that if the Bible teaches something clearly then we must obey what it says.  I believe the Bible is clear on the issue of baptism and that paedo-baptists are unintentionally sinning for at least three reasons:

  1. The Greek word baptizo means “to submerge, dunk, immerse in water.”  The word alone does not allow for a baptism by sprinkling, which is the method of baptism performed by paedo-baptists.
  2. Jesus’ command in the Great Commission is to make disciples and baptize them.  The New Testament practice shows that people who believed and followed Jesus were baptized.  Paedo-baptists will say that passages like Acts 16:15 support infant baptism.  In that passage, Lydia was baptized “and her household as well.”  But this baptism followed an opening of “her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (v. 14). Babies cannot be disciples for obvious reasons.  A baby’s heart cannot be opened to the things of God.  A baby cannot confess and believe in Jesus.
  3. Infant baptism is not the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.  The paedo-baptist will say that baptism equates to circumcision and since circumcision was done on infants, baptism should be performed on infants as the sign of the covenant between God and his people.  I’m unconvinced for two reasons: 1) Girls weren’t circumcised, so why wouldn’t we just baptize baby boys? 2) More importantly there is a New Testament version of circumcision and it’s the circumcision of the heart that God performs.  Colossians 2:11 says, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:26; 4:9, 12).  So circumcision is something God does through Christ to our hearts, and an outward symbol of what God has done in the heart is that we are “buried with him in baptism.”  This again showing that baptism is a burial — that we go “under the water” — which symbolizes our death and burial with Christ.

The other part of Dever’s post that I’d like to address is the issue of whether or not a paedo-baptist could partake of communion at, say, a local Baptist church.  Dever wrote, “I simply lack the authority to admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not been baptized.”  I disagree with him on this for three reasons:

  1. I find no evidence in Scripture for keeping someone from the Lord’s Table for an unintentional sin.  If someone is knowingly and happily sinning without seeking to kill the sin, we will enact church discipline on them, and if they are unrepentant we must remove them from fellowship.  The Lord’s Table, however, is for all of us wretched sinners who battle the inconsistencies and errors in our lives while at the same time confessing the death of Jesus as the payment for our sins (1 Cor. 11:26).
  2. I find no connection in the Scripture between being baptized and partaking of communion.  As far as we know, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, they had not even been baptized with water!  There is no Scripture that says they were.  Of course we know Jesus was, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his disciples were.  Before I was baptized (at age 13), I had taken communion at church because I had received Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Was I living in sin by partaking without yet being baptized?  You’d be hard pressed to find biblical support for that view.
  3. There are other sins that are committed because of a willful disbelief or an ignorance of biblical doctrine that would not keep someone from the Lord’s Table.  Let’s take disbelieving in the doctrine of election.  I know many sincere Christians who love Jesus, are saved, and yet are firmly committed to Arminian theology, which I find unbiblical.  This person is wrong in certain parts of their theology, yet is sincere in their love for God, their doctrine, and their pursuit of holiness.  Would it be a right thing to say to this person, “Your theology is off.  You are not welcome at the Lord’s table”?  Of course not!  That would be legalistic, proud, and unloving.  Furthermore, there are others who do not hold to the doctrine of election because of a preconceived notion of Reformed churches/preachers.  They are willfully not believing in the doctrine of election whether or not they have studied the Scriptures for truth.  Our goal should be to love these people and shepherd them and teach the truth, while encouraging them to examine themselves while partaking of the Lord’s table.

Despite this whole tiff, Dever admits that he is far from perfect in his own theology.  He said that both paedo- and credo-baptists have errors and inconsistencies in their theology.  That’s a good word, Mark, and for that reason alone, if our confession is Jesus by grace through faith alone, then true believers of any denomination, practice, and theology should be welcome.

And now I say to all my paedo friends: I disagree with your stance.  I think you are unintentionally sinning by not being baptized as a believer.  You are free to believe I am sinning as well (it would be odd if you didn’t!), though of course I’d disagree.  However, when I take communion before God and with his people, you are more than welcome to join me and proclaim Jesus and his death as the propitiation for our sins.  And when we do, may we examine ourselves, and all our theological inconsistencies, so we do not drink judgment on our heads (1 Cor. 11:29)