Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Letter on Infant Baptism

I've received numerous questions about infant baptism of late - here is one (inadequate!) response I wrote.

Dear ________,

Great question! Below I’ve appended an account of infant baptism that I sent to another fellow who asked about it. It summarizes why I changed my position from believer baptism to infant baptism.

A brief biographical background: I grew up United Methodist – but was merely a nominal believer. God grabbed hold of me in college and I joined a non-denominational church. I became convinced that infant baptism was unbiblical and led to presumption – assuming one was saved when one actually wasn’t. I maintained this position throughout college and seminary despite attending a school that officially taught infant baptism. It was less than 10 years ago that I finally “took the plunge” as it were and became convinced that infant baptism was not only acceptable but biblical.

Infant baptism is no “guarantee” of personal salvation any more than adult baptism is. Baptism is a covenant rite that identifies us as the people of God. The question is – are only adults counted among the people of God or are the children of believers likewise included in that number? I gradually became convinced that the children of believers are included in that number. So why the change? A couple books were helpful. Doug Wilson’s book To a Thousand Generations was helpful to me as I worked through these issues. Also helpful was John Murray’s Christian Baptism. Most helpful was my own reading and study of the Word of God. It took an immense amount of time for me to work through this issue – some find it easier. But for me it was very challenging. I was a convinced Baptist.

There are a number of links in the chain that led me to conclude that infant baptism is biblical:

1. Notice the way in which God introduces Himself to Moses. “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6-7). The meaning of mercy for thousands is clarified later in Moses’ words to our fathers, “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repay those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them.” (Dt 7:9-10) God introduces Himself here as a God who deals with generations of men – not simply with fathers but with their children and children’s children. And note that since this is the character of God, we have to ask, “Does God change?” And the Scriptural answer is no – God is the same today that He was then. He is still a God who delights to bless generation upon generation of those who love Him.

2. Given that this is the character of God, it is no surprise, therefore, that every covenant God makes with His people involves not only them but their children with them. In the covenant with Noah both Noah and his family are rescued from destruction. In the covenant with Abraham, God commands Abraham to bring up his children in the fear of the Lord so that they will serve Him and love Him. God establishes His covenant with Abraham for the express purpose of blessing “all the families of the earth” in him – so he must be one who blesses his own family (see Gen 18:17-19). In God’s covenant with Israel under Moses, on the night of Passover, God does not simply pass over the adults but the children of His people. He rescues entire households – and indeed gives a very clear definition of a household in His words to Moses about the Passover. A household includes the parents, children, and slaves – hired servants are excluded as are visitors to the house (cf. Ex 12:24, 43ff). If foreigners wanted to partake of the Passover then they had to be converted, joined to the people of God by circumcision. Finally, in God’s covenant with David, He makes promises not only to David but also to his children (2 Sam 7:12-16).

3. Consequently, God lays claim to the children of believers. They are His children (cf. Ez 16:20,21; 23:37).

4. Is this true in the New Covenant, the Covenant with Christ? A number of things indicate that the New Covenant includes not only believers but their children:
a. The prophecies of the OT speaking of the New Covenant anticipate God’s blessings flowing not only to believers but to their children (e.g., Is 59:21; Ez 37:24-28).
b. When Jesus ministers, He gives explicit attention to the children of His disciples. His ministry is not simply to the adults in Israel but to the children; according to Luke, to the infants (cf. Lk 18:15-17). Jesus insists that infants are integral members of His kingdom, there to teach the rest of God’s people important lessons.
c. When Peter preaches the first sermon at Pentecost he insists that the promise is “for you, and for your children, and for those who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself” (Acts 2:39).
d. When the disciples baptize folks in the book of Acts, the baptisms frequently describe entire households being baptized. While no infants are explicitly mentioned, the definition of household offered in Exodus 12 continued to be operative in Jewish society and was identical in the broader Roman society. Infants and children, had they been in the household, would have been included (cf. Acts 10:2; 16:31-34; 1 Cor 1:16).
e. The fact that this is the definition of household which the apostles themselves held is revealed in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. To whom does he address his exhortations? To husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves – in other words, to households.
f. Further, God continues to hold out promises to the children of believers. In Eph 6:1ff Paul takes an OT promise and applies it to the children of believers. Further, in 1 Cor 7:14 Paul distinguishes the children of believers from the children of unbelievers as “holy” – that is, set apart, members of the covenant community. God lays claim on our children – they are His children and every Christian parent will answer for the manner in which he shepherded them.
5. It would appear, therefore, that the children of believers are members of the New Covenant – received by God into the Church and numbered among His people. They are given precious promises and held accountable to the terms of the covenant they have entered. The terms of the covenant are the obligations to believe in the Lord, to love Him, to cherish His commandments, etc. Hence, as I raise my children I speak to them as believers, call them to believe in the Lord, to serve Him, to delight in Him, to love His law, to cherish His ways. But I never treat them as though they are “out there” – I don’t give them the option to “not believe” any more than I would give them the option to take drugs. I consistently call them to faith, I bring them up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4), the very thing that my father Abraham was commanded to do with his children thousands of years ago.

6. This means that merely being baptized is no substitute for faith; rather, baptism is a call to faith, a summons to belief and obedience. All those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are called to love Him and serve Him. In the same way that there were circumcised Israelites who were nevertheless “uncircumcised’ (Rom 2:28-29), so there are baptized Christians who are nevertheless “unbaptized” (e.g., Acts 8:13, 20-23). Unless baptism is joined with faith, it is a curse upon the one baptized rather than a blessing for it brings greater responsibility (Mk 16:16; Lk 12:47-48).

7. Baptism is a covenant rite – it brings us into a binding relationship with God, it makes us members of the New Covenant. However, from the Reformed view – which we think is biblical – being a member of the covenant is not synonymous with being “saved.” One can be a member of the covenant community and fail to lay hold of the promises that God holds out to His people (Heb 6:1ff). Hence, we must constantly call not only our children but one another to faith – “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God, but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:12-14). Notice that Hebrews calls these folks “brethren” – they are members of the covenant community – and yet warns them lest they depart from Christ. Why is this? Because we can never know the heart condition of others; so we constantly remind one another to trust in the Lord and to cling to Him.

This is probably a bit more than you asked for – but thought it might be helpful. If you have any other questions feel free to ask.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Calamity is from the Lord

Amos 3:6 (NKJV)
6 If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?

Today is the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Towers. Numerous remembrances and analyses of the tragedy are being held today and so it is fitting to reflect on this event in the light of Scripture so that we are training ourselves to think rightly about it.

As we see in our text today, the wicked action perpetrated by Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001 was planned and orchestrated by God Himself. “If there is calamity in a city,” Amos asks rhetorically, “will not the Lord have done it?” Amos expects us to answer yes. The Lord will have done it.

For many, even many Christians, such an answer is hard to swallow. How can we believe that the Lord has done this? But if we are to allow the Word of God to be our guide then we must certainly insist that He did it. God declares through Isaiah, “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity, I the Lord do all these things.”

But knowing that the Lord has done it, that the Lord orchestrated the event, does not answer the question, “Why?” We know from the story of Job that not all calamity comes as a judgment, comes as a result of our sin. Sometimes God visits calamity upon us for His own mysterious reasons. However, we also know from Scripture that there are times when God does send calamity as a judgment, sends calamity because we have rebelled against Him and embraced darkness and death. God is not mocked – what a man sows that he also reaps. And when we reap judgment God sends it to call us back from our sin and urge us to worship Him anew.

So what are we to think of the World Trade Center disaster? Why did this happen? I don’t presume to know all the reasons. However, I do know that we Americans are a guilty people fully deserving of such a calamity. While we imagine ourselves upright, we are corrupt. We are fornicators. We congratulate others when they make a “score.” And when the orgasm is over and a child is conceived through our folly, we slaughter the child and have the gall to declare, “God bless America.” Not only are we fornicators, we are covenant breakers. We scorn faithfulness to the marriage bed and then express shock when our spouse commits adultery. Divorce is rampant; lawsuits have multiplied more than frogs in ancient Egypt. We swear to our own hurt and then hire an attorney to make sure that we never have to fulfill our vows. But not only are we fornicators and covenant breakers, we embrace death. Men have turned from the God-given desire for women and burned in their lust for one another, taking that which should give life and putting it in the canal of death; women have forsaken sexual satisfaction with a man and pursued fruitlessness with one another. And the hands of both men and women are dripping with the blood of our children and sometimes our infirm. Brothers and sisters, we are guilty, deserving of judgment.

Is there hope? Yes there is hope. God strikes – but when he strikes in judgment, He does so to remind us to turn from our sin and rebellion and to find shelter in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus there is forgiveness – forgiveness for fornicators, covenant breakers, homosexuals, and murderers. Through Jesus there is forgiveness – forgiveness for nations that rebel against His law. And so we are reminded to confess our sin and to ask Him to show mercy to us and to not treat us as our sins so richly deserve. Let us kneel together as we do so.

Confessing Christ

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

As a congregation, we at Trinity Church have been making our way through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Here in Colossians 2 Paul begins to transition away from his opening greetings to the exhortations which he felt compelled to deliver to the Colossians. It seems that the Colossians were being tempted to move away from the message that their pastor Epaphras was preaching in favor of some new teaching that was tickling their ears.

Consequently, Paul urges them to continue in Christ even as they began in Him. Don’t be moved away from the Gospel that you originally heard: the good news that though we were dead in transgressions and sins, estranged from God because of our rebellion, God Himself took on human flesh and dwelt among us; He sent His only Son to rescue us from our sin and slavery and to restore us to fellowship with Himself; Jesus lived for us, suffered for us, died for us, was buried for us, rose again from the dead on the third day for us, ascended into heaven for us, and has sent His Spirit to give us faith, make us more holy, and assure us of our resurrection. This is the message you heard – now, Paul says, cling to it tenaciously.

Notice that Paul calls us to be faithful to the faith as it was handed down in the churches, to (in his words to Titus) hold firmly to the traditions which we have been taught. Like Jude, Paul wants us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

This injunction which Paul gives the Colossians is one of the reasons that our churches, every Lord’s Day, recite one of the ecumenical creeds together – in a moment we will be singing a setting of the Apostles’ Creed. As these summaries of Scriptural teaching rest in our bones and become part of us through corporate confession, we are being rooted and built up in Him. For each Lord’s Day we grow in our knowledge of Him – where did He come from? He was eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds. Who is He? He is God of God, light of light, very God of very God. Is he a creature? No for he is begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. What has he done? Through Him all things were made, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, the third day He rose again from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Christ we worship. The very one who is worthy of all glory, laud, and honor. The very one who created all things and to whom it is right and fitting to give glory and dominion. And it is in this One that Paul tells us to be rooted and grounded and in whom we are to grow.

And note that Paul insists that it is not enough to recite this faith, not enough to know who Jesus is and what he has done; he commands us to be abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. To abound is to overflow, to know no limits. The words we recite or sing each Lord’s Day should come from hearts that are in the full flood of thanksgiving – thanks for rocks and trees and good friends and green grass and fresh honey and butter and flashlights and honorable men and lovely women and cheese and forgiveness and resurrection.

And so, coming into His presence, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to appreciate fully His glory and to honor His name accordingly by rejoicing in the faith as we have been taught.

That the Women be Reverent

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that … the older women … be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.(Tit 2:1-5)

The women of Crete did not have a sterling reputation in the ancient world. Part of this was no doubt a consequence of the topless attire that they wore. But part of it was also a consequence of the conduct of some of Crete’s leading women.

One of the ancient legends associated with Crete that most people know is that of the Minotaur. What fewer now know is that the Minotaur was the offspring of the Minoan Queen Pasiphae who had mated with a bull. Pasiphae’s sexual perversions weren’t lost on her daughters – one of whom, seduced by the Greek hero Theseus, paved the way for the destruction of the Minotaur and the decline of Cretan power and the other of whom later married Theseus and then tried to seduce Theseus’ son, precipitating the son's death when he refused her advances. Not to be outdone, another of the royal Cretan women was banished from Crete for her illicit behavior, rose through skillful use of her beauty in the court of the King of Mycenae, married the king’s son, and then assisted the king in murdering his own son so that she could become the king’s wife. These perversions led to the disgrace of Cretan women generally – their conduct became the example by which all were judged; even the upright were viewed with suspicion.

Paul is very concerned that Christian women cause no such shame for the Gospel of Christ. He states the motivation of all his exhortations quite plainly in v. 5 – “that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” In so doing, Paul indicates that the operative concern for our lives as professing Christians is not our happiness, not our ease or comfort, but preserving the Word of God and hence God Himself from being blasphemed.

And so Paul’s first command to the older women is that they be “reverent in behavior.” Literally his exhortation means that they conduct themselves in such a way as would be fitting in the temple of God; that they act as they would if they were in the presence of God Himself all the time – for this is, in fact, how we live. We all live coram Deo – before the face of God. And so we are to live reverently.

So women – how are you doing? What are you using as the measure of your actions? What determines the sacrifices you make? The way you spend your time? The way you speak to your children? The way you respond to your husband? The way you speak about your husband to your friends? Paul urges you to measure your life by the Word of God – don’t do anything that would bring shame on Jesus’ Name, that would give the enemies of God cause to blaspheme God’s Name. Suffer anything rather than shame your Savior.

And this is the same message that Paul gives to you men as well. We are all to live such that we adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. So how are you doing? Has your attitude at work adorned the Gospel? Has your thankfulness at home adorned the Gospel? Has your care for your children adorned the Gospel? Or have you brought shame on Jesus’ Name?

Reminded that our conduct as Christians inevitably reflects on the Name of our Savior Christ, let us kneel and confess that we have given occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme.