Friday, May 13, 2005

Come let us reason together part II

For those interested in reading the discussion I have been having with Alastair on the subject of baptism and whether infants need to be baptized go to here and scroll to see last comment on May 3/05 post.

1 comment:

Alastair said...


Thank you once again for your interaction. I will briefly reply to the different areas of your response.

I. On the Nature of Sin

I do not believe that 1 John 3:4 carries the weight of your case. Sin as a realm, a force and a principle are also lawlessness. Besides, one can readily question whether John is teaching an identity between sin and lawlessness (anymore than saying that ‘love is kind’ means that love is completely interchangeably with kindness in all cases). Romans 5:13 and 7:8 suggest that Sin existed prior to the Law, but that the Law gave to Sin its great power and brought it to life when it appeared dead.

The world is not primarily made up of individuals. The world is primarily composed of power structures, relationships and the like. Our individuality grows out of such structures. My self-awareness as an individual is an achievement; my place as part of human societies is a given. We are aware of others before we are ever really aware of ourselves. Sin has taken control of the power structures and relational structures of human life through the sin of Adam. Sin also misshapes us as individuals, through these power structures and in other ways.

The Bible teaches us that Christ ‘died to Sin’ (Romans 6:10). How could Christ die to Sin if Sin is merely individual sin and He was sinless? Romans 5:12 also seems to teach that Sin is something more than individual sin. Sin is something that ‘enters the world’, bringing death in its train. Sin ‘reigns’ in death (v.21), even over individuals who had not sinned in the same manner as Adam (v.14). This picture of Sin seems to be teaching us that there is a dark power at work in the world, behind and in our acts of individual sin, something that we are, as a human race, naturally in bondage to. Sin is something that desires to control us (Genesis 4:7). We are naturally the slaves of Sin, as the offspring of Adam.

The idea that Sin is a realm is also well supported by Romans 6. Sin is a realm in which we can ‘continue’. Continuing in this realm involves acts of individual sin, but one can be part of this realm without actually committing acts of individual sin, as the case of Christ readily proves. All of this, I suggest, teaches us that Sin is more than merely a case of individual sin, although it certainly is inclusive of individual sin. It is more than the sum total of human wrongdoing. Paul’s personification of Sin in Romans 5-8 is not an accident. If Sin was merely individual acts of sin committed by individuals, rather than a power that infects and distorts all the structures and relationships of human life, causing us to grow up as skewed and twisted individuals from the very outset, Paul would not need to personify it in the manner in which he does.

The Bible certainly teaches salvation from individual sins. However, the focus is on salvation from Sin as an enslaving power (this salvation takes place definitively in Baptism, as Paul argues in Romans 6). The deliverance from Sin as an enslaving power inexorably leads to our deliverance from individual sins, but they should not be confused.

II. On Freewill

I stand by my earlier position that we are incapable, of ourselves, of moving our own wills towards God. The verses that you bring up seem to teach more that the preaching of the gospel turns people from darkness to light than that ‘responding to Biblical teaching turns people from darkness to light.’ Besides, the statement that you make still leaves us with the basic question that we are wrestling with: what enables people to appropriately respond to the preaching of the gospel? The Bible, I believe, teaches that the preaching of the gospel itself is powerful and able to turn people from darkness to light (1 Corinthians 1:18-21). It is the preaching of the gospel itself in the power of the Spirit that enables our appropriate response.

Whether we believe the gospel is, in a very real sense, our own choice as individuals. I would not deny this. However, the question remains: what enables us to make the right choice in response to the gospel? God’s conversion of us does not override or bypass our wills; rather, it frees our wills to make the right choice and to make that choice perfectly willingly. As the Scriptures teach in the case of Lydia (Acts 16:14): ‘The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.’ I believe that God achieved this through the preaching of the Word by the power of His Spirit. This ‘opening of Lydia’s heart’ was not a matter of forcing Lydia’s will out of shape in order for it to respond. Rather, God broke the shackles of error and darkness that bound her will in order that her will might truly be free to come to Him. God moved her to willingly and joyfully respond to what Paul was teaching. This was not a violent imposition upon Lydia; God’s moving of Lydia’s will retained the integrity of Lydia’s will throughout.

III. On Baptism

In one sense I would not deny that Baptism is an act of faith. However, I would deny that it is primarily our act of faith. Furthermore, I strongly affirm that Baptism is for believers, in which category I believe that the children of Christian parents are included. I have no problem with the verses from Acts 8 that you bring forward. I also believe that faith is absolutely necessary if we are to benefit from our baptisms. Baptism brings us into a new relationship, in which we must persevere by faith.

If the efficacy of Baptism ultimately rests, in whole or in part, upon my faith at the time of the administration of the sacrament, how can I know for sure that I really was truly baptized? Notice, I strongly believe that faith is a necessary prerequisite for a proper (or licit) use of Baptism. However, I do not believe that it is the faith of the baptizer or baptizand that grants Baptism its validity.

My belief is that the fact of my Baptism is as sure as the fact of someone’s wedding. Both the Baptism and the wedding are, in a very important sense, efficacious irrespective of the faithfulness of the participants. God joins two people together in marriage, even if they are not really faithful to each other. However, if they are to benefit from the wedding and persevere and grow in the new relationship that has been established, faithfulness is absolutely necessary. It is much the same with Baptism. Baptism brings me into a new relationship with God, even if I am wilfully harbouring sin and unbelief. It is not my faith that makes Baptism real, though my faith is crucial if my Baptism is to be of any lasting blessing to me.

IV. On Infants, Sin and Faith

I am well aware that the book of Psalms is not literal. Nevertheless, Psalm 58 seems to be saying more than you are admitting. Psalm 22 is indeed prophetic and refers, in the fullest sense, to Christ. That said, two points still need to be made. First, although it does refer to Christ in its fullest sense, it also refers to David and Israel. The book of Psalms was Israel’s hymnbook and they would regularly have sung the words of the Psalm. They would have not inappropriately applied the words to their own experience too. Second, if it does refer to Christ then Christ had faith as an infant, with an infant’s mind and understanding.

The Bible does not treat infants as detached individuals. Rather, the Bible treats infants as members of families, as children of parents and as members of societies. A child born to unbelieving sinners is regarded by God as unclean (1 Corinthians 7:14). The fact that God distinguishes between children born to believers and unbelievers in this place (among many others) is the point that your position does not seem to do any justice to. This is a point that you really need to address and answer if your position is to be regarded as tenable.

God is like a family Friend to believing families. The children of believing parents are included in His love. God is a jealous enemy to unbelieving families and their children. We may not like this, but I think that the Bible is quite clear on these points.

God promises to cut off the offspring of the wicked (Psalm 37:28; cf. Exodus 20:5). God does not regard the infants of the unbeliever as pure and innocent individuals (although He recognizes that they are as yet innocent of concrete acts of sin), but as the children of His enemies, the seed of the serpent and as unclean and defiled. 1 Corinthians 7:14 it is also important to notice that the children of believing parent(s) are not holy merely because they are subject to Christian teaching. Paul argues that they are holy purely by virtue of their relationship with the believing parent. There are children of unbelieving parents who are subject to biblical teaching, but they are still unclean, simply by virtue of the fact that their parents are unbelievers and enemies of God.

Thank you once again for the interaction.