Tuesday, May 03, 2005

"Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord"

The following is a comment I left on Forty Bicycles blog. I am not a theologian but I am a student of God's Word. It is a duty and an honor to earnestly contend. Jude 1:3


Dear Alastair,
I read your "Plagiarizing Myself II " article on baptism from Nov 4, 2004. Sorry, it has taken so long to respond since my April 14,2005 comment.

As I understand, there are some key points that we agree upon, mainly that in baptism a person dies with Christ and is risen with Him into a newness of life (Rom 6:3-5 and Col 2:12). Also, that it is through baptism that people are brought into Christ (Gal 3:26-27), and become a member of His body.

Regarding what you have said about regeneration and conversion, I agree that conversion happens before regeneration. Conversion, according to Vine's Dictionary, "implies a turning from or turning to.” Therefore, there has to be an inner change from one state to another. Regeneration is the new birth. I think that the difference in these two ideas is demonstrated in Acts 2:37-38. The people that heard Peter and the apostles preaching the gospel were pricked in their heart and asked what they must do to be saved. This shows that their thinking had changed and they were converted to the words of the apostles. Then they were baptized in v41 and received the regeneration or rebirth into a new life. Rom 6:4

The changing of the heart is something we do, not God. See Matt 13:15 and John 12:39-40. It is by understanding when we read, hear or see God's Word, that we are convicted of the truth and that is what converts us. John 3:20 shows His Word sheds light on man’s deeds but most in the world do not want their deeds to be reproved and thus avoid the light. They cannot be converted if they won't listen.

Baptism does bring the person into the body of Christ but it is also at this point that one becomes a Christian and salvation is given. See again Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38-41 and Gal 3:25-29 (Note that the heirs of the promise are those that have been baptized into Christ by faith)

John 3 is about regeneration. Regeneration is baptism. Being born again by the water and the blood are referring to the waters of baptism which are sprinkled with the blood of the slain Lamb. The kingdom which we enter upon baptism is the church of which Jesus is king.

Baptism is an act of faith because there is belief that what the Scriptures say are true and if someone believes, then he will do as that person instructs. This does not make someone worthy of a reward (faith by works) as it is only expected of him. Luke 17:7-10.

Infants or children are not in need of baptism. They are so pure and innocent that Jesus used them as an example of the kind of heart that is needed to receive the kingdom. Luke18:17. A parent cannot decide for their child what path they will choose. A parent can only train them in the ways of righteousness (Prov 22:6) and trust their child to make a wise decision for themselves once they are able. Children are unaccountable for their actions for they are innocent as were Adam and Eve in the garden until they willfully defied God.

Infants are not capable of faith or repentance. Both faith (Acts 18:8) and repentance (Acts 2:38) are required of the candidates themselves for baptism. Heb 11:6 states that “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." In the argument for infant baptism, it is believed that the faith of the parents will bring the baby into Christ but in this verse, it is the faith of the person himself that is required.

Infants cannot be in solidarity or pledge allegiance with anyone. This must occur when they are able to choose for themselves. God places people into the church (Acts 2:47) not the parents. It is by hearing the gospel and responding to it that one is saved. God draws people through the Word but an infant cannot be drawn because he cannot understand. (John 6:44-45) Children attend the services with their parents and are taught by both their parents and the church but they are taught so that they themselves will one day respond.

People are to be like a child in their simple trust of God not because of their lack of knowledge or understanding. Adults can be weak in the faith but this does not mean that babies are to included because of their weakness.

Repentance is an internal reality with external behavior. See Luke3:7-8. Both faith and repentance are seen by a persons' obedience.

God's Word is the external means which internally convicts the soft soil of a heart. This conviction leads to repentance, Acts 2:37-38. That person acts by confessing that Jesus is the Son of God and obeying the words that said to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Matt 28:19

9 comments:

zeb said...

Baptizing anyone with out their consent whether they are a child or an adult cannot be right.
Baptizing someone who does not know what they are getting into would be like selling a car or house to a ten year old.

Ms. Vickie said...

Carol, I wanted to thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I also have enjoyed my visit here today and applaud you with the time you take each day to share what is truly important in your life.

Vickie of www.alwaysvictoria.com

Alastair said...

Carol,

First of all I would like to thank you for your interaction. My time is limited at the moment, so I will try to answer your points as succinctly as I can (I have a bad track record on succinctness!).

When I talk about regeneration I am referring to a new world order brought in by Jesus Christ. This new world order will shape me down to the very core of my being, but I do not think of it as something that happens primarily ‘inside’ me. This new world order is seen chiefly in the Church. Baptism makes me part of the Church in its visible life. To be part of the life of the Church in fellowship with God is to be part of the regeneration.

Conversion takes place prior to regeneration. Conversion is, I believe, primarily to be regarded as an act of God: God turns us towards Himself and we turn. God created our wills and so, when He turns our wills, He does not do so as an act of violent coercion (consequently, the language of ‘resistible’ or ‘irresistible’ grace paints the wrong picture). Rather, when the Creator of our wills turns our wills they turn freely as what they really are. That is, my conversion is my willing choice and also God’s act of turning. These two things are not in opposition to each other, even though we might not fully appreciate how they fit together. On this point we seem to be in disagreement.

God’s turning of our wills comes as He confronts us with Himself. By myself I do not have freedom, although I am suited for and created for freedom. Freedom only comes as opportunities are opened up to us from outside. Apart from such opportunities, freedom is relatively meaningless. True freedom is only found in community and in communion as God opens us the opportunities found in His own life by the Spirit. Full freedom is only found in fellowship with God, as we are drawn into life with Him. Only the Triune God has true freedom. Our freedom must needs be a sharing in His freedom.

Reformed theology has recognized that my freedom must involve God sovereignly turning my will, which is in bondage to sin, to Himself. Only as God breaks the shackles of such things as sinful mindsets and social structures can I be brought into freedom. God accomplishes such ends by the proclamation of His Word and other such means (Baptism also breaks many of our shackles, by freeing us from old solidarities and bringing us into a new solidarity). My free conversion comes as God’s turns my will by breaking its shackles.

When we are converted we come to Christ to be saved. Our salvation takes place in Baptism (1 Peter 3:21). Every baptized person is anointed as a priest in the temple of the living God, in which God dwells by the Spirit. It is possible for someone to be an unfaithful priest and to be destroyed as a result. However, the Church is the only place where we can properly taste God’s salvation in the present. Those who die outside of the Church may end up being saved on the last day if they have faith. However, there is no safe abiding place outside of the Church, even for the man with faith. We seem to be in general agreement on this point, although I wonder whether you would hold a more ‘miraculous’ understanding of Baptism than I would.

We seem to be in disagreement on the character of Baptism as an act of faith. I do not believe that Baptism is primarily my act of faith. I believe that Baptism is chiefly to be regarded as God’s sovereign act of salvation. We are baptized by ministers of the Spirit, acting with the authority of Jesus Christ. Baptism is primarily God’s action, rather than mine. We are largely passive in the key act of Baptism.

Faith is certainly important. We do not baptize those who we believe to be unbelievers. However, it is not our faith that makes Baptism what it is; it is the working of God that makes Baptism what it is. The efficacy of my Baptism does not rest on the presence or degree of my faith at the time, but on God’s Word. In an act of love, God has made me part of His family. However, if I reject God’s gift of love in Baptism, the jealousy of His love will burn hot and I will be severely judged.

I strongly disagree with your claim that infants and children are not in need of Baptism. Far from seeing all infants and children as ‘pure and innocent’, the Bible is prepared to speak of the children of unbelievers as ‘unclean’ (1 Corinthians 7:14; notice also the distinction between the children of unbelievers and the children of believers). It seems to me that you do not have a strong enough doctrine of sin. Sin is not merely about discrete acts. There is such a thing as a realm and power of Sin. The infants of unbelievers are born into this realm and belong to the power of Sin

The Bible teaches us that the wicked are estranged from God from the very womb (Psalm 58:3-5). In the Old Testament God even instructs His people to kill the young children of the unbelieving Canaanites. The seed of unbelievers are seed for the serpent and God’s justice is not undermined when He crushes the eggs with the mature vipers. I suggest that you read my comments on the subject here, where I tackle the issue in a bit more depth.

If children are as innocent as Adam and Eve in the garden, how come they are born into a state of alienation from God’s presence, something that came as a result of God’s condemnation of Adam? Is God unjust in the manner in which He treats them? In fact, if children are innocent, why not baptize them. What right do we have to hold the innocent back from God’s presence into which Baptism brings us? It seems to me that your approach on this point is far too individualistic.

You claim that infants are incapable of faith. I disagree. The Bible refers to infant children as believers in a number of places. I suggest that you examine Psalm 22:9-10 and Psalm 71:5-6 as examples of infant faith. Psalm 8:2 might be seen as another example. I would also suggest that you observe Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6: ‘whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me…’ Observe the strong parallels between this and the later account in 19:13-15 and recognize that, in the parallel account in Luke, it is clear that it is nursing infants who are brought to Jesus.

Faith is primarily relational trust. It is not primarily belief that, as it is belief in. Infants in a God-fearing family are to be regarded as believers. They are born into a particular relationship with God and are thrown upon God from birth. They are called to abide and grow in this relationship. It seems to me that you understanding of faith is far too individualistic and rationalistic. An infant’s faith is very immature, but it is not same thing as the absence of faith or the same thing as unbelief.

Christ is the great example of faith. We must always remember that He was fully human. At what age did Christ come to faith? The Bible does seem to view things this way. Christ was born into a God-fearing covenant family and grew in wisdom and in favour with God. There was never a time when Jesus did not have faith. When He was an infant, however, He had an infant’s faith; when He was a grown man, He had a grown man’s faith.

Claiming that infants have faith is no less problematic than the claim that a believer who has been in a coma for twenty years can still be regarded as a Christian. Nor is it any less problematic than the claim that I have faith when I am asleep. Before I go to sleep I commit myself to God. While I am asleep my life is in God’s hands and I am dependent on Him, whether I realize it or not. In a similar manner, in Baptism believing parents entrust their infant children into God’s hands.

Infants can be solidarity with others before they have arrived at the age of conscious, independent decision. Their solidarity with their parents is particularly strong. They are almost wholly dependent on others. Society is the natural state of affairs; selfhood is an achievement. God views the children of believers not primarily as self-aware individuals (that comes later), but as those who belong to a particular community (the believing family). God relates to them as a family Friend. He loves them and accepts them as those who share in the life of a faithful family.

Blessings.

Alastair said...

Oops. That was intended to be succinct.

Carol said...

Alastair,
Thank you for your response. You have made points worthy of consideration.
It might take me awhile as before.
Thanks for your patience.

Jennifer said...

Carol, are you a member of the Church of Christ? I don't know very many that hold the same beliefs on baptism that I do.

Carol said...

Yes I am.

Carol said...

Dear Alastair,
Thank you for letter of response. I am interested to learn of others' beliefs and how they are formulated. I am glad that you are open to discussion.

Alastair, regarding the doctrine of the realm of sin, I do not see the Scriptural support for the concept of the realm of sin as being something different from individual sin. Sin is defined in 1Jn 3:4 as the transgression of the law. 1John 2:15-17 also describes sin as being "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the the pride of life." John says that these are from the world. The world is made up of individuals of whom Satan is the master. The battle is for their hearts. Acts 26:18 states that Jesus came "to open their (sinners') eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." This, sounds to me, like personal salvation from one's sins.
You stated that "conversion is primarily to be regarded as an act of God," meaning that we are incapable of turning our own wills. In Acts 26:16-18, Paul is told by Jesus to turn the Gentiles from the power of Satan unto God. Paul did this by preaching to them God's instructions. In our present day and age, these instructions are given in the Scriptures. Responding to Biblical teaching turns people from darkness to light. God calls to all mankind through His Word and it is our choice to believe it or not. Everyone has this freedom of choice.This choice is presented to individuals as demonstrated by many in the New Testament. eg. Lydia and the jailer in Acts 16. These two were taught by Paul and were given the opportunity to respond. The shackles that bind us are broken as we believe His Word and do what it commands.

I am not sure I understand what you mean by a miraculous understanding of baptism but I do believe that baptism changes us through faith in the power of God. He raises us up from the waters of baptism into a newness of life. Rom 6:4. We have been changed spiritually. This might not be apparent but is a matter of faith in what God has done. Rom 6:6
Yes, there is an important difference in our understanding of baptism. I believe it is as an act of faith. We might be passive participants in baptism but it is our belief in the process that makes it real. Otherwise, the person is only getting wet. Col 2:12 states "buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised Him from the dead." This shows the importance of faith in the administration of baptism. Acts 8:36-38 states after Philip had taught an Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus that "...as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him." Faith was a prerequisite for the eunuch, for the Colossians and for those who desire to become Christians today.
Also we recognize the disagreement regarding the baptism of infants. I understand that this is a belief that you hold dearly, so I do not want to dwell on this subject. Suffice for now, that we have an understanding of where each other stands.

Infants are born into a sinful world but they are sinless. Psalms are a poetic book, rich in imagery. In Psalm 58, the "wicked that are estranged from the womb" also are able to speak (v3) and have teeth (v6). Thus it is not literal.This psalm illustrates how evil the wicked are. Psalm 22 is David's beautiful, prophetic poem of Jesus. In contrast to the wicked in Ps 58, Jesus' purpose was clear to Him from His birth. It makes me wonder at the innocence of children and the inherent knowledge that all mankind has that there is a God, Jn 1:9 and Rom 1:19. I propose therefore in light of these and Ps 71:5-6, Ps 8:2 and Matthew 18:6, that humans are aware of their creator at birth. This knowledge is lost as they experience the allure of the world. The baptism of infants will not prevent this from happening. Parents and other Christians in the church that teach the children the Truth and give a good example will prepare theses children for a Christian life of trust and obedience.
In reference to the slaughter of children in the Old Testament, the livestock were also to be obliterated.1Sam 15:3 Neither were in relation to their innocence or guilt.
I do not believe that infants are born in a state of alienation from God. They are innocent and not in need of baptizm because they have nothing to be repented of, yet. Nor can they understand or respond to God's will. Luke 19:13-15 shows that children are already in the state we need to get to, innocence. There is no need for baptism for such.
Thank you Alastair for this challenging discussion. Please respond but that is all I have to contribute at this timee moment.
I hope in the future, we will be able to discuss Calvinism. I would like to understand it better.
Sincerely,
Carol

Alastair said...

Carol

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.

Blessings.