The Reformed brothers and sisters are to be respected for their thorough biblical search and zeal for the word, as well as love for Christ and the lost. They display a lot of good sense, scholarship, and honesty, in general. I respect them highly for all this. -- And yet they are wrong.
As Jesus said, the first can be last. The Reformed feel that they needed to complete the Reformation, that Luther is a mixed bag and blessing, but in various ways it is they who have undone the Reformation, leading people's gaze back to themselves instead of the cross and the promises. And by necessity, they do not really agree with each other on major subjects, such a baptism, since the center is not the cross and God's gracious action. And while they criticize, many do not understand the position they are critiquing. It is an intellectual mess. It arises partly from the view of the sacraments; Luther was incredibly prescient when he drew the line on the table. "Is" is "is". The Word is too strong for him.
Down in their hearts the Reformed know that our only hope is to trust in God's goodness in Christ, and here we are one again, but meanwhile the doctrine needs sorting out. The confusion is not wholesome. It is always most pernicious for the weak, whom we really must seek not to offend.
There are two strands of matters related to baptism, I pursued last weekend.
A. Here is a debate someone directed me to:
I listened to them both and made notes. See the summary below. Reading it would take you 10 min. Listening to the talks would take 2 hours.
B. Here are a couple of places I commented last week:
With respect to the debate in A. above, let me summarize for you and for me:
John MacArthur, who must be well-known but was up til now unknown to me, gave a talk promoting the so-called Credo-Baptist position. I don't know anything else about the man, which may be a deficiency, but this is not disturbing me much, at the moment.
John MacArthur begins by lamenting that there is currently a disinterest in baptism, that there are large groups of Christians who have been going unbaptized, not following the scriptural command to be baptized. --This complaint strikes no chord with me at all. In the Lutheran church we do not know this problem, as believing families come to church together and bring their babies to be baptized rejoicing in God's gifts. MacArthur might look at Lutherans as another group he mentions, the "baptized unregenerate". (It makes one think that MacArthur is probably sure that he and his own family are regenerate and baptized.)
MacArthur makes the point several times that the Reformation is not complete, because the paedo-baptist position relies too heavily on tradition, instead of scripture. He criticizes with this statement not only Luther, but also a whole swath of Calvinist Reformed, who hold some kind of middle position, which I don't personally quite understand, not having it had clearly presented to me.
MacArthur rejects infant baptism as un-scriptural. He goes so far as to quote Schleiermacher and German scholars. We should see a big red flag, here. Schleiermacher and recent German scholars have been the fathers of modern liberalism who do not take the scriptural witness as seriously as the Reformation did. These "scholars" are said to have been pointing out that there is no proof until the third century that the church is baptizing infants. (How important is this to us?)
He then promotes the principle, which he calls "Calvinist" that "if scripture does not command it, it is forbidden". He means to have this apply to infant baptism. I have not heard this principle mentioned in this way or context, before. If this is a Calvinist saying, I can see how it has influenced the Puritans. If there are no organs in the Bible, we should have no organs in church. If they did not celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25th in church, in the Bible, we should not have Christmas.. etc. It seems a very restricting principle and very unfortunate. (Maybe this is why some won't have buttons on their shirts and trousers, because they did not have buttons in the Bible.) (This is pretty sad, stuff. Around here, in Alberta, we have a lot of Hutterites living in colonies. They struggle with in-breeding as result of their strange, un-modern ways of living. My daughter dated a very good-looking young, strong, blond man for some time who was regularly approached by Hutterites for sperm-donations. [Sperm donations are ok, though not mentioned in the Bible? I suppose Abraham tried to engage in egg donation for his fertility needs.] I meet the Hutterites mostly at Walmart in their old-fashioned garb, speaking some kind of German dialect.-- One wonders that they are permitted to shop at Walmart, in the first place. Everything you can buy at Walmart, must really be forbidden, except for pomegranates, dates, wine, lamb and grains, maybe. They are descendants of the original Anabaptists.) We can see that this restrictive principle does not serve, at all. It should be discarded, right now. If the Bible does not explicitly mention something, it does not automatically mean that is is disallowed. It seems so mindless. We have never been told not to use our minds.
MacArthur then makes some swipes at the Roman Catholics and their high view of tradition and history and their rights to interpret. He even quotes Luther, of all people, out of context, against himself, in a way that does not fit or is reasonable in this general discussion of baptism. MacArthur seems to be grasping at straws, drawing on Luther where he sees fit and discarding him when it suits, never minding the internal consistencies.
But seriously, MacArthur just keeps going from bad to worse. He now enumerates all the family baptism mentioned in the Bible and dismantles them based on the fact that none of them specifically mention that there were infants involved in the entire-household baptisms. Then he engages in a circular reasoning that says that "household" means "believing household" to start with and since children can't believe, they are not part of the "household". It looks like he is making everything fit into his own scheme. He similarly just dismisses the "and your children" in Peter's Pentecost sermon. It just means that the same "conditions" apply to the children. -- If this is scriptural exegesis, it makes me shudder. If this is the "gospel", it makes one wonder what is the "good news."
He then looks at 1. Cor. 7, where the question is examined as to what to do if a believer is married to an unbeliever. It says there that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by association and not to put him or her away based on the difference. What MacArthur hears said there is that the unbelieving spouse benefits from a holier and more rarefied environment and that's about it, nothing else is meant.
Then he goes on to look at circumcision. He labors to show that circumcision is not a sign of personal faith, but a sing for the need of cleansing. It is to show how deep our iniquity and depravity is. By the depravity of our children we see what iniquity we produce. And, also, since girls were not included in circumcision, this can all not be a matter of faith, but simply of ethnic identity.
Has MacArthur not read what the entire Bible says about circumcision and Abraham's faith? What did Paul so clearly and specifically say to link Abraham's faith to his righteousness and the promises he had from God, in which he trusted. I am afraid, that I must say that MacArthur is indeed depraved, and we need not look to his children and grand-children to see the problem.
In the end, he wraps this whole thing up by blaming Luther for giving in to the state church and abandoning his initially lofty ideas. The so-called Reformation took a bad turn and people like MacArthur are needed to finish it properly.
--This is just simply beyond the pale. Luther never once wavered on his high regard of baptism and, specifically, infant baptism in believing families. Infant baptism was never an issue until the Radicals came along. Infant baptism in the Christian communities does no disservice to the gospel message. Instead it is a way in which the gospel is passed on.
OK!!! Let's move on the R.C. Sproul's talk and rebuttal. Sproul is not a Lutheran, but I will not concern myself with quibbles I might have with him upon closer examination. We will just mostly deal with what he said in rebuttal, at this point.
Sproul mentions, right of the bat, that MacArthur insists on having the argument based on nothing but scripture, and that is fine. However, we should note, that scripture does not explicitly command or prohibit infant baptism. From this silence we must draw the right inferences. This is really where it is at. -- We are all deeply desiring to be scriptural.
Excellent point right of the bat. As he said, we don't go far by showing a great grasp of the "obvious." (Yes.)
Then, he says, because we are talking about inferences, it behooves us to be humble and charitable in this discussion. (Yes.)
These preliminaries out of the way, Sproul begins by looking at circumcision. With circumcision we have some "continuity" and some "discontinuity" in connection with baptism. With circumcision we have a sign of the covenant, which is a promise of redemption. Abraham believed and rejoiced. To view circumcision as an ethnic difference only is what invited the "scathing critique of the prophets and St. Paul." Circumcision cannot have meant "less than faith". Sproul continues by mentioning Moses. Moses had delayed the circumcision of an infant and was called on the carpet for this. The sign of redemption is commanded to be given. Infants in the visible community of faith, the Old Testament church, were commanded to be included in the invisible household of faith. (We seem to be talking about Exodus 4:24-26. My study Bible says: "The story implies that Moses should have circumcised his son before leaving for Egypt." Good connection, it seems. When Moses went back to his people, his son ought to have been circumcised. It was a big deal with the Lord seeking to kill him.)
Sproul now seeks to make an important point: He says that MacArthur is 1000% wrong to say that others do not believe in believer's baptism. In all cases of adult baptisms, confessions of faith are required and heard first. And he emphasizes that it does no good to argue over what we all agree upon. So we should again look at the instances of baptisms in the Bible.
With these examples, we find that none of the adult baptisms are baptisms of children of believers. All the adult baptisms are of first generation believers. There simply is no example in the Bible of a so-called "believer's baptism" of a child of Christian parents. THERE IS NO SUCH OCCURRENCE.
In addition, says Sproul, the New Testament is in all ways a better covenant than the Old. Therefore, the New Testament covenant will be more inclusive rather than less inclusive, than the Old. It makes no sense then, to make inclusion into the covenant community harder than it was previously.
The burden of proof is on the side of MacArthur's position, he says. There is a silence in scripture on the state of infants, but it is a screaming silence. The church simply assumed the position of infant baptism in believing families. It was doing what is was always doing, which was including the children of believers in the the family of the church. It was the natural and default and yes, historic, practice, in continuity with the OT church and the baptizing of entire households.
In this connection, Sproul finds 1. Cor. 7: 14,15 meaningful, demonstrating a special relevance to this discussion. Let's look up the passage: "For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." (My study Bible explains: "One is often led to faith through the example and testimony of a faithful spouse; therefore, they are made holy in Christ. Children may be nurtured in faith by the believing parent. An unequal marriage does not automatically corrupt them. Rather, through receiving the Word, they are made saints clothed in Christ's holiness.")
Sproul comments on this in the following manner: even where a couple is unequally yoked in marriage, the child is the benefactor of the believing parent's faith. Explicitly stated here we have that the offspring of at least one believing parent is included in the covenant community. (!)
He says that we have here a dramatic object lesson of the spoken promise. The child has the promise spoken to it and receives the "sign" of the covenant.
(As a Lutheran I don't like so much the word "sign", but I can see how it serves in some ways.)
Sproul says, as a parent you can then say to your child that "if you trust in this promise, you will be saved."
(As a Lutheran, I find in the way that Sproul turns this phrase, an uncertainty and an "if" that makes the promise questionable and contingent on the sufficiency of my trust, in a way taking with one hand what the other hand gave. -- Of course, trust is what is needed. -- Of course, trust, is what has us moving forward in faith, hope and joy. -- Of course, trust is where the rubber hits the road. But this trust must be about what God accomplishes and also what he gives in baptism. This trust is outward looking not inward looking.)
To conclude, Sproul says that he has articulated a different position from MacArthur's and that we should take care not follow our Christian "subculturist" view, submitting to it blindly.
I think he made his point. I find MacArthur's talk wrong and distasteful, poorly informed and misleading, on all counts.
You may also like this skit from Lutheran Satire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwxHzo0QVYY
10 minutes ago