Monday, September 16, 2013

The Reformed and Baptism / R.C. Sproul/ John MacArthur

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:


Steve Martin said...

I have to say this; I have never heard the gospel come out of J. MacArthur's mouth when he did not destroy it in his next breath.

He is an assurance demolisher.

Thanks, Gitte.

Love you, friend!

Brigitte said...

Thanks Steve. I am not so familiar with MacArthur, but I have heard plenty of presentations that leave a person in a state of limbo, not sure if one is "saved" or not, whether a person is a Christian or not.

Before I read any Luther, for myself, I never could say that I was a Christian because it seemed such a lofty and unattainable thing.

Pastor Steve Flippin said...

My only aim in this response comes from a heart filled with the love of Christ. So do please read this is that light. (I’ll have to break this into multiple posts to fit on your blog). Sadly, the overwhelming majority of churches in our culture don't teach the Gospel, so it never surprises me when people who are church goers don't recognize the Gospel when they hear it.

I know this was originally about baptism, but as I read, I became concerned, like Paul and the issue of salvation in the Gospel plus circumcision in the book of Galatians, that we probably have a deeper issue here, and because I am concerned about you from what I am reading and what that means of your understanding of the Gospel and our salvation, I think it better to address this. I think Paul would address what you have said thus far with these words: “Who has bewitched you?” (Gal. 3:1)
Before I read the Bible for myself, I though much the same way, that what I did would gain God’s favor, because I wasn’t so bad. If I just did the right things, like being baptized, I would be good. Then I was sold on the “just ask Jesus into your heart” Christianity, which of course is nowhere in scripture, but I was assured, that if I asked him in, He would come and I would be saved. To trust in my heart that he came in. (unfortunately the heart is deceitfully wicked and lies to us, so how would I really know.)

Here is what I would have to advise. Give the book of 1 John a read, but don't be surprised when you find “assurance demolishing” in it. Oh yes, to those with genuine faith it does build up, but to those without real saving faith it absolutely demolishes false assurance because God actually does want false converts to know where they stand with Him so they can repent, believe, and be saved.

BTW, the Apostle John is a little higher authority than Luther. Here are a few highlights from the book (I know these don’t sit well with easy believism, but they are right from the word God): (See next post)

Pastor Steve Flippin said...

Post 2: First, the purpose of John writing this book in the first place, is stated in chapter 5 verse 13. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

So… let’s read what he wrote inspired by the Spirit of God, to see what we can learn about how to know we have life. Here is what we find.

1:7 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth

2:4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him

2:5-6 By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

2:9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.

2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

3:4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (You can compare this with Matthew 7:23 to see what God think of the lawless man)

3:6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

3:8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil

3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

3:10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

4:5-6 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

4:17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

Pastor Steve Flippin said...

Post 3: Paul tells us the same thing in 2 Cor. 13:5 when he says “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” Peter tells us the same thing in 2 Peter 1:10 “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Jesus also tells us exactly the same thing when he said “you will know them by their fruit” and “every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away.”

Please don’t rely on your baptism, which clearly you are. It will not save you. Turn to Christ, only Christ. Trust nothing but His finished work on the cross and resurrection from the grave. If you or any truly believe, the evidence of their life will confirm that belief. Obviously fruit takes time to grow, but it will always appear (not my words but our Lords). If there is no evidence after a period of “walking with the Lord”, be sure of this, they are walking alone.

My concern deepens when I see that your highest authority seems to be Luther and the writing of the Lutheran church. Stop quoting him and go to the Word. (your critique of the debate contains no scripture). It seems to me that Luther has become your God. Repent and turn to the one true God. Run to His word as the authority in your life.

Regarding baptism, let me use an analogy. Let’s consider the wedding ring. I wear my wedding ring as a symbol of the covenant of marriage I entered when I wed my wife. My ring is very important to me because it speaks of her value and my commitment to her from a heart of love. Now granted, a single man could wear a wedding ring, he could even speak of the wedding itself, it could even be important to him, but alas, he has no wife. Which is really important, the ring or the wife? In fact, the ring is absolutely meaningless unless one has a wife that it points to. Apply that to baptism. I think there are a lot of non-Christians wearing the symbol of marriage to Christ, though they’ve never even met Him.

In Christ,
Pastor Steve

Brigitte said...

Dear Pastor Flippin, thank you for your reply. I don't have time to write much for a little while, but this much:

I don't understand why you don't deal with the MacArthur vs. Sproul, and the contents of the debate, since you sent me those links. ?

Secondly, it was MacArthur who quoted Luther to bolster his points.

Thirdly, the first instinct is that I have been judged. Judged that my faith in my Lord is not sufficient, that my fruit is not sufficient; that I am not as good as you, and that your faith and your fruit must be good enough, in comparison.

The words of John and Paul are not under debate. You have more than once insinuated that scripture is not the word be stand by. What gives you the right to do this?

As Sproul says, we do not need to state the obvious. If you check the Lutheran satire link you will also have some additional scripture to meditate upon.

In the meantime, I would find it interesting, if you could say something about MacArthur and Sproul since you brought them up. And also, again, I would find it helpful if you fleshed out for us what baptism exactly is or does.


Pastor Steve Flippin said...


I am terribly sorry that you felt judged, that is of course not what I was doing at all. I don’t know the fruit in your life, so how could I possibly judge you. Having said that, I would say, judging is not a bad thing, and in fact as Christians we should invite the brothers and sisters in the faith to judge our fruit. 1 Cor. 5:11-13 makes clear that we are in fact commanded to judge within the church. If on the other hand you felt convicted, then praise our Lord. (John 16:8-9)This is one way the Spirit sanctifies us.

My concern is not in any way concerning the fruit in your life (again I know nothing of it) but rather for the doctrinal issues you have presented both here and in our private communications, and I do truly write these things from a heart of concern for you, not judgment towards you. The object of our faith is critical, and I sense that the object in what you have presented is slightly off, I hope and pray I am wrong. When I hear someone say that because one is baptized we own this faith, I think to myself, hum, that is not what the Bible says, that is error, that thinking must be corrected with sound doctrine.

If our faith is misplaced, then we are trusting in something which has no power to save. Gal. 1:8-9 makes it clear that any Gospel other than the one preached by the apostolic authority is under the curse of God. You cannot include baptism as a way to be saved, any more than the Jews could include circumcision, without falling under that curse. Here is my concern from what you have written.

Also, you have presented a view where every confession or profession of faith leads to life, where the scripture tells us precisely the opposite. (Matthew 7:21-23 for example). Everyone who says they believe should just own it, rejoice in it, use it. Right? Those were your words. I asked you the question, which you sidestepped “how do you know if you own it?” Because your baptized? Certainly not. Is it by profession? No, can’t be. I’m not aware of stats here in Canada, so I will point to the U.S. where I am from (Canada wouldn’t be much different). In the U.S. 4 out of 5 Americans profess to be Christian (a great many of them baptized BTW) yet it is one of the most ungodly nations to have ever existed on the face of the earth. How can that be? Unless, many that profess are not actually what they say they are.

So, my concern lays in exactly what it is you believe. Theological precision is very important. It is not believing anything that saves. It is not just proclaiming Jesus that saves. It is proclaiming the Jesus of the Bible and believing specifically in Him which gives life.

BTW: The Christian life is a "lofty and unattainable thing" so much so that only Jesus can do it. So one must actually have the Holy Spirit if it is even possible. Not by power, nor by might, but by my Spirit declares the Lord. The Spirit never comes as a result of baptism, rather, the baptism comes as a result of the Spirit's working of regeneration and new birth in a man's life.

Brigitte said...

How about, Pastor Flippin, you just tell me what baptism is for?

What would the Apostle Paul say about baptism? What would John say about baptism? What would Jesus say about baptism? And how do MacArthur, Sproul and or Luther square with what the biblical witness and command is regarding baptism.

We know that is faith in Christ that saves. We know, we know, we know this. Because we have no other hope. Because we are not good. Because we try to love, but fall so short so much. We can only be saved by mercy. We know this and this is why we trust Jesus. And this continues. The baptismal life continues day after day after day, we new repentance and new life and new trying and new pains and joys. But it is mine. This baptismal life of daily dying and rising is mine.

HOW do I know it? I know it by the promise, by the proclamation of the Gospel, that he will not turn away and cast off, and none will be confounded who put their trust in him, and that the glimmering wick he will in no way put out... And because of the additional pledges he has given along and together with his word and promise.