Monday 27 January 2014

Fallacy Number 2: Believers must be rebaptised, if necessary

Rebaptism is presented as a dogmatic belief, often undergirding a baptist doctrine of the church. It is founded upon two premises. First, baptism is to be administered only to believers upon profession of their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, and secondly it must be applied by immersion in water. Hopefully, the second premise has already been dealt with. However, this now leaves the first assumption to be considered.

Let me paint a potential a scenario for us to contemplate. A woman called Miriam was baptised as an infant in the Anglican Church, where the Triune name of God was given to her at that time. As a young lady, she is converted in her late teens and the church she then attends, while studying at university, exhort her to be baptised again as an expression of her new-found faith. She is persuaded and she testifies before the church of her “coming to Christ” and the minister baptises her by pouring water upon her head. Everything goes well, she graduates and then moves to a new city. There she joins a lively evangelical church. She applies for church membership, but she is politely advised that she cannot be received into membership unless she is baptised by immersion. What should she do? What is the biblical basis for her second and third baptisms? Was her first baptism irrelevant?

One Bible text that is regularly heard as a “rallying cry” when an adult makes a clear profession of faith is Mark 16:15–16: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel ... whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Some people understand that an individual’s profession of faith must always precede baptism, therefore any baptism that reverses this order renders any previous baptism as baseless. For some, this appears to be an “open and shut case”. But is it? The basis for salvation is clearly not baptism, but faith in Jesus Christ, his shed blood (Rom. 3:22–25) and the confession of Jesus’ Lordship and resurrection (Rom. 10:9).

The issue again revolves around the inclusion of the seed of believers, or not, into the visible church through baptism. Some well-intentioned Christians accuse well-instructed paedobaptists of baptising non-Christians because of their inclusion of the offspring of baptised believers into the visible church. Again, we can turn the tables around in this circular argument and question the number of baptisms that have been performed upon supposed converts by baptists, when later it became known that some of these individuals turned out to be false professors. How many non-Christians have baptists baptised? Indeed, saving efficacy is upon faith in Christ Jesus not baptism. Simon, who practised magic in Samaria is proof-positive that baptism was not infallibly applied by the early church (Acts 8:9–24).

From my vantage point, it would seem that a baptist line of argument leads to a highly individual event, where the person’s faith is seen to be the primary factor requisite for baptism. The practice of rebaptism declares that this is a sacrament bereft of efficacy. It is merely a memorial to seal what has already happened. This gives the impression that it is a time-bound practice, one that only looks back after the event of the new birth, thus acting as a badge to proclaim an individual’s faith and promised obedience. It becomes an ordinance that then places emphasis upon faith over grace; my understanding of church history leads me to be cautious, because this was the fundamental error of Arminianism.

Calvin is perceptive when he commented that Mark 16:15–16 teaches that the Lord Jesus “connects baptism with doctrine”. He expounds further that faith is here placed before baptism: “Since the Gentiles were altogether alienated from God, and had nothing in common with the chosen people; for otherwise it would have been a false figure, which offered forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit to unbelievers, who were not yet members of Christ.” The right administration of paedobaptism is that the faith of the father and or the mother is to be professed at the baptism of the child, along with their commitment to the fulfilment of covenant responsibilities by the parent. Faith is present at baptism by the witnessing congregation also.

There are four loop-holes in the practice of rebaptism. First, the initiation sacrament is never to be twice applied: in the OT it was impossible to do because it was circumcision. The NT does not mention a single instance of Christian rebaptism, nor does it even infer re-enacting baptism once the Triune name has been placed upon someone. In Acts 19:1–7 Paul insists that some disciples are baptised again, but that was because they had only received John’s baptism, which we have established was not Christian baptism.

Secondly, rebaptism fails to understand God’s promises and the power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5–8). Robert Letham explains that “there is an efficacy attached to them [sacraments] that goes far beyond a mere visual aid”. Many professing Christians would fail to “join the dots” and connect God’s faithfulness in Miriam’s later conversion to her previous baptism as an infant. Baptism does not have power to regenerate but Letham further clarifies: “That this happens is due to the gracious work of the Holy Spirit alone. However, it does not occur independently of baptism but rather in and through it ... [God] keeps his appointments.” Christ Jesus, the head of the church, mediates a better covenant with better promises, he is the “the guarantor of a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22; 8:6). Therefore we should expect, in faith, for God’s efficacious grace to be tied to the new covenant sacraments that he personally instituted before his ascension, including baptism.

A third loop-hole of rebaptism, often unknowingly, is a subliminal denial of God’s faithfulness and therefore it potentially misrepresents this NT ordinance. The theological term to explain God’s grace in baptism is prolepsis; meaning something that is represented as existing before it does so. I would not want to hurtfully undermine the practice of child dedication but it was probably introduced to replace the covenant baptism of children with a “dry baptism” not taught in Scripture. Why should the church exchange God’s institution for the baptism of children with a dedication that does not convey or teach Christ’s authority, purpose or promised grace? The WCF is correct to affirm that: “The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will in His appointed time” (28:6).

Fourthly, rebaptism fails to properly display the attribute that God is eternal (Deut. 33:27; Rom. 16:26) . There can be much joy associated with the baptism of adults and infants, and as we return to our daily lives following a service including baptism, we often forget what happened or our memory of the sacrament grows dim. This is not the case with the “eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) and his remembrance of baptism. Ultimately the covenant signs are for the Triune God, as we learn from God’s covenant with Noah. The Lord instructed him that when the bow is in the clouds “I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:8, 11, 14–17).

The Westminster Larger Catechism magnifies the eternity of the Triune God because it affirms that baptism is a “sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life” (Q. 165). Resurrection of the body is future for all and this teaches everyone that some blessings are to follow baptism: for infants we look forward in faith to regeneration, but all baptised Christians look forward to the sealed promises represented in this sacrament, ones that are only realised fully in heaven.

What should Miriam have done? Having read this, how would you now counsel her? When she was converted in her teens she could have gracefully responded to the elders that her first baptism at infancy was valid, and that rebaptism is unnecessary, indeed unbiblical. Miriam could use such an opportunity to testify to the faithfulness of the Triune God to her, to point to the grace of God which has now been revealed to her as a needy sinner and to remind people that “God keeps his appointments”.


Brett Hoskins said...

"The right administration of paedobaptism is that the faith of the father and or the mother is to be professed at the baptism of the child, along with their commitment to the fulfilment of covenant responsibilities by the parent. Faith is present at baptism by the witnessing congregation also."

I cannot help but point out that this is not new covenant baptism, it's not even OT circumcision which says nothing about the faith of the one present at the cutting of the foreskin (Gen. 17). OT circumcision was a command to be obeyed regardless of faith, was it not?. The NC command is clearly, "believe!", not to the patents, but to the actual candidate for baptism. Is this not true?

The aforementioned quotation from your blog is not Sola scriptoria, nor is it in accordance with the regulative principle, nor does it make any sense. There is faith, just not the faith of the one receiving the sign? Do all the theological gymnastics you want, there cannot be a "right administration of paedobaptism" no matter who you slice it. It is foreign to the entire Word of God and thus should be foreign to our worship.

Kevin Bidwell said...

Firstly, let me commend you for your passion which is in many ways refreshing. It can be disappointing sometimes when you encounter people who are indifferent and this attitude then leaves little room for discussion. However, I need to point out a range of aspects where you are simply "missing the point" regarding a covenantal doctrine of baptism.

The position I am espousing is a "covenantal view of baptism" whereas you are contending for a believers only baptism. What is clear is that we hold two different views on baptism and also two different approaches to hermeneutics, in other words, how to interpret scripture.

You primarily assert in your comments to contend against the baptism of children of believing parents and you consider this to be a violation of a regulative principle of worship. Well of course, I plain disagree. You contend that new covenant baptism is only for adult believers only and that any such position contrary to your assertion is foreign to the entire word of God.

Have you considered that from Abraham onwards in Genesis 17 that children were to be given the covenant sign of circumcision? Therefore to assert that the inclusion of children in God's covenant dealings and the application of the covenant sign to them, even without them holding personal faith is alien to the whole word of God is incorrect. It is therefore proved to be false what you assert. In addition, the promise in Acts 2:38-29 is consistent with God's covenant dealings and Paul's household baptism's were not just for adults only.

In one of my blog posts, I explain that Tony Lane has demonstrated that for the first five centuries of the Christian church that infants were baptised without such arguments as you raise. Were all the church fathers wrong and you right? No of course not.

Let me ask you a few questions so that you can further clarify your own position.

1. What is the OT shadow for your version of baptism? Clearly the Passover is the shadow of the Lord's Supper and circumcision for baptism but you reject the latter, so what is your OT precursor of baptism?
2. You have not covered the mode of baptism in your comments. Can you identify which is your preferred mode of baptism and why by giving biblical reasons?
3. How do you tie together the covenant framework of the OT with your understanding of the new covenant? Is there any continuity at all?

It is not wrong to disagree, if we do it right. I wholeheartedly disagree with your arguments, I reject a believers only baptism and I hold a different view of the church to yourself. The WCF 25:2 summarises this in a concise way: "The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation".

Our view of the church includes believer's children and we thank God for such rich covenant promises for our children. Ours is not an individualistic faith, but one that includes the seed of believers while upholding the doctrine of God's gracious election knowing that salvation is of the Lord.