Waters That Still Divide Us
[Two hour-long videos featuring our pastor and former staff member, Rev. Christopher Neiswonger will soon be posted to the internet and our website. The topic of their discussion is baptism. We are certainly aware that Christians, "do it differently," and have Biblical reasons for these differences. But very regularly, when pressed to consider what baptism actually represents, people have changed their minds about previously held beliefs and have adopted positions they once opposed… Here is one example of someone who "switched."]
"[Friend], I wrestled with the doctrine of infant, or covenant baptism for many years. Someday, I would like to write a fuller account of my journey.
The issue settled for me by looking at the balance of probabilities as I weighed the biblical data, pastoral experience, the history of interpretation, and church tradition.
Biblical data is, of course, supreme, but the later two categories challenged my hermeneutics of the biblical data. That’s where we often get in trouble, because we assume that our reading of Scripture is neutral, obvious and unbiased. As you know, the latter two categories help us become aware of this problem.
So for example, when I realized that 90% of my theological heroes were infant baptists, I had to ask why. I trusted them on everything else. I found their writings often to be much richer in theological and pastoral perspective than most of what I saw written today. Perhaps they had a perspective that today's common consensus is lacking?
So, take as an example Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, Tyndale, Owen and Edwards; men respected by people on both sides of the baptism debate (at least those who affirm the doctrines of grace). These are the guys that we look to for the recovery of the gospel during and following the Protestant Reformation. We trust them with the gospel, we trust them with almost any area of theology, why wouldn’t we trust them on baptism? Or at least consider their perspective? So that’s a bit of my line of thinking.
I will say that it’s so much easier to be a baptist today than an infant baptist. Post-enlightenment, western individualism strongly reinforces the baptistic perspective (I know that's a loaded and debatable statement). But all that to say, I was greatly helped by reading the perspectives of some of these old dead guys who recovered the gospel for me.
Point in fact, I like to say that it was John Piper and Mark Dever, two contemporary Baptists that I deeply respect, who were instrumental in me becoming both an infant baptist and a Presbyterian. In my early 20s, Piper introduced me to all these old dead guys through his biographical talks he gave at his pastors conferences. Introducing me to the writings of these guys, Piper helped me to fight, what C.S. Lewis calls, chronological snobbery. And Dever got me thinking hard about the age of baptism issue; as well as robust thinking about ecclesiology (a separate discussion).
Without dismissing the importance of baptism, which is often the case in the evangelical milieu of theological minimalism (another separate discussion), I will say that Baptist or Reformed, I'm so glad to see you laboring hard for the gospel in the heart of the Middle East…"
[The reference here to the "Middle East" is an interesting one at this point. The church of Jesus Christ is called to be ONE; but cultural mindsets, ancient (or modern) practices, and human traditions often develop unintentional wedges between believers. This next entry* speaks about someone coming to Christ from a different context…]
"Mr. Frey, the converted Jew, a name familiar in New York to the last generation. He was delivering a course of lectures in defense of infant baptism, and used this significant and emphatic language.
"Of one thing I am most certain, it is this. 'When my dear brethren of the house of Judah and Israel shall be converted to the Messiah and brought into the church, they never will be Baptists. They never would submit-" mark the nervous language! -"they never would submit to have their infants disfranchised, their membership invaded, and them cast out of the visible church. Their infants, all along, from father Abraham's days, have been members, and shared the seal of the covenant. What! they will exclaim, is the Messiah's church and glorious dispensation inferior to our old Mosaic church? What! are we then to lose so much as to have our infants deprived of the seal? No, my brethren according to the flesh, when they shall be all brought home, never will, never can be Baptists."
[The language here is emphatic, in fact, polemic! It begs the questions, "Who is the most Biblical in their practice?" "Who is the one adopting a non-Biblical tradition?" While there is GREAT AGREEMENT among historic Baptists and Presbyterians, it is lost on no one that we split into two camps over the matter of including children into the visible church by means of the New Covenant Sign (and sacrament.) One camp demands that the parents of the baptized be Christian and church members. The other camp demands that the baptized express some level of mature understanding of their spiritual state before God. Presbyterians regard this as a declaration of God's faithfulness upon the one baptized. Baptists regard this as a declaration of the one baptized to be faithful to God. There are differences. And although we both affirm that together we are ONE CHURCH under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we must admit that a few of our pillars rest on different foundations for our churches. The next entry considers some of the practical applications of Christian parenting…]
"But if my children are not baptized, if they do not belong to the visible church, if they do not bear the name Christian, then I do not know what grounds I have for praying with them to our Father in heaven. Can they even sing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know”? I also do not know on what grounds I can tell them they please God when they are obedient to his commands. I also do not know on what grounds I can assure them of forgiveness if they are pagans who are without hope and without God until they are (later) brought into the covenant community by baptism. It must be a strange world for a child to live in when they are told, on the one hand, their sins are forgiven when they repent, but, on the other hand, told they cannot yet be baptized because they are not old enough. - Mark Jones "
[So we must be aware that these types of conversations are ongoing. Over my many years of being a "youth pastor," I can assure you that students and children care about the topic of baptism because they constantly ask about it whenever "ask the pastor anything" formats are presented. They want to know why the church doesn't agree on this topic. They want to know if they are supposed to "feel anything" when they become a Christian. They want to know why friends they have seen baptized are no longer walking with the Lord. They want to know if they should be baptized again (and maybe for a third, fourth, or fifth time.)
If you would like to follow conversations such as I have posted here in quotes, see: "I Believe in the Biblical Doctrine of Infant/Covenant Baptism" on Facebook. Also, get ready to spend a few hours on your computer when our two videos are released, soon! - km]
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