CHRIST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
A Congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City
An Open Letter Concerning Our Position on Baptism
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul tells Timothy to fight the good fight. Though we seek to live at peace with all men, for over six years in Salt Lake City, we have also fought those who would challenge the person and work of Jesus Christ. We have fought those who have tried to water down the cost of discipleship and those who would try to add human merit to what Christ has done in saving us. On every front, we have tried to faithfully fight those who would attack Christ's church, yet a battle has been forced upon us that we did not seek. It is one that is difficult and one we would not have chosen, but one that has to be answered.
This answer is not meant as an attack on brothers who respectfully differ from us in these matters. Nor is it meant as an attack on any individual. Much has been said, but I do not know who has said what. It is meant to answer those who have troubled the church and to encourage our members to a better understanding of God's Word. Our hope has always been and continues to be the peace, purity, and progress of Christ's church. In God's grace we hope this will clarify some of the issues within the church and perhaps even silence some of our critics.
Some have used our commitment to infant baptism to question our commitment to the gospel of grace. We have been accused of believing that baptism saves our children, of confusing the doctrines of men with the commandments of God, and of wanting to come back under the Law. None of these is true.Infant baptism seems strange to many American Evangelicals, but so do many other biblical beliefs. The sovereignty of God in salvation is novel to many modern Evangelicals, but the altar call is presumed to date back to the apostles.(i) The psalms that were the main hymnbook of the church until roughly 1800 are considered weird, but Shine, Jesus, Shine is considered normal. As strange as it may seem, infant baptism is the historic and scriptural practice of the Christian church.
This letter is meant to summarize the biblical position and anticipate objections. I am afraid that to adequately deal with all the issues would quickly exhaust your patience. If you have further questions, I have more extensive materials available, and I welcome any opportunity to discuss these matters further.We are called to love one another and to love the truth. With the trouble this issue has caused, I implore you to carefully consider what is presented in these pages.
Baptists differ a great deal among themselves, so there are many exceptions, but the respective positions break down basically as follows:
Baptist: Infant baptism is a Roman Catholic corruption.
Presbyterian: Infant baptism dates to the earliest days of the church and was basically unchallenged until the sixteen century.
Baptist: Baptism began with John the Baptist and has no Old Testament precedents.
Presbyterian: Baptism is an Old Testament practice given new meaning in the New Testament.
Baptist: There is only one real covenant that includes only Christ and true believers.
Presbyterian: The Bible shows there is a spiritual, heavenly covenant, but also earthly covenants that point to Jesus and include believers and unbelievers.
Baptist: God has no grandchildren.
Presbyterian: God blesses entire households in the Old and New Testaments. Though birth into a Christian home in no way guarantees salvation, most believers come from Christian parents.
Baptist: Only those who can repent can be baptized.
Presbyterian: Baptism is for believers and their children.
Baptist: Valid baptism is only by immersion. Those baptized by Presbyterians must be rebaptized.
Presbyterian: The most biblical mode of baptism is pouring or sprinkling, but we accept those baptized by immersion.
It is noteworthy that about the year 254, a church council was held in North Africa. The question put before the council was whether baptism should be delayed until the eighth day, as in circumcision. The council of 66 pastors unanimously said it should not be delayed. No one questioned whether infants should be baptized, but only if it should be delayed until the eighth day. Please note, this was not very far removed from the days of the apostles. It was roughly 60 years prior to the conversion of Constantine and immediately after the Decian persecution, one of the worst the early church suffered. Even at this point, it was a death sentence to be a Christian. Earlier church records are scarce, but it is clear from this and numerous contemporary writings that from the middle of the third century, infant baptism was the norm. It was clearly affirmed by Hippolytus around 215, and Origen around 244. Considering that Origen was born in 180 to Christian parents and seems to accept infant baptism as an established practice, it appears that he was also baptized as an infant. Are we to believe that men who were so close in time to the apostles were so unanimously deceived without strong voices of opposition being raised? Are we to believe that they all compromised on this yet risked their lives daily to profess Christ?
The only critic of infant baptism in the early church was Tertullian. He is thus a hero to many Baptists, but most never bother to read what he actually wrote on the subject. He wrote around 205,
According to circumstance and disposition and even age of the individual person, it may be better to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children. Why, indeed, is it necessary -- if it be not a case of necessity -- that the sponsors to be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition? Indeed the Lord says, 'Do not forbid them to come to me' [Matt 19:14; Luke 18:16]."Let them come, then, while they grow up, while they learn, while they are taught to whom to come; let them become Christians when they will have been able to know Christ! Why does the innocent age hasten to the remission of sins? ...For no less cause should the unmarried also be deferred, in whom there is an aptness to temptation -- in virgins on account of their ripeness as also in the widowed on account of their freedom -- until they are married or are better strengthened for continence. Anyone who understands the seriousness of Baptism will fear its reception more than its deferral. Sound faith is secure of its salvation!
Tertullian advocates that even the unmarried should defer baptism and that baptism should be feared. He argues that those sponsoring the child may not be able to fulfill their vows. He does not argue against infant baptism as a new innovation, but an existing practice which it "may be better" to defer. It is also generally ignored by Baptists that Tertullian said elsewhere that baptism was to be done by sprinkling.
Tertullian should not be considered a strong witness for any position. He was part of a group called the Montanists. Like modern Charismatics, they believed a man named Montanus and his two female associates had restored prophecy and apostolic gifts. They were also looking for the immediate return of Christ and advocated a strict asceticism, which included prohibiting all remarriage as adultery.
Though Tertullian was the only one who directly challenged infant baptism, there were those by the fourth century who began to think that baptism washed away sins up to that point. People were starting to view baptism in a more "magical" light. These people thought sins after baptism were more serious, thus baptism should be delayed. It was for this reason that Constantine delayed his baptism until his deathbed and that Monica delayed the baptism of Augustine. Despite such thinking, around 400, Augustine himself could say that he knew of no one, not even the heretics, who denied infant baptism. He said, "This doctrine is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained." Though there were unbiblical arguments in the early church for delaying baptism, no one supported the modern Baptist arguments in denying infant baptism.
The Protestant Reformers did not risk their lives for a half-hearted reformation. They held all traditions to the light of God's Word. Luther did not go as far as Calvin, Knox, and the rest of the Reformed in other areas, but all agreed that the Bible supported the historic practice of infant baptism.
There were some contemporaries of the Reformers who were not content to reform the church; they wanted to reinvent it. They argued that Roman Catholic baptism was no baptism at all, then went on to deny infant baptism, as well. It was these Anabaptists who in large part invented the modern Baptist theology. They are often romanticized as "the real Christians," and supposedly very unlike their Reformed counterparts. History presents a picture not quite so flattering. Some were otherworldly pacifists, but some of the Anabaptists took up arms to press their theology and executed anyone who refused to submit to rebaptism. Some also experimented with polygamy and other innovations.
Though some try to reinterpret the testimony of church history, we believe it is very clear that infant baptism has been the practice through the centuries. We believe ourselves to be in good company with Chrysostom, Augustine, Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Tyndale, Calvin, Edwards, Whitefield, and many, many others. Yet, like the Reformers we hold to the doctrine of sola scriptura - - Scripture alone is our infallible rule of faith and practice.
Infant Baptism in the Scriptures
The typical Baptist reaction to infant baptism is to demand a prooftext. Without an explicit command, "Thou shalt baptize thy children," they won't believe. This sounds like a reasonable position until we realize they cannot live up to their own standard. They require no such prooftexts for things they routinely practice, such as worship on Sunday or admitting women to the Lord's Supper. We practice all three because we believe all three are biblical.
Old Testament Roots
Though there is no explicit command to include women, the Lord's Supper is not a completely new concept to the New Testament. It is the Passover meal, given new significance. Since women were included in the Passover meal, we should expect them to be included in the Lord's Supper unless explicitly excluded.(ii) Their inclusion is also made clear in the New Testament, though an explicit command is lacking. The same applies to baptism.
One of the fundamental assumptions of most Baptists was stated in the nineteenth century by Augustus Strong. He argued that John's baptism was "immediately from heaven" and that "it had no Old Testament background." Therefore, Baptists conclude the Old Testament has nothing to say on the matter. Yet we read in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4:
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.
Though the language is somewhat symbolic, we are told Israel was baptized into Moses well over a thousand years before John the Baptist. As demonstrated in the rest of the chapter, the Corinthians are being told that they should learn from the example of Israel. They should not presume that they are immune to temptation because they have the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Even Israel had been baptized and had "spiritual food" and "spiritual drink." They ate the bread from heaven and drank from the rock, which was Christ.
Israel was baptized into Moses, thus baptism is not new with John the Baptist; it had parallels in the Old Testament. In fact, in Hebrews 6:1-3 we read:
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary [principles] of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
The Greek word that is translated "baptisms" is the Greek word baptismos. Many Baptists relegate this word to meaning only ceremonial washing (cf. Mark 7:4,8). They believe it has nothing to do with Christian baptism, because the Mark references seem to clearly disqualify immersion. Hands and cooking vessels could be immersed, but few would claim the Jews were ceremonially immersing tables in Mark 7:4 (or couches as it appears in some versions). There's also the problem that the Talmud clearly describes this Jewish ceremonial washing of hands, utensils, and tables by pouring and sprinkling.
The problem in dismissing baptismos as not referring to Christian baptism is that here in Hebrews 6, baptismos is listed as one of the "elementary principles of Christ." Looking through the rest of the list of principles, it is clearly New Testament baptism and not merely some Old Testament or Jewish rite.So why does it matter that the writer to the Hebrews uses this term for Christian baptism? It proves important when we find the same writer using the same word, baptismos, in Hebrews 9:6-10:
Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing [the services.] But into the second part the high priest [went] alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and [for] the people's sins [committed] in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It [was] symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience -- [concerned] only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
The word translated in v.10 as "washings" in the King James Version is the same baptismos used in Hebrews 6 for an "elementary principle of Christ." Baptism did not originate with John the Baptist; it had Old Testament precedence. The question then becomes "What kinds of 'baptisms' were connected with the Old Testament?"
The writer to the Hebrews doesn't leave us to guess. In vv. 12-14 of the same chapter, reference is made to Numbers 19:1-13
Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
To see that this baptism was by sprinkling and included all the people, let us look at the original reference in Numbers 19:1-13:
Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, "This [is] the ordinance of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying: 'Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there [is] no defect [and] on which a yoke has never come. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned . . . Then a man [who is] clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store [them] outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it [is] for purifying from sin . . . It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them. He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; [then] he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness [is] still on him.
So the writer to the Hebrews uses the same word baptismos for what we see in this Old Testament sprinkling of all the people and for Christian baptism. He goes on in vv. 19-21 of the same chapter, to reference another of these Old Testament "baptisms" (cf. Exodus 24:1-8):
For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "This [is] the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you." Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry.
Baptism was a clear Old Testament command, and one expanded on by the Jews in their traditions. We've already addressed the washing of hands, vessels and furniture in Mark 7, but some Jews applied it to converts as well. In addition to circumcision, they would require Gentile converts to be baptized. Not only the head of the household was baptized, but the whole household, including the women and children.
From this we can understand why in the first chapter of John's Gospel, the Jews did not ask John the Baptist what he was doing. We know how they attacked what they saw as the novelties of John's and Jesus' ministries, but nothing was said challenging their baptisms. They already understood the principle of baptism, but wanted to know by what authority John was baptizing Jews. From Ezekiel 36:22-27, we see that the Jews were expecting someone to come baptizing in connection with the coming of the Messiah:
Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "I do not do [this] for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I [am] the LORD," says the Lord GOD, "when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do [them.]
Similarly in Isaiah 52:14-15, we are told,
So His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; so shall He sprinkle many nations.
So from 1 Corinthians 10, Hebrews 9, Ezekiel 36, and Isaiah 52, we see that, contrary to Baptist claims, baptism was not initiated at the time of John the Baptist. There are also other Old Testament baptisms not specifically alluded to in the New Testament, such as the sprinkling of lepers and pronouncing them clean in Leviticus 14.
Like the Lord's Supper, baptism is an Old Testament ordinance that has been given additional meaning in the New. Since it was a practice that had precedent, we should expect continuity unless explicitly discontinued.
Baptism in the Old and New Testaments
The Southern Baptist Faith and Message states that baptism is "an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus." This is based on baptism's supposed novelty with John the Baptist and thus mentions nothing about cleansing. If Baptists are aware of these Old Testament baptisms, they generally believe that were for ceremonial washing, but New Testament baptisms are supposed to be very different. But how does the New Testament describe its baptisms? In Acts 22:16, Paul is quoted as saying, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." The image of washing is repeated in 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 5:26, and Hebrews 10:22.
Some Baptists might also object that we are "buried with Jesus in baptism," which is very different from ceremonial washing. I will deal with the mode later, but in the Old Testament, remember that Israel was baptized into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). We are likewise baptized into Christ and made partakers of His death and resurrection. Galatians 3:27 says, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." This idea of being baptized into someone is made clearer when we see Paul saying he did not baptize in his own name (1 Corinthians 1:13).
Both Old Testament and New Testament baptisms represent spiritual cleansing. The Jews had expanded on this ceremonial washing with their traditions to where it was a part of everyday life. Are we to believe that John the Baptist introduced baptism as a radically new thing, yet in a form so close to that of the Old Testament, without any clarification?
As interesting as this may be to some of you, a question is probably occurring to many, "What does this all have to do with New Testament baptism, since you must repent and be baptized?" The argument goes that, "since infants are considered incapable of repenting, then they must be unfit for baptism."In the Old Testament, all the people who were in covenant with God were baptized, including the children. To understand the implications for the New Testament we have to deal with the larger issues, "What is a covenant, and are our children in covenant with God?"
The covenant is the image God uses in both Old and New Testaments to describe His relationship with His people. Synonymous terms in English include contract and treaty. Most Baptists are Dispensationalists who see the Old Testament covenants as alternative means of salvation(iii) or as merely connected to land, seed, and blessings. We know the first is untrue because Abraham was saved in the same way we are: by grace, through faith (Galatians 3:1-9), in Christ (John 8:56). The second is untrue, because the covenant sign of circumcision is described in Romans 4:11 as "a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [he had while still] uncircumcised." It was not just a national sign, but a seal of the righteousness he had by faith. It was applied to him and to all the members of his household.
It is unimaginable to some that God would covenant with unbelievers. They think they must at most be nominally in the covenant. They see only one real covenant by which believers are in Christ. What we find in God's Word is not so simple. Instead, we find that there is a heavenly, spiritual covenant, involving only Christ and believers, but there have also been earthly covenants, involving both believers and unbelievers. These earthly covenants bring blessings and curses (e.g., Deuteronomy 29, Joshua 8:34).
The first covenant between God and man was the covenant of works in the Garden of Eden. It is best described in Romans 5. Through breaking the covenant, Adam brought the curses upon himself and his entire household. Being in Adam, all died. Unbelievers are even now in the covenant of works and under its curses. Jesus comes as our new covenant head and brings life. Christ fulfills the covenant of works and earns it blessings. He then takes our curse upon himself that we might receive His blessings. It is only Christ's covenant obedience that has ever saved, yet earthly covenants continued.The first explicit covenant in the Old Testament is in Genesis 9. God had once again dealt with a household in saving Noah and his family from the flood. God even saved Ham who would soon bring a curse on his son, Canaan, through his sin. God then makes a covenant that is not merely with the faithful, but with "every living creature."
In Genesis 15, Abraham believes God and it is accounted to him as righteousness (cf. Galatians 3). In Genesis 17, God gives him circumcision as the sign of the covenant. As stated above, it was a "seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised." This physical sign pointed to a spiritual reality of circumcision of the heart that Abraham had already received (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4, Romans 2:29). This physical seal of his faith was not applied only to him, but to every male member of his household. He was the one with circumcision of the heart, but he and all the male members of the household received the physical mark. In v. 21, God says He will establish his covenant with Isaac instead of Ishmael, but in v. 23, Abraham circumcised Ishmael and all the male members of his household. Isaac was also told before his sons were born that the elder would serve the younger. God would ultimately say, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," yet He had both circumcised on the eighth day.
Many of the same rationalizations against infant baptism could have been made against infant circumcision. Since it was a symbol of circumcision of the heart, people could presume on the physical. Wouldn't it be better to wait until we knew if they were truly believers before giving them the covenant sign? The answer from God is no; the one who was uncircumcised was to be cut off from his people because he had broken God's covenant (Genesis 17:14). The Lord took the timing of circumcision so seriously that He sought to kill Moses for neglecting the circumcision of his sons (Exodus 4:24-26).
There are other covenants we see throughout the Old Testament. These covenants brought earthly blessings, even at times to unbelievers. The promise of the seed in Genesis has its ultimate fulfillment in Christ (Galatians 3:16), but it was also the basis of God delivering Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 2:24). God remembers his covenant and delivers Israel from Egypt, but they were a faithless generation that would almost entirely die in the wilderness. God blessed Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 17:20), and Jacob blessed Isaac and Esau (Hebrews 11:20).
We live in a time and place where it seems strange for God to be dealing with households, but over and over we see God blessing the households of believers, even when members of the household are unbelievers. Jacob is blessed for Abraham's sake (Genesis 26:24). Laban is blessed for Jacob's sake (Genesis 30:27). Potiphar is blessed because of Joseph (Genesis 39:5). Solomon brings God's wrath by allowing idolatry, and God promises He will take most of the kingdom from Solomon. But for the sake of David his father, God promises He will do it in the days of Solomon's son rather than in his own day (1 Kings 11:12). Abijam was an unfaithful king in Judah, but for David's sake, God set up his son after him and established Jerusalem (1 Kings 15:4).
We also see household curses. God punished not only Adam, but all his household. He curses all of Israel for Achan's sin (Joshua 7) and ends up having Achan's whole household destroyed. God said He would judge Eli's house forever because he had not restrained his sons' evil. Solomon was blessed for David's sake, but his older brother had been killed for David's sin with Bathsheba. The nation was also subjected to a plague in which 70,000 were killed because David numbered the people (2 Samuel 24).
The Old Testament covenants develop over the centuries, and we see in them more and more detail, but the fundamental question is, "Were any of the Old Testament people of God saved through their keeping of any of these covenants?" Obviously not, or Christ need not have died. Circumcision did not save. Sacrifices did not save. Our obedience to the Law did not save. Being in an earthly covenant did not save. As stated above, all believers are saved like Abraham, by grace, through faith, in Christ.
All of these earthly covenants were meant to point to Christ. The covenant with Noah was in the context of God acknowledging man's continued sinfulness. It points to the grace of Christ's work. Circumcision in the flesh pointed to circumcision of the heart that only God could do. Sacrifices and the ceremonial law more fully point to Jesus, as does the Davidic kingship.
It is only being in spiritual covenant with Jesus Christ that saves Abraham and us, yet throughout the Old Testament there is an earthly covenant people, some of whom are believers and some of whom are not. They were not merely in a nominal covenant, but a real one. Because of this, there are continual warnings of breaking God's covenant. Unlike the heavenly covenant that could not be broken, the earthly covenants could and were broken (Genesis 17:14; Leviticus 26:15, 44; Isaiah 24:18; Ezekiel 16:59; 17:18). The classic example is Deuteronomy 30:15-18:
See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong [your] days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess.
We have been challenged as a church because we believe our children are in covenant with God. This is because many assume we mean this to be the spiritual reality, but we mean it in the same sense as all of physical Israel was in covenant with God. These earthly covenants were meant to point to Christ and to the spiritual covenant we have through faith in Him. Not surprisingly, we see the same in the New Testament.
The New Testament Covenant
Most Americans are not used to reading the New Testament in the context of the Old, but God does not abandon the image of the covenant in dealing with New Testament believers. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, prophecies in Luke 1:68-73: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come... to remember His holy covenant, the oath He swore to our father Abraham." The coming of Jesus was not a substitute for the Old Testament covenants, but the fulfillment of them. We are told that we who are of faith, even though we are Gentiles by birth, are the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7, 29) and heirs according to the promise. In Romans 11, we are told that most of the natural branches of the olive tree were broken off for unbelief (cf. Jeremiah 11:16). In other words, Israel according to the flesh was in earthy covenant with God, but most did not believe and were cast off. We are told that we as Gentiles have been grafted in, not to a different olive tree, but to the same one. The church is not a replacement for Israel, but it is an expanded Israel. In the church, Gentiles are now included in the same covenant relationship as Jews (Ephesians 2:11-19).
Though there are discontinuities, there is a great deal of continuity asserted between Israel and the church. The Greek term ekklesia is usually translated as "church" in the New Testament. Most Dispensational Baptists believe it has nothing to do with Israel; however we find something very different when we examine the Septuagint. It was a Greek translation of the Old Testament prepared about 200 B.C. and was often quoted in the New Testament. In it, ekklesia is used over and over to describe Israel. Even in Acts 7:38, Stephen calls Israel at Mount Sinai, "the ekklesia in the wilderness." The parallels continue; Paul says in Philippians 3:2-3, " Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh . . ." The "mutilation" were the Judaizers (cf. Galatians and Acts 15). Paul tells these baptized, but uncircumcised, Gentiles that they are the real circumcision. Paul also addresses the Gentile church in Galatians 6:16 as the "Israel of God."
As with Israel in the Old Testament, we see God dealing with households in the New Testament church. In Acts 2:39, Peter tells his Jewish audience, "the promise is to you and to your children."(iv) Are we to believe that Peter so closely paralleled the language of Genesis 17:7, but meant something radically different? The prophecy of Joel 2 that Peter says is being fulfilled summons the people to call a sacred assembly and "gather the children and nursing babes." Joel 2 deals with the regathering of Israel as does Deuteronomy 30:5-6 in which God promises,
Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Thus it is no surprise that we see household baptisms (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16). Baptists accuse us of assuming these households included infants, but they have to assume they did not. In Acts 16:31, Paul and Silas tell the Philippian jailer, "Believe [singular] in the Lord Jesus, and you [singular] will be saved- you [singular] and your household."
Whole households are given the gift of faith in the New Testament (e.g., John 4:53; Acts 10:2; 18: 8). Paul prays in 2 Timothy 1:16, "The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me." Because of one man's goodness, Paul prays that God will bless his whole household. In 1 Corinthians 7:14, we are told, "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy." This is the language of covenant. Compare this language of uncleanness to the Numbers 19 passage alluded to in Hebrews 9's description of baptisms. In Numbers 19:13, we are told,
Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness [is] still on him.
As those who had touched a dead body were unclean and cut off from the people of God, so would the children of mixed marriages, had God not counted the unbelieving spouse holy on behalf of the believing spouse. An unbelieving spouse is not literally made holy by marriage, but they are set apart and considered holy, as Israel was considered holy.
In Exodus 19:6, God commands Moses, "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." These [are] the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel" (cf. Leviticus 20:26; Deuteronomy 7:6). These are the very same words used in 1 Peter 2:9 to describe the church. Israel was a holy nation, despite the fact that only a remnant were true believers. The unbelievers are in covenant, but their unbelief brings curses, not blessings. They are set apart, but they are not saved. Unless we acknowledge that this is the same language of the Old Testament, what is a Baptist to make of our unbelieving spouses and our children being holy?
Warnings Against Apostasy
Like in the Old Testament covenants, God warns against apostasy in the New Testament. As we've already seen in 1 Corinthians 10, the apostasies in the Old Testament are given as our example today. In Romans 11, we are told that if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare us. Are we to take Israel as our example of how we can fall away, but their fall is from a real covenant and ours is only from a profession of faith?
In Hebrews 10:26-29, we read,
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
Once again, the Old Testament is our example. Like in 1 Corinthians 7:14, there is covenant sanctification of unbelievers, and like 1 Corinthians 10 (cf. Hebrews 6:4-6), there is real apostasy.
New Testament Infant Baptism
We believe that as circumcision had been the initiation into the old covenant, baptism was the initiation into the new, and it was applied to households. Both are outward signs of inward spiritual realities. Water baptism symbolizes baptism with the Holy Spirit, as circumcision symbolized circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4, Acts 7:51). For some, like Abraham, circumcision followed faith. For others, like the apostle Paul, circumcision in the flesh preceded faith. For others, circumcision in the flesh was never followed by faith. Their circumcision thus was counted as uncircumcision (Romans 2:29).Repentance and faith are not restricted to the New Testament. Abraham first believed and then was circumcised, but with his whole household. When someone like Uriah the Hittite joined themselves to God's people in the Old Testament, they repented and were circumcised, along with their household. Closer to the time of Jesus, Gentile converts repented (feared God) and were also baptized with their household. The call to repentance and faith in no way precludes God from continuing to deal with the believer and his household in the New Testament any more than it did in the Old.
Some may still feel uncomfortable equating circumcision and baptism, but look to Colossians 2:11-12. Here we are told,
In [Christ] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism . . .
Are we to believe that God dealt with His people as households for 2,000 years, but then radically changed without a clear explanation? Baptism had clear Old Testament precedents and was applied to all the people. The first century Jews baptized their converts, including the children. The same covenant language is used to describe Israel and the church. Both relationships are based on faith, and whole households are baptized. Like admission of women to the Lord's Supper, we see that infant baptism is clearly supported from Scripture and the history of the church. Are we to accept this or do we demand a prooftext and bar the children of believers from baptism and women from the Lord's Table?
Ellen G. White's Method of Interpretation
The early Seventh-day Adventists demanded a prooftext for infant baptism and Sunday worship. Finding none, they rejected both. After having falsely predicted that Jesus would return in the 1840's, they made the day of worship the mark of the true church. Sunday worship was considered the Mark of the Beast. They had a conspiratorial view of church history in which the true church was hidden for 1-1/2 millennia. They also have their select verses taken out of the context of the whole of Scripture. Obviously, such a means of interpretation is dangerous.
What about the New Covenant?
Hebrews 8 has become a favorite passage for Baptists. It makes no specific mention of baptism, but because of its description of the new and better covenant, they assume this dismisses everything I've laid out thus far. Let's look at the passage:
Now [this is] the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore [it is] necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See [that] you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." In that He says, "A new [covenant,"] He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The Baptist argument is based on absolutizing some, but not all, of the elements in what is being described. Baptists say that the old covenant included unbelievers, but only those who "know the Lord" are in the new. As attractive as this sounds, it falls apart on closer scrutiny.
The context is the Old Testament sacrificial system. We are not told that this new covenant replaces the one made with Abraham, which would contradict Galatians 3. Instead it is contrasted with the covenant made at Sinai, where Moses was instructed on the construction of the tabernacle. This ties in well with the context being the sacrificial system. Also, this new covenant is not with "the church," as if the church was some radically new thing. It is with the "house of Israel," where household covenants are clearly the norm and where the law had been written on people's hearts for over a millennia (Psalm 37:31; 40:8).If we absolutize the whole picture, do we live in a day in which none of us have to tell our neighbors, "Know the Lord" and where we need no teachers? Look around you. Is there not evidence that God deals with us as He did with Israel? Obviously we are not a theocracy in the ancient Near East, but note the similarities. From where did most of the true believers come before the coming of Christ? Was it not from the physical descendents of Abraham? It is true there were Jacobs and Esau. There were also Gentiles like Rahab and Ruth, but was God not a God to Abraham and his descendents? In like manner, from where do most Christians come? There are times when the Gospel is first believed in a family, and there are obvious apostasies, but are not most Christians from Christian homes? Are we not like ancient Israel, a believing remnant amongst a huge number of apostates?
Though this story has been embellished by some, the basic facts are unchallenged. In 1877 a study was done by Richard Dugdale entitled "The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity." The actual name of the family was changed for privacy sake, but Dugdale traced 709 descendents of a colonist known for his drunkenness and promiscuity. Of the 709 he was able to study, 180 had been in the "poorhouse" or received public assistance. Half the women were considered to be sexually promiscuous. Dugdale found 140 criminals or offenders, 60 thieves, 7 murder victims, and 50 professional prostitutes. Dugdale was able to estimate that the Jukes had cost the State of New York almost $1.4 million dollars to house, institutionalize and treat the family.
A follow-up study was done of a contemporary of Jukes, the Puritan Jonathan Edwards. An investigation was made of his 1,394 known descendants of which 13 became college presidents, 65 college professors, 3 United States senators, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 preachers and missionaries, 60 authors of prominence, one a vice-president of the United States, 80 became public officials in other capacities, 295 college graduates, among whom were governors of states and ministers to foreign countries."
Some of these descendents, like Aaron Burr, were very unlikely to be true believers, but do we not see that God is a God to us and our children? Exodus 20:5 reminds us, "I, the LORD your God, [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth [generations] of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."
I believe we are constantly given Old Testament examples, because we live in a day very like theirs. The new covenant is the heavenly, spiritual covenant by which Abraham and all true believers are saved. It has dawned, but is not fulfilled until we are with Christ. Only then will we not have to tell our neighbors, "Know the Lord."
The mode of baptism
Baptists almost universally assert that the verb, baptizo, always means immerse, and the noun, baptisma always means immersion. One of the prejudices this creates against infant baptism is the idea that it would require us to shove our children under water. This is not an appealing thought to most parents. Another prejudice is that if we ignore the supposedly clear meaning of the word then we must be twisting the Scriptures elsewhere. Baptists typically produce Bible dictionaries and word studies to back up their assertion, but neglect to mention they are prepared by other Baptists.
Each side can muster books and experts, but the issue is a fairly simple one that you can determine for yourself. A word's meaning is determined by its context. If I were to tell you that "fire" always means burning, you would know I was wrong when you read, "My boss is going to fire me." To know what a word means in the Bible, we need to look at how it is used. Rather than resting on Strong's definitions, let's just use his concordance. Search out every instance of the debated terms. I believe that by doing so we can easily resolve the debate without you even having to learn to read Greek. The issue is often confused by Baptists asserting things over words like rantizo (sprinkling) and bapto (which only appears in the New Testament as part of the name of John the Baptist). The crux of the question boils down to the meanings of three words: baptizo, baptisma, and baptismos.
Baptismos appears four times in the New Testament, and as we have seen refers to ceremonial washing in Mark 7:4 & 8, Old Testament ceremonial washings or baptisms in Hebrews 9:10, and New Testament baptism in Hebrews 6:2. The verb baptizo is much more common, but it also occurs in Mark 7:4 in connection with baptismos, thus indicating sprinkling. It also occurs in a similar context in Luke 11:38 where it is translated "washed." These ceremonial baptisms were done before meals with the water pots described in John 2:6 as containing 20-30 gallons apiece, hardly large enough for immersing tables and couches. And as mentioned earlier, the Talmud gives specific instructions on how this Jewish tradition of washing hands and tables was to be done by pouring.
Most of the occurrences of baptizo give us little idea whether it is referring to immersion or pouring. They simply say someone was baptized. Yet, the two passages we've seen so far seem to exclude immersion, as do others. As already alluded to, Israel was baptized in the Red Sea and in the cloud. In this baptism, Israel was not immersed, though Pharaoh's army was immersed.
There are also associations made with baptizo which seems to dismiss the idea that it means immersion. In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says,I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Parallel statements are found in Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, and Acts 11:16. In all, baptizo is used to describe baptism with Holy Spirit. This baptism is not described as an immersion, but an effusion (pouring out). Acts 2:17, 18, and 33 describe the Holy Spirit being poured out. The same language is used again in Acts 10:45. In Acts 10:44, the Holy Spirit is said to have fallen on the Gentiles, and in v.47, Peter asks whether anyone can forbid water seeing that these Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit as they had. In recounting the story in Acts 11:15 (cf. Acts 8:16), Peter again says that the Holy Spirit fell upon them.
In Matthew and Luke, the promise is made that this baptism will be with the Holy Spirit and fire. At Pentecost, the believers were not engulfed in flames, but they rested upon their heads. It is also noteworthy that in John 1:33, we're told,
I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
This descent of the Holy Spirit is described in Acts 10:38 as God "anointing" Jesus with the Holy Spirit, not immersing Him in the Spirit.There is another set of passages that refer to a baptism that seems to have little to do with immersion. In Matthew 20:22-23, baptizo and baptisma are both used in describing Jesus' upcoming suffering: But Jesus answered and said,
You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but [it is for those] for whom it is prepared by My Father. (cf. Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50)
This does not seem to be an immersion, but once again a pouring out. Jesus' sufferings were laid on him, rather than Him being immersed in them. Contrast the suffering of Jesus with the torments of unbelievers in Revelation 14:10, "he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation."
None of these references seems to indicate immersion, so on what basis do Baptists argue immersion? They boil down to three arguments: Jesus came up out of the water, only immersion fits us being "buried with Jesus in baptism," and baptism takes place where there is much water,Matthew 3:16 in the King James Version reads, "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water." Since he came up out of the water, we are told He must have been under the water. This sounds good until we compare it with Acts 8:39. Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, and then we are told, "they were come up out of the water." Unless this means that the proper mode of baptism is to take someone and go under the water with them, then coming up "out of the water" doesn't carry the weight Baptists think it does.
A phrase you will hear a great deal in the discussion of baptism is "buried with Him in baptism," a reference to Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12. For Americans, immersion seems to present a very compelling picture of burial. We dig a hole in the ground and cover people with dirt. They are immersed in the ground. This is not however how Jesus was buried. He was not placed down in the ground, but in a cave in the side of a hill. He was not immersed in dirt, but a stone was placed at the door. What Paul means by being buried with Him in baptism is that we are united with him in his death and resurrection. In like manner, he describes us in Galatians 3:27, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul says that we are baptized into one body. Neither of these last metaphors is pictured in immersion, so we should not demand that only immersion gives us a biblical picture of what is taking place in baptism.
Finally, Baptists ask why people were baptized in rivers if immersion was unnecessary. There are several points to this. First, Israel was in a semi-arid climate. Water was not usually abundant. It took a ready supply to baptize many people, and they needed water for themselves and their animals. As reasonable as this may seem, the Old Testament gives us an even better reason. In the Old Testament baptisms, running water was used, though it was clear that the baptisms were done by sprinkling. In the cleansing of a house, we are told in Leviticus 14:51-52,
He shall take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times. And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird and the running water and the living bird, with the cedar wood, the hyssop, and the scarlet. (cf. Leviticus 15:13)
There is dipping, but it is the house that is being cleansed, and it is sprinkled. Also in the Numbers 19 passage we have dealt with before, we are told in v.17, "And for an unclean [person] they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel." The Didache is the oldest Christian writing outside the New Testament, dating to somewhere between 90 and 110. It also requires running water:
Concerning baptism, baptize in this manner: Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water [that is, in running water, as in a river]. If there is no living water, baptize in other water; and, if you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Compare the lack of cold or warm water with Revelation 3:15-16. Laodicea was between Colossae known for its cold spring waters and Heirapolis with its hot springs. The "much water" of John 3:23 is literally "many waters," and Aenon means a spring. In other words, there was running water there, so this in no way demands immersion.
Immersion also appears very unlikely from the contexts of some of its occurrences. Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in the desert. In Acts 9, Paul is in the house of Ananias. Paul receives the Holy Spirit and was baptized and then is immediately back in Ananias' house. There is no description of a trip to the river. Likewise in Acts 16:33 the Philippian jailer is washing the wounds of Paul and Silas in the jail. He and his household were immediately baptized and he takes Paul and Silas into his home. We are not told that they went to the river in the middle of the night, but as the jailer had been washing their wounds, so they washed him in baptism.
Are our children to be baptized?
I have tried to demonstrate the following points:
Infant baptism dates to the earliest days of the church and was basically unchallenged until the sixteenth century.
Baptism is an Old Testament practice given new meaning in the New Testament.
The Bible shows there is a spiritual, heavenly covenant, but also earthly covenants that point to Jesus and include believers and unbelievers.
God blesses entire households in Old and New Testaments. Though birth into a Christian home in no way guarantees salvation, most believers come from Christian parents.
Baptism is for believers and their children.
The most biblical mode of baptism is pouring or sprinkling, but we accept those baptized by immersion.
If I have not convinced you, then I hope I have at least demonstrated that these are matters we take very seriously. Those who would question our commitment to God's Word need to answer these questions:
How could the early church and the Reformers be so wrong?
Seeing that infant baptism was so early and so prevalent, who stood against it on the same grounds you do?
Doesn't the Old Testament practice of baptizing all the people and the Jewish custom of baptizing whole families seem to demand some kind of disclaimer if New Testament practice is so different?
Why were Ishmael and Esau given the "seal of the righteousness [Abraham] had by faith?"
Was anyone saved through being in an earthly covenant? If not, what was their purpose?
Were not believers and unbelievers in the Old Testament covenants?
After using this mode of dealing with His people for so long and continuing to use the same imagery in the New Testament, where does God remove our children from the covenant?
How is it that a new and better covenant has no promises for our children?
How is an unbelieving spouse sanctified by a believing spouse and our children made holy? How would your explanation make sense to someone grounded in the Old Testament?
How could we be broken off the olive tree in Romans 11? How does this differ with the breaking off of the natural branches?
On what basis can Paul ask God to bless a New Testament household for one man's sake?
Is immersion the only Biblical means of baptism? Why?
Example of Jesus?
One of the things that has been offered in this controversy is the example of Jesus. He was baptized as an adult and so supposedly should we. There are several problems with this. Was Jesus baptized for repentance? Should we wait until we are 30? Abraham's circumcision at 99 did not create a rule for later circumcisions. If John's baptism is identical to Christian baptism, then why do we see rebaptism in Acts 19:5?
Reaction against Roman Catholicism/Doug Wilson
Some of the current issue seems to have arisen as a reaction against Roman Catholicism and the Auburn Avenue Theology of Doug Wilson. We have been at the forefront of challenging both positions, but we are now being accused of latent sympathies. I want to remind you that the difference between truth and error is not always a chasm, but sometimes is a razor's edge. Rome and Moscow both hold to infant baptism, but they also hold to the Trinity. We should no more automatically reject one as the other. The Jehovah's Witnesses use people's frustrations with Rome to lead them to reject the Trinity as well as the Mass. Guilt by association is a dangerous game. Infant baptism is rejected as much by the Mormon Church as by the Baptists.
Roman Catholic Baptism
One of the questions we have had to address is why we would call the Roman Catholic Church apostate and idolatrous, and then accept their baptism. The question really boils down to what baptism is. If you believe that there is some magic in baptism, then only those who have the magic can give it. We believe it is an application of the sign of the covenant. Unbelievers can apply that sign among themselves and bring on themselves further curses as unbelievers did with circumcision.
What we were being asked to do was to reject anyone from membership who refused to submit to rebaptism. To drive home the enormity of this request we stated that if such rebaptism was required for new members, then we should also require it for existing members. If we would reject people from membership, then we should also be willing to excommunicate people who refused to submit.
I challenge anyone to show where anyone baptized with water in the name of the Trinity was rebaptized in the Bible. The only rebaptism is from the baptism of John into Christian baptism (Acts 19:5). We rebaptize people who have only received LDS baptism because they deny who the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are. Despite their gross errors, Roman Catholics still affirm the Nicene Creed. If we move beyond that, at what point do we stop? Do we reject Episcopal baptism because they have a homosexual bishop? Do we reject those baptized by Pentecostals based on their errors? Do we have to investigate everyone's baptism to determine whether it was done by a proper church? On what basis do we decide that? How do we know it is the church, but not the individual performing the baptism that matters? Do we need to rebaptize someone if the one who baptized them apostatizes? What about the one who baptized the one baptizing them? Where is any of this in God's Word?
The fundamental question is whether we are prepared to demand something of God's people that we cannot support from His Word and keep them from membership in His church?
So where do we go from here?
Our primary focus for over six years has not been baptism, but "proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified." We have tried to declare the whole counsel of God, including infant baptism, but we have done so knowing that there is a danger in every church's distinctives. As churches unfortunately compete with one another, their focus can easily become their eschatology, their baptism, etc. The simple message of Jesus Christ crucified gets lost. We do not want to be known as the "infant baptism church," as if that were our fundamental focus. For us it has been a great pleasure that in keeping the emphasis on Christ we have enjoyed fellowship with many who have disagreed with us on some particular. Some have come to embrace our distinctives, while others have found great comfort that they can be members while disagreeing.
There are many Baptists such as James White for whom this is not an issue for division. We have tried to remind people that our work with James White has not been out of ignorance on anyone's part. We differ on these matters, but we believe each other to be good brothers. We do not believe they are matters over which to break fellowship. We treasure the fellowship we have with Dr. White and many other Baptists. He has recommended our church many times, fully aware of our beliefs on baptism.
We baptize our children in reliance on the promise that God will be a God to us and to our children. We believe this is a precious promise, but we do not make it of the essence of faith, as some of our critics seem to make its rejection. For that reason, belief in infant baptism is not a requirement for church membership. It is only He who can give them a new heart, but we labor in hope. We pray with and for them. We teach them His ways and discipline them. Until our children profess personal faith, they are not admitted to the Lord's Supper. If they reject the Lord, they will go to Hell. We baptize our children not because we believe there is some magic in it, but knowing that God blesses obedience more than disobedience.
My great hope is that this letter will silence some of our critics and perhaps even reconcile us to one another. If this letter seems combative, please remember that some have attempted to splinter the church, and we have been challenged in our basic commitment to God's Word. It is my hope that you have been convinced by these arguments to at least read more on the subject. I have many books available. If you still are unconvinced, my hope is that despite our differences that you see that we are a church that takes God and His Word seriously. Here you will be taught, here you will be loved, and here you will be discipled. It is our hope that even if you disagree with us that you will find a home with us at Christ Presbyterian Church.
There is much, much more that could be said, but I fear I have already exhausted my audience's patience. If you would like to discuss this matter more or read more on the subject, I encourage you to contact me or one of the elders.
Jason Wallace, Pastor
Christ Presbyterian Church
i. The altar call began with the "anxious bench" in the Methodist camp meetings and dates to about 1800.
ii. Some might be tempted to argue this lays the foundation for paedocommunion, but several difficulties present themselves. For one thing, 1 Corinthians 11 demonstrates that a partaker must be able to discern the Lord's body and that abuse of the Lord's Table brings sickness and death.
iii. The Scofield Reference Bible's note on 1 John 3:7 reads in part, "The righteous man under [the dispensation of] law became righteous by doing righteously; under [the dispensation of] grace he does righteously because he has been made righteous."
iv. The promise to "all who are afar off" is not referring to the Gentiles. It is the continuing exposition of Joel 2 at verse 32.