Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Galatians, circumcision and infant baptism again

I want to further elaborate on what I said last week about Galatians, circumcision and infant baptism. Consider these near-closing verses of the book:
15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (6:15-17, ESV)
The evangelical paedobaptist insists that the "sign and seal" of the New Covenant is baptism. As a Reformed Baptist, I assert to the contrary, that it is conversion and the receiving of the Holy Spirit - that circumcision has been fulfilled in heart circumcision and sealing with the Spirit not in another outward sign.

I judge that the whole tenor and direction of Galatians has been to make this insistence. I find it incomprehensible, from a paedobaptist assumption, that Paul could have omitted in the entire argument to explain the role that baptism allegedly has as the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision, when the whole problem in Galatia was Judaisers wrongly insisting that Christians need to be circumcised. But I think Paul actually spells out what he believes quite clearly. There are no outward marks that have significance for delimiting who is a true Christian or not (and here I'm particularly contradicting Douglas Wilson et al's "Federal Vision" theology which especially insists on Trinitarian baptism as the delimiter of those who should be considered Christians, in the same way that wedding rings mark those who are married). What counts, as the mark of the New Covenant, I read in verse 15, is the new creation - that you have become a new person. i.e. reality, fulfillment.

These people, Paul calls the "Israel of God" - i.e. the true Israel, the Israel that really counts. A paedobaptist can point out that Paul does not explicitly say, "of course, I am hereby excluding believers' infants, where they are not yet actually a new creation by conversion." But such a statement would be redundant - Paul has just said that being a new creation is what counts to get you into the authentic Israel. He no more needs to explain that this is also required of infants than he needs to explain that it is required of Gentiles, slaves or circus clowns.

I find verse 17 even more telling. In it Paul is saying, "Well, if you are going to absolutely insist on some outward mark to prove your Christianity - then I have it here: I am persecuted and beaten". (That Paul is speaking in context about marks of persecution, not about "stigmata" or some other mark is made clear by the context - see 5:11 and 6:12). The Judaisers gloried in their circumcision as the bodily mark showing their covenant status; Paul said that no outward mark mattered, only the cross of Christ (6:14) and we should glory only in that - but if you must have one, it is persecution for the gospel's sake which proves that we belong to Christ.

Again, Paul does not add "and of course, it is not baptism that is the covenant marker!" But why would he need to? Once he's told us what the marker is not, and what it is then what more explanation is needed? Why should he be forced to explicitly address debates that had not arisen in his day?

In my opinion, these kind of considerations are conclusive once you allow Paul to speak for himself, instead of trying to read him against the backdrop of paedobaptism as an assumed theological system.


gingoro said...

I think that both positions on baptism can be argued with close to equal validity. It seems to me that if the issue was of great importance that God would have made it crystal clear in the New Testament. I belong to a reformed church which practices paedobaptism and have no trouble with it so long as teenages receive a good catecism class before joining the church. In a different city we attended a church were teenagers automaticially joined the church with essentially no instruction. This practice was more than I could agree with so we remained as adherants till a new assistant minister changed the practice and then we joined.

The Belgic confession states:
"For that reason we detest the error of the Anabaptists
who are not content with a single baptism
once received
and also condemn the baptism
of the children of believers."

This is not something I can agree with nor could I accept a similar statement by reformed baptists and is one reason I stay out of any official position in the church. In general I like both the Belgic and the Heidleberg catechisms very much, however, I do have problems with a few statements.

As reformed baptists do you accept and use any of the creeds such as the Westminster or Belgic confessions or the Heidleberg catechism, suitably modified? We also hold to the Apostles, Athanasian and Nicene Creeds.
Dave W

David Anderson said...

Hi Dave,

Reformed Baptists hold to the 1689 confession.

If the matter is not clear in the New Testament then I'd argue that the default should be a Baptist position. Ordinances of worship are positive institutions and each one requires explicit Scriptural warrant. It's not up to us to find any practice that the Bible does not clearly exclude out and then make it an ordinance of worship amongst the people of God. If God really wants every believer in all times to baptise his infants, then the warrant could never have been as obscure and difficult as even paedobaptists confess (e.g. BB Warfield's concession that the arrant for infant baptism is not actually to be found in the NT, but in the OT). Details about the end times, difficult political questions... these things can afford some degree of obscurity, as they rarely directly affect more than a small class of believers ... but the question of what to do with your infant affects people all the time, everywhere.

In the times of the Reformation and right into the mid-20th century at least, much mainstream paedobaptist literature seems to make a studied effort to misconstrue Baptist belief. The Belgic confession quote is a classic example of that. No Baptist would ever admit to being "not content with a single baptism"; in fact, a single baptism (where "baptism" is Scripturally defined) is the very thing we insist upon. The "ana" in "anabaptist" means "again", and was intended as a theological insult. Neither do we condemn the baptism of the *children* of believers; it is the baptism of *babies* that the problem is with. A child can show evidence of the Spirit's work in regeneration and so warrant baptism; a baby cannot.

God bless,

gingoro said...


"The Belgic confession quote is a classic example of that. No Baptist would ever admit to being "not content with a single baptism"; in fact, a single baptism (where "baptism" is Scripturally defined) is the very thing we insist upon."

Not clear if you would hold that a evangelical Presbyterian who had been baptized as an infant was really baptized or not?

My wife and her mother were forced to be baptized by immersion prior to being allowed to join a Baptist church. Among the reasons prevalent at that time in the baptist churches I attended were:
a. They had been "baptized" using the wrong mode, sprinkling vrs immersion.
b. Since they were infants at the time of baptism, no real baptism occurred
c. The Lutheran church under whose auspices they were baptized is not a true church and thus the baptism is invalid. There are some religious organizations whose baptism I would consider very questionable as almost the whole organization is seriously apostate from even the most minimal definition of Christianity. On the other hand there have been some baptists here in North America who consider most evangelicals to be heretics or close to it, as well as some ministers and churches even in their own denomination. Their position is called secondary sepatation and it split families and churches. My dad was an ordained minister in that denomination and in some churches he was not welcome to attend let alone preach just because he fellowshiped with other evangelicals. It would not surprise me if they would insist on someone being baptized in their facility even if the individual had been baptized elsewhere in the same denomination but not in one of the sepratistic churches. After all this group of churches formed their own seperatistic seminary.

The "ana" in "anabaptist" means "again", and was intended as a theological insult.

Not from the viewpoint of a paedobaptist if baptism of infants or the other cases I mention above is held by baptists not to be a real baptism. In two different cities we attended Mennonite churches and they sometimes referred to themselves as Anabaptists so I doubt that it is as derogatory term that you think it is.

Lets call it quits as I doubt we ever will agree and to me at least it is of relatively minor importance as I think both positions can be justified and the issue is not important enough to separate over.
Although I do think it important not to denigrate other groups with different beliefs.

Dave W

Ned Kelly said...

I have long been confused by the nature and purpose of baptism, and after reading the entries in Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary and other sources, I find that I am not alone in that confusion. Is it a sacrament instituted by Jesus as the Catholic and Lutheran churches claim, is it necessary for salvation, what are the prerequisites to baptism, what does it do, what spiritual benefits does it confer, most importantly, what does the Bible have to say about it?

The New Testament contains 83 instances of the words baptism (20), baptisms (1), baptize (12), and baptized (50); interestingly, the Old Testament contains none. Examining the contexts, I find many that are simple references of no explanatory power, e.g. John 10:40, and many are repetitions of the same events by different authors. Reducing the references to a list of unique expressions on the nature and purpose of baptism, I have come up with the following:

•Baptism – by what authority (Matt 21:25, Mk 11:30, Luke 20:2-4).
•Baptism must be preceded by belief (Act 8:12-13, 36-39, 16:14-15, 30-33, 18:8).
•Baptism by John is by water (Matt 3:11-17, Mk 1:4-9, Luke 3:16, John 1:24-34, Acts 1:5).
•Baptism by John (water) unto repentance (Matt 3:5-7, Luke 3:3, 7:29-30, Acts 13:23-24).
•Baptism by John by water unto repentance, baptism by Jesus by the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt 3:11-17, Mk 1:4-9, Luke 3:16, John 1:24-34, Acts 1:5).
•Baptism of John does not invoke the Holy Spirit, but baptism in the name of Jesus does (Acts 19:1-6).
•Baptism and receipt of the Holy Spirit go hand in hand (Heb 6:1-4).
•Baptism and receipt of the Holy Spirit occur simultaneously (Acts 9:17-18).
•Baptism and receipt of the Holy Spirit do not occur simultaneously (Acts 8:14-17).
•Baptism of Jesus with water was followed by the appearance of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22).
•Baptism in the name of Jesus for remission of sin will invoke the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
•Baptism washes away sin (Acts 22:14-16).
•Baptism, not of water, leads to salvation (1 Pet 3:21).
•Baptism not explicitly stated as necessary to be saved: belief will save, unbelief will condemn, (Mk 16:15-16).
•Baptism by receipt of God’s word, belief (Acts 2:41).
•Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred while listening to Peter, baptism with water followed later (Acts 10:44-48).
•Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred while listening to Peter (Acts 11:15-17).
•One baptism, one body, one Spirit, one Lord (Eph 4:4-6).
•Baptism into one body (1 Cor 12:12-14).
•Baptism in the name of Jesus includes baptism into His death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5, Col 2:9-14).
•Baptism through faith in Jesus puts all as equal as sons of God (Gal 3:26-28).
•All nations are to be baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mat 28:19).
•Baptism of a different form awaits Jesus, and the apostles if they sign up to it (Mk 10:38-39, Luke 12:49-51).
•Israel baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor 10:1-4).
I am continuing to work my way through these references to try to find a clear picture, but as of right now, this analysis has merely entrenched my confusion.

David Anderson said...

Hi Dave,

The Baptist position is that baptism, as given by Christ, is the dipping of those who profess faith upon their profession of faith. Or put another way, the Baptist position is that the mark of the New Covenant membership (and hence the qualification for baptism), is faith.

Thus by definition, Baptists do not consider the sprinkling of babies to be "baptism" as Scripturally defined, and hence do not consider that dipping an adult believer who was sprinkled as a baby to be a second baptism.

NB - I said that "ana"baptist *was* intended originally as a theological insult. As with many terms, it has over time lost that nuance in many ears (though there are some Reformed Presbyterians who still consider it as such).

Baptist churches can take different approaches to those who have not been Scripturally baptised - I wrote a post on that here:

On the matter of secondary separation, Baptists I know of take a variety of positions, though what you describe as happening to your dad sounds like it's at the most extreme end of the spectrum!