Friday, August 29, 2008

Unbaptist Thoughts on Baptism and Communion

1. I've been reading the book edited by John Armstrong on Four Views of Baptism. The problem I've always had with the paedo-baptist view has been: (1) In Acts 16.33 "household" means slaves and retainers not children (so J.D.G. Dunn); (2) In Col. 2.11-12 what replaces OT circumcision is not baptism, but rather circumcision of the heart, i.e. regeneration; (3) what places a person in the church is baptism, so how can you have unregenerate church members, the NT has no category for unregenerate baptised persons! Nonetheless, I have to admit that in the Four Views book Richard Pratt makes one good point that gives me pause to think: "[Abraham] was also commanded to circumcise his sons before they even had the opportunity to exercise faith (cf. Gen. 17:12). In much the same way, baptism is rightly applied to adult converts after they profess faith, and rightly applied to their children even though these same children may not be capable of faith" (pp. 70-71). If the new covenant is the messianic execution of the Abrahamic promises, this is interesting point regarding the incoroporation of children.

2. I find it curious that Baptists still have "infant dedications" though they do not have infant baptism. And paedo-baptists still have "confirmations" or professions of faith before admitting baptized persons into full fellowship, though they do not have believers' baptism. This makes me wonder that we need something to signify that children are "children of the promise" and something to signify that the faith of their parents has become their own. The question is, of course, where do we put the water of baptism: at the front end or back end of this process? While the answer is not arbitrary, I cannot help but think that credo and paedo-baptists are perhaps closer to each other in function than is ordinarily admitted.

3. If a person is baptized, can one legitimately refuse them communion? I had always thought that the logic of paedo-baptism leads to paedo-communion. That of course might not be such a bad thing! In the early church, the Lord's Supper was an entire meal, eaten together (that is the impression I get from 1 Corinthians 10) not just a morsel of bread and a drip of juice, and the meals were used to feed believers who were poor and it probably included their children (since they had to eat too). Is "communion" a sacrament administered by the church to the properly qualified persons, or is communion the meal that Jesus gave to his followers to celebrate the kingdom of God through him, which was shared among believers including those of relatively low socio-economic status as a primary means of physical sustenance for them? There's a big difference between these two options!


Matt O'Reilly said...

Doug Wilson makes the same point about Abraham and circumcision in his To A Thousand Generations. That Abraham's circumcision was a sign of the rightouesness he had by faith and that he gives that sign to his eight day old children seems to cripple the argument that the sign of faith is not to be given before faith is exercised. Under the command of God Abraham gave the sign of righteousness by faith to children who had no righteousness by faith. Do you know of anyone who has repsonded to this specific argument from the credo side? I've not been able to find anything written on it.

Ben said...

I don't think credo-baptists can really evade the force of the "there are no unregenerate church members in the NT" argument anymore that paedo-baptists, since (I would assume) everyone agrees that there are unregenerate church members who were baptized as professing believers, just as there are unregenerate church members who were baptized as infants. While Baptists desire a fully regenerate church membership, and thus do not baptize until there is a credible profession of faith, I have yet to meet a Baptist who genuinely thinks that everyone who has ever been baptized on profession of faith is truly regenerate.

Rodrigo said...

It's not completely accurate to say that paedo-baptists don't have believer's baptism. In churches that have paedo-baptism, adult converts certainly profess belief as part of their baptism.

JosephMinich said...

Mr. Bird,

There is a very nice and cordial debate between Robert Strimple and Fred Malone on the website. Robert Strimple was a professor of systematic theology there, but always very concerned with precise exegesis (from what I hear). In the debate, he makes some of these same points. It is probably the most helpful interaction I've heard between two folks on either side of this issue. Hope it helps!


Matt said...
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Matt said...

As a Presbyterian (in QLD, Australia), I think that believer's baptism is the key baptism practiced in the New Testament, but also that infant baptisms are permissible. I'm not convinced by the argument that 'household' (Acts 16) can be restricted to servants, etc, and not the biological children of the new believing parents. I'm pretty sure that family dynamics in the first century Mediterranean were different to our individualistic "I'll-be-in-my-room-playing-my-PS3" families in the west. I don't think the jailer in Acts 16, who was powerfully converted, went home and told his servants to be baptised, and then told his wife, "hey honey, I think it'd be great if our little Jonny got baptised. Oh well, I guess we better leave him to make that decision for himself one day...". I suspect that children were natural candidates for baptism in the wake of the parents becoming believers. While the analogy with Abraham and circumcision of children is not without its problems, it's hard to get around the idea that "the promise is for you and your children" (Acts 2:39).

BTW Michael, I love your work. The only problem is that you need to come back to Queensland!

Steven Coxhead said...

Something else to think about. Paul makes the analogy in 1 Cor 10:1-2 that Israel was baptised into Moses as they were under the glory cloud, and as they went through the sea. Now I reckon it would be difficult to argue that there were no infants present in Israel while God's glory was leading them in the wilderness, or even to say that there were no children present at the time of the exodus who were carried across the sea in their mothers' arms. Paul actually emphasizes that all Israel was baptised in the cloud and in the sea (v.1-2), so I guess that includes the children as well. And when Paul draws an analogy in 1 Cor 10:3-4 between the manna and the water provided in the wilderness with the elements of the Lord's Supper (which seems to be the case given his description of the manna and water as spiritual food and spiritual drink respectively), I find it hard to believe that the parents would have eaten their fill of the manna while leaving their children to go hungry, or that the children didn't also drink some of the water that God had provided in the wilderness. So my question is: Do Paul's analogies in 1 Cor 10:1-4 not support the idea that paedo-baptism and paedo-communion was the norm in Paul's thinking? If it was not the apostolic practice to baptize children, one would think that Paul should have been more circumspect with his analogies. Anyway, I find the relationship between 1 Cor 10:1-2 and baptism very interesting to ponder.

TorreyS said...
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TorreyS said...

For some of us these are important questions; to me I think Matt has brought some good counter arguments to our view of household baptism, and I am not quite convinced by your view of Col 3 either. But what I did want to point out is the fact, that in a lutheran church like The Church of Norway, children are indeed admitted to the Lord's supper, and that just on the basis of their baptism. Hence your experiences of first admitting children to the Lord's supper at a much later stage are not universal.

jeff miller said...

I agree with your observations Under #1 except for subpoint 3 it creates difficulties for me.
Your points #2 and #3 take modern usages at face value. The execution of these things (Lord's Supper, water baptism, church membership, even morphology) in the different camps grows out of an overly wooden and overly developed understanding. I think some Biblically guided deconstruction would be useful.

Do you agree that Old Covenant Israel (whose male children were marked in infancy) was a people to whom the TERMS of the Old Covenant were extended?

To Whom are the TERMS of the New Covenant extended?

As highlighted in John 3 and several of Paul's epistles, the terms of the New Covenant are extended to the whole world. That's right the TERMS of the New Covenant belong to your neighbors children (who do not attend a church) as much as those terms belong to your children. Now, will they hear the Gospel and respond with faith in Jesus Christ, is another question.

On the personal side I try to use the Lord's Supper as an instructional time for my children and do not deny them the bread and wine anymore than I would deny them any other food. As for water-baptism, I let them under go it pretty much upon their request. As to their relationship to God, I assume it is as good as mine until they tell me they do not believe in Jesus, or reject the way of God's Spiritual Rule as lived and taught by Jesus, or in some way refuse to acknowledge and be loyal to Jesus.

I think that some of our technical issues are not worked out in the New Testament because in the New Testament they were not technical issues.

Thanks for the interesting post,