Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Soggy Fish Award - Mark Dever

It's been a while since I've handed out a soggy fish award (i.e. an award reserved for people who should be slapped in the face with a very soggy fish until they come to their senses), but I'm gonna hand one out to (I cannot believe I'm saying this) Mark Dever for a statement he made in recent article in the 9marks eJournal about things he can or cannot live with as a pastor.

I cannot live with infant baptism. Having said that, if I were the pastor of the only church allowed in Mecca, maybe… But even then, I simply lack the authority to admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not been baptized. It is, as one said not too long ago, “above my pay-grade.” I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.

Now I know people who are Baptists with a big "B" and find being a Baptist to be really, really exciting, they love Baptist history, they stand by the Baptist way of doing church, they love etymological studies of the word Baptizo and so forth. I've spent the majority of my Christian life in Baptist churches too, so I respect that, but truth be told, I find the gospel more exciting than Baptist distinctives. Consequently, I have to say that to call paedobaptists sinful is outta line. It doesn't bother me that he thinks paedobaptism is wrong and he'd never permit within his own congregation, but "sinful"! That sort of language belongs elsewhere. If we should not have fellowship with sinful people (heaps of Scripture on that one, e.g. Psalm 1), then what the heck is Mark Dever doing with the sinful paedobaptists of Together for the Gospel? Personally, I think the fact that he wouldn't share communion with Ligon Duncan or R.C. Sproul is proof that they are not really together in the senses that matter. I mean if you won't break bread and share wine in Jesus' name with someone and if you insist on calling them sinful, exactly what kind of togetherness are you celebrating? What is more, to label a divergent theological view which is a non-essential to the faith "sinful" is theologically irresponsible, pastorally insensitive, and ecclesially arrogant. I benefitted immensely from Mark Dever's book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (a good alternative to much Church Growth junk), but this attitude is not healthy for a kingdom perspective on baptism. So Pastor Mark, God-bless your Baptist socks, but this fish is for you!

HT: Art.


Jim Hamilton said...

Dear Mike,

Can you justify the separation of credo-baptists from paedo-baptists without the declaration that infant baptism is sinful? By separating from them to form churches in which only believers are baptized, and that by immersion, aren't we saying: I cannot take communion with you because you are in unrepentant sin?

As I understand it, this is exactly what baptists have historically done. It's as though we're practicing church discipline on the front end. We're not saying they're unbelievers, we're simply saying they haven't repented of all known sin and brought themselves into conformity with the command of Jesus to be baptized. Until they do that, we can't and won't commune with them.

As for T4G, they're not taking communion together. They're preaching the gospel together.



Preston Sprinkle said...


"As for T4G, they're not taking communion together. They're preaching the gospel together"

Is it just me or is there something a bit strange about this statement? If you can't partake in the meal together--the basic symbol of Christian unity--it seems to render the "T" in T4G a bit superficial. And is it really that they are just preaching the gospel together, or that they are united for the cause of standing for and promoting the (true) gospel? (I really don't know, I've never been to a conference.)

In any case, how the heck are you? I haven't seen you since Houston?


your fellow baptist,


jeff miller said...

So much would be difficult say anything beneficial without sweeping aside a load of suppositions on all sides and reconstructing a more biblical conservative understanding.

James Grant said...

I think this is something that has to change with Baptists. No matter what has happened historically, this language of sinful in regard to this particular issue needs to be dropped. The type of Baptism one receives is not in the same category as other doctrinal issues, and even someone like Dever acknowledges that on several levels, not to mention the T4G level. I just think it is profoundly wrong to speak this way in regard to something related to mode (and timing).

Tony Stiff said...

"As for T4G, they're not taking communion together. They're preaching the gospel together."

Not sure if that reconciled the differences and division or just drew them in much starker lights...

jeff miller said...

#1 It is a good idea to abandon infant "baptism". It is a practice which is confused, confusing, and in spite of the most well developed arguments in favor, actually antagonistic to the Gospel.

#2 What does "sinful" mean here? Does it mean a shortcoming... a error...or does it mean (here goes the sarcasm) God is angry at you and I won't come near you? especially (for some wierd reason) we won't let you or our own children eat at our fellowship meals unless our extra-biblical criteria and understanding of water baptism has been met...just so you know, you and they, can watch us eat the bread and drink the wine but don't think for a minute our kids are allowed to eat and drink with us after all that might serve as an educational opportunity.

#3 One of the most odd things about Mr. Devers approach is that these fastidious baptists pick up the odd bits of their thinking from the more sacramental dogmaticians and seem to be trying to reverse it on them. Remember it was people who did not accept infant christening as legitimate who were put to death for "re" -baptizing.
But, if its predestinarian baptists who think they have taken up the mantle of being truly "reformed", why even try to make sense out of it?

Andrew Faris said...

Dr. Bird,

I haven't read the article, nor any other article ever in that ejournal.

But is it really fair to stop reading the ejournal altogether because of one foolish point?


Andrew Faris
Christians in Context

Dru Johnson said...

Dr. Bird,

Instead of 'slapping with a fish' have you ever considered the 'flying Bird award'? Just a thought.

Just to level the playing field, Rev. R.C. Sproul (the R.C. does not stand for Roman Catholic, as I found out in a very embarrassing conversation) stood at his national assembly and called his brothers ministers in the PCA 'the accused' and denied that their theological had the right to a fair hearing in the denomination.

It was a matter of NPP theology being brought into the PCA, nonetheless, this mentality of 'the accused' or 'the sinful' seems to be part of the conversational tone in there circles. So it might be that Devers is just answering in like kind.

BTW- as a former credo-baptist and now covenant baptist, the use of the term 'paedo-baptist' is a misnomer and commits categorical error in many cases. I'm fairly sure it's still used because it focuses on an outward distinctiveness between the views on baptism and maintains a scare factor for those who have never really worked through the issue.

However, Presbies like RC and others should be offended by the term because, as you know, it does not reflect the theology or the practice. Adults are baptized under the same sacramental theology as infants in Reformed thinking, so it cannot be 'paedo-baptist' (not that you aren't fully aware of this already).

Thanks for bringing this to our attention as, alas, American theologians find new and better ways to avoid the kerygma in word and deed (i.e. those who feed on such banter).

Michael F. Bird said...

Jim: Mate, I can understand someone standing by their Baptist distinctives, but the language of "sinful" is inappropriate here and unnecessary. Sin is what ocassions God's wrath and we are to absolutely separate from sin (not just at communion but elsewhere like conferences too). If Dever is right you should no more go and listen to Lig Duncan than you would listen to Jack Spong! What is more, historically some Baptist groups have practiced open communion (the vast majority in Australia do!). Between Dever and Romans 4, the paedo-baptist position is starting to look very attractive to me!

Andrew: Yes, I probably shouldn't cease reading the ejournal for that reason and I recant of my sectarianism.

JosephMinich said...

"Between Dever and Romans 4, the paedo-baptist position is starting to look very attractive to me!"

Maybe James Brownley's "The Promise of Baptism" could push you over the edge!

Damian M. Romano said...

I have to say that PB is one of those things that only garnishes hostility from one side. While I don't adhere to PB, I do respect the position. I think the argument is a little stretched but I by no means would consider it sinful. This is a pretty low statement on behalf of Dever and I wouldn't have expected this from him.

Thank you for the granting him this SFA Dr. Bird, it was well deserved.

Sean LeRoy said...

i wouldn't give him the soggy fish award for his view on baptism, but on his interview habits on the 9marks site...LOL.

Exiled Preacher said...

As a Baptist I'm rather saddened by Dever's remarks. I disagree with my paedobaptist brethren, but it would be uncharitable to accuse them of sin on the baisis that they have not been baptised on profession of faith in Christ. It is not as if convinced pedobaptists have wilfully flouted the Lord's command to be baptised. As far as they are concerned they were properly baptised as infants. They might be wrong on that, but making a theological blunder on an issue that is not essential to the gospel is not tantamount to sin.

I also regret the scismatic refusal of some Baptists to break bread with their peadobaptist brothers and sisters in Christ. It is above my pay grade to exclude a fellow-believer who loves the Lord and is living a godly life from the Lord's table.

Soggy fish deserved.

Jim Hamilton said...

Mike (and others who have responded in some measure to my comment),

As for the guys preaching the gospel together at T4G, that is what they are doing.

In my view, they are separating where separation counts: at the level of the local church. So I think it's helpful to think in terms of first, second, and third order issues.

A first order issue separates Christians from non-Christians.

A second order issue separates Baptists from Presbyterians, Presbyterians from Congregationalists from Anglicans from Methodists.

A third order issue is something that we can disagree on and still take communion together as members of the same local church.

If infant baptism (or refusing to be baptized as a believer) is not a failure to obey a command of Jesus (and in that sense, a sin), then Baptist churches don't need to exist.



Dave said...

Wouldn't all theological error be considered sinful, even if sin in ignorance? When I reflect on where I've come in my understanding of Scripture and theology across a short number of years, I cringe at things I use to claim (and teach!) so confidently. With that track record, I'm certainly holding to errors now. And I imagine my cringing will be a regular occurence until glory. Why is this failure to understand God's Word not sinful?

I assume that only one system can be right: paedo, credo or something else entirely. If so, someone is gravely wrong. For this and all manner of error, God does mete out his wrath because he demands perfection, as He is perfect. But Christ bore this sin, too, and so we have confidence before him. I think "Christian freedom" is often misused to say no one is wrong, but that doesn't seem to be the point. Rather, I'm free right now to be right or wrong. Paul is saying that I'm not the master, but the One who is will call all to account.

Bird wrote: "We are to absolutely separate from sin." I don't know what kind of fellowship you're apart of, but my church is pretty messy. Count me Exhibit A.

To be honest, this is where I wonder about Dever's refusal of communion with paedobaptists. But, certainly, as you alluded to with Spong, there's a line of fellowship somewhere. Dever has drawn that line at baptism (in regards to church membership, not wider fellowship).

I really doubt that Ligon Duncan or RC Sproul are too concerned over Dever's comments. And, to give Dever credit, he did not claim innocence from like sin ("just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors").

Help me out: How wrong do I have to be to be in sin? How wrong do I have to be to be refused fellowship with the local church? the wider church?

Matt Foreman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Foreman said...

To be fair, I had dinner with a paedobaptist friend last night who would say (alongside a large number of other paedobaptists) that it is sinful not to baptize the covenant children of believers. If baptism is a matter of obedience, to not obey is sin. It may be sin of ignorance, confusion, omission. But the argument goes both ways.

The T4G guys said publicly that one of the things they appreciate about each other is that they don't downplay the importance of ecclesiology or the sacraments. I remember them saying in '06 something along the lines of - the fact that they each have strong convictions on ecclesiology and the sacraments is one of the things that allows them to work together on the Gospel. Their not downplaying and watering down their importance for the sake of unity; they're agreed that the matters are important, and the Gospel is more important. Such a distinction is lost on many in our 'tolerant' age.

Chris said...

Others are saddened, but as a Baptist and former Presbyterian, I am gladdened to see Dever's comments, as well as those of Jim Hamilton.

Matt Foreman is also correct that many Presbyterians see those Christians who refuse to baptize their "covenant children" as sinning. The Westminster Confession of Faith reflects this at 28.5 when it states that it is a "great sin" to neglect or condemn baptism, which clearly includes infant baptism as well.

IMO Baptists who disagree with Dever here (as well as paedos who would be upset by the remarks) are the ones deserving of a soggy fish award. :) Indignation or outrage over such statements is a sign of the doctrinal indifference and in some cases, immaturity of our age.

It seems that throwing out the "s-bomb" or "h-bomb" when when we believe that the practice of others clearly contradict scripture just isn't politically correct these days. I mean, we wouldn't want to hurt somebody's feelings...

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Here's a timely article on paedo-baptism within the Church of England that bears upon this discussion. Click here.


"read the news report at Times Online about nurse John Hunt who is trying to get his baptism into the Church of England rescinded

Dr Hunt does not want the Church of England to enjoy special privileges based on 25 million members counted by baptisms carried out on babies when, judging by church attendance of 1.1 million, most of these grown-up babies no longer profess."

Grigs said...

I am a member of L'Église Réformée Du Québec for a denomination (think french speaking presbyterians or dutch Reformed that refuse to call themselves presbyterians) and of course I believe in the practice of padeo-baptism. But I think Dever has a point. If I am wrong then there is a sense I am sinning because I am misinterpreting the Word of God. And if Dever is wrong than there is a sense he is sinning for not giving the children of the covenant the covenant promises and mishandling the word of God. This is Baptist theology and though I do not agree I think Dever is being perfectly consistent with his church's confessional theology. This is really a big and important theological issue that we cannot ignore in order to have a healthy church.

Frank Turk said...

Mike --

I think you missed the mark on Mark Dever pretty broadly with your criticism here, especially for a guy who says he has spent most of his life in baptist circles and churches.

Pastor Dever's point was particularly pointy: he would never pastor a church in which the norm was paedobaptism, and where they have essentially opened the Lord's table up to those who are, frankly, not making a credible profession of faith and a commensurate act of repentence. The reason is that denying the use of baptism is itself a sin.

Nobody, btw, would really deny this. If you knew of a church which was doctrinally sound otherwise, but they said that they weren't going to baptize anyone, I am sure you would call that a sin. The paedo position is exactly the obverse of this: they will literally baptize anyone.

This is what makes us Baptists, btw: a high view of the command to preach the Gospel, require repentence, and offer baptism as a sign of the forgiveness God has given through faith & repentence.

Slapping that view with a sloppy fish award is, at best, careless -- and offers those who are actually sloppy credobaptists undo theological comfort.

If you need more detail than that, or want to discuss so aspect of your complaint in more detail, I'd be glad to do address any specific in more detail.

Christopher Zodrow said...

Dear Frank,
"The paedo position is exactly the obverse of this: they will literally baptize anyone."
Here is a good example of those crazy paedo-baptists who will baptize anyone: Acts 8:13

Here is another one, albeit in the previous form of the covenant sign: that crazy Abraham actually circumcised Ishmael!! What was he thinking? I mean, he should have waited for some kind of confession.

Oh yeah, he was obeying God.

And no Frank, we don't baptize anyone. We baptize the children of believing parents, as well as confessing adults. Kind of sounds like Abraham and Peter, no?

Hey, can we get another sloppy fish award over here?