Thursday, December 21, 2006

Reply to Wenxian on the orthodox & reformed doctrine of Infant Baptism (part 1)

OK, this is not what I particularly want to do, but after talking to my brother Wenxian over the phone on the subject of credo- vs paedobaptism for more than one hour, and then reading his recent post on this topic, I feel I need to offer a rebuttal to his post on the subject. As I have mentioned before to him, I am not an expert on this doctrine, and I am personally amiacable to (Particular) Baptists and their distinctive doctrines. Not speaking for all or any other historic Reformed folks out there (as distinct from Reformed Baptist), but I am willing to let Christians hold on to their different views on this topic since in my opinion it is not that vital (as opposed to doctrines such as Calvinism). However, one thing which I do not like is straw man argumentation and the committing of various logical fallacies in argument. That is why I would and have advise anyone who wants to study the subject to read more into the subject, and form your own conclusion slowly and carefully. Also, since this is not that vital a doctrine, using polemics against the other party is NEITHER needed nor warrented, and whoever does so is inviting trouble; and I will make sure they will get the trouble they ask for.

In this and subsequent posts, therefore, I would analyze Wenxian's arguments against Infant Baptism and test them for logical consistency and Scriptural backing.

The first argument given against Infant Baptism is given as:

1) There is no real clear biblical command for infant baptism. This alone is sufficient.

This commits the logical fallacy of argument from silence. Just because there isn't an explicit command for Infant baptism doesn't imply that Infant Baptism is wrong. True, we need to follow Scripture and Scripture alone, but then Scripture alone includes not only the explicit commands of Scripture, but also the implicit commands of Scripture, and furthermore the application of Scripture. To see why this argument is fallacious, let's substitute the term 'infant baptism' for something else, like ... immersion only baptism, which is what Baptists practice. Show me one verse in Scripture whereby Jesus or the Apostles explicitly commands that baptism must be done only via immersion. You can't! It is the most implied in Scripture, not explicitly commanded.

As an aside, there is an assumption in this argument that baptism and infant baptism are two seperate distinct things, instead of them being overlapping entities. Infant baptism could very well be spoken of in the NT as being under the subset of baptism, and thus to infer from the fact that just because infant baptism is not mentioned specifically in the NT so it is not done nor commanded is fallacious.

While there are examples of households being baptised, there was no effort made to show that the households contain infants.

Judging by the prevalent Roman, Greek and Jewish cultures of that time, such information would definitely not be given unless there is something special about the infants. In fact, why should the infants be mentioned since they are not someone special and just part of the household, if there were any? This thus commits another fallacy of argument from silence. In fact, the texts indicating that entire households are baptized could be used as a strong text to support infant baptism, since in those ancient cultures, how many people are there who practise birth control methods etc during that time? Probably none, in fact! Most families then would have lots of children of various ages, and to suppose that they just decided to stop having children after a certain age is rather far-fetched.

With regards to the household issue, perhaps it would be good to look also at Acts. 2:39 where it is specifically stated that the promise is to ... the children of believers! Yes, it is stated after that that the promise it is to everyone to whom the Lord calls to Himself, but why the assumption that the children of believers are among those to whom the Lord does not call to Himself?

Faith marked the entry into the salvic (sic Salvific) promise in [the] OT.

No. Faith does not 'mark' the entry into the salvific promise in the OT. Faith is the pre-requisite, but it since it is unseen, it does not visibly mark the entry into the salvific promises. The visible mark of entry into the promises of the OT which are fulfiled in Jesus Christ is via circumcision (Gen. 17:10-14), since the promise was made to Israel as the visible Church of the OT. Of couse, only those of the elect in Israel would appropriate the promises by faith, but such faith is not exactly visible except in the obvious cases of certain people like the prophets and judges, and this we know through Scripture only. Just because one shows forth external piety does not show one is truly saved, just like the Pharisees and the Sadducees whom Jesus condemned (Lk. 11:39-52).

But now for paedobaptism, where is the command? Should not God make it clear if he wants us to do it? God is not stupid. If he wants something done, he will state it clearly so that we will have no excuse. The converse is true.

And who defines what is clear and what is not? If the command is in the OT, and the New Covenant does not abrogate the Old but instead it shows forth the true meaning of it, then the command is stil valid in some form. If one assumes the continuity of the Old and New Testaments, and the Old and New Covenants (which I do), then there will be some implications on whether something stated in the OT continues on in some fashion in the New Dispensation of Grace. Yes, if God commands us to do something, it will be clear. However, just because you can't discern something does not mean that thing is NOT clear! To object to infant baptism because you can't see it being commanded in Scripture has the same apologetic value as the Jehovah Witness who objects to the eternal sonship and deity of Jesus Christ because he can't see it stated in Scripture.

in absense of the biblical warrant, we are in danger of instilling a human tradition and forcing people to do it.

As I have said, just because it is not stated explicitly does not imply that it is not stated in Scripture implicitly.

As mentioned by some of [m]y friends, they claim that paedobaptism is a liberty issue

Wenxian got that from me, or rather it was supposed to be from me, but no, this is NOT what I said. I said that I regard paedobaptism as an issue over which individual Christians should be allowed to have liberty to embrace or not (without using the H-word). It is not something which is on the level of eating meat or esteeming certain days etc (Rom. 14, 1 Cor. 8), but is regarding doctrine, and a rather important one at that. Due to the complexity of the issue, and the fact that it is important but not vital, individual Christians in my opinion should be allowed to have the liberty to decide which position they would like to embrace.

But the problem lies that since there is NO biblical warrant, they would be guilty of a great sin if they, in the name of Christ, were to force people to do things that God himself did not command. For they would be breaking the command in Exodus 20:7 when they misuse the Lord's name. In fact they are in danger of making God out to be a liar.

I believe that there is biblical warrant for infant baptism. Anyway, what I would like to focus on here is the polemics which is used against us historic Reformed folks. As one of them myself, I find this type of polemical statements offensive and definitely not warranted, since this issue is NOT relating to heresies etc. There is a place for everything, including polemics and rhetoric, but one place where they shoudn't show up is in disagreements among brethren when the issue involved is not a soul-endangering one.

2. Infant baptism confuses the real church and the unsaved. Infant baptism is a confusing concept that seems to 'come into effect when a child confesses his faith'. This brings out many controversies. Firstly, at what age? who defines the age that makes the 'confession of faith' real and valid? Could the child be confused?

It 'does not come into effect when a child confesses his faith'! I said that it is validated as a true baptism when the child confesses his faith. With regards to the age issue, this is not something which is specific for paedobaptists. May I counter-question the credo-baptists: at what age can the child be considered suitable for adult baptism? Could the person be confused? Do you think certain baptist churches in the US who conduct children evangelism are correct? If these children confess Christ at such an evangelistic meeting, since they are supposed to be believers then (as they were not Christians beforehand), should they be admitted for believers' baptism? Think before you answer.

For credobaptism, the opposite of paedobaptism, God did define it. He defined in NT, unarguably, ALL baptism to be of people who confess faith, repent and believe. Age and sex no longer matter.

Just for the record, credobaptism is NOT the opposite of paedobaptism! We historic Reformed folks DO baptize adults on the same basis as credo-baptists do! And sorry, I disagree with the statement that all baptism in the NT is to be of people who confess faith, repent and believe. This commits the logical fallacy of petitio principii or begging the question, in which the conclusion is smuggled into the premises. There is NO passages in Scripture whereby baptism is said to be ONLY for those who can willingly confess their faith! Showing passages of people being baptized who do so does not prove that baptism is exclusively for those who do so. (i.e. 'If p, then q' does not imply that 'If not p, then not q'!)

What happens is that paedobaptism will create a church with many unbelievers who are baptised. This makes the baptism to NONbelievers less important that it should be, no matter how much we explain to them.

There are unbelievers in all churches! Jesus Himself said that in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Mt. 13:24-30), and only at the Final Judgment would they be totally seperated. Is there any church anywhere who can claim that their membership is 100% regenerate? No! Even the most stringent criteria for membership does not preclude that heretics would arise from within the flock (Acts. 20:30), which occur even during the Apostolic Age. What makes anyone so sure that their membership criteria would weed out all the non-believers? How can anyone know the heart of any person to see whether that person is truly regenerate or not? We can only see the external; whether the person professes true doctrine and behave accordingly, but we can never know the heart. If there be a membership criteria which is able to remove the true unregenerate from the church, is is bound to create lots of false negatives (i.e. true believers who are shifted out using those same criteria - c.f.Mt. 13:29), which God forbids (Mt. 13:30)! Yes, we try to screen people so that only regenerate Christians are inside, and we throw out heretics who deny the faith, but that does not imply that we are to do more than Scripture allows us to, and attempting to read the heart of the person whom we are considering for membership is one of such practices which add to God's Word and in fact violates it (Ps. 44:21; Jer. 17:9).

That being said, do any Baptist churches dare to likewise proclaim that their membership is 100% regenerate, since they only baptize those who make a valid confession of faith and live according to it? I would hope not! In fact, one just has to look down church history to see that Baptist churches have apostasized before. How can that be if Baptist churches have 100% regenerate membership? Oviously, Baptist churches try to have 100% regenerate membership, and try to make sure that the people joining them are truly regenerate, but this process was and will never be foolproof.

Since such is the case, this objection to paedobaptism by saying that it would be filled with unbelievers is false. This could occur with Baptist churches as well! If one says that paedobaptism would give rise to a higher probability for the church to be filled with unbelievers, then that would be more valid. This obviously has happened to Presbyterian and Reformed churches before, where there is laziness in enforcing proper procedure and church discipline for children born to believers who are actually not born again. However, this problem is not unique to paedobaptist churches. Aren't Baptist churches also susceptible to the problem of a formerly admitted member who later apostasized? And how many Baptist churches actually practice church discipline against recalcitrant sinning members? And do Baptist churches sometimes practice more leniency when examining the membership application of the children of members, and especially the pastor's children? I rest my case.

The Lord does not want to do a repeat of Israel, where many were circumcised but many turn away.

Wrong. Verses to support your stand please.

If the Lord wanted a repeat, there would be no need for the NT baptism. The Lord does not 'change' terms for fun.

This is a misunderstanding of the relation between the Old and New Testament, and the Old and New Covenant. The changing of the terms is not because the Lord wanted to somehow make a church whereby all members in it are regenerate, but because the Old Covenant was in types and shadows, whereas all is clear in the New Covenant, therein the changes.

[to be continued]

(Note: All comments are to be posted on the second and concluding post)