Questions and Answers Concerning Baptism
by Paul Hazelden


    Background

      A few years ago, I posted an article about the Biblical basis of baptism on this site. In May 2002, I received a response to it which prompted another article on the subject of 'an eternal covenant.' I then replied directly in the email reproduced in section 1 below, and the conversation continued as you now read it.

       

  1. My Email
    1. Sorry about the delay in replying. I've had a lot on my plate over the last few months.

      I have finally put together a reasonably coherent response to your question. It is now on the web site, at: http://www.hazelden.org.uk/pt04/art_pt153_eternal_covenant.htm.

      My response turned out to be more critical of various aspects of your question than I had intended. Please accept my apologies if it misunderstands what you are meaning to suggest, or or anything in it offends you. It is not deliberate, I promise!

      If I have misunderstood something in your question, please let me know. It doesn't identify you in any way, but I want the response to be both honest and helpful.

      At various points in the reply, I am simplifying some complex theological issues. This is deliberate, as I want the article to be accessible to a wide range of people, not just those with theological training. It is my intention that each simplification is fair and justified in the context (the aspects I ignore do not affect the argument), but if you think I have over-simplified any part, please feel free to say so and suggest what you would consider to be a more appropriate summary. Many thanks.

      While we are here, would you mind answering a question or two from me?

      Is your belief in paedobaptism based on your interpretation of the Bible?

      If not (for example, if it is based on Church tradition, pointing back to certain Biblical passages), then thank you for your response.

      If, on the other hand, it is based on the Bible, do you work from a broadly evangelical perspective?

      If not, then, again, thank you.

      But if you do, I would really like to know...

      • if I have missed something important in the Bible, please let me know what it is!
      • and if you think I have misunderstood the relevant Biblical passages, please show me how the standard hermeneutic principles should be applied to those passages to enable me to reach a different interpretation.

      My central purpose in all this is to understand and obey what God says, not to support a particular doctrine - whether concerning baptism or anything else. If my interpretation of the Bible is wrong, I want to put it right! And this will only happen by listening to people I (currently) disagree with.

      Thank you again for your response. I hope you enjoy my reply

       

  2. His Reply
    1. Thank you for your response. We obviously have numerous differences in doctrinal positions (all within the scope of orthodoxy, I trust) and are therefore not likely to reach agreement here. Nonetheless, I appreciate your response and would like to demonstrate that by answering your questions and pointing out where I believe some of your responses are flawed.

      Your questions, my answers:

      Q. Is your belief in paedobaptism based on your interpretation of the Bible?

      A. Yes. I believe the teaching of Scripture beginning in Genesis where Abraham was commanded to give the covenant sign to his son along with the teaching that baptism is the sign of the new covenant supports the paedobaptist position. At this point, I will address what I consider to be a pivotal point of difference in our views. I believe the whole of Scripture is an unfolding of God's plan of salvation. The NT unveils the "mystery" of the "who" the Messiah is and the gospel expansion to the gentiles. Therefore, I disagree with the approach of starting with the NT. Abraham, Noah, and our ancestors in the faith are also Christians. If they are not saved by the atoning sacrifice of Christ, they are not saved!

      Q. If, on the other hand, it is based on the Bible, do you work from a broadly evangelical perspective?

      A. I don't believe I am theologically savvy enough to understand your question. If you could expound, I will try.

      Next, I would like to point out a few areas where I find your response to be questionable.

      1. You say, "...quite frankly, I don't mind what the OT may say about baptism or children. I want to know what Jesus said..." Since an essential of Christianity is belief in the Trinity and since Jesus is the second person in the Trinity and therefore God, and since Scripture is the Word of God, I hold that the OT should not be given less weight than the NT because both are the inspired, inerrant Word of God. As such, they do not contradict one another, rather they are harmonious. So, it is more appropriate to test whether or not a doctrine based on NT principles alone is in harmony with the OT than to discount the OT to maintain the "NT-only" doctrine. The OT says that God's everlasting covenant (which does not guarantee salvation) includes children. Since the NT sign of the covenant is baptism and since God's covenant is everlasting, baptism of children is not only appropriate but commanded.
      2. You attempt to discredit the harmonizing of OT and NT principles (such as the equating of Israel and the church) by absurd examples that lack similarity. In the case of the temple, we have clear NT teaching that part of God's unfolding plan of redemption is that now He makes His chosen people His temple (1 Cor. 3:17). There is no such teaching that removes children from covenant status. (This is only achieved by creating a dichotomy of the NT and OT in such a way that the NT is similar to the Book of Mormon and the OT the Bible.)
      3. Under your "God's Inability" section, you either miss the point or disagree with it. God staked His very being on His promise in Genesis 15. He gave me the right to hope in His inability to disregard His covenant promise. I agree (but for obviously different reasons) that this is "breathtaking."
      4. You state "We are commanded to baptise believers. We are never commanded to baptise babies." Once again this is relegates the OT to a lesser status than the NT. The sign of the covenant in the OT was to be given to children. No NT teaching repeals the command to give the covenant sign to children. Upon professing faith in God, adult believers in the OT received the covenant sign. Your logic that because only one example is explicitly cited in the NT the other (baptizing babies of believers) is not valid is simply incorrect.
      5. You refer to the following in a different place on your site: "The natural way to read and interpret this passage [Matt. 28: 19-20] is "... disciple ye [as many people as possible in] all the nations, baptising them..." in which case the "them" we are to baptise are the "as many people as possible in all the nations" who are being discipled. So it comes back to the same thing in practice: the people we are commanded to baptise and teach are those who are being discipled.
         
        The crux of your argument appears to rest in your belief that a child cannot be discipled prior to confessing Christ as Lord. I believe Deut 6: 4-7 refutes this assertion. Impressing God's commandments upon our children is discipling. Therefore, the Great Commission does not support baptizing "confessors" over "pre-confessors." If one is not discipled, he never learns what to confess!
      6. In your Ways to Heaven section, your failure to see the new covenant as being built upon the old is clear. Also, your reasoning indicates you believe OT believers were justified by the law (the first route to Heaven). Paul states in Gal. 3:11 that on one is justified by the law. Again, OT and NT believers are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Period. There has never been another way; there will never be another way.
      7. You say "When you look at what God says in the Bible, you discover that the terms "eternal" and "everlasting" do not mean what we usually think they do. We think they are primarily about chronology, when they are more accurately understood to be about purpose and the fulfillment of destiny."
         
        See (3) above. If God's promises cannot be taken to mean "what we usually think they do," then you impose a criteria that undermines the very hope God desires His children to have. God intends that His people will abide in the living hope he lays out in 1 Peter 1:3-9, not doubt whether He means what He says.

      While I realize I am about as unlikely to persuade you as you are to persuade me, I hope something in what I have said above may cause you to think afresh on some of the topics.

      Please let me know your thoughts.

       

  3. My Reply
    1. Wonderful!

      Thank you for your response. I have just skimmed through, and a proper response will take some time. Some of your points I was half expecting, while other points I did not expect at all.

      I will try to reply in detail in the next week or two. In the meantime, one further question occurs to me - did you agree with any aspect of my response, or do you think I am seriously mistaken on every point? I would find it helpful if we can establish a few more points of agreement.

      Thanks again.

       

  4. His Response
    1. Hopefully, the following points of agreement will help. (I don't mean to so focused on the negative. I suppose it's the nature of these types of exchanges.)

      I agree that:

      1. "a standard principle of Biblical interpretation is that we should interpret the obscure passages in the light of the clear ones"
      2. "Jesus was a Jew, and He believed the Old Testament as the word of God."
      3. "I read the NT in the light of Jesus, and I read the OT in the light of Jesus " -- I believe to do otherwise is to miss the point of God's unfolding plan of salvation. I just think this can be a little muddy based on where we place emphasis (i.e., NT first, then OT (as I understand your view) or OT first establishing the foundation, then the NT).
      4. "the new covenant is based on the old. It is built on the foundation of the old. "
      5. There is only one route to heaven--Jesus Christ. (Your answer appears to indicate this route only became available after his advent, as opposed to being the only route since the fall.)
      6. Babies don't go to heaven because they are baptized. Baptism is not a necessary condition of salvation.

      I think I have been fairly thorough in this list. It is intentionally short because we have many different views related to this topic, which probably is a large contributor to the reason the two camps are so solidified! I wanted to touch on a couple of points I specifically left out; so you would know they were not accidental:

      1. "We are never commanded to baptise babies." (If this means no specific verse says to baptize babies, we have the same problem with the Trinity. Not every doctrine is supported by a single verse.)
      2. "The whole Bible is full of examples where God changed His mind." (Such examples are anthropomorphic--one of a few theological terms in my dictionary! (Human descriptions applied to God in case I misused or misspelled the term.) Since God is omniscient, no new information can come to Him on which He would base a change of mind.
      3. "...there is a much more obvious group to worry about: the Jewish people. How can that group, who were included in the Old Covenant, not be included in the New Covenant?" The Jewish people are included in the old and the new. Covenant does not equal salvation. Ishmael was included in the Old covenant (Gen. 17:23), but not saved (Gen 17:19-21).
      4. I disagree with your view of God's election. People are not saved because they (of their own will) respond to the gospel in faith. Therefore, they are not sentenced to hell because they don't believe. God elects according to His "pleasure and will" (Eph. 1:5), not on "him who wills" (Romans 9:16). Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). A book does not accept or reject its author. We must be born again (John 3). We didn't pick our parents the first time. Why do so many change this simple and straightforward illustration for the second birth? If this is not the view of election taught in the Bible, evangelism is the greatest curse the church can give. If the gospel, rather than being the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16), is merely a concept by which men are doomed to hell only if they reject, then the Great Commission is the command of condemnation rather than the command of blessing. Election is where I find you to have a double standard about basing your doctrine on Scripture alone. Scripture alone clearly teaches the election of God according to His good pleasure, not on the basis of anything (works) man will do (including faith--Jesus is author). Faith, repentance,and obedience are the first fruits of regeneration, not the causes of it.

      I look forward to your response. And, once again, I too do not mean to offend. As a sinner saved by grace, I know I am wrong in places where I believe I am right. I trust that all of the above is borne from a pure desire to know Him more fully and bring Him glory, not from pride and the desire to indulge the flesh by being right.

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