LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 238

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. These are my personal reflections on this beloved historic Particular Baptist confession of the Christian Faith.


Chapter 29. Of Baptism. Paragraph 2: “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.”

This is contrary to the Christian beliefs of some others I love, respect, study under, work in ministry with, and yet humbly disagree with.

Every person who baptizes infants disagrees with the logic given here in this statement of the confession. They do not disagree with the logic in the confession here above when an adult needs baptized, but they disagree as to the standard practices of the church and her people. Some call it sin for me not to baptize my kids. I do not call it sin when one does. I highly respect the Presbyterian position on this matter, but I am a Reformed Baptist. I have consciously decided to let the New Covenant (NC) primarily inform my theology on the execution of water baptism. And seeing that the water baptism of both males and females is an entirely new practice in the NC this seems safe. Of course, I do not “unhitch” the Old Covenant (OC) from anything. I’d as soon be daft enough to try to unhitch the Son from the Father than to do so, but the Old Testament is not the primary place for, and neither does it have the final say in, my theology on new covenant water baptism. Its paradigms bear their inspired records, but one’s NC theology on for example the shedding of blood (which blood, how often, to what effect, etc.) must obviously come primarily from the NC Scriptures and Christ’s shed blood. It’s a matter of priority, not divorce. The OC’s types bear their records to the anti-types, but it’s our NC theology that best principally forms our NC doctrine. I believe that when we do this, there is no ambiguity on who we should baptize. It’s simple. We should baptize those able to understand why we’re baptizing them.
Arguments made for “household baptism” regarding infants by some well-meaning brothers are not convincing. There is no reason to believe that those few household baptisms in the Bible a) were not all professing believers, which would be attested by the other few thousands recorded, or b) (including a) not exhaustive of every member of a household. Meaning those eligible and/or desiring it would be called to the water and not those either too young or not willing. I could cite many other issues with the household infant baptism argument.

There are roughly forty years covered in the timeline of the Book of Acts with thousands of recorded baptisms. Not a single one of them, beginning at Pentecost, was of someone who the baptizer did not believe was a professing believer. A seeker. Peter didn’t tell them to go get their wives and their babies in Acts 2. We see expressly that there was a response of the heart that was expected every time before baptism. That’s thousands of examples to base our prescription off of and every single one of them is a professing believer. No exceptions. This number in Acts would exclude, but be exactly paralleled by, every baptism by John the Witness (AKA John the Baptist) which overlapped the ministry of Jesus. John baptized professing believers in repentance. There is no reason to suppose otherwise even in that unique transition period from the Old to the New Covenant in the Gospels and Acts.
As a Baptist, I practice believer’s baptism. It’s just too modelled for me. It’s not about age, but age plays a role as cognition comes with age. The person baptized must be able to understand what’s being done and why it’s being done to some extent. This places the credo (believer) Baptist at odds with much of western Christian history back to the 3rd and 4th century of the Christian era. That’s ok. The history of an error doesn’t establish the error. The Reformers would all agree with me on that fact given their fight with a Catholic Church roughly 450 years old in their day. The practice of the earliest days of the church was undeniably like that of the Baptist today. See the Didache for just some of that evidence. The Didache calls for fasting and prayer prior to baptism for those baptized. They didn’t put fasts on their babies, reader. The Apostolic practice was undeniably like that of the Baptists today. It was in the name of the triune God, by immersion, and to believers. In history, errors of infant baptism arose…as did deathbed baptism which is something ancient that I know of no one still practicing. But what was ancient in infant baptism practices did not just carry on through the Reformation in most all respects. There is in fact an almost complete discontinuity between much of the better traditions in the Reformation and the older practice of infant baptism.

The great theologian John Calvin (and perhaps one of his German predecessors named John Oecolampadius) developed a new idea on baptism that was light years beyond the devolved and in fact Pagan practices of the Papists that baptism does not regenerate (make one born again) but is only applied to the children of believers as a standard practice of the faithful. That it’s merely a sign of covenant community. That the sign of salvation baptism is meant to portray could be applied before or after the actual spiritual realities they represent. In Calvin’s view, baptism does not regenerate the soul of the one baptized (which places his view as entirely opposed to almost all historic practices of infant baptism) but that it grants them membership in the covenant community of the church. This is not what Luther taught. This is not at all what Rome’s schoolmen taught. One could understand this in the man’s day in reaction to Rome’s devolution on the sacraments, but this is just not a sufficiently defined concept in the NC Scriptures. It is, however, one made feasible when one allows the OC paradigm of circumcision to control the implications of things like the holiness of one’s kids mentioned in the NC, etc., that are in fact NC principles, but are not of themselves related to whether or not someone was baptized. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul- the one who said Christ did not send him to Corinth to baptize in 1 Corinthians 1:17- speaks of children being “holy” by the faith of even just one of their believing parents. Many paedobaptist brothers use this text to speak of the covenant community concept. I can understand why, but what does “holy” here mean in the context of the passage? Is anyone actually arguing that it is the same as that holiness in Hebrews 12:14 in the life of one born from above? Or the same as that holiness in every born again person spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:1? God forbid we’d say so! Are all children of believers born again? Is that the holiness they have just being the child of a believer or believers? No. While some paedobaptists have argued for just that, that is not the widely held view, and Calvin, such a venerable theologian, did not teach this. Similarly we could ask if the “sanctification” of the unbelieving spouse is the same as that “sanctification” present in the lives of all of God’s “called” in Romans 8:29-30? No. God forbid we’d say so, but Paul does say that the unbelieving spouse is “sanctified” by the believing spouse. We must work in our system to not say what’s not being said and to say what’s being said. I look at these passages as evidence of the salt and light of the Gospel in people’s lives and families, but my point is that after we define whatever “holy” or “sanctified” in fact means by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, we can be sure that baptism has no part in any of it since baptism is nowhere even mentioned. So, why do some insert it? The Baptist does not because it’s not there. Calvin argued that just like circumcision did not guarantee the Israelite male child circumcised at eight days an eternal inheritance, so goes the NC ordinance on baptism. That is the start of a very convincing argument, but one that falls short soon when NC clarity is prioritized. The NC member (hence one fit for the baptismal sign of the NC in my humble view) is one I can trust is indwelt by God. One in whom I can see the fruit of repentance. As it is written: “And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen, and each one his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord,’ For they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.” Hebrews 8:11. Hebrews 8:7-13 speaks of the NC in the midst of the surrounding chapters keen to communicate its amazing blood-bought reality. All new covenant members “know God” immediately. They are all equally in Christ. There is no mention of baptism here again, but a clear truth of the very nature of this New Covenant between God and his elect that makes all signs pertaining thereunto only fit to one who we can truly believe “knows him.” Again, Calvin says that this one sacrament can be applied before its reality is believed to be present, but we find it best to not apply it when we’re certain it’s not reality. Circumcision did not convey to those covenant members the kind of thing new covenant members here (and in many places) are said to possess. To some, baptism is merely a sign of a covenant people, not a personal profession of faith. There comes then a strange inconsistency with the Lord’s Table we’ll mention soon. No, I believe that circumcision does not just give way to another sign in water baptism in the NC, but that the Hebrew circumcision of the penis symbolized the coming circumcision of the heart made characteristic or inextricably linked to the hearts of all of God’s people in the NC doctrine of regeneration. See again Hebrews 8.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) commands we go…make, and baptize “disciples.” The logic is unavoidable. Disciples are the regenerate convert professors who call out to Christ for their salvation. They’re the ones responding as we go. Believers (professors) are the ones called then to observe ordinances like baptism and all that Christ has commanded us. We should no more therefore give the Lord’s Table to someone unable to spiritually participate in it than we should give them baptism. We invite disciples to the table and to the waters. We invite those able to approach the baptism in a worthy manner in the same way we invite those we believe are able to do so to the table. I submit that a baptism done in an unworthy manner would serve to a man’s condemnation just like an unworthy partaking of the Table would. 1 Corinthians 11:27-31. We are consistent if withholding both to only those we can joyously believe are right with God in Christ. To those who love God. We invite disciples to the baptistry just like we invite disciples to the bread and the cup.

The typology of baptism itself works as a guide for who it’s fit for in this NC. Baptism is symbolic of one’s unity in the Holy Spirit with Jesus. That as he died, we died. As he rose, we rose. As he was then glorified, so shall be we who are in him and await it. Now I ask you, in whom could this symbology be properly applied except to those who are themselves calling for it? No infant fits. Luther ended up arguing that infants could believe, but this is just not among his most solid of arguments. Unless you’re given explicit revelation that your child was regenerate in utero or something (hint: this will not happen) the symbology of death and life is best applied only after what it is meant to portray is believed to have occurred in their souls. Circumcision in the Hebrew Faith only had its symbolism post the institution of the promises God gave to Abraham and to his seed. The same is true of the spiritual seed of God in Christ now. The signs follow the substance, not the hope of that substance at some point. This is why no one in Scripture applies the symbol(s) without reasonably assuming that the substance has come.

Immersion in water fits to symbolize death, not sprinkling, etc. Every discourse of water baptism given in the NC is given in the context of the reading believer’s capable understanding when they read it of what it symbolizes having happened in them. Hence the typology of water baptism would be something they should be able to relate to in a death, resurrection, and that newness of life since. Symbology guides our theology on this to immersion. More on this later in the confession.

Conscious affirmation is meant to be garnered by the ordinance in the lives of God’s people. When (not if) the waves of doubt roll in one’s life, to return to the principle of the waves of water baptism is meant to speak to the conscience. Believer’s baptism, when done properly, is an act the baptized are meant to be able to recall throughout their lives. They could then say to themselves, “I am tempted, I am struggling, yes, but I know why I have been baptized.” It seems unhelpful to remove this remembrance by applying it to someone too young to be able to return to it.

Charles Spurgeon said: “Again, let me explain this matter and set in as plain terms as possible. We believe that this ordinance should never be administered apart from the entire immersion of the candidate in water, and we also believe that none should be candidates for this ordinance excepting those who avow their faith in Christ. And here let me observe ‘ that the very common notion that we are in the habit of practising adult baptism is utterly a mistake. We do not contend for the baptism of adults; we contend for the baptism of believers. Show us a child however young, who believes in Christ, and we gladly accept him; but if a man as old as Methuselah were to come to us in unbelief, we should say to him, “Sir, your age certainly entitles you to our respect, but it gives you no manner of claim to baptism as ordained by Jesus Christ.” (Cited at the end of this devotional for further study).

Baptism is a unique means of grace, but it’s just another means of it. It, the act, conveys spiritual blessings to the believer. Just as every work done by the believer, baptism carries heavenly blessings. Obedience always does. It’s unique in these blessings in that it’s done only once, but it indeed only another means of grace. This is a fit truth for who? For the believer.

Baptism in water is a work. It is a work of righteousness. Titus 3:5-7. Period. Full stop. And works do not forgive our sin. Works don’t save us in any way except in that way they “save us” in sanctification. Cf. James 2:14; 1 Timothy 4:16. Water baptism symbolizes the deeper, spiritual, God-alone-being-able-to-have-done, reality. Just like the Lord’s Supper we love, there is the meaning pointed to externally in the work. Some Protestants commit the abysmal error (to quote Gerstner) of baptismal regeneration. Lutheranism, from the Philippists, made this grievous mistake. If it wasn’t couched in a wider theology of grace in fact it’d be abject heresy to say that water baptism regenerates. The Church of Christ (the religious group erroneously called Protestant) is condemned for this error which they apply to adults. If the water ceremony, a work, saved, then there would be an irreconcilable contradiction between say Ephesians 2:8-9 and 1 Peter 3:21. But there isn’t. So, what a sound systematic theology on these ordinances or sacraments teaches us is that the symbols of things are to be spoken of as the actual things themselves…without forgetting the difference between the symbol and the substance. We call the bread we eat “his body” but of course the Doctrine of Transubstantiation is utterly false. It is not his body. The cup (wine or juice) “is his blood” when we speak of it, but again of course, Transubstantiation is utterly false. It is not his blood. I’m sorry to appear irreverent to the high ordinance, but we do not actually consume the body, soul, and divinity of Christ as the Satanist says in communion. No, we don’t make Jesus into holy crap and pee. We do not worship the bread who understand that what we call a thing is not the thing itself. This is not hard. We speak of things as directed as the very things they convey, but we know that their reality is totally separate. The bread and cup of the Lord’s Table is not his actual body and blood, but they symbolize it and convey a grace to the faithful in their observance and remembrance as Christ is ever-present and in special ways by them by his design. Believers are to understand these things in baptism. They obey what’s commanded in their lives reaching up to heaven itself in their works. Jesus is the door, John 10:7, but is not made of wood, metal, or hinges. Baptism does not save, but it symbolizes it to our blessing. It’s a place to hang our hat. The baptism God does to his elect in Christ by circumcising their hearts is what saves them.

Salvation is of the Lord. Within the Protestant essentials of an entirely grace-based salvation, there’s a needed peace seeking in ecumenism I’m all about. We must understand that God decides who he’ll have mercy on. Romans 8:29-30; 9:16, et al. We do not force his hand by baptism or by anything. Our kids in the end are not “ours” at all. They’re God’s. We will not stand with them at the judgment. Our faith and our works cannot save them. We obey God in raising them up in the Faith and leaving all up to him. We know that he chooses his own and that we cannot change this. We cannot make God’s mercy a matter of a recipient’s (or a parent’s) will. So long as someone couches their theology on works in the wider sense of this, while some of it like some of baptism’s who, when, and how may differ, we are free to practice it according to what we see in the Bible.

For further consideration:

 Christian Baptism

Joseph Pittano

No Comments