Thursday, September 18, 2008
I was reading in the book of Job yesterday...when we face incredible pain and suffering, why is it that our default perspective is that we must have done something to tick God off? And why is our second thought often, "What do I need to do or how do I need to change that will get me out of this fix?" We're so often just like Job's friends...we still hold to a theology that says if we're good, we will prosper and be comfortable, and if we're struggling it must be due to sin. We just can't seem to handle a God that is so big that He might actually make suffering part of the plan to soften us toward others and transform us internally and help us to hunger for Him more. It is in times of pain and suffering that our true belief (or unbelief!) in the gospel is revealed. Its easy to say we believe in the truth of grace when things are going well...but do we really take our stand in Christ's righteousness when our worlds are coming apart? How often are we like the disciples: "Jesus, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Its really interesting pastoring a Presbyterian church in an area where 50-60 percent of our visitors seem to come from a Baptist background. First of all let me say that I am so thankful for God for my Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ. Usually, their zeal and passion for outreach puts us Presbyterians to shame. Having said that, I often find that the first questions I am asked by visitors are, "Why do you guys baptize infants?" And, "Why don't you guys immerse?" Since I'm asked this question so often, I thought I'd just put up my initial response on the blog...and I can always come back and add to it later. First, the issue of baptism comes down ultimately to the issue how we form doctrinal beliefs. Many people feel that there must be a particular verse that clearly reveals a doctrine as obvious before they'll believe it...that's unfortunate. If that were how doctrine is defined, we wouldn't be able to prove the Trinity...that God is One God who exists in Three Distinct Persons. As is the case for the Trinity, so it is for baptism. We don't look for proof-texts, but rather we look at the entire counsel of God and look for themes that are repeated over and over. When it comes to baptism, we don't just look for individual verses, nor do we just consider the New Testament! We must look at the entire Bible to arrive at our theology. When we look at the entire Bible, one thing becomes clear...it is impossible to understand New Testament doctrine without also being familiar with Old Testament theology. As a matter of fact, almost all of the New Testament is either an Old Testament direct quotation, or an Old Testament reference or flows out of a theme covered in the Old Testament. When it comes to baptism, even the New Testament makes it clear that we can not understand baptism unless we understand Old Testament circumcision. If you ARE one of those people who are looking for a verse, check out Colossians 2:11-12. In those verses Paul writes, in effect, that we have been circumcised by being baptized! He equates circumcision and baptism! I have a lot more to write down...but gotta play car-pool dad.
So, if, as Paul clearly teaches in Colossians 2, that we are circumcised thru being baptized, what do we know about circumcision. We need to go to Genesis 17 where God establishes His covenant through Abraham. God says He will make a covenant with Abraham and with His descendents after him, to be Abraham's God and the God of his offspring as well. Then God says that Abraham's part of the covenant is to believe God's promise and be circumcised AND to circumcise his male children 8 days old as well. Now, what is really amazing about this is that Paul, looking back to Gen 17 in Romans 4:11, says that circumcision was the sign and seal of the righteousness that comes by faith! One of the points the Baptistic tradition makes is that baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith...that is CLOSE to what I would say...but to put it a little differently, baptism is a sign of the gift of righteousness that is given to those who don't hope in their own righteousness but receive an alien righteousness from Christ that is by faith. What's interesting about all this is that God says this sign of the righteousness that comes by faith is to be applied to 8 day old male infants who couldn't possibly have the faith that brings them the alien righteousness that comes by faith!! And when we DO come to the New Testament, we need to realize that the early church was Jewish and came to the New Testament with a Jewish understanding flowing from the Old Testament Scriptures. So, in Acts 2:38-39, after his Pentecost sermon, Peter, when asked by the crowd what they should do, said "Repent and be baptized." And THEN he adds, "For the promise is for you AND YOUR CHILDREN..." There is only one way the listeners, which were ENTIRELY Jewish (Acts 2:5), would hear Peter's words. They'd say, "Well, yeah. That's how it has ALWAYS been! The covenant promises have ALWAYS been for us and for our children! God had always promised to be a God to us and to our children. And God has always given the sign of the righteousness that is by faith to not only believing adults, but to the children of believers as well. So, far, then, we have learned that circumcision and baptism are related to each other in the closest possible way...and that they both pointed to the same thing...the righteousness that comes by faith. And now we've learned that the SUBJECTS of circumcision were both believing made adults and the male children of believing parents. Now, in light of all this, the burden of proof concerning the baptism of children is not even on Presbyterians! The burden of proof is on the baptistic tradition that says, after over 2000 years of Old Testament church history, the children of believers are no longer included in the covenant community or heirs to the covenant promises. The problem for them is such proof does not exist and evidence that the continuity with the Old Testament doctrine of circumcision continues through baptism. If 1st century Jewish parents were to believe that only believers were to receive the sign and seal of the righteousness that comes by faith, there would have to be CLEAR EVIDENCE of that...and there is none. Just because the New Testament records baptisms of people who seem to be adults and come to faith and then get baptized, it doesn't mean children are NOT to be baptized. That is simply an argument from silence and is no argument at all. Let this percolate a bit, and I'll write some more later.