Sunday, July 12, 2015

Paul Manata and Paedobaptism

The purpose of this post is to provide a running interaction with Paul Manata's public notes and debates on the subject of baptism. I will attempt to keep each post very short until the summary, which will be a more succinct rebuttal of Manata's points.

First and foremost, I consider Paul Manata to be brother in Christ even though I do not know him personally. I have no reason to think that he is anything but sincere in his faith. I also consider Paul to be an exceptionally intelligent, well-educated brother in Christ. For this reason, I extend the appropriate amount of regard and appreciation for the arguments that Paul makes in his defense of Paedobaptism.

Paul opens his argument with the following syllogism:
My argument is simple: (1) All members of the visible Church are proper subjects of Christian baptism (2) Infants of one or more professing Christian parent are members of the visible church. (3) Therefore, infants of one or more professing Christian parent are proper subjects of Christian baptism. 

Concerning the major premise, Paul assumes something that he must prove, namely, that there is a real organism we refer to when we refer to the visible church. The concept of a visible versus invisible church came about in the third or fourth century. There is no evidence that the authors of the NT had such a concept in mind anywhere recorded in NT Scriptures. That does not mean that the terms are useless. Indeed, to use the expression "visible church" is nothing more than to employ a literary device to distinguish between those who do not claim to belong to a community and those who do. It says nothing official and should never be understood in that way. It is an expression that helps identify the actual status of someone claiming to be in the church. It is a communication tool, an idiom if you will. If we understand church synonymously with the body of Christ, then we understand that there is in fact only one church. That church is invisible itself, but its members are indeed visible. The claim to be in the church is not sufficient evidence to be in the church anymore than the claim to be an apostle is sufficient evidence that one is actually an apostle. I would adjust Paul's major premise (1) All members of the Church are proper subjects of Christian baptism. If Paul wishes to advance his case, he will have to demonstrate that the NT Doctrine of the Church clearly informs the concept that there is a visible church which should not be confused with the invisible church. 

Are infants of professing Christians members of the visible church? If there is no visible church, which I believe is the case, then infants cannot be members of it. What I mean is that there is simply the Church. The official Church of Jesus Christ is invisible in the sense that it isn't identified by anything like a building or a denomination. But the members of the Church are visible. Membership in the Church is synonymous with membership in the covenant. Discipline is designed to out those false members who demonstrate that they do not belong to the covenant. Paul needs to ask whether or not infants can be members in the church apart from faith in Christ, based on their merit as being children of professing believers which means they have rights to be in Christ, not based on faith, but based on their birthright. The implications of this second premise are far-reaching indeed. Nevertheless, if my rejection of Paul's major premise holds, then the minor premise turns out to be not an issue at all. Moreover, if the major premise proves to be impossible to demonstrate, then it follows that the conclusion is not valid after all. Paul's argument becomes logically implausible and as such, unconvincing.

Paul does on to say, "That is, baptism is for all those who join the visible church." He quotes men like Wayne Grudem, Mark Dever, and even Fred Malone. But if there is no such organism as a visible church, then baptism is not actually a rite intended for membership in it. But Manata is not quite correct in how he frames Grudem's words. Earlier in the same chapter Grudem says, "The pattern revealed at several places in the New Testament is that only those who give a believable profession of faith should be baptized...This is because baptism, which is a symbol of beginning the Christian life, should only be given to those who have in fact begun the Christian life. [969-970] Manata is correct to say that baptism was the outward profession, publicly emphasized statement of the individual of an inward change and affirmation to follow Christ. But the act of external baptism was only a reflection of what had already taken place in the person. Baptism was far more than some external ritual by which people joined the visible church. Manata misses this point completely. Baptism then, just like the Lord's table, is reserved only for those with a new heart, a living faith, and a purified conscience before God through the new birth.

As Manata moves through his argument, he points to certain pieces of evidence to support his case. Acts 2 is one of those pieces of evidence. Manata believes that surely, of the 3,000 that were added to the church, some of these were not elect. Here Manata confuses theological argumentation with historical narrative. Does Manata actually think that Luke intended to communicate that 3,000 people were added to the visible church, some of which were non-elect? Who could read about the historical event and miss the point that Luke is providing Theophilus with a general, but accurate account of the beginnings of Christianity? But Manata seems to lose sight of Luke's overarching purpose, getting lost in the weeds of his beloved system. Manata is not the only one that is sometimes guilty of this behavior. I have done it often in the past and am sure to do it in the future. It is only a natural tendency we sinners all seem to share. The point is that Manata takes this episode far beyond the bounds for which Luke intended it and that is not difficult to see.

To be continued.....


  1. Hello Ed,

    I don't think it's going to be that easy :). You yourself rephrase the first premise in terms you'd accept. Thus, you should rephrase the second accordingly. I gave a detailed argument for seeing our children as still part of God's church. You did not interact with that but dismissed it because it used the term "visible church." As far as I can tell, the argument applies whether or not the term "visible church" applies or not. So then, this isn't a *substantive* rejoinder.

    1. I suppose my first question is related to your lack of exegetical support for the claim that there is a bonafide visible church and that there is such a thing as official acceptance and membership in said church. If there is no such thing as a visible church, then your second premise becomes very challenging because you are left to hold to the salvation of infants whose parent(s) happen to be in the New Covenant. That is, grace for regeneration and repentance become a "property right" of the children of covenant of grace parents. But if you deny such a scenario, then membership in the COG is also implausible if there is only the Church of Jesus Christ and not this internal/external component in paedobapstist covenant theology.

  2. I don't expect it to be easy. Most of my heroes and favorite theologians and preachers are paedobaptists. This happens to be an interesting conversation for me. I respect and appreciate the work you not to mention the men at RTS and Westminster. We are brothers and while we do have enemies in the camp, they are not us.

    I have more to say but limited time so it will be slow going. I will embrace paedobaptism if I can be shown that it is biblically sound. I have made major corrections in the past and would imagine there are more still to come.

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