Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why Paul Manata Ought to be a Baptist

"It is true that there is no express command to baptize infants in the New Testament, no express record of the baptism of infants in the New Testament, and no passages so stringently implying it that we must infer from them that infants were baptized." -B.B. Warfield [Vol. IX, 399]

My conclusion then is that we should not baptize infants. That is why Paul Manata ought to be a Baptist.

Before I get started, I think a word about hermeneutics is in order. I operate on the principle that the Old Testament is in the New revealed and the New Testament is in the Old concealed. That is to say, the principle of progressive revelation suggests that we should interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament. The events and prophecies and teachings of the Old Testament Scripture had a purpose, an element or component that the New Testament does not: it points to something greater, something superior, and hermeneutically, something clearer. To be specific, the Old Testament documents point to a clearer, superior set of New Testament documents. Old Testament revelation points to a greater New Testament revelation. This is not to say that the revelation of the Old Testament is any less authoritative than the New. It is not less of a revelation than the New. It was not less binding than the New. This is to say that part of its purpose was to point to Christ, who is Himself more clearly revealed in the New. Failure to acknowledge this principle can result in a broad range of numerous errors in our theology. I believe this very issue, failure to consistently apply this principle in hermeneutics, leads the paedobaptist covenant theologians, like Paul Manata, to see too much continuity between the Old and New Covenants. We must take care in how we read the NT writers use of the Old Testament, understanding that the means for appropriating an OT text varied by writer and by context. Too often our theological prejudice imposes stricter rules in places where they should not be used. In what follows, I shall try to be more consistent where Manata I think is not, and show why the Credobaptist position garners stronger support for the very reason that it is more consistent in its hermeneutic. Now, here is my argument in response to Paul Manata’s Why I am not a Baptist.

(1)  All subjects for Christian baptism are members in the Church.
(2)  Only regenerated individuals are members in the Church.
(3)  Therefore, only regenerated individuals are proper subjects for Christian baptism.

If I am successful in defending this argument, the contradictory argument offered up by Paul Manata should be abandoned. If my argument proves sound, and the conclusion contradicts Manata’s conclusion, then Manata’s argument should be abandoned. Not only this, if my argument proves sound, then every other paedobaptists argument regarding infant Baptist should be abandoned. Hence, my argument will show why Paul Manata and our paedobaptists brothers ought to be a Baptist if they are interested in being consistent with the teachings of the whole Bible rightly interpreted. This leaves Manata and the Paedobaptists with the only consistent option of defaulting to guaranteed regeneration or baptismal regeneration. But I am not convinced Manata wishes to move in that direction.

My first claim is that all subjects for Christian baptism are in fact members in the Church. First of all, what is does it mean to be a member in the Church. Before I talk about that, I should say what being a member in a church is not. I am not referring to members in a local church. Being a member of the Church can not be accomplished by signing a card or taking a class. Being a member in the Church cannot be achieved by external religious rituals, such as communion, baptism, or oaths. Being a member in the Church does not happen by nature of the fact that you married a member in a church. Being a member in the Church does not happen as a result of being the son or daughter of members in a church. John wrote, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) Being a member of the Church is not the result of how one is born, nor the result of a decision of human will. Being a member in the Church is the direct result of being born of God. Individuals cannot simply join the Church like they would join a club. People are added to the Church by God through regeneration and conversion. That is the only way into the Church. In Acts 20:28 Paul tells us something very interesting about ten ekklesian tou theou, the Church of God. He tells that God has purchased the Church of God with His own blood. The Church of God has been purchased with God’s blood Himself. We will set the variant aside and assume that Paul was referring to Christ. The point here is that the Church of God is an organism that has been purchased by the blood of Christ. As such that organism is holy, sacred, set apart, pure. Being a member in the Church of God which, God has Himself purchased through the blood of Christ then, seems to logically imply that the individuals within that Church are actually the object of purchase. This must be the case since without individuals, there is no Church of God. So when Paul says “Church of God,” he means those elect individuals that God Himself chose before the foundation of the world to be in Christ.

In writing to the Church at Ephesus Paul tells us a little more about the Church, saying, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Here, Paul presents the Church as that thing which Christ gave Himself up for, in order to sanctify her, having cleansed her, so that he can present her in her glory, without spot or wrinkle, but holy and blameless. The Church is a living, sanctified, pure, justified organism whose members have been purified in the blood of Christ. The notion of two churches seems entirely missing from Paul’s theology and from the theology of the other authors of the New Testament.

Colossians 1:18, 24 inform us that the Church is the body of Christ and the body of Christ is the Church. To be in the Church is to be in something that has been purified by the blood of Christ. It is to be in the very body of Christ. To be in the body of Christ is to be forgiven, cleansed, purified, and justified. Sin cannot exist in the body of Christ because the body of Christ is holy. Therefore, unregenerate men cannot be members in the body of Christ. Since the body of Christ is the Church, it follows that unregenerate men cannot be members in the Church. I will likely return to this line of argumentation later. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col. 1:24) The body of Christ and the Church are used synonymously in the New Testament. Hence, the body of Christ is the Church and those who are members in the Church are members in the body of Christ. To be a member in the body of Christ is to be in Christ. Those who are in Christ are no longer in Adam. To be in Adam is not to be in Christ. To be in Christ is no longer to be in Adam.

Now, lets take a look at Baptism in the NT. What was baptism? The Gk verb for “baptize,” baptizein, is formed from baptein, “dip,” and means “dip frequently or intensively, plunge, immerse.” By Plato’s time and onwards it is often used in a figurative sense (e.g., in the passive, “soaked” in wine, Plato Symp. 176 B). [AYBD] Baptism was not a new phenomenon unique to the New Testament era, nor was it unknown outside of Judaism. Rites of immersion were not uncommon in the world in which early Christianity developed. One type of symbolism with which they were frequently connected was that of purification: from sin, from destruction, from the profane sphere before entering an holy area, from something under a taboo, etc. See, e.g., Lev 16:4, 24 (the high priest before and after the rites of atonement); Leviticus 15 (on menstruating women); 1 QS 3:5–9 (cleansing from sins); Sib. Or. 4.165 (a baptism of repentance); Joseph. Ant. 18.117 (on John’s baptism); Joseph. Life. 11 (on Bannus’ ablutions for purity’s sake); Apul., Met. 11.23 (purification at the initiation into the Isis mysteries); b. Yebam. 47 ab (on proselyte baptism). [ibid]

The relationship between baptism and repentance in the NT is hard to miss. Luke 3:3 says that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Two things here are very closely associated with Baptism: repentance & forgiveness of sins. Peter, in Acts 2 also connects baptism with repentance and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38) Jesus connected Christian baptism with peaching and making disciples in Matthew 28:19. In Acts 9:17-18, Luke links baptism with Paul’s miraculous conversion. In Acts 10:47, the idea of refusing to baptize someone was entertained, meaning that such a consideration existed long before our disagreement. Peter reasoned that since the same miraculous gift of foreign languages was given to the 120 on the day of Pentecost, and now the very same gift was give to these Gentiles, then it would seem wrong to forbid them to be baptized. In other words, Peter reasoned that these Gentiles had been truly converted and added to the Church and therefore they qualify as proper subjects for Christian baptism. This point cannot be overemphasized. It seems that Peter may have otherwise refused to Baptist these Gentiles reasoning that they were not proper subjects for the rite. But God miraculously showed Peter that Gentiles are just as proper subjects for baptism because God was also converting them the same as He was the Jews. In Acts 19, Luke once again makes an ineffaceable connection between Christian baptism and true conversion. It seems readily apparent from these texts that the ancient New Testament practice of baptism in the early Church was especially reserved only for those who had come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. It was not viewed as a rite of passage into some abstract, theologically contrived concept known as the “visible church.” It is hardly controversial to say that the New Testament knows nothing of such a concept, let alone, something of a formal rite for entrance into its membership.

We can then conclude that the Church is the body of Christ and the body of Christ is the Church. We can also conclude that the Church has been purified in the blood of Christ, purchased by God with Christ’s blood. Hence, the members in the Church are individuals who have had their sins forgiven, they have been purified by the blood of Christ, and their lives exhibit genuine faith in Christ by way of repentance. These and these alone are the proper subjects for Christian baptism.

NOTE: I have intentionally avoided the different understandings of the covenants between paedobaptists and credobaptists for purposes of reaching a more general audience. If the post lacks the sort of complex scholarship you were hoping for, I apologize. That is simply not the audience I am seeking to reach. Moreover, I do think this argument, if it cannot be refuted, will force an honest reassessment of the claim that the degree of continuity between the old and new covenants is much greater than I believe. If you think this argument is unsound, I would love to hear from you, giving reasons as to what you think I am missing. Keep in my, this post only addresses the major premise. My next post will deal more closely with the members in the body even though I did touch on that here.

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