Thursday, July 08, 2004

Yet More on Baptism

Some questions that arose concerning yesterday's post.

Matt asked:
Maybe I've totally misunderstood your reasoning in other posts, but I seem to recall you arguing that infant baptism was an application of salvific grace, more than a symbol. Yet here you say that it is a sign and that only if you believe you will be saved, and that the child isn't saved yet. Can you clarify this for me?
Baptism is always a sign of God’s promise whether conferred upon one of His elect or upon one who ultimately is lost. To some it is also a means of grace. As the Westminster Confession states:
XXVIII.VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time.
The Reformed view is that baptism is in some sense effective throughout our lives, not just (indeed not necessarily) at the actual occurrence. Calvin wrote directly on this matter:
Nor is it to be supposed that baptism is bestowed only with reference to the past, so that, in regard to new lapses into which we fall after baptism, we must seek new remedies of expiation in other so-called sacraments, just as if the power of baptism had become obsolete. To this error, in ancient times, it was owing that some refused to be initiated by baptism until their life was in extreme danger, and they were drawing their last breath, that they might thus obtain pardon for all the past. Against this preposterous precaution ancient bishops frequently inveigh in their writings. (Institutes 4.15.3)

The fact that baptism is a sign does not demand that it cannot also be a means of grace, even one with a reach extending over a lifetime. Reread some of the passages that instruct baptism, they clearly indicate that the sacrament is much more than a sign.

Steve asked:
It doesn't seem that infant baptism saves. And what does the parental statement that the parent believes add to the event? And how is that different from a Believer choosing to be baptized?
Much of my answer to Matt's question applies to Steve’s too. I have written much on this subject lately, and I would summarize the important differences between infant baptism and believer's baptism as so: infant baptism celebrates God's work in offering a new covenant, it is a means of conferring grace, and reflects unambiguously an expansion of covenant membership to include gentiles. Believer's baptism is a celebration of man's achievement, it is symbolic and not a means of anything, and while signifying an expansion of the covenant to gentiles it also institutes a severe an unheard of restriction, being limited to those who can make their own credible profession. The latter would have been expected to make the Jewish converts, used to the covenantal sign being conferred upon infants, complain at least a tad, but scripture records no such remonstrations.
The very bottom line? Infant baptism states: Thank you God that your promise is for my child too. (If you think that is not significant, imagine for a moment the despair of parenthood were it not true). Believer's baptism states: I have made a decision for Christ.

David wrote:
One quick comment. You seem to be treating God's promise as conditional for the child. i.e. if they believe then I will adopt them as my children. Usually God's covenant promises are seen as more than this sort of conditional, but rather a claiming of God's promise to be a God to our children. The promise is a promise of salvation, and of grace. Is this what you meant by your indented paragraph?
Being baptized as an infant certainly makes the child a covenant member, much like being born a Jew. As such, the child is one of "God’s people". Of course, just like the fact that not all Jews were saved, not all who are covenant members are saved. To the elect, God will confer saving grace and they will believe.

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