Thursday, February 07, 2019

Mark Dever: If he is right, then he is REALLY wrong

I don’t know much about Mark Dever. I do not browse his writings, and I don’t have any of his books. (Given his celebrity status, I assume he has “books.”) However, while recently following breadcrumbs, I was led to an article he wrote entitled The Sin of Infant Baptism, Written by a Sinning Baptist.

As an aside, and while it is neither relevant nor substantive: I hate the title. Why add the unnecessary “Written by a Sinning Baptist.” To me it is condescending and smug. Maybe that’s just me. We know you are a sinner Pastor Dever.

In my opinion, this article presents a truly atrocious argument. Not because Dever boldly calls something sin; I have no probably with calling sin, sin. (Although he is wrong, infant baptism per se is not a sin) Rather—it is really because his argument that starts off bad becomes even worse if you grant, arguendo, that he is correct: infant baptism is a sin. But let's first discuss why it can not be considered sin.

Infant Baptism is Not Sin

One way to demonstrate that paedobaptism is sin is to present a scriptural command not to do it, or if its prohibition could be derived, unambiguously, from scripture. Another way would be to show that credobaptism is the only mode allowed by scripture. As a dedicated credobaptist I am here to tell you that Dever can do no such thing. 1, 2

In the article Dever writes
Nevertheless, as I understand the words of Christ in Matt. 28:18-20 Christians are commanded to baptize and to be baptized, and the practice of infant baptism inhibits the obedience of what I take to be a quite straightforward command. (Emphasis added.)
I am not sure if he meant to write "baptize and to be baptized" or if he intended "believe and to be baptized." Dever refers to the Great Commission passage—which says absolutely nothing about believing. We all agree that there is a command to baptize. But the Great Commission is silent on the question of who is to receive the sacrament. I am not sure what he is thinking here (perhaps Mark 16:16? 1 Pet 3:21? Acts 2:28?) Or is his issue really with the fact that infants cannot baptize?

In any event, lets stipulate that there is a command as plain as “believe and be baptized. " It still would not prohibit paedobaptism any more than John 3:16 excludes infants from salvation. The bible tells us the normative case, any special case (like elect infants who can never in any sense "believe") is to be inferred. The bible is meant to be read intelligently.

Dever is inventing sin where there is none. He might as well say that going to the movies is sinful.

In either a form of projection or to appear “fair-is-fair” gracious, Dever “concedes” that his paedobaptist brethren might consider him to be in sin. I don’t think so. At least, I have never read such a charge from modern paedobaptists. I was a Presbyterian (PCA) when I first became a Christian (as an adult) and while we made good-natured fun of Baptists 3 we never said that their failure to baptize infants was a sin. 4

What if Infant Baptism is a Sin? 

Well, if Dever is right about paedobaptism being a sin, then his error is magnified. Because he completely dismisses the seriousness of the sin. The sinners are awarded a get out of jail free card. He writes:
I certainly do not think my paedobaptist brethren are intentionally sinning in this. In fact, they even think that they are obeying God so, short of them changing their understanding of the Bible’s teaching on this, I can’t expect any “repentance,” because they lovingly but firmly disagree with the Baptist understanding of this.
I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.
These are his friends and brethren he tells us, multiple times, and he accuses them to be in sin in regard to one of the two sacraments commanded by our Lord. But it is not so bad—because they are sincere. And they are not intentional.

Do I have to give examples of false doctrines whose proponents are sincere and not intentional? Is Arianism to be treated lightly because, for example, JWs are friends and sincere and not intentionally sinning?

If Dever believes that paedobaptism is sin, then he should not have an “It’s cool, they probably think I’m sinning!” attitude. He should be calling them to repent. Even if they are his friends. Especially if they are his friends. If they are baptizing in a sinful manner, it is as serious as if they are celebrating communion in a sinful manner.

The whole article is, in my opinion, internally inconsistent and nonsensical.

1 Keep in mind that both Baptists and Presbyterians affirm credobaptism for older children and adults.

2 While it is not a logical argument, in fact it is probably a variant of the “argument from authority” fallacy, I find the “It can’t be that simple, otherwise...” retort to be compelling. In this case, we have an honor roll of theologians on both sides of this issue. People like Calvin and Spurgeon, all or most of whom we can assume would embrace any truth of scripture that was plainly given. To put it bluntly, if Mark Dever can derive from scripture that paedobaptism is a sin, then so can John Calvin and a gazillion other paedobaptist men and women of integrity. The bottom line is that God, in His inscrutable wisdom, has left both sides with nothing but an argument from silence. (Reminder: I’m a credobaptist, like Dever.)

3 Of the form: Baptists have three sacraments: baptism, communion, and Pot-Luck! And the oldie but goody: Why are Baptists against premarital sex? Because it might lead to dancing!

4 With some caveats. One relates to a repulsive subset of Presbyterians-- the theonomists. But those looney-tunes thought everyone who didn’t vote a certain way and send their kids to Douglas Wilson (barf) approved schools were hell bound. And then there were the paedocommunion types. But they were more concerned with the error of their non-paedocommunion Presbyterian brothers, accusing them of "spiritually starving" children. I even heard, more than once, a paedocommunion proponent argue that “at least the Baptists are consistent! But Presbyterians giving one sacrament to infants and not the other are not!” In that regard, I think they have a point.

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