Monday 23 September 2013

Should Babies Be Baptized? (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second half of a series giving a synopsis of the book by T.E. Watson.  For part 1 click here.

The antiquity of the baptism of babies (Chapter 9)

When studying the tradition of the church on this or any other subject, it is important to remember that any tradition that nullifies the commandment of God must be discarded (Mark 15:1-9).  It is important to note that, if infant baptism is inconsistent and unauthorized by scripture, as chapters 7 & 8 sought to show, then a strong tradition must be discarded.  Watson recognizes this when he quotes the Westminster Confession:
"The Supreme judge, by whom all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."
In this chapter, a careful search is made of all references to infant baptism in early Christian writing, as contained in the Ante-Nicene Christian Library.

Some say Justin Martyr's reference to old people who had been discipled to Christ from childhood is a reference to infant baptism, but this is a stretch, and hardly plausible given Justin Martyr's own description of baptism:
"As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. ... And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe... And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed." (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, vol. 2, p. 59f)
Tertullian is the first person in Christian history that discussed the age of children with regards to baptism, and is opposed to baptism before understanding.  He writes:
"And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children. ... The Lord does indeed say, “Forbid them not to come unto me.” Let them “come,” then, while they are growing up; let them “come” while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ." (Works of Tertullian, p 253)
The Dutch theologian and historian Venema concludes that paedobaptism was not the custom or practice of the early church and writes:
"Paedobaptism cannot be certainly proved to have been practiced before the times of Tertullian ... These are the things that may be affirmed with apparent certainty, concerning the antiquity of baby baptism, after the times of the apostles; for more are maintained without foundation"
It appears that infant baptism was neither an apostolic tradition nor a general practice in the church in the first 200 years Ano Domino.

Arguments from the Old Testament (Chapter 10)

Because the baptism of babies is not authorized in the New Testament, some paedobaptist scholars, like B.B. Warfield, seek justification for it in the OT:
"The warrant for infant baptism is not to be sought in the New Testament but in the Old Testament." (Studies in Theology, B. B. Warfield, p. 399)
Watson contends that seeking justification for "what is essentially a New Testament ordinance" in the Old Testament "indicate[s] the weakness" of the argument.  Watson then lists many of the sometimes competing grounds on which infant baptism is built on Old Testament arguments and then goes on in the following two chapters to address the two most popular current arguments (as of the date of initial publication, 1962); the "Church" argument and the "Covenant" argument.

The 'Church' argument of Charles Hodge (Chapter 11)

Watson gives an overview of this argument and a step-by-step analysis of each of the eight propositions that Charles Hodge uses to show that baby baptism is proper (these can be found here.).  A short synopsis is given below:

At the outset, Hodge presents the question and how it may be answered:
"The question, Who are the proper subjects of baptism? is determined by the design of the ordinance and the practice of the Apostles." (Systematic Theology, Vol. 3 p. 540)
It is noted that he writes of the apostles:
"In every case on record of their administering the rite, it was on the condition of a profession of faith on the part of the recipient." (Systematic Theology, Vol. 3 p. 541)
Noting that 'infants cannot exercise faith, and consequently ought not to be baptized' (Vol 3. p. 546f), Hodge decides to hinge baby baptism on whether or not children of believing parents are in the Church:
"In order to justify the baptism of infants, we must attain and authenticate such an idea of the Church as that it shall include the children of believing parents." (Systematic Theology, Vol. 3 p. 547)
And because there is more than one definition of church (e.g. visible and invisible) Hodge supplies a definition for this argument:
"In the present discussion, by the Church is meant what is called the visible Church; that is, the whole body of those who profess the true religion."  (Systematic Theology, Vol. 3 p. 547)
However, Hodge's conclusion is inconsistent given the definition of 'Church' used within the propositions; babies cannot "profess" true religion.  This is fatal to the argument.

Perhaps most notably, in the third proposition, Hodge seeks to show that the commonwealth of Israel was the visible church, something inadmissible by the stated definition of the word church.

In fact, elsewhere Hodge vigorously denies that the commonwealth of Israel was a visible church:
"It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one his natural descendants through Isaac, were constituted a commonwealth, an external community; by the other his spiritual descendants were constituted into a church, [invisible of course, since, at that time, the only formal organization was that of the law.] ... The conditions of the one covenant [the old] were circumcision, and obedience to the law; the conditions of the other were, and ever have been, faith in the Messiah, as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, [that is, the old covenant with the new] and the commonwealth founded on the one, with the church founded on the other. When Christ came, the commonwealth was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The church [now made visible] remained." (Church Polity, Charles Hodge, (New York: Scribner, 1878), pp. 66-67, italics mine)
Interestingly, Hodge is very concerned that babies be baptized for reasons of salvation:
"Those parents sin grievously against the souls of their children ... who neglect ... baptism. Do let the little ones have their names written in the Lamb's book of
life, even if they afterwards choose to erase them." (Systematic Theology, Vol 3. p. 588)
and so it seems that Hodge ties the baptism of children to their salvation if they die in infancy.  However, he elsewhere disagrees with this:
"All who die in infancy will be saved." (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p. 26.)
And we can affirm with William Cunningham:
"There is a great difficulty felt, — a difficulty which Scripture does not afford us adequate materials for removing, in laying down any distinct and definite doctrine as to the bearing and efficacy of baptism in the case of infants." (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, p. 246)

The "Covenant" argument of J. G. Vos (Chapter 12)

The Argument for infant baptism by Dr. Vos is:
"Infant baptism is a Scriptural practice which does not depend upon isolated proof-texts'. It follows logically from other truths of the Scriptures; the proof may be stated, essentially, in the following form:
(a) Baptism is a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace.
(b) The children of believers are included in the Covenant of Grace.
(c) Therefore the children of believers are entitled to baptism which is a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace." (Blue Banner Faith and Life, 1959 January-March issue)
But this very argument would also justify baby communion if the word "baptism" is replaced by "Lord's Supper".  The argument proves too much, thereby destroying itself.

Watson does look at this argument in more detail, and the entire chapter is available online here.

The evils of the baptism of babies (Chapter 14)

  • Firstly, holding to a practice that is unauthorized and inconsistent with the Bible opens protestants to a justifiable attack by Roman Catholics that we rely on tradition in addition to scripture.
  • Secondly, any time an addition is made to the commandment of God, an existing commandment must be changed or annulled, and this is the case with baptism; the plain meaning of the following statements must be confounded if applied to baby baptism: "putting on Christ" in baptism, "walking in newness of life" after baptism, "buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith", and baptism as "an appeal to God for a good conscience" (these are some of the verses considered in chapter eight)
  • Thirdly, baptism of babies confuses the understanding of both baptism and regeneration; many parents receiving a false assurance for the salvation of their children.  And well it might confuse parents if the plain understanding of the words in the Westminster Confession apply the same to infant baptism as to believer's baptism:
    "... a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life." (Westminster Confession, 28. 1.)
    or in the Articles of the Church of England:
    "a sign of regeneration or the new birth" (Article 27 of the Church of England)
  • Fourthly, Christ's name is disgraced as His visible church is filled with thousands of unregenerate who neither profess repentance nor belief in Christ's salvation.

The Who Can Stand summary of Chapters 9-14

The antiquity of baptism is lacking in support for infant baptism.  The "Church" argument of Hodge breaks down using his own definition of church, and the "Covenant" argument of J.G. Vos seems to prove too much.  Finally, Watson concludes in chapter 13 that infant baptism is retrogression, and lists some of the evils associated with infant baptism in chapter 14.

The Who Can Stand Conclusion

Our hope is that this book will help provide clarity of thinking for those considering the issue of the proper modes of baptism.  The book is both tough minded and very readable.

Semper Reformanda!
We highly recommend you buy the book (there are a number of used copies for less than $2 on Amazon).

If this synopsis has piqued your interest, you can also read a good review of the book by Fred Malone here

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