Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Confusio Sanctorum and Baptismal Justification

As promised I will be responding to some of the points raised in Paul Owen's blog entry titled "Baptism and Justification." Owen begins his article this way:
Many Christians have questions about the topics of baptism and justification. I would like to address a few typical questions which Christians have on these subjects from a Reformational perspective (which by definition excludes credo-baptism as a theological option, since none of the mainstream Reformers denied the validity of infant baptism)
Always one to exclude Baptists whenever and wherever he can (some “catholic” indeed), Owen defines the parameters of his article in such a way as to make it clear that he is just not interested in what the NT says about this issue—which, by the way, is the true “Reformational perspective,” and not some rote mimicking of the beliefs and practices (however wrong those beliefs and practices may be) of the “mainstream Reformers.” This is the fundamental mistake of Owen and his ilk. They uniformly think that being “Reformed” is tantamount to mimicking the beliefs (but which ones?) of the “Reformers” (but which ones?) rather than following the guiding principles of the Reformers, first of which is sola scriptura.

Moreover, Owen precludes anything that smacks of credo-baptism, even though the credo-baptist view was indeed represented in the earliest days of the Reformation. Only a theological bigot could dismiss it out of hand the way Owen does. Owen dismisses this view on the basis that none of the “mainstream” Reformers rejected infant baptism, as though what we in hindsight call “mainstream” was considered as such by those in the sixteenth century. Indeed, Luther himself was far from “mainstream”; he was virtually alone in his reformational principles. Owen’s criteria of what constitutes “mainstream” is completely arbitrary, historically naïve, and scripturally deficient. Was Isaiah mainstream? Was Elijah mainstream? Indeed, was Jesus himself “mainstream”? This, again, betrays Owen’s ineptness in his ability to discern truth; or, indeed, his ability even to know where to look for it. It is not in the writings of Luther of Calvin that we, as Christians, are to look for guidance on this issue. It is to the Scriptures themselves that we turn for this, and Calvin and Luther be damned if their views are out of line with that standard.

Now, having said all that, we can acknowledge the fact that paedobaptists and credobaptists have differences of opinion on this issue, but that those differences need not divide us. Presbyterians and Baptists can and do embrace each other as brothers in Christ, in spite of the contentious and divisive suggestions to the contrary by Owen and his comrades at “Confusio Sanctorum,” formerly known as “reformed Catholicism” (I suppose they finally realized the oxymoronic nature of that title when applied to them)—a skunk by any other name, as they say. Therefore, I will address Owen’s Q&A on baptism, but only those parts that smack of a works-based justification (which is, in fact, most of it)

Q. Why do we baptize infants?

A. We baptize infants for many reasons. Among the following are the most important: 1) Infants are born into the world sinful and in need of forgiveness (Ps. 51:5). Baptism is the means of effecting forgiveness for believers and their children (Acts 2:38-39; 22:16; Heb. 10:22).

Forgiveness of sin is effected through repentance and through calling on his name, not through baptism. It is assumed in the NT that if one is willing to be baptized it is because he has repented. Baptism then acts as a sign and seal of that repentance, not as its instrument. And just because infants are in need of forgiveness—as is the entire world—does not thereby mean that pouring water over their heads, or sprinkling water on them, or even dunking them in a baptismal pool somehow magically effects that forgiveness. They must, like all sons of Adam, repent unto forgiveness. And since they are incapable in their infancy of recognizing their own sinfulness, they are likewise incapable of expressing repentance for it. As much as our emotive sentiments might like to believe otherwise, there is just no shortcut for this.

As for the NT passages Owen cites, none of them conclusively supports his contention. In Acts 2:38-39 we read: “Peter said to them, 'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.'”

Owen cites this with no comment as though he is wholly unaware of the exegetical questions surrounding this passage. Does the phrase (lit.) “forgiveness of the sins of all of you” (plural) go with “let each one of you be baptized” (singular), or does it go with “repent all of you” (plural)? The grammatical agreement of the plurals would suggest that the English word order (Greek word order is virtually without significance) could very well be read this way instead: “Repent for the forgiveness of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Read this way, the meaning of the passage changes significantly, and can no longer be used as a prooftext for Owen’s view. A second exegetical issue involves the question of the Greek word eis in “for the forgiveness of sins.” The word eis can be variously translated in a number of different ways (to, with a view to, for the purpose of, into, etc.) depending on context. It could in this context mean “with a view to your forgiveness” (or “with your forgiveness in mind”). In any case, the passage does not by default support Owen’s contention.

Owen also appears to be under the assumption that when v. 39 says, “For the promise is for you and your children” that “children” must refer to infants. But this statement is set against an OT context. Promises and curses were always applied as well to the “children” of those God addresses. But “children” is simply synonymous here with “descendants.” In other words, the promise of eternal life applies not only to the current generation, but all subsequent generations as well. Psalm 103:17-18 says, “But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children — with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” Acts 2:39 is not referring to infants per se, anymore than “children’s children” in Ps 103 refers to the infants of infants, or anymore than Ezek 37:25’s “They and their children and their children’s children” refers to the infants of infants of infants! That is just not the way to read Acts 2:39 or any of the related passages. “Children” in this context simply means “your descendants who will be culpable and liable to apply these promises to themselves in their own time.” The promises are certainly extended to infants as well; just not while they are in their infancy.

Another passage Owen cites without comment in this first Q&A is Acts 22:16: “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”

Again, the text is ambiguous and can support either view on this. Is the “washing away your sins” connected with “be baptized,” or with “calling on his name”? In other words, does the text say “be baptized (which washes way your sin)”? Or does it say “be baptized—and wash away your sin by calling on his name” (of which “washing” baptism is a symbol)?

The point is, Owen has cited nothing to support his view thus far. We will continue with his second Q&A tomorrow.