Saturday, January 24, 2009

Infant Baptism, Part 2

Another cold day here in Burnsville. Fifteen below this morning, with the skies as clear as can be. I wanted to get back to discussing Baptism, and re-visit two of the earlier and more important subjects: The Great Commission, and Infant Baptism. Because these are two foundational topics for Baptism, I think it is worth the time to look further into them.


1). The Great Commission; Mt 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16; You stated that the Great Commission has only one Command – for followers of Jesus to "make Disciples". You then went on to say that the way to make Disciples is with the preaching of the Gospel and the person's response to it being repentance and faith. First, I think we should take a closer look at the Greek that's involved in the Great Commission, and for this I rely on Prof. Daniel Wallace's 'Greek Grammar, Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament' book (hey, pretty impressive, huh?) As you likely know, Prof. Wallace is the teacher of Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary, and is likely considered the top Greek scholar today.


While you are correct in saying that of the Great Commission's string of verbs (Go, make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them) there is only one imperative Command – 'make disciples'. Yet, in the way you have interpreted these verses you have emasculated the other verbs in the sentence, merely because they are participles and not imperatives. As Prof. Wallace states, to turn the first verb 'Go', into an adverbial participle is to turn the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion. (Wallace, p. 645).

But your treatment of the Great Commission's verb 'baptizing them' is what I wanted to focus our attention upon. You made Baptism a human response to the preaching of the Gospel, when you stated that the way to discipleship is with the preaching of the Gospel (salvation in Christ) and the response to it (repentance and faith.) You have also equated Baptism with repentance, with it being nothing more. Hopefully, I have already addressed this topic of Baptism being more than just Repentance in my last post (Baptism, #5).

So let me start the unraveling of the Great Commission by looking at the last two verbs both being participles ('baptizing them' and 'teaching them'). These participles follow the Command to 'make disciples', and this makes them participles of means. Wallace, p. 630 and 645. And so, the Greek makes clear that the means of making disciples is to baptize and teach them. Here is Prof. Wallace's quote:

…Finally, the other two [Greek] participles βαπτίζοντες (Baptism) and διδάσκοντες (teaching) should not be taken as attendant circumstance… And second, they obviously make good sense as participles of means; i.e., the means by which the disciples were to make disciples was to baptize and then to teach.

And so, Baptism cannot be dismissed as a mere human response to the preaching of the Gospel. Instead, the Greek makes clear that the one and only way to make disciples is through Baptism into Christ followed by teaching them. And the Book of Acts shows how the Apostles obeyed the Great Commission – every time there was a conversion to Christ, the Apostles Baptized them. Therefore, I stand by my earlier statement that Jesus has Commanded the Baptizing of new disciples through the Great Commission, as this along with the teaching of them are the means of making disciples. Jesus has Commanded it, and we need to obey it.


2). Infant Baptism. Let me see if I can persuade you on the propriety of Infant Baptism by using an analogy. I know that you are well trained in Christian Counseling, and so you are likely well versed in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. In this chapter, the Apostle Paul is dealing with the Principles of marriage and one of the issues he addresses is dealing with the case of when one person in the marriage has become a Christian. What should they do? Should they drop everything including their non-believing spouse and devote their life to work of the Church? Paul makes clear in his teaching in Chapter 7 that the Christian spouse must stay with the unbelieving spouse. (1 Cor. 7:12-13). But it is the reason that Paul gives this instruction that I believe is analogous to Infant Baptism. Take a look at verse 14:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (ESV).

And so, Paul says that a new Christian should stay in their marriage because by staying in the marriage they make their entire family "holy", including the children. They are made "holy" through the faith of one of the people in the marriage, even if the other spouse or child is an unbeliever. Do you see where I am going with this?

OK, now let's look at the conversion of Lydia (Acts 16:13-15). As you will recall, Paul and his crew landed at Philippi and met Lydia, a seller of purple dye. They taught her and the Holy Spirit opened her heart to listen to the things they taught her, and she and her household her baptized. So who heard the Gospel? Lydia (v. 14). Whose heart did God open? Lydia. But who was it who was baptized? Lydia and her household (v. 15). There is nothing in the story to say that the household of Lydia had heard anything, or had their hearts opened by God. Instead, Luke is very careful with his wording here, that in fact it was only Lydia who heard the Gospel and was open to it. Thus, this is a very good example of the faith one person in a house making the rest "holy" as in 1 Cor. 7:14 (above).

So let me now tie this all together – The Bible speaks in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 about the importance of staying in the place where you were when you are called by God into a saving faith. If you are married, stay married. If you are uncircumcised, stay that way. If you are a slave, stay that way, but if you can be freed, jump at it. But it is the principle stated in verse 14 that is also helpful in understanding Infant Baptism – One believing person in a marriage makes the children holy also. And we see this in the conversion of Lydia. Only Lydia heard the Gospel teaching by Paul, Timothy and Silas. And only Lydia had her heart opened to the Gospel by God's Holy Spirit. Yet her entire household was baptized. Lydia had faith in the instruction and promise of God's Holy Word, and trusted in it. Lydia's faith made her entire household "holy" (1 Cor. 7:14), and so the story of Lydia in Acts 16 is an excellent example of the Baptism of those who did not yet have faith. The application of this understanding is shown by the Church's use of Infant Baptism – the faith of one parent makes the children holy. The faith of one parent through Baptism makes the children holy. Therefore, Infant Baptism is the proper use of the Great Commission's Command for believers to make disciples through Baptism and teaching. So go Baptize your children all you Christians out there. Enough for now. If any of you are still reading this, may God bless you this week with greater understanding of our Triune God. Amen.


Bryan and Meggan said...

Hey Tom,

I want to apologize for not being able to respond lately. My folks were out here last week, as you know, so that time took priority. And now I am trying to get homework done and get ready for another candidating trip. I will try to get some responses up as soon as I have a chance. My schedule is a little packed right now.

Thanks and Sorry!

Edward Oleander said...

"the Greek makes clear that the one and only way to make disciples is through Baptism into Christ followed by teaching them."

I see a flaw in your logic. Christ neither spoke nor wrote in Greek. While writings in Greek may be all we have to go on, there is and always will be the chance of a mistranslation.

You and I are both good writers, and have been since our college paper days. When we think of literacy, we have assumptions about the minimum levels of spelling and grammar that can be expected. These standards cannot be applied to the ancients, even in their own language, let alone when translating from a foreign language years, decades, or even centuries after the fact. I'm willing to bet that Prof. Wallace has a higher command of the Greek than the ones who wrote the texts he analyzes.

Technical command, however, does not imply historically accurate psychocontexual logical understanding, which is to say that he too could be placing too much emphasis on the literal translation of the works.

I am NOT saying you're wrong! After all, I don't really have a horse entered in this race. What I am saying is that your arguement is vulnerable. That's all...

Your personal Gadfly,

Edward Oleander said...

The Gadfly returns,

Tom, you are undone by your own logic...

Let us assume, as you say, that Paul chooses his words with care, and says only exactly what he means to say. Paul doesn't talk about baptism at all in 1 Cor.7, only stating that the faith of one marriage partner sanctifies the entire household.

Nor does he address it in Acts 16:31, when he instructs the jailer on how to be saved.

Both households, Lydia's and the jailer's, were indeed baptized, but both times it seems like a human expression of their new faith. If it were truly necessary, wouldn't Paul have specifically mentioned it?

In both cases, the one who converted appears to be the head of the household. Lydia is the merchant, not her husband. Among clothmakers and dyers, those dealing in purple would have been very high up in their industry, as that colour had great significance at the time. Lydia was probably an heiress, and quite a strong woman in her own right, and she probably called all the shots at home. The jailer, much lower on the class and wealth totem pole, would have traditionally been the head of household, and again would have called the shots in his home. Both might easily have insisted that the whole family do what they did.

Group inclusion is a very profound concept within any human society. Analogs to infant baptism, solely for the purpose of group inclusion are found in nearly every culture on Earth. When the head of the household made a change, his/her desire for a cohesive group would have imposed that change on the others.

From an anthropomorphistic or psychosocial viewpoint, there is nothing amazing or unique about infant baptism. All groups, religious, social or political, have identification or bonding rituals. Find me a group with any significance that doesn't, and I'll buy you breakfast.

The human animal is a social being in that very, very few of us can exist for long in a vacuum. We NEED to belong to a group of some sort. When joining a group, the desire for conformity often leads us to just "go along" with actions that are not obviously harmful.

I see baptism as one such rule. When a person converts, s/he is eager to demonstrate their new faith. They want to prove themselves. The established group members, at the same time, want to see some token of acceptance from the new member(s). Baptism is easy, quick, painless, and leaves no scars. If I became a convert and you told me, "Okay, now you have to let me dunk you in this pool," I would comply without a second thought, just to show my faithfulness. More than likely, my family will go along if I tell them too, or maybe out of a desire to make me happy at low cost. If they are also making the conversion, then they will go along for the same reasons I'm doing it.

So this brings up an interesting scenario: When I was in high school, a girl in my class converted to the Evan Free church on France Avenue. At age 16, she was still living at home, and legally a child. She eventually converted her non-believing parents as well, about a year later. She had some siblings, but I don't know if they converted.

My questions deal with the period before the parents became believers. Did her conversion sanctify her parents and her siblings? Does it work uphill and sideways as well as down? Luke 2:41 - 49 seems to suggest that children can have spiritual significance (although in some versions of that story Jesus is only asking questions and not dispensing wisdom). Does that significance carry over to regular children as well?