Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thinking about baptism

Recently, a friend of mine challenged my thinking on baptism. Specifically, he said that he wanted to ensure that my reading of Scripture in this area is exegetical and not eisegetical. Essentially, the question presented is whether I am a credo/immersing baptist due to study or due to culture.

The gauntlet thrown down, I’ve now immersed myself in a study of baptism (its meaning, mode, and proper subject), and I plan to write a paper on my findings. When engaged in lengthy legal writing I have a proven system; I look for the best positive arguments for all sides of an issue, then for articles critiquing the positive arguments. I then create a spreadsheet with all arguments and counterarguments, and then begin my writing. For legal writing, this mechanical system is an easy way to go about discovering the law. However, for thoroughly addressing the positive arguments for paedobaptism my normal method has proven difficult for a variety of reasons.

I’m fairly well versed, for a layman, in the positive arguments for credobaptism. I’m aware of the etymological arguments for baptizo, as well as the symbolism-argument relying in part on Romans chapter 6, and the historical arguments. (I realize I’m posting this on a blog, the creator of which has written at least two books on this subject—read this with forgiving eyes, please.)

But I know little of the positive arguments for paedobaptism. Generally, when I see a defense of paedobaptism it begins with a sentence like, "baptizo and bapto don’t always mean immerse." The author then goes on to explain how those words can mean "washing," or the like. He then leaps to the conclusion that sprinkling is permissible. (Of course, there are a number of citations to Hebrews, and the Greek translation of the OT, where bapto is used for certain rites.)

But why babies? Hal’s told me before that infant baptism is the result of a misinterpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant. Fair enough, but I want to map the road they take to get to that misapplication. It seems that paedobaptist confessions generally assign an unobjectionable, to me anyway, meaning to baptism. Broadly, it’s a sign and seal of regeneration and the remission of signs.

As most of you know, the paedobaptist claims that baptism is a modern substitution for circumcision. This is more and more troubling to me the further I read. Words have meaning, and for the paedobaptist to be correct no more than three words must be assigned objectively inaccurate meanings: the Greek word baptizo, "church," and "covenant."

I won’t go into detail here, feel free to comment, but I’m just a layman with a lexicon and I know that there are separate Greek words for sprinkle, pour, and immerse, and of those words, only the one meaning "immerse" is used for baptism. (Incidentally, I’ve stumbled upon the best book on this subject: Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism by John T. Christian, written in 1891. Awesome.)

I also know that "church" only includes members of the church, i.e., the bride of Christ. "Church" is never used for an ethnic or geographically defined people group in the New Testament. Since the paedobaptist recognizes that those baptized are part of the church, his commitment to substituting baptism for circumcision forces a definition of "church" foreign to the Bible, and leads to the creation of paedobaptist terms of art like "visible" and "invisible" church (I guess that’s the "visible bride" and the "invisible bride"). For as the sign of circumcision was given to a certain ethnically identifiable people, the sign of baptism is given to those whose hearts have been circumcised.

"Covenant" must also be redefined to accommodate the substitution theology. For instance, ethnic Israel benefitted under the old covenant by inhabiting Canaan, the promised land. All those who received the sign of circumcision received the blessing regardless of spiritual status. If baptism = circumcision, then all those who receive the sign of baptism should also enter the New Covenant promised land. But perhaps there’s a visible promised land, and an invisible one.

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