Archive for the ‘Baptism’ Category

The Word "Baptism" in Gothic

May 2, 2014

My baptistic friends (or any of my friends that think that only immersion is baptism) will be glad to know that in the Gothic Bible, one of the words that is translated, rather than transliterated, is the word we transliterate “baptism.” In “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” Heather et al. provide the following item:

βαπτίζειν/ -ίσμα/ -ίστής (baptizare/-isma/-ista): daupyan, daupeins, daupyands (sc. John the Baptist); cf. ufdaupyan, ‘dip’, diups, ‘deep’; Ger. taufen.

It’s not a matter of earth-shattering significance, but it is interesting as a minor lexical note to observe that the fourth-century Greek/Latin/Goth speaker Ulfila (see earlier discussion hereand here) evidently understood “baptism” narrowly as “dip” as opposed to more broadly as “wash” or the like.


Rebuttal to Hubner’s Response to DeYoung

August 22, 2012

Jamin Hubner has posted a response to Kevin DeYoung on the topic Baptism and the covenant.

Jamin quote KDY as stating: “If circumcision was for Abraham a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith, then we cannot say the cutting away of the flesh was simply an ethnic identity marker or a sign of mere physical import.”

Then Jamin responds:

Not true. Circumcision was a seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith because he had faith. Obviously, if he didn’t have faith, circumcision wasn’t and isn’t a sign of his faith! I honestly don’t know how Kevin misses that one since it’s explicit in the text.

It’s really unclear what Jamin is trying to object to. His comment doesn’t really seem to address what KDY said, and later on in his comments he seems to agree with KDY that the sign was not merely of physical import. Perhaps Jamin just misread something.

Jamin quotes KDY thus:

And if this spiritual sign—a seal of the righteousness that comes by faith—was administered to Abraham and his infant sons, then we cannot say that the thing signified must always be present before the sign is administered. Isaac was circumcised, and so was Ishmael—both being given the seal of justification by faith before the exercise of faith. Just like infant baptism.

Then Jamin responds:

Kevin again misses that circumcision is “a seal of the righteousness that comes by faith” – that is, Abraham’s faith and righteousness, not somebody’s else’s!

Again, it’s not completely clear if Jamin follows KDY’s argument. Assuming that he does, Jamin seems to be trying to argue that all circumcisions were a sign of Abraham’s faith (not of each recipient’s faith). If so, it is not clear how Jamin derives this from the text. Of course, Abraham’s circumcision was a sign of the faith he himself had, but by extension the same is true of each circumcised person – his circumcision signed/sealed his (the individual’s) faith.

Jamin quotes KDY thus:

So whether infant baptism makes sense to you or not—and I deeply respect my non-paedo friends in my church and in the broader church—shouldn’t we at least agree that the basic spiritual import of circumcision and baptism is the same and that there is biblical precedence [sic for precedent] for administering a spiritual sign without the immediate presence of the thing signified?

Then Jamin responds:

The answer is no, because the basic spiritual import of circumcision and baptism is not the same, precisely because the covenant’s [sic for covenants] are not the same (Heb 8).

The question then is, “what was the basic spiritual import of circumcision,” if it was not faith? Acts 15 confirms for us that the Jews were saved by faith, just like the Gentiles. So, on what point is the basic spiritual import different? We don’t get an answer from Jamin.

Jamin continues:

As Wellum has thoroughly argued in Believer’s Baptism a number of years ago, and more recently in Kingdom Through Covenant, circumcision and baptism signify different realities (which is why they are radically different signs!).

They are radically different signs because Christ has come. The bloody has been replaced with the bloodless, because Christ’s blood has been shed. But the question is what Jamin thinks the different spiritual realities are.

Jamin then quotes himself as previously stating:

Circumcision marked out a male line of descent from Abraham to David to Christ, served as a physical sign to mark out a nation and to distinguish them as people who would prepare the way for the Messiah, and was part and parcel of Mosaic law.[1] None of this is true for baptism.

But, didn’t circumcision point to new life like baptism does?[2]Yes, but there’s a difference between looking forward to something and looking back to something after Christ has accomplished his work. As Sam Waldron puts it, “Baptism, therefore, professes what circumcision demanded. Circumcision did demand a new heart, indeed, but it did not profess a new heart. Baptism professes a new heart.”

a) So, wait – Jamin does agree that circumcision points to new life like baptism does. So, then why did he answer “no” instead of “yes” to KDY?

b) The attempt to limit circumcision to the Mosaic administration fails as well. Ishmael was circumcised – not just Isaac. Abraham’s slaves were circumcised too. While many of the male ancestors of Jesus in the male Abrahamic line to Joseph and Mary were circumcised, we are not told that all were, and the hill of foreskins at the entering in of Canaan suggests that some were not. Indeed, Abraham comes before Moses.

c) More to the point, while circumcision was associated with the Mosaic administration, the “basic spiritual significance” does not lie the nation being marked out – the marked out nation was itself a shadow (and likewise with the promised land etc.).

d) There is a difference between pointing forward and pointing backward, no doubt, but that difference is not one that is at the level of the “basic spiritual significance.”

e) Waldron’s way of putting it may be catchy, but it is not consistent with Paul’s discussion of Abraham’s circumcision. Paul claims Abraham already had faith and treats circumcision (in his case) as a profession of the faith that he already had. The same would the case with any proselytes.

f) Moreover, while it is easy to treat circumcision as law and demand (by simply lumping it in with “the law”), circumcision was a profession of the thing demanded. The way of salvation was always by faith, for all people, for all time. It was not uniquely demanded of the Jews in the Old Testament. Even if you will say that the gospel preached to the Jews (in shadow) and was not preached to the nations, surely it was preached to the female Jews. Thus, while circumcision was uniquely received by male Jews, faith was not demanded only of the males.

g) Further to (f), the idea of circumcision “demanding” what baptism professes is a confused idea, if one is trying to apply Paul’s teaching that a person who is circumcised is a debtor to the whole law.

h) Also further to (f), leaving aside the Pauline comments mentioned at (g), the idea that circumcision “demanded” anything is not a teaching of Scripture. It seems instead to be an inference from the fact that it was applied to infants who were later to learn about their responsibilities. What is missing, though, is any notion that the circumcision was a demand, rather than a profession.

Jamin concludes:

Thus, in the Old Covenant, you have the command given to God’s people to “circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your heart” (Jer 4:4) to those who already bore the physical sign, hoping that maybe in the future this would happen. But in the New Covenant, the Apostle speaks to God’s covenant people in the aorist, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…you have been buried in baptism” (Col 2).

Jamin seems to treat Jeremiah 4:4 as though it were part of an OT AWANA curriculum. What distinguishes the two cases is that one is addressed to merely outward members of the covenant, and the other is address to members of the covenant both outwardly and inwardly. Abraham’s inward circumcision preceded his outward circumcision, just as the Colossian proselytes’ outward baptism followed their inward circumcision.

The unbelieving Jews professed faith, but they did not have it:

Isaiah 29:13
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

So, in fact the Jews professed a faith they did not possess, whereas the Colossians possessed faith. But that’s not a difference between baptism and circumcision, but between hypocrites and faithful.


Was Judas Baptized?

June 9, 2011

John 3:22
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

John 3:26
And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.

John 4:1-2
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

What I understand from this is that in first century Judea and perhaps beyond, baptism was understood to indicate that the person was a disciple of the baptizer. The disciples baptized “in the name of” another – namely at first Christ and later the Triune name, when it was revealed:

Matthew 28:19-20
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

What the above would also seem to imply is that Jesus baptized the twelve (who then baptized others). But that would seem to imply that Jesus baptized Judas, who never had saving faith. Moreover, it seems readily apparent that Jesus knew Judas did not have saving faith.

Given that understanding of these texts, these texts seem to torpedo one of the arguments used against infant baptism, namely that baptism ought not to be administered to anyone who lacks faith.

One thing I’ve pointed out from time to time to my friends is that I don’t see any specific, explicit Biblical limitation on Baptism. The Scriptures nowhere warn against baptizing folks who do not believe, for example. There may be reasons not to baptize everyone who claims that they want to be a disciple immediately (see Paul’s point that he wasn’t called to baptize).

Nevertheless, other times men have been baptized having known about Jesus for less than a day:

Acts 8:34-39
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

You should notice that in the above passage, Philip says that if the eunuch believes with all his heart, he can be baptized.

Acts 10:45-47
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

In the above passage, evidence of the work of the Spirit in the life of the people was sufficient grounds for their baptism.

Acts 16:27-34
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

Here again is someone who appears to have been baptized within a day. The actual order expressed here is baptism, then belief, though one supposes that he believed first. But, in any event, no discussion of any limitations on baptism is provided here.

I don’t mean for this post to be an expression of a lot of conclusions about the subject, but rather some thoughts on the issues surrounding baptism. The Bible does not expressly say that Judas was baptized, or that Jesus baptized the twelve himself.


John Calvin and the Fathers on Baptism

December 3, 2009

I’ve been told that John Calvin invented a justification for infant baptism that was new. I’m not fully persuaded that, in its essence, Calvin’s justification was new. My impression is that the main argument is that Calvin was departing from medieval Western tradition that viewed baptism essentially as regenerative by virtue of its operation. However, of course, I want to acknowledge up front that I haven’t seen a precisely worded expression of the claim that Calvin’s view of baptism was a theological novum. Perhaps, in the precisely worded expression of the claim, the point is that some of the details of Calvin’s justification for infant baptism were new. In any event, I hope the following post will help at least to demonstrate what wasn’t new to Calvin.

For example, Calvin writes:

Scripture gives us a still clearer knowledge of the truth. For it is most evident that the covenant, which the Lord once made with Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:14), is not less applicable to Christians now than it was anciently to the Jewish people, and, therefore, that word has no less reference to Christians than to Jews. Unless, indeed, we imagine that Christ, by his advent, diminished or curtailed the grace of the Father – an idea not free from execrable blasphemy. Wherefore, both the children of the Jews, because, when made heirs of that covenant, they were separated from the heathen, were called a holy seed (Ezra 9:2; Isaiah 6:13), and for the same reason the children of Christians, or those who have only one believing parent, are called holy, and, by the testimony of the apostle, differ from the impure seed of idolaters (I Cor. 7:14). Then, since the Lord, immediately after the covenant was made with Abraham ordered it to be sealed, infants by an outward sacrament (Gen. 17:12), how can it be said that Christians are not to attest it in the present day, and seal it in their children?

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Chapter 16, Section 6

Yet we see similar comments in the church fathers:

This sacrament the Lord Himself received in infancy, although He abrogated it when He was crucified. For these signs of spiritual blessings were not condemned, but gave place to others which were more suitable to the later dispensation. For as circumcision was abolished by the first coming of the Lord, so baptism shall be abolished by His second coming. For as now, since the liberty of faith has come, and the yoke of bondage has been removed, no Christian receives circumcision in the flesh; so then, when the just are reigning with the Lord, and the wicked have been condemned, no one shall be baptized, but the reality which both ordinances prefigure— namely, circumcision of the heart and cleansing of the conscience— shall be eternally abiding. If, therefore, I had been a Jew in the time of the former dispensation, and there had come to me a Samaritan who was willing to become a Jew, abandoning the error which the Lord Himself condemned when He said, “You worship ye know not what; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews;” [John 4:22] — if, I say, a Samaritan whom Samaritans had circumcised had expressed his willingness to become a Jew, there would have been no scope for the boldness which would have insisted on the repetition of the rite; and instead of this, we would have been compelled to approve of that which God had commanded, although it had been done by heretics. But if, in the flesh of a circumcised man, I could not find place for the repetition of the circumcision, because there is but one member which is circumcised, much less is place found in the one heart of man for the repetition of the baptism of Christ. You, therefore, who wish to baptize twice, must seek as subjects of such double baptism men who have double hearts.

– Augustine, Letter 23, Section 4

If the only meaning of baptism were the remission of sins, why would we baptize the newborn children who have not yet tasted of sin? But the mystery [of baptism] is not limited to this; it is a promise of greater and more perfect gifts. In it are the promises of future delights; it is a type of the future resurrection, a communion with the master’s passion, a participation in His resurrection, a mantle of salvation, a tunic of gladness, a garment of light, or, rather it is light itself.

– Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Compendium of Heretical Fables, Book 5, §18, Preface (courtesy of David King)

And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by authority, still we can form a true conjecture of the value of the sacrament of baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision, which was received by God’s earlier people, and before receiving which Abraham was justified, as Cornelius also was enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized. Yet the apostle says of Abraham himself, that “he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith,” having already believed in his heart, so that “it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Why, therefore, was it commanded him that he should circumcise every male child in order on the eighth day, [Genesis 17:9-14] though it could not yet believe with the heart, that it should be counted unto it for righteousness, because the sacrament in itself was of great avail? And this was made manifest by the message of an angel in the case of Moses’ son; for when he was carried by his mother, being yet uncircumcised, it was required, by manifest present peril, that he should be circumcised, [Exodus 4:24-26] and when this was done, the danger of death was removed. As therefore in Abraham the justification of faith came first, and circumcision was added afterwards as the seal of faith; so in Cornelius the spiritual sanctification came first in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the sacrament of regeneration was added afterwards in the laver of baptism. And as in Isaac, who was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, the seal of this righteousness of faith was given first, and afterwards, as he imitated the faith of his father, the righteousness itself followed as he grew up, of which the seal had been given before when he was an infant; so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body. And as in the thief the gracious goodness of the Almighty supplied what had been wanting in the sacrament of baptism, because it had been missing not from pride or contempt, but from want of opportunity; so in infants who die baptized, we must believe that the same grace of the Almighty supplies the want, that, not from perversity of will, but from insufficiency of age, they can neither believe with the heart unto righteousness, nor make confession with the mouth unto salvation. Therefore, when others take the vows for them, that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete in their behalf, it is unquestionably of avail for their dedication to God, because they cannot answer for themselves. But if another were to answer for one who could answer for himself, it would not be of the same avail. In accordance with which rule, we find in the gospel what strikes every one as natural when he reads it, “He is of age, he shall speak for himself.” John 9:21

– Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book 4, Chapter, Chapter 24 (Section 32)

But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. For as the Lord says in His Gospel, “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them,” [Luke 4:56] as far as we Can, We must strive that, if possible, no soul be lost. For what is wanting to him who has once been formed in the womb by the hand of God? To us, indeed, and to our eyes, according to the worldly course of days, they who are born appear to receive an increase. But whatever things are made by God, are completed by the majesty and work of God their Maker.

– Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 58, Section 2

Regeneration – Baptism – Circumcision

November 28, 2009

In a recent post responding to some comments from R. Scott Clark, Dr. White states:

In the same way, once we see that fulfillment of circumcision in the New Covenant is regeneration, not baptism, the consistency of the biblical revelation is seen.


I have heard Dr. White make this claim repeatedly, but it seems odd to me for two reasons:

1) The claim from his Presbyterian brethren is not that baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision, but that it is the replacement. The unbloody sign of baptism replaces the bloody sign of circumcision (just as the unbloody Lord’s Supper replaces the bloody Passover).

2) Regeneration is the the thing symbolized by both Circumcision and Baptism. I guess one could call it the “fulfillment” of the sign, but it is properly speaking the antitype of which both circumcision and baptism are the type. Both the type and the antitype coexisted in the Old Testament, and there was an incomplete overlap then as now. For example, Abraham believed (demonstrating regeneration) before he was circumcised, whereas we can question whether Ishmael ever believed – yet he was circumcised.

So, I find Dr. White’s claim puzzling. It doesn’t make sense to me to say that “fulfillment of circumcision in the New Covenant is regeneration” because on the one hand it would be more appropriate to say “fulfillment of circumcision in the Old Covenant was regeneration” or on the other hand “fulfillment of baptism in the New Covenant is regeneration.”


Strawbridge vs. White Debate on Baptism – Some Caveats

April 30, 2009

Coram Deo at Defending Contending (link) has a post discussing the issue of infant baptism and the new covenant and promoting a debate between Dr. James White and Greg Strawbridge on the topic of infant baptism.

He writes:

Yet precisely WHAT does Christ mediate to those who are baptized as infants and grow to adulthood, but who never come to faith in Him? Listen to the debate below to hear the shocking response to this question by infant baptism apologist Dr. Gregg Strawbridge, editor of “The Case for Covenental Infant Baptism”.

I think it is worth noting that Strawbridge doesn’t represent the Reformed (Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican) position on the topic. Instead, he represents the view of those within the Federal Vision movement.

While Strawbridge is a legitimate target as representative of the Federal Vision, as to the Reformed (Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican) position, Strawbridge is a straw man: he does not represent the historic Reformed (Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican) position on the subject.

Why my “(Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican)”? Because, of course, it’s normal also to include other groups as Reformed, such as Reformed Baptists. That group (Reformed Baptists) was already represented in the debate by my friend Dr. James White (with whom, as everyone knows, I disagree amicably on this subject).

While I think Dr. White did a great job in the debate, and while it may be edifying to hear the debate, I hope people will not listen to it thinking that Strawbridge represents the Reformed (Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican) side. Personally, I would like to see Dr. White debate Strawbridge on the issue of justification, since that seems to be a more central problem with the Federal Vision movement.

With all those caveats, for those interested in the debate: (part 1) (part 2)


"Jesus Loves Me" – Critique of Hymn 633

July 12, 2008

One thing I really disliked about Pastor Shishko’s cross-examination of Dr. White in their debate on baptism was Pastor Shishko’s suggestion that believers should teach their children to sing Trinity Hymnal #633, which the hymnal indexes, “Yes, Jesus loves me!”

First of all, the only religious songs authorized in Scripture are those found in the Psalter – of which there are but 150. Even leaving aside the second commandment, however, and the specific application of that commandment to songs of worship, #633 of the Trinity Hymnal is not a song that has particular doctrinal strength, as we will see below.

Stanza 1
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.

The Bible does not tell either all children or even children of believers that Jesus necessarily loves them. I realize that this flies in the face of Arminian theology, but within the context of my comments to Pastor Shishko, we can take for granted that Pastor Shishko also rejects Arminian theology as unscriptural.

It is true that Jesus is strong, and there is a sense in which not only little children but all of Creation belongs to Him. Is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Therefore, they are His. That said, many little children are not the recipients of the special saving love that Jesus has toward the elect. Both Jacob and Esau were children of believing Isaac, but God loved Jacob and hated Esau from before their birth, as Scripture tells us.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

This refrain expresses the same theme above, which is objectionable. It is especially objectionable to encourage young children who have not repented of their sins, as well as unbelieving visitors to one’s church, to sing this song. I suppose such a problem could be handled by the minister (or one of the other elders) announcing that this song is to be sung only by those who have repented of their sins and believed on Christ. In fact, such a warning may be appropriate in the case of certain Psalms as well. Those who have not repented and believed need to recognize that the primary, outward manifestation of Jesus, the coming judge of all the world, is discfavor because of their sins, not a Santa-Claus-esque joviality.

Stanza 2
Jesus loves me, he who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let his little child come in.

Clearly the first couplet of this stanza presents the Arminian view of the atonement, and not the Reformed view. Indeed, even Arminians usually recognize that Scripture states that “strait” (narrow) is the gate that leads to eternal life. Furthermore, to emphasize, Jesus did not die simply to open Heaven’s gate so that people could clamber up of their own free will. Instead, Jesus died to save his people (those the Father had given him) from their sins.

The second couplet would not be as objectionable if sung by those who had already repented and believed in Christ. For others, such a claim is presumptuous. That is to say, it is presumptuous for unbelievers to claim that their sins will be washed away and that they will be welcomed into heaven.

For believers, however, the second couplet is still objectionable because it seems to deny that justification has already occurred. Those who have repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation, have been justified in God’s sight: their sins have been washed. Thus, in the case of those not already baptized, we illustrate that washing away of sins in baptism.

[The refrain, being repetitive, has been omitted, but is to be sung after each stanza as set in the Trinity Hymnal]

Stanza 3
Jesus loves me, loves me still,
Though I’m very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high
Comes to watch me where I lie.

The first couplet of this stanza is objectionable basically for the reasons above. Obviously, it is true that Jesus love for his people does not depend on us being healthy. That may be an encouragement to those who are sick, as perhaps it was to Job who looked forward to the coming Messiah.

With respect to the second couplet of the stanza, Jesus is enthroned on high, but does not “come to” us personally. He certainly sees our affliction and watches over us. Perhaps the inexactness of theology here may simply be chalked up to an attempt to be poetic. That’s one place where the Psalms have a marked advantage from a practical point (even overlooking the Regulative Principle of Worship), because as the inspired word of God they cannot justly be accused of compromising theology in order to be poetic. They certainly use literary devices, but they do so in a way that is proper.

Stanza 4
Jesus loves me, he will stay
Close beside me all the way:
If I love him, when I die
He will take me home on high.

A more succinct summary of conventional Arminian soteriology than what is presented in this stanza could not be hoped for. The basic theme seems to be that Jesus is going simply to love me throughout my life, and so long as I do my part, I will be in heaven after death. Of course, I must being doing my part at the moment of death, so the stanza seems to indicate, or it will be for nothing.

For a believer, the first couplet is certainly accurate. That is to say, as Reformed Christians we acknowledge that Jesus loves us and abides in his love for us, throughout our life.

Turning to the second couplet, however, we place our confidence in eternal life not in our own love for him, but in his love for us. We know that we will be with him, because he loves us. We know that we will die loving him, because he loved us. We try to avoid suggesting that we get to heaven because we love him, but rather acknowledge that he both works a love of God in us, and brings to God whom we love.

One certainly could try to defend the words of this stanza from a Reformed position, since it is true that if we love God when we die, we will go to heaven. It is also true for the elect that God loves us no w and always. However, as noted above, it seems Pastor Shishko wants to exhort people whose status as regenerate or unregenerate is unknown (such as covenant children who have not yet professed faith in Christ) to sing this song.

In short, while Pastor Shishko scored some minor points in the debate by pointing out that Hymn #633 is in the hymnal that Dr. White’s church uses (a fact of which Dr. White was apparently unaware), the disuse of that hymn by the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Fellowship (the most obvious explanation for Dr. White not thinking it was among the hundreds of hymns found there) is more consistent with Reformed theology and generally more wise than Pastor Shishko’s approach of encouraging covenant children to sing this song, prior to any expression of repentance and faith in Christ.

Furthermore, while the tune to which the song is set is catchy, it’s a doctrinally flabby song that probably just should be avoided: particularly in a culture in which God is misportrayed as omni-benevolent.

“The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble … Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright. Save, LORD: let the king hear us when we call.” (Psalm 20:1a and 7-9)


Update: 13 July 2008 – Apparently this hymn is number 189 in at least some editions of the Trinity Hymnal.

The Real Turretin on: Validity of Baptisms by Heretics

April 27, 2008

Turrettin, vol. iii. p. 442. “Some heretics,” he says, “corrupt the very substance of baptism, as the ancient Arians, modern Socinians, rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity others, retaining the essentials of the ordinance and the true doctrine of the Trinity, err as to other doctrines, as formerly the Novatians and Donatists, and now the Papists and Arminians. The baptisms of the former class are to be rejected; those of the latter are retained, although they err as to many doctrines, and their baptisms, in circumstantials, are polluted by various ceremonies.” See also Pictet, La Theologie Chretienne, Lib. xv. c. 13.

(source – C. Hodge, The Church and Its Polity – p. 194)


Modern Views on Circumcision

February 8, 2008

This brief article describes a situation that is not a good one (link). The man has two wives and eleven children. It’s not good for men to have more wives than one, and such men are prohibited from serving as elders in the church.

This man did two things that most people would consider strange today:

1) he forbade his wives from seeking prenatal care during their pregnancy; and
2) he performed home circumcisions on two of his boys when they were eight days old, using a utility knife.

Apparently referring to the latter item, the article quotes a neighbor as saying that such a thing is “sick” and that he couldn’t understand how anyone could do that:

“Sick, he’s got a sick mind,” a former neighbor said. “Anybody that would do that to their children — there’s something really wrong with them.”

It’s not all that different from the ancient outside view on circumcision:

Exodus 4:24-26
24And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him [Moses], and sought to kill him. 25Then Zipporah [Moses’ wife] took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. 26So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

But consider the contrast. The modern polygamist used a utility knife, whereas Zipporah used simply a sharp stone. The modern polygamist did it himself (and forbade his wives from seeking prenatal care) because he apparently distrusts doctors, a perfectly understable phobia, even if it is not one to which can fully relate.

I’m not defending the polygamist. Today we have doctors who can perform medical circumcisions, and there is no religious reason for continuing the rite of circumcision in view of the replacement of circumcision by baptism in the New Testament administration.

Nevertheless, to say that someone would have to have a “sick mind” to circumcise their children is simply to fail to recognize the religious significance of the act. The religious significance is the symbolic removal of the uncleanness of the flesh, as a symbol of the hoped-for removal of sin from the heart of the child. In a bloody way, it pictures what the bloodless sacrament of baptism pictures: the work of the spirit in regeneration.

The sacraments of the Old Testament (Passover and Circumcision) were bloody sacraments, picturing the blood of Christ with literal blood. The sacraments of the New Testament are not bloody, though they symbolize blood (both the wine of the Lord’s Supper and the water of Baptism picturing the blood of Christ).

The passage above should also be a klaxon to those who think the paedobaptism issue is trivial. The paedocircumcison was not trivial to God. If Zipporah had not circumcised Moses’ children, God would have executed the sentence of death for breaking the covenant:

Genesis 17:14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

God takes the symbols seriously, and so should we.


Baptismal Salvation

February 2, 2008

I recently received this peice of fan mail:

You’re a sock puppet of Satan. That’s why you baptize babies to send them to hell to burn for all eternity. They grow up duped into thinking they’re already Christians and already saved just because Satan’s minister sprinkled his putrid devil water on them. You’re going to burn for your heresy, and I don’t mean at the hands of Rome: I mean hell. But its what you want, since Satan is your god.

This blasphemy would ordinarily just find its way rapidly to the “deleted” bin, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to distinguish something that this particular blasphemer has asserted.

He suggests that the children we baptize grow up thinking that they are already Christians and already saved because of their baptism. This is not true in Reformed Churches.

Reformed churches do not suggest that baptism saves anyone. Instead, we preach the gospel:

Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

We preach it to those outside the church, but we also preach it to the children of the church. We preach it to those who have been baptized as infants, whether they were baptized in our churches, in the churches of Rome or Constantinople, or in any other church that has a formally Christian baptism. Men are justified by faith in Christ, not by the water of baptism.

To those who are not of the household of faith (outwardly speaking, of course), we do not baptize them until they have repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. In places like Europe and the Americas, most of the people who are proselytized have already been baptized, and consequently we do not rebaptize them. On the other hand, in places like Asia and Africa most of the people who are proselytized have not been baptized, and consequently are baptized.

As to the mode of baptism, while most Reformed churches sprinkle as a matter of convenience, all Reformed churches are free to adminster the sacrament of baptism by pouring or immersion. Reformed churches view the mode of baptism to be a circumstance rather than an element of the sacrament. Thus, Reformed churches do not insist on one mode or another.

Obviously, it is worth noting that the writer of this comment is in need of prayer. I hope those Christians who stop by this blog will take a second to pray for his soul. God is great, and God loves to demonstrate his power by converting the most blasphemous of men: look at Saul of Tarsus!

And let us not think that we are somehow better than the person who made this comment. We are not saved by merit, or by being washed with water, but by the grace of God. Therefore, with humility, let us:

Praise our Awesome Creator!


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