A Qualification

As my good friend David has written a critique of Carl Trueman’s comments, and Carl taught me at WTS, I thought that I should go ahead and listen to the whole thing and see if I agreed with David. As these are two very dear brothers in Christ, it behoves me to be extremely careful in what I say. You can listen to the whole thing here. Also, there are a lot of comments on this post that are extremely thoughtful and well worth pondering.

I would say that I agree, by and large, with David’s assessment of the weaknesses of Trueman’s presentation, but that I would want to offer a qualification of it. This qualification is based on what Trueman used to tell me in conversation, and I believe he said it in class as well. He said that we need to have a principled reason for not belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, and that it has to be doctrinal. If we do not have that, then we are living in sinful schism. Schism is a terrible sin. This is why Leithart’s position is, to my mind, completely incoherent. If the differences between Protestantism and Rome are not salvific in nature, then Leithart is living in sin by not being a part of the Roman Catholic Church. Leithart is, in effect, saying that Trent did not anathematize the gospel, a point that Jack Bradley brought up quite ably.

When I use those statements by Trueman that he made before, I come to about the 1 hour 17-25 minute mark, and notice Trueman strongly challenging Leithart on the issues of doctrinal difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. Trueman plainly believes that it is doctrine that separates us from Rome, and that these doctrines that separate us are of a first order nature. They are salvific. They are gospel issues. So, ultimately I believe that Trueman is being inconsistent. He believes that gospel issues separate us from Rome, but he seems willing to admit (or at least refrain from denying) that Rome is a true church. I agree with David that acknowledging RCC baptism is not a sufficient condition for considering Rome a true church (I think that the Southern Presbyterians, particularly Thornwell, got this one right, and that Hodge was inconsistent). For one thing, the Reformers who had been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, were baptized before Trent happened. No Reformer would have said that Rome had completely apostatized before Trent happened. Now, I firmly believe that Rome is no true church. So Trueman is in the awkward position of denying that Rome has the gospel, and yet of admitting (or not denying) that Rome is part of the true church. I do not think that this position can ultimately stand the test of coherency.

A Possible Argument Against Immersion

I was musing recently on Fesko’s outstanding book on baptism, which includes within it an argument for a judgment (condemnation) aspect to baptism. The biblical evidence for this is fairly abundant. The most direct evidence for it is in the passage where James and John ask to sit at Jesus’ right hand when He comes into His kingdom, and He asks them whether they can be baptized with the baptism with which He is going to be (notice the future tense!) baptized. This cannot refer, therefore, to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river, but, as most scholars agree, refers instead to His crucifixion. Then, when we add Noah’s flood (via 1 Peter 3) and the crossing of the Red Sea (via 1 Corinthians 10), we see also that there is definitely a judgment side to condemnation.

What struck me recently was that in two of these three passages, immersion is directly connected with the judgment side of the baptism. It is not Noah who is immersed, but the wicked inhabitants of the world at the time. It is not the Israelites who are immersed at the Red Sea, but the Egyptians. Similarly, in the symbolism of baptism, it is not we who are immersed in the judgment, but rather Christ Who was “immersed” in it. He experienced “immersion” under the wrath of God so that we might experience only grace. Admittedly, this is a somewhat oblique argument, but it seems to me to have some decent biblical-theological direction arrows to it. What do you think?

Baptidzo = Immerse – A Root Word Fallacy?

by Reed DePace

Is it an example of the root word fallacy to say that baptizw in Scripture always means immerse?

I’ve seen more and more Baptist friends translate baptizw with immerse, as if the two words are explicitly equivalent. Some have taken a passage from Scripture where a form of this Greek word appears and they simply insert a form of immerse.

For example: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing immersing them”…. Or “Baptism Immersion which now saves you, …. Or “I baptized immersed you with water, but he will baptize immerse you with the Holy Spirit.”

Seems to me that this is an example of the root word fallacy. What do you think?

by Reed DePace

Sign, Thing Signified, and Sacramental Relationship

One of the main difficulties in understanding the sacraments is understanding the relationship among these three elements of the sacraments. We’ll take baptism here for an example. The sign is the water, whether sprinkled, poured, or immersed (I believe that the amount of water used is ultimately immaterial). The thing signified is the cleansing blood of Christ. One important thing that is usually missed here is that the sacrament includes the thing signified. This gets at a huge problem in the church today. The church tends to refer to the sacrament as including only the sign. Therefore, when we use the term “baptism,” we usually mean just the sign, just the rite. However, this is not the only way to understand the sacrament. WLC 163 explicitly says that the “inward and spiritual grace thereby signified” is also part of the sacrament. This shouldn’t make us nervous in the least, because the real question is where the efficacy of baptism lies.

The power of baptism cannot lie in the sign. This is proven absolutely, 100% conclusively by Romans 4:11, which states explicitly that Abraham already had the thing signified long before he ever had the sign applied to him. Circumcision is described as a sign and seal. This refutes directly those who believe that the “seal” language implies conferral. For here in Romans 4:11 is a seal that most definitely could not confer something already possessed.

The thing signified obviously has saving power. The blood of Christ has an objectively saving power. But how does it get applied to us? The answer is in the sacramental union of sign and thing signified. Another way of describing this sacramental union is “Spirit-given faith.” This is how we avoid the problem that the Lutherans constantly have of ascribing saving power to baptism, and yet also saying “sola fide.” If it is Spirit-given faith that connects sign to thing signified, then that is faith alone that saves. Faith also connects the sign and the thing signified so that the whole sacrament is now present.

Note here that it is quite possible to possess the sign without the thing signified (as in the reprobate). It is also quite possible to possess the thing signified without the sign (as in Abraham before he was circumcised). The only way one can possess the whole sacrament is for the Holy Spirit to give us faith. I believe that it is only as we understand baptism this way that we can avoid the problem associated with too high a view of the sign (and the time-point of its administration), on the one hand; and a devaluing of the sacrament on the other, making the sacrament into a bare sign.

This fits in, I believe, with the Reformed emphasis of the sign as a confirmatory sign. When they use this language, they are talking about the sign by itself. But when they use language reacting against the Anabaptists (usually rejecting the position of a naked and bare sign), they are talking about the sign and the thing signified together. This is the normal way we use sacramental language, and we have to be careful to delineate whether we mean the sign considered just as a sign, or whether we are referring to the whole sacrament, including Spirit-given faith. I am convinced that massive amounts of miscommunication and confusion could be avoided if we are careful at just this point.

Two Baptisms Or One?

I am becoming more and more convinced that the Federal Vision believes in two baptisms. Consider this point: do they expect an infant baptism to work the same way an adult baptism would? This presupposes another question, of course: should our doctrine of baptism be able to take into account all baptisms? The answer to this latter question is yes, since we believe in one baptism, as Ephesians 4:5 tells us, and as the creeds tell us. So the problem for the FV is this: if the sign and the thing signified are tied so closely together that you can’t even insert a credit card in between the two, then how to explain adult baptisms? Does the adult get the thing signified at the time point of faith, or do we have to tell him, “Whoa there, slow down, pardner! You don’t have union with Christ and forgiveness of sins until you’re baptized.” Isn’t that telling an adult that faith alone is not sufficient for justification?

Let’s try a thought experiment that seeks to make infant baptisms and adult baptisms work the same way. Let’s suppose that an adult comes to faith before he receives the sign and seal (like Abraham in Romans 4, for instance). Could this be paralleled in an infant’s life? Sure thing. An infant can trust in its Creator even in the womb (an implication of John the Baptist, not to mention David’s strong language of infant faith in the Psalms). Okay, what about coming to faith after baptism, can that happen? This is also very possible. An adult can fool himself into thinking that he has real faith, and only realizes his mistake after baptism. We would certainly not re-baptize such a person. His faith came after the sign and seal. This also happens with infants, since it happened with me. I came to faith when I was six, though baptized as an infant. And no, no one doubted my words when I said I came to faith. I was always encouraged to hold to what I said. I was encouraged both before and after my conversion to grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. My parents did not assume one way or the other whether I was saved or not. In other words, I myself do not fit the FV paradigm.

If one believes, then, that the thing signed and sealed always comes at the time-point of baptism, then one believes in two baptisms, because it never happens that way with an adult, and almost never with an infant. Would a church responsibly baptize an adult who did not have a credible profession of faith? Of course not. In baptizing an adult, the church is required to assume that the thing signified is already present. Therefore, the FV believes in two baptisms. It works one way for infants, and another way for adults. This is not tenable, and it is certainly not confessional. The Westminster standards says that the efficacy of the sacraments is not tied to the moment when they are administered. It comes in God’s own appointed time. That appointed time is when the Holy Spirit comes upon the person in power and changes that person from a citizen of Hell to a citizen of Heaven. That happens by faith alone.

This is why saying that sign and thing signified always or even mostly occur at the same time is very dangerous. Whenever God gives faith-that is when the thing signified and sealed is granted. God is not tied to the moment of baptism to give that.

One commenter long ago wrote on this blog that the FV is a baby-driven theology. I think this is true. Rather than coming at the sacrament in such a way that all forms of it fit the same template, so as to have only one baptism, they think almost exclusively in terms of how a baby experiences baptism, and it is not consistent with how the adult baptism works. They should work the same way.

New Book on Baptism

I have been looking forward to the publication of this volume for quite some time, now. The main reason, of course, is that John graciously asked me to be one of his editors on the project. This was a very satisfying project for me, personally, as it enabled me to get a much better grasp on the historical theology of baptism, as well as the redemptive-historical meaning of baptism. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that was better at helping me understand what baptism means than this volume. I recommend it highly as the best book on the actual meaning of the sacrament of baptism. Take it and read it. You won’t regret it.

Romans 4:9-11 Destroys the FV/Lutheran/Anglican/RCC View on Baptism

Proposition 1: The FV, the Lutherans, the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, and the Reformed all agree that the structure of circumcision is basically the same as that of baptism. Yes, there are differences in the recipients (males and females for baptism versus only males for circumcision), and in the mode (bloody forward-looking sign in circumcision versus backwards-looking bloodless sign in baptism). However, for our purposes, it is the similarity of its sacramental meaning that is our concern. As sacraments, circumcision and baptism function analogously among all these groups (though these groups do not all agree on how they work).

Proposition 2: The main difference between the FV/Lutheran/Anglican/RCC view of baptism and the Reformed view of baptism is that, for the former group, the rite of baptism conveys something beyond sign-ness and seal-ness. The language of sign and seal is therefore (usually) interpreted by the former group to mean “convey what it signifies.”

Proposition 3: We must be careful in how we use the term “baptism.” The way we normally use the term is when we use it to refer to the rite of a minister administering the sign of water in the name of the Triune God. However, the term “baptism” can also refer to the entire sacrament. If we remember our definition of a sacrament, we remember that there are three parts: the sign, the thing signified, and the sacramental union between the two. In the case of baptism, the sign is water, the thing signified is the cleansing blood of Christ, and the sacramental union between the two is the Holy Spirit working faith in the individual, thus connecting the sign and the thing signified. So the term “baptism” can be used to indicate the whole kit and kaboodle, including salvation, though not implying by this that the sign causes the thing signified. The sacramental union of the Holy Spirit working faith in the individual is what causes the thing signified to be present. However, this is not the normal usage of the term, and it is not how I am going to be using the term in this post. I will be using the term in its more familiar usage of the rite of a minister administering the sign of water in the name of the Triune God.

The question before us, then, is not whether baptism has any efficacy. All agree that it does. Where we disagree is in the nature of that efficacy, and the relations of the sign, the thing signified, and the sacramental union, specifically, what causes what. It is the thesis of this post that the sign/seal does not cause the thing signified/sealed. This is proven conclusively by the passage mentioned. I will post it in Greek and in my two favorite translations.

Romans 4:9-11, Greek:

ὁ μακαρισμὸς οὖν οὗτος ἐπὶ τὴν περιτομὴν ἢ καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν ἀκροβυστίαν; λέγομεν γάρ, Ἐλογίσθη τῷ Ἀβραὰμ ἡ πίστις εἰς δικαιοσύνην. πῶς οὖν ἐλογίσθη; ἐν περιτομῇ ὄντι ἢ ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ; οὐκ ἐν περιτομῇ ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ: καὶ σημεῖον ἔλαβεν περιτομῆς, σφραγῖδα τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐν τῇ ἀκροβυστίᾳ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν πατέρα πάντων τῶν πιστευόντων δι’ ἀκροβυστίας, εἰς τὸ λογισθῆναι καὶ αὐτοῖς τὴν δικαιοσύνην.

ESV: 9. Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.

HCSB: 9. Is this blessing only for the circumcised, then? Or is it also for the uncircumcised? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham for righteousness.” 10. How then was it credited—while he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while he was circumcised, but uncircumcised. 11. And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while still uncircumcised. This was to make him the father of all who believe but are not circumcised, so that righteousness may be credited to them also.

The most important point to notice here is that Abraham had both faith and righteousness before circumcision. If this is true, then circumcision could not have brought about either faith, or the righteousness that comes by faith. The next most important thing to notice here is that both “sign” and “seal” are present in this passage in verse 11. Therefore, neither the sign-ness nor the seal-ness of circumcision brought about the faith or the imputed righteousness. Instead, it was the Holy Spirit working faith in Abraham, which constitutes the sacramental union between sign and thing signified. So, given proposition 1 above, baptism works the same way as circumcision. Therefore the sign-ness and seal-ness of baptism does not bring about faith or the righteousness of faith (imputed righteousness). Rather, it is the Holy Spirit who connects the sign to the thing signified in the believer by bringing about faith. It is faith that is instrumental for bringing about imputed righteousness for the believer.

I can hear the retort already: aren’t you then a Baptist in saying this? On the contrary. I have been seeking to prove that the sign does not bring about the thing signified. I have not been trying to argue that the thing signified has to come about before the sign can be given. I have been arguing instead that the thing signified comes at the time-point of faith, whenever that is. It can come before, during, or after baptism, whenever the Holy Spirit chooses to give it. My target here is those groups of people who want to say that the sign-ness and seal-ness of baptism is instrumental in bringing about what it signifies. I would argue that saying this usurps the position of faith in being instrumental.

Seventeen Points of Denominational Renewal, part 1

Rev. Jon Payne’s motion, which became the Northwest Georgia Presbytery’s motion, which was adopted at our 38th General Assembly, has seventeen points related to true denominational renewal. This resolution passed by an overwhelming margin. I’d like to post a few thoughts on these excellent points. Our denomination has passed it, and therefore we should give it due weight.

The first five points relate to the worship of God. They are preaching, sacraments, Sabbath, the Regulative Principle of Worship, and private, family, and corporate worship of God. Let’s take them one at a time.

Preaching is God’s ordained way of getting the Word to people. The Reformed dictum was that the preached Word of God is the Word of God. This generalization is understood to be qualified, of course, by the caution that the preaching must be accurate to what the text says in order to be the Word of God. Nevertheless, this qualification does not take the teeth out of the equation. This preaching, as Payne notes, must be “exegetical, Christ-centered, application-filled, expository preaching.” Notice that this is first in position, as taking pride of place, as it should. Recovery of this will result in the recovery of all the other points. For the rest of the points constitutes a great deal of the whole counsel of God, which is indeed what should be preached.

Sacraments are efficacious. Notice the presence of the word “efficacious” in the second paragraph. While we will not go Federal Vision on this issue, nevertheless, we need to remember that the Sacraments are ordinary means of grace. What kind of grace is conveyed to worthy recipients is a discussion for another time (it’s been discussed ad nauseum on this blog!). The point is that the signs are not empty signs. In other words, we do need a high view of the efficacy of the Sacraments. We need to use them as God has ordained. It is very easy to forget them, and it is also very easy to use them improperly. The Larger Catechism has a great deal to say about how we should use the Sacraments. We would do well to remind ourselves of these truths.

The Sabbath is becoming much neglected these days. I can hardly count the number of young men coming out of seminaries these days who take exception to the Catechism on the Fourth Commandment. They usually go further than this and deny that the purpose of the day is worship, and not some kind of idleness. I have even heard people denying that work is forbidden on the Sabbath day. Now, some of these men have actually done all the research into why and how the Westminster divines wrote what they wrote on the subject of the Sabbath. However, most of the time, they take an exception there only because it is fashionable to do so, and they haven’t a clue as to why the divines wrote what they did. They have done no exegesis of Isaiah 58:13-14. Therefore, they often have no clue as to why the “no recreation” clause is in the Larger Catechism.

The Regulative Principle is also coming under attack. Our Reformed forefathers would be incredulous, to tell you the truth, at some of the attacks on this doctrine that have come up within supposedly Reformed circles. Outright denial of this doctrine, or complete redefinition, is commonplace nowadays. The Regulative Principle is quite simply this: if the Bible has not commanded us to do a certain thing in worship, then we may not do it. If the Bible doesn’t mention it, then it’s forbidden. While this is stated negatively here, it actually has an extremely positive meaning: we are not bound in our conscience to do anything in worship invented by man. Humanity has no right to bind the conscience. Only the Word of God binds our conscience. Sometimes the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of justification receive so much of the limelight that we forget that the RPW can really be described as the third great principle of the Reformation alongside the other two of Scripture and justification. Probably the reason why it is not viewed that way is because the Lutherans do not accept this principle.

Fifthly, private, family, and public worship of God is what we were made to do. This is our highest purpose in life. It is more important than work, play, entertainment, eating, drinking, sports, arts, education, or even evangelism. John Piper understands this, which is why he said, “Evangelism exists because worship doesn’t.” Exactly. Evangelism exists for the purpose of our being God’s instruments to create worshipers of God. That’s the goal of evangelism. And we need to worship God on all these levels (private, family, and public) because each of these levels defines who we are in relation to God. God’s Word speaks to us on these three levels, and so also must we speak back to God on these three levels.

Professor Mark Beach Responds to Nampa URC’s Criticism of the URC FV Report

Posted by Wes White

Comments on the Paper of the Consistory of the United Reformed

Church of Nampa, Idaho

“Interaction with the ‘Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal

Vision and Justification’ ”

by J. Mark Beach

PART ONE

Introduction

This paper is a response to a recent study produced by the Consistory of the United Reformed Church of Nampa, Idaho (3 June 2010) interacting with the “Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal Vision and Justification.” Inasmuch as I am a minister in the United Reformed Churches, but not a delegate to Synod 2010, this reply, I suppose, is my only opportunity to offer some observations about the Study Committee Report and more particularly about the Nampa Consistory document, which invites the churches to consider the critique of the Study Committee Report “as they prepare to deliberate on these issues at Synod.”

As an official consistorial document, it is not clear to me why the Nampa URC paper was not processed through ecclesiastical channels, which seems to be the protocol for an official reply to a synodical Study Committee. Rather than post this document over the internet, it seems to me that it would have been a brotherly duty to correspond with the Study Committee directly so that this Committee could evaluate and weigh the validity of the concerns enunciated in the Nampa document, or at the very least submit this document to Classis as an overture, and if Classis refused to adopt the overture as its own, then send their report to Synod. As it stands, the procedure the Nampa Consistory has followed in this regard may be construed to show a low view of the church, an uncharitable approach to the Study Committee, and to be setting an unwise, even a kind of politicizing, precedent for ecclesiastical debate and discussion. (The Study Committee Report has been available to the churches since mid-summer 2009.) No doubt, some consistories and interested individuals will study this document while others are free to ignore it since it is not a document properly processed through the assemblies of the church. For this reason, given the public nature of the Nampa document, I feel compelled to offer some analytical comments on the Nampa study, though I wish the whole discussion had been left within official ecclesiastical boundaries.

Continue reading here.

Posted by Wes White

The Hypostatic Union in Relation to Our Union With Christ

I was reading in Thomas Manton today and discovered some very interesting thoughts on the above topic. Here are the relevant passages:

In the hypostatical union, our nature is united with Christ’s nature; in the mystical union, our person with his person. In the hypostatical union, Christ matched into our family; in the mystical union, the soul is the bride…Thus Christ first honoured our nature, and then our persons; first he assumeth our nature, and then espouseth our persons…The hypostatical union is indissoluble; it was never laid aside, not in death; it was the Lord of glory that was crucified, it was the body of Christ in the grave. So it is in the mystical union; Christ and we shall never be parted…In the hypostatical union, the human nature can do nothing apart from the divine; no more can we out of Christ…In the hypostatical union, God dwelleth in Christ σωματικῶς, Col. 2:9 “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” In the mystical union, God dwelleth in us πνευματικῶς, 1 John 4:4 “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” The hypostatical union is the ground of all that grace and glory that was bestowed on the human nature…By the hypostatical union, Christ is made our brother, he contracted affinity with the human nature; by the mystical union he is made our head and husband, he weddeth our persons. Volume XI of his complete works, pp. 35-36.

Incidentally, I came across another quotation on baptism in Manton that cuts against the grain of the Federal Vision:

We are ‘baptized into Christ,’ Galatians 3:27. It is the pledge of our admission into that body whereof Christ is the head. God is aforehand with us; we were engaged to make a profession of this union, before we had liberty to choose our own way. Let us not retract our vows, and make baptism only a memorial of our hypocrisy, to profess union when there is no such matter. Emphasis added, p. 68 of the same volume.

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