TE Keister’s Reply to TE Moon’s Defense of TE Lawrence (Part 1)

-Posted by Wes White

Since Lane is going to be on vacation, I’ve offered to post some things for him.  I’m going to post in several parts his reply to TE Moon.   TE Moon’s speech/paper was given at the 87th Stated Meeting of Presbytery in the context of debates about an investigative report on TE Lawrence.  It consists of two main parts.  The first part deals with historical arguments.  The second part deals with exegetical arguments.  I plan on posting it in five parts.  Here is the first.

An Answer to TE Josh Moon’s Report on the Views of TE Greg Lawrence

A combination of factors will show that TE Moon’s arguments are without foundation at almost every point. These factors include faulty logic, faulty exegesis, and blatant misreading of the Reformed sources, none of which support his claim. His claim can be summarized thus: TE Lawrence’s views are in accord with Scripture, in accord with the confession, and in accord with significant strands of Reformed authors who have written on these topics throughout history, and that, therefore, to find a strong presumption of guilt concerning TE Lawrence’s teaching would disenfranchize many Reformed theologians, many Reformed confessions, and even parts of the Scripture itself. Our method will be to examine the historical arguments TE Moon sets forth, followed by the exegetical arguments.

I. Historical arguments

A. TE Moon starts out with a discussion of the controversy of Bavinck and Kuyper concerning presumptive regeneration. He argues that the issues were similar: “the place of children in the covenant, the efficacy of baptism, what it means for baptism to seal or be a means of salvation” (p. 1). He further argues that Bavinck himself describes the opposing views as being within the bounds of orthodoxy. However, the issue with Bavinck and Kuyper is not the same as is before us today. Bavinck and Kuyper were disputing the notion of presumptive regeneration, not what happens at baptism. Consider the following quote (from Hillenius) in the very near context to what TE Moon quoted in Saved By Grace:

As far as the time of regeneration is concerned, that is quite varied. The papists teach that it occurs in baptism, since they desire that baptism itself effects regeneration by virtue of the act performed, but we will not pause to refute that erroneous view.

Then Bavinck goes on to say, “The view which identifies the moment of regeneration as the moment one is baptized is a claim that the Holy Scripture nowhere teaches us, but on the contrary, Scriptures teaches us about several people who were regenerated already before baptism, such as Paul…” (pp. 88-89 of Saved By Grace). Consider also Bavinck’s claim concerning the following theologians: Calvin, Musculus, Beza, Ursinus, Alsted, de Bres, Alting, Acronius, Gomarus, Walaeus, Maccovius, Cloppenburg, Comrie, and many others. He says:

They viewed baptism not as a sign and proof that regeneration had already occurred in all elect infants, but as a seal of God’s promises to believers and their seed, promises that He would certainly fulfill toward all of them in His own time. Therefore Calvin declared that the baptism he had received in his youth first became profitable to him at a subsequent age (p. 90).

This qualifies the statement that TE Moon quoted, in that the variety of opinion was not whether the thing promised in baptism was actually given in baptism, but rather when regeneration occurred. The difference of opinion, then, left out the possibility that all the promises were fulfilled in baptism, as Hillenius’ quotation proves.

B. Next we have to deal with the ubiquitously quoted (in the FV literature) questions from Calvin’s catechism, which are universally misunderstood by FV’ers. Here are the two questions (quoted on p. 2 of TE Moon’s report):

Q. Are you, my son, a Christian in fact as well as in name? A: Yes, my father.

Q: How do you know yourself to be? A: Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (emphasis TE Moon’s).

First of all, we must notice that there are two distinct questions here. They are not one question, but two. This does have hermeneutical ramifications, since the first question has to do with the actual status of the child, and the second question has to do with the knowledge about that status. Every Reformed theologian of which this author is aware agrees that baptism forms part of our assurance of salvation. All the second question is getting at is the question of assurance. How does one know that he is a Christian in fact as well as in name? Well, one has the sign and seal of salvation. This question and answer makes no claim about how the state of being a Christian comes about. It merely says that baptism is a means of assurance concerning one’s true state. Furthermore, this is a catechism. It is not here delineating all the different things that filter into one’s assurance of salvation. That this is what Calvin means is proven quite adequately by the Institutes IV.15.2:

For Paul did not mean to signify that our cleansing and salvation are accomplished by water, or that water contains in itself the power to cleanse, regenerate, and renew; nor that here is the cause of salvation, but only that in this sacrament are received the knowledge and certainty of such gifts. This the words themselves explain clearly enough. For Paul joins together the Word of life and the baptism of water, as if he had said: “Through the gospel a message of our cleansing and sanctification is brought to us; through such baptism the message is sealed.”

Notice that the sacrament seals the Word, as it were. Certainly, this is not what TE Lawrence is saying, nor is it what TE Moon is saying.

C. Next up is TE Moon’s gross mishandling of Ferguson and Owen. The quotation comes from Ferguson’s book John Owen on the Christian Life:

[Baptism] is to be to the Christian a constant reminder and pledge of his being constituted a Christian, and of the basic elements in the ‘new creation’ which has come in Christ.’ (emphasis TE Moon’s).

TE Moon claims that this is using the name “Christian” to refer to someone who is baptized. However, the quotation is not saying that baptism constitutes one a Christian. It is saying that baptism is a constant reminder and pledge of his already having been constituted a Christian. That this is the proper way of interpreting Owen and Ferguson is proven by the context, where Owen is quoted to say that baptism is a token and pledge of forgiveness of sins: “He lets them know that he would take away their sin, wherein their spiritual defilement doth consist, even as water takes away the outward filth of the body” (emphasis, added, Owen’s Works, VI, pp. 465-6, quoted in Ferguson, p. 216). The phrase “would take away” refers not to a future act, but to the fact that in baptism God is promising to forgive sins.

D. The next quotation is from the Directory of Public Worship. This statement has an ellipsis in the middle of it. Here is how TE Moon quotes the DPW: “That children, by their baptism…are Christians” (p. 3 of TE Moon’s report).

It would be good to see the full quotation:

That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized.

The statement is not that children are Christians by virtue of the their baptism. The statement rather says that they are federally holy before their baptism. The words “federally holy” are a further explanation of the phrase “that they are Christians.” Therefore, the natural interpretation of the text is that children are Christians, that is, federally holy, before baptism, and thus ought to receive the sign. This is confirmed by the “therefore” clause at the end. They are baptized because they are federally holy, not vice versa. The phrases are carefully qualified here. TE Moon quoted the statement out of context, giving the impression that baptism was the instrument by which the child becomes a Christian in the sense being talked about here, whereas the federally holy sense of “Christian” is present before baptism, not because of it. Furthermore, this comes in the context of teaching a series of theses about what baptism means, and how it ought to be taught. Each “that” introduces a new item in the series. Therefore, it is hermeneutically suspect to take part of a phrase from one clause and combine it with part of a phrase of another clause.

E. TE Moon quotes Ursinus’s commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (quoted at the bottom of p. 5 and the top of p. 6, from p. 366 of the Commentary). The quotation in full reads:

[T]hose are not to be excluded from baptism, to whom the benefit of the remission of sins, and of regeneration belongs. But this benefit belongs to the infants of the church; for redemption from sin, by the blood of Christ and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult.

TE Moon thinks that Ursinus is saying that the infants of believers indiscriminately are said to have remission of sins, regeneration, and redemption (p. 6 of the report). This reading ignores three crucial elements: 1. Everyone agrees, even TE White and TE Keister, that infants can be saved. In fact, TE Keister and TE White believe that it is not necessary always to expect a violent conversion experience out of children, and that one can believe a child’s profession of faith. But not all children are regenerate from the womb, and not all children born of Christian parents are regenerated from the womb. It is just as dangerous to assume that they are regenerate when they are not, as it is to assume that they are not regenerate when they are. One can legitimately err on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt, as long as each parent takes upon himself the responsibility to nurture and admonish the child in the Lord’s grace. But all of that is not precisely the issue at hand. All the previous words in this paragraph were to prove that TE Moon set up a straw man. The main point at issue is: do these benefits of which Ursinus speaks come at baptism? Even in the passage, the answer is clearly not. For he says that the children already have these things (if he means the whole church, then he is not speaking in a head for head fashion, but in a generalizing fashion). He nowhere says that such benefits are given to the children at baptism. Baptism should come to children, because they have the thing signified (one should read here that they can have the thing signified: he is surely not saying that every child of Christian parents in fact has all these things). Ursinus says this explicitly just a little later on down the page: “those unto whom the things signified belong, unto them the sign also belongs.”

2. Ursinus uses the word “promised” in the last phrase. In the context, it seems plain that baptism is the promise. Whether they have faith or do not yet have it, baptism is the promise that faith will bring salvation.

3. TE Moon neglects the overall context of Ursinus’ theology and other statements which qualify the statement quoted. For instance, Ursinus is clearly distinguishing between sign and thing signifed in the theses concerning baptism, which run from page 371-373 of his commentary on the Heidelberg Catichism. He says the following:

When baptism is, therefore, said to be the laver or washing of regeneration, to save us, or to wash away sins, it is meant that the external baptism is a sign of the internal, that is, of regeneration, salvation and of spiritual absolution; and this internal baptism is said to be joined with that which is external, in the right and proper use of it (emphasis added, p. 372).

And again:

All those who are baptized with water, whether adults or infants, are not made partakers of the grace of Christ, for the eternal election of God and his calling to the kingdom of Christ, is free (p. 373).

These are precisely the sort of qualifications necessary, and yet which are not present either in TE Moon’s presentation, nor in TE Lawrence’s theology. Again, compare TE Lawrence with the above:

LK: Let’s put it this way, the resurrection, or being united into the death and resurrection of Christ, does that pertain to the thing signified or to the sign, in Rom. 6 for instance?

GL: I would not distinguish.

LK: But that raises the question, then, if you don’t distinguish, then if everybody does get that at the water sign, then everybody does get the thing signified at the same time, right? Is that what you’re saying?

GL: Yeah. By virtue of the rite of baptism, to some degree they become recipients of those benefits, in terms of their union with Christ (pp. 59-60 of the final report).

TE Lawrence says that everyone becomes recipients of the thing signified by virtue of the rite of baptism. In order to avoid confusion at precisely this point, TE Keister made the qualification “at the water sign.” TE Lawrence is clear on this point. TE Lawrence is equally clearly out of accord with the Standards, which explicitly contradict the idea that these benefits come at the time of the sign (cf. WCF 28.1, 28.6).

Another essential point to notice here is that Ursinus uses the phrase “infants of the church.” This phrase is not the same as TE Moon’s “the infants of believers.” For how one defines the church will be important as to how the phrase “infants of the church” should be understood. To understand this, we must look at what Ursinus says about the church:

The Catechism in answer to the Question under consideration, defines the church to be that assembly, or congregation of men, chosen of God from everlasting to eternal life, which the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself, by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, agreeing in true faith, and which he will at length glorify with eternal life and glory. Such is the definition of the true church of God of which the Creed properly speaks (p. 286 of the Commentary). (See question 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism, LK).

Now, although Ursinus goes on to make all the normal distinctions in terms of how we speak about the church, we have to notice the italicized parts of the above quotation. This indicates that the above defines the normal usage of the word “church” in Ursinus’s commentary. Therefore, “infants of the church” does not refer to all children of believers, as TE Moon suggests, but rather refers to elect infants, who are part of the true church. And precisely because we cannot see who is elect and who is not, all children of professing believers are to be baptized. But Ursinus is not saying that all children of believers indiscriminately have the thing signified.

To be continued…

Posted by Wes White

News Concerning Tenth Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken will be leaving Tenth Presbyterian Church to take up duties as the next President of Wheaton College.

I have to admit I was stunned by this news. I had hoped he would stay at Tenth for another 20 years and give us volume after volume of expository sermons. He might still be able to do that, I don’t know. Certainly Wheaton College has made a wise choice. And I can certainly see how appealing the position would be for Phil, especially since he would be able to be near his father. But I am concerned for Tenth. Where will they find another expository preacher of Phil’s caliber? I sat under his preaching for 4 years and was blessed every Sunday by the gifts God has given him. Tenth’s sore loss is certainly Wheaton’s great gain.