TE Keister’s Reply to TE Moon’s Defense of TE Lawrence – Part 3

Posted by Wes White

II. Exegetical Arguments

A. TE Moon argues (p. 2) that TE Lawrence’s view of the term is in accord with the NT understanding of the term “Christian.” However, the context of each of the three uses of the term in the NT does not support this claim, which depends on baptism being the marker or identifier of who is a Christian. The first instance of its use is Acts 11:26. Baptism is nowhere mentioned in the context, but believing and turning to the Lord certainly is (vs. 21). They were marked by their beliefs, primarily. At the very least, if baptism was supposed to be the marker of the Christian, it should have been present in this context, and yet it is absent. If a Christian is one who identifies with Christ, then in this passage the way one is identified with Christ is if a person believed and turned to the Lord. This is very similar to the common way of using “Christian” today to refer to someone who believes in Christ. The second occurrence of this word is even stronger against TE Moon’s assertion. The context is Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. Paul gives a detailed defense of what he believes. In short, he preached the Word to King Agrippa. King Agrippa responds eventually by saying, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). King Agrippa was obviously thinking that Paul intended to persuade by his words, not by baptism. At the very least, in King Agrippa’s mind, to be a Christian was to believe what Paul said about the Christ. The means of becoming one, for King Agrippa, was persuasion by words. The last instance of the word occurs in 1 Peter 4:16. In my opinion, this verse does not point in any particular way, except that it is contrasted with “murderer, thief, evildoer, and meddler” (vs. 15). In this context, therefore, it is primarily what a Christian does that is marking him out for persecution, since he is not doing any of those wrong things. The passage is not really about how one becomes a Christian. The context is certainly delimited by the closing “Amen” of verse 11. Therefore, verse 12 starts a new subject. This is why the end of chapter 3 would not be pertinent to the discussion, as it is not in the immediate context. The conclusion of this study of the contexts of the three occurrences of “Christian” in the New Testament point rather strongly against TE Moon’s assertion that the “Christian” was deemed so by baptism. So, the issue is not whether “Christian” means “elect,” but rather whether “Christian” means “believer.” I would argue that it means the latter. And a true believer is one of the elect.

The next section will take quite some time to unpack, since TE Lawrence quotes a variety of Scriptures to prove his point, and TE Moon simply asserts that TE Lawrence’s statement is a paraphrase of Scripture. As a result, we must exegete every single one of these passages to prove that they do not advocate undifferentiated benefits given to the elect and the non-elect in baptism.

B. First up is Matthew 28:18-20, which is said by TE Lawrence to be a proof text for the assertion, “Baptism is the initiatory rite by which we are united to christ and thus granted new life.” It is difficult to see how union with Christ language is even present in the Great Commission. No doubt TE Lawrence interprets the participial clause “baptizing them” to be explanatory of “make disciples.” However, there are two participial clauses that modify “make disciples” in this context. Baptizing is one of those clauses, but in verse 20, we see that “teaching them to observe” is parallel with “baptizing them.” So, making disciples, or, literally, “discipling all the nations” has to do with two things, not just one. It has to do with baptizing and teaching. In any case, union with Christ is not present in the passage. Being a disciple is present. But being a disciple means being baptized and being taught. The baptism is not defined in relation to union with Christ in this passage. Neither is new life present in this passage. So, this passage cannot be used to buttress the claim that baptism gives new life and union with Christ.

C. The second passage quoted is Titus 3:5. The text itself is complicated and fraught with exegetical difficulties. Basically, the question can be boiled down to this: what does “laver, or washing of regeneration” mean? Several commentators argue that the primary meaning is a spiritual washing (see  Towner, 781; Marshall, 318; Mounce, 448; and Knight, 350). These commentators do not deny an allusion to baptism. However, the primary reference for them is to a spiritual cleansing of regeneration, which is invisible, a visible sign of which we receive in baptism. This is also the position of Calvin (pp. 332-334). Calvin carefully distinguishes between sign and thing signified even while connecting them together. What belongs to the sign stays with the sign (p. 333), and what belongs to the Spirit belongs to the Spirit. He states categorically that wicked men are neither washed nor renewed by baptism, even if the grace is offered to them. This is a far cry from what TE Lawrence is claiming. Also, it has been objected that discussing the distinction between sign and thing signified in relation to various passages is not exegetically helpful. Calvin, then, must be terribly unhelpful on page 334 of his commentary, when he claims that verse 6 refers not to the sign, but rather of the thing signified, in which the truth of the sign exists. Let me repeat, the distinction between sign and thing signified was not viewed by Calvin as relevant only to the concerns about Roman Catholics and Lutherans. He clearly saw the distinction as an exegetically helpful category for explaining the text. Calvin, then, is saying that the efficacy of baptism applies only to the elect (p. 333), and that wicked men get nothing good out of baptism. In fact, the efficacy of baptism towards the non-elect is said to be retained only in the hand of God who offers grace. That grace never reaches the non-elect. And, as we will see in Calvin’s comments on Romans 6, the efficacy is tied to Spirit-wrought faith.

D. The third passage quoted is Romans 6:3-4. Several key points are raised by TE Moon in this section (p. 4). First of all, TE Moon makes the claim that if the accusers are correct, then Paul should not have spoken the way he did about the instrumentality of baptism. Secondly, TE Moon argues that the distinction between sign and thing signified primarily relates to arguments that the Reformed have had with Catholic and Lutheran theology, and that such a distinction should not be used as a hermeneutical tool to understand Romans 6, at least not if it is used to say that Paul is not speaking of water baptism. If such a claim were made, says TE Moon, it would come near to violating what the Confession says about sacramental union, and the nature of how sacramental language can function. Lastly, he says that TE Lawrence was asked to divorce the sign from the thing signified. Let’s take these in order.

Firstly, how does Paul speak in Romans 6? One really cannot do better than John Calvin at this point. I, for one, do not believe that the rite of baptism is absent from Romans 6. Therefore, TE Moon’s rhetoric concerning the violation of every exegetical rule does not apply (although I think his comment is still off-base, as there are several well-respected scholars who do not hold that water baptism is in view at all, Lloyd-Jones being one of them. We would not want to accuse Lloyd-Jones of thereby violating every exegetical rule. Nor would such a position violate the Standards on the union of sign and thing signified, since one can legitimately speak of the sign or the thing signified without automatically including the other). Notice Calvin’s careful balance and qualifications:

For Paul, according to his usual manner, where he speaks of the faithful, connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign; for we know that whatever the Lord offers by the visible symbol is confirmed and ratified by their faith. In short, he teaches what is the real character of baptism when rightly received. So he testifies to the Galatians, that all who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Gal iii.27.) Thus indeed must we speak, as long as the institution of the Lord and the faith of the godly unite together; for we never have naked and empty symbols, except when our ingratitude and wickedness hinder the working of divine beneficence (emphasis added, p. 221 of his commentary on Romans, which is on Romans 6:4).

Notice here that baptism can be an empty and naked sign. It happens when ingratitude and wickedness prevent the thing signified from being present.

It is possible to err on two sides on this question of how Paul speaks. The first is to say that Paul refers only to water baptism in Romans 6. The other error to say that Paul refers only to what baptism signifies (though, as I said earlier, this hardly breaks every exegetical rule). For now, we need to explore the former error. If one says that Paul is only speaking of water baptism, then one might also be tempted to say that everything Paul describes happens at water baptism. But if Paul does not have only water baptism in view, but the entire sacrament (sign, thing signified, and Spiritual relation of the two), then nothing concerning the time point of when the thing signified comes to pass may be inferred from this passage. Paul is talking about the whole picture of baptism. He is not talking only about water baptism. This means that we cannot say when the thing signified comes to a person. Romans 6 presupposes Romans 4-5, as several authors have noted (see Shedd, pp. 150-152 of his Romans commentary, and Moo, p. 366, quoting Dunn, who seems to have this issue right, even if he is off on other things, although he seems to have backed off from his earlier position in his later commentary). If the thing signified came at the same time as the sign, then Romans 4-5 would make no sense in the flow of Paul’s argument, since the whole argument is that we have been freed from sin’s guilt by justification by faith alone. Abraham’s example in Romans 4 is conclusive on this point, since Paul pointedly reminds us in Romans 4:10 that justification happened before circumcision. The remainder of the passage hints that those who come to faith after circumcision are also the children of Abraham (v. 12). However, if all these benefits come to a person simply by virtue of the water rite (as TE Lawrence explicitly claims), then such a theology must narrowly tie faith down in the point of its inception to the moment of baptism. Otherwise, no sense at all could be made of Romans 4-5, which explicitly ties saving benefits to faith, and not to baptism.

E. The fourth passage adduced by TE Lawrence is Ephesians 4:4-6. TE Lawrence claims that this passage proves that baptism brings a person into the fellowship of the church. However, the items in a series, which strongly emphasize the oneness of the church, are not causally related to each other. They are simply items in a series: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.  How these things relate is not developed in Ephesians 4. Now, we do believe that baptism brings one into the visible church (as WCF 28.1 says). However, notice that the Westminster divines were very careful to summarize the Bible’s teaching on this as the “visible” church. They do not say that baptism gives the benefits it signs and seals, thus making a person a member of the invisible church. Of course, the minute such a distinction is made, the objection usually arises that this distinction bifurcates the church into two. It does not. There is a visible aspect and an invisible aspect to the church. There are distinct properties to each aspect. Both aspects put together constitute the church in the largest sense of the term.

F. Brief Excursus on the language of “sign and seal.”

1. A brief digression is necessary here in order to deal with the language of “sign” and “seal.” With regard to the language of “sign,” and analogy is helpful. Suppose a person is wandering around in his car, looking for Bismarck. He doesn’t really know where he is or where he is going. However, then he runs across a sign that says “Bismarck 22 miles.” He can then infer from this sign that if he continues on that road another 22 miles, he will be in Bismarck. The sign is no empty sign, for it points in the right direction. One would not expect to continue 22 miles in that direction, after having seen that sign, only to arrive in Minneapolis. However, it is easy to see that the sign is not Bismarck itself. One could extend the analogy to say that the spiritual relation between the two is the road connecting the sign with the city. One may choose not to go to Bismarck after all, in which case one does not get the thing signified. Seeing the sign does not give one access to the city. But when one comes to Bismarck, one is assured that he is there, because he remembers the sign that he saw. Similarly, if he had already been in Bismarck, and was leaving, but couldn’t quite remember what city it was he had just passed through, he could theoretically look at the sign backwards as he passed, and would be confirmed in his belief that it was Bismarck he had just been in. So the thing signified could come before, during, or after the sign. We must not tie down the thing signified to the time of the sign. Otherwise, we put God’s grace in a very small box indeed, and ascribe too much to the sign.

2. The language of “seal” is a bit trickier, since it sounds more efficacious. However, the language of seal functions very similarly, although we must use a different analogy. A letter from a king needed to have a confirmation that it was from the king. Therefore, there was wax that was used in connection with a signet ring to put a particular stamp upon the wax. This would guarantee to the reader that the message inside the letter was genuinely from the king. But the seal is not the letter itself. The letter could very well exist without the seal, although that would be unusual. Nor does a seal deliver the letter to anyone. What the seal says is that the letter is genuine to anyone who reads the letter. In the same way, baptism functions as a seal for our faith. It is faith that is the letter, faith that God gives us in order that we might be justified, sanctified, etc. When the letter is opened is not set at the time that the seal is placed on the letter. The letter might be opened later. One might already have the letter opened, and the king places his seal upon it afterward in order to confirm its genuineness. So the analogy works well whether faith comes before or after baptism. But someone who does not open the letter can see that the wax is genuine, but does not have the substance of the letter in his possession, and thus indeed does possess an empty sign, as Calvin noted above.

G. A fifth passage that TE Lawrence adduces is Galatians 3:26-27, which he argues proves that baptism brings one into fellowship with Christ and also brings adoption as sons of God. However, the text explicitly states that everyone who is a son of God is a son of God through faith (vs 26), not through baptism. The “for” in verse 27 does not explain something that is epexegetical to verse 26. Rather, verse 27 describes the sign, the reason they may have assurance that they are the sons of God. And the thing signified is here viewed as connected with the sign for those who have what verse 26 says. Again, Calvin is helpful and worth quoting at length, for his insight into the two ways Paul speaks (this is from his commentary on the passage):

But the argument, that, because they have been baptized, they have put on Christ, appears weak; for how far is baptism from being efficacious in all? Is it reasonable that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be so closely linked to an external symbol? Does not the uniform doctrine of Scripture, as well as experience, appear to confute this statement? I answer, it is customary with Paul to treat of the sacraments in two points of view. When he is dealing with hypocrites, in whom the mere symbol awakens pride, he then proclaims loudly the emptiness and worthlessness of the outward symbol, and denounces, in strong terms, their foolish confidence. In such cases he contemplates not the ordinance of God, but the corruption of wicked men. When, on the other hand, he addresses believers, who make a proper use of the symbols, he then views them in connexion with the truth- which they represent. In this case, he makes no boast of any false splendour as belonging to the sacraments, but calls our attention to the actual fact represented by the outward ceremony. Thus, agreeably to the Divine appointment, the truth comes to be associated with the symbols.

But perhaps some person will ask, Is it then possible that, through the fault of men, a sacrament shall cease to bear a figurative meaning? The reply is easy. Though wicked men may derive no advantage from the sacraments, they still retain undiminised their nature and force. The sacraments present, both to good and to bad men, the grace of God. No falsehood attaches to the promises which they exhibit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Believers receive what is offered; and if wicked men, by rejecting it, render the offer unprofitable to themselves, their conduct cannot destroy the faithfulness of God, or the true meaning of the sacrament…(after quoting Romans 6:5, LK) In this way, the symbol and the Divine operation are kept distinct, and yet the meaning of the sacraments is manifest; so that they cannot be regarded as empty and trivial exhibitions (emphasis added, pp. 111-112 of Calvin’s Galatians commentary).

Calvin’s sermons are even more plain on this matter:

Baptism then maketh us not all Christians, and again we know, that to be made the child of God, is too great a benefit to be fathered upon a corruptible element (Sermons, p. 484).

And again:

But first of all let us mark here, that when Saint Paul speaketh of Baptism, he presupposeth that we receive the thing that is offered unto us in it. Many that are baptized do wipe away the grace of God: and notwithstanding that it be offered them, yet they make themselves unworthy of ir through their unbelief, lewdness, and rebellion. Thus ye see that the power of baptism is defeated in many men. But when there happeneth a mutual agreement and melody between God and us: then has baptism the effect whereof Saint Paul treateth and discourseth in this text (Sermons, p. 485).

Peter Barnes, in his excellent recent commentary on Galatians (p. 178), says much the same:

Surely, Paul is referring to water baptism. It is true that external baptism does not unite us to Christ. Paul is hardly saying that the rite of circumcision does not save or add to savlation, but the rite of baptism does! As John Stott puts it, “Faith secures the union; baptism signifies it outwardly and visibly.”

Plainly the views of Calvin and Barnes are not the views of TE Lawrence or of TE Moon. For TE’s Moon and Lawrence plainly say that even wicked men gain at least some advantage from the sacrament, even if it is a lesser version than what the elect receive (although such a two-tiered reception of the benefits of baptism is certainly nowhere taught in Scripture). Again, Calvin says that there is nothing signified present unless the sacrament be received in faith. Calvin says that wicked men gain no advantage from the sacrament whatsoever. Only believers get the thing signified, and they have to be believers (meaning that they must have true faith) to receive those benefits. Calvin says that baptism does not make us Christians, whereas TE Lawrence says that it does make us Christians. Calvin says, in effect, that a person is a Christian when sign and thing signified are both present. TE Lawrence says, in effect, that it comes in the water rite regardless of faith, or that faith itself comes in the water rite.

H. A sixth passage is Leviticus 8-9. It is difficult to know how TE Lawrence applies this to baptism and the benefits surrounding baptism. He says that it proves that a baptized person is brought into the fellowship of the church. I will be content on this passage simply to say that more work would need to be done on TE Lawrence’s part to prove his case. The consecration of Aaron and his sons might have relevance to one of the possible modes of baptism (sprinkling), but it is difficult to see how it relates to the efficacy of baptism, especially when circumcision would seem a much more direct place to go in the Old Testament for the theology of baptism.

I. A seventh passage is 1 Corinthians 12:13. Again, this passage is referenced by TE Lawrence to prove that baptism brings a person into the fellowship of the body, the church. The statement is vague in and of itself. It is true that baptism is a sign of joining the visible church, as has been said before. However, this passage is not talking about water baptism. Charles Hodge notes that water baptism and Spirit baptism are clearly distinguished in Matthew 3:11, John 1:33, Acts 1:5. He says further:

It is not denied that the one is sacramentally connected with the other; or that the baptism of the Spirit often attends the baptism of water; but they are not inseparably connected. The one may be without the other. And in the present passage there does not seem to be even an allusion to water baptism, and more than in Acts 1:5. Paul does not say that we are made one body by baptism, but by the baptism of the Holy Ghost; that is, by spiritual regeneration. Any communication of the Holy Spirit is called a baptism, because the Spirit is said to be poured out (p. 254 of his commentary).

Notice especially those important words about any outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We must not make the word-concept fallacy: that just because a word is present, that therefore a particular concept must be present. Just because the word “baptism” is present does not mean that water baptism is present. Peter  Naylor, in his recent commentary on the epistle, also does not believe that water baptism is referred to here. His argument is that if water baptism was meant, Paul would left out the qualifying phrase “in the Spirit” (p. 327). There is, however, a very recent commentary with whom the views of Moon and Lawrence agree. He writes this:

This verse is one of the fundamental Pauline texts that teach the incorporation of baptized believers into Christ.

The author is Joseph Fitzmyer, a Roman Catholic theologian (see p. 478 of his commentary).

J. The eighth passage referenced is 1 Corinthians 6:11, which does not have the word “baptized” in it. Now this does not mean that baptism is automatically excluded (otherwise we would be committing the word-concept fallacy described above). However, the verb “washed” is not usually connected with baptism in the New Testament (see Fee, p. 246). The phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” refers to all three verbs (wash, sanctify, and justify, all in the aorist tense), not just to washing. Furthermore, the preposition “en” is not Paul’s usual preposition to use when saying “baptize into the name of.” That verb is usually “eis.” It is more likely that Paul has in mind an inward washing from the guilt and power of the sins mentioned in the previous verses. Certainly, this verse does NOT say that baptism cleanses us from our sins, as TE Lawrence claims it says. The commentaries of Naylor (p. 144), Barrett (p. 141, who acknowledges an indirect reference to baptism, but says that it is “the inward meaning rather than the outward circumstances of the rite that is important to Paul”), Hodge (p. 100), and Thiselton (pp. 453-455 for a very nuanced version of what Barrett also said) also bear this out. Calvin says that the term “washing” is metaphorical, Christ’s blood being likened to water. But Calvin nowhere mentions baptism in connection with this text.

To be continued…

Posted by Wes White