A Response to Brandon Adams on 1 Corinthians 10

Brandon Adams has propounded a believer Baptist understanding of 1 Corinthians 10. His positive explanation of the passage is here, and his rejection of paedobaptist objections is here. It is worthwhile interacting with these ideas, since 1 Corinthians 10 is such an important passage in the debate, and any reasonable interpretations of the passage on a believer Baptist position are worthy of praise, since I have not met many believer Baptists who have formed many ideas concerning the passage. For my purposes, I will mainly interact with the rejection of paedobaptist false inferences post. I read the other post, and may refer to it occasionally, but the substance of what I wish to say concerns what he says about paedobaptist interpretations of the passage.

Almost immediately, we run into some problems, namely, with how Adams describes the paedo position. There does not seem to be a recognition that paedobaptists do, in fact, advocate some aspects of discontinuity and progression as history moves from Israel to the church. For example, paedos argue that the sign changes from bloody to bloodless (going from circumcision to baptism) because Christ’s blood has been shed, making further bloodshed unnecessary. Therefore, circumcision points forward, and baptism looks backwards. That they point to the same spiritual reality does not mean that they work in precisely the same way. Circumcision affected boys, and girls were understood to be included under their covenant head, whereas in the church, baptism is given to boys and girls alike. This kind of nuance with regard to the paedo position appears to be entirely lacking in Adams’s piece. For example, he says, “The basic thrust is that Israel and the Church are one and the same. Their situation was identical to ours.” In light of what I said above, this statement is a strawman, even with regard to Calvin’s understanding of the continuity. Calvin is talking about the spiritual situation, which is the same, undoubtedly the same. That does not mean that a carte blanche statement such as Adams’s is an accurate picture of Calvin’s views. Calvin argued that the different signs point to the same spiritual reality. That is different from saying simply that the signs are the same, and that there is absolutely no difference at all. Otherwise, why would Jesus Christ need to come at all?

Secondly, Adams goes to a great deal of trouble to try to prove that if the manna is not sacramental, then the entire paedo argument falls to the ground. It should have given him pause that when he quotes so many paedobaptists to negate Calvin’s point (which he does in the positive post and the rejection of the paedo position post), yet those paedos still argue the paedo position. Maybe the paedo position overall does not hinge on whether the manna is sacramental, and whether “the same” means “the same as what we partake of” or whether it means “they all had the same spiritual food among themselves.” To tell the truth, I have not really considered the matter of whether the manna was sacramental before reading Adams’s post, but if I had to take a position on it, I would probably say that the manna was not sacramental. It was their daily bread, and Christ does draw typological significance from the spiritual aspects of manna, but I would agree with Hodge that it falls short of sacramental significance. The typological antecedent for the Lord’s Supper is Passover, not manna, and even with Passover, there is both continuity and discontinuity. This brings us to the next point.

I am more than a bit surprised that Adams brought out the tired argument connecting baptism and the Lord’s Supper together, that if paedos treat baptism this way, then the Lord’s Supper must also be treated in this way, and we have to be paedocommunionist in order to be consistent. This argument has been so thoroughly answered by Cornel Venema’s book Children at the Lord’s Table? that it is irresponsible for a credo Baptist simply to throw this argument in paedos’ faces as if we have never considered the matter before. Almost every major paedo treatment of the subject answers this objection. Adams references precisely zero answers to this objection. The two important points that have to be said in response are these. 1. The paedo position recognizes that the two sacraments have important differences, differences strong enough to preclude treating them in the same way that credos say we must. These differences mostly involve the difference between passive reception in baptism, and both passive and active components in the Lord’s Supper. The reason for this difference is 1 Corinthians 11, which is not mentioned even once in Adams’s piece (also irresponsible, since it is directly relevant to his objection, and is part of the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 10). 1 Corinthians 11 describes how the Lord’s Supper is to be engaged. See Venema’s book for a thorough treatment of the passage. His conclusions are that 1 Corinthians 11 describes how all people are to partake, and that this requirement precludes infants from participating. So, if 1 Corinthians 10 comes in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, it wouldn’t matter whether the manna was sacramental or not, since chapter 11 would modify the participation aspect for today’s church.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The last section of Tom Hicks’s piece critiquing paedobaptism has to do with inconsistencies in the paedobaptist position. What I will show is that Mr. Hicks does not accurately describe the paedobaptism position, and thus the inconsistencies he sees do not exist.

The first two inconsistencies are very similar in form: the paedobaptist churches exclude people from baptism who shouldn’t be excluded, if the Old Testament circumcision inclusion is the pattern. This argument becomes clearer when he states, “Paedobaptists argue that infants should be incorporated into the covenant of grace on the basis of old covenant membership.” This is a bit unclear, since paedobaptists would not argue that we are members of the old covenant. Still, what Mr. Hicks is getting at, presumably, is this form of argument that paedos use: the position of children in the Old Testament covenants is analogous to their position in the New Testament covenant. But, by putting the argument this way, it appears that Hicks has not put the argument the way most paedos would put it. Children are not baptized on the basis of old covenant membership. We would instead say that infant inclusion in the Old Testament covenants is one argument among several arguments that children of believers ought to be baptized today.

Now for the two particular cases of exclusion he mentions, spouses and servants, I would respond by saying that there are aspects of discontinuity between Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant that explain the differences in how these two particular groups of people are seen. The basis of covenantal inclusion in the New Testament is faith (Galatians 3), or being the child of a professing believer (1 Cor. 7). In the Old Testament covenants, it was simply physical descent. So, for spouses, in the Old Testament covenants, they were included under the federal headship of the husband or father, but obviously could not receive the sign of circumcision, nor could any girl, for that matter. Mr. Hicks has to ignore this discontinuity in order to make the claim of inconsistency with regard to spousal treatment. If a spouse is an unbeliever today, she does not have the physical Israeli descent necessarily (presuming she was not baptized herself as an infant) to make the basis of baptism solid. But then paedos would never argue that Israeli descent would make baptism appropriate! The principle is that of households, yes, but adults who wish to be baptized should follow the pattern of Acts. Paedos merely deny that the general pattern of Acts is true for children, given what Peter says in Acts 2 about the promise being given for the children, and what Paul says in 1 Cor. 7 about the positional holiness of children of even one believing spouse.

With regard to servants, how many believing households today even have servants that can be reckoned as part of the household? Almost all servants today are day job employees who don’t live in the house they serve. If there was a situation, however, where a household had such a servant, I would be quite willing to baptize that person, though not against their will. There is no command in the New Testament to force baptism on people who reject the idea. And I would urge the servant to profess faith as well, by my sharing the gospel with him or her.

The third inconsistency Hicks sees is that paedobaptist churches will not baptize the children of non-professing baptized church members. There is direct biblical warrant for this practice in 1 Corinthians 7, contrary to Hicks’s position. Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the children of a believing parent are not unclean but holy. If that one parent is believing, then they should be professing their faith. When the church is assured that the parent is a believing parent (by profession of faith), then the children are regarded as positionally holy, and eligible for baptism. There may be a delay between the time when a believing parent says they believe and when they profess their faith in front of the church. However, I don’t know a single paedobaptist pastor who would allow a believing parent to continue indefinitely in a non-professing mode of church membership. That would be gross pastoral neglect.

The last inconsistency has really already been answered above with reference to the difference of the principle of covenant membership. Covenantal headship of the family remains similar between Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant. However, the basis for covenantal inclusion of households is different. In the Old Testament, it was descent from Abraham. In the New Testament, it is faith. These principles are biblically-theological related, in that faith is the new way of being Abraham’s children (Galatians 3). So, actually, I can turn the argument around and say that the profession of faith of a believer today is precisely the way we show continuity between the Abrahamic promises and the New Covenant!

I greatly appreciate the brotherly, kind way in which Mr. Hicks has engaged the paedobaptist position, and hope that, if he reads my response, he will take my critique as being given in the same way.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

In part 3 of his critique of paedobaptism, Mr. Hicks attempts to argue that a proper understanding of the regulative principle of worship is inconsistent with infant baptism. His argument runs like this: 1. The RPW forbids any element of worship not explicitly commanded in the New Testament Scriptures. 2. Infant baptism is not explicitly commanded in the New Testament Scriptures. 3. Therefore, infant baptism falls foul of the RPW. He goes further to try to answer some Reformed responses. Some Reformed folk might respond by saying that OT circumcision is the route to consistency with the RPW. He answers that circumcision is only commanded in the OT. A second possible response is that infant baptism is only a circumstance, not an element. His response is that infant baptism is an element.

There are many ways to pursue an answer to this part of the argument, which I consider to be the weakest in the piece. He betrays a misunderstanding both of the RPW and the doctrine of infant baptism as understood by the Reformed. Firstly, he misunderstands the RPW. The RPW is not limited only to what is explicitly commanded in the NT Scriptures. An element could be implied by apostolic example. Secondly, there is more biblical-theological continuity between OT and NT worship than he allows. OT worship most certainly had the call to worship (present in many of the Psalms), singing of Psalms, preaching of the Word, prayer, and benediction, all things that are commanded in the NT (though benedictions only by example!).

Secondly, he misunderstands the Reformed view of infant baptism. He treats it as though Reformed folk believe it is a completely separate thing from an adult baptism. It is not so. The Reformed believe there is only one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. There is not a separate adult baptism element of worship and an infant baptism element of worship. There is only baptism. And baptism is commanded. Since the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of its administration, it does not matter, in Reformed theology, whether the person comes to faith before, during, or after the sign is given. That is why infant baptism and adult baptism are the same thing.

His attempts to forestall objections fall short of the mark, since no Reformed theologian I know would claim that circumcision is what makes baptism allowable according to the NT RPW. It is rather in accordance with what is argued above: 1. Infant baptism is regular baptism; 2. Regular baptism is commanded by Jesus; therefore 3. Infant baptism is in accordance with the RPW. His other attempt to forestall is equally inaccurate, since there is no Reformed author of which I am aware who would even begin to claim that infant baptism is a circumstance. Baptism is an element, as all Reformed theologians agree.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 3

Part 1, Part 2.

In part 3, I will address the section of Tom Hick’s piece entitled “Hermeneutics.” In this section, Hick’s main point is that he believes paedobaptists are inconsistent in their application of hermeneutics. If the New Testament is the key to understanding the Old Testament, then Reformed Baptists apply the principle consistently, whereas paedobaptists do not. I am not sure he understands the Reformed paedo hermeneutic on this, however. It is not the case that we say “The NT is the key to understanding the OT” with that being understood as basically everything we would want to say about it. The entire biblical revelation is an organic, unfolding whole, which means that each part of the Bible mutually informs every other part, directly or indirectly. The key to understanding the symbolism of Revelation, for instance, consists in tracking down the given symbol in the Old Testament. While it is true that the New Testament gives us the ultimate key in Jesus Christ (via Luke 24 and John 5), there is a lot more to it than that.

Additionally, I am not sure that positing huge disagreement among paedos by citing the theonomy debate is a very fair charge. Theonomy was a thing in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but there are very few of them left. Generally speaking, the majority of the Reformed world has rejected theonomic views.

Hicks’s third point in this section is that he holds paedos to have rejected “NT priority” when it comes to Galatians 3. Hicks is misleading in describing the paedo position at this point. He says, “Paedobaptists, like Dispensationalists, believe that the promise of a physical seed in the OT ought to govern our exegesis of the NT, rather than the other way around.” This over-simplifies the paedo position. One does not have to be a child of Abraham to be in Christ. Nor do we believe in two peoples of God, contra dispensationalists. It is most unhelpful to lump paedos with dispies at this point, since this is precisely where the greatest area of disagreement between paedos and dispies lies. A dispy will say that God’s people is Israel, and the church is a parenthesis. The paedos believe there is only one family of God. The problem with Hicks’s statement is that it implies paedos believe that Abrahamic descent is the key to understanding the way that covenant applies to believers today. The principle is covenantal continuity, which works in families, not in Abrahamic descent. Now, Hicks did not say “Abrahamic descent” in painting the paedo position. However, by lumping paedos with dispies, he creates a highly misleading situation. He seemingly implies that the hermeneutic of paedos and dispies are similar on this point.

On the point of circumcision, Hicks again caricatures the paedo position. He says, “Paedobaptists, on the other hand, hold that the meaning of the sign of circumcision is determinative of the meaning of the sign of baptism, rather than allowing the NT to determine the meaning of baptism and the fulfillment of circumcision.” Not only is this not how paedos argue, he also creates a false dichotomy that assumes the discontinuity between OT and NT. Why is it “either” circumcision “or” the NT that determines the meaning of baptism? Does not Romans 4 join the two together? In addition, the actual paedo position is that circumcision points to salvation in Christ. Baptism points to salvation in Christ. They point to the same thing: Christ’s work on the cross. Paedos believe that the whole Bible, understood in an organic, unfolding way determines what both mean. Hicks is going to have a really hard time with 1 Corinthians 10, isn’t he, that posits baptism in the OT, a baptism that included infants, incidentally.

The governing basis for the Reformed hermeneutic is Christ in all of the Scriptures. Christ is portrayed from vague shadowy forms to a clearer and clearer light. But Hicks’s hermeneutic is that the OT has absolutely nothing to say about how we understand the NT. There is no reciprocity whatsoever between OT and NT hermeneutically. This is “hermeneutical dispensationalism.”

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 2

In part 1, I dealt with the first major section of Tom Hicks’s critique of paedobaptism. The second major portion of his post is entitled “Historic Reformed Baptists Had a Better Way”, which is really the second part of the first major part. So, it is connected to the first part by being the positive construction of covenant theology that is meant to replace the errant paedo theology of the covenant of grace.

They believed there is only one covenant of grace, the same in its saving substance, running through the whole Bible, but they believed that this saving covenant is distinct from the OT covenants.

Obviously, the “they” refers to historic Reformed Baptist theologians. As I have said before, paedos can affirm this on one level. The question is just exactly how the new covenant is distinct from the OT covenants. As it stands, however, and given what he said above, Mr. Hicks’s statement is self-contradictory. What he means really to say is that salvation was not really in the OT covenants, but was only backwardly enforced after the NT covenant came into play, and yet he says that the only one covenant of grace, “the same in its saving substance,” runs through the whole Bible. Which is it? Is Christ really present in the OT covenants or not? This reminds me vividly of the Christotelic debate that has continued for a while regarding the teaching of Pete Enns et al. Jesus says that Moses wrote about Him (John 5). The Christotelic guys say that this is not essentially true, but only in retrospect, after a second reading, and has nothing to do with the human author’s original intent. That 1 Peter 1:10-12 says otherwise doesn’t seem to bring any of them up short. Again, the ambiguous situation I noted at the end of the last post is here as well. My guess is that the reason Mr. Hicks doesn’t want to say Christ is actually in the OT covenants is this brings way too much continuity between OT and NT. The more continuity there is, the more likelihood there is of children being treated the same way in both portions of the Bible.

So what is the distinction between OT and NT covenant administrations? It is the difference between type and antitype, between looking forward and looking backward, and between bloody and bloodless. Some author or another, I forget who, said “same girl, different dress.” What is promised in both is salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Circumcision pointed to this, as does baptism. Passover pointed to this, as does the Lord’s Supper. Both OT and NT versions of the sacraments all point to Christ as Savior. Let me explain. Circumcision was never just about the promised land. It was also about the promised seed. In Genesis 17, God promises an everlasting covenant (7), to be their God forever (7). It was for the son on the eighth day. On the eighth day, his foreskin would be cut. Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4 prove that the physical cutting symbolized a spiritual cutting off of the old man. But more than that, the eighth day and the promise to the seed, point forward to Jesus being cut off on the eighth day. Circumcision points to Jesus. Passover is even easier to see, since Paul actually calls Jesus our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). The ultimate passing over of sinners happens when Christ interposes His precious blood on the wooden frame of the cross, so that the wrath of God against sin may pass over us. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper pointing to Christ are not really in dispute here.

First, Christ’s mediation of the new covenant is what redeemed sinners under the old covenant. Historic Baptists taught that the covenant of grace is identical to the new covenant. The covenant of grace, however, was “promised” under the old covenant, but it is now fulfilled in the death of Christ. It was progressively revealed under the old covenant, but it is now formally concluded and enacted through the death of Christ. The OT saints were saved by virtue of the new covenant promise “breaking in” to the old covenant (Rom 9:8; Gal 3:29; 4:23, 28). Old Testament saints were not saved by virtue of the old covenant, but by virtue of the promise of the new. Thus, there is only one covenant of grace, the same in substance from Genesis to Revelation.

Here there is certainly disagreement. The covenant of grace begins with the promise of God to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, and continues through all the OT covenants. It is not identical to the new covenant. It encompasses all the iterations of the covenant of grace. If it were identical to the new covenant, then the Abrahamic covenant could not be called everlasting, as God calls it in Genesis 17:7. Nor could the seed promised to Abraham be called Christ by Paul in Galatians 3. Nor could the promise of 2 Samuel 7 be applied to Christ. God promised Christ to David. That was the substance of the Davidic covenant, just like the Seed was the substance of the Abrahamic covenant. Maybe Mr. Hicks should read O. Palmer Robertson’s book The Christ of the Covenants, and revise his opinions somewhat.

Second, Christ’s mediation in the covenant of grace saves all its members. Hebrews 9:15 says, “a death has occurred that redeems them.” Just a few verses earlier in Hebrews 9:12, we’re told that Christ entered the holy places as the Mediator of the new covenant, “by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Earlier in Hebrews 7:22, it says, “This makes Jesus the guarantor [or surety] of a better covenant.” A surety is someone who fulfills the legal obligations of someone who cannot fulfill them. Christ’s death effectuates the salvation of all those in this covenant. Who is in the covenant? Verse 15 says “those who are called” are in the new covenant.

Third, unbelievers were never in the covenant of grace (because of numbers 1 and 2). The covenant of grace was only made with the elect in Christ. It effectually saves all its members because they are under Christ’s effectual mediation. Therefore, since unbelieving infants (and unbelievers of any kind) were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, then neither are they part of the covenant of grace under the new covenant.

I don’t think most paedos would disagree fundamentally with the paragraph marked “second.” Christ saves His elect, and only the elect. He is only a Mediator to the elect, and only the elect possess the substance of the covenant. Those belonging to the administration have none of those benefits, as I said in the previous post.

As for his third paragraph, we would agree that unbelievers are never in the covenant of grace as to substance. But to say that therefore there can be no attachment of any kind unless it be saving presents the same problem I brought up before: what do Baptists do about the unbelieving professors who are yet members of their churches? Are they really in the church? The judgment of charity would say that they are members of the church, but not members of Christ. They are part of the visible church, but not the invisible. We would add, they have the benefits of the administration of the covenant, but not the essence of the covenant.

As for his claim that unbelieving infants and unbelievers of any kind were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, this is patently false. Why would Ishmael receive circumcision, the sign of the covenant, even AFTER God told Abraham that the promised line would not go through Ishmael? See the sequence of Genesis 17:13, 18, 19, and 23. If Ishmael had no attachment whatsoever to the covenant (see especially verse 19!), then there is no way he should have been given the sign of the covenant, on Mr. Hicks’s argument. And yet, all who were in Abraham’s house were circumcised. It was a household circumcision. This is proof positive that Mr. Hicks’s claim is off here. Is Mr. Hicks really suggesting that circumcised Israelites who were unbelievers had no connection to the covenant of grace whatsoever? In my opinion, this is absurd.

In conclusion, the Reformed Baptist doctrine of the covenant of grace avoids the problems of the paedobaptist while preserving the unity of the gospel throughout the Scriptures.

Mr. Hicks has not preserved the unity of the gospel throughout the Scripture. He argues that it is not really present in the OT. Only retroactively does the gospel apply to OT believers.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 1

Mr. Tom Hicks, over at the Founders Ministries, has done a great service in the debate on the proper subjects of baptism by encapsulating the Reformed Baptist objections to the paedo position in a succinct, yet cogent way. In the spirit of his irenic comments, I wish to interact with him in this series of posts, showing how a paedobaptist would respond to his objections. I will take one major section of his post in each one of mine. So, on to section 1, on the covenant of grace.

The Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the “covenant of grace” is the theological basis of their doctrine of infant baptism. They correctly teach that after Adam’s fall, the whole Bible is unified by one covenant of grace. But they also teach that the covenant of grace has the same substance (essence) with different, but similar, administrations (forms) throughout the Scriptures. This is where Reformed Baptists disagree with them. The language of substance and administration is critical to understanding their view. They believe that the elect are redeemed by the saving “substance” of the covenant of grace, while the external and legal “administration” of the covenant of grace is mixed with the elect and non-elect by way of infant baptism.

Mr. Hicks has put his finger on the central issue right at the outset: the nature of the covenant of grace. He agrees with paedos that the Bible is unified by one covenant of grace. Or does he? Later on, he says the following:

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators.

If read too quickly, this may seem to contradict what he said in the earlier quoted section. However, what he means by this becomes clear later in the article: the only way OT saints could be saved was by believing in the promise, and that Jesus’ work in the new covenant is what saves the OT believers. The thing is, this is what paedos believe, too. We also (with the Baptists) believe that passage in Hebrews that says the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Abraham, as Paul would say in Romans 4, was indeed justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This becomes especially clear in Romans 4:23-25, where Paul ascribes the same faith to us as Abraham had. The only difference is that Abraham believed in the promised Jesus Christ and we believe in the given Jesus Christ. Mr. Hicks does put his finger on a key difference when he speaks about the substance versus the administration of the covenant of grace, but when it comes to how OT saints were saved, he does not accurately portray the paedo position, which is actually the same as the credo.

Where I would critique the second block-quote is in how he describes the paedo position with regard to his description of the older administrations of the covenant of grace. He says they “were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators.” I disagree. The OT administrations of the covenant of grace were founded on the promises of land and seed, ultimately promising The Seed (Jesus) and the “land” of the new heavens and the new earth. This, however, is a relatively minor point with regard to this particular debate.

The more important point has to do with the essence/administration distinction. So, going back to the first block-quote, and now adding his first objection to the essence/administration distinction:

First, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace undermines the efficacy of Christ’s mediation and cross-work. Paedobaptist theology teaches that Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace. The book of Hebrews declares that Christ’s mediation means that He reconciles His covenant people to the Father, that He is a testator who gives His blessings freely and unconditionally, and a surety who pays all their debts. Paedobaptists must either explain how Christ can be the mediator of the covenant of grace for non-elect and unregenerate people (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy), or they must explain how Christ can be the mediator of a covenant without being the mediator of everyone in that covenant (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy). If they say that Christ mediates for those in the outward administration of the covenant of grace, they must explain how Christ’s blood, signified by baptism, covers unregenerate people in the covenant of grace without effecting their salvation. Any explanation they give will approximate Arminian definitions of the atonement.

The force of this objection can be easily seen in the way the FV’ers have responded to objections like this: the FV’ers will go whole hog Arminian with regard to the non-decretally-elect and what they receive in the covenant. In my opinion, this first objection of Mr. Hicks is the most substantive of the three. Paedos would answer the objection along the following lines: 1. Only the essence of the covenant has salvation attached to it. The administration of the covenant, which does involve non-elect people, has never had any promise of salvation attached to it, any more than there is a guarantee of people coming to faith in a Baptist church simply by attending. Nevertheless, it is a great benefit to the non-elect to hear the words of salvation preached to them. It can have a restraining effect on their sin. It can make them less likely to oppose the gospel, and other good things could happen, things that have nothing to do with salvation. Just as God promised to Abraham that he and his offspring would be a blessing to the nations (without ever promising that the said blessing would always be salvation!), we can see that the blessings given to the elect overflow in non-salvific ways to the non-elect. Wasn’t Joseph a blessing to Egypt? Some of the Egyptians came up with Israel in the Exodus, but most stayed in Egypt as part of the non-elect. Maybe an illustration will help here: when we look at a light source, there is an aura around that light that covers a larger area than the light itself. This is, approximately, how paedos see the essence/administration distinction. Paedos who are not FV categorically deny that any saving benefits whatsoever accrue to the administration of the covenant.

2. The substance/administration distinction has great explanatory power when it comes to the apostasy passages in Hebrews 6 and elsewhere. What did those who fall away have? They didn’t have salvation. On this, paedos and credos would certainly agree. But what the paedos would say they had was access to the means of grace by being part of the administration of the covenant of grace. They had more than someone completely unrelated to God’s people would have.

3. The objection posits a dichotomy that is false. Mr. Hicks says that our position either entails the mediatorship of Christ for non-elect people, or that Christ must be mediator of only part of the people in the covenant. This all-or-nothing approach, however, assumes the credo position on the subjects related to the covenant of grace. Christ is not mediator for non-elect people. Period. The essence of the covenant is salvation. But being connected to the covenant could happen in more than one way: one saving, one non-saving. I have used this illustration before in FV debates, and it will help here, I think. There are two main kinds of branches on apple trees: fruit-bearing, and what are called “suckers.” The former are straightforward fruit-bearing branches of the tree, participating in the life of the tree, and bearing fruit. The suckers are basically parasites, taking sap from the tree but not bearing any fruit. John 15 and the parable of the vine and the branches is talking about this kind of distinction. The suckers are not-elect and never have any kind of saving benefits. But there is some kind of attachment to the vine described in that passage, one that is well illustrated by the difference between fruit-bearing vines versus suckers. The suckers, or non-fruit-bearing will be cut off, eventually, and burned. Whatever kind of relationship they had to Christ, it was 1. non-saving, but still it was something, and not nothing. John 15 is extraordinarily hard to explain on Mr. Hicks’s construction of covenant membership. There are members of the church who claim to be members but are not saved, even in (shockingly!) Baptist churches! Even Baptists call them members of their church, unless the particular church doesn’t even have church membership. The substance/administration distinction is roughly the same distinction as the visible/invisible church distinction. Unless the Baptists are willing to say that every member of their churches actually is saved, they will have to come up with some way of explaining the slippage between those claiming to be saved, versus those who actually are saved. If Baptists are willing to say that the unsaved were at one point actually members of the church, then I can raise a gigantic tu quoque at this point: you Baptists have the exact same problem as we paedos have, only you have to explain how it is that Christ died for the church, and all the church’s members, but didn’t die for the non-elect who yet claim to be saved, and are on your membership roll! You have the exact same problem with regard to Christ’s mediatorship in relation to the church. The difference is that we also use the Bible’s covenantal categories to explain the situation, whereas the Baptists have to leave the covenantal language out when talking about the church.

Mr. Hicks’s second point is actually the same point as the first, only in different terms (federal headship) and applied to infants:

Second, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace confuses (joins together) the headships of Adam and Christ. Because paedobaptists include unregenerate infants within the covenant of grace, they diminish the headship of Christ in one of two ways. One, they may say that baptized infants are no longer in Adam and under the curse of the covenant of works, but are under Christ’s headship in a way that might condemn them to hell. On this view, it is very hard to see how Christ’s covenant is a “covenant of grace.” It is, rather, a covenant of grace/justification and wrath/condemnation, which is hardly a comfort or blessing to all who are in it.

Federal headship is tied to the essence of the covenant, not the administration. This is an easier objection to answer. Only those who have faith have passed from Adamic headship to Christic headship. This is possible for infants (John the Baptist, King David are biblical examples), but not automatic. The administration points to the essence just as preaching points to Christ, and the sacraments point to Christ. As said above, these benefits preach salvation in Christ, and even have a non-saving benefit for the non-elect.

Two, paedobaptists may say that unregenerate baptized infants in the administration of the covenant of grace are “in Adam” (the covenant of works) and “in Christ” (the covenant of grace) simultaneously. These infants would be in the inward “substance” of the covenant of works, but the outward “administration” of the covenant of grace. Such a view would undermine the efficacy of Christ’s atonement because it places unregenerate children of believers under Christ’s mediation, and under His blood, while affirming the child’s condemnation in Adam.

I don’t know of any paedos who would say that any person can be represented by both heads simultaneously. As said above, the administration of the covenant of grace does not bestow union with Christ. So, paedos (who are non-FV) would not use the term “in Christ” to describe those who belong only to the administration of the covenant of grace. Even the “in me” of John 15:2 does not imply union with Christ.

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators. The OT covenants of promise commanded their members to trust the Lord, to love the Lord, and obey the Lord. But the OT covenants did not provide their members with the power to obey their commands. The shed blood of animals and human mediators never gave grace needed for regeneration, justification, sanctification, and perseverance. That only comes from the shed blood of Christ and His mediation. The paedobaptist notion of a “saving substance” in the OT covenants is foreign to the Bible.

I have answered this partially above, but a few more thoughts on the rest of the paragraph are in order. Does he really believe that the Holy Spirit was not given to OT saints? This is dispensational teaching, not Reformed teaching. He seems to be laboring under the lack of distinction between the Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost, which had to do with giving offices/gifts to people, versus the regenerative power of the salvific presence of the Holy Spirit, which was most certainly present in OT saints. Furthermore, his position opens itself up to a highly ambiguous situation. Is the substance of the OT covenants Christ or not? If it is, then the substance of the OT covenants is the same as that of the new, which he did seem to imply when he said, “They correctly teach that after Adam’s fall, the whole Bible is unified by one covenant of grace.” But now he wants to say that the substance of the OT is not the saving covenant of grace at all. Obviously I agree (and paedos, too) that it wasn’t the shed blood of animals and human mediators itself that gives grace for justification. But that is quite different from saying that OT saints didn’t have those things. They did. And it was the blood of animals and human mediators that pointed to the blood of the Lamb and the One Mediator to end all mediators. The substance of the OT covenants was in promise form, yes. But that promise form still presents Christ Himself, and it is by the promised Christ that OT believers were saved. Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day. He saw it and was glad, Jesus tells us. Mr. Hicks’s position on this is confusing.

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Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 1 (Chs. 1-2)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In this post and (God willing) a series of posts to follow, I plan to work through the chapters of Jeffrey D. Johnson’s book, The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism (Free Grace Press, 2010). Yes, it’s been out a while, so perhaps you’ve seen it mentioned here and there. The initial reasons for my interest in the book are that I was once a convinced credobaptist myself (even publishing on the topic!) and that Johnson’s book has been applauded by some noteworthy (self-identified) “sovereign grace Baptist” leaders, such as Tom Nettles and Richard Belcher, Sr. The more significant reason that I picked up the book, however, is that it is part of a relatively recent flurry of activity among Baptists who have been reexamining covenant theology (e.g., Tom Wells, Fred Zaspel, Gary Long), and Johnson states that his own position on covenant theology is very similar to that of Meredith Kline, Michael Horton, and Kim Riddlebarger (p. 22 n. 70). All these factors provoke my interest in Johnson’s critique of paedobaptist covenant theology.

Johnson divides his book into two major parts, the first of 16 chapters on “The Fatal Flaw” behind paedobaptist theology and the second of 8 chapters on what he calls “Covenantal Dichotomism” and in which he discusses the relationships between Abraham, Moses, and Christ. For the purpose of interaction, I don’t expect to review each of these 24 chapters in detail, but to focus on what Johnson tells us is the primary thrust of his book, namely, “a direct and pointed attack on the covenantal framework in which paedobaptism is rooted” (p. 21). Even with that emphasis, “the purpose of this work is not so much to convert the die-hard paedobaptist as much as to help prevent credobaptists from changing their position” (p. 20). In addition, the book is not offered merely to deliver negative commentary (ibid.). For Johnson “there are many sturdy stones, which must be left alone” (ibid.) in paedobaptist covenant theology. Not least among those stones is the progressive unfolding of God’s eternal plan of redemption in each of His covenants throughout history. Given Johnson’s purpose and primary thrust, I’ll leave aside the helpful introduction in which he surveys the history of infant baptism and various paedobaptist interpretations of its rationale and settles on engaging presbyterians who’ve adopted the Westminster Confession. I’ll use this opening post to look at his first two chapters (pp. 25-48), where he takes on the absence of a NT command to baptize infants and the analogy between circumcision and baptism.

Zeroing in on the paedobaptist appeal to OT inferences to fill in where no NT command exists, Johnson argues that those inferences leave too many uncertainties to justify infant baptism. He insists that, if OT inferences are really to make up for a missing NT command, then some related issues should also be considered: 1) that, besides baptism, no duty of the local NT church comes from the OT; 2) that baptized children are excluded from the Lord’s Supper even though circumcised children were included in the Passover meal; 3) that the NT church experienced much confusion on almost everything related to the old covenant; 4) that the NT church experienced major controversy over circumcision in particular; and 5) that NT Gentile converts, largely ignorant of circumcision’s meaning, doubtless needed instruction on baptism and its participants. With these uncertainties as backdrop, Johnson moves on to take up the circumcision-baptism relationship itself, intent on showing that the two ordinances are only analogous and not identical. Contending that “the NT must set the limits of the analogy” (p. 45; see also p. 47), he concludes that they are similar, not in that both involve children, but only in that both signify circumcision of the heart (regeneration). Citing Jer 31.34, he goes on to urge that, “unlike the old covenant, the new covenant leaves no room for unbelieving participants” (ibid.). All told, then, Johnson maintains that neither OT inferences nor the circumcision-baptism relationship can be authoritative for determining the nature of baptism or its participants (p. 47).

The absence of a NT command to baptize infants – What shall we say about Johnson’s claim that OT inferences leave too many uncertainties to warrant infant baptism? In my view, the uncertainties that Johnson highlights do little to discourage the paedobaptist appeal to the OT to locate the warrant for infant baptism. For example, when he argues that, besides baptism, no requirement for the local NT church comes from the OT, Johnson asks us to presuppose that the administrative principles of the NT church originated without any connection whatsoever to OT Israel. Leaving aside the question of baptism, this is a bridge too far: we cannot simply concede that the administrative principles of the NT church generally or the basis of its membership specifically are disconnected from OT Israel. After all, we know that God is administering one household in redemptive history, not two (Heb 3.1-6). Going on, Johnson observes that, unlike circumcised children, baptized children are excluded from the covenant meal. We acknowledge, of course, that paedobaptists differ on this point, though we cannot pursue it here. Suffice it to say, then, that back of Johnson’s objection is the debatable assumption that the function and basis of the OT ordinances differ from those of the NT. Further, Johnson points out that almost everything related to the old covenant, including circumcision, created confusion or controversy in the NT church that was eventually dominated by largely uninformed Gentile converts. The difficulties of the transition from the old covenant to the new notwithstanding, Johnson offers no evidence that there was ever confusion or controversy in the NT church about the membership status or baptism of children. In sum, Johnson’s collection of uncertainties does not touch the fundamental concern of the paedobaptist argument from the OT. More pointedly, if the administrative principles of the NT church, including the basis of its membership, originated without any connection to OT Israel as Johnson argues, there would have been an obvious and profound need for and expectation of an exposition not unlike the one we find in the Epistle to the Hebrews to make this change emphatically clear. Instead we find that the principles and practices of the NT church are stated in language that imitates the language in which the principles and practices of OT Israel were stated.

The circumcision-baptism relationship – Moving on to Johnson’s take on the circumcision-baptism relationship, we can agree with him that the relationship is one of analogy and not identity. There are clear differences between the two (thus the denial of identity), but both rites testify to the same realities (thus the affirmation of analogy): death to sin and new life to God (otherwise known as circumcision of the heart). In fact, because both rites speak as one, we can understand better why circumcision became obsolete and baptism superseded it. The transition came to pass because Christ’s death-and-resurrection was both a circumcision (Col 2.11) and a baptism (Mark 10.38; Luke 12.50). Whether we say that Christ was circumcised or baptized in His death and resurrection, God’s witness to us is that the death He died He died to sin, and the life He lives He lives to God (Rom 6.10). In that light, it makes sense that the circumcision of Christ made circumcision obsolete as a covenant sign, while the baptism of Christ established baptism as the covenant sign that continued to testify of the realities formerly signified by circumcision.

Meanwhile, however, the differences between the two and the change from the one to the other do nothing to revoke the membership status of children in God’s covenant. How can we be so sure? Because the NT narrates the administration of baptism by the apostles in language that imitates the narration of the administration of circumcision and baptism in the OT. In particular, the apostolic company is said to have baptized households (Acts 11.14; 16.15, 31-34; 1 Cor 1.2), just as God is said to have baptized the household of Noah in the flood (1 Pet 3.20-22; Gen 7.1) and the households of “our (circumcised!) fathers” in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor 10.1). Strikingly, in the baptism into Moses, the baptized are even said to have been those who “feared the Lord and believed in Him and His servant Moses” (Exod 14.29-31). Paedobaptists might ask, then, shall we dispute that those OT baptisms included both parents and their children? Can we imagine Joshua saying anything other than, “as for me and my house, we were baptized into Moses”? If baptism into Moses was administered thus to our circumcised ancestors, it at least strains credulity to maintain that the apostles administered baptism into Christ differently to those who are the descendants of those baptized into Moses. To press the point still further, paedobaptists might ask, would not the Jews at Corinth (Acts 18.1-8), who were among those addressed in 1 Cor 10.1, have justifiably inferred that just as parents and children were baptized into Moses, so also parents and children were to be baptized into Christ? Consider here especially what Crispus, the ruler of Corinth’s synagogue, and his household (Acts 18.8) would have been thinking. Insofar, then, as we observe the parallel language in the narration of the baptisms of Noah’s household, Israel’s households, and the church’s households, there is warrant sufficient for paedobaptists to urge that the apostles’ practice of baptism into Christ took place on the same principle as did OT baptism and circumcision: “you and your household.” All this to say, then, that we can agree with Johnson that the relationship of circumcision and baptism is one of analogy, but we cannot agree that the analogy makes infant baptism less than clear. To the contrary, the administration of baptism in the NT imitates the administration of circumcision and baptism in the OT. To be sure, other questions and passages remain to be considered.

Maximum Fruitfulness: Discipleship for Unity, Discernment, and Stewardship

Posted by R. Fowler White

In a previous post – “Maximum Fruitfulness: A Statement of Aspirations” – I laid out a working hypothesis about the fruitfulness to which we aspire in church ministry. My view is that, accepting that the church’s purpose is to gather and perfect (i.e., grow) the saints, we pray and work to see the saints bear the fruit of unity, discernment, and stewardship. United, discerning, and faithful, we saints will stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by our opponents (Phil 1.27-28).

That said, the question arises as to how we’ll see those aspirations fulfilled. Even in what we’ve said so far we’ve implied the general answer to this question: God grows His saints through the ministry of discipleship, that is, through the life-long process of being renewed to know God (Col 3.10) and His will (Rom 12.1-2). It’s a process that focuses on learning from and with others the historic doctrines and practices by which God has built Christ’s church (Rom 6.17-18; Eph 4.20-23). We say “learning from and with others” because that learning occurs in community with others devoted to fulfilling the duties of Christian discipleship. Furthermore, that devotion has to be grounded in a shared confidence that God gives growth to Christ’s disciples by His appointed means and that He gives His Spirit and gifts for their common good. So, confident in God’s means of growth, disciples commit themselves especially to the ordinances of the Word, prayer, and sacraments. Likewise, confident in God’s Spirit and gifts, those gifted in the ministries of the Word and leading commit themselves to equipping others for Christian living, mindful that, for good or ill, “everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6.40; cf. Eph 4.12; Heb 5.12-14). Discipleship, then, is a lifelong process of renewal that takes place in community.

Now, if discipleship may be said to consist of learning historic Christian doctrine and practice, it is no surprise to expect that, in that process, the early beliefs and behaviors of disciples will change. Take beliefs first. Converted to the elementary truths of the gospel, we expect disciples to mature over time as they learn the core doctrines of Scripture (e.g., Heb 5.12; 6.1-2). Yet, because both Scripture and the church are rooted in history, we have also to anticipate that learning Scripture’s doctrines will involve discovering the key storylines of revelation and redemption and of the church and its doctrinal standards. Those discoveries made, disciples appreciate more and more how Scripture is the rule of faith and life for the church and its members. That is, Scripture does not just formally organize the gathered disciples as God’s house (e.g., 1 Tim 3:15); it orders their beliefs, the better to perfect them in the knowledge of God and His will (2 Tim 3.14-17).

Just as Scripture orders the beliefs of Christ’s disciples, so it also orders their behaviors. As their renewal continues, disciples acquire “know-how” with respect to self, family, church, workplace, and civil government, in order then to bear fruit in their relations and occupations and in the use of their gifts. New “habits of holiness” are formed: devotion to the Word, prayer, and sacraments improves; membership vows, marriage vows, baptism vows are taken seriously; and duties as a worker and a citizen are fulfilled. In sum, these holy habits will find disciples declaring the gospel of forgiveness (justification) and obeying the law of love (the Two Great Commandments and the Ten Commandments), whether in family, church, workplace, or society.

We like to say that there is a regulative principle of worship. We should also say that there is a regulative principle of discipleship. Just as we cannot worship any way we want, so we cannot make disciples any way we want. As people covenanted together to bear witness to the historic Christian faith and moral vision, each congregation of Christ’s church receives the joyful commission to make disciples and is required to teach them to observe all that He commanded. Barbeques, bake sales, bounce houses, and ball games – as fun as they may be – are not the stuff of discipleship. Our assignment is to pass on the gospel of forgiveness and the law of love that our Lord taught while on earth. Such is how we will make disciples and see the unity, discernment, and stewardship that we seek. Broadly speaking, it seems to me, this is what it means to gather and perfect the saints.

 

Maximum Fruitfulness: A Statement of Aspirations

Posted by R. Fowler White

Is there any congregation of Christ’s church who doesn’t aspire to see maximum fruitfulness from her ministries? Seems doubtful, doesn’t it? Even those churches who don’t buy into goals of “big attendance, big budget, big building” want to see “maximum fruitfulness.” But, of course, if we don’t define fruitfulness in terms of bigness, how will we define it? Exactly what fruit are we looking for? With that last question in mind, what follows is a brief exposition of a working hypothesis about fruitfulness in local church ministry – a statement of aspirations, if you will.

So, where to start? I start with what I take to be a biblically faithful “purpose statement” for the congregations of Christ’s church. Granted that the chief end for which Christ’s church and all other things exist is to glorify God, I find a purpose statement for the church in WCF 25.3. There, according to the Assembly, the purpose for which Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God is this: “the gathering and perfecting of the saints.” Understandably, we think of “gathering the saints” primarily in terms of evangelistic fruitfulness. And well we should. That’s not our focus here, however. Rather our attention is on “perfecting the saints.” Lest I misinterpret this “perfecting,” I look back to WCF 13, where I find that the term perfecting is virtually interchangeable with the process of sanctification, that is, with the saints’ “grow[th] in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (WCF 13.3). In that context, we recognize that the growth in view is that of the saints’ traits (qualities), not their number (quantity). Please note: that’s not to say that numerical growth (even “big attendance”) is irrelevant: it’s just to say that the number of gathered saints is not the Assembly’s point in their choice of the word perfecting. So, if you’re looking for a purpose statement for your congregation, here’s one: to gather and grow saints. Simple, brief, memorable.

But maybe too brief. It’s possible and desirable to describe the perfecting of the saints more fully. Surely, increasing holiness and decreasing worldliness in the individual saint’s life are in view. Again, however, we can say more. We can focus on the perfecting/growth of congregations as well as of individuals. It’s vital for us to look for the fruit of more holiness and less worldliness in our congregations. Yet we should not overlook other fruit in which “congregational sanctification” should be expressed. As far as I can tell, in addition to growth from evangelism that gathers the saints, Scripture points to three other categories of fruitfulness – three crops, if you will – yielded by congregations who grow the saints they’re gathering.

First, congregations are to grow in unity. It’s striking how frequently the NT authors address the duty not just to maintain unity (see Phil 1.27–2.2), but to attain it too. Eph 4.1-16 provides a sweeping overview of the two tasks. In 4.1-6 Paul makes an appeal to “maintain the unity” created by the one Spirit (4.1-3), an appeal based and expressed in seven unifying confessional acclamations (4.4-6). In 4.7‑16 Paul highlights how the diverse gifts bestowed on the church enable her members to “attain to the unity” of faith and knowledge. The context of Ephesians 4, then, sees the church moving from the unity of childhood (4.4‑6, 14) to the unity of adulthood (4.13, 15‑16). From the unifying articles of her immaturity (4.4‑6), through the “speaking the truth in love” of her maturation (4.15), to the unity of faith and knowledge in her maturity (4.13), confessional unity is at the heart of the church’s identity. In fact, as one commentator puts it, oneness is essential “to the very being and life of the church. She can only live as a confessing church.” And lest we think that Paul has only the universal visible church in mind in Eph 4.1-16, we should note that he speaks of “pastors and teachers” in 4.11, gifts whose ministries are associated primarily with local church contexts. Thus, maturation unto unity in the faith takes place in and through the local congregations of Christ’s universal visible church. Most notably for our purposes, however, maturation in the faith is conceived in terms of confessional unity (i.e., shared convictions and witness about what to believe and how to behave) at the congregational level.

Second, congregations are to grow in discernment. As the pillar and bulwark of the truth, the church is responsible to grow, corporately as well as individually, in her discernment of God’s revealed will (Rom 12.2; 16.17-19; Eph 4.13-16; Col 1.9-10; 2 Pet 3.18) and to bear public witness to that will in word and deed (1 Tim 3.15-16; Jude 3; 1 Pet 3.15; Eph 4.3-6, 13-16). To empower the church to fulfill these responsibilities, Christ gives her the Spirit of truth, thereby enabling and obliging her members to distinguish truth from error, right from wrong, good from evil (1 Cor 2.12–3.3; 12.1-3; Heb 5.11-14; 1 John 2.27; 4.1). Possessing the same Spirit, God’s household also possesses at least the seed of those saving graces necessary to make public confession even from its childhood. Yet congregations are expected to grow in discernment too, so that members are no longer little children in the faith (Eph 4.14). Accordingly, parents generally and fathers particularly are exhorted to instruct their families (Gen 18.19; Deut 6.7; Prov 1.8; 22.6; Eph 6.4). Moreover, through training and practice, some in God’s household will emerge to exercise saving graces more ably and fully than others, thus distinguishing themselves as examples worthy of emulation (Heb 5.14). In this light, we understand that a congregation’s maturation will be recognized in their increasingly shared discernment of what is true, right, and good.

Third, congregations are to grow in their stewardship of the gifts-for-ministry that the Spirit has distributed among His saints for their perfecting (1 Cor 12.11; 1 Pet 4.10-11). Out of love for neighbor (1 Cor 12.31–13.7), saints are exhorted to devote themselves to “the common good” (1 Cor 12.7) – in other words, to edifying one another (1 Cor 14.12). In that devotion, a division of labor emerges: both Paul and Peter teach us that some will minister in word; others in deed (Eph 4.11-12; 1 Peter 4.11). Whatever one’s gifts, the saints are told to remember that “each has received a gift,” and each is to “use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet 4.10; cf. 1 Cor 14.12). So, growth in the household of faith at the congregational level will find members with a justifiable conviction of what their gifts are (Rom 12.3) and also a spirit of accountability to employ those gifts for the common good (1 Pet 4.10).

So there you have it: a working hypothesis that, when it comes to perfecting the saints, the fruitfulness we’re looking for in local church ministry is that God would grant our congregations to be united, discerning, and good stewards of our gifts for ministry. Let me know where you agree or disagree, especially where I have wrong or incomplete information or where I reach wrong or incomplete conclusions.

 

What Should Pastors Give?

I’ve just started reading Harold Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls. So far, I am very impressed. A Lutheran minister, Senkbeil had been pestered for years to write this book, since he has given a lot of advice to ministers. It was advice of the sort that saves ministries. The point I want to highlight here has to do with the substance of what pastors are supposed to give to the congregation and to those outside the congregation to whom he ministers.

Typically, seminary students are told that ministry means pouring out oneself for the benefit of the congregation. The better seminaries will emphasize the importance of your personal devotional life. However, Senkbeil points out the problem with the idea of pouring oneself out: this is what typically results in burnout. There is only so much in a man, after all. There is only so much emotional and spiritual capital that he can expend. If this is limited, then it actually doesn’t make sense to say that the pastor pours out himself. Not only is there the problem of the very limited resource, but an additional issue is the temptation to narcissism that this idea represents. If the pastor pours out himself, then the people will see that consciously or unconsciously. Some will react with acceptance, and thus make the pastor the focus of the congregation. Others will reject it and thereby throw out what there is of Christ in what the pastor offers.

Senkbeil offers another route, one which I think is well worth exploring. The pastor fills his soul with Jesus Christ, full to bursting, and then offers Jesus Christ, and not himself. He is then more of a conduit than a filter. Again, here, the better seminaries will say that the pastor is supposed to offer Christ. However, the implied corollary is often “filtered through you.” I would now say, in addition to being transparent to the text of Scripture (get out of the way and let the Scripture speak!), the pastor should also be transparent to Christ (he offers Jesus and not himself).

There are three things that I think will result from this game-changer. Firstly, the pastor will be far less likely to burnout if he is not offering himself. Incidentally, this would not mean “be impersonal and never be friendly or compassionate with the people in the congregation.” Instead, it means “the substance of what you offer is not you but Him.” Secondly, the importance of the devotional life becomes dramatically clearer, since the devotional life is one of the key places and times where the pastor becomes filled with Christ. Thirdly, he will be less tempted to narcissism. So also the congregation will be less tempted to make the ministry all about him, and instead will recognize that the ministry is all about Jesus Christ. The overall effect of this might very well be to lift a huge part of the burden of being a minister off the shoulders of the minister, to lay it on the infinitely more capable shoulders of our Lord.

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