Friday, March 20, 2009

Infant baptism, sin, and honest ecumenism

The only immediately controversial statement in Mark Dever's "What I CAN and CANNOT Live With as a Pastor" [see the previous post] was what he said about baptizing infants:
Infant baptism. I cannot live with infant baptism. Having said that, if I were the pastor of the only church allowed in Mecca, maybe… But even then, I simply lack the authority to admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not been baptized. It is, as one said not too long ago, “above my pay-grade.” I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.
There were those who thought "sinful" much too strong a term. This caused Dever to respond and expand on his position:
That statement, much to my surprise, has caused concern among some. That a Baptist thinks infant baptism is wrong was no news to earlier generations of paedobaptists. Today, it seems to be a surprise. Now, the truth is out, all of these years, I have been cooperating with those I take to be sinners—Ligon Duncan, Peter Jensen, Phillip Jensen, Philip Ryken, J. I. Packer and many others too numerous to name—sinners specifically on this point of infant baptism. ....

Some may think that such a "wrong" should not be called a sin. I understand a sin to be disobedience to God (regardless of intent). When I read Numbers 15:29-30 and Hebrews 9:7 I certainly see that Scripture presents some sins as being deliberate, and others as being unintentional. I certainly do not think my paedobaptist brethren are intentionally sinning in this. In fact, they even think that they are obeying God so, short of them changing their understanding of the Bible's teaching on this, I can't expect any "repentance," because they lovingly but firmly disagree with the Baptist understanding of this.

Nevertheless, as I understand the words of Christ in Matt. 28:18-20 Christians are commanded to baptize and to be baptized, and the practice of infant baptism inhibits the obedience of what I take to be a quite straightforward command. I understand explanations that have been given about the practice of infant baptism (Orthodox/Roman, Lutheran and Reformed) but am sincerely persuaded that none of them line up with God's own Word. This does not cause me to doubt the sincerity of my reformed paedobaptist brethren, nor even their judgment in general. It is simply that on this point they've got it wrong, and their error, involving as it does a requiring of something Scripture does not require (infant baptism), and the consequence of a denying of an action Scripture does require (believers baptism) is sinful (though unintentionally so). ....

Of course, my paedobaptist brethren may very well think that I am in sin in withholding from children the sign of God's gracious covenant. I understand and regret the disagreement, but am well used to it by this point, and look forward to heaven, where all our disagreements will be composed. .... I see no inconsistency in working with others who hold precious the same Gospel, regardless of what other disagreements we may have. [more]
An unoffended believer in infant baptism responds.

Update: Abraham Piper:
.... Dever also believes that these "unrepentant sinners" can be our brothers in Christ (even though they are not permitted in our fellowship). He points out that he is going to have both an Anglican and a Presbyterian in his "Baptist pulpit" in the next few months.

It seems that Dever has a category for an unrepentant Christian. But what about 1 John 3:8?
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.
The words "unrepentant sin" can come across as relatively benign, but the Apostle John wants to make perfectly clear what they mean: if you are unrepentantly sinful, you are "of the devil." And there is no such thing as a Christian who is of the devil.

What does this mean for those who are wrong about baptism?

It means just that—they're wrong. But being wrong and being an unrepentant sinner are not the same. If they were, everybody with an imperfect theology (all of us) would be lost. But instead of going to hell, a believer can come before God with humility and repentance and say, "I'm weak-minded and fallible. I'm sorry that I do not understand you like I should. Please help me to know you more.".... [more]
What I CAN and CANNOT Live With as a Pastor - 9Marks, Church Matters: The 9Marks Blog, Are Paedobaptists Unrepentant? :: Desiring God

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