Tag Archives: Baptism

Week 45 of 50 in the Institutes: High Maintenance Christianity

An owner of a Harley Davidson recently told me that those bikes are nice to have and ride, but that they are high maintenance.  So unless you have deep pockets and can pay to have the maintenance done regularly by someone else, be prepared to turn a wrench yourself, he warned.  Owning a Harley has never been a dream of mine, and that sage advice snuffed out whatever sliver of a notion of Harley ownership that may have lurked deep down in my subconscious.  I can think of a thousand other things I would rather do in my spare time besides doing motorcycle, car, house, or any other kind of maintenance, for that matter.

Fortunately for us all, it is not so with our Lord and Savior, because every Christian is “high maintenance”.  The sacraments illustrate this truth vividly. As Sinclair Ferguson pointed out (Nov. 10 blog, below), both baptism and the Lord’s Supper point to Christ, just with different emphases on union with Him.  Baptism points to a once-for-all initiation into Christ, underscoring something done to us, not something that we do ourselves.  The Lord’s Supper points to communion which involves discerning the Lord’s body, examination, proclaiming the Lord’s death, and celebrating in remembrance of Christ.  Both sacraments underscore a total dependence on the Lord: the epitome of high maintenance.

So let’s “ride” with this analogy for a moment.  A Harley has a gas tank that can be filled so that it can at least run a while without being tethered to a gas pump.  But apart from Christ, we can do nothing: there is no life, no vitality, no sustenance, nothing at all, except the vast emptiness of death. Christ alone is the bread of life.  How appropriate and kind it is of our Lord in instituting the Supper to provide us with a vivid reminder of this truth, and to sustain us with spiritual food regularly through its observance.

Harley’s can have all kinds of problems.  A search of the internet turns up several items (tail lights, fuel tanks, brake light and fluid, etc.).  Mankind, on the other hand, only has one problem: sin.  Every problem in this world ultimately falls under that category, and sin entered by the transgression of the first Adam.  But life and light are found exclusively in the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

Consequently, being the high maintenance people that we all are, the only way to honor and glorify the Savior, as depicted in the sacraments, is to own our brokenness.  This is the message of Psa. 116:12-14 (part of the Egyptian Hallel comprised of Psa. 113-118, used during the Passover):

“What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (ESV)

Here we see that the Lord’s goodness is first repaid by taking ever more and more of it!  No other response is rooted in reality, for He alone has the words of life, and He is the only Savior.  So the person with true knowledge of himself and God engages in daily “commutation” with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He recognizes and confesses his sin, looking unto Christ’s righteousness in a glorious exchange, John Owen put it:

“They hearken to the voice of Christ calling them to him with their burden, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden;’ – ‘Come with your burdens; come, thou poor soul, with thy guilt of sin.’  Why?  What to do? ‘Why, this is mine,’ saith Christ; ‘this agreement I made with my Father, that I should come, and take thy sins, and bear them away: they were my lot.  Give me thy burden, give me all thy sins.  Thou knowest not what to do with them; I know how to dispose of them well enough, so that God shall be glorified, and thy soul delivered.’”  (John Owen, On Communion With God, vol. 2 of The Works of John Owen, p. 194; available online here)

Harley’s are big bikes.  In the sacraments we are confronted with the enormity of our sin, but, wonder of wonders, we discover an ever larger Savior.  So in the final analysis, “high maintenance Christianity” is the only authentic kind there is.  Glory be to Him!

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes

Nov. 9: 4.16.20 – 4.16.24

Nov. 10: 4.16.25 – 4.16.30

Nov. 11: 4.16.31 – 4.16.32

Nov. 12: 4.17.1 – 4.17.5

Nov. 13: 4.17.6 – 4.17.11


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Week 44 of 50 in the Institutes: Credobaptism – the Appendicitis of “Reformed” Theology?

Is it fair to compare credobaptism (believer’s baptism) to appendicitis?  This comparison popped into my head when reading 4.16.1 through 4.16.5 (upcoming Nov. 4 assignment).  This is because in the opening sentence of chapter 16 (4.16.1), Calvin referred to the entire chapter as an “appendix” added to restrain the fury of those in his day who raged against the doctrine of infant baptism.  Then in 4.16.5 when showing how infants are participants in the covenant, Calvin refers to the sign of baptism as an appendix (McNeill-Battles; Beveridge renders it “appendage”) of the word, as applied to infants.

Now here is where the connection with appendicitis comes in.  Calvin enumerated two marks of the true church back in 4.1.9.  The first mark was for the Word of God to be purely preached and heard. The second was for the sacraments to be administered according to Christ’s institution.  Even the most casual reader of 4.16 must conclude that Calvin thought infant baptism to be essential to a proper administration of the sacraments (he identified the source of attacks against this doctrine as being from Satan himself; see 4.16.32).  So it stands to reason that any “inflammation”, so to speak, over the doctrine of infant baptism, cannot be allowed to fester in the body, and must be removed.  That seems to be the guiding principle Calvin follows as chapter 16 unfolds.  At the end of the chapter he delivers what Sinclair Ferguson described as “twenty theological karate chops” against Servetus (an Anabaptist heretic, later executed) over his railings against infant baptism.

In the final analysis, though, I felt let down by Calvin’s overall handling of infant baptism, and if I had to give it a grade, I would assign it a B+.  Calvin left too many threads of thought dangling in mid-air to merit a higher grade.  For instance, Calvin was indifferent about the mode of baptism, as he flatly stated in 4.15.19:

Whether the person baptised is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.

But then later on in 4.16.2 when dealing with the meaning of baptism, Calvin seemed to imply that outward sprinkling lies at the core of a right understanding of the true meaning of baptism without any subsequent elaboration.  After reading the following, I hastened on to finish the entire chapter hoping for some development on the topic, only to be severely disappointed:

In the first place, then, it is a well-known doctrine, and one as to which all the pious are agreed,—that the right consideration of signs does not lie merely in the outward ceremonies, but depends chiefly on the promise and the spiritual mysteries, to typify which the ceremonies themselves are appointed. He, therefore, who would thoroughly understand the effect of baptism—its object and true character—must not stop short at the element and corporeal object but look forward to the divine promises which are therein offered to us, and rise to the internal secrets which are therein represented. He who understands these has reached the solid truth, and, so to speak, the whole substance of baptism, and will thence perceive the nature and use of outward sprinkling. (emphasis added)

Calvin apparently felt no need whatever to reconcile these diverse practices by the ancient church with regard to baptism.  Perhaps you noticed in the passage cited above from 4.15.19 how Calvin casually conceded that baptize means “to immerse”, along with his observation that this was the form used by the primitive Church.  Later on in 4.16.8 we find Calvin asserting that there is no ancient writer that does not trace the origin of infant baptism back to the apostles.  Given the number of times Calvin pointed out the differences in the administration of baptism to adults versus infants, the reader is abandoned to conclude, because of these glaring gaps in Calvin’s treatment, that he considered immersion to be predominant for adults from ancient times, and sprinkling of infants to be just as ancient.  But by failing to fill in the blanks with regard to how sprinkling is core to a right understanding of the whole substance of baptism, Calvin armed his opponents with ample room to find fault with his “appendix”.  Given enough time and subsequent reviews, perhaps this is one section Calvin would have revised if there had been another version of the Institutes issued after 1559.

I characterize Calvin’s concession that “baptize” means immersion as casual because that definition was so hotly debated when the Scriptures were being translated into English that the translators simply brought the Greek word in as a transliteration.  Any consultation of a Greek lexicon today will reveal that the term may mean: 1) to dip, immerge, submerge; 2) to clean, to wash, to make clean with water; 3) metaphorically, to overwhelm (Thayer’s).  With regard to this metaphorical usage, I recall Sinclair Ferguson pointing out how that baptize was used once in a classical Greek text to refer to blood falling into water and overcoming (that is, baptizing) it.  I expected Calvin to point out the times in the OT where purification was generally effected by sprinkling (as noted by Louis Berkhof for Num. 8:7; 19:13, 18, 19, 20; Ps. 51:7; Ezek. 36:25; Heb. 9:10, 13).  Or he could have pointed out how baptism with the Spirit in the NT occurred via sprinkling rather than immersion (Mt. 3:11; 1 Cor. 12:13).  In addition, there are several baptisms in the NT which likely involved sprinkling instead of immersion.  The baptism of the Philippian jailor and his household most certainly involved sprinkling (Acts 16:33), since it is hardly likely they escorted everyone down to the river, but rather performed the baptisms in the home of the jailor himself, where immersion would have been impractical if not impossible.

Calvin did a nice job of showing the anagogic relationship between circumcision and baptism, so no marks off on that topic.   In keeping with this, years ago when I became convinced of paedobaptism over against credobaptism, I ran across an article online which I haven’t been able to relocate.  It traced the progression in the book of Acts with regard to baptism replacing circumcision. In the Old Testament, the sign of circumcision was only for men of the nation of Israel and male proselytes.  In the New Testament as the gospel goes forth, we find an ever expanding circle of people now eligible to receive the sign of the covenant: men and women (8:12); a eunuch (8:38); and Gentiles (18:8).  Under the OT economy, those who were castrated were prohibited from entering the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation (Deut. 23:1-2), so it is not insignificant to have the baptism of a eunuch on record for us in the NT.  Christ’s coming didn’t lessen or curtail the grace of the Father, but instead had quite the opposite effect (4.16.6).  To Him be the glory!

So in the spirit of Calvin’s tone in these sections, I have to refer back to an earlier post in closing here: just because you are a five-pointer doesn’t mean you are a Calvinist.  Calvin, it seems, would have considered “Reformed Baptist” to be an oxymoron.  But no one’s perfect: not even Calvin.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes

Nov. 2: 4.15.9 – 4.15.16

Nov. 3: 4.15.17 – 4.15.22

Nov. 4: 4.16.1 – 4.16.6

Nov. 5: 4.16.7 – 4.16.13

Nov. 6: 4.16.14 – 4.16.19


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Week 43 of 50 in the Institutes: Three Things Baptism Contributes to Our Faith

At the outset of the Reformation 21 Blog Through the Institutes, Thabiti Anyabwile posted a blog titled Be Discipled By John Calvin, in which he anticipated being able to sit at Calvin’s feet, so to speak, by taking a year to go through the Institutes.  For my part, the weekly pace seems a bit brisk as we come to Calvin’s treatment of the sacraments in these sections.  Here is where it seems appropriate to slow down and spend extra time taking in what Calvin has to say to us, particular to those who come from Baptist backgrounds, such as myself.

We will do well to keep in mind how Calvin defined sacrament in 4.14.1.  I kept referring back to it, from last week’s assignment:

It seems to me, then, a simple and appropriate definition to say, that it is an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in our turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself, and before angels as well as men. We may also define more briefly by calling it a testimony of the divine favour toward us, confirmed by an external sign, with a corresponding attestation of our faith towards Him. You may make your choice of these definitions, which in meaning differ not from that of Augustine, which defines a sacrament to be a visible sign of a sacred thing, or a visible form of an invisible grace, but does not contain a better or surer explanation. As its brevity makes it somewhat obscure, and thereby misleads the more illiterate, I wished to remove all doubt, and make the definition fuller by stating it at greater length.

The first part of that definition (testimony of divine favor) is rejected by adherents to believer’s baptism, who focus exclusively on the second part (attestation of faith).  Consequently, the focus in baptism becomes largely man-centered, as a naked declaration of faith (what I have believed/done).  This focus is sharpened in the ceremony itself by virtue of the typical utterance by Baptist ministers to candidates prior to immersion:  “Based on your profession of faith, I baptize you . . .”  This failure to take into account the testimony of divine favor points away from Christ, the author and finisher of faith, to self (dead, dominated, and doomed apart from Christ, Eph. 2:1-3).  In so doing it misses the true office of the sacrament, as Calvin described it in 4.14.17, which is to point us to Christ, without Whom we are merely empty vessels:

Wherefore, let it be a fixed point, that the office of the sacraments differs not from the word of God; and this is to hold forth and offer Christ to us, and, in him, the treasures of heavenly grace. They confer nothing, and avail nothing, if not received in faith, just as wine and oil, or any other liquor, however large the quantity which you pour out, will run away and perish unless there be an open vessel to receive it. When the vessel is not open, though it may be sprinkled all over, it will nevertheless remain entirely empty.

Calvin identified three things which baptism contributes to our faith in Christ, which are not to be missed or sped past:

  1. A token and proof of our cleansing (4.15.1)
  2. A token of mortification and renewal in Christ (4.15.5)
  3. A token of our union with Christ (4.15.6)

Of the three, Calvin devoted more space to the first one, showing how baptism has no virtue without the Word (4.15.2), how it is a token of cleansing for the whole of life (4.15.3), and showing the relationship between baptism and repentance (4.15.4).  Recipients of the grace of God, we must understand, will lead godly lives, for as Calvin noted (4.15.3, emphasis added):

We ought to consider that at whatever time we are baptised, we are washed and purified once for the whole of life. Wherefore, as often as we fall, we must recall the remembrance of our baptism, and thus fortify our minds, so as to feel certain and secure of the remission of sins. For though, when once administered, it seems to have passed, it is not abolished by subsequent sins. For the purity of Christ was therein offered to us, always is in force, and is not destroyed by any stain: it wipes and washes away all our defilements. Nor must we hence assume a licence of sinning for the future (there is certainly nothing in it to countenance such audacity), but this doctrine is intended only for those who, when they have sinned, groan under their sins burdened and oppressed, that they may have wherewith to support and console themselves, and not rush headlong into despair. Thus Paul says that Christ was made a propitiation for us for the remission of sins that are past (Rom. 3:25). By this he denies not that constant and perpetual forgiveness of sins is thereby obtained even till death: he only intimates that it is designed by the Father for those poor sinners who, wounded by remorse of conscience, sigh for the physician. To these the mercy of God is offered. Those who, from hopes of impunity, seek a licence for sin, only provoke the wrath and justice of God.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes

Oct. 26: 4.14.4 – 4.14.9

Oct. 27: 4.14.10 – 4.14.15

Oct. 28: 4.14.16 – 4.14.20

Oct. 29: 4.14.21 – 4.14.26

Oct. 30: 4.15.1 – 4.15.8

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