Monday, March 21, 2011

How the Theory of Knowledge Baptized My Baby

Say what? Yes, I was reading John Frame's Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, which is a theology of the theory of knowledge (epistemology--"It's all epistemology these days, don'tcha know that guys?" Fletch, but with ball bearings). That was the beginning point for me in accepting the biblical doctrine of infant baptism. To that point, I had thought infant baptism was a hangover from the Reformation, which the Reformers just couldn't let go of, holding on to their Roman Catholic roots. It's usually this thought which is most prominent among Baptists.

I'd heard all the arguments before: "What about the household baptisms?" and "Jesus blessed the little children." So? These weren't convincing arguments for me. But then I started reading Van Til, Bahnsen and Frame. Van Til would say things like, "Only the Reformed faith is the true representation of biblical Christianity." Bold. Okay, well....alright. I'm down with the five solas, and the five points, but infant baptism? Not so sure.

I even remember telling a Reformed friend, "I'm a Calvinist, but I'll never baptize a baby." He slowly turns, and with a wry smile and only half facing me, says, "Oh, we'll see." Ha!

Ha, is right. Because then Frame discusses the concept of "Burden of Proof" on page 270 in the section on Logic. He's showing his readers how to recognize where the burden of proof lies in a theological argument and offers Infant Baptism as a great example. Frame's brief article delineates this with simplicity.

The truth is, the New Testament is relatively silent on the question of infant baptism. That is, it doesn't argue for it; neither does it argue against it. Most often, my Baptist friends will say, "The New Testament doesn't give one example of infant baptism." Or, "The New Testament never commands infant baptism." Well, for one, I'd say the New Testament does give an example of infant baptism. In 1 Corinthians 10, the account of the children of Israel passing through the Red Sea is called a "baptism." Now, surely there were infants when the nation of Israel escaped Egypt? Just sayin'. Secondly, my Baptist brothers and sisters are correct: the NT never does give a command to baptize a baby. But neither does it command us not to. But neither does it command us not to.

The issue here is one of expectation: on the Baptist interpretation of the NT, whatever is not repeated from the OT is to be abrogated. On the Reformed interpretation of the NT, whatever is not repealed from the OT is continued. Put another way, when Baptists read the NT, they assume a priori that the whole of the OT is done away with, unless it is repeated in the NT. So, for example, the command not to commit adultery still stands, because that is repeated in the NT Scriptures. The command to obey the Sabbath, say Baptists (except for Reformed Baptists), is not explicitly repeated in the NT, so therefore it is not to be obeyed. The Reformed, however, read the NT in this way: whatever the OT prescribes as a rule for living is intact, unless the NT abrogates it. The NT says animal sacrifices are a thing of a past (book of Hebrews), so we don't do these things on the ground of what the NT book of Hebrews says. The NT does not tell us not to obey the Sabbath, so therefore we obey it (there's also Romans 8:4 which says that through the Spirit, the righteous requirements of the law are met in us, so we obey the Sabbath on the Lord's Day). This should show us the different hermeneutic principles at work in tackling the subject of infant baptism. It all boils down to the issue of continuity and discontinuity between the two Testaments. And, it boils down to the Burden of Proof--who has the burden of proving their point?

Frame says it this way: "We can assume continuity with the Old Testament principle of administering the sign of the covenant to children, unless New Testament evidence directs us otherwise, and this is the paedobaptist [infant baptism] approach. Or, we can assume that only adult believers are to be baptized, unless there is New Testament evidence to the contrary, and this is the antipaedobaptist (="baptist") approach."

So, upon whom does the Burden of Proof lie? Well, it depends on which interpretive method is the right one. Frame steers us in the right direction by citing the text of the New Testament itself. When the Apostle Peter preached his sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he said that the "promise [of Christ] is to you and to your children" (v.39). We do have the case of household baptisms, which provide sufficient evidence that there was continuity between the Old and New Testament. Frame again: "A man upon conversion brings his family with him, and the sign of the covenant is administered to all. It is possible that this system may have changed with the transition of the New Covenant, but if such a change had taken place"--here's the Burden of Proof--"baptists must demonstrate this."

When I first read this, it was so clear: Baptists must demonstrate this. And, the church of the New Testament is pretty much the church of the Old Testament. It is a covenant community of people made up of believers and unbelievers (another disputed point between the Reformed and Baptists) just like the nation of Israel, and the sign of the covenant is to be administered to children in the New Covenant, just like in the Old Covenant. I closed the book (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God), and went off to my factory job at Johnson Controls in Holland and put parts in the boxes, much like I do today. But--a new light had dawned on the continuity of the Bible for me, and that was oh so precious. Precious!

All my girls are baptized and are learning the way of the covenant with their Lord. This is what their baptism signifies--it marks them as God's own, and it is Daddy's responsibility (along with Mommy) to teach them that they belong to Jesus Christ, and that they are to live lives of service to him and to love him and live lives of repentance before him. They are learning the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6:4-5: "Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might."

So, thank-you Apologetics, thank-you Epistemology, thank-you, Laws of Logic demonstrated in Burden of Proof exercise. And thank-you John Frame, for making apologetics pastoral, devotional, and sweet.

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