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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever


This Paedobaptist Agrees with Mark

I'm grateful for Mark's gracious invitation for me to participate as a guest at 9Marks. I have great admiration for 9Marks and the topic at hand is important. What is at issue here is that which at the heart of the work of 9Marks, the church and the ministry of Word and sacrament. What I am posting here is a lightly revised version of my original response to the controversy that developed over Mark's recent post on why he is ecclesiastically intolerant of infant (paedo) baptism. I'm new to this space. There should be a bit about me available here or at my home blog. ————

My friend Mark Dever says that baptizing infants is sin. Mike Bird and others are offended and Mark has replied. I've received a few emails about this. Frankly, I don't understand why folk are in high dudgeon. Mark is a Baptist and as such thinks that we paedobaptists (who haven't been re-baptized) are unbaptized and it is sinful to remain unbaptized. Now, as a principled paedobaptist (baby-baptizer) who started his Christian life as a evangelical Baptist, who came to his views through biblical theology and exegesis, and who is comfortable with the history of the doctrine, I'm quite convinced that the Baptists are wrong, but Mark is right that it's sinful to remain unbaptized. Further, if he's right about baptism, he's right to say that we paedobaptists are sinning. I'm not offended. God bless Mark Dever for taking the holy sacraments seriously and for taking the doctrine of the church seriously. Hang in there buddy.

What I'm about to say is not by way of retaliation. What I'm about to say here is what I've said to Mark privately. As a principled paedobaptist, it is not too much to say that believing parents who refuse to baptize covenant children are sinning. This is, after all, what the Reformed Confessions teach. The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Q. 74 says:
74. Are infants also to be baptized?
Yes, for since they belong to the covenant and people of God as well as their parents, and since redemption from sin through the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as the sign of the Covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is instituted.

Art. 34 of the Belgic Confession (1561), one of the confessions of the Dutch Reformed Churches says in part,
For that reason we detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers. We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children. And truly, Christ has shed his blood no less for washing the little children of believers than he did for adults. Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, just as the Lord commanded in the law that by offering a lamb for them the sacrament of the suffering and death of Christ would be granted them shortly after their birth. This was the sacrament of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, baptism does for our children what circumcision did for the Jewish people. That is why Paul calls baptism the "circumcision of Christ."

The Westminster Confession of Faith, 28.4-5 says:
4. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.
5. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

A recent essay in the Westminster Theological Journal has argued quite reasonably and plausibly that the best interpretation of art. 5 is as a reference to Baptists. Recall that the Particular Baptists had published a confession of faith in 1644, three years before the WCF was finished. The divines were well aware of the growing Particular and General (to speak anachronistically) Baptist movements.

Evidently it is not fashionable to say that it is sinful not to baptize one's children is sin. I understand that, but consider this scenario: A gentile comes to Abraham,
Convert: I've heard about your God Yahweh Elohim and have come to believe that he is, in fact, the true God and that the gods of the nations, the gods I formerly served, are nothing but idols. I want to identify with this people, I believe Yahweh and I want to be admitted to his covenant people."
Abraham: "Yahweh bless you my son. He has given you the grace of trusting in Yahweh and in his promised Savior (John 8:56). I too was a Gentile before God gave me faith in the coming Messiah and the sign and seal of his promise, the sign and seal of the covenant of grace (Rom 4:11). When Yahweh revealed himself to me he instituted the sign of circumcision to be applied to believers and to their children. As a mercy, I will sharpen the flint rock as well as possible."
Convert: "I can understand how I should take the sign, but why should my children also receive the sign since they are but infants and we cannot be sure they believe?"
Abraham: "God will have it so. He promised, 'I will be a God to you and to your children.' This is the promise of the eternal covenant of grace. They are to be admitted to the administration of the covenant of grace. We trust that by Yahweh' sovereign grace they too will trust in Yahweh and that the sign will become to them a seal, a promise that just as their schmuck has been removed so too their sins have been removed by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Messiah alone. It is a great sin to refuse to initiate your children into the covenant of grace. Indeed, Yahweh says, 'Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.'"

According to Reformed theology, the same promise that God made to Abraham is still in force. Indeed, in the New Covenant all the types and shadows having been fulfilled by Christ, the sign of baptism is to be applied to believers and all their children, males and females alike (just as both sexes come to the Lord's Table). Peter says so in Acts 2:39. 
The point here, however, isn't to make the case for infant baptism but to say that a certain view of the sacraments is of the essence of the Reformed understanding of redemptive history and revelation, it is essential to our (covenant) theology, piety, and practice. We may be wrong but it's what we believe the Word to teach. We have a moral duty, as Mark does, to confess the Word and teach it. 
I'm not offended. Mark is a good friend, a very good scholar, and a churchly gentleman. God bless him and may he embrace the faith of Abraham with us. I stand ready to baptize his children any time he wishes.

Three Great Songs About the Incarnation

Here are three songs about the incarnation that I particularly like to use in corporate worship this time of year:

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour

Of The Father's Love Begotten

Aurelius Prudentius is no Joey Ramone, but it's still a good song.

Together for the Gospel LIVE

I have really enjoyed listening to the recordings of 5000+ attendees singing to the Lord at Together for the Gospel '08 (I got an early version!). Sovereign Grace Ministries recorded and produced the album and the whole project fits their slogan: Sound+Doctrine. This would be a great Christmas gift. Pre order at the Sovereign Grace website. Happy listening!

From the "Laugh or Cry?" File

Check out this article from yesterday's Washington Post. Above the fold there is a large picture of a man dressed in camoflague holding up a Bible. Following is a long story about Christ Mountaintop Chapel in the DC suburbs, where Pastor Rob Seagears has committed to preaching on whatever the highest grossing movie for the week happens to be.

A few choice quotes from the article:

The Summer Cinema series... seeks to attract those who don't ordinarily attend church while making the experience more fun for those who do.

Seagears bases each week's message on the highest-grossing movie the previous weekend. He sees the movie, then prays about how to extract a biblical message.

Creative services can provide an edge in a tight "religious marketplace," said David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut. "There's a lot of experimentation going on in worship these days," Roozen said.

He removed his cap and aviator glasses, led a prayer, then preached on the importance of relationships with God, other believers and non-Christians. (He also urged people not to see the movie.)

"It's all about engaging your audience," he said.

Our King

OK, it's been a little slow around here, so I wanted to share a gem with you all. "Our King" is a song that not many people know, but our church has come to really love. Michael Tinker, the guy who wrote the words and music, is part of The Crowded House network.

It's a simple tune (my kids love to sing it) and the words bring tears to the eyes. The words of the chorus are based on the words of John Newton at the end of his life. If you're looking for a gospel-centered song for your church to learn, you couldn't do better.

Our King
Our King is a king of mercy
He gave the blind their sight and the dumb their speech
He healed the sick and raised the dead
Our King is a king of mercy.

Even though our memories may fail us
May we always remember this:
We are great sinners
But we have a great Saviour in Christ.

Our King is a king of cruel scars
He was beaten, stricken, whipped and condemned to die
Though he had done no wrong at all -
Our King is a king of cruel scars.


Our King is a king of passion
‘It is finished!’ he cried out and gave up his life
So we could be his family:
Our King is a king of passion.


Our King is a king of glory
Even death could not keep hold of this king of life
He rose triumphant from the grave
Our King is a king of glory.


Download a PDF of the music here.

Protestantism abandonned?

Having read and appreciated Greg's last couple of posts, I thought I'd relate a recent service I attended:

The Architecture the Chapel was classic protestant: Seats downstairs on a slight curve, with a balcony on three sides.It is designed to make it clear that the church is the people of God gathering around the word of God.It is designed so that the congregation might all gather near the front of the chapel and be able to hear the word of the Lord, see one another's faces and hear one another's voices.

The irony of a recent service I attended was that everything was done to try to undermine everything the building was designed for.

And it was deliberate.

Presumably the more "intimate" atmosphere that was created was designed to make the sense of "worship"  more authentic. Sadly I fear that what was achieved was merely that it was more Roman Catholic.

Let me explain:

The congregation was in darkness - the only faces that could be seen were those of the "worship leaders", on the stage, lit not by the thousands of candles, but by spotlights from the lighting rig that blocked much of the view to the stage: the spotlights colored to clothe the worship leaders in their priestly robes of purple - while the congregation was clothed in black.

From the lighting rig hung also such large speakers so greatly amplified that only the voices of the performers might be heard. We looked to them to see and hear where the worship was truly taking place, and we partook through participation only by seeing and hearing (and feeling the reverberations of) their priestly act.

There was a rood screen suspended 8 feet above their heads, the rood (cross) itself projected upon it.

There was even smoke rising into the air - not from the swinging of incense but from smoke machines...

The moment when the climax of the worship is reached is marked not by the ringing of a sacring belland the repetition of the "magic" words, "hoc est corpus meum" (this is my body), but by the moment when the shortest phrase of the song is repeated "haec sunt verba ad nauseum" (these are the words, until sickness results) and the drummer is slashing the cymbals without ceasing.

A few minutes later and the lights had been turned on, the smoke began to disperse, and the preacher approached the pulpit. We had been told that we would have a time of worship before we listened to the word being preached, and everything about the service had made it pretty clear that now that the music had faded and the preacher had begun, the part of the service where we worship was most certainly over. It was actually an excellent sermon expounding Genesis 3, with a powerful presentation of the gospel in which Christ bore the curse that had justly been pronounced on fallen mankind. But I couldn't help fearing that for some who were there it might have seemed something of an afterthought, or at least an anticlimax.

A Romish view of worship is not something that was surgically removed from protestants at the reformation. It is the kind of worship that we naturally tend to when our senses lead, and our minds (possibly) follow. It is the kind of worship we tend to as embodied spirits. When we have the preoccupation with musical excellence to the extent that it becomes affectually more important to us than the words we are in real danger of losing all that was gained in the Reformation.