Monday, June 18, 2007

PLEASE PRAY FOR US

To My Blog Readers:

Please pray for us. I am copying the text of two e-mails I sent out to the elders of our church. I can't believe this is happening. This is a difficult time for us.
____________________________

To Our Spiritual Fathers, the Elders . . . ,

This is an e-mail to ask for help. This is Josh and Angela Brisby, and we wanted to let you know that, over the past couple of years, through baby steps, and through dialogue/debate, we have become more and more convinced of infant baptism. This is hard for me to believe that this is happening, especially because I was Presbyterian for two years before I became Reformed Baptist. However, I am unsure whether I fully understood the paedobaptist position then, nor did I give it a fair chance to respond when I was becoming Baptist.

Yet, this time we have no desire whatsoever to become paedobaptists. We love [this church] , and the last thing we would want to do is to have to change churches. We are asking you to please convince us from Scripture, with reason subservient, that the infant baptism position is incorrect, and to please show us that the Baptist position is correct. We are asking you to rescue us. We love this church, and we want to stay.

Please pray for us as well. This is a very emotional time for us, but even more so for me as the husband and leader. I wept over this yesterday.

In Christ,
Josh and Angela Brisby
________________________________

Brother ______,

To tell you the truth, I think that most paedobaptist literature is not very good. I had recognized some aspects of what I believed in articles by Richard Pratt, and I am currently reading The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (edited by Gregg Strawbridge). I also read the collection of essays Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant In Christ, but was not persuaded by most of it (many of the writers wrote from a New Covenant Theology perspective).

Over the years, it has happened as the following:

Shortly after I became Reformed Baptist, I saw problems with the traditional Reformed Baptist view, namely, that only the elect are in the New Covenant in this administration of the covenant of grace. I saw this as problematic from texts such as John 15, Romans 11, 1 Corinthians 5, and the book of Hebrews (particularly Hebrews 10:30). I agree that the covenant of grace, eternally speaking, has always been with the elect only, but in its administration temporally, it has always included both elect and non-elect.

Because of this, I reasoned that I could still stay a Baptist and believe that the covenant had two circles to it: the internal and the external. The internal is those who truly possess saving faith, and the external is all those in the outward administration, that is, those who belong to the visible church. Indeed, that is the way I was for quite a while.

But as years passed, I read an article by Gregg Strawbridge which demonstrated Scripturally that children were in the covenant. Ironically (and thankfully), I am not convinced of paedocommunion (we can discuss later as well why I do not see this as inconsistent), but the article was in The Case for Covenant Communion. I found that if one does a search on the word "children" and ponders God's promises, they are so powerful that indeed, it seems to me that to cut the children out of the covenant would be drastic. But in the New Testament texts, we still see promises made to the children (Acts 2:38ff), and the children are called "holy" as opposed to "unclean." (I am also aware of how Baptists respond to this, and we can discuss why I am not persuaded by their response as well.) Furthermore, when Jesus says that "brephoi" (infants) belong to the kingdom, and then blesses them, that it something that seemed to tug at me. I learned through dialogue with _______ that "blessing" was always looked at in a covenantal context in Holy Scripture. Our Lord blessed them.

I also realized that indeed, both the paedo and the credo position use inference. For example, the Baptist cannot find an example in Scripture of children believing and then being baptized. The only examples of professors who are baptized in Scripture are adults. There are some Baptists who wait until age 18 to baptize (Spurgeon, Dever), but they are few and far between. So Baptists reason that, since it seems that in every case of baptism in the NT, it seems, there was repentance and faith first, and then baptism followed, they therefore conclude that if children repent and believe, they are admitted to the waters of baptism. They conclude this by good and necessary inference, as it were.

But the paedo also concludes by good and necessary inference that children were in the covenant in the OT, and that God nowhere put them out. Circumcision was a sign of entrance into the covenant, and baptism is the sign of entrance into the New Covenant. Therefore, since they see children in the covenant, they conclude, by inference, that children or infants should be baptized.

Both sides agree that the household baptisms are inconclusive, but it seems to me that the "you and your household" principle goes back to the Abrahamic Covenant. Yet this is still spoken to Gentiles (such as the Philippian jailer in Acts 16). In other words, when was the last time that we all have evangelized someone and said to him, knowing he was a family man, that the promise was to him and to his children? Or that if he believes, he and his household will be saved? I confess that I too was uncomfortable with this language, but I sort of brushed it off and put it in the back of my mind.

Finally, I reasoned that, perhaps I could say that infants of believers were members of the church, yet I did not have to baptize them. But I learned as well that both sides agree that baptism is a sign of entrance into the church. I concluded that it would be unwise of me to deny it if I thought that my children were members of the church.

One imporant thing, as we dialogue, I think, is to carefully define our terms. I think especially the term "church" and "covenant" need to be carefully defined, because I think that many times, Baptists unknowingly may equivocate and switch on the visible/invisible church, and on the external/internal covenant (although the traditional Reformed Baptist view sees the New Covenant as purely internal currently).

There is much more, of course, that could be discussed, but perhaps this will get us started. I would love to discuss in whatever way you think is most convenient and profitable, whether over the phone, by e-mail, or in person, or all of the above.

We love you as our spiritual fathers. As my wise and amazing wife told me, if this is not true, then we need to fight to stay Baptists. If this is true, then we need to fight to believe it and to have our hearts follow. Right now my head is there, but my heart does not want to go. Please help us.

Yours In Christ,
Josh Brisby for the Brisbys

3 comments:

Gospel.or.Death said...

Josh,

This need not be a traumatic experience at ALL. If you should happen to become convinced of infant baptism, and make the decision to leave your church, you do NOT have to do so on bad terms. Consider Michael Horton's radio program, the White Horse Inn. Horton is reformed, a professor at a reformed seminary, and a very prominent teacher of the church. Yet even on his program he has a reformed Baptist, along with a Lutheran. Reformed Baptists are still our brothers in Christ.

Also, in my own denomination, the OPC, we can accept people as members even if they don't believe in infant baptism. Of course, if they have children for whom this is an issue, we'll want to address that and work on it diligently, but that doesn't hinder them from becoming members and for the parents at least to participate in the Lord's Supper.

So what I'm trying to tell you is that if you leave your church over this issue, your leaving is NOT a rejection of that church as if they were not Christians or something. It is not that strong a statement.

So be at peace. These issues should be taken seriously, but our God, whose Spirit is at work in you to sanctify you, desires that you sleep soundly at night, resting securely and surely and certainly in the grace of Jesus Christ our Savior, and not just for yourself, but also for all the people of God, whatever denomination they may be in. There are indeed even some few true believers in the Roman Church, which is no church at all, having declared justification by faith alone to be anathema. Nevertheless, there are likely true believers in that church, who really are - somehow - trusting in Christ for their salvation. Jesus himself said that even some of the elect will be deceived by the false Christs that come. So error is no guarantee that someone is not elect. Far from it.

So be at peace. Don't let your heart be troubled. If you are convinced of infant baptism, then you are convinced. God will be with you even as he has promised. If you are ultimately not convinced, then God will still be with you, even as he has promised. And he will remain with the believers in your present church as well, just as he has promised, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." Be at peace. Our God calls us to peace, whispering words of sweet comfort that has been purchased by the precious blood of Christ. Rest in him and in his righteousness.

Don't be in a hurry to figure all of this out. This is no emergency situation. This is not the time for hasty decisions and spur of the moment conclusions. If infant baptism is right, and I think it is, and you are struggling to grasp that and make it your own, you are NOT sinning by remaining in your church until you figure it out. In fact, if you leave your church before you have become totally convinced, then your leaving cannot be done in faith, and is therefore sinful, as Paul says, anything not done in faith is sin.

So rest and relax my brother. Rest in Christ, trust in him. Study these matters, endeavor to straighten them out; but don't panic. God will take care of you. He has sent his Spirit to be with you. Make this decision slowly and carefully, thinking it through thoroughly. Don't be afraid to follow where God leads you, but don't leap out into the dark until God has called out to you. Listen to his voice, and follow him, but be sure to sleep at night.

God is your only judge, and he has declared of you, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus." God is your only judge, and he has acquitted you in Christ. No one will ever take that away from you. Be at peace, make this decision slowly and carefully, and not in a rush. It's ok, even wise to make a decision slowly, even when you are convinced that it is the right decision. It's ok to make this decision, and then decide to wait two weeks or a month before you act on it, just to be extra sure you're doing the right thing. It's ok to make this decision, but not to make any final decision until you've been able to go and visit some reformed churches and see what you think, even trying them for a month at a time. This decision will affect the rest of your life. A couple of months aren't a big deal here.

Ok, all of that being said, now I am prepared to say a few things about this issue.

First, I would ask you this question: do you think that in your way of thinking you have made election a central dogma? By central dogma, I mean that you read everything through that lens.

For example, let's say that you are, or have been, looking at baptism through the lens of election and reprobation. This gives you only two choices. You can either baptize the elect only or baptize everyone in the whole world. Obviously you don't want to baptize everyone in the whole world, because those outside the church have likely never even heard the gospel, much less believe in it. The sign of baptism doesn't belong to them. That means you're stuck trying to determine if people are elect or not before you baptize them. Since we can't do that, all we can do is wait until they make a profession of faith, and then baptize them. Sure, some reprobate will be baptized this way, but we do the best we can.

The reformed would reject this kind of thinking, as you know, preferring instead not to break down the world into only two categories of people, but three: those outside the church, those inside who have not yet made profession, and those inside who have made profession of faith. Those who are inside the church, yet haven't made a profession of faith are very, very, very different from those outside the church. Paul says that the children of believers are holy in 1 Cor 7. At the very least, we must say then that they don't belong in simply the "unbeliever" or "reprobate" category. They're holy! They're more than an unbeliever. They have a different status. It is because of this status that we apply the sign of the covenant to them.

So I don't know if you have unconsciously thought of baptism in these terms or not, or if this is helpful at all. I hope it is, but it's ok if it isn't.

It is also typical of the credobaptist world to conceive of baptism as something that man primarily does. Usually, in a credobaptist church, whatever the flavor, if you ask the person who is about to get baptized WHY they want to get baptized, it has been my experience that they will often say that it is because they want to be obedient to the Lord. The Bible commands believers to be baptized, and I want to obey God, so therefore I'm doing it. This was a standard mantra in the Pentecostal church in which I grew up, and I have repeatedly heard the same thing in every other church I have been in.

But then I finally made my way to the reformed church, the OPC to be exact, only to find out that that's completely the wrong way to understand it. Baptism is not about me. It's not about what I'm doing. It's not a sign of my obedience, of my committment to Christ. I'm not getting baptized, I'm BEING baptized. God is baptizing me through his chosen minister.

Baptism is a sign of God's commitment to US, not the other way around. It is the visible preaching of the gospel. The statement being made is the promise of the gospel. Water has always been symbolic of judgment for many, many countless centuries and millennia. In fact, once upon a time, people used to throw people into rivers in order to find out if they were guilty of a crime or not. If they drowned, they were guilty, if not, not. They figured God would save them if they were innocent.

Perhaps you'll notice that this is exactly what's going on with Noah. This is a water ordeal/test on a global scale. Noah found favor, so he passed through the waters of judgment unscathed. God saved him, vindicated him.

This is what baptism signifies to us. But it is not a sign that we ARE saved; rather it is a sign that we WILL be saved - IF we have faith in Christ. It's the same message as the message of the sermon. If you believe, you will be saved. That's what the preacher is saying in the sermon, that's what's being said in baptism. That's why children who are raised in church - who are sitting under the preaching of the gospel week in and week out - should be baptized. It's the same message as the sermon. If you believe, you'll be saved through the ordeal of death, even as you have passed through this water and lived. If you believe, though you will die in the body, yet will you live forever in Christ, and you will be raised incorruptible. You will come through the judgment unscathed on judgment day, and you will be found in Christ, and God will show all the world that he considers you blameless in Christ, and we shall be changed. All of that is packed into the symbolism of baptism.

But baptism is more than a mere symbol. We consider it a means of grace. If one is elect, and they come to faith when they are able to understand, say high school, and make their profession of faith, we say that their baptism was effectual, that God used it, that the Spirit testified to them through it, the Spirit used it to bring that person to faith in Christ, just as he uses the preaching of the Word to excite faith in our hearts.

But as you know, of course, we don't believe in baptismal regeneration. But we don't believe that baptism is only of an effect right then in that moment. We don't have to get baptized over and over again. Once is enough. The Spirit can use that in us for the rest of our lives. In a similar way, even if you never heard anyone preach the gospel to you ever again, say if you were stranded on some desert island, you still would go to heaven, because the sermons you heard in the past would continue to have an effect on you the rest of your life.

Baptism is something God does, even as he is the one speaking through his Word in the sermon. In baptism, God is promising to us that if we believe, we will be saved.

As Protestants, we believe that salvation is not by works. As reformed (baptists or otherwise), we believe that salvation is not because we make a choice to believe in Christ. We believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation. Salvation is something God does. Baptism is a tool in God's toolbox, a means to that end. Being baptized is not the same as being saved, because not everyone who is baptized is or will be saved. But for those who are elect, who are and will be saved, baptism is used by God as a means by which he gives us of his grace.

And God takes this seriously. Remember, as I say this, all that I said about making this decision slowly. Nonetheless, God takes the sign of his covenant very, very seriously. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant in the OT. It too was no guarantee of salvation, but a sign that the child was set apart, holy to the Lord, as I have said baptism is now.

Now think back to the book of Exodus and to the story of Moses. You'll recall that Moses was married and living in the wilderness outside of Egypt, and he had a son. Now Moses didn't live among God's people. He was outside the camp. But God called him to go to his people and tell them that God was going to deliver them from Egypt, and he was to go and preach doom and gloom to Pharoah.

Now do you remember what happened to him on his way to Egypt? God sought him out, to put him to death. Imagine! God had called you by name and told you all this stuff you had to go do in Egypt, and on the way there, God confronts you and is ready to put you to death. Scary stuff!

And the reason? His son was not circumcised. So Moses' wife circumcised him, and God spared Moses' life. You could make a thousand theological points from this story, but I'll make only one: God takes the sign of his covenant very, very seriously. It was a matter of life and death for Moses. Notice that when he was going to join God's people, THAT'S when God demanded the sign be applied to the boy.

But don't be too alarmed at this. Remember this is the OT, and people are always getting stoned for this or that - well, and it had to be that way, because the Israelites were about to become God's ministers of the death sentence to a whole lot of people. In order to carry that out, they had to be perfect, because their work of wiping out the Canaanites pointed forward to Jesus wiping out the whole earth. Jesus earned the right to judge and destroy this fallen world - which he will return and accomplish someday - by being perfectly obedient to the law. So Israel also had to be perfect, in order to administer the wrath of God properly. So if someone sinned, they had to be put to death, so that they weren't part of the nation anymore, so that defiled people wouldn't be executing judgment.

Anyway, my point is that God's not going to put you to death for not baptizing your children. But he DOES take it very seriously. It must be done if it is the right thing to be done.

But it must be done IN FAITH. In other words, if you aren't fully convinced of it, you shouldn't do it, because whatever is not done in faith is sin. That's not to say that if you baptize your children without being fully convinced that they won't truly be baptized - they will be. But you sin if you aren't fully convinced, because you haven't acted in faith and in submission to the Scriptures. To be obedient to the command, it must be done in faith.

So take your time and be convinced one way or the other. Be relaxed about it, but don't take it lightly, because these are not light matters. They are serious and weighty matters. God was ready to put Moses to death over it. But because it's serious, that's all the more reason to be slow and deliberate and not in a panic.

So save your tears and your stress, child of God! Save them for the lost and the unsaved - weep for them! But don't weep in despair that this issue has come up. This is a sure and certain sign that God is at work in you by his Spirit. He is sharpening your understanding, and has been for years. This is cause for rejoicing!

And whatever suffering may result, this too will be of benefit to you in the long run, because suffering trains us and teaches us, and brings us closer to Christ and more dependent on him as we learn to cry out to him for rescue. So cry out to your Lord, as you are doing by crying out to the elders whom God has given you for your good.

Perhaps you will have some friendships that suffer if you change churches. That's ok. It's hard, it hurts, I know. I have been there. Believe me I have been there. But still I say that's ok. I'll give up every relationship I have to be found in Christ. To be near to Christ is better by far than to be friends with many people, even believers.

But these friendships need not come between you and Christ on this matter. You are not rejecting them and declaring them a synagogue of Satan or something. If you switch, all you're saying is that you believe differently on this issue, and you're going to pursue that. You wish them well, they wish you well. This is how believers ought to be. And you can still hang out with them and be friends with them, etc. You don't have to shun them.

So be at peace. Clearly God is with you and will be with you. Don't be afraid of a little bit of that old refiner's fire. It's good for you.

How do I know it's good for you? Because all things work together for good for them that love God, and you clearly love God because you're a Christian, a believer in Christ. So all things will work together for your good, because your Father is looking out for you. So be at peace.

Josh Brisby said...

Thank you for your kind words. There is much of the paedo side I accept, and there is much of the credo side I accept. There is some of the paedo side I do not accept, and there is some of the credo side I do not accept.

I still have my doubts about infant baptism, but I am still thinking on this issue. Please continue to pray for us.

Thank you again for your kind words.

Rod Ford said...

I wanted to ask how you came to make the move from Presbyterian to Reformed Baptist?