Random thought for the day

JakeGriesel

 

By Jake Griesel

 

Just a random thought for the day:

If the study of theology does not lead to doxology, then there must be one of two defects, if not both:

1. A defective heart, unable to properly come to terms with the glorious truths under consideration.

2. A defective theology, which by its very nature does not have the ability to stir up true devotion.

True, solid theology, faithful to the Scriptures, when apprehended by a regenerate heart and mind, cannot do otherwise but to stir up, to use Edwards’ term, “gracious affections,” which lead to practice and doxology. After all, as the well-known Westminster Shorter Catechism’s Q/A 1 says:

Q.1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,and to enjoy him forever.

20 points of advice to prospective students of theology

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By Jake Griesel

For the past 4 years, I have been blessed to be able to partake in and reflect on theological studies at university level. I have learnt a great deal in that time, and have often thought about what advice I would give to prospective students of theology – advice I wish had been given to me when I started my own theological studies. Now that I am busy with my M.Th in Historical Theology, I have made a list of 20 points of advice I would give to prospective students of theology who consider starting a Bachelor’s degree, whether to later serve in the ministry or in the academy. These are arranged in no particular order, and are by no means exhaustive:

1. A verse to be engraved in every theologian’s mind

Remember that all-important reminder for theologians: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1. Consider your calling, and especially the One by whom you are called, and know that it is a calling of great weight – one might even say a burden – which is not to be taken lightly.

2. Do not let academic work and ambitions come in the way of your personal devotional life.

We have a saying in Afrikaans “moenie so besig raak met die dinge van die Here dat jy vergeet van die Here van die dinge nie” (lit. “Do not become so busy with the things of the Lord that you forget about the Lord of the things”). Also do not neglect your relationship with your family and friends – the key is to strike a balance. Pray without ceasing. Especially keep your knowledge of Scripture sharp. This will not only be of great value to your devotional life, but will offer a firm platform for discernment when you are confronted with not-so-kosher matters in your studies, such as theological liberalism, heresies, postmodernism, and the latest fads.

3. You are first and foremost called to be a theologian

During your theological studies, you will gain much knowledge and learn many skills. All such accumulated knowledge and skills are of course very useful and necessary, but are to be subservient to the main task of a theologian: the understanding and application of God’s Word. Your skills as a historian, linguist, philosopher or cultural critic must all be secondary to and subservient to your primary calling as a theologian.

4. Acquaint yourself with apologetics from the start

1 Peter 3:15 says we must always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” I have seen many students who are able to give a clear account of their faith to fellow believers, but crumble when they have to do the same before unbelievers. And at university there are many who challenge and oppose the faith. While most standard bachelor’s courses would include at least one module on apologetics, this is simply not enough. A great (and recent) source for equipping yourself with a knowledge of apologetics is Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Douglas Groothuis (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2011). Get it and read it.

5. Be an active member of your local congregation

There is a self-sufficient spirit in our day in which many Christians prefer to stay at home and watch sermons on TV (most of which are utterly heretical) or their favourite preachers on the internet or on mp3. Many students of theology have done the same. Do not become like this. There is no place for neglecting the communion of saints in a theologian’s life. Furthermore, it is highly advisable to get involved in some form of ministry early on. Get involved in outreaches, evangelism, youth work, charity, or serve as a deacon in your congregation – whatever it is you do, do not leave the ministry only for when your studies are done. Not only will this provide you with valuable experience for when you eventually enter the ministry or work with students in future, but it will allow you to put theory into practice. And on top of this, it is obedience to the Great Commission. Get involved!

6. Submit yourself to the preaching of the Word and church authority

Students of theology are prone to sit in church on Sundays and critique whatever is being preached from the pulpit. While of course we must be like the Bereans and search the Scriptures to see whether “these things are so” (Acts 17:11), I believe some take their critiques too far and practically sit in judgment on the preached Word every Sunday. I have been guilty of this myself. Do not be like this. In humility submit yourself to the preached Word. The pastoral epistles of Paul give us ample reasons to do this. The Reformers understood the central importance of sitting under the preached Word, and we ought not to place ourselves over it. It is an issue of sinful pride. Humbly submit yourself to the God-ordained authorities, including the elders, regardless if you may have more theoretical knowledge than them. Doing otherwise, simply put, is rebellion against the revealed will of God.

7. Learn to write and speak clearly, cogently, and succinctly

Verbosity is to be avoided. While eloquence isn’t the sine qua non of a theologian, it is nonetheless a highly valuable skill, especially when preaching, writing assignments, or doing research papers. Learn to express your thoughts clearly and succinctly. I have seen many students with good thoughts and ideas struggle to express themselves and clearly articulate their thoughts, with the impact and meaning of what they were trying to say thereby going astray. If you are not a natural public speaker, joining a club such as Toastmasters International may be very helpful.

8. Tolle, lege! Take up and read!

I couldn’t emphasize this enough. Tolle, lege! We are not the first people to study the Scriptures or theology. Many brilliant (and sometimes not so brilliant) men have written before us, whether long ago or recently, and by reading we engage with these great theologians of the past and present. Not only is reading the primary method for acquiring knowledge, but it also offers us a platform for discernment. Start collecting books from the start and build a personal library, whether printed or digital ones (the latter which are ever-increasingly becoming readily available). I myself have greatly benefited from retiring pastors who were giving away their books (something I can’t imagine doing before I die) – look out for such opportunities or spend less money on trivial things (which good books certainly don’t qualify as) so that you may be able to buy decent books for your collection. Building such a library is not only an investment for the future, but may also come in handy when doing assignments. I can’t describe the number of times my own collection has helped me with assignments – sometimes even more than the university library! Start collecting today. On top of this, do not only read the prescribed curricular material. Read beyond that. Especially if the faculty or seminary where you study often exposes you to liberal theology, balance such readings with more conservative texts. And a last comment here: memorize the names of prominent and authoritative authors/works in the different disciplines, it will come in handy as your studies progress.

9. Try to discover your favourite discipline/subject early on

Later in your studies when it comes to research papers or dissertations, this will be important. I’ve seen many students uncertain about what discipline they want to focus on for their dissertations. I was fortunate enough to discover my two passions early on: Church history/historical theology on the one hand, and systematic theology/dogmatics on the other, with the former always being my favourite subject. Once you’ve discovered the discipline that most interests you, you can start exploring it in your own time and collecting sources, so that by the time you come to your later studies, you will already be well-acquainted with the subject.

10. Read on non-theological subjects as well, and regularly converse with non-theological students

As much as your studies in theology will naturally have the preeminence over other subjects, it is of great interest to the edification and well-being of a theology student to also stay in touch with other subjects. As depressing as some news headlines may be (especially in South Africa), try to at least keep one eye on contemporary issues and events. Acquaint yourself with history, the great classics of literature, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, politics, economics, agriculture, sports, or whatever other subjects there may be. In doing so it will also allow you to discover the gifts God has given to people in other fields, as well as the value of such fields. Theology cannot be done in a vacuum, and other subjects will give you greater perspective, offer you the chance to bring such subjects into theological light, and also provide more common ground with your future audience.

One positive aspect of studying at a public university as opposed to a seminary is that you are frequently in contact with students from other fields of study. Two years ago I shared a house with a final-year medical student and a final-year architecture student. The conversations I’ve had with them about things I knew nothing about, such as medical ethics, what medical students do in a hospital, how architecture has changed over the past 50 years, and many other things, have left a lasting impression on me, and though I am admittedly utterly ignorant in these fields, I at least understand the world of medical and architecture students to a slightly better degree than I did before. Just do it. Make friends with non-theological students.

11. Put in the effort with languages

Looking back, I wish I had put in more effort during my two years of Hebrew and Greek. Though I never struggled with these languages and did alright, I was lazy at the time and was one of those “open a book the night before exam” students. Two years later, though I can still help myself with these languages when doing exegesis with the aid of Bibleworks and lexicons, I wish I had put in the hard yards back then to gain a firmer foundation in Hebrew and Greek. Especially future pastors who will be exegeting texts on a weekly basis for their sermons, do not make the same mistake I did. Put in the effort and make sure your foundation in Hebrew and Greek is solid.

On top of this, if possible, consider taking Latin, German, and French as well – especially if you intend to do extensive postgraduate research. Latin is especially important if you intend to study church history or historical theology, that you may have access to the primary sources. The same goes for German and French. There are oceans of sources on all theological disciplines written in German and French, both old and new, which are only accessible if one is literate in these languages. Many theological terms and phrases are also fixed expressions in Latin, German or French, which are generally left untranslated in scholarly works. While I am thankful to be busy with third-year Latin, I only started German and French this year and wish I had somehow started earlier. Do not waste time. Start early so that by the time you get to postgraduate studies you are already familiar with these languages.

12. Exegesis is extremely important

In line with the previous point, I reckon one of the aspects of your theological training that deserves most attention is exegesis. If there is one aspect of your studies in which you must strive for excellence, it is this. Especially if you are going to preach the Word on a weekly basis, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15b) deserves the utmost attention.

13. Be humble and listen carefully

Zeal can be a very good thing, but it can also be dangerous. Many young theologians, out of sinful pride, start their studies with the know-it-all idea that they’re “going to prove the world wrong,” and then go out to seek quarrels and debates just for the sake of showing others how wrong they are. Such was I, to my shame. As surprising as it may come to some: no, we are not inherently right on all things and others are not inherently wrong on all things. Listen carefully to others and what they have to say, do not just wait for them to stop talking so that you can say what you have to say. By this I am not suggesting that we let go of our firm convictions, but rather that we would be humble enough to acknowledge our own flaws and limitations, and humble enough to recognize and acknowledge truth when others speak it, especially when it means we have to confess and rectify our own errors. Pride is to be eliminated, and we must speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15a).

14. Know your own tradition, treat it critically, and learn from other traditions discernfully

One of the most discouraging things I’ve experienced in my studies is the ignorance of the Reformed tradition among Dutch Reformed theology students. When I began my studies, I came with the idea that all the other students would be zealous for Reformed theology, our history and tradition, as well as our Reformed confessions (the Three Forms of Unity). Much to my disappointment, I found that, with a few exceptions, the students were utterly ignorant of many of these things, nor did many of them acquire a love for these things during their studies. Such are the future pastors of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, and I find it a great concern. Get to know and understand your tradition. By that I do not mean follow it blindly; we should also be critical of our own traditions and continually examine whether any reform is necessary according to biblical teachings (ecclesia semper reformanda est), but only by understanding our own traditions will we be able to be in a position to reform and to critique other traditions. Besides, the Reformers didn’t mean by the term sola scriptura the abandoning of all tradition as fraudulent and useless (which is impossible anyway – we all stand in some form of tradition), but rather that tradition should be critiqued by Scripture, which holds the preeminent authority. Tradition which accords with Scripture is very useful, and ties us with the 2000 years of Christianity which came before us.

While I am highly critical of the ecumenical “let’s all hold hands and pretend we don’t differ significantly in doctrine and praxis” movement, I would nonetheless suggest that there is much to be learned from traditions other than our own if we do so discerningly. This includes noticing positive aspects or contributions of other traditions which, if warranted by Scripture, may complement our own traditions, as well as discerning errors in other traditions that are to be shunned. In any case, familiarity with other traditions helps us to better understand our own, and enhances our discernment. Do not go around calling everyone who doesn’t agree with you on every point heretics if you can’t make a solid case from Scripture for their heterodoxy. That is not to say we shouldn’t be critical of errors, but it is to say that we should be able to offer a well-grounded articulation of why the positions of others are to be considered heterodox, and not childishly resort to unfounded labeling and blacklisting.

15. Be critical of the critics and skeptical of the skeptics

As a student of theology, you will most likely be confronted at some stage and to a greater or lesser degree (depending on where you study) to liberal theology, liberal literary theories, and all kinds of streams and fads which rage against Christian orthodoxy. Many of these things will seem to make a great deal of sense, and may shatter many of the beliefs and positions you currently hold as indisputable. Demythologizing, deconstruction, form criticism, Historical Jesus research, postmodernism, religious pluralism, process theology/panentheism, radical feminist theology and liberation theology are just some of the things you likely will be confronted with. My advice is to critique these things as much as they critique the Bible and traditional Christianity. Many books by respected scholars have been written to counter the claims and positions taken by these theories and streams. Again, do not only read the prescribed curricular material – read beyond that and seek alternative views made by other scholars. These things have led many students of theology astray, has led to the emptying of churches in Europe, America and elsewhere, and have been the cause of many students dropping out or even abandoning the faith altogether. Some students have accepted liberal theological positions purely for the sake of gaining the favour of their professors or for the sake of furthering their academic careers. Do not lose the integrity of your confession for the sake of academic gain, it just isn’t worth it. Beware of fads and trends – they come and go like the wind. In our day there is a widespread appetite for novelty, and in academic circles this appetite has led to many falling into a strong current, sweeping them out to the depths of the sea of doubt and uncertainty, some never to return again. By contrast, the last thing the Reformers of the 16th century sought was to be novel or original, and therefore went to great pains to support what they were saying by citing Scripture, the early church fathers, and medieval doctors. Be vigilant. Be critical of the critics and skeptical of the skeptics.

16. Make good friends with your classmates

These are the people who are on the same journey with you, sit in the same classes as you, and probably have similar goals, dreams, and callings to you. Not only will making good friends with your class mates give you peers to discuss the work with, but these are also the people who will best understand what you’re going through when you have troubles in the ministry one day, facing problems with your studies, or battling with spiritual and personal issues. On top of this, they may become lifelong bosom friends. I have been fortunate to be part of a class where we all get on very well and have even went on road-trips and outings together several times. Do not let your relationship with your classmates be limited to the academic realm.

17. Remain physically active

It is easy to slip into physical idleness during your studies. Do not fall into this trap. Join a gym, play squash or tennis, jog, swim, play other sports, or do any other wholesome activities that will keep you active. Not only will this keep you in relatively good physical shape and healthy, but it will also serve as a profitable breakaway from studies and increase your concentration.

18. Get out into nature

As often as is possible, escape from the city and get out into nature. Go hiking, fishing, visit a nature reserve, just get out for a bit. Not only will this provide you with opportunities to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, but it will also allow you to interpret God’s general revelation in light of his special revelation in his Word. Even if you can’t escape from the city regularly, perhaps you could go to a park or botanical garden in the city, or at least notice the singing of the birds, the wonder of bees busy collecting nectar, or spiders spinning their intricate webs. You will be all the more happy for it, and it will complement and enhance your studies.

19. Don’t overestimate your worth or knowledge

Many students start their studies thinking that they will be the next reformer, revivalist, or great “winner of souls.” Again, pride is the issue. Let’s be frank, you’re not the new Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, or Spurgeon. As wonderfully as God may use you and your ministry in future to further his kingdom, you are not indispensable, nor does God need any of us to accomplish his ends. I myself, having entered my theological studies full of sinful pride, had to learn this the hard way. What is called for here is the humility to simply be grateful for the amazing privilege of having been called by God to play a tiny role as instrument in his work in the world. If there is any measure of “success” in your ministry (and quite frankly, you will never see the full fruits of your labours), it is after all to be attributed to the grace of God. All those “heroes of the faith” we read about were what they were and achieved what they did by the grace of God. A thorough impression of the magnitude of this calling – a calling by the eternal triune God of majesty – should suffice to eradicate the foolishness of overestimating our worth, or any such manner of thinking. Also, let your desire be to teach, and not to be a teacher. In other words, you are called to preach, teach, and draw attention to a message, not to draw attention to yourself. “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Is. 40:6b-8). And for that very reason, let the focus be on the Word, not on you.

Furthermore, do not overestimate your knowledge. It doesn’t matter how many Wikipedia articles you’ve read, how many mp3 sermons you’ve listened to, or even if you’ve progressed much in your studies. The key to humility is to not look at how much knowledge you have acquired, but how much there is you yet don’t know. Expose yourself to the works of top scholars, see the research they have done, look at their vast bibliographies, consider the contributions they have made – some of these guys are walking libraries! And then realize that even these top scholars do not nearly know everything there is to know, even in their own narrowly demarcated fields of inquiry. How much more, then, is the ignorance of a novice? That is not to say that the knowledge we do have is unprofitable, but it does call for humility and proper perspective. I started my studies as a know-it-all. By this time I am well aware of my own ignorance, and the vast reservoirs of knowledge out there that I have never even encountered, let alone mastered. Knowledge of our own ignorance should therefore give us reason for humility, as well as a strong impetus to explore and do research, not being content with the little we know.

20. Be open to learn from the wisdom of ordinary Christians

Don’t ever place yourself on a theological high ground over “ordinary” Christians. There is much to be learnt from them. They too have acquired wisdom and knowledge in their walk with the Lord, they too have their stories, they too have vocations they pursue to the glory of God. God has revealed himself to them in his Word, and they may even have a better knowledge of God and what it means to walk with him than us, despite our learning. Regardless of how learned you may become in theology, always be humble enough to be able to learn from others. A small child may sometimes teach a professor profound things.

Conclusion

There are many other possible points of advice that can be given, but I believe these 20 points should suffice for young prospective students of theology.

I conclude with this quote by Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), which was spoken at his inaugural address as Professor of Systematic Theology at the Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam in 1902:

“Religion, the fear of God, must therefore be the element which inspires and animates all theological investigation. That must be the pulsebeat of the science. A theologian is a person who makes bold to speak about God because he speaks out of God and through God. To profess theology is to do holy work. It is a priestly ministration in the house of the Lord. It is itself a service of worship, a consecration of mind and heart to the honour of His name.”

Our prayers and God’s covenantal promises

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By Jake Griesel

John Calvin regarded the command to pray and God’s promises as the two pillars of prayer (cf. Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.xx.13-14).  In this regard he points inter alia to Matt. 7:7 “Ask (command) and it shall be given you (promise)” Here Christ teaches us, says Calvin, not only what we are supposed to do (pray) but also promises us that our prayers are never in vain. God’s promises grant us great assurance in our prayer lives.

Our prayers and the lesson from the Psalms

If we want to learn how to pray, we must inter alia go to the Psalms. The Psalms have been called the “school of prayer.” In the Psalms we find ourselves in the inner room (Matt. 6:6) of the Old Covenant. There we see how believers in the Old Covenant prayed in their inner rooms. But that is not all. We must especially remember that the prayers in the Psalms were not merely human prayers, but were inspired by the Holy Spirit, who after all inspired the Holy Scriptures and therefore also the Psalmist’s prayers, whether it be David or someone else. Therefore spending time in the Psalms means that we find ourselves in the Holy Spirit’s “school of prayer.” He is the One who teaches us to pray in the Psalms. One thing about the Psalms is especially noteworthy here: the role which God’s covenant plays therein. The poets sang about God’s covenant; they rejoiced in it. Just think of Psalm 105:8 He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. And this we find also in the prayers of the Psalms. When the Psalmists prayed, they did not pray aimlessly, but appealed to what the LORD had promised in his covenant. To give one example, Asaph prayed in Psalm 74:20, “Have respect unto the covenant., thereby making an appeal to God’s covenant. Many other prayers in the Psalms, though not necessarily containing the word “covenant” (Heb: berith), nonetheless also allude to God’s covenantal promises, such as in Psalm 88:11 where the sons of Korah prayed: Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?”, or in Psalm 143:1 where David prayed: “Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness.” The Psalmists knew that they could depend on God’s promises and faithfulness. The believer’s plea is never in vain when founded upon God’s promises. The LORD is faithful and will perform that which he has promised.

Our prayers and the baptismal form of our church

Now we must connect the instruction in the Psalms to ourselves in our day. We are, after all, also children of the covenant/promise (Gal. 3:29; 4:28). The Lord has indeed also made his covenant with us. He has given us a great treasury of promises. We not only may, but indeed should also appeal to these promises, being assured that God will hearken unto us when we appeal to what he has promised.

In this regard I’d like to refer to the baptismal form of our church – the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (Afrikaans: Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk). In our baptismal form, we find a summary of what God has promised us, which is linked to the Trinitarian formula in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost(Matt. 28:19). These promises are discussed below:

Promise #1: Dat Hy ons Vader is wat ons liefhet en vir ons sorg (That He is our Father who loves us and cares/provides for us)

We were baptized in the Name of the Father. As our Father, He desires to provide us with all good things and avert evil or work it together for our good (Rom. 8:38). We should therefore not doubt when we pray that God will provide for us – He promised to do this, and his faithfulness and promises never fail. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea (Psalm 46:2). When we therefore pray for his Paternal care and protection, we may know without doubt that our lives are in the omnipotent hands of our heavenly Father who loves us. This does not mean that no evil (illness, loss, etc.) will cross our paths. The Lord has nowhere promised this to us. What we can indeed know, however, is that we never face our trials and tribulations without our heavenly Father’s providential care and that he will ultimately work all of these to our good. This he does indeed promise (again, Rom. 8:38), and this promise certainly is an uninterrupted fountain of comfort to us believers while we dwell as pilgrims in this world.

Promise #2: Dat Jesus Christus ons Verlosser is (That Jesus Christ is our Redeemer)

Our forgiveness is also no dubious matter, because when we were baptized in the Name of the Son, God thereby promised that it is his will to wash us clean of our sins in the precious blood of his Son. Children of God often struggle with doubt: “Will God ever forgive me for this great sin which I have committed?” But we ought not to stand with eyes fixed on the greatness of our sins, but rather to fix our eyes firmly on the greatness of God’s faithfulness which he has promised us in Jesus Christ. As John Newton once said, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly. I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour”. As great as our sins may be, Christ is an infinitely greater Saviour.

Promise #3: Dat die Heilige Gees in ons woon, van ons nuwe mense maak en ons lei (That the Holy Spirit dwells in us, makes new people out of us and leads us)

When we were baptized in the Name of the Holy Spirit, God promised to ingraft us into Christ by his Holy Spirit, and grant us faith, repentance, sanctification and obedience by his Holy Spirit. If we then struggle with a certain sin or wavering faith, we do not therefore have to doubt that God will grant us his Holy Spirit if we ask him in prayer. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Matt. 7:7).

Christ and assurance in our prayers

Why is it so certain that the Lord will perform that which he has promised? Why can we pray with so much confidence regarding the Lord and his promises? Is it because any merit we may have which secures these promises? Certainly not. No, if we look to ourselves, we look to corruption, severe fallibility and, ultimately, a hopeless cul-de-sac. We then immediately abrogate all of God’s promises. We can then not depend on any of his promises. When we look to ourselves, therefore, the deepest sense of doubt and despair overcomes us. But “all the promises of God in him [Christ] are yea, and in him Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20); these promises are true and sure and fixed not because of us, but because of Jesus Christ, and in him. That is why, whenever we pray, we pray in Jesus’ Name.

Prayer and faith in God’s promises

The Lord promises us great and amazing things in his covenant, but this covenant also demands our response: We must repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). Whoever does not do this, also does not receive the fulfilment of God’s promises. The same counts for our prayers: we must pray in faith, otherwise we will not receive, as James so clearly teaches us (1:6-7). Many believers struggle with doubt and wavering faith. But this also we may confess to the Lord and pray for faith. And then there is no need for any doubt: he will grant us faith according to his promise. After all, faith itself is a gift from God, and is not of ourselves (Eph. 2:8). God’s covenant does include a condition that needs to be fulfilled from our side, but this condition is granted us and fulfilled by God on our behalf, by the granting of faith and repentance through the Holy Spirit – not only in regeneration, but also in sanctification and perseverance. Therefore we can say with Augustine:

Da quod iubes, et iube quod vis“Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt” (Augustine, Confessions, X.29).

Belgic Confession Article 28 and “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” in light of 1 John 4

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By Jake Griesel

 

This is a very brief article on the 1561 Belgic Confession, Article 28, specifically with a look at its assertion of extra ecclesiam nulla salus“outside of the Church there is no salvation”. Very helpful in this regard, I believe, is a glance at 1 John 4. Though there is much more which can be discussed on the issue, my point here is simply that the core issue at stake is love – the love of God shared in fellowship with fellow believers:

Belgic Confession, Article 28: The Obligations of Church Members

We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition. But all people are obliged to join and unite with it…

Often people say that they still believe in God but want nothing to do with the Church. They want to be part of so-called “churchless Christianity”. The Church for them contains too many sins and infighting, or is too strict and limiting. They feel it is easier and more desirable to serve God apart from the Church.

The Belgic Confession (Article 28) unmasks the attitude behind such thinking. It confesses that “no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.” It is self-contentment or self-sufficiency which lurks behind this separation from the Church. This self-sufficiency is in fact a disdainful attitude toward their fellow believers. It loudly proclaims: “I am not like them! I have no need of them! God and I will manage between the two of us, thank you very much!”

In 1 John 4:7-21, John shows that such an attitude is utterly flawed. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20). It is true that there are many flaws in the Church. The Church is after all an assembly of sinners who are redeemed and forgiven in Christ, who, despite sanctification being wrought in their lives by the Holy Spirit, will never be perfect in this life. It is also true that the Church will not save you; it is Christ alone who saves. But it is a horrendous lie that someone can love God without also being lovingly involved in koinonia or fellowship with fellow believers.

The Church is the place where the love of God is received and shared. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:20). To assume that there is any salvation without this love is therefore entirely erroneous. It is therefore a mark of true Christianity that the love of God which has been bestowed on us is also shared with our fellow believers in loving fellowship as the Church. And if we understand our being the Church in this light, we can affirm with the Belgic Confession that outside of the Church there is no salvation – extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

Praising the Saviour rather than the sermon

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By Jake Griesel

When the pastor closes in prayer, the service ends, and the congregation is dismissed, what’s the first thing you say about a great sermon?

Some of the things I hear (and I myself say) far too often:

“That was a great sermon.”
“He did a great job.”
“He’s a great preacher.”

In Afrikaans I am sometimes guilty of saying things like “hy’t dit regtig gebring vandag” (“he really brought it today”) or “hy’t gepreek soos ‘n masjien!” (“he preached like a machine!”).

These are ways of communicating our conviction over the message and expressing appreciation for its impact, but they betray a dangerously misguided perspective on the nature of the sermon and the role of the preacher.

Insightful exegesis, clear exposition, powerful rhetoric, coherent logic, colourful illustrations, precise vocabulary, and Spirit-fuelled passion are not the end but the means. We are not meant to read Paul’s tightly-woven argument in Romans and rave about the apostle as a brilliant theological logician. We are meant to read Romans and feel dead in our sin and separated from God; grasp that we are justified solely by faith in Christ; embrace our new position as children of God and servants of righteousness; and take up the gospel ethic in true spiritual community. We are meant to read Romans and believe afresh in the saving righteousness of Jesus Christ who forgives our sins, reconciles us to God, and binds us together in love.

The reader of Romans should not mainly say “What a great epistle!” but “What a great gospel!” – not “What a great speech!” but “What a great Saviour!”

The prophets spoke for God. Jesus spoke for his Father. The apostles spoke for Christ. And every true preacher of the gospel in our generation speaks the message of Christ from the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Impressive sermons are simply not the point.

When the Word of God is preached, hear the Word of God, and rejoice not in the cohesive outline or the colourful metaphors or the clever maxims but in the crucified and resurrected Saviour.

So the next time the pastor closes in prayer, the service ends, and the congregation is dismissed, don’t just say “What a great sermon!”, but say to yourself and to your friends, “What a great Saviour!”

Definition of Theology: “Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi per Christum” and its historical trajectories

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By Jake Griesel

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), defining theology in a sermon on Hebrews 5:12 in Northampton, New England, 1739, stated: “Divinity is commonly defined, the doctrine of living to God; and by some who seem to be more accurate, the doctrine of living to God by Christ.”

By “some who seem to be more accurate”, Edwards was referring to Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706). The title of this blog, Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi per Christum (Theology is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ), was taken from Petrus van Mastricht’s Theoretico-practica theologia (1699), I.iii, and is his definition of theology. This definition, however, was not an invention of Mastricht, but had a theological and historical trajectory which goes back earlier in the Post-Reformation era.

Mastricht undoubtedly drew from William Ames (1575-1633), who in his Medulla S.S. Theologiae (The Marrow of Sacred Divinity – 1627), chapter 1, defined theology as “Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi” (Theology is the doctrine of living unto God).

Ames’ definition, in turn, can be linked to William Perkins (1558–1602) in his A Golden Chaine (1592), where he defined theology (and the body of Scripture) as such: “The bodie of Scripture, is a doctrine sufficient to live well.” (est doctrina bene vivendi).

Again, Perkins evidently adopted his definition from Petrus Ramus (1515–1572), who in his De Religione Christiana (On the Christian Religion – 1572), Chapter 1, wrote: “Theologia est doctrina bene vivendi.”

Thus we see that the definition of theology as Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi per Christum had an historical trajectory of thought spanning across an era of around 165 years, in which it was developed, modified, and translated from Latin into English. And on top of that, this was done in five different European cities as well as in America (in the case of Edwards), as can be shown here:

Edwards (1739) Northampton

Mastricht (1699) Utrecht

Ames (English translation, 1642) London

Ames (1627) Franeker

Perkins (1592) Cambridge

Ramus (1572) Paris

This shows that the Post-Reformation writers did not work in isolation, but drew their thoughts from one another and stood on the shoulders of those who had gone before them – a firm indication of the catholicity of the Reformed tradition in the Post-Reformation era.

Jonathan Edwards (refer to the quotation at the top) had a very high regard for Petrus van Mastricht:

“But take Mastricht for divinity in general, doctrine, practice, and controversy; or as an universal system of divinity and it is much better than Turretin or any other book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion.” [Letter, Edwards to Joseph Bellamy 1746]

Why was Mastricht’s definition of theology as Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi per Christum so important to Edwards? Edwards tells us:

“It comprehends all Christian doctrines as they are in Jesus, and all Christian rules directing us in living to God by Christ. There is nothing in divinity, no one doctrine, no promise, no rule, but what some way or other relates to the Christian and divine life, or our living to God by Christ. They all relate to this, in two respects, viz. as they tend to promote our living to God here in this world, in a life of faith and holiness, and also as they tend to bring us to a life of perfect holiness and happiness, in the full enjoyment of God hereafter.”

[A special thanks to Prof. Adriaan Neele from Yale Divinity School, who taught me about this trajectory in my third year of theological studies, and has been an inspiration to me ever since.]

Jake Griesel on the biblical rationale behind infant baptism

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The Biblical Rationale behind Covenantal Infant Baptism

INDEX

I. Introduction

II. God’s relationship with man has always been in covenant

III. God’s covenantal dealings with man have always been signified and sealed with visible signs

IV. The corporate nature of the covenant of grace in the Old and New Testaments

V. The correlation between Circumcision in the Old Testament and Baptism in the New Testament

VI. A summary of the argument thus far

VII. Historical evidence

VII. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Is the baptism of infants legitimate? Is it founded on the Bible? Ought one to continue to baptize infants, and, if so, which infants? These are questions of doctrine and of discipline which have occupied much of the theological attention of the Church over the last couple of centuries, as they still do today, and they confront us with a problem of the utmost importance. Many opponents of infant baptism claim that it is an errant Papist tradition that has crept into the church a long time ago. While it is true that infant baptism can be traced in church tradition as far back as the early church, Reformed Protestant Christians cannot be content with merely this, since it would compromise our doctrine of sola scriptura, that is, that Scripture is the final and only authority for all doctrine and praxis, regardless of church history and tradition which nonetheless carries great value. The testimony of church history and tradition can have great value for Reformed Christians, but only after the biblical foundations have been brought into prominence. In a question of this importance a tradition merely “ecclesiastical” or “Reformed” establishes and justifies nothing. “It would be a very poor and miserable refuge,” says John Calvin, “if, in defending the baptism of little children, we were obliged to have recourse to the bare and simple authority of the Church; but it will become plain that this is by no means the case.” (Inst. IV.viii.16). Therefore I will argue for the validity of infant baptism from Scripture (in its entirety – both Old and New Testament) before in any way referring to church history or tradition. An objection may already be given at this point – that there are no explicit references to infant baptism in the Bible. I answer that neither are there any references to the Holy Trinity in Scripture, yet it is a fundamental and distinguishing doctrine of true Christianity. Just as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not explicitly taught in Scripture but is deduced by good and necessary consequence, so in the same way Reformed Protestant theology derives its position on infant baptism from Scripture by good and necessary consequence. Says the Westminster Confession of Faith: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (WCF 1.6.). It is my desire to remain true to this confession, and therefore I will argue the case for infant baptism from Scripture alone before considering church history and tradition.

 II. God’s relationship with man has always been in covenant

We first see a covenant of works administered with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Upon Adam’s failure, God established the covenant of grace in the promised seed Genesis 3:15, and shows his redeeming care in clothing Adam and Eve in garments of skin — perhaps picturing the first instance of animal sacrifice. The specific covenants after the fall of Adam are seen as administered under the overarching theological covenant of grace. The Noahic covenant is found in Genesis 8:20-9:17. Although redemption motifs are prominent as Noah and his family are delivered from the judgment waters, the narrative of the flood plays on the creation motifs of Genesis 1 as de-creation and re-creation. The formal terms of the covenant itself more reflect a reaffirmation of the universal created order, than a particular redemptive promise. The Abrahamic covenant is found in Genesis 12, 15, and 17. In contrast with the covenants made with Adam or Noah which were universal in scope, this covenant was with a particular people. Abraham is promised a seed and a land, although he would not see its fruition within his own lifetime. The Book of Hebrews explains that he was looking to a better and heavenly land, a city with foundations, whose builder and architect is God (11:8-16). The Apostle Paul writes that the promised seed refers in particular to Christ (Galatians 3:16). The Mosaic covenant, found in Exodus 19-24 and the book of Deuteronomy, expands on the Abrahamic promise of a people and a land. Repeatedly mentioned is the promise of the Lord, “I will be your God and you will be my people” (cf. Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12), particularly displayed as his glory-presence comes to dwell in the midst of the people. This covenant is the one most in view by the term Old Covenant. The Davidic covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7. The Lord proclaims that he will build a house and lineage for David, establishing his kingdom and throne forever. This covenant is appealed to as God preserves David’s descendants despite their wickedness (cf. 1 Kings 11:26-39; 15:1-8; 2 Kings 8:19; 19:32-34), although it did not stop judgment from finally arriving (compare 2 Kings 21:7; 23:26-27; Jeremiah 13:12-14). Among the prophets of the exile, there is hope of restoration under a Davidic king who will bring peace and justice (cf. Ezekiel 37:24-28). The New Covenant is anticipated with the hopes of the Davidic messaih, and most explicitly predicted by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:34). At the Last Supper, Jesus alludes to this prophecy, as well as to prophecies such as Isaiah 49:8, when he says that the cup of the Passover meal is “the New Covenant in [his] blood.” This use of the Old Testament typology is developed further in the Epistle to the Hebrews (see especially chapters 7-10). Jesus is the last Adam and Israel’s hope and consolation: he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17-18). He is the prophet greater than Jonah (Matt 12:41), and the Son over the house where Moses was a servant (Hebrews 3:5-6), leading his people to the heavenly promised land. He is the high priest greater than Aaron, offering up himself as the perfect sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 9:12, 26). He is the king greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42), ruling forever on David’s throne (Luke 1:32). The term “New Testament” comes from the Latin translation of the Greek New Covenant and is most often used for the collection of books in the Bible, but can also refer to the New Covenant as a theological concept.

III. God’s covenantal dealings with man have always been signified and sealed with visible signs

A) The Covenant with Adam had the visible sign of the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22)

B) The Covenant with Noah had the visible sign of the rainbow (Gen 9:12-17)

C) The Covenant with Abraham had the visible sign of circumcision (Gen 17:9-14)

[After this inaugural sign of covenant inclusion was given to Abraham, it remained in force after the Sinaitic and Davidic Covenants were brought in to supplement it, neither of which was provided with a similar sign of inclusion, God thereby making manifest that there remained for his people a participation in the first Covenant of Promise made with Abraham and his Seed, which the later covenants, coming afterwards, could not nullify; what is of utmost significance, therefore, is the eventual replacement of this sign by the sign of a newer and greater Covenant which did indeed fulfill the Abrahamic Promise as the Covenant of Moses had not been able to do.]

D) The New Covenant has the visible sign of Baptism (Mat 28:19)

 IV. The corporate nature of the covenant of grace in the Old and New Testaments

In the Old Testament, we can see a corporate nature to the covenant in which it is not only offered to individuals, but also to their posterity or “seed” in their generations. Genesis 17:7, 9 “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee… And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations”. We see the same concept later in the second of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:5-6 “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments”. As already shown, this corporate nature of the covenant in which God’s covenantal promises apply not only to believers but also to their children and the generations after them, continued throughout the Old Testament, as part of the everlasting covenant (Exodus 17:7) promised by God.

In the New Testament, the New Covenant is firstly shown to be the perfect fulfilment of the Abrahamic Promise (Galatians 3:13-18). Secondly, it is shown that the New Covenant replaces the Mosaic Covenant, which was shown to be impotent to fulfil the Abrahamic Promise, (Galatians 4:21-31; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:6-13). And so, we who are in the New Covenant are heirs of the Abrahamic Promise (Romans 4:9-16; Galatians 3:5-9, 26-29; Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:6). We can see its continued corporate nature in the New Testament in places such as Acts 2:39 “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call”, Acts 16:30-31 Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house”,  1 Corinthians 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy”.

 

Let us bring this into the discussion by showing the history of God’s dealings with children and infants in their familial solidarity:

 

a)      From the beginning of creation, God has dealt with all humans in solidarity with their first federal and seminal head, Adam.

(Rom 5:12-21; 1Co 15:22; Gen 3:20)

 

b)      Immediately after the Fall, when God established his own people of covenant grace in the midst of the Serpent’s people of the world, the two contrary Kingdoms grew largely through familial generation.

(Gen 4:16-26; Gen 5:28-32)

c)       When God confirmed his Covenant with Noah, of Seth’s godly line, he likewise saved his whole family, although it was he alone who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord”

(Gen 6:8-13; Gen 6:17-18)

d)      When God established his eternal covenant with Abraham, which was foundational to all redemptive history following it, he explicitly included his offspring, and demonstrated this by giving the covenant-inclusion sign of circumcision to all, adults and children alike.

(Gen 17:9-14)

e)      When God revealed himself climactically to Moses, he spoke of generational solidarity both among the saved and unsaved.

(Exo 33:17-23; Exo 34:4-9)

f)       When God later established his covenant with David, his offspring was likewise explicitly included.

(2Sa 7:12-17)

g)      Malachi urges covenant faithfulness between spouses with the intent that their offspring might therefore be holy to God.

(Mal 2:14-15)

h)      When Jesus was on earth, he healed and raised many people because of the vicarious faith of another related person.

(Mat 8:13; Mat 9:2; Mar 5:35-42; Mar 9:21-27)

i)        When Peter preached the first sermon announcing the inauguration of the New Covenant, in full continuity with all redemptive history preceding, he framed it in terms of “you and your children”.

(Act 2:38-39)

j)        When God began to expanded his promised redemptive Kingdom, he typically brought in whole families, who all received baptism together.

(Act 16:14-15; Act 16:31-34; 1Co 1:16)

God’s redemptive love is fully displayed to children, most especially the children of covenant believers:

a)      Samuel was a chosen vessel of God from childhood, due to the faith of his mother, Hannah.

(1 Sam 1:11, 19-20, 24-28; 3:1-10)

b)      David was given faith in God from the womb.

(Ps 71:5-6; Ps 22:9-10)

c)       David was confident, because of God’s grace, of a blessed reunion with his first child from Bathsheba.

(2 Sam 12:23-24)

d)      Jeremiah was known and sanctified by God from the womb.

(Jer 1:5)

e)      John the Baptist was regenerate from the womb, and leapt for joy in the presence of his Saviour.

(Luk 1:41-44)

f)       Jesus clearly taught that his eternal Kingdom belongs even to infants whose parents bring then to him.

(Luk 18:15-17)

g)      Paul taught that the children of even one believing parent are holy  to the Lord.

(1 Cor 7:14)

h)      Although Paul himself was wickedly opposed to Christ for a time, yet because of his birth into the covenant community, and God’s grace in bringing the grace of his covenant to bear upon his life in a conversion experience, he was able to say that he had served God, not just from infancy, but from his ancestors.

(2 Tim 1:3; Gal 1:13-16)

i)         Paul proclaimed that Timothy knew the scriptures from infancy, and had always possessed that faith which had first dwelt in his mother and grandmother.

(2 Tim 1:5-6; 3:14-15)

j)        In fact, all the elect remnant who are born  into the Covenant of Grace  have been carried by God and preserved by his sanctifying influences from the womb to old age.

(Is 46:3-4)

God’s punishment is also displayed in children of the wicked, by virtue of familial solidarity:

a)      When God flooded the world for its wickedness, even infants were destroyed with all the rest.

(Gen 6:17)

b)      When God destroyed Sodom for its wickedness, all the infants were likewise destroyed.

(Gen 19:24-25)

c)       In the premier Old Testament example of God’s redemptive purpose, all the firstborn of Egypt were killed because of the impenitence of their parents.

(Ex 11:1-10; 12:29-30)

d)      When Korah and his followers rebelled against the Covenant, they were all swallowed up by the earth, even with their wives and infants.

(Num 16:27-35)

e)      When Joshua first entered the Promised Land and was hindered in capturing the city of Ai because of the sin of Achan, he destroyed Achan’s wife and children together with him.

(Jos 7:19-26)

f)       When God brought Israel into the Promised Land, he told them repeatedly to kill all of its inhabitants, including the infants.

(Num 21:2-3; Deut 7:2, 20:16-17; Jos 6:17; 1 Sam 15:1-3)

God’s secret election is at work  among covenant infants, so as to preserve some in grace and harden others in apostasy; but he still commands the sign of covenant inclusion to be given to all covenant infants alike:

a)      Isaac was chosen and Ishmael cast out, but both received the sign of circumcision.

(Gen 17:23-27, 21:1-4, 9-14; Gal 4:21-31)

b)      Jacob was loved and Esau was hated, but both received the sign of circumcision.

(Gen 25:21-26; Mal 1:2-3; Rom 9:10-16)

In sum, throughout redemptive history, God has never dealt with his people as mere individuals. A denial of God’s pattern of viewing certain persons in solidarity with another related person is tantamount to denying the very gospel, which teaches that, every individual is guilty by virtue of his relation to Adam, and all who come to be corporately joined to Christ are redeemed [see again Rom 5:12-21; 1Co 15:22].

 

V. The correlation between Circumcision in the Old Testament and Baptism in the New Testament

 

Circumcision was instituted,

1)      That it might be a sign of the grace of God to the posterity of Abraham and that for two reasons; because God would receive into the covenant those that believed on account of the Messiah, which was to come; and also, because he would grant them the land of Canaan, and there give his church a sure resting place until the Messiah would make his appearance.

2)      That it might be the means of binding Abraham and his posterity to gratitude, or to repentance and faith, and thus to the observance of the whole law.

3)      That it might be a badge of distinction between the Jews and other nations and religionists.

4)      That it might be the sacrament of initiation and reception into the visible church.

5)      That it might signify that all men are unholy by natural generation, and remind them of their natural uncleanness, and of the importance of guarding against all forms of sin, especially those which are in opposition to the law of chastity (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4).

6)      That it might be a sign to declare unto them that the way of deliverance from sin, would be through Christ, who would be born of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18).

Why circumcision was abolished

It was abolished because the thing which it signified became real; and also because it had been instituted for the purpose of separating the Jews from all other nations, which state of things ceased after the coming of Christ (Rom 2:10; 3:29; 4:12). It became necessary, therefore, that the type of circumcision should be abolished, when the Messiah made his appearance, and the nations of the earth were no longer to be separated, as they had been; for it is the part of a wise law-giver when certain causes are changed, to modify and change those laws and institutions which are depending upon these causes.

What there is in place of circumcision

Baptism occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament (Col 2:11-13). One sacrament succeeds another, when the one is abolished, and the other takes its place, in such a way as to signify the same thing by different rites, and to have the same design and use. This can be shown in the following:

a)      Baptism and circumcision both signify true faith and regenerate hearts

 

Deu 10:16; Deu 30:6; Jer 4:4; Jer 9:26; Rom 4:11 [Circumcision is here explicitly said to be sign of true faith, and yet it was commanded to be given to infants still too young to give a credible profession of faith; it therefore necessarily nullifies any argument that, if baptism signifies true faith, it must not, because of that reason, be given to infants who cannot give a credible profession of faith.]; Act 16:30-34; Tit 3:5 [It is likely that baptism is referred to here as a sign of regeneration, which truly purifies the heart as waters cleanse the body]; 1Pe 3:21 [Baptism is here called “an appeal to God,” and thus signifies true faith, as did Abraham’s circumcision (Rom 4:11).]

 

b)      Baptism and circumcision were both applied to adult converts who had previously been out of God’s Covenant.

 

Exo 12:48; Act 8:34-38

 

c)       When circumcision or baptism was first given to hitherto un-Covenanted persons, it was customarily given to families/households, not simply to individuals.

 

Gen 17:23-27; Act 2:38-39; Act 16:14-15; Act 16:31-34; 1Co 1:16 [although the cases of household circumcision clearly include infants and the cases of household baptism are ambiguous, the striking fact is still true that, insofar as the scriptural witness reveals, the canons of inclusion functioned in precisely the same manner; which gives warrant for believing that those canons of baptismal inclusion which are not addressed by definite scriptural example would likewise be identical with clear canons of circumcision-inclusion]

 

d)      Circumcision and baptism are explicitly identified in such a way that the latter, in this era, fulfills precisely the same function as the former had previously.

 

Col 2:11-13

VI. A summary of the argument thus far

a)      God’s relationship with man has always been in covenant

b)      This covenant has always been corporate, including both adult believers as well as their posterity

c)       God’s covenantal dealings with man have always been signified and sealed with visible signs

d)      In the Old Testament this sign and seal (i.e. sacrament) was circumcision, in the New Testament it is baptism.

e)      Baptism is rightfully to be administered to infants based on the corporate nature of God’s covenant of grace, as has been shown from Scripture.

f)       Covenantal infant baptism is therefore shown to be soundly deduced from Scripture.

It is therefore plain that, when considering Scripture as a whole, and the theological trajectories presented in it, that infant baptism is soundly deduced from it by good and necessary consequence. The rationale behind infant baptism therefore is evidently and unquestionably biblical.

VII. Historical evidence

Now that we have thoroughly considered the biblical support for infant baptism, we may now turn our attention to the historical evidence.

The first explicit evidence of children of believing households being baptized comes from the early Church—where infant baptism was uniformly upheld and regarded as apostolic. In fact, the only reported controversy on the subject was a third-century debate whether or not to delay baptism until the eighth day after birth, like its Old Testament equivalent, circumcision! (See quotation from Cyprian, below; compare Leviticus 12:2–3.) Only in the 16th century would Anabaptists, and later their spiritual descendents, Baptists, object to infant baptism. For over 1500 years, therefore, the entire church was in consensus with regards to the validity of infant baptism.

Consider, too, that fathers raised in Christian homes (such as Irenaeus) would hardly have upheld infant baptism as apostolic if their own baptisms had been deferred until the age of reason.

For example, infant baptism is assumed in Irenaeus’ writings below (since he affirms both that regeneration happens in baptism, and also that Jesus came so even infants could be regenerated). Since he was born in a Christian home in Smyrna around the year 140, this means he was probably baptized around 140. He was also probably baptized by the bishop of Smyrna at that time—Polycarp, a personal disciple of the apostle John, who had died only a few decades before.

a) Irenaeus (c. AD 140 – 202)

“He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age” (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).

“‘And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]” (Fragment34 [A.D. 190]).

b) Hippolytus (AD 170 – 235)

“Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them” (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D. 215]).

c) Origen (AD 184/185 – 253/254)

“Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. . . . In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous” (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 [A.D. 248]).

“The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit” (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).

d) Cyprian of Carthage (c. AD 200 – 258)

“As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born” (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).

“If, in the case of the worst sinners and those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this very reason does he [an infant] approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another” (ibid., 64:5).

e) Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 329 – 389/390)

“Do you have an infant child? Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood. From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Do you fear the seal [of baptism] because of the weakness of nature? Oh, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!” (Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7 [A.D. 388]).

“‘Well enough,’ some will say, ‘for those who ask for baptism, but what do you have to say about those who are still children, and aware neither of loss nor of grace? Shall we baptize them too?’ Certainly [I respond], if there is any pressing danger. Better that they be sanctified unaware, than that they depart unsealed and uninitiated” (ibid., 40:28).

f) John Chrysostom (c. AD 347–407)

“You see how many are the benefits of baptism, and some think its heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors [it bestows]! For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members” (Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]).

g) Augustine (AD 354 – 430)

“What the universal Church holds, not as instituted [invented] by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:24:31 [A.D. 400]).

“The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).

“Cyprian was not issuing a new decree but was keeping to the most solid belief of the Church in order to correct some who thought that infants ought not be baptized before the eighth day after their birth. . . . He agreed with certain of his fellow bishops that a child is able to be duly baptized as soon as he is born” (Letters 166:8:23 [A.D. 412]).

“By this grace baptized infants too are ingrafted into his [Christ’s] body, infants who certainly are not yet able to imitate anyone. Christ, in whom all are made alive . . . gives also the most hidden grace of his Spirit to believers, grace which he secretly infuses even into infants. . . . It is an excellent thing that the Punic [North African] Christians call baptism salvation and the sacrament of Christ’s Body nothing else than life. Whence does this derive, except from an ancient and, as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal? This is the witness of Scripture, too. . . . If anyone wonders why children born of the baptized should themselves be baptized, let him attend briefly to this. . . . The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration” (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:9:10; 1:24:34; 2:27:43 [A.D. 412]).

h) Council of Milevis (AD 416)

“[W]hoever says that infants fresh from their mothers’ wombs ought not to be baptized, or say that they are indeed baptized unto the remission of sins, but that they draw nothing of the original sin of Adam, which is expiated in the bath of regeneration . . . let him be anathema [excommunicated]. Since what the apostle [Paul] says, ‘Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so passed to all men, in whom all have sinned’ [Rom. 5:12], must not be understood otherwise than the Catholic Church spread everywhere has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith even infants, who in themselves thus far have not been able to commit any sin, are therefore truly baptized unto the remission of sins, so that that which they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration” (Canon 3 [A.D. 416]).

i) Council of Carthage (AD 418)

Item: It seemed good that whenever there were not found reliable witnesses who could testify that without any doubt they [abandoned children] were baptized and when the children themselves were not, on account of their tender age, able to answer concerning the giving of the sacraments to them, all such children should be baptized without scruple, lest a hesitation should deprive them of the cleansing of the sacraments. This was urged by the [North African] legates, our brethren, since they redeem many such [abandoned children] from the barbarians” (Canon 7 [A.D. 418]).

VIII. Conclusion

We see therefore that infant baptism isn’t some errant papist doctrine and practice that entered the church during the Middle Ages, but on the contrary, has its roots firmly in the Bible itself, and from there it flowed from the Apostles to the early church, from where it has continued by God’s grace and providence up to the present day. Perhaps its meaning became twisted by the papacy during the Middle Ages, and a number of superstitions were invented which robbed infant baptism from its biblical foundation, but during the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers went back to Scripture and the early church, just as I have done here, and rediscovered its true biblical meaning and significance. Today still, the rationale behind infant baptism in Reformed churches is the same as that which I have presented above. Let us therefore praise and thank God for the wonderful covenant of grace He has made with us and our children, and for baptism, the divine sign and seal of this covenant which He has in his infinite wisdom instituted for us.