A NOTE ABOUT THIS TRANSCRIPT
The following sermon transcript does not match the video version of the sermon—it matches only the audio version. Here's a brief explanation why.
John MacArthur routinely preaches a sermon more than once on the same date, during different worship services at Grace Community Church. Normally, for a given sermon title, our website features the audio and video that were recorded during the same worship service. Very occasionally, though, we will post the audio from one service and the video from another. Such was the case for the sermon titled "Losing Your Life to Save it," the transcript of which follows below. The transcript is of the audio version.
One of the strange paradoxes in the church is that the world is full of baptized non-Christians, millions of them all over the planet, baptized non-Christians. While at the same time, the church is full of non-baptized Christians, like some of you. What a strange paradox that is. And it raises the issue of baptism and what it is and why people are so confused about it. We here at Grace Community Church understand baptism biblically. We understand its method, we understand its meaning. We have even through the years put baptisms on the radio, which no other ministry that I know of has ever done. We have, through the years, in the early days of our Shepherds Conference has taken one of the nights of Shepherds Conference to do baptisms. We had a baptism last week at the conclusion of the Truth Matters Conference. And essentially, just about every single Sunday night through the year right here we have testimonies of people being baptized. We understand what believer’s baptism is from Scripture.
But there’s a world of people who don’t get it, who don’t understand it. And there are people who don’t know that it is important and who don’t think the methodology is important, or even the time when a person is baptized. There are folks who are just plain confused about baptism, what is its method, and what is its meaning, and in particular, what about the baptizing of infants, which is how you get a world full of non-Christians who have been baptized as infants.
The church in recent years has become kind of media oriented. Many people come to Christ by listening to Christian radio, Christian television, going to some kind of big event, some kind of meeting, some kind of what is called a crusade or something like that. In situations like that they would hear nothing about nor have any opportunity for baptism, true believer’s baptism. These people typically float around and maybe go a little bit here and a little there from church to church and baptism never becomes an issue for them. Many churches are so designed to be pragmatic and baptism isn’t really a very pragmatic thing to introduce into people’s lives. And so it just gets left behind. Pragmatism has been the death of the sacraments, we might say. But what concerns me is that we need to understand baptism because it is in Scripture a command…a command. The Great Commission is very clear at the end of the gospel of Matthew in chapter 28, you know these words. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” All nations need to hear the gospel and those that believe need to be baptized.
Peter in the first sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 says, “Repent and be baptized.” On that day there were thousands of people, three thousand baptized, thousands more day after day after day in the early days of the church as it began to grow. It is clear in Scripture that Baptism is a requirement, it is a command, both to the individual believer and to the church. Still its confusion is widespread, hence millions of baptized non-Christians and perhaps millions of unbaptized Christians.
So I want to talk about baptism from the biblical viewpoint. I don’t want you to be ignorant of this issue and you won’t be after we have covered what we’re going to cover tonight and perhaps a little bit next week. You’re going to have to face the reality that this is a command and you are called to be obedient. You cannot be indifferent to it because it is a command. You could be defiant, unwilling, and it is very possible that you could be completely disinterested because you’re not willing at all to confess Christ openly and publicly.
But for those who are genuinely believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to understand what the Bible says about baptism. Much confusion over baptism has come from this phenomena called paedo-baptism, or baby baptism.
Where did this come from? And to get a proper separation from all that is untrue about baptism, to place yourself in the category of knowing what it really is so that you can be obedient to it, we need to talk a little bit about infant baptism. For those of you who are former Roman Catholics, you were probably baptized as a baby. For those of you who were raised by Presbyterian parents, or Lutheran parents, or Episcopalian parents, or Anglican parents, or Methodist parents and we can go pretty much down the line until we get to the Baptists, you were probably baptized as a baby, or there’s a good possibility that your parents believed in that.
What I’m saying is, this is widespread. It is part and parcel of the Roman Catholic system as well as the orthodox system, which was the Eastern Catholic Church. It is part and parcel of Reformed Protestant theology with the exception of those who have a view of baptism and identify themselves as such by calling themselves Baptists or those who identify with that view of baptism that we call believers, baptism. But for the most part, historically, Christianity has been marked by infant baptism. In fact, from about the fourth century on, infant baptism has been the norm in the Christian church. The Reformation in the 1500’s didn’t change that. So in that sense, it was an incomplete Reformation.
It was a few years ago that I was asked to speak on this subject, which I gladly did because there needed to be clarity in the minds of Reformed people over this issue.
Well, I was clear about it, and made a biblical case for it. And yet the tradition is so steep and deep that little change comes from that community. They continue to defend infant baptism.
You say, “Well, is it a big issue?”
It’s a huge issue, and I’m going to show you why. I’m going to give you five reasons why we must reject infant baptism, five reasons. Here’s the first one and this would be enough, infant baptism is not in the Scripture. Infant baptism is not in the Scripture. Scripture nowhere advocates or records any such thing as the baptism of an infant. It is therefore impossible to support infant baptism from the Bible. It is not in the Bible. There’s not an incident of it, there’s not a mandate, there’s not a call for it, there’s not a description of it. It doesn’t appear. In fact, if you go back in history, and I’m going to do that a little bit with you, you will find that historians have affirmed this fact. Theological leaders in generations past have affirmed this truth.
For example, Friedrich Schleiermacher, the German theologian wrote, “All traces of infant baptism which are asserted to be found in the New Testament must first be inserted there.” And he would come from a Lutheran tradition, but affirm…you would have to put it into the Bible because it isn’t there. The host of German and front-rank theologians and scholars of the Church of England have united to affirm not only the absence of infant baptism from the New Testament, but the absence from apostolic and post-apostolic writers. This is the Anglican Church, the Church of England that does infant baptism. This is the Lutheran Church that affirms and does infant baptism saying it’s not in the Bible.
It arose, first of all, started appearing in the second and third century, became normalized in the fourth century. B. B. Warfield who was a noted Presbyterian, Presbyterians do infant baptism, affirmed that infant baptism does not appear in the Scripture. We might think that if this is true that the Calvinistic regulative principle might be applied, the regulative principle of the Reformation said if Scripture doesn’t command it, it is forbidden. If Scripture doesn’t command it, it is forbidden, that was called the regulative principle.
How in the world did it stay when people recognized that it wasn’t in the Bible? Well it did. And it was no small issue. In point of fact, not only for twelve hundred years until the Reformation was it in place, the norm in the organized church, the Catholic Church, but even through the whole of the middle Ages it continued through the Reformation and out the other side, even until today. And during the middle Ages, severe ecclesiastical laws were created as part of the civil code. In Europe, nations were divided. There were Catholic nations, or countries, and Protestant countries. And there was no separation of church and state, the church and the state were one great sort of monolithic power. There were Catholic states and there were Protestant states. And everybody in a Catholic state was a Catholic by virtue of infant baptism. And everybody in a Protestant state was a Protestant by virtue of Protestant infant baptism.
And so, if you were in the country, you were not only under the civil code from a social standpoint but you were under the civil code from a religious standpoint. And rebaptism, rebaptizers were called Anabaptists. That’s what ana means, again, rebaptizers. And if you were a rebaptizer of somebody who was baptized as an infant, that was a capital offense…that’s right, a capital offense. It was an act against the state, against the state church and you could pay with your life.
It was considered a heresy worthy of death. Anybody who violated baptism as ordained in their country, whether a Catholic or a Protestant country, came under the punishment of this civil code. This was around for a long time. If you go back to the year 391 you read the following order from the emperors. “Whoever forsakes the holy faith and desecrates the holy baptism through heretical superstition shall be excluded from human society.”
In other words, if you go against infant baptism, you’re excluded from human society, may give no judicial evidence, can as has been before prescribed, make no will…you couldn’t leave a will, take possession of no inheritance or be appointed heir by no one. So if you came along and said believers need to come to the place of faith in Christ and then be baptized, which is what the New Testament teaches, you were persona non-grata in your society. The document also, this translated into English, says, “We would also banish such person to far distant places if we did not deem it a more severe punishment to make him dwell among men without having the pleasure of fellowship with them. But he shall never regain his former legal capacity, nor can he at any time make amends for his crime by repentance, nor hide the same under invented evasions and excuses because those who profaned the faith which they placed in God and as traitors to divine mysteries associate with the unbelieving, cannot be justified by tissues of lies. For one comes indeed to the help of the fallen and erring but to the infamous who profane the holy baptism, no amelioration can procure mitigation as in the case of other offenses.” You’re done if you affirm any other than an infant baptism. You are finished in the society.
A law of the Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II in the year 413 says, “If any person is convicted of having undertaken the rebaptism of a member of the Catholic Church, the one who has committed this shameful crime together with the one provided he is of accountable age who has allowed himself to be baptized shall be punished with death without mercy.” They executed the person who did the baptizing and the person who was baptized. As a result of the execution, something else would follow, the confiscation of all possessions. Further quoting from the writer Wormes, “Originally indeed these severe laws of the civil code were not issued for the defense of infant baptism, but were to secure the existence of the state church against rebaptism in any Christian circles. And the property of such persons was confiscated. They were branded violators of the civil law, punished by death and the loss of all property.”
Consequently, infant baptism reigned supreme because people didn’t want to lose their lives. The Catholic Church hated the Anabaptists even through the Middle Ages, the Reformers, the Reformed Church who got their soteriology right, hated the Anabaptists, the rebaptizers, because they bought into the Roman Catholic view of infant baptism. And one of the sad realities of the Reformation is that Reformers who believed in sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, sola Christus, all the solas, drowned people who baptized believers. You want to be baptized, we’ll put you down and won’t bring you up until you’re dead.
There were always those who believed in baptism, as the New Testament teaches it, Bohemian Brethren, Waldencians, pre-Waldencians, the broad name of Anabaptists which was a nickname meaning rebaptizers. And as I said, the Reformation didn’t provide any respite for this. We read. “But of these ideals, the Reformation period had little understanding and even in the newly formed Protestant Churches, freedom of conscience remained an unknown thing. Not only was it again laid down exactly what and how one must believe, but all other opinions and convictions in matters of faith were suppressed with iron energy. Luther’s original defense of the freedom of a Christian remained an unfulfilled demand. The right of free Christian individuality was an ideal that remained at that time unrealized.” This writer says, “The Reformation did not bring to an end the zeal for bloody persecution. On the contrary, it began a new era of tribulation, tears and blood and not less indeed in the regions of the churches that it separated from Rome than where the Roman Church continued to assert its way.”
In other words, the animosity and the persecution of these people who wanted to do baptism the way the Scripture says were persecuted both in Catholic and Protestant places. This persecuting zeal was directed very specially against the rebaptizers who rejected infant baptism and demanded a return to the original Christian mode of baptism taught in the New Testament.
So sometimes you hear people say, “Well, we need to agree on a lot of things, but baptism is a minor detail.” It’s not a minor detail if you’re about to be drowned for believing it. The city law for Hanover, Germany, and other German cities with the specific approval of Luther and Melanchthon, called for all rebaptizers to be beheaded. The Zwinglians and Baptists were to be flogged and banished from the city forever. They saw believers baptism as disrupting the national church, posing a threat to national solidarity and being a blasphemous heresy that would corrupt others and break the power of the nationalized church. All over Germany, rebaptizers were called devilish vermin and executed.
You know, it saddens the heart of a Protestant, let alone a Baptist like me, by conviction to read such judgments from the pen of a Catholic historian. But truth must be honored. So the sixteenth century church as we know it, the Reformed Church that we love for its soteriology, knew no tolerance for rebaptizers. Infant baptism was required as the only baptism and defended by fire, water and the sword.
You would have thought that if one of the great hallmarks of the Reformation was sola scriptura, that if they really believed that everything had to come from the Scripture, they would have set aside infant baptism since it wasn’t anywhere in the Bible. But in spite of its absence in Scripture, they defended it and practiced it as if it was biblical and the pressure was that the Catholics had these unified states that were unified both by political and military power, but also unified by religious power and everybody was a Catholic because you were baptized a Catholic. And so you were under the tyranny of the church and that way they controlled their populations which made them powerful forces. And the Protestant states that they didn’t do that would be weakened by disparity and diversion and they had to make sure that all their people were also part of everything and there was absolute solidarity so they could defend themselves against the Catholic nations. So they held on to something that I am convinced that even Martin Luther knew wasn’t in the Bible and wasn’t really right.
We expect the Roman Catholic Church to engage in such practices because the Roman Catholic Church is full of things that aren’t in the Bible, right? Of course, we know that. and they also believe in a whole source of revelation outside the Bible which they call Tradition, or the Magisterium, church councils, the Pope speaking ex cathedra. And it all carries equal weight with Scripture. And, of course, they are the only true interpreter of Scripture so they can twist and pervert the Scripture to make it say things that it obviously doesn’t say. We expect that from the Roman Catholic Church. We expect the Roman Catholic Church to come up with things that aren’t biblical.
But what is sad is that the Reformed Church never really filled up the Reformation. And when you debate this sometimes with them, they say, “Well, history tells us that the Reformers accepted that.” And when I hear that, I always say, “History is not a hermeneutic. History is not a principle of interpretation. It doesn’t matter what happened in history. A lot of things happen in history that can’t be viewed as the Revelation of God. Only honest hermeneutics, honest exegesis in the Scripture can yield the true meaning of Scripture. You can’t read habits into Scripture, you can’t read traditions into Scripture. History is no hermeneutic. History does not contribute to the true interpretation of Scripture. They will come back with this, “Well the Scripture doesn’t forbid infant baptism. The Scripture doesn’t forbid it.” That is really a very, very fragile argument. Are we supposed to affirm the reality of all kinds of things Scripture doesn’t forbid to justify that sprinkling babies as an act of Christian baptism is done because it’s not forbidden in Scripture and to standardize it, and imprint it with divine authority, though it’s a ceremony invented by men for the worst of political reasons is then to open the way to any ritual, any behavior, any ceremonial, any teaching or anything else that isn’t strictly forbidden by Scripture.
I go back to the regulative principle. If it’s not in the scripture, you can’t do it. Luther started out with his revolt against the Roman Catholic Church, drawing a line in the sand, he said this, “The Church needs to rid itself of all false glories that torture Scripture by inserting personal conceits into the Scripture. No…he said…Scripture, Scripture, Scripture for me constrain, press, compel me with God’s Word.” That’s a quote from Luther. But there are no scriptures.
Well, they say, “What about Matthew 18 where it says, ‘Except you become a little child, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’” I don’t read anything about baptism there. All that’s saying is childlike faith is necessary to come into the Kingdom.
Well what about Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16, “Let the little children come to Me for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I don’t see any baptism there. Our Lord is simply saying that God has a special care for children, not the children of believing parents and not baptized children. Jesus never baptized any children, nobody in the Bible ever baptized any children. Nobody was ever told to baptize children. All children were precious. The children that He held in His hand and blessed were not necessarily the children of believing parents and there is no baptism in any way…in any case anyway.
Well, searching for another Scripture, they come to Acts and 1 Corinthians. Wait a minute, five times in Acts and 1 Corinthians it talks about households being baptized, households being baptized. Some of them say that this is the act of solidarity in which a whole household is baptized…the father serves as a surrogate for the faith of the children, and so the father is baptized and then the mother and the others in the household, and the little ones are brought in and they’re baptized too under the Rubric or the protective umbrella of the faith of the father who is the surrogate for them and thus they’re baptized.
Well in those five places where it talks about households being baptized, it never mentions children ever. The first one is in the house of Cornelius and it says this, “All in his house heard the Word. The Spirit fell on all and all were baptized.” So the ones who were baptized were the ones who received the Holy Spirit because they heard the Word and believed. And the next time you have a household is in the sixteenth chapter of Acts in the jailor’s house, all heard the gospel and all were baptized. The ones who were baptized were the ones who heard the gospel and believed.
The next one, the eighteenth chapter, in the house of Crispus, all heard, all believed, all were baptized. Those who were baptized were those who believed because they heard. In the account of Lydia and Stephanas, the same thing would be true as in those very explicit texts. All hear the gospel, all believe the gospel, all receive the Holy Spirit, all are baptized. That’s what’s going on in the book of Acts. And there’s never a mention of a child.
In the Stephanas household of 1 Corinthians, all who were baptized, it says, 1 Corinthians 1, all who were baptized were devoted to the ministry of the saints. Compare that in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. They were all helping in the spiritual work of the church, 1 Corinthians 1:16. They were baptized. They were devoted to the ministry of the saints. They were helping in the spiritual work of the church. Therefore they weren’t infants.
In the case of Lydia in Acts 16, her heart was opened in response to hearing the gospel and she believed and those who heard with her in her house believed. There are no children mentioned. In fact, there’s no husband mentioned, and if there’s no husband mentioned, very possible she didn’t have any children.
You have another reference to this in John 4:53, he himself believed and his whole household, referring to the noble man whose son Jesus healed. He himself believed and his whole household. It doesn’t say anything about being baptized, it says about believing, the household believed. That’s the model…you hear, you believe, you’re baptized.
Acts 2:38 says, “Repent, be baptized for the remission of sins.” And then people point out that in the next verse which is verse 39, they might be talking about infant baptism, for the promises of you and your children. Oh come on. “Your children” is referring to the next generation of Jews because it also says, “For your children and for all who are afar off.” Who are those that are afar off? Gentiles. The reference is to…the promise is for you and your children, that is generation after generation of Jews and to the Gentiles, the ones who are far off. This isn’t about Baptism…not about baptism at all, it’s about the promise of salvation to future generations of Jews and Gentiles.
So those would be the touchstone texts that people would use to defend infant baptism. You can’t find an infant in any of them and you certainly can’t find a baptism of any infant. One other one is 1 Corinthians chapter 7 and I’m just touching these because this is how people try to defend what isn’t in the Bible as if it were. “If a brother has a wife who is an unbeliever,” 1 Corinthians 7:12, “she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.” Don’t just divorce your unbelieving wife because she’s not a believer. Verse 13 turns it the other way, “A woman has an unbelieving husband and he consents to live with her, she shouldn’t send her husband away.” That was the question in the early church. People coming to Christ, do I dump my unbelieving spouse? No…no. Verse 14, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife. The unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband, otherwise your children are unclean and now they are holy, or separated.”
What is that saying? That is simply saying not that your husband should be baptized and your children should be baptized, though unconverted, but rather that if you as a believer are living with a husband and children that are non-believers, the blessings that flow to you will spill over to them. There is no mention of baptism whatsoever.
So the bottom line is those would be the passages people would go to to try to defend the infant baptism biblically, and they just don’t work...just don’t work at all. The full counsel of God is either expressly set forth in Scripture, explicitly set forth in Scripture, or the full counsel of God can be necessarily compellingly and validly deduced by good and logical consequence. But it has to be necessary, compelling, inescapable, good, and logical consequence like the fact that though the Bible doesn’t mention the Trinity, that is clearly what the Bible teaches that God is a Trinity. There are no arguments for infant baptism explicitly and there are no arguments that are necessary, inescapable, clear and compelling from Scripture…none whatsoever.
So the first point to make is that infant baptism is not in the Bible. It’s not in the Bible. Infant baptism is not biblical.
Point two, infant baptism is not baptism…it’s not New Testament baptism. This may surprise you, it’s nothing, it’s totally meaningless. Well you might have got emotional when you took your little child in there ‘cause you love your little child and you hope the best for him, or her. But as far as the spiritual condition of that child, it had absolutely no effect whatsoever. Infant baptism is not in the Bible, it is not New Testament baptism. And this is an uncontestable fact because when you do go in to the Bible in the New Testament and you talk about baptism and you study baptism, it is absolutely crystal clear what baptism is. The only people who are ever baptized in the New Testament are people who have come to faith in Christ. And baptism is always immersing them in water, it is never sprinkling water on their heads from a tiny little fountain.
Two verbs express this reality, bapto and baptidzo. Those two verbs are used when baptism is referred to. They mean to immerse, to dip down. The noun, baptisma is always used in Acts to refer to a believer being immersed in the water. Sprinkling is a completely different word, rhantismos, completely different word, never used to describe a believer’s baptism in the New Testament, never. Even Calvin who baptized babies wrote, “The word baptize means to immerse. It is certain that immersion was the practice of the early church,” end quote.
This ordinance was so designed by God and conveyed by the correct, inspired words to fit the symbolism of the ordinance. Immersion is commanded of every believer as a picture, as an object lesson, as a symbol, as a visual analogy of a spiritual reality. It is the way that God designed to publicly declare the truth of personal salvation. What does it symbolize when a person is immersed, submerged? Clearly unmistakably throughout the New Testament, Christian baptism is a picture of the union of a believer in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. That is clear from Romans 6, Galatians 2, Galatians 3, Colossians 2.
When you come to faith in Christ, you are placed into union with Christ. You are immersed into Him and therefore you are in Him in His death, His burial and His resurrection. Romans 6 makes that clear. “We were crucified with Him, buried with Him and we’ve risen with Him to walk in newness of life.” This is spiritually symbolized in water baptism. Immersion into water was and is the inseparable outward sign of a believer’s union with Jesus Christ. That’s why you go into all the world to preach the gospel to everybody, baptizing them…that’s the public confession of their union with Christ in a beautiful dramatic way. The only other ordinance ever given to the church is the Lord’s table. We can love the Lord, we can go to the cross, we can celebrate His death, we can rejoice in His death, we can seek forgiveness of sins, repent, confess without the Lord’s table but He’s told us to do that as a public declaration, a public proclamation, a visual remembrance of the cross. When we take that bread it’s His body, we drink that cup as a symbol of His blood, we understand that symbolism. That is true with baptism. You can make a confession of Christ, you can be a true believer and not be baptized. But you are being disobedient at that point, just as you are if you absent yourself from the Lord’s table because that is a way that the Lord has ordained for you to openly declare the union between yourself and Him in the great reality of His death, burial and resurrection.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two solemn acts which the Lord has appointed for His church and the church has the sacred duty to persevere and administer these precious institutions throughout its life. How horrible is it to imagine that people who believe in the true gospel would execute people for being baptized in the way they’re commanded to be baptized in Scripture. Horrible.
The significance of Baptism is unmistakably clear. In our day, an open solemn confession of the crucified risen Lord is necessary. All who experience the reality of the power of the risen Savior should give this public testimony to His glory as an act of obedience. In biblical Baptism in the New Testament manner, believers not only give testimony to their union with Christ…listen to this…they give testimony to their thoughtful, careful, submissive obedience to the holy Scripture in which nothing could be treated as unimportant.
Furthermore, in biblical Baptism, believers testify to a redeemed church. I’ll say more about that. We testify to a redeemed church, a church being made up only of those who have made that open and public confession because they are truly in union with Christ. By biblical Baptism, believers give fundamental rejection of all human regulations through which clear biblical teaching has been obscured or curtailed or supplanted. By biblical Baptism, the church signifies a public renunciation of the nominal and mass Christianity of these massive institutions. By biblical Baptism, the church calls for the reintroduction and practice of biblical New Testament church order and discipline.
This is very, very important. Every expression in the New Testament concerning Baptism assumes that the convert receives Christ, renounces former life, embraces Him as Lord and is willing and eager to make that public confession. That’s the true believer, and that leads to an understanding of the true church.
In every case of New Testament Baptism, true saving faith, personal salvation is presupposed. It can’t function in the case of infants. It is nothing more than a bizarre fabrication.
Thirdly, infant Baptism is not in the Scripture, it’s not New Testament Baptism, and it is not, please, a replacement sign for the Abrahamic mark of circumcision. One of the other things that Reformed people say is that infant Baptism takes the place of circumcision. I’ve heard that argument for years. So my response is, what verse says that? Where is it? Show me the verse. Where in the Bible does it say, by the way, Baptism is a replacement of circumcision? Where does it say that? It doesn’t say that anywhere. That is a fairly large assumption. There are no cases of infant Baptism. There is no description of infant Baptism. There is no call for infant Baptism. And now you’re telling me we have to do it, it is mandated and this is what it means. And you’re telling me that it means something the Bible doesn’t say it means. How could the Bible say it means anything when the Bible doesn’t say anything about it?
These baby baptizers or paedo-Baptists as they’re often called, nonetheless, without scriptural support are left to some kind of inferential evidence based on supposed covenantal considerations. They say, “Well it replaces circumcision in the Old Testament. You know, it’s almost hard to argue against that because it’s just so totally off the wall. Since there’s nothing in the Bible that says that, why would they even conclude that?
Let me help you with circumcision for just…in a brief way. We don’t have time to talk a lot about it. Every Jewish baby boy was circumcised, every one of them. It was a sign that they belonged to the people called the Jews. It was a sign that they belonged to the nation Israel. It was not a sign of salvation. Right? Not a sign of salvation. What did Paul say in Romans 9? “Not all Israel is Israel.” He even said in Romans 9, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” Most Jews are under divine judgment. They were in the past, they were a rebellious, apostate, idolatrous, unfaithful, disloyal nation. And among that entire nation of circumcised people, there was a small remnant that believed. Now follow me.
If you make infant Baptism the substitute sign for circumcision, does that mean then that we now have a church that is a false church, or a rebellious church, or an unbelieving church, or an apostate church but it’s still a church and somewhere in the middle there’s a remnant of true believers? You see, circumcision was only a sign that people belonged to an ethnic group, a group called Jews, a nation called Israel. It said nothing about their spiritual condition. Baptism is always tied to salvation. There’s no parallel. There’s no connection.
Circumcision didn’t apply to girls. Circumcision was really a gift from God to protect Jewish women from forms of infection, to protect and preserve the nation. Say at all about their spiritual condition. If Baptism was a substitute for that, why didn’t Paul make his life so much easier by saying to all the Judaizers who were running all over everywhere demanding people to be circumcised, “Wait a minute. You guys don’t get it. Baptism replaces that.” That would have ended the argument. Then the Judaizers would have been satisfied. It never says that.
But that is exactly what people believe who baptize babies. That in the same way every Jewish boy, and this doesn’t answer the question of what about the girls, was circumcised, every baby should be baptized as circumcised boys were then in the covenant community of Israel, circumcised boys are in the covenant of Israel, baptized babies enter into the covenant community of the church. And when I ask them, “What do you mean by that?” It gets really strange.
They don’t want to say, “Well, it just means you get external membership and rights and privileges, it’s like being in Israel ‘cause there is no such national identity, there’s no ethnic identity.” The only Baptism that the New Testament knows anything about is the Baptism of people who put their faith in Christ. And since infants haven’t done that, what does this mean?
Well, there are people who believe that it saves them. It saves them. And so they serve their babies paedo-communion. They put the bread in a cup in a blender and feed it to their infant. It’s called presumptive regeneration. That’s the viewpoint that if your baby has been baptized, your baby must be presumed to be regenerate. I’m regenerate. My wife, Patricia, is regenerate and I will promise you with our four children, it was easy to presume that they were not regenerate, from the very beginning. It would have been a well-nigh impossible to make the presumption that our children were regenerate and shirk the responsibility to bring them to the true knowledge of Christ.
There is no connection in the New Testament whatsoever in any way, shape or form between circumcision as a physical mark identifying an ethnic people, a kind act on God’s part to protect them for the sake of pro-generation. And also to demonstrate their depravity and their sinfulness. That is one thing and it ceased.
Paul even went so far as to say, “If you’re circumcised, grace is no more grace. You’ve abandoned Christ.” Circumcision never transfers itself into Baptism at all…at all. And if we say that all these baptized babies form a covenant community, then we’ve got a strange kind of hybrid in the church…follow this…we’ve got some kind of a church made up of baptized people who aren’t really converted. And that’s what I said at the very beginning. The world is full of millions of these baptized people. Where do they belong?
Let me tell you something. This gets really difficult for people in the Anglican Church, people in the Episcopalian Church, people in these denominations, even Protestant denominations do this…what state are these people in? Are they all going to go to heaven?
I was locked up in a room for seven hours as one of the most well-known Reformed theologians on the face of the earth. At the end of seven hours, they said okay. What do you have to believe to be a Christian? You say, “If you’re in the church, you’re in the community of faith and you’re okay. What do you have to believe to be a true Christian, to which he replied, “That’s a good question,” and wouldn’t give me an answer. That comes right out of that kind of concept. There’s this idea that they’re sort of federally included. It gets to the point where salvation is a collected thing and you get into the collected saved group by infant Baptism.
How this could survive in a Reformed community where people hold on to the doctrine of justification by faith and all the solas is hard to understand. But eventually what it will do, it will eat away at the doctrine of justification and the people who are now coming out bold and strong for this kind of collective salvation, N.T. Wright and others, all the way down to many others in many forms. There’s sort of this collective community of believing people brought in by Baptism will eventually jettison the true doctrine of justification by faith and individual personal salvation.
It does matter what you believe about this. It matters a lot because it confounds, and this is the fourth thing I want to say, it confounds the nature of the church. Infant Baptism is not in the Scripture, it is not New Testament baptism, it is not the New Testament equivalent to circumcision. And infant Baptism is not consistent with the nature of the church. Infant Baptism confuses hopelessly the church. You can’t distinguish between believer and non-believer. The local church becomes the true church. The baptized become the church. Paedo-Baptism, to say it another way, destroys the reality of a regenerate church.
You’d be amazed how many people who are clear-minded on the doctrine of justification have an ecclesiology that’s completely confused. Who’s a Christian? A baptized person? Is that a true child of God? Is that a true church? Is that a true church but a weak true church? And are we who are true believers sort of the pure in the midst of the impure, but all a part of the church. Again, the world is full of baptized people who are indifferent, blasphemous, haters of Christianity, not in the church at all, no interest in it.
What are we to think of them? What are they? To be in the church, you must put your trust in Christ. At the beginning, when Luther sort of led the Reformation, he had a lofty idealism, some writers say. He was contending for Christianity that would embrace freedom and renounce force and live only by the Word of God and by the Spirit of God. To him, in the early days, as to us, the Scripture was the only standard for all issues of personal life, including the issue of Baptism. Let me quote Luther.
“I say that God wants no compulsory service. I say it a hundred-thousand times. God wants no compulsory service, no one can or ought to be compelled to believe for the soul of a man is an eternal thing, above all that is temporal. Therefore only by an eternal word must it be governed and grasped for it is simply insulting to govern in God’s presence with human law and custom, neither the Pope nor a Bishop nor any other man has the right to decree a single syllable concerning a Christian, apart from his consent. All that comes to pass otherwise comes to pass in the spirit of tyranny,” end quote.
You can’t force anything on any one, superimpose on them some required religious duty, not in Scripture. That’s how Luther started. However, by 1527 he turned back to the state church because he was afraid he needed to maintain oneness of doctrine in order to maintain solidarity and power, political military power. So as it had through the Dark Ages from the fourth century on, the church became buried in the state church and essentially the state church extinguished the true church.
It didn’t take long for the true church in Europe to just disappear altogether. Infant Baptism served the state power and eventually obliterated the true church. The only way you know what the true church is, is by personal faith in Christ. The testimony to that is given in Baptism.
Oh I could say more about that, but our time is gone. So I think I have one more here and I’ll just make this brief. Infant Baptism is not consistent with Reformation soteriology…not consistent with Reformation soteriology. What do I mean by that?
The Reformers rediscovered the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone…the doctrine of justification. The doctrine of imputation, that our sins are placed on Christ in His death, and His righteousness is given to us. This is imputation. This is the great doctrine. Faith alone is the condition by which salvation is received, faith alone…faith alone.
Here is the Reformed Heidelberg Catechism, seventy-fourth question, “Shall one baptize young children also? Yes, for they, as well as the old people, appertain to the covenant of God in His church and in the blood of Christ the redemption from sins and the Holy Spirit who works faith has promised not less than to the older.” Baptize them because they’re promised salvation in the Holy Spirit.
“Therefore shall they also through Baptism as the sign of the Covenant be incorporated in the Christian church and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as in the Old Testament took place by circumcision.” See, they’ve got this confounding connection to circumcision. “And now they’re placing them in the Christian church, bringing them under the blood of Christ, the redemption from sin, the work of the Spirit who produces faith and it’s promised to them in the same way that it’s promised to older people.”
That’s Lutheran. That’s out of the heritage of Luther. Luther finally wound up having to defend the fact that infants have faith. He said, “The Anabaptists are right, the Baptism without faith profits nothing, and that thus in fact children ought not to be baptized if they have no faith.” We agree with that. Luther said, “The Lord says most decidedly, ‘He who believes not shall be damned. But the assertion of the Anabaptists is false, the children cannot believe. If children are to be baptized, they must be able to believe, they must have faith,” end quote.
How could a child have faith? With Luther, it was the vicarious faith of the parents or the godparents. That’s where godparents came from, surrogate parents whose faith would intercede on behalf of the child. With Luther, vicarious faith of the parents or the godparents wasn’t enough. He even went further and said, “The children themselves must believe. If one asks how is that possible? One receives the answer, the Holy Spirit helps them to believe. The Holy Spirit comes to the children in the holy Baptism by this bath of regeneration He has richly poured out on them.”
Martin Luther? Who discovered salvation by grace alone, through faith alone and Christ alone? Some even called it unconscious faith. So there were those who were holding to surrogate faith on the part of parents and godparents…that wasn’t enough for Luther.
The great mark of the Reformation was justification…justification not by sacrament, not by ceremony, not by symbol. Justification by faith through grace, how could they understand that and then come up with something like infant Baptism which by a rite on a baby confers to that baby salvation? Infant Baptism is nothing, has no saving efficacy, delivers no grace, confers no faith, is a symbol of nothing. It is absolutely and totally pointless.
It leads to ritualism, confusion and false security. You know, the Reformers cry wasn’t tradition, tradition, tradition. It wasn’t the fathers, the fathers, the fathers. What was it? We read it earlier? Scripture, Scripture, Scripture. We believe what we believe because that’s what Scripture teaches. Well, that’s enough for the night. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for Your Word again. We don’t try to pick a fight with people for the sake of antagonism, but of necessity we need to speak the truth and make the truth clear, unmistakable as it’s revealed in Your Word. This devilish conduct of infant Baptism has survived through two thousand years of church life from very early on, the third century, embedded in the fourth and still here. We could only ask, Lord, that the Reformation would be a complete Reformation. There would be no confusion about the true church. This is so important that we know who the true church is…that people not be confused. People not think they’re saved because they received some rite as an infant, parents not think they’re children are saved because of that. Help us to be faithful to the truth, proclaim the gospel. And those who believe, may we be faithful to be obedient and be baptized and make that profession of faith, confessing You before men that we might be confessed by You before Your Father who is in heaven. Thank You for a wonderful day and this wonderful church, great fellowship. Now as we spend some time together, enrich that time and bless every person who is here with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ, we pray in His name. Everybody said…Amen…Amen.
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