Lewis and Clark (Just wanted to say that!) On White
Dr, James White has challenged Dr. R.Scott Clark to defend his remarks that baptists cannot be considered “reformed” in his recent blog entry. Dr. Clark does not need my help in doing so. I will leave that to him as a very capable theologian. However, while reading Dr. White’s post, my mind was drawn to our Form For the Administration of The Lord’s Supper, where it states, among other things, the grievous sins for which one ought to withhold one self from Holy Supper. The list includes, but is not limited to “all despisers of God, and of his Word, and of the holy sacraments”.
Now before we get all upset and say that it is unfair to apply these words to baptists (yes, even those that hold to the First or Second London Confessions), lets take a step back and see if the clothes make the man. If they do, then we need to let the objective Word of God speak. Let us also remember, that many of our baptist brethren, in holding the to the conviction of their own understanding of the Word, would withhold Holy Supper from any who had not been baptized. Consistent baptists would recognize that if their system of thought is true, and baptism means immersion, then to have been sprinkled (thus not immersed), would mean not baptism has actually taken place. And if baptism is a requirement of Communion, then only immersed persons will be admitted. Further, if baptism is to be applied only to those who have made a credible profession of faith, then persons who were baptized as infants were not the proper recipients of the right, and therefor, again, are not truly baptized. Many, if not most rank-and-file reformed baptist churches consistently hold this view, looking, in essence, upon those of us who hold to paedo-baptism, as “despisers of God, and of his Word, and of the holy sacraments” in our own right. We are disobedient, and in effect, rebellious. Especially those of us that understand both sides! That is why they deny us the sacrament of Holy Supper in their communion.
So let’s not get upset with the words of our form. The strict and particular baptist, as well as the reformed baptist hold us to the same standard we hold them to. It cuts both ways.
Dr. White, in his entry states this:
But I cannot tell you how often I hear my Presbyterian brethren handle this text in the exact same fashion as the Jehovah’s Witnesses handle John 14:28 (it ends up being merely “the Father is greater than I am”) or Arminians handle Matthew 23:37 (“how often I wanted to gather you but you would not”). The clear indication of tradition is seen in how Acts 2:39 is truncated in the thinking of my brothers so that it is simply “the promise is to you and to your children.” What is the promise? What is the context? Why leave off the rest of the sentence both in meaning and application? The promise is for the Jews who heard Peter, to their children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” The promise of forgiveness upon faith and repentance, along with the promise of the Holy Spirit, is for Jew (“you and your children”) and Gentile (“to all who are far off”) based upon God’s electing grace (“as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself”). Changing this to merely a statement about “you and your children” involves an eisegetical shift in hermeneutics that my Presbyterian brethren would never allow in discussing the Trinity, justification, or the resurrection, but when it comes to this one topic, all of a sudden things change.
First, I think it is incredible that Dr. White would compare the reasoning of the vast majority of the historic Reformed faith in Acts 2, to the reasoning methods of a cult. The remark is beyond unfair, its vitriolic. If I said that Dr. White’s handling of the text was in the exact same fashion as the Christadelphians would that be a sign of fair play? But Reformed theologians do not truncate the passage, they parse it, and that properly. Even Calvin recognizes that the the words of Peter in Acts 2:39 have far reaching implications. “And we must note these three degrees, that the promise was first made to the Jews, and then to their children, and last of all, that it is also to be imparted to the Gentiles” (Calvin on Acts 2:39) . But Calvin, and the rest of the historic Reformed faith recognizes that within the 3 degrees spoken by Peter, each degree has its own meaning, and Calvin rightly points out the Abrahamic reference in the first degree. That is the focal point of the debate, the context of the first clause, not the truncating of it. There is a big difference. Dr. White simply paints with a broad brush and insists, “The promise of forgiveness upon faith and repentance, along with the promise of the Holy Spirit, is for Jew (“you and your children”) and Gentile (“to all who are far off”) based upon God’s electing grace (“as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself”).” He goes on to say, “Changing this to merely a statement about ‘you and your children’ involves an eisegetical shift in hermeneutics…”. I do not know of a single Reformed or Presbyterian commentator of any note, dead or alive, that reduces this text to “merely a statement about ‘you and your children’ ”. Perhaps Dr. White is speaking about personal experience with some Reformed folk, but we desire to remain objective and look at the passage as it is historically understood by the faith of our fathers, and the sound exegesis produced by them.
Dr. White insists that we look at the context before we rule on the meaning. We agree. Context is key.
Who was standing before Peter and the other apostles during that sermon? Well a list is given to us in Acts 2, verses 9-11, “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”.
So in front of Peter on that wonderful day stood Jews and proselytes from many nations. Men and women who were devout in the religion of the Old Testament. And what was their understanding of the doctrine of the Covenant to that very moment? It was the understanding of Abraham. Genesis 17:7 “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.” For thousands of years, this was the understanding of the Covenant; it is the seed-bed of reasoning in the mind of the hearers. All that they are listening to from the lips of Peter is filtered through this ancient understanding. The baptist would like us to believe that the broad brush anabaptistic generalization of Acts 3:39 is the right one. However, Dr. White is the one engaging in eisegetical hermenutics by truncating 2000 years of pre-Christ theological understanding, and in essence placing in Peter’s mouth, “Look, I know that your children were in the covenant 2 months ago, but surprise! They’re now out.” Never mind that Peter employs Abrahamic language in verse 39. Never mind that he does not take time to explain to the hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jews listening to him that the most basic and fundamental aspect of the covenant has now been removed; that their children were “in” a few weeks ago, but now since the resurrection, they are no longer covenant members. No explanation, no reasons given by Peter. We just assume that they are now “out” based on a completely novel anabaptistic interpretation founded on a dispensational-esque hermeneutic with no place in serious exegeisis in 1600 years of the Christian Church. I think the Jew would have looked at Peter and said, “Thank you sir, but we will keep the covenant that our children are in.” In other words, why not let the bulk of sound systematization of the doctrine of the Co
venant for the past 2040 BC years stand, and 1600 years AD stand? Never mind engaging with Dr. White in all the exigetical apparati of the two sides that have been at a standstill for 450 years. That horse is beaten to death. We have books and minds, we can read the arguments on both sides. But our theological grid is everything. Context is everything, and in my mind, the deciding factor. Within our Reformed framework, the New Testament, and the New Covenant (read “renewed” and upon better promises), makes much better sense in light of Peter’s words and maintains the continuity of the covenant.
This will not change the minds of reformed baptists, but it should demonstrate why, on the subject of the sacrament of baptism, we cannot call them Reformed. Dr. Clark is right. Being Reformed IS defined by the Covenant. Baptists are wrong on the covenant. You do the math.