Monday, January 27, 2014

Relationship Evangelism

Q: Are you against relationship evangelism? If so, why? So many books and ministries recommend and teach it!

A: At the beginning, it's important to point out that often when people ask this question or raise this criticism against the evangelism methods that Fourth Year Ministries (and other, like-minded organizations) endorse and teach, there is an underlying belief that thinks we are against relationships. We are not against relationships. We are, however, for evangelism and much of what is taught and presented as "relationship evangelism" is not really "evangelism" at all! It is relationship. It is "life-on-life." But it's not evangelism.

Secondly, I must state clearly that I am not persuaded even a little by the amount of people who like relationship evangelism. To be swayed by the numbers of people who hold to a particular view or belief system is a mistake. I've heard commercials for products claiming, "50 million people can't be wrong!"

Yes. Yes, they can be.

Therefore, for our purposes we are not interested in the amount of people who hold to a particular view, but are instead only swayed by what we see in the Bible. God is our Master and King, and we are His Ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:6-21). We get our marching orders from Him, meaning the content and methodology we employ in His service ought to be taken from His revelation of what He expects. We are not interested in any man-made models - despite the supposed "fruit" that is found - because we are called to walk by faith, not by sight.

By sight, Stephen's message recorded in Acts 7:1-54 was a disaster. However, what everyone else missed, Stephen saw:

But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. (Acts 7:55-57, NASB)

As the blood-thirsty mob murdered him in a rage, Stephen saw His Lord and Savior standing (!!) from His throne to receive him!

Jesus was pleased with His servant's faithfulness, even though the crowd was not.

As we walk by faith, not by sight, we must ask ourselves the same question the Apostle Paul asked:

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

It is a product of our study of the Scriptures that we have come to the conclusion that the gospel message is clear (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Galatians 1:1-5; Romans 3:21-26), that our task is to preach the gospel in purity and faithfulness (1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 4:5) as stewards of God's truth (Jude 1:3; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 9:17), knowing that the gospel itself if the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18) and that no one can believe unless they hear, and they will not hear unless someone tells them (Romans 10:14-15)!

Since we hold these things to be true, our ministry and teaching would never be against relationship evangelism. On the contrary, we are very much for the Christian actually sharing the gospel with every single person with whom the Lord has given them a relationship! If you have a relationship with someone, by all means you should explicitly use that relationship to glorify God by opening your mouth and proclaiming to them the whole message of the good news you've been entrusted.

This, of course, is where the majority of disagreement is held. For whatever reason, many in the professing church have believed that something other than the faithful proclamation and explanation of the gospel is what God is now using to bring about salvation.

It is our opinion that such liberty with the Word of God is not ours to take. We are not editors of the message. We are heralds. It's not our message to change, and we cannot improve upon God's ordained methods!

Yet, most training materials, books, and conversations that I've had with others that recommend some form of "relationship evangelism" have really advocated for "relationship" without "evangelism" by inserting some other means or method for bringing someone to Christ without proclaiming the gospel.

My understanding of these models is that often well-meaning Christians have mistakenly believed that there is a better way to advance the kingdom of God and make disciples than what the prophets, apostles, and Jesus Himself advocated and practiced.

Our methods Our relationships Our testimony Our cleverness of speech Our opinions Our effort Our earnest desires The gospel is the power of man God for salvation to everyone who believes (see Romans 1:18).

The reason people ask a question like the one above, is because we would never teach that "having relationships" with non-believers is itself "evangelism." Instead, we teach that Christians must employ the tools God has given us in actually proclaiming the entire counsel of God to those who are still in their sins if they would hope to come to repentance and saving faith in the Savior. We should do this out of love for neighbor and love for God, in response to His great love with which He loved us in Christ, in every relationship we have and also making the most of other opportunities as well!

The Scriptures indicate that the gospel is divisive (Luke 12:49-53), and telling our unsaved friends, family members and loved ones the truth that they are living in rebellion against God and His law, are currently under His wrath, that He commands them to repent and trust in Him alone for salvation, and confess that God would be right to send them to Hell forever and ever for their crimes against Him is going to cause some relationship problems. For those who remain unconverted, they will likely be offended because this news is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23; Galatians 5:11; 1 Peter 2:6-8). I believe it is out of a genuine desire to keep loved ones in their lives that well-meaning Christians cling to relationship "evangelism" strategies that are less likely to cause division and result in rejection.

Sometimes verses are brought forth to argue against the above paragraph which state the Christian is not to be offensive to the non-Christian. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:32 and 2 Corinthians 6:3 are used out of their context to say we should wait until a person is ready for the good news and receptive, but these passages do not mean that we should not preach the gospel -- instead, they are teaching that we should bend over backwards to make sure that nothing in our life is offensive to others since we don't want anything to distract from our ability to hold the gospel high! In your conduct and speech you should not be offensive, yet the message we bring is offensive to some (and the power of God to others). This is not contradictory, but complementary. For example, our compassion for people should lead to us expressing these hard truths with compassion and grace (being non-offensive in our delivery of offensive truth) instead of being hateful and prideful in our approach and pointing fingers or raising our voices (which is being offensive in our delivery of offensive truth).

See the difference?

Our major objections to "relationship evangelism" models that have no priority of proclaiming the gospel in faithfulness as quickly as possible into the relationship can be listed as follows.

First, we are not God, therefore we have no idea what the future holds. The sober reality is that our "plan" to share the gospel in three months (or even just tomorrow!) may never be possible for many different reasons. Can you guarantee that you will be alive tomorrow? Can you guarantee that anyone else will be alive tomorrow?

Some object to this, thinking it is morbid. But truly think for a moment: can you guarantee that you'll have the time you are banking on? Do accidents never happen? Do people always have ample notice that their death is near? While these types of scenarios may be rare in your experience, peoples lives are cut short all the time.

If you're not persuaded by this line of reasoning, and for whatever reason believe that you can guarantee that you and the people you know will live long lives beyond today, then take into account Jesus' own counsel:

And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30)

Can you guarantee that Jesus won't come back before you have the opportunity to share the truth with those you know who aren't in Christ and, therefore, are in horrible danger of the judgment of God?

Do you believe that what the Scriptures declare are true? If so, we cannot know when Christ will return, and therefore you cannot know if those you have relationship with will have an opportunity "tomorrow"! I urge you to really consider the truth of passages like Psalm 2:1-12; Nahum 1:1-9; Malachi 4:1; Hebrews 10:30-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-12; 2 Peter 3:3-12; and Revelation 6:14-17 and consider the fate of your loved ones who have not repented and sought refuge in Jesus from the wrath that is to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). John 3:36 is clear.

Sometimes, I believe "relationship evangelism" strategies appeal to us because deep down we love ourselves more than we love others. Since we love ourselves, we are not willing to lose our relationships because we value what we get out of them. We may use language that deflects from this reality and says we are trying to protect others from harsh truth, but how can we say we love someone when we aren't willing to warn them of their terrible danger?

Many people whom I care about believe me to be a fool. Many people whom I care about have rejected me along with their rejection of Christ. Many people I care about hate my guts.

But I still love them.

And I care enough about them to tell them the truth, even if they hate me for it. If they must perish, their blood will not be on my hands (Ezekiel 3:16-21; 33:1-20). I want them to be saved more than I want them to like me.

And it really hurts that so many of my relationships have been broken.

But at the same time, the only thing I know for sure about the future is that the whole world is steadily marching toward the Day of Christ Jesus, where Jesus will justly judge the world in righteousness. I tremble at the fate of all those who are not redeemed and am compelled to speak the truth in love to all who will listen and even to those who will not.

Secondly, the claims of "relationship evangelism" are not accurate. Building a deeper relationship with someone does not make it easier to share the gospel with them, but it actually makes it harder. The reason for this is simple and two-fold. First, the deeper our relationship with someone the less we want to risk losing it. Secondly, we undermine the reality of what we are sharing by virtue of maintaining a relationship for so long without telling them sooner!

Consider this: If I am drinking poison, which will kill me, and I don't realize it and you see me doing it, I expect you would tell me. Like, right away. If you don't tell me, but instead begin a relationship with me where we talk about everything other than the poison I'm drinking ... by the time we get around to it, I will doubt your own conviction that what I was doing is dangerous simply by virtue of the fact that it took you so long to get to it! Do you not care that I was in terrible danger? Do you not care that I was perishing? Do you not care that the longer I endured in that state, the worse I was making things for myself?

Relationship evangelism does the very thing that it seeks to avoid, it causes stumbling by undermining its own message if and when the Christian finally gets around to faithfully sharing the truth!

Of course, experience can be pointed to of people "coming to Jesus" through "relationship evangelism" and this cannot be disputed. God has used and will use all sorts of disobedience in the lives of His people for the praise and glory of His name. However, we cannot use our experiences to dictate our practice and advocate disobedience to God simply because it has "worked" before!

We are open to being shown our error through the Scriptures, if we are in error. We are open to someone loving us enough to open their Bible and sit down with us to show us where we are mistaken in believing that the gospel doesn't need our help, it just needs our faithfulness. And if we won't be faithful, God will raise up another generation who will be. Sadly, most are not willing to offer a biblical case. Instead, the case for "relationship evangelism" (without boldly speaking the truth) is advocated through experience and "proof-texts" ripped from their context and abused. These examples are too numerous to list here.

In summary, our ministry teaches that Christians should employ their relationships for the glory of God by being faithful to preach the truth of the gospel in those relationships (Acts 17:26-27; Ephesians 5:15-16). If this is all most Christians ever did, then there would be far less need for street preaching and witnessing. However, simply because we've been faithful in our relationships doesn't mean that we can't seek new relationships, even by meeting strangers with the purpose of sharing the gospel with them. We've found that those who are converted through this type of ministry often form deep and lasting relationships with those who have led them to Christ as they enter the Body of Christ! In this way, the relationship begins around the gospel and will endure throughout eternity!

A final aspect of this question must at least be mentioned, and it relates to a difference in a theology of discipleship. Many "relationship evangelism" models build their model on the idea that Christ commanded His followers to "make disciples" and therefore, building relationships with non-believers is a valid form of "discipleship" through exposing the outsider to what it means to follow Jesus, even if the gospel is never fully proclaimed in one conversation or discussion. Instead, over time the gospel is lived out in the relationship under the banner of "discipleship."

We believe this is a mistake. The risen Lord's commandment was this:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

If we read the activity of Jesus and the disciples throughout the Gospel of Matthew, they were preaching repentance and faith in the Messiah. For those who wanted to repent and follow God, they were baptized as an initiation into the faith. Read carefully: Jesus says Go, Baptize, Teach. Go and preach. To those who respond, initiate them into the faith through baptism. Then, teach those who have been initiated to obey everything He has commanded (which includes "going" and "preaching repentance and faith").

To skip the gospel and skip the initiation, and jump right to the "teaching" aspect of making disciples is a serious leap! In fact, this is precisely the error that we believe Jesus told His disciples to avoid when He said:

"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6)

The gospel is the only thing that non-believers need. You can dress up a goat like a sheep and pretend that you are making disciples, but you are not. Only the transformative power of God can raise the spiritually dead to life and transfer them from darkness to light (Ephesians 2:1-10). We believe the Scriptures teach that God does this powerful and miraculous work through the faithful proclamation of the gospel by God's people.

Sadly, not everyone who makes a profession of faith will endure until the end, but will fall away when the road gets hard (e.g. Matthew 13:18-23). This won't win me any friends, but I must speak according to what I believe the Word teaches, and I view virtually every "relationship evangelism" model as an attempt to tickle the ears of "disciples of Christ" who are unwilling to face persecution for their faith.

Don't want to find out if you're one of the seed that was sown on rocky soil (Matthew 13:20-21)? Relationship evangelism is the method for you! You'll never have to worry about your friends or family thinking you're stupid or foolish! Strangers don't even have to know that you're a Christian! No one will afflict you or persecute you because you'll only "share" when someone asks!

On the contrary, how did Paul know that Timothy was a genuine follower of Christ?

For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (Philippians 2:20-22)

Any model of evangelism that seeks to eliminate the difficult part or offers you a way to avoid persecution or rejection (2 Timothy 3:12!) is really no evangelism model at all.

I know it's a hard word, but the Church must hear what Jesus said:

"Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:32-39)

If we want to be genuine followers of Jesus, we must be willing to lose everything else (including our relationships) so that He will be glorified. In many cases, the Lord uses our faithful stewardship of the gospel in our relationships to bring those we most love into fellowship with the Savior. Other times, those we love most will despise us for telling them the truth. I wish this weren't the case, but it is.

Even so, let us be found faithful to Him who loved us and shed His blood for our salvation.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Infant Baptism?

Q: I am trying to look at this objectively. I have, in my life, been taught both - infant baptism as well as adult. I personally believe in adult baptism because it is what I see and read in scripture. However, I do not know the history (with John the baptist and before him) and also regarding early church writings.

My question in short is: What does God say, in His Word, regarding baptism?

Feel free to use (or not use this) this article making a case for infant baptism which I was recently given.


A: Another really great and important question! Before reading this post, I strongly encourage everyone to read the article linked to by Pastor Bucher above in full so that you can get a feel for the arguments being made. I will necessarily have to summarize, and I would hate to have anyone think that I have mischaracterized the position of another!

The author of the article above makes a very important observation at the beginning of his case, pointing to the reality that this issue has Christians on both sides, each claiming that their position is the one presented in the Scriptures. Of course, after making his case, the author then claims that he has decisively shown that the Scriptures are on his side, and that to disagree is to cast your lot with "Lord Reason" (that is, with your own human intellect) and not with the Lord Jesus. After weighing his argument, the strength of his conclusion is more than his arguments merit.

Since the Questioner is asking about this particular argument, let's start with a brief interaction of the points made.

"Christ commanded infant baptism in Matthew 28:19"

If you simply open your Bible to Matthew 28:19 and read it, you'll probably be confused as to where Christ commanded that the Church baptize infants when He said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

The argument is made that the phrase "all nations" is understood elsewhere to mean everyone "regardless of race, color, sex, age, class, or education" in the Scriptures is pretty true as far as it goes (more specifically, it means non-Jewish persons), but it doesn't really prove the point he is making. Yes, the covenant of God is no longer just for the Israelites, but it is now also for "the nations" in fulfillment of God's promise that all nations on earth would be blessed through Abraham (e.g. Genesis 12:3 and Galatians 3:29). However, I'm sure that Pastor Bucher isn't advocating that the Lord Jesus was commanding His followers to go into the world and forcibly baptize everyone - regardless of race, color, sex, age, class or education - so why should this text then teach that infants should be forcibly baptized (yes, pouring water on an infant or dunking it are not done in response to the babies own volition) when this does not apply to the rest?

To conclude from Christ commanding His followers to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them, that Christ was commanding infant baptism is simply not warranted from the text and could only convince those who are looking for a proof-text for their position. If you already believe that infant baptism is the right practice, then this text may be "obvious" to you. However, since none of the apostles went around forcing anyone to be baptized through the book of Acts in response to this command from our Risen Lord, it seems that jumping to the conclusion that Christ commanded infant baptism in Matthew 28:19 is inaccurate.

"Babies need forgiveness"

I am in full agreement with Pastor Bucher's statements that the Bible nowhere teaches an "Age of Accountability" and that all persons are born sinful and in need of a Savior. However, there is a leap in theological reasoning from firm biblical truth to the need for infant baptism that cannot be ignored.

Just because everyone is born in sin and in need of a Savior does not itself prove anything of the effectiveness of infant baptism for forgiveness of sin. Pastor Bucher assumes that baptism remits sin for infants (particularly, it remits original sin inherited from Adam), and then asserts his conclusion based on his assumption. This is a common logical mistake called begging the question. Of course you reach the conclusion you want when you assume your answer in the beginning!

Here's the problematic section in full:

Like everyone else, they desperately need forgiveness. If infants die before they believe in Jesus, they will be eternally condemned. They, like everyone else, need to be baptized so that they can be born again. Jesus said, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). We believe that baptism is God's special means of grace for children by which He causes them to be born again. To keep them from baptism is to keep them from forgiveness and to endanger them with damnation.

Did you see the leap? "We believe that baptism is God's special means of grace for children by which He causes them to be born again" is the statement that allows him to arrive at his intended conclusion. He believes this to be the case, therefore baptism is necessary for infants to be saved. However, it is not an uncontroversial statement to make that John 3:5 is referring to water baptism, as certainly not everyone agrees with that!

Keeping this passage in context, why should Nicodemus, a Pharisee under the Old Covenant understanding, have any idea that Jesus is speaking to him about the New Covenant sign of baptism? How can we make that leap?

Instead, it seems like Jesus is challenging Nicodemus' understanding of what it means to be a part of "the people of God" since Nicodemus has just admitted that Christ has come from God as a teacher (John 3:2). Nicodemus was operating under a works-based religious mentality, assuming that he was part of the people of God simply because he is an Israelite. But being a descendant of Israel does not necessarily make you one of God's people (Jeremiah 9:25-26; John 8:31-47; Luke 3:7-9; Romans 9:6-8). As Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, clearly Nicodemus is taking him very literally on the whole "born-again" thing, asking how a person is supposed to climb into their mother and then come back out again in 3:4!

Jesus' response about water and Spirit need not have anything to do with "baptism" but can very likely be interpreted as the first birth ("water") being natural birth (you're either Jew or you're Gentile), and the second birth being the one that matters ("Spirit") which occurs at the moment of conversion. To merely claim that this passage asserts baptism and that Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel who wouldn't be teaching about baptism, would be expected to understand these things is difficult to believe. On the other hand, God has spoken through His prophets about physical birth not being all that important as to who belong to Him, which is more reasonable that Jesus would expect Nicodemus to understand (for example, compare John 3:9 with Isaiah 1:11-15 and Isaiah 19:23-25).

"Baptism Replaces Circumcision"

Once again, there are logical inconsistencies which make the conclusion that we should baptize infants shaky and not built firmly upon biblical ground. The analogy between the Old Covenant people of God and the New Covenant people of God is not exactly one-to-one, with each having an exact counter-part and equivalent. Circumcision was only for males, baptism is for everyone. Circumcision was commanded to be done on the 8th day, baptism is commanded for all who believe; never will you find in the Scriptures the statement "be baptized and believe" but always the reverse order, "believe and be baptized," which follows the logical order of being baptized after you have believed and as a fruit or demonstration of your faith.

Circumcision was a sign of the covenant people of God, given to the nation of Israel. Entrance into the community of the people of God happened as a result of physical birth, and the community undertook the sign of circumcision in obedience to the expressed commandment of God. On the other hand, Pastor Bucher acknowledges that the entrance into the New Covenant people of God is done through faith, and therefore the sign of the New Covenant for those who've entered (not by birth, but by faith) is applied after their faith, whether male or female, whether young or old. This is important for the next argument given as well.

"Infants Can Believe"

Here proof texts are offered with only minimal exegetical reasoning, with the conclusion being stated that if you think infants can't believe, then Jesus disagrees with you. However, this case was not convincingly made. To merely cite a passage about infants coming to Jesus and His response that the kingdom belongs to such as these, and then concluding that this proves Jesus believed that they had faith is weak. I've covered this passage in detail elsewhere and provided an exegetical case that Jesus is not pointing to the faith of the children at all! Instead, keeping that passage in context it is entirely possible that Jesus is teaching nothing about a child or infant's ability to believe, but instead is rebuking the idea that there are some who are "worthy" of the kingdom and others who are not. If we are to make disciples of "all nations" (that is, "everyone"!) as Pastor Bucher has already rightly pointed out, then it would be a huge hindrance if we only went looking for those whom we deem as worthy of being discipled! Confessing we are unworthy of the gift of everlasting life and are worthy of condemnation for our sin is a prerequisite for repentance, and no one will enter the kingdom of heaven without repentance (Luke 13:2-5).

Pastor Bucher acknowledges that this passage isn't directly about baptism, and if he is incorrect that Jesus is teaching that children have the ability to believe, then his entire argument here falls apart. Of course, Pastor Bucher argues against himself further by stating that baptism is the necessary means of grace which allows the children to believe, since the passage he cited would not likely have included any baptized children. Further, he has yet to cite any passage that teaches that baptism provides any grace to open the eyes and hearts of sinners to believe.

Similarly, he asks why we would deny baptism to those who can believe, but we must never mistake a supposed "ability" to believe with an actual belief in reality. Are we to assume that everyone who is able to believe something actually believes it? I find that hard to believe!

Similarly, without a profession, how are we to know which infants do believe and which do not? The argument asks why would we "deny" them baptism, as if a baby ever asked to be baptized and we said, "no!" Instead, he is arguing that we baptize infants who have never asked for it, and who never could (because, well, they're babies). In such a case, no one is being "denied" anything!

The most problematic statement that Pastor Bucher made is this one:

Someone might ask, "If babies can believe then why do they need baptism?" Answer: it is through baptism that faith is created in the infant's heart.

Of course, there is no passage anywhere in Scripture which affirms that baptism creates faith in the heart of an infant. Therefore, there is no reason for anyone who is not already indoctrinated into the practice of infant baptism to believe the opinion of Pastor Bucher on this particular matter.

To merely list proof-texts without analysis is always dangerous: Acts 22:16 is given, but does this passage say baptism washes away sin or is it calling on his name which washes away sin? 1 Peter 3:21 is cited as proof that baptism saves, but doesn't 1 Peter 3:21 also say "not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but the appeal to God for a good conscience"? What if you're reading something into the text, and that the "baptism" that is expressed isn't done with water, but by the Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6)?

Similarly, what of the passages that fail to mention baptism as necessary? Should we just leave these out of the discussion or should we assume that the Apostles merely forgot this extremely important aspect of the call to salvation? It can easily be argued from the Scriptures (and we don't have the space to do so here), that the "one baptism" that is important happens at the moment of conversion, where the Holy Spirit immerses the believer "in Christ" and applies to the believer all the spiritual benefits of the Savior (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:6). In this way, Jesus was baptized by John in order to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15), not because Jesus needed to repent and be baptized, but because I do (and so do you), and if He's going to be our perfect substitute then He needs to do it all. This is why the thief on the cross (and any other genuine death bed conversion) could go directly to heaven without having to first be baptized in water. The "one" baptism that matters, on my understanding of the text, is the "one" that happens at conversion -- the thief on the cross and all other believers all share in that one baptism described in Ephesians 4:5. I have been baptized once that matters (by the Holy Spirit into Christ), and two other times: once as an infant and once in obedience to Christ when I became born-again. Some strands of interpretation try and argue for a baptism in the Holy Spirit (I'm looking at you, Pentecostals!), which occurs at some time after conversion (a position which I disagree with but don't have time to discuss here).

"The Practice of the Early Church"

This particular item is problematic simply by virtue of the fact that we are now making arguments from the actions of people, not the inspired truth of God's word. It is extremely important to understand that the New Testament documents themselves largely exist as a result of correcting wrong practices in the early church! None of the Fathers of the church should be considered "inspired" and sometimes they "received" practices that were wrong, like Justin Martyr (Chapter 10) who wrote that he received the tradition that God formed the world out of unformed matter in the beginning, which is a heresy known as "creation ex materio."

In short, the arguments from tradition and early church practice are only helpful when demonstrating agreement with clear biblical principles, which is not the case here. Interestingly, the Didache, which predates all of the authors mentioned and is supposedly an Apostolic document (the Didache is translated as "The Teaching of the 12") has a chapter on Baptism written c. AD 100 which seems to apply only to those who are old enough to make a profession and states nothing about baptizing children or infants who have not made a confession of faith.

One final note should be made regarding the quote from Irenaeus (the earliest writer): if you read that passage in its context, available online here, it has nothing to do at all with baptizing infants and should not be included in a case for baptizing infants. If you are swayed by historical quotes, you should at least eliminate this one from your consideration.

Conclusions

After weighing the evidence presented in the Questioner's link, the case for baptizing infants is severely lacking. However, arguments from silence (that is, the Bible provides no explicit examples of baptizing infants) are not always satisfactory either. After all, none of the Apostles ever spoke on cell phones, so does that mean such a practice should be forbidden today?

As pointed out in the very beginning by Pastor Bucher, this is an issue that both sides of the debate seem to think have passages which support their position.

When the people of God come humbly to a text like Acts 16:33, what should we do?

And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.

Should we assume that his household contains infants? Should we assume that it did not contain infants?

Probably neither. Instead, we should affirm what it does say and admit that we don't know how many people were baptized or what their ages were.

Pastor Bucher and I can affirm together in unity that repentance and faith are extremely important, and so is baptism. When looking at history, it would be difficult to assert that Martin Luther (the father of the Lutheran denomination) based his view of infant baptism solely on sound exegesis of the Scriptures and that he was not influenced at all by the Roman Catholicism he was entrenched in prior to his being expelled.

If I'm basing my practice only on what the Scriptures say, then I think the admonition is to preach the gospel to all creation, and whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Therefore, as a parent, my utmost responsibility is not baptizing my children before they are converted, but instead preaching the gospel to them as often as possible so that they have every opportunity to believe and then walk with the Holy Spirit all the days of their life.

I'm also the first to admit that I don't really know what happens to infants that die - whether baptized or not. However, I do not believe that the Bible gives me any reason to believe that in those extremely sad situations where an infant dies that the parents would have any reason to be more comforted if their infant was baptized prior to death.

Since there is no explicit passage or passages which state plainly, "Thou shalt (not) baptize infants," Christians necessarily have to do some theological speculation to do their best to draw a sound conclusion from what the text does say. In this case, I still find that being baptized only after an explicit confession of faith has been made in response to the preaching of the gospel is more in line with the biblical teaching. I also take issue with the theological claims of Lutherans and some of the Fathers of the Church who claim that the stain of original sin is removed in baptism, because there is no discernible difference in the conduct of baptized children and non-baptized children, which is completely contrary to what we should expect to see. If a child is baptized and cleansed from the stain of original sin, then they should not naturally lie and exhibit covetousness and selfishness like other, non-baptized children who retain the stain of original sin.

Sadly, the conduct of all children (baptized and not) betrays the reality that we are all sinners from our youth (Genesis 8:21). The stain of original sin continues to corrupt our flesh, even after our repentance and faith and believers baptism. To be cleansed from the stain of original sin sounds really good, but it is not the teaching of Scripture and does not match our human experience.

It is from the power of original sin that we can be set free, if we walk with the Spirit. The stain remains in our flesh, but our Redeemer is mighty to save, and we can experience His freedom when we rely fully on Him.

I hope this has helped you to at least examine what the Bible does and does not say, which will help you to be better equipped to know why you believe what you believe about baptism!