One Kind of Baptism Means Two Kinds of Christian

In my stack of books being read, there are a handful of writers that are always in there somewhere. I make a constant point of always having a book by Chesterton, Bunyan, Lewis, Thomas Watson . . . and, to come to our point this morning, Jonathan Edwards.

I am currently in Volume 12 of his Collected Works (no, I am not that far along — I jump around), and therefore have recently begun reading his Humble Inquiry. This is the book Edwards wrote defending his attempts to walk back the communion standards established by his predecessor Solomon Stoddard (also his grandfather) at Northampton, and which eventually led to Edwards getting the sack.

Stoddard believed that the Lord’s Supper was a converting ordinance, and therefore did not want to limit access to the Table to those known to be “truly converted.” Edwards was seeking to establish some kind of process that would enable the church to inquire as to the true heart condition of the person seeking to become a communicant.

In his opening to Humble Inquiry, Edwards is his usual lucid self, and is quite formidable.

He begins, as we all ought to, with Scripture. He demonstrates that the Bible uses the word saints, Christians, and disciples, in two distinct ways. His treatment of the word Christians is debateable, in my view, but his handling of how the Bible speaks of saints and disciples is incontrovertible. Saints are visible saints by profession, where the usage is found “in very many places,” and which Edwards says is acknowledged by all. They are too numerous to cite. But then you have the saints who are truly saints — e.g. when the Lord shall come to be glorified in His saints (2 Thess. 1:10). The same is true with the word disciples. “There were disciples in name, profession, and appearance; and there were those whom Christ called ‘disciples indeed’ (John 8:30-31).”

So far, so good. Among the many professing followers of Christ we have two categories. If you try to limit it to one category only, you will either become a sacramentalist or a member of the airy fairy invisible church, the one nobody ever has to tithe to.

At this point, Edwards goes on to advance a very clever argument, but one which in my view misses the point. “Real saints or converts are those that are so in the eye of God; visible saints or converts are those who are so in the eye of man” (p. 185).

He then says this:

“To say a man is visibly a saint, but not visibly a real saint, but only visibly a visible saint, is a very absurd way of speaking; it is as much to say, he is to appearance an appearing saint; which is in effect to say nothing” (p. 185).

His illustration of this is the example of gold:

“There are not properly two sorts of saints spoken of in Scripture: though the word ‘saints’ may be said to be used two ways in Scripture, or used so as to to reach two sorts of persons; yet the word has not properly two significations in the New Testament, anymore than the word ‘gold’ has two significations among us: the word gold among us is so used as to extend to several sorts of substances; it is true, it extends to true gold, and also to that which only appears to be gold, and is reputed gold, and that by appearance or visibility some things that are not real gold obtain the name of gold; but this is not properly through diversity in the signification of the word, but by a diversity of the application of it, through the imperfection of our discerning” (p. 184).

And this is why I believe the great Edwards fell prey to a category mistake.

“‘Visible’ and ‘real’ are words that stand related one to another, as the words ‘real’ and ‘seeming,’ or ‘true’ and ‘apparent.'” (p. 184).

What Edwards is doing is treating this problem as though it were a problem of chemical analysis. We have this thing that looks like gold, but it might not be. And when it comes to the question of our heart regeneration, he’s exactly right. This is true as far as it goes. If a professing Christian has a heart attack, he’s going to wind up in Heaven or Hell, and because we live in a world where professing Christians do both, Edwards is absolutely correct that only true disciples will be saved. He is in this sense a historic evangelical, and all Christians who want to be biblical must be evangelical in that same sense.

But when we are comparing gold with fool’s gold, we are dealing with an inert substance which is either gold or not. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of illustration, so long as we remember not to take just one illustration as the sum total of all possible illustrations. On this point it is the same as if you compared the Last Day to men who are sorting out good fish from bad, or angels doing the same (Matt. 13:47-50).

To illustrate the problem, let us expand the illustration and assume that both the gold and fool’s gold are now animated creatures with eternal souls, and have both taken covenant vows binding themselves to be true gold. Now what?

Now you have something more like a “true husband” and a “false husband.” An adulterous husband is not a “seeming” husband, to take Edward’s language from above. If he were only a seeming husband, then he wouldn’t be adulterous. The adulterer is as much a husband (in one sense) as the faithful husband is. He is not at all a husband like the faithful husband in another sense.
In short, we have to remember that there are two things going on. On the one hand we have the distinction between true Christians and false Christians, as determined by their heart condition, which only God ultimately knows. On the other hand, we also have common bond between true Christians and false Christians, which would be their shared obligation (as seen in their baptismal vows) to live lives of true repentance and evangelical faith.

So there is a substantive difference between gold and fool’s gold, but there is no substantive difference at all in the vows that both of them take. Out of all the people I have baptized, I know I have baptized people who were false in their profession and who fell away. But they didn’t fall away because I used a different set of vows on them. They didn’t fall away because they were under a different standard.

Where Edwards stumbled was here — he failed to take into account the very personal sign of the covenant, baptism, which he himself had administered to many of his people. If Edwards’ reasoning here stands, then infant baptism has to go. If infant baptism remains, then Edwards’ reasoning fails. And if we want Edwards’ reasoning to fail, but we want to remain evangelical, staying out of the sacramentalist swamp, then we must have one kind of baptism, and two kinds of Christian.

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Keith LaMothe
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Keith LaMothe

Agreed on “the faithless husband is still a husband, because of the vows”. If we reject that for the sake of theological neatness then it does not go well for us. But the question that keeps coming up to me when I read Peter Leithart, et al, is this: for that second kind of christian, the one who is objectively a member of the covenant by virtue of his vows but is actually reprobate, are they ever regenerated by the holy spirit in any way or sense? Two kinds of Christian, sure. But are you and/or Leithart suggesting two kinds… Read more »

Drew
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Drew

And if I could piggy back on Keith’s comment, if there is no sense of regeneration, then what makes the covenant objective for non-disciple “Christians”? The mere words attached to baptism?

Joseph Randall
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Joseph Randall

But the “false” husband really “knew” the wife and the wife really “knew” the husband, and they were one flesh.

But Jesus says to false professors on the last day – “I never knew you.” Matt. 7

So that illustration doesn’t work either.

John Carnahan
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John Carnahan

Joseph,
Except for Hebrews 6:4-6

Philipp
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Philipp

“And if we want Edwards’ reasoning to fail, but we want to remain evangelical, staying out of the sacramentalist swamp, then we must have one kind of baptism, and two kinds of Christian.”

Of course, the dichotomy is false, as millions of Christians are and have been happily both evangelical and sacramentalist. There is only one faith and one baptism, and both bring salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9, 5:26); the fact that some Christians fall away after baptism is no less, and no more, troubling than that some fall away after receiving the word gladly.

Keith LaMothe
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Keith LaMothe

@Drew: > “The mere words attached to baptism?” I’m also interested in the answer to that, but remember that the identity of The Word means that our words (particularly in a solemn vow) are never “mere”. For better or worse. John Carnahan: > Except for Hebrews 6:4-6 If that were an epistle to the Christians, sure. But what if it’s an epistle to the Hebrews? As in, identified as such by the writer because they were not Christians, but rather Jews (possibly vascillating on whether to embrace Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant which they were objectively a part… Read more »

ReformedCE
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ReformedCE

So what happens if you let infant baptism go?

Has anyone explored the outcome of holding to credo-baptism/credo-communion, regenerate/unregenerate covenant members of the visible church?

This seems like it might be a rather happy position. Of course, my bliss may be ignorance…

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

ReformedCE, there is no need to be Credo to recognize that there are unregenerate covenant members of the visible church. Covenantal theology recognizes the necessary visible/invisible, internal/external distinctions, but it also spots the unnecessary (Credo) ones (another subject for another day). Please forgive this lengthy excerpt, but I think it effectively addresses the covenantal *connections* between visible/invisible, internal/external. Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: p. 334: “The Reformed confessions are clear on the connection between baptism and regeneration. While they consistently oppose the Roman Catholic doctrine of ex opere operato, which asserts that the sacraments are efficacious by the fact of… Read more »

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

(forgot the apostrophe): “divine’s (as in Westminster) caveat”

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Not two but three kinds of Christian.

You left out the host of uncircumcised and unbaptized saints!

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Why did Edwards need a process of inquiry?
How about your eyes and ears?
Isn’t a shepherd called to know his / His sheep?

Drew
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Drew

Keith LaMothe,

True about the word “mere.” But I made my point.

ReformedCE
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ReformedCE

Jack, Thanks for the response. I agree with you that there is nothing special about being credo- that allows one to acknowledge the distinction between regenerate and unregenerate members. Doug Wilson’s work on this issue has been very helpful for me in thinking through this issue, particularly the passage in Hebrews. Having grown up in a “once saved, always saved” church/culture, it has been freeing to see God’s grace as truly changing in the redeemed and the Gospel faithfully proclaimed to the “carnal” Christian who is no Christian at all. From where I stand, by virtue of Baptist assumptions, I… Read more »

wtrsims
Member

Herein lies a ponderment I’ve been pondering: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. – Romans 6:1-4 Now, to be… Read more »

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

ReformedCE asked, “Can I be convinced of believer’s baptism and get to talk about regenerate and unregenerate members of my local church? Is there some logical or biblical inconsistency that makes this untenable?” You can certainly talk *about* both kinds of members, as can Reformed believers. The scriptural inconsistency is simply that a Baptist cannot say with Paul (for just one epistolary example) *to* the whole church: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. . .” Leonard Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: p. 118: ‘The baptized life… Read more »

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

sign AND seal

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Sign vs Seal

Many called vs Few chosen

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

Eric, the whole point of the Heidelberg extract is that there is a close correspondence between called and chosen. Zacharius Ursinus, Theses on Baptism: “When baptism is, therefore, said to be the laver or washing of regeneration, to save us, or to wash away sins, it is meant that the external baptism is a sign of the internal, that is, of regeneration, salvation and of spiritual absolution; and this internal baptism is said to be joined with that which is external, in the right and proper use of it.” Bavinck, vol. 4, p. 519: “But however much disagreement there may… Read more »

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

Eric, I don’t want to change the subject of this thread, but just to deal with the specific passage you reference: Keith Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope, commenting on Matthew 7:13-14, (pp. 209-210): “This text, along with Matthew 22:14 and Luke 13:23-24, is often used to prove that the ultimate number of those saved will be comparatively small. It is claimed that postmillennialism directly contradicts the clear teaching of Jesus at this point. We would make several observations in response to this objection: 1. The narrowness of the gate refers specifically to the exclusivity of Jesus. This is a… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Hi Jack,

You must be thinking of another Eric who referenced that postmil article.

But may I say, you might distinguish between dispensational postmillenialism (Edwards on) and just plain-ole postmillenialism.

Also: “There were very few Jews who believed in Him at that time.” Sure don’t recall the Bible saying that anywhere. How do you know that? Somebody walking around with a believe-0-meter?

And: “The majority of Jews became more and more hardened in their rejection of Jesus until they finally crucified their Messiah” — Who makes up these stats? Most Jews lived outside the area.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Jack — I agree with the baptism statements you pulled.

But a sign gets sealed by the Spirit — for those saved only.

The sign He gives us to use like the keys — as confirmation of what He has sealed in heaven.

doug sayers
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doug sayers

As a Gideon I get to visit a lot of different churches of varying denominations and non denominations; the older I get the more the “airy fairy invisible church, the one nobody ever has to tithe to” looks better and better. It has a heavenly feel to it.

Infant baptism should go. It feeds the monster. Eliminating it would end a lot of needless academic wrangling. If we spent more time in 1 John we would be better equipped to manage the real saint / false saint difficulty.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Doug Sayers — for that matter, eliminating all baptism & communion would clean things up a lot.

In that vain, you might want to and cancel church meetings all together.

doug sayers
Guest
doug sayers

Thanks Eric S, you make me look downright nuanced. Feels kinda’ good.

mikebull1
Member

The Bible never talks about a visible/invisible distinction, and it always uses sacrificial metaphors, a process of which baptismal washing is a part. How do we decide between a carnal baptism (paedobaptism – flesh/social) and a spiritual one (credo baptism) without making up paedofaith fairy stories and debating over stupid things like unborn infants receiving communion through their umbilical cords (not mentioning any names!) The solution is simple: flesh (visible) + fire (invisible) = smoke (testimony). A true saint is both visible (priesthood) and invisible (kingdom), a combination which results in the AUDIBLE (prophets) which is what Moses would have… Read more »

john k
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john k

Jack, I’m glad Letham explicitly denies an automatic connection between baptism and regeneration. Bavinck and Murray as quoted seem to affirm an automatic connection, but I’m sure it can be shown that their writings otherwise agree with Ursinus that “this internal baptism [‘of regeneration, salvation and of spiritual absolution’] is said to be joined with that which is external, in the right and proper use of [external baptism].” At minimum, the right use means to receive, with faith and repentance, everything that the sacraments signify and seal about Christ and the gospel. Vander Zee helpfully says baptism gives an identity… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

The Bible never talks about a visible/invisible distinction

Or

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him

mikebull1
Member

Eric – you’ve missed the point. The “testimony” is on earth, a bridal (subjective) response to the objective Word from heaven. The testimony is not the final state. In FV “Covenant” terms, the Church is an Abrahamic “chattel” bride (who has no choice in the matter and is merely a possession, like Esther in the harem) but the New Testament bride is clearly a co-regent, Esther after the conquest of Haman. To argue for two kinds of Christians is to miss the difference between the Old Covenant and the New. There are not two kinds of Christians. There are believers… Read more »

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

John K, I’ve been away for a few days, but just wanted to respond: Well said.