Episode 83: God Bless the Child

Debate topic: “Infants are not the proper subjects of the ordinance of baptism.” Jamin Hübner, founder of www.RealApologetics.org and author of The Portable Presuppositionalist, affirms. Eastern Orthodox Rev. Pr. Laurent Cleenewerck, editor of The Eastern / Greek Orthodox New Testament, denies. This episode is part 1 of their debate, including their opening statements, rebuttals and first round of cross-examination; listen to episode 84, “When You Believe,” for part 2’s second round of cross-examination, closing statements and listener Q&A.


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6 thoughts on “Episode 83: God Bless the Child

  1. These are just my initial thoughts, but…
    Hubner has presuppositions and misconceived notions which negate his position from the get-go. Unless his opponent affirms “baptism saves automatically” this debate was a bust.

    Hubner says paedopabtists put a wall of separation between the baptismal rite of the great commission’s “baptizing and teaching” saying that infants cannot be taught. His point, “only a mature person can be instructed as a disciple” precludes infants as such because there is no cognizant response. This is a false dilemma and a straw man. The paedobaptist position is rather, “Who better to be the subject of teaching all that Christ has taught but infant-like children?” Our position is presuppositional as we assume (not that all children are saved) but that the nature of the covenant demands that children of believers are raised as believers. Hubner’s claim to be covenantal in his hermeneutic is undone here and it is his position that the new covenant is only made up of true believers that prevents his affirmation of infants as the subject of baptism. It is, then, the nature of the covenant which is at stake. If the nature of the covenant is primarily soteriological, then Hubner’s position is tenable. However, that is not the case. The nature of the covenant is not soteriological but generational. It is the nature of the covenant to presuppose that the children of believers will be raised to procure, promote and propagate the faith. This does not ensure that all will be saved, nor does it mean baptism ipso facto saves. The meaning of baptism is ordinal. It is an ordination ritual wherein the proper subjects of the rite are laid hold of by the Master of the covenant for service in his kingdom. Whether or not those subjects do this by faith is a whole other matter.

    Again, he makes a straw man when he says that it is contrary to John 1.12 to baptize infants b/c only those born of God are sons of God and baptizing infants is man’s work and John 1.12 says it is not by will of man that makes a person a son of God. This is not a tenable argument and it is not the paedobaptist position. John says, “But as many as received him, he gave them the authority to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name, who, neither by blood nor by the desire of the flesh nor by the will of man but born of God.” As a paedobaptist, I affirm all of this in John’s gospel. It is not my presupposition to baptize my children based on their being my children (born of blood, nor my desire, nor my will). It is my presupposition to baptize my children because God requires it in the nature of the covenant (but born of God). Baptising infants is not man’s desire or will (which is what Hubner asserted); it is God’s will.

    Whom does God expect to be baptized? Believers and their children. Hubner asserts more than he wills to. If baptism is God’s action, then it is God’s will and not man’s. If, therefore, God has ordained that his Spirit works in and through and with water, then it is non-sense to assert that when a man baptizes, he is forcing God’s hand. It is God who is forcing the hand. He says to baptize and he says what that action means.

    It is interesting to note that the Bible is not a store house of proof texts. John 1.12, 13 are not isolated words. They follow what John has been saying heretofore: Jesus came to his own and even his own (blood brothers) did not receive him. The reader must ask, “Why does John say what he says in vv. 12, 13?” Against whom is he speaking when he delineates not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man? Answer this and his point has nothing to do with baptism’s subject per se.

    Picture this: a youth who was baptized as an infant grows up not following the Lord. At a point in his life he hears John 1.12, 13 and understands that he must receive Jesus by faith. So he does. What of it? Does this negate his baptism? No. Soteriology is only a fraction of the meaning of baptism. Baptism is not merely about being saved but it is merely about service to God and that by faith. This youth is simply now living out the calling placed on him at his baptism: the fear of Jesus is the beginning of knowledge. To wit, do I hope my children never read John 1 because it is a proof text against paedobaptism? No. I hope they read it because it is a proof text for faith in Christ.

    At minute 18.25, Hubner refers to Eph.2 8,9 and says that grace must be freely given to be grace according to this: for by grace you have been saved, not by baptism….” Right here, Hubner shows his hand and he gives the game away. The reformed, covenantal position is not that baptism saves and it never was. Baptism does not save apart from faith. Baptism is a means to an end whose end is either destruction or salvation. The whole debate is now defunct because Hubner is arguing for a position untenable by covenantal standards. Were I arguing with him I would have to retort, “Hey, waitaminute. That’s not what I believe. Against whom did you think you were arguing?”

    Hubner is right to point out that Noah’s flood and the Exodus have nothing to do with baptism….per se. They do have to do with covenant theology, however. Baptism depends upon covenant theology, not the other way around. Paul says that all who went with Moses out of Egypt were “saved?” No. He says that they all were baptized in the cloud. Well, what does this mean. What ever it means, it is covenantal, not propositional soteriology.

    Think about this conversation.
    Father: Son, do you think you are saved?
    Son: Yes.
    Father: How do you know?
    Son: Jesus is my priest, King-prophet and I have been baptized into his name.
    Father: Does baptism save?
    Son: Why are you asking me this question? Are you trying to trick me? This is a non-sequitor, Dad. Asking if baptism saves is like asking if praying saves (which it does) or if taking communion saves (which it does). Nothing we do saves us; only God saves and that by faith. Baptism is a means to an end and it was begun in me when I was an infant.
    Father: So, what does it mean that you are baptized?
    Son: Positively, it means that God has laid claim on me and that I am his and that I am allied to Jesus who is my priest, King-prophet. I have been buried with Christ and that I have put on Christ; it means that my sins are forgiven and that I have been circumcised with Christ. It means that I have been washed in regeneration by the Spirit. All of these things the Bible says are mine by baptism and I believe them to be true. Negatively, without faith, all of that is undone and instead of life I am consigned to death.

    Baptists make much of the aspect of “faith” regarding intellect and awareness. That is, faith requires understanding a proposition and if there is little to no understanding, then, there is no basis for baptism. This begs the question. Is faith to be measured out by a certain level of intellect? Is faith merely cognizance? If so, is there a test for meeting this level? Of the following who is the proper subject of baptism? A three year old? A five year old? A nine year old? A 15 year old? A 23 year old? A forty year old? It must be conceded that all will have differing levels of maturity regarding what they are able to know and express. A 40 year old will certainly know more than a 3 year old. Does this preclude the three year old from baptism? If not, then what must the three year old “know”? Faith is much more robust than that. Faith is not merely intellectual but also relational. Faith is not merely trust and belief and knowledge; it is an allegiance, a relationship, a way of living. This allows for an infant to be allied to Christ in the same way a 40 year old is; both are called to “kiss the Son (faith), lest he be angry with you and you die in your way; blessed are all those who take refuge (faith) in him.

  2. At minute 1.01 Jabin gives away his reformed roots. He says he does not believe that baptism gives any assurance of salvation. What? I think I hear Calvin and Luther awaking from their slumber (!) to have a word on this. Please choose Jabin for the subsequent debate/ open discussion.

  3. I have to mostly agree with Travis. I’m only about half-way through part 1, and one of the things that really jumped out at me was, ‘why are we to assume a child can’t have faith and/or repent?’ Isn’t it God that works on the heart? And, I’m a bit confused how a Calvinist would insist the human has to take certain actions, or be at a certain cognizant level, for God to do the work of regeneration in the heart.

    My guess, not being incredibly familiar with the Baptist position (especially Reformed Baptist), is that Baptism isn’t seen in as much a sacramental and ‘means of grace’ way as it is with the rest of the Reformed camp (especially Lutheran). It is seen much more like a Lutheran or Presbyterian sees Confirmation. A less sacramental and more symbolic view.

    But, when we preach a sermon… does the Word of God save? As Travis pointed out above, this is kind of a trick question. No, it isn’t like ‘Holy Water’ where if you hit someone, they are saved, or X amount of grace is infused. That’s the Roman Catholic position, not the Reformed or Lutheran view of the sacraments. But, when we preach the Word, we believe God works through this as a means. Baptism and Communion are similar, but include elements (water, bread, and wine) and serve in different ways.

  4. Pingback: “Infants are not the proper subjects of the ordinance of baptism.” Jamin Hübner, founder of www.RealApologetics.org and author of The Saving Grace of God, Light Up the Darkness, and The Portable Presuppositionalist, affirms. Eastern Orthodox Rev. Pr.

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