Monthly Archives: October 2011

Halloween pwns Satan (not the other way around)

It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.[1]

“Halloween” is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word “hallow” means “saint,” in that “hallow” is just an alternative form of the word “holy” (“hallowed be Thy name”). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)

In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).

The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.

Read the rest Concerning Halloween | American Vision.

Working hard: there is no substitute

The first rule for improving personal efficiency is:

Act on an item the first time you read or touch it.

I’m not talking about those things that you can’t do now or even those things you shouldn’t do now. I’m talking about all the things that you could and should do, but you don’t. I’m talking about routine paperwork and e-mail of the sort you encounter every day. Take care of these things the first time you touch or read them, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long run.

Call Mary. Respond to that e-mail message immediately. Answer the customer’s letter of complaint. Act on that voice mail as you listen. Talk to the boss about the problem. Do It Now. You’ll be amazed at how little time it actually takes and amazed at how good you feel when it’s done.

If you’re not going to act on your paperwork, don’t waste time looking at it. If you’re not going to return your voice mail messages, don’t waste time listening to them. If you’re not going to respond to your e-mail messages, don’t waste time looking at them. Don’t clog up your day with things you aren’t going to do. Instead, move on to what you are going to do, and Do It Now.

via The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Get Organized to Do More Work in Less Time.

Before there was Getting Things Done there was The Personal Efficiency Program. What I like about that book is that, at the center of all to the promises of new techniques and knowledge sat a fundamental point–a point about virtue.

Don’t wast time; work!

It seems to me that the value of working as a virtue is slighted all the time. I hear companies criticized because “they don’t do anything that no one else could do.” It seems the key to prosperity is having a lock (intellectual “property” monopoly perhaps) on some kind of supply. Actually managing to do something everyone else can do better than they do it doesn’t seem to be an option.

Likewise, we keep hearing about how people succeed by being “brilliant” or “innovative.” But as far as I can tell, mostly they are lucky. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could have been just as brilliant in many times and places in human history and they would have been no more well known than the many other brilliant people that we have never heard of.

(Let that last point sink in. Every time you hear about how x leads to success, ask yourself how the researcher has found a wide sample of failures and managed to determine that x was not present in those endeavors. Finding what all success stories have in common might tell you something about making sure that you don’t frustrate the success you might otherwise achieve, but it doesn’t give you any reason to claim that x creates success because, for all you know, many failures have shared the same trait. In the world, and even in the United States, I think it is possible to find one or more examples of just about anything bringing about success. [This is something aspiring church planters might do well to meditate upon]).

A slack hand causes poverty; but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

I realize there there are plenty of visible multi-millionaires who think they found a shortcut. But people win the lottery too. Doesn’t make it a strategy. In the meantime, how is dumping money into lawyers and courts a productive allocation of resources? For example, from the summer of 2007, NYT:

The video rental chain Blockbuster said on Wednesday that it had settled a patent dispute with its rival Netflixthat challenged Blockbuster’s entry into online DVD rental. Blockbuster also signaled that the new business was taking a toll on its finances.

Although terms of the settlement were not disclosed, shares in Netflix jumped $1.26, almost 6.5 percent, to $20.78, while Blockbuster slipped 2 cents, to $4.20.

Blockbuster also disclosed in a securities filing on Wednesday that it planned to seek an amendment to its Aug. 20, 2004, credit agreement that would lower earnings requirements.

The company said in the filing that it planned to modify its popular Total Access plan before the end of the year to “strike the appropriate balance between continued subscriber growth and enhanced profitability.”

Now, I confess to having a weird preference to Netflix, but the idea that selling dvds online through mail via monthly subscription (this was about actual dvds, not online streaming) can be patented is a really stupid idea.

There was a time when the past was a gift and people were invited to do their best with it. Now, this form of stewardship is otiose; we’re supposed to go into debt to buy access to exclusive secrets in the trust that they will make us effortlessly rich. (It is God’s joke on the modern world that, when future historians analyze how we economically strangled ourselves to death, they will realize the fingers around our throat belonged to the gloved hands of a cartoon mouse).

Anyway, I think Solomon would tell you to worry far less about access to a monopoly and simply work hard. He would also tell you to read David Allen for lots of good advice but don’t believe the subtitle. There is no such thing as “stress-free productivity.”

Tamar’s righteousness from generation to generation

About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.  And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.

Judah, as he is found here in Genesis 38, hardly seems like someone with trustworthy discernment about who is righteous or not. But through the generations Tamar’s righteousness was remembered by Judah’s descendents as an established fact.

“We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

So far from forgetting what Tamar did, she is remembered as the one who heroically gave Perez to Judah despite Judah’s best efforts to destroy his own inheritance. Her struggles are like those of Rachel and Leah who themselves built up Jacob’s house in much distress.

It all brought about fruitfulness and prosperity and there is no sign that anyone feels ashamed. They invoke the whole story as one of triumph and blessing.

Big brother v. the end goal of baptism

As I suspect, it always comes back to baptism, infant baptism in particular.

Kahn: “Liberalism has never produced an adequate explanation of the family, because we cannot understand children” without the framing assumptions of liberalism – its assumption that the individual is the primary unit of explanation and its division between public and private. Liberalism “cannot settle whether the state should protect the child from the coercive influences of his or her family, or whether the private family should be protected from the state.” In short, “every individual effort turned toward a public project . . . is a puzzle for liberalism.”

Baptizing infants poses a deep challenge to liberal order: It rejects the notion that the individual child is a self-standing individual, and by placing the child within the church, a public institution with a political history, it disrupts easy public/private divide. By contrast, believer’s baptism looks to be an accommodation to liberal order (though, more precisely, it may be at the roots of liberal order).

via Peter J. Leithart » Blog Archive » Theology of the child.


And the child under his parents is a refutation of the general prinicple that voluntary transactions always mutually benefit both parties to the exchange. Parents know that they can’t allow their young children to interact freely with merchants. That would be exploitation. They want the right and power to monitor and intervene in voluntary transactions.

But, conversely, people are supposed to grow up. They are not supposed to remain children forever. In fact, remaining a child is slavery. People resent being treated like children, being told that virtue lies in remains dependent (and putting an “inter-” prefix on the word does nothing to sweeten the alleged medicine). They want to have children of their own and (if they have any integrity at all) resent the state’s institutionalize encroachments on their families.

So, for all its faults, I think “liberalism” was a needed upraised fist against the powers. Where things should settle is worth discussing. But I don’t think “liberalism” should be blamed for all the faults of its philosophers.

In my opinion, those philosophers came late in the social movement and were explaining what was already happening rather than causing any of it. Philosophers and theologians always rush to lead every parade, and they all started long before they arrived with their batons.

So I’m happy to make paedobaptism a foundational aspect of social theorizing. But I think it will bolster liberty:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slavenor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

The Bible is God’s fault, not Peter Leithart’s or anyone else’s

Lets stipulate that there are a bunch of superstitious, overreaching views about baptism that make it magic. OK. Lets stipulate we are not supposed to encourage such views but rather refute them.

That still does not get us out of the woods, in my opinion.

If you teach people that


means that baptism does not save you, I think Jesus is angry with you.

Or again, if you teach that,

Now you (plural) are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

means that some of those addressed are individually members of the body of Christ and some or not, then, I submit, God doesn’t think you are a trustworthy teacher of his Word.

Is this even debatable among Christians?

Further reflection on the Leithart trial: Why it is important to affirm that all in the church are God’s children? Because it bolsters the warnings against disinheritance and also encourages perseverance in the Faith.

Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, …  for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church

via Confession of Faith.

The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

via Confession of Faith.

Why is it important to affirm that all the baptized are thereby admitted into the Kingdom and Family of God and Christ? Because all should be encouraged to trust in their king and father for protection and forgiveness and all must be encouraged to never abandon those precious promises.

Thus, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews encourages readers to see that their tribulations are further proof of their identity as God’s children:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons:

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

So they are all sons. Really, the author of Hebrew is just restating a point that he made early in chapter 3 and is then alluded to later in chapter 10:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

In some circles, it seems the only confidence one is permitted to give people is a confidence that they need never fear any of God’s warnings. But that is far removed from the Bible. A confidence that leads you to no care about the Bible’s warnings, to insist they must be for someone else, is called unbelief.

Read what Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge had to say:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (First Corinthians 10.12).

…There is perpetual danger of falling. No degree of progress we may have already made, no amount of privileges which we may have enjoyed, can justify the want of caution. Let him that thinketh he standeth, that is, let him who thinks himself secure. This may refer either to security of salvation, or against the power of temptation. The two are very different, and rest generally on different grounds. False security of salvation commonly rests on the ground of our belonging to a privileged body (the church), or to a privileged class (the elect). Both are equally fallacious. Neither the members of the church nor the elect can be saved unless they persevere in holiness; and they cannot persevere in holiness without continual watchfulness and effort. False security as to our power to resist temptation rests on an overweening self-confidence in our own strength. None are so liable to fall as they who, thinking themselves strong, heedlessly run into temptation (p. 181, Banner of Truth, emphasis added).


Can the unregenerate be part of the body of Christ? Can the unregenerate baptize?

Is faith always opposed to fear?

Jesus learning obedience as he suffers before our eyes

Alan Greenspan, smoking gun, Feb 23, 2004

One way homeowners attempt to manage their payment risk is to use fixed-rate mortgages, which typically allow homeowners to prepay their debt when interest rates fall but do not involve an increase in payments when interest rates rise. Homeowners pay a lot of money for the right to refinance and for the insurance against increasing mortgage payments. Calculations by market analysts of the “option adjusted spread” on mortgages suggest that the cost of these benefits conferred by fixed-rate mortgages can range from 0.5 percent to 1.2 percent, raising homeowners’ annual after-tax mortgage payments by several thousand dollars. Indeed, recent research within the Federal Reserve suggests that many homeowners might have saved tens of thousands of dollars had they held adjustable-rate mortgages rather than fixed-rate mortgages during the past decade, though this would not have been the case, of course, had interest rates trended sharply upward.

American homeowners clearly like the certainty of fixed mortgage payments. This preference is in striking contrast to the situation in some other countries, where adjustable-rate mortgages are far more common and where efforts to introduce American-type fixed-rate mortgages generally have not been successful. Fixed-rate mortgages seem unduly expensive to households in other countries. One possible reason is that these mortgages effectively charge homeowners high fees for protection against rising interest rates and for the right to refinance.

American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage. To the degree that households are driven by fears of payment shocks but are willing to manage their own interest rate risks, the traditional fixed-rate mortgage may be an expensive method of financing a home.

via FRB: Speech, Greenspan–Understanding household debt obligations–February 23, 2004.


Here is the housing bubble timeline on Wikipedia. People have expressed puzzlement on how Greenspan missed the housing bubble.

He didn’t. The above statement is at least one element of his own huffing and puffing to further inflate the bubble.

He saw that it was all about to end and put out a statement to encourage lenders to keep it going to a new level. As the Wikipedia describes 2003-2007:

The Federal Reserve failed to use its supervisory and regulatory authority over banks, mortgage underwriters and other lenders, who abandoned loan standards (employment history, income, down payments, credit rating, assets, property loan-to-value ratio and debt-servicing ability), emphasizing instead lender’s ability to securitize and repackage subprime loans.[28]

In under two years, Greenspan was able to get out of the Fed and go on to make millions in the private sector (except that the Federal Reserve is private and all Greenspan’s millions were related to his public influence, so it is a meaningless expression in our world).

I still hear people (especially fellow Republicans) talk about how the housing crash came because people bought houses they couldn’t afford. This is disinformation–an evil projection of the sins of the upper class on the lower.

It is true that virtually no American hates debt as much as he should, as much as the Bible tells him to do. This has been a design of American policy at every level (public school, media, government “consumer protection,” etc) for easily over a century. The design was a success. It was to make Americans vulnerable to predators–who are the ruling class of the United States. Greenspan was openly providing cover for a hard press sales job that would attempt to get more people to take on more debt.

The government was out to consume the weakest of their people. They are Alan Greenspan’s food.

As much as people claim that the poor are unwise, they neglect to point out the obvious: that the poor are unwise because they trust people who have money and power. They are prey. The government and ruling culture of America, from the Federal Reserve, to Wall Street, to the education system, to the news industry, are all a system that is a predatory lender.

In 2004, it looked like the law of diminishing returns was about to be felt. Greenspan wanted to buy more time and see more people squeeze more money out of the system before the crash.

Quotations from Letham on Baptism as used by the Leithart defense

Here are the quotations Peter Leithart’s defense culled from Robert Letham’s book, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Its Historical Context. I’ll make some personal comments at the bottom of this post. But here is the Letham material that the Leithart defense thought was relevant to the case (emphasis are all mine):

The Assembly’s discussions of baptism occurred in connection with both the Confession and the Directory for the Publick Worship of God… Much debate concerned practical administrative matters. However, the theological meat had to do with baptism’s efficacy and how it relates to elect infants. This point has been lost for most modern Christians. Conservative Protestants have distanced themselves from the remotest connection with the Roman Catholic doctrine of baptism and, since the nineteenth century, from High Church Anglican sacramentalism too. In doing so, they have left themselves with a truncated sacramental theology in which the signs have been reduced to symbols. The classic Reformed sacramental theology has been largely lost. 325

In the next session, S259 TU 16.7.44, the divines debated the proposed words “they are Christians & holy” in relation to infants presented for baptism. A lengthy dispute pertained to what Paul had in mind [in 1 Cor 7:14]… Thomas Goodwin claimed that the holiness in view is such that if they die they will be saved. [And Goodwin was exactly right – MH] He was uncertain whether they have the holiness of election or regeneration, but he thought they have the Holy Ghost. In short, Goodwin thought that those baptized are to be regarded as really holy, rather than simply federally holy. 329

The Directory eventually concluded that the children of believers are Christians and federally holy before baptism, and therefore they are to be baptized. Goodwin’s argument for the real holiness of the infants aroused great concern. It appears either to mean that all infants would certainly be saved, or to undermine election and reprobation. In the end, the exegesis of the passage was left unresolved. 331

Much discussion centered on the relationship between baptism and regeneration. This is a connection that conservative Protestants tend to deny or ignore, but was a commonplace in the classic Reformed period. On the one hand, Westminster did not share the Roman Catholic belief that the sacraments are efficacious ex opera operato (by the fact of being performed), but neither did they sympathize at all with the Anabaptist view that they were merely symbolic. In the debates on the Directory for the Publick Worship of God, in S260 F 19.7.44, the Assembly considered the proposed words “joyne the inward baptisme with the outward baptisme.” Except for Gataker, there was consistent agreement on the connection between baptism and regeneration. 331

Wright notes that the word “exhibit” was stronger in meaning than it is in modern English, being closer to “convey.” In earlier debates (see S302 F 11.10.44), Dr. Smith had averred “that baptism saves sacramentally is noe such incongruous speech.” Wright agrees that “the Westminster divines viewed baptism as the instrument and occasion of regeneration by the Spirit, of the remission of sins, of ingrafting into Christ (cf. 28:1). The Confession teaches baptismal regeneration.” While the Catechisms speak only of baptism as a “sign and seal,” the Directory’s model prayer goes much further. Wright calls this the Confession’s “vigorous primary affirmation.” In it, the minister declares of the children baptized that “they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized.” This is accompanied by prayer that the Lord “would receive the infant now baptized, and solemnly entered into the household of faith, into his fatherly tuition and defence, and remember him with the favour that he sheweth to his people,” and that he would “make his baptism effectual to him.” D. F. Wright, “Baptism at the Westminster Assembly” in The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century: Essays in Remembrance of 350th Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly. Vol 1. Fearn: Mentor 2003 332-33

Before the Assembly convened, two prominent Westminster divines wrote important treatises on baptism, addressing the connection between baptism and regeneration in detail. Cornelius Burgess, in his Baptismall regeneration of elect infants (1629) cites [long list of fathers]… He refers to the Second Helvetic Confession, the Scots Confession, the French Confession, the Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism. Burgess’s argument is that regeneration is twofold. There is an infusion of grace by the Holy Spirit at the baptism of elect persons, including elect infants, while actual regeneration, which produces faith, occurs at effectual calling. 333-34

For both Burgess and Featley, all elect persons are regenerate in the initial sense at baptism and in the actual sense at effectual calling. On the other hand, nonelect persons are not regenerate in the initial sense at baptism, nor are they in the actual sense either. However, since we do not know who the elect are, we are by the judgment of charity to judge that all who are baptized are regenerate at baptism in the initial sense. 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 their use, they are equally severe on those who would reduce baptism and the Lord’s Supper to mere symbols. 334

The Tetrapolitan Confession, drawn up by Martin Bucer in 1530, asserts that baptism “is the washing of regeneration, that it washes away sins and saves us.” The First Helvetic Confession of 1536, composed by a committee consisting of Bullinger, Grynaeus, Myconius, Jud, and Menander, assisted by Bucer and Capito, maintained that the sacraments are efficacious; they are not empty signs, but consist of the sign and the substance. “For in baptism the water is the sign, but the substance and spiritual thing is rebirth and admission into the people of God.” All sanctifying power is to be ascribed to God alone. Baptism “is a bath of regeneration which the Lord offers and presents to his elect with a visible sign through the ministry of the Church.” Both of these early Reformed statements clearly allude to Titus 3:5. 334

The Belgic Confession (1561) points in article 33 to the sacraments as “visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost… the signs are not in vain or insignificant, so as to deceive us.” … Article 34, on baptism, states that the sacrament “signifies that as water washes away the filth of the body… so the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkles the soul, cleanses it from its sins, and regenerates us from children of wrath unto children of God. Therefore the ministers administer the sacrament, that which is visible, but our Lord gives what is signified by the sacrament, namely, gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing, and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of his fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with all his deeds. Neither does baptism avail us only at the time of baptism but also through the whole course of our lives. 336 [Cochrane, Reformed Confessions, 213-214]

The Scots Confession, composed by John Knox in 1560, in article 21, asserts that the sacraments are instituted to “seill in their hearts the assurance of his promise, and of that most blessed conjunction, union, and societie, quhilk the elect have with their head Christ Jesus. And this we utterlie damne the vanitie of thay that affirme Sacramentes to be nothing ellis bot naked and baire signes. No, wee assuredlie believe that be Baptisme we ar ingrafted in Christ Jesus, to be make partakers of his justice, be quhilk our sinnes ar covered and remitted.” 336 [Schaff, Creeds, 3:467-70]

The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1563, 1571), in article 25, “Of the Sacraments,” maintains that they are not only badges and tokens of Christian men’s profession, but “certain sure witnesses and effectuall signes of grace and Gods good wyll towards vs, by the which he doth worke invisiblie in vs, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirme our faith in hym.”… Thus baptism, says article 27, is “a signe of regeneration or newe byrth, whereby as by an instrument, they that receaue baptisme rightly, are grafted into the Church: the promises of the forgeuenesse of sinne, and of our adoption to be the sonnes of God, by the holy ghost, are visibly signed and sealed: faith is confyrmed: and grace increased by virtue of prayer vnto God.” 336-37

The Second Helvetic Confession (1562, 1566), drawn up by Bullinger and the most widely accepted of all Reformed symbols, discusses baptism in chapter 30. Inwardly we are regenerated, purified, and renewed by God through the Holy Spirit; outwardly we receive the assurance of the greatest gifts in the water, by which also those gifts are represented, and, as it were, set before our eyes to behold. [Cochrane, Reformed Confessions, 282. No quotations marks in Letham’s paragraph.] 337

A later work, demonstrative of mainstream Reformed opinion shortly after the Synod of Dort, is the Leiden Synopsis, composed by four leading Dutch theologians in support of the Canons of Dort, and first published in 1625. Here, citing Titus 3:5, baptism is said to seal remission of sins and regeneration. There is a connection between the outward sign and the washing away of sins (Rev. 1:5; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:27; Titus 3:5), a sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified… This is a relative conjunction – the signum and the res – and it is set before the eyes on condition of faith (sub conditione fidei). Christ by his Spirit unites us with himself; no creature is capable of this. Thus God appeals both to our ears and to our eyes. The Synopsis rejects Rome’s doctrine of ex opera operato, and also that of the Lutherans – the ubiquitarians – who tie regeneration to baptism. On the other hand, it opposed those who distinguish between adult and infant baptism, granting that adult baptism is a sign and a seal of regeneration, but thinking that infant baptism is an instrument of regeneration just begun. … This distinction is nowhere found in Scripture, since baptism is of one kind. 337

In summary, the Reformed confessions teach a conjunction between the sign (baptism in water in the name of the Trinity) and the reality (the grace given in Christ, regeneration, cleansing from sin, and so on). From this, it is legitimate for the one to be described in terms of the other; this is found in Scripture itself in such expressions as “baptism saves” (1 Peter 3:21). The divines repeatedly refer to baptism as “the laver of regeneration.”… The reality is distinct from the sign, yet the sign cannot be detached from the reality, for the two go together. As the Belgic Confession puts it, “The ministers dispense the sacrament… the Lord gives what is signified. 338-9

On the question whether the parents of an infant to be baptized should be required to make a profession of faith, the debate was spread over four sessions – S300 W 9.10.44 through S303 M 14.10.44 – and the Assembly was evenly divided for and against… The Assembly voted 28-16 to include a parental affirmation of faith by affirming answers to creedal questions, but Parliament deleted the sections in early 1645. 343

However, baptism is more than an admission into the visible church. It is also a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. It is a sign because it is a sacrament, and so points to what is signified. It seals because it is a mark of ownership, for Christ as taken the one baptized as his own. The covenant of grace, of which baptism is a sign and seal, consists of ingrafting into Christ; the one baptized is a member of Christ and thus of his body, the church. This ingrafting into Christ includes regeneration, remission of sins, and sanctification. Thus, at the very start, in WCF 28.1 (and also in LC 165), baptism is brought directly into connection with the whole of salvation, from regeneration to sanctification. It signifies these things and it seals them. It is more than admission to the visible church. It is certainly more than a symbolic representation. 344

WCF 28.5, in opposition to Rome, denies the necessity of baptism for salvation. However, as Moore argues, the first clause – “Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” – was probably directed against antipaedobaptists who fail to present their infant children for baptism. There are no complimentary references in the minutes to antipaedobaptists. They are uniformly described as “Anabaptists” and invariably linked with antinomians. 345-46 [Jonathan D. Moore, The WCF and the Sin of Neglecting Baptism, WTJ 69, 2007: 63-86]

This latter point [Rome’s ex opera operato] is challenged more directly in WCF 28.6. Baptism is efficacious for salvation, the Confession insists. However, this needs qualification. It is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if at the moment of baptism the person baptized is regenerated and saved; there is no such temporal connection. Baptism is efficacious in uniting a person with Christ, regenerating and sanctifying him “in [God’s] appointed time.” Moreover, baptism is not efficacious for everyone who receives it. It is not automatic. It is effective for God’s elect, “to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto.” Since the Holy Spirit makes baptism efficacious as a means of grace, it is beyond the power of the church or its ministry to do this, nor does it happen automatically. It is in this same section [28.6] that the heart of the Assembly’s view of baptism appears most clearly. Allowing for the above caveats, “the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost.” It is not the case that baptism simply offers or demonstrates the grace of God, which is then received by the one baptized. Nor is it merely the fact that baptism is a visible demonstration of the gospel, setting forth washing from sins, death, and resurrection to newness of life. It is, of course, both of these things. However, it is something more. In baptism, the promised grace – regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification, and above all union with Christ – is conferred by the Holy Spirit. We have seen how this differs from the doctrine of the Church of Rome. Union with Christ, regeneration, cleansing from sin, and sanctification of the elect people of God is achieved through baptism by the Holy Spirit “in God’s own time.” This is not by any power of the sacrament itself; the Holy Spirit confers grace; the efficacy is entirely his. Moreover, the Spirit can work as and how he pleases, so baptism is not absolutely indispensable for salvation. However, anomalous situations aside, God’s promises of grace in Christ are dispensed by the Holy Spirit through baptism, as long as we bear in mind the divines caveat that this is so in inseparable conjunction with the Word. The connection is neither automatic nor temporal, but theological. [Footnote: This is not the theology of baptism commonly held today in conservative Protestant circles, or even in many Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Yet so integral to Reformed theology is its sacramentalism that claims to being Reformed must be challenged that lack this vital element.] 346-7

Original document

Comment (in no particular order):

  • This reminds me of a time of joy in my life, from about 1994 to 2001, when reading and studying the Reformed and Christian heritage was a constant adventure due to a sense of discovery. This was stuff that was all over the Calvinistic tradition and yet was largely down the memory hole among modern Evangelical “Calvinists.” In some cases one found transitional figures who seemed to remember part of it now forgotten and encourage amnesia in other ways (Charles Hodge comes to mind here). But it was all a grand banquet before the accusers started their defensive work.
  • Obviously, “the Federal Vision” is quite firmly building on the Reformed heritage. I knew this from many hours finding and reading old Reformed confessions. But it has been awhile and it is nice to see that someone who managed to stay out of the debate finds the same material. This means fighting FV is going to prove to be like the “war on terror” with drones ever expanding to new countries and new groups. Unending purge in order to protect Predestinarianism with wet baby dedication.
  • Just as obviously, “the Federal Vision” was a discussion that was never simply a repristination project. How can one repristinate diversity anyway? Peter offers new ways to look at the data (as do others).
  • I earlier complained that trials are a misallocation of resources. Still true in terms of efficiency but I now see people are waking up to the fact that what they have heard about Leithart in conferences, biased articles, and mostly blog posts, is highly tendentious and even untrue. So perhaps trials should be counted as joy. Heard that somewhere…

If you want to stop comparing yourself to others you have to stop caring that all your friends are constantly comparing you to others. Declare independence.

“Greece is being destroyed”