12.11.2009

EXTRA-CONFESSIONAL BINDING & The Heidelblog's Questions for the CanRC


Recently Scott Clark posted a series of questions to the CanRC on the Heidelblog that need clarification for us to move forward in unity talk. The comments that followed are worth reading since there is sincere dialogue and struggle over "extra-confessional binding". Thankfully, Wes Bredenhof pointed us to a piece written by a CanRC minister in Abbotsford that calls for taking seriously the implications of confessional subscription. As I stated in the comment section, we don’t need to charge people with heresy before asking them to provide clarification on exactly what they mean when they confess certain things. This is simply a matter of interpretation. But I would like to illustrate this point showing why our dialogue is so needed.

The following is a statement posted and apparently supported by a CanRC minister on his blog:
All of these passages portray baptism as (not in isolation but together with faith) the means by which we receive the gift of salvation, including forgiveness, union with Christ and the Holy Spirit . . . the New Testament writers were not embarrassed to attribute salvation to baptism as well as to faith . . .Of course, attributing this power to bring salvation to baptism separate from faith is an abuse of the New Testament.
And, then a direct statement by this minister in a previous post:

The agenda of the FV school of thought is to talk about the things God talks about in the way God talks about them. I remember conversing a couple of years ago with someone of substantial theological pedigree who objected to my statement that we are joined to Christ through baptism. My interlocutor insisted that baptism was a sign and seal of the covenant and not a means by which we are united to Christ. I found this statement analogous to insisting that my minivan is a Ford and not a Windstar. What really floored him, though, was my use of the prepositional phrase, through baptism." He seemed to think that nothing happens "through baptism" and that I should excise that formulation from my theological speech. I tried to explain to him that I attributed no inherent power to baptism, but wanted to be faithful to the Bible's way of speaking about baptism. Paul says in Romans 6:4: "We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism (dia tou baptismatos) into death." If Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, didn't hesitate to use this language, why do we? Well, it's risky, people say. But the risk in using these formulations is the Holy Spirit's risk and we are simply not afforded the liberty to say, "The Holy Spirit should have been a little more cautious with his vocabulary…We don't need to discard our theological explanations of baptism; we do need to ensure that our theological explanations do not eclipse the Bible's formulations. I'm therefore appreciative of the FV school of thought for reminding us to speak about the things God does in the way God does."
I recognize that many Reformed expositors have explained Romans 6:4 as water baptism, but none that I have read go to the extreme of what I am hearing suggested in the comments made above. What exactly happens "though baptism"? Most describe the baptism of Romans 6:4 as a sign and seal only of the believers death to sin. In my humble opinion, the focus of Romans 6:1-4 is not water baptism (sprinkling or immersion), but about the change effected by Christ’s death and resurrection, applied by the power of the Spirit—literal water has nothing to do with this. Thus we have the use of so many aorist tenses to describe what Christ has done. Christ has secured this change, killing our old man through his death. Our baptism indeed is a sign and seal of this, but only that. These benefits are received by faith alone, which Paul has explained with great detail in chs. 3-5. So in Romans 6 he is explaining how this change was accomplished, not through the act of water baptism, but through the death of Christ.

In the comments above, notice how everyone else is made to feel that they are missing the real meaning of the Holy Spirit because we should "just use the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit". Sure there is sacramental language, no one denies that. But why I am left feeling that a real assertion is here made that the thing and the thing signified are one and the same? You see, we are now left with all sorts of unanswered questions. On a side note, my Greek professor used to call the above error illegitimate totality transfer, namely, when one meaning of a word is applied across the board whenever the word is found. The accumulation of verses posted on the blog suggesting that the word baptism should be understood one way every time it is employed is clearly a breaking of this grammatical rule.

But here is my point: How am I to interpret these statements in light of our confessions? What is important here is that a basic reading of this minister’s statements leads me to believe that all infants are washed, forgiven, regenerated, and sealed with the Spirit through water baptism itself. If I am not characterizing his views fairly, then I am completely open to correction, and will make it right if I am wrong. I assure you that I am not heresy hunting, or even bringing charges, but rather genuinely trying to understand these statements in light of what we confess and believe Scripture teaches, and as we move forward in unity talk.

So notice carefully his language. Is he speaking of salvation in a broad sense? What is he talking about? Clearly salvation in the narrow sense. Taking these statements at face value, he supports the idea that baptism, the act of, is the means by which we receive the forgiveness of sins and are united to Christ. In other words, in baptism itself we have the washing away of all our sins. As I read this, he attempts to safeguard himself confessionally by saying that faith is included in the mix as it equally comes as a gift secured through the act. This is hallmark FV teaching, and he is quite open about being appreciative of FV language on baptism.

Now if we take the claim that is being presented at face value, “just read the confessions, this is what we believe,” how am I to determine what the CanRC believes LD 27 teaches when statements are made like this? Q&A 72 asks, "Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? No, only Jesus Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins." Help me to see where I am wrong, but the above statements do not agree with LD 27. Again, maybe I am reading uncharitably, but even this proves our struggle, what ambiguity do we have in our confessions on this issue? Do our confessions teach that the act of baptism unites us to Christ? And do our confessions teach something contrary to the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit? Why am I made to feel this way? In all sincerity, this troubles many of our consciences and provides a good justification for dialogue and open interpretation of the confessions.

Further, this same minister has devoted his entire blog to the rebuttal of the URCNAs report on justification. So how I am to discern what the CanRC believes regarding the FV view of baptism, or covenant theology, when a minister is posting things like this? If this is the CanRC view, then we have a major difference regarding our "confessional" view of baptism. Deep down, I do not want to believe this about the CanRC, and I love my brothers enough to want explanation. But when statements like this are being made, you can see why we are asking for clarification. Evidently, the "just read the confessions" doesn't work in this case, unless, of course, this minister needs to be corrected. But even then, it proves the need for dialogue.

NOTE to READERS:  I apologize for the difficulty in trying to follow the comment thread; for some unknown reason, many of Rev. Dejong's comments have disappeared--not sure how this can happen?  So you will notice I am responding to the air in some of these. It's too bad, the thread was quite a fascinating read. 

54 comments:

  1. Perhaps the author of this blog will forgive me for not interacting with the substance of the comment and only on one little detail, but I feel there is a misconception that ought to be corrected.

    The article says, "...this same minister has devoted his entire blog to the rebuttal of the URCNAs Nine Points. So how I am to discern what the CanRC believes...?"

    I hope this clarifies something for the readers of this blog; it should have been mentioned that this minister posted on his blog that he was, until very recently, a minister of a United Reformed Church. He says on the Episcopos blog on July 3, 2009, "I served as a minister in the URCNA for some 12 years."

    The article continues, "Deep down, I do not want to believe this about the CanRC, and I love my brothers enough to want explanation."

    I hope the United Reformed folk realize that, just like the Canadian Reformed Churches, they themselves are not a homogeneous group professing the exact same 'orthodox' doctrine, and it is a silly mistake to let one's opinion of a federation be so dimmed by the comments of a former minister of one's own federation. What this article proves to me, is that the discussion should not only be between the URC and the CanRCs, but there must be more internal discussions as well.

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  2. Hi Derek,

    Thanks for commenting on my blog.

    You write, "I hope this clarifies something for the readers of this blog; it should have been mentioned that this minister posted on his blog that he was, until very recently, a minister of a United Reformed Church. He says on the Episcopos blog on July 3, 2009, "I served as a minister in the URCNA for some 12 years."

    Fair enough. But do keep in mind that the URC as a federation has existed a little longer than this period. It took time to understand what the FV was saying. Within this period there was a lot of exchange and writing going on. At this point, however, there are no legitimate excuses for the tolerance of FV views in our churches. Agree? The question is how best to address them. "We just have the confessions" does not answer what you mean when you say certain things.

    Again you write, "I hope the United Reformed folk realize that, just like the Canadian Reformed Churches, they themselves are not a homogeneous group professing the exact same 'orthodox' doctrine, and it is a silly mistake to let one's opinion of a federation be so dimmed by the comments of a former minister of one's own federation. What this article proves to me, is that the discussion should not only be between the URC and the CanRCs, but there must be more internal discussions as well."

    Yes, and these discussions took place at our Synod when we adopted the NINE POINTS. They also took place in the study committee mandated to produce a report on justification, of which I am a member. It seems to me that you just supported the intention of my post; that your churches need to do likewise and speak authoritatively to these issues.

    Silly mistake? Why does asking for clarification result in being charged with having a dim view of the CanRC? If I have given that impression, I surely didn't mean to. But the fact remains, these statements are now that of a CanRC minister, and I am only trying to understand them.

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  3. Rev. Gordon,
    First, I must apologize if my post appeared snarky, which it did. I must remember I am responding to an authority in the URC.

    I do agree with you when you say there needs to be discussion of the FV in the Canadian Reformed Churches, but it is just as much the case in the URC, which adopted the Nine Points. Having adopted the Nine Points does not simply mean that discussion is over for the URC. In fact, that this minister has enough issue with the report on Justification (that was to perhaps be an end of discussion statement) to write 17 lengthy posts about it and its clarity, proves to me that discussion should not be considered over among the URC's yet.

    I am no theologian, nor am I a minister, or even a student of theology (yet), but I will comment more on what you wrote.

    You say, "What is important here is that a basic reading of this minister’s statements leads me to believe that all infants are washed, forgiven, regenerated, and sealed with the Spirit through water baptism itself."

    Do not overlook his statement in the parentheses, "baptism...(not in isolation but together with faith)..." He is clearly not teaching that all infants are washed, forgiven, regenerated..., but quite the opposite! The baptism needs to be answered by faith. The writer of the blog Episcopos certainly accepts that. You say that he would say, "faith... equally comes as a gift secured through the act." Where does he say that? If a basic reading of his statements told us that being baptized necessarily meant that you receive the faith necessary to abide in Christ, then I also would denounce his definition of baptism. But where does he tell us that faith is one of the benefits that every infant receives at baptism? He doesn't.

    You have an issue with him quoting Romans 6:4 to say that 'through baptism' we are buried with Christ (with faith, do not forget that he stressed the importance of faith), but our own Formula for Baptism (at least in the CanRC Book of Praise) contains in the prayer before baptism the statement, "that he (she) may be buried with Him by baptism into death and raised with Him to walk in newness of life (p 586)."

    If the writer of this formula did not have to make a careful exegesis of this text to ascertain whether he can relate this use of the word baptism to the sprinkling of water or to the actual washing of our sins, then it seems to me that the author of Episcopos is speaking in the manner of the formula.

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  4. Derek,

    No offense taken, and thanks for the thoughtful interaction.

    You write, “Do not overlook his statement in the parentheses, "baptism...(not in isolation but together with faith)..." He is clearly not teaching that all infants are washed, forgiven, regenerated..., but quite the opposite!”

    There is no way I can read his statements and draw your conclusion. He apparently challenges us to believe that baptism itself is the means by which we receive salvation, forgiveness, union, and the Holy Spirit, and yes faith too. As I said, we are left with the feeling that a real assertion is here made that the thing and the thing signified are one and the same. But, essentially you are asking me to answer for him in what he has not made clear.

    As for your Rom. 6:4 concern, I agreed that it is proper to speak sacramentally. I am not convinced that the focus of Romans 6:4 is water baptism, and, further, I warned of a certain grammatical error that is often made with regard to word use. Nevertheless, sacramental language is clearly used. But it is quite another issue to take this language and go beyond the way our confessions define terms in the way these symbols are applied. As I stated, I cannot see how his comments square with LD 27, and that is why I am promoting dialogue.

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  5. " .......it should have been mentioned that this minister posted on his blog that he was, until very recently, a minister of a United Reformed Church. He says on the Episcopos blog on July 3, 2009, "I served as a minister in the URCNA for some 12 years."

    I think it should be mentioned that The Rev Bill DeJong was born and raised in the CanRC. After he received his MDiv he was called to the URCNA where he served for 12 years. He has since returned to the CanRC. As someone who was also born and raised in the CanRC and recently moved to the URCNA I believe his views are indicative of the CanRC's position.

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  6. Thanks for the clarification. All the more reason for discussion.

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  7. Anonymous said: "As someone who was also born and raised in the CanRC and recently moved to the URCNA I believe his [Rev. B. deJong's] views are indicative of the CanRC's position."

    True or not, that final assertion is far too great a leap built on such a premise, don't you think? It's not fair to portray one minister (who might I add is not speaking for himself here, but only being interpreted) as speaking for the whole federation. Who gets to decide that?

    Perhaps a formal word on the matter could clear the air, but that might do more harm than good. I'd refrain from passing such judgment till something official comes along.

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  8. Hi Christopher! Someone kindly mentioned your blog to me and so I had the opportunity to read what you wrote. Thanks for taking some time to respond to what I wrote; perhaps in the future I'll include what you wrote and respond on my blog. You raise interesting points about levels of discourse, i.e., biblical, confessional and theological. Of course I don't want to deny what the Reformed confessions say about baptism -- and thank you for not making that accusation!! -- but I do think that we honor Christ more by using the consistent language of Scripture. There's of course a place for confessional language in explaining biblical locutions, but I think we should try as best we can to use biblical locutions. I find it problematic if we can't. Perhaps later I'll have to more to say. Thanks again for your thoughtful interaction!! The Lord's blessings to you and yours.

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  9. Rev. Gordon: You've made a fairly serious charge in claiming that Bill DeJong's (why didn't you use his name?) teaching on baptism is in conflict with the HC.

    But you did say, "Help me to see where I am wrong." You are wrong because Bill DeJong would certainly affirm that water "itself" - note well the question! - does not cleanse our sins. Nothing in his teaching is in conflict with LD 27.

    Blessings,

    Dave DeJong

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  10. Dear David,

    I’ve done no such thing; in fact, I even said I am not bringing a charge. Did you miss that? From what it seems, Bill thought it was thoughtful interaction and even thanked me for not doing so! I am sorry you do not choose so see it the same way.

    CJG

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  11. Sorry. Guess I read too quickly and focused on the wrong bits. I did note that you thought Bill DeJong's teaching didn't accord with HC 27.

    Bill - you're an irenic fellow, and I guess your friends rise up to defend you. :) But don't thank people for not indicting you! That's being too irenic... :).

    Btw, I don't think this is a legitimate use of the concept of "illegitimate totality transfer." Unless you are saying there is a second experience that Christians have to undergo, a "Spirit baptism" (as Pentecostals affirm). New covenant baptism is the baptism of the Spirit, as distinguished from John's baptism - isn't that the Reformed understanding?

    Blessings,

    Dave deJong

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  12. Dear Bill,

    I appreciate your response, and the tone with which you approached my concerns. This is nothing personal, and I am doing my best to write charitably. Thank you for recognizing this.

    I am in full support for using the language of Scripture, but this does not really answer my concern. Again, do our confessions teach something contrary to the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit? Our confessions define how our language is to be understood. It's one thing to employ sacramental language. It's quite another thing to suggest that what you mean by this language is that water baptism itself secures the benefits of Christ for us. You know that the FV teaches this, and what conclusions are we to draw when you are saying openly that you are appreciative of their language regarding baptism? If you hold to these views, I think you have to be honest and say openly that you are in agreement with the FV view of baptism. If not, then please consider your brothers who are troubled when they read comments that are apparently of little difference than what the FV is saying. I am just trying to understand how your views differ? So in light of your statements, it seems to me that you have to qualify whether or not you believe water baptism itself unites us to and secures for us the benefits of Christ. One already has confirmed here that this is a CanRC view. Right or wrong, how am I to know? At any rate, I do look forward to reading your response. Thanks for the dialogue!

    CJG

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  13. Hi David,

    Please go back and read my post. I didn't talk about Spirit baptism. Baptism, however, does have different meanings. Clearly Jesus was not talking about water baptism in a verse like Luke 12:50. Baptism here is speaking of death. Might there even be a correlation to Rom. 6:4? The grammatical rule does apply. But you miss the main point, no one I read is saying that baptism itself unites and secures these benefits. Reformed commentators have spoken of water baptism as a sign and seal, and only that.

    CJG

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  14. Re: Rev. DeJong's comment stating, "but I do think that we honor Christ more by using the consistent language of Scripture."

    Agreed, inasmuch as Sacramental forms are Proper, when those who receive the sign and are said to receive the thing signified.

    However, not when the above is Improper. Urninus comments, Improper or Figurative forms of speech are when the sign is said to be the thing itself, as "Baptism is the the washing of Regneration;" and when the sacrament is said to confer the thing, or things pertaining to that which is signified, as when baptism is said to save us.

    Compared, Figurative speeches which are used in referenece to the sacraments are to be interpreted in the same manner as the figurative speeches in refernece to sacrifices.

    Sacrifices are often called expiations for sin, and yet the Apostle Paul affirms that the blood of goats and bulls cannot take away sin. So when it is said, "Baptism saves us," is "the washing of regeneration," and "the washing away of sins;" it is the same thing as to say, Baptism is the the sign of all these things.

    Ergo, All those who are baptized with water are NOT made partakers of the grace of Christ, for the eternal election of God and his calling to the kingdom of Christ, is free. (point #14, Ursinus Theses on Baptism)

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  15. Hi Christopher,

    I’m just getting a chance now to offer you a more substantial reply. Once again, I thank you as a colleague in the ministry and a brother in Christ for reading my blog and for investing time to respond. I don’t pretend to have spoken the last word on these things and so I’m always more than happy to dialogue with and learn from others. My goal is to interpret the Word of God in a way that best honours the author of that Word — the Lord Jesus Christ.

    When it comes to Romans 6, then, I want to affirm the plain reading of the text and insist that Paul is speaking about water baptism. Your claim that “literal water has nothing to do with this” strikes me as erroneous. It would be extraordinarily difficult, I think, to argue that the term ‘baptism’ doesn’t refer to water baptism whenever it occurs without mention of the element in which it takes place. So, if baptism here refers to water baptism—a longstanding Reformed interpretation—literal water has everything to do with this.

    Second, I want to affirm that baptism is accorded by Paul an instrumental function in receiving salvation. In your mind, it sounds like I’m affirming an ex opere operato view of baptism and that has you concerned. I understand that reaction, appreciate your offense and share your rejection of ex opere operato construals of baptism’s efficacy. That’s why I was careful to include the statement by Professor Lane (which you also rightly included)—namely, “attributing this power to bring salvation to baptism separate from faith is an abuse of the New Testament.” I don’t see how this is different from John Calvin’s question and answer in his catechism: “When do the Sacraments produce their effect? When one receives them with faith.”

    With this in mind, it’s also legitimate to say with Calvin, “At whatever time we are baptized, we are once for all washed and purged for our whole life” (Institutes 4.25.3). Time constraints prevent me from saying more at this moment.

    Lastly, I do commend Peter Leithart’s writings on baptism for posing the right questions and presenting answers that grapple with the text of Scripture. I hope you will be blessed by your reading of Leithart as I have been. Thanks again for your interaction with my post. Keep up the good work of dialogue!! Fraternally yours, Bill

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  16. Bill,

    Thanks for the reply. I think this is helpful discussion and I am enjoying our dialogue. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers either; and, trust me, I am a great work in progress. But I also want to honor the Word of God and ensure, as Paul admonished, that we maintain a pattern of sound words.

    Romans 6:2 has been understood by Reformed theologians as being the “fundamental premise” of the apostle throughout the whole chapter. The reason we cannot go on sinning is because we died to sin. The old man has been killed, and in light of Romans 5, the old man is our old life of sin in the first Adam. As an aorist tense this is a single action completed in the past. So what does he mean in the next verses when he references being baptized into his death, buried through baptism, etc?

    You are asserting that the plain reading of this passage is that these above benefits are given through water baptism. This would not have been the “plain” reading to the Greeks. There were a few different words for baptism that the Greeks would often employ, bapto—which means to dip or immerse, and baptizo—which was often employed metaphorically to speak of change. The first word often spoke of something temporary, and the later, generally, as something permanent. You find in their writings that baptizo is often employed as having the meaning change. In this light, it would have been certainly erroneous for them to believe that Rom. 6:4 is teaching that union with Christ and burial occurred through their literal water baptism. That would defeat everything Paul had already developed in chapters 3-4, that Abraham was justified not through the act of circumcision, but by faith alone. Nevertheless, water baptism is a sign and seal of our death to sin, and therefore Reformed commentators have felt comfortable using sacramental language when speaking of Rom. 6:3-4.

    You write, “It would be extraordinarily difficult, I think, to argue that the term ‘baptism’ doesn’t refer to water baptism whenever it occurs without mention of the element in which it takes place”

    Should I read Luke 12:50 as water baptism on this same premise?

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  17. The bigger issue here is raised by your concern that you want to “affirm that baptism is accorded by Paul an instrumental function in receiving salvation.” Again, you really need to interject what you made clear in the previous paragraph and add the word “water”. Here is how it comes out: “I want to affirm that [water] baptism is instrumental in receiving salvation…” Now isn’t your assertion, with the support of Lane’s comment, that salvation should be narrowly defined to include, forgiveness, union, the Holy Spirit, and faith? Salvation has been narrowly defined here; we can’t miss that. All said, here is how the new formula comes out: “I want to affirm that [water] baptism is accorded by Paul an instrumental function in receiving salvation [which means forgiveness, union, the Holy Spirit and faith]. Where would I go to find support for that in our confessions? Isn’t that exactly opposite of Q&A 72? It’s one thing to speak sacramentally, it’s quite another to lead us to believe that the sign is the reality.

    The difference with Calvin is to understand that it is proper to employ metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, simile, metaphor, and so forth. The question of course is what he means by the statement that you cited? We find an answer to that in 1 Cor. 10, Calvin writes, “I have, however, already stated, that the reality of the things signified was exhibited in connection with the ancient sacraments. As, therefore, they were emblems of Christ, it follows, that Christ was connected with them, not locally, nor by a natural or substantial union, but sacramentally. On this principle the Apostle says, that the rock was Christ, for nothing is more common than metonymy in speaking of sacraments. The name of the thing, therefore, is transferred here to the sign — not as if it were strictly applicable, but figuratively, on the ground of that connection which I have mentioned.

    Calvin then goes on to warn against confounding the reality and the sign. I know there is a danger equally in the other direction. But the “middle ground” to this is to safeguard ourselves by remaining with the explanation of our confessions that tell us unequivocally that the reality is given through Christ’s blood and Spirit (LD 27), of which baptism is a sign and seal.

    Mr. Catechist already addressed this, but let me cite Ursinus again: “A sacramental form of speech is, wherein the name or properties of the sign are given to the things signified; or of the contrary, the name of the thing signified to the sign and the meaning is, not that one is changed into the other, but that the sign represents and seals the thing signified.”

    I think this was also a subject of discussion in the recent SJC Panel’s call for an indictment against Leithart. But I am not totally sure.

    So, if you are saying that water baptism is the means by which we receive salvation, as narrowly defined, then I guess we still need an answer to the concern raised by Scott Clark: What is the range of teaching in the CanRCs regarding “baptismal union with Christ”?

    Bill, thanks for the dialogue! You are quite charitable, I very much appreciate this discussion. Hopefully we will meet in a different venue. Also, I think David was correct in asking why I didn’t mention your name. I should have. I was more concerned with the substance of thought in the CanRC, than the who. I hope this is profitable for those who read.

    CJG

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  18. Christopher,

    I can offer a quick response at the moment with the promise of a more substantial response later. I specifically have not resorted to confessional language about baptism only because I wanted to keep the discussion revolving, as much as possible, around the text of Romans 6. I've been guilty of naivete before! So, in confessional language, I would say that baptism functions analogously (not identically) to the Word as a means by which God makes us partakers of Christ and his benefits (Lord's Day 25).Thus Peter can say, in what strikes us as theological imprecision, that we are born again "through the living and enduring Word of God" ( Pet 1:23). The question theologians must answer is, how do we reconcile texts which attribute instrumentality of salvation to means of grace (e.g., preached Word and baptism) with other texts which clearly attribute instrumentality to faith. The confessional answer is that Romans 6:4 utilizes dynamic language which attributes to the visible sign the blessings of the reality signified (LD 26). To state this theologically, union with Christ by faith is invisibly effected by the Holy Spirit and visibly signified and sealed by baptism. I agree with these confessional and theological explanations, but I want the freedom to speak about baptism the way Paul does and about the preached Word the way Peter does. Again, I'm not denying the confessional explanations so much as I am emphasizing the biblical locutions. Put differently, we should learn afresh to speak the language of Scripture and keep confessional verbiage for an explanatory role. I hope this brings some clarity. I do appreciate very much, Christopher, that you pose questions rather than make assumptions.

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  19. Dear Bill,

    Thanks for responding.

    I hope Romans 6 isn’t the hinge upon which this viewpoint all turns. I made a case for a different perspective above.

    You write, “I agree with these confessional and theological explanations, but I want the freedom to speak about baptism the way Paul does and about the preached Word the way Peter does. Again, I'm not denying the confessional explanations so much as I am emphasizing the biblical locutions.”

    If all anyone thought in this present controversy is that the assertions made with regard to discussion surrounding baptismal efficacy were simply a matter of employing sacramental language, I hardly think we would be having this discussion. Of course, if one posits such a dichotomy between the Bible and confessions, with the added assertion that one way of speaking is more honoring to the Lord, “if one just uses the language of the Bible”, this will undoubtedly earn him the charge of being a bit biblicistic (maybe even fundamentalist-like) and certainly raise alarm bells. The FV has certainly done this.

    I am just struggling to understand if your post is suggesting that the sign and the thing signified are de facto the same thing. Think again about how our average parishioner will read this statement: I want to affirm that [water] baptism is accorded by Paul an instrumental function in receiving salvation [which means forgiveness, union, the Holy Spirit and faith]. I can’t read this in light of LD 72 without being really troubled. It just leaves me with the impression that your position is that “through baptism”, every person is initiated into the covenant of grace in the same way, meaning ALL recipients of the water ACTUALLY have the reality it signifies, including forgiveness, union, the Holy Spirit, faith, etc.

    You can certainly speak sacramentally without drawing the above conclusion, correct? Am I unfairly attributing a wrong view to you?

    Anyway, just a quick answer to your post. Thanks again.

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  20. Christopher,

    I have a small window of time in-between two classes I'm teaching this evening, but I think you've misunderstood me. I agree with you that there's something seemingly offensive about my language to the average parishioner. I would argue that the offense lies in the Word of God. It's offensive to Protestant ears to hear that we are buried with Christ through baptism and that we are regenerated through the Word. Some choose to deal with the offense by deliberately avoiding the language of Scripture, and this option is unacceptable to me.

    I think answers 72 and 73 of the Heidelberg Catechism fit well with my emphasis. The Scriptures call the washing with water the washing away of sin. It's so seemingly offensive. Why? Put differently, the Scriptures ascribe an instrumental function to baptism in salvation. It's so seemingly offensive. Why? And then follows the answer.

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  21. Christopher,

    I just finished teaching my second class and so I have a bit more time to formulate my thoughts. I'm hoping my appeal to the instrumental role of preaching the gospel is a helpful analogy. I suspect you would have little difficulty affirming that, according to Scripture, preaching the Word is a (instrumental) means by which we receive salvation. Why should we be unnerved by describing baptism with this language? Or: why are we not unnerved by talk about preaching the gospel as an instrumental means by which we receive salvation? After all, preaching is not the shedding of Christ's blood nor the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. Yet God says that we are regenerated by the Word, and we should not take umbrage at that.

    We find Calvin using exactly this kind of language in his commentary on Acts 22: "Therefore when it is a question of the remission of sins, we must look for no other originator of it than the Heavenly Father; we must imagine no other material cause than the blood of Christ. But when it comes to the formal cause the Holy Spirit indeed plays the leading role, but an inferior instrument is added, the preaching of the Gospel and baptism itself. Finally, even if God alone is acting by the inward power of His Spirit, yet that does not prevent Him from making use, as He pleases, of the instruments and means (media), which he knows to be suitable, not because he shuts up in the element something taken either from the Holy Spirit, or from the blood of Christ, but because He wishes the sign itself to be a prop for our weakness. Therefore since baptism helps our faith to receive remission of sins from the blood of Christ and that alone, it is called the laver (lavacrum) of the soul."

    What Calvin does here is what I think is largely absent in contemporary Reformed expositions of baptism -- he acknowledges the language of Scripture and makes no attempt to evade it, but finds a way to explain it without denuding it.

    Well, it's approaching bedtime in EST. I hope you're understanding me with greater clarity.

    Wishing you a good night,
    Bill

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  22. Rev. Dejong wrote, taken from the original post, a friend objected to his statement, "that we are joined to Christ through baptism".

    I would like to understand further what Rev. Dejong would teach concerning how the joining of subjects to Christ through water baptism differs from the faith required in subjects prior to water baptism, which also joins them to Christ? Are they one and the same? Ae both necessary or required?

    If faith is required first, as the Holy Spirit speaks, Acts 10:47, Mark 16:16, then are we not already joined to Christ prior to water baptism? Is there a double joining to Christ requirement in his theology - one through faith and another through baptism?

    Ursinus comments, where baptism is spoken of as a saving ordinance (Acts 22:16. Rom 6:3. Col. 2:11. Titus 3:5) "From this it is evident why baptism is not repeated; because it is the sign of our reception into the favor and covenant of God, which remains for ever sure and valid in the case of those who repent. He, therefore, that has lost a sense of God's favor by falling into sin, does not need another application of baptism, but repentance for his sins. The same thing is also evident from the fact, that regeneration does not take place more than once in the same individual. We are born but once, and renewed but once: for he who is once truly ingrafted into Christ, is never wholly cast away. Hence it is sufficient that baptism which is the washing of regeneration should be received but once, especially since regeneration and salvation does not absolutely depend upon baptism; otherwise it would be necessary for us to be rebaptized as often as we might sin."

    "Baptism has the power to declare or seal according to the command of God". Baptism does not join us to Christ. Faith joins us to Christ.

    Furthermore, those who believe not and are baptized, shall be dammed.
    Ursinus, “The promise of salvation is added both to faith and baptism, but in different respect.
    It is added to faith, as the necessary means by which we receive salvation; and to baptism, as the sign which that which faith receives.“

    Therefore, is it improper to say that we are “joined to Christ through baptism” where such an addition would make faith of none effect.

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  23. Bill,

    I am not questioning the proper use of the Bible’s language. For instance, when I give the free offer of the gospel I do not always feel the need to qualify myself by saying, “oh yeah, but keep in mind you can’t come unless…” Further, I can say, “For God so loved the world”, without always having to explain the qualitative/quantitative distinction. But it would be quite another thing if I wanted my parishioners to believe that Christ actually atoned for the sins of all people. Our people should understand what we mean when we say certain things by the way our confessions define our terms. So in this case, our Canons provide explanation of what is meant when we use this language—and we have the responsibility to teach our people what is meant when we say certain things.

    With regard to baptism, your explanations seem to be going beyond the way our confessions define our terms and explain how they are to be applied. As I have been reading you, you are saying quite openly that fidelity to the Biblical language requires us to say and believe that baptism does indeed confer these benefits. So when Q&A 72 asks does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? And then answers by saying, “no, only Jesus Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins”, how can you say openly that your view fits answer 72-73? You write, “Scriptures call the washing with water the washing away of sin”. As a sign? The reality itself? What are we to understand by Acts 22:16? Is this not just proper sacramental language? Or have you consistently assured us that when we use Scriptures language we are to believe that all recipients, through the act, receive these benefits?

    I know I have repeatedly raised this, but I don't seem to be getting a clear answer.

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  24. You ask, “Why should we be unnerved by describing baptism with this language? Or: why are we not unnerved by talk about preaching the gospel as an instrumental means by which we receive salvation?”

    The Word is the primary central means of grace without which the sacraments cannot even be understood. We have always taught this in Reformed churches. You are putting the cart before the horse. The sacraments are an appendix to the Word to aid us in our weakness; the sacrament is never complete without the Word. This is not true in reverse.

    So as I read you, you assert that baptism also must be a means of conferring grace. Are you not giving the sacraments power and life of their own? Again, I am not seeing at all how this squares with our confessions. HC Q&A 65 asks, “Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed? Answer: From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments. Notice carefully how the Q&A speaks of the sacrament, it only confirms, it does not create or confer. I hope all readers catch this. The preaching of the gospel is not a sign, and baptism itself is not the reality. You are confusing the nature of a sign. Baptism is a means to signify grace and confirm grace, it is not the instrument of bestowing grace; this is contrary to the nature of a sign.

    Further, the power of the Word can never be dissociated from the work of the Holy Spirit. The Word’s effectiveness is a result of the Holy Spirit’s work; he makes the Word effective. But you are having us to believe that fidelity to the Biblical language requires us to say that through water, the thing signified is de facto conferred to all. It should be noted that the preaching of the Word doesn’t have the same effect. Not all recipients of the Word have faith created in the heart by the Spirit. Why? Because the source of the efficacy is the Spirit who works when and where he wills.

    So if the preaching of the Word does not create faith in every recipient, why would we want to assert this power to a one-time sign of initiation? Again, the efficacy of the sacrament is the efficacy of the sign and the seal, and only this. This is why Calvin said the seals which are attached are nothing taken by themselves, yet when added to the writing, they seal what is written ( Ins. 4:14:5). It is standard Reformed teaching that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have the efficacy of a signifying seal, and only that.

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  25. As I stated in the write-up, why are we made to feel that we are doing something wrong in Reformed churches? Why do I feel such a dichotomy between our confessions and the Bible? Why is it asserted that Biblical language is offensive to Protestant ears? It is not to me. I am very happy in the Reformed faith. I echo Machen, “Isn’t the Reformed faith grand”? But here I am being challenged to “just read the Bible” with the insinuation that our confessions are lacking in core substance. I can’t do it. This is everything the FV has leveled against us. And the OPC, the PCA, the RCUS, the URCNA, and others have determined that these views are outside the bounds of the Reformed confessions. So it’s not just a matter of a little word dispute.

    I cite the following statement only to warn us all (especially me), of how dangerous it has been in the history of the church to deviate from the received faith. “When heresy rises in an evangelical body, it is never frank and open. It always begins by skulking, and assuming a disguise. Its advocates, when together, boast of great improvements, and congratulate one another on having gone greatly beyond the old dead orthodoxy, and on having left behind many of its antiquated errors: but when taxed with deviations from the received faith, they complain of the unreasonableness of their accusers, as they differ from it only in words. This has been the standing course of errorists ever since the apostolic age. They are almost never honest and candid as a party, until they gain strength enough to be sure of some degree of popularity (Samuel Miller).”

    I don’t know if we will get any further than we have. But the discussion I hope has been helpful to those who read.

    CJG

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  26. Hi Christopher,

    Because of the distractions of my present ministry I completely forgot about this discussion. Please accept my apologies!

    You seem eager to distance what I wrote about baptism from what the confessions say about baptism and I find that zeal puzzling. I'll extend to you the benefit of the doubt and assume that I've done poorly in showing you how I think they agree.

    Moreover, you seem troubled by my talk about baptism as a means (or instrument) of salvation. I would remind you of what Lord's Day 25 of the catechism says: the faith by which we are made partakers of Christ comes from the Holy Spirit who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel and confirms it by the use of the sacraments. I believe it's in this sense that, to use Calvin's words, "baptism helps our faith to receive remission of sins from the blood of Christ." So I don't want to deny the work of the Holy Spirit or the blessing of Christ, but I do want to affirm the Reformed view that baptism is a means of grace or a means of salvation.

    Here's a question I'd be interested in hearing you answer: How is baptism a means of salvation? Or better: how is baptism made effectual for salvation?

    Kind regards in Christ,
    Bill

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  27. Hi Bill,

    You forgot about our discussion? :)

    You really have not interacted with the many points I made in the last post, points that dealt with your concerns of the instrumentality of the Word, confirming versus conferring, etc. I would encourage you to address the substance of my last posts.

    With regard to your question, I answered this clearly. But to state again briefly: Baptism is a means to signify grace and confirm grace, it is not the instrument of bestowing grace. What you are doing with a sign is contrary to the nature of a sign. The efficacy of the sacrament is the efficacy of the sign and the seal, and only this. It is a visible word representing God’s promises.

    You write, "you seem troubled by my talk about baptism as a means (or instrument) of salvation". Yes, only because you are attributing to baptism what is proper only to faith. Our Reformed fathers made clear distinctions on this issue. Ursinus states, “The promise of salvation is added both to faith and baptism, but in different respect. It is added to faith, as the necessary means by which we receive salvation; and to baptism, as the sign which that which faith receives.“ How does your view square with this statement?

    Your reference to Q&A 65 is puzzling. The answer speaks of baptism not as an instrument of bestowing grace, but as a sign to confirm—a distinction that has been lacking in your responses. Calvin has made this same distinction over and over.

    Just a brief question for you: Does fidelity to the Biblical language require us to teach that water baptism does indeed confer these benefits, uniting all to Christ who receive the sign?

    Blessings,

    CJG

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  28. Brothers,

    I've been following your discussion with great interest. I hope you don't mind my interjecting a question for both of you. I was intrigued by Bill's introduction of the expression "means of salvation," whereas normally we say, "means of grace." Then I realized that this language comes from the Westminster Standards. So, my question is whether both of you would affirm QA 91 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

    "How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?

    The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them."

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  29. Hi Wes,

    Thanks for the question and for joining in on the discussion.

    This speaks directly to Bill's question in his previous post. I am glad you pointed us here. The answer speaks to everything that I have been saying in this dialogue. Baptism is a means to signify grace and confirm grace, not bestow (see the next Q&A). Again, we see that the Reformed confessions consistently refuse to grant any conferring power to the sacrament itself, recognizing that the efficacy of the sacrament is only that of the sign and seal. For the reality, we are pointed to the soverign workings of the Spirit. So essentially this is the same thing Ursinus said when he referred to faith as the necessary means by which we receive salvation, and to baptism as the sign which seals that which faith receives.

    CJG

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  30. Hi Wes (and Christopher!),

    You saw through me!! I had in mind the Westminster Larger Catechism question when I posed my question to Christopher who seems inordinately troubled by the language of means or instrument of salvation to describe baptism, though it's found in both Calvin and the Reformed confessions. Personally, I LOVE answer 161 (and answer 154!) in the Westminster Larger Catechism. What Christopher so adamantly denies, the Westminster Catechisms freely affirm.

    There's a place of course for understanding the sacraments as signs and seals (which I affirmed on December 15 @ 2:50pm -- something Christopher must have missed!), but we can't resort too quickly to those categories. We first need to grapple with the Scriptures' predominant language of instrumentality or means to describe the function of baptism. This is the sage approach of the Westminster Standards. Only after you've explained how sacraments become effectual means of salvation (q.161) are you free to explain baptism in other categories (161).

    Christopher would be right if he insisted that the Westminster standards are not our standards, but I find it lamentable that we don't have a question and answer like this in the Heidelberg Catechism. Having said that, I wouldn't want to exchange the Heidelberg for the Westminster, Large of Small!!

    Christopher asks: Does fidelity to the Biblical language require us to teach that water baptism does indeed confer these benefits, uniting all to Christ who receive the sign?

    Isn't this the question I've been answering again and again? The efficacy of baptism as a means of salvation is tied to faith (see my Lane quote above). There is of course a sense in which all who are baptized, head for head, are received into Christ's body, the church, but the efficacy of baptism as a means of salvation -- I repeat myself -- is tied to faith.

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  31. Bill,

    A confessional Presbyterian in our midst! I would have never guessed. You should have come out before. Wonder if others saw what I missed. :)

    What I denied was speaking of the sacrament beyond the way the Reformed tradition has spoken. I heartily affirmed the language of the WCF—did you miss that? But isn’t it interesting, Bill, the way the WCF explains this language? It doesn’t suggest that Scripture is asserting something different than what is confessed—something that you have repeatedly suggested.

    You write, “Isn't this the question I've been answering again and again? The efficacy of baptism as a means of salvation is tied to faith (see my Lane quote above).”

    Let me cite again the concern of my original post, “As I read this, he attempts to safeguard himself confessionally by saying that faith is included in the mix as it equally comes as a gift secured through the act. Is this what you mean, because this is what I was trying to understand?

    You write, "There is of course a sense in which all who are baptized, head for head, are received into Christ's body, the church, but the efficacy of baptism as a means of salvation -- I repeat myself -- is tied to faith."

    This I think this gets to the heart of the concern. This would really help me if you would make this clear. In what sense, do please explain?

    On another note, I do accept your apology for not being clear. Since you recognized this, I think it’s a bit unfair to act as if I purposely chose to misread you. I was genuinely trying to understand your post. It would be interesting to survey the readers to see if they read you oh so clearly. Have you not been holding things back? For instance, finally at this point in the discussion you admit to a head-to-head application? And, at this point, to suggest that all along you were baiting and hooking with the WCF reference, waiting for all of us to catch on, well that’s a bit disingenuous, don’t you think?

    CJG

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  32. I, too, have been following with great interest.

    Rev. Gordon: what do you mean by your skepticism with respect to the "head for head" approach? Generally in the CanRC it is meant to affirm that all children of believers are truly in the covenant of grace - not that they will all be finally saved.

    I have more to say, but no time now.

    Blessings,

    Dave deJong

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  33. Dear David,

    Having to do with question ten of Scott Clark's questions for the CanRC:

    In the Nine Points, the URCs said, “we reject the errors of those…who teach that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace in precisely the same way such that there is no distinction between those who have only an outward relation to the covenant of grace by baptism and those who are united to Christ by grace alone through faith.” At least one current CanRC minister has, in the past, preached publicly a sermon teaching that, at baptism, every baptized person is united “head for head” with Christ. What is the range of teaching in the CanRCs regarding “baptismal union with Christ”?

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  34. Chris,

    All I can comment is what I teach and what I've been taught. I've always been taught that there are two ways of relating to the covenant of grace: faith or unbelief. This fits with the vital/legal distinction of Schilder. It is through faith in Christ that we are united to him in a saving way. In my youth I heard repeated warnings that we ought not to trust our baptism as such to save us, but rather to trust and believe the promises signed and sealed in baptism. That's what I was taught and that's what I teach. I've never been taught that all baptized persons relate to the covenant of grace in exactly the same way. From that perspective, personally I don't have a problem with point 6 of the Nine Points.

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  35. Well Wes,

    Your charitable read of point 6 is commendable; however, many CanRC ministers do have significant reservations with point 6. That's no secret - there have been conferences in Ontario discussing it. Rev. Gordon's citation of the very point that gives many CanRCs pause is a somewhat ironic answer to my question.

    Maybe we can sharpen the discussion this way. Wes speaks of the "promises signed and sealed to us in baptism." The CanRC maintain that all children receive those promises - not necessarily that all will respond in faith.

    Revs. Gordon and Bredenhof, do you believe that every child who is baptized receives the PROMISES of baptism? If so, we have concord.

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  36. Wes,

    I really appreciate a concise, clear answer. Thank you, and hopefully answers like this will be given to further our unity talk. But, if can be suggested so openly that baptism is an effectual means of salvation suggesting that the Biblical way of speaking should be understood differently than how our confessions define this language, I have no idea how you are not going to end up trusting in your baptism.

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  37. Dave,

    Yes, I believe that every child receives the promises of baptism, but not every child receives what is promised. One can only receive what is promised through faith.

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  38. If I may leave two more comments, one a defense Bill DeJong and then some further questions for Rev. Gordon.

    Rev. Gordon: your main concern with Bill DeJong seems to be the strong language he employs regarding baptism, language he insists is scriptural. I think your concerns boil down to two points:

    1) this undermines sola fide
    2) it confuses sign/thing signified, giving too much "power" to baptism itself

    Rev. DeJong has answered 1) repeatedly, insisting the sacrament must be received with faith. As for 2), even in the part you quoted, he says: "I tried to explain to him that I attributed no inherent power to baptism...". If Bill attributes no *inherent* power with baptism then I would maintain that he agrees with LD 27, which speaks of the water *itself*. It seems both points 1) and 2) are addressed, though perhaps not with formulations that you would like.

    Bill DeJong certainly does speak about the sacraments in a stronger way than you do. However, this does not prove that he is outside the confessions. In this light it was hardly disingenuous of him to introduce language from the Westminster standards without explicitly referring to it as such! Given the fact that he is being (not explicitly, but implicitly) accused of being outside the pale of the Reformed confessions with respect to baptism, this tack was highly appropriate. Indeed, it is a preferred scriptural mode of argumentation - read a few of our Lord's parables and you will see that.

    Blessings,

    Dave DeJong (no relation to BDJ :)

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  39. Second, Rev. Gordon, I have some questions for you.

    You asked above, "Why is it asserted that Biblical language is offensive to Protestant ears? It is not to me." I submit that your exegesis of Rom 6:2, which is extremely unconvincing, proves that biblical language is offensive to you.

    Indeed, if there is one thing I have been discouraged by in your approach, it is the lack of evident passion for exegesis. It is SCRIPTURE that needs to excite us and fuel our brotherly debates. We need to labor to convince those who disagree from the scriptures that our position is correct, whatever side we are on.

    You have suggested Rom 6 is not about water baptism. Instead, you have tossed out various suggestions for its interpretation. Lk 12:50, while an intriguing parallel, hardly fits because there "baptizo" refers to the upcoming passion, and no one is saying that the Christians in Rome were dying. You have said "baptizo" can mean "change," without providing any evidence. Indeed, you have failed to develop a clear and coherent exegesis of Rom 6, which is what your approach (claiming illegitimate totality transfer) actually requires.

    Note that Rom 6 does not simply give us a word "baptizo" to argue about. It gives us a phrase: "baptized into Christ Jesus." Whatever exegesis you end up with, you need to deal with the word "baptizo" as part of that phrase. How this can mean anything other than water baptism - the rite by which Roman believers were initiated into the faith - is beyond my comprehension. Are there any commentaries that adopt your view? Is there anywhere you can point to make your argument more clear?

    If not, then you are left happily maintaining an aberrant interpretation of scripture in order to maintain your interpretation of the confessions. The horse and the cart already came up once in this conversation.

    Furthermore, if you don't understand Rom 6, you are also going struggle with other of the Apostle's beautiful teachings. What do you, Rev. Gordon, do with Gal 3:27: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." What do you do with John 6, which uses strong language with respect to the Lord's Supper? Your view of sacramental efficacy (only a sign and seal) seems actually more Zwinglian than Calvinist.

    Blessings,

    Dave DeJong

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  40. David,

    Oh my...where to begin. I don't think this refines much, we really have been through the substance of this already. I would encourage you to reread my reply on efficacy. Certainly you are not suggesting that all infants, through water baptism, have the reality itself and are joined to Christ, and then face the possibility of losing salvation? Are there covenant breakers? What consititutes a covenant breaker? If you say rejection of the promises, then, it seems to me, you are required to affirm the internal/external distinction, of which point 6 addresses, if not, you will certainly end up in denial of the fifth head.

    As for the other comments...sigh, I think Bill is quite capable of answering for himself.

    As for your other questions, much of this unreasonable and just plain uninformed. Many Reformed commentators held to my view. If you want to charge me with a lack of passionate exegesis, then I do invite you to the LURC to hear sermons and make a more informed judgment, especially before making off-handed comments like this.

    You need to reread the posts, I said I have no problem affirming that Romans 6 speaks of water baptism, in so far as it signs and seals. If this was good enough for Ursinus, Witsius, Perkins, and our Reformed fathers, it is for me too. To go beyond this, is to go to Rome. So, if you miss this, I really can't help you.

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  41. Rev Gordon wrote, “It would be interesting to survey the readers to see if they read you oh so clearly.” I for one struggle with Rev. Dejong’s mixed messages but especially the strong emphasis toward trusting in our baptism via means at the expense of the reality. Here he is more clear.

    Rev. Dejong appears to elevate the efficacy of baptism being joined to Christ through baptism, via the means, not over and against faith but at the very least equating it to a same or similar equivalent degree of being joined to Christ through faith. Though he acknowledges the faith, it remains unclear why he attributes so much weight to being joined to Christ through baptism in this way.

    The FV tends to depart significantly in this regard also and drifts toward an extensive emphasis on the later. The matter is one of emphasis which practically changes the confessed doctrine.

    I also, have never been taught that all baptized persons relate to the covenant of grace in exactly the same way, To over emphasise the means is to drift toward this end and to effectively teach to trust in your baptism.

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  42. Dear Catechist,

    I think your comments are very helpful. I hope they will be addressed. The lack of clarity on this point has been my great frustration in this discussion. A lot of what we have experienced in terms of clarity is the result of confusion in the FV position itself. Our confessions are very clear on this issue.


    CJG

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  43. Brothers

    I have been following your discussion with great interest and like to make a few comments. Although I do have a BA in religious studies I am, for lack of a better description, a common parishioner. I cannot claim extensive knowledge of the Reformed fathers and am certainly incapable of quoting them. The issues you are discussing, however, have been of long time interest to me. (As a previous pastor of mine can attest to.) I was born and raised in the CanRC and have now been attending a URC congregation for the past 3 years. (our new residence is much closer to the URC.)

    I think, as pastors, it is critically important for you to be aware of what your parishioners hear and understand, rather then concentrating, and arguing about the use of confessional vs biblical language. This is not negating the importance of language but rather pointing out that the essence of any language is to convey meaning and understanding rather then technically correct wording. In this regard I do not envy your calling.

    I apologize if my understanding of this matter is simplistic or poorly worded.

    I believe Paul in Romans 6 is undoubtedly referring to Water Baptism. At the same time I believe that he would be aghast at the suggestion that Water Baptism has any effectual role in Salvation. How could it be possible that he spent the first 6 chapters of this book outlining how "this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe," only to add that Water Baptism is effectual in some way too? (regardless if you add the caveat "when faith is included.) If Water Baptism is in any way effectual in salvation then something is being added to the sacrifice of Christ. Saying that faith must be included doesn't in any way change this.

    In Chapter 4 Paul shows how Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness - before he was circumcised. Abraham's circumcision testified to him what already was, (righteousness by faith) and testified to his children what ought to be.

    In the same way water baptism in adults testifies to what is (righteousness by faith) while in infants it testifies to them what ought to be. Baptism does not "do" anything other then testify to Christ.

    In this discourse reference was made to comparing the effect of Baptism to that of The Word. It was suggested that just as the Word must be mixed with faith so must Baptism in order to be effectual. I would argue that The Word, if understood as the verbal words preached from the pulpit, or the black and white letters found on the page of the Bible, is, like Water Baptism, ineffectual in Salvation. The spoken and written words serve only as a medium to convey the message "righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ." It is Christ (The Word) which is effective not "the words."

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  44. Since the scriptures are inspired and thus in complete conformity with God's message and will, John (in Chapter 1) equates the written word with Christ. The message of the scriptures IS Christ and cannot be separated from each other.

    Likewise the message of Water Baptism is in unity with that of the entire written scripture "righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ." In the same manner the message of Water Baptism cannot be separated from the act.

    Thus when Paul addresses the Christians of Rome in Chapter 6 he is indeed referring to Water Baptism. To separate the act of water baptism from the message that it conveys is like attempting to separate the written words of the Bible from the message of Christ. The sprinkling, or immersion of water does exactly what the scriptures and preaching do - point us to Christ. Their message is clear regardless of whether it is accepted or declined. It is the faith that Holy Spirit works through the word and sacraments (means) that unites us with Christ. Since both the word, and the sacraments testify to this, Paul is perfectly correct when he says we are "baptized into his death."

    In Christ,

    Rich VanderBoom.

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  45. Hi Rich,

    I sincerely appreciate your comments and, trust me my great concern is for you, the parishioner. This is the reason I have gone to so much trouble to address the issue. Clarity is really my great concern in this whole discussion--it has been completely lacking. Therefore, I do think we are on dangerous ground when we assert that the Bible speaks in different categories than our confessions. We promised as office bearers to walk together in confessional integrity. To suggest that the Bible asserts something different (and on something as important as this) than what our confessions have already defined is going to create chaos in our churches. They are there to protect us.

    Therefore much of what you say, I agree with and grieve that we are faced with these struggles. But it has to be exposed.

    With regard to Romans 6, when I preached this text, I didn't reject this as being water baptism; the point I was trying to make here was that this death to sin, or change speaks to the very same thing baptism signifies. So I have no problem referring to water baptism in Romans 6, as long as it is qualified as being a sign and seal. To go further than this is to end up with the problems you have outlined. The focus of Romans 6 is Christ's work, not our water baptism.

    I wanted to show to all readers what happens when we do not speak with clarity. You are left feeling “aghast”, as you put it, because the suggestion that baptism is an effectual means of salvation, just letting the Bible speak on it own in a different category, actually ends of defeating what Paul said in chapter 3-5 concerning justification by faith. I’m just surprised that more aren’t aghast.

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  46. Here is a summary of the conversation (I will try to be fair here and capture my frustration):


    C: I am confused when you say water baptism unites us to Jesus and we receive forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and faith.

    B: I need the freedom to speak as Paul does.

    C: How does Paul speak?

    B: His verbiage is offensive to our Protestant ears. We first have to let Scripture speak in its own category; and when we read it this way, we find that Paul means the water itself washes away sin—an effectual means of salvation.

    C: What? This sure seems to be saying more than our confessions. Do you mean confer? Or confirming only? Do you know how the average parishioner is going to hear this?

    B: Just read the Bible; I mean what it says, baptism itself washes away sin. It's offensive by nature.

    C: Well, I have no problem affirming sacramental language. You do realize that the Bible employs metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, simile, metaphor, and so forth? Our confessions define how our sacramental language is to be understood.

    B: I agree with our confessions, but we just have to take Scripture on its own terms.

    C: What, are you saying two things? Are you saying baptism efficaciously confers salvation to all recipients, because our confessions speak differently?

    B: I have made this clear, over and over. You are eager to distance what I wrote about baptism from what the confessions say about baptism.

    C: Haven’t you suggested that the Bible's language is something different than what we believe in protestant confessions?

    Interjection: Have you guys read WCF 161?

    C: Yes, it explains what we mean when we speak of baptism as instrumental. I agree.

    B: There it is! C adamantly denies this language. There is a place for speaking of baptism as a sign and seal in our confessions, but let the Bible speak first when it calls baptism an effectual means for salvation.

    C. Does the Bible mean something different? Doesn’t the WCH 161 and 162 explain what the Bible means by this; that baptism signifies, seals, and exhibits these benefits?

    B: Look, I have said it's tied to faith, and there is a sense that all are united head for head through water baptism.

    C: Where does this faith come from? And what do you mean by head for head?

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  47. And so it goes. What has been made clear? You see the reason we need to have discussion between the two churches bodies. One might chalk all this up as little disputes, but, for you sake, I think the consequences are huge if we are not clear. When it comes to the FV, other ecclesiastical bodies have already spoken along with the URCNA. I am not sure if the substance of what has been revealed here is much different than what was considered when these bodies rendered judgments. But this struggle for clarity has been at the heart of the FV controversy. Things that our confessions made clear; now seem to be challenged with the notion that the Bible speaks in a different category.

    Thanks for your time, and for responding charitably. Thanks for expressing your concerns.

    Blessings,

    CJG

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  48. Christopher and friends!

    I forgot about this debate again!!Thanks Dave for coming to my defense! I feel this is a conversation in which I am pegged for saying A, not matter how much I scream B.

    You write, "There is of course a sense in which all who are baptized, head for head, are received into Christ's body, the church, but the efficacy of baptism as a means of salvation -- I repeat myself -- is tied to faith."

    This I think this gets to the heart of the concern. This would really help me if you would make this clear. In what sense, do please explain?

    I'll try, Christopher, but I wonder what exactly needs explaining. All those who receive a Christian baptism in a Christian church, head for head, are genuinely baptized, genuinely admitted into the church of Christ and genuinely included in the covenant and genuinely extended the covenant promises. The genuinely baptized are summoned believe in Christ and submit to his Lordship, without which there is no salvation. If a baptized child rejects Christ he becomes a covenant breaker and if he persists in unbelief he perishes eternally in hell. Baptism has no saving power on its own. Baptism has no efficacy by itself.

    Hope this clarifies. I won't be able to say something more until next week. In the meantime, I authorize Dave to answer for me! LOL

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  49. Thanks Bill, this is helpful, I think. I am still left wondering if all head for head united to Christ by water baptism. You do see the confusion language can create through Rich’s comments above, right? Obviously your comments, left wide open, just letting the Bible speak, caused quite a stir. We have to be careful, let’s stick to the way our confessions have defined sacraments, as signs and seals.

    Anyway, I think I am done with this conversation. The reader has to judge. Got too much work and visitation to do.

    Bill, do forgive me if I was uncharitable or unfair. It was all done in sincerity.

    Blessings in your labors!

    Chris

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  50. Hello Rev. Gordon,

    I'm sorry you've had to bow out. I do object to your characterization of my questions for you as unreasonable and uninformed. I assure you I have read the posts and was not attempting to be uncharitable in any way. I'm afraid my hasty initial posting may have prejudiced your response to my questions.

    I did not claim you lacked passion for exegesis. I claimed there was a "lack of evident passion" for exegesis in this conversation. I would maintain that statement. It is not meant to insult you personally; I'm sure your sermons are rich with Scriptural exegesis. In your initial post, Rom 6 is a hinge on which your critique of BDJ turned; yet you did not clearly develop an exegesis of the passage that suggested anything other than water baptism is in view. When I asked if anyone held your view of Rom 6 (which I now understand you are tentative on), I was hoping for something more specific than "many Reformed commentators."

    I'm also quite aware that Bill DeJong can speak - very capably! - for himself and was somewhat mystified at your tone with respect to my defense of Bill's statements.

    I was not attempting to simply restate problems that had been addressed already; that's why I asked you about Gal 3:27 and John 6. I also pointed out what the proper unit of exegesis in Rom 6 is - not the word 'baptizo' in isolation. I apologize for any language that caused offense (and may have prevented what I think could have been a profitable discussion); I assure you that none was intended.

    Blessings,

    Dave DeJong

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  51. "We have to be careful, let’s stick to the way our confessions have defined sacraments, as signs and seals."

    W-what?

    I hope you mean "let’s stick to the way our confessions summarize the Scriptural teaching of sacraments" ...

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  52. Thanks Dave.

    Anon, please read the comments-- been there, done that.

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  53. NOTE to READERS: I apologize for the difficulty in trying to follow the comment thread; for some unknown reason, many of Rev. Dejong's comments have disappeared--not sure how this can happen? So you will notice I am responding to the air in some of these. It's too bad, the thread was quite a fascinating read.

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