Using Augustine in Opposition to Perseverance of The Saints

On January 18, 2017 Dr. James White (Reformed Baptist) and Trent Horn (Roman Catholic) debated the topic of whether a believer can lose his salvation. The debate can be found on YouTube here.

I hope to post at least one other post about Mr. Horn’s usage of Martin Luther, but I would like to devote a few words here to his initial usage of Augustine. This came rather quickly at only 3:38 seconds into his opening remarks. You can view it at this direct link to the timestamp of 23:38. I have listened to the debate once through in its entirety and will be going through it again.

In this post, I would like to make the case that Mr. Horn took a single sentence of Augustine out of the context of the specific Treatise that Augustine wrote late in his life about rebuking those who we would see in the visible church. Augustine, in that same Treatise, would proceed to demonstrate that a person who never returned to the fold in the course of his lifetime was never one of the elect to begin with and was never actually called by God.

This citation is from Chapter 9 of Augustine’s Treatise on Rebuke and Grace, which may be found here. It consists of only 49 “chapters” (each of which is only a paragraph or two). Here is the slide that Mr. Horn used in his presentation:

That pretty much puts the nail in the coffin, right? Augustine clearly said that a “regenerate and justified” person who falls “into an evil life…has lost the grace of God, that he had received.” We who would consider ourselves to hold to the doctrine that a true believer cannot lose his salvation should now have our pens silenced. Would that this were as open as shut as Mr. Horn would like for it to be in his opening remarks. But, as we will see, this is not the case.

Certainly the “easy” way out would be for me to just use the broad context of much of early Christianity’s doctrine of baptism being the “laver of regeneration” (this is even how Augustine refers to it in this very document from which Mr. Horn cites this lone sentence) that washes the person clean of original sin. This gives the grace of God to such a person, according to Catholic theology. Upon falling into sin, this would mean that “he has lost the grace of God” received at his baptism.

But such a broad context would take all of the fun out of reading more of Augustine. I have skimmed much of his Treatise and have fully read up through around Chapter 23. It quickly becomes obvious that Augustine either (a) was slightly imprecise in his statement in Chapter 9, or (b) had something else in mind altogether which is framed in a well thought-out treatise to a friend. After seeing that Augustine did not mean what Mr. Horn wished him to mean, I decided to formulate some of Augustine’s other statements from that treatise into a blog post. In this document that Mr. Horn chose to use for his primary refutation of Reformed Christians for citing Augustine so frequently, it turns out that we can see why Augustine is considered a stalwart forerunner to Reformation thinking.

Before I do that, allow me to make the following initial observation.

Dr. White’s opening statement and assertion was that “God will not fail to save each and every one of His elect people. None shall be lost.” In Mr. Horn’s opening statement, he stated “I challenge my opponent to present a prominent Christian writer who believed the doctrine he’s defending before John Calvin.”

In Chapter 14 of this specific treatise of Augustine which Mr. Horn used, we read the following: “Those, then, are elected, as has often been said, who are called according to the purpose, who also are predestinated and foreknown. If any one of these perishes, God is mistaken; but none of them perishes, because God is not mistaken. If any one of these perish, God is overcome by human sin; but none of them perishes, because God is overcome by nothing.

Now I will present some further citations from this Treatise. In order to keep this more succinct I will not be quoting full paragraphs but only relevant sentences. Please feel free to interact with anything that Augustine said which you believe may dispute what I’m stating. Of course, all bold is added by me.

Here is the larger context of the quote from Chapter 9 that Mr. Horn used. As you can see, Augustine first places a condition on the person receiving the rebuke that if he “is a child of promise” that God will work that rebuke to fruition as it “depends only upon God.”:

Let, then, the damnable source be rebuked, that from the mortification of rebuke may spring the will of regeneration,–if, indeed, he who is rebuked is a child of promise,–in order that, by the noise of the rebuke sounding and lashing from without, God may by His hidden inspiration work in him from within to will also. If, however, being already regenerate and justified, he relapses of his own will into an evil life, assuredly he cannot say, “I have not received,” because of his own free choice to evil he has lost the grace of God, that he had received. And if, stung with compunction by rebuke, he wholesomely bewails, and returns to similar good works, or even better, certainly here most manifestly appears the advantage of rebuke. But yet for rebuke by the agency of man to avail, whether it be of love or not, depends only upon God.

In Chapter 10, Augustine would assert (as he does continually), that perseverance is only from God and is not from anything in man.

To this, indeed, we are not able to deny, that perseverance in good, progressing even to the end, is also a great gift of God; and that it exists not save it come from Him of whom it is written, “Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”

And, regarding Acts 13:48, “Who could be ordained to eternal life save by the gift of perseverance?” Which was a gift given them at their joyful reception of the Gospel.

In Chapter 14, Augustine breaks off into a discussion of the “golden chain of redemption”. Augustine sees that it would be tantamount to calling God a liar due to His being mistaken that one who was called could actually perish. “God is overcome by nothing.”

Of these no one perishes, because all are elected. And they are elected because they were called according to the purpose–the purpose, however, not their own, but God’s

For whoever are elected are without doubt also called; but not whosoever are called are as a consequence elected. Those, then, are elected, as has often been said, who are called according to the purpose, who also are predestinated and foreknown. If any one of these perishes, God is mistaken; but none of them perishes, because God is not mistaken. If any one of these perish, God is overcome by human sin; but none of them perishes, because God is overcome by nothing.

Since Mr. Horn would later bring up the fact that Judas was one of “the chosen”, I will cite Augustine’s brief statement on the way in which Judas was chosen being different from the purpose for which the elect are chosen.

Moreover, they are elected to reign with Christ, not as Judas was elected, to a work for which he was fitted. Because he was chosen by Him who well knew how to make use even of wicked men, so that even by his damnable deed that venerable work, for the sake of which He Himself had come, might be accomplished.

Lest we think that the gift of perseverance (as both Augustine and Horn refer to it) is something that is not eternal and by abandonment could possibly separate one from Christ, we read this in Chapter 15:

And of how stedfast a perseverance even to the end they have received the gift, let them follow on to say: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…”

In Chapter 23, we read the following, just to reiterate the above:

From Him, therefore, is given also perseverance in good even to the end; for it is not given save (except) to those who shall not perish, since they who do not persevere shall perish.

Up to this point, we might be able to say that Augustine really has not dealt with the Biblical support of the possibility that some can fall away and the admonitions in Scripture that we should remain faithful, forgive others, continue in our doing good, etc… However, in Chapter 16 Augustine does tackle such a scenario and instead of Augustine stating that “these people were truly Christians and they have abandoned the faith – take care lest you do likewise”, he doubles down on the classical Reformed doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints as expounded by Dr. White in the debate. Let us end the discussion of Augustine’s treatise by looking further into his statements there. I will cite that chapter in full.

Such as these were they who were signified to Timothy, where, when it had been said that Hymenæus and Philetus had subverted the faith of some, it is presently added, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord has known them that are His.” The faith of these, which worketh by love, either actually does not fail at all, or, if there are any whose faith fails, it is restored before their life is ended, and the iniquity which had intervened is done away, and perseverance even to the end is allotted to them. But they who are not to persevere, and who shall so fall away from Christian faith and conduct that the end of this life shall find them in that case, beyond all doubt are not to be reckoned in the number of these, even in that season wherein they are living well and piously. For they are not made to differ from that mass of perdition by the foreknowledge and predestination of God, and therefore are not called according to God’s purpose, and thus are not elected; but are called among those of whom it was said, “Many are called,” not among those of whom it was said, “But few are elected.” And yet who can deny that they are elect, since they believe and are baptized, and live according to God? Manifestly, they are called elect by those who are ignorant of what they shall be, but not by Him who knew that they would not have the perseverance which leads the elect forward into the blessed life, and knows that they so stand, as that He has foreknown that they will fall.

Paul stated that Hymenaeus and Philetus’ words were spreading like gangrene and that they have gone astray from the truth in misleading people about the resurrection. Augustine lets us know that at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy that we don’t know whether their faith did fail or if it was eventually restored. But Augustine makes it clear that if they do not persevere that they can’t be actually reckoned in the number of the called – much less of the elect. They are who we would refer to as “many are called but few are chosen.” Furthermore, those who call them of the elect truly do not know what they shall be – God knows whether He has given them the perseverance in which they walk.

I hope that it has been clear in this brief discussion of only about half of this treatise by Augustine that it should not have been used with the force and importance that Mr. Horn felt it needed. That being said, I do not believe that one could produce a much better rebuttal against using this quote from Augustine better than Augustine did in the same document. The citations of Augustine by various Reformers appears to be quite justified. Context matters, and late in his life Augustine wrote this treatise which gives an excellent presentation of the truths upon which the Reformers would later expound.

Books I Read In 2016

Here’s my annual book reading report… 🙂

For 2016, I read 66 books accounting and over 18,600 pages! I read 58 books in 2015, so I thought that I would try reading a few more this year. I believe that I will be scaling back some in 2017 as far as the number of books as I will be planning to read more theology. I’ll probably still be reading around 35 books, though. Here is my 2016 infographic from Goodreads.

First of all, slowly but surely I was able to read through The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien with my kids. We’ll hopefully finish the series next year! In addition to this, I read 6 other Tolkien books. I re-read The Hobbit to close out the year and enjoyed it thoroughly. Again. And also in December I read The Silmarillion – a nice 1977 First American Edition that I picked up earlier in the year. I also started reading through The History of Middle Earth starting with The Book of Lost Tales Part One and The Book of Lost Tales Part Two. These provide background and history to what would become The Silmarillion. It’s quite fun to read how these stories came about over the course of time!

Also, I read through The Bible again this year!

Below, I’ll break down my reading into genres. I’ve found that I find myself reading some of the same series over and over again. I’ll probably be making it an annual summer reading to go through Harry Potter, for example.

Fiction:

Again, I read Harry Potter over the course of a couple of months this summer. Better yet, I introduced my daughter to the series – she loves it!! Something that was special for her reading it the first time was that just a week after she finished Deathly Hallows, The Cursed Child was released! We truly enjoyed that one, too! We also read the Hogwarts Classics – Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. These were fun and quite informative. But wait! There’s more! Rowling and Pottermore also released 3 short volumes under the Pottermore Presents series. They are Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous HobbiesShort Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists, and Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide. These were really fun to read and get some more background and biographical information on many of the characters. Those are must-reads for the Potter fanatics. I also listened to 4 of the Pottermore audiobooks from the series. Our local library’s app allows you to check out and listen to audiobooks. So, 18 of the books I read this year were Harry Potter-related. Very fun!!

I also re-read Lewis’s Narnia series of 7 books. This year I read them in publication order. Oh, and I read through Lewis’s Space Trilogy again as well. I also read Lewis’s The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays as I’m trying to make my way through Lewis’s writings.

I picked up another of Pyle’s illustrated books on the Arthurian legends, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (first in the quartet). Now, I have to get the other two books in the set (the middle two, actually). These are fun reads. I also read two of the four George MacDonald volumes of fantasy stories: The Light Princess and Other Stories and The Wise Woman and Other Fantasy Stories. I did rather enjoy the first volume more, and I’m looking forward to finishing the other volumes.

I did finish in January A Series of Unfortunate Events which I started last December. There are 13 of these books and I finished the last 4 plus the autobiography that’s part of the series.

Finally, I continued reading some of Madeline L’Engle’s books. I read 4 more in The Austin Family Series. There are 9 books in this series and I’ve read 5 so far. I really should read the rest of these, and depending on how my reading through some weighty theology books goes this year, I may take a break and get back to these. Our family does like L’Engle’s works.

Biography/Historical Non-Fiction:

I was very excited when the 8 Volume biography of Winston Churchill was released to be free on Kindle a couple of years ago (for a brief time). This is written by Randolph Churchill (Winston’s son) and Martin Gilbert. This year, I read the second volume covering the years 1901-1914. These are truly fascinating works covering so much of that time’s history. The 8 volumes account for over 8,500 pages, so it is quite thorough! The second volume ends with the following statement on the brink of World War I.

If his life had ended in 1914 in his fortieth year we can be sure that he would not have been denied a page in history and that his epitaph would have been

When War Came
The Fleet was Ready

Some other biographical works that I read were: The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray, Augustine on the Christian Life by Gerald Bray, and Luther on the Christian Life by Carl Truman. These are all well-done for their purposes and I would recommend them. Reading on Augustine has now put me on an Augustine kick. I’ve picked up several more of his books and plan on reading him a lot in 2017.

Theology:

I read one book by James White this year: The Fatal Flaw. I can’t recommend his writings enough. They are engaging, well-written, and charitable when dealing with disagreements. I have a couple lined up for 2017.

The F.F. Bruce work that I read this year was his New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes.

I also finished reading (and tweeting through for LutherDaily) the books Concerning Christian Liberty, A Treatise on Good Works, and Small Catechism by Martin Luther. I understand that Eric Metaxas has a Luther biography that may be released in 2017!

I read a couple of the short books in RC Sproul’s Crucial Questions series. You can find all of these for free on Amazon, by the way. I also read a couple of other smaller volumes including John Piper’s Five Points and John Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life – this short work is really good!

And in continuing to settle in on my eschatological beliefs, I read through The Bible and The Future by Anthony Hoekema. This was certainly a good read and is a standard in the field of Amillennialism. Though I did enjoy Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism more that I read last year. Hoekema’s book has a fair amount of background information and was rather slow in “getting to the point” which I was hoping for. But for what he set out to do with his book, it is quite excellent. I do plan on reading through Dennis Johnson’s The Triumph of The Lamb this year. It’s a commentary on Revelation.

There was also one other theology book that was fairly important for me to read this year. It is in an area where I need to continue working through my beliefs.

That book is The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Versus Paedobaptism by Fred Malone. I cannot recommend this book more. Here was my review on Goodreads:

Having always been a Baptist, the baptism of disciples alone (or believer’s baptism or credobaptism) is something I have mostly taken for granted. From some more recent interactions with some Presbyterian friends, I thought that I would take a look at this book. Malone was, for a good many years, a convinced paedobaptist Presbyterian minister (he even footnoted once that he interned in my hometown in the early 1970’s!). At one point in the late 1970’s Malone wrote an essay about his change in convictions with regards to the scriptural passages. This is available online (search for Malone String of Pearls) and is the basis of what later would become this volume.

I appreciate how Malone starts out by outlining John Murray’s defense of paedobaptism and then later interacts with it. For me, this book was quite helpful in systematically working through credobaptism from a reformed, covenantal perspective. Malone was gracious to our paedobaptist brethren which is quite refreshing. Much of Malone’s argument is Regulative Principle-related as well as being hinged on the difference in the WCF and LBCF 1689 statements on whether the WCF principle of doctrine being understood from “good and necessary consequences” versus the more limited view of The 1689 change to the wording of the doctrine being “necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture”. This is a key distinctive that I had already formulated in my own theology. Malone then goes on to interact with the various scriptural passages related to this doctrine. I highly recommend this book as a great starting point.

Now, my parting words with Augustine in mind for you are:

Tolle Lege!

Is “Calvinism” in Southern Baptist Churches a “Trojan Horse”

I was greatly disturbed this morning to read the statements that a couple of people in leadership within the Southern Baptist Convention (in which I am a member) have made regarding “Calvinisim” being on the rise within our denomination. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Rick Patrick, executive director of Connect316, were recently speaking at a SWBTS Chapel Service. The story at Baptist News can be found here: Chapel speaker terms Calvinism ‘Trojan Horse’

For those who may not be aware, I’m a Southern Baptist who affirms the Doctrines of Grace as defined by the Canons of Dort. This is more commonly known by the acrostic TULIP. This is a Biblical affirmation of how God works in His creation to save his People from their sins. One of the things that I do not like, sometimes, is the use of the term “Calvinism” due to the (for lack of a better term) “baggage” that can come with it. As a Baptist who would call myself “Calvinist”, I’m not saying that I wholly affirm what John Calvin wrote in his Institutes or what some other Reformed and Presbyterian Churches believe. But more on that later. Another term commonly used to refer to us is “Particular Baptists” (referring to the fact that God has saved a particular people).

In the article discussing the chapel service, we have some quotes from Dr. Patterson to start with:

 “I know there are a fair number of you who think you are a Calvinist, but understand there is a denomination which represents that view,” Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said at the close of Tuesday’s chapel service. “It’s called Presbyterian.”

“I have great respect for them,” Patterson said. “Many of them, the vast majority of them, are brothers in Christ, and I honor their position, but if I held that position I would become a Presbyterian. I would not remain a Baptist, because the Baptist position from the time of the Anabaptists, really from the time of the New Testament, is very different.”

I’m sure that on some level Dr. Patterson was being pithy. Certainly, if I were to believe in a full Calvinist doctrine I would naturally be a Presbyterian or Reformed Church Member. But here we have an extremely narrow understanding of what a “Calvinist Baptist” today in the SBC would believe.

At this point, the article shifts its focus to statements made in the chapel sermon by Rick Patrick. I will address most of these sections individually below each paragraph.

“Because Calvin’s Institutes address a broad spectrum of theological categories, we are actually debating much more than just the single issue of salvation,” said Patrick, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Sylacauga, Ala. “If we are not careful a myriad of related beliefs and practices will enter our camp, hidden within the Trojan Horse of Calvinism.”

Patrick demonstrates one of the major problems that I have with referring to myself as a “Calvinist”. There is not a monolithic view that “Calvinists” can claim. Although he may be correct in stating that this is “more than just the single issue of salvation,” I believe that some of the things that Patrick will cite below are not very rampant in SBC Congregations and, in my opinion, are being used to stoke the fires for those who, like me, are ardent believers in baptism of disciples alone by immersion, missions, etc… and would see any denial of such things to be a cause to question whether one should call himself a Southern Baptist. But if we lump those concerns in with the fact that those “Calvinists” who are 5-Pointers are trying to sneak in these things in their Trojan Horse, it helps to get people fired up.

Patrick said the Baptist Faith and Message endorses congregational church polity, “where decisions are pastor-led, deacon-served, committee-worked and congregation-approved.” Calvinists “are so fond of elder-led and sometimes even elder-ruled forms of polity,”

This is somewhat of a red-herring. You see, Patrick has left out a lot of our history here. When the first edition of the Baptist Faith & Message was written in 1925, we would read that the church’s “Scriptural officers are bishops, or elders, and deacons.” This was changed in 1963 (and remained so in the 2000 revision) to read “Its Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.” One could say that the 1925 version meant that the “bishop” was a pastor and that “or elder” would have meant that the bishop could have been referred to as an elder as well. Either way, the SBC had a long history of being “elder-led”. If I recall, the 1963 committee would even go on to state that “pastor” and “elder” were really one. Most SBC churches are “pastor-led”. I have seen that some churches will refer to their pastoral staff as the elders as well so that it’s said to be elder-led by the Pastors. Personally, I have been in several SBC churches that have been deacon-led instead of deacon-served. I’m blessed currently to be in a true deacon-served congregation. I think that congregational church polity is a good thing. While affirming the Baptist Faith & Message, I do also go “beyond” it and see that the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith speaks further to my beliefs. The BF&M is a rather short document and actually allows (by its nature and intentionally) for some variation of beliefs. But that is a blog post for another time.

“I say yes, but many Calvinists would say no,” Patrick said. “I agree that I am unable to save myself, but I disagree that I am unable, humbly, to make the decision to accept Jesus’ offer to save me.”

This is where the discussion really centers. On how God saves his People. Scripture is quite clear that God has a purpose for his election of sinners. Great passages such as John 6 & 10, Romans 8-11, and Ephesians 1 come to mind. The Father elected the sinners, the Son died for their redemption, and the Holy Spirit applied to their hearts bringing them to faith.  The BF&M speaks to this fact in section 5. Whether Patterson, Patrick, et. al. like it or not, the BF&M is quite open to embracing the Doctrines of Grace. Tracing the BF&M and SBC history shows that we came from a fairly Calvinistic background and used the New Hampshire Baptist Confession (which is Calvinistic or Particular) as the basis for our 1925 BF&M.

“Some New Calvinists, even pastors, very openly smoke pipes and cigars, just as they drink beer wine,” Patrick said. “They may even home brew the beer themselves, attempting to use it as an outreach to identify with other smokers and drinkers.”

“Sin is not a form of outreach,” Patrick commented.

First of all, I will say that I’m probably what you would call a tee-totaler. I don’t like the way beer or wine even smells, much less tastes. I have seen the effects of being drunk through the deaths of friends and family. I’ve seen the effects of people doing and saying really stupid things after just one or two drinks. “Wine is a mocker and strong drink is a brawler.” One doesn’t have to look far to see that a little alcohol (much less a lot) leads to unwise things. But I can’t say that doing some home brewing or having a drink with friends is a sin. Jesus drank and served wine at the Last Supper. Paul urged Timothy to have a little wine for his stomach. Being drunk is a sin, but drinking is not. Since we want to ensure fidelity to the BF&M here (as Patrick so often cites it for other of his concerns), it says nothing about abstaining from alcohol. Actually, the 1925 version states that the Lord’s Supper should be “bread and wine” (it was later changed in 1963 to “bread and the fruit of the vine.” But there are more pressing concerns, so I will move on.

“Would you believe that some Southern Baptist churches today are receiving as members those who have merely been sprinkled but have never been immersed?” Patrick marveled. “Immersion is the only mode of baptism recognized in the Baptist Faith and Message. This creates an entire class of non-baptized Baptists, and this is prevalent especially among our Calvinistic churches, as they receive Presbyterians, for example, into their membership.”

One of the things that does set Baptists apart from most other Protestant denominations is our belief in the doctrine of “Believer’s Baptism” (or to put it another way, Baptizing Disciples Alone – those who have professed faith and trust in Christ as our Lord) by Immersion. This is how Jesus was baptized in the Jordan when he “came up out of the water” and Paul gives us a beautiful picture of this in Romans 6:4 when we are buried with Christ in Baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. This is the same meaning that Francis Turretin (an early Reformer/Presbyterian) took as he saw that immersion is the proper Biblical mode of baptism. John Calvin, in his Institutes, also stated that immersion was the proper mode. Martin Luther would say the same thing. They, however, would also say that the mode of baptism is less important and should not be the focus. As for myself, I would say that if someone is joining a Baptist Church they should be immersed. At the very minimum, if someone has not been baptized since they were able to assent to the Gospel, believe with their heart, and confess with their mouth their repentance and trust in Christ (i.e. they were baptized as an infant before they exhibited any faith), then they should be baptized when joining a Baptist church. If an adult had come to faith in Christ in another denomination and was baptized by sprinkling, then I could possibly see where such a person has properly undergone believer’s baptism with water. I would still urge that they be immersed – this would not be to say they are saved because of immersion but would be a statement similar to that of Paul having Timothy circumcised. Finally, I would probably add that there are more people leaving the SBC for Presbyterianism than are leaving Presbyterianism and coming to the SBC. I’m not so sure that Patrick’s last statement has the urgency that he wishes it has.

“Southern Baptists cannot help but wonder what is happening as we increasingly embrace the Presbyterian view of salvation doctrine, church government, the mode of baptism, avoidance of the altar call, the use of beverage alcohol, the approval of societal missions funding and so on,” Patrick said.

Here, Patrick again uses a shotgun approach. I’ve discussed the “salvation doctrine, church government, the mode of baptism…the use of beverage alcohol” but not the altar call or “societal missions funding”. Regarding the altar call, this is somewhat of a hot topic. I have written about some problems with the “anxious bench” of Charles Finney (the precursor to the modern “altar call” here. Finney also stated the following about the anxious seat:

“The Church has always felt it necessary to have something of the kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles baptism answered this purpose. The Gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ were called on to be baptized. It held the precise place that the anxious seat does now, as a public manifestation of a determination to be a Christian.

Friends, this is dangerous. Baptism is, and always has been, the “public profession of faith” for a Christian. The altar call has its uses, but it is not a replacement for baptism. The altar call only has a brief place in the history of the church. One could point to Peter telling those on the day of Pentecost to repent and be baptized as a Biblical example of an altar call. But the SBC altar call is not that. It is a far cry from that. In the sense that one believes the altar call can serve the purpose of allowing one to come forward to speak with a pastor or other church leader about one’s salvation or Christian walk, then I would say that it may have a purpose. But we cannot have an honest look at church history and believe that there has always been what we now call an “altar call.”

“It is naïve to think that we can gradually reform our beliefs without simultaneously reforming our practices, and the question we must ask is whether or not these Reformed practices are making things better or worse,” he concluded.

Yes! This is a wonderful question to ask. The reforming of beliefs will always come with a reforming of practice in some way. This is not a bad thing. But if you take the typical Particular Baptist in an SBC Congregation, I believe that you will find someone who loves God and loves His People. But we should never be a people who are “sola BF&M”. Perhaps we have some modern practices that should be reformed. Being a traditionalist for the sake of tradition is unhealthy. It is also unhealthy and divisive to say that those of us who feel at home in an SBC church are simply dropping off the “Trojan Horse” in order to cause problems and make wholesale changes. This is not what most of “us” are trying to do. I hope that I have opened up some type of dialog. I love my SBC church. I love my pastor even though we do not see eye-to-eye on soteriology. And he loves me and my family. And he has no problem working with “Calvinists” who are focused on Christ’s Kingdom. I’ve also discussed these things on a podcast earlier this year. We can definitely have church unity with those who don’t believe all of the same things that we do. Just as “Calvinism” is not monolithic, the BF&M allows for the SBC to not be monolithic either.

When you think of those Calvinists in your congregation, please don’t bear false witness against us or our motives. Rather, remember the following.

We are the ones who are in leadership alongside of you. We are the ones going on mission trips alongside of you. We are the ones supporting the Cooperative Program alongside of you. We are the ones who weep with you in mourning and rejoice with you in triumphs. And we are the ones who believe that God has sent us out to spread the Gospel to those who need to hear it. This is our mission and our calling as believers. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Does John the Baptist’s Being Filled With The Holy Spirit As a Child Present a Problem For Baptists?

Over the weekend, a person I follow on Twitter posted the following question that I, as a Baptist, would like to have an opportunity to respond to in a fuller capacity.

The NewGeneva account posted the following statement: “The faith of the infant John the Baptist is a huge HUGE problem for Baptistic theology. It must be rationalized away or the theology falls.”

NewGeneva’s assertion is that we as Baptists must admit that this is a major problem. This is because Baptists believe (in a nutshell) in the baptism of believers based off of their professed faith as opposed to baptizing infants due to their being born to believing parents. The assertion here by NewGeneva is that since John was (supposedly) said to have had faith from the womb that it is something we must accept as normative for children born to Christian parents. And, as such, we Baptists should baptize infants because of such faith. NewGeneva would go on to state that “It seems that many can’t accept the possibility of infant faith because, for them, faith is an act of a personal freewill decision.” and “If infants can have faith, & whole households were baptized, why would we today not baptize our children?” Although he does state that he’s “not arguing full baptism argument, just whether the gift of faith can be given to an infant”, it is rather clear from the previous tweet that the ultimate point of the question is to assert an argument for infant baptism.

Now that we have some background on the statement and context by NewGeneva, I would like to offer some of my thoughts on how I would initially respond to this. And, no, such an initial response would not be done on Twitter with its limitations (and it seems that quite a few did attempt to engage this assertion in that medium).

My initial thought was to look in the context of the verse that he had in mind (Luke 1:41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit). There is not, of course, much to go on here. Elizabeth sees Mary and is filled with joy. Her baby, John, moves in the womb, and Elizabeth her self is filled with the Holy Spirit. That is to say there isn’t much in the sense of a “you Baptists have this all wrong and this one verse proves it!”. So, I do what proper hermeneutics leads one to do and that is to read more of the surrounding context. What else do we read in the first chapter of Luke about John the Baptist and his infancy?

Luke 1:15-17 will suffice for the purpose of this discussion:

“for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

In a conversation that I had with a friend, my initial statement about John the Baptist was as follows: “John was quite a special person… No wine, filled with Spirit from womb, power and spirit of Elijah.”

Each of those statements about John by the angel Gabriel have much significance. According to NewGeneva, however, we Baptists are presented with “a huge HUGE problem” by Luke 1:41. My initial question would be why would the one earlier prophecy (in verses 15 and following) by Gabriel regarding John the Baptist being “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” be something that is a normative prophecy for children of all future believers? What reasoning would we have to dismiss having our children not also abstain from wine or from saying that they don’t have the “spirit and power of Elijah”? One may rightly say that NewGeneva isn’t arguing this, necessarily, but a major assertion that he has made is that since infants can have faith, why not baptize them? I would presume that NewGeneva would say something along the lines of “of course we are not expected to abstain from wine or claim the power of Elijah – that was something prophetic, significant, and special about John the Baptist.” With that, I would wholeheartedly agree.

Certainly, it is rather clear at this point from reading the scriptures about John the Baptist that there was much about him that was special. One might even say “great and extraordinary” (more on that soon). But we do still have to address whether we should say that John’s being filled with the Holy Spirit from before birth is something we would normally state about children of believers today. I believe that God elects and predestines his People unto salvation. We, however, do not have the ability as humans to be able to say that an elect person is “filled with the Holy Spirit” until such a person professes faith in Christ and we see the fruit of repentance in their lives. There are many examples, Augustine being a famous and handy case, of people who were living such sinful lives that we would be hard-pressed to say that they had “the gift of faith” or were “filled with the Holy Spirit” prior to hearing of their conversion. Though, after all this time, we would now be hard-pressed to argue that he was not truly one of the elect although with a faith that wasn’t given to him by God until he was in his 30’s. With that in mind, I would urge great caution at baptizing someone who did not show some assent to the Gospel.

As the Heidelberg Catechism states in Question 21: What is true faith?

True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Since it is the assertion of NewGeneva that John the Baptist had faith as an infant, does this line up with what we would say about our infant children?

At this point, however, I want to bring up where I typically will look when I come to a passage that’s somewhat problematic. As a good credobaptist, when I see a paedobaptist talk about how I should have something like a “huge HUGE problem”, I like to consult what John Calvin said about the specific passage in his commentaries. It was at this point that I saw that my problem really is not as “HUGE” as NewGeneva says it should be.

Writing on Luke 1:15, John Calvin stated something similar to my gut reaction about the passage: “John had been selected for a great and extraordinary purpose.” Or, as I stated, “John was quite a special person.” Calvin would go on to write in the next paragraph about John’s being “filled with the Holy Spirit”. In that paragraph, Calvin stated the following:

“The meaning is, the power and grace of the Spirit will appear in him not only when he shall enter upon his public employment, but even from the womb he shall excel in the gifts of the Spirit, which will be a token and pledge of his future character. From the womb, means from his earliest infancy. The power of the Spirit, I acknowledge, did operate in John, while he was yet in his mother’s womb; but here, in my opinion, the angel meant something else, that John, even when a child, would be brought forward to the public gaze, accompanied by extraordinary commendation of the grace of God.”

And, lest we think that up to this point Calvin really hasn’t dealt with the assertion of general infant faith which is being made by NewGeneva, let us get to Calvin’s next statement (after he took a pause to refute Sophists):

“Now, as the more plentiful influence of the Spirit was in John an extraordinary gift of God, it ought to be observed that the Spirit is not bestowed on all from their very infancy, but only when it pleases God. John bore from the womb a token of future rank.”

“the Spirit is not bestowed on all from their very infancy, but only when it pleases God.” Calvin was quite clear here. As is R. Scott Clark when he states:

“We do not know when God will bring the sign to fruition. It may be, in God’s secret providence, that a covenant child has been given faith as an infant. There are instances of this in Scripture (e.g., John the Baptist). Is this the ordinary way that God operates? Experience suggests that the answer is no. It may be that the sovereign Holy Spirit may wait years before bringing the baptized person to faith.” (From https://heidelblog.net/2014/07/whats-the-use-of-infant-baptism/)

Instead of this being a “huge HUGE problem” for the Baptist, I believe that this is rather a problem for NewGeneva and it may be something that he should prayerfully re-consider. Instead of taking something special in Scripture with regards to John the Baptist as what it is, NewGeneva has made that normative for the children of professing believers. John the Baptist had a filling of the Holy Spirit as an infant (which NewGeneva refers to as faith) and on that evidence we can (and should, according to NewGeneva) proceed to baptize our children. But this active faith is not something that is normative in the children of believers. Past (Calvin) and modern (Clark) reformed theologians are consistent that the gift of faith in an infant is not normative from what our experience suggests.

I’ll end this post with what Calvin wrote concerning Luke 1:41.

“‘When Elisabeth heard’ It is natural that sudden joy, on the part of a pregnant woman, should cause a motion of the child in her womb; but Luke intended to express an extraordinary occurrence. No good purpose would be served by involving ourselves in intricate questions, if the child was aware of the presence of Christ, or felt an emotion of piety: it is enough for us that the babe started by a secret movement of the Spirit. Luke does not say that the feeling belonged to the child, but rather intimates that this part of the Divine operation took place in the mother herself, that the babe started in her womb.”

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

This is a question that, of late, has been receiving a good deal of discussion. But I wish to frame that discussion in more solid ground.

Early in the history of the Christian church, there was much debate over the nature and being of God. God is One, of course. But has God revealed himself to be a Unitarian or Trinitarian God? In the year 325, a Council at Nicea agreed upon that God has revealed Himself as a Trinitarian God – The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This Nicene Creed, as we know it, is the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity that all those who would claim to be Christian hold to. It is both a very narrow definition and a broad definition. It is narrow in the sense that there are defining statements about God and the Christian would believe that any definition of “god” that is outside the scope of the Nicene Creed is not the God that we worship. It is also a broad definition in the sense that the Church universal believes the statements of the Nicene Creed – by this I am referring to Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, etc… all being able to agree on this ancient, historical, and orthodox definition of God.

With that said, I would like to present to you a chart that compares the Christian belief of a Trinitarian God (as outlined in the Nicene Creed) with the statements from Islam about the god they worship as Allah.

Christianity (Nicene Creed) Islam
I believe in one God “There is no god but God (and) Muhammad is the messenger of God.” (Shahada)
the Father Almighty Allah is never referred to as “Father”.
Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. “[All] praise is [due] to Allah , Creator of the heavens and the earth, [who] made the angels messengers having wings, two or three or four. He increases in creation what He wills. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.” Surah 35:1
And in one Lord Jesus Christ “Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of Allah” Surah 4:171
the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God “the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son of Allah .” That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded?” Surah 9:30
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father “If Allah had willed to take a son, He could have chosen anyone He pleased out of His creation.” Surah 39:4
by whom all things were made. “The originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child, when there is for Him no consort, when He created all things and has knowledge of all things?” Surah 6:101
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man “Far is it removed from His transcendence that He should have a son” Surah 4:171
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures “And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them.” Surah 4:157
and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father “Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.” Surah 4:158
and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. “And do not disgrace me on the Day they are [all] resurrected – The Day when there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children But only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart.” Surah 26:87-89
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son] “And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?’…” Surah 5:116 (Note the confusion over the Trinity)
who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. “Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, then Allah has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode.” Surah 5:72
 And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

As it is quite clear from the statements of the Nicene Creed when compared to the text of the Qur’an, the Christian God is not the same one who is worshiped by the Muslims. Some facts that are completely at odds with God (the Trinitarian God of The Bible as worshiped by Christians), as stated in the Qur’an, are that he is never referred to as “Father”, Jesus was only a Messenger (prophet) who could not have created the heavens and the earth. Jesus also was not actually crucified according to Muslim theology, either. Futher, anyone who says Jesus is the son of God (i.e. “Allah” for Muslims), is “deluded”. Further, the Qur’an also appears to show confusion that the Trinity is God, Jesus, and Mary. And “partners in worship with Allah” are false and the one who believes in worshiping the Trinitarian God has been forbidden from Paradise.

Of course, I have not yet dealt with the common argument that will be raised – that being that Muslims state that they “worship your God and the God of your fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac – one God. And we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” (Surah 2:133)

While it may be the case that there is some shared history in which the Muslims claim to worship the “God of Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac”, the revelation of God through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of The Son and the pouring out of The Holy Spirit all a Trinity of “three persons coeternal and coequal” (Athanasian Creed) is quite clear that the Allah worshiped by the Muslims as stated in the Qur’an is not in any way to be confused with the Christian God.

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)