Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Response to Robert vanVeen on Baptism

The following is a response that I sent to Robert vanVeen, a member of Fairwinds Baptist Church (Bear, DE).  This letter responds to a comment that Robert left on my Aug. 2, 2009 post on baptism.

I am grateful for the time that Robert took to read and respond to my Catholic perspective on baby dedication.  May this interaction provide a springboard for further discussion and reflection on our Baptist and Catholic beliefs so that we, with the gracious assistance of the Holy Spirit, can open our minds and hearts to the unity Jesus so desires us Christians to have (see John 17).


Dec. 7, 2010

Dear Robert,

Peace be with you this Advent season!

Thanks so much for commenting on my blog post, and sorry for the delayed response.  I just saw the notification of your comment this evening.

I'm a bit tired this evening, given the late hour, so I'll be brief in my comments, though I would be happy to entertain any questions you would have for me about why I believe that to be a true Bible Christian is to be a Catholic Christian.

Regarding Baptism and my response to Pastor Carlo's comments, I would be interested to hear you engage more directly with the arguments that I put forth.  There is an irony in your first statement, since I engage what Pastor Carlo is saying, literally quoting him word for word, analyzing the structure of his comments, teasing out some of the underlying theology that supports the practice of baby dedication, and ultimately showing how aspects of this theology and practice are inconsistent with Scripture.  In this and other posts, I try to show how the Bible tells us quite a lot about Baptism that disagrees with Pastor Carlo's theology.

Here is your comment, with the rest of my responses appearing in line:

RV:  I do believe that you take alot of things out of context

DS:  Could you support that statement by naming some things?

RV:  ...to fit your arguments...

DS:  I wish I could claim them as my arguments.  They are really the arguments regarding Baptism that I learned from the students of the apostles and their successors.  Have you read the early church fathers, and do you know that the early church was Catholic, not only in its beliefs about Baptism but also the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper), church hierarchy, etc.?  Often when I talk to Protestants, there is not a clear sense of whose arguments they are putting forth.  I've met few Protestants (even pastors) who really understand the origin of many of the beliefs they preach about.

RV:  ...rather than using points that directly relate...

DS:  Relate to what?  (Clarification, please.)

RV:  ...in a manner that doesn't seem to be bending words, even ever so slightly.

DS:  Which words have I bent?  I would actually argue that it is Baptist theologians who bend words in the Bible to create their theology.  A classic example of this in regard to Baptism can be seen in the interpretation of 1 Peter 3:21 by most Baptist pastors I've heard.  1 Peter 3:21: "Baptism now saves you."  Please see my blog post on this verse.

RV:  And secondly, you do not seem to understand that there is an age of accountability.

DS:  I absolutely understand that there is an age of accountability.  Catholics who pass this age and choose to sin against God and neighbor must confess their sins to God.  But notice that the entire discussion hinges upon whether or not a person is automatically "saved" if they have not reached this age yet.  Romans 5 seems to indicate that we are born as children of Adam, which means we are born in a state of sin called original sin.  We are born as disgraced children of Adam and Eve and are incapable of living with the Father in Heaven if we are not "born from above" (John 3).  That is why Jesus says that "unless we are born again, we shall not inherit the kingdom of God."  We must be born again.  And, if you read the very next verses, Jesus makes it clear through a literary parallelism that to be born again means to be born of water and spirit.  And what is the context of this verse?  Baptism!  Jesus is baptized, and it is at Jesus's baptism that we see the descent of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of Jesus's sonship.  Likewise, it is at our baptism that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who regenerates us, making us a new creation, and making us spiritual capable of living the beatific vision as members of Christ's mystical body.  And it is at our Baptism that God the Father claims us as his sons through Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a profound miracle that results from Christ's actions on our souls, and it is a required action that we be regenerated by Christ through the Holy Spirit.  It is Jesus who ties together water and spirit, just like it is God who created us as both physical and spiritual beings.  Jesus himself, in entering the water, made water a vehicle for communicating his Holy Spirit to those whom he calls.

RV:  An infant, unable to understand the difference between right and wrong will without a doubt enter into Heaven if they died (heaven forbid) at their young age.

DS:  How do you know this?  This strikes me as a very presumptuous statement when God's Holy Word states that Adam's sin brought condemnation to all.  (Romans 5).  Your sentence makes it sound like it is only the individual sins of a person after reaching the age of accountability that could bring condemnation on their soul.

RV:  The child has to reach that understanding before they can be baptised,

DS:  Where is that in the Bible?  Old Testament children didn't have to reach this age before being allowed into the covenant family at circumcision.  The Bible shows that Baptism fulfills circumcision, which was offered on the eighth day of life.  The early church had arguments about infant baptism, but the argument wasn't whether to baptize infants or not.  The argument was:  why wait eight days?  How strong was the early church's belief in infant baptism, that this practice existed for centuries without every being questioned by a single Christian anywhere.

RV:  ...and not just sprinkled with water, but rather "burried", and "raised again" in Christ's likeness, fully submerged in water.

DS:  I'll leave aside the whole sprinkling vs. immersion debate for now.  Here, you are repeating the same false dichotomy that Pastor Carlo gets hung up on (baptism with water vs. being buried with Christ).  Please see my blog post to him that I linked to above (especially the latter half).  For Catholics, we are buried with Christ precisely when we are baptized, whether by sprinkling or immersion.  St. Paul himself says that we were "buried with Christ in baptism."  St. Paul locates being buried with Christ precisely at the moment that we are baptized.  In fact, according to St. Paul, it is through baptism that we are buried with him.  Baptist theology would tell me that I was buried with Christ when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, and that absolutely nothing spiritual happens when I'm baptized, since this is only a symbol of what has already happened.  Not according to St. Paul!  Go back and read the Scriptures on this point again.  What is Paul really saying?  Are we buried with Christ in baptism, or are we buried with Christ before baptism, and baptism doesn't save us.  (Also reread 1 Peter 3:21 here.)

RV:  The dedication of a child unto God is an act of offering your child up to God so that they might grow up wanting to serve Him and follow His will. Since that child is free to choose wheather or not they want to follow God when they reach their age of accountability, which is different for each child, the parents are prayed for as well, so that they might have the knowledge and understanding to raise their child in the way of the Lord, not the way of the world.

DS:  All this is very good to do, and we do it as Catholics as well.  I dedicate my children to God constantly, but this is fundamentally a different thing from when God regenerates my child.  I can dedicate my baby.  Only God can regenerate my baby, which he does through the Sacrament of Baptism.

RV:  Baptising an infant is pointless since the child can not understand the choice to follow God or not.

DS:  And here, we get to the crux of the issue.  Do you see how your theology of baptism is ultimately dependent on man's works, man's abilities, man's agency, man's "choice to follow God," etc.?  For Catholics, our salvation is dependent entirely on God's action.  God can regenerate a person even if that person is not yet able to consciously choose God for themselves.  Go back and read all of those parables where people call out to Jesus for healing for someone who is not present or able to ask for themselves.  Does Jesus say: "no, the person must ask me personally before I will heal them physically or spiritually"?  Of course not!  Rather, he often says, "no where in Israel have I seen such great faith."  So, do you think that when I bring my children, born dead in original sin, to Jesus to be regenerated, trusting completely in his infinite grace and mercy, that he will say: "no, I'm going to let your children grow in a state of sin until they can personally ask me to save them"?

RV:  Dedicating a child unto God is an act of faith, it says, "here, Lord, take my child and mold him (or her) into the way you would have him (or her) be." Since the parents are responsible for the child and the child will learn from them, it only makes sense that the pastor would pray over them too while dedicating the child.

DS:  I completely agree.  In the sacrament of Baptism, parents also have beautiful prayers prayed over them for these same reasons.  And, as you describe baby dedication being an act of faith, the Sacrament of Baptism is also an act of faith on the part of the parents and the entire faith community.  It is on account of this faith to raise the baptized infant in the Lord that Jesus lovingly looks upon the infant and regenerates their soul, all through His infinite power, grace, and mercy...even if that infant can do nothing but poop.  But then, salvation is not based at all on man's works.  What a more beautiful proof of this is there than infant baptism, since the baby can do absolutely nothing (even praying a sinner's prayer) to be saved?  Salvation is entirely God's work, not man's.  To make salvation dependent in the slightest way on something man does is to make salvation works based, at least in part.  It is a sad irony that it is the Catholics always being accused of salvation by works, when it is actually Protestant theology that, in practice, posits at least one necessary work on the part of the person being saved.

RV:  If you do not understand this, then you should try listening to a sermon sometime instead of tearing it apart. it would do you some good.

DS:  Indeed, Pastor Carlo's sermons have many good things in them, and I have listened to over 75% of the sermons he has preached for the last two years.  Those things about which he is right deserve to be shouted from the rooftops.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  He is the only way to Heaven.  We are all destined for Heaven and Hell.  All of these things are wonderfully good, wonderfully true, and wonderfully taught also by the Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, many people outside the Catholic Church don't really understand the Catholic Church's teachings, and these teachings get twisted by people who oppose her.  So, it is important that you read what Catholics have to say about Catholicism, not just what people who protest her have to say.  (How balanced and fair would that be?)  For as much as I admire and respect Pastor Carlo, he has a very twisted view of Catholicism, and unfortunately, his mistaken views of Catholicism color his teaching, especially when it comes to distinctly Catholic topics such as the regenerating effects of Baptism.

St. Paul tells us to "test everything, holding to what is good."  A lot of people tell me that it is not right to critique a pastor.  But St. Paul, in the Bible, actually encourages us to critique our pastors!  Test everything!  St. Paul even applauded the Bereans for testing him!  How else can I test Pastor Carlo's sermons (in order to find what is good and not good) other than to analyze them in light of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the early church that have been passed down to us in this day?  Does Pastor Carlo claim to be infallible?  If not, how does anyone at FBC know when to be obedient to his interpretations of the Bible if they don't also, to some degree, analyze what he is saying?

You might be interested to know that there is currently a tidal wave of people being surprised by the truth of the Catholic Church...former non-Catholics who once opposed the Catholic Church but, upon learning what she actually teaches, have found themselves joining her.  And these aren't just uneducated people who didn't really understand their Protestant background.  We're talking about well-respected, intelligent Protestant pastors, some of them at the very top of Evangelical circles, who give up their entire life because they found the Catholic Church to be the true Church that Jesus established.  For just one of hundreds upon hundreds of examples, take Francis Beckwith, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, who recently became a Roman Catholic.  I would be happy to share with you mp3 recordings of the conversion stories of Baptist pastors, many of whom had strong anti-Catholic roots, who are now Catholics.

In a nutshell, the reasons these converts provide are:
1.  The Bible made me do it.  (Tim Staples)
2.  The Catholic Church made the Bible come alive (Scott Hahn and Steve Ray)  (Hahn is a former Presbyterian)
3.  The Catholic Church is the Church found in the first centuries of Christianity.  (You can prove this to yourself by reading the 20 volumes of writings we have from the early church.  It is like going to a Bible study with the students of the apostles!)
4.  The Catholic Church, they found, contains the fullness of the truth and all the means of grace (especially the sacraments) that Jesus left to sustain the life of his Bride, the mystical body of Christ.
5.  Many more reasons...just listen to their stories!

Okay....I hope that helps you to see a bit better where I'm coming from.  I view you as a brother in Christ, but a separated brother.  Our separated state is neither of our faults, and the divisions within Christianity can only be overcome by Christians such as you and I communicating with each other regarding how our similarities and differences.  Let us pray that that we may one day be one as Christ an Father are one (John 17).

In Him who loved us first,



 What do you think?  Let's keep the conversation alive!

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