RC Sproul on baptism

Discussion in 'Baptism' started by steadfast7, Oct 19, 2010.

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  1. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Hi folks, the recent kindle free book offer, Sproul's A Taste of Heaven: worship in the light of eternity devotes a couple of chapters on baptism (basic stuff that've covered here). I always get tripped up the paedo view of baptism as a promise. Here's his quote that states it plainly:
    As I see it, his logic is:
    1. God promises salvation in baptism
    2. We believe and are saved
    Therefore: God has kept his promise

    You see the gaping question this leaves: suppose person A doesn't believe, then?
    1. God has not kept his promise
    2. God has kept his promise, but it doesn't mean anything
    3. The idea of Baptism as a promise is misleading and unhelpful
    4. ?

  2. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Romans 3:3, 4.
  3. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, but, isn't the sense of Sproul's logic that God's faithfulness to his promise necessarily means benefits conferred to the one baptised? If the promise is conditional and some fail to receive it by faith, then that's fine, but then Sproul is being unnecessarily confusing.
  4. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I don't know:

    a. Why you're surprised by Sproul's logic. It is the view of baptism in every Reformed confession.
    b. Why you're tripped up by the logic.

    The order is more like this:

    a. In baptism, God promises salvation to everyone who believes: if you believe then I will save you.
    b. Baptism signifies that faith.
    c. If a person has faith, his baptism is a visible sign and seal of salvation.

    Your reasoning is much like the Jewish objector to God as to why He still finds fault in Romans 9. Here's another statement in the Word:

    Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

    This is a promise: if A (believe) then B (salvation).

    What if person does not believe?!

    Here are your own conclusions based on your previous logic:

    1. God has not kept his promise
    2. God has kept his promise, but it doesn't mean anything
    3. The idea of the Gospel as a promise is misleading and unhelpful

    Do you have any additional thoughts you can fill in here?
  5. toddpedlar

    toddpedlar Iron Dramatist Staff Member

    Rich has rightly responded already, so I wont' belabor the point.

    What you have misstated is point 1 of your assessment of Sproul's logic. God does NOT promise salvation to all those who are baptized in a blanket sense. Rather, salvation is promised to those who believe - and baptism is the sign and seal of that promise. (we can get into the seal bit, but only when it's clearly understood that the promise is not that all who are baptized will be saved).
  6. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I'm at Disney World right now. I have received the seal (Disney World) that the signs pointed to. Of course I'm sitting in a room hearing a lecture about E-mail in the Cloud without my kids so the Promise of fun is not yet realized but is a hope for the future.
  7. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    as you have written, the order is:
    my questions to the above:
    a. it sounds like baptism is synomous with the gospel offer, which is freely given to all. is not baptism much more than a gospel declaration?
    b. who's faith does baptism signify? the child's? how so?
    c. if a child does NOT end up having faith, then what is baptism then? it is a sign and seal of nothing.

    Todd, you write:
    Do Reformed folk view baptism as probationary? as if to say, "here's an outward sign, for now, but we'll wait to see whether God comes through for you." I think this run counter to Sproul's position (or at least his wording). He says, "When we are baptized the first time, we receive an outward sign of the promise of God, and when we come to faith, God has kept His promise." The order here is baptism (promise) --> faith --> God is faithful.

    I cannot help but read this as baptism being a promise (not a conditional one) of something God IS going to do, and our faith being the proof of that promise.

    Indeed, I see the same confidence in the WCF:
    and also in Dort:
  8. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Junior

    This clause is rather relevant. The grace "is not only offered but really exhibited and conferred" to the elect.
  9. toddpedlar

    toddpedlar Iron Dramatist Staff Member

    Yes - In Suk, i think this is what you missed in the Standards. It is very clear that what is offered, exhibited and conferred is given only to those
    who are granted it by God's will, and no other. I think you're also misreading Dort, which does not claim that all baptized are certainly sealed with salvation.
  10. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    thanks for the explanations.
    coming back to Sproul, does he not seem to be saying that faith is the demonstrative proof of God's faithfulness to his promise? It is as if (though we know it is not so) that those who are baptised will believe, so as to demonstrate God's promise.

    So, my question, put another way. How has God kept his promise when those included in the covenant and marked with God's promise do not believe?

    I therefore see two standards operating:
    on the one hand, if an elect person is baptised, God's promise is an intentional, unconditional act
    on the other hand, if a non-elect person is baptised, God's promise was only and always a conditional statement of the gospel.

    am I totally off on this?
  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Answers the earlier post, not the immediately preceding

    I'm assuming you want an answer from our perspective. You've already indicated that the reasoning has eluded you, but I'll offer some response...

    a. The "personalism" of baptism is what sets it apart from the general word-of-the-gospel. It still is a gospel-word, the promise in figurative language. It's a learned tongue. Christians speak that language. This goes back to other conversations, Nova. WHO is the principal speaker in baptism? If you say, "the person making his statement of faith, his first step of obedience, etc." then seeing baptism as principally a word from God doesn't compute. How "much" more can baptism say than a gospel-word anyway?

    b. Certainly, the parent's faith is part of the significance of infant baptism (which is why infant baptism is only for Abraham's family, and not indiscriminately for all infants or dependents); parents are acting on faith in the promise: "I will be your children's God." But this is so, mainly because baptism is a church-act, before it is an individual-act. The faith of the whole church is on display. But there is also the hope that baptism proleptically has the child's faith in view. God alone is responsible for the germination of the seed of faith in a man. Who says he cannot be bringing it to life right there? He's done similarly in the past.

    But we don't baptize on the basis of faith or election infallibly seen or foreseen. In fact, no one does, or else no one would ever be baptized. There are untold numbers of adults, as well as infants, who were baptized without their baptism signifying their faith--because they never had any! In the Baptist-world, there is no more empty statement than a faithless "baptism." According to that view, the church made no statement, nor spoke the manner of the thing, nor most significantly did the individual who is the key to the whole series say anything worth hearing. All is undone by the perceived apostasy.

    This, once again, is another gulf of difference between us. Because we reverse the "order of significance" in who is saying what, we hold that those who have been baptized in a recognized way (even occasionally when irregularly done) are baptized, and need not and should never be rebaptized. If we did, we would be recognizing the individual's (later) faith-statement as more primary than the promise-statement that preceded it.

    But when, in the case of an elect infant, his faith later comes to be seen, his baptism (though it could not reveal much to the earthly eye at the time) stands witness to the gospel that began to be preached to him as soon as he came into the world. It testifies to the believer's own faith in the promise of God.

    c. I guess, I would first say: please go re-read my post on the correlative proclamations of circumcision and baptism, and either refute what I wrote, or else admit that the accusation at the end of your question is just as much an attack on infant-circumcision as on infant-baptism.

    Baptism is an objective sign and seal. It doesn't depend for any individual witness for its efficiency. One, or even many, badly set signs pointing to Disneyland doesn't invalidate the true and well-placed signs. Just think how many baptized as adults have no better placement of the sign upon them than many who have been baptized as infants.

    Now, in the Baptist-world, those all may be signs and seals of nothing, but to us they are still objective testimonies of the gospel. They are still witnesses, and will serve the baptized one day, for good or for ill, whether it pointed plainly enough, or was sadly marred. Because the gospel comes with a warning. "If ye believe not, ye are damned already, and will be damned eternally." The judgment-sign of baptism will witness against all those who saw it, and ignored the straight and narrow way to life, in favor of the broad path that leads to destruction. The seal is God's oath, as well as a mark of ownership. Whoever despises that mark is doubly-cursed.

    You're probably not going to agree, but that has to do with having differences (perspectives) in how we read Scripture.
  12. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Quote from In Suk
    The Gospel is presented in God's Providence to all who hear it but peculiarly to those who in God's providence are born into the visible Christian Church as the offspring of Christians.

    Baptism with water represents Christ's baptising of an individual into Himself by/with the Holy Spirit, regeneration, cleansing, etc. It represents the monegistic work of God.

    Then what advantage has the Jew (the Christian)? Or what is the value of circumcision (baptism)? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews (the Christians) were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? (Romans 3:1-3, ESV).
  13. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Sproul is saying something along this line:
    1) "I will save you, through faith in my beloved Son."
    2) Faith --> yielding to
    3) my recognition that "God is true to his word."

    I do not see how you can justly read Sproul as asserting that anyone baptized is getting a promise that is essentially conditioned on the baptism itself! That's reading into his words, or failing to note that the promise he points to is conditioned according to the exercise of faith, which has its origin in the hidden decrees of God for election. It is believers as believers who demonstrate God's blessed fulfillment of the promise in them.

    How God keeps his promise is according to his eternal decree, a thing that is not within our purview. Refusing to believe entails a different sort of fulfillment of God's promise: according to the covenant of Works.

    To your last statement of comparison, the promise to the elect in the gospel is just as conditional in its expression (believe and live) as it is to the reprobate. Of course, according to the decree, the determination to save or reprobate is not contingent on anything. But that issue is not relevant to the word of law or gospel. Again, this difference seems to touch on that question of the relation of baptism to an infallible expression of faith, or election. We deny baptism is essentially grounded in either. It is grounded in the gospel, which is the temporal announcement of the good news, good for this present age only.
  14. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    In Suk,

    We've touched on this in a different thread. You seem to keep forgetting that this is not, precisely, an "infant thing" for the Presbyterian. It is a "nature of baptism itself thing".

    That is to say that you need to stop for a minute, go back and read Sproul, or the Confession itself, speaking about an adult professor and discover what it says about baptism in general.

    Baptism is not the Gospel but it placards and signifies the same object that the Gospel points to: Christ.

    As I have said before, so I will say again, this notion of Baptism as a sign of God's Promise, as something announced to the individual baptized, and not on the basis of what the Church knows is exactly true of the individual is of dire consequence to understand.

    Until that gets into your blood stream you will not understand why Baptism is a comfort to a believer under the trials and accusations of Satan. I guarantee you that there will come a time in your life (if that time is not now) that you will sin greatly and you will doubt whether you have faith and, if now, did you have true faith at the time of your baptism. If baptism is nothing more than the Church telling you that they're pretty confident you're one of the elect at the time of your baptism then that says nothing about Today. If that Baptism was grounded in something Promissory from almighty God then you have every confidence in the character of the One Who made the Promise.

    God's decrees are hidden in His counsel (Deut 29:29). Without something historical to ground us, we have no way of knowing anything about the Covenant of Grace in our own lives or the lives of others. We might agree with the Scriptures that God saves the elect but, apart from anything historical, we would be left with nothing to live by. God acts, by His ministers, to announce to needy sinners the kind intentions of His grace toward us.
  15. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Rev. B:
    I agree that the promise he points to is conditioned on faith, but Sproul gives no hint that I can see that suggests conditionality. His words are so absolute. Rather than saying "if" we believe, he says "when" we believe.

    This objectivity, as you call it, is what Richard also echoes when he says,
    Here's where I get confused. Doesn't this mean that the one baptised is baptised into Christ, regenerated, cleansed, the recipient of the monergistic work of God (unconditional)? What does baptism say about the one baptised, if not these things?

    This is why I see two meanings at work in paedobaptism: baptism is an uncondtional promise to the elect; a conditional promise to the rest. if so, that makes sense.
  16. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Romans 3 makes it clear that the promissory sign is itself an "advantage" by virtue of the promise signified in it, that promise being contained in "the oracles of God." The very act of receiving the promissory sign confers benefits on the one who receives it. It is no small blessing to belong to the visible community of God's people and to enjoy God's promises both proclaimed and ratified by covenant. The apostle Paul specifically states that the presence of unbelief in some does not negate the "advantage" which is conferred by means of the promissory sign. The unbeliever has lied, not God. This is evident from the fact that those who have believed have been made full possessors of the things which were promised in the promissory sign.
  17. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Baptism is a conditional promise to all the baptized. The condition of the promise (faith) is wrought by God in the elect and the graces signified by baptism are conferred and sealed to that individual.

    To the rest, the promise is still true: if you do not believe, you are condemned.
  18. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Hmm, but isn't covenant inclusion essentially a spiritual thing? And therefore, the main benefits thereof ought to be spiritual, namely eternal life. However, the one who does not believe can receive no spiritual benefit, but remain dead in their sins. Are there other spiritual advantages? Also, if a covenant child does not believe, is their condemnation any worse?
  19. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I fail to see the relevance of any line of questioning which serves to cast doubt on the apostle's clear statement that the promissory sign is a distinct "advantage" even considering the lack of saving virtue in the case of those who do not believe.
  20. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    No doubt there is the clear advantage to the Jew, who was the referent in question, in that they've been entrusted with the oracles, they belong to the Messianic line by blood, etc. There is also no doubt as to promise's advantage upon believing elect, as they receive exactly what the sign represents. But what does the reprobate within a covenant family receive in terms of spiritual advantage? and what does his reprobation say about covenant membership?
  21. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Problems are bound to emerge whenever we pry into God's secret decree of election and reprobation and do not satisfy ourselves with the things which are revealed. The promises of God are given in hope of eternal life not in despair of eternal damnation. Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:17-20.
  22. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    "When" is a thoroughly conditional particle. Its principal condition is temporal, but may be used synonymously with "if" or "since." You have to read a degree of "certainty" into it. "If" is the purely conditional particle, but "when" can express the purely hypothetical, as in: "When all the runners clear the bases, the next batter steps up to the plate." You can read quite a few assumptions into those words. Was it a home run, or a double play? A play-by-play call, or something lifted from a rule book?

    The point being, Sproul is writing to professed believers, from the standpoint of Reformed convictions. You have to read him in context: literary context--and author-audience context, confessional context, etc. You have to take the "meta" into consideration along with all the rest, especially as you come to read him possessing a well-defined alternate meta-framework.

    As for your question to me, I think Rich has focused on the key point already in answer. Baptism in this world is not, it cannot, be indexed to election in any way whatsoever, so far as the Reformed understand it. Because election is a "sure thing," and the Spirit's baptism is a "sure thing," but ritual, water baptism is not, and never will be.

    To attempt, intentionally, to conform baptism to the elect with any more precision now than in the days of Abraham is wildly optimistic, because we aren't any better at discerning spiritual status now than we were then. God determined the best focal-length for picturing his forever-people in this fallen world. He didn't leave it to us to make the picture any sharper since Pentecost, but because the Spirit was poured out, he improved the picture overall. Its no longer tin-type and washed-out, but lively and colorful. But, it's still a picture, with limits. We aren't in heaven yet.

    Indexing baptism to election is an attempt to bring heaven down to earth. It's an "overrealized eschatology," an attempt to make the temporal church the church of the "saved," when it is actually the church of the "being-saved." We haven't entirely left typology behind, in passing from the OT into the NT. The presence of signs and the hope of heaven both testify to that reality. We still walk by faith, not sight.

    From our standpoint, we idealize the church we can't see, and say "it's a perfect institution we are representing here on earth, made up (entirely) of imperfect people." Your flipped-side from us first idealizes the individual souls we can't see, and says, "The church temporal is an imperfect (mixed) institution, comprised of some perfect (elect/justified) people." That's a pretty significant change in perspective.

    Sure, baptism goes on to represent gospel-implications, because salvation is the promise of the gospel. And yes, it's monergistic. You are uncomfortable with representing that upon an individual, because it might not be true for that one? No, because then you'd be uncomfortable with baptism being given to anyone! So, you hope to gain some confidence in whether it is subjectively true for that individual by letting him "speak for himself." Well, who speaks first in monergistic salvation? Does my affirmation of my faith take priority, or God's gospel word of calling?

    We'd like to think everyone who gets baptized has the hope of blessing. But that's not a reasonable hope, not even for millions who have made an empty profession as adults, and followed that with baptism. How many unregenerate people are there out there who are hardened to hearing the gospel because they were baptized after walking an aisle, and have been associated with 1st Baptist on the corner for thirty years? I'm sorry, but while the abuse of infant-baptism over the centuries produced many falsely confident in ritual salvation, since the popularity of believer's-only-baptism came to dominate in "evangelical" America, the Baptist-churches should be acknowledging about now that their preference in the ritual has not produced a church (general) that is any more believing than the "baby-sprinklers."

    Water-baptism can't attach us to Christ, so all it can do is represent spiritual realities to watching eyes. It sounds like you want to make the actions of water-baptism speak in every case a definitive word about something that isn't so much promissory (of the unseen), as much as it stipulates a condition should be existing, which cannot be seen (and may prove false, and that definitive word need retraction). When I, as a believer, consider what great salvation was and is promised to me in the gospel, and in my baptism, I am as encouraged as I ever could be by ALL that which baptism symbolizes.
  23. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    thanks Rev. B., and everyone else too. Some excellent thoughts to consider.
    I guess in my baptistic optimism, I see covenant membership to mean sure salvation, and I find it mind-boggling that God might view someone as in Christ in one sense, but potentially not in Christ at the same time.
  24. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    What does baptism have to do with "God's view" of anything? Is that another expression of trying to bring heaven down to earth?

    The two of us are simply reading the message of baptism very differently here, which is a point I've been trying to help you see (not bring about a change in your mind). You don't have to adopt my view, or I yours, so as to get inside and see what the other guy is seeing.

    We're actually fairly stiffly opposed to the head-for-head concept of one being "in Christ" by external-covenant. We think that sort of language is contra-confessional. You so tightly bind the spiritual union with the public witness, that you speak of them both as one act, and certainly present. For you, to be baptized in water is to be united to Christ (for an elect person) because faith is really present (a predicate). The order of these things is absolutely critical for your system, and where it isn't properly followed, baptism has not "taken," it is not real.

    And you seem to be having trouble, just here, understanding this other view; because those things that you cannot even conceive as distinct or in any other order, we on this side make room for: that a man may be baptized in water, and what God says is true, and what the man says is a lie. This can only be the case if it is possible for God to be contradicted by sinners. And while he will never be contradicted successfully by anyone eternally, temporally he is frequently (temporarily) contradicted.

    For you, to speak of being "in covenant" is synonymous with being "in Christ." It's as simple as that. The one equates to the other.

    For me, to speak of being "in covenant" pleads for further clarification: are we talking about deluding, deluded, delusional people who have outward covenant-marks (whether baptism, membership, profession, good deeds, etc.) but nothing of substance? Or are we talking about people with genuine faith, with or without any outward-signs?

    For you, the first of my possibilities contains no covenant-relation at all. Whereas, I understand those persons to have an outward, external connection to the covenant, an "accidental" or merely formal connection, without the substance or reality. That means they are "in covenant" in a true but temporal way only, which is not healthy but damning. These people may not be said in any way to be "in Christ." But I can say that because for me, in this sense of an exclusive outward administrations, "in covenant" and "in Christ" are not synonymous.

    Now, for a believer, he may have the latter connection, and be "in the covenant of grace spiritually" while (due to bad temporal circumstances) he is not able to be tied to the external administration of the covenant. This man is "in covenant" because he is "in Christ. Ideally, he will be able to find an external administration of the covenant (a church-body) to unite with, where the blessings of the covenant are present in profusion. But, in my interactions here and elsewhere, I realize that the Baptist (generally) does not acknowledge an external administration of the covenant of grace any more (if it ever existed), under the New Covenant.

    As for the children of believers, we understand them already to be within the ambit of the covenant, by sovereign design, born into a believing house instead of a heathen's. And we believe God has already dictated that the outward connection (that already exists, like it or not) is properly acknowledged by the church. They are to be denominated as disciples, and treated as such: baptized and taught the faith (Mt.28:19-20). There is no a priori that says, such ones will or likely will be delusional. That is a prejudicial supposition, which is not based on Scripture. In fact, it is contrary to Scripture, Prv.22:6. We have a biblically defensible expectation that such little ones that are made subject to divinely ordained means will (most likely) reap divinely ordained ends.

    But we don't assume they are "in Christ." If they die, then we hope in the promise made, and obey the word that directs us not to despair. If elect, then God is able to find them "in Christ" in their death, something entailed in any human's salvation, something we should hope for in any loved one's death where there is reason to hope. But we never assume a temporal condition for an eternal.

    Good night.
  25. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    In Suk,

    I think, again, as I stated in another thread, you are failing to even apprehend the basic ideas being presented and I think you don't even realize the implications to your own view.

    Let's stop talking about theory here and get to practical theology.

    Are you baptized?

    Are you elect?

    Are you in the New Covenant?

    How do you know?
  26. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    just accept it..... Sproul is always right :)
  27. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Rev B., thanks for labouring with me on this.
    How can someone be in the New Covenant but not, in any way, be in Christ? I only see this as possible if there is really no relation between the external administration and the internal reality. Should we not at least attempt to bring those together?

    I thought it had everything to do with God's view. Is covenant membership a purely external and administrative pronouncement by the church, or does it not reflect God's perspective as well? Surely it does. Paedos argue all the time that God views children of believing parents as holy, as covenant members.

    Also, how is covenant membership "damning" for some? As Rev. Winzer noted, "The very act of receiving the promissory sign confers benefits on the one who receives it. It is no small blessing to belong to the visible community of God's people and to enjoy God's promises both proclaimed and ratified by covenant." If there is reprobation in Christ, how is this a better promise than the old covenant?

    Rich, in response to your questions
    Let's stop talking about theory here and get to practical theology.

    Are you baptized? Yes

    Are you elect? Yes

    Are you in the New Covenant? Yes

    How do you know? The Holy Spirit testifies with mine that I am a child of God.

    Last edited: Oct 20, 2010
  28. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Yes. The Elect are in Christ.

    OK, In Suk, that's the last question from you in this thread. You need to be the answerer from this point forward if you desire to participate in this thread.

    1. Is there anyone else in your Church who has this internal testimony of the Holy Spirit?
    2. Was the Holy Spirit testifying with your spirit that you are a child of God the basis for your baptism in the Church?
    3. There are many that will come to Christ on the Day of Judgment surprised they are not His. How do you know that the Spirit testifies with your spirit that you are a child of God.
  29. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    1. I would think that all who are saved have the Spirit ministering to them in this way.
    2. No, the Holy Spirit does not minister on the basis of my water baptism.
    3. I don't need to know how I know he testifies, I simply need to be testified to by him.
  30. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I don't understand. Who are you talking about? I'm asking about people you know in your Church. Do you know anyone who has had the Spirit minister to them in this way?
    What relation does water baptism have to the New Covenant?
    Does the Holy Spirit operate apart from the Word and give you immediate testimony? Is this a kind of gnosis that you have?
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