For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q95

The fabric of an individual’s belief is made of many threads. Often, however, we debate single issues separately, out of the context of a whole understanding. A single issue, like a single thread removed from a piece of material, by itself is weak and fragile. Weave it back into its context, and its strength is restored, its meaning more plainly seen within the whole. Likewise, removing a thread from a fabric can weaken and mar the beauty of the whole by its absence. But the tighter the weaving of the threads, the greater the strength and endurance of the fabric. And the more varied the colors of thread, the greater the beauty of the cloth. All this lends aid to our understanding and appreciation of our Reformed Faith and Confessions. Many threads of instruction, woven together from Scripture by our faithful and thoughtful forefathers, form a wondrous banner which we call Covenant Theology.
Various branches of the Christian church differ widely in their beliefs about baptism. Beliefs have consequences, and differences in how—and to whom—baptism is administered and stem from what is believed concerning the Covenant and its continuation from the Old Testament to and through the New Testament.  In this particular forum, it is not possible to explore each perspective on this issue, but at least we ought to understand the core issue: how one’s view of the Covenant determines its ongoing administration and application.
As we have been faithfully instructed, when we come to such matters as this particular lesson, it is important to keep all teaching in the context of the whole, in relation to all of what Scripture has to say. Let us seek deeper understanding and more faithful obedience.
WSC Q95.  To whom is Baptism to be administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him[a]; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized[b].
[a] Acts 2:41; 8:12, 36, 38; 18:8
[b] Gen. 17:7, 9-11; Acts 2:38-39; 16:32-33; Col. 2:11-12
Question 95 asks who should be baptized, and answers that those who are not members of churches should not be baptized until they have publicly stated that they believe in Christ and will obey him, but the infant children of church members should be baptized.
Comments and considerations:
In the answer to this catechism question, there are two propositions. The first faces little debate within the Christian community: baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him. The second, however, is not so widely accepted. The key to the difference in views on infant baptism is in the different understandings of the Biblical Covenant. Some see the continuity of the covenant of grace running throughout Scripture, from generation to generation; others see discontinuity, and a series of markedly different dispensations in God’s working out of his plan in history.
The Reformed view, which might be better termed the historic view, is that of a continuous covenant of grace, the continuity of what God has done as the author and finisher of redemption, running unchanged in purpose throughout both the Old and New Testaments, from beginning to end. The problem that has contributed to the division of thinking on this point is the view that God has a divided people—those of the Old Testament (Israel) and those of a supposed new dispensation (the church)—with differing means of grace and sacramental expression. Some go so far as to see Israel as being under the dispensation of Law and the Church solely under Grace.
The fallacy of this thinking is that God’s people are not divided; to the Gentile church of Galatia, Paul writes and calls them the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), lending inference and commentary in part to what is meant when he (Paul) says in Rom. 9 that “not all Israel are of Israel,” but that true Israel is of the heart, not the flesh or national origin. Further, we know that we who are of “the faith of Christ” are “of Abraham,”—of the same heritage, root, and branch as the children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7-9, 14). The Church and Israel are one and the same. There is one everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:7; Heb. 13:20). There is one plan of salvation running through all history: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3; Gal 3:6; James 2:23). And there is one Church, the people of God called out, who have believed God’s promise in all ages: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9-10; cf. Ex. 19:5-6)
Nevertheless, while the covenant itself has not changed, the outward form and administration have changed; the types and sacrifices of the Old Testament fulfilled in Christ are pictured afresh in the New Testament, carrying the instruction forward in the history of redemption. Old Testament saints celebrated the Passover, which was administered to believers and which pictured nurturing faith in a bloody type looking forward to the one to come; the Church now celebrates the Lord’s Supper, administered to believers and picturing nurturing faith in a bloodless sign looking back to the one who has come, has risen, is seated on high, and will come again! Old Testament saints also practiced Circumcision (Gen. 17:7, 12:3-17), administered once to believers and their children, picturing cleansing from sin in a bloody type; the Church now enjoys Baptism (Acts 2:39; Gal. 3:29, etc.), administered once to believers and their children, picturing cleansing from sin in a bloodless sign, a covenant community sacrament.
Much has been the debate upon this vital issue of the church, and divisions in principle have resulted over time. Many good references abound for further study. I recommend The Shorter Catechism (Vol. 2) by G.I. Williamson, from which I would like to quote in part his closing statement (p. 104):
Some argue against infant baptism on the grounds that the children do not understand at the time what is happening. (This is true. Neither did Abraham’s son Isaac understand what was happening when he was circumcised being eight days old.) But this, if anything, makes baptism more wonderful and sure in meaning. For it is a seal, not of man’s ability, but of God’s power and faithfulness. Thus when a covenant child is baptized he is not aware of what is taking place. But then, many years later, God may call that person to himself. He then regenerates that person by the power of His Spirit. He enables that person to repent and believe. He justifies and adopts that person. And if that person at all understands what has now happened to him, he will understand that it is God who alone deservers the praise. He will say, in all humble honesty, God did it all and I did nothing! He will therefore look back on his infant baptism and say: “yes, I see it now – I see that this sacrament truly tells the story of God’s faithfulness and mercy – it is a perfect picture of how He saves the helpless and hopeless by His own almighty power.” …We must not think that baptism is of importance to us only once. No, the Larger Catechism rightly says that we ought to “improve our baptism” all through our life. Thus, whenever we see this ordinance administered in the church, we are to apply its meaning again to our own hearts. Thus we are to deepen our understanding and thankfulness to God on account thereof.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.            Read Eph. 2:12. Summarize it and its implications regarding our identity to Christ and his covenant family. How should this inform us regarding baptism as it is presented in this catechism question?
2.            In the NT, baptism replaces circumcision as, among others things, the sign of the believer’s unique relationship to the Lord. What does Acts 10:44-48 say about who should be baptized?
3.            In the OT, what specific command did God give to Abraham (and Israel) concerning the new birth of their children? See Gen. 17:7-12. According to verse 7, what was the duration of God’s covenant promise?
4.            In the OT, did parents understand that outward circumcision was all that was needed for their children to be secure in their relationship with the Lord and eternal life? See Deut. 30:6 (1)
5.            Acts 16:30-34 presents instruction by example as to NT baptism and children of the covenant promise. In verse 33, who primarily was baptized in this event, and then who else?
Ans: 1) No. They were taught that the outward sign was just that, a sign that taught them of the need for an inward circumcision—a cutting off of the old, a change or renewal of heart, and trust in the Lord alone for salvation.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q95, WLC Q166, Q167 and WCF XXVIII.IV-VII
WSC Q.95. To whom is Baptism to be administered?
A.  Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him[a]; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized[b].
[a]  Acts. 2:41; 8:12, 36, 38; 18:8
[b]  Gen. 17:7, 9-11; Acts 2:38-39; 16:32-33; Col. 2:11- 12
WLC Q166. Unto whom is Baptism to be administered?
A.  Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him[a], but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized[b].
[a]  Acts 8:36-37; 2:38
[b]  Gen. 17:7, 9; Gal. 3:9; Col. 2:11-12; Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 4:11-12; 1Cor. 7:14; Mat. 28:19; Luke 18:15-16; Rom. 11:16
WLC Q167. How is our Baptism to be improved by us?
A.  The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others[a]; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein[b]; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements[c]; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament[d]; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace[e]; and by endeavoring to live by faith[f], to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness[g], as those that have therein given up their names to Christ[h]; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body[i].
[a]   Col. 2:11-12; Rom. 6:4, 6, 11
[b]   Rom. 6:3-5
[c]   1Cor. 1:11-13; Rom. 6:2-3
[d]   Rom. 4:11-12; 1Pet. 3:21
[e]   Rom. 6:3-5 (See in number [b].)
[f]   Gal. 3:26-27
[g]   Rom. 6:22
[h]  Acts 2:38
[i]    1Cor. 12:13, 25-27
Of Baptism.
IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ[l], but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized[m].
[l]  Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12-13; Acts 16:14-15
[m]            Gen. 17:7-14; Gal. 3:9, 14; Col. 2:11-12; Acts 2:38- 39; Rom. 4:11-12; Matt. 19:13; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17; Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 7:14
V.  Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance[n], yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it[o]: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated[p].
[n] Gen. 17:14; Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38; see Luke 7:30
[o] Rom. 4:11; Acts 10:2, 4, 22, 31, 45, 47
[p] Acts 8:13, 23
VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered[q]; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time[r].
[q]  John 3:5, 8
[r]  Rom. 6:3-6; Gal. 3:27; I Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38, 41
VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person[s].
[s]  Rom. 6:3-11
Question(s) for further study:

How is Baptism truly one of the means of grace? How is it a one time event, and yet not – an event to be improved upon continuously?

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