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Gospel-Driven Anglicanism

Part 3

By Dr Mark Pickles

We pick up where Dr Pickles left off last time in his explanation of infant baptism.  He had just quoted from the late RC Sproul’s question:

“Isn’t it strange that this departure and deviation from the purity of the apostolic church took place to the extent that it captured the whole of Christendom and not one single word of protest survives from the period?  Now that’s an argument from silence.  But it’s a very screaming silence”.

“Furthermore, the natural way of reading the relevant texts reinforces this interpretation.  At the conversion of Lydia and the Philippine jailer, we are told upon Lydia and the jailer’s profession of faith both they and their ‘household’ baptised.  (Acts 16:15, 33)

“If there was now in the New Testament a change in practice from inclusion of the children of believers in the covenant to the exclusion of children of believers, texts such as these are dangerously ambiguous.  There is nothing in the text to suggest that each individual member of both Lydia’s family and the jailer’s family came to faith too and so were baptised.  The most natural and straightforward way of reading the text is that children were baptised not because they had come to faith but because their mother or father was, in simple continuity with Old Testament practice and Luke saw no reason to highlight or draw attention to this because he presumed it was so obvious.

“In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul discusses various matters concerning marriage, in particular that of a believing spouse married to an unbelieving husband or wife and says something very intriguing in verse 14:

“For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband.  Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”

“Paul clearly cannot mean that the children of believers are Christians because either their mother or father is, so what does he mean?  Again, the natural reading is to understand a covenantal context to his thinking, namely that children of believers or even of one believing spouse in a marriage, are to be included within the covenant community as they grow up and as a part of the church family.

“Reformed theology makes a distinction between being gin the covenant internally (part of the ‘invisible church’) which means you are elect, regenerate, united to Christ and from whom you can never be severed, sealed with the Holy Spirit that is an unbreakable seal and being in the covenant externally whereby you have received the covenant sign, may not be a true believer.

“Thus we are encouraged to bring up our children as being a part of the church, enjoying and sharing gin the benefits of being part of the people of God, until and unless they deliberately and intentionally decide to opt out as they come of age.  This is not only what the Bible teaches but also it is a tremendous privilege.  

Stephen Smallman, on page 15 in his book, How Our Children Come to Faith, writes:

In my experience too many Christian parents are so focused on their responsibility for their children’s spiritual lives that their prayers are essentially, ‘Lord help me to do my job and fulifill my calling to raise my children in the faith’.  They don’t stop to listen first to what God has told them about his commitment to our children … the foundation for what we do for our children is to understand and believe what God has said about his work for them and in them.  Having this confidence in God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises is the most important single thing we can do for the salvation of our children.  We should pray for them with earnestness but pray with confidence because God has clearly revealed his will for our children and he keeps his promises.

“That does not mean we are to baptise babies indiscriminately.  Biblically, we are to baptise the children of those who profess faith in Christ.  The Church of England cannot legally refuse baptism to anyone within the parish who asks for baptism and this undeniably creates both opportunities and tensions.  However, there is to be preparation for baptism which ought to entail a clear and careful explanation of the gospel, the meaning and the significance of baptism and what is being promised by the parents as they bring their children for baptism.  In an increasingly secular culture, with less knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith, adequate preparation needs time.  A faithful gospel-hearted minister will rightly see this as an opportunity to explain the gospel.  

“It is perfectly possible to operate a baptism policy that has biblical integrity whilst also making good use of the opportunity for evangelism that infant baptism presents within a parish context.  The offer of an alternative service of Thanksgiving for those who feel unable to make the promises entailed in baptism, allows for a warm welcome to all who enquire and yet a clear challenge to avoid perjuring oneself before God”.

The Revd Dr Mark Pickles was the Director of Anglican Ministry Training at Oak Hill College, London for years before becoming the Director of the North West Gospel Partnership.

Used by permission.