Baptism for the Dead

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I just realized a very interesting consequence of two theses that I'm sure many people hold. The first thesis is the Reformed version of infant baptism. I don't think the Catholic version has this result. Protestant paedobaptists believe that baptism does not save, nor remove original sin. It does indicate parents' trust that their child, being in the covenant community, will eventually develop personal faith and serve Christ as Lord. In other words, the content is pretty much what other parents express when they dedicate their children in hope of baptism when they express faith at an old enough age to be recognized as genuine. The biggest difference is that paedobaptists use the term 'baptism' and treat their children as part of the covenant itself rather than simply as benefiting from being part of the more general covenant community. As a credobaptist I disagree with this view, but it's quite common among the Reformed.

The second thesis is the main idea behind retroactive prayer. I've already argued for the possibility of legitimately retroactive prayer, so I won't do all that again. I'll simply say that if you accept that God has perfect knowledge of what's future to us (whether because he's outside time or some other reason), there's no reason for us not to pray about things that have already happened when we don't know the outcome. If God can foresee my prayer beforehand, then there's nothing to stop God from answering what I will later pray. The key idea here is foreknowledge, which all Reformed accept.

Now if you put these two things together, you get a very surprising result. The same things that justify these two views, when combined, will open up the possibility of baptism for the dead.

My argument is as follows. The key idea behind retroactive prayer is that God knows well ahead of time what we will pray. So it doesn't matter to God whether my prayer that my son will survive an open-heart surgery is before or after the operation itself. It matters to me. If I already know he didn't survive, it's foolish to pray that he would. I already know. But that's just parallel to what's the case if I already know that he won't survive, and I pray it ahead of time. If I already know that the world will be destroyed as if by fire because II Peter says so, and I pray to God that it won't happen, I'm praying something that I already know is in vain. It would be like a kid asking Mom to have bought a different color popsicle. It already happened, and you know the result. You can't change it.

It's different when we're considering God's providence. When God was working out how he would act at various times in history, he took into account what people would do, including how people would pray. This is true of prayers that are still future to us. So the point is that when we don't know the outcome, we can pray for something, and however it did turn out, even if it already happened, may have been because God took into account our prayer. So praying for something after it happens is not problematic, as long as you don't know the outcome of what you're praying for. It sounds weird, but it makes perfect sense when you spend a little time thinking about it. One of the elders in my congregation did exactly this sort of thing in our prayer times while another elder was ministering overseas. He would pray for him as he had preached earlier that morning. It seemed perfectly normal as he did it, because he knows God would have noticed this prayer when working out what would have happened earlier that day on the other side of the world.

When you combine this with the key idea behind paedobaptism, you get interesting results. Paedobaptists believe it's ok to baptize a child who doesn't know or approve of the baptism, who has shown no signs whatsoever of being elect to salvation. They believe this because they think baptism is a trust on the parents' part that their child will be saved, will express faith in Christ, and will serve him as Lord. They describe their attitude as expectant of their child's role in the covenant community as naturally leading to salvation.

Once you have these two things, I think there could be cases of baptism for the dead that would be perfectly appropriate. What if a family from a Baptist church decided they want to become Presbyterian? They become convinced that Presbyterians have it right, and they decide to express Presbyterian convictions by having their unbaptized children baptized. The only problem is that their oldest son, a teenager, was kidnapped three years ago. They discovered his body a month ago, and he had died hours before they found it. They have no idea what he'd been doing for the last few years. He hadn't expressed faith before he was kidnapped, but he hadn't given any sign that he had rejected God either. He simply hadn't made a clear choice. He wasn't old enough or mature enough for them to be sure. Should they trust that he turned out to have been elect? Should they trust that their raising him in the covenant community had the effect paedobaptists say they believe that it will have on all the kids they baptize as infants? I think the answer has to be yes. If they should now baptize all their other kids, it seems by the same reasoning that they should baptize their dead oldest son, in the trust that he is indeed elect and committed himself to Christ during that three-year time.

Now virtually no one but Mormons will accept this conclusion, though Mormons would never accept it on these grounds. I don't know their view on baptizing infants, but I know they deny divine foreknowledge. My challenge to people of Reformed persuasion is how they can deny my argument without abandoning their Reformed principles. I don't think it can be done without giving up what justifies retroactive prayer (divine foreknowledge) or what justifies paedobaptism (the possibility of baptizing someone against their own knowledge when you have no idea if the person is elect). When you put those things together, there will be cases of dead people whom it would be ok to baptize.

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Christian Carnival LXXII from A Physicist's Perspective on June 1, 2005 1:32 PM

Welcome to the Christian Carnival, a weekly roundup of posts submitted by a variety of Christian bloggers of different persuasions. Each blog submits one post, so this is a way to get a sampling of what people consider their best... Read More

I posted this at my own blog a little under a month ago, and one philosopher recommended that I post it here as well. He also thought it was interesting enough to try to turn into a paper. Do those... Read More


So you've got paedobaptism and credobaptism. Is this new view to be called necrobaptism? ;)


I think you have a pretty big misunderstanding of paedobaptism. Paedobaptism is, quite frankly, nothing like baby dedication. Given your understanding of paedobaptism, I think your conclusion probably does follow.

Under your description of paedobaptism, the purpose of baptism is basically to say something about the faith of the parents (to "indicate parents' trust [in] their child"). So, under your view, paedobaptism is more for the parents than the child. I think this view is very similar to prayer, in that prayer is more for the person praying than it is for the "object" of the prayer. So I'm not suprised at the conclusion you come to, given the legitimacy of retroactive prayer and given your view of paedobaptism.

But I would need to see your argument reformulated for paedobaptist's actual beliefs in order to make a judgement on the argument. (This isn't to say that some paedobaptists don't understand baptism the way you've presented it, it's just that it isn't the "standard" Reformed/Presbyterian paedobaptist view.) The Jollyblogger had some good posts on paedobaptism earlier this year.

To tell me what's wrong with my argument you'd need to explain how paedobaptists do see baptism and then explain why that does not have the feature I said it has in combining with retroactive prayer to allow baptizing this dead teenager. The challenge has not been met until that happens.

You need to talk to all the paedobaptists in my congregation. By not separating themselves from credobaptists along non-gospel lines, they had to deal with the fact that they disagree on that issue. It was a big issue among them when they formed the congregation, and they came to see through real interaction that they were expressing pretty much the same content when they were baptizing/dedicating and then again when they were confirming/baptizing. They have been happily doing both as parents choose for a long time now. The elder who prayed the retroactive prayer is a paedobaptist, as it happens, and the one who was prayed for retroactively is a credobaptist.

The only argument I have ever heard in many, many conversations with paedobaptists that doesn't involve taking passages out of context is the argument that you aren't trusting God for your children's salvation if you don't baptize them as infants. I realize that this argument is as bad as the whole bunch I presented in this post, but it was the only thing anyone was willing to say that didn't involve simply reading into scripture what it didn't say. That's why I take this element to be a crucial component of the view. I didn't say that it's all the view says.

Part of the problem you're having is that you assume I think prayer is mostly for the person praying. I don't. I think prayer has effects, even effects in the past, and its purpose is for God to allow us to contribute in that way to his plans. Baptism for the paedobaptist, as I see it, is to reflect parents' trust that their children will be saved, and it's efficacious only in that as a sign it is a reminder. It's a symbol, a commanded one, and a symbol that God uses in his grace to achieve good in people's lives, but a symbol nonetheless. That's the difference between the Reformed paedobaptist view and the Catholic one, which holds that baptism is a means of grace in a more direct and causal way.


I said that I agree with your argument, given your premises. I also said that I don't doubt that some paedobaptists see it as you described.

The Reformed paedobaptist view is not that it is merely a symbol, but that it is a sign and a seal. The Reformed view does hold that baptism is a means of grace. Where we differ from Catholic paedobaptism is that we don't believe in ex opere operato.

If you read the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith, you aren't going to find anything like the "trusting God" argument that you talk about. So it isn't a crucial component of the view. The crucial component is that children of believers are part of the covenant of grace and that baptism is the sign and seal that those children are part of that covenant.

I also think prayer has effects, but I don't think they are the primary purpose of prayer. I'm not arguing against retroactive prayer. I don't have anything against it, I don't think it is unbiblical.

I don't think I really have to show anything, other than that traditionally, Reformed baptism of infants isn't done for the reasons you gave. If I'm correct about that, then your argument doesn't really effect a whole lot of Reformed paedobaptists.

I'm not sure how anything you're saying here is different from what I said. None of this is news to me.

The question is what it means to be a sign and a seal. I don't know how to read a sign as anything other than a symbol. Is the seal a guarantee, as the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of salvation? I hope not. That's pretty much a means of grace in the stronger sense. I'm not sure what it's supposed to be other than what I said it is. It's something that looks forward to something with anticipation that these children will turn out to have been elect.

I'm still not seeing this "what paedobaptists really believe" beyond what I already thought they really believe. Everything you've said has agreed with my perception of what paedobaptists believe. The Jollyblogger series is similarly right in line with what I've been told many times by others.

Hey Jeremy, this is interesting enough to possibly turn into a paper. I would recommend at the least expanding on it and posting it on Prosblogion.

Well, I do think there's one thing paedobaptists might say, and I'm not sure what I would say in response. I'm waiting for someone to say it before I respond, though, and no one has. That gives me more time to figure out what I think of it. If it turns out that I have nothing to say, then the argument is shot. It's one of these things where it would defeat the argument but for some reason seems fishy to me, and I can't place my finger on why it's not an appropriate response.

I might post it at Prosblogion anyway. I don't think I could turn it into a paper unless I have a good response to that particular objection. I couldn't imagine this being a very significant paper, though. Could you? Maybe it could be a shorter note in Philosophia Christi or something. They publish a lot of those.

great site! Would you be interested in exchanging links?

I'm very fascinated by this discussion, and want to mention something as a paedobaptist (though perhaps still deciding!) I've really struggled to wrap my head around what the nature of this 'sign and seal' is.

As mentioned, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate seal and guarantee in believers, and we know He is with believers because He grants them repentance and faith in Jesus. When someone displays these things, we rightly declare them to be sealed by the Holy Spirit. But history (and Scripture) show that there are some people who seem to display these signs clearly, yet sadly later renounce Jesus. I think the Bible says that these people were never truly sealed, but were showing counterfeit signs of discipleship. Everyone but God thought they were sealed by the Holy Spirit, and fully expected them to be so all their lives, but everyone was mistaken.

I think something similar is going on in paedobaptism. The time to be baptised is soon (ASAP I think - hence the urgency often seen in Acts) after conversion. If Scripture says kids born to Christian parents and raised trusting in Jesus are saved but don't have a point of conversion, (at least not one discernible by humans,) then the right time to baptise them is in infancy. If we are assuming that they are saved, we must also assume that the Holy Spirit is with them, though they can't show signs for or against this. Later in life we might find out that He was never with them, and that they choose not to follow Jesus. But this doesn't de-legitimise infant baptism as a sign (or seal) anymore than it de-legitimises the Holy Spirit! It's just that we were mistaken, and indeed had no way of knowing that this person wasn't elect.

So in this sense baptism is a seal, a physical stamp on this person's being saved by God. We might later learn that they were not saved and we were mistaken (and indeed they must show signs of the Holy Spirit later in life for use to believe they're saved.) But we might just as easily realise that we were mistaken about a person we believed to be sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Any thoughts? Especially if there's a big hole in my reasoning please let me know - it's a reasonably important practical issue!

Jay, I don't just exchange links. I link to sites that I think show particularly informative, balanced, careful, fair, insightful thinking. If I keep seeing content that consistently fits that description, I might link to someone. It sometimes takes months for me to come to such a conclusion.

Daniel, I'm still not seeing how this is anything but a symbol. I think the point of the urgency in Acts is because this was a major turning point in redemptive history, and it was important in the context to show one's identification with it for the sake of the early growth of the church and for the sake of making a statement to the people around them. You see the same urgency in displaying the gift of tongues in Acts, and most Reformed people don't exactly support extending that urgency to our time. Reformed charismatics might, but they don't tend to be paedobaptists. Only someone who takes both stances could try to make that argument, and I think there's so much evidence in scripture against prioritizing tongues that we can rule such a position out anyway.

I don't think there are any clear statements in scripture that there isn't necessarily a point of conversion. Such a point would be when the Holy Spirit turns the heart toward God. Maybe this isn't a point in time. Maybe it is. I don't know how to think about that. What clearly distinguishes the elect from the non-elect is that work of the Spirit. If you do see a sense of urgency to ensure that there are no unbaptized Christians, I can see how your argument might go. You'd then try to baptize everyone who might be a believer.

Clearly this isn't the paedobaptist view, though. Someone attending a church as an adult but who hasn't clearly demonstrated faith doesn't get baptized and ought not to be baptized until it's clear the person has believed, as best as we can tell. I'm not sure why the same principle isn't extended to children. That's my primary reason for credobaptism. We rightly practice it with adults. We don't consider them part of the covenant merely because they attend church and are part of the covenant community. Baptism is a symbol of being in the covenant, not a symbol of being in the covenant community. [This is one place the above-mentioned Jollyblogger series drastically misrepresents credobaptism about 5-6 times, I believe.]

There are obviously people in the community but not in the covenant itself. I think many children are pretty clearly in that category, and I think we ought to err on the side of caution and not extend the symbol of being in the covenant to someone who hasn't demonstrated any sign of being in the covenant. It's therefore not like circumcision, which is a sign of being male, being older than 7 days, and being in the covenant community. Baptism has no sex requirement, no time requirement, and attaches to the covenant itself rather than to the physical people group that someone has to become part of nationally speaking to become a member of the covenant. There are enough discontinuities between the covenants to get a discontinuity between circumcision and baptism. It's not the same ritual expanded. It's a new symbol for a new thing, and we can't just read how to do it off the thing it's replacing.

You think it's important. I disagree. I don't think it's that important. Congregations that don't baptize at all are disobeying a commandment of Jesus, but I don't think this issue about when and how to baptize is as clear in scripture as the people on both sides like to make it, and things that are unclear in scripture are much less important than things that are clear in scripture. That's why my congregation is willing to do whichever parents choose. The fact that they've been able to manage that for 25 years is testament to its not being as important an issue as the denominations that have split over things like this (immorally, in my view) want to make it.

Praise God for your gathering brother Jeremy. This is completely off topic, but I must say that I am exceedingly strengthened when I hear about the diversity in your gathering without splintering. Praise the Lord.

I wish someone would offer you a counterpoint. I'm so entrenched in baptism as spoken in Scripture that I can't see the flaw in this reasoning.


Sign and symbol are roughly equivalent, I would say. The problem is that you seem to think that the paedobaptist view is that baptism is a symbol of the parents' trust. And your argument rests on this - the parents' trust.

But the paedobaptist view is that baptism is a sign and seal of the child's entrance into the covenant of grace. Paedobaptists believe that children of believers are members of that covenant and therefore should be baptized. I seriously don't see how your argument would apply to this.

Furthermore, in the scenario you describe, the child is a teenager and generally would be considered old enough to profess faith and thus, in most paedobaptist churches, would need to profess faith in order to be baptized. But that is specific to your example and it could easily be changed so that the kidnapped child was much younger.

The other problem is that you say correctly that paedobaptists don't think that baptism saves but then later you talk about parents trusting "that he turned out to have been elect." Maybe this belongs with my earlier point about you misunderstanding what baptism signifies, but I don't see how you can say both of those things. What would be the purpose of baptising the dead if baptism doesn't save. The only way I think you can rectify the two is by doing what you do - focusing on the parents' trust.

Another argument I might make is that even though I don't think retroactive prayer is unbiblical, I do think it is somewhat speculative and I would be pretty hesitent in applying it to the sacrament of baptism.

Also, I'm pretty sure I know your answer to this, given your view of the similarity between paedobaptism and baby dedication, but would you say that your argument applies equally well to dedication?

Just for the record, Mormons don't deny foreknowledge. Indeed I'd say the vast majority of Mormons (including myself) accept it. We don't accept the Calvinist formulation of foreknowledge, but that's more over our differing notions of creation. There are several prominent Mormon intellectuals who deny total foreknowledge and embrace Open Theology. But they make up a minority of Mormons. (Blake Ostler being the most obvious example of someone writing on theology and denying foreknowledge - he's argued with me over it on my blog)

Mormons are opposed to infant baptism though.

Clark, the one Mormon I've spent lots of time interacting with on theology acted as if open theism was standard for Mormons. Sorry if that's not the case. Just to be clear, he wasn't denying any foreknowledge to God. He thinks God knows what God is going to do, and he thinks God knows predictable things about the future, things that free choices and random events wouldn't interfere with. He just didn't think God has any genuine access to the future, and therefore God doesn't know what free beings will do when their choices are truly free.

Macht, I think you're getting sidelined by a non-essential feature of my argument. You did finally raise the one question I've been waiting for. Paedobaptists believe their children are in the covenant, and that's the basis of baptism. Any challenge to my argument is going to have to rely on that. I'm not sure the challenge is going to succeed, because I think I can reframe the whole argument in those terms, without relying on the inessential elements you think are the core of my argument.

Children of the covenant deserve to be baptized as much as adults in the covenant do, according to paedobaptism. Their baptism is an expression of their being in the covenant. The grounds for their baptism is their parents' (and other covenant members') belief that they are in the covenant. Is baptism a statement merely for the good of the person being baptized that will no longer be relevant if the person is dead? If so, my argument fails. Is baptism, on the other hand, for more than just the good of living people being baptized? Is it a public statement that someone is in the covenant? Is it, in other words, for those who see it and witness to it? If so, my argument still goes through. If baptism is in any way a public witness that so-and-so is in the covenant, then the fact that the person is dead is irrelevant. The core of my argument is that baptism, as paedobaptists see it, does not require the consent, understanding, or clear evidence of salvation of the person being baptized. That is true of someone dead as much as it's true of someone alive.

Now you might simply say that someone who is dead who was in the covenant but not elect is no longer in the covenant. That's where the retroactive element slips in. We don't know if that deceased person is still in the covenant. Just as we can pray that the person would be saved, so we can baptize in case the person is in the covenant. It's not entirely parallel, but it wasn't entirely parallel in the original formulation I gave. If the presumption is to baptize unless we know otherwise, which is how paedobaptists do it, rather than to wait unless we know otherwise, as credobaptists do it, then I think the right thing to do would be to baptize.

I don't think your treatment of baptism as more important than prayer is going to convince me of much. I think prayer is far more important. I don't believe there are such things as sacraments, and I don't think anyone who believes in sola scriptura should believe in them. Basing an argument on a later idea not in scripture just won't convince me. If you can give me a sciptural reason why baptism needs to be treated in a way very different from prayer, then fine, but calling it some term that I don't even understand, that I don't think anyone understands if they aren't meaning by it what Catholics mean by it, simply isn't going to do. Presbyterian sacramentalism just seems to me to be one way Presbyterians haven't completed the Reformation.

What is meant by being "in the Covenant"? In what Covenant are they being baptized into?

They think people who are not elect are nonetheless in the covenant, on the grounds that they are clearly in the covenant community. I see no reason to confuse those two things myself, but the above-mentioned Jollyblogger account of paedobaptism treats the two as equivalent and assumes credobaptists will also grant that the two are equivalent. That's not something I think a credobaptist should grant. That's in fact one of the biggest differences between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant. In the Mosaic covenant you were in on the grounds of being in the covenant community, the visible old covenant church/gathering, i.e. the nation of Israel. In the new covenant, you're not a member of the covenant unless you have explicitly entered it through faith, even if you are in the covenant community, i.e. the visible church.

That's a bit disconcerting. When I read Jollyblogger�s series (not remembering the details right now) I think I was already disagreeing with the methodology so I may have dropped it. I vaguely remember some logic based off of Covenant Theology but it�s foggy and I didn't dig to deep, so hearing this...well...

I think your argument still stands especially after Macht's words that members of the community view the children as members of the covenant. Why not baptize the dead if you really believed they were a member of the covenant? I�m not seeing the flaw in the logic unless someone really limits �covenant� to merely community and in that case, I think they would have strayed from Scripture.

The point I haven't seen raised here is...baptism is not necessary for anything. The criminal on the cross with Jesus never had a chance to be baptised and Jesus told him he would be with Him in paradise that day...No baptism required.

We are baptised for two reasons, as I understand it; 1) As a sign of our death to sin and ressurection with Christ and 2) Because we are following Christ's example.

It is essential that a person believe in Christ, His death and resurrection, but it is not essential that a person be baptised to be saved.

The reason no one has said that here is because credobaptists and paedobaptists agree fully on that. In the post I distinguished the paedobaptist view I have in mind from the Catholic paedobaptist view. This is an in-house dispute among those who deny that sort of thing, so there's no need to get into an issue everyone in the discussion already agrees on.

The standard Reformed view is that baptism is not merely a statement that someone is in the covenant, but has the real effect of actually bringing that person into the visible church, and into one particular congregation of the church militant.

One can draw an analogy with the wedding ceremony. When the minister says, "I now pronounce you man and wife", his utterance is not so much a public statement of the fact that they are married as it is a pronouncement that makes them to be married, who were not married before. Similarly baptism has the real effect of making a person a member of a particular congregation who was not a member before.

If this Reformed view is correct, baptizing a dead person would be a presumptuous attempt to make something impossible happen, that is, to bring it about that someone becomes a member of a congregation of the church militant, when that person has already been elevated by God to the church triumphant. A person cannot be retroactively baptized just as a person cannot be retroactively married.

There's another problem with your argument that makes it ineffective even against the non-standard paedo-baptist view you described: in order to baptize, you must apply water to the person being baptized. But you can't apply water to a dead person since he isn't here on earth. Applying water to someone's body doesn't count as applying it to the person himself unless that person is present in his body, i.e., alive. So the kind of retroactive baptism you describe is impossible. One could try to baptize a dead body, but a dead body is not a person, and, on any view, only persons are to be baptized.

If my argument is good, then the conclusion would be that you shouldn't need to use something as symbolic as water for baptism. It wouldn't mean that the argument is bad simply because you couldn't use water. Your last paragraph also assumes an absolute Cartesianism that Paul would certainly have frowned on. You're treating the body as a mere shell, as if there's no such thing as resurrection and merely some eternal spirit life from death on. That's unbiblical.

Since a large section of Reformedom is baptist, there's no standard Reformed view that involves paedobaptism. There's a standard Presbyterian view of baptism, so I'm going to read you as if that's what you meant. Now your claim is that baptism is defined as bringing someone into a particular congregation and into the visible church. But isn't that just the usual effect, on the Presbyterian view? The fact that something is the usual effect doesn't mean that's what the nature of the act has to do with. The nature of the act, according to all accounts I've seen, is to bring someone into the covenant. One effect of that, if the person is still alive, is to bring the person into the visible church. It just doesn't seem to match up to what paedobaptists regularly believe to say that it's about being in the visible church. The ones I've interacted with say it's to bring someone into the covenant, something that can then be revoked if the person doesn't believe. If you don't believe that, then I don't think you've got the standard Presbyterian view in mind.

Water wouldn't be necessary for baptism? Where did that conclusion come from? I couldn't find it anywhere in your post or previous comments, and it looks like a non-sequitur to me.

I am emphatically not a Cartesian. What made you think I was? Was it my talking about the person being "present in" his body. But the apostle you mentioned uses similar language himself in 2 Cor 5. My point was simply that a dead body is not a person and so pouring water on it cannot count as baptism. This holds regardless of your philosophical views about the soul.

Accusing me of "absolute Cartesianism" was unwarranted, but perhaps it might be excusible; however, accusing me of (implicitly?) denying the ressurection was inexcusable. Even Descartes believed in the ressurection of the body, and nothing in his philosophy contradicts that doctrine.

I do consider paedobaptism the standard reformed view, notwithstanding the large number of credobaptists with Reformed soteriology. You can disagree with me, of course, but I did mean what I said, and that is how I think of the tradition of which I am a part.

Now, you are right when you say that, on the standard reformed view (I'll call it presbyterian, if you insist) baptism brings someone into the covenant, something that can be revoked. But why you think this is somehow at odds with what I said is byond me; on the contrary, they entail each other. Whom do you think God's covenant is with? His people, of course, which in the OT was Israel, and which is now that community we call the church. God does not have lots of little covenants with each individual Christian, but one covenant with one people: his church. Thus, the only way for an individual to partake of the covenant is to become part of that community. Obviously we are not talking about the invisible church, whose membership is defined by regeneration, and cannot be revoked (perseverence of the saints). Therefore the visible church. Baptism brings a person into the covenant by bringing them into the visible church. This is why, when the Westminster confession speaks of the nature of baptism it says it is "for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church." (28.1) This is presented as the nature of baptism, not a byproduct. And it says that sacraments in general are instituted by God "to put a visible difference between the church and the world." (27.1) In other words, sacraments are what define the visible church as visible.

Now if that doesn't fit with what your paedobaptist friends are saying, I humbly suggest that either you don't fully understand their view, or else they are not fully acquainted with historic reformed theology. Given how quick you were to misunderstand me ("absolute Cartesian" indeed!), I'm not exactly inclined to questions your friends' reformed credentials. (Though I recognize hypertext is somewhat easier to misunderstand than face-to-face conversation).

If you aren't willing to engage in a conversation that traces out the implications of ideas without acting as if people are questioning your faith, I'm not interested. I'm interested in intelligent debate, not name-calling.

As to the absolute Cartesianism, you state quite clearly that you don't think you can do something to someone ny doing something to that person's body when that person is dead. The only way that would be true is if the body that gets resurrected is not the original one, and that's reincarnation rather than resurrection. The biblical view makes it quite clear that we aren't souls that merely happen to inhabit bodies. Our bodies are part of us. Our bodies are what gets resurrected.

You said that you have to apply water to someone to baptize them. I wondered why that must be so. I also wondered why you thought it wouldn't be applying water to someone if you apply the water to their dead body. Either view can be questioned.

As I've said over and over again, I do believe that God has a covenant with his church. I do not believe nonbelievers are in the church, even if they are children of people who are in the church. The church is a heavenly entity, gathered around the throne of God, represented on earth at any time by those who are alive today who are part of that entity and currently in relationship with God. From our perspective, those who will believe but do not yet are not in the church yet, though in the heavenly perspective they are. Those we believe to be in the church because they attend services or are part of a family with parents in the church are simply not in the church, period. It's not as if there's this visible church that takes priority of the invisible church when saying who is in the church. The covenant theology of presbyterian Reformed people makes that mistake in more than one place, and it's the primary plank supporting the paedobaptist doctrine. The new covenant theology of the credobaptistic Reformed corrects this error, and paedobaptism no longer makes any sense.

See, your contention is that baptism brings someone into the church, and then you say that the church is the visible church. Biblically, however, the church is the invisible church. What you call the visible church is an outward and imperfect manifestation of the church. The covenant, for you, therefore, is not something that God has with the real church but with some imperfect manifestation. That can't be right if the new covenant passages looking forward to this from Jeremiah and Ezekiel are right. Those in this covenant know God. Those in this covenant are taught by God himself. These passages are picked up in the NT as referring to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Being in the church, being in the covenant, is tied to having the Holy Spirit. The covenant can't be a covenant with the visible church, so children who aren't elect can't be in the covenant and thus shouldn't be baptized.

As for my paedobaptist friends, they're pretty diverse. Jollyblogger is a PCA pastor. He and another person who would be in my list are Reformed Theological Seminary grads. A third is a former Reformed Anglican who is now an elder in my congregation. A fourth and fifth are from Reformed churches that don't call themselves Presbyterian. What you said is in your second to last paragraph in the preceding comment is exactly what they say, and I'm drawing out its implications. The fact that you don't like those implications and don't think they follow doesn't mean anything about my understanding of you or my friends' existence within the mainstream of covenant theological circles.

I'm sorry, but you did say that I was "treating the body as a mere shell, as if there's no such thing as resurrection." I'm not sure how to read this as anything other than the charge that I hold a view that, implicitly at least, involves a rejection of the doctrine of the resurrection. That accusation is a serious one. It's not that I think you deliberately set out to “question my faith.��? I just think you were less than careful in making very serious assertions about my beliefs without making a real effort to understand me first. This is what intelligent debate requires, and it is because of my concern for intelligent debate that I say these things. You certainly didn't give an argument for why you thought that what I said involved treating the body “as if there's no such thing as resurrection.��? You merely asserted it. Now, I see you have become more careful, and have even provided an argument for why you think what I said has that consequence. An argument is something I can discuss with good cheer. But first, ...

I wasn't sure, from your most recent comment, whether you thought I had engaged in name-calling or not. I can't think of what I said that could be taken as name-calling. Maybe you were just issuing a premptive warning, as if to say, "let's make sure we don't get involved in any name-calling." That is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur.

Now let me address your argument that what I said entails that there is no resurrection. It is unsound. What distinguishes resurrection from reincarnation is that the body I am gong to be raised with is identical to the living body I had before I died. This does not require identity with a dead corpse. It seems to me that when I die, the thing that used to be my body is no longer, strictly speaking, my body. What makes my body my body is not the particular matter that makes it up (the molecules that make up my body today are different from those that made up my body ten years ago). What makes my body my body is its vital relation to my soul. The matter left over after I die may be called "my body" for convenience sake -- it is after all the same physical stuff that used to be my body -- but what happens to it (the physical stuff) does not relate to me as somthing happening to my body. When Paul speaks of the earthly tent we live in being destroyed, I think he is talking about what happens at the moment of death--whether death is caused by a heart attack or by being vaporized in a nuclear explosion. The matter that is left, whether it is still collected in a hunk or whether it is cast to the four winds, is not our home anymore. At death, the tent that was our home is destroyed.

If you want to tag a label onto my view, hylomorphism would be far more appropriate than Cartesianism. But I must warn you, I don't feel particularly satisfied with any philosophical account that I know of. Let me make it clear, moreover, that I am not trying to prove to you that my view on these things is correct. I'm merely explaining my view, and claiming that, because you haven't disproved it, your argument is, if you'll permit me to quote myself, "ineffective even against the non-standard paedo-baptist view you described." Such a paedobaptist, has an easy out. He can say, as I did, that applying water to a dead corpse does not count as applying it to a person. You have not given sufficient reason to think applying water to a dead corpse would ever count as baptising a person. You have also not given reason to reject the claim, held by all Christian churches (even presbyterians!) that water is necessary for baptism. You can "question" such views all you want, but merely saying that such views can be questioned will not rehabilitate your argument. Remember that it is you who are trying to prove that certain things follow from presbyterian theology. If presbyterians believe that applying water to someone is necessary for baptism, then your proposed implication, that "there could be cases of baptism for the dead that would be perfectly appropriate" does not follow. Baptising the dead could be inappropriate for reasons other than those you dealt with--it could be inappropriate simply because water is necessary for baptism and there's no way to apply water to a dead person.

Now let's turn to the standard presbyterian view. You wrote: "As I've said over and over again, I do believe that God has a covenant with his church. I do not believe nonbelievers are in the church, even if they are children of people who are in the church." I have no doubt that that is what you believe. You would know better than I what your own beliefs are. But aren't we talking about what presbyterians believe, not what you believe? You claimed that presbyterian paedobaptism had certain consequences (assuming the legitimacy of retroactive prayer, which I agree with by the way). I countered that those consequences do not follow on what I called the standard reformed view. Then you responded by saying that the view I was propounding didn't sound to you like the standard presbyterian view. I argued that it was, citing the Westminster Confession, and I tried to explain that view further. I wasn't trying to prove to you that that view is correct, I was only explaining what the view is, and claiming that it is indeed the standard presbyterian view.

Perhaps I could have made things more clear by writing “Whom do you think God's covenant is with, according to presbyterians?��? instead of just “Whom do think God's covenant is with?��? I thought it would be clear from context that we were discussing the nature of the presbyterian view.

The propositions we have to discuss are: (1) Is the view I propounded the standard presbyterian view? And: (2) Is necrobaptism a consequence of that view? As far as I can see, you have said nothing against my argument (in the third paragraph of my original comment) that necrobaptism is not a consequence of the view I described. In your first response to me, you seemed to question only my claim that the view I described was in fact the standard presbyterian view. Now you seem to have withdrawn that objection. You seem to agree that the view I have been describing is indeed the standard presbyterian view. So if I'm right that necrobaptism does not follow from this view, then your argument fails. If you're ready to abandon your necrotic argument, I'd be happy to discuss the scriptural grounds for the presbyterian view; but if we change the subject like that, I'd like us both to be on the same page; otherwise it's easy to get sidetracked by red herrings.

I don't think most paedobaptists are going to take your way out. Aristotelian hylomorphism is certainly not the standard Reformed view. Keep in mind that my claim here was never that there's no consistent paedobaptist view. It's that the actual views held by many Reformed people seems to lead to the possibility of baptizing the dead, in certain very specific sorts of cases (not just any old case of someone who is dead). If you've found a particular way of avoiding the argument, then it joins the one I mentioned above as a way out. It does involve some controversial views, in particular that a number of Reformed people would dismiss (wrongly, of course) as too Catholic because of its origins in the thinking of Thomas Aquinas.

As for the covenant issue, I was giving an argument against that. I realize that the standard Reformed paedobaptist view doesn't say what I'm saying. What I'm trying to do is explain why the standard view is wrong. This argument is independent of the other issue. It just came up in the conversation, and I'm explaining why I think the view is unbiblical. If your fallback is going to be that the standard Reformed paedobaptist view is free from the consequence of necrobaptism because it takes an unbiblical view as an assumption, then I think I've won the argument, so I don't think that's going to be a way out. I can't see that as a red herring. If the way out of the argument is to adopt an unbiblical view, then the argument has already been lost. If you don't think it's unbiblical, that's a different matter, but you seem to be granting for the sake of the argument that it is indeed an unbiblical view.

My view is closer to hylomorphism than Cartesianism, but you don't have to agree with my philosophical views, and you certainly don't have to be a hylomorphist in order to take advantage of the "way out" I was proposing. All you have to do is agree that applying water to a dead body wouldn't count as baptizing a person in the situation you mentioned. Look at it this way: on every view I've ever heard of, a room containing nothing but a dead human corpse does not contain a person (Most paedobaptists, I think, would be inclined to agree with this), which means that, in the case you mentioned, the person just isn't there to be baptized.

You wrote, "If your fallback is going to be that the standard Reformed paedobaptist view is free from the consequence of necrobaptism because it takes an unbiblical view as an assumption, then I think I've won the argument." That's not my claim. My claim is that the standard Reformed paedobaptist view is free from the consequence of necrobaptism regardless of whether it is biblical or not.

You see, I found your initial argument fasinating. It wasn't just a rehash of the typical things people always say when debating this question. It was new and interesting. That's why I was wanted to respond to it. So I gave my reasons for thinking that your argument was no threat to the genuine historic reformed paedobatist view. Instead of defending your initial argument, you ignored my objection to it and led out other, more typical and less interesting arguments against paedobaptism.

So before I respond to those other, less interesting arguments, I'd like to know whether you have anything further to say in defense of your interesting argument.

I think you've lost track of my original argument, actually. I don't see why you'd need to have a body to do the kind of baptizing I had in mind. What if you don't find the son's body but simply find irrefutable evidence that he had been killed and then cremated by the abductor? I think what I say in the argument would make as much sense in that context as it would in the other. The baptismal ceremony would be an act of doing something to the son in the hope that during his life he had lived out the covenant. You wouldn't need to have the the corpse present at such a ceremony, especially if the primary purpose of doing something physical to the body (dunking for the sake of visually representing death and resurrection) isn't done to infants either.

If you claim that one of my beliefs entails that 1+1=3, I'd concede that, if what you claim is true, it would be a problem for my belief, but I'd want you to prove it. If you then tell me that by "3" you mean "2", I will be less inclined to see this as a problem for my belief.

You claimed that reformed paedo-baptism entails the possibility of baptism for the dead. Now you're telling me that by "baptism" you mean some ceremony that is not a Christian sacrament, as baptism is, and does not require water, as baptism does (according to all paedobaptists). I'm not sure what you think such a ceremony would "do" to the person in question. It can't do what real baptism does, since only Christ can do that, and Christ hasn't instituted the kind of ceremony you're talking about. From your initial post, it seems you think of such a ceremony as equivalent to the Baptist's baby dedication (only, the parents wouldn't be promising to do anything in the future, like teaching the child the truths of our holy religion, setting a godly examply before him, etc.). What would such a ceremony do to the dead person? At any rate, no paedobaptist will grant that such a ceremony could be called a "kind of baptizing".

The promise to the Covenant children that is pictured in reformed baptism is the same promise given to all men - the promise that "if you believe, you will be saved."

What the covenant children have as part of the covenant community that other children do not have is a "front row seat" in the theater of God's grace. They get to see it lived out up-close and personal in their own family and church.

They also have the picture of their own baptism as a reminder of their need of washing through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

Since it's too late for the dead to benefit from the message of their own baptist, then the dead would receive no benefit from the baptism. Perhaps the practice mentioned in I Cor 15:29 was more of a symbolic act & reminder performed on a living person in reference to a deceased loved one - like a reminder that the dead will live again.

And exactly how is the same not true of children who have a front row seat, seeing it lived out up-close and personal in their own family and church who just have the picture of believers who have been baptized as a reminder of their need of washing?

Is the message of baptism only for the person being baptized? That's not the usual view.

Whatever is going on in I Cor 15:29 is not likely to be something he endorsed. I'm not sure why we should assume that it was. My argument here had nothing to do with that verse.

why not?
The paralytic's sins were forgiven and because of the faith of those who took him to Jesus.
Jairus' daughter was brought back to life because of his faith.
A syrophoenician woman was also healed because of her faith.
Jesus was the first who was baptized for both the living and the dead.
The deaf and the mute child was healed because of the father's faith.
If this is true with one aspect of deliverance, why can't it be true to all others? What's the difference between physical and spiritual deliverance? The same procedure applies. By grace through faith we are saved - from death, from sickness, from the fires of hell, from the wrath of God, from the clutches of the enemy, from the curse of the Law, etc.

I learned this from a beautiful Christian website that advocates baptism for the dead as one of the prerequisites of total deliverance. They use it to cut generational curses, and mind you, their turn over is 100% healing for anyone who believes.

I think it's a demonstration of 1 Cor 1:28-30. Time has come perhaps for the inconsequential to shame the wise. Chuckle.

The cases you cite aren't as clear as you think.

1. The paralytic: First, it says "because of their faith". That could include the paralytic's faith. In fact, I think it's a fairly natural conclusion to draw that it did. Second, it doesn't say that Jesus forgave him merely because of their faith, if indeed it is only referring to his friends' faith, just that he said it when he saw their faith. It doesn't state his motivation.

2. The other cases aren't parallel, because the motivation for doing a miracle of a very different sort is irrelevant. Baptism is (depending on the view) either a means of accomplishing salvation (if Catholics and Mormons are correct) or a symbol of an already-accomplished salvation (if, as I think is right, Protestants are correct). Healing someone or raising someone from the dead because of someone else's faith doesn't raise the same salvation issues as baptizing someone who is dead. Not all deliverance has to do with eternal salvation, because someone might be delivered from sickness or even physical death while not being delivered from eternal death.

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