The Holy Spirit Speaking Through the Preaching
In his answer to my letter in the November 15, 2000 issue of the Standard Bearer, Rev. Laning maintains that Christ and the Spirit are the ones speaking in the external aspect of the preaching, and he does so on the basis of Romans 10:14. I will try to explain why I believe it is only proper to speak of the church as the one who speaks in the external aspect of the preaching.
In the same sense that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are not in themselves the very body and blood of Christ, the external aspect of the preaching cannot in itself be the very voice of Christ or the Spirit speaking externally. The very body and blood of Christ are present only spiritually in the Lord’s Supper, and the very voice of Christ and the Spirit are heard only spiritually (John 6:63) through the official preaching of the gospel. It is important to maintain both of these positions over against Roman Catholicism. It is the Roman Catholic position that the external aspect of the preaching is grace itself. It is the Reformed position that the external aspect is the chief means of grace, and that only the internal aspect is grace. It is only spiritually that the church is organically united to Christ, her Head, by means of the external aspect of the preaching and the sacraments.
Christ personally performs the internal aspect of the preaching by sending us His Spirit, the Comforter (John 15:26). He performs the external aspect by sending His preacher by means of the instituted church. Christ, through His Spirit working in the church, guides the church into all truth (John 16:13) and directs where He wants the gospel to be preached (Rev. 6:2). But it is still the church that performs the external aspect of the preaching according to the commandment of Christ (Titus 1:3). This is why it is imperative that the preacher carefully exegete and preach Scripture, without which Christ performs neither the internal nor the external aspect, even if the preacher is lawfully called and sent by the instituted church. But let there be no misunderstanding. We speak here not of the work of the Spirit in regeneration, for the Spirit regenerates independent of either the external or internal aspect of the preaching of the gospel.
Nor does Romans 10:14 teach that Christ or the Spirit is the one speaking in the external aspect of the preaching. When Romans 10:14 speaks of the elect hearing Christ, it refers to the internal aspect of the preaching whereby the Spirit causes the regenerated elect to hear Christ and believe. It cannot be referring to the external aspect because the external preaching itself cannot bring the elect to conscious knowledge of their salvation. Faith can only be effected by the voice of Christ, the living and abiding Word (I Pet. 1:23-25). Romans 10:14 goes on to explain that the Spirit performs the internal aspect when the instituted church officially performs the external aspect of the preaching through its lawfully called and ordained preacher. The reprobate hear the same external preaching as the elect, but they do not believe because they cannot hear the living Word, whom to hear is to believe and live (John 5:24, 25). Herman Hoeksema insisted on this distinction between the external preaching of the gospel and the living and abiding Word in his interpretation of I Peter 1:23-25, and other related texts, in support of the doctrine of immediate regeneration (Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 645-655).
Do We Detest the Error of the Anabaptists? Ought We?
I was very disappointed to read the recent contribution from our brother Jonathan Moore (SB, Feb. 1, 2001). I seriously question the wisdom and spiritual propriety of stoking up personal hostility between paedobaptist and anti-paedobaptist as encouraged, intentionally or not, in his article. This is true from whichever side of the argument one comes. In a magazine sent to me recently Calvin is described as a “man burner,” one who “burn[ed] dissidents,” and Calvinism as “a deception whose own bloody history testifies that it is wrong” (Jacob Prasch, in Moriel Prayer and Newsletter, New Year 2001). A slanging match of this kind is an easy option that helps no one. Over the years I have grown increasingly weary by the low standard of polemic which the subject of baptism engenders. Surely the last thing we need is to lower it still further by name calling and the trading of insults. There is nothing to be gained by it today and I doubt very much whether there was in Calvin’s day either. It is certainly of no help to those who struggle with the subject in their hearts. The article is not really fair to Calvin. Chapter 16 of Book IV of his Institutes is lengthy. The expressions with which he denigrates his opponents, and which the article concentrates into just one paragraph, are scattered over nearly thirty-five pages of the McNeill edition (West—minster Press). Some of them do not even relate to the subject of baptism per se. For example, the reference to “fickle spirits” who “gravely sin” is found to be in connection with the need to compare Scripture with Scripture (p. 1334); and the description “they unjustly and wickedly shut God’s power within … narrow limits” relates to the denial of infant regeneration (pp. 1340-1). The real issue raised by this section of Calvin’s Institutes is not the manner in which he expresses himself—that is a distraction and in itself not worthy of consideration, however uncouth it may be to our taste—but the validity or otherwise of the doctrinal and Scriptural arguments which he and the Anabaptists used. Also it should be borne in mind that the theology of today’s “Reformed Baptist” bears little resemblance to that of the 16th Century Anabap—tists, as even a cursory examination of the latter’s literary output will confirm. This may not be dismissed lightly. Even so, the gulf between paedobaptist and anti-paedobaptist is considerable, extending far beyond the simple matter of baptism itself. What is needed is the careful study and application of the Word of God. In doctrinal warfare the Word is our only weapon; for spiritual light it is our only lamp; for instruction in righteousness it is our only authority. Finally, for a more considered assessment of Calvin’s attitude toward the anti-paedobaptists of his day one could do no better than to read Willem Balke’s Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, a book recommended to me by both Protestant Reformed and Baptist ministers alike, with equal enthusiasm!
1. I made it plain in the opening paragraphs that my purpose was not to examine the theological merits of Calvin’s argument, but to examine his attitude. Hence John should have judged the article on whether or not it is a fair examination of Calvin’s attitude. Of course my article cannot stand as an argument against antipaedobaptism. It was never intended to do so. But I would be surprised if even a Baptist did not think it was a fair summary of Calvin’s attitude. It is therefore irrelevant for John to talk about “the low standard of polemic” about baptism. That may or may not be true, but for our purposes here it is not relevant, since I was not arguing for paedobaptism at all but presupposing it.
2. John should also have judged my article on whether my “Questions by Way of Contemporary Application” flowed legitimately from the evidence presented. For it is obviously this section that is the main thrust of the article. Yet interestingly, he does not indicate that any one of these questions is illegitimate from the evidence presented or irrelevant to the contemporary scene. So at least I can suppose he doesn’t have an argument against the main thrust of the article.
3. The length of IV.16 I also find irrelevant to John’s case, and a mere clutching at straws. If someone called me ‘a vomiting dog’ ten times in a book of 35 pages, I would still find this as offensive as if the book only had five pages. But in either case the author would have made his point equally well: that he didn’t think much of my theology and was not about to invite me to preach in his pulpit.
4. I also would disagree with John’s contention that not all my quotations from Calvin in my second section are relevant. They are all taken from just one section of the Institutes, a section explicitly and only devoted to the question of antipaedobaptism, and I omitted ones that I did not think were incontrovertibly relevant. But even if only half the quotations I finally used were relevant (and John has only questioned two out of 37!), the main thrust of the article still stands unscathed. So I won’t waste space in defending my use of the two quotations John does mention.
5. I also cannot accept that the doctrinal merit of Calvin’s argumentation is “the real issue” of IV.16. It is one issue, and a very important one too, but this section raises many issues. All I chose to do was to address just one of these issues, and, having carefully delineated my remit as was my right to do, I sought to encourage reflection and self-examination on the part of Reformed believers concerning this one issue. As far as I can see, this is perfectly legitimate.
6. In the section entitled “Some Questions by Way of Contemporary Application,” please note that I do not ask, “Are we abusive enough to Baptists? Why are we not repeating Calvin’s insults more often against Baptists? Why are we no longer smashing Baptists like in the good old days?” Nowhere do I commend Calvin’s language (although nowhere do I condemn it either—that would be irrelevant to the main point of the article). Rather, these “Questions” actually clearly reveal that the purpose of the article was an implicit rebuke to those Reformed churches which have allowed infant baptism to become a loosely held belief, and one that can easily be compromised in order to promote Christian ‘unity.’ The purpose of the article was not to encourage personal hostility towards Baptists. Rather it was firstly to demonstrate that for Calvin infant baptism was not a loosely held belief, and secondly to encourage self-criticism amongst the Reformed churches. I repeat, the criticism encouraged by the article is of ourselves as Reformed churches, and not of Baptists, at least not directly. For example, there are today professing confessional Presbyterians who are happy to make Baptists officebearers in the church, make them trustees, exalt them to teaching posts in the church, and make infant baptism entirely optional for members of the congregation—in essence a dual constitution model. These ministers teach their people (occasionally) to believe in God’s covenant, but (continually) to live as if it didn’t matter. I think this is unacceptable and indefensible, and I also think that Calvin—if we may speak like this for a moment—would be horrified if he knew what his successors now do. I also know many ‘Reformed Baptists’ who find this situation absolutely deplorable too, and who long that these Reformed churches might be more consistent and less equivocal. Right-minded Baptists would rather have the Reformed churches being wrong but consistent, than descending into sacramental anarchy, doctrinal indifferentism, and religious pragmatism. That doesn’t help anyone. The more doctrinally explicit and consistent we all are, the closer we are to coming to full doctrinal unity. For it is when the light is shining with least impediment that more helpful debate and development of positions can occur. It is then that error can be most easily exposed for what it is, and then be rejected and left behind. But no one can progress very far in the fog of compromise where the very errors that plague the church are made taboo subjects and swept under the ever-rising carpet of ‘secondary issues.’
7. I would also have to reply that it is not true to say that “the theology of today’s ‘Reformed Baptist’ bears little resemblance to that of the 16th Century [sic] Anabaptists.” Of course there are big and important differences, and for that we can be thankful. However, there are very big and important similarities, not least a common denial that the promise is to us and to our children, and a common exclusion of children from membership in the Kingdom of God, to name but two. And there is no need to go further. This should be enough to grieve the heart of every Reformed believer. This is what really “may not be dismissed lightly.” Indeed this is what should fill us with righteous anger and deep anguish, akin to that shown by our Lord in Mark 10:14 (note the force of the verb aganakteo in the context of infant exclusion from the blessings of the covenant, a verb attributed to our Lord in no other context).
8. I am familiar with Balke’s excellent and standard study that John mentions, and I admire Balke’s stature as a Calvin scholar, as well as his evident desire to be fair to both sides—a desire I also share. However, for the reasons mentioned above, I still cannot see this book as directly relevant. Nor does John state what it is about Balke’s study that he finds so pertinent. Of course, if you were to ask me whether the Reformers were blameless or exemplary in their treatment of the Anabaptists, I would, without hesitation, say, No. If you were to ask me whether Calvin’s stance towards the Anabaptists was partly a function of his social, ecclesiastical, and historical context I would, of course, say, Yes. But again, nowhere in my article do I suggest anything to the contrary. But what I do suggest in my article is that for Calvin—no matter what the Anabaptists themselves may have preferred to emphasise—the great sin of Anabaptism was its antipaedo—baptism. As far as I can see, Balke’s book does nothing to detract from this claim.
9. John should not be surprised to find such articles as mine appearing in the pages of denominational magazines that uphold the Three Forms of Unity. For the Belgic Confession, in its thirty-fourth article entitled “On holy baptism,” unites all its subscribers in affirming that we “detest the error of the Anabaptists.” It does not say, that we “beg to differ from the interesting perspective of our dear friends, the Anabaptists,” but rather, we “detest the error of the Anabaptists.” Yes, we still do, and it will show not just in what we profess to believe, but in how we defend it. It will show not just in what we preach, but in how we govern our churches. The Reformed faith lives on. Let him deny it who will deny it, and let him doubt it who will doubt it, but God will maintain His covenant with our children, even to a thousand generations of them that love Him and keep His commandments.