We are now ready to comment on the very first section of the Study Report, entitled “The Biblical Doctrine.” As stated earlier, we believe that the 1975 Synod gave the Study Committee a seriously mistaken mandate, and that the committee should not have been instructed to turn to Scripture first, as though the matter under study had never previously been studied and decided upon, and as though our Reformed confessions and liturgy and Church Order had nothing to say as to the principles and practice with respect to the question under discussion. Personally, I am of the conviction that the direction of the Study Report would have been quite different if their mandate had not been misleading.
Questions might also be raised as to the meaning of the first part of Synod’s mandate, “taking into account the Biblical doctrine, particularly the New Testament passages.” What does it mean? Does it mean that there is an established Biblical doctrine of baptism on the mission field, and that this doctrine is (has been) established as Biblical sometime in the past? Or does it merely mean that the Bible teaches in various passages something about this subject, and that the Study Committee must study these passages? Does it refer in isolation to the subject to baptism on the mission field, or does it mean the entire doctrine of baptism as distilled from Scripture, and the subject of baptism on the mission field in connection therewith? The Study Report does not speak to these questions. But when I look at the Report, I can only come to the conclusion that they understood their mandate as instructing them to study the New Testament passages which seem to speak more or less directly about baptism in connection with missionary labor. And then I must immediately point out, too, that they only studied part of the passages. For example, they say nothing m their report about what surely has to have significance for this subject, namely, that the apostle Paul (could we call him the missionary par excellence?) specifically states that Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel, I Cor. 1:17. Moreover, although the apostle labored in Corinth for a year and six months, and although “many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized,” and although the Lord told Paul, “I have much people in this city,” (Acts 18:8-11), yet Paul states specifically in I Corinthians 1:14, 16, “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius . . . And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.” Now I am not at this point drawing any conclusion from these passages. But I do refer to them in proof of the fact that the Study Report did not pay attention in its report to allthe pertinent passages, but only to part of the New Testament pass ages.
But now let us present the material of the Study Report first. It is found on pp. 104-106 of the 1976 Acts:
I.The Biblical Doctrine. Scripture teaches that it belongs to the office and task of the missionary not only to preach the gospel on the mission field, but also to baptize those whom the Spirit brings to repentance and faith through the preaching, as well as their household (children). It is the right and duty of the missionary to baptize, as a part of his missionary labor, i.e., before and with a view to the institution of a congregation in a certain place.
This is laid down by the Lord Jesus in the missionary mandate of Matt. 28:18-20. Jesus charges the apostles to make disciples of all nations. One important aspect of this mission labor and one important way in which the nations are made Jesus’ disciples is the missionaries’ baptism of them, i.e., of those who repent and believe at the preaching. This is substantiated by Mark 16:15, 16. Baptism is joined to the mission-preaching, as the task of the missionary. From the viewpoint of the convert, baptism has an important function, in connection with the faith worked by the preaching, as far as the salvation of the convert is concerned. That is, God uses baptism on the mission field, always in the service of the gospel, to save the elect.
That it is illegitimate to restrict the command of Matthew 28:18-20 to the apostles and their time is plain from the fact that the Lord concludes with, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Calvin correctly remarks that these words show “that this was not spoken to the apostles alone; for the Lord promises His assistance not for a single age only, but even to the end of the world” (commentary on Matt. 28:20).
Exactly how the Lord intended the commands ofMatthew 28 and Mark 16 and how the Church understood them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is clearly indicated in the account of the missionary labor of the Church throughout the Book of Acts. The testimony of Acts is that the missionaries baptized on the mission field; that baptizing, along with the preaching of the gospel, was part of their missionary office; that the apostles and evangelists baptized where there was as yet no church institute and that they did so with a view to instituting the church. Passages include: Acts 2:38, 41; Acts 8:12, 13, 16; Acts 8:38; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:47, 48; Acts 16:14, 15; Acts 16:33; Acts 18:8; Acts 19:5.
The practice of the Church of baptizing as part of the missionary task, before the instituting of a congregation, is indisputable. Acts 10:47, 48 teaches that Peter commanded Cornelius and his house to be baptized as soon as they believed and the Spirit was poured out on them. Acts 16:15 and Acts 16:33 teach that Lydia and her household and the Philippian jailor and his household were baptized by the apostles prior to the instituting of a church in Philippi, as an element of the missionary task of gathering a church.
It is necessary that we understand the reason for the apostolic practice and for the command of Christ upon which the practice was based. This is brought out in Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; and Acts 22:16, where baptism is attached to the preaching: is related to faith and repentance, and is said to serve unto the remission of sins. With the preaching, to which it is always added, baptism is a means of the Holy Spirit to give the convert the forgiveness of sins and, thus, assurance of salvation. According to Acts 2:38, repentance is to be followed by baptism “unto the remission of sins,” and according to Acts 22:16, the effect of Paul’s baptism is the washing away of his sins. Thus, baptism is used by the Spirit for the saving of the believer, according to Mark 16:16. The meaning is that the Holy Spirit uses baptism to represent to the repentant sinner and to assure him of the forgiveness of his sins in Jesus’ blood. This is, ordinarily, a required means of the Spirit to save the elect in all nations.
Since it has this function, baptism of the convert on the mission field is instrumental in the gathering of a church, i.e., serves to the end of establishing an instituted church in a certain place. It is a means by which the repentant sinner is brought to the full consciousness and assurance of salvation, so that he,can be a member of the church institute.
It is well that we be warned against dismission baptism and its significance in mission work. Christ has joined preaching and baptism together in the missionary task; we may not separate what He has joined. Scripture teaches that baptism is instrumental in one’s receiving pardon and the assurance of salvation; we may not argue that the Spirit can, or should, work otherwise.
The Study Report presents a rather orderly chain of reasoning in this section, and we can consider it step by step. As we do so, we must bear in mind that the question is this: does the Study Report demonstrate conclusively that the Scripture passages cited provethe points made in the Report? Let us understand this clearly. The question is not merely whether these passages do or do not prove certain points. But it is incumbent upon the Study Report to show us exegetically that these passages prove these points. The Report must not assume things. It must not merely make claims. It must not engage in mere “proof-texting.” It must furnish Scriptural evidence that is the result of careful exegesis of pertinent Scripture passages, and that, too, in connection with the current teaching of Scripture concerning the principles and practice of baptism.
It is this, in my opinion, that the Study Report utterly fails to do.
I am well aware, of course, that the Study Report refers to several passages of Scripture—in many instances only giving the references, not quoting them. I am aware, too, that the Report makes certainclaims as to what these passages teach. But there is very little exegesis at any point in this section of the Report. There are several unfounded and unproved assumptions. And for certain crucial points no Scriptural evidence which is the fruit of careful exegesis is furnished whatsoever. I certainly do not believe that our churches should make an important change in baptismal practice on such a scant and highly questionable basis.
The first proposition of this section is: “Scripture teaches that it belongs to the office and task of the missionary not only to preach the gospel on the mission field, but also to baptize those whom the Spirit brings to repentance and faith through the preaching, as well as their household (children). It is the right and duty of the missionary, as a part of his missionary labor, i.e., before and with a view to the institution of a congregation in a certain place.”
In the next paragraph the Study Report claims that this is the teaching of Matt. 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15, 16: “This is laid down by the Lord Jesus in the missionary-mandate of Matt. 28:18-20. . . . This is substantiated byMark 16:15, 16.”
Concerning this section, I wish to point out:
1. That we should keep the proper perspective with regard to the so-called Great Commission. I am well aware that this is commonly understood as the missionary mandate. I am well aware, too, that the work of missions is part of this Great Commission. But let us not forget that when we preach and baptize in our established congregations we are also obeying the Great Commission. And I have our confessions to support me in this view of Matthew 28:18-20. Both our Heidelberg Catechism and our Belgic Confession quote this passage as Scriptural basis for baptism as it is practiced within the church. Hence, the passages do not only—if at all—speak of baptism “before and with a view to the institution of a congregation. . .”
2. I cannot find anywhere in these passages any direct or indirect reference to such an idea as “before and with a view to the institution of a congregation in a certain place.” In other words, while the passages may indeed speak of a time-relationship between “making disciples” and baptizing—although this would have to be defined by exegesis—the passages say nothing whatsoever about any relationship between baptism and the institution of a congregation. Neither does the Study Report demonstrate this in its remarks about Matt. 28 and Mark 16. Yet this is a very crucial question for the Study Report.
3. Even apart from the fact that these passages say nothing as such about preaching and baptism in relation to the instituting of a congregation, the great question which is left unanswered in this section and which is not even touched in the one paragraph which the Study Report devotes to these passages is: WHEN? In the first place, in what time-relation, if any, does the term “baptizing” stand to the command, “Disciple all nations,” in Matthew 28:19? The same question holds with even greater force for Mark 16:15, 16, which does not even literally connect any mandate to baptize with the command to preach. In the second place, in what exact time-relation does baptism stand to the instituting of a congregation? The Study Report does not formulate its own problem precisely. I have commented on this in connection with Section II of the Report in earlier articles. But remember the real question: whether baptism may be administered under the circumstances of the mission field months and years before the institution of a congregation, and even when there is absolutely no kind of guarantee that a congregation will be established. I repeat: I agree that there is one case when baptism can be administered before. That is when a congregation is at the point of organization. Then baptism, especially of adults, and especially on the heathen mission field, serves the formation of the congregation. But this was not the concrete question in Houston which led to this Study Report. And this is not the position of the Study Report. They must show from Scripture that baptism can be administeredbefore in the sense of long before, and even before there is a possibility or a guarantee of instituting a congregation. There is no iota of proof for this in the passages cited; and surely, if there is any proof, the Study Report has not produced any exegetical evidence of it.
4. The Study Report in this section does not place the importance of baptism in the proper perspective. I can agree that baptism is joined to preaching (also mission-preaching). I can agree that baptism has an important function. I cannot, however, unqualifiedlyagree with the statement that “God uses baptism on the mission field, always in the service of the preaching of the gospel, to save the elect.” I want that defined. Our confessions (our adopted interpretation of Scripture) make the sacraments as means of grace secondary. They are used to confirmfaith, never to work faith. And as such, the sacraments, though required, are not of the same order as the preaching of the Word. The preaching is indispensable—also on the mission field. Baptism is not indispensable. In fact, exactly in connection withMark 16:15, 16 John Calvin makes this point in his Commentary. No, I am not claiming that the Report makes baptism indispensable. But I do warn that if this is at all the tendency—to make baptism an indispensable part of missionary activity—then I demur strongly.