Paul Owen, former Mormon, former evangelical, former Presbyterian, etc., has added his kind, level-headed, fair commentary to the discussion of Acts 2 over at the oxymoronic website. Before I point out the many problems in this retort (it surely gives an insight into how nonreformed Owen ever was, let alone is), do you note something about the attitude and mind-set of these “Reformed Catholics”? Yes, of course, they are always critical of their former associations and beliefs and always welcoming of Rome’s, but that’s just part of what it means to be an apostate: you always find ways of justifying your apostasy by attacking your former beliefs. But I’m referring to the incapacity of these folks to even begin to maintain some level of decorum in restraining their unfettered disdain for those who do not embrace their views, and who would dare to believe otherwise! Look at Johnson’s post, then Owen’s. These men are their own private Popes, determining the universal mind of “the Church,” dismissing entire biblical arguments with the wave of a hand and the standardized “absurd” dismissal. The only reason they have not become fully Roman Catholic is that Rome already has a Pope, and there are no current vacancies for them to fill. They have abandoned the intention, spirit, and meaning of the solas, their mockery of the sufficiency of Scripture is splashed across their pages, and yet they lack the integrity to finish the job they have started, jump in the boat, and cross the Tiber. It seems they are simply too much in love with their own self-proclaimed pontificate to give it up to Ratzinger.
Now, Owen says my exposition of Acts 2 is “absurd.” That is very nice, but to back up such a claim he would have to provide some examples. Does he do this? No. In fact, he can’t seem to recognize the difference between the exposition of the text and the application I made in reference to answering the question, “Does the Bible provide a clear apostolic mandate regarding the objects of Christian baptism?” and “Is Acts 2:38ff directly relevant to determining the answer to the previous question?” He writes, “What an astonishing naivete is displayed by thinking that noting this obvious point is going to take the argument anywhere forward!” Actually, the naivete here is Owen’s, who obviously is so filled with hatred of Baptists that he will not even consider taking the time to read serious material presenting a covenantal Baptist perspective on…anything, basically. He is completely blind to the actual arguments, which is why this retort is without merit. He has not listened to the arguments, and thinks so highly of himself, and so little of “Baptists,” that he pontificates on the subject anyway. The argument is drawn from a concept Owen no longer believes, but which was believed by my forefathers and many others: that definitional aspects of the church, such as the ordinances thereof, require a higher standard of proof than lesser entities. We have no specific examples of infant baptism in the New Testament. Acts 2:38ff provides us with the first instance of specifically Christian baptism, and we are able to discern that those baptized all shared a common trait: they had heard the Word and believed. This theme will continue throughout Acts, in fact, as I have argued recently elsewhere (see the sermons for June 25th and July 2nd, 2006, here). And so at the very inception of the ordinance it is inseparably linked with the proclamation of the Word, the promise of the Spirit, faith and repentance. This was the point of my examination of the text, and Owen’s ignorance of Reformed Baptist polemics is no excuse for his condescending arrogance and hence irrelevant commentary.
Second, Owen struggles so mightily with his distaste of Baptists that he cannot even hear what we are saying, or read, accurately, what we write. I could barely discern what I said in his second paragraph accusing me of reading my theology into the text. There is little, if any, connection between the point I made (forgiveness of sins is the ground of baptism, not the means of obtaining it) and his retort. We all know Owen is a sacramentalist and believes in baptismal regeneration. Such was not the point of my commentary, but then again, having watched Owen have his head handed to him so many times in the past on so many topics, I am hardly surprised that once again he has missed the point of what he is attempting to deny.
Next, Owen writes, “Third, the Elder attempts to get around 2:39 by suggesting that the phrase “your children” be understood to refer to the Jewish people as a whole.” Actually, I mentioned two major possibilities, and opted for the second, that the entire phrase “you, and your children, and all who are afar off” would mean the Jews (you and your children) and the Gentlies (those who afar off). Owen’s deeply scholarly response? “But that is absurd.” And why is it absurd, though it has been the view of many interpreters? We get this tortured response:
If Peter were addressing the people as a whole, or even the leaders of the nation, one might imagine him referring to other Jews as “your children;” but Peter is simply speaking to a gathered audience of Jewish pilgrims, and were he to refer to the Jewish people as a whole, is it not rather plain he would refer to “your brethren”? As it stands, he tells these people that they are to repent and be baptized, and if they do, they will receive the benefit of the promise which is extended not only to them, but to their children as well.
Once again Owen declares absurd that about which he is simply ignorant. I would direct the reader to Fred Malone’s fuller comments on the text in The Baptism of Disciples Alone (Founders Press, 2003), pp. 137-141, but a few shorter comments from his overview and evaluation of The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism in RBTR II:1 will be helpful:
The Baptist position on Acts 2:39 is that the promise of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit to you and your children and to all afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself is an explicit warrant to require repentance before baptism for the hearers, their children, and all afar off (2:38). This is the immediate context. This is further affirmed by Acts 2:41 in that only those who received his word were baptized. The positive statement for baptizing receivers of the word actually is a positive prohibition against baptizing infants. Neither does the requirement of repentance before baptism for the children negate the promises to believers that God will bless their children by being raised in the gospel household (Jer. 32:40), nor does it negate the biblical promise to circumcise the hearts of the children of believers (Deut. 30:6). Acts 2:39-41 simply clarifies by instituted command that no one, including the hearers children, is to be baptized prior to their personal reception of the gospel. This is the biblical background of the household baptisms of Acts. (137)
And specifically in reference to the all-too-common paedobaptist error of clipping off “and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself,” which Owen commits here as well,
Baptists have accused paedobaptists of ignoring the very grammar of Acts 2:38-41. The fact that repent and be baptized is joined by the coordinate conjunction does not negate the temporal argument that repentance should precede baptism. The closest biblical context to the connection between repentance and baptism is John the Baptists and Jesus clear requirement of repentance before baptism (Jn. 4:1-2; disciples alone). The authors ignore this immediate biblical context.
Further, it is my experience that it is paedobaptists who have ignored the coordinate conjunctions in the promise is to you, and your children, and all afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself (Acts 2:39). All three classes have the same promise, repent and be baptized unto the forgiveness of sins and you shall receive [the promise of] the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33, 38). Of course, in all three classes this salvation is conditioned on the sovereign and effectual call of God. No clearer statement could be made that the children of these hearers, who were not yet believers themselves, must repent before they are baptized; that is, unless one wishes God to prohibit by words an infant baptism doctrine never practiced. Acts 2:41 is the closest contextual commentary on the meaning of the previous verses and the temporal intent of the coordinate conjunction in Acts 2:38. Only those who received Peters word and who repented were baptized. This includes the hearers and their children of whatever age present. Neither do Baptists deny infant salvation by Gods sovereign act nor promises of salvation to their children (Deut. 30:6). They simply believe that children must repent before being baptized, as the grammar explains.
It should be remembered that it had only been a few weeks earlier that the Jews had stood before Pilate yelling, “His blood be upon us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). The possibility that “you and your children” is meant to emphasize that God’s grace extends to the same group who called out for the crucifixion of the Messiah cannot be ignored. But even more centrally, what cannot be ignored is that the promises are for those who the Lord calls to Himself—the delimiter is the key that is so often ignored, and it is surely ignored by Owen. While the text tells us that those that received Peter’s word were baptized, Owen’s sacramentalism gives him ground for accusing Baptists of rejecting God’s Word:
And please note, it does not say “to your children who are not still infants;” it simply says, “to your children.” God’s promise is extended to repentant, baptized people, and to their children. It does not take a genius to figure out that this promise does not exclude the infant offspring of believers; rather, for those who honor the authority of the plain teaching of Holy Scripture–it includes them. Baptist theology simply rejects God’s word and excludes people from the benefit of God’s promise that the Bible embraces.
What an amazing ability to take the plain words of Scripture and turn them upside down so that instead of those who received Peter’s words being baptized, you find a whole new group who did not receive his words but were baptized anyway! And this feat of mental gymnastics then becomes the basis for further venting against the dreaded Baptists! Truly amazing. Well, when you can put “Reformed” and “Catholic” in the same phrase, I guess nothing is beyond your capacity.
But what is even more amazing is how Owen is the complete slave of his prejudices. The bankruptcy of the attempted parallel made by Madrid is so clear I had two folks ask if perhaps I had misunderstood Madrid, or, maybe he was trying to be humorous, or, something. But if an atheist was arguing with me, Owen would side with the atheist, I assure you. So, in one of the most amazing examples of twisted reasoning I think I have ever seen at least put forward by someone who is so often making reference to his own scholarship, Owen asserts:
The Elder’s attempt to refute Patrick Madrid only shows the limitations of his own ability to handle Holy Scripture in a careful manner. Madrid’s appeal to 2 Thessalonians 3:10 is perfectly valid. Are infants “willing to work”? No they are not; they have no desire to work. They only desire to eat, sleep and soil their diapers. Not only do they not perform any work; they lack any desire to perform any work. Now Catholic Christians and Baptists obviously agree that it would be absurd to exclude infants from the right to eat on the basis of this text, which is directed against lazy people. Rather, what transpires is that the parents of said infants do the work, and through the work of the parents, the children eat. What Baptists cannot see, is that infant conversion operates on the same principles. Infants do not have the capacity to actively “repent,” nor do they will to do so (whether they passively receive the “seed” of repentance is another matter); but through the repentance of their parents, they receive the covenantal benefits of God’s promise. Just as it would be foolish to exclude infants from eating on the basis of a text which is directed at lazy people, so it is foolish to exclude infants from baptism and forgiveness on the basis of texts which give warnings to unrepentant people.
First, and most amusingly, that wasn’t Madrid’s argument. Secondly, let’s think this through once again. My argument was that Acts 2 tells us that when Christians began baptizing, they baptized those who repented and believed at the preaching of the gospel message. This is the pattern we see through the rest of the Acts as well. Whether infants were, at a later point, baptized, is a different issue; further, that is to be decided on the basis of what your ultimate authority is, which is why my debate with Bill Shishko has such a different tone and basis than any dispute with Patrick Madrid or Paul Owen. Bill Shishko and I believe in sola scriptura. Patrick Madrid and Paul Owen do not. So the grounds of debate will be quite different. I challenge my brothers who join in being submitted to the ultimate authority of God’s Word to consider the grounds upon which their practices are based, and as a result, we have to discuss other issues outside just this text. However, I make the argument that this text is misused when the phrase “and your children” is made the central aspect of the text to the detriment of the “as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” I point out that the first experience of baptism was of those who could respond to the Word, and challenge my paedobaptist brethren to consistently prove their case using the same hermeneutical methodology we share in every other area of theology. Of course, I cannot do that with Madrid or Owen.
So, with that in mind, my argument is that Acts 2 establishes a clear example of Christian baptism that requires compelling biblical foundation to overthrow. It teaches that response to the preached message was the basis upon which the Apostles baptized, not geneaological relationship. Now, Madrid, and now Owen as well, parallel not an ordinance of the church—not even something of soteriological relevance, but an apostolic command directed at—busybodies. Yes, lazy folks who due to some kind of eschatological fervor, perhaps, decided not to work. Now, there is no parallel to infants here, no parallel to response to the preached message of the gospel—there just isn’t any parallel at all. But Owen, always willing to bend his mind to the service of error and falsehood, tries to rescue Madrid’s error. He actually, with a straight face, it seems, says, “Are infants ‘willing to work’? No they are not; they have no desire to work. They only desire to eat, sleep and soil their diapers. Not only do they not perform any work; they lack any desire to perform any work.” Wonderful! Of course, there is nothing about infants in 2 Thessalonians 3 (nor is there in Acts 2:39, actually); while those in Acts 2 are adults they are adults under conviction of sin; in this instance, you have adults who are sinning, and who are now being corrected. In Acts 2 they are just now coming to faith; in 2 Thessalonians we are talking about those who have professed faith. The entire concept of “willingness to work” or anything else is an utter absurdity to even bring to the table, let alone use as a basis for serious theology. I leave the rest of Owen’s implicit infant baptismal regeneration to the reader, and especially those readers who continue to labor under the delusion that Owen is some sort of evangelical.
So having examined yet another of Dr. Paul Owen’s attempts at engaging the text we again find him sorely lacking in basic truth content. So it is highly ironic to read his own words with which he ended his entry:
The follies of the Elder’s fumbling attempts to responsibly handle the text of Sacred Scripture simply illustrate what happens when one takes away the guidance of the Catholic Church when interpreting the Bible, and replaces it with the whims of private opinion. That is the path of schism, heresy, and ultimately, if followed to its logical end, damnation.
Mormons, Roman Catholics—you will always find Owen on your side. But if you are a dreaded Baptist, well, there’s a heresy beyond all hope.