Friday, April 8, 2011

Janet Edwards asking about baptism and ordination

Presbyterian Pastor Janet Edwards asks a question, “Baptism—How important is it?” She gives the wrong answer because she asks the wrong question. She could have asked does baptism qualify Christians for ordination. And that is actually the question she answers and that wrongly. So I will look at how important baptism is, and then explore the issue of what qualifies the Christian for ordination.

Baptism is an ultimate issue, not because it saves or regenerates but because it is a sign and seals what God has done and what God will do as in the baptism of an infant who is included in the family of God.[1]

As John Calvin puts it, it is “an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself, and before angels as well as men. We may also define more briefly by calling it a testimony of the divine favour toward us, confirmed by an external sign, with a corresponding attestation of our faith towards Him.” But there is nothing in this that speaks of ordination.

Edwards uses Gal. 3:26 as her leading proof text, but that too is wrong. And 26 is helpful, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” The verses Edwards quotes are 27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

If we are adults first comes our faith in Christ, (given by the Holy Spirit), and then if we have not yet been baptized baptism. We are clothed with Jesus Christ; he is our righteousness, our life. And we are made children of God because of what Christ has done for us on the cross.

Edwards writes, “The Presbyterian Church bases its practice of infant and adult Baptism upon references in Scripture. And Presbyterian tradition is clear that our Baptism is the primary qualification for service in any office of the church.” Edwards’ first sentence is true. Her second one is not. I wish she had referenced that because others have stated that also, but I do not believe one can find it in Scripture, confessions or the Book of Order.

The Book of Order in G-6.0106 states that those called to ordination, “in addition to possessing the necessary gifts and abilities, natural and acquired, those who undertake particular ministries should be persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world.” This does not leave out moral or faith issues. To call Christ Lord implies obedience to his word which includes all of Scripture. To demonstrate the Christian gospel is to live lives changed by the renewing work of Christ on the cross. Those espousing sin of any kind as good are not demonstrating the Christian gospel.

In G-6.o202, which gives the names of the various expressive duties of the ministry, this is included, “As it is his or her duty to be grave and prudent, and an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and kingdom of Christ, he or she is termed presbyter or elder. As he or she is sent to declare the will of God to sinners, and to beseech them to be reconciled to God, through Christ, he or she is termed steward of the mysteries of God.” One cannot be an example nor declare the will of God to sinners, and at the same time insist that any sin in their life is not sin.

In the Book of Confessions of the PC (U.S.A.) in the Second Helvetic Confession it states; “Not anyone may be elected, but capable men distinguished by sufficient consecrated learning, pious eloquence, simple wisdom, lastly by moderation and honorable reputation, according to the apostolic rule which is compiled by the apostle in 1 Tim., ch. 3, and Titus, ch. 1.” (5.150b)

In the same section the Confession explains the difference between the priesthood of the believer and those who are ordained to office:

To be sure, Christ’s apostles call all who believe in Christ ‘priests,’ but not on account of an office, but because, all the faithful having been made kings and priests, we are able to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ (Ex. 19:6;1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6). Therefore the priesthood and the ministry are very different from one another. For the priesthood, as we have just said, is common to all Christians; not so is the ministry.” (5.153a)

I should add that standing against LGBT ordination is not telling others to go away as Edwards insists. Instead it is insisting that those who function under ordination as servants for the church must be willing to be examples of living a Christian life. When they sin, and they do sin, they must call it sin and repent.

Baptism is a sign and seal of what God has done in the life of a person. The Holy Spirit illuminates the work of Christ to us and woos us to the Father and the Son. The Father reveals the Son. The Son reveals the Father. It is a dance, but the dance does not end in sin but in forgiveness of sin. Those who are called are not only given gifts but also duties one of which is to live before the church and the world as a demonstration of Christ’s cleansing and forgiving power.

[1] Calvin sees faith planted as a seed in the infant which will grow with maturity. But it is nonetheless the faith that regenerates not the water which simply seals God’s action and becomes a sign to the baby and the community.


Anonymous said...

There's another doctrinal issue that Edwards mentions but does not really address -- the issue of the Holy Spirit coming at baptism. Does the Holy Spirit indwell infants who have not made a profession of faith? Or does the Spirit indwell only those who confess Jesus truthfully as Savior and Lord? Part of her argument is that all the baptized have the Holy Spirit and thus are qualified for service. Is this genuinely true? Your quote from Calvin does not say so. I've never really contemplated this issue seriously, and need to do so. It may mark a serious departure between different sides on this issue.

Doug Hagler said...

Old news - all of your arguments are refuted here:

Sin, ordination, the work of the Holy Spirit, and so on. All handled.

Anything new?

Viola Larson said...

Disagree, anything new?

Great questions. I am in the middle of dinner and clean up plus some other stuff. I want to answer your question more thoroughly-so I will come back later. But here are some things to think about-The thief on the cross and the Roman centurion and his family and friends gathered to hear Peter speak.

Anonymous said...

I had a lengthy reply to part of the article that Doug wrote, but Blogger ate it. Boy, do I hate that platform. Is there anything I can do to help you migrate to something a bit more 21st century, Viola?

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Viola Larson said...

I'm sorry David,
I hope you can get blogger to cough it back up.

Viola Larson said...

John Calvin, when writing about infant baptism reminds his readers that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit before birth. The confusion here is that it is baptism that grants the Holy Spirit. The two texts I reminded you of are Christians who received regeneration or received the Holy Spirit without Baptism.

The other part is that some who are baptized are not regenerated. And that is God’s mystery. He knows, we do not, although he does give us some clues such as fruit as well as profession. If someone denies that Jesus is Lord I think we can assume they are not regenerated.

However, (I do know a teenager who had a sweet relationship with Christ and was baptized; she now says she is an atheist. I believe she is playing a dangerous game with God. But the point is we can never be sure.)

And what does Romans say, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9b)

Although I haven’t completely answered your question I think the problem is insisting that denying someone ordination is denying the Holy Spirit in their life. But the two things are very different as I pointed out in my posting. The answer to what you asked I believe would be if an infant is regenerated even in a small way, as Calvin thought, it would be a work of the Holy Spirit in their life-but that would not be because of baptism but because God had claimed them.

Robert said...

I think one of the core problems we have when we talk about baptism/membership and ordination is that some of those who take the other side in the argument over ordination of sexually active homosexuals repeatedly refer to this part of the FOG:

"The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall give full expression to
the rich diversity within its membership and shall provide means
which will assure a greater inclusiveness leading to wholeness in its emerging life. Persons of all racial ethnic groups, different ages, both sexes, various disabilities, diverse geographical areas, different
theological positions consistent with the Reformed tradition,
as well as different marital conditions (married, single, widowed, or divorced) shall be guaranteed full participation and access to representation in the decision making of the church."

Focusing only on this leaves out the issues of calling and fitness for office. While I have heard the above all too often in the debate about ordination of sexually active homosexuals it does not take the other sections of the FOG that Viola quoted into account. The real issue in the debate is does God condemn all sexual activity between homosexuals as sin or not. That is one of the moral issues that Viola refers to. There are of course many others.

Having said that, baptism (with a later confirmation by the individual - baptism isn't magic) is a calling to ministry. What specific ministry a person is called to do is a different question entirely. As the FOG says one has to have the proper gifts to do one's specific ministry.

Unfortunately we Presbyterians often fail to discuss the gifts needed for a particular ministry because we are afraid of sounding like Pentecostals. Nevertheless the FOG is very clear on the issue of gifts.

Viola Larson said...

Bob there is still not anything you have written that states that all the baptized are qualified to be ordained. Going even further there is nothing at all that says that those who call their sin good and feel they do not need to repent can be ordained. It is really just the opposite. And in fact The Westminster Confession calls “sodomy’ sin as does the Bible. And that along with any other sin that is held up as ‘okay’ without need to repent, should disqualify a person from ordination since they would not be proclaiming the true gospel that Christ died to save sinners. And that he transforms lives.

Pastor Bob said...

"Bob there is still not anything you have written that states that all the baptized are qualified to be ordained."

Viola I thought that was exactly what I was saying! Yep, just reread it and that was exactly what I was saying! Janet Edwards has it all messed up because she equates baptism and ordination. Ordination has to include call, gift and fitness. I've met some people in my time that clearly had the gift of being a pastor and even had great theology. Because they couldn't keep their pants zipped they were not fit to be pastors.

Viola Larson said...

Sorry Bob, I misread you.

Robert said...

No prob and thanks for the reply.

Mike said...

Viola, Thanks for your good observations. Edwards is way off base when she says “baptism is the primary qualification for service in any office of the church.” Isn’t it far more accurate to say that baptism is our sign of entrance and initiation into the body of believers and thus is the minimum requirement for membership and not ordination? Edwards seems to lack any view of sanctification or spiritual growth. One is not a mature disciple just because one has been baptized or has joined a church.

One of our difficulties today is we fail to distinguish between church membership and spiritual maturity. This is especially true when it comes to selecting and electing officers for the church. This deficiency is being exploited by those like Edwards who favor GLBT ordination. Churches I have been in have struggled with this distinction, and equate seniority in the church with Christian maturity. It’s the “Bill’s been a member for 30 years…it’s his turn to be an elder,” kind of thinking. The New Testament, our Book of Order, and general Christian wisdom all point to selecting spiritual leaders among those who have devoted time and effort to spiritual growth and becoming Christ-like. One should not be an officer/leader of a congregation or a denomination until one has developed some mastery and expertise in the Christian life. That takes a long time after baptism. Otherwise we should just throw the names of all baptized members into a hat and pull names for who should be the next elder, deacon, or pastor. But then if you have no standards other than baptism, then most any person of any lifestyle is acceptable, which I guess is what Edwards is after.

Mike Armistead
Bluffton/Hilton Head Island, SC

John McNeese said...


I liked the comparison you made between spiritual maturity and seniority. I would imagine most churches are happy just to have a warm body to fill a slot and run a program. Yes, it would be nice to have leaders who "devoted time and effort to spiritual growth and becoming Christ-like." but therein lies the problem with the institution of ordination, the inference that those who are ordained have attained a certain level of purity and righteousness over and above the rest of us. I am an elder who served one term and will not serve again. The office is overrated, but it is, in the words of Letty Russell, a "union card" to work for change in this denomination.

Robert said...

Another country heard from: The African pastor who leads our service in Ewe (language of Togo) asked me if a man who attends worship at the Ewe service and lives with a woman to whom he is not married should be allowed to be in the choir.

Christians from Africa seem to have higher standards than we do.

John McNeese said...


Are you advocating such standards for the choir?