Sunday, April 3, 2011
Baptism and the Visible/Invisible Church Dichotomy
This morning at church (The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Huntersville) we had both an infant baptism and communion. I heard it called "Sacrament Sunday" several times. While communion was occurring as regularly scheduled, it is unusual to have both sacraments together. The subject of "why baptize infants" came up in Sunday School, and was also the subject of the sermon. I have addressed the biblical basis for the baptism of the infant children of believers before (see here, here, and here; and regarding the mode of baptism, here, here, here, and here), so I won't repeat that here. Rather, I want to address why paedobaptists, i.e., those who baptize the infant children of believers, see this, while credobaptists, i.e., those who advocate believers' baptism only, don't. Note that my reasoning here is a Reformed position, and is not intended to explain the views of Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox.
I think that the problem is that credobaptists seek to apply the characteristics of the invisible church to the visible church.
The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 62, defines the "visible church" as "a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children." That is, an organization on earth, such that one can point to it, and say, "there it is." Scripture uses this sense in such places as Romans 16:3-5, in reference to the church that met in the house of Priscilla and Aquila.
In contrast, Question 64 defines the invisible church as "the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head." Scripture uses this sense in such places as Ephesians 1:22-23, "the church, which is his body..."
The visible church is as man sees it, while the invisible church is as God sees it. The latter is necessarily pure, because God knows our hearts. The first cannot be pure, because men have no infallible means of perceiving the hearts of other men (and imperfectly even their own). The credobaptist expects the visible church to be equivalent to the invisible church, even though this is beyond the ken of mortal men. That is what blinds him to the status of the children of believers (see I Corinthians 7, especially verse 14). By maintaining this dichotomy, the paedobaptist experiences no dissidence in the baptism of someone who is not, and, in fact, may never be, a believer.