Does rebaptism automatically disqualify that person from holding office in the Christian Reformed Church?

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This question is from a real-life situation to which Dr. Henry DeMoor has responded to based on his extensive knowledge of the Christian Reformed Church Order. The first answer given has been taken from the Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary written by Dr. DeMoor.

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No, not automatically. The Christian Reformed Church has always held that rebaptism constitutes a denial of the doctrine of infant baptism. Thus, on the level of membership status, the denomination regards those who have themselves rebaptized as being “in error”; they violate our confession. The council must ask such a person if he or she still wishes to be a member of our denomination. If so, it must “faithfully and persistently admonish such an erring member” (Acts of Synod, 1973, p. 78). If the unity and wellbeing of the congregation requires it, council may even bar such a member from the Lord’s table. Indeed, it must exercise further discipline if he or she “actively disturbs the unity and peace of the congregation.” But the clear implication is that the person may well “repent of the error” after such admonition. Then, while rebaptism cannot be undone, full-fledged membership must be gladly given.

This is especially important with respect to those who come to the Christian Reformed Church from a church that routinely rebaptizes its members. Their current views, their desires for their own newborn children, and their ability to celebrate infant baptism with the rest of the congregation must all be considered by council in evaluating their membership status.

With respect to holding office, it seems to me that something similar applies. A person who “errs” on this important matter should under no circumstances be allowed to hold office in the church (Acts of Synod, 1973, p. 78). But a person who has “repented of the error” and no longer teaches the necessity of rebaptism should be eligible for office, even if he or she has in fact been rebaptized at an earlier stage in life. If elected, such a person must be expected faithfully to uphold, teach, and defend the church’s official doctrine.

 

First of all, thank you for taking the opportunity to enter a constructive dialogue with respects to the sensible topics for believers. As a reformed Hispanic pastor, I am confronted with a practical situation that deals with the change of spiritual lifestyle of those who grow closer to the reformed church due to their eyes having been opened and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their search for the truth.

It is without a doubt that a fundamental part of this transition is the ability to immerse themselves completely in their new family of faith and declare publicly their new condition. Having done this precisely through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and being baptized with their new reformed faith.

All of them have been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and it is exactly there where we find a serious inconsistency.

Just as I have written in a previous blog, I would like to once again reiterate these concepts:

Baptism is an external sign of an internal condition (faith in Christ Jesus). From the Reformed point of view, it is the gateway to the Covenants (which replaces the Old Testament circumcision); however the Catholic Church considers baptism in a different way, because it is done for salvation. The administration of this sacrament in the Catholic Church has a strong theological impact on who receives it, because from there the person is considered saved for having this sacrament and he then supplements it with good works. But theologically speaking, the denomination contradicts itself by accepting something that is not according to our theology, regardless of who administer it or not.

Our Hispanic churches are filled everyday with people who leave Catholicism to get closer to the reality of a relationship with Jesus Christ which fills them and transforms their lives. But it is in reality the greatest changes, that of leaving behind traditions of men and erroneous teachings and become participants of a new walk which represents that of knowing the word of God and living according to his teachings. That is precisely the great contribution that the Reformed achieved in the life of human beings who have been able to understand the times of God and his moving through these men whom He used to open the eyes of those that were blind to understand divine revelation.

Therefore, as a Hispanic pastor, would I not be failing my conscience if I were to tell you that it is okay to accept what corresponds to the faith they professed?

If, to many of them, Catholicism represents the great whore of Babylon, would I be able to calmly tell them the sacrament which that institution carried out on them is okay?

Unfortunately our beloved denomination did not take into account our humble concept, but rather that of the Catholic Church and its practices and rites, and they are far from being accepted by those who sit in the pews of our churches every Sunday to be instructed according to the truth of God's Word.

I am not Donatist or Anabaptist. I am simply a Reformed pastor who views with concern the stagnation of our denomination, unable to open its eyes to our reality.

Let’s choose whom we will serve: the gods which our fathers served that were on the other side of the River (traditions, rites, sacraments for salvation, papal infallibility, etc., etc., etc.) As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.

Appreciating John Caicedo's comments from my perspective of having spent two weeks in Mexico at a non-CRC mission there (Cuernevaca), his comments make sense.   The mystic power of a sacrament by itself to save or convert or sanctify should never be promoted.   So while infant baptism of a child by believing parents should be respected in the covenant sense, it should probably not be able to prevent the new believer's response in terms of "believe and be baptized", especially when the infant sacrament is applied in a fashion that approaches a magical and pagan fashion.  

I've felt for some time now that the baptists' denial of baptism for infants is what is non-scriptural, and a problem for disputable matters.  But perhaps the reformed's unwillingness to discern inappropriately-applied infant baptism is also non-scriptural.  

This relates also to the pure administration of sacraments with regard to lord's supper communion.   While I have little or no difficulty celebrating lord's supper with christians in other denominations, in spite of not agreeing with them on every single item of theology or practice, I have great difficulty with celebrating lord's supper with those who ascribe mystical and magical properties to the elements of bread and wine which Jesus never intended to do.  

 

I am still trying to figure out how is it that pastor Caicedo's posted comments make sense? And, there is a statement (see quote below) on his part that needs to be clarified:

"But theologically speaking, the denomination contradicts itself by accepting something that is not according to our theology, regardless of who administer it or not."

This Forum post has to do with church governance, namely, people who aspire to hold office in the CRC but who still believe and approve of rebaptism. The topic of discussion is not the Roman Catholic Church and the legitimacy of her baptisms, although this indeed is the crux of the matter for Hispanic Evangelicals, whom tend to view the RCC as a false religion (as plain and simple as that), due in part to their Fundamentalist ties to modern American Evangelicals and its missionary efforts in Latin America.

Dr. DeMoor's answer is pretty clear, at least for me. Based on Articles 57 and 58 of the Church Order and a long history that goes back to Calvin and even further, to the first centuries of the Church: the belief and practice of rebaptism "constitutes a denial of the doctrine of infant baptism." And this "error" needs to be corrected before appropriate participation in any office of the church.

It is of common knowledge (perhaps not so common for CRC members) that the overwhelming majority of Latin American Evangelicals have Anabaptist views when it comes to the sacraments; not only they regard the RCC as false, they tend to rebaptize even people who come from within other Evangelical denominations; so it is not rare to find people who have been rebaptized two or three or more times when joining or switching denominations. And as far as infant baptism is concerned, the most common explanation I've heard as to why Latin American Evangelicals do not baptize infants is "because the Roman Catholics do it."

So, my humble attempt to find an explanation at all this is that I suspect the reasons behind these anti-Roman Catholic sentiments and anti-paedobaptist views are more emotional than theological or even rational.

The original question is still valid: What do we do with church officials who are hesitant to align with the CRC's views on other Christian denominations and on rebaptism? Do we apply a double (or even multiple) theological standard: a strict one for Anglo churches, another one more flexible (and perhaps condescending) for the so-called ethnic churches?

Alejandro, first, let me say that I think that denying the validity of infant baptism for covenant children of believers is wrong.  

However, the other side of the coin is this.  Our forms and theology indicates that it is wrong to baptize your children out of custom or superstition.   We also believe that baptism does not save, nor is some magic key to salvation, but rather a symbol and recognition of God's grace and our repentance. 

We  have a problem when children are baptized superstitiously by those who do not truly believe, and who do not teach or bring up their children in the instruction of the Lord.  We also have a problem when infants who were baptized are clearly living and thinking as pagans and non-believers when they become adults.   I've been in a reformed PKN church in Netherlands where a child was baptized, whose parents never or rarely attended church.  The pastor said he was hoping by this practice to encourage the parents to attend.   This is a scandal, in spite of any "good" motives the pastor may have had.  So we even have the problem in reformed churches sometimes. 

The Bible is clear that not all Israel is Israel, meaning that not all who were circumcised as Israelites were truly Israel because they did not worship God, and were not obedient to God but rebelled against Him and worshipped idols.  Their circumcision was of no-effect and no significance, and in fact counted against them. 

If baptism is understood as an expression of covenant and God's faithfulness, then it might be useful to have an expression of that in the sacrament, joining it to committment and repentance.  When an unbeliever comes to Christ, why is his previous infant baptism more significant than the lack of infant baptism of another unbeliever coming to Christ?    If the Rom Cath church in latin america generally or often treats baptism as custom and superstition and magical endowment, then we might say that it is not a true baptism in any sense of the sacrament.   While it may be difficult to judge every instance, we can say for certain that this often happens.  Whether anabaptists have additional aversions to infant baptism is not relevant to our perspective on this.  However, it is significant that part of their aversion to infant baptism is based on the hypocrisy and meaninglessness and paganism imbedded in the application of baptism in cases where true faith and repentance is non-existent.   In other words, the large numbers of non-christians who have been baptized as children do not add weight to the validity of infant baptism.  We do not do ecumenism any favors by falling into the same trap as the Rom Catholic church in terms of applying this sacrament.  If we respect the one denomination in spite of theologic differences, we do not have grounds for not respecting other denominations in spite of theology differences. 

This is a discussion worth having, because I believe it is an indicator of how we live christian lives in obedience to Christ.   It is also a form of witness to those who are considering attending or joining a church community. 

After 40 years of dealing with the question of this matter as relates to Latin American ministry, I pray that all our Hispanic pastors will firmly committ to the biblical-theological teaching of our Reformed faith, and be able to teach and practice in such a pastoral way that the cultural and anti-Catholic reactions will be overcome.  If not, our Hispanic congregations will end up being just more "generic evangelical churches."  It takes patience and willingness, but it will be worth it.

Lou, in some way, I am finding your comment somewhat offensive.  Just so you know.   I am curious as to what is a generic evangelical church compared to non-generic?   I have also always placed the crc within the evangelical camp in terms of its emphasis on missions and the significance of repentance and faith.   I know that you are probably using different nomenclature or categories, but I find it offensive to think that the crc is not evangelical in its attitude towards unbelievers.  I also find it offensive that we would put more energy into accomodating erroneous catholic beliefs about baptism than we do for  evangelical beliefs about baptism.    In spite of the fact they deny  infant baptism (which I also find sad), I often find a closer synergy of theology with some of them than with the romcatholic theology and romcath practice.   You also ought to be aware of what is called the "Reformed Baptist" camp, in terms of understanding so-called "generic evangelicalism". 

Second, you are taking for granted that anti-catholic attitudes should be overcome, yet seem to be displaying an anti-evangelical attitude yourself.   Please correct me if I am wrong, but this is the impression you are leaving with me.  

 

This is ironic in the sense that during the reformation in Europe, the RomCatholics would persecute the protestants, and then the protestant state churches would persecute the anabaptists.   Pray that that attitude has died several centuries ago. 

 

 

Salve Ioannes Exclusa! (Howdy John Zylstra!), originally I thought this topic is of such a low interest for readers, that it is no surprise that it has about 250 views. Nevertheless, as Lou has pointed out, it should be an important topic for it involves commitment to the Reformed tradition.

Now, I am still patiently awaiting an answer from pastor Caicedo, since I directed some questions to him. But, now I am also obliged to reply to some of your answers.

First of all, let me tell you with a humble spirit that some of your statements could be easily read as generalizations, stereotypes or even prejudicial; proofreading is something that we all need.

Let me point out some of these issues I found in your answer, acknowledging that we all make mistakes when talking or writing or typing with a computer keyboard, and we do not necessarily mean what the end result may be saying to the reader.

1. "Our forms and theology indicates that it is wrong to baptize your children out of custom or superstition."

I would love to see which forms and where in our theology such statement finds support, because I could not find it.

2. " We have a problem when children are baptized superstitiously by those who do not truly believe, and who do not teach or bring up their children in the instruction of the Lord."

You are not suggesting (like pastor Caicedo's argument) that "we" have a problem with the validity of children baptized by ministers or priests whose faith or life is questionable or by parents who end up not fulfilling their Christian duties? Because, if you are suggesting that, then it should be pointed that it is "you" not "we." This is an issue that was virtually solved in the 5th century, when the Church decided to recognize the sacraments performed by questionable ministers (the Donatist controversy), and 10 centuries later, the very same John Calvin decided to ratify this practice. The answer is simple, it is God who gives us and guarantees all his promises of his covenant, to children and to adults, in the sacraments. He is always in control, in spite of our human failures. He is not dependent upon our worthiness to perform his covenant promises.

Also, you do not imply (like pastor Caicedo) that baptisms performed in Latin America by Roman Catholic priests are considered "superstitious," and  "pagan"? How about baptisms performed by Roman Catholic priests in the U.S.A. and Canada? Are they not superstitious and pagan? Because, let me tell you, there is an ugly and common misconception among many North Americans that the Catholicism of Latin America is different from the Catholicism of North America. It is argued, in a subtle racist way, that the one Catholicism is "superstitious" and full of pagan elements; while the other Catholicism is more civilized and appropriate. Ironically, people who think this way are not Roman Catholics themselves, they are Protestants with a prejudice, a racial one (among other prejudices). I have taken the time to verify this issue with authoritative Roman Catholic officials, and the answer has always been the same: there are no differences in official dogma and practices. Now, if you are thinking that there is a difference because of cultural expressions and minor differences in rites, that would be a mistake. It would be like the differences in worship styles and order of worship, and sanctuary shape and size, and wording in the sacraments, etc. in CRC churches. Let me mention one example to support what I've said. Why in the world the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids invites every year priests from Mexico or even all the way down from South America, to perform mass and baptisms and weddings and funerals, etc. if they would consider them "superstitious" or "pagan" or a "magical endowment"?

3. You also mentioned that the Anabaptist's aversion to infant baptism "is not relevant to our perspective on this." I strongly disagree with you. It has a lot to do with our perspective on this. In fact, it was one of the hottest issues during the Reformation, besides the papacy. You also mentioned that this aversion of the Anabaptists "is based on the hypocrisy and meaninglessness and paganism imbedded in the application of baptism in cases where true faith and repentance is non-existence." This is also a wrong generalization and I disagree with it. I think that the Anabaptists aversion to infant baptism, in tune with their Radical Reformation approach, is that they did not understand the covenant and the continuity of God's sovereign kingdom on earth. The Anabaptists were seditious because they wanted to erase 15 centuries of Christian history and start afresh with a new church fashioned out of their own extreme views. This is what I learned at Calvin, and if I learned wrong, then someone else is also wrong. I am tempted to mention concepts like "ex opere operato" or "in persona Christi" to explain what is behind the Reformed concept of the sacrament of baptism, but I am sure there are others who are more qualified to explain these things in plain English without the use of Latin.

4. There are other serious connotations to the practice of rebaptism in the CRC, besides this one related to the Church Order. I am only mentioning them lightly because they deserve a post of their own. One of them is that we believe we are one church. If we are one church, we must constantly strive for visible unity. Conflicting practices when it comes to baptism do not help our unity and witness. It creates parallel churches within our church, churches who in name are CRC but in practice are Anabaptists or Baptists or Pentecostal or, worse yet, generic Evangelical Churches, who are blown back and forth by winds of theological fashions, and the personal tastes of benevolent dictator-pastors… we called them in Spanish, "caudillos," which comes from the Latin "capitellum" (= little heads).

Alejandro, the form for baptism on Hymnal  page 958 in the address to the parents, first paragraph, clearly says this:  "We must therefore, use the sacrament for the purpose that God intended and not out of custom or superstition..."  In the third point there it also says, "Do you promise to do all you can to teach these children, and to have them taught, this doctrine of salvation?"  

Second, I agree that the significance of baptism does not depend on the character of the elder who baptizes, nor on the personal purity of the parents.  But its significance does depend on obedience of believers, since it is supposed to be an act of obedience by believers in God's  covenant .  God said a number of times in the old testament that he did not want the sacrifices of Israel, even though He himself had commanded these sacrifices.   God denied the significance of these sacrifices because they were done in disobedience, they had become superstitious rituals rather than acts of worship.   Baptism is a form of worship and obedience.   If it is done in disobedience, what should we attribute to it?   If it is done by unbelievers, or done in the form similar to believing in four leaf clovers or superstitiously not walking under a ladder, what should we attribute to it?   

As far as differences between North American and South American romCatholicism, or that in Indonesia, or southern europe vs northern europe, that is a much more complicated topic, which I will not address now.  Other than to say that to some degree I agree with you, but yet I leave that judgement to those who have more experience.  I myself have had many conversations with a former romcath converted to reformed faith here in north america, and she is more insistent that the Rom Cath church is idolatrous than I would tend to be.  I have been in a Rom Cath church in Cuernevaca, and seen a couple in Mexico City, and talked to converts there, as well as having spent an hour talking to a retired RomCath priest from Ontario who enlightened me about a number of attitudes with their hierarchy.   And I know a number of RomCath in our town, finding them generally pleasant, and some of them very committed and likeable and sincere. 

I believe that we should not condemn missionaries nor preachers who pastorally understand why former RCs would want to break all ties with any baptism performed in such a church environment.   This might apply not only to RCs but also potentially to some episcopalian situations or united church situations.   As I mentioned before, I once attended a service in the Netherlands in a reformed church where the pastor baptized a child whose parents never attend church.  Now if that child grows up as a pagan, which he is likely to do (although God can work marvelous exceptions), and then the child when he is 35 years old, becomes converted and a Christian, then it is possible that his former baptism by non-practising christians may leave him quite cold and disillusioned.   We can make absolutes about baptism being once for all and only once, but it will be undeniable that his baptism had not been done in obedience, but rather merely as a peace offering to grandparents or a purchase into "respectability".   God does not delight in such disobedience. 

I will address your other points in a second post. 

Alejandro, let me say I appreciate your earnestness and your "contending for the faith"  In regards to your point 3:  I have said before that during the reformation, the RomCatholics persecuted the protestants, and the protestants persecuted other protestants, in particular the dissenters and anabaptists.  I pray that this has ended several centuries ago.   I agree that some anabaptists have a shallow theology and a lack of understanding of covenant.  But I am also familiar with baptists who believe in and promote covenant theology, ie. "Reformed Baptists"(a seeming anachronism).   I also believe that much theology originates from a gut feeling about what is right and wrong.   It is difficult to promote covenant theology when it is misused by churches in the sense of, as it says in Jude "they have turned the grace of our God into a license for immorality..."   In the same way they have turned covenant, which is all about the grace of God, into a license for immorality.   By their works you shall know their faith.   True, we know that baptism does not save, and that not all who are baptized will be saved, but when it is done in deceit and falsehood, or in disobedience, and when this becomes an obvious tolerated trend, then it is understandable why some would have an aversion to such a practice. 

As to your point 4:  I  would not agree to rebaptism for anyone baptized in a reformed christian church as an infant.   But I am becoming sympathetic to a discussion on it, putting the onus on anyone who requests it to prove that the original infant baptism was done in deliberate disobedience.   Some might call this a "disputable matter."  I agree with your emphasis on unity, even on as much unity as possible with other believers in other denominations.   But our great unity must have its basis in honesty and obedience to Christ and His Word.   A superficial unity of forms and procedures will carry us just as far as it carried the Israelites when they offered sacrifices to God as they travelled to the high places to also offer sacrifices to Baal.   And a desire for unity such as the desire of Annanias and Sapphira to be like their neighboring Christ followers, will achieve nothing and will mean nothing if it is done in deceit or pride or envy. 

 

Brother Alejandro, thank you for your commentary. My only purpose as a Hispanic pastor is to simply add to the discussion that affects us directly in our daily walk.

Before anything, I would like to say that according to Dr. DeMoor’s response, the first phrase that he utilizes is doctrinal, not simply a normal declaration without theological effects: “The Christian reformed Church has always held that rebaptism constitutes a denial of the doctrine of infant baptism”.

The topic of the discussion is the question: Does rebaptism automatically disqualify that person from holding office in the Christian Reformed Church? This leads us directly to talk about the first baptism and its theological implications as well as how it was first received by those baptized and the families involved.

When we come to the conclusion that this practice is an “error” that needs to be corrected, we need to recognize where this “error” originates and the consequences it has on the practical life of the church as well as the doctrinal implication, keeping in mind the diversity of the denomination and its growing desire to hear the voices of those who take part of the ethnic minority in CRC.

It’s a very simple argument and it’s almost disrespectful to assume that what we feel is simply anti-Catholic sentiments, that our reasons are more emotional than theological. It is precisely because of these irrational arguments that we blind ourselves from a reality that is as evident as a doctrinal contradiction that we have when we accept it as a valid sacrament done with a different purpose.

I find that we both hold a common ground. We both want to defend what we believe so that at the end we could all benefit and our denomination can grow in acceptance, tolerance and in a doctrine that follows the word of God.

However, precisely to evade the double standard of which you speak of, it is necessary to know in depth what the denomination receives as acceptable which then transforms into a norm for all the groups they represent. If all Hispanic churches constantly received petitions from adults to be re-baptized, it is not simply because they have anti-Catholic sentiments or because they want to disobey the denomination. It is much more than that, but only those who experiment it can truly know. In reality it is a symbol of rebirth and all of those who are born again also desire to be baptized so that God’s will can be completed and new life can be manifested, so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ can be glorified within those who choose to grow closer to Him. 

Dear brother Caicedo, I did not understand your second paragraph; it was unclear, at least to me.

Perhaps it is time to summon the help of the experts, because our conversations are in different frequencies, and my intuition tells me that we are not going to get out of this language issue.

Therefore, I offer a non-Reformed prayer:

Care frater DeMoor, salva nos ab nostris confusio

Participant

Well, Alejandro, I'm not sure I can quickly save you from all confusion.  This is an important discussion.  Its focus should be on who is eligible to hold office in the CRC, on whether a rebaptism in and of itself makes one ineligible, on whether views on rebaptism must be in agreement with the doctrine and practice of the CRC in order to serve in office.

I understand that people often "broaden the focus" of a thread like this by also dwelling on related issues.  One of such related issues is the validity of infant baptism that, in the view of the person baptized, has been administered in a wrongful manner or in the wrong spirit (such as a belief that the baptism will "magically" save a person).  On this score we follow Augustine's view, not that of the Donatists, as you can read in my Commentary under Article 58.  The other related issue is whether the sacrament of baptism finds its meaning and significance in our feelings and emotions or in God's action toward us.  The CRC has never said the former but always said the latter.  Baptism is only a sign and seal of the promises found in the Word of God.  It is called for because God wants us to lay those promises on infants as soon as possible after their birth.  This is true regardless of whether we feel that we were "wrongly" baptized or now feel that our faith has taken a huge turn for the better, etc. 

We should ask of all officebearers that they speak and act according to our confessions -- what they say about baptism, about our regeneration and about our sacraments.  And since I was asked whether someone rebaptized is then "automatically excluded" from officebearing, I focused on that and said: No, that fact should not in and of itself prevent it.  But we do all need to subscribe to our church's confessions.  That's our covenant together.

 

Thanks, Prof. De Moor, for bringing the original question back into focus, and restating what is the conviccion, posture, and practice of our reformed churches. I trust that will satisfy many.

I wish I know of a process that would adqequately "air" these related questions for the Hispanic dimensions of our ministries.  I was just in the Netherlands, and a middle-aged couple raised in the reformed faith gave us their story of how two years ago they were re-baptized and now fellowship in a Baptist church.  His bottom line: "It has to say it in the Bible."  For that mindset, seemingly unable to get head and heart around covenant biblical theology, that will always be the outcome.  For John Z., I frequently drive past a Reformed Baptist church and have read about them online.  In my ministry in Argentina I sent more than one person to the local baptist church when these discussions were inconclusive. 

I want to ask my Hispanic ministry colleagues to consciously put the cultural and sentimental questions on one side of a sheet of paper, and on the other the teaching of Scripture, the reformed confessions, and the available material about reformed practice since very old times, and do your best to 1) become totally convinced of the validity of our church's stance, and 2) start to teach and work pastorally with both current members and new converts to educate and shape them into reformed believers.

A PS for John Z.  Yes, we are an evangelical denomination; that is totally consonant with being reformed.  But it is the latter dimension that sets us apart from so many "non-denominational" churches that I consider to be ""generic."  There are still a lot of people who insist on getting the original patent medicine; I like that for our church as well.  And sorry for any offense.

 

PLEASE, THIS IS PERFECT YOU RALLY ANSWER MY QUESTION, I THING I AM AT THE RIGHT PLACE, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I HOLD STRONGLY IN ME, ABOUT THE ESENCIAL OF THE REBIRTH IN THE CHRISTAINDOM.

THANKS.