There is plenty of brouhaha over Mark Dever’s recent 9Marks posting. First a Bird named Mike takes up fish not exactly in the spirit of Icthus. He complains that credo-baptist Dever shouldn’t speak so terribly about paedobaptists like us. Then Dever huddles. In the course of self-defense he rushes to make sure everyone knows that he knows that paedobaptists are smart, useful, handsome, and believing. Well thanks. Then Scott Clark points out that Dever’s hard credo-words about baptism are actually quite welcome to paedo’s the likes of him. Clark wonders what is actually more offensive, Dever’s original message that paedobaptists paedobaptism is sinful or the low sacramentalism which is so ubiquitous.
I am not given much to the so-called “culture of offense.” Everybody is always “offended” about this or that. But the right answer to Clark’s question has got to be that low sacramental views are indeed quite frustrating. They are for me. I’ve never known what to make of the modern creature known as the Baptist who wants to be considered “Reformed,” nor the Reformed penchant for making him feel welcome by lending out the term “Reformed” without so much as any sort of collateral. One answer may be the shared low sacramentalism. After all, western Christianity has known of three major schools: Romanism, Protestantism and Radicalism. The Baptist wants nothing to do with Romanism, a lot of Protestantism but also a healthy helping of Radicalism. Likely, the historical Protestant and Radical wouldn’t really know what to do with this fellow, much the way Gomarus and Arminius wouldn’t know what to do with he who calls himself a “3 or 4 point Calvinist or Calminian.” But we have made relative peace with him, because we have accepted the notion that there are Romanists and then there is everyone else–if one is not Catholic he must be Protestant. Radical theology and practice should be allowed to be appended to Reformed systematics. The upshot is that the magazine of a confessional Presbyterian denomination (ByFaith, PCA) employs something like Baptist Dever’s “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” over against the conventional three marks laid out by the confessional standards. Yes, low views of the sacraments are indeed very frustrating.
Ironically, the effort to make sure everyone knows the other guy is counted amongst the brethren smacks a bit of nurturing the low views. After all, who said that the other guy wasn’t a valued member of the broader community? All either side of the baptism divide are saying is that one view is wrong and another is right, one comports with Reformed Protestantism and one has much more of a home in Anabaptism. Nobody said anything about the other guy worthy of personal disparagement. And, I can’t be sure, but does the rush to stroke imply that we should all learn to get along and let this quibble over the sacraments go the way of unspoken, albeit staunchly held, differences? One test might be to ask if such warm fraternal words are extended the Roman Catholic even as we tear apart his Romanism. In other words, why is the Roman Catholic a “Roman Catholic” and the Baptist a “brother”?
Nevertheless, while I think Clark makes a good point about not being offended but in fact encouraged by Dever’s high views, I still fidget in my seat a bit when I read Dever’s original post, but not for the same reasons Mike Bird does.
Consider that in his list of taboos he simply cannot endure “racism” immediately precedes paedobaptism. This is odd. One hears this sort of thing in the wider world all the time: “mean people suck.” I agree, but what is a mean person? What is racism? And what exactly does Dever mean that he cannot abide racism? Are there people who actually say that they think racism is a good idea? What a sufficiently vague notion to reject. One might as well say he cannot tolerate rudeness, or bad decision making, or, um, laziness, yeah laziness. And since sinners are such highly compromised creatures perhaps Dever is saying he cannot abide the likes of me? After all, I consider myself racist, can be rude, make at least two bad decisions every day and have always had trouble with what I consider laziness. And what about sexism? If racism can make the list as repugnant does sexism mean that is one he can live with?
Whatever troubles attend heroically listing racism as icky, right on the heels of racism is paedobaptism. That’s curious. Maybe this is at least some of what gets peoples’ goats. Again, I’m not much for whininess and pleading offense. But it might be that ranking paedobaptism with such proximity to racism is not exactly the height of wisdom. I’m as opposed to credo-baptism as he is paedobaptism. But I hope I‘d never make the careless mistake of ever implying that such a misguided theology as credo-baptism was indistinguishable from that culturally induced phantom called “racism.” If nothing else, it tends to really irritate people.