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Category Archives: John Piper
By Dr. John Piper
The earliest explicit mention of infant “baptism” in the history of the church is from the African church father, Tertullian, who lived from about A.D. 160 to about 220. He was born in Carthage, studied in Rome for a legal career and was converted to Christianity in about 195. He was the first Christian theologian to write in Latin and exerted significant influence through his apologetic works.
The work, de baptismo (Concerning Baptism) was written, evidently between 200 and 206. In it Tertullian questions the wisdom of giving baptism to infants. He says,
According to everyone’s condition and disposition, and also his age, the delaying of baptism is more profitable, especially in the case of little children. For why is it necessary—if [baptism itself] is not necessary—that the sponsors should be thrust into danger? For they may either fail of their promise by death, or they may be mistaken by a child’s proving of wicked disposition…. They that understand the weight of baptism will rather dread the receiving of it, than the delaying of it. An entire faith is secure of salvation! (de baptismo, ch. xviii)
What we see here is that the first explicit witness to infant baptism does not assume that it is a given. In other words, at the turn of the third century it is not taken for granted, as it is 200 years later when St. Augustine addresses the matter. Tertullian speaks the way one would if the practice were in dispute, possibly as a more recent development.
When we look at the New Testament, the closest thing to infant baptism that we find is the reference to three “households” being baptized. In 1 Corinthians 1:16, Paul says, “Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.” In Acts 16:15, Luke reports concerning the new convert, Lydia, “When she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’” And in Acts 16:33, Luke tells us that after the earthquake in the jail of Philippi, the jailer “took [Paul and Silas] that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his [household].”
It is significant that in regard to the family of the Philippian jailer Luke reports in Acts 16:32, just before mentioning the baptism of the jailer’s household, “[Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” This seems to be Luke’s way of saying that hearing and believing the word is a prerequisite to baptism. The whole household heard the word and the whole household was baptized. In any case, there is no mention of infants in any of these three instances of household baptisms, and it is an argument from silence to say that there must have been small children. It would be like saying here at Bethlehem that a reference to Ross Anderson’s household or Don Brown’s or Dennis Smith’s or David Michael’s or David Livingston’s or dozens of others must include infants, which they don’t.
Yet from these texts, Joachim Jeremias, who wrote one of the most influential books in defense of infant baptism, concluded, “It is characteristic that Luke could report the matter thus. For by so doing he gives expression to the fact that ‘the solidarity of the family in baptism and not the individual decision of the single member’ was the decisive consideration” (Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, 1960, p. 23, quoting Oscar Cullman, Baptism in the New Testament, 1950, p. 45). I would rather say that the entire drift of the New Testament, and many particular sayings, is in the opposite direction: it is precisely the individual in his relation to Christ that is decisive in the New Testament, rather than solidarity in the flesh. “It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:8).
Source: http://www.hopeingod.org – Letter from John Piper to Bethlehem Baptist Church on May 6, 1997
The Effect of Your Life in 1,400 Years
Do you think God has purposes for your life that will be realized in 1,400 years?
I do. Your life and mine.
Yes, the new heavens and the new earth may be here by then. I hope so. If so, there are things that are happening to you now that will have reverberations then for your good.
I say that because Paul says, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). When Paul speaks of “light momentary affliction,” he is referring to all the painful experiences of our lives — the same thing he means by “the sufferings of this present time” in Romans 8:18. All of this present time.
And when he says that these life-long experiences are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory,” he means that there is a correlation between those experiences now and our experiences of glory later. And that correlation is more than sequential, and more than evidence that we are going to glory.
It would be little comfort to Paul if I said the point was: “How I handle my backache and how you handle your beheading are evidence that we are both going to glory.” That’s true. But it’s not the point of the word “preparing” (katergazetai). His beheading will have a different effect on his glory than my backache will on mine. And I’ll be the happier for his reward.
Everything Relates to Everything
But what if, in 1,400 years Christ has not returned? Will your life make a difference in that world? I think so. In God’s governance of the world, everything relates to everything.
Consider this illustration.
When I was in Ethiopia last November, I was told of an Ethiopian missionary who went to Pakistan. He entered a town with a view to evangelizing and planting a church, even though Pakistan is not open to this kind of missionary work.
But when he went before the town leaders and they found out that he was from Ethiopia they said something to the effect: “You may do your work here. We owe you the gift of openness and hospitality, because your people gave asylum to Mohammed’s family 1,400 years ago.”
The Land of Justice
Since then I have tried to track down the history behind this amazing statement. In 2008 there was a symposium about this very tradition. Scholars from Princeton, Cornell, Rutgers, and the National Museum of Ethiopia met to discuss new historical findings.
In Islamic history and tradition, Ethiopia (Abyssinia) is known as the “Haven of the First Migration” of Muslims. During Mohammed’s lifetime (570 – 632) his followers were being persecuted in the surroundings of Mecca by pagan tribes.
Dr. Said Samatar, Professor of African History at Rutgers, explained “King Armah (Negash) and his decision to grant refuge to the family of the Prophet Mohammad, who arrived at Aksum while fleeing from their pagan persecutors.” King Armah was a Christian and had the reputation of treating people generously. Dr. Samatar described how “a Christian King refused bribes and granted sanctuary to the fleeing Muslims in Aksum.”
“Mohammad didn’t forget the generosity of the Negash,” he said, “and in the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet that have been recorded and passed on for generations, it is noted that ‘Abyssinia [Ethiopia] is a land of justice in which no one is oppressed.’”
Therefore, for many Muslims even today, 1,400 years later, “Ethiopia is synonymous with freedom from persecution and emancipation from fear.”
Consider Your Impact
Do you think that the Christians of Abysinnia, 1,400 years ago thought that what they were doing would have an effect for the glory of Christ and the good of the world fourteen centuries later, when a Pakistani mayor opened his city to a Christian Ethiopian missionary?
Therefore, I conclude that what we do in obedience to Christ in this life is never wasted. Our acts are like pebbles dropped in the pond of history. No matter how small our pebble, God rules the ripples. And he causes the design on the face of the waters to be exactly what he wills.
Your pebbles count. Drop them with daily faithfulness, and leave the ripples to God.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.