Was Pentecost the greatest act of mass excommunication in history?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I got passed this quote the other day and asked for comment. 

I’m sorry if my response seems overly blunt but that quote is just obvious nonsense isn’t it. I have great respect and admiration for Bob Letham, he is a godly, wise scholar from whom I’ve learnt much, but I am utterly bewildered as to how he could let himself be associated with the claim. Either someone has misattributed the quote to him or he is sending up some kind of secret signal to show that he is really a Baptist!

Consider carefully the claim that Pentecost under baptistic terms was the biggest mass excommunication in history.  Well, I guess if you believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true then in one sense it was but it has nothing to do with infants and baptism.

You see, the point is made pretty much from page one of the Gospels. When John the Baptist tells circumcised Jews who turn up at the Jordan that they need to repent and baptise, symbolically re-entering the promised land via the Jordan as their forefathers had done centuries previously, he made it clear that their ethnic status, their Torah observance and their rituals including sacrifices, festivals and washings were not enough to bring them in and keep them into covenant relationship with the living God.

Then on Pentecost, the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, they begin to praise God in other languages and a crowd is drawn to see what is happening. Peter stood up and preached about Jesus. When the people under conviction asked him what they should do, then he told them:

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 

Acts 2:38-39

Notice that paedo-baptists often take one line out of these verses

“For the promise is for you and for your children…”

That rips the phrase out of context and completely loses its sense. It misses three things. First it misses out the full extent of the promise by chopping off the bit about “all who are far off” which makes it clear that the promise is for those it is proclaimed to not for those who inherit it genetically. Secondly it ignores the exact nature of the promise. The promise is that you will receive the Holy Spirit, not just that you will be part of a covenant community. It’s the promise of being right with God and forgiven.  Thirdly, it misses the means by which the promise is received and therefore who receives it.

“Repent and be baptised every one of you.”

3000 people responded to that call and so received the promise that day.  Now that’s a lot of people but there would have been many who did not at that point or in the days, weeks and years following respond to the Gospel message.  The sending of the Holy Spirit therefore marked out those who were included in the covenant, but it also identified those who were not. They my haver had the sign of circumcision but they did not have the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit.  I guess that in one sense you could say that given the many who did not repent and believe from all age groups that yes, Pentecost was the greatest exercise of mass excommunication in history. However that’s nothing to do with baptism. Rather,  in terms of covenant continuity, the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision is not baptism but the seal of the Holy Spirit. 

As I said at the start, I have great respect for Bob Latham. He is a warm, godly and wise scholar. I hope that my article doesn’t come across as disrespectful. However, perhaps this serves as a warning to us all. Yes, even the wisest and cleverest amongst us can have blind spots and end up saying things to defend our position that are themselves indefensible.  This should not encourage us Baptists towards pride but rather encourage humility among us all. Let’s redouble our efforts to listen carefully to what God’s Word says.

%d bloggers like this: