February 21, 2014

The Problem with “Probably”

Category: History,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse here, but here’s the flipside of what I wrote earlier about Beza’s claim that thousands of baptized children end up perishing eternally (“How would he know?”): Where does Beza get the idea that a baptized child is probably (but only probably) one of God’s children?

A couple comes to you, their pastor, with a serious question.  A few weeks ago, their four-month old daughter died.  You had baptized her when she was a week old, and now they want to know what value that baptism had.  “Pastor, is our daughter in heaven?”

From Beza’s perspective, I suppose your answer is “Probably.”

“Probably?” they say.  “But you’re not sure?”

“Well,” you respond.  “I can’t say for sure.  It’s not as if baptism gives you that sort of guarantee.  Nor does being born in a Christian home.  Nor do all the prayers you’ve prayed or the prayers we prayed at baptism….”

“So there’s a chance our little girl…?”

“Well, yes,” you say.  “Um … many thousands of baptized children are never regenerated, but perish eternally.”

“So our little girl might have too?”

“Perhaps.  Yes, that is possible.  But again, my answer to your question — is our daughter in heaven? — is probably.  Probably God loved her.  Probably she was one of God’s children.  Probably she was adopted into his family.  Probably.”

“But … on what basis can you say that, Pastor?  Given that many thousands of children just like our little daughter do perish — that’s what you said — what makes it probably that ours didn’t?”

And I have no idea what you, if you were following Beza, would say.  What would make it probable?  That baptism engrafts a person into God’s church and covenant?  But in the Old Covenant, we certainly see many covenant members who were apostate.  Perhaps one might say that the New Covenant is so much more powerful and efficacious, and yet we still know of many members of Christ’s church who fall away.

Would it be more probable if the couple asking were strong Christians and less probable if they were weak Christians or if they were living in rebellion, unrepentant, but not yet excommunicated at the time of the baptism?  Is the probability grounded on the parents’ faith? On the faith of the pastor? On the godliness of the church?

But Beza doesn’t go this route.  He doesn’t say “Some are more likely God’s children because of this or that and some are less likely.”  He says of all baptized children that they are probably God’s children.  But … on what basis?  In the end, this “probably” seems like wishful thinking, leaving a grieving parent thinking only “… but possibly not.”  And that’s no comfort at all.


Posted by John Barach @ 2:11 pm | Discuss (3)

3 Responses to “The Problem with “Probably””

  1. Gert van den Brink Says:

    The word ‘probably’ refers to the judicium charitatis. That the (living) child is to be baptized, is because it is probably elect. If the child would die in infanthood, it is certainly elect. For the death of a young child of believing parents is an extra, and now infallible sign of election.

  2. John Says:

    Gert: Yes. That’s likely what Beza was thinking. I don’t share his view and in fact find it quite disturbing because of the way it deprives people of the confidence that Scripture gives, leaving them uncertain where Scripture leaves us assured.

  3. Gert van den Brink Says:

    What Beza also says is: “Ego quidem omnes bene sperare iubeo; sed non sum Propheta, ut possim pradicere, hunc puerum fore virum bonum”. “I command that all hope the best; but I am not a prophet, so that I could predict whether this boy will be a good man.” (Acta, 484). It seems to me that it is disturbing as well, to be certain of grace which can be lost. Is that, in the end, not even worse than being hopeful of grace which can not be lost?

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