Thursday, December 31, 2015

Paedo Vs Credo - Introductory Remarks

Having decided the Presbyterians were right about covenants, I wearily set myself to solving the next problem: were they also right about baptism?

At first glance our views seemed similar. We both regard baptism as a sacrament. We both baptize people who may or may not be saved. Both see baptism as ushering the person into the visible church. Both immerse (although Presbyterians relax this somewhat). Both believe that adult converts must be baptized. Both see it as the sign of a promise. Both baptize persons when they enter the new covenant. But Presbyterians baptize infants and we don't.
It was time to make an honest effort to find out which was more Biblical.

Growing up in the Church of Christ I heard something very similar to this regarding musical instruments. The majority decided that because there was a conspicuous silence about their presence in the New Testament, service ought to be done a-Capella. The minority decided the silence meant instruments were either a matter of conscience or were permissible because they were used in the Old Testament.
In like manner there are three ways to deal with the fact that there's no mention of infants, children, or teenagers being baptized in the Bible:
  1. Baptism is inseparably connected with faith, so only those who make a profession of faith should be baptized.
  2. The lack of instruction one way or another indicates it is matter of conscience. Both the paedo and the credo views are equally Biblical.
  3. The lack of overturning the established Old Testament pattern indicates the children of believers are in covenant and therefore warrant the sign of baptism.   
Within the first position there are some differences of opinion. Those who hold more strictly to the data insist that the minimum age is something like a teenager since that's the equivalent of an adult in the ancient world. Those who hold to the principle of the data believe children who make profession of faith ought to be baptized, which follows a debate on how old a child can be before baptism is permitted. 

The second option I'm tempted to rule out as unacceptable because I don't see the tertium quid. Either infants should be baptized, or they shouldn't. If infant baptism is Biblical for them then I don't see why they should be denied it. Likewise if baptism is reserved only for professors of faith then including infants is clearly impossible since they lack the ability to profess anything. If, however, over the course of this study a third option somehow presents itself then I'll change my mind, but for now this is out.

The third position is the Presbyterian one, and it comes in two forms. The first is the classic Reformed stance that the covenant of grace was given circumcision as it's sign, and in the fullness of time God eventually replaced this sign with Baptism. The second version trades on the fact that God has established certain properties about covenants (namely that they're made with a head and the family is included), so children are included in every covenant.

What I quickly verified in my studies was that there is no mention of infant baptism in the New Testament. Neither however was there any evidence of a child growing up in a Christian home and receiving the sign of baptism once they had reached an age where their faith was considered credible. In both cases the Scriptures were totally silent, which meant the matter had to be decided on other grounds. Things like good and necessary inference. 

Before I begin however let me say a few words about the structure of this series.  
  1. In conducting this “debate” my plan is to put on the viewpoint of the side I’m arguing for and present the best possible case I can in that tradition. So for the case of the paedo-baptist I'm going to argue as if I was one.
  2. I'm going to cut this debate straight down the middle. The paedo-baptist points the finger and says, "you threw kids out of the covenant, the burden of proof is on you to show the evidence for this discontinuity in familial solidarity." The Baptist points back and says, "You say kids are in covenant in the New Testament? Prove it."
    I'm going to start each under the burden of proof of the other
  3. After much thought I’ve become convinced that there are three places the Baptist can go to justify not baptizing infants, while the paedo-baptist has one and only one argument to make for it, and it’s built entirely on the definition of a covenant he’s established in the Old Testament. So in this series we'll deal with the three Baptist arguments and the one Presbyterian argument.
Although the number of arguments is greater on the Baptist side, this debate is not as asymmetric as it seems. Because children of believers were given the sign of the covenant as infants in the Old Testament, the Baptist has to establish on what basis this practice ceases. The answer is either:
  1. Because the Old Testament is a physical era, not a spiritual one like we have today. We do give the sign to infants, just spiritual ones. Because in Christ things are different now.
  2. Because the New Covenant terms indicate we are to give the sign to those in the new Covenant. 
  3. Because they didn’t give the sign to infants in the Old Testament.
We'll take them in order, but because the first is so weak we'll go ahead and get it out of the way now.  This is why the first argument is a no go against the paedo-baptist
(Return to the index)

Paedo - The Objection to the NT Baptist Case

Dispensationalism is a way of understanding redemptive sweep of the Bible, and is an interpretative principle common to American Christianity. You can find it in denominations as new as the Calvary Chapel group and as old as the Churches of Christ; as large as the Southern Baptists and as small as the KJV only fundamentalists.
Dispensationalism asserts God has two distinct peoples: the Jews and the Christians. In the Old Testament the Jewish dispensation was characterized by bloodlines, families, circumcisions, law-keeping, sacrifice, and theocracy. In the Christian dispensation we're characterized by spiritual families, baptisms, grace, fulfillment in Christ, and salvation by faith (although most dispensationalists would agree that in every era salvation has been by grace through faith).  

Fundamental to this framework is the principle that in each dispensation the rules start over. When a new chapter in redemptive history dawns all the old regulations and requirements do not get carried through but are swept away. So for example the Jews were not to wear garments of mixed threads or light fires on the Sabbath, but because these rules are not specifically re-instituted in our dispensation we're free to ignore them. Now in fairness the New Testament speaks of certain commands in the Old Testament being abolished, so all theologians have to grapple with what stays and what goes. But nuking all the rules is an error, whether you justify it by saying, "Christ is the fulfillment of the law" or "the regulative principle", or "Well I don't know why exactly, but that's just how it is."

You can immediately see the relevance to the debate here. Abraham was told to circumcise his infant children as a sign of the righteousness he had by faith, but because he lived in an obsolete dispensation the practice of applying the sign of the covenant to children is hoc finis est. Believers in the New Testament are given no such instruction to baptize infants, nor even a hint of such a thing, therefore we're not to apply the sign of the New Covenant to infants.

But covenant theology rejects the fundamental principles of dispensationalism (for a number of good reasons). As a result, when trying to argue the NT case for credo-baptism with a paedo, the discussion goes something like this:
"The New Testament only records adults being baptized after they profess faith. Therefore, we should administer Baptism to those who profess faith."

To which the Presbyterian says,
"We agree. Now pass me that baby and let's do this."

"Wait, what? No you misunderstood me. I mean to say only professors of faith may be baptized."
"Look brother, all I heard was someone making a case that adults who grow up pagans, Mormons, or Buddhist need to be baptized upon their conversion. I agree."

The Baptist is puzzled as to why this hasn't convinced the Presbyterian of anything, because it seems so clear in his own mind. But the problem is that this argument only becomes effective once the principle of discontinuity is imported from dispensationalism, and the paedo-baptist is unwilling to trade his preexisting interpretative grid for what he perceives (rightly so might I add) is an inferior one. He points to the New Testament and insists that Abraham is the father of the faithful, and that Abraham received the gospel, which means the Old Testament saints were also saved by faith in Christ and there's no possible way to say it was a physical, not spiritual dispensation. That's why instead of drawing out the argument on why adults should be baptized the credo-baptist needs to prove that the Bible forbids his paedo friend from baptizing infants. Barring that he needs to show that there's no valid reason for baptizing infants using Covenant theology

But before we do, let's hear from the paedo-baptists on why they believe as they do. 

(Return to the index)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Credo Vs Paedo Baptism - a Half-way house

Although I initially ruled out a third option with regards to this debate, I’m going to explore the idea at this point and check to see if there’s any kind of stopping point or stable middle ground between the two views. To be successful the argument would need to locate baptism on grounds other than belief or promise—a tall order—but fortunately there is such a thing, the argument from discipleship:

P1: All disciples must be baptized (Matt 28:19)
P2: Children of believers are disciples (Acts 21:4-5)
C: Children of believers must be baptized

There’s a certain compelling logic to here. Does making discipleship the thing required for baptism answer the evidence in the New Testament? I think it does. Does it push both views to the middle? It certainly skewers the stricter Baptists by showing that children have a right to the sacrament. That means waiting for them to grow up and make an adult profession of faith is unbiblical, and the 9 Marks crowd and the Reformed Baptists have struck out. However the impact goes no further beyond them since the ordinary Baptist can dispute the meaning of the word disciple. He’ll argue that it means more than to train someone, it indicates a give-and-take, a question and answer, the kind of thing you see in a person taking dance instruction from an expert. Children can be discipled in this sense but infants can’t.

If that was the final word then we’d have our middle ground, for that would also make the Presbyterians uncomfortable and not allow them to baptize infants, but unfortunately it’s not the case. The Presbyterians can say discipleship is something you do to someone, not necessarily something they share in. Like the word “tempt” which can either mean “to try and entice someone” or “to be moved inwardly toward an opinion,” disciple means both, and the proper way to understand it is in the external sense only. It’s an obligation from the older disciple to the younger one. So this in my mind doesn’t settle the matter, it just moves the discussion five feet left. The Presbyterian imports his view, the Baptist his, the deadlock is once more engaged, and our suspicions are confirmed. There is no third choice.

However this argument isn’t entirely without effect. It does prove that the Reformed Baptists who want to wait until the person is old enough to vote in a presidential election before they’ll let him be baptized are operating in an unbiblical fashion. Even if disciple means “to participate” this argument shows that children who profess faith should be baptized.

And with that, here are my own personal conclusions on the matter

(Return to the Index

Credo Baptism -- The Argument

Note: this is the actual argument for the credo-baptist position, not an argument drawn from the New Testament evidences. 

There's no denying that the Presbyterians have cogent and logical based system in place to justify infant baptism in the New Testament. The problem for them is that it's all for naught since it's the Bible itself that puts forward a discontinuity regarding infant inclusion in the New Covenant. To show this we turn to Jeremiah 31. 

The Text

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The Argument

P1: Only those who are in the New Covenant should receive its sign.

P2: All those who are in the New Covenant have the forgiveness of sin.
C: Only those who have the forgiveness of sin should be baptized.

Premise one is conceded immediately by all paedo-baptists, so there's no need to offer a defense for it. 
Premise two is therefore the battleground for us, if we can firmly establish this then we've won the conclusion.

A Closer Look

The preamble (v31-32) is clear that unlike the Old Covenant, everyone in the New Covenant will be eternally faithful to God. That is, there's a time coming when unfaithfulness among God's people will be completely wiped out.
Gone will be the mixed multitude. Gone the idea that you can be in covenant and still unsaved. And likewise gone will be the unsaved receiving the sign of the covenant. That made sense when the sign was awarded based on bloodline, but now that forgiveness is the grounds for entrance to the covenant that problem is gone too. 
The easiest way to see this is to work backwards through the text, so we’ll start with the last promise first.
  1. Promise four is an explicit, straightforward statement about how God will forgive the iniquity of those within the covenant. It's, as we know, talking about faith. Therefore, since all those within the New Covenant have forgiveness of sins, we shouldn't apply the sign of it to infants who can't possess it.
  2. The third promise is regeneration, another work of grace exclusive to the elect. Now, thanks to this new covenant, God will cause His people to be born again into a living hope, just as it says in John 6:44-45, “No man can come to Me, unless the Father who has sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. As it is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall be all taught by God.’ Every man therefore who has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes to Me.”
    Here again, if the promise means those within the Covenant are regenerate, and baptism is the sign of the Covenant, then there are only two choices. Either baptism causes regeneration (which we know is false) or only the regenerate should receive the sign. And how do we know who those are? Because they bear fruits which are in keeping with repentance. Because they confess Christ.
  3. Promise two concerns what the New Testament calls adoption—although it’s couched in Old Testament terminology because until Christ the Fatherhood of God is not fully revealed. This promise is the outworking of forgiveness found in promise four; it’s the direct result of receiving the pronouncement of ‘not guilty’ from God, and it teaches us that at the moment of faith the elect are not only forgiven but reconciled, and drawn into a right relationship with God. As it says in Rev 21:7, “He that overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be My son.”
    Therefore those who are adopted should receive the sign. Adoption happens upon belief. Those who believe should be baptized.
  4. Finally, the first promise regards our sanctification and growing in grace. After we have been justified, adopted, and regenerated we are made progressively more holy as we keep the law in love. We abide in Him and His revelation, walking willingly with Him in joyful obedience. Something an infant can't do.

Together these four promises encompass all of salvation, their sum and substance is that in the New Covenant God is going to cause His chosen ones to obey His law, become born again, become His people, and be forgiven. And because we know that justification and regeneration are reserved for the sincere professors of faith, it must be the case that the entirety of the new covenant is reserved for, and concerns, salvation. It goes without saying then that given the terms of this covenant we're not to put the sign of it on someone just because they're born to believing parents. We're to put it on them because they're believers themselves. The imperfect is going away, and in it's place will be a pure and perfect people. 

Now not every Baptist is going to agree with the ordering as I've laid them out here. Some might see promise one as the indwelling of the Spirit and three as being about regeneration.  Well, fine. We all agree nonetheless that the point of the New Covenant is about salvation and in particular the forgiveness of sin, and that's what matters to construct the argument.

So with that said let's go on to the New Testament to show the proof that this is the correct view.

(Return to the Index)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Baptism Index

Introductory Remarks
The two main groups in the debate, the three possible options between them, and how I'm going to pursue this issue.

The Dispensationalist Argument for Credo-Baptism
The most common argument against the Presbyterian requires dispensationalism to introduce a covenant discontinuity.

The Argument for Padeo-baptism
Firstly, covenants are objective things. Secondly, the covenant with Abraham is a timeless covenant of salvation that spans redemptive history. 

The Evidence for Padeobaptism in the New Testament
The warning passages, the holiness of children, household baptism, the Apostles intent, Jesus baptizing, the weakness of the Baptist position all indicate Covenant Theology is correct and it's conclusions are sound.

The Argument for Credo-baptism
Jeremiah 31:32-34 indicates that the terms of the New Covenant show that only the saved are in it, therefore baptism should be given only to the saved, for only they are in the covenant.

The Evidence for Credo-baptism in the New Testament
There is an inseparable connection between verbal confession and baptism in the New Testament. 

The Argument for Credo-baptism II
Baptism in the Old Testament was done to adults to initiate them into the priesthood. Therefore baptism replaces baptism in the old testament, not circumcision, and there is no room to give the sign to babies.

A Tertium Quid?

Following up with the hypothesis from the introduction that there's no stable middle ground.

Evaluating the Debate
The reason this debate is often fruitless, and what I've learned about baptism.

Biblical Examination Concluded
Which side I see as more Biblical and why

Miscellaneous Objections Answered
Paedo-baptism defended from some very good objections.

Early Church Beliefs
Evidence for which side has the Apostolic tradition
and early church history on their side.

Paedo vs Credo, A Summary
The post which concisely condenses the information that matters.

Some Personal Thoughts
On a surprising event which happened after concluding this series   

Bonus: R.C. Sproul and Alistair Begg debate infant baptism
This is debate from my two favorite theologians had absolutely everything in it. It was amazing.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Covenants Defined X - Hoist and Raise the Kiddies

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Well you’ve probably guessed where this is going. As a result of a sustained amount of intense study on covenants I’m now much more Presbyterian than Baptist (though let me hasten to add that I’m not fully sold on household baptism yet).
It seems that the path I’ve taken to get here is very different from the others I’ve talked to, since they summarized their reason for switching as, “the warning passages made more sense this way.”

To be sure there’s something to that—how else can you be in Christ and be lost unless the covenant is larger than salvation? And in Romans 11 it doesn’t say the Gentiles were grafted onto the tree by faith to begin with, it only says that they may be broken off if they become unbelievers. That makes a good case that the New Covenant is larger than belief, which would mean both the regenerate and non-regenerate are in it. 
There’s also something to be said for how the Presbyterian scheme makes better sense out of 1 Cor 7 and the other child inclusive passages. Paul instructs the children to obey their parents, but if the Baptists were right he should rather have said, “parents, make sure your children obey you.” Instead it’s “children obey your parents in the Lord,” indicating he’s talking to the children who are a part of the church. Good point.

However for me the pivotal battle took place in the Baptist stronghold of Jeremiah 31:

“I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

A Brief Background

These statements echo the warnings and chastisements found elsewhere in the book of Jeremiah exactly. By the time we get to chapter 31 we’ve already seen how the Levites refused to teach the law to everyone (Jer 2:8) and how Israel refused to worship God (Jer 7:23-24). We saw how the people didn’t want to know the Lord (Jer 9:5-7), for their desire from the least to the greatest was to do evil (Jer 6:13). As a result their sins were multiplying out of control (Jer 30:15). The sum of which is that Israel stubbornly refused to obey God until He brought down the curses upon them and sent them into exile.

It’s into this background of disobedience that the promise of the new covenant comes. This time the law will reach the people. This time God will pour out His blessing on them for keeping it. This time they will not refuse to know the Lord, but will all, from the least to the greatest know Him. This time He will forgive their sins. This time there will be no exile.

And why is that? Because it was made with a better people? As a Baptist that’s what I’d always assumed of course. I thought that the reason God made the new covenant with the elect rather than the mixed multitude was so that He could be assured they’d not break it this time. But that’s wrong because apart from the work of God there is no difference between us and them. 
The Presbyterians come away from this subjective idea a little bit by saying that although some of the people will break the covenant, enough will be faithful that the covenant curses stay at arms length. They’d conceded the bulk of the argument to the Baptists in agreeing that blessings are predicated on the faithfulness of the people, but they’d also added a minor secondary reason of God’s faithfulness. That small idea when stoked by Doug Van Dorn’s Reformed Baptist Covenant Primer would prove to be my undoing.

I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel

With apologies to all the academics and Calmenians out there, there are only two ways of understanding Jeremiah 31: either God is unveiling the mystery of personal salvation (the subjective, Baptist reading) or He’s making a promise and revelation about Jesus (the objective, Presbyterian one).

In favor of the Presbyterian view is the fact that the Mosaic covenant wasn’t instituted to save the people, but to show them their sins. There was a priest, but it was impossible for him to take away sin (Heb 10:4). There was an intercessor pleading for mercy, but God’s response was to effectively ignore him, saying, “I will have mercy upon those whom I will have mercy.”

Also in favor of the Presbyterian view is the fact that all the other covenants except the one to Levi are about Jesus, and include us by extension, rather than us. It makes sense that the one to Levi is now going to be taken by Christ and lifted up, so that Christ may be all and in all.

For these reasons the Baptist errs in compressing the New Covenant to be a subjective work that terminates on the elect. The correct understanding of it is that God is building on the framework He established previously at Sinai. This time there’s going to be a mediator who puts the law not on tablets of stone but on the hearts of the people. This time someone will actually keep the law before God. This time the intermediary will do all God asks of Him. This time there will be no separation between God and His people, for the priest will make an offering that actually atones for sin.

That’s Jesus. And notice that this new covenant is first and foremost His work toward the Father. He makes a sacrifice. He is the offering. He is the priest. He bears the wrath. These are all objective things. The temple curtain is torn, the need for animal sacrifices is ended. Men are now saveable. That’s why the covenant curses will never fall. That’s why there will be no more exile. The New Covenant can’t be broken—because Christ has lived the perfect sinless life and by His death has propitiated the wrath of the Father. Whether the people stay on God’s good side or not, it’s eternally, unchangeably true that Christ is the mediator of a new and better covenant, purchased by His blood.

I say first and foremost because while new covenant is the full and final revelation of Christ, personal salvation is the direct outgrowth of it. Christ has reconciled God to us in the New Covenant, but now God is going to use that work to reconcile us to Him in salvation. This human side now involves the work of the Holy Spirit, the act of regeneration, and the application of Christs purchased pardon on our behalf, whereas the objective side didn’t involve us at all. That’s why union with Christ and being under the New Covenant promises aren’t equivalent. It’s the difference between having understanding and having belief. It’s the difference between having the sheet music in front of you and playing the piece. The New Covenant is the external reality that makes inward salvation possible. We can see its effects best on those who are regenerated and trust in Christ, but it’s not equivalent to that. That’s why Abraham circumcised everyone in his house but was counted righteous by faith in the promises.

The Proof

The longer I looked at the Baptist view in Jeremiah 31 the more the cracks began to show. Was ‘they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest’ really abolishing evangelism? Was it a revelation of regeneration? If it was then how could it also be the promise itself that the Baptists claim? If this passage is the cornerstone of Baptist doctrine and its not holding up then what does? Even so it wasn’t this doubt which settled the objective interpretation as being correct in my own mind, it was seeing the consequences of it played out in the rest of the Bible that did it.

For if the Baptist understanding of the New Covenant (subjective salvation) is correct, then we should see a New Testament book on salvation take up the text and explain it. Romans, for example, the treatise on justification by faith alone, should at some point deal with the text. But it doesn’t. The only mention of the New Covenant is in Rom 11:27, and that’s only quoted offhand for applicational purposes, not for explanatory purposes.

If however the Presbyterians were right then the promises of Jeremiah 31 belong in a book like Hebrews which shows Christ to be a priest, a law giver, a prophetic mediator, and a perfect law keeper (notice they are all objective things). And that’s exactly where we find them. Accept the Presbyterian model and you get the book of Hebrews. It’s all there, the covenant warnings, the person of Christ, the objective and subjective work, even the positional ordering of the ideas matches.

So that’s the brief sketch of why I switched. I now grudgingly admit the Presbyterians were right about the New Covenant all along and I wasn’t.

So that’s it. Let me wrap this up by giving one final word of warning for all the Classic Calvinist Baptists out there: tread lightly my friends. You may think your position is robust, but you don’t realize how fragile the thing really is. Unless you’re clad in the armor of the Federalist High Calvinism then be very very careful about studying covenants (do it ever so lightly). And if in the future if you start to see salvation as being procured in an objective fashion for the elect and then given in subjective fashion to them, run for the hills and never think such thoughts again. Or you'll end up like me.

Continue on to one more thought in passing

Arrival, Humanity, and Jesus

I recently rented Arrival (a worthy movie about aliens coming to Earth to communicate with us) and was immediately struck by the forcef...