Thursday, December 31, 2015

Paedo vs Credo Baptism: Introductory Remarks

Having decided the Presbyterians were right about the concept of covenants, I now wearily set myself to solve the next problem: were they also right about baptism? Is baptism a profession of faith, or the sign for a household in the new covenant?

At first glance the two traditions didn’t seem that dissimilar. We both regard baptism as a sacrament. We both baptize people who may or may not actually be saved. Both see baptism as ushering people 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. I’m going to make an honest effort to sort out which is the more Biblical, and I’m going to use this blog as a scratch pad to do it. Before I begin then I need to say a few words about how I intend to approach this issue.

First, I’m purposely narrowing the scope of my study at the outset to Baptists vs Presbyterians. In reality there is something like six views of baptism: Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Lutheran, and Anglican. Of these I’m not going to consider the Catholic position because I think the view is too strongly objective, the Anglican and Lutheran by similarity to the Presbyterian, and I’m going to dismiss the Church of Christ because I’m no longer in the Churches of Christ for a variety of reasons. This series will only be pitting the Baptist against the Presbyterian—and no more.

Secondly, for this debate I’ll be putting on the hat of the side I’m arguing for and presenting the best possible case I can in that tradition. So when making the case for the Presbyterian I'm going to argue as if I were one, and when it’s the Baptists turn I’m going to do my best to put down everything I believe in good working order. I’m also going to try and avoid critiquing while presenting, because I want the views to be seen for what they are and not how I feel about them. From now Baptist will be denoted by “credo-baptist” and Presbyterian or Reformed will be denoted as “paedo-baptist.”

Third, I'll be taking the foundational assumptions required by each tradition and simply accepting them. The paedo points the finger and says, "You threw the kids out of the covenant, the burden of proof is on you to show the evidence for a discontinuity in familial solidarity." The credo fires back, "Where does it say kids should be baptized? They’re not in the New Covenant." So to simply things I’m just going to say everyone is right.

Fourth, ultimately only one side can be correct. Either baptism is inseparably connected with faith and only those who make a profession of it should be baptized, or the lack of overturning the established Old Testament pattern indicates the children of believers are in covenant with God and warrant the sign. I don't see a tertium quid. Either infants should be baptized, or they shouldn't. If infant baptism is Biblical then I don't see why infants should be denied it, and 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 a third option somehow presents itself over the course of this study then I'll look into it, but for now I’m going to work under the principle that these two views are mutually exclusive.

Now for an outline of how I think this "debate" is going to go based on my research and readings so far. From what I can tell there are essentially four credo and two paedo arguments that make the point for their tradition.

C1: The Old Testament was a physical era, not the spiritual one we have today. Giving the sign of the covenant to infants made sense when that sign was a physical bloodline marker and not the sign of faith in Christ, but now that we’re a spiritual people we shouldn’t take our spiritual sign and put it on a physical seed as though we’re still living in a bygone era.

C2: The New Testament indicates baptism is for those who make a credible profession of faith. It never indicates otherwise.

C3: The terms of the New Covenant state that those who are in the New Covenant are regenerate and forgiven. Since we’re brought into this New Covenant of salvation by profession of faith (and not by being born into a Christian family) it is obvious that Baptism is only for the professing believer (and therefore not for the infant).

C4: Because the sign of Baptism was given to adults and not infants in the Old Testament, it should be given to adults and not infants in the New Testament.

P1: God has established that covenant signs are for believers and their families. Children are likewise to receive baptism which is the sign of the New Covenant.

P2: The Covenant of Grace was initially given circumcision as its sign, and in the fullness of time God replaced circumcision with baptism. Since God demanded circumcision be given to infants we should give baptism to infants.

In the coming posts I’ll take each of these in order, then I'll attempt to see which worldview makes more sense of the evidence of Scripture, then I'll see which Scripture points to. So I begin with the first argument: 

Credo-Baptism: The Dispensationalist Argument

Dispensationalism is a popular interpretative principle in American Christianity which states that God has broken up redemptive history into time slices, each with their own rules and administrations. He dealt with us one way before the flood, another way after Abraham, a different way after Moses, and so on. Although most people associate Dispensationalism with a sudden rapture followed by a tribulation period, dispensationalism is really about of two key ideas: in a new dispensation the old rules are wiped out and the Jews as a people are separate from the Church.

Although dispensationalists themselves disagree about how many eras there are, whether three, or seven, or twelve, they all agree that the rules are unique in every era. When God open a new chapter in history it’s because He’s intent on closing the old one, along with the old rules that have proven to no longer work. As Christ Himself said, nobody puts new wine into old wineskins. So while the Jews were not to wear garments of mixed threads or light fires on the Sabbath, these rules are not specifically re-instituted in our dispensation, and so we're not required to obey them. The New Testament explicitly evidences this when it speaks of certain commands and principles in the Old Testament being abolished, and providence (such as the demolition of the temple in Jerusalem which ended animal sacrifices) proves the same. This fresh-start rule applies to both the moral laws as well as the ceremonial laws, but it should be mentioned that the Ten Commandments are all restated in the New Testament (except for Sabbath keeping) so dispensationalism is not anti-nomianism or an excuse to do evil. God isn’t promoting unholiness by periodically hitting reset, He’s just doing away with irrelevant cultural markers that keep people from seeing Him for who He is.

The second key mark of dispensationalism is that the Jews are a physical people, distinct from Christians. In the days of Abraham they were given circumcision as an ethic marker, but today He’s dealing predominately with the Church as an interim solution (or a parenthetical) until they come to their senses. In practice this works out to an assertion that God has two distinct peoples: the Jews and the Christians. The Jews are characterized by bloodlines, families, circumcisions, law-keeping, sacrifice, and theocracy. Christians are characterized by spiritual families, baptism, and salvation by faith (although I should mention that most modern dispensationalists agree that in every era salvation has been by grace through faith. Scofield may have believed the Jews were saved by law keeping, but the people who still hold to his ideas by in large disagree). 

Dispensationalism appears to be composed of two ideas working together, but it may instead be the case that one idea is towing the other. If so, the question becomes “Which idea is the primary and which is the corollary?” to which my answer is, “I don't know. I think you can make the case both ways.

If you consider the Bible from back to front you get the idea that God has a people He’s going to save, and that He used the Jews for a time to bring about their salvation. In that case you start with the idea the Jews were a physical people and conclude that He must be resetting the rules as He goes. Going the other way, by Genesis 10 you’ve seen God change the game a few times and it's only reasonable to conclude that in every redemptive era He has a way of doing things unique to that age. From that, it’s natural to conclude that the New Testament is uniquely focused on salvation, and therefore that the Jews were featured in a few earthly dispensations, but not the heavenly one we Christians are now in.
Or perhaps neither guess is the proper starting point for dispensationalism. Perhaps the original idea was, “The Jews in Jesus day continually sought an earthly kingdom because God promised them an earthly kingdom. This must mean the Jews are God’s earthly people.” In that case the discontinuity between the Testaments arises as a way to avoid the conclusion that God’s promises to His people failed.
Or perhaps it’s something else. Regardless, I think it’s fair to characterize dispensationalism as teaching both that God has two peoples, and that the rules for each people are different.
/End Aside
You can immediately see the relevance to the baptism debate here. Abraham was told to circumcise his infant child who was in the covenant, 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, therefore applying the sign of the New Covenant to infants is an idea born of misplaced tradition and is totally foreign to the Scriptures. You might put the syllogism like this:

P1: Only explicitly affirmed commands are valid during redemptive eras.
P2: The Christian era (in which we now live) is a distinct era in redemptive history.
P3: God never explicitly instructed those in the Christian era to baptize their infant children.
C: We should not baptize infant children.

Premise one and two together cut off any continuity from Abraham or Jewish tradition of infants receiving a sign, and premise one and three drive directly to the conclusion. Alternatively, we could base the argument on the other pillar for dispensationalism and frame the argument like this:

P1: God instructed the Jewish people to put a sign on their infant offspring.
P2: The Christian people are distinct from the Jewish people.
C: God has not instructed Christians to put a sign on their infant offspring.

Here premise one is immediately concluded by everyone, premise two is foundational to dispensationalism, and the conclusion immediately follows from it. We’re not Jews, therefore we should not constrains ourselves to Jewish rules.

And that’s all I can think to say about it. This is a pretty straightforward argument that features limited proofs and no real surprises. If you accept that God is unambiguously clear when He sets up a rule, that the rules get cleared out in every dispensation, and that we are living in a dispensation different than Abraham lived in, then the idea of putting the sign of the covenant on an infant is immediately and totally ruled out. Case closed.

Next: the Inductive Argument for Credo-Baptism

(Return to the index)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Credo & Paedo Baptism: A Common Middle Ground?

Before I started digging into this topic I was skeptical about there being a stable middle ground between the Baptist the Presbyterian views on Baptism. I reasoned that if such a thing could exist then it should already exist—but it doesn’t, therefore there it can’t. Not exactly a rigorous proof, but it is a useful rule of thumb for simplifying things. The other problem I saw was that the Churches of Christ attempted to find a stable middle ground through compromise two hundred years ago and ended up with something completely unique.

As I began to sort out the arguments on both sides however the idea of locating baptism on the grounds discipleship occurred to me. Might it not be possible for the Baptist view of promise to God and the Presbyterian view of promise from God to be bypassed? If so, the argument from discipleship might perhaps work. It would go something like this:

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.

At first glance this seemed to push the age of baptism down for the credo-baptists, and fits well with the evidence in Acts the Baptist holds in such high regard (since all who were baptized also became disciples at the same time). It also seemed to push the age of baptism up for the paedo-baptist, since infants can't really be disciples. And if nothing else it skewers the stricter credo-baptists into accepting that children have a right to baptism, and that the idea waiting for them to grow up and make an adult profession of faith before letting them have the sacrament is wrong.

But unfortunately that’s as far as this idea can go, because before either side will compromise they start disputing meaning of the word disciple. The credo-baptists will argue that a disciple is someone who can give-and-take, a question-and-answerer, a trainee taking dance instruction from an expert. In this sense children can be disciples but infants can’t, so infants are not valid candidates for baptism. The paedo-baptist on the other hand will say discipleship is something you do to someone, not necessarily something they share in. Just as the word “tempt” can either mean “to outwardly attempt to entice someone” or “to be moved inwardly toward sin,” the word “disciple” should be understand in the external sense only. It’s an obligation from the older disciple to train the younger one, and in this sense an infant can be disciple, making them a valid candidate for baptism.

So this notion of locating baptism on the grounds of discipleship doesn’t settle the matter, it just moves the discussion five feet left. The credo-baptists imports his preconceptions, the paedo-baptists his, and the deadlock is once more engaged. So on the whole my suspicions are confirmed that there is no stable middle ground between the credo and paedo-baptists. 

Having presented both sides, let’s now try and sort out which is the more Biblical. To that end I’m now going to work through a handful of tough New Testament problems and see how well each side handles it. 

Next: How each definition of baptism fits the New Testament Evidence

(Return to the Index)

Credo-Baptism: The Particular Baptist Argument

The Dispensationalist Argument for credo-baptism explicitly states that there’s a discontinuity in history which eliminates the requirement for the church to have things like covenant signs. The Inductive Argument more or less accepts a discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments on the grounds that baptism isn’t present in the Old Testament, and draws the appropriate conclusion from there—but this can turn into a weakness if challenged by the paedo-baptist. “It seems like you’ve assumed a discontinuity from the Old Testament as necessary foundation to this argument,” they might say, “can you give me a reason for this assumption? Can you defend the idea of a discontinuity?” What I’m calling the Particular Baptist Argument for credo-baptism defends the assumption.

In the Scriptures there are the covenants of promises (plural) in the Old Testament and the covenant of salvation (singular) in the New Testament, breaking thing down neatly as Jesus is promised and Jesus arrives. The covenants of promise prepared His people to accept and understand His appearance, while the New Covenant is the fulfillment, the salvation that was spoken of. Take as proof Jeremiah 31:31-34 which says:

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, not 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. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:
[1] I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.
[2] And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
[3] And 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.
[4] For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

In the Old Testament God promises to Jeremiah that a New Covenant is coming, and that unlike the Old Covenant He made with them at Sinai which the people subsequently broke, their unfaithfulness will be replaced with perfect faithfulness this time around. Previously God’s people were born into a breakable Old Covenant and automatically received the sign of circumcision to show it, but now in the unbreakable New Covenant God’s people enter by faith and receive the mark of baptism to evidence their covenant participation. The meaning of baptism then is attached to the moment you’re born again and not the moment you exit your mother’s womb, it represents a once-for-all forgiveness of sin brought on by identifying with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection by faith. As a syllogism it looks like this:

P1: Only those who are in the New Covenant should receive baptism.
P2: Those in the New Covenant have received forgiveness by faith.
C: Only those who have received forgiveness by faith should receive baptism.
Premise one is granted by the paedo-baptists, so we don’t need to defend it. Premise two is carrying the weight of the argument, so that’s what we need to convincingly establish if we want to win the conclusion. But the beautiful part about this argument is that we can simply appeal to the text of Jeremiah and have the Scriptures make the case for us. Look above, starting at the sentence denoted by [4]. It’s an explicit, straightforward promise about how God will forgive the iniquity of those within the covenant. The text of Scripture literally becomes the second premise of the argument—taking it beyond the ability of the paedo-baptist to question.

That’s pretty open and shut, but I think it’s good to walk backwards through the rest of it anyway to show how it’s directly applicable to buttressing the second premise.  
Promise [3] is speaking regeneration, a work of grace exclusive to the elect, for regeneration is by definition a permanent change of the heart brought on by the Holy Spirit which cannot be reversed. This helps flesh out our understanding of baptism a little better, because it tells us that baptism is connected to God’s people being born again into a living hope by the renewal of their wills. It indicates that the regenerate (those who have their affections fixed to serving God forever) should receive the sign of baptism. And how do we know who the regenerate are? Because they bear fruits which are in keeping with repentance. Because they confess Christ and walk with Him by faith.

Promise [2] concerns what the New Testament calls adoption—although it’s couched in Old Covenant 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 the Father. 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.” It teaches us that baptism is for those who have been adopted into God’s family by faith.

Finally, promise [1] regards our sanctification which is accomplished by the Holy Spirit living within us. After we have been justified, adopted, and regenerated we are made a fit place to live for God. By faith we abide in Him and walk willingly with Him in joyful obedience. So baptism is for those who have the Holy Spirit, as demonstrated by Cornelius in Acts 11.

These four promises show that in the New Covenant God is going to cause His chosen ones to obey His law, be born again, become His people, and be forgiven of their sins. And because we know that these are all closely tied to faith, it must be the case that the entirety of the New Covenant is reserved for, and concerns, the faithful. That’s what baptism is about.
/End Aside
In sum, those who are in the New Covenant by faith have the forgiveness of sin, therefore, those who have the forgiveness of sin should be baptized. When paired with the Inductive Argument these two arguments together make a strong case that baptism is not to be administered to infants, but should be reserved only for confessors. 

Now for the fourth and final argument for credo-baptism, the idea that baptism is for adults in the Old Testament and not for infants, and that the New Testament should reflect that.

Next: the Continuity of Baptism Argument for Credo-Baptism

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Baptism Index

Introductory Remarks
What prompted this series, how it will be structured, and and how I'm going to pursue this issue.

The Dispensationalist Argument for Credo-Baptism
There's no evidence we should be giving baptism to infants in the Christian era. 

The New Testament evidence indicates baptism is reserved for those who make a credible profession of faith. 

The Particular Baptist Argument for Credo-Baptism
Jeremiah 31:32-34 indicates those in the New Covenant are eternally secure, therefore baptism should be reserved for those who are in the New Covenant by profession of faith.

The Old Testament speaks of Baptism being given to make priests fit to serve God. It should therefore only be given to those who are becoming fit to serve God in the New Testament.

Baptism is a covenant sign, and Scripture consistently indicates that covenant signs are to be given to infants.

Scripture speaks of a singular plan of salvation. In the Old Testament that was indicated by the sign of circumcision, in the New Testament it is indicated by the sign of baptism. 

A Tertium Quid?
Following up with the hypothesis from the introduction that there's no stable middle ground between these two views.

Putting the Two Frameworks to the Test

The warning passages, the holiness of children, household baptism, the Apostles intent, Jesus baptizing, and more.

Examining the evidence that Paedo-Baptism asserts that the New Testament builds on the framework established in the Old Testament.

A discontinuity is present between the Old and New testaments which decouple baptism from circumcision and the rest of the covenant signs. 

Early Church Beliefs Part I

What the Council of Carthage says about the Paedo vs Credo debate.

A collection of quotes directly relevant to the debate from the church fathers that immediately proceeded the Apostles.

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.

They assert I don't know what I'm talking about. I defend my positions and reasoning. 

My Baptist Pastors Take another shot at it
They assert I haven't defended my premises well. I show examples.
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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Covenants Defined IX - Defense of the Subjective Interpretation

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Because I didn't want the objective view of covenants to be right, I put it to the community to help me figure out where my analysis was faulty. Here’s what they had to say.

Federalist Argument

Premise 1: According to Romans 5:17-19 there are only two mutually exclusive Federal heads that a person can be under: Adam or Christ.
Premise 2: To be in covenant with someone is to be under their headship.
Premise 3: Those who are still in their sin are under Adams headship.
Conclusion: a covenant cannot be defined in the objective terms, only in the subjective sense.

This is interesting in that it might explain the rise of the Baptist view point out of a pretty well universal sea of infant baptism. When the divines began experimenting with federalism this argument emerged to establish the Baptist stance. (Although I haven’t studied the reasons for it so I’m just speculating here).

Broadly speaking there are only two options, either you are in Christ, or you are in Adam. Either you are saved or you are damned. But this is a sleight of hand since we're not talking about the broad sweep of human destiny but about covenants.
That aside there are two big problems with this argument that makes me shy away from it.
The first is the amount of weight being placed on premise one, a statement that amounts to nothing more than a bare assertion. Where does the Bible speak of Adam as my federal head? Where does it say he was my spokesman, acting on my behalf? Where does it say I authorized or approved of his behavior? Since none of this is in the Bible, why do I need federalism as a model? It doesn’t seem to actually add any explanatory power to the text and would therefore not qualify as a necessary inference.

Likewise, premise three presupposes the thing being discussed. “A covenant is salvation.” It says. “Those who are in the new covenant are saved. Therefore if you are in the new covenant you are saved.” But that’s just the thing I’m trying to figure out. Can you be under the new covenant and be unsaved, just like you could under all the other previous ones?
For this reason the argument doesn’t hold up very well.


The Lack of Evidence Argument

P1: This covenant features promises of regeneration, forgiveness of sin, and salvation to the people, not Christ.
P2: A covenant cannot be about what is not mentioned.
C: Because Christ is not mentioned here; we should not infer His presence. The subjective argument is sufficient to explain the text.

Once again this is an argument for the subjective view that first depends on adopting the subjective view. “If you adopt our side, then you will see that it’s right!” No doubt. But can you prove it to be right when I don’t adopt those first principles?

Look, we’re agreed that the promise is given to Israel. We’re also agreed that under the new Covenant the people are going to be saved because they keep the law. What I’m having trouble figuring out is if that’s because Christ is going to do the law keeping for them, or because they are going to be empowered to keep the law better this time. An argument that says the second is valid and the first is not—because it’s just not dangit—is a non-starter.

I mean, I’m sympathetic to the subjective view, I really am. I’ve held it all my life. I even think there might be something in this line of reasoning that can get me back on stable ground. But let’s be fair here, this isn’t it. Christ has been the subject of every covenant thus far, and with Him, His work. Even granting the subjective reading is the right one (which I don’t) the conclusion doesn’t follow. There may be a perfectly good reason for the covenant to be given in these terms. Perhaps it’s because the final reconciliation between God and sinful man is the greatest measure of the work of Christ. Perhaps just as the temple in Ezekiel under the new covenant was given as a really awesome new version of the temple they’d had, so too may God be couching the language of reconciliation in existing experiences. Perhaps there’s a third or fourth option on why the new covenant is spelled out that way. I don't know anymore. Convince me.


High or Hyper Calvinists Argument

P1: The New Covenant is in Christ’s blood.
P2: That blood, unlike the blood of animals, actually saves. Christ has already accomplished redemption.
C: There is no room to speak of a covenant in the objective sense. The work of Christ was expressly and effectually for the elect.

This argument delights me a great deal for its cleverness. The first premise looks like it’s going to make a pull for the objective reading, but then premise two comes along and equates covenant to salvation and bam! Case closed. It also has the hallmark of simplicity and straightforwardness to it, a natural elegance to it that frankly impresses me. It also explains why high or hyper Calvinism is so strong in Baptist circles, and why Baptists tend to drift toward Owen rather than Dabney. That’s a question that’s always bothered me—why do the Baptists tend to drift “upward” but Presbyterians “downward”? Why have I seen this “five point Calvinism” business held much more strictly amongst the Baptists? This would be the answer.

As for being true however it leaves something to be desired. There is an objective work of Christ toward an offended God. There is common grace. God does desire that everyone repent. Jesus removed their legal obstacles, so now anyone can come to Him if they but have faith. That’s why He died as a man, paying the equivalent, but not the exact punishment of sin. He was the second Adam, not the second Abraham. At His death Jesus propitiates the wrath of a very angry, and very holy God, making Him both willing and able to forgive sinners. Which sinners? Any.

To assert that Christ’s blood is so powerful that it automatically saves does eliminate the need to believe in an objective element to His work, and does neatly rule out the Presbyterian idea of a covenant. However it also means the elect are eternally justified. And if that’s the case then why do I need to do anything about anything? Baptize or not, what does it matter? Believe or not believe—who cares? What difference does any of it make? You can’t really back out into a distinction between redemption accomplished and redemption applied either since according to this view redemption accomplished is sufficient for salvation.
So I’ll just have to rule this one out as a valid answer on the grounds that it over proves its point


The Equality Argument

P1: The objective view makes the New Covenant the same as the Old.
P2: ?
C: The objective understanding is therefore unsuitable.

I’m honestly not sure what the missing premise is here. For that reason I’m going to have to just skip this one. 


Paul Doesn’t Agree

Here’s a good one that Benjamin Ledford brought forward.
P1: In the Objective view, being in covenant happens logically prior to salvation, since our union with Christ flows from a proper response to it.
P2: Galatians 3:27 doesn’t allow this since it says those who have been baptized have put on Christ (indicating oneness with Him).
C: Union with Christ is the result of covenant, not one of two possible outcome of being in covenant.

Let me think about this for a minute. The first premise is probably right. For sure it’s true that a kid who grows up in the church is under the covenant before they’re saved. For an adult who hears the truth about Christ and believes…well it’s more likely than not, although I can imagine a scenario where upon first hearing the truth about who Christ is and what He’s done the man believes and is united to Christ by faith. But let’s grant it though. Just as regeneration logically precedes faith, so too does being under the covenant logically precede being united to Christ. Covenant is to union what knowledge is to faith. Does that get us anywhere?

I’m not sure. It seems like Paul would also need to be talking about putting on Christ in a salvific sense rather than putting Him on in a covenantal sense in premise two. Given the context of how the church desired to be under the Mosaic or old law I’m not sure that’s a sure thing either. Paul might be saying, “Those of you who have accepted the revelation of Christ as the perfect law keeper, the perfect law giver, the God-man, have demonstrated your faith in him through baptism. Why are you trying to go back to keeping the law yourself? If you accept the revelation of Christ as the fulfillment then what need of you for this?”
In that case, bringing in salvation to this text isn’t necessary. The interpretation holds up fairly consistently without it.

If however it is valid and Paul is talking about salvation then it would need to be the case that baptism and union happen together for the conclusion to follow. That is, it cannot be the case that you are united by faith and later baptized. And like the last argument, that proves too much.


Further Evidence for Subjective View

P1: The focus of the New Covenant elsewhere in the Bible is on the people themselves.
Jer 31:32 says the covenant is not going to be like the one at Sinai where the people were deficient and broke the covenant. The thrust is on the people themselves, as Heb 8:8 says, “He found fault with them...”
Ezek 34:25 speak to God giving the people a covenant of peace, which would cause them to dwell in safety. This is obviously the New Covenant. Connected to it is the promise that God would sprinkle pure water on the people and cause them to keep His statues, Ezek 36:25-27. This is obviously regeneration. Therefore the emphasis in both times is on the regeneration of the people.
Rom 2:28-29, Phil 3:3, call those men Jews who were Jews inwardly, indicating that regeneration was is the key issue.
C: Therefore the subjective understanding of covenants is correct.

This one is very similar to the lack of evidence argument above, but it does appeal to other places in the Bible, and for that I’m grateful. However, here again it doesn’t seem to me that the conclusion follows from the premise. Just because the New Covenant will make for a superior people doesn’t mean that the New Covenant is about the people. Just because the New Covenant won’t be broken doesn’t mean that it’s because the people are keeping it better. You try to grab at this one and it's like a cloud, it goes right through your fingers.
I’m also not sure those two New Testament verses belong in the evidence pile either. Attacking the notion that the old Covenant was a mixed community is a plan that’s just not going anywhere. The Old Covenant was clearly made with a people who were made up of both believers and non-believers.

Further, even granting all this, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s still is no response to those five reasons the objective explanation looks stronger. All this does is amount to asserting again that the new covenant is about a people, not a priest.

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