Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Paedo vs Credo Baptism: Most Biblical Award

One of the things that either Immanuel Baptist Church or old age has taught me is that its never wrong to take your time before making big decisions when there's no urgency. As a consequence I've held off on making any kind of judgment on this topic until I could do the following: 
  1. Explain everything clearly to my four year old.
  2. Defend myself in a social media knife fight against all theological comers while wearing either uniform.
  3. Never say, "I don't know."
At long last I feel like I’m strong enough to do these things. Not that I know all there is to know about Baptism mind you, or Baptist theology, or even that I’m an expert in paedo-baptism. I don't, and I'm not. But I do have basic mastery now, and that’s what I was aiming for. 

Some people feel comfortable switching sides on less information. They are comfortable either being a little mixed up or admitting that they haven’t thought all the objections because they feel the weight of the New Testament was sufficiently convincing. Not me. For me mystery was never an option, and I was comitted to do what it takes to avoid that as an answer. I was staying up until the wee hours of the night, every night, reading mountains of books to try and understand things and not getting enough sleep. My mania got so bad the kids actually started praying for me at bedtime and my normally too-busy pastors stopped by to recommended I give the thing a rest (Ecc 12:12). That was probably good advice. I didn’t take it.

If you’ve been following my journal from the beginning you've probibly realized by now that I took a route through this mountain pass that as far as I can tell nobody else has ever taken before. For me this study began as an accidental outgrowth of trying to understand what the covenants in the Old Testament were really about. Eventually I became convinced that covenants were objective revelations about Jesus, who He is and what He does. But not being a dispensationalist I immediately began to feel the weight of this decision with regards to the signs, because now I was suddenly vulnerable to paedo-baptism. I had no answer to a lot of really good questions, such as, “If covenants are objective and signs are objective, then why is the New Covenant sign of baptism given in a subjective fashion? Why are the Presbyterians wrong to give the sign objectively to their infants?”
Reason demanded an answer.
“Obviously because the New Testament doesn’t support it,” came my riposte.
Doesn’t it? Aren’t you just assuming that? Would that convince a paedo-baptist? Do better.”
“Alright, the New Testament doesn’t support applying the sign of baptism to infants because of the evident discontinuity between the Testaments. The physical seed element is fulfilled in Christ and now we are a spiritual family, a spiritual people.”
“On what grounds? Show the evidence for the discontinuity from the text, don’t just assume it.” 

On what grounds. Those three words haunted me. Unlike every other covenant which features children by dent of the familial solidarity, physical children were now kicked out of the New Covenant. On what grounds were they kicked out? It was fine if it was true, I just needed to show my work. 

It turned out I couldn’t. But I figured there was someone out there smarter than me who could. So I began to read. And woe to me, I immediately came across the Ontological paedo-baptism argument from Dr. Gaffen regarding Romans 4:11 which stated that the covenant sign with Abraham was of the objective righteousness of Christ. That was real trouble because it comported exactly with the conclusion I’d come to regarding covenants, and it made perfect sense. And now I was no longer on a walk-about through this doctrine, I was fighting for my life as a Baptist. So I read fanatically. I read Grudem, MacAurthur, Begg, Van Dorn, Cosby, Welty, Wellum, White, and Piper for strength (amongst others), and Bavnick, Hodge, Dabney, Sproul, Duncan, Renihan, Warfield, Strawbridge, Poythress for weaknesses. I read terrible arguments from famous men, and I read gems from internet nobodies. I listened to my own pastors discuss the issues and read the lengthy argument Bob Gonzalez posted the matter. I read until I eventually noticed the pattern: regardless of how good the presenter was or how competent his argument was, the paedo always went to the New Testament to show how the old carries forward, while the credo always tried to make a case for the discontinuity. That didn’t make me happy because that’s not a winning long term strategy for credo-baptism.

The evidence stacked up higher and higher for the paedo-baptist until my moral broke and I panicked. I went all in for my credo-baptist beliefs: I'd quit the whole pretense of fairness and focused exclusively on looking for the weakness in the paedo-baptist system. I began to feel stupid because although I could put my paedo-baptist hat on and point out the flaw in the credo-baptist model, I couldn't do it going the other way. The best I could do was claim paedo-baptism was built on shaky interpretive principles—a construct, an imported pre-existing sub-biblical scheme of looking at the text. But hadn’t I leveled exactly this same charge against Calvinism? It brought little comfort since it didn't explain the discrepancy in New Testament evidence.
Looking more closely still I decided what I didn't like most about the Presbyterian scheme was the idea of putting the symbol of an objective righteousness on someone before they had saving faith. That conclusion was pretty stupid, actually, because it was God who instituted the scheme with Abraham to begin with. 

But the night I really realized I was sunk was when I did question 19 of the New City catechism with the kids. Question 19 asks, "Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God's favor?"
My 4 year old shook his head sadly and said no, man was sinful and it was hopeless for him to try. I praised his good answer and urged him to think about it again. 

"Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God's favor? Don't only think about earning salvation this time."
"Ooh!" My 6 year old had it, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household."
"Ah there it is. Yes, we are justified by faith. Well done."
Then I read the answer on the card, "Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to Himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer."
Oh. I had trained my children to work out of an ego-centric framework, but when you get right down to it, the card was right and I was wrong. Is isn't my faith that saves me, it's Jesus the redeemer who saves me. We're saved by grace, through faith, not by faith through grace.

The next evening was Sunday and my pastor urged me to just "get it over with already and come to a decision." So I sat down and went back over the results of my study dispassionately. It was clear the paedo-baptists had more circumstantial evidence in the New Testament for their view than the credos do. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that Sproul outperformed Begg on the baptism debate, asking questions Begg had no answer for, putting his finger exactly on the weak spots. It’s also a fact that this is a challenging study to make, because you also have to listen not only to the circumstantial arguments that are made but to the ones which aren’t made. The silence is as critical as the sounds. And the silence lies on the side of the Baptist. There's no evidence baptism is fundamentally a man centered pledge. It's clearly the sign of God's promise to us. 

So I give the Most Biblical award to paedo-baptism. Not that I like that decision mind you, but it's presented a compelling argument from the Bible as to why its right, convincingly backed it with church history, and in such a way that I’ve not been able to see a weakness in it. Not wanting a certain conclusion isn’t a defense, and holding out hope against reason and the Bible for a mysterious piece of evidence to come along and overturn the teaching of the Scriptures seems like something an atheist would do, not a faithful Christian.
And… well… perhaps that piece of evidence is out there and I’ll have it someday. If so I’ll switch back. But in the meantime to my Baptists brothers I say qui capit ille facit [if the shoe fits, let the cobbler wear it]. And to my Presbyterian brothers, victori spolia [to the victor go the spoils].

Continue on to My Baptists Pastors Push Back

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Phil it might help those of us who find your musings more amusing than biblical if you actually showed some exegetical proof of the paedobaptist position being 'more biblical'. You assert it but you don't prove it even in the slightest. Even your assertions are unsupported. Give me one example of infant baptism in the bible from a biblical text? Just one. Show me where the scriptures teach that the Abrahamic covenant is exactly the same as the New Covenant? Just one place is fine. Show me a text that proves that infants without faith are in the New Covenant? Let's get to the scriptures for the discussion before claiming paedo baptism is the most biblical position. As you said brother, you need to do better. I do think that one of the two ordinances of the church would need to be exemplified for us if we would practice it. No problem citing believers baptism, but paedo baptism is simply not there unless I have missed something. As for the New City Catechism is that not Keller's catechism? Hardly a Baptist one is it? Or did I miss something there too.

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