Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Argument for Paedo Baptism

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

The Argument for Paedo-baptism

P1: The Bible instructs believers to give the covenant sign to their children.
P2: Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant.
C: Believers should baptize their children.

Premise two is conceded immediately by almost all Baptists, so we won’t concern ourselves with it further. (Offhand I can't think of any groups who'd dispute it.)

Premise one therefore is where we’ll spend our time, and as mentioned in the introduction, there are two ways of strengthening it. The first is to point out that the saints in the Old Testament were saved by hearing the gospel and believing in Christ (just as we are today) and they were commanded to put the sign of Christs righteousness on their infants. The second is to argue that in a covenant the children of the house receive the sign by definition, so we who are under the New Covenant are obligated to baptize our children. We’ll start with the latter first because I think it’s easier for a Baptist to understand, being closer to their viewpoint. After that we’ll address the former.

Covenant Signs are Objective Things

We know from the Old Testament that a covenant is when one or both heads of a family promise to do good to the other. We also know that God uses covenants as a way of revealing the person and work of Jesus to us—which means covenants are not equivalent to salvation but are the framework for it.

Often when covenanting in the Bible God gave a sign as an assurance to us that He would make good on His promises. To Noah the sign was the rainbow, to the children of Israel it was the Sabbath, and to Abraham it was circumcision. In all cases the signs were objective things, indicating a truth outside the recipient, external to them. Abraham for example received circumcision as a sign of the righteousness of God (Rom 4:11). Notice that it wasn’t a subjective sign of his faith, nor was it a sign that he was righteous—although he was indeed righteous by faith—it was a sign of the objective righteousness that is from God. It was a sign of the assurance that God would do what He promised in salvation.
Likewise Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. And because it’s a sign of a covenant, we know that we’re to put it on our infants. That’s what a sign is. It’s an objective thing pointing us to the trustworthiness and goodness of God, given to those under the covenant. Children are under the covenant of the parent, therefore they should have the sign of it.
By baptizing infants we are saying that Jesus is our savior, but we're not saying that they're saved. The sign isn’t subjective. Baptism isn't our vow to God, but the mark of His promise to us, and that promise is good to us, our children, and all whom the Lord calls to Himself. By baptizing we’re proclaiming the objective truth to the child we’re discipling that Jesus is our perfect savior, our priest, our mediator, our prophet, our King, and is both God Himself and God’s Son.
 

The Baptist skips over the objective nature of the sign entirely and makes the subjective aspect the sum total of it. As a result he redefines what a covenant is and what a sign is. We understand why this happens, it’s easy for someone to get wrapped up in the personal, existential aspect of baptism since the objective sign also takes on a subjective dimension when applied to an adult. In that case it’s also a statement of faith, a testimony of a changed life, and an appeal for a good conscience. But as the Bible has taught us, a covenant sign from God is first and foremost an objective declaration from God, and therefore belongs upon those children who are under the headship of the believer, and therefore who are in covenant.

Abraham and Circumcision

The other way to state the case for premise one goes like this: the saved in the Old Testament got into heaven exactly the same way we do—by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. His blood covered their sins, His righteousness was imputed to them, and they stand clothed in works not their own. There is, as the Scriptures say, one dispensation for the fullness of time, and through it God is gathering all things under Christ (Eph 1:10). There is one people, one body, one Spirit, one cornerstone (Eph 2:14-20, 4:4-6). Some call this singular plan of salvation a covenant of grace, some call it the Kingdom, and some, a dispensation or an administration. But all of these words are trying to convey the same thing: righteousness is foreign to us, given by Christ, received by faith, regardless of who you are or when you live.
 

In the Old Testament the sign of this righteousness and the work of Christ was a bloody one. It pointed forward to a messiah who would come in the flesh to save us from our sins without our help. It was circumcision, and it was mandated we give it to covenant infants. In the New Testament era the sign of this righteousness and the work of Christ points backwards to one who’d washed away our stains and cleansed us by His work. This is baptism. Same covenant (or plan), same God, same function for the signs, same requirements for administering them, the only difference is that one sign was bloody and pointed forward, while the other a cleansing and points back. That’s why Abraham is the father of all the faithful (Rom 4:11).
To put it succinctly: the sign of Christ in the Old Testament is circumcision; the sign of Christ in the New is baptism. And because we know God wants us to apply the sign of His righteousness to infants, we ought to baptize them.

Some (particularly dispensationalists) may dispute this. But the New Testament reveals that Baptism and Circumcision both point to salvation (Col 2:11-12), and that Abraham received the gospel of Jesus (Gal 3:8) before receiving the sign of it. He was a believer and was commanded to apply the sign of the covenant of grace to infants; therefore we should in like manner do the same.
 

In saying all this don’t hear me as flattening redemptive history. Circumcision is of course more than a sign of righteousness. It’s also a physical mark of the bloodline of Christ. It’s a picture of regeneration, of the cutting away of our sinful, unfeeling nature. It’s the entry pass to the covenant community in the old world. But even though it’s more than the sign of our righteousness, it’s not less than that either. The dispensationalist may not like to think of the covenant with Abraham as spanning across time, fixed and never to be repealed, but even so he can’t reduce it to a mere tribal distinction. Abraham was saved by faith and was told to place the sign on infants. In like manner we believers are to put the sign on our infants.

Deep Cleansing Breath

You might not yet be comfortable accepting baptism for a child since you’re still thinking of it entirely in subjective terms. Or you might believe there’s a discontinuity between the testaments thanks to dispensationalism. If so you’re probably thinking this whole argument is an Old Testament construct and is imposed on the text rather than something which flows naturally out of it. Your suspicion is that the structure we’ve made here is going to crumble once the New Testament evidence is stacked up against it. 
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2 comments:

Robert Briggs said...

Okay Phil I am going to point out a few flaws here.

'The Baptist skips over the objective nature of the sign entirely and makes the subjective aspect the sum total of it. As a result he redefines what a covenant is and what a sign is. We understand why this happens, it’s easy for someone to get wrapped up in the personal, existential aspect of baptism since the objective sign also takes on a subjective dimension when applied to an adult. In that case it’s also a statement of faith, a testimony of a changed life, and an appeal for a good conscience. But as the Bible has taught us, a covenant sign from God is first and foremost an objective declaration of the righteousness of Christ, and therefore belongs upon those children who are under the headship of the believer and therefore are in covenant.'

Is this your view Phil or are you quoting a paedobaptis? It is not clear from you manner of writing. Either way this is simply not the case for all Baptists and to state it as if this is the Baptist position is to misrepresent things. As for 'covenants are objective' etc what do you actually mean by that? You set up an assertion and then claim it is true without real exegesis. There is no doubt that a covenant is objective, but it has subjective elements to it does it not? God enters into covenant with men objectively yes, but they experience it subjectively and the signs that He has ordained have both objective and subjective elements. The way you reason and argue is unclear, is this your conviction or are you saying this is what others say and I am thinking about it ? Following you is challenging to say the least.

'Some (particularly dispensationalists) may dispute this. But the New Testament reveals that Baptism and Circumcision both point to salvation (Col 2:11-12) and that Abraham received the gospel of Jesus (Gal 3:8) before receiving the sign. He was a believer and was commanded to apply the sign of the covenant of grace to infants; therefore we should in like manner do the same. '

Again is this your view? Or is it a hypothetical discussion you are having? It is simply not that clear. Also we are not under the covenant God made with Abraham, that covenant was fulfilled by Jesus, Galatians 3v16 and so we are only Abraham's children by the fact we are in Christ, Galatians 3v29. Note that it is only 'if you are Christ's that you are Abraham's offspring....' ie union with Christ is what makes us heirs according to promise, no union with Christ by faith, you are not Abraham's offspring nor an heir according to promise. Galatians 3v22 also indicates the necessity of faith in relating to Christ and again note the fulfilment is clear, Galatians 3v16.

It is simply a false assertion that the Bible instructs believers to give the covenant sign to their children. It is true that under the covenant God made with Abraham believers were instructed to circumcise their male child but that is certainly not the same as what you assert. As the covenant with Abraham is now fulfilled in Christ the question is now what is the covenant sign connected to union with Christ and the answer to that is Baptism, it is the Lord's Supper that is the sign of the New Covenant of which Union with Christ and Baptism are pre-requisites. Thus only those who possess union with Christ by faith are candidates for the covenant sign of union with Christ and only those who possess union with Christ by faith and have been baptized are the lawful candidates to partake in the Lord's Supper as a sign of their being in the New Covenant. This is what the Bible reveals about covenant signs and those who are rightful recipients.

Phil said...

As I said in the introduction I adopted the viewpoint of the paedo to write this and the next post. It wasn't my own at the time of writing, I was just attempting to fairly represent their argument.

To your first comment, some Baptists like Begg, or Van Dorn would deny that baptism is entirely subjective, but I think the observation is nonetheless valid because baptism is first and foremost a profession of faith from the individual. On the other hand the Presbyterian see it first and foremost as the promise of God which then takes on subjective elements in a subset of cases.

To the next main point, no paedo-baptist is going to disagree with you that we are united to Christ by faith. Nor that the promises given to Abraham were also given through Abraham. Nor again that faith makes us sons of Abraham. But it's also true that the Mosaic covenant came to an end and is no more, while the covenant with Abraham hasn't explicitly come to an end. I'd be tempted to argue rather that we have come to it's beginning.

The last paragraph is spoken like a true credo-baptist, and while I can appreciate it, I think it misses the force of the paedo argument which is: we know Abraham was commanded to circumcise his house, and we do know circumcision stood for the righteousness of Christ that was his by faith, therefore we have Biblical proof that the righteousness of Christ as a sign of the covenant is to be applied to infants. We also know that under Noah and Sinai the infants were also entitled to the sign of the covenant, and we also know that in every case covenants are headship deals.

That you understand the New Covenant as union with Christ is unsurprising, since that's how the more erudite Baptist understands it. Certainly it was how I did until very recently. It's then going to color everything else you think about the topic. But I don't think the Bible indicates that faith is equivalent to the New Covenant, so I don't think it's a fair assumption to make.

Hope that was at least a little more clear.