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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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Paedo vs Credo Baptism: Evaluating the Debate

The results are in, the information has been examined, and now it’s time to step back, hand out awards, and make sense of the debate from a birds eye view.

The Most Helpful Resource award goes to Ligonier for making the 1997 infant baptism debate between R.C. Sproul and Alistair Begg available online, for it was that more than anything which moved me into a position to understand the whole shooting match. The most helpful point in particular was that both men agreed that Baptists and Presbyterians have a radically different understanding of what baptism actually is. To the Baptist it’s the oath of allegiance to Christ as King which signifies your submission to Him, and which functions as a testimony to the truth of the gospel. To the Presbyterian baptism is the sign of entrance to the covenant community, signifying His promises are true, and functioning as a symbol for a number of related things. This difference explains almost everything.

This is why Presbyterian churches are generally much more relaxed about baptism than Baptist churches, because to them it’s something more like a secondary issue. When a Baptist places membership at a Reformed church the elders will generally welcome him as-is, “You believe adults need to be baptized right? Well that’s great! You’ve got enough of it correct that you’re welcome here.” But when the Presbyterian enters a Baptist church things are very different; the Baptist is much more likely to fence membership again him because he's misunderstood the principle of salvation. “You think we can be saved by being born into a Christian home, so we can’t let you join until you repent of that.”

Because they are working from unique presuppositions and definitions the two sides often speak past each other on the debate stage. I gave up counting how many times I saw the following argument from the credo-baptist: “Infant baptism is a positively harmful doctrine since people who were baptized as infants think they’re automatically saved.” What’s the problem here (I mean aside from how it sounds suspiciously like what the Arminians say about assurance or perseverance of the saints)? That isn't how the paedo-baptists views baptism. Even my hero Alistair Begg made this mistake when he said, “there’s a great potential for the thing to function in reverse…”
And likewise pretty much all of what Michael Horton says starts with the Presbyterian point of view and then draws faulty conclusions about the Baptist framework. Oh yeah, speaking of that, the Most Unhelpful award goes to Michael Horton.

The fact that there are two totally different ideas about what baptism is perfectly accounts for why credo-baptists think the very concept of infant baptism is bonkers crazy. You might as well speak of a square circle or a jumbo shrimp to speak of an infant voluntarily putting on the uniform of Christ. For years I couldn't account for the mistake of the doctrine apart from an irrational emotional impulse in the paedo-baptist, on par with the Catholic worship (err, veneration) of Mary or the Charismatics lying on the floor pretending to speak in tongues. John MacArthur’s idea that the Reformers just never got around to fixing all of Rome’s bad doctrine seemed reasonable to me. Similarly, the mode of pouring (rather than the proper form of immersion) seemed to be a practical compromise necessary to avoiding drowning the infants—a prudent move, but ultimately unbiblical.

This explains why a fair and honest credo using the actual paedo definition of baptism still feels no compunction to baptize infants. “If the Presbyterian defines baptism as entering into the New Covenant,” he reasons, “and that is means entering under the discipleship process and the truths of Scripture, then why do my kids need to be baptized? Are my children not already being discipled? Are they not already being taught Scripture?” They are, therefore there’s no need for baptism.

It also explains why a credo sees the paedo position as a hermeneutical construct. The credo believes infant baptism arises from adopting a curious covenantal framework which is sub-biblical and imposes its views on the text, rather than taking its views naturally from the text. To the Baptist the argument looks like a really weird and a terrifically unpersuasive argument about circumcision and Abraham.
“Just read the Bible and you’ll see that adults should be baptized.”
“Yeah, but Abraham applied the sign of the covenant to his infant son!”
“Huh? What does that have to do with anything?”
In the eyes of the credo-baptist the paedo has Christianized the Old Testament and Judiazed the New.

Finally, on a person note, this accounts for my confusion over baptism growing up in the churches of Christ. When we would baptized we’d say, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for the remission of sins.” Needless to say this really set me adrift since John the Baptists also had a baptism for the remission of sins. Baptist theology helped me get straightened out because their commitment to the oath model was total, and therefore stronger and more air-tight. Now I see that I was initially mixed up because the churches of Christ had blended both the paedo and credo understandings together, the result was something of both models, but not as robust as either parent idea.

The Humiliation Award goes to me. No surprises there. I write the above which seems to condemn the credo-baptist position as judgmental and standoffish because I’m just expressing the inward thoughts I had for many years. I’d always simply dismissed the paedo-baptists as strange but nice, prone to apostasy and liberalism because they’d not sufficiently held to the supremacy of Christ like we did. Having an understanding of the issue now, I'm sorry I was so foolish and immature.

And now it's time to give out the award for Most Biblical.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

1997 Ligonier Baptism Debate, Sproul vs Begg

This is the transcript of the debate between Alistair Begg and R.C. Sproul over infant baptism at the Ligonier conference in Orlando, 1997. I've taken the pains of transcribing it because it's an absolutely outstanding debate, and well worth your consideration. The audio may be found at; this is an unofficial record only.
In the following transcript Begg will be recorded in Blue, Sproul in Red, and the moderator in Green.

Circumcision and Baptism

Far and away the most frequently asked question--I just stopped counting them--and maybe it has to do with the amount of women we're blessed to have at this particular conference, but they all wanted to know with the comparison between circumcision and baptism why then must women be baptized in the new covenant? You know the question, how do you deal with it, that's an obvious question which comes with the like.
I didn't hear it. Why what?
Because of the circumcision issue. If that's the connection you're making between the old and new covenant, and the sign. And so what does that do to the woman who was left out of the circumcision rite and the need for baptizing women under the new covenant?
Well one of the things that's clear, the women are baptized in the new covenant, which is one of the points I was making indirectly when I talked about how the new covenant is more inclusive in terms of those who receive the sign than the old covenant. Because by the nature of the covenant sign in the Old Testament women did not have the benefit of receiving that sign of the covenant, but they are able to receive the sign of the covenant in the New Testament. Which...
Now it seemed like a lot of the ladies had the question though, they didn't feel the force of the argument to include women as it was presented. Is that one of the things you'd say is different between the two? One of the discontinuities?
Yes, it is one of the points of discontinuity, and we know, as I've said, women were included. Lydia was one of those 12 that we mentioned there. 
Alistair do you have a comment from the [Baptist viewpoint?]
No sir. 
Yes that was my comment. *Pause for laughter* No, I do think the onus is on the good doctor here to answer that question. I was gonna ask it myself and I figured that would be the reply. So I thought, if that was the reply why ask the question, you know?
[Audience laughter]

What am I missing?
Let me attempt to follow up on behalf of the people that did ask the question. So you're then saying that because women were baptized they obviously then are included, but that doesn't necessarily prove the point about it being a sign of the covenant, does it?
Couldn't he argue--

I'm not understanding what the point of the question is.
Couldn't he argue that women were not circumcised in the old covenant, and baptism replaces or fulfills circumcisions, then why wouldn't that be just limited to men under the new covenant as well? Why would women such as Lydia then be baptized if the argument holds?

If? If wha? Huh, I don't understand, what?
Do you understand what I'm saying? They [the audience] all understand it.

What is the point that's in dispute? The point of continuity?
I think they are not feeling you've convinced them that just because Lydia was baptized, that's obvious that women are baptized.
But if your argument about circumcision in the old covenant and baptism in the new covenant is correct, why wouldn't baptism not be limited just to men as circumcision was in the old covenant. They don't feel the force of that argument I think, which is why I think they're asking.

Again, which argument are they not feeling the force of? That both are the signs of the covenant? Is there any doubt about that? Baptism is the sign of the new covenant. Any problem with that?
That's what you said.
You were there. *pause* Circumcision is the sign of the old covenant.
That's what you said.
Okay, and what I'm saying is that in the old covenant, the sign of the old covenant was given to infant children of believers. Correct?
Males, they're saying.
Males. That's, that's correct males. But they were male infants. The fact that they were males does not negate the fact that they were infants. And what we're discussing is whether it's appropriate to baptize infants. And all we know is that one class of infants in the old covenant, infant boys, received the sign of the covenant. Correct?
They're tracking with you on that.

Okay. And that that one class of infants who received the sign of the covenant in the old testament received that was, among other things, the sign of faith. And I'm saying why would you preclude infants in the new covenant from receiving the sign of faith simply because they're infants? And now you're asking me this business about women? All I'm saying is that this reinforces one of the secondary points I said, namely, that one of the points of discontinuity between the old covenant and new covenant, is that the new covenant is more inclusive, not less. And the fact that now females receive the sign of the covenant is evidence of the more inclusive character of the new covenant over the old covenant. Is that hard? Am I going too fast? 
There were far and away more questions on that, so it evidently wasn't as crystal clear in the presentation. As uh...
As you've made it now.
As you are being right now, thank you Alistair.
What have I said that was different this time?

So your answer would be, it's more inclusive?

It's more inclusive would be a simple answer that way.
Well the only thing I'd like to do in response to that is what I said before, therefore when my friends place circumcision alongside baptism, and contend that the latter replaces the former, we have to reckon with the fact that this is nowhere explicitly taught in the New Testament. It has to be argued for. And that is the reason they're asking the question, because you have to argue for it. The logic of the argument cannot be supported by the preponderance of the evidence, and that's why you've got so many questions on it, I suggest humbly. And I just don't think it's there in the plain and obvious pattern of the preaching, and so I agree entirely with the logic of what RC has said. I see the logic of his position. I've been defending RC for the last month as people say to me, "surely RC doesn't believe in infant baptism", and what they mean by that is a spurious view of infant baptism that is baptismal regeneration. That's what's in the minds of most people, and they haven't understood that there's any other view that somehow or another can be substantiated biblically. So I do understand that, and yet I still hold to what I'm saying, and people that are unconvinced feel something of that, hence the questions. 
So any follow up, or are you content with the previous...
I don't know what he's talking about when he talks about "the explicit" in that that takes an argument. Are you suggesting that... do you not believe that Baptism is the sign of the new covenant?

Yes, what I'm saying is that I'm--
Do you believe that circumcision is the sign of the old covenant?

Does the New Covenant replace the Old Covenant?
Well let's ask John the Baptist the question. Presumably he knew the old covenant real well.
John the Baptist?
John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was a covenant theologian.
Yes he was--so was Jesus.
So, and so was Jesus. So we might have expected that Jesus would have said, "hey honey, in fact don't just sit on my lap, why don't I baptize you right now? Because this is the new sign of you being a member of my group, and why don't I just start it off so we don't have to wait 300 years for these guys to find it out. I'll get it going right now."
Who? Who--
That Jesus is going to get... what?
Infant baptism. He'd be a good a guy as any to start it I would think.

But that presupposes that He didn't do that. That is an argument from silence Alistair.
I know and that's why I'm saying it's nowhere explicitly taught.
But hadn't we agreed on that in the beginning?

Well I said it my way and you said it your way.
Now wait, do you have to have something explicitly taught for it to be principerally binding on the Christian?

You know I can't answer yes to that.
I know you can't. You know. But I mean... we said that at the beginning that this whole discussion has to be based on inferences. But you seem to think that your position of anti-infant baptism is explicitly taught, and I want to know where that is. 

No, I think that it's not on the surface of the text. You know, there's nothing that says they did it. And I would just assume, I'd have thought that in Acts 15 at the council of Jerusalem they would've cleaned it up right there. When they had the big discussion about circumcision I would have expected someone to stand up and say, "You know what, we shouldn't be discussing circumcision, because after all circumcision is the sign of the old covenant, baptism is the sign of the new covenant, why don't we fix this right here and now?" But they clearly didn't do it, and there must be a reason why they didn't do it.
Was there an issue at the council of Jerusalem over infant circumcision?
That wasn't the issue.
Was there issue over infant baptism?

So what possible relevance does that have to what we're talking about here?
Ahhh, I think we better have another question.

Parents and their Children

Let me go to the second strongest category, since I don't think we're going to get further resolution on this one, but it will be interesting to see the application. The second biggest category had to do with the parental question. Concerned parents asking, saying this is not just abstract, this is something I'm dealing with right now. I'm striving to bring my children up in a way that pleases God, am I hurting them by only having them dedicated in the evangelical church, since one person said, "We are new Christians, we are new Christians and we have children that are a year and a half, four, six, and a teenager. Should we have all of them baptized? At what point is an infant no longer an infant?" These types of parental questions were the second largest category.
You're looking at me like you want me to answer that.
Well either one.
You want to go? *pause* Okay. Yeah, I think that is true about parents. These are not abstract questions these are people asking "what shall I do with my children?" And not only in terms of their own personal obedience before God, but in terms of "do I want to withhold from my child something that may have an enormous benefit for them spiritually?" And that becomes an existential question here of a significant kind. And I feel their pain. I would say that you know there are different parts to this questions concerning older children and all. I've already said that I'm persuaded that the overwhelming evidence of Scripture is that children of believers are included in the covenant and should receive the sign of the covenant today even as they have for... the whole of redemptive history. And I think that the parents are obligated to see that their children are baptized. Now the question there was dedication, am I doing them any harm by dedicating them. That's something that's always puzzled me. Why my friends in the Baptist community who don't believe in infant baptism dedicate their infants when we have absolutely no mandate for that in the New Testament. Where in the world does that come from? That's an Old Testament ritual, it's not a New Testament ritual. Yet they carry that through instead of the New Testament ritual, it... it's always puzzled me. I say to my baptist friends I've preached on Sunday mornings where they've dedicated their children and then had me as a guest preacher in the Baptist church and I say, "I just really enjoyed this dress rehearsal, I'm going to come back next week when you do the real thing. You know. But uh, *laughter* a dedication of infants is an Old Testament principle, and again I know of nowhere in the New Testament where we see that rite performed in the context of New Testament/Covenant religion. 

Now, as far as the second part of the question, I would follow, since again the New Testament is silent, the Old Testament principle of the age of accountability as to when you baptize or circumcise, [as to] when is a person considered an adult. It would be at age 13 in the Jewish community. So that children under 12 or 13 should be baptized--
So the couple that has these four children--
Yeah I'd say--

Deal with the four, deal with them differently?
I'd give them, the ones under 13 infant baptism, the ones over 13 adult baptism. But let, let him talk about this.

What about the dedication?
Well I, my view of the dedication thing is that I think it's probably a capitulation on the part of Baptist to Presbyterianism. And, a sort of pale imitation of the real thing. I mean I don't know historically where it came from but I've always sort of had that feeling. I've felt however that it wouldn't do anybody any harm, it's a kind of innocuous sort of thing, provided it doesn't bear any connotations, anything as um... I was going to say that it wasn't baptized with greater significance than it deserves but... so we would share in the dedication of children, but it would be a long the lines of Deuteronomy 6. You know, "these things are to be upon your hearts, you teach them to your children, as you walk along the road, lie down, get up." I mean that would be an opportunity for us to affirm some of those covenantal principals, admittedly from RC's position, without the covenant sign. And I wouldn't be suggesting that our dedication was a replacement for that, but in the case of the family who's asking the question, I would simply encourage them to work within the framework of a Bible believing church and pray that their unconverted children will come to faith in Jesus Christ, and that when they place their faith and trust in Christ that they would be baptized in profession of their faith. And so I wouldn't feel any duty incumbent upon me to urge them to baptism, because I don't believe that if they were to have the baptism they'd be in a more favorable position in relationship to grace than they would be if they were to remain unbaptized.  

[Would] that be true of adults too?
Baptized they wouldn't be in a more favorable position? Well the only more favorable position I think is that once we assume that baptism is a profession of loyal obedience to Jesus Christ, that while it would not alter the standing of the individual in grace before God, nevertheless obedience is always followed by blessing, and [the person] would be blessed.
That's, an, that's an interesting thing you said, because I think what we have here, in light of what I've just heard Alistair say, this is a kind of a surprise to me, if what I've just heard you say, if I understand correctly, and maybe I haven't, it would go a long way to explain why we differ on infant baptism. Because it would indicate that we have a radically different view of what baptism is altogether.

There's no question of that.
Because I hear you seeing it it basically as a sign of faith. Which I agree it is a sign of faith among other things. 
But it's a sign of something... in the person... where our primary view of baptism is that first of all things it is a sign of a divine promise. It is the word made flesh insofar as the non-verbal, symbolic, corroboration of the word of Gods promise,
So the emphasis would be on the promise.
Well... yeah.

Seeing it as a sign of something happening in the person, we're saying that principally it's the sign of the divine promise. And I'm saying, I certainly don't want to be not having that sign of God's promise in my life. I mean baptism is a very significant thing. And again, just as circumcision was a sign of God's promise for those who believe, so baptism is a sign of God's promise for all who believe. There's one of the parallels. And that sign of that promise of God was to be given to children in the Old Testament, and I still haven't heard any reason why they wouldn't receive it in the New Testament. We've heard a lot of talk about why adults have to make a profession of faith before they receive the sign, but every second we spend on that subject is wasted, because there's no disagreement. We all agree that adults have to make a profession of faith before they receive the sign of the covenant. But that's not what we're talking about here.
What do you think about the distinction between--

Well, well there's two things. I was careful to say this: the sign points both to the gracious act of God and to our penitent response. Most of my baptist friends would say "the sign is simply an indication of our penitent response, that it is a completely subjective issue." I've been sufficiently influenced by you boys to recognize that that is less than all that it is.

But that's about as far as I'm able to go, because guys that are out here that I've played golf with--my Presbyterian friends--I mean we've had the conversation all the way my children have been growing up, you know. "Are your children as marked by the sign of the covenant in a more secure position in relationship to the things of God than my children are, unmarked by the sign of the covenant? Your answer to that... I don't know what it would be, my answer would be I don't believe mine are impoverished as a result of not being marked in that way. But for somebody who would hold to a very strong view of infant baptism they'd be forced to say "yes, your children are impoverished by that."
I'll say your children are impoverished.
That's right. Right.
Because much advantage in every way. What advantage is there to being a Jew? You know.
Again, the supreme advantage is having the oracles of God, and we would see baptism as one of the oracles of God.
Yeah. And then, when you'd then start to get me annoyed, I would say that in point of fact there was a great potential for the thing acting in reverse, and indeed in the majority of cases it does act in reverse. That the children... we're not going to say that unbaptized children do not all believe, nor are we going to say that all baptized children are reprobate. But the fact is--
Would you have the same objections to infant circumcisions, Alistair?

Would I have objections to infant circumcision?
Yeah. I mean the same objections you just voiced here.
You mean in the Old Testament context?
No I would not.
Why not? Wouldn't those same objections apply?
No because they didn't have adult baptism to contend with. I mean, the two situations are different situations.
Yeah but couldn't you be giving children a false sense of security by giving them infant circumcision, the very same thing you're concerned about with baptism.
If you, if you took--
Wouldn't you have that same principial concern with that?
If you taught it incorrectly.
Yeah I don't understand why these principial objections that you're bringing here toward the danger that this could impose upon an infant by giving them the sign of the new covenant wouldn't also apply with equal force to a practice we know in fact God ordained and commanded. That's your problem that you have here, that your principial objection proves too much. That you end up having to be critical, not so simply of people who practice infant baptism, but you've got to be critical of the whole Old Testament.
No... I... well it may sound as though I need to do that, I don't feel that I need to do that. I'm simply observing that when you take the sign and you remove it (in terms of baptism) from the Apostolic practice, then you do something with it that the Apostles never did, nor even intended to do.
Okay time out, that's the point, now you're begging the question. Because we differ as to what the Apostolic practice is. I've given you the testimony of history, that in fact the apostolic practice was infant baptism.
After the year 300.
No no no no no, no no no. Not after the year 300.
Well, RC, why doesn't one of the Apostles overtly say, "we're gonna baptize kids" or "we should baptize kids" or "you must baptize kids"?
Don't know. A very simple answer to that would be there was no need to, it was tacitly assumed that the children of believers would be baptized. That's A. B, what is Paul saying when he's writing to the Corinthians and telling them that their children, even if there's only one parent as a believer, are clean and holy?
Well, see, you missed my point because I've made it so imperfect, presumably. But in 1 Corinthians 7 I agree with your exposition. I just disagree that 1 Corinthians 7:14 has got anything to do with baptism.
It's got everything to do with baptism.
See, I disagree.
If it affirms the presence in the New Testament of the principal of familial solidarity. Which is what's in dispute here.
Right. And that's a big if.
Let me, uh, add another series of questions--
No time out a minute, I can't let that go.
"That's a big if." Where is there any doubt that that reaffirms familial solidarity, Alistair? What does the Apostle mean that the children are not unclean but holy?
I think it means the same thing. And that's why I don't think baptism comes into it. I think where you've got a family where you've got a mother and father that are bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord with, or without infant baptism, that the influence, the godly influence of those parents on the life of that child, with or without an external sign, put that child within the framework of the sanctifying influence of God. Whereas an individual, a child brought up in paganism does not have that. But the sign is not necessary for the experience for the child to be under the sanctifying influence.
Well we agree on that point, but what I'm hearing here is you're saying they're holy or not unclean in the sense that they're placed in a situation where they're exposed to godly influences. How does that exposure to godly influence make them holy, or not unclean? The terms holy--
How does it make the husband?
And unclean, I'm saying the terms holy and unclean are terms relating to cultic [sic] status. Do you agree with that?
Well I may, and I may not, because I'm not sure that it works in relationship to the husband. That's the problem. How is that true of a husband? What Old Testament principal do we have that would transfer from a wife to a husband?

Mmm, okay. We don't. As far as I can see.
This is why I said Paul is bending over backwards now to deal with this problem now of mixed marriages which wasn't that big of a problem, you know, in antiquity. But that his basic overarching concern is the status of the infants. The only reason the unbelieving spouse is considered sanctified is as the Apostle said, remember, "for the sake of the children, else would the children be unclean, but now are they holy." Will you grant that they are deemed to be holy and deemed not to be unclean particularly and simply because they are children of one believing parent?

Yeah, I think that's right.
Alright. So does that indicate to any degree a principle of familial solidarity?
*Pause* Well... it indicates to me the influence of a godly mother within a home. I don't have to argue for a covenantal view of familial solidarity to acknowledge what he's saying in 1 Corinthians 7. I can still say that here's a lady who's a Christian, she has a husband who's a non-Christian, and the influence of that lady in that home affects not only her unbelieving husband but affects her children for good. I'm not sure that I have to take on--
Does it automatically and necessarily make them not unclean and holy? An influence for good may or may not be effective.
Well it leaves them in that--

I'm saying, I'm saying the text teaches more than "it puts them in an advantageous environment where there's the maternal influence." Do you get what I'm saying here Paul? What I'm saying--
I get what you're saying but I would go back and so though that you then qualified or defined what it means to be not unclean and holy, but I, I want to stop there because I'll get off to another question because a lot of people felt, you know there were questions on "are you advocating baptismal regeneration at that point?"
Were they not here when I said I didn't believe in it?
Well they were here, and they know it's by faith alone, so they're saying you know, what is the issue here? They quoted you that way, so I think if he agrees to the meanings to those words then we have to go back to how you define those words earlier where you qualified them I think.
Yeah, again, let me just re-summarize it. My assertion is, that the principal of familial solidarity which under-girds the practice of including infants in the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament is explicitly reaffirmed in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 7. That principal of familial solidarity where the children of one believer automatically--not just possibly--but necessarily receive a benefit religiously, from their relationship to their parent.
And I hear Alistair saying, "of course there's a benefit, but how are we defining the benefit" seems to be what the difference would be.
No what I'm saying is the benefit holds, I agree with that, but that the sign of baptism, it just muddies up the waters.
That's fine, that's fine, all I'm trying to establish at this point is that the principal of familial solidarity is affirmed by this text. And I wanted to do that for this reason: to respond to his charge that the text has nothing to do with baptism. And I'm saying if the question of familial solidarity is a relevant issue with respect to the issue of who is to receive the sacrament or sign of the covenant then this text is quite relevant to the discussion. I was responding to his charge--
Yeah and I, I--

That the text is irrelevant to the discussion.
Well here's the point. I concur with the logic of that statement. The fact of the matter is, once you begin from a position of covenant theology and that becomes your hermenutical principal which runs throughout, you are inevitably at infant baptism. If you do not accept the continunity in it's totality, and RC I thought did a very fair case for mentioning there is discontinuity here (far more than many would) but see I--

That's the debate behind the debate which you referred to in your presentation.
Yeah that's the debate behind the debate. Yeah. And that's the fundamental point of difference. Because there's a perfect logic to it. I understand the logic in it.


Now another question along the same line was "what would that have to say then to the connection of the Passover and the Lords Supper for say padeo-communion?" There were a number of series of questions that went that way. Do you make the same application that way for children and communion?
Okay. There are many in the Reformed community particularly who would make that as an exact parallel, namely that since presumably infants were incorporated in the celebration of the Passover and the Passover was fulfilled and replaced by the Lords supper, would it not follow that infants should be included in the celebration of the Lords Supper? And as I said there are many who take that parallel argument very very seriously and I frankly think that particular argument is the real strength of the padeo-communion advocate's position. And one that I think makes the whole issue extremely difficult. The chief reason why the church has not practiced padeo-communion is based on the problem of the manducatio indignorum which is the eating and drinking unto damnation, which can be a negative consequence of participating in the Lords Supper unworthily by those who fail to discern the Lords Body. So that, the New Testament explicitly refers to the Lords Supper as a discernment sacrament. So then the issue becomes whether infants can discern the significance of this celebration, which is not the same type of ordinance as baptism. And in a very real sense though we see the relationship of parallels to different covenant signs, as Paul [the moderator] says, it really is a red herring. Because the Lords Supper is not the sign of the New Covenant, first of all. It is a special sacramental event within the covenant. And that's one of the differences it has from baptism. And the parallel is not between baptism and the Passover, or baptism and the Lords Supper. The parallel is between baptism and circumcision. Where in that case we again (I say this ad nauseum) we have explicit clear biblical mandate by which God commands the inclusion of infants into receiving--and you don't have to be a covenant theologian to see that--to see that God commands the children of his people to receive the sign of the covenant which is among other things is the sign of faith.
Any response Al?


What about another large category of questions: re-baptizing. One person said, "I was baptized an infant as a Presbyterian (in a Presbyterian church), as a teenager in a charismatic neighbors pool, and as an adult to join a Southern Baptist Church." To the degree that we talk about the significance of baptism, what about, how do we council on this whole issue of re-baptism from each of your positions?
Well I would be passionately opposed to it, obviously. But again it gets back to what we were saying a minute ago here, about whether... I mean we have so much agreement about what baptism is and what it isn't. Neither one of us believes in baptismal regeneration. And we've both agreed that baptism is a sign of more than one thing. There are several things, seven or eight things. it's the sign of our, as he mentioned brilliantly, the participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, the sign of our willingness to participate in His humiliation, as well as our exultation, a sign of our cleansing from original sin, a sign of our being in-grafted into the body of Christ. It's a sign of our baptism of the Holy Spirit. It's the sign of many, many things. It's the sign of regeneration. It's the sign of all that's involved in salvation. It's the sign of our sanctificaiton. And we agree on all that. The question is, "Is it a sign of God's promise of all of these things to those who believe?" Now I would've thought  that he would agree on all that, that among other things it's a sign of Gods promise of salvation by faith, to all who have faith.
Right? Okay, now, here's my problem with re-baptism: suppose I've received the sign of Gods promise of all these neat things that are going to happen if I have faith. Then I have faith, and I receive all these benefits that are signified by this thing that was instituted by our Lord to confirm the promise of the word of God. And now that after I have received the fulfillment of Gods promise I say to God, "Why don't you run that by me again?"
I think that it implicitly denigrates the integrity of the character of God Himself and is an insult to His faithfulness. Now let me be quick to say, before anybody runs out of this room and quotes me here incorrectly, I can't imagine any Christian wanting to be re-baptized, or actually being
re-baptized because they want to make the public statement that you have to have God promise something two or three times before you can trust him. Now, again, what Christian would ever do something as crass as all of that? I don't think any Christian would. But I think that's what they're doing implicitly. Not intentionally, but because they don't think about baptism as a sign of Gods promise, which now has been realized. Why in the world?... But that's one of the reasons why I think something else we agree on in the New Testament, the Lords Supper as an ordinance, is repeated over and over again. Right? But not baptism.
That you see raises the question... this gets very convoluted because I would have to distinguish in counseling people, you know, what about Roman Catholic baptism? What about Anglican baptism ala the 1980 prayer book service? And what about, mmm you know, somebody who has been well schooled in the affairs that have been outlined for us here? To be true to what I believe at the gut of it all, I believe as passionately in reverse what he's saying now. That infant baptism is ultimately not a baptism, and therefore I'm not engaging in re-baptizing anybody, I'm baptizing them ala the New Testament, for the first time. And I'm not an Anabaptist, I'm just a Baptist in that sense. And so I would not countenance the situation where I was suggesting to this individual that by their coming into the waters of baptism having been brought up in paganism, having come out of wherever they've come out of, having understood the gospel and understood the claims of Christ and begun to read their New Testament and they said "It says in here I should repent and be baptized, is this a pattern here?" Yes I believe it is. Well then is it an expression of obedience as well as a sign of whatever else it is? Yes I believe it is. And so on. If you believe that then the logic in it is you've got to go ahead and re-baptize those people. And it comes down to the most endemic discussion then about the nature of baptism. And I don't like that discussion really. Because I think then you run into the danger... I mean I don't even like saying that I don't think that this is a real baptism. But the fact is of the matter if this re-baptism is irrelevant in light of what RC's saying, then maybe the reverse is true, and the infant baptism is irrelevant in light of what I'm saying.
Following your own, your own logic?
Which I think confirms what we just agreed on a minute ago, that we don't agree on what baptism is.
That it's not the sign of... I don't think he really believes baptism is the sign of Gods promise. Because he's making... what I'm hearing here is, he's making the validity of the baptism rest upon its legitimacy. Do you hear the difference?  Because suppose it is not legitimate to baptize infants, suppose we're wrong and we are acting improperly by giving the sign of Gods promise to people who don't qualify for it, which is what we've been hearing all day, right? Now, does that improper giving of the sign of Gods promise invalidate God's promise? See now we're fighting the Donatist controversy all over again because--
This is where we were in Seattle--
This is exactly where we were, oh yeah.
his sparked the whole issue there. And

 It just shows you how far we've moved--
So you see the point Paul, was that if it is the sign of God, even if he doesn't recognize infant baptism's propriety--
He would have to recognize it's validity.
Well I try to keep my own feelings out of this and represent my own friends out here, but I have one question I'd like to ask you. And, and--
We know where you're coming from *laughter*.

Granting, granting all you say, just grant you all of that, I still don't know why it's so troubling for you then for a person to say, "I now want to be baptized because I now understand what God's promise is all about, and I want to affirm my belief in that promise." I don't understand why that bothers you, uh, so much.
Okay so let me explain, let me explain it to you. It doesn't bother me so much that they want to experience something, and that they've now come to a deeper understanding. And I would say "okay, I'll baptize you because you want me to, because now you have a deeper understanding of what it means." And then I baptize them. And then the following week I say, "Have you studied baptism some more this week?" And they say, "Yes." "Do you understand even more fully this week than you did last?" Do I have to finish this for you?
How many times does that person have--
You're talking about a different guy than I'm talking about now.
Well alright. Bu the point I'm trying to say is, I would say to that person, "I understand your existential desire, I had the same thing. I was baptized as an infant, converted when I was 18 years old. And one of the first things I wanted to do was get baptized--
Man. Whew.

Because I wanted to have the
existential experience. I wanted the existential experience of that--
[To Alistair] If you could've just met him at that point...

Yeah I know.
And also one of the reasons I wanted to get baptized again was because the guy who baptized me was an unreconstructed 19th century liberal who didn't believe in Christ and the deity of Christ, or anything else. And so I thought, hey, I want to get baptized from someone who is a true believer, and after I'm a true believer. As if the validity or significance of the promise of God depended on those things. And when a pastor carefully explained to me that I would be insulting the integrity of God for doing that I didn't do it, and I'm glad I didn't do it.
And I fully understand that and I appreciate that. That's the point I'm making in distinguishing between people coming out of different contexts in this question. I think it would be wrong for me to press and individual such as yourself in the circumstances that you've just outlined to be baptized in any other framework other than the one you've believed. Because you are convinced, and convicted, and you understand it. Okay? Now, I do not though feel the same encumbency in relationship to someone for whom baptism was not only misunderstood in it's follow on, but for whom any notion of a covenantal framework of life or anything at all had anything to do with it. I would not council that person in the same way. The very first fact that I've responded to you as per what you've outlined is illustrative of my own personal dilemma. Because I want to be true to that kind of conviction, and I understand the framework and logic of it. And I think that one of the great disservices that has been done to the church in relationship to these things is that I think our Presbyterian brethren have been far more willing to work with the subject than most have from the other side of the camp. And so I recognize that that significantly reduces my credence in the baptist community as it were, but nevertheless that's the level of inconsistency with which I'm willing to live. Now what it means in terms of application to church membership and all those other things, then it becomes a far larger discussion. But there is a distinction in my own mind between somebody... I can think of people like guys, you know the general manager of Banner of Truth, who is a wonderful guy, you know who he is. And [he] was baptized as a child and came to faith in Christ and understood that. He for the last 30 years has lived in Edinburgh and worshiped in an unnamed church and has never been able to become a member of the church, or to function in leadership of the church, because the only way that he could do so would be to be, in his mind, re-baptized, and in their minds, to be baptized properly.
That's where the dilemma really hits. I mean the church would be violating their conscience in terms of their conviction,
That's right, that's right.
If they allowed him to be a member without undergoing baptism, he would have to be in his own mind betraying his commitment to the integrity of Gods promise to do it.
Would you just, would you--
Wow that's a great dilemma to have! Because it's a dilemma from people who are committed to godliness and differ on what it is.
That's right, that's right. And that I think is the lesson that ought to come from this in part, but would you not then distinguish
between... is all baptism valid in your mind? Is infant baptism?
Even if it doesn't take place within the framework of believing parents?
Let me put it this way, again I would take the position basically that Augustine did in the Donatist controversy on how the church settled this centuries ago.
You better tell them that though.
With heretical baptism and so on. For example, if someone were baptized in the Mormon church, I wouldn't recognize that as legitimate.
Not only is it not legitimate, it's not valid. I'd say it's not baptism. Now the question is what about somebody who's baptized in the Roman Catholic church? Reformed people are divided right down the middle on that one. And I frankly have vacillated on that one. Because I believe that Rome is an apostate body. I don't believe it's an authentic church. However, following Augustine, I think it's formula for baptism and it's intent follows the minimum necessary requirements for a valid baptism. So I would recognize Roman Catholic baptism.
And it was at that point in Seattle where Alistair came out of his seat.
[sarcastically] ha ha ha.

We're out of time.
Well let him jump up out of there again, I mean there's even more room here for him.


We're out of time, let me, let me ask you just one thing personally. When you drive home tonight and you're laying on your pillow both of you, what will be his strongest point that will bug you, and what will be Alistairs strongest point that you'll think about later tonight in this issue? Where is the strength in your opponent that you'll have the hardest time dealing with?
 *Pause* I want to be honest and kind, and uh... *pause* I think that the question as he outlined it on the board--is this the sign in the Old Testament? Yeah. Is this the sign in the New Testament? Yeah. There you are. I understand the logic of that, it is a compelling logic, and therefore he makes a strong point in that. If I actually believed overturned my own convictions about the unfolding pattern of events in the New Testament then I'd be applying for ordination in the Presbyterian church. The fact that I'm not means that as strong as the point is made and as logical as it is to me, I believe that RC and all my friends begin with a covenantal position, and it presses them then to these conclusions. And the logic is unavoidable, but for me the New Testament evidence does not allow me to close the gap in the way in which RC does. But his points are very well made.
[Audience Applause]
Paul, I think that's a really sharp question you asked, what point do you go and think back, because you know it's right. Usually when you go and disagree and have discussions like this, when minds do change they change when you put your head on the pillow that night and mull over the full measure of the thing. Uh, I'm puzzled, because I heard my brother say that my argument's compelling... I'm going to be thinking about how someone can say that the argument of their opponent is compelling and not submit to it.

If he didn't buy your first premise.
That's, that's, going to be puzzling, that's the thing I'm going to be thinking about when I put my head on the pillow tonight. *laughter*
I don't think you answered my question.

I think he did. 
Honestly? Paul, for better for worse I've had to look at this question a thousand times in my career as a teacher and theologian. I didn't hear anything here today that I haven't heard a hundred times. And I'm convinced that all that discussion about the pattern in the New Testament is completely a non-sequitur. I have granted from the beginning of these discussions that adult baptism requires a prior profession of faith, but that what adults do or are required to do have absolutely nothing to say abut the issue. And so I heard Alistair basically make a tremendous case for believers baptism, which I already agreed with beforehand. But I didn't hear him say anything that I thought was significant against infant baptism, so I won't be thinking about anything, I'll sleep--
You'll sleep like a baby in other words.

Except why he seems to think that's so important.
Well, if we had three more hours maybe we could do this, but I think if we took three more minutes we wouldn't get any further than we have at this point so I think it'll be fair to--

And I'll take  something I want everyone in this room to think about: one of the dangers of this kind of thing is that you see two guys differ, as radically different as we come out of different ends on this point as we could possibly come out on, and yet in the general scope of the content of biblical and systematic theology, you're going to have to look far and wide to find two men who agree more with each other than we do. Would you agree with that?
Mm hmm.

Um, if you get up close to us you'll notice that we're both wearing the navy blue ties with the yellow stripes. His is the thin yellow stripe of the pedeo-baptist and mine is the broad yellow stripe of the believers baptist. And these will be available in the bookstore.

Take your stand. Once again thanks to both of you.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Paedo-Baptism: The Ontological Covenant Sign Argument

I hesitate to put such an unattractive title on this post, but for the sake of clarity and precision I feel obligated to do it. Ontology is the study of what a thing is, so calling it the Ontological Argument for paedo-baptism indicates that given what baptism is, paedo-baptism is the correct conclusion. For reference, the Inductive Argument for credo-baptism argues from the first five books of the New Testament that baptism is the swearing of an oath, the putting on of a uniform, the act of physical obedience that follows a profession of faith. The Continuity of Baptism argument works from the evidence in the Old Testament that baptism is a cleansing ritual which enables a man to serve God. This argument will be that because baptism is a covenant sign, and covenant signs are for the household of believers, baptism should be given to infants.

The paedo-baptist agrees that baptism is the swearing of an oath (that’s what the Latin word sacramentum means), but it’s an oath being sworn to us, not from us. Baptism is God pointing down to us, not us pointing up to God. It’s God’s covenant sign for us. What are covenant signs? They’re objective markers given to the members of the family after a covenant head enters into a relationship, given to denote the family’s new position.

P1: Covenant signs are objective markers of Christ’s righteousness that must be applied to the families of believers.
P2: Infants are members of a family.
C: The covenant sign of baptism should be applied to infants.

Seeing as the first premise requires a substantial amount of proof, and the second no proof at all, the conclusion rests on establishing that covenant signs are objective things owned by God and shared to us. 

So let's back up and start at the beginning by asking the question, "what’s a covenant?" 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. Putting those two ideas together means that covenant signs are objective markers of Christ’s saving work given to us to show His special favor on us. To really prove this however we’ll need to establish that all three major covenant signs in the Old Testament (the rainbow, the Sabbath, and circumcision) were all objective things that didn't point to an internal faith but to an external reality. Let’s take them in the order listed above.

After saving them from the flood God gave Noah and his family the sign of the rainbow, saying, “This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you… I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the Earth…It shall come to pass when I bring a cloud over the earth that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant… and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant” (Gen 9:12-14, 15a, 16a). Notice that the rainbow is not a reminder to men to trust His goodness when they look up and see the clouds forming, but a reminder for God to look down and not to flood the Earth. This sign includes all of Noah’s descendants (including us, and including us even when we were infants), but it’s principally from God, and for God, and does not involve us at all.

Secondly, after saving the children of Israel from slavery God gave them a sign to remind the people about how He rescued them without their help at all. “Verily My Sabbaths ye shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you” (Ex 31:12). Although God had mandated Israel keep the law (in order to find out that salvation by law keeping was impossible), what He was really driving at was the need for them to rest in the finished work of Christ. The Sabbath was the hint that righteousness isn’t through imperfect human effort but through patient waiting for deliverance. Just as everyone had been baptized into Moses (father, mother, children, infants, animals) everyone was to rest in Christ.

Lastly, after covenanting with Abraham, God gave him the sign of circumcision. “This is My covenant, which ye shall keep… every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt Me and you. And he who is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he who is born in the house, or bought with money from any stranger who is not of thy seed” (Gen 17:10a, 11-12). To head off the potential misunderstanding that circumcision represents a subjective faith possessed by Abraham God commanded it to be put on infants who could not profess faith. To prevent the misunderstanding that it was merely a physical marker for the lineage of Christ, strangers and those bought with money were also to receive the sign. Notice also what Paul says about this in Romans: Abraham received circumcision as a sign of the righteousness of God (Rom 4:11). It wasn’t a sign of his subjective faith, nor a sign that he was righteous, it was a sign of the objective righteousness of Christ. It’s not the sign that Abraham is righteous, but the sign that Christ is righteous.

Thus the rainbow shows Christ’s work as a cosmic reconciliation that cannot be altered by man and which satisfies the wrath of God, circumcision shows that Christ is righteous and this righteousness is counted to men when they believe, and the Sabbath shows that men must not attempt to earn righteousness for themselves but must wait for a provision from Christ. In all cases the signs indicate a truth outside the recipient. Likewise baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. And because it’s a covenant sign we know that it’s external to us, and that we’re to put it on our infants. That’s what a sign is. It’s something that points us to the trustworthiness and goodness of God. Children are under the covenant of the parent, therefore they should have the sign of it.

By baptizing infants we're saying that Jesus is our savior, but we're not saying that infants are automatically saved. The sign isn’t subjective. Baptism is not our vow to God, but the mark of His promise to us. By baptizing we’re proclaiming the objective truth that Jesus is our perfect savior, our priest, our mediator, our prophet, our King, and is both God Himself and God’s Son who washes away our sin. 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. Therefore baptism is for infants, and should not be withheld from them. God promised to be a God to us and our children, after all.

Next: the Mono-Covenantal Argument for Paedo-Baptism

(Return to the Index)

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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