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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Examining Baptist Misunderstandings Concerning the Covenants

I may be too busy to open this particular can of worms now, but...

There have been some interesting blog debates recently concerning the subject of infant baptism. (See here, and a whole series on the subject here).

One encouraging sign is that more and more Baptists are coming to the realization that Baptism is to the New Covenant what Circumcision was to the Old Covenant. Colossians 2:11-12 spell that out pretty clearly. The difference now, it appears, is the nature of the covenants themselves and who was included in them. While I have no hopes of settling this 400 year old debate this side of eternity, I thought that it would be worthwhile to examine some of the objections that have been offered concerning the inclusion of children and infants into the New Covenant.

1.) Judas at the Supper, but Not Included in the New Covenant.
This is a correct observation, but doesn’t adequately explain why Judas was presented the Lord’s Supper. Jesus very clearly established the Lord’s Supper as the continuing sign of the New Covenant (Luke 22:20), and proceeded to give it to one (Luke 22:21) that He acknowledged was “a devil”(John 6:70). Likewise, Simon Magus (Acts 8:13) was baptized by Peter, yet was unregenerate (Acts 8:20-23). Just stating that these men were not in the New Covenant does nothing to support the Baptist argument, but does just the opposite. They are faced with the reality that two men in Scripture were given the sign and seal of the New Covenant who, by their own admission, were not part of the New Covenant. Since this is a biblical reality, why would we exclude the holy children of believers from this practice?

2.) There are no specific verses in the Bible commanding infant baptism.
This is both presumptuous and arbitrary. It is presumptuous because of the thousands of baptisms that occurred in the New Testament, such as the 3,000 baptized on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41), no age is given for the object of Baptism. While it’s fair to state that Paedobaptists have no basis for assuming that any of these 3,000 were infants, it is equally true that Credobaptists have no basis for assuming that all 3,000 were professing adults.

It is arbitrary because the “specific verse” standard is selectively applied. Most churches who reject infant baptism have no problem holding a “baby dedication service”, despite the fact that there is no scriptural warrant for such practice. There are no examples in Scripture of women partaking of Communion, yet allowing such today is all but a universal practice.

The commandments to go and baptize are sufficient enough to warrant infant baptism. It is up to the Baptist to show why the holy children of believers (1 Cor. 7:14) should be excluded from this commandment. I dare say that “there are no specific verses in the Bible forbidding infant baptism.”

3.) Going to Church Doesn’t Put You in the New Covenant.
Again, a true statement, but it was equally true in the Old Covenant. While the Baptist hopes to use this observation to establish that the New Covenant was only for the elect, he fails to see that the Old Covenant was only for the elect also. Just having the DNA of Abraham did not put a person in the Old Covenant.

“…For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, …" (Romans 9:6-7)

Yet it cannot be denied that the sign and seal of the Old Covenant was given to infants (Genesis 21:4), despite the fact that this Covenant was only for the elect. Why change it in the New Covenant? Both the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant are prone to admitting false converts. Just as the Old Covenant had it’s Esau, the New Covenant had it’s Judas. Neither were in Covenant with God, yet both were given the sign.

4.) Paedos equate those in the new covenant with the visible church, and Credos equate those in the new covenant with the body of Christ.
Again, this is not true. Paedos equate the New Covenant with the elect, just like the Old Covenant. The Credo, on the other hand, wants to reserve the sign and seal of the New Covenant for the elect only. This, of course, results in quite a few problems. First of all, if this assumption is true, then we could never rightly baptize anyone. How do we determine if a candidate for baptism is truly elect, for that ultimately is the credobaptist standard? How do we know if a profession of faith is genuine? If salvation (referring to those within the Bride of Christ) is the prerequisite for baptism, then how do we determine who is a member of this bride? If the answer is that merely a profession of faith is what is required for adult baptism, then one must agree with the covenantal view of the visible church. If not, then what?

Second, it is clear from Scripture that the signs and seals of the New Covenant were applied to unsaved people in the visible church, which I have already noted.

Thirdly, Baptist theology fails to adequately explain the fact that God views the children of believers as “holy”, whereas the children of pagans are “unclean” (1 Cor. 7:14). What does the term “holy” mean here, if not being set apart in the New Covenant? While Baptists make the assumption that a profession of faith is evidence of regeneration, the Paedobaptists makes the assumption that the children of that household are elect as well, for they are God’s children up until the time when and if evidence shows otherwise. Of course, it’s quite possible for both assumptions are wrong, but I’m waiting for the Baptist argument to show how we can truly know who is among the elect.

5.) "Circumcision was applied to babies in the Old Covenant, because they were in the Old Covenant, as it was with the physical nation of Israel. But the New Covenant is made with individual believers of the Spiritual nation of Israel."
As I demonstrated earlier, the Old Covenant was not given to the physical nation of Israel, but to the elect only. And again, how do we determine who is a member of the Spiritual nation of Israel?

6.) The New Covenant “is not conditional and performance based like the Old Covenant with the physical nation of Israel.”
This was a surprising statement from a Calvinist brother. I won’t presume what he meant by “performance based”, but the Abrahamic Covenant was never based on works. The only Covenant that was based on works was the Adamic Covenant, and even that covenant was full of grace and sealed by the work of God Himself. Besides, the Scriptures are quite clear that God chose Jacob over Esau “in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call” (Romans 9:11). Furthermore, Abraham himself “…received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith…” (Romans 4:11). The Doctrines of Sovereign Grace are not just a New Covenant Reality, and neither should the sign and seal of that grace be denied to the children of believers.

7.) The New Testament pattern is that Baptism is performed only on those who have professed their faith.
Correction: The New Testament pattern is that Baptism is performed on those who have professed their faith, as well as their entire households (Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33-34, Acts 18:8, 1 Corinthians 1:16), just like the Old Covenant. In particular, Acts 16:34 has been the object of some questionable renderings, but the correct translation suggests that the entire household of the Philippian jailor was baptized, because “he had believed in God”. While it may be possible that all of his household consisted of professing adults, it is quite clear that the basis for their baptism was his own belief in God.

In conclusion, Baptist theology cannot seem to make the case as to why children in the New Covenant should be treated any differently than those of the Old Covenant. If they insist that Baptism should only be performed on the elect, then they must offer a better method of determining who the elect are other than that of a profession of faith and being born in a Covenant household.

Check out the Baptism debate between James White and William Shishko.

Part I

Part II

11 comments:

William said...

Why did you remove the post "Casual Christianity: The Spirit of Our Age" of June 10?

Puritan Lad said...

Hey William,

I may repost that article at a later time, but I want to give a little more thought to the wording. Seems as though my main point was misunderstood.

William said...

Thanks. I will tell you that I did not misunderstand, and that I agree with what you say. I hope you do post it again. Perhaps at Puritan Board. It may cause me to join and participate. Thanks again.

William said...

I do plan to join PB in the not to distant future.

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks William. I'll get a revised and clarified version up soon.

In the meantime, I've been contacted by the Chuck Baldwin Campaign to do some blogging for him. I plan to have that up soon as well, and it will keep me busy through November.

Kevin said...

I think the proper interpretation of Col. 2:11-12 is that the sign of the New Covenant is regeneration (circumcision made without hands) not baptism. Baptism is simply an outward demonstration of an inward change wrought by the Holy Spirit.

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Kevin,

Two thoughts.

1.) I think the proper interpretation of Col. 2:11-12 is that the sign of the New Covenant is regeneration (circumcision made without hands) not baptism.

My pastor offers the following helpful exegesis of that passage. Note particularly the pronoun usage.

Colossians 2:11-12 is a fascinating passage. Paul describes how we as Christians have been circumcised “in Him,” which is of course “in Christ.” That circumcision, “in Him”, wasn’t done with a knife in the hands of a man, but is a spiritual act accomplished by our union with Christ. Specifically, as verse 12 completes verse 11, you, the Christian, were circumcised by being baptized (“having been buried with Him in baptism.”) Therefore, whatever circumcision meant, baptism now means. The transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is made obvious by this transfer of a sign. Then a new phrase begins with the repetition of “in Him,” not “in which” (it is the same Greek word as the beginning of verse 11). “In Him you were also raised up.” Just as you died with Christ you have been made alive with Christ. Thus the sign of baptism is not so intimately connected with the symbolism of burial and resurrection, but with the transferred significance of circumcision. Clearly, that significance of circumcision was given by God as a sign of his covenant promise, a promise given “to you and to your children.” Hence, the sign was given to you and to your children.

2.) Baptism is simply an outward demonstration of an inward change wrought by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps I should have built up to this particular post, but I dealt with that briefly here. This is a common Baptist argument, but it provokes the question, "How do you know if "an inward change" has been "wrought by the Holy Spirit"? It is similar to the argument that I hear so often, "Salvation is a prerequisite for baptism". It seems to be what you are suggesting, but again, how do we know if someone is truly saved? What is the evidence that we look for? It certainly could not be a mere profession of faith. For you would agree, I suppose, that not all who profess faith in Christ are truly saved. Was Peter mistaken when he baptized Simon Magus, who turned out to be unregenerate?

The Baptist would counter with the argument that they would never knowingly baptize an unregenerate person (this was on one of the "Voice of the Sheep" discussions). Of course, neither would a Presbyterian, but that isn't really the question. If we presume that only those who have experienced "inward change wrought by the Holy Spirit" can be baptized, then we have a solemn duty to make sure that only those are baptized. So how do we tell?

The answer is, of course, we can't. We really have no way of truly knowing who is a true convert. Humans can be easily deceived, and have been quite often, (even the Apostle Peter). What both Presbyterians and Baptists look for is a profession of faith in Christ. Whether or not that profession is genuine will be played out over that person's life. Therefore baptism cannot be simply "outward demonstration of an inward change", but rather a sign and seal of God's Covenant to those who, to our best knowledge, are in God's Covenant of grace. The expectation, for both the Baptist and the Presbyterian, is that those who profess faith in Christ are truly converted. Sadly, we also both recognize that this isn't always the case.

The Presbyterian, however, has an additional expectation. We expect that the children of Christians will themselves be raised as Christians, for the promise of the Holy Spirit is to both the believer and his children. God views the children of just one believer as holy, otherwise they would be unclean. Again, we know that things don't always work out this way, as many children of believers go astray and stay astray. We don't presume that anyone is truly saved, but we do have expectations in both cases, and both expectations are biblical.

Kevin said...

Puritan Lad,

I have several problems with padeobaptism: 1.) Reverse chronology; using the OT to interpret the NT., 2.) arguments from silence, 3.) and equivocating circumcision with baptism.

The covenant sign in the NT is still circumcision. Since it is no longer outward it is demonstrated by baptism.

Baptism is important because it is a profession of faith (cf. Mt. 10:32; Lu. 12:8). This act in the first century, as it is today in certain countries, has dire consequences; even death. This is the context in which baptism is communicated in the NT. As such, I don't think they early Christians had problems determining who were truly regenerate or not...

We can't protect the sacraments of the church absolutely. The point is that we are stewards and as such it is our duty to protect them as best we can and leave the rest to God.

Why baptize children of regenerate parents when we know that not every one of those children are the elect of God? Cain? Esau? Mt. 10:35-36

Puritan Lad said...

Kevin: "I have several problems with padeobaptism: 1.) Reverse chronology; using the OT to interpret the NT."

Response: But Paul did this in Colossians. The point here isn't that the NT is interpreted in light of the OT (though that is valid), but that there is a clear continuation between the testaments. In other words, Old Covenant Christianity isn't as different from New Covenant Christianity as some would like to make it.

Kevin: "2.) arguments from silence,"

Response: Actually, that is the Baptist argument. They are the ones who reject infant baptism due to "no specific scripture". I addressed that in the original post.

Kevin: "3.) and equivocating circumcision with baptism."

Response: But aren't you doing that in the very next phrase???

Kevin: "The covenant sign in the NT is still circumcision. Since it is no longer outward it is demonstrated by baptism."

Response: If true circumcision (inward) is demonstrated by baptism, like you suggest, why not give it to our children?

Kevin: "Baptism is important because it is a profession of faith (cf. Mt. 10:32; Lu. 12:8). This act in the first century, as it is today in certain countries, has dire consequences; even death. This is the context in which baptism is communicated in the NT. As such, I don't think they early Christians had problems determining who were truly regenerate or not..."

Response: Even the First Century Church had their share of false converts. Judas and Simon Magus come to mind, both of whom were given the sacraments. See original post.

Kevin: "We can't protect the sacraments of the church absolutely. The point is that we are stewards and as such it is our duty to protect them as best we can and leave the rest to God."

Response: I agree.

Kevin: "Why baptize children of regenerate parents when we know that not every one of those children are the elect of God? Cain? Esau? Mt. 10:35-36?"

How do you know that the parents are regenerate? That is the biggest problem with the Baptist approach to Baptism. They are unable to consistently practice what they say they believe. One on hand, they hold that Baptism is only for the regenerate, yet readily admit that they have no way of knowing who the elect actually are.

As far as why we baptize the children of professing believers, it's for the same reason Esau was circumcised. He was a child of Abraham, up until the time when it was clear that he really wasn't Abraham's seed (spiritually - Gal. 3:7).

In light of this question, I would also ask, Why baptize professing believers when we know that not every one of the professing believers are the elect of God? Why limit this practice to only their children? You are correct in that we should protect the sacraments as much as we can. We don't know who is really elect of God, whether it be those who profess their faith, or their covenant children. We have expectations, but no presumptions. The expectations are that professing believers, along with their children are in Covenant with God, and should receive the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. That was physical circumcision in the Old Covenant, and Spiritual circumcision (baptism) in the new.

As I stated, I'm not going to delude myself into thinking that I've settled this 400 year old debate, but I merely attempted to answer specific objections, especially concerning who God's Covenants are made with, and whether or not people can enter falsely into the New Covenant.

Kevin said...

I'm not trying to justify my position based on silence. Which leads me to ask: how do you reconcile infant baptism with the Regulative Principle?

It is clear from the context of Acts 2 that the statement by Peter'...you and for your children' is related to confessing believers not infants. It is preceded by 'repent' in v. 38 and succeeded by 'those who received his word' in v. 41.

Have you looked at any commentaries on 1 Cor. 7? The most plain reading of the text (v 14) would seem to indicate that the husband/wife is not 'sanctified' in a spiritual sense but in a legal sense. The OT practice was that the 'unclean' spouse was to be 'put away' (cf. Ez. 10:3). Whereas in the NT, under the covenant of grace, the spouse is allowed to remain in the hope that he/she will be saved (v 16).

Puritan Lad said...

Kevin: I'm not trying to justify my position based on silence. Which leads me to ask: how do you reconcile infant baptism with the Regulative Principle?

Response: Infant Baptism is a problem with the Regulative Principle only if you differentiate it from adult baptism. Clearly, Baptism is to be part of worship in church. Why exclude the infants of believers?

Kevin: It is clear from the context of Acts 2 that the statement by Peter'...you and for your children' is related to confessing believers not infants. It is preceded by 'repent' in v. 38 and succeeded by 'those who received his word' in v. 41.

Response: It seems clear that Peter's message is Acts 2 relates to confessing believers in their children. If the Holy Spirit is promised to confessing believers and their children, then why exclude them from the covenant sacrament? Also, you make the jump, as many Baptists do, from "Repent and be baptized" to "All who are baptized must have repented". There is a difference, and brings us full circle to the original Baptist problem. How do we know if soneone has genuinely repented (ie. Simon Magus).

Kevin: Have you looked at any commentaries on 1 Cor. 7? The most plain reading of the text (v 14) would seem to indicate that the husband/wife is not 'sanctified' in a spiritual sense but in a legal sense. The OT practice was that the 'unclean' spouse was to be 'put away' (cf. Ez. 10:3). Whereas in the NT, under the covenant of grace, the spouse is allowed to remain in the hope that he/she will be saved (v 16).

Response: There are two problems with this approach. The first is that 1 Corinthians was written to the church at Corinth, not the civil magistrate. Therefore, "sanctified" is a legal sense is an insufficient explanation. Besides, any marriage is sanctified in the legal sense, believers or not. The second is the use of the word "Holy" to describe the children of believers. This word clearly refers to ecclesiastical sanctification. I have heard it argued that the term is used to differentiate between legitimate and illegimate children. That. of course, holds no water, since the children of any married couple are legitimate, believers or otherwise.