Tag Archives: Calvinism

PaedoFaith

Every child born to baptized members of a Christian church is bound to be baptized by order of covenant structures. There is so much theology behind why Christians do what they do that very often the ins-and-outs are not always thought through. That is, Christians very often do things for the right reasons without exactly knowing why. Conversely, many Christian parents fail to do certain things for the same reason: they know not what they “do not” do. Christians who do not baptize their children are in disobedience to their covenant King. But this negligence is no more a gross rebellion than Christian churches that exclude children from communion requiring first that they have a conversion experience.

Conversion for non-covenant members is not the same as that of covenant children; nor is it necessary to require the same of covenant children. In fact, it is antithetical to the nature of the covenant. Christian children of the covenant are only made to be such by baptism. It is not so that natural birth makes a child of the covenant; baptism and baptism alone does this. This has important implications for gross misunderstandings about the sign. First and foremost, what happens to a child born to Christian parents who dies in infancy or before faith can be lived? The Bible doesn’t answer this question, but everyone (including the Baptist) expects God to be merciful and save the child. But this has nothing to do with the sign in and of itself. One might think of Paul’s argument in Romans 4 about Abraham’s being the father of Jew and Gentile faith: one has the sign and the other doesn’t but both are saved. The sign of baptism (precisely like the sign of circumcision) is for entrance into the covenant as an ordained priest for Kingdom service.

Baptism is not salvific in the sense that 95% of Christianity intimates. Baptism is initiation into the covenant and that is all it is (now, to be sure, there are benefits to being a member). Baptism means what it means and its meaning is the same for the infant as it is for the adult. Whatever baptism means for a newly converted unbeliever, it means exactly the same for the baby of Christian parents. Baptism, then, is a new creation ordinance for Paul tells us that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation and baptism is entrance into that new world order. Faith is the only thing that saves, but baptism is the only way into covenant. Salvation is covenantal in nature and only intends to communicate salvation when the subject of baptism lives in accordance with and by faith. This does not exclude infants who cannot exhibit faith as an adult can for baptism is never essentially a man’s expression of faith in God; but rather and ultimately, it is the very act and word of God toward the subject receiving the sacrament. There are differences in the subjects, yes, but there is absolutely no difference in the message to either subject.

The message of the Gospel communicated in full to the subject is the very word of God depicted in the act of baptism and this message is two-fold; on the one hand, it is benediction while on the other hand it is malediction. Baptism holds out for the subject both the hope of resurrection and the threat of no resurrection. The determining factor for the outcome is faith. Will the subject live by faith or not? The call to Christian parents is to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And yet, this discipleship is done with duplicity regardless of whether or not it is intentional. To be sure, it is not intentional. Nonetheless, it is done in duplicity when children are raised to believe and live by faith and yet are required to have a conversion experience like a pagan. Again, we have said it above in one way but we will say it in a new and startling way here: the conversion of a child happens when he is baptized.

New birth and its various synonyms are clearly declared by Jesus to depend upon two things from God: water and the Spirit. Baptism is not man’s word to God but God’s word to man.

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On baptism, again…

The Baptist’s point, “only a mature person can be instructed as a disciple” precludes infants as such because there is no cognizant response. This is a false dilemma and a straw man. The paedobaptist position is rather, “Who better to be the subject of teaching all that Christ has taught but infant-like children?” Our position is presuppositional as we assume (not that all children are saved) but that the nature of the covenant demands that children of believers are raised as believers. A Reformed Baptist’s claim to be covenantal in his hermeneutic is undone here and it is his position that the new covenant is only made up of true believers that prevents his affirmation of infants as the subject of baptism. It is, then, the nature of the covenant which is at stake. If the nature of the covenant is primarily soteriological, then his position is tenable. However, that is not the case. The nature of the covenant is not soteriological but generational. It is the nature of the covenant to presuppose that the children of believers will be raised to procure, promote and propagate the faith. This does not ensure that all will be saved, nor does it mean baptism ipso facto saves. The meaning of baptism is ordinal. It is an ordination ritual wherein the proper subjects of the rite are laid hold of by the Master of the covenant for service in his kingdom. Whether or not those subjects do this by faith is a whole other matter.

Again, a Baptist makes a straw man when he says that it is contrary to John 1.12 to baptize infants b/c only those born of God are sons of God and baptizing infants is man’s work and John 1.12 says it is not by will of man that makes a person a son of God. This is not a tenable argument and it is not the paedobaptist position. John says, “But as many as received him, he gave them the authority to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name, who, neither by blood nor by the desire of the flesh nor by the will of man but born of God.” As a paedobaptist, I affirm all of this in John’s gospel. It is not my presupposition to baptize my children based on their being my children (born of blood, nor my desire, nor my will). It is my presupposition to baptize my children because God requires it in the nature of the covenant (but born of God). Baptising infants is not man’s desire or will (which is what Baptists assert); it is God’s will.

Whom does God expect to be baptized? Believers and their children. The Baptist asserts more than he wills to. If baptism is God’s action, then it is God’s will and not man’s. If, therefore, God has ordained that his Spirit works in and through and with water, then it is non-sense to assert that when a man baptizes, he is forcing God’s hand. It is God who is forcing the hand. He says to baptize and he says what that action means.

It is interesting to note that the Bible is not a store house of proof texts. John 1.12, 13 are not isolated words. They follow what John has been saying heretofore: Jesus came to his own (the Jews) and even the world (the Jews) did not receive him. The reader must ask, “Why does John say what he says in vv. 12, 13?” Against whom is he speaking when he delineates not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man? Answer this and his point has nothing to do with baptism’s subject per se.

Picture this: a youth who was baptized as an infant grows up not following the Lord. At a point in his life he hears John 1.12, 13 and understands that he must receive Jesus by faith. So he does. What of it? Does this negate his baptism? No. Soteriology is only a fraction of the meaning of baptism. Baptism is not merely about being saved but it is merely about service to God and that by faith. This youth is simply now living out the calling placed on him at his baptism: the fear of Jesus is the beginning of knowledge. To wit, do I hope my children never read John 1 because it is a proof text against paedobaptism? No. I hope they read it because it is a proof text for faith in Christ.

One Baptist refers to Eph.2 8,9 and says that grace must be freely given to be grace according to this: for by grace you have been saved, not by baptism….” Right here, he shows his hand and he gives the game away. The reformed, covenantal position is not that baptism saves and it never was. Baptism does not save apart from faith. Baptism is a means to an end whose end is either destruction or salvation. The whole debate is now defunct because a Baptist is arguing for a position untenable by covenantal standards. Were I arguing with him I would have to retort, “Hey, wait-a-minute. That’s not what I believe. Against whom did you think you were arguing?”

The Baptist is right to point out that Noah’s flood and the Exodus have nothing to do with baptism….per se. They do have to do with covenant theology, however. Baptism depends upon covenant theology, not the other way around. Paul says that all who went with Moses out of Egypt were “saved?” No. He says that they all were baptized in the cloud. Well, what does this mean. What ever it means, it is covenantal, not propositional soteriology.

Think about this conversation.

Father: Son, do you think you are saved?

Son: Yes.

Father: How do you know?

Son: Jesus is my priest, King-prophet and I have been baptized into his name.

Father: Does baptism save?

Son: Why are you asking me this question? Are you trying to trick me? This is a non-sequitor, Dad. Asking if baptism saves is like asking if praying saves (which it does) or if taking communion saves (which it does). Nothing we do saves us; only God saves and that by faith. Baptism is a means to an end and it was begun in me when I was an infant.

Father: So, what does it mean that you are baptized?

Son: Positively, it means that God has laid claim on me and that I am his and that I am allied to Jesus who is my priest, King-prophet. I have been buried with Christ and that I have put on Christ; it means that my sins are forgiven and that I have been circumcised with Christ. It means that I have been washed in regeneration by the Spirit. All of these things the Bible says are mine by baptism and I believe them to be true. Negatively, without faith, all of that is undone and instead of life I am consigned to death.

Baptists make much of the aspect of “faith” regarding intellect and awareness. That is, faith requires understanding a proposition and if there is little to no understanding, then, there is no basis for baptism. This begs the question. Is faith to be measured out by a certain level of intellect? Is faith merely cognizance? If so, is there a test for meeting this level? Of the following who is the proper subject of baptism? A three year old? A five year old? A nine year old? A 15 year old? A 23 year old? A forty year old? It must be conceded that all will have differing levels of maturity regarding what they are able to know and express. A 40 year old will certainly know more than a 3 year old. Does this preclude the three year old from baptism? If not, then what must the three year old “know”? Faith is much more robust than that. Faith is not merely intellectual but also relational. Faith is not merely trust and belief and knowledge; it is an allegiance, a relationship, a way of living. This allows for an infant to be allied to Christ in the same way a 40 year old is; both are called to “kiss the Son (faith), lest he be angry with you and you die in your way; blessed are all those who take refuge (faith) in him.

Again, “On baptism 2”

Jesus’ great commission to his disciples for world wide conquest of the good news is ground breaking and establishes the means for such a conquest. First, it is ground breaking in that the sign of the covenant is applied to all the nations, not just Israel. Therefore, all are ordained to priestly service (or are “disciple-ized”) in the kingdom of God for the life of the world. Second, it establishes how this ordination takes place which is primarily baptism and teaching all that Jesus commanded naturally follows baptism; however, it is not the teaching wherein a disciple is made but the baptism. Without baptism there is no disciple. Baptism makes disciples and contextualizes the teaching.

Baptists want to contextualize this teaching immendiately following one’s being made a disciple and argues that this precludes paedobaptism precisely because infants cannot immediately learn or have “visible” faith. But this is too constricted an idea of discipleship. Paedobaptism presupposes faith and treats the baptized infant as a latent disciple who will receive proper tutelage in its time. In fact, practically speaking, the only thing that separates the Baptist from the Presbyterian is the absence of the sign. Both will discipline or evangelize the child of professing believers to believe in Christ. Both will teach and train in the disciplines of prayer, confession, repentance, and corporate worship. That is the irony: Baptists are truly closet-presbyterians.

I disagree with the Baptist estimation of the supremacy of the New Covenant. I affirm the exact opposite in that it is in every way of the same quality and it is precisely different quantitatively. The superiority of the New Covenant to the old can be likened to that of a cheque and gold. In the Old Covenant were written many checks and in the New those checks are cashed. Everything a believer had in the old covenant a believer has in the new but better because the check has been cashed so-to-speak.

The contrast between the Old and the New is not in not-having and having. That is, it is not that in the Old they did not have but in the New they do have. This is a possible interpretation of the Jeremian quote in Hebrews but it is not the only one. Here are the possible erroneous interpretations of what is better about the New Covenant:

  1. cannot be broken
  2. spiritual realities
    1. law into minds
    2. written on hearts
    3. God will be their God
    4. They will be his people
  3. Everyone will know the Lord
  4. God will be merciful to their iniquities
  5. God will not remember their sins

It is my contention that these are not new realities which did not exist in the Old Covenant. Here are a few of only numerous available proof texts:

a. Leviticus 4. 20 So the priest shall make a covering for them, and they will be forgiven.

b. Psalm 40.8: 8 I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.

c. Deut. 4. 35, 39: “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. 39 “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.

d. Psalm 85.2 You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.

Again, quotes like these can be multiplied so the issue really is not whether these realities were experienced by OT believers but the issue is that which upon the realities were based. This then leads into my greatest disagreement with the interpretation that says the new covenant cannot be broken. But first, the author of Hebrews is not distinguishing between one covenant and another in this statement, they did not continue in my covenant but rather he is simply recounting what happened in the past. And what happened? They did not continue in God’s covenant. This is not a point of contrast between the two eras however as it is within the nature of “covenant” that it can be violated. This begs the question as to what is meant by broken.

Breaking the covenant from a human standpoint means that the covenant has been violated and that the curses of the covenant are enacted. Within the nature of the covenant lies the possibility of apostasy which is the greatest form of disobedience. Conversely, not every sin is a breaking of the covenant. In truth the greatest form of disobedience leading to apostasy is what the Bible calls disbelief. Ironically, Jamin’s desire to use the New Covenant’s nature as a proof text for its surety is found within the same book where the author has spent numerous chapters warning against this precise sin. Jamin very often says, The author assumes thus and such. The author of Hebrews assumes that the nature of the covenant has not changed and says to Christians in the New Covenant, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” That’s a direct quote. Contrary to New Covenant theology, even Christians can break the covenant and so, the covenant is made up of both elect and non-elect in the New Covenant.

If this is true; if it is true that the covenant is made up of believers who will persevere and those who might not, then it is my contention that infants not only are able to be covenant members but are made so, not by natural birth, but by the washing of regeneration which is being born from above by the Spirit and water, not by the will of man, but born of God. The reason this is so, is because baptism does not guarantee salvation but places the believer within the sphere of the covenant where she is called to persevere by faith.

Again, “On baptism”

To answer the question, Does the Bible teach the baptism of disciples only, one must begin with defining terms. What is a disciple and what is baptism? The Baptist position is that a disciple is a person who has heard the Gospel and has responded positively to its message. The Baptist position is also that infants are not capable of such a kind of faith and so ought not be baptized. This is not the Presbyterian position. The Presbyterian position is that discipleship begins with baptism itself, not merely the profession of faith.1 In this way, baptism can precede or follow “faith” per se and so the Presbyterian affirms those worthy of receiving the sign are those who profess the true religion and their children.2 And so, terms must be defined.

As defined above, the issue peels further into whether or not infants are disciples. According to the Baptist, infants are not capable of cognitive, emotional, spiritual responses of “faith” and so are not to be baptized. According to Presbyterians, infants are able to be discipled according to their stage in life and presuppose that “faith” will express itself in an age appropriate manner. Further defined, “faith” is not always “saving” and so the Westminster Standards wisely caveat, “those who profess the true religion.”3 As a disciple, the infant is raised and trained in the life of the covenant with the expectant hope that perseverance will ensue.

To answer the question, Are infants the proper subjects of baptism, one must begin with what the presuppositions are re: both infants and baptism and the relationship between those two and God as the one who oversees and governs his creation as transcendent Sovereign.

We will begin with the latter of the three and argue thence. The relationship between God and his image bearer in the Bible is called a covenant and this covenantal relationship is dependent upon the ontological Trinity. All three members of the Godhead are in a covenantal relationship wherein each dies a sacrificial death of love and service to glorify the other members—indeed, it is a relational, structural bond which joins the three Persons of God in a community of life, and in which man was created to participate.4

When Adam began to live under the hierarchy of God’s ethical mandate with its promise of death for disobedience, he was to begin a life of humility and submission to God which would eventually lead him into a more and more mature glory. This covenantal relationship, too, eventually would spread out into the society of his marriage and family and civil life. But sin did enter into the equation and, thus, brought into effect the sanctions of covenant life: death for sin. Without sin, there still would have been good deaths to be had by all as all men, immature as they would be in sinless glory, would die to themselves for the good of others. One could very well imagine that God could have laid out the Deuteronomic sanctions before Adam and closed as he did through Moses, “I have laid before you both life and death; therefore, choose life.” Or one could imagine God’s giving one stipulation to Israel: “Do not covet.” It was a simple act of obedience for his subject required by the Sovereign King over all.

It is the nature of the covenant that is at stake in this debate. What one says about the nature of the covenant will determine how he answers this question of baptism. There are two heads of humanity according to the Apostle Paul and so there are “two” covenants. The covenant with Adam in the Garden of Eden is the covenant under which all men find themselves and if a man remains in Adam he will die; if he is raised to newness of life in Christ, he will live. The covenant in Christ is simply the covenant with Adam resurrected and in this sense it is a new covenant. However, from Adam to Christ there were various other heads of humanity with whom God covenanted and further developed a life of the covenant which would be brought to fruition in the person, ministry, and kingdom of Jesus of Nazareth.

While all these covenants were still in Adam and “insufficient” as the author of Hebrews says, it was not the ontology of the covenant itself which was lame but the surety upon which it was based. What needs to be understood by the reader of scripture, then, is the ontology of the covenant. It is not the nature of the covenant that is “new” in the new covenant but the fruition of its basis in Jesus Christ.

The nature of the covenant which governs the life of all men under God is this. God is God and man is not. God is the transcendent Sovereign who rules over his creation by his Word and Spirit. As Sovereign he directs man in the way he should go with an ethical system of “do’s and don’ts.” Compliance to this ethical standard is met with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience or “life and death” as it were. It must be understood that this way of life established by God for man is not directly related to what is normally called eternal life, so that salvation from God’s just wrath due to sin both in this life and the next was never, ever through obedience to God. No, this way of life established by God for man was simply “life-the-way-it-should-be.”

Finally, the obedience of a man up to this point would then determine how the future would play out and “in the covenant” children are the future (who knew Whitney Houston was a covenant theologian!). Were a man to comply with God as faithfully as he could in a fallen world, he would ipso facto direct his children in the way they should go.5 It is this model of the covenant which must be understood in order for the Presbyterian argument. Within the life of the covenant all men are either faithful or unfaithful, believing or disbelieving, obedient or disobedient, humble or rebellious. Entrance into the covenant as a disciple according to Jesus is begun by baptism and so, baptism is a ritual of initiation.

Now to the nature of baptism in part. I say in part because we cannot address every theological nuance belonging to the sign.

It is within the covenant life of Adam and Noah that God “cuts off” the flesh of Adam and singles out Abraham’s descendents for service to God and the nations with the rite of circumcision. Circumcision is ¼ the ritual of priestly ordination wherein the other ¾ of the ritual are completed in the Levitical ordination as Yahweh’s “palace servants” with the typified circumcisions of the ear, thumb, and toe. It is the latter three “circumcisions” which help to illuminate the former. The priestly ordination-circumcision of the hand, foot, and head proves that the circumcision of the male organ was primarily priestly in nature.

With this in mind, let us consider circumcision as ordination as priest for the life of the world. There were two people groups in the OT who were saved: Israel and Gentiles. Only one of these were priests to God for the life of the other. There were plenty of OT Gentiles saved by faith who received the “circumcision made without hands” and whose “uncircumcision” was considered “circumcision.” No Gentile was required to be circumcised for salvation in the OT.6 Why should he be? Only Israel was ordained as priest to the nations. It was only if an “alien” wanted to participate in Passover wherein he was required to be circumcised (and thereby receive ordination as priest and adoption as a “son”) with a circumcision made with hands. Baptism, then, corresponds to this. Baptism, first of all, is an ordination to priestly service to the world and now, in Christ, all alike are baptized as priests.

Infants are therefore the proper subjects of baptism in the same way they were the proper recipients of circumcision. In infancy, children of believers were to be ordained for service in the kingdom; not to be disciplined as enemies of God but as children of God, as disciples. The symbolism of this priestly rite extended further than mere ordination, too. Baptism, like circumcision, is transitional. The symbolic week of the ritual points to this. For 7 days (one creation week) the child was dead in Adam and on the eighth day he was raised to newness of life. This is not strictly soteriological but covenantal. It might have to do with true salvation but that is not essential; it is, however, always essential that it is covenantal.

Ordination to service in God’s kingdom required the symbolic removal of that which is unclean. All children are unclean by nature because all children are iniquitous by nature. Children were never “naturally” born of God simply because born to covenanted parents.7 Even the children of covenanted parents were born dead in trespasses and sins. In order for children to be accepted by God, that which corrupted them needed to be “covered” or “cut off.” The ritual, then was transitional (an adoption, if-you-will) and not transformational. 8

Baptism, holds the same symbolism. In baptism, God says, “There is something inherently wrong with this child and I am doing something about it. This child is dead and unless I make him alive, he remains unclean and subject to death.” Baptism, therefore, is for the forgiveness of sins and covenantally and symbolically speaking baptism does wash away sins. Being comfortable with this way of speaking takes time if one is raised to believe the Baptist position.

Baptism is a covenantal sign of initiation and as such it has dual sanctions. On the one hand, it holds out the promise of life for those who by faith live out its positive benediction. On the other, it holds out the threat of death for those who live contrary to its design. Just as the waters of Noah and the Red Sea gave life to the people who passed through, so, too, those same waters destroyed the wicked. That is the nature of covenant signs. Think of Paul’s allusion to the “inspection of jealousy” in I Corinthians 10 and 11. The Lord’s Supper brought forth both life and death. It just depends upon the posture of the participant.

This perspective allows for the continuity of the application of the sign to be given to children. Children then, are ordained for service in God’s kingdom and receive God’s promised benediction of life when faith is lived out. However, it is also those same children who can prove to be “sons of Eli” and receive the curse of the covenant if faith is not lived out.

This is the nature of the covenant which has not changed. The covenant sign when applied, ordains all its recipients into the regeneration of the kingdom. Are all recipients of the sign also recipients of its benediction? No. Not all participants in the kingdom persevere in faith. Many make shipwreck of their faith.

The position which affirms that the Bible only teaches that disciples are to be baptized must take these definitions of disciple, baptism, and covenant into account. These are the terms.

1 Salvation is always by faith alone soteriologically speaking. Covenantally speaking, no one is “saved” without baptism. Do not misunderstand this way of speaking “Presbyterian-ly” otherwise we will be talking past one another.

2 Ironically he could affirm that the Bible does teach only “disciples” are to be baptized.

3 Westminster Confession of Faith 28.4 and Shorter Catechism 95.

4 James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), p. 4. Emphasis in the original.

5 By the way, it is interesting to note that translation of Proverbs 22.6 could very well read, Train up a child according to his way and when he is older he will not depart. And so if one lets a garden grow the way of nature, eventually it will be a jungle.

6 Nor were any Israelites required to be circumcised in order to be “saved.” Whatever “cut off” means, it did not mean “no circumcision = no salvation.”

7 In an unfallen world however, this paradigm would have been effected as every son of Adam would be God’s son, too.

8 The former is to speak as a covenant member and the latter is to speak as a Roman Catholic.

On baptism

The great debate about the proper subjects of baptism is hampered by the sin of talking passed one another. One side (hence, the Baptist) says one thing and the other (hence, the Presbyterian) another and neither side is listening. Well, except for me (!). I am listening and what I hear is a lot of arguments against straw men. All of the ins-and-outs of this or that errant teaching on baptism are irrelevant. Don’t bring them up. Don’t bring up Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, or any other faction with which one might disagree. As a reformed Christian who believes the proper subjects of baptism are infants and those more mature, the arguments against Rome and the East won’t do here. Their arguments for baptism are not mine.

Here is the fundamental issue: the nature of the covenant. What one believes about the nature of the covenant is what is at stake. It is an issue of hermeneutics, interpretation, and application of the two. For instance, how does one interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew about his parousia? Jesus does not simply come to the issue for the first time in chapters 23-25. He has been addressing his audience on his parousia from the beginning. When Jesus talks about the sun, moon, and stars in upheaval, to what is he referring? This is an issue of hermeneutics and there is only one right answer.

After hearing my presentation of my hermeneutics on the passage above another might simply disagree with my methodology and that is the same with the baptism issue. It is an issue of definition and terms. History is a helpful guide but she is not the master. What the second or third century generation did and practised is basically irrelevant to the discussion for both parties. Both sides of the debate have quotable authorities from the early church. What of it? Much of what is used in the debate is actually an argument from silence on both sides, so let’s not do that.

Let us argue from the scriptures and by that I do not mean let’s look at the NT and note where it mandates baptizing infants. Don’t even go there. Don’t bring it up. I already concede it’s not there. What is there? Silence. There is silence for both parties. For the Baptist, there is a silence as a mandate for the baptism of infants. For the Presbyterian there is a silence for change in protocol from the application of the covenant sign to infants (that is, the NT does not change what the OT establishes). Both must argue, then, from better cornerstones.

Sidebar: Here I will address a red herring which is often used in arguing for the Baptist position. One of the principles of the Baptist position is to argue for the mode of immersion in baptism. Many Baptists argue that immersion is the biblically mandated mode for believer baptism. When a person is baptized the proper way to perform the rite is immersion. His reasoning is based upon the language of many NT texts which say that both the one baptized and the one performing it “went down into the water.” The conclusion drawn is this. The preposition into denotes the use of more water than merely sprinkling or pouring.

Not denying this, the Presbyterian will answer that into doesn’t have to imply that more water is used than would fit into one’s hand or hands. Yes, both went down into the water but the water was merely applied to the new convert and that not in excess.

Both parties of the debate can argue for their position based upon the language of the text and so, if both arguments can be validated, they negate each other and ought not be used too particularly. On the one hand, the Baptist argument is valid because in the Greek, baptize can denote full immersion. On the other hand, the Presbyterian will argue that this same word can also denote a thing simply being washed and not immersed. Both are true and so neither ought solely to be rested upon.

End of the sidebar.

First, in the arsenal of the Baptist there is an silence of mandatory infant baptism in the New Testament. Much of his hermeneutic is summed up thus: whatever from the Old Testament is repeated in the New is to be observed. So for instance, in the case of the sign of baptism, there is no evidence of its being applied to infants in any of the New Testament writings. Therefore, in this system applying the waters of baptism to infants is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

This however, does not threaten to undo the Presbyterian. In fact, he rejects this hermeneutic per se. From his perspective this way of interpreting the Bible is only one side of the coin. That is, suppose someone were to say, “Well, the New Testament doesn’t repeat the prohibition not to copulate with animals, therefore, it is now allowed.” “No.” the Presbyterian would say, “Even though the NT does not repeat this prohibition, it is still in effect.” Therefore, this principle in theory is rejected. The other side of the coin is this. In principle, whatever the Old Testament establishes is still in effect if it is not prohibited. Therefore, since the principle of applying the covenant sign to infants is not rescinded, it is still in effect.

Here is where the impasse appears. Does either side of the debate agree to or at least understand these principles? If the Presbyterian rejects this argument, the Baptist must go elsewhere. If the Baptist rejects the Presbyterian argument, then the application is the same and so the argument must be based upon other grounds.

So where does one begin? One begins at the beginning.

Why do most Baptists reject paedobaptism? I shall offer only two examples as far as I can tell. One is hermeneutics. In this area the Baptist looks at the NT and reads of men and women (primarily in Acts) converting and receiving baptism. The only record in the NT of the recipients of baptism are those who are able to respond to the message of the Apostles. For the Baptist, then, this is fundamental to his interpretation and application of what he reads. He then surmises that only those who respond in faith receive baptism. In my opinion, this is really the only place for the Baptist to hang his hat.

The other reasons for a Baptist to reject paedobaptism becomes personal, existential, and emotional. That is, the Baptist rejects this position solely because he is reacting emotionally to what he believes is an errant view of baptism. For instance, many Baptists will argue that history shows that many Christians have taught that the waters of baptism automatically and actually remove sin and in effect “save” the recipient; based on this fact, the Baptist will reject this view of baptism. Another reason to reject infant baptism as a Baptist is the historical view that baptism “regenerates” a person or is the cause of making a person spiritually alive from the death of sin. Lastly, the Baptist rejects infant baptism because the infant is not able to decide for himself that he would like to be baptized. The child is baptized, so-to-speak, against his will and this appears to many as tyrannical and despotic and the NT example is that of men and women deciding for themselves.

All of these examples though are personal in essence. That is, the Baptist will reject the idea because it doesn’t fit into his view of what sin, salvation, faith, and people are and not upon the Bible’s view of the nature of the covenant.

A similar point can be made regarding Christians who reject the sovereignty of God in salvation. Some believe man is solely responsible for his conversion to Christ and any thought that God alone chooses whom he will or will not save is personally abhorrent to that person. What is the issue here? Is it the Bible? Not primarily. It is one’s personal views on who God is, what he does, and who man is and what he is capable to doing. The Calvinist will point to his interpretation of certain passages and the Arminian will reject that interpretation based upon his existential reaction to the information. He simply does not like this view of God and man. He is a hopeful optimist and the Calvinist position is too pessimistic. His view is not based upon what the Bible says, but upon his own personal feelings. This is the same with the Baptist view of baptism.

The only approach saving the Baptist from losing the argument is two-fold. On the one hand, there is the argument based upon the demonstration of baptism in the New Testament. On the other, is the Baptist’s argument that the nature of the New Covenant is different than that of the Old Covenant. So, finally, all of this debate depends upon the nature of the covenant to which we now turn.

**In the symbolic world of the Bible’s language much of what is said is covenantally analogical. That is, something is said or done as if it were actually true because the action is taking place within the sphere of the covenant. In the case of baptism, one reads in Acts,

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What is to be understood from this passage? Regarding baptism, there are two things one learns. First, baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Second, baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the passage says. Think about this. Were a new Christian to read this passage on his own without knowing anything about church history, what would he conclude? Would he have any presuppositions preventing his taking this passage at face value? Most likely not. Most likely he would read this passage and begin to speak like the Bible speaks.

However, to speak this way about the efficacy of baptism puts many people ill-at-ease. Within the covenant, though, speaking this way is fundamental. In order for a person to have a right relationship with God, his sins must be dealt with. The guilt and death that belongs to a person still in Adam must be removed before entrance into the covenant is effected. This is just one aspect of the symbolism of the rite of circumcision. Access to God’s presence in the OT was mediated by the presence of the tabernacle and in order to be close to God’s presence, sin had to be removed (or covered as the Bible speaks). Symbolically, then, circumcision did this. Not to be circumcised (only for the priestly nation of Israel since Gentiles were saved with a “circumcision made without hands”) was still to be in Adam symbolically and therefore in death and sin. To be circumcised was to be cleansed symbolically from death and sin on the eighth day. For seven days, the son was dead in trespasses and sins, but on the eighth, new day, he was made alive by God.1

Interestingly, the same result is given to the mother in an analogous rite. The circumcision of the male child lessened the time of uncleanness for the mother. When she had a daughter and there was no circumcision ritual, her days of purification were doubled. The doubling of the days of purification, then, seems to function as a symbolic circumcision. For the male, there was actual physical circumcision while for the female the rite was communicated through a different rite. All of this is symbolic covenantal language. The point to be made here is the rituals were symbolic ways of conveying God’s holiness. To have access to God, one’s defilement needed to be covered.

Think back to the Abrahamic covenant. Were we to use today’s vernacular to communicate this story we might say this:

God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be [baptized]. “And you shall be baptised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be baptised throughout your generations, who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants, who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be baptised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “But an un-baptised male who is not baptised in the flesh…that person [will be hated by me]; he has broken My covenant.”

The practical application of this is the Baptist will not be able to behave as he would like. He would like to behave by teaching his child that God loves him and that Jesus died for him and to pray and sing to God. But in the Baptist’s theology, he cannot. He must needs bring the child through the rigors of conversion before anything positively can be done toward God by the child. Here is the irony. One would expect the Baptist to behave baptistically. He doesn’t. He can’t. Instead he behaves presbyterianly. He treats his child the same way as the one against whom he is arguing. He is in fact, discipling a child in the way he should go.

This is not mean to sound over simplified and as if a straw man is being constructed to destroy. Is there anyone in the history of Baptist theology who lived consistently with his belief about baptism? If he did, he would discourage his child from praying, singing, or confessing with the family before there is evidence of a true conversion. How can God listen to a sinner who is still in his sins? Isn’t that the point of conversion?

One argument made by Baptists is that faith is the only thing that saves. Without faith there is no salvation. God will not save without faith. If a person dies without faith in Christ, he dies as an enemy and still in his sins. Unless, of course, one is talking about infants. Baptists believe infants are not damned to hell for at least two reasons. One, infants have no original sin. If this is true, then, when an infant dies, there is no sin for which to atone and so God welcomes all infants into glory regardless of the covenant. Second, infants are born sinners but God is merciful and kind and loves his image in them and so based upon his goodness to them, saves them in spite of their sin and, indeed, despite the fact that they have no faith.

The irony in both of these instances is that to some degree, the Baptist believes what the Presbyterian believes; the Baptist presupposes what the Presbyterian does and he doesn’t even know it. The only difference is he doesn’t baptize the infant. The Baptist position is that the New Covenant is only made up of those who truly profess the faith because for him, to be “in covenant” with God is to be truly saved. The question becomes, are infants (regardless of being born to believing parents) in covenant with God? The Baptist will say, No. Pagan child or Christian, the infant cannot be in covenant with God without faith. And yet, he will grant a position in the covenant and salvation to infants who die before being able to even hear the Gospel based upon his view of God’s mercy. The presupposition is that God saves the child without requiring him to exhibit faith.

As the premise of this essay shows, it is the nature of the covenant that answers all of these difficult questions. The Presbyterian position to the above caricature is that infants are in covenant with God through baptism but that being in covenant with God is not automatically salvific. The Presbyterian position to the above caricature is that infants are Christians through their baptism but being a Christian is not automatically salvific.

Baptism is a sign of being in the covenant wherein there are stipulations for the covenant member. Baptism is a sign of ordination and obligation to serve God faithfully under the threat of death. For the infant who lives out the positive implications of his baptism he is saved not by baptism in and of itself but with his baptism and by faith. For the infant who lives a life of faithlessness contrary to his baptism and dies in unbelief, he baptism will stand against him as witness to his violation of the covenant and his baptism will not save him without faith.

Baptism is a symbolic teaching tool the believer is given to use for his edification and discipline. Peter says in his epistle that baptism is an answer to God for a clean conscience. The Baptist argues that an infant cannot appeal to God for a clean conscience. But Peter does not intend to define baptism so narrowly. Peter’s words are meant to bring assurance to those who being baptized use that baptism as an appeal to God for a clean conscience. Paul’s appeal to the Roman soldier based upon his being born a Roman citizen is an apt analogy. Paul was born into his citizenship and did not understand its import until he was strung up to be beaten without trial. What does he do? He appeals to the governing authority for his deliverance. He says, I am a Roman citizen by birth, therefore, grant me parlay. It is the same with baptism. The mature Christian uses what was given to him as an infant to appeal to God for an audience. Baptism then (contrary to Baptist thought) does provide assurance and that for the infant it is a latent privilege to be used all throughout one’s life.

Baptism does not have to be understood the moment it is applied in order for it to perform its role. In a real sense, baptism is for the parents. Think about it this way. God says to the parents, this is your physical child and I have given him to you for safe guarding and training in the faith. In this rite of baptism, I am claiming your child as my own and ordaining him for service into my kingdom. Your child was dead in sin and trespasses but now he is born from above to walk in newness of life. He is your responsibility. You must instruct him in the way he should go that he might not depart from it. In this sign, I am making all things new. His being in Adam is over and his being in Christ is begun.

The Baptist argues from a false premise from the opposing view that baptism binds God’s hands to act simply because the water is applied. The question for Baptists becomes, does God save everyone who cries out to him for salvation? Is everyone saved who has ever prayed the sinners prayer? Baptist theology is in the same bind here. In both cases, it can be said that God is bound to save anyone who prays for salvation but the fact is, not every one who has done this perseveres in the faith. Saying the sinner’s prayer is no more magical than is baptism. So, he cannot reject the paedopabtist position based on this argument since he must use the same structure for his position.

1 And I will say this. Baptism as much as circumcision is God’s action. He commanded it and so, he determines its meaning. If God says a certain thing is to be done and when it is done it is a “done deal,” there should be no quibble. Circumcision’s symbolism was priestly. There were four “horns” which were “circumcised” for priestly service: the right thumb, the right toe, the right ear, and the penis. Circumcision was a maledictory oath meaning this. For the right ear, having it “pierced” open to hear God’s command one could either listen or not. Positively, the piercing meant the priest would listen to God; negatively, it meant were he not to submit to God’s law, his ear would be severed off by God in judgement. The same symbolism stands for all the other “horns.”