Lecture 4 - Baptist Objections to Infant Baptism and the Reformed Response
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger
At this point in our series on the sacraments, it is important to look at the best Baptist arguments against the Reformed position on infant baptism. Iron always sharpens iron!
This lecture deals with specific Baptist objections to paedobaptism in light of our previous and comprehensive development of the theology of the Covenant of Grace and the initiatory sacrament of that covenant; circumcision--baptism. Thus, this lecture is not a positive statement but a polemical response, which necessarily builds upon the previous lectures.
The Baptist arguments against infant baptism that I have selected [many of which I myself used when a Baptist] are taken from a number of sources: Tom Nettles' recent and fine article "Baptists and the Ordinances" in Modern Reformation [May/June 1997]; as well as standard Baptist theology texts such as A. H. Strong's Systematic Theology; Millard Ericksen's, Christian Theology; and Charles Ryrie's Basic Theology. In addition, I have consulted the essay by Greg Welty, "A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism," which appears on the Internet [email@example.com] and represents the Calvinistic [or as they call themselves, "Reformed"] Baptist response to the Reformed position.
Some of the main Baptist objections to infant baptism and the Reformed response are as follows:
1. "There is a clear command to baptize believers but no command to baptize infants" [Nettles, "Baptist" 22; Strong, Systemic Theology , 951].
Response: On the face of it, this appears to be a strong objection to the baptism of infants, as we cannot adduce a single command anywhere in Scripture which says "you will baptize your infants." But on closer inspection, there are clear commands to baptize households! It must also be pointed out that the Baptist's argument itself betrays a number of unjustified assumptions and inconsistencies in the Baptist's own position and methodology. There are several points to consider here.
First, while there is no command in the New Testament to baptize our infants, neither is there any prohibition against baptizing them, and, as we have seen, there is nothing our theology of baptism which would exclude children from receiving the sign of God's gracious covenant [see the previous lectures]. In fact, if baptism is the replacement of circumcision as the believer's ratification of God's sworn covenantal promises made under the Covenant of Grace, ["I will be your God and you will be my people"] infants of believers are the ideal candidates to receive the covenant sign! The Christian parent presents his or her children for baptism in fulfillment of God's command to ratify his oath [Genesis 17:7, 10, 14]!
Second, baptism is certainly commanded of heads of households [Acts 10:47-48, with 10:2; 16:15; 31 ff.], who upon coming to faith themselves, according to the New Testament record, were baptized along with all of those under their covenantal authority in their households. Are we really to believe that in all texts which speak of household salvation [Acts 10:2, 47 ff.; 11:14; 18:2; 2 Timothy 1:16; 4:19; John 4:53], and the baptism of entire households [Acts 16:15; 31 ff.; 1 Corinthians 1:16] that there were no infants or small children present in any of them? The Baptist frames this objection upon the unjustified assumption that all of the households [oikos] in the New Testament were childless. For if a single one of these households has a single infant or small child who is baptized, the Baptist position collapses. According to Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [oikos] can, in many cases, simply be translated as "family" [560-561]. Are we to believe that not one of these "families" had any small children or infants? This is a very dubious assumption indeed, but essential for the Baptist to maintain his or her position.
Third, the Baptist must be consistent with his or own objections to the practice of infant baptism. Where is the practice of "infant dedication" practiced by many Baptist Evangelicals expressly commanded of believers in the New Testament? If we must have an express command to baptize, we must have an equally definite command to dedicate our children. Likewise, where are we commanded in the New Testament to admit women to the Lord's table? We do so because it is inferred from a number of texts, and because such appears to be the practice of the apostolic church. But if we cannot do something without an express command, how can we admit women to the Lord's Supper? The same thing holds for the Sabbath question. Where are we commanded to worship on the Christian Sabbath, which is the first day of the week? We do so because it is inferred from the New Testament and because this appears to be the practice of the apostolic church! Thus, as Reformed Christians, we baptize infants because we derive this from the theology of baptism in the New Testament, and which, as seen in the household baptisms of the New Testament appears to be the universal practice of the early church. Neither do we find a single instance anywhere in the New Testament where infants or children in these homes at the time of the conversion of the head of the household, [or any other homes for that matter] are subsequently baptized years later upon profession of faith. The Baptist cannot make good on his own objection without great inconsistency. If a direct command is required why does the Baptist worship on the First Day of the week?
Fourth, of course, we must be able to prove our doctrines from the pages of Holy Scripture. But there are many doctrines universally held by the Christian church throughout all ages as a test of orthodoxy which cannot be proved from a single text--i.e., the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as but one example. The demand for a single text itself indicates a hermeneutic of discontinuity and what is, perhaps, an atomistic reading of Scripture. There are many things--such as the history of the Covenant which progressively unfolds through successive books of Scripture--that are developed from a reading of the "whole of Scripture," and, in which, no single passage can explain the sum of the whole. Infant baptism is proved by establishing the Covenant of Grace, progressively unfolding in both its Old and New Testament manifestations, the meaning of circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant, and in the relationship between circumcision and baptism as taught by the New Testament writers. So when, for example, Scripture teaches "household salvation" and "household baptism," there is a context for this which cannot be explained from a single text, but which must be explained in light of a pattern of events found in the Old Testament and in New Testament practice.
Summation: The Baptist objection is invalid--because the baptism of heads of households is commanded and they are then baptized along with all of the members of their family. The burden is on the Baptist to show that none of these households [families] mentioned in the New Testament included infants or small children since Jews universally regarded their small children and infants as members of their household and through circumcision as members of the Covenant.
2. "The Scriptural order is always believe and then be baptized (see Acts 11:14; 16:15, 31; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16)" [Ryrie, Basic Theology, 423]. According to Nettles, "Every Baptism recorded is a baptism of a professed believer (e.g., Acts 8:12; 35-38)" [Nettles, "Baptists" 22]. "In this infant baptism is expressly contradicted" [Strong, Systematic Theology, 952].
Response: Before looking at the underlying assumptions of the question, it is important to point out that it is difficult to prove anything definitive in this regard from the order of faith and baptism in the Book of Acts. This is because the order of faith and baptism in Acts repeatedly varies. In Acts 8:36 ff., the Ethiopian believes and is then baptized. [Remember, the Ethiopian is a eunuch! He cannot have children nor a "household"]. In Acts 10:44-48, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles before they are baptized, while in Acts 19, there were a number who knew only the baptism of John and who were first baptized and then received the Holy Spirit. This is why in the Reformed tradition, we instead connect the work of the Holy Spirit with baptism as that of sign-seal [the application of water] and thing signified [regeneration], as we have seen in a text such as Titus 3:5, since in the sovereignty of God, the manifestation of the evidences of prior regeneration--faith, repentance and baptism, may indeed occur in differing historical order.
First, the question itself is loaded and is itself based upon an unprovable assumption about the supposedly "childless" character of the New Testament family as well as several erroneous judgements about the nature of baptism. When Charles Ryrie says that one must believe first and then be baptized, and when Tom Nettles says "every baptized person in the New Testament is already a believer," both simply dismiss or overlook the fact that there are at least three "household" or family baptisms in the New Testament. This assumption is not necessarily true! The significance of this has been set forth above. In addition, by making this charge, the Baptist must assume that the essence of Baptism is immersion in water--not an ordeal sign of blessing-curse as we have previously argued--and, that Baptism is the believer's testimony to the demonstrable presence of the work of God, and not the ratification of God's covenantal oath which is essentially the same under both the Old Testament and New Testament manifestation of the one Covenant of Grace. Of course, if these Baptist assumptions are true, infant baptism becomes very problematic. But is the essence of baptism immersion in water? Is baptism primarily the human testimony to a prior work of grace? As I have argued previously [see lecture 3], neither of these points are correct.
Second, the Baptist objection boomerangs into something far more difficult then he or she imagines. The Baptist objection that only one who can express faith and is, therefore, regenerate, can be baptized, also becomes an argument against infant salvation! According to Louis Berkhof, these kinds of arguments against infant baptism are by inference also arguments against infant salvation. "The [Baptist] argues as follows: Active faith is the prerequisite of baptism. Infants cannot exercise faith. Therefore infants may not be baptized. But in that way these words might also be construed into an argument against infant salvation, since they not only imply but explicitly state that faith (active faith) is the condition for salvation. To be consistent the Baptist would thus find himself burdened with the following syllogism: Faith is the conditio sine qua non of salvation. Children cannot yet exercise faith. Therefore children cannot be saved. But this is a conclusion from which the Baptist himself would shrink back" [Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 637]." Thus if infants cannot be baptized because they cannot believe and be regenerate, how then can infants be saved since they cannot believe? This means that all infants who die are lost [which no one believes], or that infants are innocent [a popular view among Evangelicals, and a condition from which our Calvinistic Baptist friends must recoil in horror], or that they are among the elect. But if children of believers are among the elect, why deny them the sign and seal of God's gracious promises to be their God under the Covenant of Grace? Thus the Baptist's position is utterly inconsistent.
Third, the Baptist position that faith necessarily precedes baptism coincides with a number of erroneous doctrines that are without any biblical foundation and are the fruit of the internal tensions of the Baptist position. If faith must precede baptism--since baptism is seen as the testimony to prior regeneration--then it is only natural to argue for several related doctrines, such as an "age of accountability," [to explain the salvation of infants who die before they can express faith and be baptized] or "decisional regeneration" [namely, that we are regenerated through our exercise of faith]. This does not necessarily refute the Baptist position since the erroneous practices of some do not nullify the teaching of believer's baptism. But it does indicate the internal tensions within the Baptist system regarding the children of believers and an ordo salutis since stress is placed upon Baptism as human testimony instead of ratification of God's oath.
Summation: The Baptist's objection is based upon a faulty view of baptism as essentially immersion in water or as the human testimony to the presence of regeneration, or upon the unjustified assumption that none of the households [families] in the New Testament had any small children or infants. The Baptist argument against infant baptism upon the grounds that infants cannot believe, therefore they cannot be baptized, is also unfortunately and unintentionally, an argument against infant salvation. Infants cannot believe, therefore, infants cannot be regenerated. If regeneration can precede faith, why can't baptism?
3. "Baptism is the initiatory rite into a believing community; the church. Therefore, it should only be done to believers" [Ryrie, Basic Theology, 423; cf. Also Strong, Systematic Theology, 958; and Nettles, "Baptists" 23-25, and Welty, "A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism," who's argument about the New Covenant and the character of the church we will view in some detail later--see # 7].
Response: This argument presupposes that children nor unbelievers cannot be members of the visible church or the "New Covenant" and is flatly refuted by a host of texts which teach that children are, in fact, members of the covenant and by another host of texts which teach that not all members of the covenant are elect, and that some baptized individuals do fall away.
First, how does this square with our Lord's view of small children and infants as members of the kingdom of God [cf. Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17; Mark 10:13-16]? In Luke's gospel, for example, Luke is perfectly clear that parents were bringing to Jesus "babies" [brephos--a term which can mean, according to Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 147, "unborn child" or "infant" or "baby"]. There are several important points to be made here.
Jesus says of these babies, "for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Now we must ask our Baptist friends, "If children are part of the kingdom of God, how can they not be part of Christ's church or the New Covenant?" This is especially significant if it can be demonstrated that the Covenant of Grace [in its New and Old Testament manifestations] is the historical administration of the kingdom of God as Meredith Kline so convincingly argues [see Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 1-5].
Spurgeon's famous objection to paedobaptism at this point, "children are brought to Christ not to a font," completely misses the point of our Lord's words and the concerns of the Reformed Christian. The paedobaptist will agree--there is not even the slightest hint of water or baptism anywhere in the text! But if small children and infants can be members of the kingdom of God, we must ask, "on what basis do Baptists deny them the sign of membership in the covenant, which is the historical outworking of the kingdom of God?" Calvinistic [or as they call themselves, "Reformed Baptists"] have an especially difficult time with this text since it clearly shows that Jesus is speaking about membership in the New Covenant, which according to Calvinistic Baptists or "New Covenant" theologians, cannot include children! It also clearly seems to teach that infants and children can be regenerate. Now if it is argued that the kingdom of God as spoken of here is not related to the New Covenant, we must see the biblical basis for this, as well as fully consider the ramifications of the notion that children can be regenerate and members of the kingdom of God, but not members of the New Covenant or Christ's church.
Second, as we have seen from a number of texts [see lecture 3], Jesus clearly endorses the principle of covenantal authority, wherein, the head of the household unit is in turn responsible to see to it that those under his or her authority are themselves brought under the authority of the Covenant Lord [Genesis 17:7 ff; Acts 16:15; 31 ff; 1 Corinthians 7:14; as well as the texts where Jesus blesses the children cited above]. As we have seen, children of believers are baptized on the basis of covenantal authority, not the presumption of regeneration, though we are perfectly justified in presuming that a baptized child of a believer is regenerate until there is demonstrable evidence to the contrary.
Third, we cannot resist the temptation to ask the Baptist, who insists upon a finding a text which commands the baptism of infants, to find a single text which teaches that children of believers cannot be members of Christ's church. In fact, the texts that we have seen above [and in more detail in lecture 3] say just the opposite. If it is argued [see below] that since the Scriptures declare that our children are by nature children of wrath [Ephesians 2:5], and that they are wicked [Romans 3:9], that as a result they are to be excluded from the church until they make a profession of faith, we must ask then, "on what basis, then, does Paul command their instruction--not their evangelism--in the faith" [Ephesians 6:4]? "Why does Paul demand that children obey their parents in the Lord and attach covenantal blessing to their obedience [Ephesians 6:1 ff] if children are not members of the covenant community?" This is commanded upon the principle of the covenantal authority of the believing parent--the same basis for the baptism of the children of Christian parents. No Reformed Christian argues that the command to instructing our children in the faith somehow eliminates the need for our children to come to personal faith in Christ. Yes, the church is a believing community, including Christian believers, and their children!
Fourth, again the Baptist position boomerangs. "If children cannot be members of the church, because they are sinful, how then can we be members of the church, since once we become Christians we too are still sinful?" Of course, the Baptist will argue that believers are members of the church because they are regenerate and have been justified by grace alone through faith alone! We agree. But if being regenerate and justified is the basis for our being members of Christ's church, again we must ask, "What about those children who die before they come to faith and are justified?" "Are they lost forever, or are they saved because they have not yet reached the `age of accountability?'" "If children can be regenerate [or members of the kingdom of God] before they believe, how then can we exclude them from the church, or from receiving the covenant sign of God's gracious promise to save them?"
Fifth, this argument is based upon the quite erroneous assumption that there are no children of believers or non-Christians within the visible church [more on the "New Covenant Baptist" misreading of Jeremiah 31:31 ff, below]. As we have seen above, the biblical evidence seems very clear that children of believers are, in fact, included within Christ's church as covenant promises are made to them, and covenant responsibilities given to their parents. The biblical evidence is also clear that there are also a number of professing "Christians" within the church who are baptized and who never really believed, one example being the infamous Simon the Sorcerer, Acts 8:13; 20-23, who after professing faith and being baptized is told by Peter "Your heart is not right before God." There are others described in the New Testament who appear to believe for a time but who later fall away [John 15:1-16; Hebrews 6:4-6; Galatians 5:4]. There are others found in the New Testament who claim to be believers but who are not [Matthew 7:21 ff]. And there are those who appear to us to be Christians, but are not, and who do not obviously "fall away," but we will not know their identity until the coming of Christ [Matthew 13:30].
Sixth, the Baptist position does a great injustice to the words and promises of Jesus Christ, who as the mediator of a new and better covenant, now supposedly excludes the children of believers when the inferior Covenant with Moses, as well as the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham, also included them and when he had told a number of parents, that their children were already members of the kingdom of God! How, if these children are members of his kingdom, are they not also members of his church? This makes Jesus appear disingenuous.
Summation: The biblical evidence, which indicates that there are indeed children of believers yet to come to faith, as well as unbelievers who appear to be Christians within the visible church and the covenant community, flies directly in the face of the Baptist objection on this point, and is simply ignored by the Baptist who excludes children of believers from Christ's church, bringing dishonor to Jesus Christ, the head of his church, the mediator of the covenant and the one who declared, "let the little children come to me!"
4. When all household passages are taken into view, two significant conclusions can be reached. One, the descriptions given of households never mention an infant and show that a household does not necessarily include infants. Two, every description of baptized households gives compelling evidence that all the baptized people exhibited personal faith before they were baptized. They were instructed, they feared God, they rejoiced, they served" [Nettles, "Baptists" 22-23]. According to Charles Ryrie, "The age of the children is never mentioned in any passage that mentions household baptism. But it is said that all who were baptized in those households believed. This, then, would exclude infants from being included in the baptisms" [Ryrie, Basic Theology, 423; cf Ericksen, Christian Theology III. 1102-1103].
Response: We have already demonstrated in great detail above, the implausibility of there supposedly being no small children or infants in any of these families, but the question itself exposes other methodological problems as well. Indeed, the responsibility of the covenant head is to instruct all those under his or her authority!
First, an argument from silence is exactly that--a silent argument! In the strictest sense, this proves nothing, one way or the other. The lack of any mention of specific ages in the household does not prove the absence or the presence of infants and children in any of these homes. What the paedobaptist asks is for the Baptist to weigh the evidence without the Baptist theological lenses, that is, to consider the "plausibility" that these numerous households mentioned in the New Testament, did not have any small children or infants in them. This is especially the case when the term oikos can be easily translated as "family" and seems to include everyone present in the home--including children and infants. The reason that the Baptist objects so forcefully to this common-sense meaning of the term oikos arises only because the unprovable assumption that no children in the New Testament were ever baptized is absolutely essential to "prove" his position! This is utterly circular--"the New Testament is silent about the baptism of infants, because there is no mention of children in any of these households." The Baptist makes this assumption, which is utterly fundamental to his case, on an argument from silence! Find a single child or infant in any of these households and families who is baptized and the Baptist position is completely and utterly refuted. The same, of course, is not true for the paedobaptist, who bases his or her position not on the unprovable assumption that there were children in these households, but on the historical outworking of the Covenant of Grace and an over-arching theology of baptism, not on an argument from silence. This is a very tentative procedure for the Baptist and goes against the evidence we do have, which suggests that a household included a spouse, adult children, teenagers, pre-teens, children, as well as toddlers and infants, servants and their families.
Second, Dr. Nettles correctly mentions the necessity of instruction from the Scriptures of the members of the household before baptism. This is clearly taught in Acts 16:31 ff. Yes, the covenant head must believe, make profession of faith, and understand the basic meaning of Christian baptism before being baptized! Yes, all of those old enough to receive instruction must also profess faith before baptism. But again, all this proves is that those in the households who were not infants and small children were instructed and even that they came to faith before baptism as well. Remember that instruction from the Scriptures to all of those under his or her authority is indeed the responsibility of the head of the authority unit. Children born into a Christian home, like Timothy [1 Timothy 3:15], should know the Scriptures from infancy! They should never know what unbelief is like! Indeed, it is also equally plausible that there were older children, adult servants, a spouse, and even teenagers in these households, who were instructed, came to faith, and were then baptized, as well as infants and small children who were baptized upon the covenantal authority of the believing parent before they could believe. The difficulty raised by the varying ages and levels of comprehension possible within these households does not negate the principle of covenant authority, upon which infants are baptized, or the need for those in the household old enough to profess faith before baptism.
Summation--The Baptist must base a fundamental tenant of his case, "no children were baptized in the New Testament," on an argument from silence. The Baptist position that there were no children in any household of the New Testament is highly unlikely, given the historical circumstances we find in the New Testament. The fact that instruction from the Word of God is given to all those adults and older children in the household, before baptism is perfectly consistent with the idea that the covenant head must believe before being baptized, and that he also assumes the covenant responsibility of catechesis to all those under his authority.
5. A fifth line of argumentation taken by many Baptists is to show the supposedly implausible nature of the logical conclusions of some of proof-texts for infant baptism. Ryrie objects that "If 1 Corinthians 7:14 allows or requires the baptism of children in a household where there is a believing parent, then it would also allow or require the baptism of the unbelieving mate" [Ryrie, Basic Theology, 423]. The same case is made by some that if baptism replaces circumcision, why are females baptized, when baptism was only limited to males? This supposedly proves a basic hermeneutic of discontinuity. Calvinistic Baptist Greg Welty argues that the supposed inconsistency of the fact that paedobaptists baptize their infants but do not serve them the Lord's Supper is a great problem, since while arguing for continuity, on this point, paedobaptists "smuggle in discontinuities not warranted by the text of Scripture, but required if insoluble difficulties in the practice of infant baptism are to be avoided" [Welty, "A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism," 9-11].
Response: The Baptist at this point argues that any introduction of "discontinuity" or inconsistency in practice is necessarily a violation of the Reformed hermeneutic of continuity. But, as we have argued from the beginning, there are indeed legitimate discontinuities throughout redemptive history. These are, as we have seen in previous lectures, discontinuities associated with the nature of redemptive history unfolding along the lines of promise and fulfillment (that is, changes in the external signs and seals, and associated with the nature of fulfillment with the coming of Christ) and not discontinuities in the "thing signified," or in the essence of the Covenant of Grace which is based upon God swearing the oath of promise upon which all the successive administrations of the Covenant are based. Hence, the fundamental assumption that any discontinuity necessarily falsifies the Reformed position is fallacious. The Baptist also raises these supposed inconsistencies as evidence of the untenable or inconsistent nature of paedobaptism, but inconsistencies in someone's practice merely demonstrates that we are all sinners with different levels of sanctification, and in no way necessarily negates the theory underlying it. This is the fallacy of "irrelevant thesis," or the Red Herring. Pointing out inconsistencies in application does not refute the theology of paedobaptism which someone may have misapplied. And in raising these supposed inconsistencies, the Baptist is once again demonstrating problems of inconsistency for his or her own position.
First, when the Baptist charges that if, according to the Reformed interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:14, the basis for baptism is that the children are holy [hagios], and that this points out the great inconsistency in not, therefore, baptizing the unbelieving spouse, we simply respond by saying (a) "As argued previously, that is not our position!" and (b), according to Baptist interpretation, "what, exactly, is Paul saying?" As we have previously seen [Lecture 3B], Paul's use of "holy" here, is not used in the salvific sense, and clearly applies to the fact that the unbelief on the part of the unbelieving spouse, does not mean that the children of that union are cut-off from covenantal promises or not under the covenantal authority of the single believing parent. God sanctifies the unbelieving spouse through the faith of the believing spouse so that the marriage union produces children who not "unclean," but "holy." Children are baptized upon the covenantal authority of the believing parent, not upon the holiness of the child. The unbeliever, on the other hand, willing and culpably rejects the covenant promises, and by not believing is under the covenant curse until such time as God grant them repentance. Thus, unbelievers are not eligible for baptism.
Second, we simply ask our Baptist friends, "what does this text mean?" Ryrie, for example, says "the presence of a believer in the home sets the home apart and gives it a Christian influence it would not other wise have....However, this does not mean that children born into such a home are automatically Christians. They are holy in the sense of being set apart by the presence of one believing parent" [Ryrie Study Bible, note on 1 Corinthians 7:14]. Hagios here, according to Ryrie, simply means "Christian influence." This is nonsense. Calvinistic Baptist, Geoffrey Wilson argues that "Since the holiness of the children is not inferred from the faith of the believing parent, but from the sanctification of the unbelieving party, it follows `that the holiness of the children cannot be superior, either as to nature or degree, to that sanctification of the unbelieving partner from which it is derived" [Geoffrey Wilson, 1 Corinthians, (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1978), 104-105]. But again, this is not what we have been arguing. We must again ask the Baptist, "you have told us what Paul is not saying, but what is he saying?" The holiness here is but an "influence?" What does Paul mean when he says children are hagios? Does he mean they are innocent? Of course not! If they are hagios, because God sanctifies the marital union, how then can we exclude them from the sign of the covenant, since the basis for the application of that sign is the principle of covenant authority?
Third, Baptist arguments at this point expose great internal inconsistencies brought about by their stress upon radical discontinuity. Greg Welty, as but one example, argues that "the paedobaptist interpretation of this text is a classic example of what was previously identified as `Judaizing' the New Testament [using Paul K. Jewett's terminology]. That is, distinctions peculiar to the Old Testament, such as `external' or `covenantal' holiness, are read into New Testament texts. Paedobaptists forget that the entire concept of `covenantal' holiness has been abolished in the NT" [Welty, "A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism," 7-8]. Again, the way to respond is to simply take Welty at his word and see where it takes us. "What if there is no covenantal holiness anywhere in the New Testament?" Letting the comment about "Judaizing" go for the time being, Welty's argument is a classic case of missing the obvious. Of course, Paul calls those who confuse the sign with the thing signified [the Judaizers], thus making the external sign of righteous a meritorious work [circumcision], teachers of a false gospel and anathematizes them [Galatians 1:6-9]. But if in 1 Corinthians 7:14 [hagios] cannot be used in a covenantal or "external" sense, then, what is the consequence? We will use the term as Welty insists that we do. This means, then, that unbelievers and children are "sanctified" in the salvific sense and that both, therefore, are sanctified [in the salvific sense] because of the faith of the believing parent. Now we do have a doctrine of justification by marriage and natural descent! Is this really what we want to say in light of a text like John 1:12-13? I think not! How, if there is no "covenantal" or "external" righteousness taught in the New Testament do we explain the apostasy passages found throughout the New Testament [see above]? Is this simply an empty set, only a theoretical possibility, or do people fall away? The only satisfactory explanation for this, we have seen, is the presence of non-Christians within the visible church, a body with "covenantal righteousness" who can fall away.
Fourth, the argument that infant baptism is supposedly falsified because of the inconsistency in baptizing infants, but not bringing them to the Lord's Supper, is merely a classic category mistake brought about by the failure to make a simple, but essential distinction between "genus" and "species." The genus here is the category, "sacrament." All sacraments [genus] have certain things in common, i.e., "a sign," "a thing signified," and "the sacramental union." But not all sacraments are of the same "species." Under the category of sacrament [genus] there are distinct species, each with unique and distinguishing characteristics. The sacrament [circumcision-baptism] associated with ratification of the covenantal-oath which God's swore under the Covenant of Grace, is the sign and seal of entrance into the covenant, and is not, therefore, repeatable. In this case, it is to be applied to entire households, and the sign is applied upon the principle of covenantal authority and the profession of faith by the covenant head. The Lord's Supper, on the other hand, is a Sacrament of sustenance and continuance, and has as one of its distinguishing characteristics, the requirement to "discern" the body of the Lord [1 Corinthians 11:27-31]. Thus one must be able to discern that in taking the bread and wine, by faith, we are receiving the body and blood of the Lord. No one is admitted to the Lord's Supper upon the principle of covenantal authority, but only upon the profession of faith. This is not a fatal inconsistency, but merely the teaching of Holy Scripture.
Summation: The Baptist argument that any "inconsistency" in practice, or any trace of "discontinuity" necessarily falsifies the paedobaptist position is simply not the case. Paedobaptists have always argued for legitimate discontinuities. Baptists, we have seen, often misrepresent or cast the paedobaptist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:14 in the worst possible light, and often are, apparently, unable to offer any plausible explanations for what Paul does mean when he says children are "hagios." By denying all uses of "covenantal" or "external" righteousness in the New Testament, the Baptist ends up with "hagios" children and unbelieving spouses, because of the faith of a believing parent! Once again, the Baptist position boomerangs in ways the Baptist does not intend. To argue that presenting infants for baptism, but denying them the supper, is a great inconsistency, is to overlook or ignore the nature of "sacraments" and the distinction between "species" under the genus "sacrament." Here again, the Baptist objection not only does not falsify the paedobaptist position, but the argument itself reveals great internal inconsistencies within the Baptist's own theology.
6. According to Tom Nettles, "Baptists also point to the reality that everyone accepts believers baptism no matter what else they may add....Those who accept infant baptism, therefore, must say that it is the same as Believer's Baptism or it is different. If different then there are two theologies of baptism, one plain in Scripture and one hidden. If paedobaptists...must consider infants as believers capable of giving evidence of their belief, or that the belief of a substitute is in no way inferior to their own, that is a difficult case to prove" [Nettles, "Baptists" 23].
Response: The first assertion is a "straw man" argument, plain and simple. Paedobaptists baptize upon the basis of covenantal authority as commanded in Scripture, not infant faith. The implication that infant baptism is a "hidden" theology added to what is "plain in Scripture," is simply a cheap shot and has already been sufficiently refuted.
First, where does any Reformed writer argue for two theologies of baptism? Dr. Nettles cites none. If he means that the logic of the Reformed position supposedly forces us to this conclusion, he should say so. But as Dr. Nettles admits in his very next point, the Reformed have always had a single theology of baptism, which as Nettles admits is a "broad coherent biblical theology which provides the interpretive framework within which infant baptism is deemed acceptable, even required." Which is it Dr. Nettles? A broad, coherent biblical theology, or two theologies of baptism? It could be worse, as paedobaptists [I am saying this tongue in cheek, of course], we could have the "narrow, incoherent unbiblical theology" associated with the Baptist position. We expect much better from a scholar and a gentleman such as Dr. Nettles.
Summation: This objection is nothing but an unjustified assertion with no bearing in fact.
7. Reformed hermeneutics and the stress upon continuity lends itself to the practice of infant baptism. But don't the Scriptures teach that in the New Covenant [Jeremiah 31:31 ff], "they will all know me," and therefore, even under covenantal terms, infant baptism is necessarily excluded?
Response: There are a number of important hermeneutical issues here related to continuity and discontinuity which need to be dealt with in some detail and which reveal deep and abiding theological differences between Baptists and paedobaptists.
First, As Tom Nettles puts it, "Beyond prima facie evidence, however, Protestant Christians who practice infant baptism point to a broad coherent biblical theology which provides the interpretive framework within which infant baptism is deemed acceptable and even required....In addition it is argued the traditional covenantal approach to Scripture differs so fundamentally from Baptist hermeneutics that one cannot be a Baptist theologically and a Covenant theologian at the same time" [Nettles, "Baptists," 23]. This is more of a protest against Reformed polemics against the Baptist position than an argument against infant baptism. But Nettles makes what we have seen is in important admission. I do not apologize for having a broad coherent biblical theology, and I for one am perfectly willing to go where that broad, coherent biblical theology goes, even if it leads me to baptize my infants! As Richard Muller argues in his essay, "How Many Points," one can indeed be a five-point Calvinist but not welcome in the Geneva of John Calvin! [See Richard Muller, "How Many Points, Calvin Theological Journal, November 1993, 425-433]. I agree with Muller, that most so-called Reformed Baptists are not "Reformed" at all, but are actually "Calvinistic Baptists," since the theological glue which has historically given coherence to the Reformed tradition is the doctrine of the covenant [with Christ as mediator] and not the polemics of Dort.
Second, to prove his point that one can be covenantal and "Baptistic" Nettles sets out the following points to which I will respond in turn. "First, Baptists do recognize a relationship between Circumcision and Baptism. Colossians 2:11-13 establishes that relationship. But to insist that a direct analogy exists in which Baptism fulfills Circumcision (or replaces it) has no warrant in the New Testament. Circumcision typifies not Baptism, but Regeneration (v. 11)....Baptism includes a picture of fulfilled Circumcision, the quickening of the sinner while he is dead in trespasses and sins, but it includes much more. Whole the removal of death by this pointer of life makes Baptism an apt image for this fulfilled Circumcision, Baptism open's one's view to the much fuller intent of Christ's historical work " [Nettles, "Baptists," 23]. Here again, I am not sure that Nettles has refuted the paedobaptist position, because it seems to me that he is refuting something that paedobaptists do not necessarily believe, namely, that circumcision is a type of baptism and not regeneration. As we have argued repeatedly, Baptism replaces circumcision because the thing to which circumcision had pointed--the cutting-off of the covenant mediator bearing the curse meant for guilty sinners under the covenant of works is now a reality in Christ [i.e., "the circumcision of Christ done without hands"]. Nettles is right, circumcision does not typify baptism but regeneration, and that is the whole point! Baptism, as a water ordeal, replaces circumcision because once Christ has come and bore the curse for us in is own flesh, the sign indeed changed from a knife ritual to a water ordeal. But what Nettles seems to miss is that the thing signified--the covenant promises of God, which includes regeneration among other things--did not change, and that is why Paul can speak of continuity and discontinuity in the same passage! Discontinuity is connected to the covenant sign and not to the thing signified. Nettles' point that circumcision is not a type of baptism, but of regeneration, is the very point that we have been making!
Third, according to Dr. Nettles, "Baptist principles of interpretation function on the assumption of discontinuity as well as continuity. The Spirituality of the New Covenant introduces a new order of things, a reality built upon, but different, discontinuous with the past" [Nettles, "Baptists," 23]. The real question here is, "where do we locate legitimate discontinuity?" Do we locate it as Dr. Nettles argues, in the thing signified? Or do we locate discontinuity in the covenant sign? How you answer this question determines whether or not you will baptize an infant. As we have argued in previous lectures (3A, 3B), the Scriptures clearly teach that there is one covenant of grace, which progressively unfolds throughout redemptive history. The "New Covenant" of Hebrews 8 is the fulfillment of the covenant previously made with Abraham (Genesis 15, 17), and is not a fundamentally new set of covenant promises in which God wipes out what he has done before and simply starts over! God swore an oath to Abraham, which Abraham subsequently ratified through circumcision. God promised to Abraham a seed which would culminate in a Messiah. Ultimately, God brought this to pass when Jesus Christ steps out of the shadows and types to fulfill all that God had promised Abraham. Thus, in one sense, the New Covenant is the fulfillment of that which had been promised all along, and is "new" in the chronological sense of being the fulfillment of what had been promised to Abraham. When seen in this light [continuity] the "New Covenant" is not "new" essentially, somehow inaugurating a fundamentally new set of redemptive promises as the Baptist is forced to argue. But when contrasted to the "Old Covenant" that God made with Moses at Mt. Sinai, the New Covenant stands in direct opposition since the Mosaic Covenant was a works-based covenant in which the people of God swear the oath. Thus the legitimate discontinuity is between Moses (Old Covenant) and Abraham-Christ (The Old Testament and New Testament manifestations of the one Covenant of Grace), not between an "Old Testament" covenant of redemption and a "New Testament" one. This point is vital to understand! To miss the essential continuity here is to fall head-long into the Baptist error of making discontinuous what is fundamentally continuous in Scripture. This does great injustice to Christ's role in both testaments as the sole mediator of the one Covenant of Grace.
Fourth, says Dr. Nettles, "in recognizing the analogy between Baptism and Circumcision, we must affirm and not deny the explicit characteristics of the New Covenant [Jeremiah 31:31-34 and recalled in Hebrews 8:8-12]....Several elements of this covenant contradict the supposed application of the covenant of grace in infant Baptism. The partakers of this covenant have the law of God already in their minds and hearts. This cannot be affirmed of new-born infants. If any doubt this, the next provision should clarify the case, for those in the new covenant do not need to be taught, `Know the Lord,' for they already know him. They have already been regenerated. This is sure, because the final provision mentioned is justification, that is, forgiveness of sins. Again, those who ask for an explicit and revolutionary prohibition of infant baptism should find it here. Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus illustrates the nature of the change and the blindness of some to it" [Nettles, "Baptists," 24-25]. Greg Welty concurs in this, arguing that the New Covenant is made with only elect believers only [see Greg Welty, "A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism," 2-3]. Dr. Nettles' main point seems to be that all of the members of the New Covenant are regenerate (since the law is written upon their hearts and minds). This, he says cannot refer to infants, because infants cannot have the law written on their hearts and they cannot know the Lord. Not only does this expressly contradict the Apostle Paul, who says that the law is written on the hearts of all men and women rendering them without excuse in the final judgement (Romans 2:15), but again, we must ask, "what is the end result if Dr. Nettles' assertion is true?" The only possible conclusion we can reach is that infants cannot possibly be regenerate and are, therefore, excluded from the New Covenant! We have already seen in point # 3 above how problematic this is, since covenant promises are applied to children in the New Testament, Jesus clearly speaks of them as members of the kingdom of God, and the New Testament is replete with instances of people professing faith as members of the visible church, but who are not of the elect and suffer eternal loss! This is why the Reformed have made a clear distinction between the visible church--baptized confessors--and the invisible church-- composed of the true number of the elect. As we have concluded previously, if infants go to heaven, they are either regenerate and elect, or innocent. That later, of course, is impossible for any Calvinist to maintain. If infants can be regenerate, how then, can we deny to them the sign of God's promise?
Fifth, just how do we know that everyone who professes faith and is baptized is actually numbered among the elect and would therefore be members of the "New Covenant"? We have at least one case in the New Testament of a baptized person, not being "right" before God [Simon the Sorcerer] Apostasy of the baptized is a problem for the Baptist every bit as much as it is for the paedobaptist. Here B. B. Warfield's argument is particularly appropriate--all Christians baptize upon the presumption of regeneration, hence the Baptist position that infants cannot be baptized is no longer tenable. Says Warfield, "for, if we are to demand anything like demonstrative evidence of actual participation in Christ before we baptize, no infant, who by reason of years is incapable of affording signs of his union with Christ, can be thought a proper subject of the rite. The vice of this system, however, is that it attempts the impossible. No man can read the heart. As a consequence, it follows that no one, however rich his manifestation of Christian graces, is baptized on the basis of infallible knowledge of his relation to Christ. All baptism is inevitably administered on the basis not of knowledge but of presumption. And if we must baptize on presumption, the whole principle is yielded; and it would seem that we must baptize all whom we may fairly presume to be members of Christ's body. In this state of the case, it is surely impracticable to assert that there can be but one ground on which a fair presumption of inclusion in Christ's body can be erected, namely, personal profession of faith. Assuredly a human profession is no more solid basis to build upon than a divine promise. So soon, therefore, as it is fairly apprehended that we baptize on presumption and not on knowledge, it is inevitable that we shall baptize all those for whom we may, on any grounds, fairly cherish a good presumption that they belong to God's people--and this surely includes the infant children of believers, concerning the favor of God to whom there exist many precious promises on which pious parents, Baptists as fully as others, rest in devout faith" [B. B. Warfield, "The Polemics of Infant Baptism," in Studies in Theology, 389-408]. Surely, this is fatal to the Baptist position.
Sixth, what is the meaning, then, of the promise of Jeremiah about a "New Covenant," as understood by the author to the Book of Hebrews?" Jeremiah's prophecy of a New Covenant is stated (31:31 ff) as follows:
31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
First and foremost, it is vital to notice that the "New Covenant" of which Jeremiah speaks is not contrasted to the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham, in Genesis 15 and 17. On the contrary, the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah stands in direct contrast with the Mosaic [Sinaitic] Covenant [Exodus 24:7]. At Sinai, the people of God swear the oath to obey, "We will do everything that Lord has said, we will obey." This covenant, based upon a works principle, was repeatedly broken by God's people and they were, therefore, constantly under the covenant sanctions due them because of their disobedience. But the New Covenant, will not be like that Covenant--the New Covenant is based upon the same promise that God made to Abraham under the Covenant of Grace; "I will be their God, and they will be my people." Thus it is clear, that the New Covenant is a re-affirmation of the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham, now brought to fruition and fulfillment in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Greg Welty misses this point completely when he argues that the contrast is between the Abrahamic-Mosaic covenant, which he contends is breakable--completely missing the distinction between the Covenants made by God with Abraham [a gracious covenant in which God swears the oath] and Moses [a works based covenant in which the people swear the oath], and the New Covenant [Welty, "A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism," 2]. Welty is forced to this position not because of the biblical evidence--which flatly contradicts his previous assertion--but because of his need to break the continuity of the one Covenant of Grace in both Old Testament and New Testament manifestations, so as to deny the covenant sign and seal to children of believers.
This becomes very clear when we look at the way in which the author to the Hebrews sets up the contrast between the New and the Old Covenant. Beginning in Hebrews 8:3 ff, we read, "Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: `See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.' But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people," and the author goes on to cite the prophecy from Jeremiah, which we have just observed. Notice, here, the contrast is between Moses and Christ--between an inferior covenant based upon a works principle, and therefore unable to bring redemption--and a superior New Covenant, based upon the mediation of Christ, making it a better covenant because it does not depend upon the people's obedience, but Christ's! It is, therefore, a gracious covenant! As the author goes on to say in verse 13, "By calling this covenant `new,' he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear." Thus it is clear that with the coming of Christ, the covenant with Moses is now seen for what it is--a schoolmaster to drive us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), a vehicle to excite and exacerbate sin (Romans 3:20; 7:5-13). This is exactly the point that Paul is making in Galatians 3:17: "The law, introduced 430 years later [after the promise was given to Abraham] does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends upon law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise."
The big question here, is, how on earth does the Baptist make sense of a text like Galatians 3:17 if his interpretation of Hebrews 8 is correct? He cannot, and his insistence upon discontinuity does great injustice to the very substance of Paul's arguments in Galatians 3 and Romans 4. Paul is very clear here, and we must ask our Baptist friends, "just what is Paul saying here when he says the former covenant is not set aside by the covenant with Moses?" Indeed, the Baptist must explain what happens to the unconditional promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15, 17, if the New Covenant of Hebrews 8 is what the Baptists claim that it is, a fundamentally and essentially new covenant, completely discontinuous with the Old Testament Covenant of Grace. This does great injustice to the thrust of Scripture.
Seventh, when someone such as Greg Welty contents about the paedobaptist position, "paedobaptists simultaneously `Christianize' the Old Testament (read the Old Testament as if it were the New and `Judaize' the New Testament (read the New Testament as if it were the Old). In this `Christianizing the Old Testament, paedobaptists restrict the significance of circumcision to purely spiritual promises and blessings, while neglecting its national, earthly, and generational aspect. In thus `Judaizing' the New Testament, paedobaptists import Old Testament concepts of `covenantal holiness,' `external holiness,' `external members of the covenant,' `external union to God,' ` covenant children,' etc. into the New Testament, even though these distinctions are entirely abolished by the New Testament and completely foreign to its teaching" [Welty, "A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism," 2], we need simply remind him that is was our Lord himself who "Christianizes" the Old Testament, when he declared that the Old Testament Scriptures "testify about me" [John 5:39], and while he was with his disciples on the road to Emmaus, our Lord began with "Moses and all the Prophets" and explained to them "what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." It is one of the fundamental principles of Bible study that the New Testament interprets the Old. We also think it clear that we have indeed managed not only to prove all of those things Mr. Welty says "are entirely abolished by the New Testament and completely foreign to its teachings," but we have repeatedly demonstrated the untenable nature of Mr. Welty's own Baptist convictions.
Summation: The Baptist interpretation of the New Covenant is based upon a faulty reading of Jeremiah 31:31 and Hebrews 8, not distinguishing between the works-based covenant made with Moses, which is obsolete with the coming of Christ, and the gracious covenant made with Abraham and which is fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ. If true, the Baptist's interpretation of the New Covenant eliminates all children of believers from the New Covenant and cannot allow for "professing" Christians who are not among the elect to be members of the visible church as Scripture clearly teaches. Since Baptists cannot infallibly know that all that they baptize are numbered among the elect, in practice they must baptize on the basis of the presumption of regeneration, the same basis upon which many paedobaptists baptize their infants.
8. What then, according to Baptists, are we to do with our children? Since the Scriptures say they are fallen and sinful, we withhold from them the sign of new life.
According to Tom Nettles, "the paedobaptist may object, `You have a deficient view of the standing of children. You treat them virtually as pagans.'. . . .This is unfair, but emotionally understandable, response from people whose theology has taught them to view their children as participants in the covenant of grace...by virtue of their flesh relationship with their parents. The meaning of this objection, however, is not quite clear. Does it mean that Baptists act as pagans and treat their children to worship idols?....These fabricated scenarios are absurd, and its is obvious that Baptists do not treat their children like children of pagans. But if the questions means that we acknowledge that they are children of wrath even as the children of pagans are regarded as the children of wrath, we must say `How else can they be regarded?' Titus 3:3-5, Ephesians 2:1-3; and Romans 3:9 affirm the unity of all people, Jew and Gentile, those living under special revelation, as `all under sin,' `by nature children of wrath,' and `foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures.' Since children of believers are not exempt from that verdict, we withheld from them the sign which says `I am resurrected to walk in newness of life.' This is itself a great advantage, for we do not give any children false hope from a supposed covenantal relationship. We call them to repentance, not to a facade of Christian development plastered over a wrath-deserving heart" [Nettles, "Baptists," 25]. Our response is simply to once again ask, "is this really what Scripture says about our children?" Fallen and sinful, yes. In need of redemption, yes. Outside the covenant and its promises, no. God has given the sign of his gracious promise to save to Christian parents, and with all due respect and charity, we must regard the denial of God's covenant sign to children, as Baptists argue, as most a serious error.
If indeed, paedobaptists are acting unfairly when they charge that Baptists treat their children as pagans, perhaps instead we as paedobaptists should affirm that we are quite thankful that Baptists do not treat their children--who are blessed inheritance from the Lord--as badly as Baptist theology requires. For we regard it as a wonderful and blessed inconsistency when the Baptist parent treats their own children as heirs to the promise, when their own theology tells them otherwise. This, however, is a two-edged sword. If the Baptist can complain about unjust treatment from paedobaptists, the opposite may indeed also be true. Just because some who baptize their infants are disobedient to the covenant responsibilities to catechize their children and may offer them a false hope, this does not falsify the paedobaptist position. Unfaithful practice does not negate the Biblical teaching.
As one who was raised a Baptist without such confidence in God's promise, I will choose in these lectures not to address how the Baptist endeavor not to provide a "false hope" to covenant children ends up breeding the tyranny of the alter call and repeated rededication after a bad week!