Posted by RJMcKelvey

Confessions of a Former Baptist: A Case for Infant Baptism

Dr. Bob McKelvey

http://www.johnstownopc.org/c/

Introduction:

After graduating from college at the age of 21, the Lord graciously drew me to Christ through a Baptist Bible Fellowship church in Titusville, Florida. Shortly after my conversion, my cousin told me that I needed to be baptized.  I knew absolutely nothing about baptism, so I did not understand the importance of my response: “Oh, that’s not necessary – I was baptized as a baby in a Presbyterian church.” Little did I realize that I would later argue for such as a legitimate covenant baptism, whose significance was now being realized in my profession of faith. Anyway, my cousin went on to explain that the Bible taught that we must believe first and then get baptized. His argument appeared sound enough and not only was I baptized the following week, for the next 12 years I also did not waver from the conviction that only believers can be legitimately baptized. Furthermore, I became convinced through my study of God’s Word that baptism must be performed by immersion with all other modes prohibited. I believed that these convictions were consistent with the Bible, but especially the teaching of the New Testament, which must govern the faith and practice of the church today.

Eventually, I became a Reformed Baptist embracing the doctrines of grace (Calvinism) and the teaching that God had one people (not two as I as a Dispensationalist used to maintain), which were based on the strong continuity present between the Old and New Testaments. Thus, I took seriously the theology of covenants present in Scripture, which is encountered consistently from Genesis to Revelation. With this connection in mind, questions concerning baptism as a sign of the covenant emerged especially as they pertained to whether infants were rightly recipients of that sign.  I spent much time pouring over Scripture, discussing my questions with others, reading books and articles both for and against the baptism of infants, and praying that the Lord would direct me in the truth. I knew that such a pursuit could be costly to me as a ministerial candidate in the Reformed Baptist church.

Of course, as my title makes clear, I embraced the conviction that Scripture mandates the baptism of the infant children of believers. This conviction of baptizing children even before they understand the significance of the rite, is commonly called, paedobaptism. The idea that we should only baptize upon profession of faith, is usually referred to as credobaptism. The following represent some admissions I was pressed to make based concerning the truth of the Bible, which led to my acceptance of paedobaptism. As a credobaptist serious about God’s Word, I had to confess the five following truths.[1]

 

1. It was possible to be a member of the new covenant community without being one of the elect.

All that apostates can claim is they once had blessings in common with the elect when they part of the covenant community. As the apostle John might say, it is one thing to say that apostates were “with us”; it is quite another to say that they were “of us” while they were “with us” (cf. 1 John 2:19). (R. Fowler White)[2]

As one who called myself a covenant theologian, I believed that God stooped down in love to Adam by entering into a covenant relationship with him. In this Covenant of Works or Life, God as the Sovereign Creator and Lord unilaterally initiated an agreement or bond with Adam as the dependent creature and servant. The Lord established independently the terms of this relational agreement as he promised eternal life to Adam upon condition of his perfect obedience to God. In love and mercy, the reward he offered in his condescension to Adam went way beyond the obedience he could render to secure it. In addition to promising the blessing of life, God threatened the curse of death (and subsequent separation from God) upon disobedience. With Adam’s fall, this Covenant of Works or Life was broken (Hos 6:7) as sin and death came upon all mankind through him (Rom 5:12).

God’s grace was necessary to overcome sin and he did this through his plan to provide salvation for and through the “seed of the woman,” the people of God (Gen 3:15), which was to be realized through Jesus Christ as the ultimate seed, for “he” would crush the head of the serpent, the Devil, in triumph by his death and resurrection. Though Adam sinned and brought upon mankind the curse of death, God upheld his determination to have a people for himself through Jesus, the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45). Thus, we spoke of a Covenant of Grace made with Jesus Christ on behalf of the elect through his provision of perfect obedience and his reception of the curse or penalty due for the sin of covenant breakers (Isa 53:8; Gal 3:13).  Historically with mankind, such covenant grace was administered in the Old Covenant with Moses in the Old Testament with a scaffold-like ceremonial system whose types, shadows, and promises looked ahead to the fulfillment of all in Jesus Christ and the commencement of the New Covenant in the New Testament. This salvation, accomplished by Christ, would then be applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet 1:1-2).

As a Reformed Baptist, I maintained that the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34 was new in substance in the sense of being radically dissimilar in nature from the Old Covenant. In addition to all that the New Covenant represented in Jesus Christ, the main difference between the two covenants is that all members of the New Covenant were of the elect while only some under the Old Covenant were. Further, I believed that under the Old Covenant there were both blessings and curses while under the New Covenant there are only blessings, since the covenant only pertains to the elect. How else are we understand the fact that the prophecy of Jeremiah, which is cited in Hebrews 8, promises that all within the New Covenant will know the Lord, have the law of God written on their hearts, and experience the forgiveness of sins?  How does this relate to baptism? Clearly, if the elect and covenant members are the same group of people, only those with a credible profession of faith should receive baptism as the sign of the covenant.

However, I wrestled with the fact that this understanding failed to make sense of texts in the New Testament teaching that one can still be cut off from the covenant and that the New Covenant, like the Old Covenant, contained both blessings and curses. Thus, the New Testament clearly set forth the possibility that one could apostatize or turn away from Jesus Christ in the end (e.g. John 15:1-6; Rom 11:17-22; 1 Cor 10:1-12; Heb 6:4-5; 10:26-29; 1 Tim 1:19-20; 1 Tim 4:1). This presented with me with a dilemma. How could I possibly reconcile these passages with my adamant refusal to admit that someone can lose their salvation?  In short, I was forced to conclude that, in some sense, it is possible for the non-elect to be partakers of New Covenant blessings only to lose them in the end due to unbelief.  It was possible to be a part of the New Covenant community visibly manifested in the church without being one of the elect. In short, covenant and election were not coextensive or exactly the same group of people. Douglas Wilson nicely summarizes the difference between the credobaptist and paedobaptist approach to the New Covenant:

We should therefore understand the differing theological assumptions about the relationship of unbelief to the New Covenant. The baptistic assumption is that unbelief is utterly inconsistent with the New Covenant, such that the covenant cannot really be entered into by unbelievers. In other words, the sin of unbelief (to the point of apostasy) is an impossibility for members of the New Covenant. Therefore, the elect and the covenant members are the same set of people. The paedobaptistic assumption is that unbelief is utterly inconsistent with the New Covenant, such that it violates that covenant. Such violation means that the curses of the covenant now apply to those unbelievers who are within the covenant. Therefore, the elect and the covenant members are not identical sets of people.[3]

The possibility of unbelief within the New Covenant is really the only plausible way to understand a passage such as Romans 11:20-24, which sets forth the threat of being “cut off” for not only Jews under the Old but also Gentiles under the New Covenant. This, then, provides the only plausible explanation for the warnings about the possibility of falling away, without succumbing to the idea that we can lose our salvation. Further, though the elect will persevere to the end, they are not to be casual about these threats but must make their “calling and election sure” (2 Pet 1:10).  Concerning apostates, R. Fowler White notes that they “suffer real losses, but the losses they suffer do not include blessings they never actually had, namely, saving graces that flow from the decree of election.”[4]

Yet, the absolute promises of immutability, godliness, knowledge and forgiveness in the New Covenant still remain. What are we to do with them? The best way to understand the blessings of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 is to view them as only now partially fulfilled or inaugurated in the first coming of Christ as we await his return and the final consummation of all these blessings.  That children can partake of covenant blessings now as they did under the Old Covenant, legitimates their reception of the sign of the covenant.  The blessings may be lost as the branches are cut off both in the Old and New Covenants (Rom. 11). One day, the tree will be whole for eternity in the consummation to come. Then, and only then, will covenant and election be coextensive.

 

2. Any argument used against the baptism of infants must also be applied to circumcision.

For what will they bring forward to impugn infant baptism that may not be turned back against circumcision? (John Calvin)[5]

All Reformed Baptists recognize, to a degree, a parallel between baptism and circumcision based on Colossians 2:11-12. Still, J. Douma rightly points out that Kingdon while seeing the connection between the two, sets up an erroneous distinction between a fleshly old and a spiritual new dispensation within the administrations of the Old and New Covenants. Thus, Douma maintains that we incorrectly speak of “covenant blessings that possess only an earthly character.”[6]  In the end, the Reformed Baptist fails to see both the spiritual blessings that came to all Old Covenant members and the curse that came to those failing to meet spiritual qualifications (Rom 3:1-2; 9:4-6; 1 Cor 10:1-5). They also over-spiritualize the New Covenant forgetting the physical blessings that remain under the New Covenant such as bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15) and the New Heavens and New Earth (Isa 65:17, 66:22-23; Rom 8:19-21; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-4). Indeed, we look forward to a kingdom that will eradicate all others and fill the “whole earth” (Dan 2:35).  We look forward not to just inherit the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (Gen 17:8) but the entire “world” (Rom 4:13)!

Samuel Waldron as a Reformed Baptist recognizes “a certain parallel or analogy between circumcision and baptism” and that both were “rites or symbols of induction or initiation  into the covenant people of God.”[7]  He also rightly recognizes the emphasis that paedobaptists place upon this analogy in arguing their case.  “Unless Reformed paedobaptists can clearly establish their argument from circumcision and the old covenant,” Waldron declares, “the presumption must be that only professed disciples should be baptized.”[8] In short, he believes that paedobaptists have pressed the analogy too far and have failed to recognize the distinction between the two rites.  David Kingdon makes the same allegation arguing that, most importantly, paedobaptists fail to remember that while circumcision points to the “necessity of the circumcision of the heart,” not all the circumcised partook of spiritual blessings but only earthly ones. However, in the New Covenant, to which the earthly Old Covenant pointed, all receive the spiritual blessings. Thus, only those who have the spiritual reality should receive the sign of them in baptism.[9]

In line with such reasonings, Waldron asks that if the New and Old covenants are not identical, then “how can it be said that baptism is identical with circumcision?”[10]  Yet the paedobaptist has not denied covenant diversity but affirmed that in covenant unity the spiritual import of circumcision is identified with baptism.  There remains, then, unity in the midst of diversity so that the central covenantal focus of “I will be their God and they shall be my people” is signified by both signs as distinct as they are from one another.

I maintain that in charging the paedobaptist of the error of equation, Waldron ends up radically dichotomizing the covenants and their signs.  “Membership in God’s people in the New Covenant”, says Waldron, “is no longer on the basis of physical qualifications, but spiritual qualifications.”[11]   Waldron adds that while circumcision demanded the spiritual reality it represented, baptism presupposed it.   Yet if the qualification assertion is maintained, it must be said that excision from the covenant would not occur if the spiritual reality is not present.  If qualification is merely physical then disqualification could only occur based upon the failure to meet an external requirement.  In other words, disqualification from a physically-entered covenant could not occur due to the failure to meet spiritual demands.  Yet this is exactly what we see in God’s covenantal threatenings.  The spiritual was not only demanded but implied in the physical.

For example, we read of such warnings in Leviticus 26 from God to the Israelites that if His commands are not obeyed, His statutes despised, and His covenant broken then His face would be set against them.  If they would confess their iniquity and humble their uncircumcised hearts, God would remember His covenant that He might be their God.  While Waldron would clearly identify God’s demands here, he cannot do so without escaping the recognition that participation in the covenant presupposed allegiance unto Yahweh.  Such an implication was made for the children as well brought up in a covenant home. They were expected to own their parents’ God and live as though He were their own. To circumcise a child was to imply that he would serve the Lord even while yet passively consecrated.  Indeed, such a consecration presupposed the reality that he would walk in the statutes of the Lord and not just be instructed to do so.  Should the parents or the children manifest their rebellion to their covenant God, they would also show themselves to be merely circumcised in the flesh and so fit recipients the covenantal curse.  If the qualifications are merely physical, then as soon as they are met, judgment would never be required.

This dualism between the earthly and spiritual whether in covenantal qualifications, constitution, or blessings is a common and I believe erroneous emphasis among Reformed Baptists.  David Kingdon and Paul K. Jewett, whose influence on Waldron is evident, present some of the most developed discussion on this distinction. Kingdon, for example, says the paedobaptist is right to recognize that the rite of circumcision has not only a natural but also a spiritual significance. Otherwise, how could Paul attest that Abraham had received the sign of circumcision as “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:11)? Thus,  Kingdon argues that “circumcision as a rite refers to the necessity of the circumcision of the heart” and “cannot be said to have an exclusively natural reference.”[12]

Kingdon also says that circumcision was not purely a national sign, for Abraham received it as a sign of God’s gracious covenant with him before Israel was ever constituted as a nation.  Clearly for Kingdon, circumcision and baptism are analogous as depictions of  renewal and cleansing and as signs and seals of righteousness which is by faith. Certainly, it is not possible to escape the likenesses between circumcision and baptism as initiatory rites and as significations of such spiritual realities as  repentance, regeneration, justification by faith, heart cleansing, union and communion with Christ, citizenship in Israel, consecration unto God, and an interest in future blessings or curses (Gen 17:7-11; Exod. 19:5-6; Lev. 26:40-41; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Isa. 52:1; Jer. 4:4; Acts 2:38-39; 22:16; Rom. 2:28-29; 4:11-12;  6:3-7; 1 Cor. 10:1-12; Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 2:11-12; Col. 2:11-14; Titus 3:5-7; Heb. 8:10).[13]

Here the following question must be raised.  If the analogy between united but different rites in united but different covenants is so clear, why not give the covenant sign to children of believing parents now as it was under the Old Covenant?  But here is where Kingdon places the limitation on this analogy.  He turns to the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 17  to understand the  meaning and significance of the analogy.   God in Genesis 17:2 made a covenant with Abraham and promised, I “will multiply you exceedingly.” Kingdon maintains that this promise was fulfilled dispensationally through the physical descent of the nation of Israel as well as in the numerous Abrahamic descendants from Ishmael and other sons.  Also, this promise was fulfilled trans-dispensationally  through the multitudes of believers who, in Christ, are Abraham’s seed and “heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:29)  The promise of the land to Abraham (Gen. 17:8) was fulfilled dispensationally in the promised land of Canaan but trans-dispensationally in the believers’ inheritance in Christ.[14]

For Kingdon,  circumcision was a sign and seal of earthly realities for all Jews according to the flesh while at the same time a sign and seal of heavenly realities only for those who were at the same time Jews according to the spirit.  Physical circumcision, he says, must be viewed as the type for which circumcision of the heart and not physical baptism  is the antitype.[15]  He asks,

how can it be argued that baptism is equivalent in meaning to circumcision, when circumcision in the New Testament is clearly related to regeneration?  No New Testament proof can be found for the contention that baptism and circumcision are identical , and we are therefore precluded from inferring that baptism should be applied to infants.  If we put circumcision in parallel with baptism are we not ignoring the fulfillment of circumcision in regeneration?[16]

Kingdon asserts that paedobaptists incorrectly argue  that the physical “thee and thy seed” principle still in force for it would necessarily imply that the earthly realities such as the land of Canaan are still promised to believers. Instead, the priniciple of “thee and thy seed” has been abrogated in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) where the promise of covenant blessings are  limited to the regenerate. Paedobaptists are wrong to emphasize a continual literal-seed concept when Paul has defined the seed as believers only.  (Gal. 3:7)

I agree that the distinction between circumcision and baptism is present but believe that Kingdon has so highlighted the dispensational-transdispensational dichotomy that he has made the Abrahamic promise in the Old Testament different than in the New Testament.

For example, Kingdon attests that the promise of numerous descendants was fulfilled in the fleshly Jewish nation in the Old Testament but in the spiritual seed of Abraham in the New. It is certainly true that there is a distinction between the fleshly and spiritual in the offspring of Abraham; but, as J. Douma points out, “we need not speak therefore of two kinds of promises, as Kingdon does.”[17]

What occurs, then, is the establishment of covenant blessings that have only an earthly character and are meant for those receiving only an earthly circumcision.  Circumcision as the sign of the covenant was to be given to fleshly offspring which entitled them to the earthly blessings such as the land.  These were the descendants of Abraham receiving the dispensational blessings of the covenant.  Though all who received circumcision partook of the earthly blessings not all partook of the spiritual blessings. Under the New Covenant, Kingdon maintains that these earthly covenantal types such as circumcision, offspring, and blessings have given way to their antitypes of spiritual circumcision, offspring, and blessings. Thus, only the antitypical offspring of Abraham antitypically circumcised are recipients of the antitypical blessings.  It must be concluded, according to Kingdon’s reasoning, that baptism as the sign of this spiritually-minded covenant be administered only to the spiritual offspring of Abraham.   Yes, baptism is analogous to circumcision in that it is also the sign of the covenant and is administered to the “seed.”   Now; however, it is the transdispensational seed a*lone that receives the sign.

From this radical distinction between a fleshly old and a spiritual new dispensation, an erroneous dualism emerges.  For example, the New Testament interpretation (1 Cor. 10:1-5) of the Red Sea crossing clearly testifies that the God’s people partook of spiritual drink from the Rock which was Christ.  Thus, the earthly drink was to be considered in conjunction with the spiritual drink and not in distinction to it.  The implication is that even the uncircumcised in heart partook of spiritual blessings.  Douma rightly alleges, then, that Kingdon wrongly affirms “covenant blessings that have only an earthly character.”[18]  It is clear, then, that the promise for an earthly reality such as land of Canaan must not be detached from its spiritual counterpart in the heavenly Canaan.

Yes, Abraham did receive a promise for the land but never apart from the heavenly country that he as an Old Testament saint desired. Hebrews 11 clearly indicates that he “obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance.” (v. 8)  And what does it say about his perspective on the land?  “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (vv.9-10)   And it was not only Abraham who longed for such, but also Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah.  Such saints died in the faith as they saw and embraced the promises of another land afar off.  It is no wonder, then, that they “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth.” (v.13)  As such, they sought “a homeland” (v.14) or a “better, that is, a heavenly country.” (v.16) Consequently, it is erroneous to separate the dispensational fulfillment from the trans-dispensational as if the land of Canaan was all that Abraham and his descendants were seeking or that the Old Covenant encompassed. As we shall see later, what they waited for was also physical and that which extended way beyond the land of Palestine.

This inseparable connection between the physical and the spiritual is evidenced in God’s response to those Israelites who rebelled against Him in the wilderness wanderings.  Says the Lord in Psalm 95:10-11, “For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know my ways.’  So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’” Under the New Covenant, the writer of Hebrews tells us that we must be warned by the ungodly example of these rebellious wanderers who hardened their hearts.  They did not enter God’s rest because of their unbelief (3:19) towards the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was not as though they simply disobeyed the laws of the constituted nation but that they rejected the promise of rest that was found in Christ alone.  Does such an affirmation betray the error of reading the New Testament into the Old?  If so, the writer of Hebrews stands to be corrected when he clearly alludes to Psalm 95 and observes, (Heb. 4:1-3)

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.  For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.  For we who have believed do enter that rest, as he has said:  “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

Clearly, the same gospel, though less full in its revelation, was preached to the saints of the Old and New Covenants with the same rest attained by those who embraced such a gospel. While the ‘rest’ of Psalm 95 must not be divorced from the promised land it cannot be understood apart from the ‘rest’ to come.

Applied to circumcision, it is incorrect to maintain that this covenant sign was solely a sign to earthly entitlement for anyone, even the uncircumcised in heart.  Yet this is exactly what Kingdon does by arguing that circumcision could signify earthly blessings alone for the unbeliever.  He wants to avoid the dichotomy between a carnal circumcision and a spiritual baptism (which he observes in Karl Barth and rejects) but then goes to make such a dichotomy a necessity for the majority of the Israelites.   To be certain, as Paul relates, “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart.” (Rom. 2:28-29)  While there are two offspring or seed of Abraham, the fleshly and the spiritual or the illegitimate and the legitimate, it does not follow that the spiritual blessings of circumcision are limited to the spiritual seed.  This Paul maintains as he asks; “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way!  Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.  For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?  Certainly not!”   It must be concluded that the circumcision of even the uncircumcised signified spiritual blessings of which they would and would not partake.  Douma maintains, “circumcision remained a powerful and effectual gift, even though many circumcised Israelites lived and ungodly life.”[19]   Concerning the uncircumcised in heart he notes that,

God had sealed His promise with circumcision to them as well as to the believing circumcised.  But in their ungodly life they spurned the promise and forfeited the blessings.  They kept the sign but despised the thing signified.  Is it any wonder that Paul speaks as he does in Romans 2:28? Yet he does not question the significance of circumcision for a moment.[20]

Paul K. Jewett also maintained the distinction between the earthly and spiritual aspects of the Old Covenant.  Jewett affirms the spiritual analogy between circumcision and baptism. Such has as its foundation the assumption that the New Covenant is the unfolding and fruition of the Abrahamic Covenant.  Thus, there is unity in the redemptive revelation of the Old and New Testaments but that which must be kept in check by a proper emphasis on diversity.   The main difference to be noted, argues Jewett, concerns the employment of temporal and earthly blessings in the Old Testament,

Although the promise of salvation, then as now, had its foundation in Christ, the Old Testament obviously differs from the New in that God condescended to man’s weakness by exhibiting the promise of eternal life, for the partial contemplation and enjoyment of the saints in the Old Testament, under the figures of temporal and terrestrial blessings.  God stooped, as it were, to this inferior mode of instruction.  Not that he signified in the covenant with Abraham no more than earthly blessings but that these earthly blessings should be a mirror in which the Israelites might contemplate heavenly things.[21]

While used to contemplate the heavenly, they were still earthly and, as “typical elements of the old dispensation,” they were with the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, “dropped from the great house of salvation as scaffolding from the finished edifice.”[22]  Paedobaptists, alleges Jewett, have failed to keep this historical development in focus and so obliterate the national and external significance of circumcision by maintaining that circumcision “signified and sealed spiritual blessings exclusively.”[23]

I have already argued for the necessary attachment of the spiritual with the earthly. Another question must be asked.  Are we to assume that the promise of the physical blessings have been realized and have dropped out of the picture completely?  For example, considering the fact that the Israelites never gained the full possession of the land as they were promised, does there not yet remain the promise for physical land?   Kingdon complains that the paedobaptist wants to “drop the ‘land’ out of the promise of God to Abraham” while maintaining the promise to the literal seed.[24]   Yet, paedobaptists do not want to abandon the promise about the land. “Abraham himself did not do so,” states Douma, “when he longed for a better, heavenly homeland.  And we do not do so when we bear in mind with Paul that Abraham was to inherit the world, Rom. 4:13.”[25]  Thus, rather than the physical aspect of the promise dropping from the picture it  stands for the believer now as it did for Abraham as an anticipation of  truly earthly blessings to come.

Kline presents the land of Canaan as a first level of the land promise which then undergoes a shift to a second level of fulfillment in the New Testament in the awaited new heavens and new earth.  Kline maintains that the land at the second level of fulfillment “is no less a solidly physical reality than it was at the first level.  There is no question here of a Docetic kind of spiritualizing away of the geophysical dimension of the kingdom.”[26]   Is not such a physical inheritance in line with the hope that the believer has of bodily resurrection when “the dead will be raised incorruptible” (1 Cor. 15:52) after the pattern of Jesus Christ, the first fruits of resurrection (v.20)?  Kline affirms such a connection when he states,

Guaranteeing the continuing geophysical nature of the promised inheritance at the second level is the biblical teaching of the resurrection.  For those bodies of the risen saints there must be an appropriate cosmic environment.  During the present phase of the new covenant, the seed of promise on earth are, like Abraham in his day, still awaiting their inheritance of the heavenly city.  They are still a pilgrim people, a church in the wilderness (cf.  Rev. 12:6), not yet arrived at their Sabbath-land (Heb. 4:1,11).  But at the advent of the consummated Sabbath-order, the resurrection of their bodies and the expanded, exalted second level realization of their geophysical inheritance will occur together.[27]

So it is not true that the paedobaptist has “conveniently” forgotten the historical fact that the terrestrial aspect of the covenant blessing has passed away as Jewett maintains.[28]  Instead, the paedobaptist remembers that the manifestation of the terrestrial kingdom to come is awaited as the ultimate fulfillment of the temporal-terrestrial kingdom already revealed.

It is obvious, then, that circumcision does not signify spiritual blessings exclusively.  Rather, it signified the physical and spiritual blessings inseparably united even as baptism does for the new covenant people of God who await the full revelation of God’s kingdom in the new heavens and earth.   It cannot be said, as Jewett asserts, that participation earthly blessings alone made one a suitable recipient of circumcision, for spiritual participation was necessarily implied in the earthly.  Thus, circumcision was the sign and seal of both the temporal-earthly and eternal-heavenly. Circumcision even for the uncircumcised in heart never signified the earthly alone.  We need only remember the central theme of the covenant, “I will be your God you shall be my people,” to realize that participation in the covenant was never without spiritual benefit.  And yet, for those who drank of the rock which was Christ, to participate spiritually was not necessarily to do so savingly. Jewett’s   dichotomy between the physical and spiritual leads him to ask,

Was participation in the temporal, earthly blessings of the covenant, given by birth into the nation of Israel, sufficient in Old Testament times to give one the right to be circumcised?  If the Paedobaptist answers yes, then the parallel which they urge between circumcision and baptism is lost, since, by their own admission, no one in the New Testament is born with a right to baptism apart from faith, whether it be one’s own faith or that of one’s parents.  But if they answer no, participation in the earthly blessings of the covenant was not sufficient to give a right to circumcision in the Old Testament, since a man had not only to be born of Abraham’s seed to claim circumcision for his children but also had personally to walk in the steps of Abraham’s faith, then they must force the evidence to fit this conclusion. [29]

For Jewett, this dilemma is resolved by keeping the historical progression of the Scriptures in mind which sufficiently allows for both the analogy and distinction between circumcision and baptism.  Otherwise, how can we account for the fact that not even the children of unbelievers descending from Abraham had the right not to be circumcised which is not the case for baptism?  Argues Jewett, “all Israelites had a right to the sign of circumcision by virtue of their participation in the earthly blessing of the covenant community: they were citizens of the nation of Israel by birth.  However, since this outward form of the covenant was done away with in Christ, to baptize indiscriminately in the New Testament age is either to abuse discipline in administering the rite or to be guilty of hypocrisy in receiving it.”[30]

Yet the supposed dilemma is eradicated when we realize that the above question cannot be answered because it cannot be asked.  First, as already noted, there was never participation in the physical apart from the spiritual. Second, circumcision was less a right and more a responsibility for parents to consecrate the child unto the covenant God who demanded that the children be his people.  Jewett himself recognizes this in his observation that the children had no right not to be circumcised. Kingdon also argues that even the children of unbelievers who descended from Abraham did not have the right to remain uncircumcised.  But, as always has been the case, the true descendants of Abraham were believers only. This means that the unbelievers had forsaken the covenant signified by their circumcision.  As covenant breakers, they had invited upon themselves the curse of the covenant that cut them off from the people and the promised rest awaiting them.  When such unbelief was manifest and dealt with is another matter.  In the meantime, to their own destruction, they remained under covenant with God truly and spiritually yet not savingly.

In other words, their continuing appearance as the true descendants of Abraham not only warranted but necessitated the passing on of the sign to their descendants under covenant with God by passive consecration. When their unbelieving rebellion was judged by God, they received the curse and lost the blessings along with the sign that pointed to them. Jewett correctly states, “to baptize indiscriminately in the New Testament age is either to abuse discipline in administering the rite or to be guilty of hypocrisy in receiving it.”  However, his affirmation implies that circumcision was administered indiscriminately without the abuse of discipline and the guilt of hypocrisy. This implication stems from the incorrect assumption that disciplinary laws in Israel were not administered according to unbelief.

The more proper question is whether the administration of circumcision was rightly carried out on the basis of participation in the covenant with all of its attendant blessings and cursings.  To such, the answer must be a resounding “yes” for the children were rightful partakers of the covenant on the basis of descent from parents for whom faith was necessitated. In this manner, the parallel of paedocircumcision with paedobaptism is securely maintained without hypocrisy or necessary abuse to discipline.

Waldron also makes note of paedobaptist supposed allowance of unconverted church members on a legal basis (de jure) in the face of the Baptist recognition of such members on practical basis (de facto). In other words, while the Baptist seeks to prevent the unconverted from entering but knows they are present, the paedobaptist knowingly allows them to come in.  However, I would argue that it is not the case that infants are knowingly unsaved any more than they are knowingly regenerate.   I do not think that Waldron would object to the possibility that infants could be regenerate.  Once this is allowed, then baptism like circumcision is permitted because children brought up in a Christian home are expected to act as Christians.  Not only are they expected to act as such they are treated as Christians without presumption of their elect status until they manifest visible unbelief.  It is obviously more difficult to discern grace at work in a small child but on the flip side it is also more of a challenge to discern unbelief.  For example, I am treated as a mature disciple of Christ at our church and yet the sins I commit even as a believer are typically much more heinous than those of my children.

 

3. The burden of proof to deny the obligation for baptizing infants was heavier than the one to prove it. (Acts 2:39)

The Enemies of our Baptism, cry for an express command to baptize Infants; but instead of shewing any, we think we have good reason to say, we as such [who baptize] Infants, have a long Tenure an interest in the Covenant; shew us a clear Gospel Writ of Ejection, if you think now to dispossess us. (Zachary Crofton)[31]

As a credobaptist, my contention was that if God wanted us to baptize infants, a clear command or least an example would be present in the New Testament to direct us to do so. In other words, the burden of proof was upon the paedobaptist to show that we ought to baptize infants. I came to realize that on the basis of texts such as Acts 2:39, 21:21, and the household baptisms of Acts (e.g. Acts 16:14-15; 33-34), the burden was upon me to disprove the idea that children no longer received the sign of the covenant and so were refused access to or were removed from (in the case of Jewish Christians) the covenant and all of its blessings. These passages would have been understood by the first-century hearer or reader to indicate that all their offspring were covenant children and rightful recipients of the covenant sign.  If this were no longer the case, an explicit statement would be necessary to show that children no longer maintained such a status. That no statement exists indicates that the transition from covenantal to non-covenantal position did not occur. Indeed, such a transition would have caused uproar in the church, of which the New Testament gives no indication.  This silence speaks very loudly.

 

4. By forbidding the baptism of infants, I faced a dilemma regarding how to treat the children of believers (1 Cor 7:14)

[T]he Apostle doth expressly say the Infants of one Christian Parent is holy, 1 Cor 7:14,…a federal holiness by the extent of the Covenant, and in the esteem of the Church, in Acts the Apostle saith expressly, The promise is to you, and to your children:…[H]is children as his children have a priviledge in the Covenant above other mens children; so that it is plain such Infants are within the Covenant, and according to their capacity to enjoy the Seals and Priviledges thereof. (Zachary Crofton)[32]

If I was to be consistent with my credobaptist theology, I had to agree with David Kingdon, who maintained, “We do not say to our children, ‘Be a good Christian child’, but ‘Repent and believe the gospel.’”[33] In other words, I must never encourage my children to pray to their Heavenly Father, thank Jesus for forgiveness, or obey their parents “in the Lord” because their status must always be viewed with suspicion. I found that in the typical evangelical Baptist church, this tendency was not quite as strong, since even young children making a simple (at times quite vaguely) profession of faith were admitted for baptism.[34] Reformed Baptist churches tend to look for a mature “stand-alone” profession of faith, which often did not take place until the young person was close to leaving home. As a result, not only were years of nurturing faith lost but also the child was continually treated as an outsider in the church. We sometimes speak of the glorious inconsistency in this camp, for the practice did not always match principle. The awkwardness of having to consider the unbaptized as unbelieving outsiders was overcome by effectively treating them as Christians albeit in an unofficial way. Ironically, Reformed paedobaptists are actually closer to their semi-Pelagian evangelical credobaptist brethren than to Reformed Baptists, the latter of whom paedobaptists share much more in common theologically.

Paedobaptists, on the other hand, can say unashamedly, “Be a good Christian child.” For example, 1 Cor 7:14 indicates that there is something different about the children of believers compared to the children of the world. As Meredith Kline comments, “It can only be such a holiness of inclusion within the covenant that is attributed to children in 1 Corinthians 7:14,” in terms of blessing and obligations on the basis of the authority of a believing parent. Such status is all that is necessary to understand the warm reception granted to children by the Lord Jesus (Matt 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17).[35] Furthermore, Paul tells all the children of the church of Ephesus (without reference to age or profession) to obey their parents “in the Lord” (Eph 6:1) and all the children of the church of Colosse that such obedience “pleases the Lord” (Col 3:20). Without presuming their regeneration and while warning them of trampling the blessings they possess, we have every warrant to baptize our children expecting them to live as Christians and treating them accordingly.

 

5. It was impossible to support the idea that the NT taught only baptism by immersion (1 Cor 10:1-2)

As for the question of the proper mode, it is too much to say, as is often done, that the Greek NT word baptizw can mean nothing else but immersion. Nor can it be established that the essential theological significance of baptism is entirely lost if some mode other than immersion is used. (Paul K. Jewett)[36]

Contrary to the Baptist Augustus H. Strong, who argued that the “command to baptize is a command to immerse.”[37] R. Scott Clark rightly observes, “The argument over mode is really an argument about what is the appropriate action in baptism to symbolize the truths of baptism.” He goes to note that affusion (pouring), sprinkling, and immersion have been the accepted modes historically in orthodox Christianity.[38] Even Jewett, as a credobaptist, affirmed that it is “too much to say” that the Scriptures demand baptism by immersion only or that the meaning is lost if another mode utilized.[39]  In the end, what is most important is the application of the water as that which identifies the recipient with Christ in terms of both the blessings and threatenings of the covenant. Any of the above-mentioned modes are biblically warranted to manifest this.  While this admission is not a huge factor in the debate over paedobaptism, it does become a issue when credobaptists accuse us of having no biblical concern at all regarding how to baptize.



Dr. Bob McKelvey used to serve as an elder of Christ Covenant before moving to S. Africa to teach at the John Wycliffe Theological College. He returned to the US and now ministers as the pastor of Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Windber, PA. http://www.johnstownopc.org/c/

 

[1] This is not to say that there were not other confessions, but that these were the most significant for me. Please also note that while the following confessions apply to all credobaptists to some degree, my interaction is primarily limited to Reformed credobaptists.

[2] R. Fowler White, “Covenant and Apostasy,” in The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Ft Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2003), 214.

[3] Douglas Wilson, To a Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism, Covenant Mercy for the People of God (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1996), 34. I agree with Wilson’s statement and his later claim in this book that baptism “is not an automatic means of imparting grace, it is a sign of grace that has been proclaimed and displayed in the covenant of grace. It is not a means of removing sins, but shows that the Spirit can wash cleaner than the purest water.” (p56)  However, Wilson has since departed from such a view within the scope of the Federal Vision/ Auburn Avenue Theology perspective, which teaches baptismal regeneration in connection with the idea that those in the covenant ought to view themselves as the elect until they apostatize. Consider these statements on baptism: “In other words, the Westminster Confession assumes that grace and salvation are ordinarily annexed to water baptism, but, for all that, God remains God and can save when, how, and whom He pleases. They are not inseparably annexed. Notice in which direction the exception is made. ‘God can save someone apart from baptism, we grant, but that is not what He usually does.’ Baptism and salvation are not mechanically or magically linked. But in the ordinary course of life, they are linked, and we are to speak of them as though they are. And to do so is not sacerdotalism…We are to consider baptism and regeneration together, but we are not to treat this as an absolute. In other words, some who are not baptized will be saved, and not all who are baptized are saved. But as discussed earlier, while we do not take the connection between water baptism and grace and salvation as an absolute, we do take it as the norm.” Douglas Wilson, “Reformed” Is Not Enough (Moscow: Canon Press, 2002), 87, 105.

[4] R Fowler White, “Covenant and Apostasy,” 214.

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), IV, xvi, 9 [2:1331].

[6] J. Douma, Infant Baptism and Regeneration, a brochure originally published as a series of articles in the weekly De Reformatie  (Kampen, The Netherlands: August – October, 1976), 16.

[7]  Samuel Waldron, Biblical Baptism: A Reformed Defense of Believers’ Baptism (Grand Rapids: Truth for Eternity Ministries, 1998), 25-26.

[8]   Ibid., 27

[9]   David Kingdon, Children of Abraham: The Reformed Baptist View of Baptism, The Covenant, and Children (Haywards Heath, England: Carey Publications Ltd.,  1973),  26.

[10]   Waldron, 31.

[11]   Ibid. 32.

[12]   David Kingdon, Children of Abraham: The Reformed Baptist View of Baptism, The Covenant, and Children (Haywards Heath, England: Carey Publications Ltd.,  1973),  26.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 26-34.

[15]   This is somewhat strange.  Circumcision is a sign of regeneration (spiritual circumcision) but is a type of the “circumcision” of  Christ in his becoming a curse to redeem those under the curse.  Types point forward to some future antitypical redemptive-historical event.  Kingdon’s assertion implies something that I am sure he does not want, i.e. that regeneration had not yet occurred under the Old dispensation.

[16]   Kingdon, 34.

[17]   J. Douma, Infant Baptism and Regeneration, 16.

[18]   Ibid.

[19]   Ibid., 17.

[20]   Ibid.

[21]   Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 90.

[22]   Ibid., 91.

[23]   Ibid., 93.

[24]   Kingdon, 39.   Kingdon here addresses the position of  a  J.L. Heaney as a paedobaptist representative.

[25]   Douma, 22.

[26]   Meredith Kline,  Kingdom Prologue  (S. Hamilton, MA: Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, 1991), 207.

[27]   Ibid., 208.

[28]   Paul K. Jewett, “Baptism (Baptist View),”  in The Encyclopedia of Christianity, I, 524.

[29]   Jewett, Infant Baptism, 97-98.

[30]   Ibid., 102.

[31] Zachary Crofton, A Short Catechism Briefly Propounding, and Plainly Shewing the Vertue and Value of Baptism (London: Dorman Newman, 1663), np.

[32] Crofton, Catechism, np.

[33] Kingdon, Children of Abraham, 64.

[34] See Vern Poythress, “Linking Small Children with Infants in the Theology of Baptizing,” Westminster Theological Journal 59/2 (1997): 143-58, for a cogent argument by a paedobaptist for baptizing young children in a credobaptist context.   Available online with permission  at http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1997Linking.htm.

[35] Merdith Kline, By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenant Signs of Circumcision and Baptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998), 92-93.

[36] Paul K. Jewett, “Baptism (Baptist View)” in Encyclopedia of Christianity (Wilmington, DE: Foundation for Christian Education, 1964).  As the title suggests, what is so important about this admission is that it comes from a credo-baptist.

[37] A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia, PA: Judson Press, 1907; 33rd printing, 1985), 933

[38] R. Scott Clark, “Covenant Baptism: A Contemporary Reformed Defense of Infant Baptism,” Accessed 17 July 2005; available from http://public.csusm.edu.

[39] See the above quote.


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