In our men’s group we are slowly working our way through Essentials of the Christian Faith by R. C. Sproul. Last evening we considered the chapter on Baptism, the next chapter addresses Infant Baptism. So, I refreshed my memory by re-reading some material from the paedobaptist point of view.
Robert Reymond in his New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Second Edition gives not only his own position, he references arguments made by other paedobaptist thinkers. In note 8 on page 870, Reymond says this:
Both the “regulative principle” of Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith (I/vi) permit deductions to be drawn from Scripture by “good and necessary consequence” in matters of faith and practice. Infant baptism is one such “good and necessary” deduction because the New Testament prescribes no repeal of the Old Testament command to give the covenant sign to covenant children.
According to Derek Thomas, senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta,
“Put simply, the regulative principle of worship states that the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon specific directions of Scripture.”
It is hard to see where there is a lot of wiggle room in “specific directions of Scripture”, and it certainly does not allow for an argument from silence as Reymond made.
Later in his Systematic Reymond supplies this in note 52 on page 940:
Berkouwer comments: “Against those who asked for a direct scriptural proof in which infant baptism was divinely commanded, the Reformers courageously pointed at the injustice of this question. In response, they asked their critics precisely where the Bible says that this fundamental Covenant relation is broken in the New Covenant” (The Sacraments, 175).
Murray, likewise, queries: Does the New Testament revoke or does it provide any intimation of revoking so expressly authorised a principle as that of the inclusion of infants in the covenant and their participation in the covenant sign and seal? . . . Has [this practice] been discontinued? Our answer to these questions must be, that we find no evidence of revocation. In view of the fact that the new covenant is based upon and is the unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant, in view of the basic identity of meaning attaching to circumcision and baptism, in view of the unity and continuity of the covenant of grace administered in both dispensations, we can affirm with confidence that evidence of revocation or repeal is mandatory if the practice or principle has been discontinued under the New Testament” (Christian Baptism, 52-53).
Wow! These fellows all claim adherence to the regulative principle with its requirement for a divine mandate while at the same time being satisfied with good and necessary deduction to defend paedobaptism. This alone highlights a significant difference between Chapter 1 Paragraph 6 of the Westminster Confession of Faith and that of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. The Westminster states:
“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
The 1689 is slightly but significantly different:
“The whole Councel of God concerning all things (i) necessary for his own Glory, Mans Salvation, Faith and Life, is either expressely set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new Revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
Our Baptist forebears saw clearly the danger present in the Westminster’s wide open door and prudently closed it. That one phrase, “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” is likely the single greatest fault of the Confession and has led to countless serious errors that continue to fragment Christ’s Church.
Now, so as not to be guilty of similar error, there are two portions of Scripture that bear directly on this question. The first is Hebrews chapter 8 (NKJV)
1) Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,
2) a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.
3) For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer.
4) For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law;
5) who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
6) But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
7) For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.
8) Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;
9) “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.
10) “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
11) “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.
12) “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
13) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The plain sense of what is written here does not support Murray’s contention that “the new covenant is based upon and is the unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant”. On the contrary, the new covenant is “established on better promises”. The new covenant has a distinctly different foundation than the old covenant and thus the new cannot be a continuation of the old. The new covenant requires a better foundation than the Abrahamic covenant because the old covenant was faulty (v.7) and cannot provide an adequate foundation for a new covenant to be built upon. As for Murray’s claim that “evidence of revocation or repeal is mandatory”, one need only consider v.13 and the declaration that the first covenant is obsolete. If it is obsolete, it no longer serves any purpose and thus has in effect been revoked.
We must also determine on the basis of Scriptural testimony who the participants in the covenant are. The old covenant was “made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt”. God made that covenant with the people group gathered at the base of Mount Sinai and gave that group written copies of his covenant. The new covenant is signified in a different way: God says “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts”. All those who held a copy of the terms of the old covenant received the sign of the covenant – the children of Israel as a group possessed the terms of the covenant engraved in stone. All those who hold a copy of the terms of the new covenant should also receive the sign of the covenant, in other words, all those who have God’s laws in their minds and on their hearts. Therefore, by the plain teaching of Scripture, it is converts who should be baptized under the new covenant.
One more thing – what is an essential component of the significance of baptism? The apostle tells us that in 1 Peter 3:21:
“There is also an antitype which now saves us; baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (NKJV)
What is Peter plainly saying? Baptism is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh”, baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God”. It should go without saying – if baptism is “the answer of a good conscience” then the suitable candidate for baptism must be one who can in good conscience give an answer. I have not yet met an infant who can do that!
So what’s the big deal? We have our differences, we can manage to get along as we have done for 375 years or so. That is true… except we don’t really get along. This difference over the significance and practice of baptism effectively divides the church of Christ along lines we do not find in the Word of God. Equally important is the fact that paedobaptists and credobaptists alike believe baptism to be a means of grace. Yet how can baptism be a means of grace when administered to an infant who is not yet converted? Is it a means of potential or deferred grace? And if so, where is the Scriptural basis for arriving at that conclusion? Sproul in his Essentials declares:
“Because baptism is the sign of God’s promise, it is not to be administered to a person more than once. To be baptized more than once is to cast a shadow of doubt on the integrity and sincerity of God’s promise.”
In that case, how then is the baptized infant to receive the grace promised in the sacrament when they are subsequently converted? It seems our paedobaptist brethren are cheating their children out of a huge blessing they claim accompanies the sacrament.
Our Lord certainly knew what kinds of things his followers might be tempted to invent in future generations. At least in part for that reason, he did not take a leg of lamb, hold it up and say “this is my body”. Instead, he “took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.” An integral part of old covenant observance was to be replaced by a different new covenant element – he gave us bread instead of lamb so we wouldn’t be tempted to continue sacrificing. It seems reasonable if there were a similar parallel between circumcision and baptism Jesus would have said something about it when he instituted that ordinance. It would have saved the early church so much hassle (Acts 15). Since Jesus did not make that connection, we attempt to do so at our peril.