Deciphering Covenant Theology (Part 10)

Read the series.

Credo-baptism and the Covenant of Grace

I have taken a quick look at the way paedo-baptist covenant theologians understand baptism as a sign of the New covenant aspect of the covenant of grace, but of course many Baptists are Reformed yet they reject the baptism of infants as unbiblical.

Baptists see the covenant of grace as incorporating the regenerate only, not the so-called “historical elect” — those who have been sprinkled as babies but have yet to express a personal faith in Christ. From the paedo-baptist point of view the mixed nature of the Mosaic [old] covenant continues with the New covenant. That is why they baptize infants. That is also why the Puritan John Ball claimed that “the Pharisees were in the Covenant of Grace all the while being excluded from its substance” (Pascal Denault, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, 48).

But this is not the case with credo-baptists. As the name suggests, these Reformed Baptists believe that a person must be born-again through personal trust in the Gospel to be included in the covenant.

What results from this difference is two “federalisms” or two approaches to covenant headship. As Denault notes in his excellent book on the subject, the issue is the question of who make up the people of God (7). For Baptists the New covenant is the covenant of grace and the old covenant is not. In fact, the old covenant is the covenant of works! This means that for Reformed Baptists the new covenant is not an administration of the covenant of grace like it is for Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed, but the two are the same covenant. Therefore, there is no mixed company of saved and unsaved in the covenant of grace cum new covenant (Ibid, 32).

The concept of the covenant of grace then is at the center of the disagreements between paedo- and credo-baptists. They both agree on the main thing. For example:

Reformed orthodoxy recognized only one Covenant of Grace within which only one Gospel and one redeemed people were found. (Ibid, 36)

However, paedo-baptists believe that the promise was made with the whole seed of Abraham, whereas credo-baptists tend to see the promise as made with the Seed, Jesus Christ (see, Philip D. R. Griffiths, Covenant Theology: a Reformed Baptist Perspective, 55). OT believers had faith in Christ and were part of the covenant of grace/new covenant, although they had less light than NT believers.

Tom Hicks of Founder’s Ministries provides a good summation of the difference of approach as well as the similarities,

Baptist covenant theologians… believe they are more consistent than their paedobaptist brothers with respect to covenant theology’s own hermeneutic of New Testament priority. According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to “you and your seed” was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed (Gal 3:16). Abraham’s physical children were a type of Christ, but Christ Himself is the reality. The physical descendants were included in the old covenant, not because they are all children of the promise, but because God was preserving the line of promise, until Christ, the true seed, came. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any reason to preserve a physical line. Rather, only those who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus (Gal 3:7). In both the Old and New Testaments, the “new covenant” is revealed to be a covenant of believers only, who are forgiven of their sins, and have God’s law written on their hearts (Heb 8:10-12). (Tom Hicks, “What is a Reformed Baptist?” — Point 2: Covenant Theology).

The acceptance of only true believers who have requested baptism as church members rather than believers and their children effects ecclesiology as well as soteriology, but I shall not pursue that issue here. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of agreement between Reformed paedo-baptists and Reformed credo-baptists, but there is divergence on their understanding particularly of the covenant of grace.

 To sum up, in the Reformed Baptist position all the believers and only believers are included within the one covenant of grace. This covenant of grace is identical with the new covenant. However, “the external aspects of the covenant” do not impinge upon “its internal substance” (Denault, 146). That is to say, the new covenant qua covenant of grace was doing its work internally before it was revealed externally as the new covenant. As this is true the old covenant cannot be the covenant of grace in a former administration. The promise of a “seed” to Abraham does not include his natural seed so much as his spiritual seed in Christ.

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dgszweda's picture

 

I think that Stephen Wellum (professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist) sums it up well:

"Under the old covenant, one could make a distinction between the physical and spiritual seed of Abraham (the locus of the elect).  Under the old covenant, both "seeds" (physical and spiritual) received the covenant sign of circumcision and both were viewed as full covenant members in the national sense, even though it was only the remnant who were the true spiritual seed of Abraham.  But this kind of distinction is not legitimate under the new covenant where the locus of the covenant community and the elect are the same. In other words, one cannot speak of a "remnant" in the new covenant community, like one could under the old covenant.  All those who are "in Christ" are a regenerate people, and as such it is only they who must receive the sign of the covenant, namely baptism."

G. N. Barkman's picture

Under the Old Covenant, unregenerate people were made members of the covenant community by God's design.  Under the New Covenant, only those who have been regenerated are identified as members of the covenant community, also by God's design.  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

G. N. Barkman

Dan Miller's picture

Paul, I'm glad you brought up "promise to 'you and your seed'." As I read it, the Covenantal argument for baby baptism rests on that idea (also called "generational succession").

In Genesis 17 the promise of generational succession is connected to the command to circumcise. That "you and your children" promise occurs several times in the Old Testament.

 I am a credo-baptist. But to me Peter's message in Acts 2:38-39 is one of the best arguments for baby baptism:

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

39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Peter seems to take the same promise of generational succession and use it as the basis for baptism.

 

The acceptance of only true believers who have requested baptism as church members 
-Paul Henebury

 Under the Old Covenant, unregenerate people were made members of the covenant community by God's design.  Under the New Covenant, only those who have been regenerated are identified as members
-G N Barkman

Even as a fellow credo-baptist, I think you both go slightly too far here.

Paul should say, "The acceptance of only those who have given credible professions of being true believers who have requested baptism..." 

Greg should say, "Under the New Covenant, only those who have given a credible professions of being regenerated are identified as members..."

G. N. Barkman's picture

Dan, I've never found the pedo baptist argument from Acts two persuasive when you consider "and to as many as are afar off" statement that follows the "and your children."  If children are to be baptized before they believe, are those who are afar off (Gentiles) to be baptized before they believe?  How much better to under it as saying, "the promise is to you (if you will believe it), and to your children (if they believe it), and to as many as are afar off (if they believe it)."  If I'm missing something here, please point it out.

G. N. Barkman

Dan Miller's picture

I view the verse as you do (especially "those who are afar off.") Yet I do see the point the baby-baptizers are making.

How much better to under it as saying, "the promise is to you (if you will believe it), and to your children (if they believe it), and to as many as are afar off (if they believe it)."

The answer they would give is that the formula, "for the promise is for you and your children," was a call for parents to believe in God's promise to save our children.  AND belief in that promise was always the basis for baby-circumcision. 

So, the "sign of the covenant" circumcision traditionally (and by commandment) preceded faith. It was a sign of faith in election. So for centuries, the question, "When should we give the sign to our kids?" was always answered, "When we are asked to believe they are elect." And generational succession generally promised that. 

---------

Now, what different and what's the same in NT?

Generational Succession(GS)? - I believe this is still a promise. Acts 2, 1 Cor 7...

"When should we baptize our kids?" - I believe the answer is still, "When we are told to believe they are elect." BUT

  • Pedo says: GS is still true and it gives us enough belief that our kids are elect that they should be given the sign. But their later credible profession gives us further belief that they are elect.
  • Credo(me): GS is true, and while I believe it, it does not give me enough belief that my son should be given the sign. That happens when he has a credible profession of faith. That's why Col 2 and Gal 3 wrap up faith with baptism.
G. N. Barkman's picture

That's a pretty good summary of the pedo baptist position, but I doubt it will convince anyone but a committed pedo baptist who already believes that position, and is searching for a Biblical basis for it.  In my mind, it is a pleasant and comforting belief, but without clear scriptural warrant.  

But this is the first time I've heard anyone say that belief in God's promise to save our children was the basis for OT circumcision.  Do you know of a Bible text for that concept?

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

my aim here is not to give my view but the view of credo-baptists generally.  I therefore resist the correction suggested by Dan.  In any case, I'm afraid I cannot agree with his interpretation of Peter, or Moses. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Dan, should I be baptized because I believe the promises of God to save those who are afar off?

G. N. Barkman

Dan Miller's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:
my aim here is not to give my view but the view of credo-baptists generally. I therefore resist the correction suggested by Dan.  In any case, I'm afraid I cannot agree with his interpretation of Peter, or Moses. 

I made two correctives:

1. Credo-baptists often say, "We baptize when the person has faith." But I corrected because we really should say, "We baptize when the person has a credible profession of faith." 

2. The thing about generational succession being a basis for infant baptism within Covenant theology. But this wasn't really a correction - since one of your quotes mentioned the idea.

Which of those do you resist?

------

Greg, I'm not sure what to do with your question. Certainly, a big part of why gentiles like us are believers and have been baptized is because of the missions that came from the promise being for "those who are far off." 

G. N. Barkman's picture

Dan, if Acts two is teaching that we should baptize children before they believe because "the promise is to your children," why shouldn't we baptize those "who are far off" before they believe?

As we all know and say we believe, the most important factor in properly interpreting any text is its context.  If you can't apply the same logic to those "who are far off" as you apply to "your children", you are evidently reading something into "your children" that is not in the text.  The context makes the baptism of children interpretation of this text invalid.

C. H. Spurgeon summed up the situation when he said something like, "There are three kinds of texts used to support pedo-baptism.  First, those that contain water, but no children.  Second, those that mention children, but not water, and third, those that mention neither water or children."

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

I just do not see the need for your correction(s).  In the Hicks quote he says, "According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to “you and your seed” was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed (Gal 3:16)." (my emphasis).  

If that is true then generational succession is not really in play for Baptists as it is for paedo-baptists since the "succession" is in Christ.  Hicks also says, " Rather, only those who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus (Gal 3:7)."  He sees no reason to add the qualifier of  credible professions and neither do I since that pertains more to an ecclesial situation than a theological tenet.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Dan Miller's picture

Greg, as I agree with you, perhaps I'm not the one to answer this.

My belief is that everyone [a lot of theologians] overstates the clarity of their view of baptism. The Spurgeon quote is one.

Here's one from the pedo-baptist side:

https://kingdomresources.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/wellum_baptindd.pdf

Acts 2:39—“for you and your children”— as well as in the household theme across the canon and the household baptisms in the NT (see Acts 16:15,32–33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16). These passages are held to provide a strong biblical warrant to ground the practice of infant baptism. Wilson is emphatic at this point. He believes that when all the data is considered, it does not lead us merely to affirm that infant baptism is consistent with Scripture, nor even that a biblical case may be made for it. Rather, he believes that all the evidence combined demonstrates beyond question that the Scriptures require the practice of infant baptism. (p.125 in above pdf)

Beyond question?? Why does everyone, on both sides, think this is beyond question??

I wrote a few papers ten years ago on baptism. (Part 4 has links to 1-3)

I had some discussion with Charlie (used to be here) on those, some here and some private. 

I do find it frustrating that both sides are more sure than they ought to be. And in the years I've been considering this, I find myself trying to see the thinking of the other side. 

Also, as I think you know, I have spent quite a bit of time studying and thinking about the relationship between Biblical principles and applications. And I have concluded that it is possible to agree on Biblical principles, but not on application.

G. N. Barkman's picture

It seems to me that the right way to respond to Spurgeon's quote would be to prove it wrong by citing Scripture, not by offering a subjective opinion that he is guilty of overstating his case.  Is he, then show us?  No Scripture to offer?  Then perhaps he is not guilty of overstating.  (He came from a long line of pedo baptists, so let's give him credit for being willing to disappoint his own family to embrace believer's baptism.  When Spurgeon told his mother he'd been saved and was scheduled for baptism, she said something like, "Oh, Charlie, I've long prayed for you to become a Christian, but not a Baptist!")

I'm glad you actually agree with me about believer's baptism.  Perhaps I can be excused for thinking you might be leaning pedo since you favorably quoted several who endorse that position.

Apparently you, like myself, have good relations with pedo baptists.  I have found much in common with some such men, and have grown to appreciate the Bible centered-ness of many conservative pedo baptist churches.  I often worship in such churches when I'm away from my own church.  But I'm not as ready as you are, to concede that their position on baptism is valid.  I think it is completely wrong.  It requires too many presuppositions and assumptions.  I need straightforward statements from Scripture to adopt a position that is squarely at odds with a view of baptism that IS based upon clear Biblical statements.

G. N. Barkman

Dan Miller's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

I just do not see the need for your correction(s).  In the Hicks quote he says, "According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to “you and your seed” was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed (Gal 3:16)." (my emphasis).  

If that is true then generational succession is not really in play for Baptists as it is for paedo-baptists since the "succession" is in Christ.  Hicks also says, " Rather, only those who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus (Gal 3:7)."  He sees no reason to add the qualifier of  credible professions and neither do I since that pertains more to an ecclesial situation than a theological tenet.   

Paul, I can't disagree that Tom Hicks sees offspring as Jesus. But many Covenant theologians see it as your (Abraham's, etc.) immediate offspring. As such, I do think acknowledging that is an important part of a treatment on "Covenant Theology." Unless your aim is to describe Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology. 

Dan Miller's picture

Apparently you, like myself, have good relations with pedo baptists.  I have found much in common with some such men, and have grown to appreciate the Bible centered-ness of many conservative pedo baptist churches.  I often worship in such churches when I'm away from my own church.  But I'm not as ready as you are, to concede that their position on baptism is valid.  I think it is completely wrong.  It requires too many presuppositions and assumptions.  I need straightforward statements from Scripture to adopt a position that is squarely at odds with a view of baptism that IS based upon clear Biblical statements.

I understand. And this is exactly where I was 10 years ago. Two things have happened in that time. 1) I have studied conscience passages in depth and 2) I have read both sides on the baptism issue.

Reading the pedo baptists has revealed some who take a position like yours. Except when they say, "I need straightforward statements from Scripture to adopt a position that is squarely at odds with a view of baptism that IS based upon clear Biblical statements," they're saying that since the sign of the covenant was always given to infants, there's no reason to expect a change in that without a clear Biblical statement.

Now, I personally tend to think that a change from expectation of inclusion in the covenant based on "offspring" to "faith" is definitely there in the NT (Romans, Colossians, Galatians). But I also can see that the idea of generational succession was an OT theme and that it was perhaps part of the basis for infant circumcision. And I see traces of it still in the NT.

My point here in this thread want to argue for the pedo Baptist position, but to explain some of the thinking of the pedo Baptist and especially how their thinking rests on one aspect of Covenant Theology. 

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