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I know that the subject of my earlier post is a very practical one that credobaptist churches and families must wrestle with.

It may be helpful to pass along a few other resources for those who want to explore this in more depth and to see the arguments for and against the position I would advocate.

First is a short piece by David Michael of Bethlehem Baptist Church who outlines four practical reasons why they find it wise to wait until kids are at least 11 years old: (1) wait for understanding; (2) wait for more independent thinking; (3) wait for significance; (4) wait for maturity.

Second, the elders of Capitol Hill Baptist Church have provided a statement explaining that while believer baptism is scripturally required, the age of baptism is not directly discussed in Scripture and therefore is a matter of wisdom and prudence. In essence, they believe that “the normal age of baptism should be when the credibility of one’s conversion becomes naturally evident to the church community.” They see this as usually taking place when a young person is moving out of parental authority and begins to “assume adult responsibilities (sometime in late high school with driving, employment, non-Christian friends, voting, legality of marriage).”

Third, Trevin Wax argues that the Bible does not provide us with a one-size-fits-all method for handling childhood conversions; yet in applying biblical wisdom to this question, he believes we can glean several principles.

 

  1. We should actively share the gospel with our children, and we should encourage them when they trust Christ.
  2. Those who are baptized must be able to make a credible profession of faith.
  3. There is wisdom in delaying baptism for young children.
  4. Delaying baptism does not mean we should consider childhood baptisms invalid.

 

Fourth, in line with the position I was advocating, there is a free booklet available online: Forbid Them Not: Rethinking the Baptism and Church Membership of Children and Young People, by Ted Christman, founding pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY.

He argues:

We Reformed Baptists may have an Achilles’ heel when it comes to our own practice of baptism. From sincere motives, some of us have practiced the custom of withholding the initiatory ordinance and church membership from childhood and youthful converts. As was acknowledged earlier, the practice is obviously rooted in noble motives and based upon a rational apologetic, but it calls for serious rethinking nonetheless.

In short, it regrettably “forbids the children” who are truly converted to obey the Great Commission. It forbids them membership in the church. It forbids them the Lord’s Table. It forbids them the pastoral oversight that rightfully belongs to all members of the church. It forbids them the sense of belonging to the family of God, even though they do in fact belong to God.

Christman writes:

The purpose of this treatise is to assert and defend the view that Reformed Baptist churches ought to be baptizing and receiving into their membership children and young people who give credible evidence of being truly saved.

Christman addresses objections that (1) “it seems too difficult to determine the genuineness of childhood conversion” and (2) “children surely are not mature enough to meet all of the requirements of church membership.” He includes specific instruction on questions to ask a young professing Christian, and the proper procedure for church discipline. And in the final section of the short booklet he compare “the intrinsic dangers of the proposed practice with those of its alternative.”

Finally, see this piece by John Starke, who gives four reasons to consider not delaying baptism for small children:

  1. The regular pattern in Scripture doesn’t give any indication of a probationary period.
  2. A probationary period seems to imply that there is something more than faith we need to do in order to be a Christian.
  3. Affirming belief in the gospel is never false assurance.
  4. The New Testament pattern is reactive rather than proactive concerning conversion.

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Comments:


47 thoughts on “Once More on the Baptism of Children”

  1. Jim says:

    “They see this as usually taking place when a young person is moving out of parental authority and begins to “assume adult responsibilities (sometime in late high school with driving, employment, non-Christian friends, voting, legality of marriage).”

    I’m sorry but this is crazy! Where is the scriptural warrant for such practice? It seems the practice of the New England Puritans is seen as normative rather than the teaching of the New Testament.

    1. Theology Samurai says:

      It’s hardly crazy, although I disagree with it. As the post suggests, this is left to prudence and wisdom. However, in my opinion, the parents ought to have the most input about whether their child(ren) are converted. They should know best. A well behaved child with a lot of Bible knowledge can convince the church rather easily that he or she is one of God’s own.

      1. Melody says:

        Which can also fool a hopeful parent. A parent is not fool proof on who is the authentic believer. Perhaps we should just take each individual’s word that they are a converted believer since we cannot see their heart and leave it to God.

        1. Theology Samurai says:

          Well, my kids couldn’t fool me. :-)

        2. Freddy says:

          I don’t think only taking an individual’s words is wise either. In the case of children, pastoral leadership and parents should work together to discern the credibility of the child’s faith.

          1. Bill says:

            As I credobaptist who advocates for a process in recieving new members (whether by baptism or letter or statement), I think we need to be careful how we communicate. I am uncomfortable when we speak about “credibility.” The truth is that we cannot KNOW with full certainty… we cannot addume we are in a position to DECLARE that someone is indeed genuinely converted. But what we can do is take steps (I believe in the spirit of responsible discipleship) to ensure that there is a reasonable understanding of the gospel and appropriate evidence of regeneration. Now, what would qualify as “reasonable” or “appropriate” will vary from case to case.

            I have appreciate much of this discussion, and while I am still unconvicned concerning paedobaptism, I feel as though I have a greater understanding of your position. While I believe it isnot the best understanding of what I see in Scripture, I am not going to call your position “crazy.” While I belive your position to be wrong; it is still reasonable. I value, have, and respect deep convicitons and passionate positions… but let’s value one another more.

            1. Jim says:

              Bill,

              Re-reading this. I did not say credobaptism is “crazy.” I was referring to issuing statements as doctrine which have no warrant in Scripture. That is, the elders/parents searching for sometimes years for evidences and credible testimony of salvation before baptizing someone. It’s just not in Scripture. Jesus knew what was in Judas’ heart. He was a thief and ultimately a betrayer. He however, allowed him to minister as a disciple and share in the work. He was ultimately excommunicated and, in my opinion, a breaker of covenant. I think we get into trouble when are requirements are stricter than God’s.

    2. Stephen says:

      You’re right, Jim, it IS CRAZY that there is no explicit mention of any children anywhere in the New Testament being baptized yet we do it all the time, both paedo- and credo-baptists!

  2. Luma says:

    Justin,

    Thank you for recommending Schreiner’s book to me the other day. Westminster Bookstore was able to slip it into my shipment the next morning. :-) I appreciate you being an “Aquila.” I’m grateful for this post and the booklet you are recommending, also.

    I’m trying to be very careful of using verses as proof texts (I love that line from Carson), but I do want to remind all of us of Luke 18:16-17:

    “But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

    I understand that the emphasis here is on having a trusting “child-like” faith, but these were also real children (and infants, see verse 15) that he was welcoming and touching. I am saying this so we can remember that children can and do love the Lord and should be welcomed into his church. I am NOT using this as a proof text for infant baptism.

  3. Jeff Wencel says:

    I confess that I cannot respect Bethlehem’s and Capitol Hill Baptist’s positions on baptism (though I respect a great deal the churches themselves). And these positions are, unfortunately, common. They stand on shaky ground at best. And they (along with other reasons) are pushing me (and others) away from the credobaptist position entirely. May their positions become defunct some where soon down the road.

    1. John Kempe says:

      “…..It forbids them the pastoral oversight that rightfully belongs to all members of the church. It forbids them the sense of belonging to the family of God, even though they do in fact belong to God.”

      First, a child in the church, paedo or credo, believer and unbeliever, does in fact receive the benefit of pastoral oversight (not to mention congregational oversight).

      More importantly, as Pastor Christman clearly implies, children “do not belong to God” until and unless they make a credible profession of faith (however you might define credible). I find this unsupported by Scripture. (Psalm 139:16).

  4. Bill McReynolds says:

    I am a little surprised that no one has so far suggested that baptism is more about recognition of God is doing in bringing a person to faith and into a covenant relationship with Him, than about what the baptized person does in requesting baptism.

  5. Jim says:

    Theology,

    Yes “crazy” is a bit too polemical. However, after reading the statement on the Baptism of Children, CHBC really should consider redrafting it. The conclusion, where one usually makes the strongest point, is incredibly weak, especially the last sentence about baptistic churches in other nations–how it that even remotely convincing? “Others do it so we should too!!!!” It’s amazing how little Scripture is found in this document–in the Bethlehem Baptist position as well. They are presenting these things very dogmatically with really only their tradition as rationale.

    How in the world do we treat the Ethiopian Eunuch? Phillip baptized him and immediately went somewhere else yet we have to observe closely our teenagers to see if salvation took? Maturity and responsibility before baptism? Where in the world is that found in Scripture? There are real world consequences to this practice and most of them are psychologically harmful at an impressionable age.
    God initiates and superintends our salvation ultimately and there are plenty of cases where individuals are deemed as possessing “evidences” by elders and parents yet they later go astray.

    Believers baptism is not “clear in Scripture.” These statements start with that premise and their practice is built from there. None of the major Reformers saw it as clear. In fact, they rejected it on the basis of Scripture. The Anabaptists embraced credo but they were radical reformers and not in the main of the Continental and English Reformers.

    1. Theology Samurai says:

      Jim,

      I think a more balanced Baptist approach would be more accurate and faithful to the Scriptures. There are some things that have developed over the years in Baptist tradition that have had good intentions but have strayed off the mark.

      I don’t believe a candidate for baptism has to have a long period of testing and fruit bearing, then a 3 month membership class, before he or she can be baptized.

      However, I think paedobaptism is baggage left over from Roman Catholicism that the Reformers should have ditched. They should have reformed a little further, but they did have bigger fish to fry…and the Anabaptists weren’t wrong about everything.

      1. Jeff Wencel says:

        Reformers’ reply: “Nor were the Catholics.” :)

      2. Jim says:

        Theology,

        I think that’s a great point regarding Reformers reacting against the Roman Church. I look at it from a different angle. First, I’d say that the Reformers had a strong case from Scripture and it is evident in their writings. Have you read Calvin’s Institutes on the sacraments? He carefully explains against the Roman Catholic tradition as he does throughout the Institutes. To say they had bigger fish to fry is really not giving them credit. Calvin, in particular, thought deeply about the issue vis-a-vis both Rome and the Anabaptists.

        The relation to the Roman church leads to a great point. Some, not all, puritans–and most Baptists descend from the Church of England not the Continental Anabaptists–often reacted against anything that smacked of the old Roman Catholic theology. This does play a part no doubt.

        Can you come up with the first Reformer on the Continent or England or Scotland who advocated believers’ baptism? I’m not stating this as a Scriptural proof but the theology was very well thought out as the Reformed held to infant baptism and moved away from the Roman Catholic view of baptismal regeneration.

        I used to be baptistic and we had our first three children baptized with that view. Our youngest was baptized as an infant. So personally I don’t take the theology of this lightly. And it has huge ramifications regarding Christian child-rearing.

        As I study the issue further it is interesting, and the statements from these two Baptist churches bear this out, there is not really much Scripture behind their arguments but a whole bunch of interpretation from their practice and tradition. There is no Scriptural warrant for “testing and fruit bearing before baptism!” None, period. Jesus and Paul do not teach on it and one would have to read one’s theology into the NT to see it in practice.

  6. Bill says:

    I realize this is a topic that a lot of people feel strongly about, but it is also necessary to show grace. As we try to embrace both faithfulness and prudence, evangelism and discipleship, we must remain humble in our positions. We must also remember that each circumstance is different. To compare the Ethiopian eunuch who was going home to his country and obviously an adult with a growing faith (he did make the trip to Jerusalem in order to worship) to a child who has a community of loving parents and other believers surrounding him as he develops.

    Also, to wait for baptism doesn’t keep the child from fulfilling the great commission or limit the pastoral care they will receive. It may even elevate the seriousness I’d church membership as they look forward in anticipation to certain milestones. To require a six or seven year old to wait for baptism does not keep them from coming to Jesus, it merely provides time for a parent/elder/teacher to determine if he HAS COME to Jesus.

    The truth is that whether you advocate an immediate baptism with little process or a delayed baptism after a longer process we must do a better job of discipleship. Again, whether you baptize right away or a little later, is not going to wreck, ruin, or scar the young heart… But how we disciple them will shape their young life and set the pattern for how they understand church, faith, and accountability.

    1. Jim says:

      Bill,
      No doubt these issues should be handled with grace. However, I do not mind folks forcefully sharing their views–these are important issues and they affect the spiritual lives of our children.

      Your reasoning regarding the Ethiopian Eunuch is not particularly strong. The text reveals he had no clue what he was reading and Phillip had to explain the Gospel. The point was he was confused and Phillip baptized him on the spot.

      Frankly I really take issue with your statement “it merely provides time for a parent/elder/teacher to determine if he HAS COME to Jesus. It is God who saves us by His initiative and it is HE who keeps us until that day. I’ve seen much psychological damage done to children who should not be hindered as Jesus commanded–the word in that passage is “infant”– because elders or parents are deciding whether they should be “in.” We allow them in. I know plenty of great believers who have felt they have always been close to Jesus because they were raised in a Christian family. That’s a description of descending from the faith of Abraham which is faith in Christ. It’s really the difference between a covenantal/Reformed view of the faith and a “conversionistic” view.

      1. Bill says:

        Jim…

        I’m all for forcefully hcharing our views (though I might prefer the term passionate to forceful), but the grace I was encouraging was to some who have expressed a dismissive or demeaning spirit in their comments.

        Just because someone has thought a lot about an issue does not mean that they are right… many times it the things that I know most about that I am most unclear about – too much information stirring the aters to ever let things settle down and become clear.

        Concerning the issue with my statement… While I don’t question the experience you have had that makes you sensitive to the “psychological damage” caused to those who are “hindered,” I just see things differently. (1) I don’t see the hindrance; anything they can do (save partaking of the Lord’s Supper and vote in the assembly) before baptism they can do after. These are the things that will nurture and encourage and disciple them (study, worship, serve). Also… I am not saying that we continually push a child off who has been expressing strong desires just for the sake of an arbitrary age requirement. All that I would encourage is some kind of process (something like a few weeks of instruction for baptismal candidates) to instruct and encourage (though we can never insure) proper understanding of the gospel and baptism and membership.

        (2) If we are making arguments from anecdotal experience, I could argue that what I have witnessed to be a most damaging practice in the church is running kids through the baptistry =. Unregenerate kids and teens become deceived into thinking that an isolated decision and religious ritual on their part means they are saved even though there is no love for the Word, no connection to His Church, and no passion for His glory. Along those lines… lost people fill our pews for a lack of biblical discipleship and a shallow understanding of biblical conversion.

        To clarify… I do not think anyone has to deceide whether or not a child or a new convert “should” be in, but to with wisdom and humility look for evidence (reasonable never difinitive) that God has indeed brought them to faith and repentance. This is an act of love for them and for the church – protecting them from confusion and the church from dilution.

        If someone comes to a new church as a saved believer from another city, it is quite normal to have that person attend a church on membership, and for an elder or church leader to have the propspective new member share their testimony. What I would advocate is that we simply take the same care when welcoming a new member through conversin/baptism.

        1. Jim says:

          Bill,

          What about disciples, my children included, who are faithful believers yet have never had to go through a process with elders/parents examining whether they are “saved?” What you are describing is the sad state of the church and also human nature. The majority Reformed view is covenant nurture. We raise are children as Christians and pray believing they will stay faithful. If we raise them as pagans to become Christians at a later date often they are raised with huge doubts about whether they are “in” and this does sometimes cause psychological harm. I hope this isn’t the majority Reformed Baptist view but a Reformed Baptist told me the other day that he believed no infants, born to Christian parents or otherwise ever make heaven. BB Warfield, the great Old Princeton theologian stated the case clearly in his debate on the subject with Reformed Baptist Augustus Strong. This is a paraphrase but the gist of it was “God allowed children in His covenant. He has never put them out. We shouldn’t either.”

  7. Jane says:

    I am curious if these young teens at Piper’s and Dever’s churches are allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper? It seems to me like these churches are withholding the grace of God by denying professing young people the opportunity to partake in these ordinances.

  8. A careful syntactical and contextual reading of Ephesians 6:1-2 strongly suggests that Paul was addressing minors who were numbered among the “saints in Ephesus,” “the faithful in Christ Jesus,” belonging to the “household of God,” and capable of being “filled by the Spirit” and motivated by “reverence for Christ.” Hence, it would seem to folllow that baptism was administered to minors and that minors were members of NT churches. I agree with Christman’s thesis and have written a brief article on the topic:
    drbobgonzales.com/2012/should-we-allow-children-into-the-membership-of-the-church/

  9. Gary says:

    Baptism and church membership does not make a person a christian! So what does it matter if waited on till the child can understand them and trully benifit from them. A grace is not trully a grace till it is coprehended. What makes a child a Christian or not is up to God alone and being born into a Christian family does not. If that was the case the Arab muslims would be covenant children be cause they are direct decendants of Abraham. But we know from scripture only one member of the family was given the covenant promise and then when he was of an age to understand what this meant.

  10. Jim says:

    Gary,
    There are covenant breakers who leave the covenant. In the OT faithfulness was required after circumscion and we see so many who are not and leave. But they are not faithful first. They are welcomed in first.

    What is your rationale for “a grace is not truly a grace till it is comprehended?” How about a child of Christian parents who is severely handicapped? I know such children and they love Jesus and are saved by grace. They would not be able to articulate any sort of soteriology but they should be and have been given the sacraments. In a way the credo position is anti-thetical to grace–“perform, show me what you got before we let you in.”

    My month old granddaughter trusts her parents though she cannot comprehend much of what is going on or articulate it. David said he trusted God from the womb–Psalme 22. Grace comes from outside of us. This grace is in our lives right now in ways we cannot comprehend. Millions will be in heaven who have no idea what Reformed soteriology is and have never comprehended it. They will be there because of God’s grace.

  11. Jon says:

    There will be a new Reformed Forum episode coming up in about two weeks that is from the Peado-Baptist/Reformed view. They usually do a good job of discussing things within a covenantal and redemptive historical perspective. Look out for it if you are interested! reformedforum.org

  12. Pete Gross says:

    Two thoughts, and I realize that these are about their practice and not their teaching.

    1. The NT knows no such thing as an unbaptized believer –I’m not suggesting baptism saves, but rather that as soon as someone confessed faith in Jesus, he was baptized. When there was confusion about who Jesus was and what He did, they clarified and then baptized. There was no such thing as a waiting period to evidence true conversion.

    2. Sometimes people who don’t seem to have been genuinely converted were baptized as well (e.g. Simon the magician). The early church didn’t seem to make a big deal about it.

    I realize that baptism was a much stronger cultural statement in those days (much like in Muslim countries today), and that it was not likely to be taken lightly. However, we too can clarify through teaching and example. Then by all means, let’s baptize those who confess Jesus, and continue with the teaching them to obey Him.

  13. Scott Barber says:

    Justin: I almost commented on the March 21 post because I did not understand why you included the first paragraph of that post. You seemed to agree with me since the second paragraph started by saying, “But that’s not the point of this post.” It just felt like to me that you were taking an opportunity to take a shot at my Presbyterian position on baptism. Maybe I am too sensitive because I feel like baptists often go out of their way to take a shot when they have a chance but I figured it is your post and you can put that on there if you want to do so even though I sort of resent it.
    Now on this March 23 post, you are willing to post some arguments of those with which you disagree within the realm of the credobaptists. At this point, I feel like you are willing to post good arguments of those with whom you disagree as long as we are still within the realm of credobaptists. Are paedobaptists (with whom you also disagree) too far from the truth to post any of their good arguments? You are a VP at Crossway, surely you have run across some fairly good defenses of infant baptism. If you are willing to list some folks with whom you disagree, why not mention some folks who do a good job of defending the argument for infant baptism? What are your thoughts on doing that?

  14. It’s interesting how we place such emphases on baptism as a high order of the Church and take lightly the command to make disciples made by Christ in the same breath. Don’t get me wrong. We should concern ourselves with baptism.

    But, I say we take making disciples lightly because we don’t consider it a “sacrament” or “ordinance” as we do baptism and the Eucharist. If the Great Commission is the basis for considering baptism the physical immersion as a sign, then making disciples is the spiritual immersion in the teaching and life of Christ. Certainly the Apostles write quite thoroughly on discipleship in their letters and we gather most of our information on baptism from the narrative of Acts.

    Paedobaptists rightly see the task as necessary by taking up the task of confirmation through teaching the catechism. Credobaptists observe that making a disciple has already occurred leading up to a profession of faith. Both recognize some need to continue education past that point, but I charge that none of us has been wholly effective at it.

    Young children have yet to fully develop and their attitudes and sensitivities will change dramatically over a few years. They may be saved, but they are in danger of falling prey to the influences of the world as well as their own human growth. Christian parents certainly need to be cognizant of how to grow their children’s faith from a young age into their early adulthood through the various stages of development. Too many of us rely on Sunday School and church youth groups at best and a pattern of intermittent worship service attendance at worst while practicing typical daily life no different than our secular counterparts. I wonder if we have a sacred duty as church bodies to require discipleship in our constituent families in the course of carrying out baptism’s Siamese twin.

  15. Samuel Lago says:

    I really recommend this lecture given by Glenn Davies (evangelical Anglican Bishop in Sydney). The subject matter is NOT baptism directly, but he touches on a lot of the reasons BEHIND infant baptism (I.e. the covenantal language of salvation and so on).

    I really really recommend it.

    http://www.earngey.info/uploads/GD_Covenant_and_Baptism.pdf

  16. Stephen Norris says:

    Justin,

    With this post and your last one too, I think it’s probably only a matter of time before the penny drops and you become a paedobaptist.

    =:)

    SN

  17. Ryan Over says:

    I am sorry, I didn’t have time to read all the posts, but I was wondering what people think about decoupling baptism and local church membership (baptism is practiced on those that confess faith in Christ and have some evidence of a changed life, but church membership would later in life when they are ready to decide to invest as members of the church).

    I don’t think that young people are old enough to be full members of the church. And probably until this year I fell under that category, but I want to know what some older believers have to say on it.

  18. A careful reading of Ephesians 6:1-2 strongly suggests that Paul was addressing children whom he assumed were in saving union with Christ and who were, in fact, members of the church in Ephesus. Their status as church members presupposes their baptism. Therefore, I see no need to decouple their baptism and church membership.

    I would prefer to bring children who give a credible profession of faith into the membership but postpone those privileges/responsibilities that require an adult-like maturity (e.g., office-related functions, voting on certain difficult church discipline cases, etc.) until they become adults.

    But there are benefits to church membership concerning which we don’t want to deprive our children. While attending church as non-members exposes our children to various means of grace such as congregational singing, corporate prayer, the ministry of the word, and Christian fellowship, *formal membership* in the church provides converted children with further means of grace such as formal pastoral care, greater accountability, opportunities to serve, and a deeper level of fellowship and belonging to the family of God.

    1. Theology Samurai says:

      I agree with your position, except that children and young people ought to be the beneficiaries of all the things you listed with or without *formal* church membership.

      Excluding them from all of these things would be detrimental. In my experience, that is what produces sour pusses who are disengaged from the life of the church and can’t wait to get out from under their parent’s rule.

  19. David says:

    In the previous post, Justin, you said that paedos baptize babies without Scriptural warrant.

    But in this article, you seem to implicitly infer that you see NO problem with Bethlehem Baptist’s position on waiting util the age of 11 or older…but without an explicit mention of such a time of waiting.

    I’d prefer to see a little more consistency on this topic. If you say that you reject paedobaptism on the grounds that no explicit mention is made in Scripture, then consistency dictates you would reject waiting for “maturity” (whatever and however THAT would work out) as well.

    I think something that would be useful for a future post would be a careful discussion of the criteria for how a person with special needs is to be treated in baptism. If they’ll never mature beyond a mental 6 year-old, do we deny them baptism, even if they have repented of their sins and trust in Jesus?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      David, couple of points: I don’t reject paedobaptism because “no explicit mention is made in Scripture.” I reject it because I believe the NT teaches something different about the covenants. In other words, my case for credobaptism is certainly not an argument from silence. Sorry if that was unclear. Second, I don’t think I implied that I was fine with the waiting. I didn’t say one way or another, except to say that I was providing some resources that made a case for a position I don’t hold.

      1. David says:

        I’m sorry…your previous article said this: “there is no explicit mention of or instruction for paedobaptism in the NT”. That’s where my confusion stemmed from.

      2. Jim says:

        Justin,

        You write, “I believe the NT teaches something different about the covenants.” Hasn’t the covenant after the fall always been the covenant of grace?”

        Here’s paper by Vern Poythress (who is paedo) which expresses some of your same concerns found in your first post.
        http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1997Indifferentism.htm

        I am very glad you have allowed this forum for these discussions. Personally, I do not think strong words or forceful arguments necessarily denote an absence of grace. However, some may disagree and forgive me if I’ve been too polemical in this forum.

        1. Justin Taylor says:

          Steve Wellum has argued (rightly, IMO) that the covenant of grace is a misleading category:

          http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2007/09/06/interview-with-steve-wellum-on-baptism/

          1. Jim says:

            Justin, thanks. Agree there can be a difference in terms and “covenant of grace” may be not the best term. What I’m getting at is there a difference in the covenant community in the NT age? Is there a difference in how individuals are redeemed between NT and OT? There are folks within each covenant who are ultimately not regenerate. However, they may possess covenant signs and seals according to Westminster. Not sure what the London Confessions says but I imagine it’s something similar.

            1. Jim says:

              Justin,
              Thank you for posting the interview from Wellum.

              From Wellum:

              “First, Reformed theology does not first attempt to understand the Abrahamic covenant in its own redemptive-historical context, in all of its diverse features (e.g. national/physical, typological, spiritual). Secondly, Reformed theology does not then relate well the Abrahamic covenant to the overall plan of God vis-à-vis the biblical covenants by seeing the differences or discontinuities between the covenants, especially as they find their fulfillment in Christ. This is born out by the paedobaptist tendency to reduce the Abrahamic covenant merely to its spiritual realities while neglecting its national and typological elements, and then seeing how all of these elements find their consummation in Christ and the new covenant.”

              This is confusing. It’s his main criticism. However, the book of Romans clearly teaches that the Abrahamic covenant, the promises fulfilled in Christ, is a spiritual covenant. Wellum makes a division that is not there. So the Abrahamic covenant is not “spiritual”but”national/typological?” Or is he saying one must de-emphasize the spiritual and concentrate on the “national/typological?” Wellum also lumps in the Noahic, Davidic and Mosaic covenants in with the Abrahamic. Paul does not do that in his theology. Romans 4:16 says the promise to Abraham “rests on grace” and it is “guaranteed” to all who “share the faith of Abraham.” Not share the faith of Noah, Moses or David. Those before Christ looked ahead and were saved by faith, those after look back at the cross. Where does the Bible say the new covenant is “more effective.” IMHO, Scripture teaches the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of grace in Christ, saves all the same way. “The new and better” refers to how the covenant is in Christ’s blood. Bulls, rams, etc are done away with. It’s a leap to say it’s new and better and therefore we no longer include children. That language is simply not in the text. And how can it be new and better if children were included in the Old and excluded in the New? Less people in the covenant is somehow better?

              Wellum seems to say that only the regenerate are in the new covenant and there are no real covenant breakers. The New Testament is full of instances of covenant breaking. Simon Mangus was baptized. We may assume Judas was. There are many Christians whom Paul puts out of the church. The tares grow up with the wheat.

              Is he saying one became regenerate in the OT through a “national/typological” covenant not a spiritual one? This seems to be a radical departure from Reformed theology. Contrary to Wellum, the burden of proof is not on the paedo-baptists. Credo-baptists really have a hard time showing how infants/children became excluded from the covenant.

              1. Jim,

                I’m a little surprised you’re using a forum to discuss various Baptist positions related to a minor’s profession of faith and church membership as a soapbox to push (indirectly) your paedobaptist views.

                As far as your objections to Wellum and Taylor:

                (1) “Covenants” are historical transactions and formalized relationships. There’s evidence of a creation covenant, Noachic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Mosaic covenant, Davidic covenant, new covenant, but no evidence of a historical “covenant of grace.” The so-called covenant of grace is a theological construct that reflects God’s gracious way of salvation as reflected in the various historical post-lapsarian covenants. Even Dr. Morton Smith, a Presbyterian, acknowledges this:

                The term “Covenant of Grace” is used to refer to the gracious plan of salvation that God has given us in Christ. It may be a misleading term, if we are led to believe that there is just one gracious covenant. Actually, the Bible presents a series of covenants that may be described as gracious in character… [he lists the historical covenants, including the Mosaic] … We may thus think of the grace of God coming in progressive revelations in a series of gracious covenants…. Recognizing the progressive revelation of the covenant of grace, we may nevertheless speak of the whole plan of salvation under the term “Covenant of Grace.” (Emphasis added; Systematic Theology, 1:333).

                (2) When Paul speaks of “the covenants [plural] of the promise [singular],” he’s referring to those historical covenants that were part of the Jewish economy, including the Mosaic covenant. Each of those covenants served as a vehicle of grace to give further revelation to the proto-evangel. Hence, both the Mosaic and the Abrahamic covenants foreshadow better things to come.

                (3) That there may be unbelievers joined to new covenant communities is not disputed. What is disputed are the following:

                a) Whether they are part of that community de facto or de jure. According to John 1:12-13, blood-ties are no longer sufficient legal warrant for inclusion in the new covenant family of God. Only the new birth which is evidenced by a credible profession of faith. I’ve addressed this text in more detail and its implications for baptism elsewhere: Why I’m Still a Baptist.

                b) Whether the apostates in the NT church were infants who later turned away or adult false professors. There’s plenty of evidence in the NT of false professors turning away from the knowledge of the truth (e.g., Heb 6:4-6). There’s no conclusive evidence in the NT of children of believers being brought into the new covenant community apart from a profession of faith. Nor is there evidence of such apostatizing. (Of course, one may find examples of this later in church history when the practice of baptizing children became accepted. But church history is not ultimately normative.)

                (4) I find it passing strange that when dealing with the Judaizers, the apostles never used “baptism replaces circumcision” as a polemic. If there’s so much correspondence between the Abrahamic and the New Covenant, one would expect that Paul would have told the Galatians something like “the New Covenant really is the Abrahamic covenant (revived or renewed), and neither you nor your children need circumcision because it’s been replaced by baptism. Instead, Paul presents the New Covenant as a *fulfillment* of the Abrahamic, and he argues (as in John 1:12-13) that it’s no longer blood-ties but faith (evidence of the new birth) which is the indication whether or not one is a true “child of Abraham.”

                (5) For those who are interested in reading an excellent paper defending covenant theology from a covenantal and confessional Reformed Baptist perspective, I recommend Sam and Micah Renihan’s “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology.”

                (6) Finally, as I mention in a post above (Should We Allow Children into the Membership of the Church), I do think there’s evidence of children or minors in the membership of a new covenant church (Eph 6:1-2). But the context supports that these children were believers who were in union with Christ (6:1; cf. 1:3-14) and capable of being filled with the Spirit (5:18) and yielding obedience out of reverence for Christ (5:21).

                Cordially,
                Bob Gonzales, Dean
                Reformed Baptist Seminary

  20. Chaylon Holland says:

    I am interested in the idea of a new denomination forming; one which allows leadership to hold either view. Is this possible?

    I had heard that Escondito had a baptistic wing in an otherwise reformed seminary. I realize that a seminary is not a church but it is evidence of meaningful cooperation and dialog. Also, I have never heard a well regarded teacher denegrate the position of the other side. Perhaps more evidence for a mutual respect that could be congealed into a unified denomination?

    I am a baptist in a Presbyterian (PCA)church. Our congregation is approx. 25% baptistic. The baptists are there for the Calvinism which is deemed to be far more critical (dare I say essential) to worship than the issues relating to baptism. And folks, this does come down to “where can I WORSHIP” for many baptistic Calvinists looking for a home.

  21. Jim says:

    Robert,

    Thank you. Agree church history should not be normative and also agree with you about the covenant of grace not a biblical term but a construct from theology.

    There is special emphasis however, in Paul in Romans regarding the “faith of Abraham.” On point 4. Hasn’t it always been by “faith?” It is not “now by faith” and “back then” by “blood-ties.”Hebrews 11. A “true child” of Abraham is one who is one with Christ. This has been for all history. Romans 2:28-29. Lot was saved out of Sodom because he was righteous by faith. God goes to great pains to save him because of his standing. And after Moses the prophets and the book of Hebrews state the blood of bulls and goats do not redeem.

    Re: (b) the argument from silence is just as strong from the other side. There is no conclusive evidence that only adults or teenage children were included in the several baptisms of whole households.

    If what I’m posting is inappropriate I will stop. My understanding is the Gospel Coalition blogs are places to discuss theology on specific topics and I think that is what I’ve been doing. I do get on the fanatical side as I’m formerly baptistic and I’m now sold on covenant nurture after witnessing the blessing of it in my children’s lives. Are you suggesting only the baptistic view should be represented? If so, I’m fine with that and I apologize for jumping in. Jim

  22. John says:

    Jim,

    No apology necessary, at least in my view.

    To Robert:

    “I’m a little surprised you’re using a forum to discuss various Baptist positions related to a minor’s profession of faith and church membership as a soapbox to push (indirectly) your paedobaptist views.”

    I don’t know about others, but I’ve been following Jim’s posts and found his attitude irenic and his comments interesting.

    Regarding yours above: this seems to me like it’s an attempt to silence Jim and have for yourself the last word. Otherwise why write it, and then proceed at length to carry on the discussion?

    That said, you are certainly correct: this thread did find its genesis in a post about credo v paedo baptism within the credo community (specifically regarding church membership), and only later did we find ourselves (readers and writers) engaged in a conversation which concerned infants. Somehow that doesn’t seem so unusual to me; such is the way of the internet. Happily, we don’t have to follow each and every comment thread, and thankfully, Justin has shown that he monitors comments closely. If a situation warrants, I’m sure he will intervene.

    Carry on, Jim.

    Grace and peace,
    John

  23. Jim and John,

    Sorry if my response to Jim implied that I construed Jim’s comments to be something less than irenic. I administrate a blog and normally encourage my readers to stay within the parameters of the topic. Apparently, I wrongly assumed that the topic more narrowly focused on different Credo-baptist views vis-a-vis minors, baptism, and church membership. Even so, it’s not my blog, and I apologize if my remarks conveyed an attempt at playing “referee.” I’m also sorry if my remarks convey an inappropriate desire to have “the last word.” I’m certainly willing to let others have that honor since I’m just a guest here.

    Grace and peace to you both!

    Sincerely,
    Bob G.

    1. John says:

      Robert,

      I jumped in here uninvited, so I can’t speak for Jim, but for me, no offence taken. Still, thank you for your kind words. Rereading my own post, I too can find reason to apologize, so consider it done.

      I agree with you completely btw, that comments should stay close on topic, if for no other reason than to hold reader interest. The remaining question is, has it strayed too far? Maybe, but I have to admit, I enjoy this particular debate when it arises. So for now, I’ll say no :)

      Best,
      John

  24. Jim says:

    Thanks R&J,

    Winston’s Churchill’s definition of a fanatic: “He won’t change his mind and he never changes the subject.” I resemble that remark! :)

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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