Some Thoughts on Baptism from Westminster and London

Forewarning: This post will be long. Nearly 8,000 words. Google tells me this is 33 pages in Times New Roman double-spaced research paper style. But what else did you expect by coming to my blog?

Confession: I am a confessional Reformed Baptist. Therefore, my thoughts will come from that angle. But what does that even mean? Well. First, I am confessional in that I prefer to let the confession of faith be the guide for doctrine to some degree. I am Reformed and most all that goes with it. What does that mean? Well… start by reading the Reformers and Puritans, the five solas, and the canons of Dort for an idea on this. Third, I am Baptist which primarily expresses itself in regenerate church membership. Despite my position, I have more in common with most conservative Presbyterian churches than I do with Baptist churches. So, despite my coming critique, I find them to be valuable members of the Kingdom!

Purpose: I intend to make the case for covenantal confessor Baptism. Covenantal meaning the referent of Baptism is the covenant of grace and confessor meaning the lawful subjects of baptism are confessors alone. Therefore, I will be refuting common Baptist arguments and assumptions while also refuting Presbyterian and Reformed assumptions. This means Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox practice will not be a subject for me here. I hear the collective gasp of sadness. It’s that audible. I apologize.

Thesis: Baptism is fundamentally a sign of the work of God. It is a sign of the Word and the Spirit. The baptism Christ underwent of death and resurrection (Mark 10:39) and the baptism of the Spirit which is regeneration (1 Cor. 12:13). In simple terms, it is about union with God. God makes a promise and portrays it in Baptism—we believe the promise in Baptism. The faith of the believer is not the primary referent in Baptism but a confession of faith is a prerequisite for proper subjects of Baptism.

Method: I intend to compare the confessional positions of historic Presbyterianism and historic Baptist belief. I am thus ignoring Lutheran, Catholic, etc. And I do not intend to answer all questions. After comparing, I will make use of the three most pertinent texts on the issue in my opinion followed by addressing the many of the most persuasive arguments and questions in no particular order.

Reminder: The Second London Confession is based on the Westminster Confession. So, when they look similar, it’s on purpose. When they differ, it’s on purpose.

 

PART 1: The most important sections to compare are the following:

Covenant: The key difference between the Baptist and Presbyterian understanding of covenant is encapsulated in the words: Revealed vs. Administered.

The Baptist’s understand the Covenant of Grace (the New Covenant only in their view) to be actualized with the coming of Christ and not before. So, they fundamentally see two major epochs. First, the covenant of works in the OT (Adam and then the Mosaic). Second, the covenant of grace (Christ) in the NT which is actualized (where it was only foreshadowed and revealed in the OT).

The Presbyterians, on the other hand, see one covenant of grace under two differing outward administrations. Thus, post-Genesis 3:15, all covenants are grace and are simply administered in differing outward ways.

The understanding of the covenant of grace is what drives the entire discussion on baptism and who receives the sign. If you follow the Baptist understanding—that the covenant of grace is only promised in the OT and then finally instituted in the NT—then the OT is not *necessarily* determinative for covenant membership. If you follow the Presbyterian understanding—that the covenant of grace is substantially in both the OT and NT, only administered differently—then the OT is strongly *determinative* for covenant membership. So, for the Presbyterian, the OT promise to you and your children is still active in the NT because nothing has substantially changed.

Second London Westminster
Covenant 7.3: This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency. 7.5: This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah,[ by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.

 

Mediator: The reason for noting the section on Christ as mediator side-by-side is to show the inconsistency of the Presbyterian scheme. Both London and Westminster see the role of mediator as the same. The covenant of Christ is with the elect alone—the members of the invisible church. Yet, the Presbyterians see the expression of the covenant as mixed in the visible church. They believe that some can rightly continue as members of the external visible church—considering them members of the covenant of grace and affirming them as members of the local expression of the church—despite not being regenerate.

The question is not if both accidently admit false believers into the external expression of the local church but if they are willingly admitted. The Baptist’s attempt to prevent false believers from the local expression while Presbyterian’s accept them as long as they are physically born of a believer.

Why is this a problem? It is inconsistent to say Christ mediates the covenant perfectly with the elect alone and then turn around and say children of believers (whether regenerate or not) are members of the local church and covenant of grace. If it sounds confusing for the Presbyterian to admit that the covenant is with the elect alone and yet say the covenant is with the elect and their children (some of whom are not elect) it is because it is confusing.

Second London Westminster
Mediator 8.1, 6: It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

 

Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.

8.1, 6: It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of His Church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

 

Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever.

 

Calling: Noting this section on calling is important to show that both the Baptists and Presbyterians understand the means of salvation to be the same across redemptive history. God does not change means. He saves by his Word and Spirit at all times—in the Old and New. A second important point is that both understand elect infants as regenerated.

Why are these two factors important? 1) Some who refute infant baptism refute it on grounds that believers were saved differently between the OT and NT or that the Spirit somehow worked differently. This is shown to be patently false according to both Baptists and Presbyterians. 2) Presbyterians often found some of their doctrine for infant baptism on the fact that some infants are regenerated and thus could technically receive the sign properly. Yet. Baptists agree that infants can be regenerated. So, there is a disconnect in the argument for Presbyterians. Those who use this argument assume that the belief in infants as regenerate precludes their conclusion. But the Baptist confession agrees.

Second London Westminster
Calling 10.1, 3: Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.

 

Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

10.1, 3: All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace

 

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word

 

Worship: Why mention worship? Because both have the same view. It is regulated by the revealed command of God.

Yet. Presbyterians willingly admit that baptism of infants is absent from the NT. It is an inference and necessary consequence from the OT practice of circumcision. But such a theological argument requires one to break with the regulative principle of worship. The Presbyterian must either disagree with their confessional position on worship or on their position of Baptism. They cannot have both.

Second London Westminster
Worship 22.1: The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. 21.1: The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.

 

Sacrament: The section on the Sacraments/Ordinances is mentioned mostly because the Baptists appear to have ignored it for the most part. Their description is quite bare.

Why? I don’t really know. But I think this is an unfortunate move by the Baptists that has been the reason for much of the confusion between the two groups. Presbyterians win over many Baptists simply because they have a far more robust definition of Baptism.

Second London Westminster
Sacrament 28.1: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world. 27.1-2: Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.

There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

 

Baptism: Here we find the major section under dispute. Baptism itself. Both agree that baptism is about ingrafting into Christ, remission of sins, newness of life. Both agree that it is a sign. The Baptists say it is a sign of fellowship in Christ’s work. The Presbyterians say it is a sign AND seal of the covenant of grace.

The difference here is significant in that the Baptists lack the word “seal” and they are further specific on the details of the covenant of grace—it is the work of Christ—before him, the covenant of grace was only promised. A further difference is that the Baptists do not mention Baptism relating to regeneration, which is curious. Finally, they disagree fundamentally on the parties.

So, what does this mean? It means, first, that they fundamentally agree on the nature of Baptism—so the dispute for parties must be found elsewhere (the nature of the New Covenant). It also means that the Baptists think Baptism is only a sign and NOT a seal (they think the Holy Spirit is the seal).

Second London Westminster
Baptism 29.1-2: Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.

28.1, 4: Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

 

Gospel: This is an important section for the Baptists (obvi since the Presbys don’t have it) to explain the role of the covenant of works and covenant of grace. I add it to explain further the Baptist position.

Second London Westminster
Gospel 20.1: The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.

 

PART 2:

  • Galatians 4:21-31: I think this is the make or break text, right here. Galatians 4:24 tells us: “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants…” He goes on to say that Hagar is Mount Sinai and the Old Covenant of Works while Sarah is Jerusalem and the Covenant of Promise.

So, Paul understands there to be two fundamentally differing covenants. Hagar and Sarah.

He does not say: One covenant differently administered in the Old and then the New. He says: *two covenants.*

Now that Christ has officially come, the time of the covenant of works has expired since he has fulfilled it and inaugurated the covenant of promise—the covenant of grace—the new covenant. This means that the covenantal system that the Presbyterians rely on to ground the baptism of infants is false because it has been done away with. They are fusing the covenant of works and the covenant of grace together where Paul keeps them separate. As we saw before, Baptists and Presbyterians agree on the definition of Baptism but disagree on the parties due to their understanding of the covenants. Here, we have a straightforward teaching that the Presbyterian system of ONE covenant is patently false. It is hard for me to consider how you can avoid this conclusion.

  • John 4:1-2: Why is this text important? Well. It is massively important for one main reason.

It shows that Jesus was baptizing more “disciples.” Not disciples and their family members but disciples alone. Disciples in John are those who have committed to following Jesus (John 8:31; 15:8). No one else.

It appears that the practice of Jesus (who is connected to the baptism and practice of John which many Presbyterians attempt to deny) is to baptize believers/disciples/confessors alone.

  • 1 Peter 3:21: This may be the nearest textbook “definition” of Baptism we find in the NT.

Peter says Baptism is like Noah and the flood. God saved Noah and his family in the ark through the water. So, Peter says Baptism is similar. Jesus saves us in his resurrection through the water.

The water event is the picture of salvation.

The physical wetness gives us a real empirical glimpse into the spiritual reality. Your senses are overwhelmed with the insensible reality.

Thus, water baptism in the New Covenant is to picture the salvation that Christ brings through his resurrection.

But it saves not as a special removal of dirt (a la Roman Catholicism and the like) but saves as a type of confession. This tells us that Baptism corresponds to a confession. Which I believe means that only those who can make such a confession are proper subjects of the rite. Doesn’t this correspond to the pattern of Acts, as well? Acts 2:41 tells us that as many as “received the word” were Baptized. Not as many as received and their households, but those who believed and made confession.

This does not mean I boil regeneration and faith down to a cognitive only understanding of Christ. But it does mean that the proper subject of the rite is the confessor. It is true that some will be in the New Heavens and New Earth who were never baptized because they did not have the physical capacity for confession. But the same people will lack the Lord’s Supper due to the same deficiency. While it is a tension, I do not see warrant for bending it. I must only work from the revealed premises of God. And he has given me no warrant for baptizing those without a confession.

 

PART 3:

Infant Regeneration: Presbyterians rely heavily on this to support their argument for infant baptism (as noted earlier in part 1). Psalm 22:9 tells us “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.” Luke 1:15 tells us of John the Baptist “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” and later tells us in 1:41 that John as a baby leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when he was near the infant in womb Jesus.

Now, according to the confessions above, Baptists and Presbyterians agree on this. Elect infants can be regenerated whenever the Spirit of God desires. This is obviously not the normal circumstance, but both confessions make provisions for this reality. Therefore, it seems odd that the Presbyterians use this as their grounds when the Baptists also affirm.

Why bring this up? To show that simply proving the regeneration of infants does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that they should be baptized.

Regeneration: It is the same in the OT and NT. The confessions, here, agree (as noted above). But many Baptists seem to botch this by saying that God saves differently in the OT than NT. They say the Spirit did not indwell in the OT. But how were OT saints saved? The only answer I can conjure is that the Spirit worked in the same way. Psalm 40:8; 119:11; Isaiah 51:7; Deut. 10:6; 30:6 all teach us. Circumcision of the heart. Baptism of the Spirit. Both refer to the truth of regeneration which is the same across redemptive history.

The quibbling with this comes from texts like John 7:39. The idea that the Spirit had not yet come. But we all agree the Spirit had come and worked before Pentecost… so what exactly did change? Access. We now have greater and new access to God. No longer must we go to a temple. No longer must we stay outside the holy of holies. More on this when we touch on Hebrews 8.

Circumcision –> Baptism: One major argument for the Presbyterians is the linking of circumcision and Baptism. They say that Baptism replaces circumcision. I am okay with this to some degree. Colossians 2:11-12 appears to witness to it. The problem, as I see it, is that when they say circumcision is the same as baptism. This, I am not okay with. One only has to note that water baptism is not physical circumcision. They cannot be 100% the same by simple empirical observance.

This is what causes a breach in our understanding of the proper subjects of Baptism.

I think, while Baptism signifies the same reality as circumcision, it is the greater sign and is assigned only to confessors in the NT. Baptism is a fuller sign than circumcision. It is more robust. Paul Jewett, in his seminal work on Baptism likens Baptism and Circumcision to two circles. Baptism is the inner circle and the outer one is Circumcision. Therefore, Baptism, while being the same is also different. It is analogous but not identical. Hence, the New Covenant and not the Old.

Holy but not regenerated: What about 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 and Hebrews 10:29? These are two of the main fortresses of the Presbyterian kingdom.

1 Corinthians 7 tells us that if a believing spouse has an unbelieving spouse that they are not to divorce them, because the believing spouse makes the unbelieving spouse, along with the children, holy. Presbyterians tell us that this means they are baptized. What else would holy but not saved mean at this juncture?

I believe there is an answer to this. And I also believe there is a problem with the overall argument.

First, the point is about being clean or unclean. Think about the OT categories. And Paul is finishing his discussion on who can divorce. Therefore, Paul is explaining that simply because you are married to an unbeliever does not give you warrant for divorce. The unbelieving spouse will not make you unclean despite the Israelite practice. This does not relate to baptism.

Second, think about the implications for the Presbyterian argument. If the believing spouse makes the unbelieving spouse holy, the unbelieving spouse should be baptized. Despite their refusal to proselytize to Christianity. Further, what about grandparents and grandchildren? Why not baptize children based on the faith of grandparents or of great grandparents? If Paul is referencing Genesis 17 and the perpetual command to circumcise, it is only right to be *fully* continuous and allow children to be baptized based on ancestors faith as well.

You simply can’t argue based on continuity and not be fully continuous. It is inconsistent at best. The Presbyterian must explain why the genealogical principle of Abraham is suddenly smaller in the NT where only children of believing parents can be baptized. This is why terrible ideas like the Half-Way Covenant have materialized in later church history.

It is Hebrews 10:29 which is the most challenging. It speaks of a person who has “profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified…”

The importance of this is having a category for a person who can profane the blood by rejecting Christ and yet be sanctified by this blood in some sense. This is no problem for the Arminian or the Presbyterian. The Arminian simply tells us we can spurn his blood and lose our salvation. The Presbyterian tells us Baptism of infants makes them holy in some way and members of the covenant in some way. So when they are not regenerate and reject Christ later in life, while never losing their salvation because they never had it, they can be considered sanctified by the covenant.

Well then. How does the Reformed Baptist respond to this? He holds to a definite atonement and perseverance of the saints, so he cannot follow the Arminian. But he refuses to allow for the baptism of infants that makes them holy and members of the covenant of grace.

Two options.

First: The Greek. The Second London followers of this day usually note that “sanctified” actually modifies the word covenant and not the one doing the spurning of the son. If so, the problem vanishes.

Second: Tom Schreiner and his understanding of the warning passages in Hebrews. His basic argument is that the warnings in Hebrews are true (as an Arminian would believe)… BUT… that no one ever actually is disciplined finally by those warnings since they are fully effective means at keeping believers.

Presumptive Regeneration: Many Presbyterians (not all, or maybe even most depending on who you ask) believe in presumptive regeneration meaning they assume their children are Christians unless proven otherwise. This seems dangerous to me in light of Ephesians 2:1-3 which does not say all were dead in sin except those born into believing households.

Acts 2:39: Here we find another major text that Presbyterians build their understanding on. Acts 2:39 echoes the Abrahamic Covenant. But a problem arises when Peter adds multiple parties not present in the promise to Abraham and his children. Peter appears to be making a statement of universal access which the Abrahamic foreshadowed rather than intentional retrieval of the genealogical principle alone.

What is a closer referent in Peter’s mind could also be Matthew 27:25. It is just as likely that he is extending the promise to their children to remind them that despite their claim that they desired guilt for themselves and their progeny that the promise was for all of them.

Matthew 19 and Children: Here we find Jesus rebuking his disciples for refusing children. Luke 18 says that infants came too. Jesus, even more, says that the kingdom belongs to them. Further, if membership in the kingdom is membership in the church (how could you be a member of one and not the other?), how can you deny that infants should be baptized and considered members of the church?

Great questions. A few responses.

First, for sake of argument, let us grant the premise of the Presbyterian.

Presbyterian Premise 1: Infants are members of the Kingdom per Matthew 19:14

Presbyterian Premise 2: The Church = the Kingdom

Presbyterian Conclusion 1: Infants are members of the church. Thus, infant baptism.

While, that may follow. Let’s look at the Baptist argument.

Baptist Premise 1: The Kingdom is made of believers alone per Matthew 19:24 (cf. 5:20; 7:21; 13:11, 19; 38, 41; 21:43)

Baptist Premise 2: The Church = the Kingdom

Baptist Conclusion 1: Believers alone are members of the church. Thus credo baptism.

Do you see the difference? It resides in premise 1 of each argument. I argue that Presbyterian premise 1 is wrong next. Don’t get too excited. And if Baptist premise 1 is true, their biblical reasoning appears unassailable.

Second, Jesus says that the kingdom belongs to people “such as these.” The Kingdom is not irreversibly tied to children. To follow the Presbyterian logic would mean all children without distinction in the world are members of the kingdom… No one will follow the logic that far, though. Remaining even more literal would require that once children became adults, the kingdom no longer belonged to them.

Third, Jesus does not proceed to baptize the children. I think this is the most important point. If the practice of the disciples was to baptize infants (since they were already practicing baptism in John 4:1-2), why would they forbid them from coming to Jesus since they already knew they needed it? And if Jesus practiced it, why wouldn’t he mention it or do it?

The Presbyterian rebuts by saying Jesus assumed his Hebrew worldview. In that worldview, all would know children deserved the sign.

Yet the silence for this remains deafening.

A further point at this juncture is necessary. I do believe that Matthew 19 provides warrant for the Baptist practice of infant dedication. Jesus blesses these children. What exactly that means, I do not know. It is not Baptism but it is something worthy of repeating if Jesus practiced it. So, my Baptist friends, dedicate away! And let our Presbyterian brothers continue in their wet infant dedications. And, finally, church: pray for and instruct these children.

Matthew 3:13-17: The Baptism of Jesus is a major problem for the Baptist who says Baptism only refers to the repentance of a believer because Jesus never needed to repent. What was his baptism about?

It is a baptism of anointing for the ministry of the New Covenant. Entrance into it. Presbyterians rejoice with this definition and use it to include infants since repentance is not necessary for this baptism.

But the Second London Baptist agrees! Baptism is a sign of God’s promise. But that need not mean infants are now required to receive the sign.

More, the baptism of Jesus shows the open heaven of justification, the descent of the Spirit, and the declaration of loving sonship—items given at our baptism but only linked to believers in the New Testament.

Matthew 13 and Mixed Community: An oft heard argument in favor of paedobaptism (baptism of infants) is the nature of the church. The Presbyterian argues that because the visible church is a mixed community (Matthew 13:24-30) and the sorting does not occur until the final judgment, the Baptist argument for regenerate church membership does not follow.

But the Baptist also maintains a mixed community to a degree. The Baptist also baptizes those who are not truly regenerate. And the Baptist also does not seek to peer into the heart but bases their baptism on outward profession/fruit. On confession. Thus, the Baptist says to let the child come who professes. And while the church will remain mixed to an extent, it is to be purer than the Old.

Exodus 12 and the Passover: Here Moses commands “all the congregation of Israel” and mentions in verses 26-27 that parents are to teach their children this practice. Why is this a big deal? Because if the Passover à the Lord’s Supper… and we maintain the principle of continuity unless abrogated… all children whose parents are members of the church must partake of the Lord’s Supper regardless of age and regardless of salvific status. Granted some may quibble over the mention of “when the children ask” in this text but… the only consistent paedobaptist is a paedocommunion follower. The sacraments go together. To split them is to misunderstand them. You can’t be eligible for one and not the other. More so, to allow baptism but refuse communion is to create an incomplete baptism in needs of a mythical confirmation that correlates to credobaptism.

The Seal of the NT: What is the sign and seal of the NT? The OT sign and seal, according to Romans 4:11 is circumcision. It is a sign and seal of righteousness by faith. But in the NT, the outward/external washing of baptism is only a sign and not a seal—the Spirit’s internal baptism is the seal. See 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30.

History: It is a strong argument that the Presbyterian makes from church history. The majority of the church has baptized their infants. Why would God allow one of the main sacraments of the church to go so corrupted for so many years?

But the early church appears mixed on this. Justin Martyr nods in his First Apology Section 61 toward confessor baptism.

And the late patristic and medieval and renaissance practice was mostly infant baptism because it brought salvation. So, even then the Presbyterian leaves the historical teaching of the church. Also, the Supper was corrupted for many years and yet this is not grounds to understand it differently.

Baptism Meaning for Adults vs. Infants: The Presbyterian must admit to having two different understandings of Baptism. One for the children of believers and one for the proselyte. The Baptism of the proselyte is a referent of his faith and his profession in the Presbyterian scheme. But if they say Baptism is only a promise of God’s work and that is why the Baptist argument is incoherent… well… I think you see where I am going.

Both the London and Westminster confessions define the nature of Baptism the same. So, if proselyte Baptism must be based on confession for the Presbyterian scheme, their charge that the definition of Baptism allows for infants to be Baptized is not exactly logical gold.

Less Gracious Lord’s Supper: A common argument against Baptists is that they make the New Covenant sacrament of Baptism LESS gracious than the Old sacrament of circumcision.

How can the new and greater covenant be less gracious? Well. It is nearly universally agreed upon that the Supper is more restrictive in the NT than the Passover was in the OT. Does this not debunk the common argument for infant baptism that to block such a practice is less gracious?

The Supper is less gracious in such an argument! But none make this argument.

Granted this is not a problem for those who practice paedocommunion. Good on them for consistency.

But my question back to the one giving communion to their children would be: “Is not the new and greater covenant more pure?”

Acts 21:17-25: Why is this text important? Because here we find Paul and the Church allowing circumcision to continue. But wouldn’t that be extremely confusing? To allow the OT sign of circumcision to continue alongside the NT sign of Baptism? It seems Paul and the Church would have been very quick to explain that Baptism simply replaced Circumcision so to not worry about it.

Household Servants: The household baptism texts tell us the entire household was baptized. Baptists rejoice and say all the house believed and was baptized. Presbyterians rejoice and say some believed and some were too young but were baptized anyway. But what about the slaves of the household? The Presbyterian must say they were baptized under their argument. If so… would that mean slaves should be baptized if their master was a believer today? Are they willing to follow the logic? Some may. Some may not.

Apostate Israel: It is important to note texts like Joshua 5. All had the right of circumcision. Not just those who had believing parents. But all physical descendants. This reminds of a previous argument. If we baptize based on physical descent, belief no longer can be the rightful grounds. We then cannot baptize only children of believers but grandchildren of believers and great grand children, etc.

Galatians 3:16: Here we see that Paul understands the everlasting promise of Genesis 17:7 to refer not to every single physical descendent of Abraham.

None can be members of both covenants from Galatians 4. You are either Hagar or Sarah, Adam or Christ. The promise was never univocally to include all physical offspring. God can raise up physical children from stones.

Therefore, to baptize an infant who is unregenerate is to attempt to place them in two covenants simultaneously. Logic forbids this. As does Paul.

Nineveh and Circumcision: Jonah 3 tells us that Nineveh repented… but they are not circumcised despite their conversion. Melchizedek also is uncircumcised. This is because circumcision is a sign and seal of the land of Canaan. It is a physical promise of the physical covenant with Hagar.

Therefore, to base ones argument for Baptism on the practice of Circumcision is to look to Moses and Adam to find the grace that is only in Christ and his infallible new covenant.

Ezekiel 44:9: Purity is the coming reality of the New Covenant. The mixed church is becoming less mixed. The church is being purified. Romans 2:25-29… the reality is coming true. Hence, regenerate church membership is not some form of over-realized eschatology.

Re-baptism: Should we re-baptize? Presbyterians say no—the referent of baptism is the promise of God. Baptists generally say yes. Infant baptism is just a nice bath and not truly baptism.

But the disciples never were re-baptized… John’s baptism that prefigured Christian baptism is counted. Granted it was still confessional baptism.

What do we do?

There appear to be two opposing views here:

First: Ex opera operawtis = The legitimacy of the baptism is based on the character of the one giving the ordinance or receiving it

Second: Ex opera operato = The legitimacy of the baptism is based upon the doing of the ordinance

Baptists seem to follow the first and Presbyterians the second. The sacrament is only effective if the receiver is worthy or it is always effective no matter the receiver.

What really makes Baptism effective? The act or the act+recipient.

If we take the Lord’s Supper as an example/test-case, we know that the condition of the receiver matters. While my Reformed hermeneutic meter doesn’t exactly like the idea of ex opera operato, I think that is probably the biblical understanding of Baptism despite its chief meaning not being the participant.

Baptism simply cant be “Baptism” without particular factors at play. “Baptizing” a Mormon or Islamic adherent into the New Covenant promise does not mean the Christian Baptism is valid. There must be certain factors in view. What makes the rite the rite? Such Mormon or Muslim baptism is rejected. But baptism by a Baptist pastor who later becomes Mormon is accepted? The rite is only truly the rite in particular contexts. More to be said here…

For instance, something to be considered when it comes to “re-baptism” is those who are baptized after a profession of faith—but a false profession of faith. For example, you walked down an aisle when you were 8 years old. Went through the motions. Prayed the sinners prayer. Were baptized the next week. But when you were 18 you realized you were never actually a believer and, therefore, you “re-commit” your life to Christ, but you never get re-baptized because you were baptized on your profession previously. In other words, you were never a believer the first time and yet you were baptized. And your Baptist church counts you as a member despite not re-baptizing you. In my mind, this is fundamentally the same thing as accepting a person who was baptized as an infant but became a believer later. Something must give.

What is the protocol for this situation? There is no way we can peer into hearts and guarantee that the 8 year old “faith” wasn’t true faith or false faith. In fact, many people today struggle with when they were actually converted. Early in life or “when they really started living it.” Jonathan Leeman over at 9marks has given counsel on these scenarios. He essentially says to trust your conscience. If you think you actually weren’t a believer, then get re-baptized. If you aren’t sure, don’t worry about it.

But isn’t that counsel a little illogical considering his hard line stance on never accepting a person’s infant baptism? It is fundamentally the same principle. You are accepting some who weren’t believers before their baptism but not others. And what about the scenario of John the Baptist who was regenerated before he was born? If he were baptized as an infant, technically speaking, it would be baptism after his regeneration.

All of this to say… I’m not really sure what to do. I think many of us have not worked hard on hammering out the details of this. Often times Baptists simply don’t spend the requisite amount of time thinking about all of the implications they have for their belief.

Acts 21:4-5: This is important because Luke is a good historian with details. He mentions women and children here. He mentions infants coming to Jesus in Luke 18. He would’ve mentioned infants like he does elsewhere had they been baptized in the household baptisms.

His lack of mentioning infants is quite condemning.

1 Corinthians 10: Here we find Paul saying that all of Israel was “baptized into Moses.” Paul is connecting baptism not to circumcision… despite going to connect the Lord’s Supper with Passover. Baptism is connected with the Exodus which prefigures the New Exodus of regeneration and conversion.

Baptism is a greater sign than circumcision.

John 1:12-13: Covenant members have the right to covenant inheritance. No longer are covenant members based on physical birth but on spiritual birth from God.

Mark 3:35 and the redemption of the family: Presbyterians often accuse Baptists of not having a place for the family in the NT. It is a fair charge, usually. But Jesus says that his redemption of the family is much bigger—for he has created a new family—the church. This doesn’t mean to neglect the physical family. God has given physical families for a reason and they do not cease to exist and flourish in the New Covenant. But the redemption of the family is much bigger than a small physical unit.

Hebrews 8: The locus of the covenant debate mostly centers here. What is so new about this New Covenant? Does this mean that all without distinction will know the Lord and that the old is gone? I think so.

But the Presbyterian says three things. 1) The Baptist over-realizes this text and assumes a reality that will only be final in the New Heavens and New Earth. It’s obvious ALL don’t know yet. Because Hebrews 8:13 claims that the Old is *still* passing away. To claim that the New Covenant requires ONLY the regenerate to be members is to over realize the eschatology of the passage and assume the final judgment has taken place and we are in the New Heavens and New Earth. The Kingdom remains mixed until the harvest. All do not salvifically know the Lord in full until the end. The New Covenant has been inaugurated and consummated but not completed. It is already but not yet. 2) The text claims that the least to the greatest will know in a particular way without the need of a prophet teacher and priestly mediator like the OT. As in the fulfillment of Joel 2, all people will have full access to God. As in Ephesians 2:11-22, all now have boldness to come before the throne—from the least peasant to the greatest prophet. This is a point about our access to God and not our salvation before God. We have better access now. 3) The old covenant it references is the Mosaic and NOT the Abrahamic.

Further, if you continue to read Jeremiah 31 to verse 36-37, immediately after the promise of the New Covenant, you find that the children will be discontinued from the promise as soon as the sun stops rising. More, in the following chapter, 32, when Jeremiah again speaks of the New Covenant. In verses 39-40 he clearly states that children are participants.

But the London Baptist agrees at all three points. 1) Baptists do not claim to have a fully unmixed society yet. And for the Presbyterian to realize that the goal of the New Covenant *is* total purity based on belief is quite the concession. For there is no *newer* covenant to come. If this covenant is supposed to be wholly pure in the future… that creates dangerous implications for the present if you are a Presbyterian. 2) Access is the emphasis but salvation is also present. All will know… FOR I will be merciful and forgive… the mercy and forgiveness seem to reference salvation and not just access. 3) The Baptist would claim that the Presbyterian misunderstands the Abrahamic Covenant and its physical link to the Mosaic. As seen in Galatians 4. 4) Right before this passage, in Jeremiah 31:29-30 we see the familial headship principle coming to an end. No longer will generational headship set the tone but the headship of Christ.

Further, Jeremiah 31:36 references Israel as a nation, which I think we all agree has no referent to the New Covenant *necessarily.* Israel is still a physical people. Jeremiah 32:39 seems to say that this coming covenant will be unbreakable—so if children were auto placed in, infant baptism secures salvation… it also appears that salvation is for their good as children… does not mean they are covenant members.

Confession as Grounds: See Luke 7:29-30. Here Luke grounds Baptism in the confession of the goodness of the gospel and that God is just—the tax collectors and sinners did and were baptized—the Pharisees and lawyers didn’t and were therefore not baptized.

True. The loophole for the Presbyterian is to say this is Jewish Proselyte Baptism. But one can’t help but see the constant emphasis of Baptism as one of confession in the plan of God.

Doesn’t that negate from the ultimate sign of Baptism being God’s covenant?

Good Segway to my conclusion.

Conclusion: The revealed teaching of God on Baptism in the New Covenant in the New Testament is in favor of covenantal confessor Baptism. Covenantal meaning the referent of Baptism is the covenant of grace and confessor meaning the lawful subjects of baptism are confessors alone. This Baptism is a sign of the Word and the Spirit. The baptism Christ underwent of death and resurrection (Mark 10:39) and the baptism of the Spirit which is regeneration (1 Cor. 12:13). God makes a promise and portrays it in Baptism—we believe the promise in Baptism. We trust that God is/has united us to himself, that he is/has forgiven our sins, that he has regenerated us and is giving us a new life.

Baptism is about ingrafting into Christ, remission of sins, newness of life. It is a sign of fellowship with Christ. It is given to those who confess the goodness of God.

With the French Confession of 1559, I say we are baptized “so that we have an enduring testimony that Jesus Christ will be our justification and sanctification forever.”

God saves the same way in all of history but creates a new sign for his new covenant of grace that is inaugurated by Christ: Baptism. This baptism is a greater sign than any in the past. It was prefigured in the Old Covenant of Works but is finally inaugurated in the New Covenant of Grace. It signifies the many realities of Word and Spirit. It does not symbolize possible or probable or certain regeneration. It signifies promised regeneration that is based on confession (Romans 10:9-10). For Baptism corresponds to confession.

And this Baptism doesn’t seal us to anything. Circumcision sealed you to the Mosaic Covenant. Baptism does not seal us to the New. The Holy Spirit does that. It is a purer covenant. A more effective covenant.

 

A lot of arguments have been presented here… so… a few final thoughts/questions for Presbyterianism that I think are particularly strong:

  • It seems inconsistent to argue that children can have baptism but not the table/supper. Children of the OT had access to the table (Ex. 12:24).
  • If we follow the logic of the OT, we should baptize children based on grandparents faith and beyond. Where does the arbitrary restriction of parents faith only come from?
  • The OT did not require a believing parent in order to give the sign. So the Presbyterian is guilty of narrowing the covenant as well.
  • Christ’s New Covenant per Romans 5:12-21 seems to show that all whom Christ federally represents in his covenant, he saves. None can fall from his redemption. You cannot be a member of Adam and a member of Christ simultaneously. Luke 22:20. So you say that children are members of the covenant of grace. I must ask what it means to be a member of the covenant? Is not the covenant unconditional and fulfilled by Christ? Does not saying that covenant breakers are members of the covenant of grace mean that Christ is not a fully efficient federal head (does not Romans 5:19 witness to the reality of Christ’s federal headship resulting in guaranteed salvation as he merited its blessings?)? If so, the covenant of grace is effective grace in name but not power, yes?
  • According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made? A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” Does this not mean that the covenant of grace is ONLY with the elect?
  • John 18:36 teaches a spiritual kingdom which cannot be physically generated. Why would the a spiritual kingdom be physical?

 

I will probably update this in the coming weeks. Most would probably post something this large in segments. Maybe get more clicks. But I don’t really care about clicks. I’m not about that life. Therefore, I wanted to finally post it since I likely would keep tinkering with things for months if I didn’t. I am still pondering, thinking, meditating. It is a rich topic!

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2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Baptism from Westminster and London

  1. Anonymous says:

    Just finished your blog on baptism- read every word. Utterly FANTASTIC. Distinguished in every way. Thorough. Clean. Well illustrated. Well supported. I applaud. And I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Nate Steele says:

    Outstanding work!!!!!

    My favorite quote, “Baptism is about ingrafting into Christ, remission of sins, newness of life.” This can only be done by the one being quickened by the Holy Spirit, the covanental confessor.

    I have yet to have worked through this topic with such depth. This is very helpful.

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