Typically, the dilemma that get’s all the press concerns the 5-points of Calvinism and maybe secondarily the 5-Solas, but covenant theology, specifically its application, is much more at the heart of being reformed. By application of covenant theology I am referring specifically to the nature of the church and subsequently worship, as noted in the examples above. In fact, one might be so bold as to claim that the heart of the Reformation, and indeed the follow-up Puritan movement were principally concerned with the nature of the church. This of course is a fruit of studying covenant theology, indeed being an outgrowth and application.
After the introduction to reformed theology, which must reckon with the sovereignty of God in salvation before the foundation of the world, it is a natural progression that leads into the study of covenants and how they apply. For instance, in studying the Scriptures concerning God’s sovereign election, it leads to understanding (or attempting to understand) God’s plan of salvation from eternity and then how this plan unfolds in history, including the difficult question, For Whom Did Christ Die. This subsequently leads to attempts to understand who God’s people are throughout history, specifically as He relates to them covenantally and then how the Old and New Covenants relate to one other from the perspective of continuity/discontinuity. In turn, this brings up major questions on the nature of the church and who it is that belongs to it (this of course begs the question, what is church; an emphasis of mine here for the last 6-7 years).
Bottom line: At some point one must choose between the path of paedobaptism, covenant membership based on baptism. Or the path of credobaptism, covenant membership based on a profession of faith. If only it were that simple!
With this introduction, I would like to begin a series of blog posts where we look specifically at the doctrine of paedobaptism, or the baptism of infants for inclusion into the New Covenant (typically equated with the Church), at least partially, as opposed to credobaptism, or the baptism of professing believers. This decision is one that I was faced with many years ago upon embracing God’s sovereignty in salvation, having a new born daughter, and coming face to face with the reality of how all this was to be covenantally applied to her. I too was at the crossroads of infant baptism and believer’s baptism. I was reading the books, listening to the messages, searching high and low for information on this and was quickly turning paedobaptist. Until one day it clicked that covenant theology does not begin with Abraham, it begins with Christ and then proceeds to Adam and then back to Christ with brief interludes along the way with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David all again – you guessed it – pointing to Christ. In a very real way, covenant theology is or at least should be, a study on Christ Himself.
Briefly, paedobaptism, or the baptism of infants, finds its proofs through the formulation of covenant theology, specifically the outworking of the Abrahamic Covenant into the New Covenant. In the paedobaptist view both of these covenants are viewed as administrations of the one Covenant of Grace, the Abrahamic being foundational to the Old Covenant, and the New(er) Covenant inaugurated with the shed blood of Christ. In this view, there is much continuity between the Old and New covenants because they both fall under the umbrella of the one covenant. By continuity, we simply mean those things which continue from Old to New instead of those things that discontinue. For example, the sacrifice of bulls and goats under the Old Covenant would discontinue in the New Covenant, as they have reached their fulfillment in Christ – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). In the case of paedobaptism, one of the points of continuity concerns the relationship between circumcision in the Abrahamic Covenant and baptism in the New Covenant.
The justification for the baptism of infants is built on the foundation of several non-negotiable points. Below are the primary points from another blogger, however they seem representative and nearly correspond with the discussion outlined in John Murray’s Christian Baptism:
- The children of believers were members of the Abrahamic Covenant
- The new covenant is a renewal of the Abrahamic Covenant.
- Baptism replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant.
- Children born to Christian parents are members of the new covenant.
- In the Old Covenant, infants were marked as part of the people of God.
- Baptism is the mark of the New Covenant.
- In the New Covenant, there is an expansion of the People of God from Jew only, to now Jew and Gentile of any and every sort.
- Every person who has been Baptized has been united to Christ.
- Households are shown to be baptized altogether.
Soli Deo Gloria. For expansive treatments on this subject the following are good places to start:
- On the Covenant of Grace: Samuel Petto (written by a paedobaptist, but if you look for consistency in his argument there is much profit)
- On the Abrahamic Covenant: Nehemiah Cox (Baptist)
- On the Mosaic and relation of the Old and New Covenants: John Owen (Congregationalist)