Lingering Doubts About Baptism

I could not understand why, given the Old Testament emphasis of God’s working through families, the New Testament did not signal a change in that policy. It seemed passing strange to me that the new covenant sacrament included women and Gentiles but excluded the children of believers. It seemed in that respect the new covenant was less generous than the old. There were too many questions surrounding the family baptisms in Acts and Corinthians; Paul’s “holy” children; the warning passages of Hebrews; and the nature of the church that I could not resolve from a Baptist perspective.

Liam Golligher | “Why I Changed My Mind About Infant Baptism


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  1. My thinking went mostly along these same lines. Paedobaptism, in my opinion, logically follows Covenant Theology (that is, Scripture). While I admit to not being versed in “NCT” or the Reformed Baptist view of CT, it seems to me that antipaedobaptists necessarily hold to at least some form of dispensationalism.

    I am not trying to be uncharitable or misrepresent others’ views, and I realize my view will likely be seen as overly-simplistic to others. After 30+ years of being anti-paedobaptist (as well as Arminian and strongly dispensationalist) however, I do believe I understand the issues involved.

  2. Scott – we’ve talked on this before, but I remain confused as to why God in being ‘more generous’ has actually also made it ‘more ambiguous’. Wheras under the Old Covenant the command (and its benefits) were explicit, under the New they must be deduced by inference … and thus the ‘penalty’ (repercussions) of not baptising the infant is left unclear.

    I know all the arguments for paedo baptism, but nothing seems to address this particular issue.

    • Wendy,

      Well, I’m not sure I can address your question completely perhaps because I don’t agree with the assumptions on which it’s built—I’m not sure I understand the question fully.

      1. I wouldn’t have spoken about the “old covenant” or “old testament” quite the way Liam did. Strictly speaking, the “old covenant,” in the narrow sense, refers to the Mosaic (including David) covenant that began at Sinai and ended at the cross. In that sense, then, infant circumcision was not strictly an “old covenant” rite.

      2. Circumcision was typological, i.e., it pointed forward to Christ’s death on the cross.

      3. Paul makes the connection between circumcision and baptism explicit in Col 2:11-12. Here’s a brief explanation of the connection. Here is another.

      4. I think the assumption that you’re making that confessional paedobaptists have rejected is that the advent of the new covenant requires that infant initiation be stated explicitly. That assumes that there was more discontinuity with Abraham than there was and that assumes that Abraham is not the paradigm. So, there is a web of assumptions that must be untangled.

      We begin with the conviction that Abraham Was Not Moses. Everything that was distinctly Mosaic has been fulfilled and abrogated. Infant initiation was not Mosaic. It was Abrahamic. That makes a big difference. Yes, there were typological elements under Abraham, circumcision being one of them but was infant initiation one of them? We say no because the promise is: I will be a God to you and to your children. Where did that promise change? Assuming continuity with Moses may be problematic but assuming continuity with Abraham is not because of the fundamental nature of the promise. It was explicitly re-stated in Acts 2:39. That’s not an inference. If the promise is to covenant parents and to their children then, of course, there remains a pattern of initiation into the visible covenant community of believers and their children. Peter didn’t have to say, “yes, we’re still initiating children into the new covenant community” because he already had in Acts 2:39. He would have needed to be explicit to revoke the Abrahamic promise. According to Paul in Romans 4 and in Gal 3-4, the Abrahamic promise wasn’t revoked. It was foundational. The Mosaic was an addendum to the Abrahamic.

      5. Finally, according to the NT itself, the new covenant is new relative to Moses, not to Abraham. Check out this essay.

  3. Scott- I have wanted to be converted to Paedobaptism for years – especially because I attend a PCA church and it would make life much easier. However, although I “get” the argument, I just don’t see it in the scriptures. It seems totally constructed. Two of my main hangups- First, it always seems that proponents of paedobaptims say contradictory things about what it means. They use terms like “grafted in” and “part of the family of God” and then talk about how it is not salvific and that it depends on the child not being a convenant breaker. If they are indeed grafted in and in the family of God they will not be a covenant breaker. If they are just talking about the common grace advantages to being in a covenant family, I am OK with that. But grafted in????
    Second, in Paul’s argument to the Galatians about the uselessness of physical circumcision, it seems absurd that he wouldn’t scream from the rooftops “Besides, circumcision has been replaced by baptism!!!!” But instead, crickets regarding baptism.

    • Hi Carol,

      I understand. I think the difficulty is, as I was saying to Wendy, different sets of assumptions. On the Baptist view, people are baptized because we believe that they are regenerate, that they have already personally received Christ and his benefits and baptism is a sign and seal of that reality. On the confessional paedobaptist view, confessing believers are baptized and their children on the basis of the profession of the parents and the promise. So baptism does different things in different cases. It is a sign to all and a seal to those who believe. It is a promise to all who believe that certain things are true.

      Reformed churches also distinguish two ways of being in the one covenant of grace: internal and external. Here’s an explanation of that distinction. Everyone who is baptized is an external member of the covenant of grace but only those who believer are also internal members. This is a distinction that Paul made both in Rom 2 and 9. It is a distinction the prophets made of Israel repeatedly.

      I agree that, in the effort to signal the significance of covenant initiation, sometimes strong language is used. This is sacramental language and in that use sometimes the sign is spoken of as if it were the the thing signified. Paul does this in Titus 3:5. Of course, neither circumcision and baptism themselves save (see the link) but sometimes Scripture uses shorthand and sometime so do we. The problem is that we live in a Baptist country (on this see the essay on “Sister’s America” in Always Reformed) so that we probably need to avoid shorthand and explain ourselves more fully each time we baptize.

      I think that you assume that if one is only an external member (assuming the distinction I sketched above) that participating in the administration outwardly is not that significant but according to Hebrews 6 and 10, the external administration of the covenant of grace is a very big deal. I tried to explain that yesterday in this post. Check out the previous two posts in the series for more context.

      On Galatians, see my answer to Wendy re Colossians. Paul’s argument in Galatians was about the confusion of the administration of the covenant of grace for the substance. In that case, it was beside the point to remind them that baptism was the sign and seal of the new covenant since they, being judaizers, were wound up about circumcision.

      There are a lot of resources here.

  4. Hi Carol,

    When you said, “They use terms like ‘grafted in’ and ‘part of the family of God’ and then talk about how it is not salvific….,” did you mean the explanation of paedobaptism you’ve been given is that baptism itself “grafts in” or makes the baptized “part of the family of God?”

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