Thursday, September 13, 2012

Infant Baptism and Covenant Membership via Faith

The new book, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, primarily attempts to unify the Bible under the theme of covenant, but then goes on to make side arguments concerning whether infant baptism is valid from a biblical perspective based upon the larger argument they make in the book. I have not read the book yet. I've only read reviews that say the above, but this is something that I think is important. Here is Dr. Moo's confirmation that the book takes this turn.

In two concluding chapters, Gentry and Wellum summarize their argument and spell out some of its implications. The authors betray (not unfairly) their own ecclesiastical location by stressing that only those who truly believe belong to the new covenant and that the new covenant sign of baptism should therefore be administered only to (professing) believers . . . I think each of these points is well-grounded in the larger argument of the book.

Now, I think something that is important for everyone to understand is that the way that I argue for the legitimacy for infant baptism, and why I think the Bible teaches what is behind it, has nothing to do with the arguments usually leveled against it. In other words, these arguments don't touch my argument. Everyone believes that faith is needed to enter the community of God. You must believe in order to be saved. Period. That's not the issue. The issue is that if parents and children are seen as a single entity, then the head of that entity can make a federal decision to exercise faith for that entity. Hence, the head of the entity exercises faith and the entity is saved by grace through faith. The entity is a single entity exercising faith. 

I've tried to say this before, so let me say it again, this is how the gospel itself works. Salvation is gained by works. It's just that no one, but Christ alone, has ever (or could ever) accomplished it. Hence, we, the body of Christ (i.e., one entity), have obtained salvation because our head has obtained it. We are not separate from Christ then. If we are, good luck obtaining salvation for yourself. So the point is that the entity of the church is one with Christ and obtains salvation through Him, and the entity of a family, as long as they are truly in submission to the head, is one, and exercise faith through that federal head so as to be placed within the body of Christ. Ergo, the infant is saved and may be baptized along with the rest of the body that belongs to its federal head, just as we are one and should be made holy along with our federal head, Christ.

I've argued before that the only justification for God killing babies in the OT for their parent's crimes, and the only justification for God saving babies/family members in the OT for their parent's faith, is this principle. Likewise, the only justification for condemning all of mankind through Adam and the only justification for saving all in Christ is this principle. So either the principle is valid, and one now needs to make the argument (not simply give his opinion) that this principle is true for the family of Adam and the family of Christ but somehow not for the individual family, or he needs to admit that one individual who is one entity with his family can exercise faith for that one entity and that single entity then is included in the phrase "through faith." 

So faith must be exercised by an individual in order for that one to receive salvation, just as salvation had to be obtained by an individual through works. It's just that the individual is one entity with others, so that whatever he owns is a single entity with him, and therefore, receives his fate.

Whether one agrees or not, that is the argument with which one must grapple, not whether faith is required for entrance into the kingdom. What orthodox Christian would disagree with that?


  1. BTW, I just want to add that I think people miss the mark on understanding the biblical covenants because they often fail to see that such covenants are based on the idea of familial covenants. That's why a Suzerain treaty functions the way it does (the smaller entity becoming one family, and therefore, one entity, with the larger entity via the pact made with its federal heads). I personally think that the Bible is unified by this idea of family and that the convenants are simply a part of that larger idea.

  2. I'm very confused. You state: "So the point is that the entity of the church is one with Christ and obtains salvation through Him, and the entity of a family, as long as they are truly in submission to the head, is one, and exercise faith through that federal head so as to be placed within the body of Christ."

    You clearly state in that paragraph: "...the entity of a family, as long AS THEY ARE TRULY IN SUBMISSION to the head, is one.."

    If I'm understanding you correctly you're saying, "In the same way the entity of the church is one with Christ (the head of the church) through submission, so family members are one with their head through their submission, and are therefore saved..."

    If this is indeed what you're saying, how can a baby, or for that matter, a fetus, submit to its parents?

    And if it's true that my faith somehow is transferred to my infant or my wife's fetus, then why does that child need to grow up and exercise faith in Christ? What if that child grows up and rejects Christ? Did he lose his salvation he once had? And there's no possible way you can say that the above scenario is impossible because we all know of stories of people who die on their death beds cursing God - people whose parents were genuine Christians. Didn't Jesus say, "And they will be divided, father against son and son against father." Therefore it's possible to have a son who rejects his father's faith in Christ.

    I guess I just need a better, clearer explanation.

  3. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify, Josh. I know there needs to be a lot fleshed out here, so here is what I would say.

    1. When I say "they" need to be in submission, I'm thinking the whole of the family. Obviously, the infant is automatically in submission to his or her parent. I was thinking more along the lines of a five year old.

    2. The issue of whether someone can be considered saved by us and whether someone actually is saved is the same for those who are baptized as believing adults. We tell them that they are saved and believe them to be saved, treat them that way, baptize them, take communion with them, etc.

    Now, if one suddenly does not believe, does that mean we should have never treated him as a believer or believed it to be such? Should we have never said to him that he was saved? I believe we were fine in doing so, because the promises of God are based upon whether one has faith. If he or she professes faith, then that is reason for us to believe that he or she is saved. That's what I mean by the infant being saved through his parents. I mean that we consider him saved, and if he dies in that state, we know that he is. We also know that he is/was if he continues on in the faith of his parent(s). In the same way, we know that the adult believer is truly saved if he or she continues on in the faith or dies in their faith. Our understanding of a person's election is just proven otherwise by the test of time and whether that person dies in belief/unbelief.

    3. The answer to the question as to why they need to continue to believe is because (a) a child who is in submission to his parents will exercise faith along with his parents while growing up, and (b) he will be an autonomous adult soon and will no longer be a part of the family unit thereafter, so he must decide to continue on in the faith or reject it. The same, again, goes for anyone who believes as a professing child.

  4. It still isn't making sense to me. If the child grows up, and is no longer under the authority of his parents and he rejects Christ, then, as you say, we know that he isn't saved AND WE KNOW THAT HE WAS NEVER SAVED. It's not as if he WAS SAVED and then, when he rejected Christ, became unsaved. That would teach that salvation can be lost. That would teach that a person is elected and then loses his election. He's either saved from the foundation of the earth or he isn't. Are you saying that all children of genuine believing parents are elect until the time one of them may reject Christ as an adult? If so, that would seem to create a third category: elect, non-elect, and then elect/non-elect.

    And I don't see how how the child is analogous to the professing adult believer, as you say. The reason we assure an adult believer of his salvation is because of HIS personal faith (expressed in his repentance). When you assure your six year old of her salvation, do you say to her, "You are saved because you're one with Daddy who has faith in Christ. Go ahead and take communion. Rest assured that if you died today, you'd be with Jesus." If so, that doesn't seem to be analogous to assuring the adult believer who is assured due to his independent expression of faith.

  5. I think the problem is that you're equating a person's standing in the church, as one considered a believer, with his election. We don't know who is elect, Josh. You could believe today and reject the faith tomorrow. Should I never declare you as a believer then? Should I not say that you are saved because I don't know and could be wrong? My point with the analogy stands pretty firm I think. You would have to say that an adult believer who you treated as saved and believed to be saved, but who later rejected Christ, was either not saved at any time and thus you should never have considered him such and said as such, or he lost his salvation.

    Now, I would say neither of these. I believe that we confirm that one is a believer based upon faith, so that the faith of the parent gives rise to my proclamation that the children are saved in the same way that the faith of the parent gives rise to my proclamation that that individual parent is saved. Whether they are elect and truly saved isn't the prerogative of the church, and I think that is what is hanging you up here. You would have to be God to know that, and thus, be God to declare anyone saved. But since you're not, you couldn't allow anyone to be baptized or take communion, because it might turn out that he or she isn't really saved.

    Instead, what one needs to do is realize that our understanding is in the now. Our knowledge is only of the present. In fact, you admit this as well, since you said that you confirm someone's salvation by their profession, but again, what if they profess differently tomorrow. Were you wrong to have every confirm another person's salvation then? Of course not.

    We accept into fellowship everyone who has a profession of faith, and that includes the whole entity, children and all, not just a part of him or her.

    So there is a loss of salvation in our view of things, even though there isn't one really. We just experience it as such, but the person was never elected, and so, never saved either. But we don't act upon God's secret will but upon His revealed will, so His revealed will tells us that we should consider all who enter via faith as the family of God, and that includes all families who enter via their federal head.

    Second to this, what I tell my kids to do, if they are old enough to understand, is to believe. As I said before, they must follow the family in faith and continue on in their own faith as well, so at the point that I can explain that to them, there is no reason, either practically or theologically, to tell them that they are saved by my or their mother's faith, since their faith is our faith and should continue on as their own as well. I'm not sure what problem you see there. Telling our kids to exercise their own faith in Christ is exactly what you would do with believers who are adults as well. They need to continue on in the faith that first brought them there.

    So I don't see how one does not have the exact same problem in terms of the "was he saved or not" discussion, and the Reformed typically catechize their children more than baptists do on average; and I don't think that is the case for no reason. If you believe your children are believers and saved, you will teach them accordingly. If you don't believe they are, then everything is just a preface in hope that they will become saved one day. But that means teaching them as believers is wrong, because you end up teaching them to observe the law of God apart from Christ until they make that decision. So, I actually think that it's the baptist view that leads to the improper Christian training of saved children.

  6. Just to tack on that comment, Josh. Would you teach your children to obey the Bible when you don't believe they are saved in a relationship with Christ? Or would you not obey the Scripture that teaches you to instruct children in the way of godliness until they actually exercise faith? In other words, would you just teach them the gospel over and over again, hoping that they become saved, so you can start teaching them to obey God, or do you expect them to obey God even if they have never yet come to a non-coerced decision to follow Christ? I'm just curious on this one.

  7. So you DO believe it's possible for a child of a genuine believer to not be among the elect? For example, if a child of a genuine believer rejects Christ when he gets older and continues to do so through his death bed, then it's obvious that he was never elect. But if that's true, that argues against paedobaptism. Paedobaptists believes that all children of genuine believers are saved because of their parent's faith, right? So, are they saved or aren't they? If they are saved AT THAT MOMENT when they are just infants then they will naturally persevere, right? This just doesn't make sense to me at all, nor has it ever. And I've read and talked plenty on this issue. I remain unconvinced.

    While it's true that there are a number of spiritual truths that are taught indirectly in Scripture (i.e. the Trinity), that is not the case with divinely instituted ceremonies or ordinances. Every divinely instituted ceremony or ordinance, whether it was a specific sacrifice in the OT, or some official celebration, or Passover, circumcision, or baptism, all of those things are taught directly, not indirectly. Yet paedobaptists say that infant baptism, though not taught directly, is taught indirectly; that it's implicit, though not explicit. But no official ordinance in the Bible is ever communicated implicitly or indirectly.

    So, I'm just curious ... what if I just do nothing with my children? ... that is, what if I don't have them baptized as an infant? ... what then?

    I think your last question is a good one, but I'm not sure I'm seeing what it has to do with this conversation. I know that it does, knowing you, I just need to see the connection.

    Also, I met with Thad while we were in Ohio and we had a good time reminiscing about you and our time at Moody. We were wondering ... what do you do for a living, Bryan? :-)

  8. "So you DO believe it's possible for a child of a genuine believer to not be among the elect? For example, if a child of a genuine believer rejects Christ when he gets older and continues to do so through his death bed, then it's obvious that he was never elect. But if that's true, that argues against paedobaptism. Paedobaptists believes that all children of genuine believers are saved because of their parent's faith, right? So, are they saved or aren't they? If they are saved AT THAT MOMENT when they are just infants then they will naturally persevere, right? This just doesn't make sense to me at all, nor has it ever. And I've read and talked plenty on this issue. I remain unconvinced."

    I don't think you're giving enough weight to the exact same problem you have when you baptize an adult believer. You believe someone is saved when they have come to profess faith, right? And if they persevere, they were really saved, and if not, they never were. But you still believe a person who professes faith to be a believer, baptize him, let him partake of communion, call him "brother," and speak assuredly that Christ is his Lord. The apostles all do this as well. I consider you saved, Josh. I will proclaim it upon the mountains, but if you deny the faith tomorrow, that doesn't take away from the idea that those who exercise faith in Christ are saved at all. Hence, I just don't see how it takes away from the idea that the children of believers are saved by virtue of their parents' faith.

    Remember, my argument is for why it's OK to baptize children, not why every must do it. I believe they are saved by virtue of your faith. I just believe baptism is an obedience thing that testifies something to the community and the child, so that we may be injuring the spirituality of both by not doing it. But the child, I believe, is still saved. That's just my opinion on that.

    My last question just has to do with whether we're consistent with our beliefs. My inkling is that most people who argue against the idea that their children are saved on a theoretical level, still teach their children as though they were believers and were saved. I personally think this is a good inconsistency because obviously I believe that the child is saved and should be taught as a believer.

    Haha. I would have loved to have been there. I've done numerous things in the past few years to try to get by while they figure out what's wrong me. The doctors here work very slowly, so my illness doesn't allow me to do much. For the most part, since I left my pastoral job, I've done things like hotel work, customer service, merchandising, bred ball pythons (I'm still doing this), etc. while I've been going to school to try and finish my ThM; but my illness keeps me down most days. I've been invited to speak at a few conferences and to interview for all sorts of ministry jobs, but always had to turn them down. Part of our reason for going to Vegas is that my mom is more plugged into the health network there and I can hopefully get better faster so that I can start a ministry there. But I'm always doing ministry in one way or another in the meantime and hope to get well enough to take a full time position (inside or outside the church) soon :-)

  9. I should add that I don't think the argument that infant baptism is not explicitly taught is a very good one, as numerous households are said to be baptized when the head of that household believes. Furthermore, if I am right in my argument here, the Scripture does teach that when one exercises faith, he ought to be baptized, it is teaching that within the context of understanding that children are one with their parents. It's not teaching it within our understanding that children are separate entities from their parents. In other words, this is a Bible + My Philosophical Assumption = My Conclusion" argument. It's like the hidden assumption of free will in an Arminian's arguments from the Bible. The question needs to center around whether that philosophical assumption that the one exercising faith does not include all who are one with that individual is biblical as well. I don't think that argument can be made in light of the whole of Scripture.

  10. Whenever I don't answer for a while, it's usually because you got me thinking. :-) I'm gaining the sense of what you're saying, and, at the very least I can say, "I can see how you came to that conclusion. Even though I disagree, it's sensible" etc. But I still have a problem when paedobaptists say, "I'm not saying you have to do it; I'm just explaining why it's OK for me to do it." In my mind, you either HAVE to do it or you don't. After all, it's not like we're talking about the benefit of Christians watching movies to stay abreast to the culture's thinking: "You don't have to do it, but it's ok for me to do it." This is BAPTISM we're talking about.

    So, anyway, that issue aside, I was not aware of your health conditions and now I feel bad about joking with Thad about your what it is you actually do. :-) Seriously, I hope the move to Vegas helps you, and I hope you can get back into a steady ministry situation because I think you're a great teacher and theologian.

    Maybe it's like you said, though. Maybe God is keeping you out of ministry as an act of judgment upon the church for only wanting false prophets. That's my analysis at least.

  11. I'm not saying you said that about yourself. I'm saying you said that in general about false teachers.

  12. Thanks Josh. I guess you're right in that I should say that my position shows one why he "should" baptize his children, rather than just say it's OK. Maybe it's because I was a baptist for so long and most of my friends are baptists (little "b") that I'm more relaxed on it. But I also think that my position doesn't really view it as essential to itself, simply because if the parent represents the child in his faith, he can also represent the child and his entire family in baptism, and so baptizing the child isn't that imperative, although consistent and something that probably should be done. I guess I'm still working out how dogmatic I should be on the matter, but have too many bigger fish to fry. If I thought it was essential to the believer's health as much as many other things, I would probably become more assertive about it.

    I think God has grown me a lot through all of this, so I'm actually glad He took me out of full time ministry for awhile. I don't think I had the spiritual maturity to be an overseer during the time that I was, so I do look at it as a good thing. I do also think it was, in fact, a judgment upon the church as well though. God often gets two birds with one stone. But I'm looking forward to getting back in if God so desires it, so I need to either get rid of this illness or have it considerably diminished enough to where I can show up and function. Don't worry about feeling bad. I'm sure if I was there, I'd be giving it as much as I was getting it. LOL. ;-)

    I just have to say again, I thought what you wrote about your wife on FB was THE best tribute describing a modern day Proverbs 31 woman I've ever read. It was just excellent. Maybe you and your wife should write a book. God bless.

  13. I should add that if my position is true, it would be more consistent with the NT texts where the entire households are baptized to baptize the children, and so one could make an argument that such is scripturally normative as well. I just have to continue to think about how much I should press it.

  14. Yes, it would have been fun for all three of us to have exchanged jabs with one another again!

    Thanks for the kind words about the Proverbs 31 post. I have a couple book ideas I'd like to get published, but I just don't know how. Perhaps someday.

    Perhaps, due to your illness, the Lord just wants you to focus on writing for now? That would be a huge blessing to the body of Christ, even if that's "all" you did. For now, though, you can just remain my personal, walking, breathing commentary that I can consult at any moment. :-)