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Mark McCulley
Judge by the Gospel


A New Covenant

Augustine: The field is the world, and the world is the church. Compel them to come into the covenant!
the persecuted: The earth is the Lord's, and only the Lord can give life or compel.
Augustine: We bring both wheat and tares into the broad church, and the Lord in the end will show the difference.
the persecuted: The field is the world, and the church is NOT the world.the church is not even our children, unless the Lord who gave us our children by generation gives them to Jesus by regeneration.
Augustine: But original sin is removed, and regeneration given by infant baptism.
the persecuted: We trust neither ourselves nor your baptism.
Augustine: But the church has the power of the keys, to bring you in against your will, and to put out as God wills.
the persecuted: We do not impute your will as God's will

I begin with two questions.

Is there any ethnic dimension to the old covenants? paedobaptists have trouble conceding this, and obscure it by giving "descendants" three different meanings.
Is there any ethnic dimension to the new covenant?

Dispensationalists have two parallel covenants, one for ethnic Israel, new covenant theology (at its best-g) denies that there is any ethnic dimension to the new covenant and do not baptize their infants.

By baptizing the infants of believers, but note infant grandchildren (to a 1000 generations!) of believers, paedobaptists stop halfway between the old and the new covenants. They do put the "carnal seed" in the covenant but stop the ethnic inheritance at the second generation, where they wait again for the organic, life-giving power of the Spirit. I am reminded of Jonathan Edwards refusing the second generation the Lord's Supper. That's the trouble with moderation! It's rather difficult to find which "moderate" place to stop, when what one really needs is God to work.

John Calvin wrote in the Institutes (IV:20:14): "There are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses and is ruled by the common laws of nations." Though Calvin kept a Judaized ethnic church with infant baptism to match the circumcision of the old covenant, he refused to order the magistrate by the old covenant standard. We see how arbitrary people can be about what's "basic continuity".

paedobaptists may claim that Abraham has "only one true seed--the spiritual seed". But they still can't let go of the fact that Abraham's "carnal seed" were circumcised. Therefore, they still think that DNA has something to do with water baptism. Those with DNA from Abraham were circumcised in the old covenant, and Pedobaptistists say that those (in the first generation only) with DNA from Christian parents are to be baptized as infants.

Of course "biological descent from Abraham is never a sufficient reason for one to expect covenant blessings." But paedobaptists say that Biological descent IS ONE REASON to expect blessing.

WITHOUT biological descent, one had very little reason to expect blessing in the old covenant. I recall for you the rather strong language of Ephesians 2:12--"being aliens from the commonwealth of

Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope..." The "new perspective on Paul" wants to read the Pharisee emphasis on physical descent and covenantal conditions ("works") as simply perversion. "As if it were based on works", they remind us (Romans 9:32). But the new perspective not only neglects the law aspect of the Mosaic covenant, but also fails to do justice to the "new individualism" of the new covenant. We do not get into the new covenant corporately by the cross, and then stay in individually by our works of faith, as NT Wright (with many others) would have it. Not all of Israel is Israel. God chooses individuals to be justified at the last day, apart from any consideration either of their works or sins.

Of course serious paedobaptists do "believe in" church discipline. They "abhor a nominal church." Conservative paedobaptists, as we have observed, only baptize infants of the first generation. Unlike liberal Anglicans like JI Packer who approve indiscriminate infant baptism, conservative presbyteries still attempt to determine if parents are believers before they will baptize their children. In this way, they would avoid a nominal church, even if those now-believing parents were infant baptized by Unitarian Anglicans or Roman Catholics.

The key word paedobaptists use against baptists here is "infallibly". John Murray: "no organization of men is able infallibly to determine who are regenerate." Of course. But then again, no presbytery can determine infallibly which parents are regenerate. And no preacher can infallibly preach God's Word. And no magistrate can infallibly kill enemies. And no writer can infallibly free themselves of prejudice. We all know these things. How does that decide for us if the church includes the children of believers, or only those who profess regeneration?

Although more consistent paedobaptists practice infant communion, most paedobaptists have "criteria for adult membership". The difference with baptists is finally not any less subjective claim to "certainty"; the difference is that paedobaptists have TWO kinds of church membership. So I ask you: does the new covenant have two kinds of membership?

It is simply not true that believer baptism encourage many rebaptisms during "crises of assurance." It is true that believer baptism does advocate that those baptized have assurance of salvation. this assurance is not based on our feelings or works, or on our continuing to meet "covenant conditions". I Peter 3:21: "an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ." Not through any promise of ours to get busy and to keep working enough!

"Feeling that one must match the experiences of others" is not an error isolated to baptists. Believer baptism is no solution to a crisis of assurance: only the imputed righteousness of Christ can give us peace with God. But a crisis of assurance can be a good thing!. It's not a good thing to "join the church" without ever having a crisis of assurance. But if we follow the advise of Charles Hodges and Horace Bushnell, then our children will always presume themselves to be Christians.

Of course I know many paedobaptists who do not agree with Bushneell and Hodge! Nevertheless they makes any crisis of assurance less likely by putting into the covenant infants who do not profess salvation. Are the children of Christians to think of themselves as Christians from the beginning? How does your local paedobaptists answer this question when he does infants? And for extra credit, ask: Are the infants of paedobaptists Christians in a better position than the infants of Baptist Christians?

If someone has discovered that they did not become a Christian until after their "baptism", then they are simply being obedient to God to disregard that previous ritual. You have to be prejudiced to call this "re-baptism".

paedobaptists who do not practice infant communion shift the "crisis of assurance" to communion. Those who don't know that they are justified are encouraged "to abstain", at least in conservative paedobaptists groups. But it would be difficult for them to find this scruple in the old covenant with which they claim continuity. Passover was a family meal, with the children of the covenant included. But then again, the new covenant is different, and most paedobaptists' practice of the Lord's Supper shows that. Yet some of them continue to accuse us of "depriving" our infants of baptism. I am not without emotion about our topic: one thing I want to deprive my two children is a distorted view of church and the new covenant.

In Acts of course there is no second generation "born of Christian parents". From this silence, some even infer that the second generation must have been baptized in their infancy. I am not again inferring but I would like to be rational in doing so. I guess I would infer from this silence that Acts knows nothing of two kinds of baptism. But Acts is not silent about one important matter: we read the record there of many Jews, who having already received the circumcision symbol of the old covenant, do not rest content with that infant symbol, but are water baptized after they believe. I infer, not from silence but from this clear pattern of events, that water baptism and circumcision are not only different, but also that water baptism is not a substitute for circumcision. Circumcision has ended, not because water baptism has replaced it, but because Jesus has brought a new and life-giving covenant. Those who were circumcised were ALSO WATER BAPTISED.

Mark McCulley

Copyright © 2000 by Mark McCulley. All rights reserved.