A friend of mine on Facebook recently posted that he’s considering moving to the Presbyterian idea of infant baptism. This was an opportunity for me to both defend my own position (credobaptism) and learn it better. Although I’ve read (and listened) to others talk on the subject, I’ve never actually debated infant baptism with a knowledgeable opponent. So, I picked up the gauntlet and started a good-natured exchange with a mutual friend on his thread.
That quickly spiraled into something more extensive. By mutual agreement, we’re taking that discussion “long-form” here on our blogs. That will allow us both to lay out our positions more clearly.
I’ll try to present a brief summary of the argument to this point. Then, I’ll let Robert pick up the discussion with a post on his own blog. I’ll link to his response here once it’s up. Feel free to post comments or questions – we’ll try to address them either in the comments section or in a future response.
Robert’s response is now up: A Baptismal Debate
Infant Baptism and Covenant Theology
Baptists and Presbyterians both agree on one thing: Members of the New Covenant should be baptized. We disagree on who the members of the New Covenant are. Baptists hold that believers are the members of the New Covenant. Presbyterians hold that believers and their children (also referred to as the “visible church”) are members of the New Covenant.
I’ll summarize here some of the basic arguments and Scriptures we put forward for our positions.
A Better Covenant
Baptists see the New Covenant as a covenant for the forgiveness of sins:
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
God forgives the sins of the members of the New Covenant permanently. This, we believe, is one of the benefits of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was repeatedly broken by the nation of Israel, but the New Covenant is kept in us by God Himself. He promises to remember our sins no more.
This means that the New Covenant, unlike the Old, must be specifically between God and believers: the children of believers do not have their sins forgiven unless they, too, believe on Christ.
A Hereditary Covenant
Presbyterians see the New Covenant as a covenant with the visible Church:
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
1 Corinthians 7:14
Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
Like the Old Covenant (and the Abrahamic covenant before it), the New Covenant is for “you and your children.” This means there will be non-believing members of the New Covenant. Robert can expand upon this point more fully in his turn.
The Visible and Invisible Church
Here, I’ll respond to some of Robert’s most recent arguments.
The New Covenant and the Invisible Church
When Jer 31 is quoted, I understand it to apply to the church invisible, as the church visible will always be riddled with false children. revelations 20 says that the end of the age will be the same. Before Christ returns men will apostasize from the covenant and Paul also speaks of a coming great apostasy
To say that these apostates were never in covenant is rather silly. All who are baptized are in covenant.
The idea of the “visible” and “invisible” church is that what we today see as “the Church” is actually a mix of true believers and false professors. The “visible church” is what we see: people who look like good, upstanding members of their congregations. The “invisible church” is what God sees: those good, upstanding members who are actually His children. Both Baptists and Presbyterians agree on this, though the language seems to be more common to Presbyterians.
As it happens, I also agree that Jeremiah 31 applies to the church invisible – the true believers. But I think that what Jeremiah 31 describes is the New Covenant. That’s made clear in Hebrews 8, 9, and 10, where the author of Hebrews quotes this section of Jeremiah 31 directly. Robert has made my point, unless he can establish that the New Covenant is actually something other than what Hebrews describes.
Hebrews 6 says “For it is impossible that they which were once lightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good word of God, and of the powers of the world to come, if they fall away, should be renewed again by repentance: seeing they crucify again to themselves the Son of God, and make a mock of him”
I have alreasy [sic] laid out the arguments to be made from Romans 11 and Revelations 2-3. Christ also gives parables of His judging amongst His servants. All of these servants are covenanted people, subject to the judgments of Deut 28. The elect exist within the Visible Church and will persevere
Robert’s argument here dovetails with what he mentioned above. True believers will not break the New Covenant; but some people do break the New Covenant. Those people are part of the visible church. Therefore, the New Covenant includes the visible church, and not just true believers.
Robert and I both believe in the visible/invisible church divide. But Robert argues that Hebrews 6, Romans 11, and Revelations 2-3 are evidence, not just of being rejected from the Church, but of breaking the New Covenant.
I’ll allow that this may be a plausible interpretation. But, as I read them, these passages don’t make this point explicitly enough to override the clear connection in Hebrews of the New Covenant with the forgiveness of sins and Christ’s role as mediator. One of the principles of Biblical hermeneutics is interpreting unclear passages on the basis of the clear ones. If Robert can show that Scripture clearly separates the New Covenant and forgiveness of sins, I’ll be happy to reconsider.
I’ll keep this short to allow Robert freedom to respond or elaborate as he wishes. But I have a couple questions I’d like to hear Robert’s take on in his response:
- Is the “covenant” in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8-10 the same as the New Covenant? Or is it a different covenant?
- What are the benefits of the New Covenant for unbelievers?
Feel free to post comments or questions you may have on this subject. We’ll address them either here or in our responses. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date on future installments in this series, you can get email notifications or add the blog to your RSS feed with the links below!