(Edit: I have since changed this view, but I keep this post up because of its importance to me for remembering the development of my theology. For information on my change, read “Why I’m Now a Paedobaptist.”)
As some of you may know, I have been thinking deeply for about a year on whether infant or believer baptism was the correct implementation of Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). Over this break, I have had significant time to think, study, and pray about the subject, and I have (finally!) decided that, in my opinion, believer baptism is the most biblical position. I certainly respect the beliefs of paedobaptists (especially because I know how confusing the issue is and because I know how persuasive a case paedobaptists have), but I am ultimately persuaded by the arguments on behalf of credobaptism. I would like to spell out my reasons for this decision, for my own sake (at the very least), but hopefully to help those of you who might still be thinking about the issue. So, forgive the size of this post (it’s kind of a big issue), and I am very interested in any questions or challenges to what I am going to write.
First, you should know that I am approaching the issue from a Reformed, Covenant Theology perspective. From this, my main question is: Is there a covenant community in the new covenant containing both the regenerate and the unregenerate, as there was in the old covenant? I believe that the Bible does not reflect such a community under the new covenant.
Here is a rough line of argumentation for what I have come to believe:
- The old covenant was given to all those living within the physical, literal nation of Israel, all males of whom were to bear the sign of the covenant in circumcision, which was to be administered in their infancy.
- The old covenant was conditional in a way that if those under the covenant obeyed the laws of God, they would live; if not, they would be destroyed.
- Furthermore, some within the nation of Israel under the old covenant would have been regenerate and would have obeyed God, while others under the old covenant at the same time would not have been regenerate; nevertheless, regenerate and unregenerate alike under the old covenant were supposed to bear the sign of the covenant because the covenant was made with all of Israel.
- Jeremiah 31:31-34 promises that the new covenant would be formed with all the house of Israel and the house of Judah (in this case, the spiritual Israel, or the Church of Jesus Christ); Jesus commands that all within the new covenant are to bear the sign of the covenant, baptism.
- Jeremiah 31:31-34 predicts that the new covenant will be of a nature that it will be unbreakable, and that all its adherents would (1) have God’s law written on their hearts; (2) know God personally; (3) have their sin forgiven.
- Because only those who have true faith in Christ are genuine members of the new covenant, only those who can give evidence to the reality of their faith should bear the sign of the covenant (baptism).
This is generally the argument for Reformed, covenant theology credobaptism, but Dr. Richard Pratt makes a good case against this argument here. Dr. Pratt makes the case that, while the new covenant when it is fully realized at Christ’s return will indeed be unbreakable, be fully internalized, and distribute salvation to all of its participants. Now, however, Dr. Pratt argues that the new covenant is breakable, is not fully internalized, and will not distribute salvation to all participants (i.e., the unregenerate who are merely part of the covenant community). This was the toughest argument I saw against credobaptism, but I think that it ultimately proves to be incorrect biblically.
Although I cannot go into every aspect of Dr. Pratt’s article (although I would be willing to go into more detail if asked specifically about different parts of his article), I will give brief reasons why I disagree with it:
- Dr. Pratt argues that the new covenant is currently breakable. He cites Heb. 10:28-31, but if we want to interpret this passage as talking about someone who does not get salvation after having been sanctified by Christ’s blood (phrases from the passage), how does that possibly fit into the doctrine of Definite Atonement (i.e., that Christ definitely paid for only his elect, who would be saved) or the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (i.e., that God will ensure the ultimate salvation of those whom he has saved by his grace)? I don’t particularly know what the Hebrews passage means, and I wouldn’t feel qualified to comment on it without knowing the Greek, but, if it means what Dr. Pratt suggests it does, then the passage does violence to two very important doctrines which are much more easily demonstrable by Scripture. Dr. Pratt gives no more evidence to support his argument that the new covenant can be broken (indeed, the passages regarding Perseverance of the Saints seems to assert the exact opposite), so I see no further reason to believe that the new covenant can be broken.
- Dr. Pratt argues that the new covenant is not fully internalized right now. First, he points out that we believers, though the law has been internalized, are not able to speak authoritatively, but must submit to Scripture; only at Christ’s return will covenant’s internalization be ultimately realized in our lives. Second, he points to the 1 Cor. 7:14 verse, about unbelieving spouses and children being sanctified by their believing spouse/parent. I will grant his first point, but not the second. First, Paul also writes that unbelievers in no way are able to understand the things of God, because they do not have the mind of Christ as we have (1 Cor. 2:6-16). If this is the case, then is the new covenant internalized at any level in unbelievers? I would that it is not. As for the 1 Cor 7:14 verse, I would point out that paedobaptists do not believe that unbelieving spouses of believers are to be baptized. Therefore, I think that, because the new covenant does not become internalized at all in the lives of unbelievers, they should not be baptized.
- Finally, Dr. Pratt argues that the new covenant right now does not distribute salvation to all its participants partially from the Heb. 10 passage, but also from the parables of the Ten Virgins and the Talents in Matt. 25:1-30. I would argue that these parables do not talk about those within the new covenant community who are ultimately unregenerate, but about those who think that they are in the new covenant as believers in Christ, but in actuality are not. Notice how the bridgegroom responds to the virgins who are left outside: “‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you'” (v. 12). This is an interesting comment, since the Jeremiah prophecy about the new covenant states that all, from the greatest to the least members of the new covenant would know God (Jer. 31:34).
Certainly, for believers, the new covenant has not been manifested in its entirety; however, the new covenant is not true at all of the unregenerate right now. Accordingly, the sign of the new covenant should not be administered to the unregenerate or to those who are unable to demonstrate that they are regenerated. So, to answer my main question, I think that the new covenant is a spiritual covenant community of believers in Jesus Christ.
Since this is already a long enough post, I will not give any more arguments. I would, however, note that I am not the best theologian, biblical scholar, or anything else of that sort. If you have more questions on this subject, I would refer you (for starters) to a great series of sermons freely available on the internet in mp3s that you can get here (the series is the “2005 SBC Founders Conference Southwest”). In fact, the sermon entitled “Hermeneutics of Baptist Covenant Theology” devotes ten minutes to Dr. Pratt’s article, which I briefly considered above, in a much more learned fashion than I did. I highly recommend the series.