A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

In part 3 of his critique of paedobaptism, Mr. Hicks attempts to argue that a proper understanding of the regulative principle of worship is inconsistent with infant baptism. His argument runs like this: 1. The RPW forbids any element of worship not explicitly commanded in the New Testament Scriptures. 2. Infant baptism is not explicitly commanded in the New Testament Scriptures. 3. Therefore, infant baptism falls foul of the RPW. He goes further to try to answer some Reformed responses. Some Reformed folk might respond by saying that OT circumcision is the route to consistency with the RPW. He answers that circumcision is only commanded in the OT. A second possible response is that infant baptism is only a circumstance, not an element. His response is that infant baptism is an element.

There are many ways to pursue an answer to this part of the argument, which I consider to be the weakest in the piece. He betrays a misunderstanding both of the RPW and the doctrine of infant baptism as understood by the Reformed. Firstly, he misunderstands the RPW. The RPW is not limited only to what is explicitly commanded in the NT Scriptures. An element could be implied by apostolic example. Secondly, there is more biblical-theological continuity between OT and NT worship than he allows. OT worship most certainly had the call to worship (present in many of the Psalms), singing of Psalms, preaching of the Word, prayer, and benediction, all things that are commanded in the NT (though benedictions only by example!).

Secondly, he misunderstands the Reformed view of infant baptism. He treats it as though Reformed folk believe it is a completely separate thing from an adult baptism. It is not so. The Reformed believe there is only one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. There is not a separate adult baptism element of worship and an infant baptism element of worship. There is only baptism. And baptism is commanded. Since the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of its administration, it does not matter, in Reformed theology, whether the person comes to faith before, during, or after the sign is given. That is why infant baptism and adult baptism are the same thing.

His attempts to forestall objections fall short of the mark, since no Reformed theologian I know would claim that circumcision is what makes baptism allowable according to the NT RPW. It is rather in accordance with what is argued above: 1. Infant baptism is regular baptism; 2. Regular baptism is commanded by Jesus; therefore 3. Infant baptism is in accordance with the RPW. His other attempt to forestall is equally inaccurate, since there is no Reformed author of which I am aware who would even begin to claim that infant baptism is a circumstance. Baptism is an element, as all Reformed theologians agree.

4 Comments

  1. greenbaggins said,

    March 4, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    Stephen, I have not forgotten the links you have put up on the previous post in this series. I intend to answer those after I finish going through Mr. Hicks’s piece.

  2. Stephen Smith said,

    March 4, 2020 at 11:45 pm

    Thank you Lane. It was quite common for 17th century Particular Baptists to argue that the paedobaptist view of Baptism violates the RPW so a response is timely. Further there are some good paedobaptist works out now linking covenant theology to the RPW. Eg https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/aiming-to-please-table-of-contents/?fbclid=IwAR3387Gnl5oi8dpEmiuy_k2rw5QV4ADRodycnL9gzSka8HYyoQyFf7T-1Nw Thus one can say the Reformed view gives a solid foundation for the RPW.

  3. March 5, 2020 at 8:55 am

    […] Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. […]

  4. Bob S said,

    March 5, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    There are three ways Christ’s will in his Word is determined according to the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly (rpt. 2012) that bear on how the RPW is understood: Express word/command, good and necessary consequence and approved examples from Scripture.

    Sess. 634 determined “that the Jus Divinuum and the will and apoyntment of Jesus Christ is set out in several ways in the Scripture” one of which is “expresse words (May 5, 1646).”

    Sess. 636, “Resolved upon the Q.: An other way wherin the will and appoyntment of Jesus Christ is set out in scripture is by necessary consequence (May 7, 1646).”

    Sess. 649 “Resolved upon the Q.: ‘some examples shew a Jus Divinuum and the will and appoyntment of God. . . ” with building of altars in the OT, synagogues and the NT observation of the Christian Sabbath being listed (Jun. 1,1646).”

    IOW ad fontes. It would take the ground right out from under many of the objections to the WCF and the RPW whether from the likes of Mr. Hicks or even John Frame’s Worship Children.


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