A Response to Brandon Adams on 1 Corinthians 10

Brandon Adams has propounded a believer Baptist understanding of 1 Corinthians 10. His positive explanation of the passage is here, and his rejection of paedobaptist objections is here. It is worthwhile interacting with these ideas, since 1 Corinthians 10 is such an important passage in the debate, and any reasonable interpretations of the passage on a believer Baptist position are worthy of praise, since I have not met many believer Baptists who have formed many ideas concerning the passage. For my purposes, I will mainly interact with the rejection of paedobaptist false inferences post. I read the other post, and may refer to it occasionally, but the substance of what I wish to say concerns what he says about paedobaptist interpretations of the passage.

Almost immediately, we run into some problems, namely, with how Adams describes the paedo position. There does not seem to be a recognition that paedobaptists do, in fact, advocate some aspects of discontinuity and progression as history moves from Israel to the church. For example, paedos argue that the sign changes from bloody to bloodless (going from circumcision to baptism) because Christ’s blood has been shed, making further bloodshed unnecessary. Therefore, circumcision points forward, and baptism looks backwards. That they point to the same spiritual reality does not mean that they work in precisely the same way. Circumcision affected boys, and girls were understood to be included under their covenant head, whereas in the church, baptism is given to boys and girls alike. This kind of nuance with regard to the paedo position appears to be entirely lacking in Adams’s piece. For example, he says, “The basic thrust is that Israel and the Church are one and the same. Their situation was identical to ours.” In light of what I said above, this statement is a strawman, even with regard to Calvin’s understanding of the continuity. Calvin is talking about the spiritual situation, which is the same, undoubtedly the same. That does not mean that a carte blanche statement such as Adams’s is an accurate picture of Calvin’s views. Calvin argued that the different signs point to the same spiritual reality. That is different from saying simply that the signs are the same, and that there is absolutely no difference at all. Otherwise, why would Jesus Christ need to come at all?

Secondly, Adams goes to a great deal of trouble to try to prove that if the manna is not sacramental, then the entire paedo argument falls to the ground. It should have given him pause that when he quotes so many paedobaptists to negate Calvin’s point (which he does in the positive post and the rejection of the paedo position post), yet those paedos still argue the paedo position. Maybe the paedo position overall does not hinge on whether the manna is sacramental, and whether “the same” means “the same as what we partake of” or whether it means “they all had the same spiritual food among themselves.” To tell the truth, I have not really considered the matter of whether the manna was sacramental before reading Adams’s post, but if I had to take a position on it, I would probably say that the manna was not sacramental. It was their daily bread, and Christ does draw typological significance from the spiritual aspects of manna, but I would agree with Hodge that it falls short of sacramental significance. The typological antecedent for the Lord’s Supper is Passover, not manna, and even with Passover, there is both continuity and discontinuity. This brings us to the next point.

I am more than a bit surprised that Adams brought out the tired argument connecting baptism and the Lord’s Supper together, that if paedos treat baptism this way, then the Lord’s Supper must also be treated in this way, and we have to be paedocommunionist in order to be consistent. This argument has been so thoroughly answered by Cornel Venema’s book Children at the Lord’s Table? that it is irresponsible for a credo Baptist simply to throw this argument in paedos’ faces as if we have never considered the matter before. Almost every major paedo treatment of the subject answers this objection. Adams references precisely zero answers to this objection. The two important points that have to be said in response are these. 1. The paedo position recognizes that the two sacraments have important differences, differences strong enough to preclude treating them in the same way that credos say we must. These differences mostly involve the difference between passive reception in baptism, and both passive and active components in the Lord’s Supper. The reason for this difference is 1 Corinthians 11, which is not mentioned even once in Adams’s piece (also irresponsible, since it is directly relevant to his objection, and is part of the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 10). 1 Corinthians 11 describes how the Lord’s Supper is to be engaged. See Venema’s book for a thorough treatment of the passage. His conclusions are that 1 Corinthians 11 describes how all people are to partake, and that this requirement precludes infants from participating. So, if 1 Corinthians 10 comes in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, it wouldn’t matter whether the manna was sacramental or not, since chapter 11 would modify the participation aspect for today’s church.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The last section of Tom Hicks’s piece critiquing paedobaptism has to do with inconsistencies in the paedobaptist position. What I will show is that Mr. Hicks does not accurately describe the paedobaptism position, and thus the inconsistencies he sees do not exist.

The first two inconsistencies are very similar in form: the paedobaptist churches exclude people from baptism who shouldn’t be excluded, if the Old Testament circumcision inclusion is the pattern. This argument becomes clearer when he states, “Paedobaptists argue that infants should be incorporated into the covenant of grace on the basis of old covenant membership.” This is a bit unclear, since paedobaptists would not argue that we are members of the old covenant. Still, what Mr. Hicks is getting at, presumably, is this form of argument that paedos use: the position of children in the Old Testament covenants is analogous to their position in the New Testament covenant. But, by putting the argument this way, it appears that Hicks has not put the argument the way most paedos would put it. Children are not baptized on the basis of old covenant membership. We would instead say that infant inclusion in the Old Testament covenants is one argument among several arguments that children of believers ought to be baptized today.

Now for the two particular cases of exclusion he mentions, spouses and servants, I would respond by saying that there are aspects of discontinuity between Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant that explain the differences in how these two particular groups of people are seen. The basis of covenantal inclusion in the New Testament is faith (Galatians 3), or being the child of a professing believer (1 Cor. 7). In the Old Testament covenants, it was simply physical descent. So, for spouses, in the Old Testament covenants, they were included under the federal headship of the husband or father, but obviously could not receive the sign of circumcision, nor could any girl, for that matter. Mr. Hicks has to ignore this discontinuity in order to make the claim of inconsistency with regard to spousal treatment. If a spouse is an unbeliever today, she does not have the physical Israeli descent necessarily (presuming she was not baptized herself as an infant) to make the basis of baptism solid. But then paedos would never argue that Israeli descent would make baptism appropriate! The principle is that of households, yes, but adults who wish to be baptized should follow the pattern of Acts. Paedos merely deny that the general pattern of Acts is true for children, given what Peter says in Acts 2 about the promise being given for the children, and what Paul says in 1 Cor. 7 about the positional holiness of children of even one believing spouse.

With regard to servants, how many believing households today even have servants that can be reckoned as part of the household? Almost all servants today are day job employees who don’t live in the house they serve. If there was a situation, however, where a household had such a servant, I would be quite willing to baptize that person, though not against their will. There is no command in the New Testament to force baptism on people who reject the idea. And I would urge the servant to profess faith as well, by my sharing the gospel with him or her.

The third inconsistency Hicks sees is that paedobaptist churches will not baptize the children of non-professing baptized church members. There is direct biblical warrant for this practice in 1 Corinthians 7, contrary to Hicks’s position. Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the children of a believing parent are not unclean but holy. If that one parent is believing, then they should be professing their faith. When the church is assured that the parent is a believing parent (by profession of faith), then the children are regarded as positionally holy, and eligible for baptism. There may be a delay between the time when a believing parent says they believe and when they profess their faith in front of the church. However, I don’t know a single paedobaptist pastor who would allow a believing parent to continue indefinitely in a non-professing mode of church membership. That would be gross pastoral neglect.

The last inconsistency has really already been answered above with reference to the difference of the principle of covenant membership. Covenantal headship of the family remains similar between Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant. However, the basis for covenantal inclusion of households is different. In the Old Testament, it was descent from Abraham. In the New Testament, it is faith. These principles are biblically-theological related, in that faith is the new way of being Abraham’s children (Galatians 3). So, actually, I can turn the argument around and say that the profession of faith of a believer today is precisely the way we show continuity between the Abrahamic promises and the New Covenant!

I greatly appreciate the brotherly, kind way in which Mr. Hicks has engaged the paedobaptist position, and hope that, if he reads my response, he will take my critique as being given in the same way.

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.

A Fractal Theory of Everything

For those of my readers who don’t know what a fractal is, this short video explains it in a very compact and non-technical way, and I highly recommend you see that video before you read the rest of this post. I was talking with my father about fractals, and he alerted me to the explanatory powers of fractals. His idea was that no matter how small we go in quantum particles, there always seems to be a smaller kind of particle that makes up the next layer down. So my father theorized that atoms are fractals and that the number of particles one could find is actually endless. Then he combined that theory with the macro level in astrophysics. No matter how far out we go in space, there will always be more to explore. In other words, the universe has fractals in its DNA code on both the micro and the macro level. Mind you, this is only a theory!

I immediately started thinking of the way I had been studying history recently. I used to read generalist history books that were supposed to give me a grand feel for the scope of everything. I found them unutterably dull and boring, because they never adequately explained cause and effect for specific events. So I decided to switch my tactics and read enormous tomes about small events, to see if I could actually learn something about smaller fields of historical knowledge. I found the books infinitely more satisfying to read. I felt that I was really learning something.

All that about history is background to this paragraph. What I have discovered is that history is enormously more complicated than anyone likes to think. Even to describe the major causes why something happens involves enormous research. All historical writing inevitably over-simplifies the cause and effect relationships. Suppose that over-simplification is also infinite? Suppose the causation for any given act of history is actually a fractal? Certainly, cause and effect would go backwards in time to the very beginning. However, wouldn’t it also branch out going backwards? Can we say that a given event only had one cause without that cause being caused by a whole complex of further causes? Wouldn’t causation itself branch out in a fractal manner?

It doesn’t take much of a science fiction boost to this idea to see how it works in forward historical progress. As most people know, a very small change in present circumstances can drastically change the future. The possible futures branch out in a seemingly fractal way as well.

Then I thought about knowledge itself. Knowledge has been fragmenting ever since the Enlightenment. Kant wanted to separate the world of faith from the world of knowledge. In Kant’s world, there is a ceiling that prevents the noumenal world from being known (Kant rejected the idea of revelation, the noumenal world revealing itself to the phenomenal world). But if theology is not the queen of the sciences, as it was in the Middle Ages, then knowledge becomes very fragmented. Suppose, however, that knowledge itself is a sort of fractal? Obviously, it couldn’t be a fractal in the physical sense. However, if knowledge has a fractal-like aspect to it, then we can expect the specialization of disciplines to go on ad infinitum. Certainly, this would be true in the STEM fields if reality itself is fractal. If reality is fractal, then our knowledge of it would be so also. If we reject Kant’s construction, however, then the noumenal world is open to knowledge as well. God can reveal Himself to us, and we can know Him.

On this understanding of the physical world, the historical world, and the world of knowledge, there would be a super-fractal that connects these three worlds together. I believe that super-fractal is the Bible. It binds all knowledge, all history, and the physical universe together. If I am right about the Bible, then there will always be more in the Bible to discover, since it itself is a fractal. It will always have the same general shape of revelatory word following and explaining creationary or redemptive deed on God’s part. However, our understanding of that revelation will always be refining itself, not into something complete different, but in a deeper understanding of the same truths once for all revealed to the saints.

Canons of Dort First Head, ROE 2 and the FV

I haven’t posted anything on the FV in quite a while. Although the hubbub is nowhere near what it used to be, the FV is still alive and well, with many proponents still teaching in NAPARC churches. While reminding people of this fact may not be pleasant, it is important to remember that we must still keep watch and maintain vigilance against false teaching in our churches, not to mention seeking to exercise real church discipline on them.

I hadn’t read through the Canons of Dort in quite a while, and I was reading Robert Godfrey’s outstanding contribution on the Canons of Dort, when this rejection of error (hence ROE in the title of the post) grabbed my attention as describing one of the key errors of the FV. This is Godfrey’s translation of the ROE:

The Synod rejects the error of those who teach:

“The election of God to eternal life is of several kinds. One is general and indefinite and another is particular and definite. Further, the particular and definite one either is incomplete, revocable, nondecisive, or conditional, or is complete, irrevocable, decisive, or absolute.” Also, “one election is to faith, and another to salvation, so that election can be to justifying faith, and another to salvation, so that election can be to justifying faith without being a decisive election to salvation.”

This teaching is an invention of the human understanding devised outside the Scriptures. It corrupts the doctrine of election, and destroys the golden chain of salvation: “Those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; those whom He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).

Notice, in this ROE, the following points. 1. Election can be of two main kinds, according to the Arminians: general and indefinite, or particular and definite. 2. The latter kind (particular and definite) can be further subdivided into two sub-categories: incomplete, revocable, nondecisive, conditional; or complete, irrevocable, decisive, and absolute. The response of Dort is that it destroys the golden chain of Romans 8.

My observation is a simple one, and though I have noticed this, I seriously doubt I am the first one to notice it, but noticing it has changed my perception of the FV a bit on its doctrine of election. I used to think that the FV was Calvinistic when it came to the decretally elect, and Arminian when it came to the non-elect covenant members (NECM’s). However, from this ROE, I can see clearly that, on this point, the FV is actually pure Arminianism without any admixture of Calvinism at all. The reason for this shift in my thinking is that Arminianism also held to these two different versions of election. The Arminian may not have put it in quite the same way as modern FV’ers would have. The modern FV’er would say that one is covenantal, and the other is decretal (though some FV’ers would deny decretal election entirely and say that all in the church are only covenantally elected). However, the Arminian formulation is so close to the FV one that the same objection applies to both. Perhaps this is due, too, to the misperception of Arminianism many people have. Many people think that the true Arminian has no doctrine of election. They do have a doctrine of election. However, that election is based on foreseen faith, so it is a different version of election than Calvinists have. It is my understanding that, on the point of decretal election, some FV’ers would repudiate the idea that God elects on the basis of foreseen faith. However, that point is different from the point I am making about the two different versions of election.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 3

Part 1, Part 2.

In part 3, I will address the section of Tom Hick’s piece entitled “Hermeneutics.” In this section, Hick’s main point is that he believes paedobaptists are inconsistent in their application of hermeneutics. If the New Testament is the key to understanding the Old Testament, then Reformed Baptists apply the principle consistently, whereas paedobaptists do not. I am not sure he understands the Reformed paedo hermeneutic on this, however. It is not the case that we say “The NT is the key to understanding the OT” with that being understood as basically everything we would want to say about it. The entire biblical revelation is an organic, unfolding whole, which means that each part of the Bible mutually informs every other part, directly or indirectly. The key to understanding the symbolism of Revelation, for instance, consists in tracking down the given symbol in the Old Testament. While it is true that the New Testament gives us the ultimate key in Jesus Christ (via Luke 24 and John 5), there is a lot more to it than that.

Additionally, I am not sure that positing huge disagreement among paedos by citing the theonomy debate is a very fair charge. Theonomy was a thing in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but there are very few of them left. Generally speaking, the majority of the Reformed world has rejected theonomic views.

Hicks’s third point in this section is that he holds paedos to have rejected “NT priority” when it comes to Galatians 3. Hicks is misleading in describing the paedo position at this point. He says, “Paedobaptists, like Dispensationalists, believe that the promise of a physical seed in the OT ought to govern our exegesis of the NT, rather than the other way around.” This over-simplifies the paedo position. One does not have to be a child of Abraham to be in Christ. Nor do we believe in two peoples of God, contra dispensationalists. It is most unhelpful to lump paedos with dispies at this point, since this is precisely where the greatest area of disagreement between paedos and dispies lies. A dispy will say that God’s people is Israel, and the church is a parenthesis. The paedos believe there is only one family of God. The problem with Hicks’s statement is that it implies paedos believe that Abrahamic descent is the key to understanding the way that covenant applies to believers today. The principle is covenantal continuity, which works in families, not in Abrahamic descent. Now, Hicks did not say “Abrahamic descent” in painting the paedo position. However, by lumping paedos with dispies, he creates a highly misleading situation. He seemingly implies that the hermeneutic of paedos and dispies are similar on this point.

On the point of circumcision, Hicks again caricatures the paedo position. He says, “Paedobaptists, on the other hand, hold that the meaning of the sign of circumcision is determinative of the meaning of the sign of baptism, rather than allowing the NT to determine the meaning of baptism and the fulfillment of circumcision.” Not only is this not how paedos argue, he also creates a false dichotomy that assumes the discontinuity between OT and NT. Why is it “either” circumcision “or” the NT that determines the meaning of baptism? Does not Romans 4 join the two together? In addition, the actual paedo position is that circumcision points to salvation in Christ. Baptism points to salvation in Christ. They point to the same thing: Christ’s work on the cross. Paedos believe that the whole Bible, understood in an organic, unfolding way determines what both mean. Hicks is going to have a really hard time with 1 Corinthians 10, isn’t he, that posits baptism in the OT, a baptism that included infants, incidentally.

The governing basis for the Reformed hermeneutic is Christ in all of the Scriptures. Christ is portrayed from vague shadowy forms to a clearer and clearer light. But Hicks’s hermeneutic is that the OT has absolutely nothing to say about how we understand the NT. There is no reciprocity whatsoever between OT and NT hermeneutically. This is “hermeneutical dispensationalism.”

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 2

In part 1, I dealt with the first major section of Tom Hicks’s critique of paedobaptism. The second major portion of his post is entitled “Historic Reformed Baptists Had a Better Way”, which is really the second part of the first major part. So, it is connected to the first part by being the positive construction of covenant theology that is meant to replace the errant paedo theology of the covenant of grace.

They believed there is only one covenant of grace, the same in its saving substance, running through the whole Bible, but they believed that this saving covenant is distinct from the OT covenants.

Obviously, the “they” refers to historic Reformed Baptist theologians. As I have said before, paedos can affirm this on one level. The question is just exactly how the new covenant is distinct from the OT covenants. As it stands, however, and given what he said above, Mr. Hicks’s statement is self-contradictory. What he means really to say is that salvation was not really in the OT covenants, but was only backwardly enforced after the NT covenant came into play, and yet he says that the only one covenant of grace, “the same in its saving substance,” runs through the whole Bible. Which is it? Is Christ really present in the OT covenants or not? This reminds me vividly of the Christotelic debate that has continued for a while regarding the teaching of Pete Enns et al. Jesus says that Moses wrote about Him (John 5). The Christotelic guys say that this is not essentially true, but only in retrospect, after a second reading, and has nothing to do with the human author’s original intent. That 1 Peter 1:10-12 says otherwise doesn’t seem to bring any of them up short. Again, the ambiguous situation I noted at the end of the last post is here as well. My guess is that the reason Mr. Hicks doesn’t want to say Christ is actually in the OT covenants is this brings way too much continuity between OT and NT. The more continuity there is, the more likelihood there is of children being treated the same way in both portions of the Bible.

So what is the distinction between OT and NT covenant administrations? It is the difference between type and antitype, between looking forward and looking backward, and between bloody and bloodless. Some author or another, I forget who, said “same girl, different dress.” What is promised in both is salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Circumcision pointed to this, as does baptism. Passover pointed to this, as does the Lord’s Supper. Both OT and NT versions of the sacraments all point to Christ as Savior. Let me explain. Circumcision was never just about the promised land. It was also about the promised seed. In Genesis 17, God promises an everlasting covenant (7), to be their God forever (7). It was for the son on the eighth day. On the eighth day, his foreskin would be cut. Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4 prove that the physical cutting symbolized a spiritual cutting off of the old man. But more than that, the eighth day and the promise to the seed, point forward to Jesus being cut off on the eighth day. Circumcision points to Jesus. Passover is even easier to see, since Paul actually calls Jesus our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). The ultimate passing over of sinners happens when Christ interposes His precious blood on the wooden frame of the cross, so that the wrath of God against sin may pass over us. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper pointing to Christ are not really in dispute here.

First, Christ’s mediation of the new covenant is what redeemed sinners under the old covenant. Historic Baptists taught that the covenant of grace is identical to the new covenant. The covenant of grace, however, was “promised” under the old covenant, but it is now fulfilled in the death of Christ. It was progressively revealed under the old covenant, but it is now formally concluded and enacted through the death of Christ. The OT saints were saved by virtue of the new covenant promise “breaking in” to the old covenant (Rom 9:8; Gal 3:29; 4:23, 28). Old Testament saints were not saved by virtue of the old covenant, but by virtue of the promise of the new. Thus, there is only one covenant of grace, the same in substance from Genesis to Revelation.

Here there is certainly disagreement. The covenant of grace begins with the promise of God to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, and continues through all the OT covenants. It is not identical to the new covenant. It encompasses all the iterations of the covenant of grace. If it were identical to the new covenant, then the Abrahamic covenant could not be called everlasting, as God calls it in Genesis 17:7. Nor could the seed promised to Abraham be called Christ by Paul in Galatians 3. Nor could the promise of 2 Samuel 7 be applied to Christ. God promised Christ to David. That was the substance of the Davidic covenant, just like the Seed was the substance of the Abrahamic covenant. Maybe Mr. Hicks should read O. Palmer Robertson’s book The Christ of the Covenants, and revise his opinions somewhat.

Second, Christ’s mediation in the covenant of grace saves all its members. Hebrews 9:15 says, “a death has occurred that redeems them.” Just a few verses earlier in Hebrews 9:12, we’re told that Christ entered the holy places as the Mediator of the new covenant, “by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Earlier in Hebrews 7:22, it says, “This makes Jesus the guarantor [or surety] of a better covenant.” A surety is someone who fulfills the legal obligations of someone who cannot fulfill them. Christ’s death effectuates the salvation of all those in this covenant. Who is in the covenant? Verse 15 says “those who are called” are in the new covenant.

Third, unbelievers were never in the covenant of grace (because of numbers 1 and 2). The covenant of grace was only made with the elect in Christ. It effectually saves all its members because they are under Christ’s effectual mediation. Therefore, since unbelieving infants (and unbelievers of any kind) were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, then neither are they part of the covenant of grace under the new covenant.

I don’t think most paedos would disagree fundamentally with the paragraph marked “second.” Christ saves His elect, and only the elect. He is only a Mediator to the elect, and only the elect possess the substance of the covenant. Those belonging to the administration have none of those benefits, as I said in the previous post.

As for his third paragraph, we would agree that unbelievers are never in the covenant of grace as to substance. But to say that therefore there can be no attachment of any kind unless it be saving presents the same problem I brought up before: what do Baptists do about the unbelieving professors who are yet members of their churches? Are they really in the church? The judgment of charity would say that they are members of the church, but not members of Christ. They are part of the visible church, but not the invisible. We would add, they have the benefits of the administration of the covenant, but not the essence of the covenant.

As for his claim that unbelieving infants and unbelievers of any kind were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, this is patently false. Why would Ishmael receive circumcision, the sign of the covenant, even AFTER God told Abraham that the promised line would not go through Ishmael? See the sequence of Genesis 17:13, 18, 19, and 23. If Ishmael had no attachment whatsoever to the covenant (see especially verse 19!), then there is no way he should have been given the sign of the covenant, on Mr. Hicks’s argument. And yet, all who were in Abraham’s house were circumcised. It was a household circumcision. This is proof positive that Mr. Hicks’s claim is off here. Is Mr. Hicks really suggesting that circumcised Israelites who were unbelievers had no connection to the covenant of grace whatsoever? In my opinion, this is absurd.

In conclusion, the Reformed Baptist doctrine of the covenant of grace avoids the problems of the paedobaptist while preserving the unity of the gospel throughout the Scriptures.

Mr. Hicks has not preserved the unity of the gospel throughout the Scripture. He argues that it is not really present in the OT. Only retroactively does the gospel apply to OT believers.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 1

Mr. Tom Hicks, over at the Founders Ministries, has done a great service in the debate on the proper subjects of baptism by encapsulating the Reformed Baptist objections to the paedo position in a succinct, yet cogent way. In the spirit of his irenic comments, I wish to interact with him in this series of posts, showing how a paedobaptist would respond to his objections. I will take one major section of his post in each one of mine. So, on to section 1, on the covenant of grace.

The Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the “covenant of grace” is the theological basis of their doctrine of infant baptism. They correctly teach that after Adam’s fall, the whole Bible is unified by one covenant of grace. But they also teach that the covenant of grace has the same substance (essence) with different, but similar, administrations (forms) throughout the Scriptures. This is where Reformed Baptists disagree with them. The language of substance and administration is critical to understanding their view. They believe that the elect are redeemed by the saving “substance” of the covenant of grace, while the external and legal “administration” of the covenant of grace is mixed with the elect and non-elect by way of infant baptism.

Mr. Hicks has put his finger on the central issue right at the outset: the nature of the covenant of grace. He agrees with paedos that the Bible is unified by one covenant of grace. Or does he? Later on, he says the following:

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators.

If read too quickly, this may seem to contradict what he said in the earlier quoted section. However, what he means by this becomes clear later in the article: the only way OT saints could be saved was by believing in the promise, and that Jesus’ work in the new covenant is what saves the OT believers. The thing is, this is what paedos believe, too. We also (with the Baptists) believe that passage in Hebrews that says the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Abraham, as Paul would say in Romans 4, was indeed justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This becomes especially clear in Romans 4:23-25, where Paul ascribes the same faith to us as Abraham had. The only difference is that Abraham believed in the promised Jesus Christ and we believe in the given Jesus Christ. Mr. Hicks does put his finger on a key difference when he speaks about the substance versus the administration of the covenant of grace, but when it comes to how OT saints were saved, he does not accurately portray the paedo position, which is actually the same as the credo.

Where I would critique the second block-quote is in how he describes the paedo position with regard to his description of the older administrations of the covenant of grace. He says they “were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators.” I disagree. The OT administrations of the covenant of grace were founded on the promises of land and seed, ultimately promising The Seed (Jesus) and the “land” of the new heavens and the new earth. This, however, is a relatively minor point with regard to this particular debate.

The more important point has to do with the essence/administration distinction. So, going back to the first block-quote, and now adding his first objection to the essence/administration distinction:

First, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace undermines the efficacy of Christ’s mediation and cross-work. Paedobaptist theology teaches that Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace. The book of Hebrews declares that Christ’s mediation means that He reconciles His covenant people to the Father, that He is a testator who gives His blessings freely and unconditionally, and a surety who pays all their debts. Paedobaptists must either explain how Christ can be the mediator of the covenant of grace for non-elect and unregenerate people (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy), or they must explain how Christ can be the mediator of a covenant without being the mediator of everyone in that covenant (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy). If they say that Christ mediates for those in the outward administration of the covenant of grace, they must explain how Christ’s blood, signified by baptism, covers unregenerate people in the covenant of grace without effecting their salvation. Any explanation they give will approximate Arminian definitions of the atonement.

The force of this objection can be easily seen in the way the FV’ers have responded to objections like this: the FV’ers will go whole hog Arminian with regard to the non-decretally-elect and what they receive in the covenant. In my opinion, this first objection of Mr. Hicks is the most substantive of the three. Paedos would answer the objection along the following lines: 1. Only the essence of the covenant has salvation attached to it. The administration of the covenant, which does involve non-elect people, has never had any promise of salvation attached to it, any more than there is a guarantee of people coming to faith in a Baptist church simply by attending. Nevertheless, it is a great benefit to the non-elect to hear the words of salvation preached to them. It can have a restraining effect on their sin. It can make them less likely to oppose the gospel, and other good things could happen, things that have nothing to do with salvation. Just as God promised to Abraham that he and his offspring would be a blessing to the nations (without ever promising that the said blessing would always be salvation!), we can see that the blessings given to the elect overflow in non-salvific ways to the non-elect. Wasn’t Joseph a blessing to Egypt? Some of the Egyptians came up with Israel in the Exodus, but most stayed in Egypt as part of the non-elect. Maybe an illustration will help here: when we look at a light source, there is an aura around that light that covers a larger area than the light itself. This is, approximately, how paedos see the essence/administration distinction. Paedos who are not FV categorically deny that any saving benefits whatsoever accrue to the administration of the covenant.

2. The substance/administration distinction has great explanatory power when it comes to the apostasy passages in Hebrews 6 and elsewhere. What did those who fall away have? They didn’t have salvation. On this, paedos and credos would certainly agree. But what the paedos would say they had was access to the means of grace by being part of the administration of the covenant of grace. They had more than someone completely unrelated to God’s people would have.

3. The objection posits a dichotomy that is false. Mr. Hicks says that our position either entails the mediatorship of Christ for non-elect people, or that Christ must be mediator of only part of the people in the covenant. This all-or-nothing approach, however, assumes the credo position on the subjects related to the covenant of grace. Christ is not mediator for non-elect people. Period. The essence of the covenant is salvation. But being connected to the covenant could happen in more than one way: one saving, one non-saving. I have used this illustration before in FV debates, and it will help here, I think. There are two main kinds of branches on apple trees: fruit-bearing, and what are called “suckers.” The former are straightforward fruit-bearing branches of the tree, participating in the life of the tree, and bearing fruit. The suckers are basically parasites, taking sap from the tree but not bearing any fruit. John 15 and the parable of the vine and the branches is talking about this kind of distinction. The suckers are not-elect and never have any kind of saving benefits. But there is some kind of attachment to the vine described in that passage, one that is well illustrated by the difference between fruit-bearing vines versus suckers. The suckers, or non-fruit-bearing will be cut off, eventually, and burned. Whatever kind of relationship they had to Christ, it was 1. non-saving, but still it was something, and not nothing. John 15 is extraordinarily hard to explain on Mr. Hicks’s construction of covenant membership. There are members of the church who claim to be members but are not saved, even in (shockingly!) Baptist churches! Even Baptists call them members of their church, unless the particular church doesn’t even have church membership. The substance/administration distinction is roughly the same distinction as the visible/invisible church distinction. Unless the Baptists are willing to say that every member of their churches actually is saved, they will have to come up with some way of explaining the slippage between those claiming to be saved, versus those who actually are saved. If Baptists are willing to say that the unsaved were at one point actually members of the church, then I can raise a gigantic tu quoque at this point: you Baptists have the exact same problem as we paedos have, only you have to explain how it is that Christ died for the church, and all the church’s members, but didn’t die for the non-elect who yet claim to be saved, and are on your membership roll! You have the exact same problem with regard to Christ’s mediatorship in relation to the church. The difference is that we also use the Bible’s covenantal categories to explain the situation, whereas the Baptists have to leave the covenantal language out when talking about the church.

Mr. Hicks’s second point is actually the same point as the first, only in different terms (federal headship) and applied to infants:

Second, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace confuses (joins together) the headships of Adam and Christ. Because paedobaptists include unregenerate infants within the covenant of grace, they diminish the headship of Christ in one of two ways. One, they may say that baptized infants are no longer in Adam and under the curse of the covenant of works, but are under Christ’s headship in a way that might condemn them to hell. On this view, it is very hard to see how Christ’s covenant is a “covenant of grace.” It is, rather, a covenant of grace/justification and wrath/condemnation, which is hardly a comfort or blessing to all who are in it.

Federal headship is tied to the essence of the covenant, not the administration. This is an easier objection to answer. Only those who have faith have passed from Adamic headship to Christic headship. This is possible for infants (John the Baptist, King David are biblical examples), but not automatic. The administration points to the essence just as preaching points to Christ, and the sacraments point to Christ. As said above, these benefits preach salvation in Christ, and even have a non-saving benefit for the non-elect.

Two, paedobaptists may say that unregenerate baptized infants in the administration of the covenant of grace are “in Adam” (the covenant of works) and “in Christ” (the covenant of grace) simultaneously. These infants would be in the inward “substance” of the covenant of works, but the outward “administration” of the covenant of grace. Such a view would undermine the efficacy of Christ’s atonement because it places unregenerate children of believers under Christ’s mediation, and under His blood, while affirming the child’s condemnation in Adam.

I don’t know of any paedos who would say that any person can be represented by both heads simultaneously. As said above, the administration of the covenant of grace does not bestow union with Christ. So, paedos (who are non-FV) would not use the term “in Christ” to describe those who belong only to the administration of the covenant of grace. Even the “in me” of John 15:2 does not imply union with Christ.

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators. The OT covenants of promise commanded their members to trust the Lord, to love the Lord, and obey the Lord. But the OT covenants did not provide their members with the power to obey their commands. The shed blood of animals and human mediators never gave grace needed for regeneration, justification, sanctification, and perseverance. That only comes from the shed blood of Christ and His mediation. The paedobaptist notion of a “saving substance” in the OT covenants is foreign to the Bible.

I have answered this partially above, but a few more thoughts on the rest of the paragraph are in order. Does he really believe that the Holy Spirit was not given to OT saints? This is dispensational teaching, not Reformed teaching. He seems to be laboring under the lack of distinction between the Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost, which had to do with giving offices/gifts to people, versus the regenerative power of the salvific presence of the Holy Spirit, which was most certainly present in OT saints. Furthermore, his position opens itself up to a highly ambiguous situation. Is the substance of the OT covenants Christ or not? If it is, then the substance of the OT covenants is the same as that of the new, which he did seem to imply when he said, “They correctly teach that after Adam’s fall, the whole Bible is unified by one covenant of grace.” But now he wants to say that the substance of the OT is not the saving covenant of grace at all. Obviously I agree (and paedos, too) that it wasn’t the shed blood of animals and human mediators itself that gives grace for justification. But that is quite different from saying that OT saints didn’t have those things. They did. And it was the blood of animals and human mediators that pointed to the blood of the Lamb and the One Mediator to end all mediators. The substance of the OT covenants was in promise form, yes. But that promise form still presents Christ Himself, and it is by the promised Christ that OT believers were saved. Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day. He saw it and was glad, Jesus tells us. Mr. Hicks’s position on this is confusing.

.

The Law Is Love

I have been reflecting this week on God’s law. How is it that the Psalmist can say, “Oh, how I love your law; it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97)? We live in an age where “rules are meant to be broken.” This results in two main attitudes towards rules: make them or break them. We equate God’s law with rules, and the slide from a general, fuzzy idea about rules to man-made rules is not a difficult one for many people. This is easily seen in the way people are often more offended when man-made rules are broken than they are when God’s law is broken. Or, they think that God’s law is being broken when the man-made rules are broken. There is a direct correspondence in their minds between man-made rules and God’s law. There is something very, very wrong here.

When Jesus summarizes the law with the two great commandments, “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus is saying that the essence of the law is love, particularly our love for God and our love for neighbor. The Reformed world has (rightly, in my opinion,) divided the Ten Commandments between the first four, which describe our duty to love God, and the last six, which describe our duty to love one another.

The issue I am getting at is most visible when we formulate two sentences back to back: 1. We like the idea of love; 2. We don’t like the idea of “rules” or “law.” The Old Testament does not allow us this divorce, quite frankly, and Psalm 119 in particular. The problem may be that we have wrong ideas about the law. As is usual with such things, the problem is in our theology, not in God’s law.

First problem: thinking that the law is firstly about its application, and not primarily about its essence. Let’s be clear: the law must be applied, and it applies to every situation in which a person could possibly find himself. But what IS the law fundamentally? The law is fundamentally an expression of God’s own character. And God is love (among the other attributes). Hence the law is love, and reflects that attribute of God, even as it also reflects the holiness and righteousness of God. Here we must be very careful not to confuse law and gospel, as some are in the habit of doing. The law is our love for God and our love for one another. The gospel is God’s love for us. We must also not confuse the order in which they occur. God’s love for us is first. His love is what enables us to love God and neighbor. Hence, while they must always be carefully distinguished, they must also never be separated. Many people are in the habit of confusing the branches of application with the trunk of the essence. When we do that, we are in danger of a very subtle form of Pharisaism. Even the Reformed world is not immune to this temptation. We can look at the outstanding treatment of the Ten Commandments in, say, the Westminster Larger Catechism (with which I fully agree, incidentally), look at the gargantuan number of things treated under each commandment, and say, “that’s the essence of the law.” Those treatments of the law are an explanation of how its branches reach into every realm of our lives. They do not directly describe the essence, which is love. The problem of confusing branches and trunk is that studying the branches without realizing they come from the trunk will result in loveless application of the law, which actually eviscerates the law of its very essence! In seeking so desperately to fulfill all the conditions of the branches, we leave out love!

Second problem: thinking that “the rules” are always to be applied in the same way to every situation and every person. Let’s be clear here as well. The Ten Commandments apply to everyone, and with regard to the weightier matters of the law, they do apply in the same way to every person. But the branches may not apply in the same way to every person in all situations. This is why it is completely misguided, in my opinion, to seek to arrive at a set of rules that will apply the branches of application to all people in the exact same way all the time, so as to regulate every aspect of their lives. Let’s take as an example the much vexed question of the Sabbath, and a particular, often controversial, action that one is contemplating doing on the Sabbath: throwing a football around on a Sunday afternoon with one’s children. Most people want to have a hard and fast rule about whether it is allowable or not, and this rule would apply to everyone. Not so fast. For some people, this could be done purely for the sake of “getting the ants out of the pants” of the children, thus preparing them to worship God better in the evening service. This could quite conceivably fall under the category of works of necessity (and those without children should be slow to judge this as a motivation!), and even mercy (to the parents, that is)! However, for others, it might bring to mind competition, scores, and other things that are really not conducive to worship. What I am getting at here is that the same action might very well be in accordance with the Fourth Commandment for one family and not for another! If this example does not convince, one could use the different and much less generally controversial action of taking a walk on the Sabbath. For many people, if not most, this would not present any problems. It is merely enjoying God’s creation. However, suppose the person contemplating taking a walk is a competitor in walking competitions. Could this not distract the person from what is conducive to worship? It could. The principle is that the Sabbath is for worship, and what is conducive to worship is allowable to do on the Sabbath. However, the Bible doesn’t spell out in huge detail what is and what is not acceptable. I believe that this lack of detail on application in the Bible exists for the reasons I have given. Furthermore, it is even possible that a given action could change in its implications for a single person depending on their station in life, as well as their age, thus changing the connotations of that given action. The question we are supposed to ask is this: can I love God and neighbor by this action, and will this action be conducive to worshiping God on the Sabbath? Tying the question of application back to the essence is the only way, I believe, that an application of the law can be judged as to whether it is biblical in a given situation or not.

The essence of the law is love, but you could scarcely tell by the way some people propound it. Instead, it is often changed so that the essence of the law is regulation. And the lack of love in the regulation results in judgment on people who may not actually be breaking God’s law, at least not in the way the one judging might think. It behooves us in the Christian world to study God’s law much more deeply with love for God and love for neighbor in mind. I plead with my readers to reconnect law with love. Many problems in the Christian church could be solved, I believe.

A Warning to Bible Commentators

I came across this in a recent Bible commentary on Ezekiel (commenting on chapter 32:1-16), by Nancy Bowen, and I almost threw up when I read it (some moderate apology is necessary for even posting this, but the warning needs to be there):

As for YHWH, we ought not exonerate, much less extol, such divine violence. Like Job, we should bring God to trial for crimes against humanity. Preservation of divine “sovereignty” comes at a terrible cost of suffering and death. If God is a warrior, then God’s hands are bloody (p. 200).

Honestly, why do some Bible commentators think they can get away with saying stuff like this, just because they have Ph.D. next to their names? Have they never read C.S. Lewis’s “God in the Dock” essay? Have they never read Romans 9? The tragic irony of such blasphemy is that Nancy Bowen winds up committing the very same mistake that Pharaoh of Egypt commits in Ezekiel 32. He thought of himself as a lion, but he was more of a crocodile. Her self-assessment is that she is in a position to judge God Almighty and find Him wanting. The hubris of this quotation is absolutely breath-taking! She thinks of herself as judge, but she will find that she is a defendant.

Bible commentators often think that they can say whatever they want, and no repercussions will ever come their way. This is not true. I hope and pray (for Nancy Bowen, as well as others like her), that they will realize their sin before it is too late, and turn in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ.

« Older entries