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.

.

Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 1 (Chs. 1-2)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In this post and (God willing) a series of posts to follow, I plan to work through the chapters of Jeffrey D. Johnson’s book, The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism (Free Grace Press, 2010). Yes, it’s been out a while, so perhaps you’ve seen it mentioned here and there. The initial reasons for my interest in the book are that I was once a convinced credobaptist myself (even publishing on the topic!) and that Johnson’s book has been applauded by some noteworthy (self-identified) “sovereign grace Baptist” leaders, such as Tom Nettles and Richard Belcher, Sr. The more significant reason that I picked up the book, however, is that it is part of a relatively recent flurry of activity among Baptists who have been reexamining covenant theology (e.g., Tom Wells, Fred Zaspel, Gary Long), and Johnson states that his own position on covenant theology is very similar to that of Meredith Kline, Michael Horton, and Kim Riddlebarger (p. 22 n. 70). All these factors provoke my interest in Johnson’s critique of paedobaptist covenant theology.

Johnson divides his book into two major parts, the first of 16 chapters on “The Fatal Flaw” behind paedobaptist theology and the second of 8 chapters on what he calls “Covenantal Dichotomism” and in which he discusses the relationships between Abraham, Moses, and Christ. For the purpose of interaction, I don’t expect to review each of these 24 chapters in detail, but to focus on what Johnson tells us is the primary thrust of his book, namely, “a direct and pointed attack on the covenantal framework in which paedobaptism is rooted” (p. 21). Even with that emphasis, “the purpose of this work is not so much to convert the die-hard paedobaptist as much as to help prevent credobaptists from changing their position” (p. 20). In addition, the book is not offered merely to deliver negative commentary (ibid.). For Johnson “there are many sturdy stones, which must be left alone” (ibid.) in paedobaptist covenant theology. Not least among those stones is the progressive unfolding of God’s eternal plan of redemption in each of His covenants throughout history. Given Johnson’s purpose and primary thrust, I’ll leave aside the helpful introduction in which he surveys the history of infant baptism and various paedobaptist interpretations of its rationale and settles on engaging presbyterians who’ve adopted the Westminster Confession. I’ll use this opening post to look at his first two chapters (pp. 25-48), where he takes on the absence of a NT command to baptize infants and the analogy between circumcision and baptism.

Zeroing in on the paedobaptist appeal to OT inferences to fill in where no NT command exists, Johnson argues that those inferences leave too many uncertainties to justify infant baptism. He insists that, if OT inferences are really to make up for a missing NT command, then some related issues should also be considered: 1) that, besides baptism, no duty of the local NT church comes from the OT; 2) that baptized children are excluded from the Lord’s Supper even though circumcised children were included in the Passover meal; 3) that the NT church experienced much confusion on almost everything related to the old covenant; 4) that the NT church experienced major controversy over circumcision in particular; and 5) that NT Gentile converts, largely ignorant of circumcision’s meaning, doubtless needed instruction on baptism and its participants. With these uncertainties as backdrop, Johnson moves on to take up the circumcision-baptism relationship itself, intent on showing that the two ordinances are only analogous and not identical. Contending that “the NT must set the limits of the analogy” (p. 45; see also p. 47), he concludes that they are similar, not in that both involve children, but only in that both signify circumcision of the heart (regeneration). Citing Jer 31.34, he goes on to urge that, “unlike the old covenant, the new covenant leaves no room for unbelieving participants” (ibid.). All told, then, Johnson maintains that neither OT inferences nor the circumcision-baptism relationship can be authoritative for determining the nature of baptism or its participants (p. 47).

The absence of a NT command to baptize infants – What shall we say about Johnson’s claim that OT inferences leave too many uncertainties to warrant infant baptism? In my view, the uncertainties that Johnson highlights do little to discourage the paedobaptist appeal to the OT to locate the warrant for infant baptism. For example, when he argues that, besides baptism, no requirement for the local NT church comes from the OT, Johnson asks us to presuppose that the administrative principles of the NT church originated without any connection whatsoever to OT Israel. Leaving aside the question of baptism, this is a bridge too far: we cannot simply concede that the administrative principles of the NT church generally or the basis of its membership specifically are disconnected from OT Israel. After all, we know that God is administering one household in redemptive history, not two (Heb 3.1-6). Going on, Johnson observes that, unlike circumcised children, baptized children are excluded from the covenant meal. We acknowledge, of course, that paedobaptists differ on this point, though we cannot pursue it here. Suffice it to say, then, that back of Johnson’s objection is the debatable assumption that the function and basis of the OT ordinances differ from those of the NT. Further, Johnson points out that almost everything related to the old covenant, including circumcision, created confusion or controversy in the NT church that was eventually dominated by largely uninformed Gentile converts. The difficulties of the transition from the old covenant to the new notwithstanding, Johnson offers no evidence that there was ever confusion or controversy in the NT church about the membership status or baptism of children. In sum, Johnson’s collection of uncertainties does not touch the fundamental concern of the paedobaptist argument from the OT. More pointedly, if the administrative principles of the NT church, including the basis of its membership, originated without any connection to OT Israel as Johnson argues, there would have been an obvious and profound need for and expectation of an exposition not unlike the one we find in the Epistle to the Hebrews to make this change emphatically clear. Instead we find that the principles and practices of the NT church are stated in language that imitates the language in which the principles and practices of OT Israel were stated.

The circumcision-baptism relationship – Moving on to Johnson’s take on the circumcision-baptism relationship, we can agree with him that the relationship is one of analogy and not identity. There are clear differences between the two (thus the denial of identity), but both rites testify to the same realities (thus the affirmation of analogy): death to sin and new life to God (otherwise known as circumcision of the heart). In fact, because both rites speak as one, we can understand better why circumcision became obsolete and baptism superseded it. The transition came to pass because Christ’s death-and-resurrection was both a circumcision (Col 2.11) and a baptism (Mark 10.38; Luke 12.50). Whether we say that Christ was circumcised or baptized in His death and resurrection, God’s witness to us is that the death He died He died to sin, and the life He lives He lives to God (Rom 6.10). In that light, it makes sense that the circumcision of Christ made circumcision obsolete as a covenant sign, while the baptism of Christ established baptism as the covenant sign that continued to testify of the realities formerly signified by circumcision.

Meanwhile, however, the differences between the two and the change from the one to the other do nothing to revoke the membership status of children in God’s covenant. How can we be so sure? Because the NT narrates the administration of baptism by the apostles in language that imitates the narration of the administration of circumcision and baptism in the OT. In particular, the apostolic company is said to have baptized households (Acts 11.14; 16.15, 31-34; 1 Cor 1.2), just as God is said to have baptized the household of Noah in the flood (1 Pet 3.20-22; Gen 7.1) and the households of “our (circumcised!) fathers” in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor 10.1). Strikingly, in the baptism into Moses, the baptized are even said to have been those who “feared the Lord and believed in Him and His servant Moses” (Exod 14.29-31). Paedobaptists might ask, then, shall we dispute that those OT baptisms included both parents and their children? Can we imagine Joshua saying anything other than, “as for me and my house, we were baptized into Moses”? If baptism into Moses was administered thus to our circumcised ancestors, it at least strains credulity to maintain that the apostles administered baptism into Christ differently to those who are the descendants of those baptized into Moses. To press the point still further, paedobaptists might ask, would not the Jews at Corinth (Acts 18.1-8), who were among those addressed in 1 Cor 10.1, have justifiably inferred that just as parents and children were baptized into Moses, so also parents and children were to be baptized into Christ? Consider here especially what Crispus, the ruler of Corinth’s synagogue, and his household (Acts 18.8) would have been thinking. Insofar, then, as we observe the parallel language in the narration of the baptisms of Noah’s household, Israel’s households, and the church’s households, there is warrant sufficient for paedobaptists to urge that the apostles’ practice of baptism into Christ took place on the same principle as did OT baptism and circumcision: “you and your household.” All this to say, then, that we can agree with Johnson that the relationship of circumcision and baptism is one of analogy, but we cannot agree that the analogy makes infant baptism less than clear. To the contrary, the administration of baptism in the NT imitates the administration of circumcision and baptism in the OT. To be sure, other questions and passages remain to be considered.

The Covenant of Works in Isaiah 24

I used to think that Hosea 6:7 was the clearest passage outside of Genesis 2-3 describing the covenant of works as a covenant (hereafter CoW). However, I no longer think that is the case. Isaiah 24 now takes pride of place. For one thing, although I believe Warfield’s arguments on Hosea 6:7 are correct, it is still a disputed passage with more than one possible interpretation. I do not believe there is nearly as much wiggle room in Isaiah 24.

The key verse here is verse 5: “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (ESV). The question is simple: what is the identity of the בְּרִית עוֹלָם, the “eternal covenant”? Well, it cannot be the Abrahamic covenant, or the Mosaic covenant, since the scope of the people involved goes well beyond Israel. This is proven in the context by the repeated references to the earth in verses 1-4, capped by a reference to the תֵּבֵל (world). The use of this term in 1 Samuel 2:8 certainly points in a universalizing direction. While one could argue that the nations are involved somewhat in the Abrahamic (“all the nations of the world will be blessed through you”), this does not make the nations of the world direct parties to the Abrahamic covenant.

The only other universal covenant in the OT besides the CoW is the Noahic covenant. However, this possibility is ruled out by the presence of sanctions in verses 2 and especially 6. There are no sanctions in the Noahic covenant whatsoever. The only other possible reference, then, is to the Adamic situation. This has some very important ramifications.

Firstly, John Murray’s misgivings about the terminology of the CoW can now be put finally to rest. The Adamic administration is a covenant. Period. If it isn’t already clear in Hosea 6:7, it is now abundantly clear in Isaiah 24. Secondly, just because Adam and Eve broke the CoW doesn’t mean that the CoW is now somehow defunct. Surely, this is explicit in the use of עוֹלָם to describe the covenant: it is eternal. The sanctions are still being applied, and the nations are still violating the CoW. Thirdly, the CoW cannot be purely a covenant of grace if the sanctions fall on the earth because of the violations (and this is the implication of the move from verse 5 to verse 6). Obedience -> blessing; disobedience -> cursing. This is the very structure of the CoW. Fourthly, the terms of the CoW are here obviously so much more than refraining from eating an apple. The nations are not punished here for eating an apple. It is assumed that the basis for a just society on earth is tightly related to the terms of the CoW. This might relieve the misgivings of those who claim that Adam and Eve got more punishment than they deserved. For Adam and Eve had far more sin going on than merely eating a forbidden fruit.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 13

This post will address chapter 4, sections II-IV of the report. Section II outlines some thoughts on the typology of merit. The main point appears to be that typology is inexact. They use the phrase “incomplete correspondence” between type and antitype. The other main point they make is that the WS are reluctant to spell out a lot of issues. Caution is needed, then, when making claims that the WS either offer a republication view, or banish all forms of republication from consideration.

The second section deals with two main issues: the “core commonality” that the various administrations of the covenant of grace have with each other, as well as the fact that the Mosaic covenant is not given preferential treatment in the WS.

This leads to the third section, in which 7 preliminary conclusions are stated. The material point is stated in conclusion 6: “the stated doctrinal system of the confession is not a natural host to the idea of a works principle in substance, rather than administration.” The encouragement is present to qualify one’s terms if a substantial republication is advocated.

In evaluating these sections, it does not seem like much comment is needed. There is nothing muddy about these sections, nor is there much that has not already been said in the earlier parts of the report. The upshot is that substantial republication is seen as inconsistent with the system of doctrine, though even this statement is made very cautiously.

Why Christians Can Never Be Anti-Semitic

Anti-Semitism is still alive and well out there. Many people hate Jews. Many people hate Israel, the land. This option is not open to the Christian, although maybe not for the reasons most would suppose.

Although I’ve known this ever since seminary days, it has struck me more and more forcefully (as I preach through Matthew for the second time) that Jesus is true Israel, and that Matthew portrays him as reliving Israel’s story, yet in a faithful way. Coming out of Egypt, fulfilling Hosea 11:1, that bane of interpreters, being baptized in the Jordan, being tempted in the wilderness; all these things prove that Jesus is the faithful remnant of one, the true Israel, the faithful and obedient Israel, who has come to redefine Israel as a faith thing instead of a genealogical thing. Certainly Paul interprets Jesus as doing this in Galatians 3, 6, and Romans 9-11. The true child of Abraham is the one who has the same faith as Abraham, a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5).

If Israel is thus redefined, then a true Jew is not one outwardly, but inwardly, by the Spirit, not the letter. All Christians are children of Abraham. The old song about Abraham having many children, and we are among them rings true, here.

So the reason why we cannot be Anti-Semitic is that we are Jews by faith. We are Jews in the redefined sense of Jesus and Paul. The story of Israel is our story. If we Gentiles (by birth) have been grafted in, then we cannot possibly look down on the natural branches that have been cut out, nor can we boast over them, as if we were somehow more lovable than them. As Paul would say, couldn’t the natural branches be grafted back in to their own olive tree most naturally, indeed more naturally than foreign branches being grafted in? Yes, there is only one way of belonging to the tree now, and that is to be in the one true olive tree of Jesus Christ. There are not two trees (sorry, Dispensationalists!). Should we not, therefore, have the utmost compassion for the natural branches and pray for their re-grafting? Paul loved his people, and wished (if it could have been done) that he could endure condemnation forever if it would spare his kinsmen according to the flesh. I think Paul’s compassion well worth emulating at this point, don’t you?

This means that reading the Old Testament is reading our story, not someone else’s story. These are our fathers and mothers in the faith. Their struggles are our struggles. Dispensationalism has not helped the Christian church, since it has focused people’s minds on physical Israel so much as an “alternate” people of God. They think they can fulfill prophecy by helping Jews return to Israel. This makes them blind, ultimately, to the fact that Christians are the true children of Abraham, not in a supersessionist way, but in an organic way. The promises of Abraham come to us. This is why the Old Testament will never become irrelevant to the Christian, contrary to how the Dispensationalist treats the Old Testament.

The OPC Republication Report, Part 12

With this post, we delve into Chapter 4, section 1, of the report dealing with merit and demerit. Most of the section is taken up with defining what condign merit is. There are five categories that explain condign merit, and these categories prove that humans have never been in a position to condignly merit anything, even in the case of Adam before the Fall.

The five categories are: 1. free (the performer of merit must be himself free of debt); 2. perfect; 3. personal (meaning we cannot borrow the merits of others); 4. profitable (must be above and beyond what is required, in other words); and 5. proportional to the reward. While the authors take some pains to prove that Christ’s work is meritorious in these five categories, a question remains in my mind. While I have no problem ascribing full condign merit to Christ’s work, I wonder how and if the situation is complicated by the pactum salutis. Would the Son’s agreement with the Father before time began have an impact on our definitions of Christ’s merit? Would it negate the possibility of condign merit? Or would the idea of pactum merit co-exist alongside condign merit in the case of Jesus’ righteousness? This issue has nagged away at my mind for quite some time, and I am not at a point of cognitive rest on the matter yet. My current leaning is that we cannot take away condign merit from what Christ has done, because He has earned our right to heaven. I also think that if any ideas of pactum merit are introduced into any understanding of Christ’s merit, it would have to be heavily qualified such that any idea of disproportionality between work and reward would be eliminated. So, is there a way of saying that Christ’s work both inherently earns eschatological blessing and saying simultaneously that the Father and the Son agreed to this?

The OPC Republication Report, Part 11

In this post, we look at Part I, chapter 3, sections 3 and 4 of the report, the historical examination of the Westminster divines’ exegesis of key passages. The third section starts out by noticing that certain passages that speak of a works principle are applied to the Mosaic economy in the prooftexts of the Westminster Assembly. However, the question that remains when this is noted is whether this supports a Westminsterian substantial republication idea, or some other position. The range of the question must be carefully noted here, for they are not asking what is the range of Westminsterian opinion on the Mosaic economy as a whole. Rather, the inquiry focuses on the divines’ exegesis of key passages that were cited in the prooftexts.

Their conclusion surprised them a bit. There does not seem to be much evidence in the exegesis of those texts for a substantial republication idea. It looks as though William Gouge is the only divine who would seem to point in that direction. There is ample evidence for other positions, such as the position of William Strong, who held that the CoW is always republished with regard to unbelievers (I hold this position at the least, as indeed, probably most Reformed folk do who hold to the CoW at all). The committee also found evidence for the view that the CoW is administratively republished in the Mosaic economy as an equivalent of the pedagogical use of the law (this also seems reasonable to me).

The fourth section asks questions regarding trajectories. The trajectory of a substantial republication does not seem justified by the Standards. Even if the door is “cracked open” a little bit, that does not change the overall situation. The basic covenantal theology of the Westminster Standards is that the substance of the CoG is repeated in all the post-lapsarian covenantal iterations. If there is an administrative overlay of something else, that can in no way compromise the underlying continuity of the substance. On the level of covenantal administration, the Westminster Standards freely acknowledge redemptive-historical change (“differently administered in the time of the law, and the time of the gospel” in WCF 7.5 and similar language in other places).

It seems plain to this writer that the term “substantial” is important to define. If “substantial” means “of the substance of the covenant,” then it is obvious that the Mosaic economy is not a republication of the CoW in this substantial sense. However, if the word “substantial” is used in some other sense, then there might be a bit more room for discussion.

Again, the larger questions have to do with how God treated Israel in the land, so I will take another stab at this question. On the one hand, if Israel was either to acquire or retain the land on the basis of their own perfect and personal obedience, then why weren’t they kicked out of the land far sooner than they were? If Israel was either to acquire or retain the land on the basis of Christ’s perfect and personal obedience, then why would they ever be kicked out, unless faith was made a necessary instrument? It seems dubious to me, however, to make acquisition or retention of the land dependent on the instrument of faith. Obedience and disobedience seem clearly to be a factor in Israel’s retention of the land, but if it is not perfect and personal obedience, then how do we understand this conundrum?

While I haven’t yet worked out all the details, it still seems to me profitable to understand the relationship between God and Israel as being a filial one at just this point. Just as a father might make retention of a place in the home to be dependent on the son obeying certain rules, so also might God have done. The underlying relationship is not based on works, but on the grace of filial adoptive relationship (and salvation is of grace). This would help explain why there was so much slack built in to the arrangement (an earthly father would surely not kick out his son from the home on the first or even tenth violation of the rules). However, as a long-standing pattern of disobedience started to emerge in Israel’s history, the Heavenly Father (slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness), in His good timing, decided (according to His eternal plan, of course) that filial discipline was needed. Hence the exile. Just as an earthly father may come to the point where he decides that his son is so consistently disobedient that the arrangement can no longer continue, but that discipline is needed, and kicks the son out of the house in order to bring him to his senses, so also God saw that discipline was needed for Israel and Judah. Given the fact that the situation in the Garden of Eden was so much stricter, and that one instance of disobedience only was required to break the covenant completely, I think the most we can say is that there are quite possibly echoes of Eden in the Mosaic economy. Indeed, the very fact that so much slack is built in to the Mosaic economy must be proof against a substantial republication idea. God did not deal with Israel’s sins as Israel deserved.

On this understanding, one crucial question must be asked: how does this idea of fatherly disciplne square with the divorce language of the prophets and the marital metaphors concomitant with the situation? First of all, it must be noted that more than one metaphor is appropriate when considering God’s relationship to His people. The people of God are both God’s adopted children, and, at the same time, the bride of Christ. Even the divorce language of the prophets, however, must be softened by the situation of Hosea pursuing after his bride, even after her unfaithfulness. There is always a remnant. God never abandoned His people, even in the exile, as Ezekiel and Daniel well attest. I believe that the language of a final end must be interpreted as the language of shock and awe, used to bring God’s people to their senses. If one takes the language of a final end in an absolute sense, then we cannot make sense of the return or the idea of a remnant. In other words, the metaphors of adoption and marriage in the Old Testament cannot be pressed beyond their proper boundaries so as to come into conflict with one another.

The OPC Republication Report, Part 10

In this post, we will cover Part I, Chapter 3, sections I and II of the report, dealing with creation, law, and covenant.

The committee makes a very important point with regard to creation and covenant, and that is that creation and covenant are not synonymous. It is quite true that the covenant of works was a special act of providence (providence set over against creation). However, the committee is equally clear that this point does not preclude republication views by itself, since some republication advocates appear to hold to a closer relationship of creation to covenant, whereas others do not (although they give no citations here, which would have been helpful).

The second section deals with the relationship of law and covenant, which is fairly complicated. They have in common that they both require perfect and personal obedience. However, law is something imprinted on the human heart at creation, whereas covenant is not. The WS’s treatment of both is fairly nuanced. Their description is that covenant is a broader category than law. However, the requirements of perfect and personal obedience, combined with the sanctions for disobedience and blessings for obedience have made republication a possibility, especially in Hodge and the Marrow men.

The OPC Republication, Part 9

In this post, we will address the interpretation of WCF 19, a vitally important point to the whole debate. For ease of reference, sections 1-3 of chapter 19 will be reproduced here in full:

19:1 God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it: and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

19:2 This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the four first commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six our duty to man.

19:3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

I have not found republication arguments convincing on this section. For one thing, no republication advocate believes that the Mosaic economy required personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience. Of course, they usually have an answer for this difference, namely, that the works required in the Mosaic economy are typological.

For another thing, as the committee notes, the words “as such” in section 2 do not refer to “law as a covenant of works,” but rather to “perfect rule of righteousness.” So, while it is true that the three paragraphs need to be read together, and not as completely separate, this fact does not prove the republication theory.

However, I am just as equally unconvinced that this passage actively forbids all forms of republication. As the committee says, there is not enough evidence here to judge one way or the other. Not even section 6 is conclusive. I am not sure what significance the committee notices in the comma after “works” in section 6. It does not seem to me to affect the sense much, especially when one considers that the 17th century authors tended to be somewhat comma-happy, putting them in even in places where we might not.

Their conclusion is very cautious: at this point in their inquiry, they do not see the WCF as either blessing republication or condemning it.

« Older entries