I read the book The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant by Lewis Bevens Schenck as a way to get to the theology underneath paedobaptism, Covenant Theology, and see if I could find myself more conclusive in the paedobaptist camp than the credo-baptist camp. I will look at various themes as addressed by the book and respond to some of them. Some are to teach the reader more about Covenant Theology. Some of these themes overlap.
Choose a theme or just scroll and read through.
In the introduction, Frank A. James III writes, "On the ground of God's covenantal promise to Abraham, children of Christian parents in the New Testament are sealed through baptism because they are presumed to be partakers of the regeneration signified in baptism" (p. XII). Despite being told by a Covenant Theologian that nothing is presumed, I find otherwise. Presumption is a theme in Covenant Theology as evidenced by this book. Here are some additional quotes to support this:
"Shenck places great emphasis on the 'presumptive regeneration' of the child belonging to Christian parents" (p. XIV).
"To John Calvin, then, 'baptism' signifies the forgiveness of sin. This means in the legal language of theology that those baptized presumably stand in the sight of God as justified, that is, with the guilt and the punishment of sin removed by the mercy of God" (p. 8, emphasis mine).
In discussing the visible church, Shenck writes, "Our judgment then must be a judgment of charity. We must take the position that those who profess their faith in Christ as their personal Saviour are presumably Christians. Likewise, we must accept the children of believing parents as presumably God's children, on the basis of the Covenant promise of God" (p. 11). This is probably the strongest point that presumption does play a role, but doesn't it not take more presumption with an infant being baptized than a professing older child or adult, still remembering that ONLY God sees the heart?
The phrase "presumptive regeneration" appears again on page 11.
"All baptism is inevitably administered on the basis not of knowledge but of presumption" as quoted by Dr. Warfield on page 130. In a sense, I agree, but does that mean be overtly and overly presumptuous or should we treat baptism with the same care as communion?
Dr. Atwater declared "membership in the visible church is founded on a presumptive membership in the invisible, until its subjects, by acts incompatible therewith, prove the contrary, and thus, to the eye of man, forfeit their standing among God's visible people" (p. 131). This is a strong and well-argued point, but does not settle the aforementioned questions about presumption.
"Yet it was admitted by Dr. Warfield that a fair interpretation of New Testament passages might prevent pedobaptists from claiming such passages as a demonstrative proof of infant baptism. 'I freely allow that they do not suffice, taken by themselves, to prove that infants were baptized by the Apostles -- they only suggest this supposition and raise a presumption for it'" (p. 133). That is my point exactly, except for that last part about supposition. And what Covenant Theologians seem to do (in my understanding after my reading this book) is they come up with hyper-intellectual theological paradigms to coincide with the Scriptures to draw their conclusion of paedobaptism. That is why Warfield would say, "taken by themselves…"
"[P]resumptive membership in the invisible church was no presumption of vital union with Christ or by the Holy Spirit" is stated by Dr. Hodge who differed from Calvin (p. 136). This is again a strong argument under the theme of presumption, but it seems contradictory. If one is a member in the invisible church, then one is only a member via a vital union with Christ or by the Holy Spirit.
Calvin stated that infants are "baptized into future repentance and faith" (p. 19). This is over-presumption. The Mormons take it further and baptize in the name of the dead.
There are some interesting quotes about the process of salvation to which I respond.
Frank A. James III writes about the problem regarding "the tendency to overemphasize the experience of the new birth, in contrast to the slower and decisively less exciting process of Christian nurture in the Christian family" (p. XII). One can err on overemphasis of the experience of new birth or on the slow process. There is a place in linear time in which we exist this side of eternity where a believer comes to the point of salvation and praise God if that specificity is known and celebrated. Even if it is known and celebrated, that does not dismiss the need for nurture as James implies. Discipleship is just as much part of the process. Just as James cautions on overemphasis, I would also caution against the minimalization of the experience of new birth. It's a bowling alley, so to speak, where one should be cautious about erring on either side (alley).
"That this may be more clear," Calvin says, "let my readers call to mind that there is a two-fold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration is only begun, and goes on making progress during the whole life" (pp. 8-9). This is where Dr. Hodge (mentioned above) and Calvin must disagree. Calvin is nearly preaching salvation by baptism, which is not scriptural. Granted, he says, "only begun" as opposed to completed. Positionally, the process is completed at the cross while conditionally, we struggle through our existence this side of Heaven.
"The covenant then represents not merely an external relationship, but also, and above all, a spiritual reality, a communion of life" (p. 7). The argument of baptism being an external sign of an internal reality is one I have been arguing throughout these writings on baptism. That's where presumption plays somewhat, but should only play a role when evidenced, such as with fruits or profession. No need to be overly presumptuous. We don't know when a child dies. We know we are born in sin. And we know of election. I don't believe infants who die go to hell, but more on that later.
"This covenant of the Old Testament, sealed by circumcision, and that of the New Testament, sealed by baptism, are one and the same" (p.7). This says that circumcision equals baptism. I disagree. Rather, I see baptism as a fulfillment of circumcision. The Old Testament was focused largely on external signs that pointed to internal realities manifested, revealed, and fulfilled mostly in the New Testament and thereafter. We no longer take an eye for an eye as the Law mentions because every eye that had to be taken for another was done so at the cross! That was fulfilled. Circumcision was fulfilled in baptism. Jesus was BOTH circumcised (as an infant) and baptized (as an adult). Why? Isn't that the clearest model of baptism in Scripture?
"What is the significance of baptism? Calvin answers this question in his Catechism by saying that in meaning it has two parts: first, the forgiveness of sins; and second, a spiritual regeneration" (p. 7). This sounds like salvation via baptism, which is not scriptural! Yet, this is worked around by Calvin as seen in the next quote.
"John Calvin, however, uses the term regeneration in a much broader, more inclusive sense, comprehending not only the first inception of the new life in Christ, but also the manifestations of this new life throughout life. In other words, regeneration or spiritual renewal, as used by Calvin, includes not only the origin of the new life, but also sanctification, the process of development or growth in the new life" (p. 8). Conceptually, I agree with Calvin that believers are in the process of sanctification throughout life, but why does this require a redefinition of regeneration or theologizing to make the former quote work? It seems that Calvin, like the Covenant Theologians, came up with a paradigm and then defines things to fit his paradigm.
"Calvin looks upon the child in the covenant as God's child, forgiven of sin and regenerated, with the new life as a latent seed, already at work in its heart" (p. 13). Does that mean the child is already saved? If so, then is Calvin teaching salvation by baptism, which is unscriptural?
"The important point is that this child is presumptively a Christian" (p. 13). This ties into presumption. This is overly presumptuous.
"Baptism must, therefore, be preceded by the gift of adoption, which is not the case of half salvation merely, but gives salvation entire; and this salvation is afterwards ratified by Baptism" is a quote of Calvin on page 13, which works around the salvation by baptism problem by saying the child is saved already and then this is ratified by baptism. Isn't it by their fruits we will know them? Do infants bear fruit that we can inspect? There are problems with this.
"From what has preceded it, it may be clearly seen that Calvin certainly did not believe in baptismal regeneration" (p. 14). This seems contradictory to statements above.
"Regeneration, according to Calvin, meant not only the beginning, or first inception of the new life in Christ, but also, and equally truly, the process of spiritual renewal, the growth and development of this new life in Christ" (p. 20). Again, a work-around, a redefinition of regeneration, theologizing.
In citing C. XXVII "Of the Sacraments" and C. XXVIII "Of Baptism" in the Confession of Faith, the author writes "the Confession makes it clear that grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, the Sacrament of Baptism, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it; or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated" (p. 48). This seems contradictory to other implications from above statements though proponents of this view articulate clearly and rightly that baptism does not save.
Dr. Alexander Whyte states the following: "Baptism does not effect our ingrafting into Christ; it only signifies and seals it. The ingrafting is performed in regeneration which is union to Christ as our life, our Head, our Root" (p. 49). So does regeneration mean saved or not? Should we go with Whyte's definition or Calvin's. I agree with Whyte that baptism does not graft us into Christ. Yet, he uses a concept in Covenant Theology that it seals it. Baptism signifies it. Isn't the Holy Spirit the believer's seal? There are unbaptized believers who will be in Heaven.
"The impression was created that there was a covenant in which one could assume an entirely correct position without being regenerated" (p. 86). This is always a potential and most certainly with the paedobaptist perspective since it rests on (over) presumption.
"Calvin employed [regeneration] in a very comprehensive sense, to denote the whole process of man's renewal, including even conversion and sanctification" (p. 116). This is just another quote reinforcing Calvin's (not necessarily the Bible's) definition of regeneration. Acts 9:3-18 tells of Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus and how he was regenerated immediately and subsequently was baptized. Certainly Paul went through the process of sanctification. This is clear in his letters to the Church in Rome (such as chapters 7 and 8 - struggle and no condemnation).
"Assuredly baptism were not in the least suitable to them were their salvation not already included in the promise. 'I will be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.' For they do not become the sons of God through baptism; but because, they are heirs of adoption, in virtue of the promise, therefore, the Church admits them to baptism" (p. 9). Now adoption is used to reach a larger scope so that Covenant Theology (and infant baptism) works. If there is an orphan child awaiting adoption, but is not adopted, then he is no one's child. However, once adopted, he is someone's child. If we are born in sin, then any infants who are not among God's elect (which we cannot know) are not his children. I guess maybe I presume not elected while the Covenant Theologians presume children of Christians are Christian. I base my cautious presumption (as compared to the overly presumptuous perspective of the Covenant Theologians) on Matthew 7:13: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."
Even though I point out overlap instead of repeating some of the above quotes, I must repeat this one here: "From what has preceded it, it may be clearly seen that Calvin certainly did not believe in baptismal regeneration" (p. 14). It seems like Calvin, et. al., want it both ways, but broaden definitions (theologize as I call it) to make it work for their paradigm.
"Baptism does not confer upon infants the power of becoming sons and heirs of God; but because adoption is sealed by baptism" (p. 15). If God adopts someone, then isn't the adoptee a son and heir?
Even though I thought I was done with affronts to non-paedobaptists after writing Baptism - Part 2, I found that this book had its own affronts to credo-baptists. It is ironic since this book was provided to me by a loving pastor (who is a paedobaptist and Covenant Theologian) and as a means for me to consider becoming a Covenant Theologian/paedobaptist myself. Here are some quotes from the book that I find as affronts:
"He who is not satisfied with this promise," Calvin declares, "offers gross insult to God. He challenges his truth when he derogates from the efficacy of his word" (p. 9). There is nothing in His Word that says we must baptize infants. Waiting to baptize when there is fruit is not a questioning of God's Word!
"Calvin pointedly remarked that he who included newness of life in the sign as a capsule rather than doing honor to the sign, dishonored God" (p. 15). So, basically, if you are not Reformed, Calvinist, a Covenant Theologian, and paedobaptist, then you dishonor God. How? How do Arminians and Baptists and credo-baptists honor God? We can only honor God by Christ in us anyway. There is too much emphasis on what Calvin says! And here I thought I was Calvinist. Maybe I am when it comes to TULIP, but I am finding offense and issue with some of his statements. Can we get away from the dry hyper-intellectualism and theologizing and back to Christ and unity among brethren in Christ? I am both frustrated and saddened by these affronts. It seems to show the true colors behind Covenant Theology, though I know many of its proponents who are dear and loving people.
Denying baptism to infants is described as "dishonoring God" (p. 82). Those are very strong words for something based on a paradigm and not explicitly stated in Scripture!
"[The neglect of infant baptism] springs, we are afraid, out of low views - insufficient, inadequate, unchurchly views of the nature and importance of the ordinance itself" (p. 84). Unchurchly, maybe, but is it unbiblical? Certainly it is a low view of the theology behind it, but the theology is elevated to the level of certainty that is reserved for those things explicit in Scripture of which infant baptism is not.
"The covenant of grace, as its name infers, was a covenant of the unmerited love and favor of God. [New Paragraph] It is equally true, however, that if parents were unfaithful they had no right to expect any benefit whatever. There was no reason for satisfaction, or glorying in the name of the covenant unless they observed the law of the covenant" (p. 121). Again, strong words, which is why they are in this section. I think the phrase "law of the covenant" is interesting. It seems that some of my Reformed brothers are adding law to the Christian life. And to say that I cannot enjoy or glorify God because I am not paedobaptist is ridiculous! This book has not only promoted over-presumption, but also over-elevating infant baptism! I am told that my views are fine for a member, but not an officer in the PCA. Yet, when I read words like this, I have to wonder what the die-hard folks in the PCA really think of me, not that it matters. What matters is what God thinks and with His Son, He is well pleased. So, whoever is in Christ, is pleasing to God. There are no other conditions.
"[W]here the truth of the covenant promise of God was forgotten, the consequence, Calvin thought, would inevitably be ingratitude to the mercy of God, and negligence in the proper Christian education of children" (p. 149). Preposterous! I am thankful for God's mercy every day. I couldn't exist without it. It is only by His mercy and grace I am His and even on a common basis that I live and breathe and that the atoms in my body stay in tact. Further, my children are receiving just as much Christian education as their contemporaries who were baptized as infants. I think the key words are "Calvin thought" and I would say that Calvin thought wrong on this point.
I also find the quote referred to in my conclusion and affront.
Arguing really is a silly theme as it applies throughout this document. However, for lack of a better title, here are some more point-by-point arguments and counter-arguments.
The genuine children of Abraham are heirs to eternal life as God promises and if partakers, why exclude them from the sign (see p. 9)? We do not know who the genuine children of Abraham are since we cannot see hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7). However, we can be "fruit inspectors" and profession of faith, a changed life, and works thereof are the best means by which we can safely presume someone is a genuine child of God.
A lot of times the book implies that a child is an infant. If a four-year-old professes Christ, then baptize him! A child is not necessarily an infant! And even then, baptizing a child is not specified in Scripture.
"If theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, why shall the sign be denied them…?" (p. 10). Man CANNOT conclude that theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven unless he sees the heart, which he cannot.
"Nothing forbids our applying this to infants," Calvin reasons (p. 12). Nothing demands or explicitly states in Scripture that we apply it to infants NOR is there anything in Scripture that demands the practice be elevated to the level to which this book has elevated it. So, it's not forbidden. Well, baptism of infants is not explicity commanded (and I have to say it that way since Covenant Theologians will give you an intro to Covenant Theology or talk about how baptism is synonymous with circumcision. See comments above).
On pages 26 through 27, the author brings up when infants die. He refers to Zwingli who believes all infants who die are saved. While I don't see eye-to-eye with Zwingli, I agree with him here. Yet, Zwingli (were he alive over five centuries later) and others would use this to argue for infant baptism and ask me how I could believe that and not be paedobaptist. Despite my disagreements with Calvin on this issue, I do believe in election as "the elect" are mentioned in Scripture. I also believe God is omniscient. Since God knows which infants will die, I believe He predestines them (elects them) to be in Christ. Of course, God really does this with all persons who are in Him. However, the focus is on infants who die. They are saved as God has mercy. Yet, we also know of infants who grow up and do not believe and can presume scripturally that they were not among the elect (though we ultimately cannot see hearts) while others are among His people. Yet, if an infant child of pagan parents dies, does that child go to Heaven? I believe, as Zwingli did, that the child does go to Heaven. Yet, such a child would not have been baptized. The paedobaptists cannot know if an infant will die necessarily nor can they know if an infant will live and be among God's people. It goes back to over-presumption for the paedobaptist. NOTE: For those who would argue why one should argue against abortion then if those infants who are aborted just go to Heaven, the answer is simple: Thou shalt not kill.
"No distinction is made between adults professing faith in Christ and the infant children of believers" (p. 48). What then is the point of profession or fruit? My parents are both believers. Yet, using this approach, in spite of my age, I could coast into Heaven based on my parents' credentials. While we cannot see hearts, we can make distinctions on works (fruit) and therefore professing adults and infant children of believers can be distinguished on that basis which is much less presumptuous than the paedobaptist perspective of "no distinction."
The author mentions that the divergent view -- the duality of an external legal covenant plus spiritual covenant as "a communion of life" -- is frowned upon (pp. 84-85). However, unless infant children of Christians (who do not die in infancy) are saved at birth, I don't know how Covenant Theologians can justify their views. Yet we are born in sin. There seems to be error. And if these sound like lofty concepts to you, this exemplifies the hyper-intellectualism and hyper-theology that I am discovering in the Covenant Theology paradigm. It seems to require a lot of highly detailed theological concepts to make paedobaptism and its underlying Covenant Theology to work. I have to ask myself if these details were on the mind of Christ as He spoke to the poor and uneducated. Somehow, I doubt it. I miss the good aspects of simplicity of faith. In the 1990s, Phil Smuland, a pastor and Calvinist/Covenant Theologian himself stated, "Extreme Calvinism is unhealthy" and in a later message reminded the congregation to remember when they first came to Christ before they were "theologized, Calvinized, galvanized, and homogenized." Amen!
On page 93, the author talks about infants of believing parents as heirs apparent. I again have to ask, then, why children cannot take communion if they are baptized as infants. It seems contradictory. Meanwhile, I think that children should be baptized and take communion after professing faith. 1 Corinthians 11: 27-29 speaks of communion: "Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." There is an examination which occurs. Should this not also apply to baptism since baptism and communion are sacraments. And if so, then either the paedobaptists must allow paedocommunion to be consistent or credo-baptists (Believer's Baptism Proponents) are correct in concluding that one should "examine" or be "examined" to be baptized as with communion.
"The Reformed Church has always believed, on the basis of God's immutable promise, that all children of believers dying in infancy were saved" (p.118). As mentioned above in discussing Zwingli, I agree! But I base it on God's election and foreknowledge of death.
In mentioning parents being unfaithful the author writes, "As Dr. Stillman said in his article The Benefits of Infant Baptism, "to expect benefit in any other way from observance, either human or divine, is both preposterous and presumptuous" (p. 122). YET, (over) presumption is inherent in Covenant Theology and paedobaptism as mentioned towards the beginning of this document.
"[T]here was nothing in the New Testament which justified the exclusion of the children of believers from membership in the church" (p. 132). There is nothing in the New Testament which justified the command to explicitly have infants baptized. We've already seen how even Dr. Warfield admitted "a fair interpretation of New Testament passages might prevent pedobaptists from claiming such passages as a demonstrative proof of infant baptism. 'I freely allow that they do not suffice, taken by themselves, to prove that infants were baptized by the Apostles…" but are supposed on presumption (p. 133).
"Only where the conditions were met should those blessings be expected. Where the conditions were not met, whether in profession of faith or in baptism, these rites lost their meaning" (p. 14). I would hope that the author is not suggesting that the blessings of the Christian life are tied up in infant baptism.
The author mentions on page 14 to "bring up his children in the nurture of the Lord." Is baptism of an infant required to fulfill this? No.
YES, I actually do have agreement with the author where he writes, "…whether baptized or not, Christians are inscribed in the book of life" (p. 17) to which I ask, why then does infant baptism have to be elevated to the level the author (and others) elevate it?
The author did cause me to consider things more thoroughly and to learn more about Covenant Theology and paedobaptism and to address certain notions more thoroughly than I did in part 1 and part 2 of this discussion on baptism. And he does make some points that provoke further thought:
"[Calvinists] never permitted themselves to pronounce official judgment on the inward state of an adult, but left the judgment to God, so they have never usurped the right to pronounce on the presence or absence of spiritual life in infants" (p. 18).
"Adults through profession of faith enter the church, as presumptively regenerated" (p. 19).
"Assuredly a human profession is no more solid basis to build upon than a Divine promise" - Dr. Warfield (p. 131).
And though I argued that there is nothing in the New Testament which justified the command to have infants baptized, it is a good point that "[T]here was nothing in the New Testament which justified the exclusion of the children of believers from membership in the church" (p. 132).
I follow all means that my child know God in various areas of life. I simply do not practice baptism of infants because once again, looking at Scripture alone, I find it most conclusive to practice the baptism of professing believers. My children's training, education, and upbringing is NOT affected by my refusing to have them baptized as infants. My children don't "grow up very much like other children, unconverted, out of the church, and out of covenant with God" (p. 152). They learn about Jesus, go to church, sing songs about Him, know about Him, and I trust that they will know Him personally (are among His elect), but I won't be overly presumptuous about it. I won't presume to know if God has elected my children. I'm hopeful He has and confident (they have Christian parents - even the Covenant Theologians would give thumbs up to that!), but I know Jacob He loved and Esau He hated (see Malachi 1:2-4). I reserve baptism when the child professes faith, and though it may hold some presumption, profession (followed by a changed life - fruits) is the best means a human can express a changed heart of which baptism is a sign. Baptism is NOT the same as circumcision, but rather a fulfillment of it.
I am a credo-baptist. More importantly, I am in Christ. When we all get to Heaven, we will know what we were right and wrong about, but let's not talk nonsense that if you don't follow my paradigm (as opposed to what is explicit in the Bible) then somehow you are dishonoring God. And Covenant Theology is a theological paradigm. It has some good points to it, but it it is a paradigm.
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