In working through infant baptism and children in the covenant (not, mind you, whether adult converts should be baptized; yes they should), trying to find proof texts (“go ye forth and baptize thy children, or… not”) is the wrong way to go about sifting through the data. MacArthur’s arguments against Sproul, for instance, are unhelpful to me in defending against it. He says, “I don’t see it, it’s just not there,” or “show me a specific text” and then proof texts’ the New Testament, wrongly conflating the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17) with “Old Covenant” (Mosaic Covenant). So much of that has to do with presuppositions underlying “not seeing it” though. In other words, it’s reductionist to just say “it’s just not there” which ignores volumes of theology related to the larger story of scripture, starting way back in Genesis going forward, and the necessary outworking of that story, carrying over into the NT. (MacArthur may be a bad example though given that he’s a staunch classic dispensationalist which sees division in the unfolding of redemption that I don’t hold to, but I hope you see the point.)
As with the doctrine of the Trinity, there are inferential, pointer verses that give us a picture that when put together like a puzzle or like a painting, give us a concrete understanding of a doctrine (though I’ll admit the Trinity is a doctrine with a substantial number of texts that very clearly paint the picture; with baptism though, the picture isn’t as clear. Regardless, there are pointers that help us fill in the blanks and indeed do paint a picture and even reveal some of the assumptive, inferential theology in the NT writers’ minds).
These are some of the questions that really got me to thinking about how the OT related to the NT and ultimately how this addresses our children, including the covenants and the signs and seals related to those covenants and who they should apply to. The issue with infant baptism really isn’t baptism itself as much as how you see the larger scope of the unfolding of redemption laid out in scripture and how God ministers that redemption via the word, sacraments and prayer.
Full disclosure: these questions are coming from a covenantal reading of the scriptures, as opposed to other hermeneutics (dispensational being one), and digging through all of this requires digging through the scriptures (which is where you should land anyway) and seeing how the NT informs our understanding of the OT, just as Jesus and the Apostles interpreted the OT texts. In other words, it takes time. I have answers for all of these, but my purpose here is to merely pose the questions:
- What are covenants?
- How do covenants relate to the gospel?
- What is meant by “old covenant” or “first covenant” within the New Testament, in texts like Hebrews 8? Is it the general administration of God’s dealings with the people of the Old Testament, or is it specifically speaking of the Mosaic covenant as defined within the framework Covenant theology?
- What is meant by “new covenant” between a Baptist and Paedobaptist?
- Is the Abrahamic covenant for substance one and the same with the New covenant?
- What are signs and seals?
- How do signs and seals relate to the covenants? What is their function?
- What are the covenants in scripture? How do they relate to each other?
- Was the transition between the OT and NT organic in nature (inferential as far as our understanding of it) as it relates to the Abrahamic and new covenants in Christ, and therefore the signs and seals of these covenants?
- Is baptism merely circumcision fulfilled and expanded, as opposed to replaced, or are they completely separate signs and seals signifying separate, unrelated covenants?
- How does our present faith in the new covenant relate to Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 17, and therefore, the signs and seals associated with those covenants?
- How did children relate to their believing parents in the OT? Were they considered pagan unbelievers until a professing faith was present or were they included in the visible covenant community from infancy and raised in the Lord, their circumcision pointing unto faith (as opposed to confirming it), the parents trusting in His grace to accomplish all of the aforementioned?
- How do children relate now in the New Covenant to parents of believers?
- How does a Credobaptist make sense of texts like 1 Corinthians 7:14, pertaining to children of believers? How does a Paedobaptist make sense of the same?
- How does a Credobaptist make sense of texts like Acts 2:37-39, pertaining to children of believers? How does a Paedobaptist make sense of the same?
- Broadly speaking, how are the children of believers treated in the whole of the Bible?
- Does the fifth commandment, honor father and mother, presume the inclusion of children in the visible covenant community?
- How does the gospel as given to us in the NT relate to the blessing of Abraham in Genesis 17 that has now “come to the Gentiles” as interpreted in the NT?
- If the Abrahamic and New Covenants are for substance one and the same, what are we to make of God having Isaac, and even more importantly, Ishmael (who turned away), circumcised as infants?
- Following the last question, what does this mean for the New Covenant and baptism, assuming circumcision and baptism are for substance one and the same as well?
- Concerning apostasy, how does a Credobaptist make sense of texts like Hebrews 6:4-6? How does a Paedobaptist make sense of the same?
- Is the visible church composed of believers and unbelievers or believers only?
- Pertaining to church history (this is not scripture, but it is insightful as to faith and practice in the early church coming out of the Apostolic era of the early church), how does the early church treat baptism?
- Was there ever a controversy in the early church concerning baptism?
- When and what are the first instances of speaking about infant baptism in the early church?
- When did the first major debates concerning baptism begin in the history of the church?
- Practically speaking, do Baptist parents treat their children as unbelieving pagans or as children that Jesus loves and raise them as such within the visible covenant community? Do they include them in the congregation of believers, i.e., the visible church, or treat them as outsiders? Does this jive with scripture?
- Apart from the applied sign of water to the child, how is a child dedication service in Baptist circles different than an infant baptism?
There are many presuppositions underlying how you think about all of these things that have to be addressed before coming to any conclusion. In having many of these questions presented to me through numerous lectures, books and articles, and many of these questions that popped up in my own mind as I took in this information, I remembered one verse in the OT that summed up the faith that is one and the same in both the OT and the NT, the faith of Abraham: “…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)