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On Infant Baptism and Children in the Covenant

As I worked through my understanding of infant baptism and the practical outworking of covenant theology (namely the practice aspect of Reformed theology) with the help of Ligon Duncan’s Covenant Theology course at RTS, snippets from O. Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Covenants and some lectures I found of his, Sinclair Ferguson’s defense in Three Views of Baptism, Calvin’s defense in the Institutes, and a host of articles on Monergism.com, I was mostly convinced, but the pieces weren’t fitting together. I have been convinced for quite some time of the Reformed view of the Lord’s Table, but the view of baptism was hard for me to swallow, mainly until I started really digging into covenant theology (this is not to say Reformed Baptists haven’t done this, I just had not dug in enough, personally on this aspect).

And then my family started attending Fort Worth Presbyterian Church. It was here that I witnessed my first infant baptism, after having gone through a good bit of material up to that point. I heard the explanation from the pastor, the vows taken by the parents, all combined with seeing the sacrament administered, and it all pushed me over the edge. I saw how it all came together. It is such a beautiful picture of the gospel of God’s grace descending even before the child can utter a word; a calling out to them of God’s promise to be their God and to respond in faith, while raised in the good soil of gospel truth under their parents care. Baptism is the pointer unto faith and a receiving into the new covenant community; and then communion the confirmation of faith and the receiving of nourishment by Christ unto the sustainment of faith. Baptism is initiation; communion confirmation.

For so long, I just simply couldn’t see the argument though. In hindsight, much of this had to do with my resistance to actually listening and hearing the arguments. All I heard was the pushback from my side and agreed. Having been raised in the soil of dispensational, baptistic thought, and then coming to see the truthfulness of the Reformed arc of scripture (covenant theology), infant baptism was still difficult for me to accept, and I remained a Reformed Baptist of sorts. But then having come around to the belief, what you believe about this has more to do with how you view a host of other beliefs:

  1. The relation of the OT to the NT
  2. The relation of circumcision and baptism in terms of what is signified
  3. The relation of our faith in Christ to Abraham
  4. The nature of what constitutes members of the church, in the OT and NT, and going back to point one, how the two relate

… to name a few.

There are also defenses from within church history, but  so much is covered in the material above, and it’s worth looking into.

Covenant theology has an explanation for all of these that all point to Christ and how He unifies the scriptures in His perfect work. After studying the larger structure of covenant theology and getting all of the categories in my mind, and then coming back to infant baptism, along with being a part of one within the congregation, it was then that everything fell into place for me. I’m not going to give a large defense here because there is plenty of material to sort through given above.

But I will just say that the fundamental issue is gospel related, not that it’s a requirement (don’t hear me wrong), but that it’s a natural outflow, an outworking of the gospel and indeed testifies to the grace of Christ and His sovereignty in salvation.

Also, covenant theology is not replacement theology (that the Gentiles replaced the Jews), but rather, as has been noted many times now, it is expansion theology, the Gentiles being included into the covenant made with Abraham, accomplished and sealed in the new covenant (the new covenant being the fulfilled Abrahamic covenant) in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Baptism, and infant baptism more specifically in this instance, simply follows the pattern of Abraham and his children with circumcision, being that the signs and seals of that covenant signify the same thing.

There’s a lot more to it, but this is some of my personal story of how I came to paedobaptism and ultimately the Presbyterian church.


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1 Comment

  1. David

    David, have you read Pascal Denault’s book on the differences between Paedobaptist and Credobaptist covenant theology in the 17th century? I think it’s possible to have a very developed and informed view of the “larger structure of covenant theology” and for it to lead to a Credobaptist position. The Credobaptist structure of covenant theology (at least from those times) is very consistent, just significantly different.

    Well worth a read:


    (I agree with his view, but I hope that its tight argumentation facilitates clarity for those on either side.)

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