He Is Not Here…


You can find this over at Doug Wilson’s blog. I’m reposting it here because I’ve just spent over an hour responding to Doug R. and John B.’s good objections to comments on Shakin’ The Tree, so I’ve not got time to write anything new. Also, posting it here means I can find it more easily in future! So, at the risk of becoming the anti-paedobaptist/anti-hyperpreterist blog…

Baptism Points Away

Doug writes:

“The meaning of Abraham’s circumcision was not, ‘Abraham got saved.’ Rather, it was, ‘Salvation will come to the world!’ It is true that Abraham was personally saved, and that he was saved by faith. But he was saved because he believed in the objective promise — that is, in the coming Christ . . . We must always reject the natural tendency to make the covenantal signs into a seal of our own personal righteousness” (To a Thousand Generations, pp. 44-45).


But would a repentant, Spirit-filled, baptized baptist ever mistake his or her baptism for a seal of their personal righteousness? Highly unlikely.

Baptism is like a knighthood. It means you’re ready for service with the authority of the king’s court and you’ve got a job to do as a New Covenant priest-king. Circumcision only got Israel as far as the Altar, and that was only the males, who were all Isaacs. It was about physical offspring.

Baptism gets males and females past the Laver into the actual tent, the Holy Place, the inner court, where God’s advisors bargain with Him in prayer as Abraham and David did. No place for babies. It is about spiritual offspring, which is why all those who believe can be the children of Abraham. “Offspring” has been set alight and is no longer fleshly. Even an Ethiopian eunuch can serve in the new court, and have such offspring.

I think this is exactly where the problem lies. As I have mentioned before, the New Covenant sign has nothing to do with parenting. Circumcision had everyone crowding around the delivery room, waiting to see what came out of the womb. Was it the Messiah?

Baptism sees Jesus grown up and baptized, and then imparting all of this to us. Then He tells us to go out and bring lost people in as believers. The New Covenant is not so much about a people as it is about a unified army. Baptism is not an initiation. It is a commission.

Infant baptists are still crowding around the womb. This errant doctrine, to some extent, keeps them celebrating in the flesh, like barren Abraham. You can crowd around the womb forever, but Christ has dealt with the flesh. He is not here. He is risen. Baptism moved us from the womb to the tomb. That’s where we Baptists crowd around, and the party is much more fun.

Yes, children are a blessing. Christian parenting is a blessing. Children who actually come to faith are even more of a blessing. But the New Covenant has moved way beyond all of that. It allows us to do more than simply maintain the status quo in our physical succession.

Paedobaptism, in that sense, doesn’t really point away at all.

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22 Responses to “He Is Not Here…”

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in regards to the Baptistic vs. Presbyterian view of baptism/circumcision. I look at Col 2:12 and Ex 12 and see it as initiation. You see commission. You see knighthood. I see birth via death.

  • Matt Says:

    Mr. Bull,
    I appriciate you artistic and stylistic approach. I also enjoy Mr. Jordan’s unique way of communicating scripture and would also love to hear his reply to you as was expressed in “Shakin’ the tree” comments.
    My simple thoughts are first, Your “Matrix” sounds like as if it’s the secret key finally found after all these years to interpret the bible. Just sounds mystical to me but I am sure you don’t mean it that way. People have believed in credo baptism long before your book came out and it seems after Rev. John Barach’s interactions your creative, picture style approach becomes the same common approach of credo baptists in the past (Same arguments, nothing new).
    Secondly, your dealing with Rev. Barach objection of “household baptisms” was weak. A. the question is about babies not females – baby boys were circumsised. B. “Woman” is a developing picture that the New Covenant completes.

    To say “baptism is like knighthood” if I understand you right sounds very palagian. Our abilities to be “in the army” are worthy and confirmed by God?

    To say the “inner court is no place for babies” just sounds awful. Is there a rugby game going on in there? That kind of language won’t get you anywhere in your argument.

    I will keep reading more of your thoughts.
    God bless

  • Travis Matthew Finley Says:

    I’d like to hear the theology of a matricised-baptist explain how one raises his non-covenantal child. I mean this and I ask it sincerely. Here is the way I see it. As a presuppositionalist, I accuse the atheist of stealing from us in order to make sense of his senseless worldview. As a reformed theologian I accuse the baptist of the same thing. Baptists want to talk to their children the same way presbyterians (senseless) do and they just can’t. So, my question becomes, how do you treat your pre-converted children? I do not believe you can tell your unconverted child to do anything Spiritual without breaking some rules. I would tend to think that you could not do anything except explain the Gospel to them until they are ready to accept it. If they try to sing or pray, would you not say, “Sweety, you can’t do that–you are still dead in your trespasses and sins and need to repent.” Am I missing something? Love ya, man.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Travis, child rearing hasn’t changed since the Old Covenant, except for the fact that Christ has come. The thing that has changed is the Covenant sign, reflecting a grownup Covenant instead of a “childish” one. The object lessons are over and we have full knowledge. So we raise our kids to come to faith just as the Israelites did. The only things that we should keep the kids from until they repent and believe are baptism and the table. Observing baptisms and the table are part of the training. I wouldn’t call infants “non-Covenantal children.” That’s just your FV paradigm talking. The entire world is under the New Covenant, unbelievers sheltering under the ministry of believers. But unbelieving children and spouses especially so. The suggestion that we shouldn’t expect our children to do “spiritual” things is a bit one-eyed. I talk to my kids as though they need to trust God for everything, including salvation. But baptism means they are ready for the official ministry of the New Covenant, even if they are still only young.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks for commenting, Matt

    The matrix isn’t new. I might have pushed it a little further, but mostly it is just a summary of Jordan’s thinking, which he based on other people’s work and pushed a lot further. It’s not mystical but structural and architectural, like any good story.

    John Barach’s arguments also were nothing new. It amazes me that the best theologians would accept a doctrine such as this with little or no Scriptural evidence. When a baptist says “What does baptism look like in Scripture?” the answer is obvious. My point is that the typology actually backs up the baptist, not the paedobaptist. PBs have plugged in circumcision for evidence when they should have plugged in the priestly Laver (to put it very simply).

    The point about households stands. Not every person in Abraham’s household was circumcised. How do we know this? Because we know who qualified for circumcision. If infants were baptized there would have been some apostolic statement that repentance was not required. I see none. And there is little or no proof in early church history that infants were baptized, and evidence that many were against the practice. This doctrine has absolutely nothing going for it in any area: Scripture, the affects on doctrine, historical practice, or, as I maintain, Old Testament typology. It’s a string bag with no string.

    “Woman.” Yes. Luke makes a point of telling us that both men and women were baptized. Baptizing infants doesn’t even cross his mind.

    Such a Christian “knighthood” is not pelagian. Baptism is for those who have repented, believed and received the Spirit of God so that they can fulfill the Law. Raising our kids by declaring the gospel to them is a form of grace, also. But a conviction of sin by the Spirit is quite different than the indwelling Spirit. Whether is becomes saving grace or condemning grace depends upon their response.

    The inner court is where the king and his advisors make judgments. In the Old Covenant heaven it was the crystal sea. After AD70 it is a crystal city, with human governors. Babies are not governors, they are governed. As I responded to Doug, infants have (or had) angelic guardians. Baptism is for guardians.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  • Mike Bull Says:


    Yes, there are two baptisms in the matrix. The first one corresponds to circumcision and death. That’s John’s baptism. It is “pre-Pentecost” (Testing). New Covenant baptism is resurrection. It is not the intallation of the dividing Veil (Division) but the tearing of it (Conquest). We become the angels who see the face of God continually. Infants are under this ministry. They are not its ministers.

    Col 2:12 is speaking corporately. The church had left Herod’s Egypt, but they were still in the wilderness. The “Jordan” of AD70 was yet to come.

  • Travis Matthew Finley Says:


    I wouldn’t say that’s my FV paradigm. That’s Baptist theology. Babies aren’t “in” until they have faith. I guess I’m hearing “one-earedly”: can a person trust God for things previous to the ultimate thing–salvation? Sorry for being “too-ordo-ed salutis-ised, but I can’t put the cart b4 the pony.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Best idea is to see, as Doug Wilson pointed out, that the process of salvation hasn’t really changed on a personal level. But the corporate history level, the macrocosm, mirrors the personal level. And the corporate history has moved on. So the Covenant sign has changed to reflect this. Circumcision highlighted the eggs. Baptism highlights the omelettes.

  • Travis Matthew Finley Says:

    Right. I just see the baby eggs as part of the omelet, too. It’s the same argument of discontinuity: so, now in a more grand and glorious covenant God is exclusive? No. Our children are adults, too, in Christ.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    The key is the flesh boundary and the Spirit boundary, the domain of the Adamic commission (first birth) and the domain of the Great Commission (second birth). The first is the world of men under God’s law. It is meat on the Altar. The second is the world of men filled with God’s law. It is the house filled with smoke. The Altar and the Laver pictured these two boundaries. Infant baptism confounds the two. It calls someone a Christian when they are not (not by the apostolic definition, anyhow.) It is a forced acceptance (justification) of uncut flesh before God as though it were blameless.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Pushing the logic, I have asked before why repentance is required for adults to be baptized in paedobaptistic churches. That’s where the logic falls apart. You want baptism to be one thing for infants and another for adults. It simply doesn’t work. To be consistent, the only requirement for baptism should be coming under the sound of the gospel. Visitors should be required to be baptized before they can attend, and allowed at the Lord’s table so they can be “nourished” and brought to faith. This is demonstrably nuts when pushed to its logical conclusion. The wheels come off, which shows it was built by doctrinal hacking to maintain and justify an unbiblical tradition.

  • todd robinson Says:

    ‘Repentance’ in Acts and the Gospels concerns specific acts of sin (i.e. crucifying the Messiah). What would an infant have to repent of? Original sin? Can a 2 year old who dies be saved then since he has original sin, yet cannot repent? Handicapped? Senile? Isn’t this rationalism run amock?

  • Mike Bull Says:


    Good observation. But I don’t think paedobaptism is the solution, not with all the other doctrines it rides over roughshod.

    Repentance always concerns specific acts of sin. The promise was not just for Jews but also those “afar off” who hadn’t heard yet.

    If original sin, the sin nature, was dealt with by Christ, then all infants are under God’s mercy. Can’t prove it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. And it would tie in with Jesus’ statement that infants have (or had) angelic guardians.

    But as I said, infant baptism is not the solution for this. If it were, then any Christian who failed to baptize their infant was condemning their infant. It turns baptism into a magic rite instead of a step of public obedience.

  • Matt Says:

    Mr. Bull,
    I admitt I am no match for you. You are very skilled. I don’t have any theological training. I stand unconvinced though. Still think you figit on the “household” argument. You think only mature men women can be baptized? 13, 16 years old? Credo baptists must have lively debates about this with each other.

    I used to be credo baptist. I think the 2 things that pushed me in the direction of PB was: 1 biblicaly, the Red Sea crossing: I couldn’t conceive no babies being carried across. 2. practically, the Anabaptist mess that characterizes American Christianity. Roger Williams sums it up nicely, “It is me and thee (his wife) and I’m not sure about thee”.

    Regarding death of infants before baptism: If Paul died on the road to Demascus before his baptism whould he have gone to heaven? Acts 2 repentence is to those whom God calls. Infants of christians are called and on that road to baptism as Paul was. Credos don’t have that outlook. For you a christian’s baby is in the same boat as any non christian though they may have a better chance.

    I have to girls 2 and 6 months. They have been called they have been baptized.


  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Matt

    It’s not skill or training. Its logic.

    On households again, we are given the requirements for baptism quite clearly. Each passage in Acts follows the Feasts. The baptisms occur at Atonement/Laver and households always seems to appear at Tabernacles/Booths/Shekinah. Luke is making a point. And his point has nothing to do with babies. It is architectural. The Old Covenant formed the house and the New Covenant was filling it with fire.

    The Red Sea crossing was corporate, and it was a type. PBs push the analogy too far, beyond the boundaries of New Covenant baptism. Paul is calling for a spiritual unity/integrity, not a physical or fleshly one.

    Yep, a Christian’s baby is in the same boat as a non-Christian’s, except, as you say, they will hear the gospel. It was the same under Moses.

    I don’t believe your beautiful little girls could have responded to the call of Christ. A response to a call is not passive.

    Good point on the baptist mess. But I don’t think lack of paedobaptism is the actual problem. Perhaps a lack of solid Bible teaching, obedience, and some good Covenant theology. Paedobaptism in Europe created its own mess over hundreds of years. As I have mentioned before, Finland is 90% baptized with 3% church attendance. PB is not the solution. Repentance and faith is the solution.

    My daughters were baptized around the age of 10. My son is 9 and I think he’s ready. I have no doubt that any of them are regenerate. They know exactly what the Lord’s table means (probably better than most adults do) and what baptism entails.

    If Paul had repented and believed, yes, he would have been saved. Baptism is a step of obedience (and not by proxy!) If baptism is impossible, because, for instance, you are nailed to a cross, you made it into the Head, but not into the Body, at least not to a physical gathering. You qualified for knighthood but were killed on the way to the ceremony. I’d say that’s even more glorious!

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • todd robinson Says:

    Mr. Bull, with all due respect, didn’t you just run “roughshod” over Sola Fide (and perhaps Original Sin)? Are some people saved apart from faith, even though the Bible always puts faith and salvation together? You seem to posit two classes of the saved: “believers” (adults) and neutral blank slates (infants/imbeciles). Two ways to Heaven, as it were. And yet, you just criticized a “two kinds of baptism” approach and also the divorcing of repentance from baptism. But here you yourself seem to be divorcing faith from salvation. Again, with all due respect to you, Mr. Bull, how your “roughshod” comment isn’t ironically the “pot calling the kettle black”, I’m not sure.

    As for your “magic rite” response, I’m just not sure you’ve gone “FV” enough on this point! When you get baptized, you get the Spirit and forgiveness (Acts 2:38), washing (Acts 22:16), and incorporation into Christ (Gal 3:27). That’s just what the Bible says. After all, baptism (not Levitical washings of the body) now saves us (1 Pet 3:21), or no? Thus, if, as per your above last paragraph, “infant baptism is not the answer”, fine, but neither would credo-baptism be the answer. For wouldn’t we have to conclude that ANY (including adults) who refuse baptism are also refusing the above cited biblical blessings of the Covenant? Or have we boxed ourselves into an exegetically unsound corner (i.e. “baptism doesn’t really DO anything”) for the sake of our systematic theology (i.e. “baptism is no magic rite”)?

  • Matt Says:

    Mr. Bull,

    The problem in Europe is church discipline.
    Also, You can’t just strip the OT of it’s spirituality. Flesh and The Natural may be in the foreground but there is still a spiritual reality.
    Roger Williams might have some objections about your children being baptized. No matter how much theological and biblical training you have you still have the problem of determining the subjective responce of repentence. Williams understood that well.

    I let it go at that.


  • Mike Bull Says:


    I don’t know if infants are saved, but God is merciful. I don’t think the Bible gives us any guarantees – just David’s mourning for his son and Jesus’ statement about little ones having angelic guardians. But this would apply to all infants, not baptized ones.

    On the FV issue, I think PJL makes some very good observations on the depth of what baptism is. I don’t know how far I’d go with that, but he is onto something in the text. My point was that applying this rite to those who have not repented and believed is what makes it magical. Applying it to those who have repented and believed makes it Covenant obedience, to which God responds as He promised. He puts us into the Body. And even the angels in heaven rejoice.

    Adults who refuse baptism are disobedient. But the ones I’ve met have been either misinformed or had a bad experience. That’s only two people. All the rest who have been hesitant have felt the Spirit compelling them, and they have come round in the end.

    So I think baptism certainly does something. We obey God, and He gives the increase.

    I hope I haven’t misunderstood your objections in any way. Feel free to comment further if I have.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    I think I’ve made my position on flesh and Spirit pretty clear, in the sacrificial rite. I’m not denying that Israelites came to faith. But that was the end of the process. Circumcision was a fleshly boundary.

    Regarding qualification for baptism, this is really not an issue. We are to test the spirits. I know that applies to teachers, but the whole idea of the New Covenant is that we no longer wrestle flesh and blood. We are to be discerning. Ministry now transcends familial, community, cultural and national boundaries. Paedobaptism is familial. So it’s not actually baptism.

  • sam Says:

    Interesting….got me thinkin’

  • Martin Says:

    Mike –
    I am very intrigued by your stance as a FV credobaptist as you would claim. I’ve studied the FV recently, reading Leithart’s The Baptized Body, and a non FV credobaptist work by Paul Jewett. I think Leithart’s points about baptismal efficacy are highly persuassive, and have almost abandoned my credobaptist conviction.

    I have two questions for you
    1) do you maintain Credobaptism and yet mostly agree with Leithart that baptism grafts us into the body of Christ?
    2) If baptism is effectual, could you say that John Calvin and Luther were actually baptized, yet their baptism was inappropriate?

    What I’m getting at here is that most credos would say baptism must take place after repentance, thus Paedobaptism isn’t really baptism. the trouble with this is that virtually no one would then have been baptized for over 1000 years including the reformers. If baptism as a rite does something, a credo who believes this might believe Paedobaptism is something akin to say, arranging a marriage for your child and conducting the ceremony at 6 months old. So 20 years later, assuming the surrounding culture accepts the marriage, someone might say the marriage rite was unwise and reflects a distorted theology of marriage, yet still accept the efficacy of the rite.

    Not sure if you are familiar with Turtullian’s “on baptism”. In it he says ‘let them be made christians when the can know Christ’. This is the first explicit mention of Paedobaptism in church history, and he is arguing against the practice. Yet notice by his wording he is implying the efficacy of the infant baptism is not in doubt. you can search for his full essay on CCEL

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Martin

    Thanks for the comment.

    1) Yes, correct. Where Dr Leithart draws the “body border” at assembled flesh, I see that as Old Covenant. The New Covenant border is assembled flesh that is Spirit-filled. Bible history is a sacrificial rite, so Pentecost transformed things. The Federal Vision should be a world filled with Spirit-filled, baptized people, not merely baptized people. We’ve been there, done that.

    2) I’ll look up Turtullian. Sounds interesting (I’m not very well read but I have heard him quoted a fair bit). I think God is merciful. James Jordan rightly rails against the church’s various ways of messing up Communion, and that we ought to sought it out according to the biblical pattern, but he also rightly says God is accommodating. I’d suggest the same thing with baptism. Calvin and Luther were unquestionably members of the church, so your marriage analogy is a good one.