A Carnal Weapon


More on baptism. Jane Dunsworth has posted some well-thought-out strikes and I figure it’s worth posting my parries here.

Pastor Wilson writes:

“There really are people who really are removed from the Vine. They are described in Scripture as branches which bear no fruit. The Bible teaches that these are people who are connected to Christ (they have to be connected to Him in order to be removed from Him), who nevertheless have no saving interest in Him. If they were regenerate, they would bear fruit. They are not regenerate, but they are attached to the Vine. And in God’s providence, the fruitless branches are removed” (To a Thousand Generations, p. 85).

As mentioned yesterday, if the disciples were natural branches, and they were, they grew out of the trunk under the Old Covenant, a Covenant of flesh. The branches grew from nothing, and it was not apparent if they would be fruitful or not until they reached harvest time.

But branches that are grafted in are a different story, surely? They must already be, to some degree, mature. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t be grafting them in.

All of which leaves twigs, er, infants, out of the picture. Babies aren’t branches. Not only can they not have Old Covenant fruit (flesh) they can’t have New Covenant fruit.

I think I’ve pushed the analogy far enough, but it should be clear that this angle in the argument for grafting babies into the Covenant tree — whose nature was entirely changed by Jesus from flesh to Spirit, from structure to glory — is a dead end.

Not only can babies not be “cut” in a New Covenant way (repentance), but baptism was very obviously the beginning of fruit bearing, of witness. It is the public vindication of the first stage of maturity. Let’s not mess with it any longer.

To hone it down some more, the question Pastor Wilson is asking seems to be this:

Since the Church can mistakenly baptize unregenerate adults, surely it is acceptable, if not expected, for us to do it deliberately to our infants?

But we are not seed in the way Jews were, and this idea of a “New Covenant” pedigree that is bereft of Spirit is entirely carnal.

Just imagine if we could combine FV Covenant child rearing with credobaptism? Now that would be a force to reckon with. Forming AND filling!

Jane replies:

Michael — it is not a mistake to baptize an unregenerate adult who gives appropriate outward evidence of regeneration, though he is unregenerate — a fact unknowable to us. It is exactly the right and obedient thing to do. And we don’t baptize “unregenerate” infants — we baptize infants, who are either regenerate or unregenerate but hold the qualifications for baptism, just as we baptize adults who are either regenerate or unregenerate but hold the qualifications for baptism.


Dear Jane,

The qualification for baptism is not Christian parents. It is repentance. We can err in baptizing someone who seems repentant, and you are right in that the blame lies in that case with the pretender (and in some cases, it is not a wilful deception).

But then, you understand this when it comes to adults. So, why do you differentiate between baptismal qualifications for adults and for infants?

If baptism simply “puts you into the visible body of Christ,” and begins the process of conviction-under-gospel, we should be baptizing unregenerate adults who are willing to attend church, such as those “holy” unregenerate spouses.

I keep pressing that button but so far no one’s been tall enough to answer the door. Who’s on creche?


Michael, it’s not that hard to answer, and I don’t think I’m the first one to try. Those who deny Christ are outside the covenant in any sense, until they express the desire to be united to Him. Those who are born into the covenant are within the covenant, from a Covenant Theology understanding of scripture.

I realize you deny the latter, but can you not see the consistency of the position on its own terms?

At any rate, my larger point was to dispute your “mistake” construction, which, while it doesn’t overthrow your credobaptist position, does seem to undermine your point about “mistake vs. deliberate.” We don’t view either case as a mistake, nor do we view either case as a deliberate “baptizing of the unregenerate” because we don’t regard babies as definitively unregenerate, so that argument doesn’t do much for us.



Point taken on the mistake.

I don’t think we can view adults as definitively unregenerate, either, but somehow I don’t see paedobaptistic churches baptizing them just in case they turn out OK.

The only way one can be “born” into the New Covenant is by faith. That’s why I keep using the word carnal. It confuses bread with toast. Baptism puts you into the Lord’s service, not His elementary school. It’s not primary education but secondary. The whole world, not just Israel, is now in primary education under the gospel. Paedobaptism is inherently small-minded.


“I don’t think we can view adults as definitively unregenerate, either, but somehow I don’t see paedobaptistic churches baptizing them just in case they turn out OK.”

I’m going to assume you understand that “just in case they turn out okay” thing is an extreme caricature and save the trouble of setting you straight.

But I made the distinction pretty clear before, I think — non-professing adults are regarded as self-conscious rebels against Christ and at war with His church up until they point they profess allegiance to Him. Covenant children (on CT premises) are junior members on the right side of the battle, at least until shown to be otherwise.

You don’t round up all the babies in your own country and put them in POW camps when they’re born — you treat them like citizens of your country. But if an enemy adult shows up carrying a weapon, you clearly don’t hand him a uniform and invite him to the mess hall.

You’ll say “treating them citizens of your own country is catechizing them not baptizing them,” and I get that. But my metaphor should show you why our version of including them does not logically require including “enemy” adults.



Perhaps it is an extreme caricature, but it highlights the fact that paedobaptism counts its chickens before they hatch. And this highlights the faultline below the Federal Vision. I do understand your logic. And it’s good logic. But it’s Old Covenant logic.

An Israelite was born an Israelite because it was a demarcation of flesh. And Israel’s enemies were enemies of flesh — other nations.

Our enemies are no longer flesh and blood, so our own babies are not considered “Covenant enemies” by baptists. Even when there are human enemies of the New Covenant, we don’t go and kill them. We slay them with the gospel and with prayer, which is exactly what we do with our own kids. We are plundering Satan’s vessels and bringing them into our own spiritual house, and by spiritual, I follow David Chilton’s excellent explanation of it as meaning obedient. Baptism, credobaptism, is for warriors, those who can actually wrestle with principalities and powers. It takes fire to fight fire, and this is what the Old Covenant trained us for. We can now deal with the problem at its bitter spiritual root.

So, your logic is good, but flawed at its foundation.

We have baptists on one side who do the obvious thing and follow the New Covenant example, but without much understanding of Covenant. Then we have the paedobaptists who understand Covenant, but can only find support for their doctrine in the Old Testament, so they misunderstand the New Covenant.

Surely, the right approach is to understand the Old Covenant on its terms so that we may better understand and obey the New Covenant on its terms?

You are correct in identifying baptism as a uniform. Heart circumcision puts us into Jesus’ nation. Baptism puts us into his army. Babies don’t qualify in either of these requirements.

Paedobaptism is a carnal weapon, doomed to failure. It sends the wrong message entirely, both to those without the Church and those within.

The discussion will most likely continue. If you are interested, you can find this thread here.

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