The Sound of One Bookend


Doug Wilson writes:

“Why do baptists not understand the covenant? The answer is not what many paedobaptists want to hear — the baptists do not understand it because paedobaptists do not understand it” (To a Thousand Generations, p. 95).

In context, Pastor Wilson’s argument here seems to be that if the church is suffering from nominalism, paedobaptism is not to blame.

The logic is this:

1 – Paedobaptism has replaced circumcision;

2 – circumcision predominantly concerned the rearing of Covenant children;

3 – Paul says circumcision was not to blame for the Jews’ unbelief. Circumcision was profitable, but the Jews didn’t follow through;

4 – therefore, it was unfaithfulness to the Covenant that caused the problem;

5 – and infant baptism is profitable if we follow through.

There’s some good stuff in this logic, but it’s a chiasm that starts in the dark, works its way into Paul’s light for supposed support and then sinks back into the shadows.

1 – Circumcision was not replaced by baptism. As a bodily Covenant sign, yes it was, because the qualifications for Covenant member have moved from flesh to Spirit, just as the Covenant did. We are not united by our own blood but by Jesus’, and thus by His Spirit. Familial ties are done with, except as they carry the gospel.

2 – Circumcision was not about children. Circumcision was about the mortification of the flesh. Team Abraham was a creche within a morgue, innoculating Adam with doses of death to keep him alive.

3 – What exactly was expected of Jews? The Law was to cut their hearts and bring them to repentance and faith.

4 – So, circumcision was not the problem. A lack of repentance and faith (which results in obedience) was the problem.

5 – Baptism is the public witness of those who have repented and believed, mortified the flesh and received eternal life in Christ.

If you applied this correlation of circumcision with baptism to books on a shelf, you would only have one bookend. Paedobaptism is exactly why many books fall over in a nominalistic pile. You need the other bookend to keep the saints standing and accountable. The Covenant structure itself begins with the Call (Transcendence), which is followed by the Cut (Hierarchy), and it ends with accountability (Sanctions). Pastor Wilson himself has suggested a helpful “vow of affirmation” to publicly seal young adults who move away from the congregation to give them an accountability that extends beyond that which they have to their parents.

Baptism finished the process that circumcision began. People came out to hear John preach because the good Law had taught them the nature of sin. But all it could do was expose it, not kill it. Circumcision exposed. Baptism recovers those naked under the Law, those who have identified themselves with the crucifixion of Christ.

Now, modern run-of-the-mill baptists do have that vow of affirmation, the one given to us by Christ and the apostles, but they are failing to keep their children at church. Would paedobaptism really be of help here?

No. Their failure is not because their children are not “under Covenant.” They fail to use the thing that actually does correspond to circumcision under the New Covenant, and that is the faithful preaching of a well-rounded gospel to their children. The young people they baptize don’t often resemble those repentant Jews who came to hear John and be baptized. They have the qualifications right on paper, but still baptize the unqualified in many cases.

A New Covenant is, well, new

Although there is continuity between the Covenants, we must discern the difference between the New Covenant and the Old ones. What are the New Covenant Ethics (rules and regulations)?

Every “new Covenant” is a new set of tablets, supplied by God because we broke the old ones. As the Ethics are opened in history, we get Law-Testing-Law, which transforms the five-fold Covenant into seven-fold history (the matrix). We see this three-fold opening on Sinai with the golden calf. In the larger picture we see it in Leviticus/Numbers/Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a new set of tablets.

The blessings of the Sermon on the Mount correspond to Deuteronomy in Matthew’s first “cycle.” But in his larger scheme, we also get the New Covenant curses, the woes upon the Pharisees.

Where is child rearing mentioned here? Were those who obeyed the New Covenant promised physical seed and Land? No. Does this mean God will not give us physical seed and Land? No. But the New Covenant promised more lasting “children” and a more lasting Covenant Land.

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19:29

The New Covenant moves us beyond a physical Succession. It did so by cutting off the physical succession in Christ, and in the Temple. We are supposed to have faithful child rearing under our Covenant belts by now.

Baptism is for children, but New Covenant “children.” These are not sons and daughters of Christians but sons and daughters of God.

Baptists might not understand that a Covenant has Ethics to keep and Sanctions to fear/rejoice in, but they do understand that a New Covenant is a resurrected one that has put childish things away.

Both paedobaptism and credobaptism can fail due to a lack of sound gospel, but which rite is speaking the truth of the New Covenant? The latter. Credobaptism is a biblical rite that can be misapplied. Paedobaptism is an unbiblical rite because it is inherently a misuse. Sure, it can be a beautiful rite, but so can a gay wedding. It joins things together in a way that God never intended.

Credobaptists understand that the future of the Church is “out there” to be brought in. But they often fail to keep house and lose their ammo. Paedobaptists seem focussed on keeping house, breeding Christians, and lose the big picture. This is a false dichotomy.

Circumcision was profitable, but paedobaptism is not. As I have shown here previously, we can have all the benefits of paedobaptism without paedobaptism, and we can lose all the controversies and doctrinal distortions that it causes. It’s problematic and it’s entirely redundant.

To sum up, you can have your paedo and your baptism, but they are separate bookends that hold things together, like Law and Grace.

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