or Paedobaptism vs. Postmillennialism
The word regeneration is often used to describe conversion, but in Scripture it is understood as a process. God calls, cleanses, instructs, clothes, feeds and commissions us. I believe this fact is, however, abused by paedobaptists, who seem to me to be prone to throw the actual “watershed” of conversion out with their baby bath water.
Calvin writes: “We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made, but that regeneration is only begun and goes on making progress during the whole of life. Accordingly, sin truly remains in us, and is not instantly in one day extinguished by baptism, but as the guilt is effaced it is null in regard to imputation.”
With this I wholeheartedly agree. Within the process of regeneration there is a continued process of repentance. Yet, as we read through the Old Testament and become familiar with the methods of God, it should become clear that there is always a watershed, a “Day of Atonement” which cuts into history, buries the past and secures the future, all by Covenant.
As I’ve written elsewhere here, the Federal Vision attempts to import all the gravity of biblical baptism into a distorted shadow of the rite. What they are importing is the truth. What they are cramming it into is an errant practice that cannot contain this truth without contradicting the gospel.
I don’t believe any of these theologians misunderstand the gospel. For instance, Doug Wilson was invited to speak at one of John Piper’s events because “He gets the gospel.” I believe Pastor Wilson gets the gospel better than most baptists. So, what is my problem?
My problem is that infant baptism is not consistent with the gospel, and is actually foreign to the process of regeneration. At the shallow end, it sends a “double-minded” message to the world. At the deep end, it rides against the most fundamental structures of the Bible.
I’m a postmillennialist. I believe the New Covenant will succeed, in history, because all God’s people are now prophets and witnesses. We are still being regenerated, even as we take part in regenerating humanity, yet the New Testament puts a watershed at the beginning of this mediatorial ministry for each person.
Old Covenant Israel’s “watershed” wasn’t water, it was blood. They were a distinct people, a genealogy set apart (sanctified) for a special purpose. Though there were prophets and witnesses within Israel, the people itself was not “converted” in a New Covenant way. The Old Covenant became obsolete by design. Israel was meat set apart, lifted up, placed on the Altar and awaiting the fire of the Spirit to cleanse her. The Old Covenant is a history of knives.
The antignostic direction of the Federal Vision is commendable. Before I read these authors I didn’t even understand what gnosticism was. They teach that the Church is the flesh and blood Body of Christ. But their adherence to the practice of paedobaptism causes a severe misunderstanding of this rediscovered truth. Baptism identifies us with Christ, joins us to Christ’s Body, includes us in and puts us under the authority of the Covenant. But the “water” boundary is never the first contact with the outside world as it comes in. The first boundary is always blood.
For the paedobaptist, the “blood” boundary is not a cutting of the heart. The blood boundary is the genealogy of the parent/s. It’s the wrong blood. The first contact with unregenerate flesh is not the water of baptism. The first contact is the knife of the gospel, the Old Covenant history, all Israel, honed into One Single Event, a shattered Jew stretched out on a Gentile frame.
Faith comes by hearing. The Federal Vision’s act of reviving a gutsy, biblical baptism is wonderful, but conferring this “sainthood” upon infants manufactures another gospel, a carnal one that is in conflict with the true gospel they preach. They preach the gospel from the pulpit, but preach another gospel at the font. It’s just not apparent because they don’t carry this baptism to its logical conclusion. But their enemies do.
The Old Covenant was never going to succeed in bringing the nations–the Greater Bride–into the House of God. The house was not yet clean. There was a continual need for blood, and circumcision drew a line, in blood, in the sand. Paedobaptism does exactly the same thing. It draws a line around flesh that is set apart, awaiting the fire of the Spirit. The claim that an infant can be identified with Christ by the Spirit in baptism is a sophistry made up out of whole cloth. It’s an ugly, man-made Frankenstein of a doctrine that has no basis in Scripture.
The move towards a new understanding of the Church as the City of God on earth is just what the Church needs. But paedobaptists, who lead in this area, are hamstrung by this practice. They preach the process, but they misunderstand the process. Yes, the Church throughout history has been and will always be flesh and blood, but it is now Spirit-filled flesh and blood. This is where all the types in the Old Testament butt horns with paedobaptism. The cleansed lepers were obedient lepers.
The New Covenant people is a nation of chosen, qualified, Covenant-administering mediators, of angels. The “Covenant boundary” of this city is not the water of baptism. It is an ear willingly bored by the gospel, a heart cut by the gospel, a head bowed in submission to a Church invested with the gospel, and a converted man, woman or child who is then invested with the gospel in baptism. The “first contact” is the hearing of the gospel, and baptism is not the gospel.  The disempowered paedobaptism of most paedobaptists doesn’t claim to be the gospel. But the reimpowered baptism of the Federal Vision is, in practice, another gospel, because it is administered to those who do not qualify.
Paedobaptism and postmillennialism are incompatible. The goal is not a world under the sound of the gospel, marked out by a misapplied baptism. The world is already marked out by the blood of Christ. That is the first contact. The goal is a world converted by the gospel, with the converts marked out by baptism.
I’m not against the Federal Vision theologians. This is my way of cheering them on. The simple fact is that they haven’t gone far enough.
 When it comes to church discipline, is such discipline a call to baptism? No, it’s a call to hear the gospel and repent. The gospel is the first contact.