Another Gospel

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. [1] 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.

[1] 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.

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10 Responses to “Another Gospel”

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    My fundamental beef with credobaptism comes down to my children. One is retarded, one is very young and the other is a baby. They are all incapable of understanding and repeated propositional versions of the gospel. If at all logically consistent, credobaptism says they are damned until they do such. This doesn’t jive with “I will be God to you and your children after you.” Nowhere in Acts 2 does Peter tell the first Jews-become-Christian, “It used to be your children are saved and received the Sign of the Covenant, but no more.” If my children die before the Never-Mentioned-in-the-Bible-and-Magical Age of Accountability, or if they never reach that mental plateau, they are not lost.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Robert

    I have dealt with these points elsewhere on here (including the New Covenant definition of offspring) and I don’t buy the “age of accountability” either. I do understand your concerns, but the hope of your children is the gospel of Christ, not baptism. It’s the Bible that says we are damned until we do such. That’s the bottom line, and messing with it negates the gospel. We treat our kids like we are commanded to treat anyone who is yet “unregenerate”: the gospel, sacrificial love, and prayer. In FV thinking, even when they ARE baptized they might still fall away, so either way you must trust Christ for them. Baptism isn’t a salvation-humidicrib to keep them safe until they reach this “FV age of accountability.” For infants and the mentally handicapped, we rely on the mercy of God, and He is merciful. But that is up to Him.

    Thanks for commenting. It’s an honour to know you.

  • Pastor David Deutsch Says:

    Mike, good stuff and I wish Baptists went in the direction that you have. We could certainly have a lot more fun and be more effective as a Church. I have much to respond to here but just one thought on this your thought: “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.”

    A mighty strong claim my friend so a question to ya. Can an infant Scripturally be identified with Christ by the Spirit and thus baptized? Are we Frankenstein here too?

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks David
    It comes down to the work of the Spirit, or, more succinctly, what is the FIRST work of the Spirit? The first work is always conviction of sin, a cutting by the law-edge of the gospel. Our children are “sanctified”, that is, set apart, for the HEARING of the gospel. But this is not what baptism is for. Baptism is for when they respond, hopefully as early as possible.

  • Simon Kennedy Says:

    Nice work, Mike. I’ve been tossing and turning over baptism for quite some time. I’m a postmillennialist (you’ll be pleased to know. Quite recently converted from an being an ignorant premillenialist.) The issues I’ve been wrestling with are the covenantal shape of God’s plan for the world, and what it means for the sacraments. In other words, I’ve been trying to work out how to be a covenantal Baptist.

    The import which paedobaptists place on the rite is great, and so I’m pleased to be reading that you place the same import on it, but in a credobaptistic way. I also finally get what you’ve been saying to Wilson’s posts – the covenant people are first marked out by the hearing/believing of the gospel (the blood of the New Covenant), and then marked out by baptism as a sign of their entrance into the covenant. It’s not just some schmoe saying ‘I believe!’ and the pastor saying ‘OK, lets dunk in water you because you’ve said you believe!’. It’s a sign for the covenant people of the faithfulness of their covenant Head, who by baptism is investing them with the gospel.


  • Mike Bull Says:

    Yep – that’s it. I hope to flesh, er, spirit, this out a bit more very shortly.

  • Chris W Says:


    Great post, much to think about. Here are some points to ponder:

    1) The next generation waited until they were about to enter the promised land before being circumcised. There was another ‘circumcision’ corresponding to the conquest of the land (Joshua 5). Hence both baptism and circumcision can signify resurrection (conquest) as well as death (passover).

    2) “Also, we have moved from blood and bloodline to faith and Spirit.”

    I would argue that parenthood is more of a spiritual category, especially when adoption gets involved. I’m not convinced by the ‘human government’ argument, I do think that babies can be mediators (in a sense) and I think that we govern corporately, not just as individuals.

    3) Whereas you see baptism connected to maturity in a direct sense, I (probably along with the other FV chaps) see it as the start of a process of maturity, as a means of maturity. Romans 6 links the ‘new life’ resurrection of baptism with growth in spiritual maturity.

    Would love to know how you’d respond to these, especially given that you have a far better grasp of biblical theology/structure than myself.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Chris

    Good thoughts, but you wonderful FV gents seem to have trouble thinking outside the FV idea of Covenant. My whole point was that when it comes to our children, just like anyone else, the first contact must be the gospel. Whether the child is ours by birth or adoption, they are already “under Covenant” because Christ is glorified at the right hand of the Father. It is not our duty to place them under some vow they are not aware of, but to preach the gospel to them.

    We govern corporately, but the entire point of the New Covenant is that, as individuals, we are of one mind. There is most definitely a middle ground, or marriage, between modern individualism and FV objectivism, and it is New Covenant believers.

    The Bible does place baptism into the process of maturity — one who has been tested and is ready to begin to govern for others. It does not the begin the process. The gospel begins the process. Baptism means we are qualified to preach the gospel to others.

    I hope that helps.
    Thanks for you comments!

  • Chris W Says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your reply, I like your answers. I have one more question though.

    Would you agree with the FV types that baptism is fundamentally about union with Christ (as per Romans 6, colossians 2) rather than just priestly ministry? Of course, it is about priestly ministry, but the bible suggests more than that. Do you believe that we receive the Spirit through baptism, as per Acts 2:38-39 et al?

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Union with Christ is the willingness of the bride to follow him through death to partake in His resurrection. It means witness/martyrdom. She hears his voice, but must willingly witness and die (either symbolically or physically) to see His face. That’s what we see going on in the Revelation – with the Firstfruits saints, robed in white. Not a baby in sight. Baptism has nothing whatsoever to do with infants. It is for those who publicly witness to Christ.