Another Gospel – 2



Putting Your Water Where Your Mouth Is

Part 1 here.

Doug Wilson recently gave a good rundown on his own doctrinal journey over the years since he began pastoring. It’s well worth a read. But the thing that stuck in my mind was his reason for moving to the practice of paedobaptism. Since he had already become Reformed in his doctrine, another minister said he should “put his water where his mouth is.” I know it was a call to consistency, but to me it highlights how the conflation of the Covenant sign with parenting allows baptism to usurp the place of preaching. It’s putting water where your mouth ought to be.

The big question is this: does God make our infants (or anyone else, for that matter) His own sons and daughters in their baptism? It was possible to be a child of Israel by birth, but is it possible to be regenerate without repentance and faith? Or must we make a distinction between this “adoption by baptism” and the adoption that occurs when one repents and believes after hearing the gospel–a “two-caste” system?

Someone took me to task for calling FV paedobaptism a “Frankenstein” doctrine (although it could be argued that I am myself the monstrous hybrid of Biblical Horizons typology and baptistic thinking…)

Readers of this blog know that I don’t ever attack people, but all ideas are on the table. And I think any doctrine that is as contested as this one is fair game. My assertion that the FV “story” of what happens at infant baptism is an invention was based on previous posts concerning baptism. I made it pretty clear that I understand why this story came about: Reimpowering the doctrine of baptism, which is a good thing, but trying to fit it into a container that is too small, a container defined by the Old Covenant focus on genealogy.

The argument in my original post (which in hindsight could have been communicated more clearly) is that a baptism tied to natural offspring cannot in practice be postmillennial. A practice tied to one family, or one tribe, or even one nation, is going to be seen as a carnal distinction. By its very nature it divides flesh, tribes, nations and empires rather than uniting them. This is a fundamental problem with the Federal Vision.

I know the phrase “Another Gospel” refers to heretics, and it was deliberately inflammatory. But in reality the Federal Vision is preaching two gospels.

Mistaken Identity

Can an infant be “identified with Christ” in baptism? It depends on what we mean by “identified.” I have a friend who is getting baptized this weekend. Her mother is happy about her going to church, but she is reluctant to tell her that she is getting baptized. Why is this? It’s because she is identifying herself with the Church, and not simply attending. She’s no longer a Jesus groupie. She’s joined the band. She’s wearing the uniform. That’s how one is identified with Jesus. One picks up one’s cross and follows Him. You don’t put on the uniform till you’ve signed up.

Jesus begins His call to discipleship with an “if.” If you want to be my disciple. But isn’t the Covenant objective, something that done to us? Yes, baptism is objective. God puts you into the church. But it is also subjective, a response. That is the two-way nature of relationship. The New Covenant sign is two-way because it is Bridal. Circumcision could be entirely objective because a sentence of death requires no response besides passivity. The Old Covenant was about the birth of the Son, His betrothal, and His “growing up” (boys and men). The New Covenant is about His marriage (men and women). And what kind of children does Jesus have? They are not children according to the flesh.

“Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” (Hebrews 2:13)

The view is held that a “Christian identity” is given in baptism, and the infant is then called to be faithful to their new identity. Is that what we see in the Scriptures? If identification is in any way hereditary, one ends up with a ghetto, which explains why Presbyterian churches are so multi-cultural (not). [1] Multiculturalism is only possible in Christ, where baptism is a deliberate leaving behind of heredity. Paedobaptism in practice unwittingly attempts to tie Spirit to human genealogies. But genealogies of flesh ended with the Temple. [2]

In theory, paedobaptism identifies one with Christ. But in practice, all it does is publicly identifies one’s heredity.

Identification with Israel was an entirely different animal to identification with Christ. The first was about the one becoming many (a nation of flesh passing through the sea as one). The second is about the many becoming one (individuals passing willingly through baptism, as individuals, but united in Spirit). It is type and antitype, but they are different. If they aren’t different, there is no progress, no maturation, which is what Biblical Horizons is all about. (If BH typology is taken to its logical conclusions, we must be baptists!)

Who is in school?

This FV identity is a call to hear the gospel, to believe it, and to obey it. This is similar to the “identity” given to Israel in circumcision (which was not about infants but about males).

Well, this identity is entirely redundant. The whole world now has this identity, because there is no longer Jew or Gentile. Setting apart our children under “Covenant obligations” unwittingly sews the veil in the Temple back together and reinstitutes the kind of “carnal” identity symbolized by circumcision. Circumcision was about who was in school. Israel was in school, under the angels. But Christ was cut off for all nations. Now all nations are in school. There is no need for a genealogical sign. We don’t have to do anything to infants at all.

Baptism is not about who is in school. Baptism is about who can teach, who can mediate. Who are the teaching angels now? The baptized, led by the head teachers, the ministers. That’s what robes mean: authority. The claim by some that all baptisms are infant baptisms confounds the process of maturity. Circumcision put Israel under legislative angelic guardians. Baptism makes us self-legislating (ev)angelic guardians (by the Spirit). You can only give “baptized” babies so many superpowers before someone ridicules your doctrine. Solution? Yes, reimpower baptism, but as credobaptism. Then everything falls into place.

The purpose of baptism is not to mark people out who are under the sound of the gospel. The gospel does that with no help from us, by the power of the Spirit, who convicts us of sin. Using paedobaptism to make people “Christians” in place of preaching makes paedobaptism another gospel. It pits the pulpit against the font, each telling a different story. The church furniture becomes a forked tongue concerning what a Christian is.

The Family Cell

The Federal Vision sees the family unit as crucial to Covenant. This Covenantal focus on the family is sorely needed. The basic Covenantal cell is the family, after all. But God is building a body. Even under the Old Covenant, circumcision did not set apart each family. Sure, it began with a single family, but the family grew into tribes, then an army, then settled as a nation. So, even circumcision was not a “family” sign. It designated a single genealogy of many families. The one became many. The sign transcended the basic unit without erasing it. Our skin transcends the basic unit without erasing our cell walls.

The family is still a Covenantal institution, but there are greater layers of Covenant. Baptism is the outer layer. Applying it to the family “cell” instead of using it as a robe for the Body is not the solution for the breakdown of family. It muddies the definition of “Christian.”

The Old Testament makes a big deal about “seed.” Does this focus come into the New Covenant without any transformation? No. The seed was Christ, and He is now in heaven. The only physical genealogy that mattered ended in the first century. And the only succession that matters now is the one made possible by the gospel, which makes it impossible for Satan to cut off.

Does this erase our responsibility to raise godly children? No. But baptism isn’t a sign upon the children; it is the sign of Covenant responsibility. More importantly, what we see in the New Testament is that baptism is the sign of a responsibility that doesn’t concern physical seed much at all.

The Church’s responsibility of converting the nations is possible through the fertility given her by the Spirit. The family is federal, but the New Covenant has defined a family of Spirit without wiping out the families of flesh. Baptism is for the “federal family of Spirit.”

You and Your Children

Yes, Acts 2:38 says the gospel was a promise that included the children. But the promise there is pretty clear, and it had conditions: repent and believe. The context is also clear: it is first century, and judgment was coming. The children in view here were the last generation to whom the promise to Abraham applied. Families are not in view here as far as I can see. It concerns the children of Abraham in Jerusalem and scattered abroad. It was a message to a “generate” people, not a “re-generate” one. That window of opportunity ended in AD70, 40 years later.

What about us, post AD70? Are children shut out of the New Covenant promise? Not if they repent and believe. It’s a different promise, a better one. So we preach the gospel to them. We are not to be a physical genealogy that is set apart. It sends the wrong message to the world around us and it gets us looking inward instead of outward. Old Israel gathered expectantly around the womb. New Israel celebrates around the tomb. An egg and a cocoon are very different things. One is creational, the other is transformational. Paedobaptism celebrates the wrong event.

The New Testament’s silence on the status of children does not mean that the Covenant sign should still be applied to infants. There is silence because the status of Old Covenant Israel is now the status of all nations. The only distinction now is those under the Gospel, and those who are ministering it. Baptism marks the difference.

Hear, Turn, See

Yes, the change from Old to New is radical. The flesh has been dealt with. The whole world is now circumcised in Christ, set apart and under His voice. All nations are now under the gospel and commanded to repent. And baptized saints work as priests within that world.

One might argue that if baptism is to be tied to regeneration, mistakes will be made. Well, the saints are called to be wise and to discern the spirits, closing the gap between mere profession and life using church discipline. Excommunication is thus a “closing of the gap” between the unbeliever’s legal status with God and their mistaken legal status with the Church. Baptism is a “Body” judgment.

But paedobaptism systematizes, or institutionalizes, the gap. It begins with a gap, expecting a gap, and thereby usurps the place of the gospel.

The apostles baptized with confidence, based on professions. And if they got it wrong, they resorted to church discipline. That is where baptists fail — the church discipline.

Baptism is a response. It is the response of the Bride to the call of the Bridegroom. Salvation comes when she hears Him. Baptism is the first step towards seeing Him. This is exactly the process we see in the Revelation. We see it in John, who hears, turns and sees. And then we see it in the Firstfruits Church, who hears, turns (repents) and sees. To see Him, she  follows Him and dies her own death as a witness.

The Baptistic Iceberg

Structurally, the Bible consistently ties baptism to the robe of office. My other arguments might be old hat baptist ones, but I believe the Old Testament typology doesn’t favor paedobaptism at all. It backs up the old hat baptist ones with a freight train of structure.

The robe is always given around Maturity/Conquest. It follows Testing. You get the robe when you stop listening to the beast, and repeat the Words from God which you have now digested and can witness to others.

This means we have hundreds of instances in the Old Testament which structurally, and architecturally, and sacrificially, and creationally, match up with where New Covenant Scriptures place baptism both corporately and personally in the process. There’s an enormous baptistic iceberg beneath the waterline, and baptists themselves don’t know about it.


The Meaning of White

The harvest was white. A white harvest is a mature harvest. The saints were robed in white. There is not a child in sight. There are men and women. We put the water where the mouths are, the mouths opened in brave public witness for Christ.

Baptism is not the gospel. Tying it to the hereditary opportunity to hear the gospel makes it another gospel, and it means we have to make stuff up about what actually happens when it is applied to those who have not heard.

Baptism is personal submission to the Body of Christ. Baptism is for those who have already heard and turned to Christ. As we rise from the water, as Jesus did, it pictures, it promises, the moment when we will rise and see Him face to face because we have obeyed the call to identify with Him, the call to come and die.

[1] See In The Ghetto.
[2] See An Atheist Gets Baptism.

Pic: The “Carousel” from Logan’s Run. “In the year 2274, the remnants of human civilization live in a sealed domed city, a utopia run by a computer that takes care of all aspects of their life, including reproduction. The citizens live a mostly hedonistic lifestyle but have been told that in order to maintain the city, every resident must undergo the ritual of “Carousel” at the age of 30, where they are vaporized but with the promise of being “Renewed”. To track this, the humans are implanted at birth with a Lifeclock crystal in the palm of their hand that changes colors as they approach their “Last Day”. To maintain order, the computer has assigned several humans as Sandmen (policemen), who chase after and terminate Runners (those that try to leave the city in order to escape Carousel).”

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4 Responses to “Another Gospel – 2”

  • Joe Rigney Says:


    As a baptist who gets the logic of the paedo position, this is helpful. I’m still feeling the tension between how we parent (treat our children as Christians so that they become Christians) and excluding them from the font and the table. I’m attracted to something you wrote previously about the Covenant as a shelter. Our children are like the birds nesting in the branches of the kingdom tree. So I guess I have three questions (not true, I have more, but I’ll restrain myself):

    1. Are the children of believers different in some sense (any sense?) from the children of unbelievers (I’m thinking 1 Cor 7 here)? Are they “little pagans”? Or are they covenant children?

    2. At what approximate age would you say baptism is appropriate? Old school baptists would wait until children were adults (16-18). I’ve been more inclined to the position that we should baptism our children young, when they make a basic confession. The challenge is that my two year old is making a basic confession (“What’s the Bible about?” “Jesus kills the dragon and gets the girl.” So how does God save us? “By grace.” So what should we do? “Trust Jesus and his cross.”) It seems to me that your understanding of baptism would place you in the Old School camp.

    3. Practically, how do you regard young children. Do you call them “Christians”? Do you say “we” believe in Jesus? And if so, why would you withhold baptism from them? And how would you communicate that to them so as to avoid a devastating form of rigorism, in which they learn that belief in Jesus isn’t “enough” to be baptized (and thus we teach them to doubt, instead of teaching them to believe)?


  • Matt C. Says:


    I’ve been pulling ideas together for a book that combines a Baptist perspective and Federal Vision theology, but you’re already there. Go ahead and write it.

  • Matt McKendrick Says:

    Mike, thanks for this series of posts. There are many elements of FV theology that I find attractive, but I’ve never found their arguments for paedobaptism convincing. Your thoughts have been very helpful.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks for the comments, gents.

    Matt C.

    There will be a book!


    I’m open to ideas on when to baptize. We baptized our kids around 10 years old. It’s what was going at the time. And it seems to have worked OK. Their faith is strong. Even baptists have no business baptizing kids who haven’t been “trained” by the gospel. Also, by then they had seen enough baptisms, and watched Communion enough to know that inclusion there required something beyond their heredity. They never felt left out, and it meant much more once they were included.

    The thing that makes our kids different is not baptism but the gospel. The Spirit is convicting them of sin. So that doesn’t make them Christians, but it doesn’t make them pagans either. It makes them children of the first Adam. If there is such a thing as an unrepentant, unregenerate “Covenant child,” it is a child under the gospel, not under the vows that come with salvation. The family is one Covenant, the church is quite another. This allows the Church to include all families, tribes, nations and races.

    On the last question, I’d see it as a kind of knighthood, or coming of age (like the Jewish robe). Before baptism, they were accountable to the Church through their parents. After their baptism, they answer directly, and are open to discipline by the Church (obviously this all takes a lot of wisdom case by case). So, there’s certainly a grey area, but we had no doubts about our kids’ faith by that stage. A robe is a symbol of authority. Circumcision was about who could come in. Baptism is about who can go out. If kids are helping out with ministry in the Church, they should have church authority, and so be baptized.

    But as I said, still open to ideas. I’m not a pastor, but I do have kids. Baptism shouldn’t tell kids they are inherently special. Baptism tells them Jesus is special. And on top of all this, for some strange reason a credobaptism is a lot more fun, and a much greater blessing for the saints.