The Baptized Body – 3

“At every paedobaptism,
earthly kingdom trumps heavenly priesthood,
and the blood of the prophet Abel cries from the ground.”

Chapter 1 continued

See the Baptism links page for all articles in this series.

The Social Contract

Dr Leithart continues by pining for the Middle Ages, the days when baptism defined both religious and civil membership for every member of society, both great and small, men and women, adults and infants. He states that the Anabaptist idea that baptism was a purely religious rite was “novel and revolutionary.” Perhaps it was novel in the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t new. We must ask, what inspired it? The answer is not history or tradition but the Scriptures. I have come to understand the relationship between Church and State from other writings of Jordan and Leithart, so I don’t understand Leithart’s failure to apply those definitions here.

The domain of the Church has always been the heart and the mind and the home, the source of all behavior. The Church deals with those things which are hidden from the public eye, things which are unseen but nonetheless real. The domain of the State is those things which are seen: lawmaking, provision of food and shelter, public acts of lawlessness, wars with other states. These two domains are Priesthood and Kingdom, in that order.

Submission to God deals with the “insides” of men, and when men will not submit to God, God uses the rulers He has put in place to bring such men in submission to men who are submitted to God. If the kings become unrighteous (as all Gentile kings were before the priesthood of Christ), then God raises up prophets from the Church to speak to them and bring even these men into submission to God. If the roles of Church and State are conflated, the Church by definition cannot have this prophetic power, and this is frequently the case. If Samuel must answer to Saul, or Nathan to David, rather than directly to God as His emissary, then Samuel and Nathan have no authority and therefore nothing to say to the king. Prophets come from God’s table (where they listen) to the king’s table where they speak.

Now, when Israel received the Law of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron, she was a nation cut off from other nations. It was for the purpose of creating a Church-State, a microcosmic world. Church and State were administered by the Levite brothers and their qualified helpers. This is why it is impossible to untangle Israel’s “religious laws” from her “secular laws.” Israel was a nation whose king was God, and whose people were all to be blameless sacrifices on behalf of all nations.

Things developed when Israel desired “a king like the nations.” But Israel could not have “a king like the nations,” whose kings answered only to themselves (paying lip service to their gods). This would work fine when Israel’s king behaved like the Son of God. But Israel’s kings, like Cain, usurped the authority of their priestly brothers. When this more defined Church-State relationship was corrupted, God sent His prophets and eventually dismantled the entire nation, which leads us to my point. When Israel was finally “resurrected” under Ezra-Nehemiah and Zechariah-Haggai, the nature of the new nation was prophetic. She was now a Church whose members served as witnesses throughout the Gentile state (the oikoumene) in which they had been scattered. Adult Jews were citizens and they were prophets. But of course not all citizens were prophets, were they?

Just as the reunion of North and South as “Judaism” led to adult Jews becoming prophetic witnesses, so an even greater reunion, that of Jew and Gentile, led to the establisment of a Jew-Gentile body of prophetic witnesses, which in this case were called Christians. Citizenship still tied all men, women and children to the laws of the oikoumene, but with the coming of the Spirit, the old wineskin of circumcision was thrown away. There was no longer any need for a sign that represented the curse upon the Land and the womb, because the blessing to all nations had come.

I hope you can understand the progression, the process of maturity, here. It is beautiful. The Restoration era was a sort of halfway house between the Old Covenant and the New. The progression was 1) Church-State, 2) Church and State, 3) Churches in every State, for the purpose of 4) Every State in the Church.

So, to tie “religious membership” to civil membership is to confuse heaven and earth. To link baptism with the borders of any particular state is to say that Jesus is not the king of all nations, all states. In Israel, this would have been like limiting circumcision to the offspring of Levi. Circumcision was “statewide,” the blood border between Israel and the other nations. The “water border” was the boundary of the priestly and prophetic body within the state of Israel. These two were never conflated, as Leithart does here.

“Whatever their political allegiances, Christians who baptize babies implicitly confess that religion and society are inseparable.” (p. 8 )

And they also bind the Church to the government of the day, and define “Christian” as natural rather than supernatural, someone who is to “hear” from God rather than “speak” for God. This is not how the New Testament defines the Church. When Moses expressed his desire for all the Lord’s people to be prophets, he was not desiring that all of them should receive some special new unisex Covenant sign. He was impatient for the kind of Covenant witnesses that could only come after the pouring out of the Spirit.

Religion and society are most certainly inseparable, as the flesh of a man is inseparable from his spirit while he is alive. But each has its domain. Physical maturity and spiritual maturity are not the same thing, as witnessed in Eden.

What is the blood border today? In a sense, there is none, but in another sense, it includes all human bloods. All men everywhere are now called to repent. What is the water border? Credobaptism, the sign of repentance. All the Lord’s people are prophets, or, to put it another way, the prophets are the Lord’s people among the nations. Prophets have never known any boundaries. Conflating Church and State membership confuses the speakers with the hearers.

Based on this misunderstanding, Leithart then asserts that our modern views of baptism have been distorted by political individualism. He sees baptism as a sort of “carry all” for those under the authority of the Gospel. He misses the point that the entire world is now under the authority of the Gospel. God is no respecter of persons. All nations are under the New Covenant, men, women and children, so paedobaptism is redundant. Whatever paedobaptists hope to achieve with this rite has already been achieved in Christ for every human on the planet.

But credobaptism is by its very nature individualistic. Why is this a problem? In the same way that we differentiate between circumcision and baptism, or between citizenship and prime ministership. Circumcision and citizenship put one under the Law. It is for the purpose of instruction, a time of ethical childhood. Baptism and any kind of ministry make one a minister of the Law. The Law has done its work, and baptism or swearing-in make one a representative of that Law. We see the same process in microcosm between the time when Israel was “under the angelic sword” in Egypt, and wielding that sword in Jericho as God’s representatives. And further back, in Eden, it seems the plan was for Adam to carry the flaming sword out of the Garden into the Land as God’s representative, rather than being exiled by the sword in the hands of angels. In both cases, the process began with a single angelic sword over a “corporate flesh,” and ended with a new kind of body, a body made of individuals who all wielded an individual sword. Likewise, Israel’s “baptism” through the Red Sea was a single event, a baptism of “one natural flesh.” That is why it included their children. New Covenant baptism is for the purpose of giving every warrior a sword. The Church is a swarm of armed angels who “ev-angel-ize” with the testimony of Jesus.

Thus, to conflate citizenship with religious membership is to make a dog’s breakfast of the way in which the Church (vertical mediation) and State (horizontal mediation) have always been designed to work. It is to say that no mediator, no ambassador, no Christ, is required between heaven and earth, and every member of a Christian state is a “saint” and has prophetic authority. This is gross error. Thankfully, as Dr Leithart wistfully observes, “we are all Anabaptists now.” He writes:

“Anabaptists … aimed to uncouple religious and political affairs and undermine the foundational structure of Christendom.” (p. 8 )

I believe he has misread the situation. Whatever their other errors, the Anabaptists “uncoupled” a whoring church from a beast who desired to mix his natural seed with her supernatural sons. At every paedobaptism, earthly kingdom trumps heavenly witness, and the blood of Abel cries from the ground.

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12 Responses to “The Baptized Body – 3”

  • Chris W Says:

    But if baptism is only for adults (implied by what you said regarding the restoration era), then why does Jesus teach us in Matthew 28 that baptism is for all nations (including children)?

  • Mike Bull Says:

    This was before Pentecost. The Gospel had gone to the Jews, now it was to go to the Gentiles. No Jewish babies were baptized, so it stands to reason that no Gentile babies would be baptized either. The only possible indication that children might be included is in Acts 2, but the best interpretation is the one which accords with both Covenant history and everything else we know about baptism. The new Israel would not be “one flesh” baptized in a single event, but individuals baptized in many separate events as each responded to the Gospel. Baptism and discipleship go together in Matthew 28, and discipleship is a response:

    Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (ESV) Matthew 16:24

    Time to throw away that blurry old pseudobaptism lens!

  • Chris W Says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your response. Whilst going through Leithart’s book has its uses, the book is not really about paedobaptism, but baptismal efficacy (much like his dissertation – “Priesthood of the Plebs”). The book simply assumes the truth of paedobaptism. It would be better to see you engage with a work like “The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism” edited by Gregg Strawbridge. That book was the one which first convinced me of infant baptism. I think you have examined most if not all of the most relevant biblical texts in your baptism posts though (I have read and considered all of your posts on this topic), so it might be a bit repetitive – but it would be a good systematic presentation.

    Do you really mean that baptism is only for adults (men and women of age 20 and above) or do you mean anyone who responds to the gospel and wants to minister to others (of any age)?

    “And He took them [infants] up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16)

    “And He led them [disciples] out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” (Luke 24:50)

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Chris.
    I haven’t read that book but am aware of it and read bits of it online. I heard a debate on the issue between Gregg and somebody else. The lynchpin for Gregg is the assumption that the New Covenant is between God and His people rather than between God and all people. It’s the same mistake (conflating water and blood, priesthood and nation/s) every time. It’s an easy mistake to make but these are the guys with the biblical architecture under their belts. And it seems that every time they misunderstand circumcision as a sign upon children rather than a sign upon males. Saying “the faithful received a Covenant sign” is a lie. They take the New Covenant and turn it into a new Judaism. And then preach sermons on Galatians! They claim to use the OT as evidence for the practice but they misunderstand what the purpose of circumcision was. And they misunderstand what circumcision was because they read their misunderstandings about baptism back into it. What gets me is that the solution to all their vituperative, verbose debates and court hearings is so simple. The mud slinging would stop if they just went and washed in the Jordan.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    “And He took them [infants] up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16)

    “And He led them [disciples] out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” (Luke 24:50)

    The disciples were also given the power to curse and bless others (binding and loosing) as mediators. The infants were merely recipients of a blessing. And they were not baptized. The disciples were.

    Does any paedobaptist really believe that John was baptizing babies in the Jordan? There are so many problems with the theory behind this practice. It’s a string bag with no string.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    I didn’t answer your question – If it can be shown that paedobaptism is not efficacious, then there is no reason to do it. Plus, other paedobaptists don’t have Dr Leithart’s brain. They’re just parrots. And I need a challenge.

  • Chris W Says:

    Hi Mike,

    As far as I’m aware, all paedobaptists believe that John’s baptism was a household baptism as well, otherwise there would be quite an inconsistency going on (which I’m sure you’d agree with). Evidence for this view would stem from the fact that John was baptising “Jerusalem, Judea and all the region around the Jordan”, in other words, basically everyone in Israel except the pharisees and their followers.

    Regarding the book I referred to, it is only edited by Strawbridge. It has essays by many contributors, including Randy Booth, Peter Leithart, Doug Wilson etc. Not all of them are Federal Vision, so it’s interesting to see the differing perspectives, especially regarding Jeremiah 31. Peter Leithart’s essay is more of a sociological one though, and I can’t help but feel that his paedobaptism is inherently sociological rather than biblical, since I’ve never heard him defend it except by using sociology. But I could be wrong.

    Do you mind if I ask you some tough questions about baptism and the church? I’m really interested in what you think, coming from an FV/Credo hybrid position.

    1) What is “the Church”?
    2) Does the Church include credobaptised believers who will later apostasize (I know some of these)?
    3) Does the Church include believers (like Leithart) who have not been credobaptised?

    By the way, love your latest post!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Good questions, Chris. I’ll do my best…

    1) What is “the Church”?
    I believe it is the visible body of Christ, as Leithart argues, but a body of regenerate believers. Arguing that babies are conceived “regenerate” as Wilson does, or become regenerate at baptism, to maintain that visibility is no solution. See my latest post. A living sacrifice is flesh “walking around in the fire.” This is holy living, and it is visible. That’s the point of legal witness.

    2) Does the Church include credobaptised believers who will later apostasize (I know some of these)?

    So do we all. Faith and repentance put the believer into Christ (Head) and obedient baptism puts him/her into the Church (Body). Baptism is an act of submission and commission. If the submission to Christ and Church breaks down, then the baptismal vow is the legal reason the apostate can be excommunicated. What is excommunication? Putting the person back under the Gospel for the purpose of a new repentance. If one is excommunicated, one is no longer included in the Church. We are called to discern the spirits, which includes the spirits of men.

    3) Does the Church include believers (like Leithart) who have not been credobaptised?

    Certainly. Dr Leithart is regenerate. He is most definitely supernatural, a butterfly not a caterpillar. His Covenant witness/profession is testimony to that. I believe credobaptism is efficacious because God responds to the public vow of the believer, and pours out a new grace on the believer and on the Church (for their obedient faith), and also on unbelievers, because it causes them to fear. A paedobaptism doesn’t make anyone afraid. So sprinkled people are missing out on the beginning of their inheritance.

    And I would see the Federal Division, the mud slinging, as the outcome of an unwillingness in both sides to submit to the plain teaching of Scripture.

  • Chris W Says:

    So putting it all together…

    In your view, a “Christian” is someone who has made a confession of faith/repentance (ideally in a credobaptism) and is involved in the life of a Church in some way. This makes the “Church” a regenerate body, which nonetheless contains some unregenerate members whose deeds will give them away eventually. Is that correct?

    So do you buy the distinction between the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible’ church?

    Sorry to pester you about this. It’s important to me because Christians are people and people are what matter most of all to God. An unbaptised believer and an apostate – these are real people not just abstract ideas.

  • Mike Bull Says:


    I don’t care about people. All I care about is having a beautiful, logical system.

    No, I actually care about both Christians and non-Christians getting a handle on the Church’s mission as a legal witness of God’s love. Paedobaptism makes non-Christians into outsiders instead of targets.

    And that was a good question. You have a pastor’s heart! I’m growing one slowly but the Aspergers means I’m always to prone to say the wrong thing. And I’d probably end up kicking the sheep.

    And don’t worry, I love questions.

    Yes, you have it right. Christians serve among the nations as the prophets served among Israel’s tribes, and then within the empires.

    The saints are known by their perseverance, but I also believe that muddying the definition, “the call” of what it is to be a Christian (holy Jedi-Nazirite), makes it more difficult discern sometimes. There will always be a “gutter” between the true saints and the actual baptized, but the job is to see as God sees and deal with it as His agents through loving church discipline. Church discipline is where baptists fail (well, they seem to be failing on just about every issue really) so credobaptistic vows with no accountability to those vows makes the baptism a bit meaningless. And seeing Church discipline carried out (even if it’s not the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira) can bring revival among the saints. That’s why we need a credobaptistic Federal Vision!

    I don’t buy the ‘visible’/'invisible’ distinction but for different reasons to Dr Leithart. A regenerate person is, amazingly, flesh that is justified before God. In Christ, He now accepts human sacrifices because we are blameless. And sacrifices are not invisible. A Christian is a union of the invisible (heaven) and earth (visible). Baptism makes one a mediator between those domains (my favorite phrase is “Shekinah people” – the invisible God has moved into a visible house).

    So the Church is “the school of the prophets,” but one where everyone is welcome to attend, including our children, because all are under the obligation to Jesus that we have responded to. They are to see Him in us, the mind of Christ in His Body of priest-king-prophets, an army of Tabernacles, Booths.

  • Chris W Says:


    Thanks for your answers. It seems like you have more against the phrase ‘invisible church’ than you do against the concept of a not-yet-perfectly-identifiable regenerate body of believers. You’ve given me much to think about. I particularly like your focus on Jesus setting apart ‘all nations’. It helps me a lot when I teach the bible in Sunday School to a bunch of kids from both Christian and non-Christian backgrounds to think about that.

    But I’m afraid I am not a pastor, just another obsessive guy with aspergers!

    For me a pastoral heart grows from a deep intimacy with God and filling of the Holy Spirit. This is the most important thing I have learnt from the charismatic movement. A deep love of God will always lead to a profound love and pastoral heart for brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the main fruit of the Spirit’s work in us. And yet it’s so easy to forget!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Well said. The Word must become flesh.