The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism
Gregg Strawbridge, Editor
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.
All Saints' Presbyterian Church, Lancaster, PA, Pastor
About the Contributors
Introduction: Autobiography of a Paedobaptist Convert
A Pastoral Overview of Infant Baptism
Matthew 28:18-20 and the Institution of Baptism
Unto You, and to Your Children
Joel R. Beeke and Ray B. Lanning
The Oikos Formula
Jonathan M. Watt
Baptism and Circumcision as Signs and Seals
Mark E. Ross
The Mode of Baptism
The Newness of the New Covenant
Jeffrey D. Niell
Infant Baptism in the New Covenant
Covenant Theology and Baptism
Cornelis P. Venema
Infant Baptism in the Reformed Confessions
Lyle D. Bierma
Infant Baptism in History: An Unfinished Tragi-Comedy
Peter J. Leithart
The Polemics of Anabaptism: Antipaedobaptism from the Reformation Period Onward
Baptism and Children: Their Place in the Old and New Testaments
In Jesus' Name, Amen
R.C. Sproul, Jr.
About the Contributors
Gregg Strawbridge (Ph.D., University of Southern Mississippi) is the pastor of All Saints' Presbyterian Church (CRE), Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is the director of WordMp3.com, an online audio library, and has held adjunct professor appointments at Columbia International University, William Carey College, and the University of Southern Mississippi. He is the author of several articles, booklets, and reviews, including Classical and Christian Education and Infant Baptism: Does the Bible Teach It?.Bryan Chapell (Ph.D., Southern Illinois University) of is President and Professor of Practical Theology of Covenant Theological Seminary (PCA). He began teaching at Covenant Seminary in 1984 after ten years in pastoral ministry. He is the author of Christ-Centered Preaching, Standing Your Ground, In the Grip of Grace, Using Illustrations to Preach with Power, Each for the Other, The Wonder of It All and many articles.
Daniel M. Doriani (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is Professor of New Testament and Dean of Faculty of Covenant Theological Seminary (PCA).
He serves as Theologian in Residence at Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. His publications include
Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and
Practice of Biblical Application, Life of a God-Made Man, Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible, David the Anointed, and a
number of articles.
Joel R. Beeke (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and editor of Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth. He has written numerous books, most recently Truth that Frees: A Workbook on Reformed Doctrine for Young Adults, A Reader's Guide to Reformed Literature, Puritan Evangelism, and The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of Calvin and His Successors.
Mark Ross (Ph.D., University of Liverpool) is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina (ARP). He serves as an adjunct professor at Columbia Biblical Seminary.
Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is President and Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He author of many articles and several books, Root & Branch, William Perkins and the Development of Puritan Preaching, The Lord's Day, as well as a contributor to Whatever Happened to the Reformation?, Onward Christian Soldiers, Did God Create in Six Days?, Written for our Instruction: The Sufficiency of Scripture for All of Life, and Sanctification: Growing in Grace.
Jeffrey D. Niell (M.A., Fuller Theological Seminary) is the pastor of Emmanuel Covenant Church (CRE), a presbyterian church in Phoenix, Arizona. He has co-authored The Same Sex Controversy.Jonathan M. Watt (Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) served for eighteen years as pastor of Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America congregations, in New Kensington, PA, Cambridge, MA and Beaver Falls, PA. He is currently Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Geneva College (Beaver Falls, PA) and Adjunct Professor of Biblical and Historical Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Pittsburgh, PA). He is the author of one book and various papers and articles in the area of biblical sociolinguistics.
Lyle D. Bierma (Ph.D., Duke University) is Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan (CRC). He also serves as editor of the Calvin Theological Journal. His most recent publications are German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus and The Doctrine of the Sacraments in the Heidelberg Catechism. He is an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Cornelis P. Venema (Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary) is President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, Indiana. He serves as a co-editor of the Mid-America Journal of Theology and as an associate pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois. He is the author of But for the Grace of God: An Exposition of the Canons of Dort, What We Believe: An Exposition of the Apostle's Creed, The Promise of the Future, and has forthcoming a study of Heinrich Bullinger's doctrine of predestination.Richard Pratt (Th.D., Harvard University) chairs the Old Testament Department at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida. He is the author several books, including Pray with Your Eyes Open, Designed for Dignity, He Gave Us Stories, and his recent commentary, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Dr. Pratt is also a contributor to the Literary Guide to the Bible and the author of numerous journal articles.
Robert R. Booth is pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nacogdoches, Texas and serves on the faculty of the Dabney Theological Study Center in Monroe, LA. He is the director of Covenant Media Foundation, co-founder of Veritas Classical Christian School in Texarkana, AR, and is the founding board chairman of Regents Academy in Nacogdoches, TX. He is the author of several published articles and the book: Children of the Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism.
Peter J. Leithart (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, and teaches theology and literature at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho. He writes a regular column on worship for Credenda/Agenda, has published several books on theology and literature, and his doctoral dissertation, The Priesthood of the Plebs: The Baptismal Transformation of Antique Order, is forthcoming from Wipf & Stock Publishers.
Douglas Wilson (M.A., University of Idaho) is the pastor of Christ Church, Moscow Idaho (CRE), editor of Credenda Agenda, and a teach a New St. Andrews College. He is the author of numerous books and publications, including Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Persuasions, Reforming Marriage, To a Thousand Generations, and Future Men.
R. C. Sproul Jr. (D. Min., Whitefield Theological Seminary) is associate pastor of teaching at Saint Peter Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tennessee (Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Assembly), the director of the Highlands Study Center in Meadowview, Virginia, and the editor of Tabletalk magazine. He is the author of several books including Almighty Over All, Tearing Down Strongholds, and Eternity in Our Hearts.
Introduction: Autobiography of a Paedobaptist Convert
In my theological mansion are many rooms. I walk down the hallowed halls to rooms named Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Luther, Calvin, Ursinus, Rutherford, Witsius, Owen, Bunyan, Newton, Gill, Edwards, Spurgeon, Hodge, Ryle, Alexander, Vos, Machen, Pink, Murray, Van Til, . . . and other rooms yet to be named. As I reflect on the magnificent portraits lining the walls I see those that have loved our Lord to death. I see teachers of the church that, though dead, continue to speak. These were all mere men, to be sure, yet saints and teachers of the church. They were not all of one mind regarding the subject of this book.
Our challenge as we serve our risen and presently reigning Lord is to become of one mind and so gain a clearer view from standing on their shoulders. I am among the growing number of those, like many of our Reformed forefathers who hold that the future of the kingdom even on this side of eternity is bright. Jesus shall reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. Amen. That reign has commenced. Now, however, among evangelical and Reformed believers, the discussion of baptism's recipients is an intermural debate. Or to use the language of St. Paul, baptism is not listed as a doctrine of "first importance" (protos) (1 Cor. 15:3; cf. 1:13). C.S. Lewis' calls to mind an insightful and instructive metaphor in his Preface to Mere Christianity.
[Mere or essential Christianity] is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. . . .even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: "Do I like that kind of service?" but "Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?" When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house. (1)
I have observed that there are also doors between certain of the rooms. It would seem that between the various Reformed churches it is this way. I have moved from the Calvinistic Baptist room, to the Reformed Covenantal Paedobaptist room, by means of the partition. (2)
After being baptized in a Southern Baptist Church at the age of 10, my name was on the rosters of several Baptist churches through my college and seminary years. (Let's hope my name is not still on their rolls.) From my undergraduate days, I was confronted with the issue. Initially, I studied the question in preparation for an interview to be a Reformed University Ministries intern. I still recall vividly that interchange. While teachable at that point, I was not persuaded of infant baptism, though by no means dogmatically set against it. The examining committee gave the "thumbs down," but said to call them back if my view changed on infant baptism. Actually, seminary study and many discussions with paedobaptists persuaded me against this view for a time.
The first church in which I served as a pastor actually had a membership of both baptists and paedobaptists. So in the early 1990's I had written a study guide to help people understand both positions and to articulate how our congregation worked out the practical details. (3) We practiced believer baptism by immersion, yet we did not require our members to be re-baptized (anabaptism). In this we followed the heart of John Bunyan's argument in his book, "Differences About Water Baptism, No Bar to Communion."
In those few years, I continued to study the baptism question. I fortified my arguments against infant baptism on two substantial points: we have an explicit biblical basis for believer baptism and none for infant baptism; and the membership of the new covenant is exclusively of regenerate people. The second of these reasons became for me the most foundational. In my discussions with paedobaptists, I found that they would appeal to the inclusion of children in the covenant, pre-eminently in the Abrahamic covenant. They would follow the familiar road from circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 17 to relationship of circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11-12 to infant baptism in the Reformed tradition. Covenant members should receive the sign of the covenant. Christians' children are in the covenant. So they are to receive the covenant sign. A compelling argument, except. . .
The response that kept me from being persuaded by the argument from circumcision was what I will call the "new covenant argument." Who is in the new covenant? Aside from the fact that there is no explicit case of an infant baptism in the Bible, I thought the nature of the new covenant is different from the older covenant administrations precisely at the point of separating the two baptism positions. The old covenant was broken because not all those taking part in the covenant by physical birth were truly the people of God by spiritual birth. The new covenant promises are not like the old covenant precisely at covenant membership. The important change is that the new covenant is a relationship between God and His regenerate people. So, we should not automatically include the children of the regenerate people (without indications of conversion) in the covenant. In other words, yes, covenant members are to receive the covenant sign--but all new covenant members are regenerate. We should not presume that all the infant children of Christians are regenerate. Thus, our baptism practice should follow our theology of the covenant.
This argument was unfamiliar to many paedobaptists. In my experience, most paedobaptists had not been challenged on the nature of new covenant membership. In recent years, this new covenant argument has become an increasingly important part of the baptist case, especially as it has been stated by Calvinistic baptists.
My reflection and study on the issue took a decisive turn when I began to see that the new covenant has apostasy warnings (Hebrews 10:28-30). (4) If these warnings are to be taken seriously, then it must be admitted that the new covenant has stipulations for judgment. If these are not mere hypothetical stipulations for judgment, then some new covenant members will be "judged" (in the language of Hebrews 10:30). This became a central challenge to my baptist view, supported by the new covenant argument. Such clear statements about the new covenant could not be reconciled with my view that every new covenant member was regenerate. Being fully committed to the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, I believed on biblical grounds that regenerate believers cannot lose their salvation (John 10: 27-29; Rom. 8:30). I concluded that unregenerate members of the visible church can be covenant breakers in the new covenant. This meant that there was continuity in the way membership in the covenant was administered. The signs of the covenant are for members of the visible church. Since this is so, even the youngest members, infants, can be included in the visible church and receive the sign of inclusion. This was the critical theological point for me.
After working through this question, I began to see that the basic structure of the baptist polemic against paedobaptism is that since we have (1) an explicit basis for "believers' baptism"; (2) there is no explicit warrant (an example or command) for "infant baptism,"; and (3) the new covenant is made with exclusively regenerate individuals (and believers' little children cannot be assumed to be regenerate)--Therefore, the baptistic conclusion is -- the children of believers are not to receive the sign of the new covenant until they confess their faith (and thus give evidence of their new covenant membership).
After due consideration of this once persuasive argument to me, I came to observe the structure of the baptistic argument. The baptist assumes (1) that the cases of adult converts being baptized are sufficient to deal with the question of the children of believers. But is this true? Are not the children of the faithful throughout Scripture recognized differently than pagan adults? (2) Though the baptist lacks explicit warrant to put the infants of believers out of the covenant (there is no command or example which demands their exclusion), (3) their exclusion is inferred from what they take to be the nature of the new covenant. Often baptists deny to paedobaptists the right to make inference leading to infant baptism. In fact, the central theological objection baptists raise -- Christians' children are not covenant members -- must be inferred from their view of the new covenant.
The succinct answer to this central line of objection is (1) to recognize that a million cases of adult converts professing their faith prior to baptism prove nothing, of themselves, regarding the infants of believers (the question at hand). Paedobaptists heartily concur with the practice of adult profession prior to baptism as is evident in every Reformed creed! (5) Most baptist polemics just hammer away at the examples of adults, as though this settles the case--ironically, the childless eunuch (Acts 8:36ff.) with his crystal-clear case of prior belief becomes the paradigm for settling the question of children's baptism. But, in fact, we do not have anything like a million cases.
|Adult Conversion Baptisms||Household
|3000 (men) at Pentecost (no household present)||Cornelius and household|
|Samaritans: ("both men and women")
Simon the Sorcerer
|Lydia and household|
|Ethiopian Eunuch (no household)||Philippian Jailer and household|
|Paul (no household)||Corinthians:
Crispus (and household/inferred)
Stephanas and household
|Disciples of John (12 men) (no household present)|
In summary of the actual baptism cases, we find the following: The new covenant promise came in it's fulfillment "to you and your children" (Acts 2:39) at Pentecost. Only men are said to have been baptized, some 3000 of them. In Samaria "men and women alike" (Acts 8:12) were baptized, including Simon (the apostate Sorcerer). The godly Ethiopian eunuch (who, as a eunuch) had no familial household) was baptized (Acts 8:38). Paul (who had no household) was baptized (Acts 9:18; cf 1 Cor. 7:7-8). Cornelius' household was baptized (10:48, 11:14). Lydia's household was baptized (Acts 16:15). The Philippian Jailer's household was baptized (Acts 16:33). Many Corinthians were baptized, including Crispus, Stephanas' household, and Gaius (Acts 18:8, 1 Cor. 1:14, 16). The disciples of John (adult men) were baptized (Acts 19:5). The explicit cases of baptism, when fully considered, are not evidence of the baptist view.
(2) Explicit warrant on the baptism of believers' children is lacking in both directions. There is no case of an "infant baptism" and neither is there a case of the "believers' baptism" of a Christian's child. This question must be settled by the proper application of biblical teaching. It cannot be settled with a direct appeal to an explicit text.
(3) The paedobaptist, not the anti-paedobaptist, possesses explicit warrant for the inclusion of children in the new covenant (Dt. 30:6, Jer. 31:36-37), in the church (Eph. 1:1/6:1-4, Col. 1:2/3:20, 1Cor. 7:14), and in the kingdom (Matt. 19:14, Mar. 10:14, Lk. 18:16). Moreover, the covenantal infant baptism view can argue from truly necessary inferences (6)--drawing upon both the continuity of the covenant promise (God to your children after you) and covenant people, as well as the examples of baptism (Cornelius' household, Lydia's household, the Jailer's household, Crispus' household, and Stephanus' household). This is a synopsis of the Biblical evidence which is convincing to me.
For Christians to progress in this discussion we need an honest heart, first of all. We need a mind willing to submit to all the Lord's will as revealed in His Word. As means to our study, we need substantial discussions on the key passages, theological reflection, and historical data which address central questions in this area of study. This volume aims to provide such a discussion by well-qualified pastors and scholars.
It will be clear to the discerning reader that not all the contributors are perfectly unified on related questions, such as how to best nurture Christian children, evangelism and baptized children, the efficacy of baptism, the Lord's Supper and baptized children, and so forth. You will note that there are several Reformed and paedobaptist denominations represented. These differences are a matter of ongoing study and practice. Yet, paedobaptism serves as a kind of wing in the house of faith which leads to several rooms. And it is in those rooms that many of these questions are being discussed.
Finally, my hope is stated no better than in the words of George Offor, editor of John Bunyan's works: "May the time soon arrive when water shall not quench love, but when all the churches militant shall form one army, with one object,--that of extending the Redeemer's kingdom." (7)
1. Preface to Mere Christianity (Macmillan/Barbour & Co.: Westwood, NJ, 1952).
2. Paedobaptist is the common term for those who believe that infant children of Christians should be baptized.
3. This was entitled, A Handbook on Baptism: Essays and Resources.
4. This was crucially revealed to me in a discussion with Douglas Wilson. In that context the baptism/covenant epiphany happened.
5. The Larger Catechism 166, for example says, "Unto whom is baptism to be administered? A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descended from parents, either both or but one of them professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and to be baptized." 6. A necessary inference is a logically valid argument from true premises, such as: 1. the children of believers are covenant members; 2. covenant members are to receive the entrance sign of the covenant; therefore (this follows necessarily from the premises) the children of believers are to receive the entrance sign of the covenant.
7. The Works of John Bunyan, Vol. II, p. 593. Differences About Water Baptism, No Bar to Communion in The Works of John Bunyan, Vol. II (Banner of Truth: Carlisle, PA, 1991), p. 641.