Covenantal (?) Baptist Views:
“The Great Debate over Baptism and the Covenant” (11 CDs)
by Douglas W. Phillips and William O. Einwechter
A Critical Review by Gregg Strawbridge
At conference recently, a gentleman approached with questions on baptism, regarding my book, The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (P & R, 2003). As this gentleman and I talked he referenced many of the well-known writers on baptism and then asked about a “covenantal baptist” view. “Are you familiar with Vision Forum?” he asked. “They had a fellow talk about baptism who was saying that he wasn’t a dispensationalist. He was a Baptist arguing that children are in the covenant. . .”
I began to say, “You know there’s a brother in our area, the pastor of Immanuel Free Reformed Church and we’ve met for lunch a couple of times. . . His name is Bill Einwechter.”
“That’s the guy!” he said.
So, I got on the phone to take Bill out to lunch. I’ve had the chance to listen to him and to interact with him for several hours. And since I’ve had several people ask me about it. Here’s my response.
BAPTISM AND THE FAMILY TREE
We all must bear in mind the greater aspects of the gospel and the general vision of the kingdom as we deal with areas like baptism. I echo the words of Rev. Einwechter to me in a recent email. “I rejoice in our shared commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ over every area of life.” We agree on the greater priorities of the kingdom of God. We would say in unison to the pluralists and polytheists, “There is another king, one Jesus!” Even more, many paedobaptists do not share this spirit. Rev. Einwechter and I enjoy greater harmony theologically since we share an optimistic eschatology (postmillennialism) and a strong practical commitment to Christian education and covenantal nurture. It is ironic that Rev. Einwechter and I are theological “first cousins” and yet many other paedobaptists who should have a robust covenantal view are not even in the family tree. There are many presbyterians (and paedobaptists) who have merely baptized secular views of their children and the kingdom — and that baptism is with very little water indeed.
Reflecting on history, Both Rev. Einwechter and I could step out of our homes in Lancaster Co., PA and hear the sounds of the Amish and Mennonites buggying down the road. We both stand as theological heirs of the Reformation, much more so than the Anabaptists. I am sure we are thankful that baptism is not what it used to be. No one is being put to death over it and no (Munster) Anabaptist mobs are revolting in the streets either.
Then again, it is a very practical point. Do we baptize our children or not? Do we pressure them to make a profession of faith a certain point? Do we treat them as pagans until they have a revival experience? The practicality of these questions drives us back to the central point, even the status questionis – the state of the question – on baptism: how do we deal with the children of believers? My answer and Rev. Einwechter’s answer differs here.
But let me say again the issue here is very simple: What is the status and therefor how do we deal with the children of believers?
Rev. Einwechter argues, as a covenantal Baptist, children are not members of the church until they give a credible profession of their faith and are baptized “as believers.” Still, children should be nurtured in the faith and should be schooled according to the Word by virtue of parental duties. Children are in a covenantal relationship through the covenant family. Yet, they are not to be reckoned in the covenant of grace apart from their confession of faith.
As a covenantal paedobaptist my view is that our children are to be baptized precisely because they are in the redemptive covenant administration of the new covenant. Baptism is the visible word of promise and duty. At baptism, parents vow to nurture their children in Christ by faith in the promises and obedience to the commands. As a baptized child grows up in the discipline of the Lord, they learn more and more what their baptism means. As they are tempted to go astray, we are to “grab them by their baptism” and warn them against breaking covenant with God (Heb. 10:28-30).
COVENANTAL BAPTIST VIEWS
What is the “covenantal Baptist view”? Actually, Rev. Einwechter argues, in respect to baptism, the exact same way that every other Baptist does. He modifies the Baptist case in how he supports it (in a more covenantal, not dispensational manner). But his view of who should be baptized and why is just exactly the regular Baptists view.
What seems novel, at least to some, is the claim that children have some covenantal participation. This is what originally brought the teaching to my attention. The claim was that there is a man teaching that children of believers are in covenant and only when they profess their faith are they to be baptized.
After listening to the recorded lectures, I spent several hours in conversation with Rev. Einwechter to clarify his views. Rev. Einwechter believes, as do I, the family is a covenantal entity. This means that children are in covenantal relationship with believing parents. But they are not to be considered in any salvific covenant relationship until their profession and baptism as believers. They are not members in the covenant of grace or as I would prefer to call it, the new covenant administration of redemption.
His main argument is the difference between the new covenant and the old covenant administrations. The deeper background on his view is the biblical theological claim that the progress of redemption leads to a new covenant age in which the people of God are spiritually qualified, e.g., as regenerate believers. Since his framework of theology is Calvinistic and he rejects dispensationalism, he considers his views to be covenantal and Baptistic.
Rev. Einwechter repeats the critiques found in Paul King Jewett and others who follow Jewett - to the effect that infant baptism is an error in Biblical Theology. The late professor Paul Jewett, in Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace writes,
With the advent of Messiah — the promised seed par excellence — and the Pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, the salvation contained in the promise to Israel was brought nigh. No longer was it a hope on the distant horizon but rather an accomplished fact in history. Then — and for our discussion, the THEN is of capital significance — the temporal, earthly, typical elements of the old dispensation were dropped from the great house of salvation as scaffolding from the finished edifice. It is our contention that the Paedobaptists, in framing their argument from circumcision, have failed to keep this significant historical development in clear focus. Proceeding from the basically correct postulate that baptism stands in the place of circumcision, they have urged this analogy to a distortion. They have so far pressed the unity of the covenant as to suppress the diversity of its administration. They have, to be specific, Christianized the Old Testament and Judaized the New. (p. 91)
Jewett charges the Reformed paedobaptist position with an error in biblical theology. He urged that the paedobaptist argument “involves the fundamental error of failing to recognize the historical character of revelation” (p. 8).
Beyond the more nuance “biblical theology” expressions of Jewett, Rev. Einwechter’s views are built in a similar fashion as other Baptists. The positive case for only believers involves:
1) John’s baptism reveals a new stage of salvation history. Now each person must repent and only those who have the capacity to show faith and repentance may be accepted into the new Messianic reconstitution of Israel.
2) Jesus baptism sets a pattern which we are to imitate.
3) The commission of Christ to baptize disciples requires believer baptism alone.
4) The practice of baptism in Acts shows only believers.
5) The epistles show that only those with faith are proper recipients and the significance of baptism only makes sense with believers.
The negative case against the inclusion of infant children of believers rests upon:
a) The covenant of grace (a category of systematics) only includes the elect.
b) The progress of biblical covenants leads of away from child inclusion in the New Covenant, since there is an increase of the spiritual qualifications in this era.
c) The sign of the new covenant is circumcision of the heart (regeneration), while the sign of the Old Covenant (from Abraham) was fleshly circumcision.
d) The Reformed principle of the nature and warrant for a sacrament/worship (the regulative principle) are inconsistent with paedobaptism.
e) Paedobaptists are so inconstistent with each other on what the sacrament allegedly confers that it is difficult to understand the actual claims of Reformed paedobaptists.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH IT?
By the time we reach the end of Rev. Einwechter’s teaching (in the recorded lectures), it sounds pretty convincing. He has made a strong case with a convincing voice. He has poked at the holes in certain covenant theologian’s language slipping in the “children of believers” in place of “elect” in the covenant of grace. He has nailed shut the case that no child was explicitly baptized by John, Jesus, Peter, Philip, or Paul. He has at least complicated the relationship of the regulative principle and Reformed sacraments. I am sure this convinces many. But in the language of Wisdom, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him (Prov. 18:17).
In what follows I will respond with a summary in four simple points and then a biblical answer.
The basic structure of the Baptist polemic against infant baptism is as follows: (1) There is an explicit basis for “believers’ baptism” in the baptism of adult converts. (2) There is no explicit warrant (an example or command) for “infant baptism.”(3) The new covenant (and/or covenant of grace) is made with exclusively regenerate (elect) individuals (and believers’ little children cannot be assumed to be regenerate). Therefore, the Baptistic conclusion is: (4) 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).
First, I concede point one, but it is irrelevant to the real issue. (1) 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). I heartily concur with the practice of adult profession prior to baptism. This is the view in every Reformed creed! Baptist polemics just hammer away at the examples of adults, as though this settles the case—ironically, the childless eunuch (Acts 8 with his crystal-clear case of prior belief becomes the paradigm for settling the question of infant children. But, in fact, we do not have anything like a million cases, do we? If every New Testament case of baptism was of only an individual who professed and was then baptized, such a point might be more forceful for the Baptist contention. But quite the contrary, virtually every person who could have conceivably had a household, had it baptized. This does not support the Baptistic contention of radical individual change on signs of covenant. Rather, this demonstrates continuity between the two covenants.
The explicit cases of baptism, when fully considered, are not evidence of the Baptist view. Consider the evidence of all that were explicitly baptized after the Great Commission:
Adult Conversion Baptisms
3000 (men) at Pentecost (Acts 2)
(no household present)
Cornelius and household
Samaritans ‒ men & women (Acts 8)
Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8)
Lydia and household
Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8)
Philippian Jailer and household
Paul (no household) (Acts 9)
Corinthians: (Acts 18)
Crispus and household (1 Cor. 1)
Stephanas and household (1 Cor. 1)
Disciples of John (12 men) (no household present) (Acts 19)
Gaius (and household?) (1Cor. 1)
The pattern of Gentile household baptisms, especially as it relates to Luke’s purpose in showing the expansion of the gospel, should not be so quickly dismissed by Baptists. It is not as though we have a hundred cases of baptism and there are these exceptional, anomalous few household cases. We have nine individuals identified; five clearly have their households baptized; two do not have households (eunuch, Saul); one is dubious (Simon); and Gaius is left (1 Cor. 1:14, see the above discussion). This is not a promising set of statistics for Baptists.
The oft‒repeated reply, “but every member of the household believed,” will not be persuasive to one who considers the exegetical particulars of the two cases which include statements about the households believing (the Jailer 16:31-34 & Crispus 18:8). We should ask whether the exegetical nuances of these texts support the individualist (baptist) thesis (every member believed) or the covenant family thesis (household members followed the leader according to their capacity).
In the Philippian Jailer passage (16:31-34) and the Corinthian passage with Crispus (18:8), the Greek texts use singular verbs, not the plural verbs, to describe the action of believing. These texts do not say, the Jailer (or Crispus) “and (kai)” his household “believed” (with a plural verb). This would be one way Luke could have nuanced the text to indicate the equal action of each member in believing. This is something Luke surely could have said if he was seeking to distinguish the new sign from the covenantal household concept established in the previous millennia of Biblical history. Instead, these texts teach what any Old Testament believer might have expected: the Jailer, the household head, “rejoiced (singular verb) greatly, with all his house (panoikei, an adverb), having believed (pepisteukos, participle, singular) in God” (16:34, ASV); and Crispus, the household head, “believed (episteusen, verb, singular) in the Lord with (sūn) all his household” (18:8). However, observe Luke’s careful language indicating that baptism is administered to each member of the Jailer’s household: “he was baptized, he and (kai) all his household” (16:33).
The pattern of baptism administration in Acts is persuasive to me. If Baptists simply answer the question, “How was baptism administered in the New Testament?” their view will be undermined by the mere fact of who was baptized in Acts.
(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 express text, since no text addresses believers’ children and baptism.
(3) The covenantal paeodobaptist view, however, possesses explicit warrant for the inclusion of children in the new covenant (Dt. 30:6, Jer. 31:36–37), church (Eph. 1:1,6:1–4, Col 1:2,3:20, 1 Cor. 7:14), and kingdom (Mt. 19:14, Mk. 10:14, Lk. 18:16).
Finally, then (4) the conclusion that Rev. Einwechter reaches is not warranted. The most fundamental response then is: (a) Pastor Einwechter is exegetically wrong on the warrant for exclusive professors’ baptism. He has not shown his view grammatically from Matthew 28:19 and he has not shown his view contextually from Jeremiah 31:31ff (remember the verses defining “My people,” which come before and after Jer 31:31-34). (b) It is a hermeneutical flaw of no small proportion that he grounds the positive case for exclusive confessors’ baptism from texts do not address the exclusion of infants.
Pastor Einwechter argues that since only regenerate individuals are in the kingdom, church, and covenant – the infant children of believers cannot be assumed to be in the kingdom, church and covenant (this is an inference). But, with all of the powerful argument he tries to muster, and with all the infractions of alleged hermeneutical and theological procedure he so quickly accuses paedobaptists of — he cannot find one text which addresses children in the NT and then show that the exegetical point is that such little ones are now excluded from the visible church, or covenant, or kingdom.
It is a matter of significant theological incoherence that while brother Einwechter denies paedobaptism since it requires using good and necessary inferences to support infant baptism, but his position must be inferred from what he believes to be the nature of the New Covenant.
Hence, the fatal reductio ad absurdum of all new covenant/Baptistic arguments applies equally to Rev. Einwechter’s view. He denies the validity of making inferences for child inclusion, while at the same time he can only infer their exclusion. But that exclusion is contrary to the specific, explicit statements that children are included in the new covenant. In the very promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31, we read:
Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD. (Emphasis God’s, Jeremiah 31:37, see also v. 36; )
There are, of course many, many other texts which say as much. It is rather difficult to see how the new covenant promise has been made to exclude children when the first verse of the chapter begins: “‘At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people’” (Jer. 31:1)!
Likewise Jeremiah 32:37-40 promises “I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them” (See also Isaiah 44:3, 59:20-21, Joel 2, etc.).
Far from the Baptist contention - “but that’s the Old Testament...” - in the New Testament, we find repeatedly the principle of “you and your seed” in the advent of fulfillment.
Luke 1:17: “And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Luke 2:49-50: For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. and His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear him.
Acts 2:39: For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.
Acts 13:32-33: “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus . . .
These texts provide overwhelming, explicit Biblical support across a range of new covenant prophetic texts and NT fulfillment texts for the belief that the children of believers are included in the new covenant.
INCLUSION IN THE FAMILY COVENANT?
To this line of thought (children are in the covenant), Pastor Einwechter responds, “Which covenant?” As I indicated this is where Rev. Einwechter’s views are unusual because he urges that children are covenantally included. Since there are three covenantal institutions (family, nation, and church), he argues that believer’s children are included in the family covenant structure, but not in the covenant of grace or the redemptive adminstration of the covenant.
Actually Rev. Einwechter admitted that this point is an ad hoc response to the paedobaptist argument. He said that he had not worked out all of the related matters. This is evident.
His kind of covenantal inclusion turns out to be nothing more than a rescue attempt to respond to the fatal problem of Baptists - the biblical doctrine of the children in the covenant. It is an “ad hoc” response to the main point of the paedobaptist case. The consequence of denying such children are in covenant is quite a problem for the Baptists.
The covenant in its redemptive adminstrations is the way people relate to God. So if a Baptist’s child is outside of the covenant, then he/she has no official standing in the faith.and is thus an “unbeliever.” Such a child then should be treated as a pagan since they are not in the covenant. Should you tell an unbeliever to sing, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know”? Would you have an unbeliever pray the “Lord’s Prayer”? Would you have an unbeliever confess the Apostles’ Creed? No! Then why do Baptists have their “unbelieving” and unbaptized children do so?
They do it because their hearts are much better than their theology of children. And I might add that their hearts are much better than many presbyterians' practice.
To speak in terms of the baptism debate of children being in the “family covenant” - is a basic confusion of the categories of “Covenant” and “Sphere.”(According to Bill), only individuals who are regenerate are in the new covenant. The Church, Family and Nation are covenantal entities of a sort. But every person in those covenantal entities are to be reckoned as “in Adam” or “in Christ.” Or to be simple, “in Christ” or outside of Christ. The issue of baptism is who is in the Church.
Clearly the children of believers are addressed as in the Church in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3. On the other hand, a pagan’s child is in the family covenant, but they are not thereby “in the Lord.” The Ephesian Children are “in the Lord.” “Children, obey your parents in the Lord (en kurios)” and “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1, 4). How can a child be nurtured “in the Lord” who is not “in the Lord”? How can a child be promised covenant blessings to live long on the earth, if they are not in the covenant?
Participation in a mere family covenantal entity turns out to have no such blessings, but that is not how Jesus and the apostles speak of children.
The pastoral challenge quite directly is this: if your infant dies tonight, do you say, “God has promised to be the Savior of me and my children.” Or do you say, “My child was in the family covenant,” which turns out to be just same relationship of every unbelieving family. The promise to the faithful is “to be God to you and your children after you” (Gen. 17:7, Deut. 30:6, et al). There is no change of such promises in the new covenant, other than Christ's fulfillment and Gentile inclusion. Bill has not produced one verse to alter the central covenant promise which essentially includes our children.
The basic covenant promise, repeated a hundred times in Scripture and a million times in the prays of the faithful, shows up in similar language from the first covenant administration with Abraham to the prophetic vision of the new covenant. As Ezekiel says,
Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day when I chose Israel and raised My hand in an oath to the descendants of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I raised My hand in an oath to them, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God.’ (Ez. 20:4-5)
Can you see this image? The Lord Himself stands to raise His right hand and vows to be their Covenant Lord (Yahweh). Surely Rev. Einwechter does not believe that a pagan can claim this. No person outside the Kirk (the “Lord’s” Church) can claim that such covenant promises apply to his household.
Bill’s view is in conflict with clear teaching in the NT. Paul argues (persuasively) with Holy Ghost authority that the promise is “sure [certain] to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’)” (Rom. 4:16-17).
The promise to Abraham, upon which all subsequent covenant administrations is developed, is just as true, just as sure, just as certain, just as firm to Gentile believers as it is to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
The word picture of “sure”(Rom. 4:16) is powerful. Literally, it is the term for anchor. Friberg’s Lexicon says it is “of what can be depended on reliable, certain, trustworthy” and “of law, legally enforced, valid.” God’s promise to Abraham that his children were in covenant is equally, if not more so (because of the fulness of Christ), true for us today in Lancaster Co., PA.
Unfortunately, Baptists say that what was true for Abraham is not true today. Now (allegedly in the new covenant) it is, “Every man for himself.” Each person must muster qualifications of intellectual maturity in order to be admitted to the kingdom. If that is the reality of the kingdom, I would say like Puddleglum in The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis), it is sorrier than what was before.
If the greatness of the Messsianic Kingdom excludes the frail, the weak, and the little ones, then it is a kingdom that saves only the “fit.” This is not the kingdom as described in the Bible which is illustrated by lame Mephibosheth and the infants brought to Jesus. “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.’” The kingdom of the new covenant is not a place or time in which the weak, immature, or children are excluded — they are our example.
In the course of the lectures, Mr. Phillips commented on paedocommunion to the effect that an interpretation of 1 Cor. 11 requires credo-communion. He said the Reformers loved Scripture so they had to deny paedocommunion (even though they loved paedobaptism).
But 1 Cor. 11, does not require believer’s communion any more than Acts 2:38 requires the rejection of these repenting apostacizers' children (contrary to the next verse). What 1 Cor. 11 does require is that we not create divisions, schisms and groupings of Christians: e.g., like communicant and non-communicant members - some that are worthy to receive and others that are not. In a book that says children (of even one believer) are “holy” (hagios, a “saint”), 1 Corinthians 10:17 says, “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” Is there any way to make this into an antipaedocommunion verse? Every person in the “body” of Christ is to “partake” of the one bread.” Children in Christ should be raised to know that they are all the way in. Not half-way in. Actually the judgment that comes, comes to the adult apostates who both were baptized and ate and drank. The real object of judgment is not the children (who lived and came through the wilderness). But for some reason when Baptists read 1 Cor. 11 or Acts 2, all the blame is on the children. By purging the children from the Church, we will purify it into a “believing Church” - a “regenerate Church.” But I would prefer the method of Jesus and Paul, to purge the Church of apostate adults, rather than children who need to be nurtured in the faith.
I have argued the case for paedocommunion elsewhere (www.wordmp3.com/gs). But I would point out here that Baptistic thinking which excludes children is not only unbiblical, but unhistorical. Since believer’s baptism was not known to Christians’ in the whole history of the Church until 1525, consider the example of the older Eastern Orthodox Church, which has always practiced paedocommunion. The champion of the covenantal Baptist case (Jewett) says,
Cyprian, on whose shoulders his mantle fell, speaks not only of infant baptism, but also of infant communion as a custom which provoked no scruples. Barely fifty years separates these two witnesses. Obviously, therefore, the initial evidence for infant baptism and infant communion shows a proximity of time (A. D. 205-250) and place (North Africa) which makes it difficult to see why the former usage should be accepted while the latter is rejected. (Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, 42).
Jewett cites this quite accurately. He goes on to press equally strong citations of St. Augustine. He does so as a polemic against those who would deny paedocommunion, yet embrace paedobaptism as historical. I cite this as evidence that the Baptist view of baptism and communion is unhistorical.