Last Sunday, we took a close look at the covenantal argument for paedobaptism. Lord willing, this Sunday we will spend our time seeing how well that argument corresponds with Scripture. My intent is to finish up the baptism series then. In order to do so, there are a few more things I would like to address here on the blog.
Whenever we hold a view that is not supported by Scripture, it will be the case that inconsistencies crop up in our theology and practice. This is definitely true with the theology and practice of paedobaptism. Please consider with me four inconsistencies within paedobaptism.
The first inconsistency is one that I pointed out last week on this blog. I won’t reproduce the whole things here – you can go back and read it if you missed it. The short version is that paedobaptists tend to inconsistently apply Acts 2:39 (“For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself”). They appeal to this verse to support the idea that the children of believers are members of the New Covenant and should be afforded the sign of baptism. Yet, they do not equally apply the phrase “and to all who are far off.” To be consistent, they would have to consider “all who are far off” to be members of the New Covenant as well and give them the sign of baptism. However, they do not do this and in that way they are inconsistent.
A second inconsistency is that paedobaptists do not baptize entire households. They use the “householdbaptisms” in Acts to support the practice of baptizing the infants of believing adults, assuming that “household” signifies everyone in the home regardless of their response to the gospel. Yet, paedobaptists do not baptize “households” – that is, they do not baptize adult children, spouses, or other members of the household upon the conversion of the head of the household. Three rebuttals are often given by paedobaptists to this objection. First, they claim that the other adults in the household most likely heard the gospel and believed. However, this line of reasoning makes the paedobaptist guilty of the error that they ascribe to others, namely, reading details into the household baptism texts that are not there. Second, they respond that forced household baptisms would be considered unacceptable in our culture. But when is it ever appropriate to disregard a command of Scripture because of cultural considerations? Never (Acts 5:29). Third, they respond that this is one of the discontinuities between the Old and New Covenants. But this works against their whole argument for including children in the covenant (“God created the church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. He has nowhere put them out. So they must remain in.”) For just as God put children into the covenant, He put all of Abraham’s family in, including grown adults. If He has nowhere put them out, they also must remain in the covenant. In the end, the responses to this inconsistency work against the argument for infant baptism, not for it.
A third inconsistency is that paedobaptists require faith of the parents of baptized children. In other words, a child can only be baptized if one parent has made a credible profession of faith. What is wrong with this? They baptize on different grounds than were required for circumcision. The circumcision of a child in the old covenant was never conditioned upon the faith of the parent. Rather, “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised” (Gen 17:12-13). For any male, whether physically descended from Abraham or merely living among the Israelites, circumcision was required. No male was allowed not to be circumcised, regardless of whether or not he or his parents had faith. To baptize only those whose parents make a credible profession of faith is inconsistent with the strict continuity inherent in the paedobaptistic position.
A fourth inconsistency is that paedobaptists do not allow their children to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Paedobaptists lean heavily upon the idea that baptism has replaced circumcision in the new covenant. But what is even clearer in the New Testament is that the Lord’s Supper has replaced the Passover as the covenant meal. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper while He was sharing the Passover with His disciples (Matt 26:17-30). Under the Old Covenant, all the members of the household were invited to partake of the covenant meal. Regarding this the Lord commanded, Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb (Exo 12:3-4). And later He reiterated, All the congregation of Israel shall keep it (Exo 12:47).
To respond to this objection, paedobaptists appeal to 1 Cor 11:28-29: Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. They argue that these verses require that a person be able to engage in self-examination in order to partake of the Supper, which would preclude the participation of small children. However, they do not interpret baptism passages in the same manner. That is, when confronted with Scriptures that indicate the necessity of repentance and faith before baptism, they say such Scriptures only apply to adults. In other words, they use one principle to interpret passages on baptism and an opposite principle to interpret passages on the Lord’s Supper. There is a hopeless inconsistency there.
It is not my intention to beat up on my paedobaptist brothers and sisters. They are champions of the gospel and faithful servants of the Lord. But there is a lesson for us to learn here. None of us are immune to blind spots in our theology. One of the telltale signs that we have erred is that we will find inconsistencies and contradictions appearing in our theology and practices. When we do find them, we should return to Scripture, reevaluate our positions in light of it, and conform our beliefs and practices to God’s Word. No one does this perfectly, but by God’s grace may we strive for that ideal.
Posted by Greg Birdwell