Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 9, Number 14, April 1 to April 7, 2007

A Conversation Concerning Infant Baptism

By Jeff Rojan

Reformed Layman

The following is a conversation between a Presbyterian and a Baptist concerning infant baptism. I first observed this approach of the topic in "William the Baptist" by James Chaney. The style and form was so inviting and easy to follow, that it seemed worthy of emulation. The present work is like so many conversations that have occurred between our two denominations over the last five centuries. In it, the most fundamental points of contention are raised and answered. I will not keep you in suspense; the Presbyterian prevails and the Baptist is converted to the reformed view of infant baptism.

The objections brought by the Baptist are commonly found in baptistic literature. I have not endeavored to address every contention brought by the Baptists, as this would be tedious and unnecessary for both reader and writer. Often, a multitude of bad conclusions are the result of just a few bad assumptions. I have attempted to limit the scope of this discussion to these few bad assumptions, leaving the multitude of bad conclusions for the reader and other, lengthier works to sort out.

A Calvinistic view is presupposed. All scripture is interrelated. Since the Bible is a seamless garment, it is difficult to address one doctrine without reference to many other doctrines. Historically, Baptists and Presbyterians have shared agreement on the fundamental points of Calvinism, and so that should not present a stumbling block to my more traditional Baptist friends.

The primary focus of this study involves the covenantal aspects of the doctrine of baptism. Next to their view of Church and State, this is perhaps the most dangerous feature of baptistic thought. So often, the Baptists confuse the doctrine and practice of the Pharisees with the doctrine and practice of the Old Testament. I believe that a careful distinguishing between the two will go a long way to helping Baptists understand, and even receive, the Reformed view of infant baptism.

At first glance, the ideas of "covenant" and "baptism" may seem unrelated, but I ask the reader's patience. With very little explanation, the matter will soon become quite clear to the attentive reader.

At the end of the discussion, the reader will find an appendix with several quotations from baptistic writers on this subject. These quotes are referenced throughout the discussion as their objections are examined and answered.

May God grant us grace and wisdom as we pursue this matter, which has long separated our communions.


Baptist: "First, let us agree that our only rule of faith will be Holy Scripture. No tradition of man, testimony of antiquity, or even opinions of great reformers may be offered as proof. Second, let it be a settled point between us that if the scriptures do not command a particular rite or ceremony, then it is forbidden. "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it (Deuteronomy 12:32)." If our only rule be scripture, then by God's grace, we will surely discover the truth in this matter."

Presbyterian: "Nothing could be more agreeable."

Baptist: "I am surprised that you so quickly agree to my two terms of discussion. I thought that you would necessarily resort to the testimony of early church fathers, or to the authority of Calvin, Knox or Beza. Beyond this, I cannot see how your argument can stand if you grant that a ceremony not commanded must be forbidden. I confess I am anxious to hear your principles on this subject. For in my mind, having conceded these points, the debate is settled."

Presbyterian: "I hope to demonstrate for you that the scriptures command us, in no uncertain terms, to baptize our infants. Before I produce this positive command from scripture, do you wish to present any express prohibitions of baptizing infants, or any biblical examples of children raised in a Christian home being turned away from the baptismal font and told to wait until they reach an age of accountability before being baptized?"

Baptist: "I do not have an explicit command forbidding such a practice. However, the burden is not on me, but on you to demonstrate that a biblical command to baptize infants exists. For now, I leave the proving to you."

The Covenant of Grace

Presbyterian: "Very well then, I give you the following biblical principles. If each of these be accepted, then my burden is met and the matter resolved.

1st God entered into a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was the Covenant of Grace. In it, God established a visible, discernable, body of people that would be his peculiar possession (Genesis 17).

2nd This body of people, the nation of Israel, was in fact the Church in Old Testament times.

3rd In those times, the sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace was circumcision. This ceremonial rite was administered as a rite of initiation into the membership of the Church (Genesis 17:10, 11). This outward circumcision of the flesh was symbolic of spiritual circumcision of the heart, or regeneration.

4th The Church was explicitly commanded to administer this rite of initiation to their infants.

5th In New Testament times, God having removed the shedding of blood from our worship, has replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace with baptism. This outward washing speaks of inward cleansing and renewing of the Spirit, in short, regeneration. Both Baptists and Presbyterians agree that this is now the ceremonial rite of initiation into Church membership.

6th Throughout Old Testament times, the Church was required to administer the sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace to their infants, and thus receive them into Church membership. And so, unless it can be shown from scripture that our Lord or his Apostles purged the Church of infants, or barred Church membership to Gentile babies that had long been granted to Jewish babies, we must assume that the obligation to receive them through the rite of initiation still exists. For, just as we cannot add to the command of the Lord, neither can we diminish from it.

Baptist: You spoke well when you said, "If each of these be accepted…" But I must tell you that I cannot grant the first four of your points, without which the 5th and 6th points cannot be admitted either.

Presbyterian: May I speak hypothetically and ask, if I can prove all six of these points from scripture, would you not agree that every Christian parent has the solemn obligation from God to baptize their infants, and receive them into the membership of the Church?

Baptist: Hypothetically, if these assumptions are true, then your conclusion is true as well. If Israel was the Church, and if the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of grace, and if Hebrew infants were to be admitted as church-members thru the administering of circumcision, (the supposed sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace), then it stands to reason that if this sign and seal has been replaced by baptism, then unless otherwise commanded, we should continue this practice of receiving our infants into Church membership by administering to them this new sign and seal of the Covenant —baptism.

However, this assumes a great deal that I cannot grant. You must first prove these several assumptions.

Your first point is this: "God entered into a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was the Covenant of Grace. In it, God established a visible, discernable, body of people that would be his peculiar possession."

How can you conclude this from the text? God makes his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17. Where do you find the word "Gospel"? Where do you see the words, "Covenant of Grace"? I readily grant that principles may be allegorically lifted from this covenant, and used to illustrate the Covenant of Grace, but in and of itself, this is merely a land deal, -a simple real estate transaction, with the promise of a physical posterity to enjoy it!

In verse 4 God says, "As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations." This was literally fulfilled in the birth of Ishmael and Isaac, not to mention those born to Abraham thru Keturah (Genesis 25). There is no need to suggest a spiritual body here. One may draw some symbolic analogy between Abraham's physical descendants and his spiritual descendants, but this is not literally present in the covenant.

Next, God says, "8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession;" Now, the analogy between Canaan and heaven is clear. But this is still analogy. The text does not mention heaven. Literally considered, this is a real estate transaction between God and Abraham. (See note 1.)

Presbyterian: This is the received tradition among Baptists concerning the Abrahamic Covenant. However, it is quite different from what we find in scripture.

What was Peter's opinion? Your view seems to be quite different from what he said in Acts 3:25, 26. "Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities." Is this turning every one of you away from his iniquities the language of real estate? This is the blessing Peter finds in the Abrahamic Covenant.

Consider the words Zacharias spoke concerning our Savior and his role in fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant. " To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life (Luke 1:72-75)." Here the blessing of the covenant is said to mean deliverance, holiness, righteousness, and service to God. This sounds like salvation, does it not?

What of Paul's testimony? In Romans 4:16-17 he writes, "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, As it is written, ‘I have made thee a father of many nations…'" Here, the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant is salvation by grace thru faith. Paul repeats this thought in Galatians 3:8. "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed." According to Paul, the Abrahamic Covenant was the gospel preached beforehand to Abraham. The fulfillment of the covenant promise, "In thee shall all nations be blessed," is the justifying of the heathen by grace thru faith.

Now I ask you, does this sound like a mere land deal?

Baptist: These are all very compelling arguments. I have always been taught that the central theme of the Abrahamic Covenant was the land grant of Canaan, and that circumcision was a matter of hygienic safety. These issues you have raised have always been treated as New Testament analogies applied to the Old Testament text after the fact. The principles illustrated by these Old Testament analogies were independent of the ceremonies and covenants themselves. (See note 5.)

Presbyterian: The principle of salvation by grace through faith does have a life of its own apart from the Abrahamic Covenant and Mosaic ceremony. It preexisted both. This principle existed in the eternal purpose of God long before Abraham, Moses or Adam. But it is a very different thing to suggest that the Abrahamic Covenant or the Mosaic ceremonies had a life independent of the principles they typified.

Indeed, the Promised Land was symbolic of the believer's promised rest. And, circumcision of the flesh was symbolic of circumcision of the heart. But symbolism is also used in the New Testament. We literally partake of bread and wine at the Lord's Table, but does this literal eating and drinking place the significance of the feast on fleshly hunger and thirst? Does the literal eating and drinking of the elements have a significance or life of its own apart from the things that it represents? When we separate the symbol from the thing symbolized, do we not eat and drink damnation unto ourselves? When we are baptized, we literally get wet. Does this place the significance of the rite on outward hygiene?

What of the Hebrews. When they thought themselves to be the heirs of literal Canaan, but walked not in the spiritual faith of Abraham, were they not forbidden entrance into the land? Later, when they possessed the literal land, but lapsed into spiritual unbelief, didn't the land spew them out? When they committed immorality and idolatry, were they not called covenant breakers? How can a covenant which is a mere non-spiritual, land deal, be broken by spiritual sins such as idolatry, immorality and unbelief? (Deuteronomy 17:2-3, Ezekiel 17:19, Hosea 8:1, Malachi 2:10) How can a mere land contract be fulfilled thru the salvation of the Gentiles?

Baptist: Since unbelief and immorality are considered breaches of covenant, and since the fulfillment of this covenant is the salvation of the Gentiles, and since Paul himself calls the Abrahamic Covenant the gospel preached beforehand, I must concede your point. Further, it appears evident that since the withholding, or loss of the literal promises of the covenant would follow spiritual sins, that the literal symbols and the spiritual things that they symbolized were inseparable. The Abrahamic Covenant was indeed the Covenant of Grace, the same covenant which now saves you and me.

However, the fact that the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace does not prove that Israel was the Church, or that everyone circumcised was a church member. These are far different things.

The Church

Presbyterian: We are agreed on my first point, that the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Now, let us examine my second assertion, that Israel was the Church.

Baptist: I think that I shall do much better on this point. I have two fine arguments against this supposition of yours. This is the grand, fatal flaw in your baptismal framework. After all, if Israel was not the Church, then it cannot be said from the Abrahamic Covenant that infants were to be received into the Church, or that circumcision made one a church member. If circumcision made one a member of a nation but not of the Church, then there is no good or necessary consequence requiring us to baptize our infants into church membership.

Presbyterian: Only prove your premise and I shall embrace your conclusion. If you can demonstrate that Israel was not the Church, then I will humbly yield.

Baptist: All we need do is consider what scripture says the Church is, and compare this with what the scriptures tell us Israel was. First, in Ephesians 1:22-23, Paul writes that the Father, "…gave him (Christ) to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all." Further, in Revelation 21 the Church is called the bride, or the Lamb's wife (vs. 9). Also, in Ephesians 5:25-27, Paul speaks of the Church as follows: "…Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."

To summarize, the Bible teaches that the Church is the bride and body of Christ, that he loved her and died for her, that he sanctifies her and cleanses her; that she will be presented to him without spot or wrinkle, holy without blemish.

Now, let us consider a few passages describing Israel. In Exodus 32:7-9 God said to Moses concerning them, "Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people…"

In Isaiah 1:3,4 we read: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward."

In Jeremiah 32:35 we read that they sacrificed their own sons and daughters as burnt offerings to the false god Molech.

Similar texts could be multiplied, but anyone with the slightest knowledge of that nation's history knows that it is replete with examples of idolatry and gross wickedness. Members of that congregation include the murderous King Ahab, the fornicating sons of Eli, that idolatrous generation which worshipped the golden calf while Moses was on the mountain. Stephen said of that nation, "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?"

Now please candidly compare these two depictions. Are they the same? Do they share the same moral and spiritual character? Can it be said that this nation was the body and bride of Christ? Would you say that they were sanctified and cleansed, a glorious Church not having spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish? (See notes 3 and 4.)

Presbyterian: Before I answer, I think that I should here the balance of your objection. If you continue on your present course I feel certain that I can satisfy your entire argument with a few simple observations.

Baptist: Very well then. Let us next consider their worship. It was outward and ceremonial. If one was circumcised in his flesh, and ceremonially clean, then he was welcome to participate in Old Testament Jewish worship. The Pharisees observed a multitude of ceremonial ordinances. They were experts in Mosaic ritual, and yet they were white washed tombs full of dead men's bones, a brood of vipers, and sons of hell.

Compare this with the worship of the Church. We worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). In Romans 12:1 we see that the presenting of our bodies as living sacrifices is our reasonable service of worship. In Philippians 3:3 Paul writes that we worship in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and place no confidence in the flesh. Now tell me please, can these two forms of worship be one and the same? (See note 2.)

I will summarize. When we consider the moral character and the forms of worship of both groups along side one another, it is abundantly clear that Israel was merely a hollow shell which prefigured the substance found in the Church. This is not to say that there were no godly Jews, but this clearly was not a prerequisite for being a part of that community. In the same way, some Jews did offer sincere worship to God in Old Testament times, but this was more the exception than the rule.

In short, to say that Israel was the Church is akin to saying that the Passover Lamb was actually the Messiah. It is to confuse the type with the antitype, or the sign with the thing signified.

Presbyterian: The confusion or mingling taking place here is not in type and antitype, but in practice and precept. Additionally, you have confused the Visible Church with the Invisible Church.

Baptist: I have heard the terms Visible and Invisible Church, but I have never read them in the Bible. I suspect that these terms were invented to accommodate the infant baptism position.

Presbyterian: I'll come back to that issue shortly. First let's consider the matter of practice and precept. Would you not concede that there are many who call themselves "Baptist" or "Presbyterian" or simply "Christian" who are also scandalously wicked? Moreover, are there not many deacons and even pastors who are also wicked men? Are not the seminaries littered with ignorant and openly profane men who are considered learned doctors of the Church?

Baptist: All this is true I confess. In my own denomination of Baptists, on any given Lord's Day, only about one third of our church members bother to show-up for morning worship. Only a small fraction of these few bother to appear for any service beyond this. I fear that the majority of our membership is unregenerate. (See note 7.) In a recent survey of one year's baptisms, over a third of those baptized by our denomination vanished completely from our churches within twelve months. (See note 6.)

However, this proves nothing for your cause. The openly profane are among us as church members because we have carelessly disobeyed God's word. If we were exercising biblical discipline, this would not be the case. Any similarity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church is due to the Church's disobedience and confusion. It is not because the Church is supposed to be populated with wicked members.

Presbyterian: Are you suggesting that Israel was supposed to be populated with wicked members?

Baptist: No. I am saying that being godly was not a prerequisite. Wicked King Ahab and his children had as much right to be citizens of Israel as holy King David and his children.

Presbyterian: Here you have wrongly mingled practice and precept. You have taken the wicked behavior of the Jews and used it to define acceptable covenant behavior. What if we took the wicked behavior of the Church and used that to define biblical Church life? That would be absurd, would it not?

Baptist: The New Testament clearly requires the removal of those who are openly profane. Consider the immoral man at the Church in Corinth. Paul rebuked the church for permitting such a man to continue with them. "Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person (I Corinthians 5:13)." Where does the Old Testament command any such purging of the wicked, or purity of the assembly?

Presbyterian: There are many such commands. You spoke of those Jews who sacrificed their children to Molech. These were to be removed from the congregation. Look in Leviticus 20:2. "Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones."

In verse seven of the same chapter God said to Israel, "Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy." In verse nine, those who curse father or mother are to be put to death. In verse ten, the adulterer is to be put to death. In verse fourteen the homosexual is to be put to death. Today, the church ordains them as pastors. I never remember Israel doing this, but I digress. In verses 14, 15 and 16, incest and bestiality are to be punished with death. Near the end of the chapter God said, "And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine."

This hardly sounds like a permissive, morally indifferent community. Clearly the openly profane were to be removed from the assembly. They were to be a holy, morally pure people, separate from the world. How does this differ from the Church? You have compared the practice of the one group with the precept of the other. This has given you a false contrast. If you will compare the precept of the one with the precept of the other, you will find holiness on both sides. Likewise, if you compare practice with practice you will find failure and scandal in both ages.

Baptist: It appears that my assertion about the lack of moral requirements for citizenship in Israel was false. Clearly, the wicked were to be punished and not tolerated. Ahab and his family were to be cut off. They did not have the same right to covenant membership as David and his children.

Presbyterian: Next, the matter of worship. You assume that because there was ceremony and symbol in the Old Testament age that their worship was somehow less sincere or spiritual. I will not weary you with another discourse on the difference between practice and precept. Suffice it to say that in both ages men have feigned worship, when in reality they were full of irreverence and contempt for holy things. Our question is, was such outward, ceremonial worship covenantally acceptable or even permissible, without internal faith and sincerity in the worshipper?

First, consider Cain and Abel. They were before Abraham or Moses, but they illustrate a principle. Both offered sacrifices to the Lord. Abel's was accepted while Cain's was rejected. Here we have an outward, ceremonial offering of a sacrifice. One was rejected, the other was received. What was the difference?

Baptist: I understand your point. The book of Hebrews tells us, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh." Clearly, there was an internal distinction in that case. But we are speaking of Israel, and neither Cain nor Abel were part of that community. Do the scriptures explicitly say that Israel's worship was to be in spirit and in truth?

Presbyterian: The scriptures explicitly state that the uncircumcised of heart were not to participate in the worship. Consider the word of the Lord in Ezekiel 44:7 "…ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, even my house, when ye offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant because of all your abominations…" No doubt, one was to be ceremonially clean and circumcised in his flesh. However, he was also to be circumcised in heart. God goes on in the same chapter to condemn those Levites who profaned his worship with idolatry. He bars them from temple service. "13 And they shall not come near unto me, to do the office of a priest unto me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, in the most holy place: but they shall bear their shame, and their abominations which they have committed."

Also, in Isaiah chapter one God rejects the merely outward, ceremonial worship of those who were without the substance that those symbols represented. "11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil…"

Were all these ceremonies not outward enough? Were they not symbolic enough? Were they not prescribed by God himself? What was God's complaint? Why did he forbid them to continue with these anymore? "…Bring no more vain oblations…" It is obvious that they were to observe these ceremonies with sincerity and in faith. They were to approach God in worship with holy hearts. "…Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil…"

Baptist: I confess that I have erred. Both Israel and the Church have been commanded to be holy in their character and in their worship. Both were to be spiritually holy people.

However, I am still bothered by something. The Bible does call the Church the body of Christ. Is this description a precept or a reality? Paul does not say that the Church is supposed to be, or is commanded to be, the body of Christ, but that it is the body of Christ (Ephesians (1:22). How do we reconcile this assertion with the reality that most church members are unregenerate?

Presbyterian: An excellent question! Your inquiry leads us directly into the issue of the Visible and Invisible Church. The Bible clearly speaks of the Church in two different senses.

First, we have the Invisible Church. This is the mystical body of Christ. The members of this body are not now all regenerate, but they are all elect of God. In due time, they will all come to regeneration, faith and repentance. This is the group you spoke of earlier. This is the bride of Christ, for whom he died, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

The Bible also speaks of the Church in a different manner. The Invisible Church is made up of those whom God has chosen to receive into fellowship. Whereas the Visible Church is to be made up of those that we are commanded to receive into fellowship. God receives on the basis of his infallible decree. We receive on the basis of a fallible presumption. God has not given us a glimpse into the Lamb's Book of Life. We cannot infallibly verify who is and who is not on the list. Instead, we are told to admit those with a credible profession of faith, and their little ones. This is a presumption of their election.

This is why Paul said to the elders of the Church in Ephesus in Acts 20:30, "Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." If the Church was made up of true believers only, then this would not be a concern. But since the Visible Church is only our approximation of the Invisible Church, such concern is warranted.

Consider also the words of our Lord to the Churches of Asia Minor. The Church in Pergamos had members that held to the doctrine of Balaam, and to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. The Church in Thyatira tolerated not simply a church member, but a teacher named Jezebel who seduced Christ's servant to commit fornication. Christ pronounced the Church in Sardis dead, though it had a name to be alive. The Church in Laodicea was described by our Lord as pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Are these the pictures of a chaste virgin, without spot or blemish?

The Church is to receive those with credible professions along with their children. If these professions become less than credible, then we are to remove them from among us. But when we receive them, this does not guarantee that they are elect. In the same way, if we remove them, this does not mean that they are reprobate. After all, they may yet be restored.

Baptist: I see your point. The Bible speaks of the Church in these two senses. If this is what is meant by Visible and Invisible, then it seems entirely biblical.

You have answered my earlier objections against Israel being the Church, but does the Bible anywhere state that Israel was the Church, or that the Church is Israel?

Presbyterian: In Ephesians 2:12 Paul writes, "… at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world…" He clearly states that our being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel was before we became Christians, or before we were joined to the Church.

In Jeremiah 31:31, the Lord says, "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah" In Hebrews 8:8-13 the Apostle informs us that this is the covenant that we, the Church are under. Yet, the covenant was clearly made with Israel and with the house of Judah.

In Romans 11 Paul refers to Israel as an olive tree. Those Jews who rejected the Messiah were cut off from the olive tree. At the same time, believing Gentiles are grafted into that same congregation from which unbelieving Jews were expelled, that is, they are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel.

In Romans nine, Paul explains that not all Israel is truly Israel. In other words, not all who are physically Israel are covenantally Israel. He then goes on to explain who the covenant children of promise are, in other words, who is truly Israel. These are the elect (see verse 23-26). Since the Church is made up of the elect, the church is Israel.

The Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) uses the same word for the Jewish congregation as the New Testament uses for "Church" In Psalm 34:18 David says that he will give thanks in the midst of the church. The martyr Stephen calls Israel the Church in Acts 7:38. Baptist: I have always heard that the Church is spiritual Israel, but not physical Israel.

Presbyterian: The question is not, "Who is physical Israel?" but "Who is covenantal Israel?" When physical Israel abandoned God, they were, (temporarily -see Romans 11), covenantally cut-off. For this reason Paul says that not all Israel is truly Israel. In the same way, when Gentiles come to Christ in faith and repentance they are counted as covenantal Israel, and they are grafted into the covenant community. Once grafted into the covenant community, they have the covenant responsibility to administer the sign of the covenant to their children. In the Old Testament this was circumcision. In the New Testament the sign is baptism.

Jeremiah 31
The New Covenant

Baptist: You have given me much to consider. I remember several related points that I had heard my pastor address from the pulpit. Perhaps you can speak to these.

Presbyterian: I would be happy to, if I am able.

Baptist: I remember him preaching from Jeremiah chapter 31. I'll read the text out loud, "31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

My pastor's exposition was roughly as follows:

a. This is clearly called a "New Covenant". It is also described as a different covenant, by the words, "not like the covenant I made with their fathers…"

b. The difference is in membership. The old covenant was with the idolatrous Jews who fell in the wilderness. It was also with the faithful, but it clearly included idolaters.

c. The new covenant is only with the regenerate. His law is in their inward parts, he is their God, and they are his people. They all know him, from the least of them to the greatest. He has forgiven their sins and remembers their iniquity no more.

d. This indicates that New Covenant church membership must require regeneration, and not simply a presumption of election.

You disproved the second point of his argument by showing the union between Israel and the Church. I agree with you that the wicked in the Old Testament community were present against God's command, just as they are amongst us now against God's command.

However, it does appear from the covenant language that all new covenant members will have God's law written on their hearts, they will all know him from the least of them to the greatest, they will all be forgiven. In short, they will all be regenerate. If being regenerate is a requirement for being a covenant member, then it must also be required for receiving the covenant sign, namely baptism.

Presbyterian: Earlier, there was some confusion between precept and practice. Presently, we have the confounding of precept and promise. The Baptists find in this text a requirement for a regenerate membership. When they are confronted with the reality of their own church membership roles being littered with millions of souls who could not even be considered credible professors, and when many of these members are openly profane, immoral, and heretical, they respond as follows: "We have surely failed to follow the word of the Lord in this matter, but our failure to obey does not invalidate the requirement of the covenant, they all must know him from the least to the greatest."

The problem is that no such command exists. Search Jeremiah 31 thru and thru. Find any command of any kind! There is none! There are only promises. A command can be broken, knowingly or ignorantly. But a promise of God cannot be broken. Therefore, the passage cannot mean that all church members will be regenerate. This interpretation would make God a liar, which cannot be. The Baptists transform the promise into a command in order to accommodate their misguided interpretation of the text. Please observe, the text does not say, "They all ought to know me." It says, "They all shall know me."

Baptist: I see your point. You have explained what it does not mean, and I am inclined to agree. But if not that, then what does it mean?

Presbyterian: The covenant is said to be new and different with respect to its form, but not to its substance. Earlier, we agreed that the Abrahamic covenant is the gospel preached beforehand, and that it justified men through faith, by grace. Now, the Mosaic covenant was merely a renovation of this same covenant. And so, we must grant that both the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant were the Covenant of Grace under different forms. Otherwise, we are assuming manifold gospels and differing ways of salvation.

We could say that the Mosaic Covenant was different, not like the covenant made with Abraham, because it had many additional ceremonies and regulations added to it. Nevertheless, it did not present a new way of salvation. It was simply the gospel preached beforehand in a different form, thru the use of various types, shadows, ceremonies and symbols.

In the same way, the New Covenant is different and not like the Mosaic Covenant. The sacrifices, washings, dietary laws and outward ritual have been reduced to baptism and communion. Under the Law, the gospel was the same, but it was much more obscure. The blessing of regeneration was present, but much less than now.

The contrast is two fold. First, the degree of revelation is now greater. "Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11)." Christ did not mean greater in virtue, or piety, but in knowledge. Much more has been revealed, and with much greater clarity, not simply the necessary or essential rudiments.

Second, there is a contrast with respect to the harvest. Before only a very few were regenerate. Even after great and miraculous deliverances, the masses were yet hardened in sin. But in the reign of Christ, even in the most grievous conditions, the gospel goes forth conquering and to conquer. God uses "all" to mean a great multitude when he says, "They all shall know me." Matthew used the word "all" in the same way when he said, "Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins (Matthew 3:5, 6)." Clearly, the outpouring of God's grace is greater in the New Testament times, but neither in the old or new economies of grace could it be said that all church members are regenerate.

Finally, it should be noted that just as there are no commandments in this text, neither do we find any regenerate saints.

Baptist: You were making a lot of sense until just now. Your point concerning promise and precept is well taken. But surely you must see that these are regenerate people!

Presbyterian: I ask you,

i) On whose hearts will he engrave his laws, on the hearts of those who already delight in his law and meditate on it day and night, or upon the hearts of the lawless?

ii) To whom shall he be God, to those already in humble subjection, or to the godless?

iii) To whom shall he make himself known, to those who already know and love him, or to those who are strangers, and afar off?

iv) Who will he forgive, those already justified by grace thru faith, or those who are dead in their trespasses and sins?

Baptist: It appears that the covenant, strictly speaking, is not with the regenerate but with the elect, who in consequence of the covenant become regenerate.

Presbyterian: Yes, indeed. You were included in this covenant long before you were born, much less born again.

Baptist: Well then, there are many of God's elect who are now unregenerate and living scandalously wicked lives. Should we receive them as members now, since they will someday be born again? Is this not presuming their election?

Presbyterian: That would indeed be presumption, but not Biblical presumption. You might even make an accurate presumption, by admitting an openly profane person into church membership who would later be converted. This too would be unbiblical. We may only presume the election of credible professors and their children. "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee (Genesis 17:7)."

The Sign

Baptist: You have convinced me that the Abrahamic covenant is the covenant of grace. And I believe that baptism is the sign of the covenant. But baptism is more than an initiation rite. It represents the work of the Spirit and new spiritual life. Can an infant comprehend these truths? Isn't it misapplying the sign to give it to someone who is oblivious to its meaning? Isn't this separating the sign from that which it signifies?

Presbyterian: Circumcision represents circumcision of the heart. A circumcised heart was a clean heart. Circumcised lips were pure lips. It speaks of faith, repentance and sanctification, in short regeneration. Paul said of Abraham's circumcision, "… he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe… (Romans 4:11)." Now this sign which carried so much meaning and represented so many spiritual truths was to be given to infants at the age of eight days old.

What could be more fitting? Here is a sign which speaks of regeneration. It is conferred upon a helpless infant totally incapable of saving itself, or of even wishing itself to be saved. Is this not what happens to all of God's elect? We are helpless, dead in our sins, unable and unwilling to be saved. Then God mercifully regenerates us. He grants us faith and repentance. If we are to presume their election, then there is no more appropriate time to baptize than in infancy.

It also confers an obligation on both the parents and the covenant community to nurture the child spiritually. And as the child grows, their baptism tells them that they have been marked out and set apart, even from their mothers' womb, and that they have covenant obligations. We do not wait for them to reach some unknown age of accountability, when they will pick the religion of their choice. We do not say to them, "Mom and Dad hope that you won't become a Druid. We hope you will decide to follow Jesus."

This is far from separating the sign from the thing signified. This is one of the appointed means for bringing the thing signified to pass.

Baptist: How can parents place such covenant obligations on their children? Such obligations must be voluntarily submitted to.

Presbyterian: Did we volunteer to be subject to the blessings and curses of the covenant of works, or did our father Adam subject us to these blessings and curses? Throughout scripture, covenant obligations are passed from generation to generation. There is no sin in requiring our little ones to fear and love the Lord. In due time, they may prove unwilling to do this. If that should happen, then they will disqualify themselves from church membership. Unless this happens, they are retained.


Baptist: Thus far you have defended your position quit well. You have convinced me of your fundamental points. The Abrahamic Covenant was clearly not a simple real estate transaction. Neither was it mere allegory. It was in fact the Covenant of Grace. This is clear from words of the covenant, "I will be their God." It is also evident from the spiritual sins that were called covenant breaking, and from the salvation of the Gentiles being called the fulfillment of the covenant. Further, the apostles themselves spoke of the covenant in very spiritual terms, even calling it the Gospel preached beforehand.

You have also shown that Israel and the Church are in fact one and the same ecclesiastical body. New Testament saints are counted as children of the Abrahamic covenant promise. They are grafted into the olive tree which is Israel. Though not physically Israel, they are covenantally Israel.

It has also been established that circumcision was the sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace in Old Testament times, and that infants were to be given this sign and admitted into the covenant community.

I agree that baptism is the sign and seal of the Covenant in New Testament times. Beyond that, I confess that I know of no passage were infants have been removed from the Church, or barred from the same membership which Old Testament infants enjoyed previously. And so, you have met your burden of proof. I see now the solemn obligation of believing parents to baptize their children.

Presbyterian: You have summarized the matter splendidly. What a happy conclusion when brothers are agreed in truth.

Baptist: I must ask, however, about mode. I have always been taught that the word "baptize" always means to immerse. This seems like rather harsh treatment for an infant to undergo. Yet, to change our Lord's command from "immerse" to "sprinkle" or "pour" is unacceptable. How do you justify such modifications?

Presbyterian: We would not presume to modify our Lord's commandment in any way. We believe that sprinkling or pouring is entirely biblical. As to your assertions that "baptize" always means to immerse, you are misinformed. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the root of baptizw, baptw, is used to describe the morning condensation of dew upon the body of Nebuchadnezzar as he lay in the open field. (Daniel 4) This is hardly an immersion.

Jesus said that the Pharisees baptized their couches before eating (Mark 7:4). One would hardly imagine by this, the dragging of furniture to a river before each meal, but rather a ceremonial sprinkling or pouring. Also, in Hebrews 9:10 the washings of the Old Testament, which consisted of sprinkling, pouring, and even smearing, are called baptisms in the original Greek.

The ancient Greeks used the word baptizo in a variety of ways that did not mean immersion. For example, brushing dye into the hair was called baptism. Most Baptists would admit that Homer new his Greek pretty well. In "The Battle of the Frogs and Mice", Homer describes a frog named Crombophagus who was stabbed in the chest. After being stabbed, the frog hopped all over the lake with blood spurting out of his chest into the water. Homer said that the lake was thus baptized by the blood of the frog. (See Holy Baptism by Duane E. Spencer page 66-68) The application was clearly made by sprinkling.

In another Greek classic, a giant bird is wounded with an arrow, and as it flies through the air, its falling blood is said to baptize the clouds. (See Holy Baptism by Duane E. Spencer page 66-68) The clouds were not dipped into a pool of blood, but blood was sprinkled upon them.

Plutarch speaks of the baptism of wine with sea water. This was done by pouring sea water into the wine, thus diluting it. (See "BAPTIZW" by James Dale Volume II, page 339)

Plutarch also calls drunkenness a baptism with wine. This is done by a man pouring wine into himself, not by dipping himself into wine (page 337).

Beyond the argument from usage, there is also the symbolism of the ceremony. John said, "I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost (Mark 4:8)." Baptism in water signifies the washing or baptism of the Holy Spirit. "…I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh… (Acts 2:17)." "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior… (Titus 3:5, 6)." "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols (Ezekiel 36:25)."

Now, if the word baptize may mean to sprinkle, or pour, or dip, which of these most accurately reflects the way in which God baptizes us with his Spirit?

Baptist: I suppose sprinkling or pouring. But doesn't baptism also represent our burial with Christ? Paul said, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4)."

Presbyterian: When we are baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are joined to him in his death, burial and resurrection. Paul is not saying here that baptism represents burial. Baptism speaks of our union with Christ. Because we have been united with him, we share in his death and resurrection. But we also share in his reign, and in his inheritance. Baptism no more represents his reign or inheritance than it does his burial. It speaks of our union with him. By this union, we share in his death and resurrection.

Besides all this, how does immersion resemble our Lord's burial? Judas was lowered into the clay of the Potter's field, but our Lord was placed in a sepulcher. He was not lowered into a hole and covered with dirt. The dirt never touched him! The picture in baptism is not burial, but the washing of regeneration which unites us with Christ. By this union we share in our Lord's death and life. Thus, we have been buried with him thru baptism, or thru our being united with Christ thru the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Baptist: It is clear now that the Greek language not only permits, but the biblical context also favors the practice of sprinkling or pouring over immersing. Since God baptizes us with his Holy Spirit by sprinkling our hearts clean, or by pouring his Spirit upon us, it seems most appropriate we also baptize by the sprinkling or pouring of water.

Presbyterian: Having found such concord on this point, may I encourage you to consider what implications this doctrine has on other Bible doctrines. It confirms and agrees with good Covenant Theology, while overturning the entire framework of Dispensationalism, by showing the unity of both the covenants and the covenant people of God throughout the ages. This is also a great safeguard against the antinomian tendencies of our day. The underlying principles we have discussed should also influence the way we structure and govern our churches, and the way Church and State relate to one another. Add to these points, national covenanting, and biblical liberty of conscience as opposed to the worldly license of conscience. I could go on, but these few notables are sufficient for now. These are all topics for other conversations, to be had on other days. In the mean time, I hope that this seed germinates and brings forth much fruit in your doctrine and practice.

Statements of Baptists Referenced in the Conversation

(1) "Circumcision was the sign of ethnic identity. It was the physical participation in the temporal features of the Abrahamic covenant. Listen carefully: it didn't have any spiritual implications at all. None! Because most of the people who were circumcised—the vast majority of Israelites who were circumcised, went to hell. You understand that? They rejected the true and living God; they worshipped idols. Right? That's the history of Israel. In the present, most of the Jewish people, who are circumcised, will perish without the knowledge of God." A Scriptural Critique of Infant Baptism by John MacArthur

(2) "Relatively little attention is given to inward life. If a man is circumcised, he is counted a Jew. If he is conformed to outward practices, he is called clean and welcome at the ceremonies of worship." Baptism and Covenant Theology by Walter J. Chantry

(3) "…he was not their God, in a spiritual sense. It appears from their history, that, in every age, a remnant only were truly pious. Christian Baptism by Adoniram Judson D.D

(4) The covenant of circumcision was an outward covenant. It had no regard to the spiritual character of its subjects. Recognition under it was not dependent upon faith in Christ. It embraced every variety of character in the Jewish nation, Exod xxxiii 13. They were all, the bad as well as the good, Scribes and Pharisees, and Sadducees, "the circumcision". Is this the covenant which gives a new heart, and secures the everlasting forgiveness of sins? Heb viii 10-12. Who will identify what are so evidently distinct? Who will say that the subjects of the one covenant are also subjects of the other? The Short and Easy Answer to the Question Who Are the Fit and Proper Subjects of Christian Baptism? By William Eccles

(5) The spiritual truths which the covenant represents in its allegorical use, were not brought into existence by the covenant, and are not dependent on it. They are above it, as the things which the Mosaic ceremonies typified are superior to the ceremonies; or as a substance is superior to its shadow, and independent of it. Manual on Church Order by J.L. Dagg D.D.

(6) Secondly, the 840 churches who participated in the survey admitted that they had lost complete contact with more than one-third of those whom they had baptized the previous year. These people were baptized into oblivion. They have been relegated to the denominational black hole known of inactive and non-resident church membership. Troubling Waters of Baptism by Thomas Ascol (A Baptist)

(7) Out of Southern Baptist's nearly 15.9 million members, only 5.2 million, or 32.8%, even bother to show up on a given Sunday morning, according to the Strategic Information and Planning department of the Sunday School Board (1997). If your church is anything like normal, and is not brand new, your statistics are probably similar. In the average church, one can cut that 32.8% by about two-thirds to find those interested in any additional aspect of church life, such as a Sunday evening service. In other words, only about a third of the 32.8% or slightly more than a tenth of the whole (12.3% in churches with evening services in 1996, the last year for which statistics are available) show more interest in the things of God than Sunday morning attenders in the liberal church down the street where the gospel is not even preached. These figures suggest that nearly 90% of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the "cultural Christians" who populate mainline denominations. Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination by Jim Elliff (A Baptist)

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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