Monday, June 20, 2011

Baptist Inconsistency

I had the pleasure of spending a five hour road trip with a Reformed Baptist. As we talked of many things, our differences with regard to the baptism of children arose. Being a paedobaptist, I pointed out to him an inconsistency that helped to change my view from credobaptism when I had been first studying the matter closely. He was, to my surprise, convinced and we spoke of many more examples that supported the basic contention. I thought it might be helpful just to post the basic claim that started the ball rolling. I think one thing that particularly helped our conversation was that we had been listening to Voddie Baucham, a Reformed Baptist who has a very high view of family and of covenantal discipline of children. The stark contrast was made even starker by this background.

I'm going to try and put the argument into a valid form with assumptions laid bare.

1. Being precedes doing.
2. Our being Christian precedes our doing Christianity.
3. God's power alone recreates the being "unbeliever" into the being "Christian" (this is regeneration)
4. Only regenerate beings can do what God commands in willing obedience.
5. The Bible commands elders and fathers to train their children in obedience to God's commands (Deut. 6, 1 Tim. & Titus).
6. The Bible states the God is faithful unto the thousandth generation of children of those who are faithful to His commands (Deut. 7).
7. Given 4-6 children of believing parents must be regarded as Christians in order to consistently fulfill the command of God to disciple them in obedience.

Upon what basis does the father or elder have for believing that his children will be obedient to God's commands? The father or elder is considered disobedient and unfit should his children not obey God's commands, yet it is clear that obedience is only obedience when it comes from the heart, which means a heart that has been made new through regeneration. Since the baptist does not believe that regeneration can occur apart from an understanding, and that the blessings and cursings of the covenant can only be enabled once a profession has been made, there is no basis for the parent of the unbaptized, unprofessing child to expect that their obedience is in accordance with God's commands. Not only is their no basis for expecting genuine obedience, there is no basis for discipleship, since only a regenerate mind can receive the truth of Scripture. In order to be consistent, a Baptist must evangelize, not instruct, and he can only apply the law apart from the gospel promises to his child. But what father who has taught his child to obey his word joyfully expects that the child's joyful obedience to his command is anything but genuine? And is this not obeying the fifth commandment, as a good father is teaching his child to obey, in accordance with Deut. 6? But under the baptist position, all of these efforts are in spite of what the baptist believes his child to be--a fallen, blind, and unregenerate sinner.

While the father cannot know the child's regeneration, he can regard the child as such on the basis of God's stated Word for children of believing parents--a Word that the baptist has rejected the truth of, and cannot claim consistently. The father may raise his child in accordance with Deut. 6 and the elder may be evaluated on the basis of his children's obedience because his children are under the blessings and cursings of the covenant and can be expected to obey from the heart the commands which they are given. And because the paedobaptist has the promise of God that his child shall continue in the obedience in which he is taught, he has a foundation upon which to discipline the child, since God can make known to the child what an unregenerate heart cannot know by definition--namely, that "I am a Christian and must honor my father and mother in the Lord." The baptist child can only be expected to know that "I am an unbeliever and must honor my father and mother by my own standard."

To the extent that baptist elders expect their children to follow in their instruction concerning the Lord's commands in the same way that they expect a newly converted adult to do so, there is also inconsistency. And if the baptist expects the child to obey only superficially, i.e. not from understanding AND willingness, then he is actively training hypocrisy rather than obedience. The only consistently baptist father would treat his child as an unbeliever--continually proclaiming his unbelief and separated status while refraining from the sort of fellowship in which only Christians may participate. Yet what father expects that in raising his child there is not a unity of mind? After all, what is filling the child's mind with propositions to believe and act upon if not the father? What father expects his child to be able to articulate a profession of faith that they believe the father's word is true and should be obeyed? Even Voddie Baucham mentioned a verse in the Old Testament where the daughter's vow to the Lord may be overturned if the father invalidates it--thus the Lord subjects the daughter's vow to the word of the parent, thereby allowing the father to cover the iniquity of the daughter. How else could this be unless children under the headship of the father and mother were sanctified and under the covenant stipulations? What else does Paul mean when saying that a child of even one believing parent is considered holy?

Once one accepts the basic inconsistency of the credobaptist position on this point, one's eyes are opened to see the pervasive assumption regarding the place of children of believing parents in the Covenant of Christ. "Let the little children come unto me," and "Whoever causes the least of these to stumble," are reflective of the ideas laid down in the Old Testament regarding the chosen status of children and the high standard required of parents to be to their children as God is to His children.


J.L. said...

Hi Josh,

I want to make a few comments, and I hope you'll have time to respond to them. I am still working through this issue.

First, you're playing fast and loose with the verb "training" in Eph. 6:4. Likewise with Deut. 6 and the rest. You're reading more assumptions in than you think by rendering "train/teach" as something like "training/teaching them to live as believers". From my reading of all four passages, that is a leap. I only gather "teach them to obey the law".

As a second assumption, you assume that training someone in God's law is not evangelistic. Yet Paul tells us the a purpose of the law for believers: to be our tutor to bring us to Christ. Consequently, a baptist argument for obeying Deut. 6:

The law has a crucial role in evangelism. We ought to evangelize our children. Therefore, we ought to teach our children the law.

Now for argument's sake let's assume that "train" means "bring them up as Christians". Another glaring assumption that you did not mention, and one that you most likely reject as a Calvinst: ought implies can. Yes, I am instructed to train my children in obedience to God's commands. That is an "ought". Now whether I actually "can" is dependent on whether God regenerates their hearts.

>>>[Covenant children] can be expected to obey from the heart the commands which they are given. And because the paedobaptist has the promise of God that his child shall continue in the obedience in which he is taught<<<

What is your response, then, when covenant children do not obey God from the heart or continue in obedience?

>>>Even Voddie Baucham mentioned a verse in the Old Testament where the daughter's vow to the Lord may be overturned if the father invalidates it<<<

Scripture reference?

>>>What else does Paul mean when saying that a child of even one believing parent is considered holy?<<<

So unbelieving spouses are also under covenant stipulations?


Joshua Butcher said...

Hi J.L.,

Let me respond to your questions point by point. It will require two postings.

First, the term training. You say, “I only gather ‘teach them to obey the law.’” What is biblical obedience to the law? It is not simply external conformity to the commandments, otherwise God would not command us to circumcise our hearts, nor would He condemn internal sins such as covetousness or unexpressed anger. Scripture’s definition of obedience to the law implies conformity of the will. Therefore, to train the child to obey the law is to train the child in willing obedience—something that only a regenerate heart can achieve.

Second, evangelism. In the broadest terms all teaching is evangelism, for evangelism is bringing the gospel to bear on the issue at hand. However, the gospel message implies one thing to the unbeliever, and another thing to the believer. In Galatians 3:24 where Paul calls the law a pedagogue, it is in the context of having been imprisoned under the law prior to our justification in Christ. In other words, Paul is highlighting a particular function of a pedagogue, namely, to restrain the pupil from error. While teaching is certainly a meaning the term carries, it does not fit the context in which Paul is using it. Consider what follows in 25 and 26: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Certainly Paul isn’t arguing that we no longer require teaching, or that the law no longer instructs us! Rather, the law is no longer what restrains us, for we are constrained by the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Not only this, but Deuteronomy 6 does not speak only to the requirements of the commands, but also of the promises, which fathers are to teach to their children, so that they might reap those promises. Verses 17-18: “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.” The purpose of teaching obedience is so that these children could take possession of the promise. But, how could they reap what only willing obedience (and not merely external obedience) could achieve?

Verses 20-25: ““When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’” Again, the father’s are not teaching the children that they must believe in order to have these things, but rather that these things are already theirs, and that it is obedience that will preserve them for the time to come. There is no hint of evangelizing those who are lost, but of keeping those who are already under a covenant.

Joshua Butcher said...


Third, I agree that “ought” does not imply “can” but that is why I combined both the command with the promise. The promise is the ground of assurance that what has been commanded can be fulfilled, since God has promised to make it so. In other words, the “can” is contained in the promise. If you read the original post again, it is part of my argument that parents cannot accomplish obedience in their children, which is why the only parents with any assurance that their efforts are not in vain are those parents who believe that the promises of God for their children are true. Baptists by definition of their position that children are not under the covenant cannot consistently trust those promises.

Fourth, my response when a covenant child departs from the faith is twofold: 1) God may yet draw them back into obedience, and 2) there are exceptions to the rule, for the promise is normative, not universal. Children who depart from the faith are like adult professors who depart from the faith--they require church discipline in order to draw them back, but we don't thereby pronounce them outside the covenant, at least not initially. I also stated in the article that God makes promises corporately does not bind Him to saving every individual within that corporate group.

Fifth, the Voddie Baucham reference is from Numbers 30:3-5, ““If a woman vows a vow to the LORD and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father's house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the LORD will forgive her, because her father opposed her.”

Sixth, the passage goes on to say the same thing for wives under the headship of their husband, which begins to get at your next question. Only the head of the household represents the entire household, so a believing father brings all those in his household under the covenant, with attendant responsibilities upon all, but especially upon him to discipline those under his headship. A believing wife does not bring her husband into the covenant, but because of her authority over the children, they are set apart by her special relationship to them. She obviously has responsibility to fulfill Deut. 6, so they I do think they come under the scope of the covenant as she is over them as a parent.

J.L. said...


Thanks for responding. This was helpful.

>>>Scripture’s definition of obedience to the law implies conformity of the will. Therefore, to train the child to obey the law is to train the child in willing obedience—something that only a regenerate heart can achieve.<<<

No disagreement there. But this isn't proof that children of believers CAN conform their wills. You read "can" into the text because you read the old covenant's take on children into the text. This is only acceptable if covenant theology is true. But if CT is true you wouldn't need to write this post, because if CT is true then paedobaptism is true.

My understanding of this debate is that the real battleground is on the issue of continuity; your argument only persuades me that I need to continue my study there. :)

Joshua Butcher said...


Do you not believe that Deuteronomy 6 is binding upon Christians in the New Covenant?

Regardless, the same implication is present in the 1 Timothy and Titus requirements upon elders to have obedient children in their homes. Unless children of elders are presumed to be capable of willing obedience, then the injunction upon elders to have believing children sets up a standard that elders cannot meet! On the contrary, the requirements of elders are grounded upon the fact that their children are under the covenant and are beholden to its requirements--otherwise elders would not be held accountable for shepherding them faithfully in it.

While you are correct that paedobaptism is an implication of covenant theology, it doesn't follow that a defense of paedobaptism is unnecessary if CT is true. Many Reformed Baptists are covenantal while remaining credobaptist. Not everyone is capable of following the logic of their own premises to their fullest extent.

You are also correct that continuity/discontinuity is the crux of the debate, in which case I commend your efforts at further study and would point you to the following resources:

J.L. said...


Thanks again for taking the time to interact.

>>>then the injunction upon elders to have believing children sets up a standard that elders cannot meet!<<<

By your criterion, if an elder had any unprofessing children, how could they be elders? Surely you mean that the children simply ought to be trained in a particular way. And whether said training presupposes that they are Christians in turn presupposes that the children are under the covenantal promises given to children of believers in the OT. Now whether any of the OT applies today in a binding sense is precisely the issue I've been wrestling with as of late.

>>>it doesn't follow that a defense of paedobaptism is unnecessary if CT is true. Many Reformed Baptists are covenantal while remaining credobaptist.<<<

And I would agree that this is a misapplication of our God-given faculties of deduction. :) But, yes, point taken.

I am familiar with Ron's argument. Probably the the best argument I've ever encountered for paedobaptism, actually. I am persuaded that the Abrahamic covenant was made with the elect. Nevertheless his argument still assumes the continuity that I am at present investigating. However I think he did everyone a service by writing out a formal proof. (As a corollary, if indeed the new covenant theologian is correct that all OT laws are cancelled and discontinuity is present, Ron is incorrect that he has refuted the "best baptist argument out there".)

One formal criticism: his argument fails to adequately deal with why female infants are baptized. Inserting "whenever possible" in the first premise doesn't obviate the problem. First, this condition is not found in scripture. Second, it is completely false that it is impossible for females to be circumcised. Certain African tribes still practice female circumcision.

Joshua Butcher said...


With regard to elders with unprofessing children, I don't pretend to have formulated sound criteria for evaluating at what point an elder is disqualified on the basis of an unbelieving child. The material point is what the standard presupposes. In order for elders to be required to raise godly children, those children must be capable of willfully obeying what they have been taught. In other words, there is an expectation of remaining faithful to the covenant. But if there is no Scriptural basis for expecting the children of believers to follow in the faith in which they have been raised, then upon what foundation does the command in 1 Timothy and Titus stand? I'm not presupposing that children are part of the covenant, but rather arguing that the nature of the command presupposes it. Surely you can see the distinction between my own presuppositions and ones that I am identifying in the text.

It would be helpful for you to express in what ways precisely you think the New Testament formulates discontinuity. For example, the covenantal position accepts certain discontinued practices where new ones have been instituted (i.e. sacrificial system replaced by Baptism and Lord's Supper), but even in those discontinuities there is a measure of identification. What is your precise concern?

I'm not sure what Ron would say, but I don't think that New Covenant Theology presents a different argument from the run-of-the-mill Reformed Baptist or Dispensationalist with regard to the administration of baptism. If you could formulate the NCT position in distinction to these others, I'd be willing to interact with it.

I don't think your formal criticism of Ron's argument holds true. Just because the mutilation of girls in Africa is called by the name of circumcision does not mean that it is the same as the Covenant sign given in the OT. In fact, that the Covenant sign in the OT was required only of males automatically disqualifies female mutilation as Covenant circumcision.

It would be well to consider that some things which may be earmarked as "discontinuous" may be more properly classified as "more fully developed," as the bringing in of the Gentiles. Gentiles were converted under the Old Covenant, but not to the extent or scope as seen in the New Covenant. Is this change really discontinuous, or merely progressive, and in accordance with promises stated in the OT?

J.L. said...


The contention I presented earlier was that the language of Eph 6, Titus 1, 1 Tim 3, etc does not carry an expectation about their belief, as you claim. MacArthur, whose study Bible I have, seems to disagree. He points out that "faithful" in Titus refers to faith in Christ. In his comments on 1 Tim. 3 he even goes so far as to say that an elder's children "must be believers".(!)

Using the verse from Titus, I think your argument could be re-formulated more simply:

1. Qualified elders have faithful children.
2. Faithful children are saved.
3. Only paedobaptists have a basis for regarding their children as saved.
4. Therefore, only paedobaptists can consistently apply Titus 1.

A corollary:

4. Only paedobaptists can consistently apply Titus 1.
5. Titus 1 is to be applied consistently.
6. Therefore, Titus 1 presupposes covenantal paedobaptism.

This keeps the focus on the status of the children rather than how the parents raise them, which I think makes for a stronger and more lucid argument.

I agree with 1 and 2. Concerning 3, I will have to ask some of my NCT friends whether they think they have any basis for regarding children as saved. Or maybe they disagree with you and MacArthur that the language is that strong.

Of course, given your view, which appears to be the same as MacArthur's, if we are to be consistent, the elder whose child apostasizes is no longer qualified as an elder. Otherwise you must argue that these verses simply speak only to the way in which the elder raises his children and not to the status of the children themselves. Do you think Paul is that stringent?

I need to do more reading on the topic of discontinuity before I use that as the basis of an argument. But I will say that Ron's argument relies heavily on the continuity between the old and new covenants, which is evident at the end of his essay when he argues for a new covenant that doesn't actually characteristically present anything new (lol), which the exception of a change in sign. So an argument showing that the new covenant is fundamentally superior, and not merely an increase in already present blessings, would be pretty damaging. Once again, I am not going to present any argument at this point because I am not well studied enough.

Let's ignore what happens to some girls in Africa, then. How do we know whether God considers females circumcisable (regardless of whether the practice is horrific)? We don't, so assuming that God thinks it is impossible is eisegesis. I still want to know which of Ron's premises you would modify, and how, in order to allow for female infant baptism under the NC.

Joshua Butcher said...


Thank you for formulating a formal presentation of the argument, which is clearer.

If you agree with 1 and 2, I’m not sure why it would matter whether or not NCT folks take the Titus 1 verse to imply “are faithful (in behavior)” rather than “are believers,” since you would reject the first interpretation as legitimate. As for what basis NCT would have for presuming that children of believers can be faithfully trained so that they fulfill the requirements of Titus 1, what grounds could they possibly offer other than the promise of God to that effect? There is no other firm assurance, is there? And if that is the only assurance, in order to avoid a consistently paedobaptist position, they would have to argue that God’s promise for the children of elders is different from God’s promise for the children of all other believers, since the standards upon elders presume that their training of their children ought to lead to faithfulness in the children. But there has to be some other verse supporting this claim, since to argue that Titus 1 argues it is to beg the question.

I don’t have a problem with Paul’s requirements being high. The elder is a representative of God for His people, and so any training of his leading to infidelity is proof that his efforts are out of accordance with faithful leadership. The passage is concerned with the way in which an elder raises his children AND the status of those children. I don’t see how the two can be kept separate in considering the normative case. One might use certain OT passages regarding the culpability of fathers for the sins of sons, and sons for the sins of fathers to argue in a particular case why an elder should not be disqualified because of an unfaithful child, but I should think that a session would at least desire that the elder take time away from his position in order to bring order to his household before resuming any active duties as an elder.

There is one qualification that needs to be raised at this point, which is that once children are no longer under the household of the elder, he is no longer the party directly responsible for the faithfulness of his children. A male child would inherit his own headship, and a female child who marries would be under her husband’s headship, not her father’s. This is not to say that individuals aren’t responsible for their own beliefs, of course, but is simply to recognize where the headship burden falls.

To summarize, the primary reason for requiring children to be faithful under the elder’s care is that his performance leading in the home has direct bearing upon his performance leading in the church. While his children are under his watch, they ought to bear fruit in keeping with his discipline—even more so than those in the church since they are not under his direct supervision as are his children.

As for female circumcision, I’m arguing that God did not intend the sign of circumcision to be given to all who are in the covenant, for otherwise He would have made provision for female circumcision, which he did not. The change in the mode of the sign (from circumcision for males to baptism for all) seems primarily to signify both the expansion of the Covenant promises (no male/female, Jew/Greek, Circumcised/Uncircumcised) as well as to exchange the bloody sign for the clean (since Christ’s blood has been shed once for all). Neither of these changes constitutes a change in the meaning or nature of the sign (both signify entrance into the covenant and the removal of sin). That females are to be baptized where before they were not circumcised does not imply their need to have a profession of faith.

Reformed Apologist said...

I need to do more reading on the topic of discontinuity before I use that as the basis of an argument.

Hi J.L. (and Josh),

I don't have too much time to get into this matter at the moment, but regarding continuity and discontinuity, the reason we must presuppose continuity as the de facto position is because to presuppose discontinuity is an unworkable principle. We could never know that any principle was binding one second after it was given if we were not to presuppose continuity.

J.L., certainly you presuppose that all Jesus' precepts are binding today, for he has not abrogated them. But what if we did not presuppose continuity? Moreover, why should you not presuppose that the whole counsel of God including general principles is not still binding until such time it is abrogated? Don't we reject the ceremonial law precisely because it has been abrogated? Was the formal abrogation of the OT cleanliness laws simply superfluous? In other words, should they simply been assumed abrogated without instruction to that end? If so, then on what non-arbitrary basis would we dare presuppose such a thing?

Is the glory of the New Covenant that we now don't regard infants of professing believers as God's elect and part of the church? Is that how the New Covenant achieves a more faithful visible people?

Reformed Apologist said...

J.L. stated: "he argues for a new covenant that doesn't actually characteristically present anything new (lol)"


Although I didn't spend much time speaking of the glories of the New Covenant in the post to which J.L. must be referring {after all, the polemic for infant baptism is not predicated upon those glories(!)}I did note that the benefits of the New Covenant as contrasted with the Old include the following "blessings": (i) the priesthood of all believers through the revelation of Christ Jesus; (ii) the completed canon of Scripture; (iii) the outpouring of the Holy Ghost; and (iv) a knowledge of the Lord that never existed in ages past.

Accordingly, I'm not quite sure how "that doesn't actually characteristically present anything new."

J.L. said...


Thank you for your input regarding Paul's stringent requirements. I am inclined to agree. Very good point regarding once the child has left the household.

My next task is to play devil's advocate with some NCT brethren and do a little more research there. Beginning with reading Ron's comments, I suppose...


Joshua Butcher said...


Happy hunting :-)