The Importance of Baptism a Necessary Study, and Some Preliminary Considerations - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonCovenant Theology - God's Master Plan to Give His Son Jesus Christ a Bride
Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.
Check out these books on Covenant Theology.
When dealing with Covenant Theology “simple” is a good thing. After the Bible, this work is the FIRST that you should read, or one that you should introduce to a friend if they are struggling with covenant concepts.
There is no better succinct, concise, precise and exegetically irrefutable work on infant baptism than Harrison’s work. It is not just about baptism – it’s about infant inclusion in the covenant of grace. It’s about church membership.
A refutation of my own second article on Baptism and Hermeneutics.
I began the second article with some refreshing thoughts concerning my first article. I reminded the reader that the issue of baptism in the church through history has been one of division. My first sentence read, “The church is divided on the issue of Baptism.” This makes the issue seem as though 50% were for baptism of infants, and 50% were against the baptism of infants. This is not true at the outset. Though there have been many errors surrounding the doctrine of infant baptism through the history of the church, it is unfair to the Paedo-Baptist to say that the church is 50-50 on this issue. Predominately, the church has been Paedo-Baptistic on this issue. (A historical evaluation on this doctrine will be available on this site at a later time.)
To illustrate this idea, I turn to a Particular Baptist writer named Samuel Waldron. Waldron has written a short book called “Baptist Roots in America” where he attempts to define what “Reformed” Baptists are and where they came from. When defining the term “Reformed Baptist” he says, “What do I mean by “Reformed Baptists?” Any attempt to define such terms may be subjective. This term, however, is in itself extraordinarily clear. By “Reformed Baptists” I intend those churches and individuals who hold a Baptist view of the church and baptism and who also hold to the central truths associated with the stream of Reformed Protestantism flowing out of the Reformation of the 16th Century. These truths include the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism), but also encompass the many other vital truths which are entailed in an understanding of the comprehensive sovereignty of God in His grace and His law.” This is all well and good if Waldron is redefining what it means to be Reformed in the classic sense. He is right that his subjective interpretation of this idea is just that – a subjective interpretation. Reformed theology holds as a central aspect of its theological system the Covenant ideas surrounding the inclusion of infants and family in the covenant of grace. If Waldron is redefining this to suit Baptistic ideas, then he has removed himself from the realm of classic Reformed Theology, though he may believe in the sovereignty of God. He then goes on to say, “The unique doctrinal and practical outlook of Reformed Baptists was summarized historically in the London Confession of Faith published in 1689.” This is not true; at least in the manner he is asserting it. It should read, “The unique doctrinal and practical outlook of Particular Baptists was summarized historically in the London Confession of Faith published in 1689.” I would have no problem with this statement if he had written it this way. In 1644, when the first London Confession emerged, and then in its subsequent revisions in 1646 and 1689, the Baptist factions at that time were known as the Particular Baptists, not Reformed Baptists. The term “Reformed Baptists” is rather novel to our day and age (possibly beginning around 1850) and as a result of Baptists coming closer to understanding Covenant theology and the themes surrounding that theological system; though they still reject part of the main emphasis on that theological system – the inclusion of the family and generations in the covenant of grace. (It is also interesting to note to me that when Waldron traces the roots of Baptists into the American Colonies, he begins his first chapter by calling them “Particular Baptists” and not “Reformed Baptists.” At least at that point, after the preface, he becomes more precise historically speaking.)
My statements were much the same as Waldron’s ideas concerning the Reformed Baptist when I wrote my second article on preliminary considerations. That is why I said the church is divided over the issue of baptism. This is really a caricature statement of the facts. Historical Christianity has predominately been Paedo-Baptistic, and it was not until the rise of “later” Puritanism that the Baptist emerged on the scene from within the Puritan party. As Waldron notes, in 1660 there were but 4 Particular Baptistic Churches in all of England. Puritanism had “officially” begun 90 years earlier without Particular Baptists.
After making that caricatured statement about the church being divided on the issue on Infant Baptism, I then pressed the reader to believe, at face value, the idea of the Christ-Hermeneutic. As you recall from article 1, this is nonsense. But, in desiring to keep that in focus to hold up a barrier between the Old Testament and New Testament I was sure to refresh the readers mind on the subject.
Then I moved onto a heavy hitter – the Regulative Principle. I reminded the reader that the Regulative Principle states the following, “The regulatory principle argues that God Himself is the author of worship, and all positive sanctions in worship stem from Him and His Word.” Okay, this may be true enough, to an extent, but does not capture the whole idea behind the principle. For example, both Credo and Paedo-Baptism rely on deductive arguments for their positions. In other words, there are no Scriptures that state “Baptize a man; baptize a woman; or baptize an infant.” Neither are there Scriptures that assert, “Do not baptize a man; do not baptize a woman, or do not baptize an infant.” The arguments drawn for both Credo or Paedo baptism are drawn from Scriptural examples or inferences from the text that the reader distinguishes within their presupposed theological formulations. But what I did was make the reader believe that the Regulatory Principle stands in direct opposition to Paedo-Baptism, and this is a fallacy. The Regulative Principle says much more than what I stated, including the idea that we are never to take away from what God has instituted unless he specifically deems this necessary. That would mean infant inclusion in the covenant of grace all through the Old Testament would necessarily continue unless God has specifically taught otherwise in the New Testament. There is obviously a contention between Particular Baptists and Reformed Theology on this point which will be taken up more conscientiously later in an article devoted to that topic. Suffice it to say at this point that the presupposition I was trying to propagate through the Regulative Principle was diced according to my liking and served to the unsuspecting without noting everything there was to say about the issue. I noted the Regulative Principle in a biased format.
I then said, “Before a thorough study of the doctrine of Baptism and of Infant Baptism, great pains should be taken to read through the New Testament noting these most import passages; as well as noting those passages which teach infant Baptism, if any.” I should have said, “Before a thorough study of the doctrine of Baptism and of Infant Baptism can take place, great pains should be taken to read through the Old Testament in order to understand the themes surrounding covenantal blessings, generations, godly parenting, familial solidarity, olive trees and the like.” Rather, I encouraged baptistic friends to run around the New Testament with their concordances to find every instance of baptism and attempt to prove, by that kind of study, that Infant Baptism is nowhere to be found. This is bad hermeneutics at the outset.
I then made a plea to the magnitude of the issue. I do agree with myself on this point, that the issue is a huge one since it will determine our theological structure before God in our worship, and will also determine where we go to church. It has a profound affect on the worship we give Him and the manner of treating our children before Him. This is no light matter. Then I said, “Whatsoever we attain in New Testament worship must be thoroughly and completely driven by the Word of God.” This is true to an extent, but not completely delivering the bigger picture. We do not begin our theology in the book of Matthew, and then move forward. Nor do we rest solely on the New Testament for our principles of worship. Many theologically sound doctrines that arise out of the Old Testament work their way into the New Testament to their fulfillment. Some of these include tithing, the Lord’s Supper (Passover) and Baptism. But we do not begin in the New Testament to understand these doctrines. We begin in the Old Testament first. When I say that “whatsoever we attain in New Testament worship” is really not a good phrase at all. I should have said, “Whatsoever we attain in the church today for our worship…” That would have made more sense, both practically and theologically. The New Testament church is already set in the book of Acts. We cannot change that at all. But we can glean from both the Old Testament and New Testament the principles of worship for our church in our day and age. I suppose some would like to think of their church as a New Testament church, but again, I think they are missing the point with that kind of terminology.
Then I said, “If [the Paedo-Baptists] doctrines are taken elsewhere, even through the slippery hermeneutical slope of “reasonable and necessary inference,” if he is unable to prove its truth from the Word of God, then it should be extricated.” I agree. This includes ideas surrounding Credo Baptism as well as Infant Baptism.
Finally, I quoted William Shirreff, “Never mistake supposition or mere assertions for proofs. Never act on a proof proposed, but not understood. Never confound the creature of imagination with the conclusions of reason. Never mistake one subject for another, but distinguish things that differ.” These are words filled with wise and good exegetical advice. As a matter of fact, I would have done well to listen to him while I was a Baptist.
Some Particular Baptists have emailed me on this article because they think it is unfair. They believe they can consistently be Reformed and be Baptist at the same time, though history and their theology proves otherwise. I thought I would include this short addendum because I thought that this argument was most important in the scheme of things. The reasoning against my article is the following idea stated in a direct quote from a message board post and email I received. Here is what this fellow said:
“This second article he tries to argue that Baptists aren’t or cannot be Reformed. In this he holds a contrary position to many of the Puritans who (such as John Owen and Oliver Cromwell himself) who clearly saw the Baptists as a faction of the Puritan/Separatist movement. Indeed – the 1689 closely follows all the major points of the WCF (including covenant theology) – infant baptism, authoritative synods and state churches excepted. To argue that a strong covenantal understanding only developed later among Baptists (who then grabbed the ‘Reformed’ label) is absurd! Nehemiah Coxe – an editor of the 1689 wrote a treatise on Covenant Theology and heartily endorsed Owen’s CT in it! – hardly a fringe view then!! The label “Particular” was to distinguish them from the Arminian ‘General’ Baptists. None but the most prejudiced Presbyterians doubted that the Particular Baptists were ‘Reformed’ or part of the Reformation heritage. This would be like arguing that Congregationalists or Puritans or Separatists aren’t “Reformed” because they were not originally called “Reformed” and rejected the “authoritative synods” that all the other “Reformed” held to!! To state this is to show the absurdity of this argument. It cannot be shown that Particular/Reformed Baptists of the Covenant were beyond the bounds of Puritan orthodoxy – the only difference is that Particular/Reformed Baptists were consist in saying that the covenant of grace is made only with the elect – “in Christ as His seed” (as the Westminster Larger Catechism states – Q31). Historically – the Particular/Reformed Baptists originate from a recognised ‘Reformed’ Puritan/Separatist tradition. Theologically they held consistently to the tenants of Reformed theology (Sovereignty of God, TULIP, Covenant of Grace progressively revealed). Indeed – it is their Reformed & Biblical consistency that drove them to become despised Baptists.”
First, Owen and Cromwell, as well as the Puritans, did think the Anabaptist, or Baptist, were factions of the Puritan movement. They certainly did not lump them into the “Church of England” at the time, but on a same note, they also did not condone their theological stance. If they did, they would agree with them, which they do not. Let’s not create a revisionist history here.
Second, what I think this fellow is missing is that when a Baptist reads Owen, or any good covenantal theologian, they remain Baptist. They do not ascribe to the WCF, but hold to the 1689 Baptist Confession which mimics the WCF on certain points and denies other points which Owen and Cromwell would have held to. It follows Covenantal Theology to an extent, but also denies it in later areas (which will be proven out in a more thorough paper on the subject later.)
He is right in stating that Particular Baptists were being distinguished from General Baptists. There is no argument there. However, they were not being included in Reformed Theology and Covenantal Theology. It is nice that that the Particular Baptists at the time considered themselves as “Reformed”, without using the word, but that is the point I was making!! The mention of Nehemiah Coxe liking the Covenant Theology of John Owen is an incredible non-sequitir. Just because the Baptist says of himself that he is Reformed does not mean that John Owen would have agreed that the Baptist theology is right – otherwise, Owen would have been a Baptist! I would imagine that this fellow would be hard pressed to find John Owen commending the Covenant Theology of a Baptist. If Nehemiah Coxe thinks he is a covenant theologian, it simply proves the point I am trying to make. Though the Baptist thinks he is not dispensational, and though he may read through Owen (or any good Covenant Theologian) and agree in part with his theology, that does not make him a “Reformed” Baptist – it makes him an inconsistent Covenant Theologian, and a Particular Baptist theologically. The two ideas are still mutually exclusive. All it means is that the Baptist, like Coxe, is still confused about covenant theology, otherwise he would ascribe to the theology of men like Owen and Cromwell.
Does this mean Baptists are not part of the Reformed heritage? No, not at all. Though they may be confused about covenant theology and classical Reformed doctrine, that does not mean they did not arise from its midst. No one denies this in accordance with Particular Baptists.
Thirdly, this fellow then mentioned the argument about ascribing to reformed synods, councils and the like as an argument for being called “Reformed.” Whether the Reformed were in the Netherlands, England, Germany or Switzerland, they remained Reformed. Varied expressions of their faith emerged such as the Synod of Dordt, The Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession, or any of the Genevan documents. Though they all expressed Reformed theology in their own way they were still all Reformed and held to Reformed Theology. To say they did not hold to the basics of Reformed Theology is absurd in and of itself. This fellow seems to think that if all Reformed Theologians did not have a part in writing all the reformed Confession or did not have apart in sitting at each of the councils then they were not all in agreement. I would suggest reading a harmony of the Reformed Confessions to find that they did agree wholeheartedly in every major Reformed Point, including infant baptism.
As for the Puritans and Reformers actually being called “Reformed“, well, they certainly were called that numerous times. Even the most lucid writers of the Puritan Era across Europe distinguished the difference between what is Reformed and what is not. For a “short” treatment of this, I would suggest reading through Turretin’s third volume.
Finally, as for this fellow’s final appeal to Covenant Theology, I think he is mentioning aspects of Covenant Theology, but certainly not all of it, which is the point. It is great that he believes TULIP, the Sovereignty of God, and certain aspects of the Covenant of Grace, but he cannot hold to the relationship between the Covenant of Redemption, the Law Covenant, and the Covenant of Grace respectively, otherwise he would no longer be a Baptist. And his statement that Baptists were “despised” at that time should clue the reader in right away that the Baptist was in fact deviant in their theological stance, for if they were not, and Covenant Theologians did agree with them and their theology, they would have never been despised in the first place.
The Puritans made many posters, even in their day, to aid church members in understanding Scriptural truth. I created this new poster to cover the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace.
Check Out these Books on Covenant Theology
Presumptive Regeneration, or, the Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants by Cornelius Burges (1589-1665)
A Discourse on Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism by Cuthbert Sydenham (1622-1654)
Infant Baptism of Christ’s Appointment by Samuel Petto (1624-1711)
Covenant Holiness and Infant Baptism by Thomas Blake (1597-1657)
The Manifold Wisdom of God Seen in Covenant Theology by George Walker (1581-1651)
The Covenant of God by Thomas Blake (1597-1657)
A Chain of Theological Principles by John Arrowsmith (1602-1659)
The Covenant of Life Opened by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
The Covenant of Grace Opened by Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)
The Covenant of Redemption by Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
The Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace by Edmund Calamy (1600-1666)
The Doctrine and Practice of Infant Baptism by John Brinsley (1600-1665)
God’s Covenant and Our Duty By Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
God’s Glory in Man’s Happiness by Francis Taylor (1589-1656)
Infant Baptism God’s Ordinance by Michael Harrison (1640-1729)
Jesus Christ God’s Shepherd by William Strong (d. 1654)