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Jesu, Juva

Sola fide

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The debate between credobaptists and paedobaptists is not so much a debate over what baptism is, as it is a debate over the nature of the church, the body, the covenant, the kingdom. Do the body and kingdom consist only of those who are beyond a certain point of intellectual development? In a sense, quite the opposite (Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17).

A key scripture for this debate is the prophet Jeremiah’s description of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31, and as quoted in Hebrews 8 and 10. This passage is often taken to imply that the new covenant is not just a new covenant but a new species of covenant: that its membership is fashioned spiritually, by faith; rather than naturally, by birth. This is a distinction that does not hold water, however: there are natural blessings in the new covenant; and salvation in the old covenants was by faith, grace, and through Jesus just as much as in the new. Moreover, as I have argued previously, Jeremiah 31 cannot be taken to mean that the new covenant excludes children; the opposite reading makes far better sense of the context and of related passages.

The church has almost universally confessed that her infant children go to be with Jesus if they die. Our infants are part of Jesus’s church-body-kingdom. Since they are to be seated at his heavenly table, it is right for us to seat them at his earthly table. Indeed, if they have a place at Jesus’s table, to refuse them access is to eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor 11:29) and to walk out of step with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). And of course, to say that our children are fit participants in the Lord’s supper is to sneak baptism in the back door, for baptism is the seal of entry into the body, and the supper the seal of continuation and renewal.

But even granting all this, credobaptists normally balk at the thought of baptizing infants because baptism is normally in scripture linked with faith. Thus, a young child who can express the basic confession of Romans 10:9 may be a fitting subject for baptism by virtue of his profession of faith, but not an infant: even if he is likely part of Jesus’s body, he must wait until his faith becomes evident.

To make our infants wait is to confess that they have no faith, or no faith that we can discern. But we speak otherwise when we say that Jesus receives them if they die, because we also confess that justification is by faith alone. If our infants are to stand justified before God—and we believe that they are—then it must be by faith.

More importantly, scripture teaches us that they do have faith; if we were to better moderate the evangelical diet of conversion songs with Psalm singing, this confession would resonate more strongly with us. Psalm 22:9 speaks first of David’s and Jesus’s infant faith, but also our own. Psalm 71:6 speaks of the same. (Here we see the very spiritual dimension of the old covenants.) Certainly David speaks of a child-like faith rather than an adult faith; there is much more of fiducia to it and much less of notitia and assensus. But it is faith none the less.

Thus, infant baptism: because justification is by faith alone.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 4, 2016 at 8:45 pm

2 Responses

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  1. SO good, Scott. Paedobaptism & paedocommunion are two things I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around for the longest time…This really helps!
    The PCA, which my church is a part of, is paedobaptist of course but not paedocommunion.


    December 5, 2016 at 4:06 am

  2. Thanks, Jonathan! There are degrees or schools of understanding of paedobaptism. It is fairly common nowadays for folks to think of paedobaptism as a seal of some hope or promise of God’s working some future faith rather than present faith. My view is closer to what is called “presumptive regeneration,” although I think the term a bit pejorative. The Spirit really is at work in believers’ children, not because they inherit anything from us, but because of God’s kindness. We are discipling them from the very beginning, and disciples are to be baptized.

    The move to distinguish the old covenants as natural-carnal over against a spiritual new covenant does a great disservice to both the old covenants and the new. Once this distinction falls then everything else begins to fall into place. We have to grapple with understanding the place of paedocircumcision and paedopassover just as much as paedobaptism and paedocommunion. But we recognize that God’s kingdom really is a kingdom and our children belong to the king. God’s family really is a family and our children’s place at the table is not to wistfully watch us eat. God requires that even our littlest children participate in his worship (Exodus 10:8-11), and he accepts their worship (Matt 21:16), so we bring them to him clothed in the robes of baptism.

    There has been some internal conflict between different schools of paedobaptism in the PCA and OPC. I don’t think that presumptive regeneration or paedocommunion are looked upon very favorably right now.

    I have plenty of helpful resources if you’re interested in digging more.

    Scott Moonen

    December 5, 2016 at 7:47 am

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