Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Sign of the Covenant OR Why We Baptize Our Covenant Children (Introduction)

This is the first post in a new series on baptism. There are several specific questions surrounding Baptism such as its mode (sprinkle, pour, or "dunk"?) and the proper object of baptism (children and adults, or only adults?). Jared Nelson has published an outstanding review of the modes and their basis over at Dead Theologians. This series, however, is primarily concerned with the latter. I will seek to establish that it is not only reasonable but even biblical and therefore proper that children are to receive the sign of the covenant by the fact of their birth to a parent who is a covenant member in good standing. In other words, I'm hoping to offer a convincing argument that the Presbyterian view is biblical. If it isn't convincing to you, the reader, then perhaps it will at least serve as an explanation of our view.

I recommend several resources if you are interested in giving this a serious go. The first is a book edited by Gregg Strawbridge, entitled The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism. This is a series of essays addressing many of the best arguments for and the most common arguments against, covenantal infant baptism. I also recommend a little pamphlet by Jay Adams entitled The Meaning and Mode of Baptism. There are other good works out there and as I recall them or other Presbyterian brothers here point them out to me I will edit this part of the post. I may even provide a more thorough reading list at the end.

The outline* for my argument will be:

Part One: The One Covenant People of God
Part Two: The Nature of the Covenant People
Part Three: The Sign
Part Four: Our Children in the Covenant
Part Five: Answering Baptist Objections (perhaps in two or three parts)

* This outline will change as we proceed. It's a working outline that will help me keep myself pointed in the right direction.

When I have this conversation with Baptists, they are often confused with how I start. Instead of baptism, I begin with the subject of covenant. It doesn't seem to be related to them. This is because they have usually not been taught the theological concept of covenant. This is a crucial foundation for the Presbyterian view.

The issue isn't as simple as "No babies get baptized in the Bible, so it can't be right." We're going to have to take a more complete view of the Bible than that.

As I publish a post, I'm going to wait for some discussion below it. The series is structured as a series of premises. If you accept each premise then by the end you should understand, if not agree with, the Presbyterian view. By allowing the discussion to simmer a bit for each premise, we can work out finer points I might have missed in the post, or I (or other readers) can offer more depth of defense for that premise. More importantly, though, I hope it will create a sort of workshop environment in which those really interested in understanding or even considering embracing the view can take a little time to absorb the argument and ask questions of their own before we charge off to the next premise. So don't be shy! No question is silly! Please ask your questions. You never know who also has the question and just can't bring themselves to post!

So if you're with me, let's go! I'll try to have the first post up in the next day or so.


M. Jay Bennett said...

For those interested, I posted a point-by-point refutation of Piper's argument for "believer's only baptism" here. said...

Matthew, good stuff. I appreciate your writing.


Les Prouty