I must respond to your editorial in the August 1, 1990, issue of The Standard Bearer. I am a Baptist who has found your paper quite useful and spiritually profitable. However, the response you wrote to William Oosterman’s defense of Baptist doctrine was entirely out of line.
First, I strongly object to your alteration of the sacred Scriptures to prove your point. You quotedLuke 18:16, but you added words not contained in the original text. No doubt you did this to help prove your point and explain your interpretation of the text. However, this is precisely the way the cults defend their false doctrines. I am not saying that belief in infant baptism or infant church membership is cultic. However, the technique you used to prove your point is one used by the false teachers.
Secondly, you mistakenly wrote that all Baptists part company with the Reformed faith by denying the unity of the covenant of grace. It is not the fact of unity but the interpretation of unity which separates us. You would not demand animal sacrifices in our time to prove the unity of the covenants, as dispensationalists do. Can’t you see that to demand a ceremonial seal for infants, although required by the Bible in your view, is only one interpretation of what the doctrine of covenantal unity demands?
While certainly there are some Baptists who fail to see the Scriptures as you and I do, there are many Baptists who agree that, both in the Old Testament and the New, there are babes in the Kingdom of God. Where Baptists disagree with you is concerning whether the babes in Christ are physical infants or spiritual ones. (See Hebrews 8:11). Because the New Covenant is spiritual, spiritual children of Christians are the ones invited to the New Testament parallel of circumcision. In your view, this interpretation of Scripture is wrong. However, it is certainly not illegitimate.
Finally, whether we call any Baptists “Reformed” is a matter of semantics. You suggest that it is “unlawful” to do so. Those of us Baptists who adhere to the doctrines of sovereign grace in salvation and love the light which great Protestant Reformers have brought to this world can live without the mere title. However, what we cannot live without is sound Bible teaching (as we understand it), namely, the doctrines of unconditional election, particular redemption, the regulative principle of worship, and, yes, also the necessity of repentance before the administration of baptism (Acts 2:38). The promise of Abraham was for us, and for our children, and for all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Any who the Lord our God has not called are not beneficiaries of the promise and are not to be recipients of the seal of the covenant.
Your editorial states: “If our children are outside the church, they are outside the sphere of salvation.” This statement assumes that there is a third state for mankind, (1) those who are saved, (2) those who are unsaved, and (3) those who are yet unsaved but-still within a so-called sphere of salvation. Those who are Christ’s children by salvation will certainly be in heaven (John 10:29). Those who are not Christ’s elect will never enter heaven and cannot (John 3:3; John 6:65). The Bible speaks of no third “sphere of salvation” from which some enter heaven and others become covenant breakers.
Baptists believe that all the children of believers share in many great and precious benefits, just like the Jews of the Old Testament (Romans 3:1-3). Baptists have as much hope for the salvation of their children who die in infancy as those who adhere to the Westminster and Belgic Confessions. However, our hope is based upon the clear promise of the Bible that “the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant, and who remember His precepts to do them” (Psalm 103:17, 18). It is not based upon unbiblical tradition and sentimentality.
Thomas E. Martin, Jr.
Kennett Square, PA
I made it clear enough that I was giving Luke 18:16, not word-for-word as it stands on the page of Scripture, but in its meaning. As soon as he read, “…by being brought to the baptismal font…,” every reader knew that this was Luke 18:16 as interpreted by the editor of The Standard Bearer. No one was fooled.
If this is cultic, I at least have fine, orthodox company in my method of teaching the truth. When Martin Luther translated Romans 3:28, he inserted into the text the word, “only” (“a man is justified by faith only“), even though the word does not appear in the Greek text. And he “added” this word to the German Bible, whereas I merely added words in an explanation of the text in The SB.
In fact, this is not an illegitimate way of teachingLuke 18:16 at all. Luke 18:16, in its context of verses 15 and 17, itself is Christ’s Word to the New Testament church, “Allow the infants to come to me by being brought to the baptismal font by their parents, and forbid them not: for the church—the kingdom of God in the present age—is made up of such infants.” The children are infants. They are literal, physical infants, not spiritual infants—the parents were carrying real babies of a few months to Jesus. Jesus’ touch of blessing of the infants does not differ essentially from the baptism of infants. The basis is that infants of believing parents belong to the kingdom of God, i.e., the church.
Luke 18:16, in its meaning as I gave it (in keeping with the interpretation given by the entire Reformed tradition) is the very Word of Christ. Luke 18:16, recited word-for-word as it lies on the page of the Bible, but understood in such a way as to deny infant baptism, is not the Word of Jesus Christ.
I read your recent articles on “Covenant Children” in the July and August, 1990 issues of The Standard Bearer. While I certainly appreciate much of the PRC’s theology in many, many areas, I am afraid I cannot endorse the unscriptural, if not saccharine, sentimentality which surrounds infant baptism. It amazes me to see so many good men taking this detour in their theology. My suggestion is that you need a bit more Bible, and a bit less of John Calvin on this issue. Infant Baptists, no matter how high sounding their words, will never be truly “Reformed” as long as they cling to that umbilical which leads to Romanism…paedobaptism! Neither you, nor any other paedobaptist is truly able to tell me or other Reformed Baptists what actually occurs during a paedobaptism… in fact, Romanist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Congregational, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc. theologies differ as to what really happens during a paedobaptism. And what about paedo-communion? Inconsistent, inconsistent, inconsistent, is the watchword. As long as you confuse the church with unsaved members (in this case, children) we won’t have much to talk about. The covenant becomes narrower and narrower…those in the covenant are believers only! This is an area where the Westminster Confession is confused as well.
You also confuse regeneration with conversion. You blur the distinction between the world and the church by generating a community of baptized heathen. Again, the covenant is not made up of believers and their seed, rather it is made up of those who know the Lord….
Paul K. Christianson
I can tell you what actually happens during the baptism of a child of believing parents: God Himself signifies and seals that He makes His one covenant of grace with believers and their elect children, cleansing them from sin and uniting them with Himself by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. The result of this divine testimony is that church and parents rear the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord Jesus (Eph. 6:4). The power of the sacrament, by the working of the Holy Spirit, is that the elect children grow up strengthened in faith in Jesus Christ, as a rule from tenderest years. As they learn the meaning of the covenant and infant baptism from the gospel, their own baptism as infants assures them of God’s love for them and impels them to love this gracious God in response. Their baptism avails them, as the Belgic Confession teaches in Article 34, through the whole course of their life.
Your basic error is your denial, “The covenant is not made up of believers and their seed.” Your quarrel, thus, is not with me, but with Jehovah, Who said to Abraham, father of believers, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations…” (Gen. 17:7). Your controversy is with Jesus, Who grounded His command that the infants be brought to Him for His blessing in the fact that the kingdom of God is made up of such infants (Luke 18:15-17). You contradict the Holy Spirit, Who proclaimed the covenant-gospel on Pentecost, “The promise is unto you, and to your children…” (Acts 2:39).
I marvel at the determination of “Calvinistic Baptists” to exclude the children of believers from the covenant of grace. You contradict the explicit teaching of the Bible; you defy the whole of the glorious Reformed and Presbyterian tradition; and you exclude our children from the mercy of God and the salvation that is in Jesus.