I would like to direct your attention to an interesting discussion taking place on the Reformation21 Blog. Various reformed theologians and personalities contribute to this blog, and the format is somewhat of a conversation among the various contributors.
Yesterday, the lone Baptist contributor, Justin Taylor, asked the paedo-baptists the following question: “According to covenant theology, what is the difference between the baby of a Presbyterian and the baby of a Baptist? . . . what privileges and benefits would [a Baptist baby] lack?”
To my mind, this is the million-dollar question that my Presbyterian brothers cannot answer sufficiently. Rick Philips attempted a response today, but I think he hit way wide of the mark. Allow me to elaborate on my disagreement as I comment on excerpts from Philips’s response:
We baptize our babies not to bring them into covenant relationship with God but because of their covenant relationship with God . . . Since baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the church, we apply it to our children. We do not believe that by birth our children possess eternal life, but we do believe that by virtue of being our children, they are in covenant with God
This statement gets to the heart of the difference between Baptists and Paedo-baptists. Unlike paedo-baptists, Baptists believe that the New Covenant is “not like” the old Covenant. In the New Covenant all covenant members will have the law written on their heart and will have their sins forgiven (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13). Unregenerate children do not participate in these new covenant privileges (the law on their heart and the forgiveness of sins), even though their Christian parents may be nurturing them in the instruction of the Gospel.
Contrary to Philips, for Baptists baptism signifies much more than what he alleges. Philips says that Baptists hold baptism to be “an outward sign of an inward change.” This statement is partly accurate, but actually leaves the Baptist position open to caricature. I have often been told by paedo-baptist brothers, “You believe that baptism signifies your faith, but we believe it signifies God’s promise.” They seem to imply in this that Baptists think baptism signifies what a person does for God, while Presbyterians believe it signifies what God has done for us in the Gospel. This is an effective rhetorical device and has caused many a reformed Baptist to blush for holding a position that seemingly contradicts the sovereignty of God in salvation. But our own historic Baptist creeds demonstrate that this is not an accurate description of our position.
Our best creeds explain Baptism as signifying no less than two things: (1) what God has done for His people in the Gospel, and (2) the believer’s participation in the Gospel. For instance, chapter 29 of the London Baptist Confession says that baptism is “a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection.” In other words, Baptism signifies in the first instance Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf (what God has done for us) and our participation in what Christ has done for us (see also “The Abstract of Principles”). For Baptists, this is the most faithful way to understand texts like Romans 6:1ff where Christ’s work on our behalf and our participation in it are both signified in baptism: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). [There is much more to be said here, but I will leave it at that for the sake of space].
To my mind, Philips never adequately answered Justin’s question. Philips writes:
So what is the cash value of infant baptism for us, which we think Baptist babies are denied? We believe that the Baptist approach fails to recognize the place of children in the church, with very real privileges and obligations.
What Philips fails to do is to answer what these “privileges and obligations” consist of. Certainly it is much more than the ability to say the Lord’s prayer, which he says only baptized infants can do with any theological integrity. Both kinds of children are brought up having the Gospel preached to them, so what benefit does the baptized baby have? I would still like to know.