Monday, January 08, 2007

Whole Family Baptism – Part 7: My Last Objection to Paedobaptism Answered


Written by Chris
The traditional Baptist objections like, “The text says, ‘Repent and be baptized,’” meaning, “Look at the order, it says repent first and be baptized second,” never was very strong in my mind, even as a Baptist. It has always seemed clear to me that the commands given to that first generation audience necessitated that order. Certainly first generation adults would need to believe before they were baptized. But the question has always been: What of the second generation? This is where it gets difficult.

Anyway, picking up from my last post, over the last few years I have been seeing more and more the familial thrust of the New Testament. If the family was to play an important role under the New Covenant, then infant baptism would make more sense. However, my main objections were still based in the discontinuity expressed in passages like Jeremiah 31 and the other texts I mentioned in Part 5. So, for the past year or so I’ve felt this growing tension between the importance of family in God’s covenant and the impotence of family as required by these texts.

Then I read Scott Hafemann’s commentary on 2 Corinthians. Dr. Hafemann is a Calvinistic Baptist who not only taught me Greek, but how to study the Bible. In his commentary he unfolded for me a totally new understanding of the Jeremiah 31 passage on the nature of the New Covenant. While he would totally disagree (as a Baptist) with where I’ve gone with this new understanding, I am thankful to him for correcting my understanding of what Jeremiah was saying.

My biggest objection to the Reformed view of the continuity of the covenants was the fact that Jeremiah explicitly stated that the New Covenant would not be like the covenant God made with Israel of old.

31 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 31:31-32 ESV
However, there were two problems with my understanding of what Jeremiah was saying.

First I lumped all the Old Testament covenants together (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic) even though Jeremiah explicitly states that he is referring only to the Mosaic Covenant. My reading of this passage went something like this: Under the New Covenant, God is no longer going to work in a broad national or familial way. He is going to transform one heart at a time by writing His law into his people’s hearts. Therefore, we ought to wait to include people into God’s covenantal family until they show evidence that the heart transformation has taken place.

The problem is, this is not exactly what Jeremiah was saying. Hafemann demonstrates that the differentness of the New Covenant has to do with its effectiveness. The New Covenant is different from the Mosaic Covenant in that, unlike the law which was given to Israel, without the heart transforming work of the Holy Spirit, under the New Covenant, God will actually do what he promised. He will actually transform the hearts of his people so that they obey him!

In this way, the New Covenant is not in conflict with the Abrahamic Covenant, it is its more perfect fulfillment. What God promised; this he is finally bringing to pass. As such, the differentiation between Old and New covenants has more to do with the Nature of the Mosaic and the New Covenant. And this is what Paul picks up on in his letters when he says:

17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Galatians 3:17-18 ESV
The covenant God made with Israel through Moses was impotent to save. As such, it was added so that the people could see the extent of their sin. But now, through Jesus Christ, we have a better covenant which transforms our hearts. And this covenant is made with all Israel and is for all nations.

In this way, Jeremiah can speak of the New Covenant as a period of restoration and include the children of those being made faithful.

37 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. 42 "For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.
Jeremiah 32:37-42 ESV
Jeremiah does not foretell a day when the covenant will no longer be effectual within families, if anything, he seems to say that the day would come when the covenant was finally made effectual in both fathers and sons.

This may not seem like a likely candidate for overturning my Baptist theology, but it was really the last little piece that I had been holding on to. When it came undone, all I could do was gladly and whole heartedly embrace the familiar nature of God’s covenant.

So, on January 21, 2007, Leslie and I will have our four children baptized. In my next (and final) post on this subject, I’ll try to explain why this is such a delightful and happy occasion for me. I’ll also try to explain how I intend to raise my children in light of their baptism.

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