Children of the Covenant Family
RT = Reformed Theologian or Theology
CT = Covenant Theologian or Theology
The Unchanging Community
Covenant Theology (CT) maintains that the community of God is unchanging from age to age. The church of the New Testament (NT) is the continued community of Israel of the Old Testament (OT). The word “church” is used instead of or in place of the word “Israel”. Therefore, they reason, since infants were under the blessings of the covenant in the old dispensation they have the same position and are granted similar advantages in the new dispensation. Accordingly in CT children of believers are under the covenant of grace.
This, they say, is a legal relationship from the time of birth, but children are not automatically part of the covenant as a communion of life. There remains the administration of the covenant by the faithful parents. The result will be the infant’s regeneration by the Holy Spirit and (including, but not limited to saving faith) being given at that time. The assumption is that such children are possessors of spiritual life as long as they do not reveal to the contrary. Strong emphasis is placed on the parent/s and the local church together instructing children, which is commendable in many ways, it comes from the idea, however, that the Christian life, already within the child, may be nurtured into full bloom.
Most CT and RT are pedobaptists. That is they baptize infants. This is consistent with their entire system of theology. This seems to be a logical deduction from the premises we have already covered. The basis of infant baptism from CT perspective is:
1. God’s covenant with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant.
2. Circumcision was the outward sign and visible seal of this covenant.
3. The Abrahamic covenant is still in force and is essentially identical with the present “new covenant” of this gospel age.
4. Infants shared in the covenant under the old dispensation and received circumcision as the visible sign and seal that they were indeed participants in it.
5. Infants, therefore, should share in the New Covenant, the salvation of Christ, receiving baptism as the sign and seal of their participation in it. Baptism becomes to the CT the NT equivalence of the OT circumcision.
A Sign and a Seal
Covenant adherents view baptism as a sign and a seal. It signifies the washing away of sins and the removal of the pollution of sin in sanctification, which is why it is called a sign. A. A. Hodge, the son of Charles Hodge, wrote, “That besides being a sign, baptism is also the seal of grace, and therefore a present and sensible conveyance and confirmation of grace to the believer who has the witness in himself, and to all the elect a seal of the benefits of the covenant of grace, to be sooner or later conveyed in God’s good time." (Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p 501 or click here (then scroll down to line 38, 2nd line). A. A. Hodge here actually supports the sacramental concept of baptism, which means that it “conveys” and /or “confers” grace to the recipient (i.e. the infant). I personally have a certificate that pronounces dogmatically, yet with no Scriptural support, that I was regenerated into the body of Christ the day a minister sprinkled my head with a little water. Neither water nor a certificate can save anyone dear reader (compare with this and this to see some diferences in approach). One must be born again!
Yes, a few Reformed scholars have held to and do hold to some form of baptismal regeneration. Yet, most of them rely on one or more of the following arguments in favor of infant baptism:
Children that are offered for baptism are already regenerated and have the seed of faith; hence baptism strengthens that which they already possess.
Baptism may not be limited to the time of its administration. It may augment faith at a latter time when the significance of the sacrament can be more clearly understood.
Infant baptism is a means of grace to the parents of the child and/or to the child also.
Notice that these reasons are all without any biblical backing whatsoever! Many of CT doctrines are truly reformed; nonetheless CT still struggles to shed the teaching of Roman Catholic influence. Baptists, historically, have rejected the crotchets of CT for the more solid foundation of the Word of God. However, in more recent times, perhaps put off by what is perceived as shoddy lifestyles of some, and shallow theology of others or perhaps attracted to popular and eloquent speakers, there has been a rise of a movement called Reformed Baptist. Quite frankly, friends, I do not see any justification for a Reformed Baptist church. If one is reformed in theology it seems logical that they would be reformed in practice including being consistent in adherence to infant baptism.
Next post: An Assessment of Covenant Theology