Infant Baptism or the New Covenant?

Dr. Gentry:

I am having a discussion with a friend who rejects infant baptism. Is this quote by Greg reflective of his position? It comes from a tape by Dr. Greg Bahnsen where he is commenting on the question as to when children should take communion:

“How about children? Well not children who don’t understand these things because at Passover, remember, the child who took the meal had to say ‘father what do these things mean?’ The child had to be a discerning, understanding child. But now how young can the child be? The answer to that question is ‘I don’t know.’ You bring me a two-year-old who can give me a two-year-old profession of faith and we’ll have that two-year-old take the Lord’s Supper. Some will say well that’s not possible. I don’t know, I don’t know enough about human psychology to tell you whether it is or not, but if it happens I’m not going to say God’s word says eleven years old before you can join the church. There’s nothing like that. And if we’re going to be true to our principles as Reformed people we should not impose prerequisites that the Bible doesn’t impose. There’s no age requirement for the Lord’s Supper.”

B.M. (Odenton, MD)

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Yes, this reflects Greg’s position according to my experience and discussions with him. For instance, he didn’t like using the term “paedocommunion” to describe the position he opposed: he was against baptized infants being allowed communion. The word “paedo” speaks of “children” without reference to age. “Paedo” doesn’t demand the concept of “infant.” He believed in infant baptism but not infant communion. He believed that some children could not only be converted but could also understand enough to give a testimony. This is why in the Preface to Theonomy in Christian Ethics he speaks of Jim Jordan’s views on paedocommunion in a round about way: “automatic infant communion (without sessional examination).” Greg believed in “paedo” communion, if by that you understood that the children were expected to profess faith in Christ. Interestingly, Lee Hahnlen’s testimony is that he is convinced he was converted at age three.

2. In a discussion with a Reformed Baptist, what do I say about the covenant regarding Isaac’s children. She can’t conceive of how a parent could take any comfort in the covenant when Jacob was chosen and Esau wasn’t. It seems to her that it is based on God’s choice, and that the cov’t relationship of the parent did not affect the outcome. What would you say to that?

For a Reformed Baptist I would focus on their strong predestinarian view (which I share). I would remind them that God’s eternal decree of election is unknown to us. As Spurgeon once said: “I wish God put a yellow mark on the back of the elect so that I could lift men’s coattails and tell if they were elect or not. But since he didn’t, I must preach the gospel to all.” By this point I mean that the Reformed Baptist recognizes (with us) that election is the determiner of salvation. And the fact is, many of the children of believers are not elect and will not be saved. As Presbyterians we recognize that election cuts across the covenant. Jacob and Esau are one example of that truth.

But I would then point out that in the historical outworking of redemption we discover that salvation tends to flow in family generations (consider your own children and your Reformed Baptist’s children). The greatest growth of the church has been through family generations. This is a covenantal expectation, not an accident of history. This is a covenantal expectation even though the covenant does not absolutely insure salvation of individuals.

I would also point out that though the covenant is not a guarantee of salvation, it is a means of grace. Like the preaching of the word. Preaching does not guarantee men will be converted, but it is a means God uses to bring men to himself. Some Calvinists have taken the concerns of your friend and developed Hyper-Calvinism: Since God saves men of his own eternal decree, why should I bother preaching, evangelizing, sending out missionaries? This is obviously an abuse of the doctrine of eternal election. So then, covenant families do not guarantee converted children, but it is a means God uses to bring children to himself. The view of your friend could lead to surmising: Since God saves people in terms of his own eternal decree, why should I bother teaching my children the gospel, to pray, to go to church and so forth? I am sure your friend would not go that route, but it is a logical conclusion in that line of thinking.

The covenant has many benefits even though it does not insure election and guarantee salvation: It provides Christian parents with the means whereby they can have a hope for their children (more children of covenant families are saved than those of non-covenant families) and whereby they can train up their children. It obligates parents to covenantally surround their children with all the means of grace and to seek their children’s profession. It provides their children formal obligations to faith, structures for encouraging that faith, and so forth.

Simply put: covenantal theology continues the old covenant’s inclusion of children among the people of God. We should consider some of the implications inherent in the assumption that family generations are excluded from the covenant community of the New Testament era. If families were no longer considered a part of the covenant community or as partakers and beneficiaries of God’s covenant, the question we must raise is: “Why?” Would this imply that the New Covenant (instituted by Christ in Luke 22:20) is less generous than the Old Covenant (contrary to Gal. 3:28), thereby accounting for his excluding the family unit? Or perhaps this suggests that the New Covenant is less potent (contrary to 2 Cor. 3:7-11), thus explaining its ineffectiveness where no personal, self-conscious faith exists? Are infants of believers today more depraved than they were in the Old Covenant era? Is the family of less significance now than then? The answer to each of these questions must be “no!”

I wonder what your friend would have thought had they been born a Jew in the OT period? Would they have looked at Jacob and Esau and concluded there is no comfort in God’s covenant and his covenant is not a means which he uses to effect the outcome of salvation? You see, in the final analysis our obligation is to commit to what Scripture teaches, even when we do not see all of the advantages or do not understand all the implications. That was Isaac’s obligation even when he learned that “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” We do see God’s covenant established in Scripture.

I hope this is helpful!

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Postmillennialism’s literalism error?

Dr. Gentry:

I have a question for you. I recently heard a postmill/amill debate. The amill gave a criticism against postmill that I am really stuck on. Maybe you can help.

He said that postmills apply the restoration Psalms and prophecies like dispensationalists do, in a literalistic, types and shadows fashion. For example, regarding Psalm 2:8 the amill said that postmills apply the terms ‘nations’ and ‘earth’ in a way that Jesus and the apostles never intended (political entities, etc.). From his perspective, the NT teaches that for Christ to make the nations and earth His footstool refers to the salvation of the Gentiles from every tribe tongue and nation, not Christ’s influence on political structures, etc. I think this is a good argument and I am a bit stumped. Can you help me?

J.B.

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your question. I don’t see where the problem is in this critique of postmillennialism. I would note the following:

  1. Be careful not to throw out all literalism just because dispensationalism wrongly uses it.
  2. I don’t see the problem with using Psa 2:8 as evidence of postmillennialism. That is, I don’t understand what the issue of “political entities”/ “political structures” has anything to do with the amill/postmill debate here. Even setting aside the idea that particular political entities are in view here, the fact remains that the psalm declares that Christ will make “the nations” (whatever they are) and “the very ends of the earth” his possession. He is not speaking merely of converts out from the nations, but the nations and the very ends of the earth themselves. The psalm appears to be speaking of some sort of global dominance.
  3. Nevertheless, I would note that David calls upon the kings and judges of the earth to do homage to the Son (Psa 2:10-12). It seems he goes to great lengths to speak of not only people in general (nations and ends of the earth) but even their political rulers and judges.
  4. Besides all of this, reducing the significance of Psa 2 would not affect the broader argument for postmillennialism. Postmillennialism is not a “one text” eschatological system (as premillennialism tends to be with Rev 20).

Luke 24:36 in Preterism?

Dr. Gentry:

Luke 24:36 is difficult for me. Is it referring to the final judgment or the judgment on the Jews/A.D. 70? It seems that even those who escape still “stand before the Son of Man.”

Dr. Gentry’s response:

I believe that all of Luke 21:8ff refers to AD 70. I do so because of the numerous near-term indicators: Luke 21:28, 29-031, 32. If the disciples will faithfully endure through those trials, if they will flee when Jesus warned them to flee (rather than apostatizing and returning to Judaism), they will be able to stand faithfully before Christ when the judgment comes. “Stand” often means “stand before a judge” (see: Matt 25:32; 27:11; 1 thess 2:19; 3:13). The thought expressed here is to “stand” in securing a good verdict rather than to be judged and condemned. This does not focus on the final judgment but simply alludes to it as the outcome of faithfulness through the events of AD 70. That is, if the disciples persevere through the short term judgment befalling Israel and Jerusalem, they will secure for themselves long term benefits when the final day of judgment comes.

Different Mount of Olives Audiences?

Dr. Gentry:

How do you reconcile the different audiences that Jesus was addressing: the disciples on the Mount of Olives in Matt 24:1 vs. all the people in the temple complex in Luke 21:37-38?

Dr. Gentry’s response:

This statement in Luke 21:37-38 does not refer simply to the Olivet Discourse (which was limited to the disciples, Matt 24:30), but concludes the entire, broader section regarding Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem (this section begins at Luke 19:29, not at Luke 21:1). Distinctively Luke repeatedly emphasizes Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem for his death (Luke 9:51, 53; 10:30; 13:22; 19:28). In Luke 21:37-38 he is pointing out that Jesus did appear and minister in Jerusalem and in the temple. That is the point made with this statement.

Two different abominations?

Dr. Gentry:

How do you reconcile the “then” in Matt 24:9 with the “but before all these things” in Luke 21:12? Charles Missler claims that this as proof that there are two different abominations in view as well as two different temples.

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your question. I would note the following:

  1. Sometimes Scripture only loosely deals with before/after connections. Consider the “problem” with Judas at the Passover/Lord’s Supper service. In Matt (26:19-27) and Mark (14:16-24) the Passover appears before the Lord’s Supper; in Luke it appears after it (Luke 22:13-23).
  2. Matthew’s “then” statement probably means “then during these things” rather than “after” these things. Luke’s “before” statement may mean “before these things are completed,” In this case there is no conflict.
  3. But whatever interpretation one puts on these verses, the whole “problem” cannot be a concern against the preterist view because both Matt 24:1-34 and Luke 21 clearly refer to soon coming events as dogmatically declare in Matt 24:34 and Luke 21:32.

Why do you not publicly debate HyperPreterists?

Dr. Gentry:

I have a friend who has pointed out problems he has with some of your response to HyperPreterism. He asked me these questions about you: Why do you not publicly debate HyperPreterists? And: In your chapter in Mathison’s book against HyperPreterism, you focus solely on the creedal argument. Does creedalism preclude exegesis? L.F.R, NC

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your inquiry regarding my position as expressed in my chapter in Keith Mathison’s When Shall These Things Be? I generally make it a practice to avoid direct interaction with HyperPreterists for several reasons:

  • According to a friend of mine, they have posted on one website prayer for my death. Why should I give them a portion of my life? Is that any way to conduct theological debate (outside of Islam, that is)?
  • They tend to be rude, argumentative, and simplistic in interacting with others.
  • They have difficulty understanding historic orthodox positions, such as their misconstruing what I am saying in my chapter in Mathison’s book.
  • They seem to have only one mission in life: to argue HyperPreterism. I have to make a living!

However, I do occasionally make an exception to cordially expressed inquiries (when I have time!). So I will answer your question as to whether my position in Mathison’s book entails the impossible and absurd position that “We must reject preterism before we can consider preterism.”

In response, please note:

    • It is simply a naive and grandiose overstatement to say that I argue that Christians must reject HyperPreterism before they can consider it. After all, how would you know whether it should be rejected if you do not first consider it? Your friend’s argument simply does not make sense! Whoever your friend is, he is simply not thinking clearly if he surmises that I (and the other men in Mathison’s book) hold such an obscurantist position.
    • What is worse, your friend has grossly misread my chapter in Mathison’s book. And I would even suspect he has not read it at all (this problem is a constant frustration among many who have interacted with HyperPreterists: HPs too often fail to carefully analyze arguments). I do not argue as your friend thinks I do, as anyone reading my chapter should understand. Ironically, I have written hundreds of pages in numerous books arguing the exegetico-theological case for my eschatological views. I have only engaged the historico-creedal argument in a few places (Mathison’s book being the most voluminous and obvious case). In addition, I was asked to provide ONE chapter in a multi-chapter book which was to offer other arguments.
    • Your friend should note that my chapter is replete with documentation from numerous Christian scholars regarding the role of creedal orthodoxy in framing the faith of the church. I cannot understand why your friend presents my position as if it is unique to me. In fact, some criticisms of my chapter have noted that I engage in documentary overkill by proving what everyone knows: Christianity has a long established a creedally-framed orthodoxy. I feel that I am caught between a rock and a hard head by such complaints.
    • The careful reader should note that in my “Introduction” on the second page of my presentation I forthrightly contradict your friend’s assertion. There I state: “We open with the creedal argument, not as the final word in the debate, but as the first word – – – not as our only concern, but as a crucial concern.”

Please note that I am simply setting the context of the debate: historic, Christian orthodoxy v. Nouveau unorthodoxy. I am opening the argument; I am not concluding it or closing it down. Orthodox Christians simply want unorthodox men to know where they are coming from. In fact, I did not even write the chapter for HyperPreterists, but for young Christians who may be subjected to the tempting lure of HyperPreterism: “Come, join with us: We are starting a New Reformation! Get in on the ground floor of a new church!” Sounds exciting. But the young Christian needs to realize what he is leaving behind if he succumbs.

  • Actually what I was saying was: The universal, historic, corporate Christian church has a biblically based, exegetically derived, systematically organized, clearly enunciated, publicly stated, creedally-secured, theology that affirms (for instance) a future, bodily resurrection and a future, visible Second Coming of Christ. Whether or not any individual wants to adopt the faith of our fathers is his own decision to make. What I argue in my chapter is: When a person adopts an historically unorthodox position he MUST understand that he is placing himself outside of the faith of the historic Christian church. HyperPreterists should simply declare: “We know what the historic Christian faith affirms, but we simply do not believe it and we do not care whether we are outside of orthodoxy.”

My chapter notes that by slipping loose from the anchor of historic orthodoxy, HyperPreterists are adrift on the tides of wholesale theological change. I note by way of introduction that many great doctrines of the faith are gradually being eroded by the relentless tides of hyper-preterist experimentation.

We all know that HyperPreterism is a new movement. I am simply calling upon Christians to recognize that it is new and potentially dangerous. In my “Conclusion” I state: “A critique of any new theological construct or religious movement must consider it on the basis of the historic creeds of orthodox Christianity as an important first step.” My chapter should not be interpreted to be the only step in theological reflection; I expressly affirm the opposite position. I argue there that we must “get our bearings” and note our “theological orientation” as we move into a consideration of a new theology.