This is a guest article written by Alan Keenan.
There is no clear command nor example in the New Testament on how to deal with infants regarding administering the covenant sign. In the Old Testament, for adult converts,( Ex. 12:48,49, Ezek 47:22-23) a profession of faith and commitment to follow the law of God was required along with administration of the covenant sign, but this was not required of infants. According to Colossians 2:11-12, and Romans 4:11, both circumcision and baptism are signs pointing to regeneration and righteousness given by faith, which is clearly the substance of the new covenant. So we need to determine if infants are included in the covenant, because if they are, they should be baptised.
God’s covenant people in the Old Testament were those who called on his name and their children. Children were included in the covenant as long as they did not willfully break the covenant by going to worship other gods. The covenant, simplified is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
Membership in the covenant was not limited to the elect. Many who eventually break the covenant and forsake the Lord were actual covenant members before their apostasy. (Gen 17:14) Their punishment is more severe than the gentile who never knew God, as breaking covenant with God is a grave sin. Covenant breakers were really in the covenant but never really covenanted in their hearts, like a person who marries but never even loves their spouse.
We are to assume continuity between the Old and New Testament unless shown otherwise. (2 Tim 3:16) Dispensationalism puts a hard line between the two testaments. “Only in the Old Testament” is not a valid argument. We need to show why something is no longer valid, like how Jesus and the apostles teach the abrogation of the ceremonial law. We draw on the Old Testament for much of our doctrine, so the burden of proof is on the Baptist to show where the Bible teaches a discontinuity between the covenants, and the exclusion of children from the covenant community.
Jeremiah 31 does not teach discontinuity between the covenants. Read Jeremiah 32:36-44. Apply that same logic to it. If you are to read it hyper-literally like the 1689 hermeneutic suggests, then you must then believe that all of those in the city delivered from Babylon, and their children, would fear the Lord forever, in an unbreakable covenant. The truth is, the new covenant can be broken by the apostate, but will never be broken by God. By that same 1689 hyper-literal hermeneutic, Isaiah 59:20-21 must teach the children of the elect are elect. But it doesn’t. Both passages rather point to a covenantal reality. The children of the elect are included in God’s new covenant, but that has two elements. An inward substance where the promises of a new heart and perseverance ring true, and an outward administration where all the children of Israel, gentile converts and their children are included.
Again, Jeremiah 31 does not teach covenant membership is now with the elect only. That is impossible to govern and is a minimizing of the new covenant, when the new testament consistently teaches the expanding of the scope of the covenant.
The new testament Christians were never taught that their children were now excluded from the covenant. In fact, Peter intentionally includes them using the same covenantal language used in Genesis 9 and 17. Each time used previously, there was an additional category of people included in the covenant. In Gen 9 it was “ you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you”. In Gen 17 it was “you and your offspring after you… every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,”. In Acts 2 it is “you, your children, and all who are afar off”. An additional qualifier here is “even as many as the Lord our God shall call”. Calling here is referring to the external call of covenant membership, not the inward call that results in heart change. Remember, many are called (external/visible/administration) but few are chosen (internal/invisible/substance) . (Matt 22:14)
Peter’s proclamation is that now in addition to the Jews and their children being God’s covenant people, God was going to call many gentiles into the the church and spread it across the world. The point is not that children are no longer included in the covenant (this is never said) but rather the inclusion of the gentiles. If the children were now excluded from God’s covenant, as well as those who had not been born again (how do we even govern that?), there would have been uproar from the Jews. Instead they cry out asking what they should do in response to this truth. They are commanded to repent and be baptised. Considering that family covenantal unity was so central to the minds of the Jews, do you really think they decided to wait and ask their infant children if they wanted to be baptised? Especially considering that God’s word says that the children of believers will be professing believers (Isa 59:20-21).
Again, the New Testament message is one of expansion not contraction. The new covenant message is not one of purification and refining down. Rather, the New Testament is written to God’s mixed covenant people, just like the old. It is filled with warnings of apostasy and hell. There is no sign of the Baptist reality of the new covenant church only being the elect. Rather, election is a mystery revealed and not a governing principle for membership of the church.
The covenantal inclusion of the infants means that the covenant is not a pure covenant composed of only the elect. So the new covenant must be like the old covenant in that it is a mixed covenant of sheep and goats. If this is the case we should see the Tew Testament authors referring to those who would eventually be lost, using the language reserved for those in covenant with God.
Well we do.
Language like this, describing the lost should be very troubling in a Baptist hermeneutic, as baptists believe that apostates like those described below, are in the same category as the lost who never heard the gospel.
The apostates are described as: “God’s people, enlightened, partakers in the Holy Spirit, sanctified by the blood of the covenant, those who are in Christ, in covenant, bought by the Master”:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:4-6
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
So here we see God referring to those who are cast out of the new covenant as “God’s people” and sanctified by the blood of Christ. If the new covenant is that which saves and preserves, then how is this possible? Because it is the substance of the new covenant (CoG) that saves and includes all God’s people and their children, and it is the administration of the new covenant that unbelievers are cast out of.
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:1-2
Here we see the same language of the covenant people as branches of an olive tree. Jesus even says that there are those who are in him that will be cut off for bearing no fruit.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
2 Peter 2:1
Denying the master who bought them? He didn’t buy their salvation, he bought them from the world and made them his people but they broke the covenant.
In some of Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13, He alludes to the mixed nature of the church in the world, the kingdom of God being made of true and false believers until the end of time when he will separate them himself. The sheep and goats will be separated at the end of time. Read these parables yourself and see if the Kingdom of God, the New Covenant, is described as a pure covenant with just the elect, as the 1689 confession says, or if it’s as the Westminster says – a mixed covenant of sheep and goats, which will be separated on the last day.