Saturday, 21 February 2009

Baptistic Musings - 5 More on the age of accountability

Baptists are all over the place regarding the proper subjects of baptism. While denying access to the covenant community to babies due to a lack of matacognitive ability, they are quick to stress, on other occasions, the mercy of God towards the mentally handicapped, the still-born, and dying infants. Am I missing something here? Does "cake and eat it" come to mind?

The confessional Reformed approach is far more consistent. For instance, according to 1 Cor. 7:14:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (ESV)

According to the passage, children of believers are 'clean'. That is a word shot through with covenantal overtones. Therefore, children of believers are covenantally accepted. There can be no other conclusion from this passage. For believers grieving over the death of a child, there is hope; hope that the child is clean and with the Lord in glory. This is why King David was so confident that he would see his dead son again (2 Sam. 12:23). Reformed theology is at least consistent as to why believers' children who die go to be with the Lord.

The other side of the passage is less hope-giving i.e. "otherwise they would be unclean." All that the Reformed can say about children who die outside of the covenant is that they are in God's hands and that the judge of all the earth will do what is right.

If Baptists really want to be consistent, they should affirm, (contra 1 Cor. 7) that ALL children are unclean and that they are unsure of the fate of ALL those who die in infancy.


David Shedden said...

Nick, you've got to be careful here. The last two posts that you've written are cheques that could make you ecclesiastically bankrupt.

Your understanding of 1 Cor 7 is too simplistic. In principle it is possible for children to be "clean" without qualifying for baptism. Perversely, in some Reformed views, children can be unclean and qualify for baptism - but that's too long a story for this comment.

You have the problem of reconciling your new views on baptism with the regulative principle. (Where is the clear command to baptise infants, and where is there an example of the practice in the New Testament?)

You need to read the best Reformed Baptist views. They have wrestled and answered most of your concerns.

More important - bad practice never permits us to ditch good principles. Just because your experience along with some anecdotal evidence shows that pietistic baptists are bonkers when it comes to relating to kids doesn't mean infant baptism is right.

You know where the rubber hits the road on this one mate. Put your foot down, or get out the car!

David Shedden said...

And, contra your last paragraph, baptism has got absolutely nothing to do with the fate of anyone. That's for the Lord to worry about not church leaders or those who are called to baptise people. Stop confusing your categories.

Nick Mackison said...

And the Shed comes out fighting!

Ok, regarding 1 Cor. 7, how would you understand the connotations of 'clean'?

Regarding the RPW, there is nothing in the NT that says women should partake of the Lord’s Supper. How are you going to reconcile that? My point is, the RPW can be pressed/abused to the extent that obvious and necessary practices are abandoned.

My anecdotal evidence wasn't meant to be a justification of infant baptism. I was merely demonstrating what I believe to be the majority practice with respect to baptist kids.

And where did I say that infant baptism determines the fate of anyone? Now you're tarring me with the sacramentalist brush you naughty man. It's YOU confusing the categories you rascal. I'm only saying that infant-baptism is recognition by God's church that a child is part of the covenant community. It's God's stamp of "mine" on the child. I was merely pointing out the inconsistencies in the baptistic practice when they are faced with infant mortality.

Steven Carr said...


I hope you indulge me a little and allow me to say that what the Westminster Confession of Faith has to say on the Regulative Principle of Worship is pretty much the norm of how the Reformed understood the idea. In the very first chapter on Holy Scripture it says, "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or BY GOOD AND NECESSARY CONSEQUENCE MAY BE DEDUCED FROM SCRIPTURE." The bapstism of infants is one of those deductions by good and necessary consequence. We do not need to have everything spelled out for us in so many words. The command to baptize is spelled out for us, but when it comes to who to baptize we need to do a little digging in Scripture. The Reformed dug and found that the nature of the covenant did not change in the NT. It was still the same old covenant (not in same administration as in the OT, mind you). The covenant still passes on from parents to children (Acts 2:39). The pattern for baptism in the NT is the same as the pattern for circumcision in the old (i.e., household circumcisions in the OT and household baptisms in the NT--minus the fact that circumcision was only for males).

Nick, your cheques might make you ecclesiastically bankrupt in baptistic circles but they will make you rich in biblical understanding. Keep persevering, brother. And David, no hard feelings, you're my brother as well.

JohnGreenview said...

So the 'unbelieving husband' is 'sanctified' or 'clean' by the believing wife.

Does this mean an unbelieving husband is 'saved'?

1Co 7:14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

Nick Mackison said...

John, I think that the whole point of the sanctification of the unbelieving spouse is to point to the 'clean' children. The marriage is 'holy' in God's sight, so the children are clean.

JohnGreenview said...

It is worth noting that the OT has a different practice re those who marry 'unbelievers' and the 'condition' of their children than does the new.

In Ezra we read

Ezr 10:3 Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law.

Thus, under law, the mixed marriage and the children thereof led to the children being 'unclean'. Whereas, in the gospel, by grace those in a mixed marriage find the spouse and the children to be 'clean' or 'holy'.

Gospel is so much more efficacious than grace.

However, I agree with David - he and I must meet some time - you are importing categories not in Paul's mind. 'What is written' is always more persuasive than stretched logic.

It would have been so simple in the circumcision arguments for Paul to have told the Jewish Christian judaizers who insisted on circumcision that in the new covenant baptism replaced circumcision. But he doesn't. Nor do the judaizers object to baptism replacing circumcision, if such replacement was commonly believed to be the case. They seem to want baptism and circumcision - surely a strange contradiction if baptism was understood to replace circumcision as the covenant sign.

John Sundberg said...


For the record, or for lack of a better intro, there is at least one Baptist (and others,I'm sure) who acknowledges that Total Depravity is the condition of every human being from the point of conception forward, and that those who die as infants in or out of the womb are as 'spiritually dead' and dependent on the grace of God as anyone else.

Haven't thought too far on this particular subject, but I've never been comfortable with stating that all infants who die receive automatic salvation.

Like you said in your post, though you applied it differently, 'they are in God's hands and . . . the judge of all the earth will do what is right.'

Interesting post and thought provoking questions.