A Reformed Baptist Response to Mark Jones’ “Daddy, am I really forgiven?” [Tom Chantry]

Pastor Tom Chantry
Pastor Tom Chantry

This is a guest post from Pastor Tom Chantry who blogs at ChantryNotes [listen to 12 min. readout]:

So Mark Jones wants to know if his kids can sing “Jesus loves me.”  I thought he was a Presbyterian; don’t they have better hymns than that?

 

In all seriousness, though, Jones’ piece, albeit winsome and irenic, demonstrates the collapse of theological method which tends to occur whenever our Presbyterian brothers try to tackle the question of infant baptism.  The same folks who give us lengthy, carefully documented tomes on other theological questions often descend into adorable mention of their own kids when this topic comes up.  Even so great a mind as Charles Hodge referred to Christ’s “little lambs” being written into the book of life – and then excoriated Baptists for erasing their names.

 

(Yes, that Charles Hodge!  I know it sounds like the sort of argument that might be offered by Beatrice from Esurance, but it’s not.  It’s from the Charles Hodge.)

 

I suppose we’re meant to share an “Awww!” moment and agree to love our kids better and to stop locking them out of heaven. Sensitive Inquisitive Baptists, however, have a few questions to ask about the manner in which the discipline of theology is practiced, because it seems that there are some problems here – of an exegetical, systematic, and practical nature.

 

Exegetical Theology

Westminster Assembly
Westminster Assembly

Jones opens his piece with a genuinely interesting account of the debates held among the Westminster Divines over the meaning of I Corinthians 7:14.  The Apostle’s statement is this:

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.

Apparently such lights as Rutherford and Goodwin debated the meaning of “holy” at the conclusion of this verse without ever bothering to read the verse as a whole.  This is, in fact, one of the “magic bullet” verses of pedobaptism – one which no Baptist has ever noticed and which will devastatingly turn us toward Presbyterianism.

 

But let me engage in my own nostalgic reflections.  When I was “Tom the Baptist” (the one Baptist student in my class at a Presbyterian school) we had a discussion on Baptism one night in the home of our systematics professor.  To put it another way, everyone took turns convincing me to stop being a Baptist.  The first exchange of the night was quite memorable.  To paraphrase:

 

Eager Presbyterian Student: I think the entire question is settled by I Corinthians 7:14.  Think about it!  With just one believing parent a child is holy!  He is part of God’s covenant!  How could I not baptize him?

Incredulous Baptist Student: So, do you baptize the unbelieving parent also?  Since he/she is described as being holy in exactly the same terminology as the child?

Eager Presbyterian Student: (desperate turn to the professor, wordlessly asking for help)

Seasoned Presbyterian Professor: I’m sorry, I never really thought that verse had anything to do with baptism.

And that was that, because of course the verse really doesn’t have anything to do with baptism, with the covenant of grace, or with how Christians view their children.  A simple reading of the verse in context reveals that Paul’s concern is whether or not an existing marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is legitimate; he answers in the affirmative.  In other words, Goodwin and Rutherford notwithstanding, Paul is writing about neither real nor federal holiness, but about marital legitimacy.

 

This instance is a microcosm of the Presbyterian problem; there aren’t actually any verses that address infant baptism, and collectively the Presbyterian authors know it.  They all have some passages that they like to talk about, but they cannot at all agree on what those passages actually are.  Through the corpus of their literature on the subject they all debunk one another’s passages.

 

This argument has been made by Baptists for ages, but it is often misunderstood.  Our Presbyterian friends will respond that theology is not made with proof-texts, and that similarly there is no passage which – taken alone – proves the Trinity.  However, we would all agree that there are certain passages – many of them – which address the nature and persons of God.  In other words, Trinitarians can agree on which passages form the exegetical basis of our Trinitarianism.  Pedobaptists cannot do this with baptism.  If there is no internal agreement on which parts of Scripture even address a doctrine, how are we supposed to believe that the doctrine even exists?

 

Reformed Baptists in particular shake our heads in confusion at this sort of thing.  We have become accustomed to exegetical precision from our Presbyterian brethren, but they too often engage in the most extreme eisogetical gymnastics in order to shoe-horn baptism into passages on children, or alternately children into passages on Baptism.

 

Systematic Theology

Pastor Mark Jones
Pastor Mark Jones

Jones’ article further demonstrates the tendency of Presbyterians to confuse theological categories as soon as they address the question of baptism.  He agrees with Goodwin that the children of believers are holy in a federal sense, not a real sense.  However, from this he argues that these children are Christians.  Which means what, exactly?

 

In old covenant terms, federal holiness meant being part of the community which was set apart by God as His own and marked as His by circumcision.  Both Isaac and Ishmael were marked by circumcision, as were both Jacob and Esau.  Is this the federal holiness of which Jones speaks, and if so, does it really say about his children all that he wants to say?  Put another way, does federal holiness imply genuine faith?  Let’s imagine for a moment that Isaac had written the following questions:

 

1. When Esau sins and asks for forgiveness from God, can I assure him that his sins are forgiven?

2. When I ask Esau to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask him to forgive Jacob? Because it is the nice thing to do? Or because he should forgive in the same way the Messiah has forgiven him?

3. Can Esau sing “Messiah loves me, this I know” and enjoy all of the benefits spoken of in that song? (“To him belong…He will wash away my sin”)

4. When Esau prays during family worship to his heavenly Father, what are the grounds for him praying such a prayer? Does he have any right to call God his “heavenly Father”? Do non-believers cry “Abba, Father”?

5. Should I desire that Esau have a “boring” testimony? (Though a testimony to God’s covenant promises can never be boring, of course). Is it not enough for him to simply say each day that he trusts in the coming Messiah alone for their salvation?

You see, what Jones is attempting to do in this section is to jump from federal holiness to regeneration, which are two very distinct and different categories.  It is for exactly this reason that Rutherford and Goodwin had their debate over the nature of a covenant child’s holiness: the category of New Covenant child doesn’t exist in the Bible, and the category of Old Covenant child is distinctly unsatisfying.

 

In fact, we might observe that the holiness offered in the Covenant of Grace is in fact very different from the holiness conferred upon Ishmael and Esau.  It is both federal and real, in that what the gracious covenant offers is the righteousness of Christ.  That righteousness is genuinely holy, but it is federally conferred – how?  The answer of Romans is “by faith.”

 

Jones concedes near the end of his piece that perhaps one of his children might be non-elect, but what exactly does that mean if federal holiness means being a Christian?  It is distressing to hear a New Covenant believer speaking of his children – or anyone – as being in that covenant, enjoying the benefits of that covenant, and yet still possibly being non-elect.  The benefit of the Covenant of Grace is Christ.  If Jones’ children have that benefit (and I hope that they do) then they received it by faith and they will never lose it!  This has nothing whatsoever to do with their baptism, or with their parentage, or for that matter with the federal holiness of the Old Covenant.  It is instead the promise, the free gift, the inheritance of all who believe.

 

Jones speaks – in keeping with the Goodwinian tradition – of considering or judging his children to be Christians, but again, we must ask why?  Is it because, as his narrative suggests, they express their faith in Christ through prayer, or is it for some other reason?  Is this not arguably one of the greatest questions of all systematic theology?  Do the just live by faith, or by the presumption of their baptismal proxies?

 

Shepherd and Sheep Pastor Flock HeaderPractical Theology

Many of Jones’ best friends and favorite preachers are Baptists; I wonder if he has ever asked any of them the sort of questions he poses in this post.  I wonder because it seems to me they are rather the sort of rhetorical questions Pedobaptists love to bat about between themselves without ever asking them of any actual, real-world Baptists.  As a father of children in the same age-range as Jones’, allow me to posit my own answer.

 

How do I deal with my children when they ask questions about their salvation?  With this answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.”  I’m sure Jones knows this answer; in fact, he’s probably preached it.

 

Let me ask a few questions in return, and perhaps it will make our position somewhat clearer.

 

If a woman comes to Jones and tells him she is struggling with assurance, that she has sinned greatly and prayed about it, but that she doesn’t know whether or not God hears her prayers, will he point her to federal holiness, or to Jesus?

 

If Jones is counseling a drug-addict who wandered into church, and if he wants to avoid moralism, does he adopt the indicative-imperative model of Christian ethics and say, “Christ died for you, you are saved, therefore obey”?  Or, given the obvious questions about the man’s spiritual state, does he call him to faith in Christ?

 

If Jones has urged an unbeliever to call upon the Lord, and that unbeliever kneels and says, “Oh Father…” does Jones interrupt and say, “Please don’t call God ‘Father’ until after you’ve had forgiveness for your sins and been baptized”?  (Honestly, at one point did we imagine that the “Spirit of Adoption” has anything to do with permissions?)

 

Talking-to-children1You see, these questions are silly; it does no good to ask them of Jones about his congregation, nor to ask them of Baptists about our children.  Our answer is simple and biblical.  When my children ask me, “Are my sins forgiven?” I respond, “Do you believe in Jesus?  Because God forgives the sins of everyone who believes.”  Note that I do not ask them for a profound conversion story, but only if they believe.  As a Baptist minister, I have baptized some teenagers with very “boring” testimonies – they believed in Jesus as long as they can remember, and I rejoice in those testimonies.

 

Presbyterians have talked a lot lately about an “indicative-imperative” model.  Reformed Baptists agree.  We tell our people (and our children) that obedience apart from Christ’s accomplished work is impossible, and that strivings toward obedience without Christ are both moralistic and offensive to God.  Having said this, we call adults and children to faith in Christ.

 

Too often of late our Presbyterian brothers present the indicative-imperative model as something like this: “Jesus died for you; therefore you should live for Him.”  The problem is that, absent any call to faith, this amounts to saying something they do not know, or to reaching a judgment on no basis whatsoever.  Moreover, it sounds a lot like the universalistic preaching one hears from Arminian Baptists.

 

It is my honest belief that most Presbyterian parents do call their children to faith.  I worry, though – I honestly worry about the effect which anti-Baptist rhetoric may have on some Presbyterian apologists.  If they talk too much in Old Covenant terms about things like federal holiness, will they forget that the principle of New Covenant life is faith?  Will they forget to call their children to believe?

 

I hope not, but the questions they ask us sometimes make me worry that they might.

18 Replies to “A Reformed Baptist Response to Mark Jones’ “Daddy, am I really forgiven?” [Tom Chantry]”

  1. Thanks, Tom and Javy. Paedobaptism and its defense by Presbyterians like the Sprouls continues to confuse Christians who are trying to understand the Biblical teaching on children and salvation. RBs are looked at by some believers as strange because we believe and teach that our children are born “Totally Depraved” and in need of Christ’s saving work in pardon of iniquities and imputation of His righteousness. If we lose this message, especially with our children, once again churches will be filled (or not) with those who have false confidence.

  2. Tom Chantry asks a good question:

    “Jones speaks – in keeping with the Goodwinian tradition – of considering or judging his children to be Christians, but again, we must ask why? Is it because, as his narrative suggests, they express their faith in Christ through prayer, or is it for some other reason?”

    The answer ably provided by Mark Jones, quoting Goodwin: “To me the holiness in 1 Cor. 7:14 is the same with that ‘I will be thy God and the God of thy seed.’ If you make it any other holiness, then baptism is a seal of some other holiness than the holiness of salvation.” Further, he argues that our judgment is not an infallible judgment, but it is a judgment that answers the promise. We are judging according to the terms of the covenant.”

    In other words, Presbyterians judge their children to be part of the Church (just as Esau was for a time) because God declares the children of believing parents to be “holy” (set apart). This is language of inclusion, love, and blessing for those who respond to the covenant promises with faith, love and obedience.

    Esau was federally holy until he rejected his God as an unbelieving adult. Thereafter he became an unrepentant covenant breaker and an apostate. Tom seems to miss Mark’s point and then proceeds to makes the error of taking what we know of the adult Esau’s apostasy and God’s elective decree and then using that knowledge to argue that Issac shouldn’t have spoke to the child Esau as precisely what he was – a covenant child who was a covenant member, and for a time, an heir of the promises.

    1. Jason,

      If “being Christian” is something that can be lost, Mark
      has a very great problem in his theology. If being in covenant status
      is something that can be lost, he has misread the Newness of the New
      Covenant. If the Righteousness of Christ imputed by faith is supposed
      to be presumed present through birth, nothing Paul wrote in the book of
      Romans makes much sense. Clearly you’re not saying Esau was saved and
      then lost his salvation (or at least I hope not!) So was Esau supposed
      to be presumed to be saved? Because this is the language Mark is using
      regarding his own children; they are to be “judged” Christian and
      assured that their sins are forgiven, but that might change at a later
      date.

      This answer is no answer, and leaves those who have kept
      their theological categories clear wondering what on earth he is talking
      about.

      1. As I reread what Horne wrote, I think he may see himself NOW, as I see him… a pioneer of the Auburn Avenue Theology before the men ever met on Auburn Avenue, Monroe LA. He wrote, “The following link goes to my response to Greg Welty’s critique of paedobaptism. The reason why I have not ever refered Theologia readers to this, one of my earlier works, is that I have come to dislike my tone. When I wrote it, I allowed myself to be irritated at Greg. I don’t dislike him (and I appreciate a great many of his other writings) but I did not respond well to his essay on this subject. At the time I was simply a seminary student and hadn’t really considered what sort of tone is congenial to a person withpastoral responsibilities. Knowingly expressing oneself in a way that will make people mad, when one could say exactly the same thing without doing so, does not seem compatible with my vocation. As a result, I have rarely ever referred anyone to the essay.

        I am making my essay an official offsite link of Theologia now for reasons having very little to do with Greg or with paedobaptism per se. My reason in posting this is a result of the recent brouhaha over the 2002 Auburn Avenue Pastor’s Conference. I think there is historical interest in this paper of mine, which was written before I had read anything by N. T. Wright or even heard of “the new perspective” as a concept. Indeed, if memory serves, I had only heard of Norman Shepherd indirectly when I wrote this essay (even if I am wrong, I attest the views expressed in this essay predate my reading of him). In any case, with the noted exception of paedocommunion, this essay argues closely from the Westminster Confession and Cathechisms.- Mark Horne, from his website. My question as you read Horne’s paper would be to ask, if the covenant children defect from the covenant, or become uncovenanted…did they go from being the objects of Christ’s intercession as the mediator of the New Covenant, to once again being under His wrath? Did they hate Him, Romans 8:7, then temporarily have holy affections as covenant children, and now hate Him again?

  3. We need to hold the paedo-baptist’s feet to the fire on the doctrine of monergistic regeneration by the word and the Spirit. It really is there they they are delinquent. They will grant God sovereignty in creation and providence but withhold it in grace. They are ritualists at heart, and their unbiblical doctrine of infant baptism downgrades the reality and necessity of regeneration by the word and the Spirit; and an offshoot of that is a downgrade in valuation for the very living word of God itself as making the call that is potentially effectual. Infant baptism is a horrid doctrine that strikes at the very foundation of the faith.

  4. Patrick: I was going by this quote on Horne’s site. The following link goes to my response to Greg Welty’s critique of paedobaptism. The reason why I have not ever refered Theologia readers to this, one of my earlier works, is that I have come to dislike my tone. When I wrote it, I allowed myself to be irritated at Greg. I don’t dislike him (and I appreciate a great many of his other writings) but I did not respond well to his essay on this subject. At the time I was simply a seminary student and hadn’t really considered what sort of tone is congenial to a person withpastoral responsibilities. Knowingly expressing oneself in a way that will make people mad, when one could say exactly the same thing without doing so, does not seem compatible with my vocation. As a result, I have rarely ever referred anyone to the essay.
    I am making my essay an official offsite link of Theologia now for reasons having very little to do with Greg or with paedobaptism per se. My reason in posting this is a result of the recent brouhaha over the 2002 Auburn Avenue Pastor’s Conference. I think there is historical interest in this paper of mine, which was written before I had read anything by N. T. Wright or even heard of “the new perspective” as a concept. Indeed, if memory serves, I had only heard of Norman Shepherd indirectly when I wrote this essay (even if I am wrong, I attest the views expressed in this essay predate my reading of him). In any case, with the noted exception of paedocommunion, this essay argues closely from the Westminster Confession and Cathechisms.

    In light of recent hostilities, I must say that I don’t even understand why Greg ever irritated me the way he did. He is every bit a gentleman, a fact all the more obvious in light of how some paedobaptists are behaving in recent months. He never called me a heretic for arguing from the Westminster Standards, though various Presbyterians are now using such slanderous words for allegiance to Reformed Theology. He is, in short, a good guy and I’m sorry I may not have realized that as I should have when I was writing this response.

  5. Part of the problem seems to be the whole “Covenant of Grace” formulation in the first place, which is a theologically prescribed by paedobaptists in the first place. For the paedobaptists, the covenant of grace includes the Abrahamic covenant, which includes promises to multiple seeds, elect and non-elect. It is the New Covenant that exclusively promises blessings to those in “the seed, Christ”(Gal 3). While as a baptist, I fully agree with the exegetical evidence above, it is the “one covenant of grace, 2 dispensations model” of WCF Christianity which has to been re-examined.

  6. The argument that the unbelieving partner is sanctified by the believing is a strong argument against paedobaptism. Both unbelieving partner and children are sanctified (set apart). Are we then to baptize the unbelieving partner in lieu of his wife’s faith? The question is of course rhetorical.

    1. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some Presbies answer that yes, if the unbelieving spouse is willing, they should be baptized. Consistency!

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