A Word on the Difference Between Reformed Paedobaptist Covenant Theology & Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology

Covenant TheologyI do believe that more and more contemporary Baptists are learning that Covenant Theology lies in much of Baptist history (e.g. London Baptist Confession of 1689).  However, many may still be wondering how Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology differs from Reformed Paedobaptist Covenant Theology.  Obviously, Baptists don’t believe that infants of believers are members of the NC and therefore proper recipients of the ordinance/sacrament of baptism.  However, wherein do Reformed Baptists differ in their covenantal hermeneutic that leads them to part ways with their Reformed Paedobaptist brethren on this issue?  The quote provided below is an excerpt from Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive (2013, pp. 80-81).  It provides a summary of a key hermeneutical and theological difference between Reformed Paedobaptist and Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology.

However, understand that there are two perspectives/groups within the category of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology.  There is the more historical Covenant Theology that was espoused by our 17th,18th, and even 19th Century Baptist forefathers and is codified (so to speak) in the 1689 Confession.  Then there’s what is commonly called “20th Century Baptist Covenant Theology”.  The latter is closer to Paedobaptist Covenant Theology, but without the paedobaptism (though I admit that this is somewhat of an oversimplification), whereas the former really stands apart from Paedobaptist Covenant Theology.  Of course, Reformed Baptists from both of these perspectives agree on far more than they disagree.  The areas of primary difference regard the nature of the Mosaic Covenant and the way in which the Covenant of Grace plays out in redemptive history (follow this link for a chart that somewhat captures this difference).  While the following quote is from a book that espouses the “20th Century” version of Baptist Covenant Theology, I do hold to the more historic perspective (although at this time I am still learning a lot regarding this perspective).  Still, the following quote will assist one in understanding a key way in which Baptist Covenant Theology differs with Paedobaptist Covenant Theology.  For a fuller understanding of the more historic Baptist Covenant Theology, please see the two links provided after the quote.

Other paedobaptist definitions of a covenant include O. Palmer Robertson’s description of a covenant as ‘a bond in blood sovereignly administered.’  Robertson is trying to emphasize the fact that diatheke [the Greek word for ‘covenant’] in the NT describes a divine covenant as a unilateral oath or ‘testament’ of God to his subjects, sealed by blood.  This is certainly an improvement over the older contract or suzerainty ideas.  It also allows for each covenant’s content to be determined by contextual revelation instead of assumed elements from other covenants.  However, even with this improvement, Robertson transfers the organic idea of ‘believers and their seed’ from the Abrahamic Covenant into the New Covenant, thus inferring the legitimacy of infant baptism by including the children of believers in the New Covenant.  This inclusion of children is necessitated by calling the Abrahamic Covenant ‘the Covenant of Grace’ itself in stead of a ‘covenant of the promise’ which is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.  This inference from the Abrahamic Covenant into the New Covenant violates the hermeneutical principle of relying on the NT to interpret how the OT is fulfilled in it (Galatins 3:16, 26-29).

Further, the New Covenant membership is defined in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and the NT explanation (Hebrews 8-10) as those who receive the law (the Ten Words in historical context) written upon the heart (regeneration), the forgiveness of sin (justification), and the personal knowledge of God (reconciliation).  This separates the New Covenant fulfillment of the promised Covenant of Grace from the Abrahamic Covenant which included the organic seed of Abraham who mostly were unregenerate.  To infer the organic idea from the Abrahamic Covenant into the New Covenant is a violation of biblical theology and contextual exegesis.  This is why such luminaries as B.B. Warfield and John Murray claim the authority for infant baptism to be found ‘by good and necessary consequences’ from the OT.  This violates the final authority and clarity of the NT.

Following the same hermeneutic as John Owen’s model, [who ‘conceived the New Covenant to be an effectual and unbreakable covenant for its true members’; p. 79] Baptists have defined a covenant as an oath, bond, or promise of God whereby man may be blessed.  In other words, each divine covenant is a promise of God to man, the content of which must be determined by the revelation explaining each covenant.  Reformed Baptists are careful not to expand the definition and content of a biblical covenant ‘by good and necessary consequence’ when Scripture defines each covenant by its own content.  This separates us from our Reformed paedobaptist brethren on Covenant Theology because of our hermeneutics.

Reformed Baptists look upon the OT covenants as progressive ‘covenants of the promise’ fulfilled in the effectual and unbreakable New Covenant, so defined by NT Scripture.  Thus, ‘the New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.’

See also the following:

“A Difference Between Reformed Baptist & Paedobaptist Covenant Theology”

“1689 Federalism Compared to Westminster Federalism” (Video)

 

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