Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Covenant Baptism and The Regulative Principle: A Response to Dr. Fred Malone

I recently came across an article by Dr. Fred Malone who is one of the contributors to the Founders Ministries Baptist site while perusing the Monergism page. In this article Dr. Malone argues that covenantal baptism is out of step with the regulative principle of worship. the article in its entirety can be found here.

I will give a brief response to the arguments put forward by Dr. Malone in the following blog post. I begin by quoting Dr. Malone's opening statement of his article:

"Baptists often reject Presbyterian infant baptism by showing that the Paedobaptist ("infant Baptist") brand of covenant theology erroneously allows "good and necessary inference" from Old Testament circumcision to overrule the only positive institution of baptism in the New Testament, namely, that of disciples alone."

I can heartily agree with Malone's designation that baptism is a sacrament for disciples. Malone however, in making this statement massages an assumption upon the reader that children are some how excluded from being disciples. Scripture teaches fathers to, "not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4)

It is the task of fathers to discipline their children in the Lord, children of believers are to be brought up in the context of Christian discipline. This of course means that children of believers are Christian disciples (one under Christian discipline) and as our good friend Mr. Malone has asserted baptism belongs to such as these.

Dr. Malone continues on and argues that covenantal infant baptism fails to fall under the parameters of the regulative principle of worship. Thus, every time an infant is baptized the regulative principle is being violated. He further assert:

"Baptists have held historically to the very same regulative principle of worship, though many have forgotten that today. In fact, we ultimately practice "the baptism of disciples alone" because of it. I am convinced that one reason that some Baptists are becoming Presbyterians is because Baptists do not understand the regulative principle any more."

I am not certain that it is the regulative principle that pushes individuals to a credo-baptism alone position, so much as a misreading of the regulative principle (If said Baptist even cares about the RP) that takes it as some sort of Biblicistic maxim requiring every doctrine and practice to be spelled out in black letters and 18 point font. I also would argue Credo-Baptists are moving to Covenantal or Paedobaptism because covenant theology fits with the inclusion of children of believers as members of the visible church because as Dr. Malone just said, disciples should be baptized.

The regulative principle is summed up in the confession and cited by Malone as follows:

"the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (WCF 21:1; )." [emphasis his]

Dr. Malone then makes the connection to infant baptism saying,

"It should be noted that the only sacraments which are approved as elements of worship are those which have been "instituted by Christ" himself, not by "good and necessary inference."

Who is inventing new sacraments? Dr. Malone is moving from P1 of his argument to P10 without doing the math in between. Dr. Malone continues to refer to 'good and necessary inference' as though that statement is meant by covenantal baptists to stand on its own. This strikes me as either lazy research on Dr. Malone's part or a deliberate attempt to give a less than full representation of the views of paedobaptists giving his argument an edge.

The statement in question is shorthand for the reality of the covenant that the children of believers are included in the covenant of grace (Acts 2:39). Furthermore, given the inclusion of children throughout the old covenant in its signs both in circumcision and passover, and the subsequent correlation by Paul of circumcision and baptism as signs belonging to covenant members (Col 2:11-12), and the talk of "household" baptisms in (Acts 16:15), the designation of the children of believers as "holy" by virtue of being raised in a godly home (1 Cor 7:14), but that's not all, Christ Himself clearly rebuked the baptist inclination to excommunicate children (Mark 10:14), given all of the above one can see children of believers are part of the covenant.

I would argue that the household baptisms in Acts indeed are consistant with a covenantal baptist approach. The Credo-Baptist assumes that everyone baptized under the umbrella of "household" have raised their hands, walked aisles, given secret handshakes, and signed pledge cards to Jesus prior to their baptism. I however believe many of these individuals were probably children who were going to be discipled by a believing parent(s) and thus should have the mark of a disciple/covenant member.

(Timeless advice from Charles G. Finney)

So, while there are no scriptural passages stating, "Go and baptize babies you silly Arminian!" one inductively or through inference based upon the ubiquitous inclusion of children in the covenants concludes that they should as covenant members have the sign and seal belonging to covenant members, namely, baptism. If Malone wishes to reject infant baptism because it is based upon an inductive argument, and thereby does not conform to an uber strict rendering of the regulative principle he will by the same standard and logic, if he were to be consistent, close off much more than infant baptism to the life of the Church, but more on that in a bit.

Dr. Malone does note that the confession provides for more flexible reading than I would say he is giving the RP in church life under the RP:

"The regulative principle has always included "that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed" (WCF 1:6). However, these circumstances of worship are always limited to time, place, order of worship, length of worship, language, pews, air conditioning, etc., issues which are common to any human society (see The Westminster Confession of Faith, by G. I. Williamson, 161). They have never included new uncommanded activities such as those mentioned above."

I do wonder about the time of worship though, should we not worship the resurrected Lord on Sunday, or the Lord's day? At anyrate the following sentence we come to Dr. Malone's entusiastic declaration of "Checkmate!" to the paedobaptist:

"Christ's institution of baptism, in its mode, meaning, and subjects is to be regulated by the Word of God. Yet, as Baptists and Paedobaptists agree, the only subjects of baptism which can be conclusively determined by Scripture are professing disciples. Infants are included only by "good and necessary consequence," a normative addition which is never commanded in the Bible. The practice of baptizing babies violates the regulative principle."

Well, as Malone is rising from the table after his exuberant declaration of "Checkmate!" he notices out of the corner of his eye his queen being taken by virtue of an oversight on his part. That oversight in this discussion is simply that if we apply the regulative principle in such a way as Dr. Malone is arguing, i.e. barring arguments from biblical inference/induction, we lose the inclusion of women in partaking of the Lord's Supper, instruments should not be used in church worship, women should wear head coverings, the pet notion that baptism must be by immersion, the baptismal waters must be no warmer than 40 degrees, and lastly the grape juice communion advocates are seen for the pietistic charlatans they are (which I don't really mind).

All of the above doctrines, and ecclesiastical practices are reached through inference or inductive reasoning from the scriptures with the exception of our icy water baptistic friends and the grape juice transubstantiationists. So, if Malone wishes to do away with covenantal paedobaptism because the reasoning used to reach it is inductive and somehow inductive reasoning is not in conformity with the regulative principle, Dr. Malone likewise needs to bar women from partaking of the Lord's supper, return to wine in communion (which I would heartily encourage), and remove all instruments from corporate worship.

Something tells me that Malone would hesitate to do these things. Could it be that he has an inductive exegesis/hermeneutic that arrives at the inclusion of women at the table and the use of instruments in worship?

Dr. Malone concludes with the following warning about using inductive reasoning:

"I am convinced that the "good and necessary inference" which establishes infant baptism, has opened the door to other difficulties within the Reformed and evangelical Christian world. Theonomy, paedocommunion, and more recently, stated applications of the regulative principle of worship which in fact have transformed it into the old normative principle, are three such examples.

Or could it be that infant baptism was always based upon the normative principle instead of the regulative? That is my conclusion. Perhaps we all, Presbyterians and Baptists alike, need to recommit ourselves to the biblically based regulative principle of worship and follow it where it leads us."

(To the left is yours truly with our 3rd covenant child Magdalena Grace, after her baptism)

I am uncertain as to how Theonomy has anything to do with the regulative principle, but as far as paedocommunion goes I say yes and amen, let it be so. Lets stop excommunicating covenant children, but rather let us echo our Lord who was "indignant" with those trying to bar children from being brought to Him and charged His disciples saying, "Let the children come to Me and do not hinder them for of such belong the Kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14)

My final point comes to this, the regulative principle of worship and scriptural inductive reasoning are not in conflict, that is simply Malone's unqualified assertion, and if he took it seriously he on the same principle needs to fence women off from the Lord's table. That said, let him who is without inductive scriptural arguments cast the first stone.

No comments: