We had a very good time this past week when Pastor James White came to town here in Moscow. He preached at Christ Church. We had a good number of meals. And to top everything off, he let a host of folks out here look straight at the sun through his solar scope. No, that is not a metaphor for Dr. White’s keen biblical analysis. He does have such keen biblical analysis. And he also has a solar scope, tripod and all through which we took a look at the sun as it blazed in the Idaho sky. It was loads of fun, and so was the debate between James and Doug on paedocommunion.
The debate was quite friendly, as it ought to have been. In fact, the brotherly nature of the debate struck me as the most significant thing about it. Plenty of folks out there have gotten quite sour and sassy with Dr. White. And there are, of course, several who regularly find their knickers in a twist about the ministry here in Moscow. Essentially, Cranky Calvinists everywhere have a lesson to learn from White and Wilson. Beyond this initial lesson on how to be a good Christian while disagreeing, this debate helped clarify a key issue. In so doing, the debate moved the ball down the court a bit. That key issue came about toward the end of our time of Q&A, and I’d like to highlight it for those interested in the topic. I will point to a few resources at the end that I have benefited from.
During Q&A, Wilson and White both affirmed that the sacraments are for members of the new covenant. They agree on this point. They disagree about the membership of the new covenant. So if you ask both men, “Should members of the new covenant be baptized and come to the table?” They would answer in the affirmative. And if you follow up that question with, “And who are the members of the new covenant?” Dr. White would answer, the elect. And Pastor Wilson would answer, believers and their children. If you’re new to the topic under discussion, then you should know that several paedobaptists agree with Wilson on the latter point (the membership of the new covenant) but disagree with both Wilson and White on the first point (the sacraments [both of them that is] are for members of the new covenant). The OPC considered paedocommunion back in 1987. And a majority of the OPC committee that reviewed the matter that year were in favor of paedocommunion. For those of you who want to take a deep dive into their findings, you can find their report here.
Many of you know that I was a Reformed Baptist minister before coming to the conviction that not only those who profess faith but also the children of believing parents should be baptized. And that baptism conviction is downstream from one’s understanding of new covenant membership. The paedobaptist position generally holds that God has made one covenant of grace with differing administrations. The covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 was an administration of the covenant of grace, and Abraham’s seed were members with him in that administration of the covenant of grace. Moreover, the new covenant is also an administration of that one same covenant of grace. And being that it is but one covenant of grace with differing administrations (old and new), then the children’s inclusion in the covenant of grace remains into the new administration.
Reformed Baptists have taken slightly different approaches amongst themselves. But several Reformed Baptists as of late hold that the Abrahamic Covenant is not an administration of the covenant of grace. They hold that Abraham’s seed were indeed members of the Abrahamic covenant, evidenced by them having the sign of the covenant (circumcision). But they do not hold that the Abrahamic Covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. They hold that the Abrahamic Covenant was a shadow of the covenant of grace, rather than an administration of it.
At this point, you may simply have more questions. So hopefully, the resource list (consisting of both credo and paedo sources) will be beneficial. You at least have the key issue in view, generally seeing where the agreement and disagreement lie. However the ball is moved down the court on this issue, we should all thank God for his grace evidenced in Pastor White and Pastor Wilson. One of my favorite moments in the debate was hearing Pastor White refer to little children at Apologia Church raising their hands in doxology during Sunday worship. To which Pastor Wilson said the same occurs at Christ Church. I could not help but make the point that why we may not see eye to eye on paedobaptism and paedocommunion just yet, we have full agreement on paedo-hand raising. Thanks be to God.
Now, here is a list for those who want to get down to it:
• By way of debates, I would recommend two: First, an infant baptism debate between James White and Greg Strawbridge. Second, an infant baptism debate between Robert Strimple and Fred Malone.
• For modern works, see O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants (paedo) and Greg Nichols’ Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants (credo).
• Samuel Renihan has written The Mystery of Christ His Covenant and His Kingdom, as well as a dissertation on the subject called From Shadow to Substance (credo).
• A couple more modern works worth your time would be Richard Belcher’s The Fulfillment of God’s Promises (paedo) and Pascal Denault’s Distinctives of Baptist Covenant Theology (credo).
• For a systematic treatment of covenant with some fascinating worldview implications, see the section on covenant in Volume 3 of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (paedo).
• And if you are interested in older works, you may enjoy Nehemiah Coxe’s Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ (credo), Heinrich Bullinger’s A Brief Exposition of the One and Eternal Testament or Covenant of God (paedo), and John Ball’s A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (paedo).