But Baptists Can Dance the Mere Christendom Shuffle: A Reply to Scott Aniol

I have enjoyed the recent exchanges between Doug Wilson and Scott Aniol so much that I couldn’t help but put my oar in to give us one more swoosh down Mere Christendom River. Recently, Scott said that he doesn’t think Baptist theology is compatible with the Mere Christendom project. I lean toward thinking that Baptists can get down with Mere Christendom. But I understand where Scott is coming from. If we accept the way Scott has structured the matter, it is not hard to see that the Baptists could not dance the Mere Christendom shuffle. But I would like to reframe the matter, hopefully opening the door for the Baptists to join team Mere Christendom.

Here is Scott in his own words:

“As I have been stressing since the initial tweet that sparked the recent debate, the bottom line comes down to which comes first: (a) public and formal acknowledgment of Christ’s Lordship or (b) internal acknowledgement of Christ’s Lordship” (Scott Aniol, What if We Win?).

“I’ll summarize the key theological difference again: Paedobaptists want children of believing parents to formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship before they personally and internally acknowledge his Lordship; credo Baptists do not believe anyone should formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship until after they believe it. The Christian Nationalism/Mere Christendom project fits within the former framework, but not the latter. This is why I continue to insist that Baptist theology isn’t compatible with the project” (Scott Aniol, What if We Win?).

While I can understand how some might think Paedobaptists want children of believing parents to formally acknowledge Christ before internally doing so, that indeed is not the case. There’s something quite different in the Paedobaptist water. What is in that Paedobaptist water? That’s a good question. We need to establish that so that we bring the right principle to bear on the Mere Christendom project, not the wrong one.

My argument here is that Scott has wrongly described what Paedobaptists are up to with infant baptism and then he brought that wrong standard to the Mere Christendom project. I aim to describe the true situation with Paedobaptists regarding infant baptism, and then bring that true principle to bear on Mere Christendom. Now, Credobaptists will still disagree with what is really going on with infant baptism. But when the true principle is established and translated from infant baptism to Mere Christendom, I think Credobaptists will find it far more palatable than the faulty principle Scott has attributed to Paedobaptists and thus Mere Christendom.

I should note briefly that I like Scott and his G3 compatriots Josh Buice and Virgil Walker. When I went from Credobaptism to Paedobaptism, you might say I went from being a Separatist Puritan to being a Regular Puritan. I always loved the saints. But the shift to Paedobaptism was a heart enlarging experience where I discovered that we saints are all in the same visible church together, the same—dare I say quite tangible—house with different rooms. So Scott is not only my brother, but we are in the same house. This is just me leaning out of a room saying, “Hey hey, it’s a little different than you described and this Mere Christendom thing is worth a shot.” Let me explain.

What are Paedobaptists Up To with the Water?

Scott says the central thing is which comes first. The internal and personal or the formal and public? But I say that the central thing is: Has God said anything about the person in view? Does the person (be that a Christian’s child or a civil magistrate) have any previously established relationship to God?

In the case of infant baptism, the answer is yes. The water is not an arbitrary, strictly external, or merely physical declaration. But it is a sign and seal from God himself to the party baptized. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, 

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His church until the end of the world. (WCF 28.1)

This idea of baptism as God’s sign to the party baptized is not lost on the Credobaptists. The Second London Baptist Confession says, 

Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life (2LBC 29:1).

Baptism, according to the Paedobaptist paradigm, is not administered to the infant without warrant. The Credobaptist says the warrant for baptism is personal faith and credible profession in the Lord Jesus Christ. But it does not follow that, because the Paedobaptist rejects that particular warrant, that they are without any warrant at all. The Paedobaptist looks to what God has said as the warrant. For example, God said to Abraham, 

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you (Genesis 17:7-11).

Now, the Credobaptists and Paedobaptists have different takes on the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant just cited. Many Credobaptists believe the Abrahamic Covenant was not the Covenant of Grace. They believe the Abrahamic Covenant was a merely physical covenant that promised physical land to physical offspring. The Paedobaptists take the Abrahamic Covenant to be the Covenant of Grace in which God offers eternal life. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was circumcision and it was given to Abraham’s children because God included them in the covenant that he made with Abraham. Likewise, Paedobaptists claim the Christian’s children, like Abraham’s, are included in God’s Covenant of Grace and warranted the covenant sign.

Now, concerning Aniol’s claim that Paedobaptists want a formal acknowledgement before internal, my response is that you don’t have to hold to presumptive regeneration to know that David trusted at his mother’s breast and John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. Both Credobaptists and Paedobaptists can talk past each other because they’re bringing their own presuppositions to bear on the other’s position. Scott seems to say, “Since the Credobaptists’ paradigm insists on the internal before the formal, then Paedobaptists must insist on the opposite, the formal before the internal.” But the truth is that Paedobaptists simply aren’t working from the same framework. Paedobaptists say, “Has God said anything regarding the covenantal status of this child?” They answer in the affirmative which is the warrant for the sign of that covenant, baptism. We hope, pray, and trust God for the internal from the outset.

So Aniol is right that there is something present in Paedobaptism that informs Mere Christendom. That much I grant. But I believe he is wrong about what that thing is and thereby makes the Mere Christendom thing more difficult for folks than necessary. To recap:

Aniol says:

A: Paedobaptists want the Christian’s children to formally and publicly  acknowledge Christ’s Lordship before doing so internally and personally.

B: Mere Christendom involves this same principle, insisting that magistrates formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship before doing so internally and personally.

The truth of the matter:

A: Paedobaptists baptize the Christian’s infants because God has sworn an oath regarding them, bringing them into covenant with himself.

B: Mere Christendom involves recognizing that the Triune God has ordained civil magistrates as His very own servants and ministers who thereby must acknowledge Him internally and externally, personally and formally.

Baptists Come On In, the Water Is Fine

Credobaptists need not agree with point A under “the truth of the matter” just above in order to agree with point B under the same heading. In other words, Credobaptists don’t have to become Paedobaptists to see that Mere Christendom involves recognizing what God has said about magistrates. 

Basically, Aniol muddies the waters a bit such that some may think Mere Christendom involves requiring magistrates to externally acknowledge Christ before internally doing so. When in truth, Mere Christendom involves acknowledging that civil magistrates belong to God. They are His servants and they must obey their Master. If they don’t, then they are not fit to be His servants.

That seems like a tune to which many Baptists can shake a leg. Granted, Russell Moore would likely not be able to cut this particular rug: