Doug Wilson's Argument for Paedobaptism


I've been reading, along with another brother in our church, Douglas Wilson's book To A Thousand Generations, which is his case for infant baptism.  It is written intentionally to convince baptists like myself, especially those who are Reformed theologically (that is, who embrace the doctrines of sovereign grace), that the baptistic position on the subjects of baptism is just wrong.  In other words, Wilson is writing a book on why he is a paedobaptist and why everyone else should be one, too.

Now I haven't finished the book, so I suppose it's possible that I'm jumping the gun here, but I have to confess that so far I've found his arguments weighed in the balances and found wanting.  But more to the point, I am beginning to see what I think is his and other paedobaptists' fundamental problem (that is, those paedobaptists of the Reformed stripe).

The problem has been identified by others as well, and it is this: that Wilson and others like him just don't properly understand the difference between the covenants and import aspects of God's covenants before the New Covenant into the New Covenant.  However, as I have examined Wilson's arguments, I am beginning to see even more clearly why it is wrong for them to do this.

Actually, Wilson provides a very helpful illustration here.  He likens the Old Covenant to scaffolding for the New Covenant.  I like that.  And I totally agree with him when he argues in the following way:

It would be a mistake to think that the scaffolding was intended to remain in place permanently as a part of the building. And it would be foolish to think that the scaffolding was another separate building entirely. And it would be yet another error to think the building was non-existent as long as the scaffolding stood—when the scaffolding came down there was nothing there until a building mysteriously appeared a short time later. [Wilson, Douglas . To a Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism - Covenant Mercy to the Children of God . Canon Press. Kindle Edition.]

Of course, you generally can't make illustrations and analogies run on all fours, but this is good as far as it goes.  The problem with Wilson is that he wants to keep at least parts of the scaffolding when the New Covenant temple of God has been built.

It is true that the New Covenant mercies reach back into the Old Covenant times.  Wilson points to this verse as evidence of this and I think he is right to do so: "Therefore he [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant" (Heb. 9:15, ESV).  This being the case, there were two covenants in operation during the times before the New Covenant was inaugurated by the blood of Christ.  The people of Israel were constituted under the Old Covenant as the people of God.  Not all of them, however, were elect, and as Paul puts it in Romans 9, there is Israel and then there is Israel.  

So suppose you were an Israelite born under the Old Covenant.  You were a part of the Old Covenant people of God.  Very well.  And if in addition you had saving faith, you were also a partaker of the blessings of the New Covenant which would be purchased by Christ upon his sacrificial death.  Two covenants: the scaffolding (Old) and the building itself (New). This was the situation that adhered during the period of the Law and the Prophets.

However, this is no longer the case under the New Covenant.  There are no longer these two covenants in operation.  The Old Covenant has been done away.  It is over.  The scaffolding has come down.  This means that the situation that existed in the times before the coming of our Lord to earth the first time no longer exists.  

Wilson points again and again to Old Testament realities and wants to apply them to the church.  So people were circumcised under the Old Covenant whether they had faith or not, and this was done on purpose.  You were born into the covenant people of God.  An artifact of this practice is that you had Israel after the flesh and then you had Israel after the Spirit.  He wants to argue that this is still the case, and that baptism should be applied to children, that we don't have to wait to apply the badge of covenant membership before we can see signs of faith.  So what if that means you have unbelievers in the church?  He would say, Look back in your OT.  That was the case then, too.  So what?  

Well, the so what is that you don't have the Old Covenant around anymore, so the comparison is not always apt.  The church is not a composition of Old and New Covenant communities as it was before Christ.  The church is just the community of the New Covenant people of God.  You aren't a son or daughter of Abraham by birth to believing parents; you are a son or daughter of Abraham by faith alone.  This is Paul's argument everywhere; you especially see this in Romans 4 and Galatians 3.

In other words, though Wilson acknowledges, quite rightly, that the Old Covenant is scaffolding, he nevertheless wants to keep parts of it around.  I say, away with it!  For the "former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19).

Baptism does not belong to people who are members to a covenant like the Old Covenant which constituted the physical family of Abraham as God's people for redemptive-historical purposes (purposes which were fulfilled in the coming of Christ, Mt. 1:1).  Baptism is the badge of membership in a community for which the realities of the New Covenant are true: they are God's people in that they have God's law written in their hearts, have the forgiveness of sins, and know God from the least of them to the greatest of them (Heb. 8:10-12).  Baptism is not for unbelievers.  Baptism is not for infants.  Baptism is for those who possess true faith in Christ.  

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