Dispatches from the Font: Doug Wilson's Case for Infant Baptism (Part 2)

In reading Doug Wilson's argument for infant baptism in his book To a Thousand Generations, I am amazed again and again that a guy who knows the Bible so well and who also wrote a book on logic can have have arguments that appear to be filled with non sequiturs and leaps of logic - leaps so tremendous that one feels the need to be an Olympian to follow him in his train of thought.  Yes, I'm a Baptist, so perhaps I am overstating the case.  But I don't think so (I am of course prejudiced on that point).

Take his chapter on circumcision in the New Testament (chapter 6).  Here is his argument: Jewish Christians circumcised their children, took them to church - which in the book of James is called a synagogue - and would have expected their children to be received as members of the church on that basis.  And in this we have undisputed evidence that babies were admitted to the church and therefore should be baptized.

Wait, what?

I know that Wilson may not like the way I have shortened his argument.  But this reminds me of a discussion I once heard between a Seventh Day Adventist and another guy.  The Seventh Day Adventist was trying to make a case for keeping the Sabbath in exactly the way it was kept under the Law of Moses.  It was a tortuous argument, and the other guy, getting impatient with it, told him to get to the point.  But therein lay the problem.  If you just get to the point you realize there is no point.  The same thing here: it seems that Wilson's argument, like the Energizer Bunny Rabbit, goes on and on and you just want him to get to the point.  But when he does, you realize that he never actually established it.

The keystone to his argument is that God required Jewish Christians to circumcise their children and to baptize them and that both functioned (for them) as rites of entrance into the church.  No where does the NT teach this.  Just because they circumcised their kids didn't mean they had to, nor does it mean that it functioned as a mean of entrance into the church.  Paul circumcised Timothy (a half-Jew), not because he had to, but because it was more convenient for the purpose of ministry.  Paul tells the Corinthian church that circumcision is not important (nor uncircumcision for that matter) but the keeping of the commandments of God.  He doesn't then add: "But if you're a Jew, you have to keep circumcising your children, at least until the Temple is destroyed."  

You can see why he wants to argue this way, because if he can make circumcision a rite of entrance into the church, then voila! he can then sneak infant baptism in under the aegis of circumcision.  

Part of his argument for this is the abiding religious significance of circumcision.  However, this just does not prove or establish the point, not even a little bit.  It does not follow that circumcision functioned in the church the way it did under the Old Covenant (as a rite of covenantal initiation).

Even though this might sound like a new argument (sneaking infant baptism in under the practice of circumcision by Jewish Christians), it really comes down once again to a fundamental misunderstanding of the covenantal structure of redemptive history.  Wilson speaks of the covenant in the singular, thereby mashing all the covenants into one [As he puts it: "The sign of initiation into the covenant was circumcision (beginning with Abraham); the rite of initiation became baptism with the advent of the New Covenant." Wilson, Douglas. To a Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism - Covenant Mercy to the Children of God. Canon Press. Kindle Edition].  I suspect that behind this is the idea that all the historical covenants are simply administrations of a single covenant, what theologians sometimes call the covenant of grace.  But this is a theological construct which is not taught in Scripture, either.  Though I appreciate and agree with the intention of this theological construct (that people have always been saved by grace through faith, not by works of any kind), it easily leads to the kind of confusion that obviously has a hold of Wilson.  We cannot assume that what was true under the Abrahamic covenant is now true under the New Covenant.  The New Covenant is new, and it is the fundamental mistake of paedobaptists to deny that.

So it doesn't matter if baptism and circumcision point to the same realities.  Baptism is a rite under the New Covenant and circumcision under the Old, and it is a problem to apply the subjects of circumcision to baptism.  In fact, no one does this, not even the paedobaptist. This is seen in the fact that we don't limit baptism to males.  Why is this?  Is it because now females are members of the New Covenant community, and they weren't under the Old?  No, that isn't the case at all.  So pointing to Scriptures like Gal. 3:28 doesn't rescue Wilson and his infant baptizers because females were members of the Old Covenant community too, even though they didn't have the sign of the covenant put upon them.  The reason why we don't limit baptism to males is not because of the practice of circumcision under the Old Covenant, but because our Lord commanded us to baptize disciples with no restriction as to male or female.  

In other words, the Baptist is constrained by the commandment of the Lord, not by some interminable argument that rests upon a pyramid scheme of assumptions that cannot be proved by the Scriptures.  

At the end of the day, it shows the weakness of his argument that he has to rely on circumcision to prove infant baptism.  He chastises Baptists for resorting to their Bibles and a concordance and deducing their doctrine of baptism from just that.  But if your Bible and a concordance doesn't turn up any examples of infant baptism, then that's probably because there weren't any.  

One more thing: it is frankly annoying and historically false when Wilson claims that 1522 was the first year Christians became aware of the need for believer's baptism. Tertullian does stand in the way of such a claim (Wilson notwithstanding).  The first mention of child baptism is an argument against it.  In any case, we are not importing assumptions into Scripture by obeying the clear and direct pattern and procedure given to us explicitly in the Bible itself: the pattern and procedure given to us in the only commission in the NT to baptize, the Great Commission, which is a commission to baptize disciples, not disciples and their children.


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