Saturday, February 28, 2004
Within this post my critique will move on into the second section of Malone’s book.
The String of Pearls
Within this section of the book Malone seeks to address the ‘string of pearls’ that paedobaptists use to justify the practice of infant Baptism. Malone lists the individual ‘pearls’ that, put together, form the argument for infant Baptism: 1) The covenant theology of the Bible; 2) The relationship between circumcision and Baptism; 3) The proof-texts concerning Baptism; 4) Jesus’ attitude toward children; 5) The disjunction of the Baptism of John and Christian Baptism; 6) The argument of silence; 7) The argument of expanded blessings; 8) The testimony of tradition.
Malone quotes a PCA pastor who claims that, although the individual arguments for infant Baptism may be weak, together they present a strong argument. Malone asks: ‘How can a strong chain be made of weak links?’
It seems to me that Malone has just broken the back of his poor analogy. The argument for paedobaptism is not, in my opinion, best understand as a chain of good and necessary inference containing a number of individual arguments or links. The arguments for paedobaptism are mutually reinforcing and consequently are not really best compared to links in a chain. Maybe the arguments are more like aspects of the ecosystem of biblical truth that combine together to form an environment that ensures the extinction of the species of Baptist theology that Malone propounds. Maybe the arguments are more like ingredients in a cake: get the ingredients right and the paedobaptist ‘cake’ will follow! Of course, sometimes the arguments are more like arguments from the characteristics of the finished cake to the sort of ingredients that it must be composed of. Malone gives us little reason to prefer his analogy over any of the ones above.
Malone seems to view the argument for paedobaptism as some narrow analytical argument. I am increasingly convinced that the strength of the paedobaptist argument is found in its breadth. It is not a narrow argument from a selection of proof-texts — like many arguments for a Baptist position — but is a wide-ranging theological argument. The paedobaptist argument is not myopic but views the question of paedobaptism in the light of a large number of other theological concerns. At the conclusion of this series of posts I hope to present a positive case for paedobaptism that will seek to address the question in a variety of different ways, using a number of major doctrines to bolster the case.
Eschatology, ecclesiology, anthropology and soteriology are among the many areas of doctrine that are to some degree or other moulded by our answer to the Baptism question. In my experience few Baptists have really appreciated how great an effect their view of Baptism (principally their common denial of the efficacy and objectivity of Baptism) has upon these other areas of their thought and vice versa. Each particular doctrine serves to condition all of the rest. Taking one doctrine by itself and freely drawing what appear to be ‘good and necessary’ consequences can often lead us into heresy. Every doctrine should serve to provide limits upon apparently ‘logical’ deductions from all of the others. Texts teaching the sovereignty of God should not be used to silence texts that teach the responsibility of man and vice versa. It is my conviction that the common credobaptist understanding of Baptism tends to isolate the question of Baptism from many broader theological considerations.
Arguments for paedobaptism should not, in my opinion, use the language of ‘good and necessary consequence’ — our argument is far broader than this. We should seek to understand Baptism in the light of the whole teaching of Scripture and not just the teaching that explicitly relates to Baptism. Essentially this is the difference between the regulative principle in its narrow form and the regulative principle in the broader form that I early argued for. A narrow form of the regulative principle can easily arrive at unbiblical conclusions because it is not sufficiently conditioned by the whole teaching of Scripture. Once we have appreciated the interdependency of Christian doctrine we will be wary of developing a view of Baptism that has not been informed by our understanding of God, Christ, man, salvation, ecclesiology, eschatology and other such areas of doctrine.
It is crucially important to recognize the narrowness of the foundation upon which most credobaptist (and all too many paedobaptist) arguments are based. The problematic nature of many understandings of Baptism only becomes apparent when we seek to fully integrate these understandings into the broader matrix of Christian doctrine.
Agreements and Disagreements on Covenant Theology
Malone laments the fact that most paedobaptists and, indeed, many credobaptists are persuaded that covenant theology is in principle irreconcilable with credobaptist theology. Malone wishes to attack what he perceives as paedobaptist dangers in covenant theology and also to address an overreaction on the part of Baptists against covenant theology. At the beginning of his treatment of covenant theology Malone claims:—
As I read the covenants of the Old and New Testaments, only a Baptistic covenant theology holds consistently to the New Testament’s interpretation of how the Old Testament is fulfilled in it.He sets out to identify the areas of agreement and disagreement that exist between credobaptists and paedobaptists on the substance of covenant theology.
Areas of Agreement
The first area of agreement that Malone identifies is that of the Covenant of Redemption. Malone defines the Covenant of Redemption as the unified plan of the Trinity to redeem the elect from their sins.
The second area of agreement is found in a common belief in the Covenant of Works made with Adam. Malone claims that all people are born ‘under the condemnation of the failed Covenant of Works and remain “under law,” until they are transferred into the Covenant of Grace (Romans 3:19-20; 6:14).’
The third area of agreement is a common belief in the historical Covenant of Grace made with the elect. The Covenant of Grace begins with the promise of Genesis 3:15 and is carried on throughout history in ‘variously administered “covenants of promise” with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David.’ The Covenant of Grace is fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which He
effectually purchased salvation for all those whom He represented as their covenant Head (i.e., the particular redemption of all the elect in all of history through His New Covenant).Covenantal Baptists and paedobaptists share in common the belief that ‘the way of salvation has been by grace through faith in God’s provision of that “seed of the woman” since the fall of man.’ Malone attacks the idea that the Sinaitic Covenant was a republished Covenant of Works (although he claims that the Pharisees understood it as such), claiming that the conditional elements of the Covenant ‘referred to Israel’s possession of the land of Canaan as long as God’s commandments were obeyed, not to a personal salvation of works.’ Consequently, the Covenant of Sinai ended when the promised seed came.
The final area of agreement that Malone draws our attention to is that regarding the New Covenant as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Redemption.
Areas of Disagreement
Moving on the area of disagreements Malone highlights the differences that exist between paedobaptists and credobaptists regarding the interpretation of a number of New Testament texts regarding the ‘fulfilled “seed” of Abraham’ and whether ‘our physical seed’ are entitled to Baptism as Abraham’s sons were entitled to circumcision. Malone strongly objects to paedobaptists like Berkhof who believe that the Abrahamic Covenant is essentially identical to the New Covenant. He claims that it is on the basis of this false identification that paedobaptists baptize infants.
Malone claims that the Abrahamic promises fulfilled in the New Covenant ‘are not the passing on of covenant signs to infant seed, but the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His elect Jew and Gentile seeds through faith in Christ.’ Only those who believe in Christ are the true seed of Abraham. Consequently ‘New Covenant baptism must be applied only to those who express faith in Christ.’ This, in Malone’s understanding, means disciples alone.
Definitions of Covenants
Malone compares and contrasts Baptist and paedobaptist understandings of covenant. He criticizes authors like Robert Booth, who ‘expand their definition of a covenant to go beyond the basic etymological and exegetical definition by generalizing from contextual elements found in particular covenants.’ Malone insists that we must establish a basic definition of covenant and then seek to discover the content of each covenant by studying written revelation, rather than impose one definition upon the whole of the Scriptures.
To go beyond the basic definition of a covenant to include physical descendants, conditional promises, curses and blessings in every covenant literally is to put words in the mouth of Scripture. This is a violation of basic hermeneutics and biblical theology.Malone maintains that there are no curses in the New Covenant, as covenant breakers ‘remain cursed in Adam’s Covenant of Works.’ No one in the New Covenant could ever break it. He draws our attention to John Owen’s observation that our definition of covenant will determine our final covenant theology. Having questioned a number of the common paedobaptist definitions he presents us with what he deems to be a ‘covenantal Baptist definition of a covenant’:—
[A] biblical and divine covenant is a solemn promise or oath of God to man, each covenant’s content being determined by revelation concerning that covenant.Malone takes paedobaptists to task for assuming that the covenant idea must ‘automatically have a genealogical or organic element that always includes believers and their seed.’ In opposition to this Malone claims that only elect individuals belong to the Covenant of Grace. He criticizes paedobaptists who seek to maintain the inclusion of the seed of believers in their definition of covenant against the biblical evidence for a Covenant of Grace made with the elect only.
Malone reasons that each covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace with ‘certain external features attached.’ It is unbiblical to use the ‘administratively attached elements of the historical covenants’ to redefine the Covenant of Redemption and the historical Covenant of Grace. Malone claims that it is the error of virtually equating the Abrahamic Covenant with the New Covenant that leads paedobaptists to include organic elements in the Covenant of Grace. Only the New Covenant is the pure Covenant of Grace. ‘The Abrahamic Covenant had primary reference to the coming of Christ as his ultimate physical seed of the New Covenant.’ The Covenant of Grace is the promise of salvation within the Old Testament covenants of promise, which would later be revealed as the New Covenant.
Malone now proceeds to deal with the unity and diversity of the biblical covenants. He admits that both paedobaptists and credobaptists acknowledge some degree of unity and some degree of diversity in the biblical covenants. However, paedobaptist, by exaggerating the unity between the covenants of promise and the New Covenant rob the New Covenant
…of its distinctive glory and proper administration in the church today (i.e., the baptism of disciples alone).Malone argues that paedobaptist authors such as Berkhof are inconsistent when they see the Covenant of Redemption and its historical outworking in the Covenant of Grace as established with the elect alone and then go on to maintain that this does not mean that the ‘nonelect are outside of the Covenant of Grace in every sense of the word.’ For Malone it is important to stress that the Covenant of Grace is made only with the elect.
Malone calls us to recognize that the organic elements within the Abrahamic Covenant were only there until the ‘seed to whom the promises were made was born.’
…the genealogical element of the historical Old Testament covenants was necessary only to bring forth the final physical seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16, 19) and His “seed” (Galatians 3:29) who have clothed themselves with Christ through faith alone.Malone contends that in the New Covenant emphasis shifts ‘from family relations to individual responsibility and membership.’ Christ is the ‘covenant Head of a new family’ — the true seed of Abraham — and so the seed of believers should not be included in the covenant. Malone adduces the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:27-34 as proof of the ‘individualistic element’ of the New Covenant. The New Covenant only includes regenerate individuals; a ‘personal relationship to Jesus Christ’ is required for membership. Paedobaptists fail to recognize the biblical evidence that the New Covenant ‘is an effectual covenant that guarantees realized blessings in each and every member.’
I must admit that I have many problems concerning the areas of agreement that Malone lists, although I will readily grant that I am atypical of Reformed Christians in this respect. Nevertheless, I believe that some of these differences have bearing upon the question of Baptism. Whilst I may not explicitly articulate their full bearing on the debate, I trust that it will become apparent in time.
The Covenant of Redemption
I would begin by taking issue with Malone’s understanding of the doctrine of the Covenant of Redemption and election. The following are some of the concerns that I have:—
Malone fails to centre his doctrine of election on Christ. I believe that Christ should be the fixed point in our doctrine of election. Christ is the content of the electing decree. God’s purpose in history is to gather all things together in Christ. Individuals are certainly part of this, but God’s saving purpose is far broader than the salvation of individuals (and certainly far broader than the salvation of individuals as individuals). If we do not see the content of the decree revealed in Christ we will be in continual danger of crippling doubt concerning our own eternal election. Election is not to be thought of as some hidden decree about us, but as a revealed decree concerning Christ (although I must admit that I find the language of ‘decree’ a bit unhelpful). Election should be far more rooted in our understanding of the eternal interpersonal communion of the Trinity, as election is essentially the Trinitarian will to open up this communion to the Church as the new humanity in Christ.
Once we appreciate that Christ is the content of the electing decree, election ceases to appear arbitrary, as some dark cloud preventing us from seeing God’s true purpose. God’s purpose is clearly revealed in covenant. To live faithfully in covenant with God is to know the reality of God’s election. We are brought into relationship with Christ in the Church, through the Word, Baptism, the Eucharist, prayer, fellowship, etc. Having brought us into relationship with Christ in the Church, God calls us to abide in the One in whom our election is found. We make our calling and election sure by remaining in Him.
We are not truly ‘elect’ (in the way the Bible uses this terminology) apart from a (historically established) relationship with Christ. Our election is an election derived from the Head of the new humanity, who was chosen before time began. Just as the election of individual Israelites depended entirely upon the relationship that they bore to the patriarchs in whom they were chosen, so our election depends entirely upon the relationship that we bear to Christ in whom our election is found. A real living and organic union is necessary. Just as a circumcised Jew was to think of himself as chosen in Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans, so the baptized Christian is to think of himself as chosen in Christ before time began. In ourselves we are not chosen before time began, this is only true of us as we find our existence in Christ. Our election presupposes a living relationship with the Elect One in covenant.
This may seem to be a radical take on the doctrine of election, but I am increasingly convinced that the scriptural data will bear it out in a number of respects. Firstly, the way the Bible uses the language of election to refer to those in the ‘visible’ Church. Secondly, this approach builds our understanding of salvation around Christ rather than around a select group of individuals chosen from all eternity. Thirdly, it explains why a number of the biblical references to election can only make sense if they are limited to individuals who are actually faithful members of the Church and do not make sense if they refer to a group of individuals chosen before time began who may or may not have become members of the people of God in history (e.g. Romans 8:33; Titus 1:1). Fourthly, I believe that it is far more consistent with the concept of ‘union with Christ’ as developed in Scripture. This concept does not seem to be rooted in a mere ‘decretal’ union, but in a living ‘perichoretic’ union. I submit that the common Reformed understanding of verses such as Ephesians 1:4 leads to a distortion of the biblical teaching of union with Christ.
By starting with his particular view of election, Malone can go on to relativize the Church. For many God holds out a smiling mask to all in the visible Church, but only truly smiles upon the elect. If Christ is not the content of election than we must always be suspicious of the means of grace; they are only truly efficacious for the elect and no one really knows who ‘they’ are. Furthermore, the organic nature of salvation can be ignored. Election is of isolated individuals. Whilst God may well use the Church as the means to bring them to Himself, the Church is merely functional throughout. The Church becomes little more than a divinely instituted organization for the facilitation of individual salvation, rather than the fulfillment of the salvation itself (this is an essential point that I will explore in more depth in a later post).
Malone will later use the idea that the Covenant of Grace is made with the elect (conceived of as secretly chosen by God from eternity) alone to attack the ‘organic’ elements introduced by paedobaptists. The secret decree of election also casts doubt upon the reality present in the ‘visible church’. Once we view the electing decree in the manner that Malone views it, the claim that the children of believers are in the Covenant of Grace seems far less tenable. God’s electing decree is unshackled by all of the temporal relationships that exist between individuals. In the electing decree individuals are pure individuals, conceived of apart from any historical relationships. Any organic and historical elements in God’s historical dealings belong merely to the administration of the Covenant of Grace and cannot belong to its essence. Malone will play on the problematic nature of the relationship between the 'electing decree' and the 'decree to create' in Reformed theology to undermine the organic created order by the decree. Of course, if we centre creation and election on Christ these things are not anywhere near as problematic (I am essentially a supralapsarian who sees Christ as the object of the electing 'decree').
My vision of election is diametrically opposed to that of Malone. The content of God’s saving purpose is revealed gradually over history and most fully in Christ. In Christ we see that God’s purpose is the bringing of all things together in Him. This purpose is most fully revealed in the Church where Christ has established the means whereby we will be brought to fullness (Ephesians 4:11-16). It is quite clear that it is not an ‘invisible church’ that is in mind here; Christ’s body is very visible. For this reason we should never use the doctrine of election to relativize the doctrine of the Church. If God’s purpose is the formation of one new man in Christ Jesus, election is primarily the election of the Church in Christ. We are elect if we are living faithfully in relationship with Christ in the Church. Once we see the clear relationship between election and the Church, we must admit that ‘organic’ elements are essential to the doctrine of election. It is these organic elements that provide for the ‘bringing together’ of all things in Christ.
Malone believes that in the New Covenant God’s saving purpose is clearly seen as the ‘organic’ elements of the Old Covenant fall away. Malone seems to conceive of God’s electing purpose as designed to save individuals alone. This is why I believe that it is important to tackle his view of the Covenant of Redemption and election.
The Covenant of Works
Malone claims the Covenant of Works as another area of agreement between paedobaptists and covenantal Baptists. Malone understands the Covenant of Works to be a system of salvation whereby individuals could earn their own salvation through keeping the law. Whilst Malone denies that the Sinaitic Covenant was a ‘renewed Covenant of Works’, he clearly believes that the pre-Fall Covenant with Adam operated according to a ‘Pelagian’ principle of strict merit.
This is a doctrine that I have very seriously difficulties with. I do not see that the Covenant of Works is taught in Scripture. When God created Adam He created Adam within a blessed relationship, not into a system where Adam had to amass brownie points with God. Adam certainly had to mature in relationship with God. As he was faithful to God, Adam would be perfected in his relationship with God. Creation was given to man as communion with God and was sacramental from the outset. There is ample positive scriptural evidence that God created man in a gracious relationship with Himself and that man did not have to ‘earn’ divine favour. There is no such thing as a divine communion that is not thoroughly gracious.
Many of the problems with the Covenant of Works doctrine are ably dealt with in this essay by Rich Lusk [I have linked to Google’s HTML version of the document; I’m not sure if the original is still available]. One of the key problems with the Covenant of Works doctrine is that it functions as the fundamental covenant model in many respects. Christ saves us by being a successful Pelagian, racking up oodles of supererogatory brownie points to liberally sign over to our heavenly ‘bank accounts’ of merit. Whilst this is somewhat of a caricature, it is not too far removed from the position that many advocates of the Covenant of Works maintain.
In opposition to this approach, I am persuaded that it is the covenantal relationships that exist within the Trinity that should provide the foundation for our understanding of historical covenants. The historical covenants are essentially God’s opening up of the eternal interpersonal relationships of the Trinity to embrace human persons; man is brought into the eternal communion of God. I would highly recommend Jeff Meyer’s talk on covenant at the Connecticut Valley Conference on Reformed Theology for an insightful treatment of this subject.
If, as Ralph Smith suggests in his book Eternal Covenant: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology, we are to see the Trinitarian ‘Covenant’ as paradigmatic, the Covenant of Works doctrine has to be abandoned as unbiblical. Covenant is not something added on to creation; creation is essentially covenantal. Man was graciously created in the image of God and in true communion with Him. Man did not have to ‘earn his salvation’ as he was already in a gracious covenant relationship with God. All man had to do was to abide in this covenant. As this covenant was gracious the idea of the pre-Fall covenant serving the purpose of providing the ‘machinery’ by which man could pull himself up by his bootstraps and save himself must be rejected outright.
Does all of this have any bearing upon the Baptism debate? I am convinced that it does. The Covenant of Works doctrine teaches us that in his original created state, man was not in a true relationship of grace with God. Grace is essentially something that has to be added to the created order to make up for the deficiency of the natural order itself. Grace is discontinuous with the created order, rather than restoring and perfecting it. Either God operates entirely outside the order of creation, or His work represents a suspension of the order of creation.
As Joel Garver observes, in a quote in Rich Lusk’s article:—
Regarding the analogous relationship between post-Tridentine nature/grace dichotomies and the covenant of works/grace [dichotomy] … the issue isn’t just one of works vs. grace, but involves the very way in which grace is conceived of as operating. If nature (or creation) is a self-enclosed system that is not always-already grace and graciously directed to an eschatological end, then grace will always remain extrinsic to the original created order, whether conceived of as “natural” or “covenantal.”All of this throws into sharp relief one of the key pillars of baptistic theology. The Baptist argument (and Malone’s is no exception), as P. Richard Flinn recognized in his helpful article “Baptism, Redemptive History, and Eschatology: The Parameters of Debate” in The Failure of the American Baptist culture, is founded upon a particular reading of redemptive history—
The Covenant of Works/Grace dichotomy employed by Malone enables him to maintain the nature/grace distinction that lies at the heart of the Baptist argument. If God’s grace is truly at work in nature, healing, restoring and perfecting the broken order of Creation, then the organic relationships of the family cannot pass from the purview of redemption. God’s grace has to work through the created channel of the family. If God’s New Covenant grace does not operate through the relationship between parents and their children, then creation is not truly being redeemed. We should never permit eschatology to become an attack upon protology. G.C. Berkouwer writes:—
In all of these statements there is a distinct movement in redemptive history postulated. The Kingdom of God progresses from the external to the internal, from the temporal to the eternal, from the fleshly to the spiritual, from the earthly to the heavenly, from the visible to the invisible, from the objective to the subjective, from the corporate to the individual.
This is baptist eschatology in a nutshell. It is not a new development in the history of theology. The only theological ground on which the Anabaptists could defend themselves against the Reformed was to posit a similar “development” in redemptive history. They began with a contrast between nature and grace, the revivified platonism made popular by the Schoolmen. As redemption unfolded it became more and more “spiritual” and less and less “natural.” The Reformers started from the different position. Rejecting the dichotomy between nature and grace, they insisted on the contrast being between sin and righteousness. So Berkouwer: “The Reformers, however, always maintained that the contrast was not between nature and grace, but between flesh and spirit, sin and grace…”
…eschatology cannot furnish an argument against infant baptism, for life is not threatened in the salvation of God in Jesus Christ, but reconciled and blessed. The grace of Christ in the Covenant of God does not destroy life, but resurrects it, as the circumcision of the Old Covenant touched common life with the seal of purification. When this Covenant is fulfilled, that common life is also saved. Eschatology does not contrast with that life but fills it with God’s salvation. That is why God’s speaking in the New Covenant is not a speaking in an individualistic style, as if men were detached from the obligations of the “old” world, but the Word of God comes to man in the full reality of his life, as it did under the Old Covenant.The Covenant of Grace
I have already expressed my dissatisfaction with Malone’s understanding of the Covenant of Redemption and the doctrine of election. Malone believes that the Covenant of Grace is made with the elect alone. Given my differences his understanding of election, my differences with his understanding of the Covenant of Grace should be plain. To be a member of the historical Church of Jesus Christ is to be a member of the Covenant of Grace. Again I differ from Malone in believing that it is possible to apostatize from the Covenant of Grace. This is something that I will argue for at a later point.
I do not agree with Malone's claim that ‘the Covenant of Grace begins with the promise of Genesis 3:15’ if by that he means that the Covenant with Adam was not itself gracious. I would have difficulties with Malone’s understanding of limited atonement (something that I have written about elsewhere). I believe that, in our understanding of the atonement, we should view it more as the destruction of the old order destroyed by sin and the creation of a new humanity in Christ than as a ‘payment’ for a discrete number of sins committed. As Tom Smail observes—
If we take such a view of the atonement it is also harder to abstract it from history in the manner that Malone seems to do (i.e. we should be cautious about reading the benefits of the atonement back into the Old Testament). I am also less comfortable with seeing Christ as the direct object of Old Covenant faith. The Old Covenant order certainly prefigured and anticipated Christ throughout, but God’s historical work of salvation is broader than the death and resurrection of Christ. The death and resurrection of Christ is the climax of God’s redemptive historical work and the foundation of the new world order. Nevertheless, it is the climax of a work of salvation that was ongoing before the incarnation. Malone claims that ‘the way of salvation has been by grace through faith in God’s provision of that “seed of the woman” since the fall of man.’ The first part of this statement is pretty unobjectionable; the only thing I would say is that life in covenant with God was, even for Adam, by grace through faith — we are not dealing with a mere post-Fall principle here. On the second part of the statement I would be more inclined to side with Geerhardus Vos:—
God’s justice is concerned less with punishing wrong relationships than with restoring right ones…
His justice is less punitive than restorative, he rejects sinners in order to transform them into people who reflect his own holy love in their relationships with him and with one another. It is that drastic transformation, that dying to sin and living to God, that Jesus is accomplishing for all humanity on the cross.
As to the word ‘seed’ there is no reason to depart from the collective sense in either case. The seed of the serpent must be collective, and this determines the sense of the seed of the woman. The promise is, that somehow out of the human race a fatal blow will come which shall crush the head of the serpent. Still, indirectly the possibility is hinted at that in striking this fatal blow the seed of the woman will be concentrated in one person… [W]e are not warranted, however, in seeking an exclusively personal reference to the Messiah here, as though He alone were meant by ‘the woman’s seed’. Old Testament Revelation approaches the concept of a personal Messiah very gradually. It sufficed for fallen man to know that through His divine power and grace God would bring out of the human race victory over the serpent. In that faith could rest. The object of their faith was much less definite than that of ours, who know the personal Messiah. But none the less, the essence of this faith, subjectively considered, was the same, viz., trust in God’s grace and power to bring deliverance from sin.I think that Malone is probably holding his particular position as a result of a misreading of Romans and Galatians. Rather than reading the arguments of these epistles redemptive historically, Malone may be wrenching the concept of justification by pistis Iesou Christou out of its redemptive historical context and universalizing it (of course, I would also disagree with Malone’s objective genitive reading of this expression).
One should observe the nature of the view of redemptive history that this approach leaves Malone with. Salvation has always been by faith in Jesus Christ. In the Old Covenant Christ anticipated in a number of ways; the people had outward ceremonies that prefigured Him, the ‘organic’, ‘generational’ element of the covenant looked forward to His birth. However, now that Christ has come, these ‘external’ prefiguring layers can be cast off; the outer husk of the covenant was only necessary before the seed was clearly revealed. Malone seems to view ‘continuity’ and ‘discontinuity’ more in terms of removing certain ‘layers’ of the covenant whilst preserving others.
Malone’s understanding of covenant theology seems to run along this sort of line: historical covenants are all administrations of the one Covenant of Grace which is the outworking of the Covenant of Redemption. The essential ‘heart’ of each covenantal administration is the one Covenant of Grace. However, in each covenant there are also extraneous elements that belong to the ‘administration’ of the covenant. As redemptive history progresses these extraneous elements are gradually shed and the New Covenant reveals the Covenant of Grace in its full individualistic glory. The ‘extraneous’ elements belonging to the covenantal administration (e.g. the sign of the covenant being applied to the infant seed) are not, of course, arbitrary. They anticipate the fullness that is to come. However, their purpose is primarily illustrative and typological and they are to be dispensed with when the ‘reality’ has come, rather than being continued in a more glorious way.
My understanding of redemptive history is quite different. Continuity and discontinuity is not to be understood as gradual removal of layers over the essential covenant heart. They are better understood as an organic development, like a child growing to maturity. The final form that the covenant takes is very different from its initial form. However, the development does not occur by means of shedding extraneous elements; it occurs as every element of the original order is raised to a higher level. The New Covenant order is certainly radically different from the Old Covenant order (like Malone, I disagree with those who identify the New Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant too closely). However, its differences do not result from a removal of extraneous elements of the Old Covenant order, but from the fulfillment of the old order in its entirety in a new glorified order. The New Covenant does not destroy the organic principle of the Old Covenant but truly perfects it. The family unit is not suddenly abandoned by the form of salvation proclaimed by the New Covenant. The family unit can be saved and perfected by the Church.
I am not particularly drawn to tidy definitions of the meaning of the word ‘covenant’. The concept of ‘covenant’ is so rooted in the redemptive historical narrative of Scripture that it is hard to abstract and define it. I fear that (as Alexander Schmemann observes in regard to defining the sacraments) this approach leads us to isolate the concept of 'covenant' from its context to discover its true essence, which distinguishes it from that which is ‘non-covenantal’. But is anything ‘non-covenantal’? The problems of such an approach should be immediately apparent. Covenant is essential both to the being of God and to the being of His creation. There is no aspect of creation that lacks covenantal significance. Everything must be understood in terms of covenant. For this reason any definition that sees covenant in terms of ‘essential’ and ‘administratively attached’ elements should be treated with great suspicion; it is incipient Gnosticism.
If covenant is essential to the being of creation, as I have argued, then it becomes clear that claims like Malone’s are based upon an understanding in which God gradually abandons elements of His original good creation, only retaining certain more important elements, like the individual’s eternal soul. However, the idea that God abandons the created order rather than redeeming it is clearly not a Christian idea. Malone claims that ‘to go beyond the basic definition of a covenant to include physical descendants … is to put words in the mouth of Scripture.’ I contend that to exclude physical descendents is to reveal a dangerously unorthodox view of the relationship between nature and grace, creation and redemption.
Malone claims that ‘the genealogical element of the historical Old Testament covenants was necessary only to bring forth the final physical seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made.’ If this is true, then why did strangers joining Israel for the Passover Feast have to circumcise all of their males before participating (Exodus 12:48)? They were not physical descendents of Abraham, nor would they be the male seed through whom the Messiah would come. One might argue that this was necessary so that they might provide women for the males through whom the Messiah would come to marry. However, there are examples of women from uncircumcised stock within the genealogy of Christ (e.g. Ruth). Again, if Malone is right, why did Abraham circumcise Ishmael? There seems to be more to the ‘genealogical element’ than Malone is willing to grant (I will probably explore this more in a later post).
Much of Malone’s case rests on his argument for a shift in covenant emphasis ‘from family relations to individual responsibility and membership.’ This raises the question: what exactly is the New Covenant? It is this question that I aim to address in my next post.
Whilst it would certainly be a freak occurrence to excommunicate a child, I remain convinced that it is essential to bar children on some occasions. For example, if a young child refuses to forgive one of their brothers or sisters and be reconciled with them, I think that it is appropriate to bar them from participating until they have sorted out the problem.
It would be terrible if a child was brought up to think in terms of a separation between the ecclesial Body of Christ and the sacramental Body of Christ, to be able to recognize the Real Presence in the Supper and deny the Real Presence in the Church. One of the biggest errors in many people’s doctrine and practice of the Eucharist is individualism. By permitting children to hold grudges against others and still participate in the Supper we are reinforcing the notion that their relationship with Christ is essentially an individual thing that can be abstracted from the relationships that they bear to members of His Body. Many of the arguments for paedocommunion rightly focus on the importance of the relationship between the ecclesial Body and the sacramental Body. To recognize the Body is to seek to maintain unity within the ecclesial Body and to shun division, to recognize the Real Presence in brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe that it is important to maintain this biblical emphasis in practice by being prepared to bar children who wish to maintain divisions in the Body of Christ.
Many might claim that two young children falling out is not that serious a thing and we should not bar children who hold grudges for this reason. I wonder whether such people take seriously the fact that Christ is truly present at the Table and in our eating. Where Christ is present refusing to repent of sin cannot be seen as a light thing. Children should be taught the importance of the Eucharist. They should be well aware of how serious a thing it is to be held back from participating, as the Eucharist is central to the Christian life. The threat of withholding participation in the Eucharist for open impenitence should challenge young children to grow up with a knowledge of the serious nature of sin and its consequences for fellowship with God. They should also be aware of the fact that since Christ is present in the Supper they should not come without repenting of things in their lives which are not in accord with His Word. They should be well aware that no one approaching the Table in impenitence can expect a blessing from the hand of God.
I am not persuaded that holding to the practice of paedocommunion necessitates a low view of self-examination at the Supper. Quite the opposite. The practice of paedocommunion is a very powerful tool for raising children in true piety. The Eucharist teaches children the joy of being in God’s presence and the solemnity of eating Christ’s Body and drinking His Blood. The Eucharist teaches children the necessity of living lives shaped by penitence, faith and thanksgiving. If we allow children to participate in a manner that denies the reality of the Supper we do them no service.
I fear that many are in danger of training children to view the Supper as an extrinsic miracle that brings blessing even if we despise it in the way that we partake. If we see the ecclesial Body and the sacramental Body as quite discrete we will either make the Supper into an empty sign or an extrinsic miracle. If the Supper is an extrinsic miracle (as it is in some, but not all, formulations of the doctrine of transubstantiation) then our lives can no longer be truly sacramental. The symbolic is dissociated from the real. Such a view of the Supper ultimately serves to separate us from the life of Christ. ‘Grace’ is discontinuous with and extrinsic to ‘nature’; at best it is like oil and water. Grace is imposed upon creation from without rather than filling creation from within.
Extreme views of transubstantiation and Zwinglian understandings of the Supper have this in common: they both draw sharp distinctions between the real and the symbolic, between grace and nature. Both downplay the physical ritual involved in the Supper. In the case of extreme views of transubstantiation, the reality annihilates the symbol rather than giving us a symbol that participates in the reality without ceasing to be a symbol. Zwinglian notions situate the reality outside of the symbol and cannot allow for real union between the two. The Eucharist becomes a symbol of death and absence, rather than a symbol of life and presence.
I am convinced that we should see the symbol as a genuine participation in the reality. Paedocommunion makes far more sense when we understand the Eucharist in this way. However, such a view of the Eucharist will also serve to discourage us from allowing young children to participate in an unworthy manner. The Eucharist is not an extrinsic miracle that emphasizes the division between the real and the symbolic; the Eucharist lies at the heart of symbol and, consequently, at the heart of true reality — the reality that the Christian Church brings us into. The Eucharist is the centre around which the sacramental life must revolve. People of any age who are consciously and openly refusing to live sacramental lives — by forgiveness, reconciliation, peacemaking, thanksgiving, self-giving, etc. —should not be given a place at the Supper until they have repented.
I have a personal reason for seeing the importance of calling young children to lives of repentance and forgiveness. At the age of four I had an acute sense of personal guilt when I read I John 2:9-10. I knew full well that I could not claim to love God whilst bearing a deep-rooted hatred for my two year old brother Jonathan. Fortunately my parents did not take this sin lightly and I was forced to deal with it. Had I been given the impression that I could enjoy fellowship with God without sorting out this problem first, I would have been spiritually abused. Knowing the intense feeling of joy and liberation in fellowship with God that arrived after I sorted out my relationship with Jonathan, I would not want to rob any young child of the same experience or deceive them into thinking that forgiving others is not that necessary if we wish to enjoy a relationship with God. This occasion had a very profound and formative effect upon my early life as one of many ‘conversion experiences’.
Children badly need the training that the Lord’s Supper provides. We should not defraud them of the immense blessing that attends participation in the Body and Blood of our Lord. However, we need to remember that discipline is essential to the practice of the Lord’s Supper. Unforgiving and impenitent people are not welcome at the Supper. We should train children to keep short accounts with God and with others so that they can participate in weekly covenant renewal. They need to learn to live sacramental lives. Many practices could help to train our children in this way. Perhaps young children should be encouraged to give each member of their family a hug before participating. Simple things like this can ensure that the reality of the Supper is not denied by the manner in which we participate in it.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Monday, February 23, 2004
Mode of Baptism
Scots Divines on Baptism I
Scots Divines on Baptism II
Scots Divines on Baptism III
Friday, February 20, 2004
The Problem of Paedocommunion
Malone begins the second chapter of his book by giving us an account of the first doubts that led him to reexamine the issue of paedobaptism.
The thorny problem that bothered me was that all children of the household, especially those circumcised, seemed to partake of the Passover as well (Exodus 12:24, 43-51). Because there was no command prohibiting their participation, then it seemed good and necessary to infer that they did in fact participate, thus opening the way for paedocommunion.Malone was troubled by the inconsistency of most Presbyterians in practicing paedobaptism and yet denying paedocommunion. He struggled with the text of Exodus 12 and yet could not persuade himself that children were excluded from the meal. He maintains that there is nothing in the text of Exodus 12 to exclude children from participating in the Passover and ‘several positive indications that they did so.’ If one were to apply the ‘good and necessary’ inference that supports paedobaptism, one should take seriously the issue of paedocommunion.
As Malone began to explore the question more closely he found it ‘disturbing’ to observe a difference in the understanding of Louis Berkhof and John Murray on the issue. Berkhof maintained that, whilst children partook of the Passover, the NT demand for self-examination and discernment prevents them from participating. Malone wonders why Berkhof did not allow ‘the positive commands and examples in the New Testament to repent and believe before baptism’ to override the OT command to apply the covenant sign to infants.
On the other hand, John Murray argues that infants did not partake of the Passover, claiming that the assumption of their participation is based on silence and that the diet was unsuitable. Malone feels that such a conclusion is untenable and utterly inconsistent with Murray’s argument for paedobaptism. If we are not permitted to assume the presence of infants taking the Passover in the OT, we should not assume that infants were baptized in the New Testament.
Malone agreed with Berkhof’s conclusion that children participated in the Passover. The next month he received an article in a newsletter that argued for paedocommunion. However, as he read the argument he could not bring himself to accept its conclusions. He felt that the command of self-examination ruled out infant participation and recognized that they was no positive command or example of including infants or small children in the Supper in the New Testament. Malone writes:—
The first is an argument of instituted precept, and the second an argument of silence and inference. The second may also be used in a negative way, as it is by paedobaptists, to state that there is no prohibition of infants from baptism either. However, the latter argument must rely upon supposed good and necessary inference from the Old Testament when interpreting a New Testament sacrament instituted by Christ, rather than depending upon New Testament revelation to institute and define New Testament sacraments and delineate participation in them. Simply put, true good and necessary inference cannot overrule that which is expressly set down in Scripture.In my previous post I observed that Malone holds to a very narrow form of the regulative principle that cannot permit normative principles from the OT to regulate our practice of NT sacraments. It should be recognized that Malone’s second argument against paedocommunion is illustrative of just such an approach. Its persuasive power rests on the assumption that the normative teaching for the practice of NT sacraments is found only in the NT. I believe that this may serve as an indication that inconsistencies in Malone’s hermeneutics played a significant role in precipitating his movement towards the Baptist position; having adopted a Baptist hermeneutic it was only a matter of time until he abandoned the practice of infant Baptism.
In passing, it is interesting to observe that Malone gives Exodus 12:1-4 & 16 as proof-texts for women participating in communion. It is hard to see exactly how this is not a case of relying upon ‘supposed good and necessary inference from the Old Testament when interpreting a New Testament sacrament instituted by Christ, rather than depending upon New Testament revelation to institute and define New Testament sacraments and delineate participation in them.’
Having studied the question of paedocommunion, Malone became convinced against it. He writes:—
I concluded that both the New Testament command and example dictate that the subjects for the Lord’s Supper observance be only believers who are capable not only of understanding the meaning of the supper but also of examining their inward spiritual motivation in taking it.Malone was now left with a number of important questions. Accepting the practice of infant communion was clearly out of the question he needed to discover what had changed in the ‘application of the covenant family concept from the Old Covenant administration to the New Covenant administration.’ He questioned why the NT ‘precept and example’ is ‘sufficient to deny paedocommunion but insufficient to deny paedobaptism.’ Those questions brought Malone back to basic hermeneutical questions.
Malone began the first section of his book by stating:—
The hermeneutical principles necessary to settle the question are usually agreed upon by both Baptists and paedobaptists.Within his second chapter Malone goes through ten key principles in hermeneutics that evangelicals hold in common. These ten principles are as follows:—
- Inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture
- Literal-grammatical-historical method. We must pay attention to the ordinary meaning of words in current use and biblical use, to the grammar of the original languages and the historical and cultural background of the text.
- The analogy of faith. Scripture interprets Scripture. This ‘limits the unbounded paedobaptist application of good and necessary inference when it contradicts God-given revelation concerning an instituted sacrament.’
- Perspicuity of Scripture. ‘…Scripture is clear enough that the common Christian should be convinced of their beliefs from the Scripture alone without blindly following respected teachers.’ Malone acknowledges that gifted teachers are still necessary.
- The unity of Scripture. The OT and NT are not contradictory but complementary.
- The diversity of Scripture. Some sort of distinction between the OT and the NT is necessary due to God’s progressive revelation in history.
- The finality and clarity of the New Testament. We cannot add to the NT. It is clearer than the OT and ‘finally and authoritatively interprets Old Testament types and shadows…’
- The priority of the New Testament. We must have a ‘final dependence upon the New Testament revelation to determine how the Old Testament is fulfilled in [the New Testament].’ The NT is the ‘inspired commentary’ on the OT.
This is why the Lord Jesus Christ declared His authority over Old Testament and noninstituted forms of worship (John 4:21-24), charging His apostles to teach the church to do what He actually commanded (Matthew 28:20)…. The teachings of Jesus and His apostles are the standard of Old Testament interpretation (Ephesians 2:20).
- The typology of Scripture. We must not require an OT prophecy to be fulfilled in an exact literal form; nor should we read too much back into the OT.
…paedobaptist covenantalists make the opposite error. They erroneously attempt to make the Old Testament “church in the wilderness” virtually identical to the New Testament church…. The church in the wilderness is simply the typological shadow of the New Testament revealed form, not requiring literal correspondence in every element, as dispensationalists require.
- Priority between hermeneutical principles. The meaning of Scripture is one and no part of Scripture contradicts another. The near context is always more determinative than the far context. A didactic or systematic discussion of a subject is more significant than a historical or descriptive narrative. Explicit teaching is more significant than supposed implications. Literal passages take priority over symbolic ones. Later passages take precedence over earlier passages. Malone charges paedobaptists with ignoring the priority of explicit teaching over supposed implications and the priority of later revelation over earlier.
The paedobaptist principle that whatever is in the Old Testament continues unless it is specifically abrogated in the New Testament actually negates the hermeneutical principle that the New Testament is the final, clearest revelation of God that has final authority to determine how the Old is fulfilled in it…Malone argues that the principle that the revelation of the OT must not be interpreted in opposition to NT revelation is crucial for the Baptism debate. By ‘refusing to allow the New Testament to have final priority to determine the subjects of New Testament baptism, paedobaptists commit the same hermeneutical error as dispensationalists.’ He draws attention to the fact that many of the errors of the normative principle of worship arise from a failure to give the NT priority and carrying over practices from the OT. Malone accuses paedobaptist authors like Pierre Marcel of ‘inventing’ new worship practices. Malone also argues that the hermeneutic of theonomy is the exact same hermeneutic that is used to justify infant Baptism, the hermeneutic that OT law and principles continue unless specifically abrogated by the NT.
Malone concludes his second chapter by presenting what he deems appropriate principles of interpretation for Christian Baptism. He contends that we should not become ‘New Testament-only’ Christians but that we should maintain the unity of Scripture. The OT can train and teach us, is full of examples for our instruction and continues to exert authority over the Christian in the ‘continuance of the Moral Law’. Malone goes on to claim that
The New Testament also describes the unity between the two testaments in terms of typological promise and fulfillment.The second principle Malone presents is that of the diversity of Scripture.
The New which was in the Old concealed finally has been revealed by the New, explaining in a final authoritative way how it was concealed in the Old.The final principle that Malone presents is the principle that the NT has the final authority ‘to describe, institute and explain the New Covenant fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and types.’ Malone argues that if we consistently apply these principles we will not permit good and necessary inference from the Old Testament to carry more weight than the explicit New Testament command and example. We will then see the necessity of abandoning the practice of infant Baptism.
Response to Malone’s Argument from Paedocommunion
I am a convinced paedocommunionist. Consequently Malone’s argument carried very little weight with me. However, there are few issues that he addressed that need to be considered more closely.
Inconsistencies in Paedobaptist Arguments
Malone draws our attention to the inconsistency of paedobaptists who are not paedocommunionists. This is a common argument in Baptist polemics — Paul Jewett devotes a whole chapter of his book Infant Baptism & the Covenant of Grace to the subject. It seems apparent to me that there is, in fact, a real inconsistency in this area and I am pleased that God has given us Baptist apologists to remind us of this fact.
It behooves us to give some attention to Malone’s claim of inconsistency. Surely if paedobaptists are inconsistent in so many areas we should doubt the validity of their position. If paedobaptists are continually disagreeing among themselves about almost every aspect of the meaning of Baptism, for example, how much weight can we give to their arguments? If paedobaptists come up with many varying and often contradictory arguments for paedobaptism, how can we accept the position?
These are important objections. Nevertheless I do not feel that they are unanswerable. At the outset it is important that we appreciate (as I stated in a previous post) that paedobaptism was not originally practiced on the basis of a deduction from Scripture, either from the Old or from the New Testament. The New Testament sacraments were first practiced on the basis of apostolic institution (1 Corinthians 11:2, 23). Whilst the Scripture supported and governed their practice I have become persuaded that they were not originally practiced on the basis of reasoning from Scripture. For this reason I do not feel that paedobaptists should be in any way ashamed to appeal to tradition in support of the practice of the sacraments (nor should we be surprised when we find silence in the NT concerning the Baptism of infants). Although I believe that Scripture is sufficient to justify the practice apart from any appeal to tradition, I find it regrettable that we are so easily discouraged from appealing to tradition in this matter. Tradition, of course, cannot have final determining power (which belongs to Scripture), but I believe that it places the burden of proof squarely upon Baptists who would wish to overthrow it.
It is also necessary to stress the fact that a practice may be justified even though we may be unaware of how to justify it. The mere presence of inconsistencies of paedobaptist arguments should not be taken as proof that paedobaptism is invalid. Erroneous arguments for paedobaptism should not be taken as proof that the practice of paedobaptism is itself in error. We should also realize that there are plenty of contradictory arguments put forward for the practice of credobaptism.
I believe that we ought to take an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ attitude towards the practice of infant Baptism on the basis of tradition. In this regard I disagree with Malone, who believes that we should deem it guilty until proven innocent. I do not believe that my position heralds a return to the normative principle with traditions of men being permitted if not explicitly forbidden. I believe that the form of the regulative principle I advocated in my previous post provides us with clear ways in which to sort corrupt traditions from biblical traditions. If infant Baptism is not scriptural it will be demonstrably so.
I am not as troubled as some are concerning the contradictory arguments that are presented in support of the practice of infant Baptism by paedobaptists. In my mind the most important thing is that it is practiced.
I am encouraged that many paedobaptists have begun to recognize the same inconsistencies as Baptists are wont to draw their attention to. Of course, recognizing these inconsistencies does not necessitate becoming Baptist. In recent years many, becoming convinced that they have been too ‘baptistic’ in their thinking many paedobaptists have abandoned large tracts of common ground that they once shared with Baptists. Many paedobaptists, if convinced that the denial of paedocommunion is incompatible with the practice of paedobaptism would far more readily adopt paedocommunion than abandon paedobaptism. John Murray writes:—
At the outset it should be admitted that if paedobaptists are inconsistent in this discrimination [between admitting infants to Baptism and permitting them to participate in the Eucharist], then the relinquishment of infant baptism is not the only way of resolving the inconsitency. It could be resolved by going in the other direction, namely, that of admitting infants to the Lord’s supper. And when all factors entering into this dispute are taken into account, particularly the principle involved in infant baptism, then far less would be at stake in admitting infants to the Lord’s supper than would be at stake in abandoning infant baptism. This will serve to point up the significance of infant baptism in the divine economy of grace.Paedocommunion
Malone’s arguments against paedocommunion are very weak and have been thoroughly answered by a number of authors. I would strongly recommend that anyone who wishes to find out more on this subject would take the time to read Tim Gallant’s book Feed My Lambs. He also runs a website that contains a number of articles that fully address the objections Malone raises.
Any reader of Malone’s argument against paedocommunion will be well aware that it is thoroughly founded upon the rationalistic understanding of the ‘Puritan theory’ (as John Williamson Nevin called it). The Puritans have left us many riches and I have a great appreciation for them. However, I am disheartened by the fact that many Reformed people today seem to spend the majority of their time disinterring the worst parts of their legacy. One of the dangerous errors that the Puritans have bequeathed to us is that of rationalism. By holding to the primacy of the intellect Puritans emasculated worship. Their great emphasis on the Word in worship was frequently a result of their belief that God only addresses the will and the emotions through the mind. It also can be seen to underlie the strict regulative principle. I will not give a critique of a rationalistic view of the Supper at this time; I have done this elsewhere (see here, here, here and in my series on physical eating in the Eucharist).
Malone’s swift dismissal of paedocommunion is a weak point in his argument. If his arguments against paedocommunion are invalid his argument against paedobaptism is seriously compromised.
Critique of Malone’s Hermeneutics
I must admit that I was quite disheartened studying Malone’s presentation of the hermeneutical principles that supposedly bind evangelicals together. Unfortunately he is right in his statement that the principles he presents are ‘usually agreed upon by both Baptists and paedobaptists.’ The hermeneutical principles that Malone presents are quite clearly baptistic principles. Whilst paedobaptists should agree with the validity of most of these principles, they certainly do not provide the sufficient basis for the discussion of Baptism, that Malone seems to suggest they do. They are dangerously deficient in a number of areas.
Before I begin to study them in more depth, I would like to express some irritation with Malone’s constant misrepresentations of paedobaptist theology. The argument for paedobaptism is not based upon the wooden hermeneutic of theonomy. Nor do we use the OT to contradict the NT. Nor do we try to make the OT church in the wilderness ‘virtually identical’ to the NT church. Malone presents the paedobaptist case as if it was a case of choosing the OT teaching over the NT teaching. This is grossly untrue. All of these claims of Malone’s are part of the caricature that he paints of paedobaptist teaching.
With regard to Malone’s hermeneutical principles, the first important observation to make is that there is no real mention of the Church. The impression given is that the task of interpretation can move along quite smoothly without the Church. As I have argued for the necessity of the Church in interpretation at more length in my first post, I will not repeat the same arguments here. Suffice it to say that this is an error of no mean proportions. Interpreting the perspicuity of Scripture without real reference to the importance of the Church will only lead to problems down the line. There are many Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that the Bible is perspicuous and that it doesn’t teach the central doctrines of the Christian faith. The truth of the perspicuity of Scripture should not be wrenched out of the context of the Church.
The Limitations of the Grammatical-Historical Method
Following on from this observation, it should be noticed that this approach to Scripture is very rationalistic. There is no real emphasis upon the role of the Spirit in interpreting the words of Scripture. The meaning of the Scripture can never be limited to its mere grammatical-historical meaning. A reading of the text that goes no further than the mere grammatical and historical reading has failed. The hermeneutical principles that Malone presents give priority to natural intelligence over faith. Such hermeneutics seem to presuppose the objectivity of the exegete and imply Scripture is best interpreted by a detached scientific method rather than by the spiritual and involved reading of faith.
If Malone were to place more emphasis upon faith and the Spirit in interpretation he would have to recognize a deeper sense to Scripture than the mere grammatical-historical sense. If we truly have the mind of Christ conveyed to us in the Scriptures we cannot argue that its meaning is exhausted by the grammatical-historical sense. I fear that an over-emphasis upon grammatical-historical reading of the Scripture can merely be an indication of an unwillingness to acknowledge our dependency upon the Spirit and the Church when interpreting Scripture.
To Malone’s credit, he does deal with the importance of typology. Typology enables us to move to some degree beyond the bare grammatical-historical reading of Scripture. Unfortunately most evangelicals (I suspect Malone is among them), even though they might accept the importance of typology, have a very narrow view of it. Typology is effectively shackled by the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. I have no problem with the grammatical-historical method grounding typology, but I do have a problem with an approach that does not recognize that biblical typology runs far deeper than that which is explicitly stated on the pages of the NT. Typology often whispers through the text; we should not discourage people from listening to these whispers. An understanding of biblical typology demands an ear that is finely attuned to the rhythms of the text.
A biblical mode of interpretation should accept the hermeneutics of the apostles as normative. If we are honest with ourselves we will readily admit that the apostles certainly do not abide by the rules of strict grammatical-historical exegesis. Their reading does not so much break the rules of grammatical-historical exegesis as transcend them. I am convinced that this is the sort of reading that we should strive for. This sort of reading demands a spiritual affinity with the text that the scientific grammatical-historical method simply cannot provide. This reading is not arbitrary, but it is not governed by scientific rules like those of the grammatical-historical method.
Whilst nothing I have said should be understood as denying the importance of the grammatical-historical method of interpreting Scripture, I wish to expose some of its serious limitations. Any reading of Scripture that does not go far beyond a grammatical-historical reading has failed to truly engage with the text.
The Old Testament’s relationship to the New
I am also deeply dissatisfied with the manner in which Malone relates the NT to the OT. This dissatisfaction arises in a number of places.
I fear that Malone may be using his particular approach to typology to silence the voice of the OT by instructing it as to what it can and cannot say. Anything that doesn’t fit on the Procrustean bed of Malone’s reading of the NT is hacked off and thrust down the ‘memory hole’. John Goldingay, in his book Models for Interpretation of Scripture, writes:—
I am convinced that Malone’s approach silences the OT to a very dangerous extent. Goldingay suggests that the interpretive relationship between the two testaments should be seen as ‘dialectical’; ‘when different events are juxtaposed for the purposes of interpretation, they throw light on each other.’ Malone’s approach denies the OT the full use of its own voice. Consequently a true ‘dialogue’ cannot take place between the two testaments.
…there is a danger that such Christian appropriation of stories such as the exodus, especially by means of the symbolic interpretation involved in typology, skews the inherent meaning of these stories. It turns something essentially (though not exclusively) this-worldly and material into something that belongs centrally (though not exclusively) to the religious realm.
The conviction that Christ comes as the climax to the First Testament’s story implies that this story plays a part in the interpretation of the Christ event. As the exodus is to be understood in the light of the coming of Christ, so the coming of Christ is to be understood in the light of the exodus — with the latter not merely a symbol but an event. But the typological approach to the exodus story facilitates only the first move; it interprets realities in the First Testament in the light of the Christ event but constricts the extent to which those realities can interpret the Christ event. The move is from the Second Testament to the First and not the reverse. To put the point sharply, typology is a means of castrating the First Testament.
I have found Richard Hays’ book Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul very helpful in this area. Paul has frequently been understood as taking OT texts and forcing alien readings upon them (e.g. Habakkuk 2:4; Genesis 15:6). Evangelicals will often (but not always) deny that the meanings Paul gives to the texts are alien. However, most believe that we should not be thinking of the voice of the OT texts quoted in Paul as distinct from Paul’s own. Paul is merely telling us what the verses meant all the way along.
I believe that Hays gives us a far richer approach. Rather than seeing Paul’s use of the OT as imposing a meaning upon unwilling (or willing) OT texts, Paul wants us to listen carefully to the voice of the OT Scriptures as a voice distinct from his own. When Paul uses an OT text he wants us to hear that verse speaking from its own original OT context. Paul is entering into a dialogue with the OT Scripture. As we listen to the OT Scripture speaking in its own voice we will begin to understand Paul and as we listen to Paul we will begin to understand the deeper meaning of the OT Scripture.
Malone’s approach is different. Malone puts the OT under the authority of the NT in a manner that severely curtails the OT’s right to challenge our readings of its fulfillment in the NT. An argument for a ‘final dependence upon the New Testament revelation to determine how the Old Testament is fulfilled in [the New Testament]’ can easily be an argument against giving the OT Scriptures full voice in the manner that the apostle Paul did. If the NT ‘finally and authoritatively interprets Old Testament types and shadows’ then we will be discouraged from listening too closely to the OT text, something that might challenge our reading of the NT.
When one observes the manner in which the book of Romans has been interpreted in the past and compares this to the manner in which an author such as N.T. Wright reads the book one is essentially observing the result of removing the gag from the mouth of the OT. The voice of the OT in the book of Romans challenges long-cherished theories of what the book actually means.
When one is relating the OT to the NT it is helpful to remember that the Bible is a narrative. A narrative has shape and sequence. The ‘logic’ of sequence pays attention to the order in which events occur. The elements of a story are not randomly ordered. However, the ending does not follow from the beginning by a strict logical necessity. The manner in which one event follows from another is characterized by fitness (as Hays terms it) rather than strict logic. The conclusion should not be ‘predictable’, but it should be ‘acceptable’.
The shape of the narrative refers to the ‘“world” of possible and appropriate action’ established by the narrative. If we pay attention to the shape of the narrative we will recognize patterns of ‘order and value’ present within the narrative. The shape of the narrative ‘configures’ the different elements of the narrative into significant patterns, patterns which are integral to the story itself and not imposed upon it.
I believe that paying attention to Scripture as a narrative is imperative if we are to accurately interpret it. I contend that Baptists in general neglect to pay attention to the shape and sequence of the biblical narrative. The form that their NT ‘fulfillment’ takes is unfitting in the light of the OT narrative. The OT is left unresolved and so many Baptists adopt dispensational teaching, a phenomenon I have commented on elsewhere (see the longer entry on January 20th). Baptists also generally fail to give due attention to the shape of the OT narrative. Their reading of the NT defies the logic of the shape of the OT narrative. It operates in quite alien categories of thought.
My argument for infant Baptism will essentially be an argument that any denial of infant Baptism runs contrary to the logic of the sequence and the shape of the biblical narrative. Unfortunately Malone does not seem to have a firm grasp of the importance of such hermeneutical considerations.
I feel that the language of ‘good and necessary consequence’ is clumsy language to use when describing the argument for infant Baptism. The argument is far broader than a narrow analytical argument and, I might add, far more certain. What we have are two radically contrasting readings of the narrative of Scripture, not just some different conclusions that arise from an error in analytical logic.
I am convinced that our theology needs to take far more account of such narrative logic. It is interesting that Malone’s approach to hermeneutics provides us with few if any tools to really address the important questions relating to the meaning of the Scripture as a whole. The meaning of the scriptural narrative as a whole is far more than the sum of all of its parts. Malone’s hermeneutics seem to focus on the meaning of parts of Scripture and is far less able to grapple with the broader meaning of the narrative.
Baptists are quite good at seeing typology in the OT. However, they struggle to tell the story of Scripture as one continuous narrative with their view of the New Covenant as a satisfying dénouement. This is where I see much of the debate to lie. Malone seems to be blind to this.
Malone started by claiming that
The hermeneutical principles necessary to settle the question are usually agreed upon by both Baptists and paedobaptists.I contend that the hermeneutical principles that Malone presents as sufficient are indicative of the great gulf that exists between the position of paedobaptists like myself and Baptists like Malone.
I hope to start interacting with Malone’s view of the covenant in my next post.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
I went on to claim that the New Testament Scriptures are not the ultimate foundation for the practice of infant Baptism. The New Testament Scriptures were given to churches in which the practice of the sacraments was already firmly established. Whilst the Scriptures certainly are consistent with, support and justify the practice of infant Baptism, the early Church did not baptize infants on the basis of deductions from the unity of the covenant or from particular proof-texts. The mode and subjects of Baptism in the early Church were determined by the institution of the sacraments by the apostles. Had someone in the early Church attacked the practice of, say, admitting women to the Lord’s Supper from the New Testament Scriptures they would most probably have been silenced by an appeal to the practice instituted by the apostles, rather than by particular proof-texts and theological arguments.
Within this post I intend to examine Malone’s arguments from hermeneutics and the regulative principle against infant Baptism.
The Regulative Principle
Malone defines the regulative principle as follows:—
The regulative principle teaches that the elements of New Testament worship and church order should be “regulated” by Scripture and clearly instituted for New Covenant worship. In other words, elements of Christian worship must be instituted by God and prescribed by God, either in the way of commands or clear examples.Malone argues that this principle is one of the chief reasons why we should reject the practice of infant Baptism. John Murray argues against the notion that there must be an express command or explicit instance to justify the practice of infant Baptism, maintaining that the evidence for infant Baptism ‘falls into the category of good and necessary inference’. Malone counters this:—
Murray’s dependence upon good and necessary inference as sufficient to institute infant baptism together with his declaration that it is indefensible to demand an express command or explicit instance to justify the practice, are errors in his hermeneutics. Murray fails to recognize that New Testament sacraments must be expressly commanded and explicitly instituted by Christ according to the regulative principle of worship.Malone contends that that which is ‘expressly set down in Scripture’ and things deduced from Scripture by ‘good and necessary consequence’ are ‘specifically distinguished’ from each other by the Westminster divines.
They are not the same things. The former is instituted revelation; the latter is human deduction from instituted revelation.Malone proceeds to argue for a difference between the form of deduction that is used to explain that which is expressly set down in Scripture from the ‘kind of deduction which draws an inference beyond that which is expressly set down by words.’ We must draw a distinction between inferences that may be ‘plausible’ and those that are ‘necessary’. ‘Inference, even if one concludes it good and necessary, cannot be used to invent sacraments or subjects of sacraments…’ We should beware of adding traditions of men to the Scripture, even if we believe that these traditions are deduced from Scripture. Good and necessary consequence ‘cannot be used to institute any sacrament or the subjects of sacraments.’
Malone attacks the position of Andrew Sandlin, who argues that things deduced from Scripture ‘are as binding as those taught plainly and explicitly.’ Malone argues that these good and necessary consequences may be ‘erroneous deductions’. Good and necessary consequence can only be valid when it is deduced from written revelation and not contrary to any other written revelation.
Critique of Strict Regulativism
In his book Mother Kirk, Douglas Wilson observes that ‘the hermeneutic of requiring express warrant from Scripture for all elements of a worship service is essentially a baptistic approach.’ Baptists tend to adopt a very strong proof-text approach when dealing with any issue. Their approach to understanding the Bible can often be akin to trying to understand the image on a computer screen by examining each pixel separately. The atomizing rationalism of the strict regulative principle is consequently very appealing to them.
Strict regulativism, by looking for express commandments or explicit instances for everything pertaining to true worship, cannot be consistent. Malone thrusts his narrow view of the regulative principle upon us as if to reject it were to reject the authority of Scripture itself. We may well ask where strict regulativism is ‘expressly commanded’ in Scripture, or where we have ‘explicit instances’ of its use. Could the regulative principle itself merely be a supposedly ‘good and necessary’ deduction from Scripture? Are strict regulativists binding us by extra-biblical traditions of men?
Whilst strict regulativists may bring forward a few verses to support their principle it is hard to maintain that these constitute ‘express commands’ or ‘explicit instances’ of the narrow form of the regulative principle. Nor is strict regulativism consistent with Scripture. Take the celebration of the Passover by our Lord: where did God expressly command wine or singing? Strict regulativists are not consistent with their principle, not least in admitting women to the Lord’s Supper. Where do we have an ‘express command’ or ‘explicit instance’ for that? Malone argues that it is clear from the context of 1 Corinthians 11, as Paul’s treatment of the Supper occurs after he has addressed both men and women in the Church. This may well be a valid argument. However, it is far more tenuous than most of the New Testament arguments for infant Baptism; I fail to see how this falls into the category of an ‘express command’ or ‘explicit instance’. Strict regulativists are also inconsistent when they have baptisms in worship services and when they permit musical instruments in worship. Many further examples could be given. Any person demanding a narrow application of the regulative principle will be faced with insurmountable problems.
Strict regulativists argue that every ‘element’ of our worship must be explicitly commanded by Scripture. Determining from Scripture what constitutes an ‘element’ of worship is far from easy. Malone asserts that the Baptism of infants certainly constitutes an ‘element’ of worship. However, when Scripture is silent on the subject, it is far easier to assert this than to prove it. The New Testament certainly institutes Baptism, but is it necessary that it also institutes ‘Baptism for infants’ as if this constituted a different type of Baptism? I do not see that those of us who believe that Baptism has the same import and efficacy for both infants and adults need to prove that Baptism has been explicitly instituted for both groups.
An overemphasis on discrete ‘elements’ of worship will generally blind us to the unity of worship. I have become persuaded that the standard service of worship is the covenant renewal service, which concludes with the Lord’s Supper. This service possesses a unity and every part must be understood in the light of the whole. A celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for instance, is not really very meaningful by itself. James Jordan writes:—
When we begin to atomize our worship we will tend to get lost in fruitless debates over such issues as the efficacy of the sacraments. The simple fact of the matter is that none of the elements of our worship were designed to be viewed in abstraction from all of the rest. The efficacy of the Lord’s Supper is never to be understood in abstraction from or in opposition to the Word, nor is the efficacy of the Word to be understood in isolation from or opposition to the Supper. Abstracted from the Word the Supper is emptied of meaning; abstracted from the Supper the Word is equally compromised. Baptism never saves us apart from the Word or the Supper. Nor does the Word save us apart from Baptism and the Supper. However, when joined together, the Word, the Supper, and Baptism all truly save us. The ‘elements’ of our worship have an interdependency that the narrow regulative principle tends to ignore.
The instant you remove communion from the covenant renewal as a whole, you raise a question about its meaning that the Bible cannot answer. The Biblical answer to the meaning of communion is that it is the climax of the covenant renewal, the point at which the renewal is sealed by a common meal. If you don't have communion in your worship service, you have not had covenant renewal. By the same token, if you don't have the Word first, you have not had covenant renewal either, because there is no covenant to seal!
By removing communion from the sequence of covenant renewal, we introduce the question of what "extra" benefit comes from "having" communion. When a church does not "have" communion every week, people begin to ask what is the "extra" blessing of communion. Then they may begin to want to "have" that "extra" blessing every week. But this entire process of reasoning is wrong. There is no "extra" blessing in communion. The Lord's Supper is simply the sealing climax of the covenant renewal that takes place on the Day of the Lord (the Lord's Day).
Most importantly, I am less concerned with whether the regulative principle demands an ‘express command’ and ‘explicit institution’ than I am with the question of whether God does. I fear that Malone has no biblical support for such a narrow view of the regulative principle; the strict regulativists are the ones holding a human tradition above the Scripture. Where does Scripture tell us that we must have an explicit command for every ‘element’ of worship?
An Alternative to Narrow Regulativism
Rejecting Malone’s unworkable and narrow version of the regulative principle does not entail the adoption of the normative principle (that which is commanded in Scripture is required; that which is not prohibited is permitted). Throughout Malone presents his case as if there were only two options. He tries to persuade us that if we adopt the normative principle there is no real halfway house between us and the Tiber.
I am convinced that our worship must be regulated by Scripture. However, my definition of the regulative principle would be more along the following lines: Worship must be wholly consistent with and authorized by Scripture, but need not be expressly commanded or explicitly illustrated by it. Our whole worship must be regulated and guided by the whole of Scripture. Such a definition is broader and enables us to get a better perspective on worship as a whole. Authorization for our forms of worship need not take the form of explicit commandments. Many aspects of the overall thrust of the scriptural narrative never appear explicitly in individual texts.
When we are trying to determine how God would have us worship Him we need to start with the bigger picture. Rather than seeking specific proof-texts we should start with the overarching narrative of Scripture. We should identify some of the broader principles that should govern worship. When we start with the narrative we will stop arguing from generic definitions of ‘sacraments’ and will focus more upon the symbolism of Scripture as it develops through the narrative. Baptism is not instituted in some sort of symbolic or ritual vacuum. It derives its primary meaning from the relationship (similarity and difference) that it bears with OT rites and symbols. If we take sure a starting point we will escape the snare of the strict regulativist, who gets lost in the fine detail of worship and misses the larger narrative.
When understanding rites like baptism or the Eucharist we should spend far less time talking about such concepts as ‘means of grace’ and ‘sacraments in general’ and far more time talking about the scriptural symbolism of water, bread and wine. We will understand the meaning of Baptism not by referring to a generalized definition of a sacrament, but by understanding it as a rite thoroughly woven of the symbolic fibres of Scripture (see Schmemann and Leithart). We will ‘regulate’ the rites of Baptism and the Eucharist far better as we begin to appreciate their symbolic import.
Forms of Logic
Strict regulativism uses a particular form of logic to determine the correct form of worship. The form of logic it employs is ill-suited to cater with the type of book that the Bible is. The Bible is a narrative and the form of logic that we use to determine a biblical form of worship must be a form of logic that is equipped to deal with narrative. The logic of the strict regulativists is overly-analytical and is not able to do justice to the literary form that Scripture takes. Allusive and poetic texts will be butchered by the form of logic that strict regulativists employ.
Much has been written on the place of narrative in our understanding of theology in recent years. I have been particularly helped in this area by Richard Hays’ book The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1—4:11 (I have discussed his treatment of narrative logic elsewhere). A narratival understanding of Scripture will be far more open to certain forms of logic that strict regulativism cannot handle. Those who understand Scripture as a narrative will not be averse to deriving an understanding of liturgy from a study of the book of Leviticus, for example. Strict regulativism generally argues that the ceremonial law has been done away with by Christ and that, as a result, Leviticus cannot be normative for Christian worship. A narratival approach argues that the ceremonial law is fulfilled in Christ and the Church and so Leviticus must be normative for Christian worship.
Strict regulativism generally needs to argue for some form of direct correlation between elements in the Old and New Covenants in order for its rationalistic form of logic to be able to operate. A rigorous proof-text approach will generally have problems accommodating the narrative flow of Scripture. Consequently strict regulativism stumbles at the stumbling stone of the OT. R.J. Gore Jr., in his book Covenantal Worship: Rethinking the Puritan Regulative Principle, writes:—
A corollary to this failure to grasp the organic development of the Scriptures is the failure to relate properly the New Testament to the Old Testament. In too many situations, the Puritan attitude toward the Old Testament became one of disparagement. The Old Testament, for many, did not provide normative guidelines for worship, but was completely superseded by the New Testament.In contrast to such an approach, a narratival approach will happily employ forms of argument based upon analogy. Peter Leithart argues for such a ‘regulation by analogy’ in his book From Silence to Song. He maintains that this can provide
…concrete and scriptural guidance on a host of specific liturgical questions. It is not a “squishy” principle that can justify anything that might enter our heads.Using regulation by analogy, one does not miss the liturgical forest for the trees. Leithart gives the example of adornment on the Lord’s table. Strict regulativists would point out that Scripture does not command such things on the Lord’s table and reject this idea. A person adopting ‘regulation by analogy’ would ponder the scriptural analogy between the Lord’s Supper and a wedding feast and conclude that a bare table undermines the biblical meaning of the rite. By arguing for an unadorned table strict regulativists are the ones who are undermining Scripture. Adornments are demanded by the very nature of the event. Malone’s form of the regulative principle is ill-equipped to accommodate such analogical reasoning.
Once we have permitted argument by analogy the whole OT text can become normative for New Covenant worship.
Malone’s argument is quite frustrating. Frequently in the course of his discussion of hermeneutics and the regulative principle he writes as if paedobaptists were using an OT principle to undermine a clear NT commandment, namely that we should baptize disciples only (and yes, he does suggest that we add this to the solas). He speaks of paedobaptists using the OT to ‘establish infant baptism over New Testament administration and institution.’ He argues that paedobaptists conclude that ‘good and necessary inference from the Old Testament can overrule clear New Testament instituted revelation.’ The simple fact of the matter is, Malone can only add the word ‘alone’ to ‘the baptism of disciples’ having presupposed a very narrow view of the regulative principle. By the regulative principle he is able to add to God’s Word. If his belief that every aspect of New Testament sacraments must be explicitly instituted by Christ is correct then I would happily grant that credobaptism is the most plausible position. However, he fails to prove this crucial assumption.
The fact that paedobaptists would strenuously deny that they are using OT evidence to contradict NT evidence is not sufficiently stressed. Malone writes as if his was the only way of construing the evidence and consequently spends many pages on material that is largely irrelevant to the debate. Paedobaptists are agreed that we should never allow OT principles to ‘overrule’ the teaching of the NT. It seems to me that Malone’s implicit assumption throughout is that the proper administration of NT sacraments must be understood from study of NT revelation alone. He argues that we must have a ‘final dependence upon the New Testament revelation to determine how the Old Testament is fulfilled in it.’ Nevertheless, one can generally agree with this and still have no problem with infant Baptism.
I had been hoping to finish my study of Malone’s hermeneutics within this post. Unfortunately it has already overrun its intended length. For this reason I will have to leave a more focused study of Malone’s hermeneutics to the next post.