A Friendly Response to Tom Hicks

Tom Hicks wrote a post located here where he aims to point out what he calls “fatal errors” in the doctrine of infant baptism (paedobaptism). This is my response. 

Mr. Hicks begins by saying:

I dearly love Reformed Paedobaptists. These brothers and sisters in Christ are co-laborers in the cause of the gospel. We owe them and their tribe very much for their vital contributions to Christian thought and life. Some of my heroes in the faith are paedobaptists. I have good paedobaptist friends, and I value their friendships. I mean no offense to them in this post, but I do mean to outline what I regard to be the fatal errors in their doctrine of infant baptism (or paedobaptism) and respond to them.

I share these same sentiments. Many of my dearest friends are Baptists who reject my position on baptism–the Reformed Position as contained in the Westminster Standards. I love and appreciate these brothers and have learned much from many Baptists such as C.H. Spurgeon and John Gill. In fact, the living Pastor-Theologian who has had the greatest impact on my Christian life is a Baptist, John Piper. Therefore, while I do think that this is an issue worth debating –it is a sacrament after all– I am still very thankful for the many Baptist brothers and teachers that the Lord has placed in my life including Mr. Hicks. 

THE GOAL OF MR. HICKS

Before working through his article from start to finish it is helpful to look at how he ends the article.  His conclusion reveals the goal of his article. He says:

In conclusion, Reformed Paedobaptism undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s work in its doctrine of the covenant of grace, inconsistently applies its own hermeneutic, violates the regulative principle of worship, and undermines its own argument for infant inclusion by various inconsistencies.

The body of his article sets out to prove his conclusion by trying to dismantle the Reformed position piece by piece. It is my intention to show that he is wrong in his conclusion and that the Reformed position is not guilty of these things but is rather internally consistent and biblically faithful.

THE COVENANT OF GRACE

Mr. Hicks begins by going after the Reformed view of the covenant of grace. He says:

First, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace undermines the efficacy of Christ’s mediation and cross-work. 

Why is this so, according to Hicks? He continues. 

 Paedobaptist theology teaches that Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace.

Yes, this is true, however, we believe the bible makes distinctions between the internal and external elements of the covenant of grace. “Internal” and “external” is the language used by Berkhof in his Systematic Theology. Geerhardus Vos uses the language “legal” and “communion.” But, regardless, this distinction exists because as Calvinists, we hold to the doctrines of election and predestination in conjunction with the eternal Covenant of Redemption. We must hold several different aspects of biblical data together as we do theology. These distinctions are not arbitrary but are arrived at by the force and necessity of scripture. Therefore, we understand that there is a sense in which only the elect belong to the covenant of grace. Yet, the covenant of grace is not always so narrowly defined. It encompasses the administration which does and will (for a time) include the non-elect. Another way of thinking of this distinction is through the visible and invisible definitions of the church. 

But Hicks continues:

 The book of Hebrews declares that Christ’s mediation means that He reconciles His covenant people to the Father, that He is a testator who gives His blessings freely and unconditionally, and a surety who pays all their debts. Paedobaptists must either explain how Christ can be the mediator of the covenant of grace for non-elect and unregenerate people (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy), or they must explain how Christ can be the mediator of a covenant without being the mediator of everyone in that covenant (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy). If they say that Christ mediates for those in the outward administration of the covenant of grace, they must explain how Christ’s blood, signified by baptism, covers unregenerate people in the covenant of grace without effecting their salvation.  Any explanation they give will approximate Arminian definitions of the atonement.

When Mr. Hicks speaks this way, even though he acknowledges our internal/external substance/administration distinctions he disregards why these distinctions actually matter. It appears that he doesn’t understand our internal/external distinctions and how they connect to the Mediatorial work of Christ. This results in the rest of his argument being a strawman. If our distinctions are held in place, the problem he presents is really no problem at all. We do not undermine the work of Christ in connection to the covenant of grace properly defined. 

 We believe that Christ is mediator and surety in connection to the internal nature of the covenant, which is only and exclusively for the elect. He has done all that was necessary that we might be reconciled to God, being brought back into communion with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. We are Calvinists to the core. The elect are reconciled to God through the once for all finished yet ongoing work of Christ, a reconciliation which can never be undone. We hold to particular/limited/definite atonement, and we believe that the elect will be saved and preserved by the grace of God. But this is only in regard to individuals which collectively make up the invisible church. With this, we have no difference with the calvinistic baptist.

However, we must also understand the visible church.  It is an external administration of the covenant– a corporate dimension with Christ still as head. He is the head of the body, his bride. But is his headship limited to the invisible church or is Christ not the head of the one catholic and apostolic church on earth? What if that church, with its officers who administer the Word and Sacraments, has non-elect members? Is Christ still the head of the church? Yes. He is the head of the corporate body, visible on earth, yet not necessarily the mediator for every single member. The churches in Revelation 2-3 make this clear. They are in fact churches and Christ walks through them, encouraging and judging, even the one who has the reputation of being alive but is dead. 

Thus, we make a distinction between the one corporate body and the individuals who make up the one body. This is a one and many distinction. Wouldn’t Baptists say something similar? Wouldn’t  Mr. Hicks say that Christ is head of his church and yet at the same time exclude all non-elect members from the atoning work and ongoing intercession of Christ? 

The mediatorial role of Christ in connection to the external administration and the visible church cannot be understood in the same way we understand the internal nature of the covenant in connection to Christ and the elect. This is why we make distinctions. We make distinctions because we in fact don’t undermine the efficacy of his work. 

Mr. Hicks is blurring lines between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace in addition to the difference between the visible and invisible church. He conflates the eternal and temporal. Mr. Hicks is being too narrow. How can we have a visible church or an administration of the covenant at all with Christ as head knowing that there never has been a church so pure as to not have any unregenerate people in membership? Surely, no baptist would argue that all baptist churches are made up of only elect members. 

While we agree with him regarding Christ and the elect, the covenant is simply broader than the narrow view of the baptist. This is not approximate to an Arminian definition of the atonement. Our distinctions and our emphasis on election and definite atonement in connection to the elect and the internal nature of the covenant which is rooted in the eternal covenant of redemption keeps us from being Arminians. Again, we are shamelessly Calvinists to the core. Let us not forget that it is from Calvin, who baptized infants, that we get our name–Calvinists. A proper understanding of these biblical distinctions in connection to the headship and mediatorial role of Christ as he is head of the one and many solves the issue. 

 Mr. Hicks’s next “fatal error” that he sees is not much different from the last one. He says:

Second, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace confuses (joins together) the headships of Adam and Christ.

Again, if our distinctions are understood, this is not a problem at all as I will show. But how does he say we confuse these headships? He says:

 Because paedobaptists include unregenerate infants within the covenant of grace, they diminish the headship of Christ in one of two ways. One, they may say that baptized infants are no longer in Adam and under the curse of the covenant of works, but are under Christ’s headship in a way that might condemn them to hell. On this view, it is very hard to see how Christ’s covenant is a “covenant of grace.” It is, rather, a covenant of grace/justification and wrath/condemnation, which is hardly a comfort or blessing to all who are in it. Two, paedobaptists may say that unregenerate baptized infants in the administration of the covenant of grace are “in Adam” (the covenant of works) and “in Christ” (the covenant of grace) simultaneously. These infants would be in the inward “substance” of the covenant of works, but the outward “administration” of the covenant of grace. Such a view would undermine the efficacy of Christ’s atonement because it places unregenerate children of believers under Christ’s mediation, and under His blood, while affirming the child’s condemnation in Adam.

Mr. Hicks believes he is picking apart an error of the reformed position but he is the one on a trajectory to destroy the entire concept of a visible church or external/temporal administration of the covenant with Christ as head. He has created a scenario in which Christ cannot actually be called head of any church (except for the invisible church only made up of the elect) because all visible churches contain some members who are unregenerate, even those churches where membership is only afforded to professing adults. So, this Adam/Christ headship problem is really no different than the last “fatal error” he addressed. If one keeps in mind our proper distinctions regarding the internal and external nature of the covenant, none of this is a problem, even though we believe that one day, in the eternal state, that the covenant and election lines will fall together in perfect harmony.

You can see here that the problem really is how Mr. Hicks collapses the substance and administration of the covenant into one which then creates more problems than it solves. If he is right, I am not sure we should even talk of the “church” or “Christ as head” unless we are talking about the elect. But, the scriptures know no such thing. 

The truth is, Mr. Hicks, if he is honest, can’t even be sure who in his own congregation is in Christ or Adam. Even if he thinks someone is in Christ, they might shock him and prove to have been in Adam all along. Why? Because neither Mr. Hicks nor myself know who the elect are. We don’t have election inspection capabilities. We only know what we see and hear.  Is it wrong to call people Christians unless we know for sure they are elect? Of course not. The scriptures are clear that on this side of heaven, there will be unregenerate people within the church, even false teachers. There will, sadly, be wicked ones who must be cast out! 

There will be those who went out from us because they were not really of us.  When scripture says they were not of us, this does not mean that they were not a part of the covenant community. Even Judas held an office that Peter said needed to be replaced.  Scripture teaches us that they leave because they aren’t of the same nature as us. They were visibly and externally united with Christ and his covenant community but they were never internally united though saving faith. 

The covenant has an internal and external aspect.  There is a visible and invisible church distinction. To conflate these is to make the same error as Rome.  

Yet, this is no argument for paedobaptism. I am not interested in rooting my argument in the fact that the church sometimes unfortunately houses wicked men and women. But, this does show us that the covenant is broad enough to include not only the elect (internal/substance) but even the non-elect who are eventually cut off (external/administration).

Truly, if Mr. Hicks desires the complete purity of the church, he will have to wait with the rest of us until Christ returns and separates the sheep from the goats himself. Only then, in the New Creation, will all be in Christ with no questions asked. Only then will covenant administration and election, visible and invisible, be united in perfect harmony.  Mr. Hicks has on one conflated the visible and invisible church and on the other made them at odds with each other. That isn’t really helpful. Would it be better for us to call our children vipers in diapers, bring them to church, and treat them like Christians anyways even though in our hearts we think they are in Adam? Surely not. If we have children, we bring them with us each Lord’s Day to gather with the church of Jesus Christ not really knowing with perfect certainty who their federal head is. But we pray that while they do belong to and worship with the visible church each week God will by His grace prove to their God as He is ours.

Again, while Mr. Hicks wants to put us in a corner where we must pick between Christ or our kids–lest we say too little about Christ or too much about our kids–we don’t need to pick. It is really a false dilemma where if our distinctions are considered, we can have both. But again, this is because we distinguish between the internal and external aspects of the covenant–Election and covenant administration–Visible and invisible. 

What Mr. Hicks says next is most shocking to me:

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators. The OT covenants of promise commanded their members to trust the Lord, to love the Lord, and obey the Lord.  But the OT covenants did not provide their members with the power to obey their commands.  The shed blood of animals and human mediators never gave grace needed for regeneration, justification, sanctification, and perseverance.  That only comes from the shed blood of Christ and His mediation.  The paedobaptist notion of a “saving substance” in the OT covenants is foreign to the Bible.

In saying this, Mr. Hicks has gutted the OT of any grace, power, and substance. He even says that “a saving substance in the OT covenants is foreign to the Bible.” Shocking. Yet, this is exactly what he needs to do in order to associate the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant exclusively, and to  associate all saving power and grace with something beyond the bounds of these OT covenants.  

If this were true it means that Abraham would have belonged to two covenants: the Abrahamic Covenant–which didn’t save according to Mr. Hicks– and the New Covenant which did save. This means that not all who belonged to the Abrahamic Covenant belonged to the New Covenant which apparently was in existence at the same time. There is a very serious problem with this line of thought. The New Covenant didn’t exist. And to make it exist, we must become eisegetes, putting it in the text where it isn’t. 

The simple solution to this is found in the Reformed understanding of covenant theology as explained in the Westminster Confession chapter 7. In summary, while there is a single substance running through all of the OT covenants –which does save and give power– we make a distinction between the administration and the substance. The substance never changes while the administration does. Thus, moving from the Abrahamic/Mosaic/Davidic to the New Covenant is a change in administration but it is not a change in substance. One of the most obvious arguments for our view is the fact that the New Covenant is promised in Jeremiah 31. It is coming in Jeremiah’s future. If that is true, how can it be present before? The movement from the Abrahamic/Mosaic/Davidic to the New is a historical movement. This is a historia salutis text given in ordo salutis language. 

To say that it is a change in substance is to essentially remove Christ from the Abrahamic/Mosaic/and Davidic covenants. He cannot, by Mr. Hicks definition, be their substance. And what then are we left with? We are left with hollow substance-less types that don’t actually administer Christ, the eternal Son of God who became flesh. But Calvin, on the other hand, rightly sees the entire Mosaic system as sacramental. The entire system administered Christ. 

So, what is the problem here? In my opinion the error is not making a distinction between the ordo salutis and the historia salutis. The order of salvation (effectual calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, glorification) and the history of salvation (the movement of redemptive history beginning in Genesis 3.) Again, we make distinctions.

We as Reformed understand the ordo salutis to be present at every point in redemptive history while the historia salutis is moving forward to its climax in the coming of the Son of God incarnate. Meaning, while there are changes and progress, there is a substance-core that is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But when Christ comes, the historia salutis and ordo salutis are seen hand-in-glove together in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Why? Because the ordo salutis is nothing less than the application of the finished work of Christ both before and after his incarnation. 

But how was that finished work preached and applied before it actually occurred? Well, through the covenant administrations that preceded it. Meaning, Christian justification (Rom. 4:13) came when Abraham believed and was justified and notice that this was in connection to the Abrahamic Covenant and the promises there-in. Paul himself even says that the sign of circumcision (which God gave to confirm the covenant he made with Abraham, Gen. 17) was a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith. Meaning, the sign of circumcision was a seal of justification which is directly connected to Christ and our justification in the New Covenant. Paul’s textual basis for New Covenant justification is typically Old Testament texts, keeping in mind that the New Covenant is nowhere to be found. 

This connection between Abraham’s justification and the Abrahamic covenant is why we believe that the Abrahamic and New Covenants are essentially the same ( in substance). It is not wrong to say that the Abrahamic covenant is the new covenant in typological and promissory form while the New Covenant is the Abrahamic covenant in its anti-typical fulfillment form. Berkhof essentially says the same in his Systematic Theology. Further, if one reads the New Covenant passage in Jeremiah 31 in connection with its greater context, chapters 30-33, one will see that the coming New Covenant is essentially the Abrahamic Covenant (including the promises regarding the children of believers) fulfilled. The New Covenant is put forth as if it is the Abrahamic Covenant fulfilled. And not only is Abrahamic clearly in view but in describing the New Covenant, Jeremiah includes Moses and David. All of the OT covenants converge into the New. Of course, because historically they have all existed for that purpose. 

In Romans 4, in speaking of faith and justification, Paul connects the Abrahamic (Abraham) and Mosaic/Davidic (David) covenants with the same justification found in the New Covenant. We know this because he uses Abraham and David as examples. Not to mention, he cites a Psalm as proof of David’s justification in the OT. 

But how can this be? How can Abraham and David be justified before the New Covenant exists? Because the ordo salutis is the same in every covenant even though redemptive history is moving forward through numerous covenants until we come to the climactic and eternal New Covenant. When one reads the Psalms, for example, it is clear that the triune God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness is at work well before the NC comes onto the historical scene. The important thing to keep in mind here is the distinction between the ordo and historia salutis. One is constant while the other progresses to an end goal – a climax – a consummation. And at every point in redemptive history the ordo salutis (or Christ) is administered through the covenant in place whether it be the Abrahamic or the Mosaic. Meaning, when a faithful Israelite offered his sacrifice in true, regenerate, faith he was justified. He belonged not only to the visible administration but Christ himself who was present and yet to come. 

Now, while Mr. Hicks says that none of the non-New Covenants could save, and while he essentially says that all of them point forward by way of promise to the only covenant that does save, the New Covenant, he is not willing to say that no one was saved in the OT because that would be a blatant contradiction of the scriptures. So, even though he denies that the OT covenants save, he has to explain how salvation is possible regardless since it is clear that many OT saints were saved (Heb. 11, etc.). This he does in his next section wherein he puts forth the Baptist position. But as he moves forward, notice that he must do eisegesis in order to defend his view. He must insert another covenant in Genesis in order that Abraham, for example, can be saved even though there is no mention of another covenant to which Abraham belonged.

The Reformed, being exegetes and not eisegetes, refuse to do this. This is why we affirm one substance in every covenant starting in Genesis 3 even though the administration changes as redemptive history marches forward. Abraham belonged to the Abrahamic covenant. Yet, he was justified and received the sign and seal of justification (the same justification that we have in the New Covenant). Why? Same substance. Christ. Same ordo salutis. 

To summarize everything so far: distinctions matter. If one understands the internal/external distinctions in the covenant and if one keeps the ordo and historia salutis categories distinct, then there are no problems at all. In fact, the errors that Mr. Hick’s points out are nothing less than strawmen that we actually deny ourselves. 

Further, it is important for us to consider God’s special revelation to his covenant people. Is what he gave Abraham sufficient? Well, if you say yes, how do you explain the silence in regard to the “New Covenant” to which Abraham really needed to belong if he would be saved? There is no mention of it, and if there should be due to its importance–it’s the only saving covenant after all according to Mr. Hicks– then perhaps God’s special revelation isn’t sufficient? Of course, neither of us would say that. But Mr. Hicks is forced to insert something that he thinks should be there even though it isn’t. Now, Abraham must belong to two covenants even though scripture nowhere from Genesis to Revelation says so.

Now before moving into his next section, look at the word of the Apostle Paul as he invokes an OT event for the sake of the Corinthian church.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:1-11)

Notice first that Paul is speaking about the OT people right after they were delivered out of Egypt by Jesus according to Jude 1:5.  According to Paul, all who came out were baptized into Moses and all who came out ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink. Now, pay close attention. All means all here. All includes the elect and the non-elect. From whom did all of them drink? Christ. For Hicks this must be problematic. Well, perhaps all of them were elect and we have no problem? No. Verse 5 says that with “most of them” God was not pleased (only by faith is God pleased). And what was the result? They died in the wilderness. They were idolaters. They desired evil. They indulged in sexual immorality. And as a result 23,000 fell in one day. And what was all of this? According to verse 9 it was “[putting] Christ to the test.”

Now, Paul is using this text as a warning for the Corinthians. And this same paradigm is given in Hebrews 3-4 as well. I don’t see any other way to do justice to this text (and Hebrews 3-4) than to make distinctions between internal/external, substance/administration, visible/invisible. Many who died in the wilderness in unbelief drank from Christ (who was present in the OT to save and to judge.)

And not only does this force us to make proper distinctions but it puts Christ forward as present in the OT saving and judging even though Mr. Hicks essentially removes him from the OT covenants. In fact, according to Revelation 2-3 he is doing the same thing now with his church in the world only now incarnate forever. At this point, I think this is sufficient to show that Mr. Hicks’ categories are not sufficient to deal with all that scripture actually says.

Now, moving on, Mr. Hicks begins to present the Baptist position. He cites Hebrews 9:15 and then says:

First, Christ’s mediation of the new covenant is what redeemed sinners under the old covenant. Historic Baptists taught that the covenant of grace is identical to the new covenant. The covenant of grace, however, was “promised” under the old covenant, but it is now fulfilled in the death of Christ. It was progressively revealed under the old covenant, but it is now formally concluded and enacted through the death of Christ. The OT saints were saved by virtue of the new covenant promise “breaking in” to the old covenant (Rom 9:8; Gal 3:29; 4:23, 28). Old Testament saints were not saved by virtue of the old covenant, but by virtue of the promise of the new. Thus, there is only one covenant of grace, the same in substance from Genesis to Revelation.

Now, if one has been following along, his errors here are clear.  He is again not making the distinctions taught in the Bible and believed by the reformed. We all agree that Christ’s work has saved every elect sinner at every point in redemptive history. The Spirit has applied the work of Christ both before and after his finished work and this has been possible because of the eternal decree of God whereby the work of Christ has been as good as done from eternity past even though it had to be accomplished in time and space. He was slain before the foundations of the world as far as the decree goes.

Mr. Hicks is simply focusing on the historia salutis. The movement from the Old to the New. And as he does this he is forced to say that the “new covenant promise breaks in” to the old covenant.  And he must say this because of his view that the OT doesn’t save. But, again, we simply see this as a distinction between substance and administration. I have no problem saying that the OT covenants’ administrations did not save. The blood of bulls and goats doesn’t save. I agree.  But, the substance (Christ) was saving and the substance of the Old is one with the New. Why? Ordo/historia salutis distinctions.

Again, Hicks is strawmanning the Reformed. We, with Mr. Hicks believe that only Christ saves and that only the blood of Christ brings forgiveness. But, this salvation was administered in and through the types and shadows of the OT. The bloody sacrifices under Moses didn’t save (that’s the administration) but as they administered Christ to those who offered their sacrifices in faith, salvation came. And salvation came in the present (ordo salutis) on the basis of the coming Christ (historia salutis) which is guaranteed due to the covenant of redemption. So again, our simple category distinctions make this a non-issue. We believe that salvation comes through every covenant not because of the administration but because of the unchanging substance.

Now, Hicks goes on saying:

Second, Christ’s mediation in the covenant of grace saves all its members. Hebrews 9:15 says, “a death has occurred that redeems them.” Just a few verses earlier in Hebrews 9:12, we’re told that Christ entered the holy places as the Mediator of the new covenant, “by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Earlier in Hebrews 7:22, it says, “This makes Jesus the guarantor [or surety] of a better covenant.” A surety is someone who fulfills the legal obligations of someone who cannot fulfill them. Christ’s death effectuates the salvation of all those in this covenant. Who is in the covenant? Verse 15 says “those who are called” are in the new covenant.

Now, considering our distinctions I have no problem simply saying “amen” to this if we are talking about the internal nature of the covenant in connection with the elect. But, because Hicks collapses covenant and election into one, he thinks this is a problem. It’s not. 

Hicks goes on to say:

Third, unbelievers were never in the covenant of grace (because of numbers 1 and 2). The covenant of grace was only made with the elect in Christ. It effectually saves all its members because they are under Christ’s effectual mediation. Therefore, since unbelieving infants (and unbelievers of any kind) were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, then neither are they part of the covenant of grace under the new covenant.

Again, Hicks collapses the distinctions and sees the covenant of grace as synonymous with the New Covenant and as synonymous with the elect. He has no room for anything visible/ external, etc. But, how does one then understand 1 Corinthians 10 and Hebrews 3-4? Or Revelation 2-3? Numerous times in scripture we see people belonging to the church or the covenant and yet, they are cut off or are put to death. Consider the branches in John 15 which are attached to the vine who is Christ. And yet, some of the branches are cut off and thrown into the fire? How can that be if covenant is only synonymous with election? Neither Hicks nor I believe that the elect can be lost. Therefore, he will have to work around this clear text wherein those who appear to be united to Christ (at least visibly, external administration) are cut off. Romans 11 is another example.

Up to this point, if we keep our Reformed distinctions in mind, nothing that Hicks has said is actually a problem for us.

HEREMENEUTICS

In the next section Mr. Hicks begins to examine our hermeneutic aiming to prove that “the Reformed Paedobaptist model inconsistently applies its own Reformed hermeneutic.” And what is this hermeneutic exactly? Essentially it is filtering the OT through the NT as we understand the revelation is progressive and unfolding. However, at the same time what God commanded previously remains unless he tells us otherwise.

Hicks first shows where we agree but then gives a few examples showing where there is disagreement even among the Reformed. He brings up theonomy and paedocommunion, neither of which I hold to. But if disagreements on other issues among paedobaptists undermines padeobaptism, Second Baptist church says hello to First baptist church while Missionary Baptist Church looks on.  The Independent Fundamental Baptist church couldn’t be reached for comment.  There are even some Reformed baptist theonomists.  I agree that theonomy of the reconstructionist sense isn’t biblical and I don’t believe in paedocommunion.  Let’s stick to the topic at hand.  

In the third section Mr. Hicks points out some areas which are in fact a bit trickier. Hicks says:

Reformed Baptists believe that the promise to Abraham and his physical seed (Gen 17:7) is fulfilled in Christ. Galatians 3:16 says, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring, who is Christ.” 

Amen! No problems here. 

Reformed Baptists also believe that this promise is fulfilled in believers. Galatians 3:7 says, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” 

Again, amen! Who am I to disagree with the very clear teaching of scripture? But he continues:

Paedobaptists, like Dispensationalists, believe that the promise of a physical seed in the OT ought to govern our exegesis of the NT, rather than the other way around.

Now, here is where Mr. Hicks is wrong. In fact, the irony is loud. The “physical” promise in the OT isn’t governing our NT exegesis. We affirm the clear teaching of scripture. He is again attacking a strawman. Our view is simply that Christ is the true antitypical, federal head, seed of Abraham and all who are in Christ (the elect) are the offspring of Abraham, but this is not mutually exclusive with physical seed (administration). So, if one has been following along, it is clear that Mr. Hicks is doing here the same thing he has done all along. He has collapsed covenant, election, and administration into one reality with no distinctions which has now led him to say we are interpreting scripture like those dispensationalists. He has done nothing other here than interpret these texts the same way he does the entire OT. He has turned the OT into a hollow form and gives the spiritual substance to the NT. Ironically this is very dispensational.

How then do the Reformed understand this? Well, like we understand all the other issues Mr. Hicks has brought up. When God makes a promise to Abraham regarding a people as numerous as the stars of the sky it is under the banner “I will be your God.” In fact, this phrase “I will be your God and you will be my people” is the phrase that shows the singular aim of every sub-covenant in the singular covenant of grace. Now, this promise “I will be your God” should immediately cause us to see that the promise is deeply religious and therefore a heartless, Spirit-less, people dead in their sins can’t be what God promised. No, the promise has always been a Spiritual people, the first fruits of a new humanity. This is why Jesus says what he does to the Pharisees who glory in their physical descent from Abraham. But, their father is actually the devil (JN. 8).

This means the physical sign of circumcision never really set apart the offspring of Abraham. Not in the election, internal, covenant sense. It was the sign that marked off the physical people, the administration, and these physical offspring were called forth to be spiritual offspring. So, for us it is both/and. You cannot have spiritual people without first having physical people who are born from women.

So, the physical seed which would come forth under father Abraham were also to be spiritual seed, following in the faith-footsteps of their father. This is why physical circumcision was never sufficient. When we consider Deuteronomy 10 or 31 or Jeremiah 4, it is clear that the physically circumcised were to be heart-circumcised as well. So, what do we see here? A distinction between internal and external elements of the covenant. Belonging to the administration was never sufficient and was not the full extent of the promise, ever.

Notice what this text says to us:


12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deut. 10:12-16)

This text clearly presents the aim of God for the physical, circumcised, sons of Abraham. They are called to fear the Lord, obey the Lord, love the Lord, etc. Now, this is impossible (as far as Calvinists are concerned) for those born merely in the fleshy, spiritually dead. But, if the promise in the OT was only physical, why all of this religious stuff? Because it wasn’t just physical. The physically circumcised were to circumcise their hearts in order that God might be their God and they might be his people who walk in the obedience of faith.

Another example of this, in the corrective position, can be seen in Jeremiah 4:

3 For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:

“Break up your fallow ground,

and sow not among thorns.

4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lord;

remove the foreskin of your hearts,

O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;

lest my wrath go forth like fire,

and burn with none to quench it,

because of the evil of your deeds.”

Now, in this God-breathed text the Lord himself is rebuking his people for their uncircumcised hearts. Why would he do this if the promise to Abraham was just a physical people? This would be irrelevant. But no, the Lord is not just pleased with physical descendants but he desires that these physically circumcised sons have a circumcised heart, being his people! Surely now it is obvious that Mr. Hicks’ categories don’t really align with scripture.

Now, to be sure, it is tragic to see how many of the physical descendants of Abraham were nothing more than that. But, that is different than saying physical descendants alone were the goal of the OT. In Hicks’ paradigm, the ministry of Jesus as he deals with the Pharisees doesn’t really make any sense to me. Why doesn’t Jesus say something like, “You are physical seed of Abraham and that was the plan for the OT but now you need to repent, believe, and have a circumcised heart!” No, Jesus as the eschatological prophet speaks to the Pharisees (Matt. 23) the same way the prophets preached to the people of Old. They were rebuked for thinking that a physical, heartless, worship-less, religion pleased God.  They needed to be physically and spiritually alive.  Their hearts needed to be as near to the Lord as their mouths (Isa. 29:13)

So, I hope this helps us see that Hicks has simply dismissed the OT spiritual seed and writes as if we dismiss the NT spiritual seed. The truth is, we reject neither. We see the physical seed as the very way in which God will bring about spiritual seed. Or to say it another way, we cannot bear spiritual fruit in our homes for the Lord, raising up little disciples for Christ, until they are born first. Abraham couldn’t have believing spiritual seed unless they were first born physically. Mere physicality was surely never the goal. And it is this intimate connection between the internal/external natures of the covenant (into which sons and daughters of believers are born) that leads Geerhardus Vos to see the conditional/external/administration aspect of the covenant as a means or vehicle into the essence of the covenant. All of this is within the wise providence of God as he raises up spiritual seed for himself in and through believing families.

Hicks continues on with another perceived problem saying:

Reformed Baptists believe that the sign of circumcision (Gen 17:11) is fulfilled at the cross of Christ and in “heart circumcision.” Colossians 2:11-12 says, “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Paedobaptists, on the other hand, hold that the meaning of the sign of circumcision is determinative of the meaning of the sign of baptism, rather than allowing the NT to determine the meaning of baptism and the fulfillment of circumcision.

I agree that the bloody cutting off of flesh pointed to the cross. And I agree that physical circumcision points to “heart circumcision.” But notice that Hicks is now seeing heart circumcision as something future oriented instead of something present in the OT. This is his physical-OT spiritual-NT paradigm. Did David have heart circumcision while writing the most beautiful of all hymns? Then heart circumcision was clearly present and commanded (see above).

But then he goes on to make it sound like we by-pass these things and move straight from circumcision to baptism. The connection is a little more involved then that. Physical circumcision does point to the cross and yet at the same time the cross is called a baptism. So, the cross is both a baptism and a circumcision. The same could be said about the flood. It was a “cutting off” -circumcision while also a passing through the water -baptism. We move through the cross of Christ into baptism which signifies most fundamentally union with Christ by the Spirit. Therefore, baptism does replace circumcision but not without moving through the cross first. A bloody sign is replaced by a blood-less sign because the once-for-all blood has been shed. And just as physical circumcision signified heart-circumcision (a present reality in the OT) so water baptism signifies Spirit-baptism, a reality present in both Old and New Testaments.

Again, Hicks points out debates among the Reformed to try and strengthen his own case but his camp is not in perfect harmony either. Baptist Paul K. Jewett regarding this issue in Colossians 2:12-13, in agreement with us and not Hicks says this:

 “the use of the aorist passives throughout the passage (περιετμηθητε, συνταφεντες, συνηγερθητε) makes it evident that to experience the circumcision of Christ, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, is the same thing as being buried and raised with him in baptism through faith. If this be true, the only conclusion we can reach is that the two signs, as outward rites, symbolize the same inner reality in Paul’s thinking. Thus circumcision may fairly be said to be the Old Testament counterpart of Christian baptism. So far, the Reformed argument, in our judgment, is biblical. In this sense ‘baptism,’ to quote the Heidelberg Catechism, ‘occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament.’” (Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, p. 89) See the same admission in David Kingdom, Children of Abraham, p. 54. ( I am indebted to Dr. Phil Kayser for drawing my attention to this quote years ago)

Therefore we believe that baptism replaces circumcision but not in such a way as to dismiss rich Biblical truth as Hicks suggests. We are taking into consideration every word that comes from the mouth of God.

THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE OF WORSHIP

In the next section Hicks points to supposed inconsistencies in Reformed practice especially in regard to the regulative principle (RP) of worship. He says that we contradict this principle by baptizing infants since there is no clear command to do so.

While Hicks draws our attention to this issue in connection to the RP we must also recognize that it is a hermeneutical issue. How do we really interpret the scriptures and the connection between the Old and New Testaments? The Reformed have essentially said that whatever is said in the Old remains in the New unless the contrary is clearly stated.

For example, we no longer offer blood sacrifices because these are clearly fulfilled in Christ and therefore, we must not offer up bulls and goats any longer.  Hicks and I would agree that this principle is essentially why we would say 2 of the 3 divisions of the Law (The Civil except for general equity and Ceremonial) are no longer mandatory under the NT. But, of course the moral law is! We are not looking for a fresh new command where it is not needed because OT commands and principles carry over to the New unless they have been specifically abrogated. It is there by way of implication since it is not forbidden. This would be true of including our children in the covenant and therefore giving them the covenant sign.

While Hicks is demanding a particular text or example which says, “Baptize your covenant children.” I am actually looking for a text or example that says, “no longer include your children in the covenant and no longer put the sign of the covenant on them because they no longer belong even though the New Covenant is better!” Do you see the difference?

Because of this solid hermeneutic principle, it is clear that children are never excluded in the New Covenant but rather they remain. And not only by way of implication but with great emphasis! Jesus invites the little children to come to him. Paul, writing to the Saints in Ephesus, mentions the children specifically. Paul calls the children of at least one believing parent “holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14) And not only that but in Acts we have numerous household baptisms which are in line with the OT pattern.

I don’t argue for or against infants being in those households because it is irrelevant. If they were in those households they would have been baptized. Why? Because the Lord has always dealt with households. This is one reason as to why my dear friend and father in the faith, Pastor Bill Shishko (who debated James White over this issue) prefers the phrase Oikos Baptisms. Household baptisms.

In this section Hicks tries to catch us in an inconsistency but he fails. We are not disregarding the need for a command because it is in fact clearly there. Not only by way of implication but clear continuation. Why should we not baptize households if Paul did? Why should we no longer tell parents that the promise is for them and their children if Peter did? Why should we exclude children from the church if Paul didn’t? Why should we keep the little infants (brephoi) from Jesus when he takes them up in his arms and blesses them? We are not the inconsistent ones.

Further, we could ask “where are women commanded to eat the Lord’s supper?” There is no single text and no example of any woman in the NT eating the Lord’s supper. Should we withhold it from them? Or where is an example of one single child of a believer later baptized after a profession of faith? There is no text and no example. Hicks is asking for more than he can bargain for.  If we need a specific text for everything in the NT then we will eventually find ourselves in trouble. The pattern of the OT stands unless clearly put to an end. There is no NT text that tells me to stop including my children in the covenant. Hicks argues this way because of his entire overarching framework. His view of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments brings him to this place. The Reformed view of the Old and New Testaments brings us to the opposite place.

Finally, notice how Hicks ends that section. He ends this section by essentially saying that children are not and cannot be disciples– well, not until they are old enough to confess faith and be baptized. Now who sounds like an Arminian? The Reformed see our children as disciples, born into our homes according to the wise providence of God, to be baptized and then taught the way of the Lord believing that if we “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6) Why? We believe that God will be God to us and our children as he has promised over and over again. 

SERIOUS INTERNAL INCONSISTENCIES IN THE PRACTICE OF REFORMED PAEDOBAPTISM

In the final section, Hicks tries to discredit the Reformed view through a series of questions designed to point out further inconsistencies..

Before I deal with the details, let me simply say that this really comes off as a last-ditch effort. Inconsistencies don’t necessarily make something not true. I have recently dealt with a man who tried to argue this way in regards to the doctrine of spiritual death. He pointed to nuances or inconsistencies or slight disagreements among different Reformed theologians (even Augustine) and from there he felt he had freedom to draw the conclusion that spiritual death was an absurd concept or idea. Yet, Mr. Hicks and I are surely in agreement that spiritual death is a truth taught in the scriptures (and very clearly in the Reformed tradition).  Many times what appear to be inconsistencies are revealed not to be after further study or they may reveal inconsistencies in the one making the accusation rather than in the thing being accused. All of that to say, inconsistencies are not the Achilles heel of an issue.

The first inconsistency he points out is:

Paedobaptists exclude unbelieving adult spouses from the covenant of grace, but under the old covenant, all those in the Israelite household, including both husbands and wives, were in the covenant, whether they believed or not.

Now, keep in mind that when Hicks uses the phrase “covenant of grace” he doesn’t mean what we mean as Reformed. He means “new covenant and elect only.” We make distinctions. Further, when he says “unbelieving adult spouses” what does he mean? This is a strawman simply due to the fact that an “unbelieving adult” in the OT could not simply exist among the people of God with no consequences. It is the first commandment after all and punishable by death. Even rebellious children were threatened with death. But this is connected to his view of the OT being a non-religious physical people. Unbelieving adults were not openly accepted into the Old Covenant anymore than we would welcome unbelieving adults into the New Covenant administration of the covenant of grace.

The entire nation and their land and all that they stood for was under the banner of the Lord. Death was the consequence for numerous sins and therefore, Hicks is wrong, to write as if “unbelief” was well received and unbelievers could just bounce into the covenant. Let us not forget that due to unbelief the Lord killed an entire generation in the wilderness. And due to their unbelief they were judged via Assyria and Babylon and Exile-death. Here Mr. Hicks is simply wrong in acting as if the Old Covenant welcomed unbelievers while the NC doesn’t. Neither covenant welcomed openly rebellious, unbelieving people.

But Hicks goes on:

Paedobaptists exclude household servants from the waters of baptism. But, in the old covenant, every male among you was to be circumcised, including servants, whether the servants believed or not.

Meredith Kline deals with this issue in Kingdom Prologue. The fact is, the covenantal arrangement functioned in a particular way in correlation with the culture and household arrangement of that time. Servants were part of the household and they were still when Paul was writing his epistles which is why he includes them in his household exhortations. If our culture’s households today were made up of Fathers, Mothers, children, and servants then there would be no problem baptizing all from that household.

But again, due to his first point I assume that Hicks assumes that these servants were unbelievers who were just present. Again, if he thinks that he is wrong. The servants within Israel in the land of promise were under the banner of the Lord. All people were expected to love and obey the Lord. All people were expected to believe and keep the commands of the Lord. 

His next two points are really no different than the others. These inconsistencies that he tries to point out are really nothing more than the fruit of his flawed view of the Old Testament. For example, Mr. Hicks says, “Paedobaptists look for a profession of faith from parents before baptizing their children. That is, they will only baptize the children of professing believers. But, that requirement is not revealed in either the OT or NT” and then later says, “Paedobaptists require adults to make a profession of faith prior to baptizing them, but no such profession was required in the old covenant.” But where does he get this? Abraham believed and was circumcised. Then, his children were circumcised and commanded to believe. Is this not the pattern that should run through the rest of OT? And the NT as well? If so, Hicks is dead wrong in denying the need for faith. Is he really saying that “faith” is not required in the OT? I want to give him charity and believe that he doesn’t actually mean that. But it does sound that way. But without faith no one can please God. All that is done without faith is sin. Unbelief resulted in 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and the death of an entire generation. Faith was clearly just as important in the OT as it is the NT.

Closing Words

I do hope that my response has been helpful in showing that Mr. Hicks’ article is not a nail in the paedobaptist coffin. My answers might not be the most sufficient responses to his well thought out article but at very least I hope that the reader can see that there are in fact answers and solutions to the issues he brings up.

I would like to end by pointing out that Mr. Hicks and I are functioning within two entirely different frameworks about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Mr. Hicks thinks that all of this is fatal to us only because he is using his own categories and his own distinctions and in doing this he cannot fathom how we can be right. But we aren’t using his categories and distinctions. 

And therefore, if he is really going to drive the fatal blow he will need to show how all of our categories and distinctions are wrong and unbiblical, which I do not think he can do. And so, having read his article, I am not persuaded. I will continue as a Reformed Paedobaptism holding to the WCF with one single covenant of grace administered in two distinct dispensations –both dispensations same in substance, requiring faith and the obedience of faith and with the promise “I will be God to you and your offspring after you.”

I appreciate Mr. Hicks, his ministry, and his article. I have learned much from him.  I write this as a loving brother in Christ, not as an enemy. I pray he will receive this friendly correction from a brother. I would love for him to join us in the Reformed view of the covenants, but even if not I know we will both stand before the face of our King in glory one day. Until that day, may God keep us and make his face shine upon us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s