Category Archives: Theology

Who Participates in the Lord’s Table? A Covenantal Defense of Credobaptism

This is the third in a five-part series titled A Covenantal Defense of Credobaptism. It is a lightly-edited version of a paper I submitted for the Westminster seminary course Doctrine of the Church.

Introduction
Who Participated in the Passover Meal?
Who Participates in the Lord’s Table?
Who Participated in Circumcision?
Who Participates in Baptism?

Who Participates in the Lord’s Table?

Moving to the Lord’s Table we see it, “demands a twofold condition: a preceding in examination; a concomitant in a commemoration of the death of Christ, both of which presuppose the use of reason,”1 while its predecessor, the Passover meal, was celebrated by those without that capacity. Though entire households participated in the Passover meal (and ate the manna in the wilderness if John 6 is read as relating to the Lord’s Table2) the new covenant adds a stipulation which prohibits children from participation: regenerate self-examination.

In what is likely their strongest argument against paedocommunion, covenant theologians argue that Continue reading Who Participates in the Lord’s Table? A Covenantal Defense of Credobaptism

Who Participated in the Passover Meal? A Covenantal Defense of Credobaptism

This is the second in a five-part series titled A Covenantal Defense of Credobaptism. It is a lightly-edited version of a paper I submitted for the Westminster seminary course Doctrine of the Church.

Introduction
Who Participated in the Passover Meal?
Who Participates in the Lord’s Table?
Who Participated in Circumcision?
Who Participates in Baptism?

I encourage you to read the introductory post again as I made an error in the statement of the Presbyterian position. This error does not affect the substance of the post but I do not want to present an inaccurate view.

Children Participated in the Passover Celebration

In examining the manner in which the sacraments transition from Old to New covenants we will first examine the movement of Passover to Lord’s Table. The paedobaptist position relies on the assumption that unregenerate children did not participate in the Passover. Covenant theologians deal with the question of the participants of the Passover meal in several way:

First, Hodge leaves the question untreated in his systematic theology. Second, in perhaps the majority stance, some assert that children did not participate in the Passover. Turretin states, “[circumcision] was administered to infants and [the Passover] to adults alone.”1 As we will see this bald assertion will not stand.

Second, Calvin argues, “The passover, for which the Supper is substituted, did not admit all kinds of guests promiscuously, but was duly eaten only by those who were of an age sufficient to ask the meaning of it (Exod. 12:26).”2 Even so, this argument is not “so very clear and obvious” as Calvin would like. Even if granted in its entirety, Calvin’s position, by his own admission, requires the participation of children who explicitly do not know the content of their faith’s most central celebration. Nowhere in the text is the Passover restricted to older children. Rather, the natural reading of the passage in its Hebrew context would put in view a picture where year by year children aged into understanding the Passover tradition observed by the whole family.

Third, perhaps the best supporter of Calvin’s position argues, “It is not at all clear that children participated in the Passover meal… For example, Exodus 12:26 tells us that the children would ask their parents, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ If they had participated, it would make more sense to say, ‘What do we mean?'”3 The Greek tradition helps interpret this verse in concert with the familial setting already in view in the surrounding context. It omits any second person reference: “Τίς ἡ λατρία αὕτη” and could very likely be translated, “What does this festival mean?”.4 The Hebrew translation, “What is the meaning of this ritual,”5 which eliminates the distancing language of the second person, is preferred. Even if granted in its entirety, however, this does not require that children did not participate. Rather, it means that children asked the head of the household what he was doing as he led the family through the Passover remembrance. Even if we give it the most generous reading, the most this argument can say is that this particular passage is indeterminate on the question of children physically participating in the Passover.

Fourth, Bavinck argues that the later celebration in Exodus 23:17, excluding children, should govern our interpretation of the inaugural Passover.6 This interpretation is not only a backwards reading of the text but, by that logic, adult women would also be excluded from the Lord’s Table as they too did not celebrate the Passover. The later movement to solely men celebrating the Passover should not be viewed as fencing away children. Rather, “the heads of families (all the men) would stand to worship,” as representatives of the whole family.7

The continuity of participants is of particular importance to this discussion. The weight of biblical evidence suggests that, even though children are not to partake of the Lord’s Table, they did participate in the Passover meal. The lamb was for the entire household (Ex 12:4) and the children who did not yet understand their faith were involved in the celebration (Ex 12:26).

Even Without the Meal Children Were Participants in The Passover

More importantly, even if these criticisms of infant participation in the Passover meal are correct, they uniformly miss a critical fact: Even if children didn’t physically consume the meal itself they were certainly beneficiaries of the realized redemption symbolized and were therefore participants in the sacrament’s substance. While obviously not in every case, there is no question that, in many Hebrew families, the sparing of the firstborn had in view a child too young to trust Yahweh. Even if they did not physically eat the meal they were participants in the event since they were the objects of God’s realized redemptive action.

Conclusion

In summary:

  1. There is no compelling reason to believe children too young for faith were excluded from participation in the Passover meal. In fact, there is good reason to believe they did partake in the celebration.
  2. Even more, they absolutely received the actual redemption symbolized by the meal and were therefore participants in the essence of the sacrament.

Citations:

  1. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997), 416.
  2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997), 4:16:30.
  3. “Theses on Paedocommunion: A Defense of the Historic Reformed Position.” New Southern Presbyterian Review 2005, Vol. 3 (2), 57.
  4. Noel D. Osborn and Howard A. Hatton, A Handbook on Exodus, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1999), 289.
  5. Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus, The Old Testament Library (Louisville, Kentucky: The Westminster Press, 1974), 200.
  6. Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 583.
  7. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 537.

A King Sends His Son Who Is Also A King

Michael Kruger’s post about substitutionary atonement at The Gospel Coalition got me to reading an early Christian document called The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus. In chapter 7 of the letter we read this wonderful description of Christ.

I’m seeing big influences here from Paul (especially Colossians), and possibly John. What do you think?

(The quote for this post’s title comes from the final paragraph.)

God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.

He did not, as one might have imagined Continue reading A King Sends His Son Who Is Also A King

A Covenantal Defense of Credobaptism – Introduction

Update: I made a mistake when I first produced the tables in this article. I incorrectly listed the Presbyterian position as believing that children participated in the Passover meal. This is the position I will argue that they should believe, not the one they hold.


I am a credobaptist. That means I believe baptism is only for regenerate Christians who can articulate a confession of personal faith. That excludes infant baptism (paedobaptism). Being a credobaptist at a Presbyterian seminary causes some interesting discussions.

I didn’t want to be that guy who came to Westminster and wrote the paper on credobaptism. I was happily working on a paper about church membership when we got to discussions of the sacraments in the Doctrine of the Church course. I was so underwhelmed by the defense of paedobaptism that I felt moved to petition to switch paper topics. Eight days(!) before the paper deadline Dr. Garner approved my request and I started a new paper.

Presbyterians have typically charged Baptists with not paying careful enough attention to covenant theology when arguing for credobaptism. This was also one of Dr. Garner’s points of focus so I decided to attempt a covenantal defense of credobaptism. That means I focused primarily on Presbyterian sources to the exclusion of fine credobaptist sources (e.g. Wellum). This was due both to the short time I had after switching topics and a page-limit restriction.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to post the core argument of my paper. I don’t expect it to revolutionize the field but  I hope it makes people think about covenant theology and baptism. In fact, having not spent time interacting with credobaptist scholars, I don’t even know if my argument is original. Here is the core argument: Continue reading A Covenantal Defense of Credobaptism – Introduction

The Claims Both of Justice & Mercy Satisfied

I’m putting the finishing touches on a sermon about the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22) for tomorrow morning and wanted to share this tremendous quote. It’s a meditation on how only Yahweh could bring together the conflicting demands of mercy and justice perfectly:

The teaching of the ark in this respect was, primarily, that of David in the eighty-fifth psalm: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Mercy without justice is a weak sentimentality, subversive of moral order. Justice without mercy is a moral severity—theoretically without a flaw, but revolting to man’s instinctive feelings. The synthesis of the two is required. The law, enshrined in the holiest place of the sanctuary, vindicated the awful purity and perfection of God. The mercy seat, extended above the law, assigned to mercy its superior directive position. The cherubic figures showed the gaze of angels riveted in astonishment and admiration on God’s mode of uniting mercy with justice, by means of vicarious suffering, which he can accept as atonement. Finally, the Divine presence, promised as a permanent thing, gave God’s sanction to the expiatory scheme, whereby alone man can be reconciled to him, and the claims both of justice and of mercy satisfied.

H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Exodus, vol. 2, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 251.

In the Ark of the Covenant justice (the tablets of the law) and mercy (the mercy seat) come together. They point forward to the day when God the Son would bear the wrath of justice due us so we could receive the mercy he lovingly bestows.

Are You Reformed?

“Are you reformed?”

I get that question quite a bit as a Baptist attending a Presbyterian seminary (Westminster). It’s a tough question to answer. My answer depends on the context: What does “reformed” mean to the person asking the question?

What “Reformed” Used to Mean

“Reformed” properly refers to:

  • The theological heritage of John Calvin, the Synod of Dort, and the Westminster Confession
  • A commitment to covenant theology, including pedobaptism
  • Belief in predestination and reprobation (i.e. TULIP, commonly called Calvinism)
  • A preoccupation with the glory of God
  • A preoccupation with the sovereignty of God
  • A commitment to redemptive-historical hermeneutics (The whole focus of this website.)

As a credobaptist I can’t say that I’m in that heritage. However… that doesn’t mean I’m not reformed. It depends on the situation.

What “Reformed” Means Today

Like the term “evangelical” the meaning of “reformed” is changing. In the west today “reformed” theology has lost the implications of covenant theology, pedobaptism, and its credal heritage.

Today “reformed” has typically dropped the first two criteria and simply means: Continue reading Are You Reformed?

The Gospel In Real Life

I am enjoying the current issue of Themelios. The article Do The Work of an Evangelist by D.A. Carson is truly excellent. It ties closely to the main theme of Armchair Theology so here is an excerpt with my commentary.

For some Christians, “the gospel” (equivalently, “the evangel”) is something you preach only to unconverted people. The gospel merely tips people into the kingdom; transformation and sanctification are sustained by discipleship. Once people become Christians, then the work of life transformation begins, often buttressed by various discipleship seminars: “Biblical Leadership,” “Learning to Pray,” “What to Do with Your Money,” “Christian Marriage,” and so forth—none of which falls under “gospel,” but only under post-gospel discipleship.

One of my main goals is to see the gospel applied to all life – especially growth in holiness:

In recent years, however, many preachers and theologians have convincingly argued that “gospel”/“evangel” is the larger category under which both evangelism and discipleship fall. In the NT, gospel is not everything—it is not law, for instance—but it is a very big thing, precisely because it is the unimaginably great news about what God is doing in and through King Jesus, especially in and through his cross and resurrection. A careful reading of Scripture shows how often Christian conduct is grounded in the gospel itself.

This was a game-changer for me a few years ago. Every time we see a command in the Bible it is prefaced with the gospel message. This isn’t limited to just the New Testament. Read Ex 20:2 and see how the ten commandments are prefaced with a message of God’s saving work for his people.

For instance, the gospel is to be obeyed (e.g., 2 Thess 1:8); certain behavior conforms to the gospel, while other behavior does not (1 Tim 1:10–11). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25)—transparently, this is a gospel appeal. In short, in the NT the gospel is preached both to unbelievers and to believers. It calls unbelievers to repentance and faith; it calls believers to ongoing faith and conformity to Jesus.

Gospel ministry is ministry that is faithful to the gospel, that announces the gospel and applies the gospel and encourages people to believe the gospel and thus live out the gospel.


Further Reading: