White / Strawbridge Debate Review – Part 1

I’m starting with Dr. James White’s opening statement. I found little in Strawbridge’s opening worth commenting on, except I do not understand the paedobaptist insistence on pushing the household argument.  In my opinion it ignores the much greater issue of the nature and consistency of the Covenant throughout God’s Word, and fails to address the Baptist’s weakest arguments.

“Promise of New Covenant comes about by faith not by family lineage.”

Yet the Apostle Peter states in Acts 2:39 – “the promise is for you and for your children…” If the New Covenant promise NO LONGER comes about by family lineage at all, Peter was wrong to quote the prophecy he did, yet Peter uses the “you and your children” formula seen throughout the giving of the covenants in the Old Testament.

While it is true that “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of promise who are considered offspring” (Rom 9:8), but this proves too much for the Baptist if they’re assuming that all of one’s offspring are specifically not included in the promise.  Every one who is baptized is promised that if they embrace the sign meaning of baptism by faith, they will enjoy the full benefits thereof.
“Reformed Baptists insist that only the “New Covenant documents” can properly interpet and apply the Old Covenant prophecies about the New Covenant.”

Herein is Dr. White’s first major presuppositional problem. While we would all agree that the “New Covenant” ‘documents’ are to interpret “Old Covenant” prophecies, to suggest that the New Testament alone is “New Covenant” is to wrongly divide the Scriptures. Like the Law and Gospel, the New Covenant echoes throughout the text from beginning to end. It is therefore wrong to assume that the only relevant texts to the New Covenant are found in the New Testament. This is a minor point however. A larger concern is how the line of reasoning that reads Hebrews 8 in this way and and makes it the governing hermeneutical lens for the rest of what even Hebrews says effects the larger intent of the author of Hebrews.

Hebrews 8… the supremacy and present reality of the New Covenant… no amount of Old Covenant sameness argumentation can be allowed to undo the author’s primary point.”

I would argue that the author of Hebrews primary point stated time and again throughout the book is not that the New Covenant is completely different from the old, but rather: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God… and “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

The author’s point is not that the New Covenant is made up of professing adults only, but rather that because the New Covenant is the final fulfillment of the Covenant promised to Abraham, we have a greater responsibility to be obedient to it by faith. There is a real commonality between the Old and the New Covenant, namely the reality of apostasy from the faith and a falling away from the covenant people of God and being cut-off by God from the promises found therein.

This is one of the reasons Baptists have such trouble with the warning passages in Hebrews. If the New Covenant is only spiritual covenant, made only with those who are truly regenerate and truly faithful, then the warning passages in Hebrews must be interpreted around that grid and the power thereof lost. This is why some Baptists have taken to calling the warning passages “hypothetical” or speaking of “false professors” rather than genuine members of the Covenant under wrath of God for their failure to fulfill the condition of the covenant.

We must remind Dr. White that the contrast between the covenants brought up in Hebrews 8 is not between the Covenant of Bethel and the New, but rather, and most specifically the covenant made when God “took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.”

“You don’t come up with an idea of covenant signs and then reason from there to the nature of the covenant, you start with what the Bible teaches about the covenant and then move downward from there.”

I would argue that we don’t come up with an idea of covenant signs and application by listening only to one part of God’s Word to the exclusion of the rest of His testimony and creating an idea about them in the absence of a majority of God’s testimony.

It would be fine if there was clear text in the “New Covenant documents” specifically discounting the rest of God’s testimony regarding how he commands covenant signs applied, but God has provided us vast testimony of how HE applies covenants and it is error to ignore them.

“We cannot begin with Old Covenant paradigms and applications and the force them onto the fuller New Covenant reality…”

Again, Dr White confuses all of the Old Testament with “Old Covenant paradigms.” The Old Covenant, according to the author of Hebrews, Paul and others, began with the Exodus from Egypt and not with Abraham in Bethel. This is the fatal flaw in the Baptist argumentation and a presupposition that must be questioned at every turn.

Covenantal “Continuationism”

After reading several threads online regarding ceassationism, the “Strange Fire” conference and a lot of Piper fan’s responses to it, I realized that one of the major problems with the whole discussion revolves around the Marcion-like view Baptists have of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan.

For dispensational Baptists, the church is a sidebar in God’s redemptive intent, thus God doesn’t have to operate the same way in the church as he did in the past to Israel. This can either lead one to posit that God is doing a new thing within the church and thus the Spirit is operating even more supernaturally than in the pre-Apostolic age, or one might claim (as some of the Macarthurites do) that God doesn’t work supernaturally hardly at all.  For either group, however, there’s a extreme difference in God’s working in the church era versus prior.

For so-called Reformed Baptists, those who recognize the covenantal structure of God’s redemptive plan but don’t see the unity within the covenantal structure, there exists also a substantial difference in how God operates toward his covenant people in the church era versus how he dealt with the patriarchs. Thus, Credobaptist cessationism (and/or continuation) therefore primarily rests in a substantive difference in the way God communicates to his covenant people and in the operation of his Holy Spirit.

While I believe Baptistic cessationism rightly notes that though God communicated to his people through prophets in visions and dreams until the end of the Apostolic era,  to suggest that this expresses an end of the prophetic gift altogether is perhaps misguided.

Firstly, I want to note that the terms continuationism and cessationism are problematic when speaking from a covenantal perspective.  Covenantally, the Holy Spirit has been operational in redeeming, regenerating, and preserving the elect from the beginning. The primary difference brought about by the Holy Spirit’s fall at Pentecost was not one of substance but rather of intent. The Spirit empowered the believers at Pentecost for the reformation and governing of God’s covenant people as the church, it also caused them to fulfill Isa 29:1-13, bringing judgment against unbelieving Israel. Thus tongues was a specifically time-limited gift, intended to warn Israel of judgment (1 Cor 14:20-22), and prophecy fore-telling nature was also time-limited as the nature of the Gospel was still being revealed to the Apostles.

Thus when we read the Romans 12 list of Spiritual gifts, we see a list of God’s gracious gifting to his covenant people for the organization and governing of the church. These same gifts operated within the covenant community in the Old Testament, though not always as visibly and continually as today. We still see prophecy listed therein, and while I acknowledge that the gift itself might be time limited (*see below), I tend to view it as referring to speaking God’s Word to his covenant people. Something that should be happening every time a teaching elder enters the pulpit to preach.

Thus the Reformed view of the Spirit’s work within his covenant people is not one primarily of change, or even cessation, rather of continuation and strengthening. God speaks today to his people through his gifted messengers, yet that message is always of Christ and his redemptive work on our behalf.  This is part of Paul’s often mentioned “mystery” the revealing of the Gospel and the unified covenant people of God.

We therefore need a different perspective on the nature of spiritual gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit within the church. While correction is certainly needed toward those ‘continuationists’ who cannot consistently maintain the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and who misunderstand the nature and purpose of tongues, I do not believe it can be rightly heard from those who likewise maintain a substantive difference in God’s covenant application.

Consider for a moment that the aforementioned gift-list found in Rom. 12 is current, and that each believer in the church has been gifted in some manner, as therein described, by the Spirit to accomplish the intended work of God in the church.  This means that when a pastor of a congregation speaks to God’s people on a Sunday morning, he’s doing so by the power and means of the Holy Spirit who has gifted him to speak God’s Word to His people, perhaps prophetically (*see below).   The Sunday school teacher is empowered by God to explain the Scriptures to his students. The person gifted with helps is able to compassionately help those in need, etc.  These are supernatural gifts even though they may appear as ordinary to us.

Thus the Reformed are truly continuationists, however, Biblical continuationists who recognize God’s intent in spiritual gifts.

If we view the church as a completely new body, unconnected covenantally to the former people of God, or if we view the church as tangibly different in nature than the Old Testament people of God (ie: made up of regenerate people only), then we will have a skewed understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work therein.

* Note:  I recognize that some argue for the end of the gift of prophecy per Hebrews 1, and I am willing to admit that possibility, however I tend to view prophecy as Calvin did:

“Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and all the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel.”

Calvin’s understanding of Romans 12, in fact, is an excellent argument for the supernatural nature of the gifts working in the church today. Calvin views the gifts in different categories as they apply to the governing of the church, the edification of the church and so on. 

Baptism Debates – Paedocommunion discussions

Found a great resource on these topics including debates and discussions:

9 November 2007 – Topic: BAPTISM
Click to listen to audio#33 – Baptism and the Covenant

Dr. Gregg Strawbridge and Dr. James White debate the issues of Baptism and the Covenant. Part 1 – 64 MIN; Part 2 – 73 MIN

13 December 2007 – Topic: BAPTISM
Click to listen to audio #36 – Believer’s Baptism

Dr. Thomas Schreiner

3 January 2008 – Topic: Baptism
Click to listen to audio#40 – Why Baptize Babies?

Pastor Mark Horne


14 November 2006 – Topic: COMMUNION
Click to listen to audio#3 – Introduction to Covenant Communion

Covenant Communion is discussed with Pastor Gregg Strawbridge. 63 MIN

 29 April 2009
Click to listen to audio#77 – Children at the Lord’s Table?

Dr. Cornelis Venema

14 November 2006 – Topic: COMMUNION
Click to listen to audio#3 – Introduction to Covenant Communion

Covenant Communion is discussed with Pastor Gregg Strawbridge. 63 MIN


25 June 2007
Click to listen to audio#87 – Recovering the Reformed Confession

Dr. R. Scott Clark joins Covenant Radio to discuss his book Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice

Baptism and Communion… Circumcision and Passover

My friend, Turretinfan has posted a response to Dr. White who wrote in response to R Scott Clark’s reponse to my last post. (Got it?) In this post, Turretinfan states:

The unbloody sign of baptism replaces the bloody sign of circumcision (just as the unbloody Lord’s Supper replaces the bloody Passover).

 Therefore, if you’re keeping score, circumcision = baptism, passover =Lord’s Supper.

Now, most Paedobaptists (specifically Reformed ones) baptize infants on the basis of the infants inclusion in the covenant of grace via the infant’s parent’s faith. That is, because of Federal Headship, that is, because the federal head (father) of the household is a believer all those in the household should be baptized. This concept came out in the debate between Pastor Bill Shisko and Dr. White a while back. Pastor Shisko stated that because the father of a household believed, everyone in the household should be baptized, regardless of faith (including teenaged unbelievers.)

However, when it comes to the Supper, these same folks note that Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 11 that those who partake of the Supper are to do so in a worthy manner and that “he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly”. Their claim is therefore that since Scripture demands that one be able to “judge the body rightly” (NASB) and those who partake without “discerning the body” (ESV) do in fact “eats and drinks judgment on himself”. Thus they view that only those who have professed faith and are able to “discern the body” are proper recipients of the Supper.

The report by the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) on Paedocommunion of 1987 also makes the connection of Communion to the Passover stating (this report was not adopted by the OPC):

The Passover was in some sense transformed into the Lord’s Supper.

In the words of institution our Lord transformed the words used at the covenant-instituting meal at Sinai (Ex. 24). (one exception)…

Children did participate in the first Passover, and were at least permitted to participate in subsequent celebrations of it, while in the New Testament there is no explicit prohibition or command regarding the participation of children in the Lord’s Supper. (one exception)

The interchangeability of Old Testament and New Testament sacramental terminology demonstrates the fundamental unity of the covenant (and its sacraments). Cf. I Cor. 5:7; 10:2; Col. 2:11

As there was a definitive Passover and then a commemorative, so there was a definitive Lord’s Supper and then a commemorative; in both cases the latter was the celebration of an accomplished redemption.

It should be clear therefore that Presbyterians (and the Dutch Reformed who argue likewise) view Communion as the fulfilled type of Passover. Note also that this report recognizes that children partook of passover and that the OT and NT sacramental terminology is interchangeable and there is “fundamental unity of the covenant (and its sacraments).  Yet they recognize that 1 Corinthians 11 requires some responsibility on the part of the partaker to “discern the body”, that is that the elements being served are representations of Christ’s shed body and blood and in such are holy things that God uses as means of grace to His people.

[ Baptists who have trouble with this last bit should take into account Keach’s Catechism, a baptist catechism created by one of the writers of the London Baptist Confession of Faith wherein he writes:

Q. 95. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

Q. 98. How do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation?
A. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in him that administers them, but only by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them.

Q. 99. Wherein do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper differ from the other ordinances of God?
A. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper differ from the other ordinances of God in that they were specially instituted by Christ to represent and apply to believers the benefits of the new covenant by visible and outward signs.

The Baptists of the 17th century had no difficulty with covenantal and sacramental language as commonly used by their paedobaptist brethren. I encourage Baptist believers to read Keach’s Catechism as well as the LBCF if this terminology troubles them.  ]

Within the past few decades the debate within Protestant Paedobaptist circles over the issue of paedocommunion has been no small matter. No less than R. C. Sproul Jr., son of respected Presbyterian pastor, teacher and Reformed celebrity R.C. Sproul, has taken the position that consistent understanding of covenantal theology requires paedocommunion as the counterpart to paedobaptism. That is, if baptism is the circumcision of the New Covenant and the Lord’s Supper is the Passover of the New Covenant, and if infants and children were the right recipients in the Old Covenant administration, then they are the proper recipients of the means of grace in the New Covenant administration. They believe therefore that since federal headship is the means by which a infant is considered the proper subject of baptism, and since both baptism and the Supper are “means of grace”, and since the Old Testament pattern is that infants and children were proper subjects of both circumcision and the passover, they should likewise be the proper subjects of the New Covenant fulfillment of those types. The “Federal Vision” movement reignited this debate to some extent with many of whom this label has been applied to taking the paedocommunionist viewpoint. 

We Baptists agree with our paedobaptist brethren of the anti-paedocommunion stripe in this one point, that faith is in fact a requirement for communion. 1 Corinthians 11 clearly expresses the view that one must be able to generally understand what is going on to be considered a right recipient of the elements.

We however believe that the Scriptural pattern, time and again is that one is to “believe and be baptized” (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38 , Acts 8:12, Acts 18:8, etc.) and that one is to “repent and be baptized”. We do not believe that Acts 2:39, usually partially quoted, provides any support for the view that faith is not a requirement of baptism. In fact, we note that there is much, much more support in Scripture for the view that faith is a requirement of baptism than there is for faith being a requirement of the Supper. If one is just looking content-wise, the number of verses relating baptism and faith far outnumber those for faith and communion.

That said, one must wonder why, if one can have the sign and seal of the New Covenant administered to them without their believing, and in fact (as some argue) even if they’re unbelieving members of a believing household, on the basis of federal headship, why federal headship does not apply in the one sign that Christ Himself calls “the New Covenant in my blood”. Why, if federal headship alone dismisses all the requirements of faith for baptism in Scripture does it not also apply to the Supper? Surely the faith of the federal head of the family, and their ability to discern the body, can apply for the Supper as well as baptism?

Why is there unity in the sign of circumcision but disunity in the sign of passover? Why are infants and children denied these means of grace?

I would like to suggest that it is simply inconsistent for paedobaptists to administer baptism to their children on the basis of federal headship and yet deny them the body and blood of our Savior. I would also like to suggest that this inconsistency shows a major crack in their argument for paedobaptism, for when it comes to the Supper they argue like Baptists demanding evidence of faith before allowing them at the table.

Dr. White, in his debate with Pastor Shisko asked about the nature of the New Covenant and why infants and children baptized therein are lost if they truly considered “in” the New Covenant. I don’t believe he got an adequate answer then. I also note that a post-debate follow-up in the New Horizons magazine Pastor Shisko wrote:

We should stop using the term “paedobaptism” (baptism of infants) and use the more biblical expression “oikobaptism” (baptism of households). The point is not that infants were baptized in the New Testament, but that whole households were baptized…. Certainly in the missionary context of Acts, there had to be faith in new converts to Christianity before they could receive the sign and seal of Christian baptism (in the same way that Abraham received the sign and seal of circumcision only after he believed the promises of God, Rom. 4:11-12). But even as whole families were received as part of the covenant people in all previous ages, so that pattern continues in the New Testament. If, in fact, this household principle was abrogated in the new covenant, one would not expect the household formula to be used as it is in the New Testament.

Yet in the very next month’s issue the following was written by James T. Dennison about paedocommunion:

But we dare not admit children without a credible profession of faith. Far from bestowing privileges of blessing upon them, to do so is to hang millstones about their necks.

In that same issue Stuart R. Jones wrote:

Precisely how much discernment a child is capable of and how much understanding is necessary for worthy participation is another matter. The new covenant is simultaneously more accessible and deeper than the old covenant. The demands of the new law are simpler and more far-reaching as the royal law of love. The call to daily cross-bearing is more far-reaching than rabbinic parsing of Old Testament law.

The strange, inconsistent nature of this argument should be evident without much further posting. Even though there is not a single verse in Scripture commanding, commending or even suggesting the baptism of infants, and in fact many, many verses clearly stating the pattern of “believe and be baptized”, paedobaptists argue that infants and children should be baptized in the New Covenant because they were circumcised in the Old. And yet, though infants and children partook of the passover meal in the Old Covenant, since there is one passage stating that one should “discern the body” as a requirement for partaking the Supper, they bar the table to infants.

Finally, I want to note the nature of the paedobaptist argument against the Baptist position. As seen in R. Scott Clark’s replies to my previous post, there seems to be a lot of rhetorical dishonesty in regard to how Baptists both view other believers and their own children. Just as Clark declared that ” According to the Baptists I’m not a Christian” Pastor Shisko calls into doubt the Baptist’s love and care for their children, or belief in the saving nature of the New Covenant saying “Baptist views cannot account for the language used of children in the New Testament. While it is true that Jesus did not baptize little children, what did he mean when he took little children and said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven”” and “On a Baptist model, how is it that children are included among “the saints” in Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20 (cf. Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2)?”. Both of these men have enough contact with Reformed Baptists to know that these statements and these questions are illegitimate. Reformed Baptists believe that Protestant Paedobaptists are believers, we also believe that God saves children of believers by the same power that raised Christ from the dead, with or without their baptism or partaking of the Supper. Again, Baptists believe that their children may in fact be members of the New Covenant, we do not require a profession of faith to “prove that one is elect” or “regenerate”, rather, we note the clear pattern of Scripture that those who profess faith are the proper recipients of both baptism and the Supper. Furthermore we suggest that, given the nature of their argument against paedocommunion they recognize that our argument against paedobaptism is identical in nature. Thus either their argument against our position is untenable or their argument against paedocommunion is, but they cannot have it both ways.


I found another article by R. Scott Clark on infant baptism in which he states:

Passover (like the other feasts) differed from circumcision, however, in the same way that baptism and the LORD’s supper differ: circumcision, the first covenant sign was applied to infants and adults alike, and was a mark of entrance into God’s covenant people. The Passover feast was restricted to those who are able to understand God’s redeeming acts because it was a sign designed to nurture and lead to growth.

 Yet the OPC states:

Children did participate in the first Passover, and were at least permitted to participate in subsequent celebrations of it.

Who is right?