Monday, 26 May 2008

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 3)

(Part one, part two).

Point 6. then leads Dr. Field to the statement:
7. And this way you have category confusion and disconnect and denial and abstraction.
i.e., at this point, by admitting point 6, you've fallen into all kinds of miserable mistakes. How so? Dr. Field continues:
Since we do not have access to the list of the big-E Elect, we also do not have access to the list of NC members (when those members are identified with the Elect by making NC unbreakable). It was possible to have access to the list of OC members because OC membership was objectively, historically identifiable to finite human observers: it related to things like circumcision and sacrifice and sanctuary access and self-labelling and prophetic address.
(It's worth pointing out that the terminology of "big-E Elect" only has relevance under Dr. Field's own scheme, because the Reformed Baptist teaches that under the New Covenant the distinctions amongst God's people have been abolished: there is no longer any concept of members who know the Lord and those who don't, of outward and inward Christian, etcetera. Either one is elected to salvation and manifests that election in saving faith, or he isn't, and that's it.)

So, Dr. Field observes that no mortal man infallibly knows who the elect are - and as a consequence, no mortal infallibly knows the actual members of the New Covenant. He then argues that this was different to the Old Covenant. OK - yes. If you observed Isaac's birth then you'd have no doubt that Isaac was Abraham's son and part of the covenant. When covenant membership is transmitted through the first birth rather than the second, it's easy to spot the members. This contrast, though, is not absolute and entire. A man could impersonate an Israelite and claim the name and identity of someone else written in the genealogies. His great-great-great-great-grandmother could have hidden the fact that she cheated and that her son was illegitimate, and that therefore the next ten generations were not allowed to enter the Lord's gathering (Deuteronomy 23:2). An excommunicated son and his covenant-belonging twin could leave the country, and the excommunicated one could return and take the place of his twin - would you know? Even when these things depend only upon physical and not spiritual identification, we still don't arrive at 100% certainty. This is an important point to note, because Dr. Field is going to make an argument that brushes it under the carpet.
This means that where NC members = the Elect then you have:
Category confusion. OC is identified and functions at the level of historically observable categories of which we have knowledge and for which we have moral responsibility. But NC, in this scheme, is identified and functions at the level of the (to us) invisible and inaccessible decree for which we do not have moral responsibility.
This paragraph makes a classic paedobaptist error, by making a sudden leap. Having observed that we cannot infallibly identify the elect (or under his terminology, the big-E elect), Dr. Field then leaps across a chasm and makes a conclusion based upon the idea that the elect cannot be identified at all - they are invisible and inaccessible. Faith, though, is not to be described bluntly as "invisible and inaccessible", and no Baptist of any stripe ever did so. Faith works - it results in fruit (this is the argument of the book of James). He who has the seed of God in him will love his brother, obey his Lord's commandments and avoid sin - this is the argument of the first letter of John. It is impossible for faith to not change the one in whom it has been worked. To describe it as "invisible and inaccessible" is ridiculous.

Notice also how Dr. Field has white-washed over the point I made above. The black-and-white distinction that he makes can't work. If the fact that faith can be counterfeited or if we can make mistakes in identifying it is allowed to over-ride the fact that faith can be seen and to put it into the category of the "invisible and inaccessible", then in the same way the facts that 1) one's genealogy could be faked and that 2) a man's circumcision could have been performed in one of the surrounding heathen religions rather than in Judaism ought, for consistency's sake, to be allowed to also place the Old Covenant into the realm of the invisible and inaccessible. Dr. Field's argument requires this black-and-white, all-or-nothing dichotomy - which can't be made to work in practice. In practice, paedobaptist churches, when faced with an adult convert from the world, look for signs that he has true saving faith. What else can they do? I often find that Federal Vision proponents seem to face two ways at once: they argue that Christians are identified by baptism, but then when it comes to baptism instead of baptising indiscriminately everyone who asks for it they then look for another qualification, and that qualification is... genuine faith! So it seems that, when faced with practical cases instead of theoretical discussions, they do understand that even though you can't peer into someone's heart and have to look for a "credible profession"; but when it comes to theological argument, that goes out the window and the most amazing statements like the above can be made instead.

Another major point is that this argument of Dr. Field's is entirely a priori. That is, it requires in advance of any Biblical revelation or any decision of God, that it is actually impossible for God to have a covenant in the present age with the elect, without him also revealing a list from heaven of who the elect are. It actually charges not that the Reformed Baptist position is contrary to Scripture, but that it is logically impossible in advance of any other consideration. This is a huge argument to make, and the logical leap that Dr. Field makes goes nowhere in terms of actually substantiating it.

To be continued...

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