Friday, 30 May 2008

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 5)

Denial. At which point the only rescue for the antipaedobaptist use of the nature of the NC is to deny that baptism is really baptism for the non-Elect. They get wet but you deny that they have been baptized. They take bread and wine but you deny that they have taken the body and blood of Jesus. At this point you have a New Covenant which dips in and out of relationship with covenant initiation, the covenant meal, covenant blessings and covenant threats.

Dr. Field's point here is that there he (he says) a problem which arises for the Baptist (or, to use Dr. Field's own polemical choice of terminology, "antipaedobaptist"), because we've got to say what happened at the baptisms of those who later turn out not to be truly converted. If baptism is only for the elect, and if a non-elect person goes through with the ordinance, what did they receive?

This is a common Federal Vision argument, but I confess that it leaves me totally unmoved. To the Reformed Baptist mind it addresses a non-problem. Is it meant to be a word game of some sort? Someone was baptised, but not really baptised - ha ha, gotcha, a formal contradiction? Dr. Field says that this leads to a New Covenant which "dips in and out of relationship", so this does indeed appear to be what he is saying: it leads to ambiguity.

The assumption that Dr. Field and other antiantipaedobaptists are making here and which is driving the argument, is that baptism must do something. Whoever is receiving it, in whatever condition they are in, whatever they understand by it and whatever reasons they ask for it: it must do something. Otherwise it would just, so the thinking goes, be in itself an empty ritual which we can't allow: maybe something more for certain recipients, but in itself a nothing. The Reformed antiantiantipaedobaptist though, here says "why can't we allow it? What's wrong with saying that the false believer got wet but didn't really receive any of the benefits which a believer who approaches the ordinance with faith receives?" It becomes clear, then, that what's driving the argument here is an assumed sacramentalism. Again, I point out that Dr. Field doesn't argue from Biblical texts, but from certain constructions of what the Covenant and its signs must be, which he then imposes upon the case.  Maybe a case for that kind of sacramentalism could be made from the Bible, and then examined and evaluated. In this post, though, Dr. Field is simply assuming his conclusions at the outset without making the arguments.

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