In the introduction of To A Thousand Generations, Douglas Wilson is blunt about what he’s trying to do. “I must confess on the outset that this short book seeks to persuade others.” Throughout the introduction as well, Wilson discusses what kinds of arguments he will not use, and the kinds of arguments he will use, and who his intended audience is. This is always important to note because it will generally have influence upon the type of arguments he is defending against.
One such argument is that of nominalism. I have not heard it used, but most certainly understand it being used since the common experience of many evangelicals is that the people they know who baptize their infants are Roman Catholics. And the vast majority of Roman Catholics they know are nominal Catholics. At least that I know.
So Wilson seeks to address those who are serious about their faith, who believe in believers baptism, and who want to guard against nominalism. I would like to do all three, though I don’t think baptizing infants is something that leads to nominalism. However, this still makes it a book aimed towards me, albeit it not generally who Wilson may have in mind.
Wilson is also careful to distinguish himself from those who baptize their infants for reasons other than the ones he does. In Roman Catholicism the belief is that baptism regenerates the infant. However, many do not baptize their infants within Roman Catholicism because of that reason since they don’t know that doctrine at all. But Wilson wants to distinguish himself from any form of what he’d call unbiblical infant baptism.
Then Wilson makes a strong statement on page nine: “in arguing for biblical infant baptism, it is not sufficient for us to say that infant baptism is merely consistent with the Scriptures, or that a biblical case can be made for it. In order for us to be satisfied that we are being biblical Christians, we must be content with nothing less than a clear biblical case requiring infant baptism. In a doctrinal matter of this importance, the standards of evidence are high.”
I would agree and echo this statement. And the reason I would echo this is because generally what we practice is usually an outworking of our theology. Which is why this debate is debated, because it generally involves much more than just applying water to someone.
Right after this statement the debate begins and Doug is already trying to persuade you. Here is what I’m talking about.
“Historically, the debate between baptists and covenantal paedobaptists has revolved around the two initiatory rites of circumcision and baptism, and has concerned how much continuity or discontinuity there is between the Levitical administration of the law and the New Covenant.”
This is at the very heart of the debate, however, I’d like to demonstrate how he is already arguing based off of certain assumptions. This is a short work and that means skipping over clarity in many parts, but when he says “two initiatory rites of circumcision and baptism” I would like to know what he means by initiatory rites. Circumcision didn’t bring you into the Mosaic covenant, the covenant God made with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Circumcision was a sign, and if you weren’t circumcised you’d be cut off from the people, but also if you didn’t do a host of other things you’d be cut off from the people. Like working on the Sabbath or dishonoring your parents. So I’d have to understand how he defines initiatory and rites. If he means that generally they were among the first acts of obedience among those to whom these were given, then I would generally agree.
Wilson also rightly points out that both sides agree there is discontinuity among the Old Covenant (Mosaic) and the New Covenant. However, he then concludes that the debate is reduced to how much discontinuity there is and continues on because there is no explicit example of the baptism of an infant in the New Testament.
I agree with him in part. I don’t think it’s simply the amount of discontinuity between the testaments or covenants. I believe it comes down the nature of the covenants. The discontinuity is the fruit of the nature of the two covenants. But the fact he conceded that there is no explicit example of a baptism of an infant in the New Testament makes his case much more difficult to surmount. To concede here means that he is going to have to argue in a different fashion, which generally means taking Old Testament types and shadows and positing them into the New Testament. And as I’ve already pointed out, it seems there are assumptions being made that I believe where the debate truly lays, and I believe Wilson also agrees where the debate lays. It lays with the nature of the covenants.
Wilson also points out that we need to start the debate with the understanding that Gods commands to parents are the same, and his promises to parents are the same from the Old Testament to the New. I haven’t studied this subject enough but I have to generally agree. I have read his book, Standing on the Promises and found much of it helpful and useful. It may be good for me to go over that book again, but for now I’d endorse the book and agree with much of what he said. However, I don’t think that since the commands and promises may remain the same in general to parents under both Covenants, this means therefore baptize your infants. I don’t believe Wilson believes this either, since he points out that regardless whether you baptize your infants or not, we must understand what God wants us to do as parents. Which I say amen. It is far better to know what God requires us as parents to do for our children rather than spend most of our time studying if one of those things is or isn’t baptism.
Wilson also rightly points out that our doctrine of baptism should come from our doctrine of the covenants. Many Christians do simple just read the New Testament, find any reference to baptism, and then make conclusions from there. Though I believe that these Christians would come to the conclusions that the New Testament would want one to come to about if baptism is for believers or for both believers and infants of believers, the richness of the Old Testament and all it has to offer the Christian is important and should not be ignored because it too is the word of God.
Many Christians today don’t even think that God works in history through covenants he makes with people or peoples. They have a shallow view of how God works, and that it is somewhat arbitrary and God just picks a time and works that way until he chooses to work differently. However, when we read the Bible, we see God moves in history by making covenants with people that lead to the birth of the messiah.
God makes a covenant with Adam. That covenant gets broken, and then he lays curses upon Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. Among these curses is the promise of a Messiah. One who will crush the head of the Serpent. Then God makes a covenant with Noah and the earth, that he will never flood the earth again. This he does because Noah was righteous, but also because the head of the serpent still hadn’t been crushed, the messiah still hadn’t come.
Then God makes a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then Moses, and then David. All this leads to the New Covenant. Each covenant building up to and pointing to the messiah.
All this to say, most Christians see the Old Testament as dimly as many of the people within the Old Testament saw. Yet Christians know the messiah. So why is this? I believe it’s because we haven’t, as Wilson points out, studied the host of other issues: Covenant, circumcision, Jews, Gentiles, generations, promises, parents, and a host of other issues (11).
Wilson also in this chapter points out that there is also something that prevents many evangelical Christians from even wanting to listen to fellow Christians who do baptize their infants. The reason is it smells too much like Roman Catholicism. And since Roman Catholicism is a false gospel, they believe anyone else practicing what Roman Catholics practice must be wrong as well.
But even that line of thinking is faulty because Roman Catholics practice hospitality, kindness, gratitude, and generosity. So just because a Roman Catholic may practice it doesn’t mean it’s wrong on bad. So we must allow others to speak for themselves and not assume just because X reminds you of Y that therefore X is Y. You thinking its the same doesn’t make it the same.
In summary, I find the introduction good and demonstrating who Wilson is talking to. I will not be satisfied if he or any other paedobaptist can make a biblical case for infant baptism. I will be satisfied with no less than it being a requirement from God. We must as parents obey God in all things, and therefore ought to obey all God’s command for us as parents. We can’t let prejudice keep us from studying these issues. We must not fear hearing arguments from another perspective, but be mature in our thinking. And this issue is much bigger than baptism, since baptism has to do with Gods New Covenant, and we need to know what covenants are and what this means for us.
In the next blog on Infant Baptism, I’ll be diving into chapter one.