[!] Baptism and the Gospel

Alert reader Scott Moonen has been giving everyone a little steeple chase over the matter of Baptism in the Welty meta, and his last comment went something like this:
That brings me back to my question: I don't know how I'll discern conversion[emph added]. God has certainly blessed children with a disposition to trust their parents (wince, what a convicting thought). And it seems to me that this trust will in many cases give way to genuine childlike faith — in the way that a seed grows, rather than the way that supercooled water freezes. When does the seed become a tree? I'm not thinking semi-Pelagian here; it's clear that all children are helpless sinners in need of sovereign grace. But God has been kind to surround children of believers with many means of grace; and for a child, conversion may not be dramatic.

At this point, there's an FV argument concerning God's promises for our children's salvation, for those parents who walk in obedience and faith. Now if there's a chance that this is true then that's something worth looking into! But, rather than showing a hunger to understand the depth of God's goodness and faithfulness, most credobaptist treatments of this have seemed summarily dismissive to me.

But regardless of when childhood conversion occurs (there seem to be differences of opinion even among the FV folks), and whether it is a promise from God or merely the way that His grace ordinarily works, my question is still unanswered. Just how should the credobaptistic church discern when to allow baptism and communion? The longer we wait, the more it seems that we're asking for something more than childlike faith. But what, and why? And waiting might guard against false assurance, but doesn't it also deny powerful means of grace that God has provided for believers? Are we frustrating our children's faith in some way by asking more of them than we do for new converts, i.e., evidence of perseverence?

I know many long-time readers of this blog are wincing as they see this diagram, but I'm sure you have a callous from where we applied it the last time. This diagram is my little contribution to the world of emergent-bashing.

Here's what it says, in a nutshell: Jesus enters human culture – that's very standard incarnational thinking. The method of entry into culture is always the Gospel. The result of the Gospel in Culture is always the Church. The Church has two components: the immediate visible church, and the eternal, universal church. All the members of the universal church are saved. Not all the members of the visible church are saved.

I will be bold enough to say this about my diagram: both the paedo and credo agree that the visible church has both the wheat and the tares present. That is, the visible church has members who are elect and assuredly saved and members who are not elect and are not saved. Any credo who tells you he doesn't believe this doesn't know what he's talking about; any paedo who tells you he doesn't believe this probably going to tell you in his next breath that he believes in baptismal regeneration, and those are not the paedos we are talking about or to.

The reason that I provide this diagram is to point out that neither side of the argument that boils over here would tell you that their method of baptism keeps the church free from unbelievers. Both sides will tell you that what their method of baptism does is bring people into the church for the sake of discipling them to Christ. So rather than the pure gold which lies on the outside of the dotted line in my diagram, the church is full of gold mixed with impurities, bread mixed with leaven.

That's important because neither side is offering a sure way to know who is "converted" and who is not in baptism. The Baptist certainly doesn't say that all who are baptized are saved. The AA advocate doesn't say that all who are baptized are saved.

The problem is that the AA advocate does say that all who are baptized are inside the New Covenant. That is where this whole enterprise becomes extremely hairy. The AA advocate says that baptism is initiation into the church; the church is the New Covenant community; anyone inside the church is inside the New Covenant; some inside the New Covenant will break the New Covenant; those who break the New Covenant will not be saved.

This makes the good Baptist grind his teeth – because to hear the phrase "break the New Covenant" sounds exactly like the phrase "mistake in the Bible" or "sins that Jesus committed". It's a non-starter.

As an editorial comment on the AA position, I think it does this: it offers the superficial solace that we can place our children inside God's covenant in Christ's blood without offering the true solace of the New Covenant in Christ's blood. I'm sure I know what some would say to that, and I'd like them to say it in their own words before I offer much more on this today.