Today we continue and respond to the second of the anti-paedobaptists arguments.
2. Infant baptism is not consistent with the nature of the Church.
In an earlier post, I dealt with the relation between our view of the Church and our view of the sacraments. This objection to the practice of paedobaptism is a perfect demonstration of that point. As we noted in that earlier post, there are two basic views of the Church. One the one hand there are those who view the Church in a strict sense and are therefore exclusive when it comes to membership. They confuse the Visible Church for the Invisible Church. The result of this view is a strict process of membership, at least, and a stricter process of admission to the sacraments. As an aside, it is interesting to me that the ones who fight so fiercely for absolute guarantees of regeneration before admission to the sacraments are also the ones who usually reject the term "sacrament" and its inherent theological meaning in favor of the watered down "ordinance."
Back to the point. Baptism is, among other things, the rite of admission into the Church. If we view the Church as a community of no-doubt-about-it regenerate believers - which must be proven to be so before admission to membership, then our doctrine of baptism will follow suit, and the only live option is believer's baptism. However, if we view the Church as the Covenant community then our admission to membership is based on covenant, not election. No matter what any Baptist tells you, the minister always baptizes upon presumption. No one but God can see the heart of the person being baptized, hence there are no 100% guarantees that the one being baptized will not apostatize later on, demonstrating that he/she was never elect in the first place. Requiring a regenerate membership violates the Word of God. In the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, the tares are sown “among the wheat” (Matthew 13:25). The field where this all happens is the world, (Matthew 13:38) but the tares are actually in the Kingdom. The angels are commanded to weed OUT of the KINGDOM everything that causes sin and all who do evil (Matthew 13:41). The Baptist in his zeal for a "pure church" would pull up weak believers along with the tares. To which plan Christ replies, "No. You may pull up some wheat while you attempt to remove the tares. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:28-30).
"What about the Church that is without spot or blemish?" you ask. That is God's prerogative. Paul said that not all Israel was Israel. Membership in the Church does not indicate, nor does it guarantee election. Covenant is not coextensive with election. We are not to deny access to the covenant because we cannot ascertain one's election. Not only is this presumptuous to the Nth degree, but it requires insight into men's hearts that no one but the Omnipotent God possesses. We may frequently be mistaken about men's hearts and the people we admit to membership. Paul warned of "wolves" (Acts 20:29, 30). His solution was not hoops of fire to jump through, but prayerful vigilance (Acts 20:28). Corinth is a case in point. They had a righteous remnant, despite the fact that there were those who drunks, adulterers and some who even denied the resurrection of the body.
This does not negate the need nor the practice of church discipline as 1 Corinthians 5 clearly demonstrates. People who deny the faith by rejecting clear biblical truth or by an unrepentant way of life, and continue as such must be put out of the Church. But the Church may not exclude others; her doors must be open to all.
How then do we maintain the purity of the Church? By affirming that the sacraments are means of grace. Word and Sacrament - that's how. These two ordinances (I use the term with utmost caution), i.e., Word and Sacrament are a means of grace to the elect and they are simultaneously purgative to the reprobates.
In the Lord's Table true believers receive the Lord Jesus, really and truly. Those however, who rebel against God receive his curse, which may include sickness and death (1 Corinthians 11:39). The preaching of the Word creates faith in Jesus Christ, but it also repels hypocrites. Paul claimed that it was the odor of life or of death (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16). Those who are being saved will smell the sweet fragrance of life in the preaching of the Word. Those who are perishing (not the present progressive tense) will smell nothing but the death of their own rotting corpses.
Formal church discipline is likely to be rarely necessary in a congregation where the whole council of God is preached. Sound preaching of the Word drives out the self-righteous who know nothing of the grace of God. For the reprobate Word and Sacrament function as a curse and a condemnation. John Calvin comments on 2 Corinthians 2:12-17:
He, accordingly, replies, that faithful and upright ministers of the gospel have a sweet odor before God, not merely when they quicken souls by a wholesome savior, but also, when they bring destruction to unbelievers. Hence the gospel ought not to be less esteemed on that account. “Both odors,” says he, “are grateful to God—that by which the elect are refreshed unto salvation, and that from which the wicked receive a deadly shock.”
. . . for God is glorified even in this, that the Gospel becomes an occasion of ruin to the wicked, nay, it must turn out so. . . . it does not become us to be offended, if the preaching of the Gospel is not salutary to all; but on the contrary, let us reckon, that it is quite enough, if it advance the glory of God by bringing just condemnation upon the wicked.
Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. It is under preaching that people are truly won to Christ. Protecting the Church from hypocrisy is certainly a noble desire, but it often overlooks the fact that God's people have always been a "mixed crowd." Whether or not the Church is full of hypocrites is a matter of debate. What is certain however, is that the Church is always full of sinners. It isn't as though only paedobaptist churches are the only ones churning out sex scandals, divorces and frauds, as the televangelist world amply demonstrates.