Does Teaching Someone the Bible Make Them a Christian?
Someone recently sent me the following argument from a paedobaptist and asked me to respond.
Obviously, if you hold to credobaptism, you won’t agree with this conclusion on it’s face, but I’d love to hear some thoughtful non-defensive responses. There is an explicitness to the gospel that is only communicated and received with a certain level of mental understanding. Which leads a lot of people to say that we can’t say someone is a Christian until they are able to grasp and profess belief in this message. I get that. But… as a worldview, as a moral basis, as a way of life, Christianity is something that is practically lived in as well. A baby born into a Christian family, from day one is given a Christian worldview. They are certainly not being trained to be atheists or pagans. Nobody exists without a worldview, and if the worldview you’re being taught is the Bible, then you are a Bible believer by default. The Jews didn’t have to debate this issue because it was so explicitly commanded that they should raise their kids as Jews. But Judaism wasn’t a religion that lacked anything Christianity does, in fact it is the same religion. It had laws that were to be obeyed with gratitude, it demanded faith in God and his promises, it threatened those in the religion not to turn away… so what changed? My argument is that nothing has changed, and in practice, we all know it. Are we not required to raise our children as Christians? “Well it depends on what you mean by Christian”. But does it? Do we tell our kids to obey God’s law? Why? To be justified? No… because they are required to. Why? If it isn’t for their justification, then why? It’s because we recognize that they are under the authority of Christ by virtue of being in your home. If we require our children to obey God’s law, with threats of discipline if they fail, yet we do not recognize them as Christians, we are demanding that they rely on their flesh to obey God’s law… this is hypocritical. For some reason this line of reasoning confuses people and makes them think I’m saying Baptists don’t raise their kids in the faith. I’m actually saying the exact opposite. They do raise them in the faith, while also saying they are not in the faith. [For the record: This is a tension I held all my days as a credobaptist. Even when I was the most conviced of the position, I couldn’t reconcile this issue.]
This is a typical paedobaptist collectivist mindset. It’s what allows them to think that entire nations can be part of the church, as the magisterial reformers practiced. Entire nations became Protestants “at the blast of a trumpet” (the governing authorities’ declaration). They ridicule baptists for being too individualistic, but we merely recognize that believing the gospel is an individual matter. Collectives (families, nations) are not saved. Individuals are.
if the worldview you’re being taught is the Bible, then you are a Bible believer by default
Being taught a biblical worldview includes being taught the Gospel. Therefore, in order to have a biblical worldview, in order to believe the bible, you must believe the gospel. If you don’t believe the gospel, then you don’t have a biblical worldview.
Just because someone is taught something doesn’t mean they believe it. That would certainly make evangelism much easier if it were the case. And if they do believe the gospel, then they are a Christian – which is precisely what credobaptists believe.
The Jews didn’t have to debate this issue because it was so explicitly commanded that they should raise their kids as Jews.
Being regenerate was not a requirement for being a Jew (member of the Old Covenant), so it was a completely different issue.
But Judaism wasn’t a religion that lacked anything Christianity does, in fact it is the same religion.
Notice that this is the one and only retort for every defense of paedobaptism: go to Israel. Go to the Old Covenant. Because it cannot be defended otherwise.
The statement is misleading. Judaism lacked Christ. It revealed Christ in types and shadows, but Christ had not yet come. When he did come and establish the New Covenant, the Old Covenant was made obsolete, so appealing to Old Covenant worship and religion is appealing to types and shadows that have passed away.
An elect remnant within Israel certainly saw Christ. They believed in the promise of the coming Messiah and were thereby saved just as we are. But that does not mean that Israelites were Christians. It means that some Israelites were Christians. Some physical Israelites were also spiritual Israelites. For a more detailed explanation of this point, see Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel and Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New, as well as When Did the Church Begin?
Do we tell our kids to obey God’s law? Why? To be justified? No… because they are required to. Why? If it isn’t for their justification, then why? It’s because we recognize that they are under the authority of Christ by virtue of being in your home.
This individual needs to study his theology a bit more. All image bearers are required to obey God’s law by virtue of the fact that they are God’s image bearers – regenerate or not. They are under God’s authority whether they are Christians or not. Westminster and London Baptist Confessions 19.5 say “The moral law does forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof.” That’s why we teach our children to obey God’s law.
If we require our children to obey God’s law, with threats of discipline if they fail, yet we do not recognize them as Christians, we are demanding that they rely on their flesh to obey God’s law… this is hypocritical.
Again, this individual needs to study his theology a bit more. What he is rejecting here is the second use of the law. R.C. Sproul explains
A second purpose for the law is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. Calvin says this purpose is “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.”3 The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized.
And as Tedd Tripp (baptist) explains in Shepherding a Child’s Heart, we also discipline our children to teach them how God hates sin in order to lead them to the gospel. This is simply the first use of the law. Again, Sproul:
The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror. On the one hand, the law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.”2 The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.
This paedobaptist is arguing that the third use of the law is the only valid use.
They do raise them in the faith, while also saying they are not in the faith.
We teach them a biblical worldview, which includes obedience to God’s law. Obedience to God’s law includes the command to believe whatever God says. Thus obedience to God’s law includes the command to believe the gospel. That is what we teach our children. But the fact that we teach them a biblical worldview, including the gospel, does not therefore mean they believe it. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”