Home > baptism, paedobaptism critiques > Does Teaching Someone the Bible Make Them a Christian?

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.”

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  1. May 17, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    Interesting argument… I’ve always found American Presbyterians to be rather inconsistent in this point because it appears that they are trying to hold two inconsistent concepts together. They are attempting to (1) enforce a model of the church based on national Israel (which requires the membership of whole families which comprise the nation) while at the same time (2) insisting on a separation of church and state (which is a Baptist idea). It’s inconsistent to argue for collective family membership in the church while denying the argument for state churches. Or said another way… family membership in the church is a derivative of national membership in the church. If you void national membership “by the blast of a trumpet”, then you must deny the automatic membership of families into the church.

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  2. markmcculley
    May 18, 2016 at 5:05 am

    Mark Jones believes that all baptisms are paedobaptisms, for unless one becomes like a little child he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2014/06/daddy-am-i-really-forgiven.php

    “All baptisms are paedobaptisms”. But some say that ” presumption is rare to nil among paedobaptists (who also baptize adults, by the way, which means we baptize way more than you guys do, which means maybe we should be called “baptists”?).

    I guess this mean that paedobaptists agree on the practice for different reasons, just like those who water only professing believers agree on that practice for different reasons. I wonder if the “we do that also” position is merely the “reverse” of that taught by Mark Jones. Jones as a puritan thinks presumption is a problem, but “we do converts also” does not think presumption is a very big problem in a world where the problem is baptists.

    Mark Jones–I have two three-year olds, one six-year old, and an eight-year old. And it occurred to me that I wouldn’t actually know how to raise them if I were not a Presbyterian. And let me just take this opportunity to inform sensitive (Baptist?) readers that I know many Baptist families that raise their children remarkably well, even many in my own church.

    1. When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, can I assure them that their sins are forgiven?

    2. When I ask my children to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask my three-year old son to forgive his twin brother? Because it is the nice thing to do? Or because we should forgive in the same way Christ has forgiven us?

    3. Can my children sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” and enjoy all of the benefits spoken of in that song? (“To him belong…He will wash away my sin”)

    4. When my children pray during family worship to their heavenly Father, what are the grounds for them praying such a prayer? Do they have any right to call God their “heavenly Father”? Do non-Christians cry “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15)?

    5. Should I desire that my children have a “boring” testimony? (Though a testimony to God’s covenant promises can never be boring, of course). Is it not enough for them to simply say each day that they trust in Christ alone for their salvation? If my children were not Baptized, and were not part of the church, and did not bear the name Christian, I’m not sure what grounds I would have for worshipping with them, praying with (not just for) them, and rejoicing with them when they ask for forgiveness for the sins they commit.

    Mark Jones—Far from leading to a lazy form of “presumptive regeneration” (where children are not daily exhorted to repent), I believe that we must in fact hold our covenant children to higher standards by urging them to live a life of faith and repentance in Jesus Christ, their Savior and Lord. Their baptism, whereby God speaks favor to his children (“You are my child. With you I am well pleased”), demands such a life.

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  3. markmcculley
    May 18, 2016 at 5:13 am

    for the record, I never taught my children to sing “Jesus Loves Me”. As far as I can tell, the Bible does not even tell me that Jesus loves me. We can have no personal assurance without faith in the gospel. The promise to Abraham about having many carnal children is not the gospel.

    Peter Leithart—The sociologically consistent Baptist should, it seems to me, allow children to name themselves. Otherwise, they are inevitably “imposing” an identity on their little boys and girls. Karl Barth, who loudly protested the “violence” of imposing a Christian identity on a child through infant baptism, would undoubtedly be pleased. In fact, Baptists don’t do this, but they do impose a language on their children. They do, in spite of themselves, often treat their children as Christians, teaching them to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and to pray the Lord’s Prayers. And if they do all this, what reason remains for resisting the imposition of the covenant sign? The Baptized Body (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2007), 9

    Mark Jones—The indicative comes before the imperative, even for our children (Ephesians. 6:1). Otherwise, I do not see how asking them to obey becomes a form of moralism if there is no indicative present

    Mike Horton—Covenant theology doesn’t teach that the covenant of grace itself is “breakable” . God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. … The word proclaimed and sealed in the sacraments is valid, regardless of our response, but we don’t enjoy the blessings apart from receiving Christ with all of his benefits. Is baptism the believer’s act of testifying to a personal response, or God’s act of testifying to his everlasting pledge?…..To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong? If faith is the only way into membership (693), then why all the warnings to members of the covenant community to exercise faith and persevere in faith to the end? http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/kingdom-through-covenant-a-review-by-michael-horton

    Mark McCulley—So is the indicative law or grace? When the law promises curse conditioned on the sinner, is that law grace? Mike Horton reads the Great Commission as teaching that water must come BEFORE teaching. If no water, then no teaching.

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  4. May 18, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Just added this above:

    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.

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  5. markmcculley
    May 19, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Mark Seifrid—-Calvin is able to speak of the condemning function of the Law with the same vigor as Luther himself ( Institutes 2.7.1-7). Yet in his eagerness to resolve the question of the unity of Scripture, he speaks of the Law as ….not bringing death but serving another purpose. According to this perspective, Law and Gospel do not address the believing human being in radically different ways, but only in differing degrees according to the measures of “grace” present within them. ….

    Seifird–The embedding of the Law within grace qualifies law’s demand—while the Law works the death of sinners, it has a different effect on the righteous. For the Reformed the Law is no longer a “hard taskmaster,” who exacts full payment. It rather urges believers on to the goal of their lives, exciting them to obedience. In describing how the regenerate experience the Law, Calvin appeals directly to Psalms 19 and 119.

    Seifrid–Calvin regards the Law as addressing the believer as a regenerate person. This “regeneration” is not fully effective in us, but weak and impeded by the “sluggishness” of the flesh. —Calvin regards regeneration to effect a new state within the human being, which is partially present and active. The “flesh” is present as a power that exerts partial influence on us. For Calvin, the most important function of the Law lies in its speaking to us as regenerate persons, urging us onward to the goal that lies before us. In speaking to the regenerate, the Law has lost its condemning function–: it no longer works our death, but only furthers the new life which is partially present in us already.

    Gaffin ( By Faith, Not By Sight, p 38)—”The antithesis between law and gospel is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not be virtue of creation but as a consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer.”

    Seifrid—“Luther finds a radically different anthropology in Scripture. The old, fallen creature exists as a whole alongside the new creature, who is likewise a whole. The picture of the human being is either darkness or light, without any shading of tones. There is no “intermediate state” in which we receive instruction but escape condemnation. In so far as the Law deals with our salvation (and does not merely guide our outward conduct), it pronounces our condemnation. The Law speaks even to us who are regenerate as fallen human beings. Being a Christian means again and again, in all the trials and temptations of life, hearing and believing the Gospel which overcomes the condemnation pronounced on us by the Law and by our own consciences in which that Law is written.”

    http://www.sbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2010/07/sbjt_102_sum06-seifrid1.pdf

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  6. markmcculley
    June 14, 2016 at 3:55 am

    http://andynaselli.com/don-carson-on-how-knowing-the-bible-does-not-automatically-make-you-more-holy#more-16547

    Carson–When I first went to England in 1972, Professor C. H. Dodd was still alive. He was one of the last of the old-time polite, pious liberals, and he had a massive knowledge. When he was about ninety, a BBC radio interviewer asked him an intriguing question: “What if, by some fluke, every copy of the Greek New Testament were destroyed? How much of it could you reconstruct?” Professor Dodd replied, “All of it.” His mastery of the scriptural text was impressive, but that knowledge is not the sanctifying work of the Word.

    In fact, some very technically competent New Testament scholars are self-professed atheists. Many deny supernaturalism or are no more than deists. But they know their text It is possible to think somehow that because we’re spending time studying biblical texts, we’re becoming more holy. But you don’t have to spend too long at a seminary before you realize that sometimes studying all those texts may make you unholy. A certain kind of a pride may set in, or you fall into the routine of just meeting another deadline or taking another quiz. You find yourself studying the New Testament as if you were studying microbiology or nuclear physics or Shakespeare. Mere education does not guarantee anything. Abstracted from the power and unction of the Spirit of God, a kind of idolatry of learning can appear, even in the scholarly work of believers.

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