In his new book, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, Pascal Denault provocatively suggests that John Owen was a Baptist. Of course, Denault is well aware that Owen was in fact a Congregationalist. Denault’s point is that, in many respects, Owen’s understanding of the biblical covenants was closer to the Particular Baptist view than it was to the paedobaptist covenant theology represented in the Westminster Standards (or even in the Congregationalist’s own Savoy Declaration). Unlike other paedobaptists of his day, Owen did not believe that the Old Covenant, the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai, was simply another administration of the covenant of grace, a covenant one in substance with the New Covenant. Instead, Owen, more in line with the Baptists of his day, rejected the one-substance-two-administrations model of the paedobaptists and argued that the “Old Covenant was different from the New Covenant both in circumstance and in substance” (Denault, p. 19). Also like the Baptists, Owen contrasted the New Covenant with the covenant God made with Abraham, arguing that the latter included “carnal ordinances” that were brought to an end “by the actual coming of the Messiah” (John Owen, Hebrews). Owen remained a paedobaptist until his death, but perhaps only because he failed to see how his insightful commentary on Hebrews 8 might impact his position on baptism.
Another place where Owen appears closer to the Baptist understanding of the covenants (also pointed out by Denault) is found in Owen’s classic work on Christ’s atonement, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Arguing for the efficacy of the “blood of the new testament,” Owen claims that all those who are in the New Covenant (and only those who are in the New Covenant) enjoy the benefits of Christ’s saving death. These benefits include not only the provision of certain conditions by which humans can be reconciled to God but also the fulfillment of those conditions. His argument is worth quoting at length:
And this is the main difference between the old covenant of works and the new one of grace, that in that the Lord did only require the fulfilling of the condition prescribed, but in this be promiseth to effect it in them himself with whom the covenant is made. And without this spiritual efficacy, the truth is, the new covenant would be as weak and unprofitable, for the end of a covenant (the bringing, of us and binding of us to God), as the old. For in what consisted the weakness and unprofitableness of the old covenant, for which God in his mercy abolished it? Was it not in this, because, by reason of sin, we were no way able to fulfil the condition thereof, “Do this, and live?” Otherwise the connection is still true, that “he that doeth these things shall live.” And are we of ourselves any way more able to fulfil the condition of the new covenant? Is it not as easy for a man by his own strength to fulfil the whole law, as to repent and savingly believe the promise of the gospel? This, then, is one main difference of these two covenants, — that the Lord did in the old only require the condition; now, in the new, he will also effect it in all the federates, to whom this covenant is extended. And if the Lord should only exact the obedience required in the covenant of us, and not work and effect it also in us, the new covenant would be a show to increase our misery, and not a serious imparting and communicating of grace and mercy. If, then, this be the nature of the new testament, — as appears from the very words of it, and might abundantly be proved, — that the condition of the covenant should certainly, by free grace, be wrought and accomplished in all that are taken into covenant, then no more are in this covenant than in whom those conditions of it are effected (Book 3, Chapter 1).
There are no more in the New Covenant than those who experience the efficacy of Christ’s atonement. This sounds remarkably similar to Baptist polemics against the mixed nature of the New Covenant. So much so that one contemporary Baptist, Fred Malone, in his book The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Versus Paedobaptism, uses Owen’s same basic argument to accuse paedobaptists of doing violence to the doctrine of particular redemption by including unregenerate infants in the New Covenant.
To call unregenerate infants “God’s people” and members of the New Covenant for “whom Christ sheds the blood of the covenant” violates particular redemption simply because no one can be in the New Covenant without the effectual mediatorial sacrifice that establishes the covenant with every member (cited in Denault, p. 92).
One more quote from Owen should demonstrate the similarity between his view and that of the Baptists. In his exposition of Hebrews 8:6-13, Owen writes,
The New Covenant is made with them alone who effectually and eventually are made partakers of the grace of it. “This is the covenant that I will make with them…I will be merciful to their unrighteousness,” etc. Those with whom the Old Covenant was made were all of them actual partakers of the benefits of it; and if they are not so with whom the new is made, it comes short of the old in efficacy, and may be utterly frustrated. Neither does the indefinite proposal of the terms of the covenant prove that the covenant is made with them, or any of them, who enjoy not the benefits of it. Indeed this is the excellence of this covenant, and so it is here declared, that it does effectually communicate all the grace and mercy contained in it to all and every one with whom it is made; with whomsoever it is made, his sins are pardoned (cited in Denault, p. 93).
For more on Owen the Baptist, check out Denault’s book, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology. It’s a very helpful historical and theological examination of the basic differences between 17th century Particular Baptist federalism and the covenant theology of the paedobaptists.
P.S. I haven’t read it, but Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ explores some of these same themes by setting forth the covenantal writings of Particular Baptist Nehemiah Cox alongside those of Owen.
Luke Stamps is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University (OPS). He is also a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in systematic theology. Luke is writing his dissertation in the field of Christology. Luke is married to Josie, and they have three children, Jack, Claire, and Henry. Luke is a weekly contributor to the Credo blog.
Credobaptism. It is a wishy washy, non-convincing book even by Particular Baptist standards.
The Black List – The Baptism of Disciples alone
Critiqued by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
The Baptism of Disciples alone
by Fred Malone
Founders Press, Cape Coral, FL , 2003.
284 Pages, Hardback
The Rejection of the Baptism of Disciples Alone
By Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
This paper is not an exegetical attempt at Paedo-Baptism. This paper simply serves as a huge question mark on the new book put out by Fred Malone on believer’s baptism. Some important questions are raised and some exegesis must be offered. But it is more an inquiry into the “why” of the book, rather than a thorough exegetical attack against it.
Fred Malone, “once” a Presbyterian, but now a Baptist, has written a polemical work on baptizing disciples alone. In doing this he attempts to approach it from a covenantal framework, and in a manner that expresses Baptistic concepts and formulations concerning covenant inclusion, covenant structure, and the sacraments that go along with these formulations. Malone has written a work that reshapes and redefines the “covenant structure” of the Bible. In this he, and those who endorse the book, continue to produce works that misrepresent Covenant Theology, as well as misuse Paedo-Baptist sources while doing so. Yes, Malone has succeeded in setting forth a different theology than historical orthodoxy that surrounds baptizing disciples alone. He does this, so he thinks, with the Reformation’s approval in discarding traditional exegesis, and offering a brand new paradigm (though it is not “new”) of covenantal theology (which is not to be confused with Covenant Theology that vehemently disagrees with Malone’s thesis.)
This writer awaited eagerly the book, “The Baptism of Disciples Alone” by Fred Malone, to read the best defense of Credo-baptism to date. Founders Press, the faction of the Southern Baptist movement that desires to return to its roots believing the doctrines of grace, has a stalwart champion writing against Paedo-Baptism. Malone had already written “A String of Pearls Unstrung” and this book is a development of those ideas. This writer wishes he had never done such a thing, for the same errors in his booklet are expanded and purported in the name of “covenantal” theology in this new book as well.
Upon receiving this work, I immediately went to the bibliography (not the table of contents) to check Malone’s sources. Bibliographies tell us the mind of the author quite quickly. I found the bibliography lacking. This is going to be a “covenantal” book helping the Christian church understand the covenant sign of baptism. I would figure his “extensive” bibliography would include the best covenantal works to date. I was sorely disappointed. He did not have any of Owen’s works except from volume 6 of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is a tragedy. Owen takes great care in explaining Covenant Theology in his Works. Malone does not include “The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man” by Herman Witsius, which is simply the best book on Covenant Theology ever written to date. He does, though, mention Witsius in passing (page 177) but it is simply “in passing.” He alludes to another writer who depends on Witsius, but does not interact with Witsius on any point of covenantal theology at all. This is suspect; but there are reasons for his avoidance of Witsius and other covenantal theologians to this point, as we will see. Calvin is mentioned for his commentary on Acts and his Institutes, but is quoted infrequently (and does not helpfully cite his Institutes for baptism), and the other reformers, Luther, Zwingli, Oecolampadius etc. are not mentioned at all. Ursinus is mentioned, but Malone simply passes him over in the same statement with Witsius. Turretin is not mentioned at all. Hodge, Edwards, the English Puritans (except for Owen) and the Dutch Theologians are not listed either. Jeremias is mentioned, but his rebuttal to Aland’s work that was a rebuttal to his own, is not mentioned. Jeremias tears apart Aland’s “critique” of his earlier work in “The Origins of Infant Baptism: A Further Study in Reply to Kurt Aland,” but it seems some of the questions that Jeremias “leaves” Malone with in this book are answered in his rebuttal against Aland. Malone missed this? This is also suspect. He does not mention many of the helpful theological papers that have been written in and around this subject in journals like the Westminster Journal, or Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, or from professors with position papers based on key texts, like Richard Pratt’s position paper on Jeremiah 31 (which is helpful). He also talks quite a bit about the Regulative Principle, but quotes almost no works, except the Confessions, that deal with it. With so much weight riding on that argument as a main principle, one would think there would be more cited and more explained historically. However, if he had done that, the arguments against his ideas surround the Regulative Principle would be overthrown. Instead, Malone seems to have carefully chosen the authors and works he will interact with. This argues that this work is not a scholarly work, though I am unsure if Malone’s intention was to make it a scholarly work. Let us assume that he did not intend this, and he will have succeeded.
After the bibliography, one also notices, second, the dust jacket. The dust jacket says quite a bit before one even enters the debate arena with Malone. On the back Dr. Albert Mohler says, “Fred Malone has written one of the most important books on baptism to appear in at least two hundred years…” After reading the book, it is apparent to me that Dr. Mohler is not reading many good books on baptism if Malone’s book is the best he has read – the best in two hundred years. Even Jewett’s book, “Infant Baptism” is a far better argument than this present work by Malone (and Jewett’s work categorically misses the entire arguments surrounding Covenantal Theology as they were historically formulated.) At least Malone makes an effort to address some of those issues. In any case, Malone himself pleads with his readers, more than once, that he is relying on information that helps his “position” written by T.E. Watson and David Kingdon. Dr. Timothy George and Walter Chantry both hail Malone as well having presented “the best case I have seen for believer’s baptism from a covenantal perspective” and making Malone “a new champion of the cause of truth.” I think Mohler, George and Chantry are simply being respectfully cordial because if they truly think that Malone’s work is the “best in two hundred years” then their own “covenantal” theology becomes dubious at best.
Before I comment on the title, I need to move through the Foreword written by Ernest Reisinger. I really have only two comments to make about the “Foreword.” Reisinger is on Malone’s side as a Baptist. This would be expected. But his conceptions of Covenant Theology and that which constitutes a “Reformed” Theologian, are lacking. He says, “Fred, like many other young men, thought that in order to be a consistent Reformed minister, he had to be a Paedo-Baptist.” This is true, though Reisinger believes it to be false. I will demonstrate this later. Reisinger also says, “At this point I hear some Paedo-Baptists saying, “What about the covenant,” a Baptist must surrender or run; this book will prove otherwise.” This book did not prove otherwise. Instead, it reformulated and redefined “covenantal concepts” with meager exegetical work and a host of hermeneutical fallacies. This though, will be shown later as well.
The book is entitled “The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism versus Paedo-Baptism.” In the “Preface” there are a number of problematic statements and assumptions. First, Malone says they should “evangelize their children.” That is good Baptistic language. For him to pray with his children, or teach his children to pray, would be a violation of this language because he would be adopting Old Testament covenant concepts about raising up his children in a certain light. It is good that Malone is consistent at least for now. Second, Malone asks this question, “Is “repent and be baptized” a command that parents should obey for their children, or is it a command for their children to obey for themselves (Acts 2:38-41.” This is a straw man. Malone will continue to ask questions like this of the text that no Paedo-Baptist asserts in order to crush them as he goes along. We will deal with the meaning behind this later when Malone treats it. Third, he says, “Must they [parents] rely on “expert” theologians to explain their biblical duty toward their children for what they cannot see in Scripture for themselves?” Maybe another question should be “What are there pastors and theologians in the body of Christ?” “Why do they preach?” “Why do they teach?” “Why do they exist?” Certainly it is to help people understand the whole counsel of God. If parents were as studious as theologians, then they would not need them. Pleading this point at all is nonsense. The members of Baptistic churches I have attended have simply “gone with the flow” – they do not know why they believe what they do. Usually they say, “I believe what the pastor tells me to believe.” This is wrong, no doubt, and this is in every denomination. But Malone is setting up another straw man here.
Then he says he sees two basic reasons why Infant Baptism is wrong: “1) the regulative principle and 2) biblical hermeneutics.” Malone asks if Infant Baptism is clear in Scripture. The question he should be asking first is whether there is a direct command to baptize disciples alone, something the New Testament does not mention once. There is no command that says, “Baptize a man or woman after a profession of faith, and immerse them.” This is just nowhere in the Bible. But this is not all Malone asks. His whole question goes like this, “is infant Baptism as clear in Scripture as other issues, like repentance before baptism (John 4:1-2; Acts 2:38-41), or self-examination before the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:41-42; 1 Corinthians 11:27-29), or a woman’s participation in the Lord’s Supper (Exodus 12:1-4, 16; 1 Corinthians 11:18-22), or men only as elders (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:1-7), etc?” This may be one of the biggest exegetical blunders in his whole book. With repentance supposedly before baptism, he cites John 4:1-2. This is clearly John’s baptism, and Malone is assuming, and will later, in a futile attempt, prove that John’s baptism is the same as Christian baptism. This is a denial of the history of Israel’s use of baptism. He also cites Acts 2:38-41. Clearly, his exegetical work on this passage is horrid. It will be demonstrated later how poor his work is on this scripture and how this applies. His note on self-examination of the Lord’s Supper is not contested by anyone and is clear. However, a “woman’s participation” of the Lord’s Supper is not clear at all. As a matter of fact, Baptists have no positive command anywhere in the Bible for them to partake. He cites Exodus 12:1-4, 16. Exodus? For the Lord’s Supper? The passage refers explicitly to “every man” and nowhere to “woman,” or “women.” This idea of the women can be extrapolated to mean “human being” or “every person,” but Malone cited this as a clear text for the Lord’s Supper. This is the Passover, not the Lord’s Supper. This is the kind of exegetical work he uses throughout the book. This is his New Testament, regulative principle for women partaking?
The second text is 1 Corinthians 11:18-22, which also says nothing of women at all. Again, in verse 28 it says, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” Where does it say women? Where is the clear, positive sanction? Remember, Malone is trying to convince us that these are clear texts. Do we need theologians to help us understand this clearly? Finally, Malone says that we can see the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:12 and 3:1-7 for men as elders. This is true. But Malone has not been helpful so far in his “clarity.”
Next, Malone says that the Regulative Principle undermines Infant Baptism. He says, “The Regulative Principle teaches that the elements of New Testament worship and church order should be regulated by Scripture and clearly instituted for New Covenant worship.” This is not what the Regulative Principle teaches, but what Malone wants the Regulative Principle to teach. To infer that all positive injunctions in the New Testament are the only source of authority to regulate worship is absurd. Jeremiah Burroughs, in 14 sermons on Leviticus 10:3, demonstrates quite adequately that the Old Testament is deeply rooted in how the Regulative Principle is used and applied. Malone, in order to hold to his belief structure, must reinterpret the Regulative Principle to cater simply to New Testament worship and by New Testament instruction to hold his views.
Malone then asks this question, “Because Infant Baptism is considered a biblical sacrament, one of the official elements of worship, shouldn’t it, too, be “instituted” by Christ according to the same principle as the Lord’ Supper? Yet, it is not so prescribed.” Unfortunately Malone is cutting off his own foot here. Where is Credobaptism prescribed in the New Testament? Where does Jesus or the apostles say, “Baptism is to be administered in this way…” and then follow certain instructions for this? Malone misses this crucial point? Does he simply not understand that Credobaptism is an argument in induction from silence? Does he miss the importance of the reality that it is nowhere prescribed by formal declaration, and that his entire book revolves around an inductive argument based on a compilation of Scriptures to support a given idea? I do not think he does! If he had, he would have never written the book, and would not be so displeased with historical Covenant Theology.
Malone also does not like to “resort” to the Old Testament for prescriptions in worship. That is due to his Dispensationalism. He divides, quite dramatically, “Christian worship” from Old Testament worship. This is based on his preconceived ideas concerning “covenant” and its great diversity seen through various ages. So, without being hindered by external forms of Old Testament worship, Malone says, “The only instituted baptism in the New Testament by Christ and his apostles is Credobaptism: the baptism of disciples alone.” Again, Malone cites no verse say, exactly, where Christ, or His Apostles, positively and explicitly states this. His argumentation, then, at the start, is faulty concerning the Regulative Principle.
Not only does Malone misrepresent the Regulative Principle according to his own likening, as we will further see, but he also harps on the Presbyterian’s poor exegetical work and failure to hermeneutically deal with a passage fairly. He says, “Baptists and Presbyterians agree with a basic Augustinian principle of biblical interpretation that “the New is in the Old concealed; and the Old is in the New revealed.”” At this point, he is correct that Presbyterians agree with this, but Baptists do not. Listen to what he says next. “This places an emphasis upon the New Testament revelation as the final determiner of instituted and regulated Christian worship versus Old Testament worship and forms continued by inference alone (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). This principle, consistently applied, also argues against any notion of infant baptism grounded upon a supposed and possibly erroneous “good and necessary inference,” which may be neither “good” nor “necessary.” This is not Augustine talking, this is the Baptist Fred Malone inciting smoke and mirrors. He does not believe what Augustine said. Instead he redefines how hermeneutics should work based on his theology. Augustine would vehemently disagree with him. Wait – Augustine did vehemently disagree with him. Augustine taught Infant Baptism. Did Malone forget this? Malone does not cite Augustine on this any further. How can he? The citation given by Malone is correct – but Malone does not believe it.
Malone then tackles John Murray and the ideas surrounding good and necessary inference. Malone’s presuppositions will not allow him to use “good and necessary inference” in a consistent manner, but only when it suits him (like women partaking of the Lord’s supper, but not Infant Baptism). He questions whether it is a safe hermeneutic at all. The New Testament regulates New Testament worship for Malone. He quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith in this way trying to prove his point – “The elements of Christian worship must be clearly, “instituted by God himself,…limited by his own revealed will, and…prescribed in holy Scripture” (WCF 21:5; 21:1; 1:6).” This is not what Malone believes. He is thinking about it this way, “The elements of Christian worship, i.e. New Testament worship, must be clearly, “instituted by God himself, [in the New Testament]…limited by his own revealed will, [in the New Testament] and…prescribed in Holy Scripture in the New Testament.” This is Malone’s point. Otherwise, he knows he has given up his case the moment we are able to resort to the Old Testament concerning New Testament worship. This, again, demonstrates his Dispensationalism.
Why did Malone title the book, “The Baptism of Disciples alone?” This is what he says – “I have chosen the designation “the baptism of disciples alone” to describe the only instituted and regulated baptism “expressly get down in Scripture.” It is no more an unbiblical description of baptism in the Bible than are other principles of reformation theology: Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and God’s glory alone. That which is “expressly set down in Scripture” concerning an instituted, regulated sacrament is sufficient to earn the designation “alone.”” This is humorous. I say that tongue in cheek. First, Malone claims that Credobaptism is “expressly…instituted” in the New Testament. Where? Why does he make this assertion when he knows that baptistic theology is grounded on gathering data from historical examples in the New Testament? We already covered the fallacy of that. He will harp on Matthew 28 as the Great Commission, but exegetical work on that area will discredit the only “inductive” aspect of his argument that he thinks is one of the strongest. Second, Malone must be completely ignorant of history here. Does he really think that the Reformers would have agreed with him in adding “disciples alone” to the solas? He must have forgotten what they said on the subject, and, of course, he conveniently left their opinion out of his work altogether on this issue. Historically Malone would be seen as a rebellious dissenter in Geneva who would have been imprisoned or exiled unless he recanted of his position. To add the Anabaptist controversy into the Reformation and assign it the same status as the concrete Solas is ludicrous, and historically inaccurate at best. Who is he trying to convince here? Baptists continually attempt to align themselves with the systematic theology of the Reformation, when, in fact, they are the dissenters of the Reformation and church splitters of that time. Why was the 1689 Baptist Confession written? Was it because they agreed with the Westminster Confession of Faith or because they dissented from it? Why were the Anabaptists rebelling against Calvin, Farel and Courault? They did not like their ecclesiology and they did not like their Sacramentology. The 1689 Baptist Confession was written as a defense against the heretical notions of Anabaptism and against the Covenant Theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Baptists still believe that they can be Covenant Theologians while remaining Baptistic, which is impossible. Baptists will of course deny this, but history is no fool. Malone believes Baptists can be Reformed. History does not say so, and neither do the Reformers. Even the theologians of the day write against such ideas. But Malone wonders “where Reformed Baptists” of conscience will worship in later days. “Reformed Baptist?” This is a contradiction in theology, and something the Reformers themselves would never have agreed upon. For an overview on this topic read my article, What does it mean to be Reformed – Really? Malone continues to use the phrase “Reformed Baptist” but the points above, and the link to the article should dissuade anyone from using the term unless they are really Reformed.
We move from the Preface to the Introduction. In a footnote on page xxv, Malone says, “I am not accusing any of blindly following. However, even a sincere conscience in deciding for infant baptism may be strongly affected by the overwhelming testimony of such good men.” This is important. He mentioned RC Sproul and the number of people who have traveled from being Baptist to being Paedo-Baptist. This disturbs him because he believes he is right and the Baptistic community continues to move into the Paedo-Baptist community, even if they are unaware of what they believe because “good men” are in that camp. I agree with Malone that no one should ever go to any church unless they understand what they believe and why the believe it. They should be following the dictates of Scripture based on private interpretation, but also based on the consensus of the orthodox church. That is why the argument of “good men” is so compelling. Most of the orthodox church through the history of the church have been Paedo-Baptist. This should cause Baptists, at that point alone, to be alarmed. Most of history demonstrates that theologians, pastors and teachers have been Paedo-Baptist. It would be fruitless to deny this (as some “Reformed” Baptists attempt) and far too much work to name every one of these men through history who have believed it. “Who believed that infants were included in the covenant?” This is the real question. Shall we begin with Adam and Eve and work our way through the Bible, into the New Testament and then to the early fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans , the Princeton Theologians, etc? Of course this is an overwhelming argument! Of course people are going to follow the great minds – the gifts of Christ – to his church. Are we really to suppose, as Malone would like us to believe, that until the late 1600’s the church had wrongly abused and misused the Sacrament, and then until the Baptists came along the church had been providentially in the dark? Would he have us believe that today, even now, though the majority believes in including infants in the covenant, that the Baptistic change is warranted? Have the greatest minds in the history of the church been wrong for so long? Is God that providentially lazy? One Baptist friend of mine answers that question this way: they were just too smart for themselves and missed it. I’m doubting that God is that lazy or providentially hindered to instruct His church right for over 17 centuries.
Now this argument around the church and checking our doctrine is not a weak one (but quite the opposite) since interpretation issues revolve around both private interpretation, and the church. I am not purporting “papal decrees” ex cathedra, but I am saying that private interpretation is affirmed by the church – otherwise no one, at any time, in any historical setting, would know he is right. Even Luther said to the Diet, “If you can convince me by Scripture…” Luther did not bow to Theological Traditionalism as supreme, but he did believe the church’s authority in matters of doctrine was important. The perspicuity of the Word is plain in matters of salvation, and everyone who reads them, as the Holy Spirit enlightens them, may understand them clearly. No one that I know disputes this. But to be sure they have correctly interpreted the passage is due to ecclesiastical consensus based on Scripture. To deny this is to be unsure of your doctrine in every way. There is an important sense in which private interpretation is commanded, and another in which it is dangerous. Ultimately we have the promise of Sola Scriptura to lean on (1 John 5:13) and we have the brethren to guide us (Heb. 13:3, 7-9). The question is akin to the chicken and the egg in much the same way. Yet here, we begin with the clarity of the Bible and move into the guidance and confidence of our brethren. Deviation, then, ultimately from historical orthodoxy on any point, is a VERY dangerous place to be. It claims the church has subsequently been without this “bit” of information for a long time until it was “discovered” by someone who thought it fit well into a new theological scheme, or became a new theological scheme in and of itself (like the Anabaptists of the day in the Reformation who denied the Trinity and the deity of the Son but embraced believer’s baptism).
Malone also has a problem with the PCA’s Book of church Order when it says, “By virtue of being born of believing parents, children are, because of God’s covenant ordinance, made members of the Church, but this is not sufficient to make them continue to be members of the Church. When they have reached the age of discretion, they become subject to obligations of the covenant: faith, repentance, and obedience. They then must make public confession of their faith in Christ, or become covenant breakers, and subject to the discipline of the Church [emphasis his].” He asks when this age should be. He “wonders” when this judgment should be made. Six? Ten? Sixteen? Well, that is point – ministers should be discretionary (not the children) about when those children come to the point when they understand the Gospel. That could be any age. This is hopefully what any Baptist father or mother would do with their own children. What is Malone griping about here? He contends that Presbyterian members probably do not know the BCO. Yes, this is as true as the Baptist church that does not know the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
He then says, “The proper administration of the sacraments was at the heart of the Reformation and is one of the marks of a true church.” Malone is absolutely right, and by his admission, this disqualifies every Baptist church as a “true church.” Baptist “individualistic” ideas rose up against the Reformation, and started new churches based on both Ecclesiology and Sacramentology. Malone, again, is cutting off his nose to spite his face. This is a historical argument against the Baptist dissention, not for it. Will Malone stand up and say, candidly, that the church, since the time of the apostles (according to him) has never been a true church because they all have included infants in the covenant? Malone then, in a footnote, says this, “This is not to say that there cannot be a true church where a sincere error in baptism exists, but we all must agree that this is not a minor issue.” This is a contradiction to his statements previously, though I think he is padding his answer because he will not say that the Paedo-Baptist church is not a true church. But, in a short three-page chapter devoted to encouraging people about their Baptist beliefs, he tells them to pull up their bootstraps and build Baptist churches.
What do we do with people who struggle over the issue and see proof on both sides? Malone cites the summation of “at least ten” people who have said this to him: “When I read the Baptist side of the argument, it sounds convincing. When I read the Paedo-baptist side, it also sounds convincing. I could go either way. Great minds have wrestled for centuries over this issue. Who am I to settle it? Can such great Paedo-baptist minds be so right on so much and so wrong on this? Because of such great men, I lean toward the Paedo-baptist side. And since I consider it a minor issue, compared to the major doctrinal problems in Baptist churches today, I will practice it until I am convinced otherwise.” However, when the issues are clearly studied, then the response that RC Sproul had to a question poses to him while debating Alister Begg on Baptism at a Ligonier Conference will be the same. Sproul and Begg were both asked, “What arguments from the Baptist side or Paedo-Baptist side about baptism sound convincing.” Begg answered with the “systematic ideas surrounding Covenant Theology and infant inclusion,” but RC said “Nothing.”
Malone then lists 15 points on the “Baptistic” ideas surrounding a “covenantal” Baptist position. I think his wording is good. He does not say, “Here is what Baptists who are Covenant Theologians believe…” Rather, I think he is keenly aware that Baptists are not Covenant Theologians, and do not believe in Covenant Theology. He does not make this assertion anywhere in his book that I was aware of. He does, though, press that Baptists are “covenantal” and think they are “Reformed.” In points 1-3 he seems to follow a good path of reasoning and ideas covenantally. 1) He mentions the Covenant of Redemption. That is a good start. 2) The Covenant of Grace is the outworking of the Covenant of Redemption in time. Good so far. There are two distinct covenants. 3) He mentions Adam and the Covenant of Works in the Garden and quotes (unreasonably according to his own exegetical demands later on) Ecclesiastes 7:29 and Hosea 6:7 (Malone will push for each covenant in its own context describing itself. Even the Antinomian New Covenant Theologians should take him to task on this issue since he is not allowing Genesis 2 to speak for itself but needs other Scriptures to help him here. This will break his hermeneutical rules later on.) It is when he hits number four that things go haywire. He says this in point four: “That God did reveal historically the “promise of grace” in Genesis 3:15, commonly called the Covenant of Grace, successively revealing its future fulfillment in Jesus Christ’s New Covenant through the historical “covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12). Thus, salvation by grace through faith in the coming “seed of the woman” as covenant Head was revealed and offered from the fall of man throughout the Old Testament “covenants of promise.” Here is where Malone departs from Reformed Theology and Covenant Theology. The continuity of the Covenant of Grace is one covenant from the beginning to the end of its appointment – from Genesis 3:15 to the consummation of the ages upon Christ’s return. But Malone also has “other” covenants of “promise” running through time as well. He does not equate the Abrahamic Covenant with the Covenant of Grace and says, and will say, they are not the same. The New Covenant is just that – New. He then says in point five, “That the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is the prophesied fulfillment of what has been called the historical Covenant of Grace, revealed in the “covenants of promise” since the fall, and is the fullest and final historical manifestation of that eternal Covenant of Redemption to save God’s elect (2 Timothy 1:8-10).” Again, as dispensationalists are prone to do, he divides the “covenants of promise” as he says” with the New Covenant. These are not the same. How do we know? Malone takes us through point six, “That the New Covenant is an effectual covenant of realized blessings, not like the Sinai Covenant which it abrogates (Galatians 3:19), with an effectual Mediator as its covenant Head, writing the law on every member’s heart as individuals (Jeremiah 31:27-34; 32:40), giving them the true knowledge of God, and forgiving their sins (Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:15-17).” He compares the New Covenant with the Mosaic Covenant, which is right, but fails to interpret the New Covenant properly. Actually, his exegetical work on this passage is nowhere to be seen. He claims that he has done work on it for a doctoral dissertation. But such a pivotal point of departures from Reformed Theology and Covenant Theology ought to press him to demonstrate, exegetically, why the New Covenant carries the character it does in the way Malone believes. Unfortunately, we are not privy to his notations and simply must “trust him” on this issue. Later, though, I will briefly show that his ideas are faulty concerning the nature of the New Covenant.
An interesting problem occurs theologically for him, that he is not aware of in point seven. He says, “and the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham (Galatians 3:14; 6:15-16, Romans 2:28-29, 4:16)” is Jesus Christ. If this is true, then how is it as “new” as Malone says it is in point six? Hopefully he will explain later. Point eight says that only heart-regenerate disciples should be baptized. Point 9 says that John 4:1 teaches that disciples are first made then baptized. This for him makes things, “airtight” as to the manner of making disciples. He presses the idea that it is only the cognitive adult that is able to do this, so again, based on inductive reasons (which is always fallacious) he assumes no children or families were baptized by John. People came out from all over Judea to be baptized. In thinking about the role of John the Baptist as the covenant attorney for God bringing forth a chance for Israel to repent, would only the parent go, or would the family be baptized by John as the father, the covenant head, repents of his waywardness in light of the Messiah’s coming? Are we to believe that the Jews who came to be baptized had no conception of this new “Christian baptism” that John was administering? It seems from the New Testament record that no one was shocked to find him doing this. As a matter of fact, the Pharisees wanted to know if he was the Messiah. Were they expecting a baptizing Messiah who would bring a cleansing fulfillment to the OT Jewish washing rites? Is this something really new? Malone actually spends four pages at the end of the book “explaining” both the baptism of John and of Jesus and the disciples. He does not, however, spend any time exegeting these passages. He simply assumes we believe him.
In point 10 he says that there is no abrogation of baptizing disciples in the New Testament. Actually, he has yet to prove there is a positive sanction for it by direct and clear statement. In any case, no Paedo-Baptist denies that adults should be baptized based on the evidence of the New Testament. They simply believe there is much more to the covenant sign than Malone believes. In point eleven, he blunders the Great Commission, taking into account no exegetical work. The text says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” What is the order here? Go and make disciples. How? Baptizing them in the name of the Father…teaching them. This is not difficult to see. Jesus tells the disciples to make disciples. They have been baptizing them all along so a clear, definitive statement on this should not be so confusing. They are to make disciples. OK. How? When a Latin Student is going to learn Latin does he learn Latin first and then go to school, or go to school to learn Latin first? Malone’s proof text is quite poor. But again, no work is offered as to his conclusion on it.
Point twelve he emphasizes that only those who received Peter’s words were baptized, not infant children. Well, that is correct. But is the baptism here a dry or wet baptism? From Joel 2 it seems to indicate a dry baptism, or change wrought by the Spirit attending the Word of God. Malone seems to think this is a wet baptism. However, Malone is not exegetically savvy here either. As a matter of fact, his exegesis later will demonstrate he missed the entire structure of the passage and completely ignored the Old Testament context of Joel.
In point thirteen he says that the NT designation for baptism is always by disciples. However, this “designation” is really a summation of gathering texts and coming to a conclusion inductively rather than by specific, positive, institution. Secondly, Paedo-Baptists do not deny that adult disciples should be baptized. It seems from the overall tone of the book that somehow Malone thinks Paedo-Baptists simply do not do this. He then attempts to make the Acts 11:26 some kind of overall paradigm that teaches only “disciples” who were called Christians, should be baptized. However, he seems to overlook a number of New Testament references to children being called saints, like in Ephesians 1:1 where he writes to the “saints” reflecting the tenor of Ephesians 6:1, “children.”
Point 14 demonstrated that baptism is a sign of the subject’s cleansing from sin, where actually, it is a symbol of cleansing or washing, but a sign of the covenant in Christ.
Point 15 is interesting to me since Malone, as a Baptist, calls baptism and the Lord’s Supper sacraments. As a Baptist this should disturb him. He also engages in a bit of prestidigitation here where he twists the Confession to his own liking. Here is how he quotes it, “That they are included as elements of worship under the regulative principle of worship positively instituted by God and “limited by his won revealed will” (WCF 20:1, 5). The elements of Christian worship governed by the regulative principle are all “expressly set down in scripture,” not deduced “by good and necessary inference.”” The WCF does not say this in chapter 20. Chapter 20 is on Christian Liberty. In Chapter 21 of the WCF it says this, “But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture…as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God.” In neither place does it mention the phrases “expressly set down in Scripture” nor “by good and necessary inference.” Yet, in any case, even when we must pick at the mind of God to understand His Word, whether he reveals it to us plainly, or by cryptic sayings, or by example, or by poetry or wisdom literature, in any case we are to follow it. To say that Christ does not institute infant inclusion in the covenant is to deny that Christ is Lord over the entire Bible. To say that Christ directly institutes infant inclusion in the covenant is seen all through the Bible, no matter how hard or easy exegesis allows us to come to this truth. What Malone is hoping for, is that everything we need to accomplish for the New Testament church is found in the New Testament and must be clearly articulated there. Infant inclusion in the covenant in the New Testament is clearly articulated both by Christ, and by the Apostles, as well as Luke. However, Malone would like to see specific verses that teach it, just as much as I would like to see specific verse that teach Credobaptism.
Chapter 1 – Preliminary Principles: Hermeneutics, Authority and baptism.
I do not intend to spend much time tearing down Malone’s straw man in a few of his main chapters. The reason is because I think Malone has made poor choices in which straw men he would like to build up and then attack. There are some comments I would like to make about his thoughts on hermeneutics.
He says, “The hermeneutical principles necessary to settle the question are usually agreed upon by both Baptists and Paedo-Baptists.” This is not true. Baptists tend to take their concordance and run around the New Testament attempting to find “infant Baptism” somewhere. When they do not, they look back at the Old Testament, while standing on the New Testament, railing against Paedo-Baptists for Judaizing the New Testament. This is a backwards hermeneutic. For instance, Malone will later talk about both Hebrews 8 and Acts 2 without looking in depth at Jeremiah 31 and Joel 2. We see no exegetical work that leads him to conclusions because his backwards hermeneutics begins with understanding the New Testament interpretation of Old Testament texts without understanding the Old Testament texts.
Malone then attacks John Murray. Personally, I can think of a number of better works to attack than Murray on baptism. In my opinion, though Murray is a good theologian, and influential in many ways in the 20th century, I think his arguments for Infant Baptism are lacking. I am wondering why Malone did not take to task men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Francis Turretin, Herman Witsius, etc. That would have been too much work. Any of the following works would have been better to check through, but interesting enough, not one of them is mentioned in his book at all: Calvin’s Institutes, by John Calvin – (4.8.16ff),
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3, Pages 356, 383, 414-20, by Francis Turretin, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 16, Pages 268ff, by John Owen, Systematic Theology, Pages 791ff
by R.L. Dabney, William the Baptist, by James Chaney, The Covenant of Life Opened, by Samuel Rutherford, The Scripturalness of Infant Baptism, by Ergatees, Anabaptism: The Fountain of Independency, Antinomy, Brownism, Familism, and the most of the other errors which for the time do trouble the church of England, Unsealed; Also, the Questions of Paedobaptism and Dipping Handled from Scripture by Robert Baillie, Letters on Baptism by Edmund B. Fairfield, Immersion and Immersionists, by W.A. Mackay, Infant Baptism, Its Nature and Objects by James Lumsden, The History of Infant Baptism in Two Parts by William Wall, A Defense of the History of Infant Baptism Against the Reflections of Mr. Gale and Others by William Wall A Plea for Infant Baptism in Seven Parts by James Milligan, The Origins of Infant Baptism, by Joachim Jeremias, and A Practical Discourse Concerning Vows with a Special Reference to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper by Edmund Calamy.
Malone leans into Murray’s arguments from “good and necessary inference” and does not believe that an instituted [sic!] “sacrament” should be made by “good and necessary” inference. Rather, Malone wants things positively stated. Too bad baptism itself is not set that way (but Malone seems to miss this entirely.) In a footnote he says, “Baptists believe that the NT antitype to Old Testament circumcision is heart circumcision, not baptism directly (Colossians 2:11-12: Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 6:15-16). In the OT, circumcision is prospective of the need of regeneration; in the NT, baptism is retrospective of regeneration received.” This is simply nonsense. I ask “Why?” at the end of his notation. Its nice to say, “Baptists believe…” whatever, but is it true based on Scripture? He misunderstands what Christ accomplished and what Baptism signifies. Paedo-baptists are not interested in a “replacement” theology. Briefly stated, circumcision was the sign of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament given to Abraham. The sign in the flesh demonstrated the need for heart circumcision (Deut. 10:16 and Jer. 4:4). In Christ circumcision is fulfilled, but not abrogated. It continues in heart circumcision (as it had always done), and the covenant sign of the New Testament is baptism. The sign symbolizes regeneration as well – the need for cleansing. Baptism does not replace circumcision respectively since heart circumcision continues which is what circumcision was all about. The Spirit circumcises the heart (Col. 2:11-12) and fulfillment of being washed by Christ from sin is seen in the sign of the covenant – baptism. As Moses and the Israelites (all of them) were baptized into the wilderness (most likely a notation on why they were not circumcised having a “covenant” antitype sign on them in the Old Testament under the Covenant of Grace) so now we are baptized by the fulfilled work of the circumcising Spirit of Grace. Malone believes that the New Testament sign itself signifies “actual” regeneration, and that the New Testament sign itself symbolizes the fulfilled work of Christ and heart circumcision now applied in the washing of water. How could Malone ever, in any case, be sure that he is baptizing someone who is actually regenerate? Would it be a misuse of the ordinance, from a Baptist perspective, to baptize someone not regenerate? This is the contending factor of the entire polemic. However, Malone is never, ever, able to bring this to pass in any church. His formulation of baptism will fail every time he administers it since he can never be sure he is administering it successfully. This is a dubious New Testament ordnance for Baptists indeed! He says “We are not knowingly to allow the unregenerate into the church.” A first problem is that God knowingly and by command had unregenerates in his church in the Old Testament and commanded Abraham to continue this for all generations. That places a big question mark on Malone’s view of God’s wisdom. Second, the sign was given and administered to the unregenerate church member of the Old Testament. Third, Malone is making a subtle New Testament distinction here through his blatant Dispensationalism where he divides the New Testament church from the Old Testament congregation. So to speak, Malone is saying, “In the New Testament we are not to have the unregenerate in the church.” How then does he work the church and Israel into one body, one faith, and one baptism? He does not. Instead, he resorts to a Dispensational Covenantal view of the Bible.
Another note Malone makes in this chapter is what happens in the Paedo-Baptist mind when a covenant member of the Covenant of Grace apostatizes. Does he go back into the Covenant of Works? And if he is saved does he come back to the Covenant of Grace? These are not hard questions and Malone should not fictitiously overlook the answer. If a covenant member breaks covenant with God the covenant is not lost – it is broken. It is the same with marriage. A person divorces another and breaks covenants in which, if they do this unlawfully, they then remarry and cause themselves and the other party to commit adultery according to Jesus in Matthew 19. The covenant does not go away after it is broken. The covenant curses are laid on the individual (See the entire book of Deuteronomy.)
In checking the corroboration of Murray’s ideas for baptism, Malone asks, “the question remains: Then why did Jesus not baptize these children” in terms of the blessing he gave them and the account in Matthew 18:1-6; 10:13-14; Luke 18:15-17)? Actually, that is not the question at all. First a statement is made – if the New Covenant is completely different than the “covenants” in the Old Testament, any of them, then we should not find similar thoughts or actions of Old Testament ideas seen in the New Testament. The question becomes, “Why does Jesus take the time to bless these children if Malone is right and God is only concerned with the regenerate church? Is this an act of futility?” For Malone, and his “covenantal Baptist” theology, the answer is yes – this is a waste of Jesus’ time, and Jesus, consequently really does not know what he is doing or even why He came. For Malone, Jesus came as the Mediator for the New Covenant which translates into the “regenerate.” For Jesus, it seems He came to do something more. If blessing the children is not grounded in the Old Testament covenantal ideas, then Jesus, in this passage, from a Baptist view, does not understand his own theology. Misunderstanding theology is a sin.
When Christ blesses the children, baptizing them is not the issue. The issue remains as to why Jesus would do such a thing in light of Malone’s theology. He has no answer for this. The question should be asked, “When the Messiah comes, and the people are looking for His inauguration, what do they do with their children?” Accordingly, women were bringing little children – babies – to Jesus. Why? Why would mothers want to give their babies to Jesus? (And babies here can be up to a year old, or so based on the Greek wording). They want their children to be part of the covenantal Kingdom that the Messiah came to inaugurate. Jesus blesses them and states, emphatically, that the Kingdom belongs to them. These babies own the Kingdom. What will Malone do with this? He remarks on this later denying they are babies.
Malone asks another question, “How do we know that baptism is extended to females except from commands and examples in the New Testament?” He must not be aware of the Old Testament circumcision of females. Were females circumcised in the OT? Of course – they were virtually circumcised. Here is how Covenant Theologians think this through: First question: Were Israelite women able to partake of the Passover? Answer: I do not know of anyone who would disagree. The entire family was obligated by God to do so. Problem: Exodus 12:48 describes the proselyte males who shall be circumcised in order to eat of the Passover. He says, “And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land.” Then the problem arises, God says – “For no uncircumcised person shall eat it.” Females are not formally circumcised. God says that no uncircumcised person having a “foreskin” can eat of the Passover. Women actually have this (but I am not going to get into the medical aspects of it – you can look it up on your own.) If females, then, are not circumcised, how does God allow them to eat of the Passover? Answer: They are circumcised through Federal Headship – the father of the family, otherwise they would remain unclean and cutoff (that which symbols the cutting of the flesh of the foreskin and discarding it). Second Question: How do we know they are “virtually” circumcised, or they are seen as circumcised in order to be acceptable in this regard, and partake of the Passover, for instance? Answer: The ratification of the covenant is where we find the answer. The Scriptures give us an example of covenant faithfulness where God, and everyone bound by the covenant, must be solemnly set forth. Genesis 15:17 says, “And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram…” We know that to “covenant” means to “cut.” The ratification of this “cutting” is done through an ontological adherence to the cut pieces of the covenant. God himself passes through the pieces of the covenant animals and sacrifice. He says, without saying it, but through action, “Whatever is done to these animals, let it be done to me if I do not uphold my side of the covenant.” In the same manner, any person who “covenants” with God can be “cut off”. They are cast out of the covenant if they are found unfaithful. This is likened to the foreskin of the male organ being “cut off and cast away.” The “sin” is purged from the camp. Blood must be spilt, as the foreskin cut had spilt blood. Not only is the covenant sign given in the flesh, but it also acts as the ratification of the covenant. The seed passes through the covenant cutting, just as God passes through the covenant cutting. The sign of this passing was circumcision so that the male, the head of the family, continually carried around the ratification of the covenant in his flesh, and hopefully, in his heart as well (Deut. 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4). Each time the lineage of the faithful (the children of Abraham) pass through the cutting of the covenant sign in the flesh of the foreskin, one of two things will happen – 1) God would regenerate them and they would continue to uphold the physical and spiritual aspects of the covenant, or 2) God would not regenerate them and they would ultimately be “cut off” and “cast away.” (Achan, Dathan, Korah, AND THEIR FAMILIES – women and children included based on federal headship). If the female did not symbolically partake of this ratification, of which the covenant stands or falls in blessing or curse upon them, they would not be able to be part of the “clean” people of God. They would remain as covenant breakers who do not believe the promises of God, as the proselyte was until he was circumcised willingly, and baptized with his entire family as Maimonedies sets forth concerning Jewish history. The females would also not be able to partake of the Passover if they there not considered being clean, or circumcised, by oath. The seed passing through the cutting of the covenant is the same as God passing through the cutting of the covenant. In this way they ratify the oath made. And it also expresses the monergistic aspect of salvation in that the seed, not being sentient, is bound by the covenant stipulations. When a male passed through this same ratification, he not only bound himself to the covenant, but also is given the role of carrying around that covenant in his flesh to continue its outward, and visible administration of a spiritual truth (Genesis 17). It seems Malone was not thinking about this at all.
Malone finally denies that the sacrament is a sacrament by arguing against William Cunningham’s use of the term “seal” in reference to the baptism of children. Malone asks, “What efficacy? Where is this even mentioned of baptism in the Scriptures?” Rom. 4:11; Col. 2:11-12 help us with this, and Malone seems to overlook this. Baptism, being the New Testament covenant sign, does not lose the efficacy that God intends in it, but is strengthen by the fulfillment of it being secured by Christ. As circumcision was the Old Testament sign, so baptism is the New Testament fulfillment of that sign. Instead of a bloody tearing away, it is now a cleansing and washing. The Westminster Confession of Faith in 28:1 states this clearly, and the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith removes this completely in 29:1. This demonstrates the radical discontinuity that the dissenters had against the orthodox church in both the meaning behind the sacrament and the sacrament’s administration as well.
Malone then attempts to dismember Murray’s good and necessary inference by a simple fallacious argument called “ignoratio elenchi” or irrelevant conclusion, and even attempts to pit the Westminster Confession against Murray. This is humorous. Malone does say that it is valid for exegetes to draw inferences from Scripture, but he just does not like the inferences that Murray draws and enters into a subjective battle here. Is this hermeneutics? Not really. It seems Malone cannot accept the idea that good and necessary inference is just as valid in exegeting the Bible and the Mind of God, as if God were to say “Thou shalt not kill.” It would be nice if the Bible simply explained everything, but the very reason why Malone wrote his book demonstrates that God’s mind is hard to pick at on difficult truths. Malone believes that Murray’s inference contradicts believer’s baptism. It is a wonder, then, why most of church history has embraced Paedo-baptism while still baptizing professing disciples. Has Malone missed this point? Paedo-Baptism does not contradict believer’s baptism because of the nature of the sacrament as a sign and seal. Malone, though, reinterprets the meaning of the New Testament sacrament to reflect something that he does not explain God commanded as an Old Testament sacrament. Abraham circumcised Isaac, an 8 day old child. The sign he placed on him was the covenant sign of circumcision, and it symbolized regeneration. Why would Abraham apply a sign that symbolized regeneration on an unregenerate? Why does Malone fight this when God commanded it? Why does Malone desire to negate the sacrament in the New Testament of its efficacy? The reason lies chiefly in the reality that Malone will completely overhaul and reinterpret the meaning behind what “covenant” means. He totally abandons Covenant Theology for the last 2000 years beginning with Irenaeus and Augustine, up through the Reformers, the English Puritans, the colonial separatists, Edwards, the Princeton divines, etc. Instead, he must, of necessity redefine “covenant” in order for his “new dispensational” system to work.
Malone then quotes Andrew Sandlin (a recognized Federal Vision advocate whose eschatological theology is as over realized as Malone’s), and the Westminster Confession demonstrating that things deduced are not as binding as things clearly stated. This is absolute nonsense. God’s mind, in whatever degree it is given in the Scriptures is equally binding as if He were to blatantly tell us something. To say otherwise is to overthrow the inspiration of revelation.
Chapter 2 – Biblical Principles of Interpretation and Infant Baptism
Malone restates his “concerns” from his previous pamphlet “A String of Pearls Unstrung.” His concern paralleled Passover and Communion. If Baptism replaces circumcision, then Communion replaces Passover, and all those of the house in the Old Testament ate of the Passover. Why then are Paedo-Baptists inconsistent in the New Testament with Communion? Malone seems to fail in recognizing that the first instance of communion was not in the New Testament, but in Genesis 14 with Abraham and Melchizedek. Christ’s High Priesthood was never, at any time, void, which means Melchizedek’s ministry to Abraham was as valid as Christ’s priesthood, lest Christ’s be abolished along with Melchizedek’s. Passover then becomes scaffolding that is done away with when the building is complete. Passover directly related to the escape from Egypt and the Death Angel that came to destroy the firstborn. Communion reflects the sacrifice of Christ’s death. Yet, the New Testament expressly demonstrates, though there is exegetical contention here between some Paedo-Baptists, that the one partaking of communion in the New Testament should examine himself. Children cannot do this. However, a good case for both Passover and Communion resides in the question of breast-feeding. When a mother who has eaten the Passover or Communion breastfeeds her child, the child, literally “partakes” of it. In any case, and whichever argument one desires to hold to in this instance, Malone is trying to discredit the manner in which Paedo-Baptists deal with hermeneutics. If they believe baptism replaces circumcision (which we covered briefly already saying it does not in Malone’s sense), then why do they neglect to do this with Passover and Communion. If one holds to the Melchizedekian priesthood correctly, then the argument for “replacement” theology is wrong. Malone, then, would not be “sharp” in applying this argument at all, rather, it would suggest his dubious exegetical work for forgetting about the Old Testament practice of the communion elements in the line of Jesus’ priesthood begun 4000 years ago. Genesis 14:18 is clear, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.”
Malone then lists a series of questions that have, in his mind, important implications. Two that are relevant, or are important for the discussion in his book, are numbers 2 and numbers 8. Number 2, “What has changed in the application of the covenant family concept from the Old covenant administration to the New Covenant Administration?” This is vague at best. What old covenant does he mean? I assume he means between Moses and Christ (which is what he should be referring to). If he is right, and there is a shift, then one should easily run through the New Testament and find little, if any, covenant language that reflect families. Nothing about “promises to children” or “household baptisms” etc. That language should be done away with if Malone is going to continue pressing his radical “individualism” in the New Testament. It is not the Covenant of Grace that is being done away with, but the scaffolding of the Mosaic covenant that is no longer needful. His point 8 says, “What exactly are the covenant blessings for the new Covenant child of believers?” Simply, they are the same as they were for Old Testament believers and their children. This question, in and of itself, screams Dispensational thought. Malone is so sure that the Old Covenant (which in his mind means everything before Malachi) and the New Covenant are so radically different (and that is due to his improper designations of the covenants) that something different must be happening in the New Covenant. This is based, wholly and completely, on poor exegesis of Hebrews 8 and Jeremiah 31, as we will see.
Malone then gives us a brief overview of the grammatico-historical use of hermeneutics. This is all well and good. He uses Augustine’s paradigm “the New is in the Old concealed: the Old is in the New revealed.” Unfortunately, as I previously stated, Malone does not believe this, though he says he does. He says, “The New Testament has a priority to teach how the Old is fulfilled in it as the inspired commentary on the Old Testament.” I am shocked that Malone does not see his bad hermeneutic here. What does he mean that the New Testament has “priority?” Does this mean that Hebrews 8 dictates what Jeremiah 31 says even if Jeremiah 31 says something different that Hebrew 8? Will the New Testament ever contradict the plain meaning of the Old Testament? If we were to exegete Jeremiah 31 and then exegete Hebrews 8, would we expect to arrive at the same conclusions? I hope he thinks so. But it does not sound like he is on that page. It seems to me that Malone, like a good Baptist, will use his notions of the Apostles in the New Testament to trump the teachings of the Old Testament.
Malone then says, “According to Bernard Ram, typology has been the major area of disagreement between dispensational and covenantal scholars.” What Malone should be saying here is that Baptists, who are Dispensationalists, disagree with Covenant Theologians over the idea of “covenant.” This is the tension.
Malone then lists five hermeneutical principles. They are as follows: 1) the near context is more determinative of meaning than the far context. 2) A didactic or systematic discussion of a subject is more significant than a historical or descriptive narrative. 3) Related to number is the principle that explicit teaching is more significant than supposed implications of a text. 5) Later passages reflect a fuller revelation than earlier. It is interesting to me that Malone lists these in order to demonstrate that New Testament texts rule Old Testament texts. He uses the example of Jeremiah 31 and Hebrew 8 on page 36, three pages after he gives this list. He says there, “For instance, the Old Testament’s institution of circumcision must not take precedence over how the New Testament defines the meaning and fulfillment of circumcision.” This is true. If the Old Testament, though, is at odds with the theologian’s New Testament explanation, then there is a problem with the exegete rather than the texts. Then he says, “The New Covenant itself is a prophecy from the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:40), but it must not be interpreted in opposition to the New Testament explanation (Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17).” This is also true, but what if the exegete has misunderstood Hebrews 8 because he did not know what Jeremiah 31-32 said or was really conveying? Then his exegesis becomes dubious and violates the very principles Malone sets down. The question is then posed – here we have Jeremiah 31-32 and Hebrews 8 – which do we exegete first? The Baptist exegetes Hebrews 8 first, and the Covenant Theology interpret Jeremiah first. According to Malone’s list of principles, we should exegete Jeremiah 31 first. Whenever we find a text quoted in the New Testament the exegete should immediately stop and take on the exegesis of that statement first, then come back to the New Testament to be sure he understands the context and meaning of the passage. However, Malone seems to be pushing for Hebrews 8 to rightly interpret of exegesis of Jeremiah 31, instead of allowing the two passages to compliment one another (which they do). Subsequently, we have no exegetical work to test Malone’s theories on either Hebrews 8 or Jeremiah 31.
Malone then lists three errors that are hermeneutically made: 1) the Dispensational error, 2) the normative worship error, and 3) Theonomic Error. It is strange to me that since Malone sees the covenants of the Old Testament as different than the Covenant of Grace, how is it that he escapes Dispensationalism? By his own admission he has made a hermeneutical error. In the normative worship error, Malone continues to say that New Testament worship is dictated by the New Testament not the Old Testament. We have already talked about this at length. If one is dispensational, this “error” in the Dispensational mind will always be the case. The Theonomic error is a horse of a different color, and far beyond the scope of Malone’s book. He says that there is no evidence for the truth that the case laws of the Old Testament contained moral principles based on the Ten Commandments. What will Malone use to uphold the case laws if not the character of God seen in the Law? I think that Malone is not only having a hard time in dealing with the sacrament of baptism, but he has gone far past the scope and intention of his work to deal with theonomy rightly, or even fairly.
Matthew 28:18-20 is quoted and Malone emphasizes that “them” is important. The Apostles are to make “Disciples”. How do they do this? Malone says “baptize them” and “teach them.” He says Matthew is saying the “them” refers to disciples, not nations. Regardless of whether they refer to disciples or nations, Malone has stuck his foot in his mouth here. How does one make disciples? Baptize them, and then teach them. This is true. Disciples are made in this way. Malone says, throughout the rest of his book, that they are taught first, then saved, then baptized upon profession of faith. Why then does Jesus say baptizing them first and then teaching them subsequently makes disciples? Malone has befuddled a key text.
Malone says, “The acceptance of Paedobaptism inevitably opens the door to these other errors.” He is taking about the three errors of Dispensationalism, Normative Worship errors, and Theonomy. How does this inevitably happen? We are not told. Malone simply thinks this. It is interesting that his Dispensationalism has been left out of the bag here.
Malone then moves into describing his “right” hermeneutic for baptizing disciples alone. He first says that we ought not to throw out the Old Testament. He says the Old Testament are prophecies of the New to come. This is a common blunder. The Old Testament prophecies of the New Testament will fulfill, not simply describe or replace, the Old Testament. For instance, the High Priesthood of Melchizedek in Genesis 17 will continue forever in Jesus. It never stopped, was never voided, and will never lose its significance. Malone attempts to affirm the unity of Scripture, but his practical outworking of this will be seen by his poor hermeneutics in extreme diversity. He believes that the New Testament is limited by its diversity from the Old Testament. “Limited” is a poor term; fulfilled would be more useful. Jesus did not come to “limit” the Law and Prophets, but to “fulfill them.” Malone, then, uses this sentence to guide his hermeneutics, “The New which was in the Old concealed finally has been revealed by the New, explaining in a final authoritative way how it was concealed in the Old.” This is not necessarily a bad way of stating the idea. However, Malone’s hermeneutic will reinterpret this sentence to say, “The New which was in the Old concealed finally has been revealed by the New, explaining in a final authoritative way how it was concealed in the Old, and the only final authority for understanding the Old even over the Old itself.” Why does Malone need to override the quote he previously gave by Augustine? (The New is in the Old concealed and in the New the Old revealed.) The reason is because this places too much of an equality on both, where Malone wishes the New Testament alone to rule by positive institution everything he does in worship. He is hermeneutically interpreting hermeneutics by his own grid. In order for us to understand Hebrews, we must understand the Old Testament first. This is where Malone is going to differ and why he changes the intent of the quote above.
Malone ends this chapter with this paragraph, “If we follow these principles consistently, we must first conclude that supposed “good and necessary inference” from the Old Testament cannot carry more weight that the New Testament command and example expressly set down in scripture, especially for the “sacraments instituted by Christ” himself.” Why do we have to conclude this? Malone’s reinterpretation of hermeneutics, and his own unknowing admission of Dispensational ideas have already pigeonholed him into a false hermeneutic to start with. Why would we need to listen to him any longer? The Old Testament and the New Testament carry equal weight in understand the revealed mind of God. No doubt, the New Testament explains many things hidden in the Old Testament, but New Testament interpretation resides on the information in the Old Testament. Without understanding this progressively first, and in exegetical detail, exegetes will always begin their hermeneutics backwards starting in the New. If Matthew 1:1 says, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of David the Son of Abraham…” The thinking reader is going to ask, “Who is Abraham?” and “Who is David?” They are right questions in order to understand who Jesus is. They have to go back to the Old first to understand Abraham and David in the New.
Section II: The String of Pearls: Covenant Theology, the New Covenant, and Baptism
The Covenant Theology of the Bible (part I): Paedo-Baptist versus Baptist Views
Malone starts off in this chapter and section by missing the point altogether. He says, “Indeed, voices from both Baptist and Paedo-Baptist ranks shout that if one accepts Covenant Theology in principle, then one has to go all the way and accept infant baptism.” Then in the footnote he says that this simply “reactionary” and Reformed Baptists do not accept this. We have already seen that “Reformed Baptist” is an oxymoron. This demonstrates Malone’s inconsistency in his own understanding of history and theology. Secondly, he has his conceptions incorrect. The sentence should read, “Indeed, voices from both Baptist and Paedo-Baptist ranks shout that if one accepts Covenant Theology in principle, then one has to go all the way and accept infant inclusion in the Covenant of Grace.” Infant baptism comes later. In a three hour conversation on Covenant Theology infant baptism comes at the last three minutes.
Baptists hold to “covenantal” theology but they do not hold to Covenant Theology. There is a great gulf fixed here between Dispensational Theology and Covenant Theology. To diverge and dismiss the underlying theological reasons of “covenant” and “sacramental theology at the outset, as Malone has done, removes him from the camp of “Covenant Theology.” I am glad, though, that he did not say he was a Covenant Theologian.”
Malone says that classic Covenant Theologians are men like Berkhof and O. Palmer Robertson. No offense intended, but I would have chosen Augustine, Calvin, Witsius and Owen. Why does Malone not deal with all the sources he should be dealing with? He uses Owen but does not deal with him.
Malone then makes a theological blunder with describing the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Redemption. He says that he believes in the Covenant of Redemption and seems to describe it well. But then he says, “Some identify the Covenant of Redemption with another covenant, the so-called Covenant of Grace. There is little difference between the two positions.” This is absurd. There is a huge difference between Covenant Theology that teaches the Covenant of Redemption being eternal and where all the predestination passages take place, and the Covenant of Grace that is the outworking of that covenant in time, and the second position that melds the two together to make salvation and covenant inclusion coextensive. This is the heart of the matter between Covenant Theology and Malone’s theology. He simply does not understand the two positions if he is saying this.
He then says, “Covenantal Paedo-Baptists and Baptists also both believe in the historical Covenant of Grace that God made with His elect.” This must be qualified because Malone and I do not see eye to eye on this. God makes his Covenant of Grace with his elect and the seed of the elect believer. Malone denies this. This statement then is false and inaccurate at best. Then, Malone begins to make a distinction between Genesis 3:15 (The Covenant of Grace) and the “covenants of promise” seen through the Old Testament. Here is where his Dispensationalism comes to fruition. To divide the two (the Covenant of Grace and the other “covenants”) is to divide the nature of how God views Israel, the church, and the manner He saves in both eras. Rather, the Covenant of Grace is the covenant of promise given to Abraham, and the law, or the scaffolding around the building of the Covenant of Grace, will be done away with when Jesus comes. Covenant Theology and Malone’s theology are radically different. He then says, “Covenantal Paedo-Baptists and Baptists both believe that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and is the clearest and final fulfillment of the historical Covenant of Grace. The New Covenant is therefore the fulfillment of that eternal Covenant of Redemption to save God’s elect people (2 Tim. 2:1-8).” The first sentence is true, but Malone is going to show us he really does not believe this. The second sentence is false. The New Covenant is the expression of the Covenant of Redemption in time, and the Covenant of Redemption will be fulfilled in the eschatological eons of eternity.
Malone then says, on the next page, that “the tendency of Paedo-Baptists to make the Abrahamic Covenant with its organic elements almost identical to the Covenant of Grace and, thus, the New Covenant administration.” Correct me if I am wrong, but this is a blatant contradiction to what he just said on the previous page. He said, “Covenantal Paedo-Baptists and Baptists both believe that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and is the clearest and final fulfillment of the historical Covenant of Grace,” and then says, “the tendency of Paedo-Baptists to make the Abrahamic Covenant with its organic elements almost identical to the Covenant of Grace and, thus, the New Covenant administration.” Did he proofread this before publication? He seems to be putting some weight into the word “organic” here. If the Abrahamic Covenant is the same as the New Covenant (which it is), then it cannot be different. If the New Covenant fulfills the Abrahamic Covenant then they cannot be different essentially. Malone insists they are different. He believes the seed of Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and those that are of faith in Abraham are the true seeds. This is not wrong, but his conception of “covenant” is going to assume that God’s dealing with unregenerate infants, in any covenant, new or old, is going to be a mystery. Why would God bother to have children included in the covenant, if “covenant” does not pertain to them in any way, but only as one of faith? He will have to, then, reinterpret the meaning of “covenant” for the entire Bible, which is exactly what he does, in order to make all this work.
Malone quotes Robertson to define covenant as a “bond in blood sovereignly administered by God.” This is necessarily wrong, and hardly a definition of Reformed Theology. For instance, the Davidic expression of the Covenant of Grace does not include God talking about blood at all. However, Malone uses Robertson’s definition as what “Paedo-Baptists” believe. This is a fallacy. Reformed Theologians have always defined “covenant” as a “pact or agreement between two parties.” Next, he quotes Booth who adds the classic stipulations, blessings and curses of the covenant. Malone dislikes this and desires that every covenant speak for itself. This is interesting since Malone is going to quote Ecclesiastes and Hosea to explain Genesis 2 and the Covenant of Works. Why does he play with words in this way? Why not let Genesis 2 speak for itself. The reason is that Genesis 2 is not a complete picture, or rather, not as complete as we would like it in clear statements, to describe the situation. Other parts of the Scripture must accompany this. But Malone, in his exegetical fallacy here, uses other Scriptures to define Genesis 2. He should have listened to his own advice and allowed each covenant to speak for itself. But this is an impossibility, for all of the Bible, by the Analogy of Scripture, will help us define the basic meaning of covenant and it uses. He says that Booth says the New Covenant is breakable by those who apostatize. Malone says this cannot be. Covenant Theology, orthodox theological history, says that is exactly what we understand the Scriptures to say. But this must be qualified by understanding what is meant in the New Covenant, church, membership, excommunication, etc. Malone says, “In the New Covenant there is no curse for covenant breaking.” Has Malone read the New Testament? Surely he cannot miss the warning passages? Actually, he does address them later, but does injustice to them and their intent, as we will see. Each covenant, Malone says, should be interpreted in its own context and allowed to define what covenant means in each context. The problem with this is that “covenant” throughout the Bible, has essentially the same meaning. To define all the contexts in all the Bible of covenant bring certain ideas in view: Preamble (identifying the suzerain) Historical prologue (recounting the suzerain’s beneficent dealings with the vassal) Stipulations (stating the suzerain’s requirements of the vassal) Sanctions (blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience) Dynastic disposition (providing for how the relationship is to be perpetuated in the face of changing circumstances). This is the basic constitution of “covenant” seen with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Christ. Malone then attempts to demonstrate that since the immediate context of the Abrahamic Covenant does not include a curse (?) then this shows that the Abrahamic Covenant should be defined on its own terms. That is as consistent as saying the Adamic Covenant does not say, “covenant” so it is not one, though Malone believes it is. “Covenant” elements are stipulated through the Bible, and as “covenant” is used, the significations of “covenant” are applied. The Bible does not have to give us everything we would like it to give in every situation. In essence, after Adam, we should be well aware of what a “covenant” includes.