Quill and writing

‘Baptistic’ Thinking Under Review

Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them.
They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed. [Ps 22:4,5]

Baptistic theology is flawed.  Subtly, yet very seriously, its tendency is to devalue the Old Testament within our Bible.  This tendency is typically noticeable among ‘Baptistic’ Churches in which sermons and series are predominantly preached from New Testament passages/texts.  Even among Baptist churches that do reference the OT Scriptures (e.g. my own) there is a general tendency to elevate the spirituality of the NT and to neglect the Law of God as it is laid out in magnificent glory within the OT.  It was interesting to note that John Huss would visit and preach in many towns throughout Germany before the Reformation finally broke.  After each such occasion he would leave behind a hand-written copy of the Decalogue for the townsfolk.  It is rare to hear the Ten Commandments loudly and clearly affirmed in many contemporary so called reformed constituencies.

The tacit implication of Baptistic thinking is that throughout the Old Testament, God was, at best, only involved in a few rare incidents & the Holy Spirit active in any significant sense within the hearts of relatively few heroes & saints whom we read about in its pages.  Regeneration, the sanctifying grace of Christ in the heart of true saints, is projected as a New Testament characteristic.  It is argued that this activity of regeneration is so obvious and clear in the New Covenant dispensation that we need a new ordinance – i.e. water baptism – to celebrate its manifestation & reality within the Christian Church.

The damage implicitly done to the Chriistian ‘faith’ community – in this author’s humble opinion – is considerable.  The Old Testament is greatly neglected, the Law of God is relegated in importance, children raised in faithful Christian households are frequently made to stumble, God’s sovereignty is undermined, God’s promise is rejected, God’s everlasting Covenant of Grace is misunderstood and truncated, and private personal holiness is preached as God’s primary (often exclusive) concern.  Thus Baptistic thinking represents a new manifestation of the spirit of ‘Marcionism’ – i.e. a 2nd century heresy which denigrated the Old Testament scriptures as spiritually inferior to their New Testament counterparts.

The following extracts from Stephen J Wellum – the warrant supplied to me by one reformed Baptist minister – and my own comments will hopefully serve to illustrate my concern.  Fuller & doubtless far more extensive and scholarly critiques of Wellum can be found.  E.g. here, here and here.

Wellum dislikes the tendency of Covenant Theology to identify the Abrahamic Covenant with the Covenant of Grace.  In doing so Wellum over-simplifies the ‘Covenant of Grace’:  He writes,

In order to make headway in the baptismal divide and think biblically regarding the relationships between the covenants, we should place a moratorium on “covenant of grace” as a category when speaking of the biblical covenants and the relationships between them. In its place, let us speak of the one plan of God or the eternal purposes of God centered in Jesus Christ, for that is what the language of the “covenant of grace” is seeking to underscore. [Page 31/66]

This simplistic.  The notion of covenant connotes more than mere ‘PLAN/PURPOSE’.  Bound up in a proper understanding of ‘covenant’ in Scripture are the following elements, helpfully enumerated by Ray Sutton.  [See here]

  • Transcendence – God’s metaphysical priority by virtue of Him being the Creator
  • Hierarchy – God’s prerogative as Creator over His creatures
  • Ethics – God’s moral sovereignty as Law Giver
  • Oaths – both God’s promises & ours solemnly undertaken and sealed with blood.
  • Succession – God’s promise to maintain special ‘covenantal relationship’ with our progeny.


Wellum is not dissimilar from his close cousins – ‘New Covenant’ theologians’ (John Reisinger, Jon Zens et al)  – who tend to pit Moses against Abraham.  Wellum’s own preference is to denude the Abrahamic/Mosaic covenants of their evangelical character and to contrast them with the more regenerative characteristic of the New Testament economy.  In both cases, the wholesome evangelical character of God’s Old Covenant dealings is subtly attacked.  Further disquieting consequences follow.  Thus,


Wellum dislikes the tendency of Covenant Theology to distinguish between the Visible & Invisible Church.  He writes,

In a Baptist view, at least in the one I will defend, even though there is only one people of God throughout the ages, there is a redemptive-historical difference between OT Israel and the NT church. No doubt, there is a significant amount of continuity in the one people of God, but there is also a significant amount of discontinuity as well, by virtue of our Redeemer’s work which has inaugurated the entire new covenant age and who has brought to
fulfilment all the promises, types, and covenants of the OT. That is why in a Baptist view of the church, what is unique about the nature of the new covenant community is that it comprises a regenerate, believing people, not a mixed people like Israel of old.  [page 17/66]

What Wellum (& Baptists in general) TEND to believe is that ‘spirituality’ came of age with the advent of Christ.  They fail to perceive the actual dealings & existential experiences of OT saints as authentically spiritual.  They conflate the obvious lack of light & comprehension that characterised OT saints (even John the Baptist! [see Matt 11:11]) with a supposed inferior spiritual walk, etc.  But everywhere the NT speaks positively of OT saintliness.

Again, Wellum explicitly denies that the NT allows for the faith community (visible church) being a ‘mixed multitude of regenerate & non-regenerate participants:

However, what is at debate is whether the nature of the covenant community changes in Christ, specifically whether the church is a “mixed” community like Israel of old. As with the previous discussion, whole books have been written on this subject, so the discussion here is necessarily abbreviated. But the crucial point to note in regard to baptism is that the NT church everywhere is viewed as a regenerate, believing community. [p51/66]

This is simplistic.  By contrast, Covenant Theology teaches that both the Old Testament community and the New Testament Church represent a VISIBLE body of believers made up of both true (regenerate) disciples and mere ‘professors’.  Passages from both the OT & NT abound.  Certainly the OT ‘church’ was a mixed multitude (see Rom 9:6).  But Jesus warned that His own visible NT Church would be a mixed multitude – see Parables of sheep & goats (Matt 25), wise & foolish virgins (Matt 25), sower & seeds (Matt 13) together with His solemn warnings – e.g. “Many will say to Me….” (Matt 7:22).  The solemn warnings issued to the Seven Churches in Asia (Rev 1-3) similarly plainly imply the possibility of FORMAL identification with the VISIBLE Church being discontinuous with actual membership of the INVISIBLE (regenerative) faith community. Doug Wilson is helpfully quoted by Wellum:

The baptistic assumption is that the (Old) covenants are unlike (the New Covenant). Some Old Covenant members were regenerate, some were not. All New Covenant members are regenerate. The paedobaptist assumption is that the covenants are alike in this respect. Some Old Covenant members were regenerate, some were not. Some New Covenant members are regenerate, some are not. The paedobaptist holds that the difference between the covenants is that the promises in the New are much better—meaning that the ratio of believer to unbeliever will drastically change. The history of the New Israel will not be dismal like the Old Israel. [page 21/66]

Wellum identifies New Covenant saints as exclusively REGENERATE:

…covenant theology’s discussion of “newness” fails to reckon that in the coming of Christ the nature and structure of the new covenant has changed, which, at least, entails that all those within the “new covenant community” are people, by definition, who presently have experienced regeneration of heart and the full forgiveness of sin (see Jer 31:29–34) …..

The new covenant people of God are all those, regardless of ethnicity or circumcision, who have confessed Christ as Lord, the true/spiritual seed of Abraham. It includes all those who believe in Christ and who have been born of his Spirit. That is why, in the end, Scripture teaches that we should only baptize those who are Christ’s covenant children—those who are actually in the covenant by God’s grace through regeneration and saving faith.

Specifically, the change is found in the shift from a mixed community to that of a regenerate community with the crucial implication that under the new covenant, the covenant sign must only be applied to those who are in that covenant, namely, believers. [42/66]

No, regeneration is and always has been a SECRET UNSEEN work of God.  The New Testament community of faith PRACTICALLY & NECESSARILY must remain a mixture of regenerate & unregenerate.  There is no infallible way of knowing for sure who’s in & who’s out.

Wellum (citing DA Carson – a neo-New Covenant Theologian) contends that the Holy Spirit was largely inactive in the OT faith community:

In the NT, the Spirit is presented as the agent who not only gives us life but also enables us to follow God’s decrees and to keep God’s laws, thus making us covenant-keepers and not covenant-breakers. The role which Israel was supposed to play is now fulfilled in us, the church, by the Spirit. [p46];

Circumcision, in a typological way, may anticipate and point to these new covenant realities, but it does not testify that all these realities are true of us. [64/66]

This sort of outlook represents a subtle but yet sinister attack on the OT Scriptures.  With it, the ghost of Marcionism come back to haunt us.  No, OT spirituality is everywhere acknowledged & vindicated by NT authors.  The OT provides the source ‘proof-texts’ for each “SPIRITUAL” truth affirmed in the NT.  The OT practitioners of faith as our evangelical forbears enjoyed a saintly walk with God (see Ps 116:15) &, though without the full light of the fullness of the Cannon, nevertheless experienced God existentially.  They were, as Paul says in 1Cor 13, looking through a glass darkly; as a child, thinking & reasoning as a child, etc.  The fruit of their testimony is the OT Scriptures!  This ‘baptistic’ accounting of excessive contrast in NATURE as well as form between Old & New Covenant was everywhere present in the writings of the Anabaptists who were justly hounded and reproached by our great forbears – the Reformers.  To comprehend just what it was that grieved & provoked the Reformers to the core of their being you have to look no further than this realisation – that the Anabaptists implicitly despised OT spirituality.  Covenantal Theology, properly explained and espoused guards against this gargantuan error.  Augustine’s dictum stands: ‘The New is in the Old concealed; Old is in the New revealed’.

The following quote from Wellum illustrates the awful tendency of a baptistic comprehension.

Indeed, the new covenant promise in Jer 31:33 of the “law written on their hearts” combined with Ezek 36:25–27 pointed forward to the day when the entire covenant community would be circumcised in heart. This emphasis picks up the teaching of the prophets that physical circumcision only availed the one who had been spiritually circumcised (see Rom 2:25–29). In this sense, circumcision serves as a type that finds its fulfilment and replacement in regeneration. [61/66]

i.e. regeneration is essentially a NT development!!!!  The consequential diminution of spirituality bound up in the OT Scriptures is plainly inferred.  Happily, within the ‘baptistic’ Church I attend, there is a healthy respect for the OT but more generally I have noticed that the OT is often neglected and vast portions are largely ignored.  I have never heard a sermon on Deuteronomy 28 nor indeed have I ever heard the Books of Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy systematically expounded.  It is common to hear contemporary Christians decry the Old Testament as ‘Law’ in contrast to the ‘Grace’ presented to us in the NT ‘gospel’.

Wellum correctly recognises the need for a theological construct to account for all the Biblical data.  He writes,

The true test for anyone’s theology is this: Does it do justice to all the biblical data? [57/66]

I agree.  Regrettably, by his own acid-test, his own construct fails miserably.  Once again, ALL THE NT AUTHORS affirm AGAIN AND AGAIN the SPIRITUALITY OF THEIR OT FORBEARS!  It’s really that simple!  The proof of the evangelical character of the Old Covenant is to be found most explicitly in the Psalms.  A suitable corrective to the prevalence of Marcionism within contemporary evangelicalism is the regular singing of the Psalms.  They show us the heart & soul of David – the man after God’s own heart.  His petitions are models of authentic piety.  We neglect them at our peril.  When the Church was plainly being blessed and built by God and Christ’s kingdom advanced – e.g. during the Reformation, Puritanism, etc., psalm singing was widespread.

Wellum confidently asserts the non-identification of baptism & circumcision in the NT,

Nowhere does the NT say that circumcision is now unnecessary because baptism has replaced it. That would have been the most logical answer to the Judaizers, if the paedobaptist position was correct. [61/66]

Really?  Paul writes, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands.  [Colossians 2:10-12]

Chief of Baptistic errors is the failure to act cautiously when formally acknowledging faith in others.  Wellum writes,

…. baptism is a new rite, applied to each person who has repented and believed, who has been born of the Spirit, united to Christ, and thus demonstrated that he has entered into the new covenant realities inaugurated by our Lord. [61/66]

In reality we simply do not know & cannot know – EXCEPT FOR OURSELVES! – whether there is authenticity in someone’s profession.  Jesus warns against making such definitive assessments of the faith of others.  Excommunication presupposes the possibility of Church Officers making mistakes – of allowing false sheep into the congregation.  Paul utilises strong language for those ‘false apostles’ that were leading many primitive sheep astray in the Galatian Church! [See Gal 1:8,9].  For, ‘the secret things belong to the Lord’ [Deut 29:29]!!

Finally, Wellum falsely imagines that in practice, Baptists tend more to urge their infant children to actually believe since regeneration is essentially a man-ordained operation.  It requires the exercise of faith.  Apart from such an exercise there can be no regeneration, etc. 

To get baptism wrong is not a minor issue. It not only misconstrues our Lord’s command and instruction to the church, it also leads to a misunderstanding of elements of the gospel, particularly in regard to the beneficiaries of the new covenant and the nature of the church. It may even lead, if we are not careful, to a downplaying of the need to call our children to repentance and faith. [65/66]

Not so.  God has ordained both the end and the means of salvation.  He wisely requires His saints of both dispensations (OT & NT) to busy themselves with the training and teaching of godliness and with the cultivation of an integrated and consistent Biblical Worldview.  But God alone is sovereign – and He is the One who ordains everything.  Household baptisms were normal practice in the NT era.  The family is seen as the proper locus of faith.

Finally, let’s return to the text at the head of this critique cited from Psalm 22:

Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them.
They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed. [Ps 22:4,5]

These verses, cited by King David, and resoundingly endorsed by the Saviour on the cross (see Matt 26: 46; Mk 15:34) plainly teach that the ancient patriarchs possessed vital, saving faith.  The Holy Spirit must have been active within them!  Notwithstanding the slight difficulty of accounting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the words of Christ & His own wisdom should guard our thinking.  ‘A good tree cannot bear bad fruit; neither can a bad tree bear good fruit…’  The eleventh chapter of Hebrews should serve to reassure us that there was much good fruit in the OT under the gracious hand of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!