R. Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster Seminary California, has recently posted a series on the differences between paedobaptists and credobaptists on the New Covenant. I appreciate the series for its clearness in expressing his views–while not the standard interpretation from a paedo view (one thinks of Richard Pratt’s take)–it is nonetheless extremely clear. I’m also thankful that the rhetoric that can be so common to such debates is toned down to a dull roar. That often masks the argument to such a degree that I rarely continue to the end. In this case, I read all five points with profit.
Dr. Clark is right to point out that the issue between the two groups really centers on the question, “In what sense is the New Covenant new?” I’ve had a number of discussions over the years with good friends who are paedobaptists and I’ve found that our disagreements almost always find their root at this point.
In Clark’s understanding, the New Covenant is entirely new in relation to the Mosaic Covenant, but is not entirely new in relation to the Abrahamic. In fact, the blessings of the New Covenant, that were first announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34 are all found substantively in the Abrahamic Covenant. He says in Part 4: “In Jeremiah 31 the prophet anticipates five great blessings of the new covenant,” although he goes on to list only four: 1) an immutable covenant; 2) an interior piety; 3) an immediate knowledge; 4) an iniquity forgiven.
While I do not disagree that such blessings were indeed found in the Abrahamic Covenant–I would argue that they were found even before in the over-arching covenant of grace beginning at Genesis 3:15–the question is, “Are these blessings constitutive of the entire covenant community, or just those within the community who were ‘saved’ (for lack of a better term)?” For the believer, pre or post-Abrahamic Covenant, indeed they received such blessings. But what of the Jew who performed all of the ceremonies in a perfunctory manner, yet whose heart was not circumcised–an “unbelieving Jew” if you will–is he a recipient of these four blessings outlined by Jeremiah?
The argument for the credobaptist is that the blessings of Jeremiah 31 are for all of the members of the New Covenant. I don’t have to turn to fellow covenant members and tell them to know the Lord, because they already do. I don’t have to tell them to repent because they already have forgiveness of sins. This is so because they are members of an immutable covenant, have the law written on their hearts and have their sins forgiven in Christ.
So, while the issue between us is indeed the New Covenant, to be more specific, it is this: “Are the blessings of the New Covenant, promised by Jeremiah, for the covenant community as a whole?” If yes, then the difference between the Abrahamic is apparent, because this is not the case for that covenant. If the answer is no (to preserve the absolute correspondence with Abraham), then explain the language of law written on hearts, forgiveness of sins, etc.