Household Principle

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Puritan Board Freshman
Hi y'all!

So I'm a student, and I'm in the process of formulating my beliefs on Credo vs. Paedo baptism. I've been raised (and baptized) as a Presbyterian, but I truly want to do justice to the truths in the Scriptures.

How do people on the Credo side of the discussion answer the claim that while there may or may not have been infants in any of the households that were baptized, the events still signal a continuity in the principle of familial unity and that should be respected in our administration of the sacrament?

Grace and peace,


Puritan Board Freshman
Hi John!

There are a lot of very smart people on the Puritanboard, much smarter than myself. I am sure they will do a better job of explaining things, but I will try to answer your question as best as I can from my own limited understanding.

First I would point out (and I think many Paedo-Baptists would agree) that the gospel both divides and unifies. I think it is a blessing when an entire family confesses and believes upon Christ as their savior. But I also recognize that many families will be divided by the gospel, as Christ himself seems to hint at:

Luke 12:49-53 (NASB)
49 "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!
50 "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!
51 "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division;
52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.
53 "They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

As for my understanding of baptism, it really comes down to one's understanding of the New Covenant in relation to the previous covenants. In the Adamic Covenant (Covenant of Works) we see that the representative is Adam. Everyone who is born from Adam (natural, physical children) share in his guilt and sinful nature. In the Noahic Covenant, everyone who is descended physically from Noah (everyone who is alive today), are given the Covenant promise (never to flood the earth) and the Covenant sign (rainbow). In the Abrahamic Covenant, we see a dual promise being made, both physical and spiritual. Abraham was promised children as numerous as the sands of the seashore. This was fulfilled in a sense physically with the nation of Israel, but later is fulfilled spiritually with the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. Yet under the Abrahamic Covenant, with Abraham as the covenant representative, it was the physical descendants who were given the covenant sign of circumcision with the understanding that in the more immediate future there would be a physical land promised and physically numerous people.

When we get to the Mosaic Covenant we see that Moses, and Israel as a whole, was the covenant representative. All of their physical descendants were to receive the sign of circumcision unconditionally. They were brought into the promised land by the grace of God, but there were stipulations within the covenant that they had to adhere to in order to remain in the land. In the case of both the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenant there are both reprobate and elect. Not everyone who descended physically from Abraham actually had spiritual life. Not everyone in Israel were saved, even though they all properly and rightfully received the covenant sign of circumcision. In essence, the people of Israel were the partakers of the Mosaic covenant, and were the covenant people, regardless of the spiritual state of their souls. Of course, the covenant demanded obedience and faith, and so it was broken by the members of that covenant.

In the case of Christ, he does not have physical children. He has spiritual children, and those who are partakers of the New Covenant all have spiritual life. Based on Jeremiah 31 it would seem that the New Covenant cannot be broken, and that those who are covenant members all know the Lord, have his law written on their hearts, and they all have their sins forgiven.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)
31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.
33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

They are the only ones who rightfully should receive the covenant sign of baptism. Of course, we in the church do not know who the Elect are, and so we baptize based on a credible profession of faith. We still recognize that the household principle exists, yet it is not sufficient to warrant the assumption that believer's children are covenant members. The only thing my children receive from me naturally is spiritual deadness and a sinful nature. If I were to baptize them, I would essentially be saying that I view them as being members of the covenant simply because they descended from me physically. To treat someone as a believer (covenant member) means that I think in my mind that they are saved and currently have spiritual life. I could be wrong, but it is the assumption I am making. In the case of children this means that I am assuming that physical descent could possibly grant or impute spiritual life into one's children. If it were impossible for them to receive spiritual life through being my children then why would I even give them the covenant sign as if something like that were possible. I believe that the assumption that believers' children should be considered partakers of the New Covenant goes against the testimony of Scripture concerning both the nature of the New Covenant and the operation of the Holy Spirit (whereby salvation comes through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit by the means of the gospel).

Romans 9:6-8 (NASB)
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;
7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED."
8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

In the end it seems like both Paedo-Baptists and Credo-Baptists, in looking at adults, assume unbelief or non-belief until they see something that demonstrates otherwise. Credos apply the same standard to children, regardless of who their parents were. Paedos seem to apply a different standard to the children of believers, assuming Covenant Status (or possibly belief) until something demonstrates otherwise. I simply do not find warrant for this concept in Scripture. Again, I could be wrong, but that is currently what I believe to be true. Hopefully my response helped you at least a little bit, although I am sure there are many more people on this board that could do a far better job than me in articulating the Credo-Baptist position.
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