RESOURCES for Exploring Reformed vs. Covenant Theology and their Implications

My studies in 2008 confirmed earlier suspicions that Reformed Theology and confessional baptism (in contrast to Covenant Theology and paedobaptism) better represent the Biblical teaching.*  The study of baptism was my back door into learning about Covenant Theology.  For some time I have understood that progressive revelation led to a church (ideally) composed of redeemed people only, though given the nature of sin and life after the fall and the already and not yet nature of the church, it is difficult to maintain congregations of believers-only in practice.  As the Messiah, His kingdom, and His people were finally revealed and explained in the New Testament, the trappings of the Old Testament shadows fell away leaving the essence highlighted.  It is only in the New Testament that the resolution of the picture is sharpened and all things brought into focus.  The Gospel is not new wine only, but new wine in a new wineskin because the Old Covenant context has given way to the New.  The following resources are listed to aid you in discovering and being confirmed in the truth.  GR

* I now recognize that what I have been calling my reformed view is a variety of New Covenant Theology that is based upon the finality of NT as the pinnacle of God’s revelation.  [NEW COVENANT Theology]

TESTIMONY: Matt Foreman, Reformed Baptist pastor and 03 graduate from Westminster seminary, Philadelphia

Probably the most decisive issue for me when I was wrestling with these issues was the weak exegetical work supporting infant baptism - particularly the exegetical basis for linking circumcision and baptism.  The only text that mentions the two together is Col.2 and Presbyterian exegesis of the passage is extraordinarily weak.  I do not believe that circumcision was the Old Covenant antecedent of baptism.  There are other, much clearer OT elements prefiguring baptism.  Further, it obviously never occurred to the NT writers that baptism was replacing circumcision.*  All of them were Jews who had received both signs; they thought of the purpose of the signs differently.  There would never have been a Judaizer-circumcision controversy if the apostles had believed baptism replaced circumcision.  I have never seen an answer to that problem in any paedobaptist writing.  During my time at Westminster, it was that fly in the ointment that kept me studying the issue and from acquiescing to the theological attractions of becoming Presbyterian.  The influence of personal relationships is a huge factor in determining where a person comes down on issues like these.  I had been given a good deal to read on the subject by my pastors before attending Westminster and was pretty grounded in a local Baptist church throughout my time there.


* See Covenant Theology’s viewpoint in the theological note, God’s Pattern for Worship, in the New Geneva Study Bible and The Reformation Study Bible.  The first paragraph describes some motivations, preconditions, and elements of worship.  Later there is a discussion of the main features in the pattern for public worship God mandated for Israel under the law covenant [to follow and copy].  All the elements of true worship were included in it, though SOME of them were typical, pointing to Christ and ceasing to be valid after He came.”  Compare this statement and the last paragraph with Heb.10.  Notice that some of the descriptive verbs in the last paragraph are accurate and some are false: baptism and the Lord’s Supper replace circumcision and Passover [uh-uh, same thing expressed in theological note God’s Covenant of Grace]; the Sabbath renewed with the day changed from the last day to the first day of the week [nope].  “These changes from old to new…the pattern of worship, with its essential [universal] elements, continues unchanged to this day [afraid not].”

BOOK - BELIEVER’S BAPTISM – Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, 06, edited by Thomas Schreiner & Shawn Wright is excellent.  In each of its 10 chapters, different authors fairly and accurately present the reasons Covenant Theology has led many to the practice of infant baptism and an incorrect view of the church.  It exposes flaws in thinking that have taken so many otherwise sound people away from the historic scriptural (Reformed) position of confessional baptism and church membership.  It is a very readable book that clarifies the issues and addresses the heart of the debate on why baptism was intended only for those giving a credible confession of faith in Christ to so constitute the membership of His body on earth.  I found it educational, inspiring, and devotional.

Notes on BELIEVER’S BAPTISM for those who read the book - some interactions I wrote in the margins


Pg.69 – I disagree with Schreiner’s depiction of Noah’s flood, “It seems that the waters of baptism are conceived as a raging flood that destroy and kill.”  We are not taken by the enraged anger of God, but come to the quiet waters of baptism where we enter into the death of Christ who satisfied God’s wrath.

Footnote 8 – “The waters of the flood both saved and destroyed.”  No, the ark saved.

Pg.82 – “Submersion is an apt picture because it demonstrates that death overwhelms and conquers its subjects.”  I see baptism as more peaceful, more of a lying down in death joining Christ – death by choice.


Pg.119 – I add a comment to the paedobaptist’s assertion that “The burden of proof…is upon anyone who wants to overturn what was previously given [in the Old Testament]…this standard argument has important implications for how one views the nature and function of covenant signs.”  I insert, for other things as well such as tithing, Sabbath keeping, etc.

Pg.121 – I add to “…how paedobaptists limit and reduce the meaning of OT circumcision to its spiritual significance alone.”  I.E. they fail to view circumcision in the context of Israel.

Pg.146 – I correct a mistake, “The perfect passive use of the verb in Hebrews 8:6 - he ‘has enacted’…”  Should read “It has been enacted” referring to the covenant Christ mediates.


Pg.225 – Murray, speaking of “persons who exhibit godly lives” probably means not overtly or publicly wicked.

Pg.226 – I disagree with Wright’s argument, “when it becomes clear that some baptized members of the church are in fact unregenerate, the church must be diligent to discipline them and treat them as unbelievers (e.g., Mt.18:15-20; 1 Cor.5:1-5).”  Discipline is appropriate for certain behaviors, but it is without reference to regenerate state of the person because the sins referred to in the cited references do not certify unregenerateness.

Pg.246 – Wright describes how Christian parents “should use all means available to help their children understand their obligation to obey the gospel…”  I don’t think of it this way.  There is a negative atmosphere or mood surrounding this duty/obligation approach with children.  I would rather show them God in the beauty of his character and wonder of his work in both creation and redemption to woo them.


Pg.329-352 – I was disappointed with the last chapter because Dever left a number of important issues essentially unaddressed.  He assumes that candidates for baptism ought to be examined or judged for evidences of spiritual life as a prerequisite for baptism.  Dever doesn’t raise that issue or the issue of whether baptism should be separated from church membership, except in the case of confessing children.  He doesn’t differentiate requirements for baptism from those for church membership.  Whereas NT baptism is based upon profession of who they believe Jesus to be in the context of a simple knowledge of what He accomplished, the basis of church membership is an entirely different animal.  Admitting people into the membership does allow for consideration of matters of conduct, doctrinal knowledge, commitment, expectations, etc.  Dever discusses membership in terms of the willingness of the candidate to be baptized, making it his decision, rather than in the terms mentioned under control of the membership.  There are huge differences between the primitive situation in Acts and complicating factors in our world.  We have the benefit of hundreds of years of Christian scholarship aimed at understanding and clarifying the scriptures, and the detriment of the confusion resulting from the accumulation of errors over the same period.  It is therefore prudent to draw church membership requirements for doctrinal unity more narrowly [see Baptism and Church Membership on Piper’s website].  With today’s de-emphasis on truth (doctrinal understanding), personal testimonies have become almost totally subjective accounts about the candidate and his “choice,” rather than a witness to the Lord’s grace in granting salvation.  Dever doesn’t discuss this or the practice of transference of membership in such a climate.  [For a very readable discussion of today’s situation in western culture and churches, I recommend The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, 08 by David Wells.  It is an analysis of the rise and fall of evangelicalism in America.]


For a discussion of the nature of salvation, see Approaching The Bible With Prejudice


Sermons on baptism by John Piper available for download in various formats including print at

Piper is great.  See also at same address under “Related Topics,” “Baptism and Church Membership” and “The Lord’s Supper.”


For Baptist distinctives, see last article at NEW COVENANT Theology Baptists and Their Doctrines chap.1, DISTINCTIVE BAPTIST PRINCIPLES


For An Exposition of Acts 2:39 and Infant Baptism, see Appendix 4 of 3 Studies Theological Notes


A String of Pearls Unstrung: A Theological Journey into Believers' Baptism by Fred Malone

A clear, easily read study of the subjects of baptism that interacts with all the major issues.  Describes Malone's theological pilgrimage from a convinced paedobaptist and Presbyterian pastor to a convinced Baptist.

Infant Baptism and the Regulative Principle of Worship which I interact with in Scripture and Conscience

MP3 downloads, Malone’s series on God's Covenants


A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism by Greg Welty


Contending for the Truth in Love by Tom Ascol


The Covenant of Circumcision: No Just Plea for Infant Baptism by W.T. Brantly


Baptism by Charles Spurgeon


Baptism and Covenant Theology by Walter Chantry


FAQ [with resources and discussion] on the Reformed Baptist View of Baptism


A good search engine for subjects on selected Reformed web sites


BOOKGod of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, 06 by Michael Horton

This is not a book I recommend.  It is very difficult with no inspirational or devotional value.  Horton and others who speak of the “means of grace” in terms of “word and sacrament” are referring to a mystical action by the Holy Spirit in nourishing faith in the believer (conferring the promises of God) through the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper which are viewed as NT forms of OT circumcision and the Passover.  Horton’s struggle with language to explain what he means is typical of those who hold that position [ie, see also April, 04 Tabletalk magazine from Legonier Ministries, last paragraph pg.45].  This difficult-to-explain conception of Christ’s presence in a unique way appears to be another leftover from Roman Catholicism that remains embedded in an altered form within Covenant Theology.  See Scripture and Conscience  Here are the basic questions: Is Christian baptism effective (does it actually do something - convey some grace* or affect one’s status as in baptismal regeneration) or is it merely commemorative (representative of some truth or reality)?  Each question naturally leads to another: What does it do and/or picture according to the relevant NT passages?


* See Covenant Theology’s viewpoint in the theological note The Sacraments in the New Geneva Study Bible and The Reformation Study Bible.  “…a definition of sacrament as a ritual action…in which signs perceived by the senses present to us the grace of God…The sacraments are means of grace, for God uses them to strengthen faith’s confidence in His promises to call forth acts of faith for receiving the good gifts signified…Sacraments strengthen faith by correlating Christian beliefs with the testimony of our senses.”  [Did circumcision or the Passover work the same things in Israelites?]  The theological note Baptism says “Receiving the sign of baptism in faith [whose? the believer’s or the believing parents?] assures [When are infants assured?] those baptized [instead of “witnesses to others”] that God’s gift of new life in Christ is freely given to them.”  The theological note The Lord’s Supper quotes the Westminster Confession to the effect that that observance does more than merely remember Jesus and His death.  It speaks of “the sealing of all benefits” and describes it as “a bond and pledge.”  It says Calvin taught that the Spirit gives participants a spiritual experience.  [Was the Passover also more than a memorial?  Did it do these things as well?  Are we suppose to seek such an experience?]