1. Neither view explicitly taught. The difference between the views is NOT that one is taught explicitly, while the other is not. Neither view is taught explicitly. There is no text that explicitly prescribes or describes the baptism of believers only. Likewise, there is no text that explicitly prescribes or describes the baptism of believers and their children. Both sides are dependent on their interpretive principles and various inferences based upon them.
2. Hermeneutical differences. The difference between the views is rooted in two incompatible interpretive principles. The “believers only” view of baptism comes from an interpretive principle of essential discontinuity between the Old and New testaments. This view says, “No principle established in the Old testament continues into the New unless it is clearly reconfirmed in the New (or prophesied in the Old) as being part of the New.” The “household” view comes from an interpretive principle of essential continuity between the Old and New testaments. This view says, “A principle established in the Old testament continues into the New unless it is clearly denied as being part of the New.”
3. Essential continuity of the gospel. The way of salvation is essentially the same in the Old testament as in the New. Though the Old testament is preparation and shadow and the New testament is fulfillment and substance, the good news is the same good news.
4. Essential continuity of the covenant. The way of salvation is essentially covenantal, because the way of communion with God is covenantal. From the beginning God has voluntarily condescended to grant his creatures communion with himself by way of a covenant.
5. Two historical covenants: works and grace. The first covenant was a covenant of works (Gen. 1:28ff; 2:16-17). Its parties were God and Adam with his seed (household) in him. Its promise was eternal life (Gen. 3:22). Its condition was works of obedience (Gen. 2:17; 3:17). This covenant was irreparably broken at the fall (Rom. 3:20; 5:12-21). The second covenant was a covenant of grace. Its parties are God and Jesus, the God-man, with his seed (household) in him (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 3:21; 5:12-21; 8:3; Isa. 42:6). Its promise is eternal life and salvation. Its condition is faith in Jesus Christ. It is gracious in two ways: (a) the promise is given to us by virtue of Jesus’s sacrifice and obedience for us, and (b) even the faith by which we take hold of the promise in Jesus is a gift given to the elect by grace.
6. Various administrations of the one covenant of grace. The covenant of grace has been administered differently in redemptive history. So, while it has always been essentially the same covenant, its administration has been different. We see it first proclaimed and administered by blood sacrifice in the Garden of Eden after the fall (Gen. 3). It included Adam and his household. We see it reconfirmed with Noah (Gen. 6) and administered by blood sacrifice and by the special redemptive-historical event of the flood. It included Noah, his sons, and their households. It is reconfirmed with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and administered by blood sacrifice and circumcision (Gen. 12ff). It included their whole households. We see it reconfirmed with the nation of Israel through Moses and administered by the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws in the Promised Land, including the signs of circumcision and the end-of-week Sabbath (Ex; Lev; Num; Deut). It included whole households.
7. The household principle not revoked. Given the consistent principle of the covenant’s administration to whole households from the time of Adam forward (not just from Moses forward) and without any clear revocation of that principle in the New testament, we should believe that the principle continues into the New testament. God administers his covenant of grace to whole households (i.e. believers and their children).
8. The household principle reconfirmed. Besides finding no clear revocation of the household principle in the New testament, there is ample positive evidence for believing it continues.
(A) One of the key texts used to support the “believers only” view, actually explicitly denies it. Jeremiah 31:34 says, “They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Believers only-ists believe this prophecy of the New covenant limits its membership to those who know the Lord in a saving way. But that’s not what Jeremiah intends. Jeremiah is speaking of the New covenant in contrast to the Old in terms of the condition of the covenant people in his day, which he describes earlier in 6:13, saying, “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.” The contrast Jeremiah is developing isn’t about covenant membership. It’s about the higher scope and degree of the Spirit’s work to sanctify God’s covenant people through the better Melchizedekian priesthood of Jesus in the New covenant, a work that will reach its consummation when faith turns to sight and the invisible church becomes the visible church in the age to come. In the old covenant just a few believers received the anointing of the Spirit and were invited into the special presence of the LORD (i.e. the priests). They were charged to teach the rest of the people saying, "Know the LORD." But in the new covenant all believers receive the anointing of the Spirit (think: Pentecost) and are therefore made priests. Because all believers are priests, all are invited to draw near to the special presence of the LORD to enjoy intimate fellowship (to know) the LORD. Turning back to the OT types and shadows in which the Spirit's work was more constrained by the lesser Aaronic priesthood is a denial of the gospel (cf. Heb. 8). Furthermore, denying the continuation of the household principle and, therefore, excluding the infant children of believers from the kingdom in the New covenant is to conceive of it and Jesus's priesthood as a lesser administration compared to the Old! If we read further in Jer. 32:39, where the prophet is still describing the New covenant, we learn that's not at all what he intended since he explicitly teaches the continuation of the household principle. The text says, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good *and the good of their children after them.*” Jeremiah prophesies that the household principle continues into the New covenant.
(B) Jesus pronounced the priestly blessing upon believers and their infant children, saying “To such belongs the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). In what sense did the kingdom of God belong to them, if they hadn’t yet made a public profession of faith? It belonged to them in the sense of its visible administration. It belonged to them according to the household principle. They were members of the visible church and as such were visibly united to Jesus and his kingdom.
(C) On the day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter taught the men of Israel using the same formula God had given to Abraham when he instituted circumcision in Gen. 17:7, viz. “The promise is for you and your children (i.e. Jewish households, believers and their children from among the Jews) and for all who are far off (i.e. Gentile households, believers and their children from among the Gentiles), everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (i.e. both Jews and Gentiles with their households).”
(D) Five household baptisms are recorded in Acts and 1 Cor. If the Apostles believed the household principle did not continue, why wouldn’t Luke and Paul have been crystal clear that *only* believers within those households were baptized?
(E) In 1 Cor. 7:14 Paul teaches that the children of at least one believing parent are holy (i.e. set apart to the Lord as his possession). In what sense are they holy? They are not holy in the sense of being regenerated (though they could be). They are holy in the sense of belonging to the visible church, which is the body of Christ on earth, and should therefore receive the visible administration of his covenant, including the initiatory sign and seal, viz. baptism.
(F) In Eph. 6:1-4 Paul commands the children of the church to obey their parents in the Lord without distinguishing between believing children and unbelieving children. He understands that they are all “in the Lord,” visibly speaking, by virtue of their membership in the visible body of Christ.
9. The problem of apostasy. The Bible teaches that there are three categories of persons in relation to God, which is the outworking of the distinction between the visible and invisible churches. There are true believers who are members of the visible church (i.e. the covenant visibly applied), unbelievers who are members of the visible church (i.e. the covenant visibly applied), and unbelievers outside the visible church (i.e. who need to make a credible profession and be baptized to enter the visible church). The visible church is all those throughout the world who profess the true religion (whether they be a false professor or not) and their children (whether they have made a credible profession of faith or not). Visible church membership has NOTHING to do with regeneration since regeneration is, by definition, invisible. The invisible church is made up of all the elect who have existed or will exist. Among the visible church are both wheat and weeds, true believers and unbelievers (e.g. false professors or the children of a believing parent who never believe). Nonetheless, all are covenant members, visibly speaking. All have received the covenant sign of baptism. All have been united to Christ the vine (John 15:1-8), visibly speaking. They stand on grace (Gal. 5:4), visibly speaking. They have tasted of the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, and tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come (Heb. 6:4-6), visibly speaking. They have been sanctified by blood of the covenant (Heb. 10:29), visibly speaking. These passages that speak of being cut away from union with Christ and thrown into the fire (John 15:6), being severed from Christ and falling away from grace (Gal. 5:4), falling away (Heb. 6:6), and outraging the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29) make no sense from a Calvinistic baptist perspective (i.e. those who at least believe in eternal security). Classical Arminians do more justice to these texts than Calvinistic baptists, because the texts really teach a kind of falling away from union with Christ and losing a share in his Spirit, which makes the Calvinistic baptist assignment of these warnings to the realm of the hypothetical unsatisfying. Of course, Arminians believe they teach that a person can lose his salvation. But that won’t do either since the Bible is clear about the eternal security of God’s elect. So what can these texts mean? I submit that they all have the household principle in view. The visible administration of the covenant of grace, which constitutes the visible church, includes both true believers and unbelievers. And the unbelievers, while not invisibly joined to Christ, are nonetheless visibly joined to him by his covenant. They can, therefore, really be severed from him. They can really fall away from grace. They can really outrage the Spirit of grace. There really is such a thing as apostasy. This has huge implications for the third mark of the church, viz. church discipline.
10. The expansiveness of the New covenant. Are we to suppose that after 4000 years of redemptive history, the visible administration of the covenant was suddenly restricted to believers only without a single clear word about it from God? What about all those children who had already been members of the covenant prior to Jesus’s ascension into heaven? Are we really to think that the Apostles viewed them as excommunicated without giving a single word of counsel or encouragement to their parents? Isn’t the New covenant supposed to be better due to its wider scope (i.e. both men and women receive the initiatory sign, both Jews and Gentiles are included, all believers are priests together in Christ, the church IS the temple now, wherever she is found)? But your kiddos are OUT! That last sentence doesn’t seem to fit.
11. The nature of sacraments. The “believers only” view of baptism misunderstands the nature of sacraments (ordinances) in the first place. Sacraments are NOT our testimony to God. They are his testimony to us. They are signs and seals of his covenant, his promise. They testify to his great faithfulness NOT ours. Baptism is meant to visibly mark off God’s people from the world. As the sign is administered God is demonstrating visibly for all to see that the one baptized is different from the world by virtue of his covenant. The Lord’s Supper is similar, except it marks off those who have made a credible profession of faith from those who have not *within the visible church.* As it is administered, God is demonstrating visibly for all to see that those invited to his table are different from others within the body, thus reminding his covenant children that the promises he has held out to them in their baptisms must be received from him by faith. But the bottom line is this: the sacraments are about what God is doing before and among his people NOT about what God’s people are doing before him.
Anyway, more could certainly be said, but these are the basic issues that convinced me of the household baptism view. Perhaps they will be useful to others as well.