I had the misfortune of having to once again look over the “response” Steve Schlissel wrote to Richard Phillips in The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros & Cons (2004). This is the kind of stuff I hope we don’t hear, at least in this form, November 5th: 

Phillips has difficulty identifying Christians. The Reformed faith does not. Christians are heirs of the promise, and the church is made up of those who have had the promise signed and sealed to them in baptism. 

I thought Christians were followers of Christ, those whose sins have been forgiven, who have been justified, and indeed sealed in their faith—by the Holy Spirit of God. Evidently, to be “truly Reformed,” one must believe the church is formed not by the sovereign action of God through His Spirit, but through trinitarian baptism, even when practiced by those who despise the gospel of grace. Keep your eye on the ball. 

If I appear to be read to leave Ft. Lauderdale believing that the children of believers are anything other than fully children of the Living God, please shoot me. 

Quick note: that kind of line may go over well in places where the Second Amendment has been functionally repealed (like New York, Massachusetts, or California); but I would strongly suggest not using that kind of terminology in Texas, for one might not make it out of the pulpit as a result. 

How many exclamation points am I allowed to append to these astonishing, stunning statements? Covenant children are only sort of, but not really in the covenant? Their entry awaits their free decision?! How this view differs from that of Baptists, I fail to see. What I do see is that it is not the view of Calvin, Augustine, Paul or Jesus Christ. 

I am reminded that Schlissel told me a couple of years ago on an e-mail list that I am precluded, by definition, from understanding the covenant, since I’m a Baptist. While the Federal Vision folks say Reformed Baptists are not precluded from the “camp” so to speak, it is pretty hard to read this kind of stuff and not get the very clear feeling that you are indeed persona non grata. This is the kind of rhetoric you hear from the “there is no such thing as a ‘Reformed’ Baptist” crowd. But it gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective. 

Grace disappears on the altar of Phillips’ thoroughly baptistic system: “Baptized children must be evangelized and must come to a personal faith in order to receive the salvation offered by God’s covenant.” This statement is repulsive to God’s testimony that the children of His people truly and fully belong to Him. They need not wait for anything. That is called grace. All baptized Christians are addressed in the same way: they have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of His beloved Son. Now they must walk in the light as He is in the light, and have fellowship with one another. Grace has no greater testimony than infant baptism, which is an everlasting sign and seal that those who properly receive it really belong to God, apart from anything they’ve done, or could do. 

Of course, Presbyterian ministers, such as Richard Phillips, rightly take Schlissel’s language as purposefully insulting, and we Reformed Baptists, being the lovable bunch we are, don’t mind the insult headed our direction, either. We are used to it! But isn’t it odd to see Schlissel inadvertently fulfilling Phillips’ own words, repudiating faith and replacing it with baptism? How can anyone not read this is as blatant, unvarnished sacerdotalism that stands in opposition to the gospel (which, of course, is notable by its absence in these words). We are told all baptized Christians are said to have been translated from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of His beloved Son. If Schlissel’s position is consistent (eek! Platonism! Enlightenment philosophy!), then the passage referred to has nothing to do with the gospel, faith, regeneration, etc., and is just as applicable to a gospel-denying reprobate who trusts in his own self-righteousness (but was validly baptized) as it does the greatest saint of God; yet, the passage itself reads, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” If baptism does this, doesn’t it follow that ex opere operato baptism results in redemption, the forgiveness of sins? Now, we see some “wiggle room” inserted by the phrase “properly receive it.” How does an infant improperly receive infant baptism? Could someone explain that? But Schlissel wasn’t done: 

“Baptized children . . . must . . . be evangelized and must come to a personal faith in order to receive the salvation offered by God’s covenant.” Only insofar as all God’s people are “evangelized,” only insofar as all God’s people continually renew their faith. The view that a covenant child becomes God’s only after a crisis is not the Reformed faith. Should this view ever be understood as the Reformed faith, I hereby reject that “faith” with all my heart. Better to lose the adjective than the treasure of grace.

Mr. Phillips insists that only those “who [come] to God in trusting faith and thus [receive] an imputed righteousness as a free gift” can be saved. Apparently, to have been the beneficiary of such grace without so much as your “free” reception of it is not good enough for Mr. Phillips’ scheme. He expressly rules children out “until the conditions of the covenant are fulfilled”. Therefore, in that monstrous version of the church which Mr. Phillips and his baptistic co-religionists invent, there are no infants. 

If you are sitting there staring at the screen going, “That really sounds like Schlissel finds the idea of calling your children to faith and repentance repulsive,” you are completely correct, but have obviously not listened to the 2002 AAPC talks, either! Keep in mind that clearly, for Schlissel, the term “Reformed” cannot, and should not, and never should have, been used of Southern Presbyterianism. Whatever it is, it isn’t “Reformed.” The term the speakers used was “wet Reformed Baptists,” and I didn’t get the feeling those words were spoken with a great deal of collegiality. Now, I’ll let my Southern Presbyterian brothers fight it out with these folks regarding their reading of Calvin. I see little danger that Steve Schlissel will be changing his views on the matter anytime soon. But one thing is for sure. The “catholicity” of Schlissel’s views dies a thousand deaths with that last line. I really don’t get the idea that “monstrous version” means “another perfectly acceptable view,” nor do I get the feeling that there is a lot of warmth to be found in the phrase “his baptistic co-religionists.” Of course, you have to get rid of the necessary visible/invisible distinction with reference to the church to create this straw-man attack anyway, but the fact remains that if you happen to be so backwards as to think that faith and repentance are part and parcel of what it means to pass from death to life, well, you have just missed the real meaning of trinitarian baptism.

In case there is something gnawing at your gut as you read those quotations, let me remind you what it is. It’s a little thing. Just a small word, one that often gets lots in all the rhetoric and citations of Calvin and accusations of being a Baptist (for some, all mental activity stops as soon as that charge is leveled, since of all things, that’s the one we know we can never accept!). See, what you won’t find defining the church, or the covenant, or the word “Christian” in all this, is the word gospel. See, you knew it all along. You knew something was missing, and now you know what it was. And with that, we press forward.

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