MacArthur’s aberrant and errant view of the earthly church is it’s an assembly of exclusively God’s elect, all saved, all regenerate, no unbelievers.
Here’s a summary of how Sinners and Saints methodically destroyed JMac’s methodology with the use of just five verses from 1 Corinthians 10:1-5. This is in response to JMac’s criticism of infant baptism, calling it a “devilish” practice. (You can listen to the whole Sinners and Saints podcast here.)
1. JMac says infant baptism is “unbiblical” because “Scripture nowhere advocates or records any such thing as the baptism of an infant.” But 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 says, “Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Paul says that ALL Israelites who crossed the Red Sea were ebaptisthesan into Moses. JMac’s infantile method can’t see the word “children” or “infants” in these verses, so there’s no infant baptism, just as cults conclude that the “Trinity” is unbiblical because they can’t find the word anywhere in the Bible.
2. Since baptism always means immersion, and infants are not immersed when baptized, then infant baptism is not real baptism. Again, verses 1-2 says the Israelites were ebaptisthesan in the Red Sea. If as he says, baptism is immersion, then all Israel were immersed! So the Exodus story, according to JMac, is turned on its head: Israelites, not the Egyptians, were immersed and drowned in the sea!
3. Circumcision “didn’t have any spiritual implications at all. None.” JMac again completely forgot numerous Biblical texts informing us that physical circumcision was a visible sign of an invisible reality. For example, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deut 10:16; cf Rom 2:28-29). Jews and Gentiles will both be punished for being circumcised in the flesh, but not in the heart (Jer 9:25-26).
The parallelism between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11-12 cannot be denied or ignored, and all kinds of gymnastics and hocus-pocus have been done to this text to deny the connection. “In him also you were circumcised, having been buried with him in baptism.” “A circumcision made without hands, by the circumcision of Christ.” Christ was circumcised, cut off, “baptized” in his death. And as believers, we are united with him in his circumcision, cutting off, and “baptism” in his death.
4. Paedo-Baptism, to say it another way, destroys the reality of a regenerate church. JMac thinks that the Biblical doctrine of the church is that of an assembly of exclusively God’s elect, all saved, all regenerate, no unbelievers. Absolutely wrong again!
Was Israel in the desert already God’s church? Yes, according to Stephen, who calls the assembly at Mount Sinai the “church in the wilderness” (ekklesia en te eremo). Were all in that church regenerate and saved? Paul says no in verse 5 of 1 Corinthians 10, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” The writer of Hebrews further says it was because they were unbelievers, “They were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Heb 3:16-19).
So where did he get this ridiculous idea of a 100 percent “regenerate church” of Christ in this age?
5. As if he claims to be Reformed (which he definitely is NOT!), he says, “Infant baptism is inconsistent with Reformed soteriology.” Baptism is not a person’s testimony of faith, not what he/she has done. Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace with man, what God has done, and not what man has done. So from the most basic doctrine, the difference between Baptist and Reformed doctrine of the sacraments is heaven and earth: God’s sovereignty vs. man’s “free will” decision, God-centered vs. man-centered practice.
And what could be more gracious, merciful, loving, and God-centered than giving the sign and seal of God’s promise of salvation by faith alone to helpless, ignorant, non-vocal infants who are born already with a sinful nature?
So is JMac just losing it because of senility, or is he deliberately misleading all his followers?