Baptism, Communion, and Ignorant Sin

Right now, there is a sizable debate shaping up in the blogosphere concerning paedo-baptism and credo-baptism.  More on that in a second.  First, let’s explain what both mean.

Paedo-baptism (in the Reformed tradition) is the practice of baptizing infants, not for salvation (as in Roman Catholicism and in some Lutheran churches), but as a sign of the covenant between God and his people, with the hope that the baby will someday become a believer in Jesus.  The argument is that if a baby is a member of a believing family, he “belong[s] to the covenant and people of God as well as their parents” (Westminster Confession of Faith).  Acts 16:15 would be an example of a passage to teach paedo-baptism.  Paedo-baptists would include J.I. Packer, Ligon Duncan, and R.C. Sproul.

Credo-baptism is the practice of what is commonly called “believers baptism.”  This means that once a person has professed faith in Christ, they are eligible to be baptized.  The argument is that a person must knowingly follow Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  We call this being a disciple (“follower,” “learner,” “student”).  Matthew 28:19-20 would be an example of a passage to teach credo-baptism.  Credo-baptists would include John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, and Mark Driscoll.

The blogosphere debate was started by Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist in D.C.   Dever is a credo-baptist.  He wrote “What I CAN and CANNOT Live with as a Pastor.”  Number 11 read like this:

11. Infant baptism. I cannot live with infant baptism. Having said that, if I were the pastor of the only church allowed in Mecca, maybe… But even then, I simply lack the authority to admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not been baptized. It is, as one said not too long ago, “above my pay-grade.” I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors (emphasis mine).

Boy, did Dever step on some toes with that one!  Mike Bird (I don’t know who this guy is) responded with a bit of passion, giving Dever a “soggy fish” award, meaning that he’d like to slap Dever in the face with a soggy fish.  Dever then explained his position by responding to Bird.  Scott Clark, of Westminster Seminary California, responded to both by asking “Who cares?” Clark is a paedo-baptist who is not offended because he believes that credo-baptists are sinning (though unintentionally) because they are withholding their babies from baptism.

Whew.  This is a mess, isn’t it?  For the record, I am a credo-baptist, but I don’t necessarily agree with Dever that a paedo-baptist couldn’t partake of communion with me.  I would agree that paedo-baptism is a sin (though a sincere one that comes from a misinterpretation of the Scriptures).  If that seems at odds, look for my next post.  I’ll explain more there.

Stay tuned…


Comments (



  1. Kevin

    why do you hold to adult baptism alone? It should be explained that it is neither either-or, all those who belong to communities which baptize infants also baptize adults.


  2. james

    Kevin, I don’t know if I understand your comment. If you read my follow up post, Part 2, you’ll find out why I hold to adult baptism alone.

    And I never said that communities which baptize infants DO NOT baptize adults. However, those same communities typically do not practice baptism by immersion (which in Part 2 I argue is the biblical method). Further, as I state in Part 2, infants cannot believe in Jesus or profess faith. Therefore, they should not be baptized.

    Hope that helps.

    Here’s Part 2:


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