Ministry Theology

Thinking About Infant Baptism

Note: I have updated the first bullet point with a few thoughts from Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans.

I often joke that I am one sprinkled baby away from becoming a Presbyterian. Aside from infant baptism and their church governance structure, I am fairly aligned with most of the theological convictions of the PCA (the conservative branch for those of you who get worried when the word “Presbyterian” comes up), the RCA, or the EPC.

I doubt I will ever baptize an infant, or have my children baptized as infants, so let me get those cards on the table now. I am a credo-baptist (“believer’s baptism”). In light of this, I have some honest questions for paedo-baptists (“infant-baptists”). These four bullets are not exhaustive (of course), or an attack on my infant-baptist brothers and sisters. I love you and appreciate your desire for gospel-saturated, Christ-centered ministry. These are just thoughts that sprung to mind this morning.

  • Romans 6:1-4: You would be hard pressed to fit infant baptism into this scenario Paul presents to the church in Rome. Can an infant say he has died and risen with Christ to new life? Can an infant say he can “walk in newness of life.” This is what Paul connects with Christian baptism. In saying baptism is “connected” to the newness of life, it does not mean baptism brings about new life. Rather, it is a symbol of what is true in the heart. According to Doug Moo, Paul would think it an oxymoron to meet an “unbaptized” Christian. He says, “Baptism is introduced not to explain how we were buried with Christ but to demonstrate that we were buried with Christ” (NICNT, Epistle to the Romans, 364). Moreover, it seems that a baptized unchristian (an infant) would be just as unbelievable because of the context. Moo also notes that “in the early church [they] conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which [J. Dunn] calls ‘conversion-initiation'” (Romans, 366). If an infant has not exercised faith and received the Holy Spirit, why would they be baptized? They do not need to be “initiated” since they do not belong to God’s family yet.
  • Matthew 28:19-20: Would the disciples have assumed a connection with circumcision and baptism in this scenario, so as to baptize infants, even though they cannot be taught and thus become disciples before regeneration? Furthermore, Is not the promise of heart circumcision connected to, and what makes obsolete, flesh circumcision (Rom. 2:25-29)?
  • Though it is true Acts speaks of “household baptisms” (twice, in Acts 16:15, 31) it nowhere says that infants were, in fact, baptized. Of course, infant baptism is nowhere forbidden in the New Testament. Nevertheless, is this the case because the apostles would have thought it absurd to do such a thing? On Pentecost, the men responded to Peter’s sermon by asking, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-39). Peter indeed says the promise of the Holy Spirit is for “your children” but there is a conditional clause: it is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Not all children of Christian parents–not even all baptized infants–are effectually called and saved by God. Will a child experience the blessing of being raised by a Spirit-filled parent? Of course! Will that Spirit be imparted to them apart from God’s grace and a true belief in Christ? No. So I ask: would Peter have expected a baby to stand in line that day? Probably not. Peter connected repentance and baptism. In the same way, John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), which Paul said pointed to Jesus’ coming (Acts 19:4). Jesus’ whole ministry expanded on his opening words: “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Again this is something a baby–not even a toddler–can do. Paul’s own testimony connects baptism with the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16), something that cannot be given to a baby who is unregenerate.
  • Finally, as a side note: it is interesting that the same Reformed theologians who say that “household baptisms” occurred in Acts, thus giving credibility to infant-baptism is Scripture, will be the first to say that Acts was not “normative” as it concerns spiritual gifts (i.e. the so-called “sign” gifts). In order to be consistent with the issue of what is, or is not, normative in Acts, those theologians would have to say that all gifts continue until today or say that “household baptism” are either 1) not normative for today, or 2) may not have implied infants were members of those households.

No matter what side of the debate you are on, what are your thoughts?


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…