Thursday, December 21, 2006

discussions on baptism

after my previous post, i enjoyed one of the best exchanges of dialogue on this blog since it started.

to give a reply, i am posting a position paper i had to write for a class a year or so ago. it is not a comprehensive exploration and explanation, but rather it is a short essay on which method of baptism i hold to and why.

perhaps this will clarify a bit of where i am coming from, and maybe even foster more discussion in the "comments" section.

although it is a "short essay", it is longer than a typical blog post, but hopefully you will find it helpful. the citations are all listed at the bottom with the bibliography, in case there are some sources you would like to check out on your own.

one final note... please forgive the capitalization, i am simply cutting and pasting from an assignment for class where they *make* me capitalize.


The Issue
Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been countless
discussions, examinations, conversations, books, and other various
avenues of interaction with many issues pertaining to the Christian faith.
Within orthodox Christianity, there are many different groupings and
denominations, which are in agreement on many aspects of the faith,
but are divided on others. Some groups are more similar than others, separated by what may seem to some as insignificant details, or simply matters of opinion.

Among the areas of belief that many, otherwise very
similar churches may differ is in the area of baptism. Even
among evangelical believers who disagree with teachings
of the Roman Catholic Church and others, that the act of baptism
is salvific, or that there is a transfer of grace in the act, there are
still disagreements about what the bible teaches regarding the
mode of baptism and the subject of baptism. This discussion
will focus on the two views concerning the proper subject of
baptism, paedobaptism and credobaptism

Summary of the Two Views

“Baptism is a sign of our forgiveness, of our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and also in his blessings”[1]
Before discussing where paedobaptists and credobaptists differ, it is important that we emphasize where both parties agree, in so far as we are discussing the views of baptism within the confines of Evangelical Christianity. For the purpose of clarification, we will discuss paedobaptism as taught by Presbyterians, and credobaptism by Baptists.
The Heidelberg Catechism, highly regarded as one of the most foundational creeds of the Reformation and widely used by paedobaptists asks, “How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant or testament?” The answer is “Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.”[2] A few questions later, the all-important question is asked, “Is then the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sin?” The answer, “No, for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.”[3] The Westminster Confession, another standard of paedobaptists states: “Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.”[4]
Similarly, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, a credobaptist document states
“Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.”[5]
Thus both Paedobaptists and Credobaptists are in agreement that the view of baptismal regeneration as held by the Roman Catholic Church is an unbiblical belief, and a false doctrine. True biblical baptism, though ordained by Christ and as such should be carried out in obedience, does not in and of itself produce saving faith, or salvation. Paedobaptist R.C. Sproul, writing a short summary on baptism, articulates this view held by paedobaptists and credobaptists alike;
“The outward sign [of baptism] does not automatically or magically convey the realities that are signified. For example, though baptism signifies regeneration or rebirth, it does not automatically convey rebirth. The power of baptism is not in the water [or in the one administering the baptism], but in the power of God.[6]
It is not only right and fair to point out where paedobaptists and credobaptists agree, it is also important to know where each party is in agreement before discussing where the two differ, as not to make assumptions about the other when attempting to present one’s own view of the proper candidate of baptism.
It is after knowing where the two parties agree that we can move forward to discuss the differences while affirming that both sides are not completely at odds on the subject of baptism entirely.

Paedobaptism (Infant Baptism)
Paedobaptism, commonly referred to as “infant baptism”, is the view that the children of believers are to be baptized as infants, as a sign of their (the child’s) belonging to a covenant family. Louis Berkhof writes: “baptism is intended only for properly qualified rational beings, namely, believers and their children…[there] are two classes to which it should be applied, namely, adults and infants.”[7] The Westminster Catechism states “.”[8] The Heidelberg Catechism agrees saying
“… [Infants] as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.[9]

Paedobaptists have and will admit that there is no example in scripture of infants being baptized. Berkhof writes at the beginning of his section on infant baptism that “[It] may be said at the outset that there is no explicit command in the bible to baptize children, and that there is not a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized.” However, it would be a mistake to believe that the argument is lost already. Paedobaptists do not believe that the practice is not a biblical practice, or that it is un-biblical to practice it. Berkhof continues, “But this does not necessarily make infant baptism un-biblical.”
Paedobaptists argue that the Bible does not forbid the practice of baptizing infants. When the question is raised “Why would the first Christians baptize infants if they were not instructed to (in as far as we are told in scripture)”, the answer comes in the form of discussion of the covenant God made with Abraham.
“God, then, did enter into covenant with Abraham. In that covenant, he promised that Abraham, although nearly a hundred years old, should have a son. He promised… the patriarch that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed… {The} blessing promised, therefore, was the blessing of the redemption through Christ.”[10]

“Such being the nature of the covenant made with Abraham, it is plain that so far as its main element is concerned, it is still in force. It is the covenant of grace under which we know live, and upon which the Church is now founded.”[11]

God made a covenant with Abraham concerning his offspring-his family. Those under the Abrahamic covenant included not only the off spring of Abraham, but also their offspring, and their offspring, and their offspring, etc. The paedobaptists look at this design of the covenant and emphasize the “family” nature of it. Michael S. Horton writes, “God does not work with individuals primarily, but with families.”[12] Berkhof makes these points in drawing a continuous line connecting those under the Abrahamic covenant to those who are to be baptized today. He concludes,
The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant… and of this spiritual covenant, circumcision was the sign and seal…this covenant is still in force and is essentially identical with the “new covenant” of the present dispensation… By the appointment of God infants shared in the benefits of the covenant, and therefore received circumcision as a sign and seal… the covenant is clearly an organic concept… and moves across organic and historical lines… constituted by families. The national idea…did not disappear when the nation of Israel had served its purpose. It was spiritualized and thus carried over into the New Testament so that the New Testament people of God are also represented as a nation…. [of which] children were considered…an integral part.[13]

The sign of this covenant was the circumcision of the male child (Gen.17: 10-11). Paedobaptists argue that baptism is the New Testament sign of the covenant, or the new circumcision. Infants of believers are baptized as a sign of being born into a covenant family.[14] Horton, following this thought, concludes,
“…God still wants to save families. When Peter addressed his evangelistic sermon on the temple steps in Jerusalem, he did not announce a radical departure from this covenantal family model. In fact, after telling his hearers to repent and be baptized he proclaimed,: The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call.”(Acts2: 39)[15]

Credobaptism(Believer's baptism)

Credobaptism is the view that those who have repented of their sins, and placed their faith in Christ alone for their salvation are the only proper subjects of baptism. The 1689 London Confession states of baptism, “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.”[16] Likewise, the Baptist Faith and Message says that baptism is “…an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead.[17]
As can be seen, credobaptists believe that baptism is reserved for believers alone, and as such, infants who have not the ability, nor children or adults who have not confessed of their sins and placed their faith in Christ, are not to be baptized.
While credobaptists do not deny that God has and does work in and through covenants, they assert that baptism is not the New Testament equivalent of circumcision, and that the sign and seal of the New Covenant is a circumcised heart, as spoken of in Jeremiah 31.
Support for Credobaptism
It is my belief and conviction that the proper candidate for baptism, is the person who has confessed their sins as an offense to God, repented of those sins, and who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, who through by His death, burial, and resurrection, paid for their sins, appeased God’s holy wrath, imputing His own righteousness to them, justifying them in the eyes of God. (Rom. 3:23ff; 4:1-8; 5:1 - 9; 8: 22-33; Eph. 2; Gal. 2:16) In Matthew 28:18-20, Christ commands the disciples that as they are on their way, that they should 1.) make disciples and 2.) baptize them. As readily admitted by paedobaptists, there are no instances of or commands to infant baptism. What there is plenty of, is the call by the early Church to repent, believe, and be baptized. Mark Dever, in his book, A Display of God’s Glory” lists some of the reasons for his belief that the baptism of infants is an erroneous doctrine.
1.) Nobody disagrees with believer baptism. The debated point is infant baptism. [That is to say that the baptizing of an adult who professes faith is not only accepted, but recognized as a scriptural normative] 2) There are no clear examples in the New Testament of infant baptism. 3.) There is no clear teaching on infant baptism in the New Testament …[18]

The fact that infant baptism is noticeably absent from scripture should give us great pause. I do not downplay the fact that for centuries this debate has raged on. Indeed, on a cold January night in 1525, George Blaurock was baptized by Conrad Grebel, and then preceded to baptize the others in attendance.[19] This act was a radical call away from the traditions of the Roman Church, further than where Reformers such as Luther and Calvin had gone, and called believers to embrace the biblical record of the baptism of believers alone.
In the book of Acts, the call for baptism follows the call for repentance and faith.
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:37-39)

It is clear in this passage that when asked what their response should be, Peter answers that they should repent, which entails a knowledge of sin and offense to God, and a need for repentance and redemption, and then baptism follows.
A paedobaptist might point out that Peter also says “…the promise is for you and your household…” but I would simply point to verse 41, which states clearly that the ones who were baptized were the ones who had “received his word.” Repentance and faith in Christ are necessary requirements in order to become a believer, as evidenced in Acts 3 and with Paul and the jailer in chapter 16. In these two instances, when asked what must be done to be saved, no mention of baptism is made!
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19)

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14)

Though scripture states that Lydia’s “household” was baptized, notice that no mention of who makes up her household is made. But what is mentioned is that when Lydia became a believer, it was because the Lord opened her heart up to “respond”.
“And after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. (Acts 16:31-33)
Notice again, that the condition for salvation was belief, something that requires a conscious action. And as in the case before, we have nothing stating that the jailer’s house contained infants. It is an unnecessary and unmerited view that assumes all households mentioned “probably” or “very likely” contained infants. Are we to believe that of the few households that are mentioned, that each one happened to have a child under a reasonable age of understanding? We have no clue as to the age of the jailer or Lydia, or others. Just as they “might” have an infant, they very well “might” be middle aged with only teenaged or adult children. It is unreasonable to ask of the reader to assume information that is neither alluded to nor spoken directly to in scripture.
Credobaptists do not deny that the Lord has worked through covenants throughout the history of time, but they deny that baptism is the New Testament form of circumcision. Millard Erickson writes,” It is significant here that the New Testament tends to depreciate the external act of circumcision. It argues that circumcision is to be replaced, not by another external act (e.g. baptism), but by an inward act of the heart.”[20] Paul even states in Romans 2:29 that true circumcision is circumcision “of the heart, not by the written code.” Mark Dever writes, “The New Testament nowhere teaches a parallel of physical circumcision with physical baptism.”[21]
In Colossians 2: 11 Paul writes “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” This circumcision is made without hands. It is not a physical aspect; it is a spiritual one, just as Jeremiah foretold when he said,
“Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer. 31:31-33)
This new covenant will not be like the old, and there will be no members of the covenant who are not believers, unlike those under the old who were circumcised, but did not remain faithful.

Possible Objections
1.) The credobaptist view is often mischaracterized as “baptizing adults only”, but this is a misrepresentation. Credobaptists simply believe that Scripture teaches that when someone is baptized, it is after repentance and a confession of Christ as Lord and Savior. For instance, a child of six years old, who makes it clear that they have knowingly repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ will be joyfully baptized into the Church. The young age may give those ministering to her a slight pause to evaluate and assess an appropriate understanding of what is being confessed, but the child’s age does not prevent her from being baptized. Baptist history and currently many Baptist churches are full of members who were baptized as children. The 2001 Southern Baptist Convention Annual report shows that in that year alone, Southern Baptist Churches baptized 67,226 children who were under twelve years old.[22] The issue is not whether or not a person is an adult, it is “have you confessed your sins and professed faith in Christ as your Savior and Lord?” If the answer to that question is yes, then that person is baptized.
2.) Another objection that is raised is, “what are we to do with the history of the Church?” It is true, for a large part of the history of the Christian Church; infant baptism has been the default mode. But let us not so easily concede this argument. We will do well to examine carefully the history of the early church and not ignore the first crucial years in favor of skipping to a prolonged length of time in which one practice dominated.
This is a larger task than may be first expected, many, including Michael S. Horton espouse that history is on the side of the paedobaptists with out much controversy. In his fantastic book on grace, he makes such an assertion.
“…[T]his was the practice of the early church.. The earliest apostolic documents demonstrated an unchallenged practice of infant baptism. If that is true, the burden of proof falls on the shoulders of those who deny the practice [of infant baptism].”[23]
One would think, with such damning evidence that there would at least be a footnote or a source provided, but there is none.
Included in Mark Dever’s support of believers baptism, he also includes the following, “ Historically, infant baptism is not in the New Testament…. there is no record of it in the first century, or even in the second century”[24] To be fair, Horton does not provide a source for his information either, but fortunately others do.
Fred Malone, who was an ordained Presbyterian minister who embraced Paedobaptism, only to turn away from it back to a credo view writes in his treatment of the discussion a lengthy, yet helpful review of early Christian witness to the subjects of baptism. In it he writes, “…the very earliest explicit mention we have of infant baptism in the didactic writings of the early church is from Tertullian. In this passage he urges the delay of baptism, especially of little children, so that it’s significance might be fully realized.”[25] This is important; because as Malone writes, Tertullian was a major proponent of apostolic tradition, and if infant baptism was a part of that tradition, why does he speak against it? Historian J.N.D. Kelly writes that the practice of infant baptism was not common until the third century[26]. This is hardly close enough to the time of the apostles to warrant it an apostolic mandate. From the evidence of the Didache (early 2nd century), what we do have is instruction for baptism of those who were professed disciples[27]. If infant baptism was in practice at this time, passed down and regarded as an apostolic practice no less, why the silence?
The Regulative Principle states that in as far as we operate as a Church, and perform those things that make us a Church, we are to do those things that scripture commands, the way scripture commands us to do them. Seeing as there is no explicit command in scripture to baptize the children of believers who have not professed faith in Christ, nor is there any instance recorded of this happening, I am compelled to believe that the evidences of baptism as given to us in scripture are a mandate for the baptism of the believer alone. This compelling is furthered by the fact that every instance of the proclamation of the gospel, when resulting in baptism, was always proceeded by an active and purposeful repentance and profession of faith. This being the standard put forth by scripture, I assert that Credobaptism is the only proper administration of the ordinance of baptism.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1932.
Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion. Louisville, Ky. Westminster John Knox Press,

Dever, Mark E. A Display of God’s Glory. Washington D.C.: IX Marks Ministries, 2001
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2nd ed. 1998.
Estep, William R. The Anabaptist Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 3rd ed., 1996

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. U.S.A.: Hendrickson, reprint 1999.
Horton, Michael. Putting Amazing Back into Grace. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. San Francisco: Harper Collins, revised 1978.
Malone, Fred. The Baptism of Disciples Alone. Cape Coral, Fl.: Founder’s Press, 2003.
Sproul, R.C. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992

The 1689 London Baptist ConfessionThe Westminster CatechismThe Heidelberg Catechism
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000
S.B.C. Annual Report: April 22, 2002. Strategic Information & Planning Section. Nashville, TN: Lifeway, 2002
[1] John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion. Louisville, Ky. Westminster John Knox Press, 1303
[2] The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) question 68
[3] Ibid, q. 72
[4] The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)
[5] The 1689 London Confession ch. XXVIIII
[6]R.C. Sproul Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992, 225
[7] Louis Berkhof. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1932 p. 631
[8] Westminster Catechism ch. 8:5
[9] Heidelberg Catechism question 74
[10]Charles Hodge. Systematic Theology. U.S.A.: Hendrickson, reprint 1999, 550
[11] Ibid.
[12] Michael S. Horton. Putting Amazing Back into Grace. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002, 184
[13] Berkhof, 632-633
[14] Heidelberg Catch. question.74
[15] Horton, 186
[16] 1689 London Confession ch. 29 article 2
[17] The Baptist Faith and Message, 2000
[18] Mark Dever . A Display of God’s Glory, Washington D.C.: IX Marks Ministries, 2001, 51-52
[19] William R. Estep. The Anabaptist Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 3rd ed., 1996, 13-14
[20] Millard Erickson. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2nd ed. 1998, 1109
[21] Dever 52
[22] Strategic Information & Planning Section, , Nashville, Tn: Lifeway, April 22, 2002

[23] Horton 187
[24] Dever , 52
[25] Fred Malone. The Baptism of Disciples Alone. Cape Coral, Fl.: Founder’s Press, 2003, 188-189
[26] J.N.D. Kelly. Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper Collins, revised 1978, 207
[27] Malone 189-190


lauren said...

hi stephen,
thank you for sharing this essay. i think i'll close my end of this discussion. i am still opposed to the practice of re-baptism as a requirement for church membership. however, i do understand it's because anything other than believer's baptism isn't considered true baptism by most baptist churches. i am in agreement with you that the sacrament should not be done lightly, regardless of whether parents are having their child baptized or a new believer is considering baptism, regardless of age. every denomination can fall prey to nominalism. this discussion has reminded me how, especially as a new parent, it's crucial to dig into the Word and seek the Lord's guidance in such areas. i am thankful that in spite of some negative experiences i've had within the sbc in the past few years, there are also many people who are seeking Christ first above the denominational politics. my brother, brother in law, and some acquaintances from college are among them.

thanks again for helping me to ponder the whole baptism debate according to what the Bible says.

stephen lee cavness said...


i have enjoyed these exchanges as well.
as for re-baptism, wherever you may land on that, understand the reasoning for churches who require it (or as it was initially done)is because a church member in a baptist church, by definition is one who has been baptized *as a believer*. that is where the issue is.
it is not denying that the person who was baptized as an infant who now wants to be in a baptist church is not a believer.
it is simply stating that to be a baptisy church member, the requirement is to have been baptized as a believer.

every organization that clarifies who can and cannot be a member has membership requirements. for those who choose not to be re-baptized, baptist churches should not look down on them as an unbeliever, but they should also not be looked down upon for holding firmly to their convictions.

obviously, there is debate as to how stringently this should be practiced in certain situations.

historic sbc and pca (credo and paedo baptistsrespectivley) have gotten along very well throughout the centuries, holding very similar, if notthe same doctrinal positions in many areas. i have often said that if it werent for baptism and some aspects of the view of the lord's supper, i could be a pca member with a honest conscience. in many areas today, pca churches are much similar to historic sbc doctrines, whereas present day sbc churches as a whole, have either abandoned, or become ignorant of their founding beliefs.

i am by no means an sbc "apologist", but i am a southern baptist by choice and conviction, despite some of the shortcomings.

but in this, i do hope to be used by the lord to help bring what ever sbc members he places in front of me to learn to be obedient followers of christ.

thanks lauren, i hope you will continue to stop by often.

lauren said...

i'll be back. :-) happy new year!