This is a continuation of two previous articles (see REASONS 1-8 and REASONS 9-16) I wrote as a response to a Presbyterian brother’s so-called “Reasons for Infant Baptism.” As with before, I will continue to provide my response and refutation to each of his points. If you have been following my articles on this subject, you know that I content Presbyterian covenant theology is an erroneous view of the covenant of grace that MAKES A MOCKERY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. As you read my responses, please read them with a tone of compassionate and loving rebuke, not one of contentious disdain. I truly do love my Presbyterian brethren.
Household baptisms in the book of Acts are best explained by an understanding of covenantal baptism. (Acts 2:39, 16:15)
I would say household baptisms are best explained by Scripture and a proper understanding that baptism is an appeal to a clear conscience in Christ. My brother’s use of Acts 2:39 doesn’t actually have anything to do with households. The children of believers and their parents are tied together just as equally as the children of believers and those who are far off as well as believers and those who are far off. The purpose of that passage is not speaking of households but of the fact that the promise is for many but will only come through faith. If you really wanted to make it about the visible church, you would have to say all those without faith who are far off are also members of the visible church and should be baptized as a sign of the covenant. Since I’m sure my brother is not ready to jump to that conclusion, I have to urge him to seriously rethink his current understanding of the verse.
Regarding Acts 16:15, it’s highly unlikely there were any children present, let alone infants, considering Lydia was a traveling salesperson who was roughly 240 miles from where she was from. It could have possibly included servants, but any servant who was baptized would have also possessed faith. Now, this matches perfectly with Scripture that tells us to believe and be baptized. It also matches with Scriptural examples where the baptized member is said to possess faith. Yes, God does work in the form of covenant, but all who are in the covenant of grace are only in it through faith in Christ. He is the Seed of promise and we are grafted into Him, not through biological lineage but through faith alone.
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” Genesis 1:28
This one entirely stumped me at first. Not because I felt it was a valid point but because I had no clue how such a verse supported infant baptism. It certainly is prescriptive for the continuance of the human race as well as descriptive of mankind’s role within Creation, but I just was not seeing what it had to do with sprinkling babies into a covenant that did not yet exist. After seeking clarification, my brother explained he feels this passage reveals much about God (for instance that He wants a world full of children) and about God’s purpose for man. He went on to say that Christ is the redemption of the original purpose of creation, the raising up of a godly offspring that will fill the earth.
Instead of being stumped while trying to make heads or tails out of the verse, I was now dumbfounded at how such a conclusion could be reached. Christ isn’t the redemption of the common kingdom. He was the inauguration of the covenant which leads to the redemptive kingdom. The redemptive kingdom has nothing to do with physical reproduction or a restoration of homes on earth. To read this into the Genesis account really is a strange case of eisegesis. I just have to call it like it is.
Baptism is commanded to be done by Christ Himself. It is the normative starting point of discipleship, and is followed by teaching. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20
While this one could be a longwinded response, it really doesn’t take much to show the error of this alleged Reason. In fact, I feel a succinct answer is more fitting given the implications of such an interpretation. Who is it that is being baptized? Is it the unbelieving physical seed of believing parents? I dare say not. Scripture is very clear who is to be baptized in this example. It is the disciples. Make disciples of all nations. Baptize those disciples. Continue to teach those disciples. To make this passage apply to infants is to entirely reverse the prescribed order as set forth by Christ Himself. To this, I urge one who holds such a view to tread carefully.
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15
If one wants to claim his entire household should be baptized, he must also contend that his entire household is serving the Lord. But how exactly do infants serve the Lord as members of a household? Those in faith can serve the Lord, but those who are not regenerate can do nothing for God aside from producing filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Let alone the fact that the unregenerate will have no desire or ability to serve the Lord (1 Corinthians 2:14). This is just another example of how paedobaptism is a manmade practice in search of a theology.
The Epistles were written to churches that included children. “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus… Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 1:1 & 6:1
Simply put, this is not even remotely closure to being a reason for infant baptism. It is clear that the letter is written to the faithful. However, even little sinners should be raised with the hope that they will one day repent and turn to Christ. An apostle telling children to obey their parents is not a reason to give them the sign of the unbreakable covenant in Christ. While it does serve as evidence that children existed in the New Testament churches, I find it odd that there would be no positive instruction to baptize them. You know who we do see being positively instructed to be the recipients of baptism? The faithful alone. To add to this, the qualifier of the “faithful,” if taken in the context in which my brother was using it, would mean all the children had faith. It would also mean those without faith didn’t have to obey their parents. The proper interpretation is that Paul was writing to the faithful while also making a side note to the children that would be read publicly. It’s sort of like how our pastor will sometimes tell the children to listen up before he says something. Yet, this doesn’t mean he’s about to invite them to the table to partake in the Supper just because their parents are believers.
Another point of irony is that I was then accused of allowing my tradition to get in the way of a proper understanding of what first century believers would have assumed about baptism. His justification for such an assertion is the positive instruction of baptism on the Great Commission accompanied by the claim that that early believers would have assumed their children would be included with them. He then claimed that my requiring there to be an explicit command to baptize infants shows that I are bringing presuppositions to Scripture that the original receivers of the text would not have held. Since we’ve had a theme of irony going in this article, there’s another dose. While being accused of bringing in presuppositions because I am looking to the text for answers, his entire premise is built not upon the text but upon an assumption rooted in his own presuppositions.
Aside from the irony of it all, my brother’s position relies on an assumption that I deny would have existed. I see nothing in the New Testament that would lead one to think they would have assumed their children would have been baptized. It is an assumption born of tradition, not of Scripture. We see no children being baptized in the New Testament. Not even the children whom Christ instructed to allow to come. If anything, those would be the children we would see being baptized, but it simply doesn’t happen. There’s not even a hint of it. The positive instruction we do have is the baptism of disciples alone on the basis of a declaration of faith as an appeal to a clean conscience in Christ. This is why Baptists perform the ordinance of Christ in such a way. It’s because it is how the New Testament positively prescribes it to be done. With such clear positive instruction coupled with the fact that circumcision still exists (but is now spiritual instead of physical), it would have been abundantly clear who the recipients of baptism were to be: disciples alone. One can say I’m bringing my presuppositions into the Scripture, but remember it is the Presbyterian who is bringing forth assumptions and marrying them to the New Testament. I’m merely bringing forth what has been made explicit of a strictly New Testament about an explicitly New Testament ordinance.
Baptism has the clear Scriptural intention of marking out the body of Christ. But what about those who claim the name of Christ only to renounce it later? Is their baptism valid? In fact, what about those who never claim it at all and opt to walk away from the church without ever coming to Christ? I would argue such a profession of faith (or in the case of the latter, a lack thereof) is evidence of a fallacious baptism that lacked legitimacy. The Presbyterian charge that accompanies this view is that it functionally denies that anyone can know if anyone else is baptized, besides themselves, and that it inevitably removes the very notion of a visible people of God besides the individual. While I can understand how such a thought would be difficult to wrap one’s mind around and come to terms with, we can be thankful this isn’t actually the view of any Baptist nor is it the implication of a Baptist perspective.
The visible church does not exist on the basis of water but of faith. There will surely be those who possess faith and then walk away demonstrating they were never saved to begin with. What does that infant sprinkling do for them? Does it still mark them as a member of the visible church? Is there no way to escape it? No, the Presbyterian is left with the exact same dilemma. This is because it is a proclamation of faith and being known by our fruit that marks us as the church. Besides, who would want to be a part of something called the church when all it takes is getting wet to be a member? That’s not the church. That’s a pool party in the name of Christ. The very Christ that infants have yet to turn to in their unregenerate and wicked state that is bound for hell lest they repent.
This is something the Presbyterian will be unable to grasp so long as they cling to the notion that there is complete continuity between the Old and New Testaments. But just because the Baptist denies a continuity between the covenants does not mean we insert a sharp division or complete overhaul of everything to the left of Matthew. It just means that we read Scripture from right to left instead of from left to right. We should always begin with the New Testament and then see how types and shadows paved the way for the fullness that is now revealed. If we begin with the Old Testament and then work our way to the New, it creates continuity where there should not be. Instead of the Old Testament being shadows and types that were abolished upon the New Covenant, it views the Old as still existing only in a different form. This is not a sound hermeneutic.
Because baptism is an act of worship, it necessitates either a positive prescription from the New Testament or, at the very least, a compelling argument of good and necessary consequence. Because we have positive prescription in the New Testament, to argue good and necessary inference on the basis of the Old Testament is to adhere to a weak hermeneutic practice. Furthermore, to say the New Testament never forbids infant baptism is to reject the regulative principle in favor of the normative principle which states any form of worship is acceptable so long as it isn’t forbidden. The regulative principle of worship states that only that worship prescribed by Scripture is acceptable. Historically, both Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists reject the normative principle and embrace the regulative principle. Good and necessary consequence allows for neither the invention of ordinances nor the recipients of them, especially when we have New Testament positive prescription for their operation.
Going back to the idea of children obeying, I have also heard it claimed that we make a rash assumption that infants don’t understand spiritual things. This claim has even been extended to children in the womb, often citing John the Baptist and how he leapt in Elizebeth’s womb as he recognized the mother of his Savior. But we should not defend the recipients of an ordinance based on what we feel we can never know? Aside from me not agreeing with basically any part of such a premise, none of it conforms to the Regulative Principle of Worship. While it is true that the preborn John the Baptist did have a supernatural response to Christ, we must not take specific exceptions and create a rule out of them. We also see Deborah as an example of a female spiritual leader/judge over Israel. Yet, there was a specific purpose in it and the exception is not to define the norm. The same goes for John the Baptist. There was clearly some form of miraculous work being done by the Spirit in this instance. However, we should not take this very unclear exception and use it to define positive instruction regarding the prescribed method of New Testament ordinances. This is even further amplified by the fact that we do have positive instruction within the pages of the New Testament on both the recipients and mode of baptism. Hint: The paedobaptist teaching just doesn’t conform to it.
The New Covenant is expanded in nearly every way. The Gospel is to be preached in all nations not just Israel. The sign of the covenant and gifts of the Spirit are given to both men and women, and many more than in the Old Covenant. Every believer is considered a member of a royal priesthood etc. Why on this one point of baptism and the inclusion of covenant children would it be more restrictive?
To ask why, on the one point of baptism, is the New Covenant more restrictive is like asking why, on the one point of membership, is the New Covenant more restrictive? To be a member of the Mosaic and Abrahamic Covenants, one merely had to be born. Faith was not a requirement. There were many ungodly families who were full-fledged members who were also recipients of temporal and earthly promises. To be heirs of the Old Covenant promise came down to genetic lineage. To be joint heirs of the New Covenant promise requires faith in Christ. In this way, the New Covenant is far more restrictive than baptism could ever be. If the Abrahamic Covenant is still based on genetic lineage, why restrict baptism to only those in the Church and not offer it up to all Jews?
Circumcision was a seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith, and yet it was commanded to be given to his children even before they made conscious profession of that same faith. It was done on the basis of God’s promise, not man’s action. So too baptism is given on the basis of God’s promise. Romans 4:11
The major flaw in such reasoning here is in establishing continuity between circumcision and baptism. In order for this premise to be accurate, there must be a one-for-one comparison. Even if we wanted to allow for the claim that baptism is better in that it now includes women, there still is no answer for how it would also be worse in that it does not include all members of a household where the head is a believer. If a believer takes in an unbelieving parent, would the paedobaptist encourage the unbelieving parent be baptized against their will?
The strange part about using Romans 4:11 as justification is that Abraham was yet uncircumcised when he came to faith. Circumcision only occurred after faith was present. Verse 12 even says Abraham is the father of not only the circumcised but also the uncircumcised who have faith. If you’re going to rely on Romans 4 to make the point that unbelieving children should be baptized, you must also make the case that believers don’t need to be baptized at all because they are already sealed as a child of Abraham even without the sign being applied to themselves. But nobody I know will argue such a point. Thus, it becomes a matter of cherry picking void of any sound exegesis.
“The baptism of infants is a standing witness to the priority of grace over faith.” Douglas Kelly
The problem with responding to this is that it is an isolated quote void of any further context. With this in mind, I’ll do my best to not jump to conclusions but to respond as it reads. I feel there is actually a danger is placing grace as a priority over faith when it comes to salvation. And since salvation is the end goal, I can only imagine that is the grace the author has in mind. We are saved by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. Grace and faith are not opponents where one has preeminence over the other. Certainly, without grace there would be no faith. However, without faith there would be no salvation. We are justified by faith alone, but faith is given as a gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8). We must never pit the two against each other.
To go a step further, what good is grace if it doesn’t lead to salvation? God causes the rain to fall on both the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). Yet such common grace does not lead to the salvation of sinners. In such a case, it certainly shows the goodness of God, but it is of zero eternal consequence if God does not call such a person unto Himself. If we are speaking of grace in the salvific sense, faith will always be the tool of salvation that brings one to salvation.
To bring infant baptism into this as a “standing witness to the priority of grace over faith” falls way short. What type of grace? Common or saving? If the former it will never have priority over faith. If the latter, it will always be on equal grounds to grace. Baptism plays no factor unless it is representative of those who possess saving faith by the grace of God. Any other form is an incomplete and woefully inadequate misrepresentation of what baptism is meant to display.
We are now 24 “Reasons” in and I still feel the case for credobaptism has only been strengthened. For one who may cling to such Presbyterian reasoning, I ask you to turn to the Scriptures and read them from right to left instead of the other way around. Shadows and types are in the Old Testament for a reason. By failing to accept this in the base of circumcision, the covenant paedobaptist makes the same error regarding the ordinance as the dispensationalist does regarding the people of God. Both seek to find literal continuity and deem anything else to be a type of replacement theology. But just as I say to the dispensationalist, the proper Baptist understanding of covenant theology and its New Testament ordinances becomes a matter of fulfillment theology. To reverse this is to attempt to reverse the very work of Christ. As a warned above, tread carefully.
~Travis W. Rogers