It’s time for the next installment of this ongoing series. For those who have been following it, I hope you have found it to be beneficial. For those who are new, this series has been a response to a Presbyterian brother’s own series titled Reasons for Infant Baptism. I recommend reading the previous articles (REASONS 1-8, REASONS 9-16, and REASONS 17-24), as they all tend to build upon one another. That said, as you read through the string of arguments, I think you will begin to see it is actually a string of bad arguments, and a string of bad arguments can never make a pretty necklace. While I have great love and admiration for my Presbyterian brethren, I cannot pretend this isn’t an important subject. It quite literally shapes our view of covenant theology and defines membership therein. As you read along, read with charity but also read with discernment.
Reasons for Infant Baptism #25
The children of believers belong to the Lord and are to be discipled as such.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children… When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you? Then you shall say to your son, ‘We were pharaohs slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.’ (Deut. 6:6, 20-21).
“‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ (Eph. 6:2-3)
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)
I think it’s extremely important to understand how we are defining terms here. When my brother says, “belong to the Lord,” how is it that he is using it? Is it in the sense that believers belong to the Lord, or is it in the sense that everything in Creation belongs to the Lord? If the latter, I fail to see how such belonging is any different than how the unbelieving Satanist belongs to the Lord. If the former, as I assume he is more closely relating it, we are faced with extreme difficulty.
In such a sense of belonging, we enter into the family of God through faith alone. By faith we are justified. By faith we are joint heirs with Christ through adoption as sons. By faith we become citizens of the redemptive kingdom. Void of faith, any sense of belonging is qualified at best. The major problem with such a position is that one who belongs without faith, by merit of merely having believing parents, will one day stop belonging if they never come to said faith. To think that one belongs to the Lord and then is later disowned by the Lord should terrify us all as it becomes a matter of works-based belonging. If this is not what was meant, I fear he may have created an inconsistent category that is found nowhere in Scripture.
To take the passages quoted above, we need to understand they are not talking about ownership/belonging but of longevity and normal means. Just because God uses the normal means of parents teaching their children the ways of the Lord does not mean they will all follow in obedience and come to faith. But just because a child may never come to faith does not mean we should refrain from teaching them the ways of the Lord. We have positive instruction to teach them, and any deviation would prove to be disobedience on our part. We are to teach them and then pray that they one day come to saving faith in Christ. Only upon such a profession of faith, as deemed credible after observation and discussions with the elders, should such a person seek to wear the external sign of their inward reality. Anything else is a sham. No, these passages do not even remotely hint at infant baptism.
Reasons for Infant Baptism #26
There is not a single example in the New Testament of a child growing up in a Christian home, and when he is ready, professing faith and being baptized. There was plenty of time during the New Testament era for this to be spoken of and yet there is nothing. No example. No command. No teaching on what to do with the children born to believers if they were to be kept from baptism.
“The inspired history of the Christian Church contained in the Acts of the Apostles embraces a period of more than twice the number of years required to allow the infants of a baptized convert themselves to grow up to the years of discretion, when they might have been accounted able to make a personal profession of their faith, as their parents had done before; and yet there is neither precept nor example in Scripture giving express authority for baptizing the children of Christian parents, after they had grown up to years of maturity, apart from the case of adult converts, which forms common ground to both parties in this controversy.” Bannerman, The Church of Christ
I would argue the bible isn’t silent on it at all. Scripture is very clear that one is to come to faith, be baptized, submit to elders in a church, and go down the path of sanctification until glorification. It’s no different than one who comes to faith as an adult. Both are transferred from being in Adam to being in Christ, but it doesn’t happen a moment sooner than regeneration and faith. The bible doesn’t need to cover what the child of a believer should do when he comes to faith because it has already spoken unilaterally on the subject of faith and baptism. It need touch on the children of believers no more than it needs to touch on the children of unbelievers who happen to come to faith. We have our New Testament prescription for a New Testament ordinance, and no further qualification is required.
Another point worth mentioning is that if Presbyterians truly believe Scripture is silent on the matter of baptizing children who come to faith at a later point, why are they baptizing them? We don’t invent recipients of New Testament ordinances if the New Testament is silent on it. The New Testament is very vocal when it comes to the system to which I subscribe: credobaptism. It is the paedobaptist system where the New Testament is silent and leads them to look to the Old Testament for instruction on how the New Testament Church should operate.
Reasons for Infant Baptism #27
John the Baptist responded to Christ in the womb by leaping. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” Luke 1:41
While I readily admit we do see a miraculous action here, to use this as grounds for infant baptism is to take the miraculous and use it to justify the norm. We don’t know what the reason is for why God worked through John in such a way, but we can rest assured it was entirely God who was working in him and that He had a purpose for it. The reason I urge caution in such examples is the same reason I urge people to not try and make female leadership the norm for God’s people all because God chose to use Deborah as an exception for a specific purpose. Yet, she is used all the time by egalitarians who try to justify their cause.
In the case of John the Baptist, we know he was chosen by God from before the foundation of the world and that his calling came at the time of God’s choosing. He was to proclaim the coming of Christ. Again, I don’t know why God moved him in the womb, but even the 1689 LBCF allows for elect infants who have been chosen by God (10.3). He moves as He pleases. What we can’t take away from this is a position that because God moved through one child, He necessarily moves in all children of believers. The text simply doesn’t allow for it.
Reasons for Infant Baptism #28
The nearly universal practice of Christians throughout church history has been the practice of infant baptism.
This has actually been proven to be false. While history does show the practice of infant baptism dates back very early, there is nothing that says the early Church practiced it. The biggest problem faced isn’t in showing that it goes back very far as much as it is in showing that it goes back really far and was administered for the same reason Presbyterians practice it. That’s where their endeavor will undoubtedly fail. This is because, though practiced, it was for a very different reason. It was for the remission of sins and had a very superstitious nature surrounding it in an attempt to ensure babies wouldn’t go to hell. To say it’s happened for all those years is to take an unbiblical practice being performed for an antibiblical reason and then put a new spin on it. What makes it even worse is that Presbyterians weren’t the first group to put such a spin on it. Lutherans gave it their own spin before Presbyterians ever came along. This is why I say paedobaptism is a practice in search of a theology. It is a belief born out of papist tradition, modified for Lutherans, and further modified for the adoption into a form of covenant theology. It hinges on poor and unnecessary inference because the clear teaching of Scripture doesn’t support the tradition in any sense. I know I’m being very firm and blunt, but it’s because I find it to be a very errant position (though certainly not a salvation issue by any means).
This was where my brother pointed out his position doesn’t have so much to do with the timeframe of when infant baptism began, as much as it is to point out that for most of church history the majority of Christians have believed in paedobaptism and were baptized this way. He assured me that it does not guarantee its veracity, but it does mean we have to say that the Holy Spirit did not lead the majority of believers into truth for most of the churches history on such an important and central piece of what the Church was commissioned to do. Apparently, I was faced with either that option or to claim that there were no believers for most of that time.
To his point, I do see what he was trying to get at, but he was still left with a huge dilemma. He claimed infant baptism was practiced all that time ago and attempted to make a case that the Spirit preserved the practice. However, this means the Spirit preserved the practice in multiple erroneous ways. If the practice itself is all that matters and not also the reasoning behind it, I could bathe a baby in a bathtub, call it baptism, and it would now have to be viewed as just as credible as any other reasoning the act has been performed throughout the ages. Since this would surely be denied, it stands to reason that all other superstitious reasons behind the act were also illegitimate and counterfeit acts of the ordinance. One cannot embrace the mode while forsaking the meaning and still hope to have something valid.
But what if believing something false, or even teaching something false about the sacrament, wasn’t enough to invalidate it? Would that be game over for my position? His argument was that just as those who had faulty beliefs about circumcision were still, in fact, circumcised, those who are baptized through faulty reasoning are still legitimately baptized. He did qualify his statement by saying there are elements that are necessary for it to be true baptism (i.e. it has to be done with water, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by a minister lawfully ordained), but he maintained it doesn’t mean that all false beliefs about it necessarily invalidate it. He said it must be this way or else it leads to a functional denial of the Universal Church. If the church has “one baptism” that didn’t legitimately exist throughout the medieval era, he concludes it to mean there would have been no church throughout that same era.
With his objection raised, I can understand why he would think this. That said, I think one needs to be careful in saying all baptisms are valid so long as it’s an ordained minister who is using water and uttering some magical words. It’s not an incantation being performed by a certified wizard. It’s an act of worship, one of only two New Testament ordinances for the Church. While there may be certain variations in execution, to entirely nullify the need for accurate reasoning is territory I dare not venture into. It would be to say an ordained minister of the church of peanut butter and jelly can baptize his baby in the name of the Trinity for the prosperity of their future PB&J sandwiches. Since certain wickets were met, it doesn’t matter what the reasoning is. Totally valid. Yes, I know it sounds like mocking. It isn’t. I’m simply making a point. I would argue baptizing babies for the purpose of baptismal regeneration to keep them out of hell is an entirely invalid baptism. It doesn’t matter how many magic words are used or how holy the water is if it’s done for a reason that is unbiblical. This is worship and it is not to be made light of. If Nadab and Abihu were killed for their counterfeit worship (Leviticus 10:1-2), we should take heed and go forth with caution.
To his point about me having to say a large portion of the Church was never baptized, I can readily say that with no remorse. While it is certainly sad that the Catholic institution was able to deceive people for so long, it doesn’t mean nobody was saved in all that time. God has preserved His Church even if it hasn’t always thrived with accuracy. To his point that it leads to a functional denial of the Universal Church, I would disagree. It leads to a functional invalidation of baptism in those who were still wholly in the Universal Church. The best of intentions don’t automatically turn counterfeit worship into legitimate worship. It just makes it counterfeit worship performed with the best of intentions. In this view, baptism is God’s work when done according to His Word, and because it is not a work of man, man cannot invalidate it. But the act of baptism is a work of man. It is an act of worship performed by man to God. The minister performs the baptism with his hands while administering an ordinance. The recipients demonstrates their faith with their body as an act of obedience. Yes, baptism is a work of obedience from the faithful to God in worship. Failing to worship aright is actually no worship at all.
Again, I can see why he would come to such a conclusion. In the Presbyterian view, the Church is marked by baptism. In mine, the Church is marked by circumcision of the heart. Circumcision of the heart is the seal of faith and baptism is the sign of the seal. Entrance into the Church Universal is through circumcision of the heart. Whether one bears the sign of said circumcision is irrelevant to whether or not he is a member of the Church. It does mean he is living in a state of sin through unintentional disobedience, but just as the Jews had a sacrifice for unintentional and unknown sins (Leviticus 5:17-19), the blood of Christ is sufficient for those whom it covers.
Reasons for Infant Baptism #29
If we say that God denies baptism to infants as a class then we are implicitly saying that God denies to them what baptism signifies.
I would 100% agree with my brother on this. However, it is for a very different reason than he would prefer. Yes, refusing infants baptism does deny them what baptism signifies, but this is because infants are not part of the covenant of grace by proxy of their parent’s faith. One is only granted access into the covenant of grace by means of a circumcised heart and a regenerate nature. This is the only class who should bear the external sign of the covenant of grace. Applying it to unregenerate non-members is a misapplication and is a form of well-intentioned counterfeit worship. One may ask me how I know said infants are unregenerate. This this, I simple ask how do they know they are regenerate? I would rather fail to apply a sign based off zero credible evidence than misapply a sign indiscriminately based on zero credible evidence. God can certainly regenerate and save infants should He choose, but we shouldn’t apply the sign until we see credible evidence that would warrant it.
Both covenant credobaptists and covenant paedobaptists agree only those who are members of the covenant of grace are to be baptized. Where we differ is in who we would say are members. There is no hard and fast age of when God chooses to regenerate someone. However, we do know faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Therefore, it is safe to say the vast majority of those who are regenerate also are able to understand that which is spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Reasons for Infant Baptism #30
“The covenant of grace, as revealed by God at different periods for the salvation of His people, has been essentially the same in former and in later times, and has always comprehended infants within it.” Bannerman, The Church of Christ
The issue with this is that it assumes the covenant of grace was consummated and active prior to the ratification by the blood of Christ in time. If the covenant of grace were active from the moment of Abraham onward and was by birthright, I would say he would have a solid argument. Though, it would leave out anyone who possessed faith prior to Abraham. If one wants to argue it is retroactive from the point of consummation with Abraham, that is no different that the case that I would make as a Baptist in saying it wasn’t ratified or consummated until Christ but was retroactive from that point in time for all who possessed faith prior to consummation.
What Presbyterians would present as an active covenant of grace in the Old Testament, I would present as shadows and types that were paving the way for the covenant of grace yet to be ratified by the shed blood of Christ. Salvation has always been by faith alone, but salvation could not come until the covenant of grace was ratified in the crucifixion. And this is where having a proper understanding of the doctrine of the descent is so critical. I would wholeheartedly recommend purchasing and reading Crux Mors Inferi by Sam Renihan for more on this.
I assert those who possessed saving faith prior to Christ were very much saved but went to Abraham’s Bosom (a non-suffering compartment of Hades). They awaited here in peace and rest until the coming Messiah had shed His blood and ratified/enacted the covenant of grace. Upon His resurrection, they rose with Him. For all after this point, death brings up to heaven where we are with our Savior in eternal life. Just as salvation was only through faith in the Old Testament, it is only through faith now. Just as physical birthright didn’t save in the Old Testament, physical birthright does not save now. All who possess faith are in the covenant of grace, but all who are faithless are apart from it and remain in the covenant of works, ripe to receive the penalty for error unless they turn to Christ in faith.
As stated in the introduction, a string of bad arguments will never make a pretty necklace. There’s a saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We’ve now been exposed to 30 weak links over the course of these four articles. Even one should be enough for anyone to take caution. Having a chain comprised entirely of weak links should be enough for anyone to completely abandon it altogether. The New Testament is not silent about the mode and intent of baptism, nor is it silent about the members of the covenant of grace who are to be the recipients of the ordinance. If you find yourself having to turn to the Old Testament to create a New Testament ordinance, you’re already off to a bad start and have just found your first weak link.
~ Travis W. Rogers