The First Baptist Was Preceded By the First Presbyterians

I love the article by Aaron Denlinger over at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He shows that the first Baptist theologian was Tertullian, who lived from 160 to 225 A.D. Tertullian wrote that the practice of infant baptism should be done away with.

Tertullian wrote a book on baptism (De baptismo) in the first decade of the 3rd century –roughly 170 years after Christ instituted the sacrament of baptism (Matt. 28.19). In that work we encounter the earliest argument to my knowledge against the practice of baptizing infants; which practice, his argument as such clearly indicates, was rather common in the church in Carthage (and presumably beyond), despite the rather extraordinary, recent claim by Michael Haykin that the “Ancient Church largely” knew only believer’s baptism “up until the fifth century.”

Tertullian writes:

It may be better to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children. Why, indeed, is it necessary — if it be not a case of necessity — that the sponsors too be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition? […] Let [children] come, then, [when] they grow up…; let them become Christians when they [are] able to know Christ! Why does the innocent hasten to the remission of sins?

Tertullian’s suggestion that infants — those brought to the baptismal font not by virtue of their own choice but by the hands of “sponsors” — be denied baptism until later in life rests on a number of significant assumptions: 1) that baptism positively effects the remission of sins; 2) that infants, though born relatively “innocent” (Tertullian lacks a developed doctrine of original sin), will often grow up to commit fairly significant sins; 3) that since one cannot be re-baptized for “the remission of sins” later in life, one might — depending on the gravity of his/her sins later in life — cut themselves off from the hope of salvation by their post-baptismal sins.

You can see the full article here.

What this points out is that the practice of infant baptism was the standard practice of the day. This is what we Presbyterians have been saying for years. The practice comes out of a covenantal view of baptism, in that it replaces circumcision as the sign and seal of the gospel, and that it is to be administered to entire households. The practice of baptizing infants would have been exactly what we would expect from a bunch of converted Jews. They saw God’s grace extending not only to the head of households, but to the entire household as well. This is why all the men in Abraham’s family were circumcised, just as he was (Genesis 17:13). Since baptism replaces circumcision, a bloody sign replaced by a bloodless sign, then all those in the household are to be baptized (including the women, showing an expansion of the sign. See Acts 16:11-15).

What Denlinger shows in his article is that Tertullian was the only pastor/theologian to argue against infant baptism for the first 1500 years of the church. And even then, his argument was more of a suggestion. I believe this is so because so many had a covenantal view of baptism until that time, and especially in our day, when so much of the emphasis is on the “individual” and not the family. Yet God works through families. That is His first plan in “making disciples.” We are to raise up children in the covenant, with the sign of the covenant. By not doing so, as with circumcision, we saying our children are outside of the covenant of grace. I don’t see this as ever being what God intended for His people.

Denlinger also shows that the earliest Baptist, was preceded by the earliest Presbyterians.

And let me point out to my Baptist friends that the actual practice of paedobaptism is documented prior to Tertullian’s rejection of paedobaptism. Indeed, it’s documented by Tertullian’s own work; Tertullian was, after all, objecting to something that was happening, not to a hypothetical scenario in which some harebrained believer took it into his or her head to baptize a baby. So the earliest documented practice of paedobaptism precedes the earliest explicit objection to paedobaptism. My tradition is older than yours.

I concur. The first baptist was preceded by the first Presbyterians. I would like to say something snarky at this point like, “Hey Baptist! How does it feel to be on the wrong side of history.” But I won’t.


3 thoughts on “The First Baptist Was Preceded By the First Presbyterians

    • Yes and no. The one arguing against paedobaptism was the only one, the rest were covenantal in their view of baptism. This has been my arguing point for years. Some Baptist say they want to go back to the church of the first century (along with Church of Christ). If that is the case, start baptizing your infants. By doing so, you are giving them the sign of the covenant. To not give them the sign of the covenant, was tantamount to saying they are outside the camp of believers. In other words, ex communication.

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