I know, that title is probably a bit inflammatory and I haven’t intentionally done inflammatory in a while. But nothing gets the blood going more than the topic of Credo/Paedo baptism in our ever-decreasing circles of Christendom. (Credobaptism is the belief that only grown, professing men and women should be given the sign of the New Covenant, wheras, paedobaptist believe that the promise is given, not only to us, but to our children as well).
I think that happens because there is a certain circle of Credo baptist who are so dogmatic in their three or four proof texts, that it is really hard to dialogue. They take the, “the Bible says it, I believe it” position, never realizing that the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of baptism. (See earlier post and some of the comments.)
If all we had were the words, “repent and be baptized” from Acts 2:38, then we would readily agree that credobaptism is the position to hold. But the funny thing is, there is this problem of context, within the other 65 books of the Bible. No one verse in the Bible stands alone, and this is a mistake that many Christians make. They find one verse that fits their position, rip it from context, and build their theology from it, so they can build their walls in the never ending: “we’re right, you’re wrong” war within Christendom. (Read Greg Koukl’s treatment on this topic here).
Yes, I know, it seems that I’m building a few walls at this moment. But what I’m really trying to do is show that as a paedobaptist, the position I hold, has biblical basis. You may disagree with it. I don’t have a problem with you disagreeing with my position. What bothers me the most is to dismiss my position as being merely “an opinion” of man. (“An opinion” is code language for telling someone they are stupidly duped and beyond hope because they are basing their beliefs on mere opinion. It is an insult).
I have heard a few Baptist preachers, preach on the different positions. Nothing is more honoring for brothers in the LORD to honestly and correctly represent my position, and then say why they do not hold to it. And then show me from scripture where I am wrong. That is perfectly acceptable. Please note, the few preachers who have done so, haven’t convinced me I’m wrong, but I appreciate their clarity, honesty and fair treatment.
What is most troublesome is the dismissive spirit one finds when the proponent of credobaptism is so cocksure of themselves, without really laying out their case, clinging to one or two verses like the one above, then declaring spiritual superiority. This is hardly charitable.
For instance, the verse quoted above, showing that those adults who come to faith, are to repent and be baptized, actually goes on to support the paedobaptist position. Let’s look at the verse:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:37-39).
I included a little extra, so you can see a fuller context. Peter was preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, and the Spirit moved among the masses to bring them to conversion. After hearing of their sinful and wicked deeds, nay, their perverseness, they cried out: “What shall we do?” They knew that they were beyond hope under the law.
Peter tells them: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.“ Simple enough. Salvation does not come except through repentance, and faith, with baptism being an act of obedience.
But Peter does not stop there. He continues: “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
For a first century Jew, this is exactly what we would have expected to hear. The Jews were very covenantal in their understanding of Scripture. This is because God is a covenant-keeping God. He worked through covenants and the gospel is rooted in the New Covenant.
In giving these covenants, God always gave a sign for the covenant. We see this throughout Scripture. In Genesis 3, we have the LORD making skins for Adam & Eve after the fall, signifying the necessary shedding of blood to the first couple (and excluding Cain from the knowledge of a proper offering).
When He judged the entire earth with the world-wide flood, He also gave all mankind a sign that He would never bring judgment on the earth through a flood again. The sign, as is always the case, is an indication that points to His faithfulness, not something we have done or are doing.
In the Abrahamic covenant, we are given circumcision, showing the necessity of purification for the seed of man. Again, a bloody sign, that was given by the LORD between Him and His people. All the men of the community, their sons and servants were to be circumcised (see Genesis 17).
Then comes these words: “And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
To a Jew in the first century, these words were monumental (and they should be to us as well). To be cut off from the fellowship of God, was to be condemned, to be outside the camp, to be a true and spiritual castaway. It meant that there was no hope, even though the sign of circumcision was not a guarantee of belief and salvation (see Ishmael). At least by having the sign, there was hope that belief would follow.
That was the mindset of those hearing Peter preach. They knew about the covenant, about the signs, about being cutoff from God’s people. To be cutoff was to be cursed. Peter, gives them the sign of baptism, tells them to repent and be baptized, and then gives them the reassuring words: “For the promise is to you and to your children.”
Just as the sign of the covenant/promise of circumcision was to be given to all in a man’s household, so too is baptism to be given to all those in the household in Peter’s day, and our day. To exclude our children from the sign of the covenant is to cut them off. It is to tell them they are on par with the Philistines, outside the camp. Our children are to have the sign of the covenant just as the children of Abraham were to have the sign of circumcision.
As paedobaptists, we are NOT saying that our children are saved because we have given them the sign. That was a Roman Catholic error, not a Protestant position. We acknowledge that some of our children will grow up and show themselves as apostate. But we are being obedient to give them the sign and to raise them as believers until they prove otherwise. It is up to God to call them spiritually, which is what Peter tells us in Acts 2: “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the LORD our God will call.”
Our children coming to faith, is God’s business. Our being faithful and raising them as believers, inside the covenant-keeping community, is our business. Since they are inside the community of faith, we give them the sign of the faith, knowing that their baptism will become efficacious when the Spirit moves, and they believe in Christ for salvation. This can happen at any age, since ultimately, their exercising of faith will not come about without the Spirit’s movement in their lives. (See John the Baptist in the womb of his mother). Just as we are dependent upon the Spirit of God, in conjunction with His word, for adults to be saved, so too, are we dependent upon the Spirit bringing our children to faith.
Finally, we know from history that infants were being baptized in the First Century. What I have labored to do, is help shed some light on the reasons why they would have done this. Given that reality, please know that no one spoke out against infant baptism until Tertullian, 160-225 A.D., who complained abut abuses of infant baptism (read the article here). Please don’t try to make the argument that because infant baptism was being wrongly used, that it should be done away with. Communion, the other sign of the covenant, was abused in Paul’s day. He didn’t correct the Corinthians by telling they the should quit having communion, but instructed them on how to have communion in a biblical way (by the way, I wish the baptists would take this sacrament as seriously as they do baptism).
But Tertullian let the issue drop and infant baptism continued until the 1500s with the rise of the Anabaptist. Why anyone would want to follow in their footsteps, I’m not sure. And dear Baptist brethren, your roots are not with the Anabaptist, but squarely in truth of the Protestant Reformation. Your denominations have drifted toward Anabaptist positions, but you didn’t start there. (See Tim Challies on a bit of explanation of the Anabaptist).
This post is not an exhaustive treatment of why I’m paedobaptist. It’s just a beginning. Again, you may disagree with what I have written, but please don’t be dismissive and act as if you have the moral high ground. You disqualify yourself the moment you claim such a position. And yes, I know that in my writing, I’m claiming the moral high ground as well. Forgive me. My words are fueled by the fires of your dismissiveness. When I posted my earlier post on baptism, Baptist were not in my thinking at all. I was simply posting what I found to be encouraging from Paul Viggiano. Your attacks on him, and me since I hold the same views, led me to write here today.