Baptism: The Problem with Credo Baptists

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.

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16 thoughts on “Baptism: The Problem with Credo Baptists

  1. Shirley Jessome

    Tell me please how can a baby repent and of what.??

    On Sun, Aug 21, 2016 at 11:08 AM, Timothy J. Hammons wrote:

    > Timothy posted: “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 bel” >

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    1. Shirley,

      The Spirit moves when and where and how He pleases. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). A baby repents in the same manner and for the same reason as anyone else, by the Spirit and because they are guilty of sin (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23, 5:12-14).

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      1. A person has to hear the Word, realize they are a sinner and that they need a Savior before they can be saved. How can a baby know that? Then, they can repent and be saved.

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      2. That would be the “normal means of grace” way of coming to know the LORD. But again, if the Spirit so chooses to move in the life of an unborn child, bringing that child to faith, then He can do so, and did so in the life of John the Baptist. This is the exception to the rule.

        The point is that our children are a part of the covenant-keeping community. They are sanctified by the believing parents (1 Corinthians 7). Therefore, they are to have the sign of the covenant, just as it was in the days of circumcision. To deny our children the sign, is to assign them to being little Philistines. And while they may act like that, we are to raise them in the faith, being faithful parents, admonishing them in the LORD. Otherwise, you end up ever Bible lesson in the family being turned into an evangelistic outreach, thinking that it is up to us to convert our children. No, we need to trust in the means of grace God has given to us, and He will bring about conversion in His time, and cause the growth, in His time.

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      3. Many Christians who practice infant baptism do so because they understand infant baptism as the new covenant equivalent of circumcision. In this view, just as circumcision joined a Hebrew to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, so baptism joined a person to the New Covenant of salvation through Jesus Christ. This view is unbiblical. The New Testament nowhere describes baptism as the New Covenant replacement for Old Covenant circumcision. The New Testament nowhere describes baptism as a sign of the New Covenant. It is faith in Jesus Christ that enables a person to enjoy the blessings of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 9:15).

        Taken from: http://www.gotquestions.org/infant-baptism.html

        Also, you say, “No, we need to trust in the means of grace God has given to us, and He will bring about conversion in His time, and cause the growth, in His time.” I totally agree with that. It is all God and truly in His time. We need to try our best to bring up our children in a way that is pleasing to God. He will do the rest. – Blessings.

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      4. BonLou,

        Your source is mistaken on several key points. Regarding the sign of baptism replacing the sign of circumcision, I refer you to the following except from a sermon by Pastor Paul Viggiano, thoroughly supported by scripture:

        Is baptism really a new covenant circumcision?
        In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:11,12).

        A lynch-pin for this particular issue is whether or not baptism if the anti-type (new covenant version) of circumcision. The above passage is a bit complicated so let’s see if we can piece it together properly.
        Christ is the high priest who circumcises his people as the high priests of the old covenant circumcised the children of believing parents. In the new covenant Christ performs this. It is not an outward circumcision—made without hands—not by a human priest. It is a spiritual circumcision. When and how did this happen to me? Verse 12 tells us having been “buried with him in baptism.” My spiritual circumcision came about by being spiritually baptized in Christ, by having entered into union with Christ. Baptized into Christ means you were spiritually circumcised. Christ did it. The circumcision of my heart is a result of having been buried with Christ in baptism. If you want to understand baptism, it makes sense to look at the meaning of circumcision as the historical precedent.
        If you are struggling making this connection observe that baptism and circumcision are signs of the same thing. There may be some distinctions between baptism and circumcision, but what they both signify is overwhelmingly similar.
        First, both baptism and circumcision mark out who God’s people are; circumcision showed who belonged to God.

        But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it (Exodus 12:48).

        In order to take the Passover the person must first be circumcised. He must be covenanted to God. He is no longer identified with his previous citizenship but now belongs to the kingdom of God. He is no longer a stranger. Circumcision is the mark of those who belong to the Lord.
        Baptism makes this same distinction. The Great Commission of the new covenant requires the giving of this mark.

        Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19).

        From the very beginning of the church it was the mark of conversion.

        And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

        These covenant signs mark/distinguish God’s people from the world. From the time of Abraham to Christ, the outward sign that you were a child of God’s covenant promise was circumcision. From the very beginning of the church the outward sign that you were a child of God’s covenant promise was baptism. These are the outward signs. As discussed earlier they both signify the same thing, a circumcised heart
        Secondly, both baptism and circumcision denote the need of purification from defilement; being uncircumcised denoted uncleanness.

        And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).

        Uncircumcision described the sinful pollution of man’s nature.

        And Moses said before the LORD, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips” (Exodus 6:30).

        Jeremiah uses the term circumcision in reference to the sinful human heart.

        Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart (Jeremiah 4:4).

        Why was the rite applied to the male genital organ? For one, it brings children into the world in their fallen state—children of Adam. The male genital organ demonstrates the uncleanness of man from generation to generation. All who enter the world through man’s seed are unclean (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:22). This is one reason why Christ was born of a woman but not a man. From here we see circumcision pointing to the need for God’s gracious work of cleansing and redemption.
        Baptism, similar to circumcision, points to the need for remission of sins.

        And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

        This statement by Peter assumes our spiritually dirty position. Baptism is a symbol of the washing that takes place when Christ’s blood sets us free. Ananias said to Paul,

        “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

        Both circumcision and baptism point to the purification from defilement that is necessary for salvation.
        Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly), both baptism and circumcision point to the righteousness that is imputed by faith alone as the way of salvation. Circumcision was a sign and seal of righteousness by faith.

        And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised (Romans 4:11).

        When Abraham was circumcised it was a sign of the justification that he had by faith. The idea of being accepted before God by faith is demonstrated in the rite of circumcision.
        Baptism is also a sign of justification by faith.

        There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

        Baptism is a sign of the righteousness of believing, the righteousness of faith, a sign of acceptance before God resulting from faith in Him and His word.
        Circumcision and baptism: 1) both mark out who God’s people are; 2) both denote purification from defilement; and, 3) both denote righteousness by faith alone as the way of salvation.
        ~~~~~~~~
        And finally, in Colossians 2, Paul writes:
        11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

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  2. Hi–

    I’ve never heard the terms ‘credobaptist’ and ‘paedobaptist’ before! This is something new to me.

    Having come out of the RCC, I’ve always had a struggle about baptism. Should infant baptism still be practiced, or was it only for those who intentionally professed belief in Christ? My thought was: babies were too young to profess such belief, and so it was better to let them become older, and profess belief, and THEN baptize them.

    This explanation is similar to the stance taken by the small Anglican church I’ve been attending. The rector is quite adamant about infant baptism. And he uses the covenant context, just you are doing here, Timothy.

    So–I guess my adult baptism-only stance is wrong? I’m willing to be corrected, after reading this!

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  3. Patricia,

    I know that Timothy will be greatly encouraged by your comment, largely for the fact that you read the post with a teachable spirit. The scriptures do speak clearly on this subject, if we let them…

    If you have the time, I recommend also reading Timothy’s post: Baptism: God’s Sign to Us, Not Our Own Personal Testimony. He has included the text of an excellent sermon on infant baptism given by Pastor Paul Viggiano.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Heidi!

      I’ll read Timothy’s post, and the sermon text.

      BTW: I left the Anglican church I was attending. Will be looking for any biblical churches in my area.

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  4. Raised a Baptist, I was introduced later in life to the concept of paedobaptism by someone I greatly admire — R.C. Sproul. So I spent a great deal of time examining the Scriptures on the subject, not wishing for emotion or precedent to determine what is true. I became so adept at it that I once spent time defending it on a Christian discussion forum. I can see where paedobaptists such as yourself come to your conclusions, and I respect them as not merely traditional, but biblical. That is, you derive your view from Scripture.

    I also agree that baptism is the new circumcision (so to speak). Having said that, however, I find that this is where I end my convergence with paedobaptism. I believe that “repent and be baptized” is the correct formula (see also Matt 28:19-20). So if baptism is the sign of the new covenant, at what point did the children of Israel become part of the old covenant? At birth, of course. And at what point do we become part of the new? At spiritual birth. Thus, after comparing Scripture with Scripture, listening to godly men debating godly men (I was treated to a debate on the subject between R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur once), and recognizing many Reformed folks who are biblical, Reformed, and credobaptists (such as John Piper), I’ve concluded that I am convinced by Scripture and evident reason that the credobaptist position best reflects the biblical view.

    But, as I said, I respect those who, by virtue of Scripture, conclude that I’m wrong on this. Not so much those who, by virtue of righteous indignation and wrath, decide credobaptists are rank heretics perhaps not even part of the faith.

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  5. Mark Van Laren

    Heidi Ann Hammons,
    I just have to say that your response to Bonlou is one of the best I’ve ever read.
    You covered all the bases.

    Mark

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    1. Mark,
      I cannot take credit for that response. It is almost entirely an excerpt from a sermon by Pastor Paul Viggiano (my former pastor) of Branch of Hope in Torrance, California. His sermons are available on SermonAudio and are definitely worth the listen.

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