I was “baptised” as a baby, and some of my very best friends practise it. But is it Scriptural? In A Display of God’s Glory, Mark Dever gives five reasons for the conviction that infant baptism is a doctrinal error:
1. Nobody disagrees with believer baptism. The debated point is infant baptism.
2. There are no clear examples in the New Testament of infant baptism.
3. There is no clear teaching on infant baptism in the New Testament.
4. The New Testament nowhere teaches a parallel of physical circumcision with physical baptism. In fact, Colossians 2 exactly parallels spiritual circumcision with physical baptism, that is, the circumcision of the heart with physical baptism. This would support the idea of baptizing only those who give evidence of being born again.
5. Historically, infant baptism is not in the New Testament, and it is not in the Didache, an early second-century manual of Christian worship. There is no certain record of it in the first century, or even in the second century. In the third century, there is certain record of infant baptism, but it is not the infant baptism which some of our Reformed Protestant friends teach. It is rather what the Roman Catholic church now teaches – that baptism actually effects our being born again, our regeneration, our salvation. The idea of infant baptism that some of our reformed Protestant friends teach, in fact, does not appear until after other Protestants in the 1520s have re-introduced the practice of believer baptism. It is really Huldrich Zwingli who pioneers the idea of an infant baptism that is not salvific or regenerating.
(p56, A Display of God’s Glory)
It’s striking isn’t it? “New Testament, New Testament, New Testament”. Sure, if the Bible began in Matthew you *might* assume that the covenant sign is for adults. You *might* therefore assert that the burden of proof is on the paedo-baptists. But only by assuming a Baptist hermeneutic from the outset.
Hi Glen. I don’t think Dever’s assuming anything. It seems to me he’s just trying to understand the OT in the light of the new.
The most likely argument I’ve heard for paedobaptism is the circumcision/baptism analogy, but I’m in agreement with point 4 above, I’m afraid.
🙂 Everyone’s assuming things. Or maybe I’m just being presumptuous.
On the Colossians 2 point, Paul just doesn’t make that clear division between physical and spiritual that we’re so often looking for. Colossians 2 is a case in point – he speaks of being buried with Christ in baptism – i.e. baptism actually effects this spiritual reality (very un-Zwinglian language!). For Dever’s argument to work he’d have to be as Catholic as the position he rejects in point 5. If he really means that v12 refers strictly to physical baptism then those baptismal waters really do unite us to Christ. But if he sees that “baptism” refers both to the sign and the reality then the argument of 4 fails. Spiritual circumcision is parallel to spiritual baptism (and yes, both of them are strongly linked to their corresponding signs).
Having said that, I repeat that the bible mixes up the sign and the reality a lot more than these neat categories.
Glory to Jesus 🙂
If baptism is as directly analogous to physical circumcision as you suggest, why then do we baptise female infants?
Hi Barry- and I thought it was only football we disagreed about!:) Glen makes a vital point. The biggest division between paedo- and Anabaptists is not NT interpretation (both “argue from silence” ie there are no clear examples of ‘second generation Christians’ being baptised as believers in the NT), nor in Church History (there is evidence of both from as early as 2nd century but for reasons that neither modern paedo pr anabaptists would agree with!); rather it is in the area of Biblical Theology. Is the Bible a unity or are the first 39 books simply a bit of proto-Christian history. There is continuity as well as discontinuity. Where discontinuity is not clearly stated (as with food laws / sacrificial system) we imply continuity. The very fact that circumcision was a big issue in Acts 15 shows that the underlying concept of covenant was vital in the early church- although obviously the mark and extent of it had to be radically reinterpreted in the light of the NTGospel.
At the end of the day, the more we see baptism as a human response, the more likely we are to be anabaptists, the more we see Baptism as a sign of God’s work, the more likely we are to hold to covenant baptism. By the way I never describe myself as an Infant Baptist, when asked on a Panel of Baptists recently to state our position on Baptism, I surprised a few by not using the infant terminology, Instead I said that we practiced and rejoiced in Covenant Baptism- that is the baptism of believers AND their children. To balance Dever, I would suggest you read Geoffery Bromiley’s The Children of Promise or Gregg Strawbridge’s The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism
PS All the best in the race for 4th with the Gooners!
A lot to deal with there, Monty, but on one of your points… I’m obviously not saying the OT is “a bit of proto-Christian history” (!) But as you say yourself, there is discontinuity as well as continuity. For me, the rite of infant baptism simply does not do justice to the discontinuity between the old covenant and the new.
Incidentally, I should point out that my position on this is not courtesy of Mark Dever! Every church I’ve ever been a member of was a paedobaptist church; but with the best will in the world, I cannot reconcile that doctrine with what is for me the plain teaching of Scripture.
Re: The Baptism debate.
I thought that someone would have mentioned the booklet
“Believe and be Baptized” written by Victor Jack. The title says it all.
Although not a book of theology it covers “immersion” as the NT method.
As to the NT / OT relationship we are told that we are not under “law”
but under “grace”. This means that we are are not subject to “do this and you will live…”
but rather “believe in the Lord Jesus and…”. Under the Law it was the males who had to
appear before the Lord three times per year and only they had to be circumcised. But in
the NT there is neither male nor female as regards coming to Him in faith so both may be
For those of us sprinkled at babyhood the Acts gives examples of those baptized again
in the Name of Jesus so the precedent has been given for such to receive believers baptism.
We all want to do the best by our children but declaring to family and friends that by a rite
they are thus “born again” (as the old CofE prayer book says) is doing more than misleading
them. Even worse in Scotland, some christened members of the CofS were made to leave on
receiving such adult baptism thus depriving that church of keen members and no doubt
leaving a nasty taste in the mouth to those concerned. (Current situation may have changed-
Sorry, this was meant to be brief!
As Lawrence intimates, the bloody rite of circumcision has no place in New Testament practice. I would add that this sign was male-only because it was pointing towards the cutting off of the seed. There is neither male nor female in Christ – hence baptism is a watery and unisex practice.
I think (perhaps ironically) that the point about not being under law is one of the key reasons I believe in covenant baptism (inclusive of infants). Baptism is not a work – it’s not our arrow up, but God’s arrow down. As Monty has said it is not *our* testimony to *our* faith but it is a visible word – a proclamation of God’s work and faithfulness.
We should be careful about what we declare in the baptismal service (and more careful than the BCP I would say), but I can’t go past old Huguenot liturgy:
“Little child, for you Jesus Christ came into the world, laboured and suffered; for you, he went through the agony of Gethsemane and the darkness of Calvary; for you, he cried: “It is finished!”; for you, he died and for you he triumphed over death; yes, for you, little child, the declaration holds true, We love God, because he first loved us. Amen!”
Hi Barry! Are you planning to get baptised yourself?
September 18th. Only 20 years after the event 🙂 Extremely joyful about having the opportunity to obey Christ’s command, and give public testimony to his salvation.
Man, that’s awesome news! Really delightful to hear. Hope it brings you joy and Christ glory.
Ah I didn’t know that. Hope I haven’t spoken of as evil something you regard as good! (Romans 14:16). Hope the 18th is an experience of grace for you 🙂
Not my intention either, Barry. Rom 14:16 is a good verse to bear in mind for all of us involved in this debate
No offence taken, brothers. I’m glad to be discussing it with you.
Thank you for posting on such a crucial but sadly divisive issue. You are one brave soul, Barry :):) Being a former paedobaptist myself, I mortified family and friends when, after years of internal crisis it became obvious to me that I had to be “rebaptised.” No pastor or theologian had to “convince” me. Scripture speaks for itself. Coming from a staunchly paedobaptist background, I had my own “Martin Luther” moment :):) On top of all the theological arguments, what was blatantly obvious to me was the overwhelming evidence in favour of believer’s baptism versus the veritable silence on the rituals and/or examples of infant baptism. Believer’s baptism is clearly mandated while infant baptism is inferred from Scripture. Congratulations on your upcoming “funeral” and “birthday.” 🙂
“. Congratulations on your upcoming “funeral” and “birthday.” ”
Sunita, whatever may be happening in a month or two, it is not his spiritual funeral and birthday – I think this happened to Barry 20 years ago- unless this is an example of Anabaptismal Regeneration???
I was brought up in a Evang Church and got dedicated as a baby but no infant baptism. I made my own decision to become a christian at 14 and getting baptised when I was 18 years old in a Elim Penticostal Church.
I never really understood why the Church of England Baptised babies as it isn’t in the bible apart from bringing the children to Jesus for blessing?
It’s all about having a child like faith and believing in God’s Word. As you said there is no evident of Infant baptism. So I believe that babies should not be baptisted, but should be dedicated.
Congratulations that you are going to get baptisted.
I thought that you would of already been baptisted as you wrote and involved in christianity explored.
Thanks Rachel. To your last sentence, I would have to say that for a long while I thought I *was* baptised! It’s only been in recent years as I’ve dug into the Bible more deeply that I’ve become convinced that it is important for people to be baptised post-conversion, rather than pre-conversion. But if it’s any consolation, I can assure that although I have not yet been baptised, I am still a believer! Looking forward to my baptism next month.
One thing I meant to add, having been away for a few days. is that if the New Covenant exceeds and surpasses the old would we not expect the sign to be more extensively rather than less extensively applied? Therefore, women are included as there is neither male nor female in Christ, but if children of the covenant community were included in the Old, how come they are excluded in the new?
It doesn’t make sense from the point of view of biblical theology. Are we seriously to believe that under the Old Covenant children were raised as heirs of God’s promises, but under the New they are to be treated as little pagans ? Covenant baptism acknowledges that our children are marked by the sign of grace and incorporated into the family of faith and treated as members of it until such times as they may decide (sadly) to opt out, as opposed to being excluded from the church until they opt in.
This to me is clearly “more biblical”. There has been some talk on here about “the plain teaching of Scripture” when it is anything but plain. If it was plain we would not be having such debate and the contemporary church would be unable to line up spiritual giants and respected authors on both sides- Both sides believing themselves to be living in obedience. So don’t overstate the case.
Believers baptism may appear to have the upper hand if one engages in non-contextual proof-texting of certain NT passages, but it is certainly weaker when you examine the whole counsel of God as set out in the salvation history outlined in all 66 books.
One example will suffice. Covenantal-baptists presume that the household baptisms of the NT included children baptised on the faith of their parents; Anabaptists also presume- in their case that everyone of all ages included in all the households mentioned made their own personal profession. That second presumption is for me the most unlikely when one examines the cultural context of the period (what is meant by oikos) and the religious context of the Apostles ( a presupposition of families being incorporated into the covenant) I accept that believer’s baptism is not UNbiblical, but I do believe it exhibits an incomplete and truncated understanding of the whole teaching of Scripture
If you’ll allow me a gentle personal comment, brother, (and since you have first raised your personal circumstances) – I struggle to see why after 20 years of living what your original baptism prefigured and anticipated and after such fruitful, successful ministry, what will be achieved by this “work”. I struggle to see why Christ would demand such a thing when you have been living the reality for so long. A new enthusiastic believer, I can understand -but without being too harsh- in your case is it not rather pointless when you already have all that baptism points to? I think your very circumstances actually points to a weakness in the Anabaptist position which I fear can be weak on grace and strong on works- often making the completion of this “work” a condition of fellowship within churches. Whatever you believe about the correct interpretation of the biblical passages, please don’t think you have been living in disobedience- you haven’t! This is a secondary issue, and we need to keep it at that
By the way Keep up the blog- It’s still got the best title of any (and usually the best content of many) I’ve seen ! 🙂 Your brother M
Thanks for caring enough to write at length, Monty. I’m getting baptised simply as a matter of obedience to Christ, not as a “work” that has any bearing on my salvation.
“I think your very circumstances actually points to a weakness in the Anabaptist position which I fear can be weak on grace and strong on works- often making the completion of this “work” a condition of fellowship within churches.”
On the contrary, that I feel compelled to do this reflects a weakness in the pedobaptist position. After all, I would not be in the curious position I find myself, were it not for the fact that I was “baptised” as an unbeliever.
Imagine a 30 year old baptist girl told you she got baptised aged 18, gave her testimony, got dunked and everything. But she just did this great course called CE and it convinced her she wasn’t actually a proper Christian (I think one of the course’s real strengths is in showing people they’re not Christians!). Now that she properly believes would you counsel her to re-baptise?
Well, I’d first have to meet this hypothetical woman to talk through her hypothetical issues. But if I (and she) were firmly convinced she was “baptised” as an unbeliever, then in my view she wasn’t baptised.
To quote John Piper on this, “In every New Testament command and instance of baptism, repentance and faith precede baptism.”
But of course, the unfortunate situation you describe (an unbeliever being baptised) is much more likely to occur when the person has no say at all in whether or not they are baptised. As is the case with infants.
Just as a follow up to any readers who’ve made it this far…
If you’d like to read in more depth on this subject, I suggest Schreiner and Wright’s Believer’s Baptism.
For a shorter read, see John Piper, Infant Baptism and the New Covenant Community.
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