Monday, October 10, 2005

Anguish Over Infant Baptism

I truly wanted to write something today on the issue of allowing those who have only received baptism as an infant into the membership of a local Baptist church.  However, I find that the more that I grapple with this question, the more problematic it becomes.  This has tremendous repercussions on the local church, and I am certain that most pastors have not thought through this issue enough.

Let’s look at the big picture first.  Thomas Cranmer wrote this, “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly administered.” (You can find that in the Forty-Two Articles of the church of England.)  I am convinced that if Credo-Baptists (those who believe only in believer’s baptism) will not allow the paedo-baptist into communion (one who has only been infant baptized) then we are, in effect, stating that paedo-baptist congregations are not true churches.  I do not see how we can avoid this implication if we use Cranmer’s (and John Calvin said something very similar in his institutes) definition of the local church.  If we toss Cranmer’s definition, then we are left with redefining what we mean by “local church.”

If we confess that some paedo-baptist congregations are indeed within the church universal, then how can we also disbar them from fellowship at the local level?  This is one of the troubling questions of our day.  It has absolutely preoccupied my mind since I heard of Bethlehem Baptist’s decision to allow paedo-baptists into communion.

On the larger level, this question strikes right at the heart of what it means to be a “church.”  Is a church made up of believer’s only?  If so, what will Bethlehem Baptist do with those paedo-baptists who insist on treating their unbelieving children as members of the church.  Indeed, they do not merely ‘treat’ them this way, they believe that they are members of the church.  In some cases, they refuse to evangelize their children because they are already united with Christ Jesus through the covenant of baptism.  This troubles me greatly.  I cannot accept this for even a moment.

Yet, I hesitate to say that Presbyterian churches are not true churches.  But the implication is there, and for me it is glaring.  If our church continues to practice a membership made up of only professing and then baptized believers, I feel that our church is implicating this very thing.  More troubling, I believe that they may be correct.

Is the Roman Catholic Church a true church?  No.  They teach a gospel that it incompatible with Scripture.  Are there believers inside the Roman Church?  Yes, undoubtedly there are regenerate people inside the Roman Church.  Yet, if a Roman Catholic comes to a Baptist church with a credible confession, fruits of the Holy Spirit, and rejects Roman doctrines, even to the point of rejecting baptismal regeneration, should we allow them into membership without baptizing them?  What if they believe that, while not regenerative, their baptism is valid because infant baptism is valid and they were baptized in the name of the Triune God?

If you do exclude them from membership, then you would probably do so based on the fact that you believe the Roman Catholic Church to be a false church.  But why do you believe it to be false?  Because the Word of God is incorrectly preached and the sacraments are not properly administered?  Or shall we simply change the definition of a true church as “Where the word of God is purely preached.”  This simply begs the question of, “Does the Word of God, rightly preached, teach infant baptism?”  If the answer is no, Rome is still disqualified, and so are the Presbyterians.  Baptists have always taught that the Bible nowhere teaches that infants may be baptized.  Further, we believe that it is extremely dangerous to do so.  

So what is a church?  If we use Cranmer’s definition, then I believe that paedo-baptist congregations are no churches at all.  They are groups of believers, perhaps, meeting together but defying the commandment and teaching of our Lord to be baptized in His name after they make the good confession.  They are being irresponsible with their children and giving themselves a false sense of ‘covenantal’ security. This is a hard saying, and who can stand it?  

Finally, we must ask ourselves if this is a hill to die on.  Is it worth the rift and division that such a stand will certainly cause?  Is this a position to die for?  This is not rhetorical flourish, nor is it the banter of a fighting fundamentalist.

  It was just such an issue for Balthasar Hubmaier.  On March 10, 1528 he was burned at the stake for his belief in Believer’s Baptism.  Three days later, his wife had a stone tied around her neck and was cast into Danube River to drown for the same belief.  Before he was martyred, Hubmaier had already suffered torture at the hands of the authorities of Zurich, under the consent of Ulrich Zwingli.  Frankly, it angers me to think that such men died over what we are now sweeping under the rug without even a peep.

If it is true that the practice of paedo-baptists is unbiblical, then I have no problem saying that they need to repent of this sin. If this makes them protest that such language is accusatory and implies that they are no true church, so be it. My conscience, as were the consciences of the Reformers before me, is bound to the Word of God. If I am in error, then I hope that I may find the humility to listen to correction.


brother terry said...

It is a hard teaching Brother.

But no harder than Jesus being the only way to God.

We are commanded two ordinances: Believer's Baptism and Communion. To take part in the second you must have experienced the first.


Only the regenerate should be baptized and only the baptized may partake of the Lord's Supper.

Paedo-Baptism is the worst kind of heresy because it gives false consolation to unbelievers.

Stick to your guns Brother!

This is a hard teaching, but these are hard times.

pilgrim said...

First, let me say I do not consider mode or type of baptism part of the gospel. I hold no animosity to any Baptist because they hold to credo-baptism. I disagree, but hold no ill will.

Brother Terry, if you can say, "Paedo-Baptism is the worst kind of heresy because it gives false consolation to unbelievers." and hold to that I would counter that you are lumping all forms of paedo-baptism together.

And that simply is not true. I am a member of a Presbyterian Church--and it is not our practice to offer false assurance to anybody---we know the children of the congregation still need Christ, and their baptism did not save them.
We have seen them come to the Lord as youths and adults.

Any form of baptism that is held to be regenerative is heresy. There are those who hold to credo-baptism and say it is regenerative.
That is heresy as well.

You have more in common with Presbyterians on bapptism than with credo--baptsimal regenerationists...

Sojourner, I appreciate your efforts in dealing with this issue.
You are attempting to be Biblical and not just take the easy way out.
It's thought provoking to say the least.

Sojourner said...


Thank you for reading, and I hope that you understand my heart in this issue. I realize that there is a vast difference in the theology behind Roman Catholic paedobaptism and the paedo-baptism that is practiced by the Presbyterian church.

Let me further say, as I have said before, that many of my greatest heroes and mentors were and are paedo-baptist. That is why this issue is particularly difficult for me. I have tremendous respect and affection for these men.

But this is a matter of sound Biblical practice. If I were not persuaded that the NT teaches believer's baptism, I would immediately join the Presbyterian church. I love the polity, the accountability, and the theology. In many ways, I am more in line with my Presbyterian brethren than with the typical Southern Baptist.

So, I continue to return to this issue, and if I didn't see this so clearly, things would be different. I would baptize my 10 month old son immediately.

This is a grievous rift for me. I do not like where my understanding takes me, but I see it nevertheless. My prayer is that if I alienate my brothers by this doctrinal stand, that they understand that I do it regretfully, respectfully, and without malice.

The scene that I have in my mind's eye is a brother like yourself sitting across from me at the Lord's Table. Until this issue is resolved, I cannot enjoy the fellowship that God wills. Either my conviction in this matter must change, or yours must. It is too important an issue.

pilgrim said...

I understand. When I started attending a Presbyterian Church many of my Christian friends were concerned, because of the baptism issue.

There are mnay godly Baptists whose lives and works I respect, admire, and thank God for. (Especially Charles Spurgeon, but also including contempory Baptists as well.)

Most of my comments were responding to Brother Terry's, but certainly do apply to your article.

I like the blog--I'll be back...

Ryan P.T. said...

I was pleased to happen upon your blog discussing a topic so near and dear to my heart. I used to be non-denom (essentially Baptist) and became Lutheran because of this very issue. I thought it was interesting that you quoted Luther (an unquestioned paedo-baptist) and alluded to your faithfulness to the reformers who in fact affirmed baptismal regeneration. I would contend a greater heresy is the assertion that salvation is man's work and not God's, whereas infant baptism is the pentultimate sign of God's grace. Thanks for your thoughtful and well articulated words. Blessings in your strivings.

Oh, and there has been a good discussion you might find relevant at the following link:

brother terry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sojourner said...

Ryan P.T.,

Thanks for stopping by and adding your comments. I agree that it is worse to believe that salvation is man's work and not the Lord's. But for me, this begs the question of exactly what is going on in infant baptism. Some say it functions "ex opere operato" (from the work itself). Yet they claim that this is also a function of faith.

I also agree that, if you are correct, infant baptism is a great expression of trust in the sovereignty of God. But if you are wrong, it is disobedience and presumption.