Baptism – A personal Journey in which it is discovered that infant baptism is Biblical!

I have been asked to explain about why I believe what I believe about baptism. Rather than give a theological explanation or a detailed examination of all the Scriptures concerned with baptism (there are plenty books and articles that do that from different perspectives) I thought I would just simply give a personal testimony about my journey on this issue. I find that people often get very wound up and angry about this and regard it as some kind of gospel faithfulness issue. I offer these thoughts not to annoy or provoke people, but simply to try and encourage understanding.   The issue is not as black and white as is often supposed.

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My grandparents and their family.

I was not baptized as a child. I grew up in a third generation Brethren home and the Brethren do not believe in infant baptism (however it is of some historical interest that my grandfather, one of the original Darbyite brethren, although he did not baptize his eleven children, was not rebaptised as an adult himself – he regarded his infant baptism as being sufficient). Even before I became a Christian I knew that infant baptism was unbiblical and a cause of much of the woes in the church, leading to a nominal Christianity. I believed that baptism was a sign of repentance and faith and that you should not have the sign until you had the thing signified. I also knew that baptism could only be by immersion.   So it was, that as a 17 year old I was baptized upon my profession of faith in Morningside Baptist Church,Edinburgh on December the 9th 1979. It was a memorable and joyous occasion.

Believe and be Baptised

To me it was blatantly obvious. You believed and then you were baptized. (Mark 16:16). Baptism was a testimony to my Christian faith. I knew that there were Christians like John Stott, John Calvin and Augustine who accepted infant baptism but that was just a relic from the past and they were just not quite ‘reformed’ enough. We were the purest form of New Testament Christianity. I was 100% certain.

And then the doubts began to creep in. I was teaching in the Baptist Sunday School and I noticed that there was a difference between children of believers and children of non-believers. I began to see that the children of believers who were growing up in the Church were not outside the church, they were part of it. But how could that be since they had not received the sign of belonging to the church, baptism?   I remember reading 1 Corinthians 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.   That verse caused me a lot of thoughts!   Children of believers are not little pagans who need to be converted ASAP. They are holy. Set apart for God. But I thought – how can this be if God has no grandchildren?

A couple of years later because I came to believe in the Sovereignty of God I clashed with the then minister and he advised me to go to the Free Church – so I did! (I realize of course that there are many Baptist churches who hold to a Reformed theology – its just mine was not one of them). When I became a member in Buccleuch Free Church in Edinburgh I had the nerve to tell the minister that I did not believe all this infant baptism rubbish. He was very gracious. He laughed and told me that in the Free Church you didn’t have to accept infant baptism because we were governed by elders not popular vote and he said I was welcome to become a member but I would never become an office bearer.   It was my turn to laugh – that was the last thing on my mind. So how did I end up as a Free Church minister by the time I was 24?   Did I just cross my fingers when I took the vows and remained a closet Baptist, infiltrating the Free Church? No – within a couple of years I had moved from being a an Adult Baptist Only with slight doubts through the stage of being an ABO with lots of doubts, to becoming a Covenant Baptist with lots of doubts, to becoming one with slight doubts.

 Step one was to consider the place of children in the Church. That was increased when I read a little booklet by Willie Still entitled ‘Bringing up Children in Faith and not Fear”. He argued that we should bring our children in the faith that they will become Christians rather than the fear that they won’t.

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 Step two was when I began to question what baptism actually is. My assumed position was that it was an act of obedience to Christ, a witness to Christ and something that demonstrated our devotion to Christ. This was deeply ingrained. I remember Douglas MacMillan, whilst a minister in Aberdeen, telling us about receiving a phone call from a student who wanted to be re-baptised because she did not consider her infant baptism sufficient. She had been at a friend’s baptism in a local Baptist church and it had been a great and joyous occasion, as these things often are. Douglas agreed and said he would be round straightaway with a couple of the elders, if she would just run the bath in preparation. Oh, no, that wasn’t what she wanted! She wanted the whole works – the big ceremony, the public blessing and so on.

Although most Baptist churches claim that they do baptism just as described in the Bible, they don’t. Baptism was done instantaneously in the NT church. It was the altar call.   People after Pentecost were not told to hang around for a few weeks until they had done a Baptismal class! The Ethiopian Eunuch heard the gospel preached by Philip and when he saw some water asked, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:37). Philip didn’t say, wait until we get to Jerusalem, take a baptismal class and let’s ensure there are plenty people to see you bearing witness to Jesus!   No, he stopped the chariot and baptized him immediately!  When you think about it – in todays terms it was a missed opportunity for ‘witness’.

That is because baptism is what God does for us.   The believer’s baptism narrative is primarily about what we do. But is that what the sacraments are? We do not treat communion like that. So why baptism?
94 Q: What is Baptism?

A: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

This understanding completely changed my thinking. Baptism is primarily something that God does for us, not something we do for him. It is primarily his witness to his covenant and only secondarily our witness to our faith. It is his engagement ring to us – before it is our declaration of love to him.

Step three was then to ask – if baptism is a sign of Gods covenant, to whom should it be applied?   The catechism gives this answer:

95 Q: To whom is baptism to be administered?

A: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church, are to be baptised.

Now the Shorter Catechism is not the Bible and it could be wrong. The Bible is our supreme authority and the Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms of the church are secondary authorities that tell us how the church through the ages has understood the bible. So the key question?  Is the statement that infants of such as are members of the visible church, are to be baptised, biblical?

Col. 2: 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

 Here it is clear that Paul links circumcision to baptism. Just as the Passover turns into the Lord’s Supper, and the Jewish Sabbath into the Christian Lord’s Day, so baptism is the replacement for circumcision.   Both baptism and circumcision are signs that signify our entering into the Church of Jesus Christ. Both are outward signs of spiritual realities. Circumcision tells us that we need to be circumcised in heart, baptism that we need to be baptised by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.   Baptism with water points to the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).   We are all baptized by one Spirit to form one body (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Just before I got married I was taking part in a mission in the Highland village of Strathpeffer.   Several of us squeezed into one large bedroom and we slept in sleeping bags on the floor. One night we were talking into the wee small hours and I fell asleep. When I came down to breakfast the next morning, everyone started laughing and clapping. Apparently I had sat bolt up right in my sleep and shouted out ‘its all in the covenant, boys, it’s all in the covenant”!   Indeed it is. I don’t believe in infant baptism, I believe in covenant baptism. The bottom line is that it is all in Gods covenant. The sacraments are covenant signs.

Which then leads me to ask the question – who was included in the covenant church? In the Old Testament Abraham believed and was circumcised, but then his children were circumcised before they believed.   On the day of Pentecost Peter told his fellow Jews “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
A fellow Free Church minister told me of receiving a phone call in the early hours of the morning from a Muslim man. He excitedly exclaimed, “I’ve become a Christian! Now there are two things I want. A bacon sandwich and my family to be baptized!”.  For him it was inconceivable that he would be baptized and not his household. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. In our modern individualistic Western mindset that is sometimes hard for us to grasp. But for the people in Jesus’s day it would have been natural. That is why the majority of recorded baptisms in the New Testament are household baptisms. It stretches credulity to think that these households did not include children.

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Four Generations! The Lord is Faithful to a Thousand

So because I had come to see that baptism was something that God does for us, not something that we do for him; because I had come to see that Gods church existed in the Old Testament as well and that the covenant applies across both Old and New Testaments; because children were included in the covenant church of the Old Testament and there is no indication, indeed the opposite, that they were excluded in the covenant church of the New; then I came to be a believer in believers covenant baptism. And my children were baptized.  I also look forward to baptising our first grandchild in the New Year –

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To the Fifth Generation – A Thoughtful Child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few other questions:

 Sometimes I am asked the question– where is the chapter and verse which specifically commands infant baptism?  Though it’s usually an accusation rather than a question.  They usually mean, there is no specific warrant in the New Testament for infant baptism, so why do you do it?   I don’t accept the premise of the question – the notion that unless you have chapter and verse for everything then you can’t do it. We take the whole of Scripture and we can draw biblical implications. Besides which if you take that chapter and verse theology too seriously you end up with some major problems with other issues. For example where is the chapter and verse than commands women to take communion? ! That’s ridiculous, you say, because women are clearly included. Indeed. You are right. They are. But then so are children of believers included in the visible church.

There is also another interesting question for the ABO (Adult Baptist Only) – can you give one example of a child being brought up in a covenant home who is told to wait until they are of age before they can be baptised?
But you should only be baptised when you truly believe. That seems a fair and biblical position but it also has its difficulties. I remember when I was still a member of the Baptist church, meeting a fellow believer who had been baptised nine times!  Because each time he was baptised he either fell away or realised that he had not been really converted and so therefore by his theology, his baptism had not been valid, but now he was really converted and so he should be baptised again.   He was logically consistent, but biblically wrong.

But it’s ridiculous to think that a few drops of water sprinkled on a child make them a Christian. Indeed it is. Which is why we don’t argue that way. It is also ridiculous to think that a lot of water poured on an adult makes them a Christian. It doesn’t. We do not believe in baptismal regeneration (I am aware that there are Christians who do, adult as well as infant,  but respectfully I would suggest that they have confused the sign with the thing that is signified).

How important is this issue?  I don’t think it is an issue to divide over or to disrupt Gospel fellowship.  The great Baptist preacher C H Spurgeon, and the Highland Free Church leader, Dr John Kennedy, were the best of friends. They disagreed about baptism but that did not stop them working and serving together.   The story is told of how Spurgeon was visiting Kennedy in Dingwall and one day they took a walk along the shores of the Cromarty Firth. Somewhat mischievously Kennedy turned to Spurgeon and asked, “See, here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptized?”. He should have known better. Spurgeon, as sharp as ever, fired back, “Nothing, except a stipend, a manse….”!

In both churches I have ministered in,  there have been members who were of baptistic convictions. Nothing hindered our fellowship or working together. They are not lesser or associate members.  They are full members of the body of Christ and of the local body.   In Brora there was a godly woman called Barbara Mackenzie, who was the nearest thing to a prophetess in the Free Church.   One Monday I was visiting her when she remarked; “what an extraordinary day yesterday was – especially the morning service, there was a real sense of the Lord’s presence.”   I agreed and thought I had her- “But Barbara, it was an infant baptism yesterday. Why would the Lord be present at something He does not agree with?” “Ah, David, the Lord is gracious and merciful”! She of course was right. At the end of time I don’t think our views on Baptism are going to have anything to do with our eternal destiny. There is no section of heaven labeled ‘’Baptists only” or “Presbyterians only”.

In this respect I am delighted that there are more and more Baptist churches who are opening up their membership to those who don’t accept the need to be rebaptised and yet who wish to be part of the church.

St Peters 

Finally let me say a wee bit about St Peters practice. We do believe in infant baptism. It is part of our confession and every office bearer signs up to that. Members don’t sign the confession and so we have many Baptist members. I will never seek to enforce my view, or the churches view upon them. It is a secondary issue about which Christians have disagreed for many centuries and will do, until the Lord’s return.   We only baptise the children of believers (at least one parent must be a believer). We don’t baptise the children of non-believers. And we don’t insist that members who have children must have their children baptised. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. So we will also have a service of infant dedication for those who ask it and are believers. And for unbelievers who come and ask if they can ‘get the wean done’?! I never say no immediately. I will go and talk with them about what they are wanting and will offer a service of blessing, where at the end of the service they come forward to the front and I pray for them and their child. They take no vows to a God they do not as yet know, but they are introduced to him and his gospel.
For some that position is too narrow. For others it’s way too broad.   We can only do as we are persuaded in the Scriptures. I have written all this not to convince you to accept everything I have said, or to agree with it all, but just simply so that you can understand why some of us, who are bible believing Christians, baptise our children. It is BECAUSE of the bible, not in spite of it. I accept fully that some reading this will not agree with it, but let each be persuaded in their own mind.

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Tabitha Anderson – Our Latest Baptised Child

For the first ten years I was in St Peters most of the baptisms were adult ones. Recently, as the church has grown, people get married and have children, the majority have been of children. Indeed we have another one coming up this Sunday. What happens? I ask the parents to come forward. The parents profess their faith and vow to bring up their child in the love and admonition of the Lord. The congregation take a vow to support, pray for and welcome the child into the Covenant community. I give a verse to the family and then baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.   I find the occasions profoundly meaningful, spiritual and emotional – as do many of the congregation. These are the children the Lord has given. (And the children seem to enjoy it – so far this century not one baby has cried!). And then I hold the child in my arms and speak directly to them this beautiful blessing from the French Reformed liturgy. It is so poignant and moving. I leave you with it:

  • “Little child, for you Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry ‘it is finished!’

  • For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there intercedes – for you little child even though you do not know it.

  • But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true; ‘We love him, because he first loved us.

David Robertson

St Peters

Dec 2016

Footnote: Sinclair Ferguson gave an excellent talk to our young people on this subject last week. He reminded me of this oft neglected teaching from the Larger Catechism

Q167. How is our baptism to be improved by us? The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein;by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

Another point from Sinclairs talk which I had not really considered before:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1

The children are in the covenant relationship. If you ask a Baptist “when you raised your children, before they were baptized, how did you teach them to pray?”. If they reply that children are taught to pray using the words “our Father” then the question immediately arises – “on what doctrinal basis can you teach your, as yet, unbaptized children to say “our Father”?” Surely Baptists don’t have this right, they are borrowing from the bank of covenant theology. Peter on the day of Pentecost said “to you, your children and those far off” . He did not just say “to you and those far off” which he would have done if he believed that God had now changed how his covenants should be administered from the Old Testament into the New in terms of believers and their offspring.

 

 

 

 

 


39 thoughts on “Baptism – A personal Journey in which it is discovered that infant baptism is Biblical!

  1. Excellent Post, David, Resonates a lot with my own journey. I pray this article helps bring some light for those who are confused over this issue.

    1. Infant baptism is NOT Biblical. Not in any way shape, or form. Baptism is for the remission of sins. Furthermore the only way baptism was ever performed under this dispensation is in the NAME OF JESUS. And the only book that we can see anyone actually being baptized (under this dispensation), is in fact, the Book of Acts. Infant baptism is yet another custom/ploy brought forth by the Catholic church to generate income. Something about that filthy lucre. They just never have enough. Amen…
      Furthermore, if the church requires a fee for baptism?? Write them off and keep it moving.

      1. Zedek, this is not a helpful post. Its not helpful to comment on a blog without taking into account what that blog says. Baptism is in the name of the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is evidenced in the letters and gospels as well as the book of Acts. It was not invented by the Catholic church to generate income. And I know of no church that requires a fee for baptism. Perhaps you should get your facts right next time before commenting?

      2. 1. I think you will have a hard time proving it is unbiblical 2. Are you saying baptism produces the forgiveness of sins? If so, that’s baptismal regeneration. And that’s dodgy. 3. Do you deny that Jesus in Matt 28, told the Apostles to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Do you believe in the trinity, or are you a ‘Oneness Pentecostal’? Trinity is essential. No Trinity, no Christianity. RC created IB to generate income. That’s a new one. Any proof? I know of no church that charges for baptism.

  2. A couple of points, from an adult believer, with full immersion baptism.

    1 I never considered I was doing anything for God and would have considered that an abhorrent idea.

    2 Is there a distinction, perhaps even subconscious, made in St Peters between the unbaptised children of members who don’t believe in covenantal baptism and children who are baptised? Prayer is cited, Are those unbaptised children of believing church members, permitted, encouraged, taught to pray “Father”? Are they not seen as being part of the church community, unlike the baptised?

    3 I still struggle with the idea that infant sprinkling is the equivalent to OT circumcision into ethnic Israel, equivalent to being baptised into Christ’s death (even as a signifier). Neither is it a signifier of circumcision of the heart. Neither do I see ethnic Israel as either the OT church, nor the NT church as the equivalence of ethnic Israel.

    4 A Methodist Minister was castigated by the community he was in, because he refused infant baptisms to unbelieving parents, who wouldn’t undergo teaching on baptism, so much so he was obliged to leave. Perhaps, gone are the days when getting the children “done” was seen as a need for all children would then all go to heaven as an insurance policy.

    5 Isn’t eldership barred to some who would otherwise be a great enhancement to the team and the church. Does scripture draw such a restriction?

    5 My ignorance is great and I’m no theologian, but what I do know is that when there is deep fellowship in Christ, through the Spirit, mode of baptism of brothers and sisters in the Lord has not been a concern, or even a thought. But I’ve not been at a child’s baptism such as described by David,

    1. Thanks Geoff –
      1) That may be the case for you but most Baptists consider that baptism is their witness to their faith. It is something they do for Christ
      2) N0 – as I already explained we do have infant dedication as well. I would argue that those who believe their children are part of the church are being inconsistent, but their children still are part of the church and we don’t distinguish.
      3) We will just have to agree to disagree. I think the link between baptism and circumcision is clear, and also that there is a continuity between the church in the OT and the church in the new.
      5) Yes – eldership is barred because in an Presbyterian church only elders vote on doctrine.
      Agree with your other comments.

  3. As one who has had the “reverse experience” – born and raised in a Presbyterian family, and undergoing infant baptism – the words in what David has written that resonate most with me are “At the end of time I don’t think our views on Baptism are going to have anything to do with our eternal destiny. There is no section of heaven labeled ‘’Baptists only” or “Presbyterians only”.

    What saddened me most when I demitted my charge and, on my baptism as a believer, my status as a minister of the Church of Scotland, was the number of former friends who decided that I was a dangerous heretic. I actually cried when Pete White – at that time minister of St David’s-Broomhouse – asked if I would be willing to conduct both Sunday worship services, and the mid-week fellowship meeting, while he was away for three (possibly four) weeks! Here was a brother who trusted me to not try to “convert” the flock for whom he was responsible -and, of course, I didn’t!

    I recall Dr Ferguson (when just a plain Rev!) as Assistant to the late Rev G.B.Duncan in St George’s-Tron pointing out to the Youth Group that, since Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb, Baptists should have the front of the baptistry open! As a mere divinity student at the time, I wasn’t able to answer that (and actually, at that time, had no desire to do so!). Later, I came to the point of realising that it is the symbol of death that is important in believers’ (not necessarily ‘adult’) baptism. I am lowered into a place that is death for me – I cannot breath underwater – and raised, symbolically, to newness of life. By the way, I had no baptismal classes to attend. I asked my then pastor, Rev Bill Slack, if there was anything to hinder me being baptised at the Baptismal Service that was to take place, in Livingston Baptist Church (Ladywell congregation) that evening. He gave no reason and, on Resurrection Day 1980, I joined a number of others, including my dear wife, and was baptised as a disciple of Jesus.

    Blessings, and shalom, to all who are in the Body of Christ – regardless of their baptismal position!

  4. Beautifully and graciously written. I’m still a baptist I’m afraid but wish I’d been brought up a Presbyterian. I wish all churches of baptist persuasion made as much effort as you do to welcome into membership Presbyterian believers. Thanks for this article I’m sure I’ll be reading it again.

  5. Dear bro.

    Some questions re this blog;

    1. You quote 1 Corinthians 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” Then say “Children of believers are not little pagans who need to be converted ASAP. They are holy. Set apart for God”. If, say, the unbelieving husband forbids his children from having direct association with / attending / being “baptised” as an infant / being under the sphere of influence of a church fellowship, except the direct maternal influence, would this make the child any “less holy”?

    2. This paragraph seems to lack joined up thinking; “That is because baptism is what God does for us. The believer’s baptism narrative is primarily about what we do. But is that what the sacraments are? We do not treat communion like that. So why baptism?” A. If the believer’s baptism is primarily about what we do, is paedobatism not equally based on what the parents do? B. Of course, both baptism and communion are only possible because of what God has done for us, but “BE baptised” and “this DO in remembrance of Me” do involve verbs and it is not at all clear that we are called to be passive / why you are using this line of argument?

    3. “The “MAJORITY” of baptisms in the scriptures are household ones?” Really? However, I would agree that it is likely to have included children – the evidence is that Paul specifically addressed children in both Ephesians and Colossians. They were sufficiently mature to receive Paul’s direct teaching and therefore also capable of expressing and knowing a child-like faith in the one that Paul & Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to” (Acts 16). I think they did need to be converted ASAP and thankfully, if they were among that household, they were also baptised. Is it so obvious that such a group would include babies who have no capacity for understanding?

    4. If you apply Acts 2 v 38-39 in relation to baptism, is it equally logical to apply the “gift of the Holy Spirit” to our children and grandchildren?

    There are many more questions but I will spare you and your readership. Your heading is “Baptism – a personal Journey in which it is discovered that Infant Baptism is Biblical”. The blog helpfully sets out a good account of your personal journey but is not convincing / light in setting out why it is Biblical. I respect and value most of your blogs but occasionally you swipe other understandings in a way that one would swat a fly – in a “I am not going to fully justify my argument from the Bible but here is the way that it is and here are a few superficial words that dismisses the other view” kind of way. In short, in this article, it seems that you have let your experience shape the way that you understand and apply the scriptures, rather than the reverse. I do agree that baptism should immediately follow conversion per the biblical example on repeated occasions – this is an argument for more, more quickly, rather than less.

    It is “nice” to think that “everybody is right” and scripture is sufficiently pliable to cater for all tastes – re baptism. It is a personal responsibility (rather than necessarily a church policy) re whether we personally obey our light regarding teaching on believer’ baptism / child baptism – it is a significant theme in the Bible and not an unimportant matter.

    One of the major and general problems arising from child baptism is that a lot of people do not understand the subtlety of the jargon that is used in terms of children being welcomed to the “church” – although the “minister” has in mind the “visible church” (a term that could be debated) but the grown up child later relies on the ceremony for salvation (which is by no means the intended effect) thinking they are part of The church.

    Thank you for your blogs which are usually good and always thought provoking!

    Your bro. in Christ,

    Jim

    1. Thanks Jim….some quick answers…

      1) No.
      2) No. The point is that Baptism is something that God does for us, only secondarily is it our witness to him.
      3) Yes – count them. And it is of course pure speculation that no children/babies were included – speculation that is based upon a pre-determined theological position.
      4) Yes – I do.

      And no – I have not let me experience determine what the bible says – although I don’t deny (and neither should you) that experience does affect things. And no I don’t think that everyone is right – but I do question the importance that some place upon what is a secondary doctrine. And of course there are real problems in theological understanding – but that exists in both Baptist and paedo-Baptist churches.

  6. I agree with infant baptism, though I attend a Baptist church. I must say I find their baby dedication services strange. After all, there is no direct biblical command to dedicate babies in the New Testament. It’s as if baptists “know” children of believers are part of the covenant community and so must do “something” to confirm this!

  7. Thank you for your response:

    1) I think that your reply “No” to Q1 affirms the understanding that Paul is only addressing family situations here – trying to encourage existing family relationships to remain intact despite there being an unbeliever. It is a bit of a jump to link this to whether the children are / are not part of a / the church and further, it is difficult to see any link to child baptism. It seems that Paul is saying that the unbelieving spouse / child of that marriage has the privilege of a godly influence and if possible this should be retained.
    2) Re your answer to Q2; You say “we do not treat communion this way” – in what distinct way is there an inconsistency between how believer’s baptism and communion is practiced? Communion “proclaims the Lord’s death until He comes” and should be a witness. Are you now minded to conduct “christenings” in the kitchen with a teaspoon of water to avoid any “big ceremony or public showing”?
    3) As far as I can see, “household baptisms” are only explicitly evident in Acts, 10, 16 (twice), Acts 18 and 1 Corinthians 1. Individual baptisms; Acts 2, 8 (three times), 9, 18, 19, 22 and 1 Corinthians 1 (Crispus and Gaius). Either I am missing something or my maths reflects the poor standard now associated with Scottish education?
    4) Perhaps there is a misunderstanding as otherwise we have a serious problem: By extrapolation, are you saying that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit resides in a child on the basis that he / she is the child of a believer?

    Who determines what is primary and secondary doctrine? There are a lot of matters that of which Paul says “I do not want you to be mistaken / ignorant about this” – future events, spiritual gifts etc. that generally seem now to be ranked by somebody, somewhere as “secondary doctrine”. Perhaps the other man who is in charge of a St Peter’s thinks he can decide on this but it seems to be above our pay grade to start saying that any Bible teaching as inspired by the Holy Spirit, is now ranked secondary – if theologians disagree about something, is it to be now ranked as secondary? It does matter, but nevertheless, I do not see it as a matter that should come between believers.

    1. 1) It’s not difficult what is being said – the children are holy. Set apart for God. Because of their parents, or at least one of their parents. That is massively significant…

      2) That’s interesting about communion. No I do not regard as primarily our witness. there is a secondary effect which demonstrates that. But communion is primarily about Christ communing with us. And yes I would be quite happy to baptise a child in their own home as long as they were others from the church present. I do wonder why adult Baptist only find it so necessary to sneer about the amount of water!

      3) I’m sure your maths is fine! It’s just your exegesis that seems a bit strange!

      4) No I’m saying that the promise of the Holy Spirit is for the believers children!

      5) if you think that it is not a matter that should come between believers, then you think that it is a secondary matter.

  8. Thanks David,

    very wise of you to major on an testimony than a detailed scriptural exposition (although you did have a wee bit of a relapse). I suspect part of the journey was your Pastor’s heart getting into gear. I was involved in redrafting the constitution of our Church in the middle east years ago: we agreed that baptism could be for adults or infants, by immersion or by sprinkling, which ever would be most meaningful for the individuals concerned. Some of the Indian denominations represented baptized infants by immersion (and never lost one yet) so that possibility had to be taken into account.

    As I read your post I was reminded of the only “walk out” I have ever had while preaching! I was trying to make the point, in a fellowship of mixed background – if you were baptized as an infant and (like your Grandfather) saw no need to be baptised as an adult I would not try to persuade you otherwise. On the other hand I asked, if you are insistent that total immersion as an adult is the only effective form, when you were baptized, did the guy let go of you? If not the bits he held on to were not properly “done”. Six of the congregation walked out with the comment “that’s ridiculous”.

    As picked up by Mr. Ross above, “At the end of time I don’t think our views on Baptism are going to have anything to do with our eternal destiny. There is no section of heaven labeled ‘’Baptists only” or “Presbyterians only”, although I’m sure you will have heard you have to be quiet going past the (fill in your own group)- they think they are the only ones here. Quite simply, baptism and our views on it should not be a basis of fellowship.

  9. Thank you, David,
    yours is not the first account I’ve read of such a journey but it is the most convincing. All too often people miss out factors that must have influenced their decision, tell of the straw that broke the camel’s back, and then leave us with the impression that that last straw was the entire load.

    What most Baptists never encounter is the fact that Paedobaptism is really Household Baptism. Now, it ought to be a moot point, whether or not those households baptised in the NT contained infants: military households — say of a centurion or a jailer — were less likely to include them than a typical domestic establishment. Be that as it may, household baptism even without infants is a challenge to the normal expectations of those who practice Believer’s baptism.

    On the other hand, all my life, I’ve known or have known of Presbyterians who were baptised by the Brethren because their own minister would not/could not rebaptise them. In at least some of these cases, the minister seems to have thought that encouraging (re)baptism for these individuals was of great pastoral importance and many such have gone on to be pillars of the church.

    There is a mysterious element to Baptism and none of us has this wineskin sewn up.

    Yours,
    John/.

  10. At what age do you think the cut off for ‘infants’ is? My children, all under 5, have not been baptised or dedicated, largely because we did not have a fixed position on this when the eldest was born. How old is too old to be baptised as an infant?

  11. An interesting article which shows topics like this can be discussed without people needing to fall out! I admit I get uncomfortable with the if, could and maybe arguments to support a position – if this was the case than that could happen so then it must be true.

    I do not quite understand the argument regarding circumcision. A baby born to a Jewish family is a Jew, will always be a Jew. They can apply for citizenship elsewhere, they can deny their heritage but they are still a Jew by birth. A child born to Christian parents is not a Christian, nor will it be a Christian until it chooses to be.

    I also was a little confused as the topic seems to discuss infant and adult baptism. What about believers baptism? It has no age limit, is open to all and available to those who choose to believe? I do agree that all the pomp and circumstance is not the way it was performed in the New Testament. Maybe it grew that way because it was seen as a good evangelistic tool. I recall fondly my time spent in South Wales where we built a church building with a baptismal outside the main doors with the specific intention that for everyone who became a Christian could immediately choose to be baptised without waiting for classes or the next baptismal service.

  12. The Catholic and Orthodox all teach similarly that baptism is a replacement for circumcision. They affirm that it is the antecedent. It is true there is an antecedent to Christian baptism. But is it circumcision? If it is so held, it becomes consistent equally to affirm that a sacrificial priesthood must also be continued in the Church as well, and hence the mass, regularly presenting the sacrifice despite that Jesus was offered only once. The most obvious antecedent from the Old Testament, we might say a transitional one, is not circumcision, but rather the baptism of John. It required repentance and which automatically excluded those unable or unwilling to demonstrate it, infants being the former and Pharisees the latter, who refused to repent and whom John openly rebuked when they came. It appears that John had no intention of baptising them calling them a brood of vipers. Paul, finding that some had thought they were baptised in the name of one of the Apostles, said in 1 Cor 1:17 for Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…” Not that he never baptized, but there were times when it was misunderstood and in which case it should not be carried out. Surely infants are unable to understand it.

    It is also true that in Acts 16, the jailer of Philippi was baptised with his family, and yes there may have been infants present, but we are not told. We are told that they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.” v 32 In v 33 they were all baptised and in v 34, that “he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” We can not affirm that this included infants without going beyond what is written. But we can affirm that the word of God was spoken to all, that all were baptized and that all believed. I will leave it to you whether infants could meet all these criteria.

    It is true that Paul speaks of the believing party in a marriage sanctifying the unbelieving mate. But does that mean they are saved? If so, how could they possibly decide to leave? Paul says that if the unbeliever departs, let him depart. So yes, they were sanctified by the believing spouse , but still rejected that influence and departed as an unbeliever. Children are also sanctified or set apart (as the word implies) under holy influences, But not all will commit to Christ in repentance and faith. Many will, but many will not.

    The essential difference may lie in the desire of early believers of Jewish background to see the Church function as an extension of Israel. All were incorporated into the external at birth and signified by circumcision. It was an INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY by reason of natural birth coming down from Abraham. But the NT teaches that not all are sons of Abraham, only those who0 have faith in Jesus Christ. Ishmael and all Arab nations are circumcised as well as all Jews, and yet do they belong to Christ outside of whom is no salvation. Jesus also said that the sons of the kingdom would be cast out into utter darkness. External circumcision brought privilege, but they had to act on it in faith,

    The Church is not an inclusive body, but an exclusive one. You are not in unless you opt out; rather we are born out and remain so unless we opt in in response to the call of God.

    In Acts 19, Paul found disciples who had been baptized only into the baptism of John, knew nothing of the Holy Spirit and were re-baptized into the name of Christ. It is not clear whether they were Jewish or Gentiles. If the former, they would already have been circumcised under the law.

    I could go on, but will summarize. We cannot build a teaching on silence. While there are cases of family baptism in the NT, there is significant evidence that the family had believed as a group. There are many many examples where they believed and then were baptised. In the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, faith was put as a condition – “if you believe you may.” Infant baptism does not assure the child will ultimately be saved, and it only takes one example to break the basis of covenant theology which means that a child who was sanctified through baptism may still go to hell as an unbeliever. In that case, it puts a question on whether the parents were saved if even one of their descendants is lost. There is no explicit case where an infant was baptized; it is conjecture. But there are many cases where those able to understand believed and were baptized. Belief is stated explicitly as a condition. Some were actually refused baptism even though adults, such as the Pharisees. Paul expressed concern where some were baptized with improper understanding; infants have zero understanding. It is still an interesting subject, though.

    1. Thank you for that very interesting post – I apologise that I don’t have time to respond to all of it. Just simply to say that the church is an inclusive body – I don’t believe that it is any more exclusive than the old Testament church. It is true that we cannot build a teaching on silence – we cannot therefore say that children who were born in Christian homes had to wait until they were adults until they were baptised. It is also true that infant baptism does not assure that the child will ultimately be saved, but then neither does adult!

      1. An important distinction to my mind is that the issue is not about child vs adult baptism. It is about covenantal vs believers baptism. I have known children as young as four to be baptised on the basis that elders are satisfied they understand what it means to believe in Jesus as their saviour.

  13. A very interesting and challenging article. I agree that our individualistic western mindset filters out possible interpretations of biblical references to whole households getting baptised. It does however leave the question of how this fits with the repeated biblical sequence of ‘believe and be baptised’. (In discussing this with my wife, she raised the question though of whether, in a Middle Eastern culture, the respect for the head of a household extended to respect for his good judgement, so that if he came to believe something, the rest of the household would believe it because of trusting his judgement. I’m not entirely sure on this, but it is an interesting point, although it would be most relevant to those old enough in households to make their own judgement and choose to believe on the basis of the head of the household, not to infants.)

    1 Corinthians 14 also certainly points to the partners and children of believers having a special status before God. The question is, what status? The context of the verse is not of those who come to faith out of trusting the head of the household’s judgement (Indeed, the reference to a believing wife with an unbelieving husband makes clear this is not about headship). So what does it mean in this context to be sanctified? I recognise that you state you are not arguing for baptismal regeneration, but this verse, rather than being about baptism, appears to point to a particular status without the issue of baptism arising. If it does mean that they have salvation by virtue of the faith of their partner or parent, does that also mean that they retain it even if, in the case of a child, they cease to believe when they are old enough to make their own judgement? If they cease to have salvation then, for those of us who believe in election, how does someone moving in and out of salvation fit with that?

    In any event, the question of the status of unbelieving family members is arguably a different one to the question of whether they should be baptised.

    I’m not suggesting that there are ready answers to these points in scripture, but I do think that they suggest that the notion of baptising infants on the basis of a parent’s faith raises significant unanswered questions.

  14. I appreciated large parts of this post. Writing as a Baptist, I share your hope that we will be able to accept one another as members of our churches. I love the adult baptisms you describe, bu it saddens me when we baptize a believer so that they can become a member.
    One question I have is about your practice with children of non-believers. My BUGB church growing up had plenty of children who were brought by friends, grandparents or neighbours. I suppose that in Baptist-world we were all in the same boat (waiting on the work of the Spirit). How does that work in Presby-land where some of these children could be counted as covenant children; how would you cope with the others?
    Peace be with you!

  15. You say: ” … baptism is the replacement for circumcision. Both baptism and circumcision are signs that signify our entering into the Church of Jesus Christ.”

    If the one came in the place of the other, the two could not exist at the same time in the same person. But all the Jews that had been circumcised, on believing in Christ, were baptised. It was God’s will that the Jews, who heard John the Baptist, Jesus, and / or one of His disciples, be baptized regardless of their circumcision (Luke 7:30; John 3:22-24; 4:1-2). If baptism replaced circumcision, how could they both be in effect at the same time, among the same people, and under the same covenant?

    Further, if the sincere, early Jews who became Christians (in Acts, there are thousands) had already (according to the logic of your blog) signified their “entering into the Church of Jesus Christ” / “the covenant church”, via circumcision, why were they baptised?

    1. Sorry – thats like saying that it would be impossible to eat communion and the Passover at the same time. There is a crossover between the OT church and the NT church….

  16. Both circumcision and baptism had legitimacy in the days of Jesus life on earth. They each had their own distinct significance and co-existed i.e. one did not replace the other.
    If you are to be consistent, you will need to argue that baby girls do not need to be baptised (as they were not circumcised in the OT due to the “federal head” principle).
    From the day of Pentecost onward, circumcision had (thankfully!) absolutely no role.
    I am certainly saying that it would be impossible for a born again Christian (now looking to the “Lamb of God”) to eat Communion and Passover (thinking of a sacrifice that could never take away sin) at the same time. If as a result of weakness, they tried, it was not encouraged by Paul / Hebrew writer e.g. “How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Galatians 4). Communion is so much more than “a replacement of Passover” – it is a replacement to all of the “old” system – for example, the mercy seat / law etc. as in “remember ME”, He has fulfilled all OT “types”.
    By trying to sew in a replacement to circumcision you are using old wine skins to try and contain the new wine and using new cloth to patch up an old garment. We have moved on to something “better” (see Hebrews) – you would do well to stop dragging your community / readers back to something inferior that to justify, you have to do the equivalent of a contorted hand stand to recognise within the NEW testament. Is it not strange that when the counsel of Jerusalem met (Acts 15) and explored the subject of baptism / circumcision, that nobody referred to child baptism? Is there a single instance of any of the new testament writers encouraging parents to baptise their children? The plain truth is that believers, whether circumcised or not, were commanded to be baptised as an expression of their own, personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    1. Jim, thanks. Communion and Passover do not of themselves take away sin. They both point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Please do not accuse me of trying to drag my church back to something inferior. Your attitude is incredibly judgemental and superior. We can disagree about the subjects of baptism – and you may well be right. But you don’t need to overstate your case – nor should you twist Scripture in order to justify it. The council of Jerusalem does not explore the subject of baptism. Is there a single instance of the new Testament writers encouraging parents to leave their children without the sign of the covenant until such time as they attain adult hood? What you state is the plain truth, clearly isn’t. Not unless you are prepared to say, and given your recent post I suspect you may be, that those Bible believing Christians who disagree with your position are either deliberately disobedient or stupid! Where in Scripture does it say that baptism is an expression of our own personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?

  17. Thank you for your reply. I will end my side of the dialogue here on the basis that it is thought to be disrespectful and I will examine my heart, before the Lord, as to whether I have been incredibly judgemental and superior, as you suggest. Whether I have been, or not, I am sorry that what I intended to be only robust has at least been perceived to have gone too far.
    I also acknowledge that I made a typo in suggesting that Acts 15 features the subject of baptism – what I had intended to say is that although the subject of circumcision is discussed, baptism (whether believer’s or child) is not brought into the context, which seems to be surprising (to me, at least) if one is a replacement of the other.
    Just for clarity – I do not believe in “adult” baptism – as I suggested in my earlier post, I think that children who are themselves believers (including any who were in “households”) can be baptised.
    Only respond if you want to – however, it has probably had sufficient airing from my point of view and I continue to hope and pray that your valuable work prospers.

    1. Jim – if you give robust comment don’t be too surprised if you get robust comment back.

      It is going too far to claim that people are being misled away from the obvious. But I don’t want to overreact the other way either. As I indicated in the blog I accept fully that there are bible believing faithful Christians who disagree on this – and that is surely the way it should be….in essentials we must be united, in non-essentials we surely allow diversity….thanks for your contribution…iron sharpens iron…

  18. Hi David,

    I am in two minds whether to respond to this post or not. It is a few weeks since it was written and I note others have responded. I have not read the comments which may be making the same points I wish to make. I am also reluctant to stir the baptismal waters. However, on balance, I think it may be helpful to outline why those who advocate Believer’s Baptism (often called credo-baptism nowadays) reject infant baptism just in case it seems to some your presentation is a slam dunk. And indeed, when an angel stirred the waters some where healed. 😊

    Firstly, let me wholeheartedly agree that differences here are not a gospel issue; genuine believers, indeed, good and godly believers, have and do champion both positions. I agree that the best church practice is membership for believers of both persuasions while limiting eldership to those who hold to the church’s formal view on baptism.

    Like you David, my upbringing was Brethren (Open Brethren of the stricter strain). Like you I became convinced in my late teens of the sovereignty of God. In strict (not exclusive) Open Brethren circles in Scotland this was not necessarily a problem for a robust view of God’s sovereignty was held by a significant number of influential preachers. I find it heartening that those with a fairly rigorously Calvinistic doctrine of God and of the gospel generally could exist alongside those holding the more populist evangelical hybrid Arminianism. My reading, however, took me inevitably into Reformed theology. Most writers I read belonged somewhere in the Reformed camp, small or capital ‘r’. I owe a great debt to Reformed preachers and teachers. However, unlike you, I was not convinced by all aspects of Reformed theology. In particular I didn’t buy into the category of covenant theology.

    In my view, whatever other arguments can be made for infant baptism, the crux of the matter lies in covenant theology If convinced by covenant theology’s controlling narrative you are likely to embrace paedobaptism. I am unconvinced. I do not hold to one covenant of grace, at least not as expressed in covenant theology, which in my view so stresses the unity of the covenants that it does not give sufficient weight to important distinctions between the various covenants. The expression ‘the covenant of grace’ flattens and tends to homogenise covenants that are individually distinctive and should be considered each in its own covenantal terms. I think it is more biblical in language and concept to speak of God’s eternal saving purpose being worked out in history through various distinct covenants that have significant discontinuities preventing the assumption that what is true of one must be true of another.

    In particular, the new covenant, is distinguished from all previous covenants. In previous covenants salvation is promised: in the new covenant it is realised. Redemptive-historical distinctions are always important but nowhere more so than at the disjunction between promise and fulfilment. The Abrahamic covenant (and others) involved both physical and spiritual seed whereas the new covenant is purely spiritual; it promised forgiveness of sins and the indwelling Spirit to all its members. Physical birth brought people under previous covenants; spiritual birth is necessary for membership in the new covenant. If baptism is the sign and seal of the new covenant (though it is never said to be so while the Holy Spirit is referred to as the believer’s seal, engagement ring) then it belongs only to covenant members, believers. And of course this marries with the NT teaching and practice of baptising believers.

    This existence of covenant discontinuities in general and the radical discontinuities of the new covenant of fulfilment in particular for me impeaches paedobaptism. Without the narrative of covenant theology I doubt if any would embrace paedobaptism. I do not think, a reading of the NT alone would lead to this belief and I am chary of any beliefs I do not see sanctioned in the NT (the new covenant book). Like you David, I would not insist on a chapter and verse for everything. However, for big issues in church order and practice I would want a NT (new covenant) mandate. The regulatory principle seems seems to me to be largely right. Without a specific NT warrant for a practice that on the face of it is contrary to NT gospel logic and practice I’d need a very powerful reason to embrace it.

    Let me comment briefly David on two texts you cite. Firstly, Acts 2… the promise is to you… I have never really understood why this is regarded as a strong support for infant baptism. As I understand it Peter is simply expressing the range of personal salvation expressed in the OT promise. The new covenant promise of forgiveness and the indwelling Spirit will be theirs (Jews to whom he speaks) if they repent and are baptised. It will be their children’s’ too if they (the children) repent and are baptised. In fact, the NC gospel blessings are for Gentiles too who repent and are baptised or even more precisely, ‘for all the Lord effectively calls’. I agree that C1 families were likely to follow their father’s lead, he had great influence in the home, but this simply means that they followed his lead in repenting and believing. Employing Acts 2 to support infant baptism is to my mind loading the text with freight it was never intended to bear.

    I would say the same for 1 Cor 7. Paul is simply observing the value of a godly influence on a home. The whole family benefits spiritually from a believing parent. Children yes, but also the husband is sanctified or made holy, however, none suggest the unbelieving partner should be baptised. To see paedobaptism in this text is to assume what you are seeking to prove. In fact, the absence of any allusion to baptism seems telling. It is here we may have expected Paul to allude to baptism if ‘child of the covenant’ baptism belief and practice existed in the early church (though the first explicit reference seems to be about 200 A.D). Just as we may have expected Paul in his battle with those who wished to impose circumcision to have pointed out that baptism replaces circumcision as the covenant sign. This would surely have silenced them. However in neither case does he do so. Be that as it may.

    My final argument is in the form of a question. I am unsure what paedobaptists who do not believe infant baptism confers or assumes regeneration believe it does confer. You say baptism is primarily about what God does. What does he do to the baptised child? What goes baptism signify and seal for this child? Does it confer anything that an unbaptised child will not have? I notice you say Christ will intercede for the baptised child, a blessing belonging to believers. If they receive this benefit why not all other new covenant blessings? If baptism is about what God does and benefits conferred is it unsurprising many assume (teach) it is baptismal regeneration. Is it not confusion around what infant baptism accomplishes which has led, at least in part,to the high percentage of nominalism in churches with this tradition. I would hazard to suggest that the incidence of nominalism is much greater in (Protestant) paedobaptist churches than in anabaptist ones.

    These are some of the reasons why this I have not embraced infant baptism. The burden of proof lies entirely with the paedobaptist and so far I am unpersuaded. But brother, I rejoice at all the Lord is doing through you and many others with whom I disagree on this matter.

    1. Thanks John – just a a couple of quick answers. Baptism is a sign of what God does…it doesn’t do anything in and of itself. Nominalism is not confined to pasedo-baptist churches! in 1 Cor 7 Paul is not just observing the value of a godly influence. He says the children are holy.

      Thanks for your helpful contribution though….I agree entirely with your last sentiment!

  19. Followed this here from a more recent article – this is an interesting and helpful personal description of the meaning of infant baptism, illustrated by personal experience sewn together with Bible teaching and sound theology.

    One example of the weird nonsense that adult baptisers are also capable of occurred here. A member of our congregation left us (for reasons which were his, not ours) and went to the local ‘right on’ Baptist church. Having been a church officer with us, both a warden (elder) and treasurer for many years, he was then baptised again as an adult in order to be able to be a member of their congregation. Maybe it was because we are Reformed, and our testimony towards him doesn’t count; or because we won;t join in the utterly doctrinally compromised Churches Together, or the good works he did within our congregation demonstrate nothing to them, or their adult baptist distinctive is so over-ridingly important to them. It was, however, a comment that they think nothing of the Christian faith of those in our church, and could easily be seen as being an insult towards our sincerity n the Gospel. And *they’re* the liberals!

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