Help me understand PaedoBaptism (As a Credobaptist)

Discussion in 'Baptism' started by Michael E, Jan 20, 2020.

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  1. Michael E

    Michael E Puritan Board Freshman

    Forgive me if this has either been discussed (I'm sure it has but couldn't find a concise thread here) or this is the wrong place. Hear my plea:

    I am reformed baptist (inb4 we all joke that baptists can't be fully reformed). However, my wife and I have both come to a place where we feel like more traditional reformed churches are where the Lord will have us. We've found that most of the churches we respect the most and desire to attend when we move next month are all paedobaptist. This is a sticking point for us and we have a baby on the way so we'd like to figure this out. Now forgive me for lack of understanding in this area or inaccurate understanding of the Scripture or arguments in favor of Paedobaptism, but here's where I am at:

    - While I deeply respect church tradition, I don't find this in and of itself a compelling defense to contribute to paedobaptist tradition as we've seen many things that have historically been present in the church up through 500 years ago were not necessarily right or correct.

    - The baptize your household passage feels like a real stretch to say clearly it's including children as we aren't even aware of the members of the home.

    - If we're drawing covenantal links in OT > NT, Scripture seems to indicate that a circumcision of the heart is what we need in the NT (faith).

    - It appears that every instance of baptism or command of baptism occurs with professing believers.

    I want to be open to this but I am just having a real time getting there. I don't feel something that should be so simple should require a book or dissertation to explain how you can make these connections to arrive at the proper conclusion. Please help! We just want to be faithful to what the Lord instructs us.
  2. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

  3. Michael E

    Michael E Puritan Board Freshman

    Whoops! Thanks for pointing this out. Should be adjusted now.
  4. JennyGeddes

    JennyGeddes Puritan Board Freshman

    Hi, Michael!
    I am afraid I am woefully inept to help here, but my husband and I did grow up baptist. One thing that really struck us when studying Acts was the pattern of household baptisms (granted not all were household baptisms). Even if every recorded household in Acts included adult children only, if the pattern is household baptisms, eventually you are going to run into some minor children/babies. There is so much more to this of course, but this was something that opened us up to studying the issue more at first.
    I pray you and your wife find God’s peace with this however it turns out for you.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2020
  5. Michael E

    Michael E Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you so much Jenny, I'll be diving more into Acts here in the coming weeks with this in mind.
  6. Wretched Man

    Wretched Man Puritan Board Freshman

    Michael, I am right there with you (theologically and situationally) and look forward to the responses in this thread.
  7. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    Hi Michael,

    Welcome! There have been a number of discussions on baptism lately. Here is a recent one that I thought was fruitful.

    It's a great subject and I hope that in time you are able to find greater clarity on the issue.

    Are you in Virginia or Pennsylvania? I live near Gettysburg, PA and attend church in Gettysburg. If you're close by we could get together over coffee. :)
  8. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    Welcome to the board, brother. I pray you will be blessed here.

    I will try to help a little with the three bullet points you offered, each in turn:

    1. I think it would be helpful if you understand our position not as "paedobaptism," but "covenant household baptism." This really gets to the root of what we profess. It also helps understand our use of the household baptisms. Our argument with the NT household baptisms is not, "There must have been at least one infant or child in these households!" Rather, the argument is that there surely was not genuine profession of faith from every individual in the household. If there was even one person in these households who did not make a personal profession of faith, then the Baptist position fails, since baptism would then be shown to be on the basis of the covenant being made with the household and not with a professing believer. That's our argument. Children are a subset of those within the household.
    2. Circumcision of the heart was always the issue in the OT, too. There has always been a distinction between the sign and the thing signified.
    3. With regard to your third bullet, we would expect this to be the case by the nature of the point in history the book of Acts is in. Seeing as the NT Church had just begun, then we should expect to see mainly baptisms upon profession of faith, since there had not been any time for children of believers to be born. Bavinck argues as much, as well:
    "We need to overcome our astonishment over the fact that the New Testament nowhere explicitly mentions infant baptism. This fact can be explained by saying that in the days of the New Testament, the baptism of adults was the rule, and the baptism of infants, if it occurred at all, was the exception. It was the period in which the Christian church had been founded and expanded by conversions from Judaism and paganism. It is precisely that transition that is clearly depicted in baptism. Adult baptism is therefore the original baptism; infant baptism is derivative; the former must not be conformed to the latter, but the latter must be conformed to the former. The validity of infant baptism does not lapse on that account, nor does it need tradition to sustain itself, as Roman Catholicism asserts."

    —Herman Bavinck, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 4, 4 vols., Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 526.​
  9. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    Study the Scriptures themselves, make them primary, dig into the the relevant passages until you exhaust them, go through every argument both ways, and and pray fervently and believingly and persistently for light. God will answer such endeavors.
  10. Michael E

    Michael E Puritan Board Freshman

    Hi Tim thanks for the response! I'm currently in VA but moving next month to New Holland. Is that close?
  11. Michael E

    Michael E Puritan Board Freshman

    This is a great resource and I appreciate you reaching out.
  12. Michael E

    Michael E Puritan Board Freshman

    Absolutely, thank you for the encouragement.
  13. Romans5eight

    Romans5eight Puritan Board Freshman

  14. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    It's about an hour East of us. That's not that far! :)
  15. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Reformed Baptist pastor Jeffrey Johnson wrote a book "The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism". Esteemed PB member and OPC Pastor, Lane Keister, has an insightful response on his blog. I am working through it at present, you might find it insightful.
  16. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    FYI See this thread
  17. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    @Wretched Man


    Are you assuming that the perfect active participle πεπιστευκως ("[he] having believed") refers to "his entire household"? It does not: the participle is nominative, masculine, singular, referring to the faith of the Philippian jailer.

    Here's how it reads in the Greek (last phrase): "he was rejoicing whole-housedly [an adverb], he having believed in God."

    There was quite a controversy over the translation of this in the NIV and, sadly, parties won out that sought to blunt the force of the masculine singular participle and it ends up sounding as if the whole household, rather than the jailer, believed.

    Appeals in cases like this must be made to the original language and not translations that may alter the meaning. As Taylor suggests, linguistic disputes remain that I'll not detail here, but I think that the grammatical structure of the original favors the ESV and my admittedly awkward, literal translation above.

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  18. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    There's a lot to be said so it's hard to just make a few comments in a context like this. This is a 20-page pamphlet that deals with why we baptize our infants: Hope it helps!

    On the household baptism stuff and Acts: The issue will never be settled for either side based on evidence/lack thereof in household baptisms. Note that there is not one specific instance in all of NT Scripture where Christian parents hold off on giving the covenant sign to their children until after a profession of faith.
  19. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Hello Michael,

    You will find there are many who hold to the credobaptist position and find themselves most at "home" in Presbyterian Churches, particularly if living in an area that has no Reformed Baptist presence. I've known this to be the case for a good number whose views on worship makes attending other broadly evangelical churches untenable. A PCA church planter told me a few years ago his denomination owes its "growth" to Southern Baptists. While this may be an exaggeration, it's a reality I know to be true for a couple of the Presbyterian Churches near me. I mention this to make the simple point that you are not alone.

    Since you have a child on the way you will no doubt be spending a lot of time wrestling over the issue of baptism, particularly as you seek to join a paedobaptist church. The temptation will be to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and swallow the doctrinal differences without chewing slowly. Take your time, study the issues, and take advantage of the collective wisdom here on this board and elsewhere.

    Lastly, don't be afraid if once the dust settles you remain a credobaptist worshipping alongside wonderful paedobaptist brothers and sisters. I've known a few "circles" who tried to force themselves into "square" holes only to realize after doing violence to their consciences that it's okay if they differ on this issue. Seek to preserve the unity and peace of the church while being thankful to God there is a Reformed witness near where you are moving to.

    Welcome to the board my friend!
  20. JollyGreenGavin

    JollyGreenGavin Puritan Board Freshman

    Dr. Richard Pratt does an excellent job explaining the paedo position here:

    The synopsis is this:

    In each covenant God made with man, there were believers and unbelievers. There were also adults and their children.

    The sign of the NC is baptism where the sign of the AC was circumcision.

    Baptism’s significance for the believer as opposed to baptism’s significance for the infant.
  21. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Sophomore

    I would urge you also, Michael, to begin a thread in the credo-answers forum, where objections you read from the paedos can be answered without sparking a debate. There are plenty of those debates to read. But there you may ask specific questions like: why is the New Covenant different and better? (which is the heart of the issue, really, not whether household baptisms occurred); and, "why has the application of the sign changed along with the sign itself?"
    An attempt to discuss those in a free-for-all has been done time and again, and those battles, while sometimes profitable, get very long and often sidetracked.
  22. Wretched Man

    Wretched Man Puritan Board Freshman

    All, I apologize for my “credo” comment. It was actually a question because I am sincerely trying to understand your position. I have deleted my comment and look forward to weighing your thoughts on this subject.
  23. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

  24. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    @Michael E

    My time to interact is highly limited, but a few notes.

    Infant baptism and paedonaptism, I think, are misleading terms. They don't convey the principle. I think these terms are more used because this demographic is at the center of contention. Once you grasp this, the argument of a lack of mention of infants fails to carry weight any further.

    But there is no Scriptural burden to prove a certain demographic was baptized. I read nothing of Americans or mailmen being baptized either. However, it is good and necessary consequence that if they profess faith, not having been baptized, they must be baptized.

    So with households. Are infants members of the household? Good enough warrant that this demographic is included among the baptized parties if present in a household.

    The rest is debate about covenant theology.
  25. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    A circumcision of the heart has always been what the Lord requires. This isn't just a new covenant thing. Note that the exhortations for a circumcised heart were given in the old testament.

    It is important to realize that the covenant with Abraham is essentially spiritual in nature (it did have some physical aspects but that wasn't the main focus) and is fulfilled in the new covenant. Really, the NC is the means by which the promises of the Abrahamic covenant are realized. Yet even before the NC was inaugurated God was all about a people who were not only circumcised outwardly, but inwardly. As we read in Romans 4, circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith. We also read in Colossians 2 that the sign finds it's fulfillment in the work of Christ. Now realize that God commanded even infants to receive this sign, even before they showed any indication of personal trust in God for their righteous standing.

    Therefore we can at the very least say that there is good precedent in scripture to apply a sign of faith to those under the care of the faithful, regardless of whether the person under care has personally apprehended the promises of God.

    On what basis was a person circumcised? The scriptures are clear: that person must have either personally believed (as in the case of Abraham) or must be under the care (i.e. in the household) of one who did (like Isaac, Ishmael, Abraham's servants). And on the face of it, we see the same thing with baptism in the new testament. We either see a personal faith - like the Ethiopian Eunuch, Lydia, the Philippian Jailer - or we see a covenantal link to a person of faith - i.e. the households of Lydia, the Jailer, Stephanas, etc. Given the 2,000 years of applying the covenantal sign to believers and their seed, we would expect to see instructions on the contrary in the NT if this practice was to be changed. We do not see these instructions. We instead see examples of household baptisms. Were there children there? No one knows, and it doesn't really matter actually - what we are told in the case of Lydia and the Jailer is that the head believed, and yet the household was baptized.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2020
  26. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    Let me second what B.L. McDonald said a few posts above. I found reformed theology while attending a vaguely baptist church moving in the direction advocated by Andy Stanley and others. After deciding to move to a new church, the best option I could find was Presbyterian (PCA). Basically, I had a choice between several reformed baptist churches which were dispensational, or a church that practiced paedobaptism. (Yes, I know many would say you can't be reformed and hold dispensational views!) To me, that was an easy choice.

    I met with the pastor. I did realize that, like you, I didn't really understand the paedobaptist view. I had some idea it would take time to understand (it's taken me years). I decided, rather than investigate the hard question of which position is correct, I would investigate the simpler question of whether I could attend as a credobaptist. The answer was yes,although I couldn't hold an office like elder or deacon. There is also a reasonable expectation that I not actively try to cause division over the issue, something I would not want to do in the first place. I've felt very much at home in that wonderful church ever since.

    Personally, I've found it sadly ironic that something that should unite God's people instead serves as one of the major sources of division among those who otherwise understand and practice Christianity so well. I am not saying that baptism is unimportant, or that one should not study carefully and endeavour to practice it properly. However, both sides will admit that there isn't a clear scripture that specifically states whether baptism should or should not be applied to infants. Both practices are inferred from a broad reading of scripture, and great minds who sincerely love God have come down on both sides of the issue.

    My advice is to seek a church that highly values the clear teaching and application of the gospel, that teaches rich theology as a means being more and more amazed at how awesome the God of the Bible is, and seeks to teach people to live as they should in the light of the gospel. No church does that perfectly. But, you will find good churches that hold to either credobaptism or paedobaptism. I would suggest (in your case) not being afraid to attend a paedobaptist church as long as the pastor is OK with you attending as a credobaptist.

    If you're like me, it may take longer than you have to really settle the issue of credo/paedobaptism. In my case, I am a person who needs to carefully understand both sides of many issues in order to settle a question. I've learned from experience that just listening to the arguments from one side often gives you a confusing and distorted view of the issue. After attending a PCA church, I did learn their position well and I found the case strong. Other posts in this thread are leading you to some of those lines of thinking. Surprisingly, what I found hard was finding a solid presentation of the credobaptist position so that I could fairly evaluate that position. It took me about five years before I settled into the paedobaptist position. That may or may not happen for you, but I would encourage you not to over-prioritize that particular theological issue. One other thought is that it is relatively easy for a credobaptist to function within a paedobaptist congregation that will have them since it simply means not applying baptism until your children are older.
  27. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Although these are posted on my blog, there are several posters, and this particular 5-part insightful review is done by R. Fowler White, not myself. I believe his name is on the posts, but it may be at the bottom of each one.
  28. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Good answer to the original bullet points have been made. I will add a few thoughts that always seem to help my credo friends at least understand the paedo position, even if they don't wind up agreeing with it.

    1. Is baptism something WE do or something GOD does through the instrumentality of a minister? If the latter, then the seemingly inextricable link between baptism and confession of faith becomes much less important. In this regard, paedos believe that Baptists have read into the book of Acts a temporal order that always has to be there: salvation, then baptism.

    2. In paedo argumentation, baptism, while it points to the shed blood of Christ, is more of a churchly thing than an individual thing, even if it is individuals who are baptized. That is, what it does is solemnly mark the inclusion of a person into the visible church (here the Reformed distinction between visible and invisible church becomes important). Actually being in the visible church happens by profession, either of the person, or, in the case of infants, their believing parent(s).

    3. How the covenants build one on top of another (rather than replace the one that comes before) has vast implications for the position of children in regard to the church. Whether children should be baptized depends on the prior point of children's standing in the covenant. I cannot possibly stress this point hard enough. Here the distinction between the Baptist position on covenant theology and the Reformed is vitally important to grasp. Baptists believe that the covenant of grace only has one kind of participation: full participation in all the benefits of salvation. Paedos believe that the apostasy passages, such as Hebrews 6, point to two different aspects of covenantal participation: the essence of the covenant, which is indeed salvation (which prompts the Hebrews author to say, "we expect better things from you"), and the administration of the covenant, encompassing the visible church, and including the benefits of the means of grace (and from which people do indeed, tragically, fall away).

    4. The OT sign of circumcision was a sign and seal (see Romans 4) of a spiritual reality: justification by faith alone. The NT sign of baptism means the same thing (Colossians 2). Both circumcision and baptism are physical signs that point to spiritual realities. Baptists tend to see circumcision as a physical sign that points only to a physical thing. This does not really square with Romans 4.

    5. Whether anyone is convinced by these points or not, you do need to realize that the paedo position is built on top of biblical exegesis, and NOT primarily church history. I have run into this objection several times now with Baptists: they think that paedos either only or primarily believe in paedo-baptism because the church says so. I don't know of one single paedo in the Reformed camp who believes this! And yet this misunderstanding continues. While church history would tell us not to throw out a traditional view without much soul-searching (and exegesis!), and it can also tell us how to be fully ecumenical in the best sense of that term, church history cannot function as a source of revealed truth. I would never ask anyone to believe in paedo-baptism because the church says so, or because tradition says so.

    Hope this helps you understand.
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  29. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Sophomore

    If you have read this far, you will see that Baptists are accused of inserting discontinuity into the covenants. But this is not so: we see Christ as the center of all covenants that lead up to Him and go forward from Him. So Christ casts a shadow back to Abraham, rather than Abraham projecting past Christ. All the types were fulfilled in Christ, who then commands: repent and be baptized.
  30. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    This is a good point. Another helpful thing to realize is that the reformed position on baptism is not a Roman catholic hangover. The reformed position is much different than that of Rome or even the Lutheran church. Yes, all three baptize infants but the reformed on a very different basis. We don't believe that the physical application of baptism washes away original sin. We don't believe that it works ex opere operato (I think I used that correctly?). To the reformed a sacrament is always a confirmer of the Word, and the word has central place. We do hold that no one will be saved without baptism (a spiritual baptism, the one signified in the sign), but that getting someone wet does not contribute to their standing with God.
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