Household baptism?

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Sovereign Grace

Puritan Board Freshman
Seeing I have just come to agree that Presbyterianism and paedobaptism are biblical, I’m still trying to iron the wrinkles out. Seeing that two places used to teach paedobaptism as being biblical is Lydia and the Philippian jailer and their household were baptized, why don’t Presbyterians baptize households, or do they still practice this?
 

Northern Crofter

Puritan Board Freshman
If a couple with children were converted and were to join a congregation by profession of faith, the couple along with their children would be baptised as a household, which is the same situation as the examples from Acts that you referred to. A parent or parents coming from a "baptist" congregation would not need to be re-baptised but they would bring their children to be baptised. There is a difference of opinion in the Reformed community regarding whether or not those coming from the Roman Catholic church need to be baptised, but I believe most modern Reformed congregations would accept it as it was Trinitarian (I also believe most would also allow re-baptism in this case if the person wanted to do so for conscience sake).
 

Sovereign Grace

Puritan Board Freshman
If a couple with children were converted and were to join a congregation by profession of faith, the couple along with their children would be baptised as a household, which is the same situation as the examples from Acts that you referred to. A parent or parents coming from a "baptist" congregation would not need to be re-baptised but they would bring their children to be baptised. There is a difference of opinion in the Reformed community regarding whether or not those coming from the Roman Catholic church need to be baptised, but I believe most modern Reformed congregations would accept it as it was Trinitarian (I also believe most would also allow re-baptism in this case if the person wanted to do so for conscience sake).
Thanks. Now, is there an age limit to when the children would not be baptized? Say the children are around 10. Would they be baptized too? If not, why? It seemed the whole household was baptized in all the places it’s mentioned in the NT. I’m not trying to swat the hornet’s nest, trying to iron out the wrinkles to get a better handle on this topic.
 

Northern Crofter

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks. Now, is there an age limit to when the children would not be baptized? Say the children are around 10. Would they be baptized too? If not, why? It seemed the whole household was baptized in all the places it’s mentioned in the NT. I’m not trying to swat the hornet’s nest, trying to iron out the wrinkles to get a better handle on this topic.
That is a good/fair question. The WCF states that "Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized." (28.4) and the Larger Catechism, in answering "whom is Baptism to be administered?" similarly states that "Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized." (Q/A 166) So some will argue that older children should not be baptised and that the Church should wait until they make a profession of faith of their own. But just because the Westminster Standards only mention infants being baptised without first professing faith does not mean that older children should not also be baptised. It is as likely that the Philippian jailer's household included "older" children and not just "infants" as it is unlikely that those older children experienced as sudden a conversion as their father. This is why it is important to return to a consideration of what baptism is. As the Larger Catechism teaches, baptism is a sign and seal of ingrafting into Christ "whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church...." (Q/A 165). The benefits (see Q/A 167) of being admitted into the visible Church applies to all ages. It is worth noting that the proof text from Acts used for #166 and #167 is not referring to Lydia or the Philippian jailer's households but rather Acts 2:38-39: "Then Peter said unto them, Amend your lives, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins: and ye shall receive the gift of the holy Ghost. For the promise is made unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Also note that the word Peter uses here is τέκνοις [child] and not παιδίου [little child/infant] (which is often used elsewhere by Christ and the Apostles).
 

Sovereign Grace

Puritan Board Freshman
That is a good/fair question. The WCF states that "Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized."

I agree with this. Seeing the Abrahamic covenant is mentioned in several places in the NT, I agree with infants being baptized, just as eight day old males were circumcised.

(28.4) and the Larger Catechism, in answering "whom is Baptism to be administered?" similarly states that "Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized." (Q/A 166) So some will argue that older children should not be baptised and that the Church should wait until they make a profession of faith of their own. But just because the Westminster Standards only mention infants being baptised without first professing faith does not mean that older children should not also be baptised. It is as likely that the Philippian jailer's household included "older" children and not just "infants" as it is unlikely that those older children experienced as sudden a conversion as their father.

This is where I’m struggling, and I know it’s from my 51 years of being around Baptists, with 15 years being a Baptist Christian. If I recall correctly, proselyte Jews, all their males regardless of age, were circumcised along with their father upon adopting Judaism. So, if baptism has supplanted circumcision, which I do, and older males were circumcised as a household was predicated upon their father becoming a proselyte, then why isn’t baptism administered to all the family? Again, I’m not trying to swat tye hornet’s nest, just trying to seek clarification here. I know my Baptist friends will confront me with things like this and I need a biblical answer to it.


This is why it is important to return to a consideration of what baptism is. As the Larger Catechism teaches, baptism is a sign and seal of ingrafting into Christ "whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church...." (Q/A 165). The benefits (see Q/A 167) of being admitted into the visible Church applies to all ages. It is worth noting that the proof text from Acts used for #166 and #167 is not referring to Lydia or the Philippian jailer's households but rather Acts 2:38-39: "Then Peter said unto them, Amend your lives, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins: and ye shall receive the gift of the holy Ghost. For the promise is made unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Also note that the word Peter uses here is τέκνοις [child] and not παιδίου [little child/infant] (which is often used elsewhere by Christ and the Apostles).

I’m still fuzzy on what you posted here. Can you please further explain?
 

Sovereign Grace

Puritan Board Freshman
@Northern Crofter

I’m not throwing my Baptist Brethern under the bus, but notice how they say that the belieber’s baptism is the only biblical baptism. That’s a lot of assumption on their part. None of us, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, et al, can look into the heart of these we baptize and see they are saved. As someone posted on an older thread I came upon, we don’t baptize them because they are saved, but because of their profession of faith. None can know those who are baptized are saved or not, but baptize them upon their confession of faith, of their confessing being saved.

I know a girl who was baptized a few decades ago. She was 23 at that time. She has since then been married three additional times, lived a very promiscuous life, with several men, if you know what I mean? Would her baptism be considered a believer’s baptism? Hardly, in my opinion. I believe in the “P” in TULIP, and she most assuredly didn’t persevere in the faith. Yet, many Baptist churches would take her in and not require her to be baptized. So, that’s the exact same concept of paedobaptism, yet the adult version. But the concept is exactly the same. She has later in life been saved and was rebaptized, which is unbiblical.
 

PaulCLawton

Puritan Board Freshman
Seeing I have just come to agree that Presbyterianism and paedobaptism are biblical, I’m still trying to iron the wrinkles out. Seeing that two places used to teach paedobaptism as being biblical is Lydia and the Philippian jailer and their household were baptized, why don’t Presbyterians baptize households, or do they still practice this?
Speaking for (Three Forms) Reformed congregations, we do. We had one yesterday in our church, and are working towards another down the road. See https://formsandprayers.com/liturgical-form/#7.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
@Eyedoc84 and @PaulCLawton

Say Jane is saved and the 13 and 10 year olds refuses to be baptized? What would your church do in this situation?
From a practical standpoint I think the 10 year old just needs told that this is what she will do. The 13 year old, being in the transition to adulthood, may just need the same, but also need instruction, warning, instruction, instruction, instruction. (Not that you aren’t instructing the 10 year old)
 

Sovereign Grace

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks Brothers. As I’m learning more and more, I’m finding some wrinkles that need ironing out. I’m just trying to understand this better. Thanks bunches.
 

DanSSwing

Puritan Board Freshman
First, thanks to the moderator for re-opening this.

Second, I wanted to comment on the issue of household baptism because I recently listened to the MacArthur/Sproul baptism debate:

Even as a Reformed Baptist, I think Sproul won this debate because MacArthur was basing too much of his argument on dispensationalist presuppositions.

Sproul's strongest argument in my opinion had to do with the baptism of households. I do have one question about it though. If the households included infants and even children, would it not also have included slaves/servants? Best I can tell from the Greek, we're talking about baptizing literally the house--or everyone living within its confines. Sproul agreed in the debate that adults should only be baptized after a confession of faith. But if we open up the ordinance to non-believers within the household, how can we include children but exclude the slaves/servants? Yes, there are different arguments for baptizing the children of believers, but I'm talking about the particular "household" argument.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
A simple answer would be: in an 1C, biblical world context, the whole "house" would (if wealthy, which was not a very large % of the population) contain others beside the nuclear family, to include slaves and the like. It makes sense from a covenant-theology standpoint to recognize that many members under the head of a house would accept the direction and the beliefs of the head.

It should go without saying that refusal to believe or to be associated with the family's new religion--for example, in contrast to the joyful acceptance we find generally in the Philippian jailer's situation and in Cornelius'--should not see a coerced baptism. The idea of coerced circumcision in the case of Judaism is just as innately offensive, and must have been unheard of.

There's another observation to be made from the above inquiry, and that has to do with one of the presumptions embedded therein. "If we open up the ordinance [baptism] to non-believers within the household..." prejudices the case against the paedobaptist and in favor of the credobaptist. In fact, the typical paedobaptist doesn't consent to the idea that baptism belongs to unbelievers, any more than the typical credobaptist thinks it does. Both credobaptists and paedobaptists end up baptizing people who prove unbelievers. Reserving baptism to professors alone does not accomplish a purer assembly.

The issue is: when is the appropriate timing for which individuals to be baptized, based on what we think the Bible teaches? As has often been pointed out, the same allegations about the impropriety of paedobaptism may be lodged against paedo-circumcision on the same basis. Credobaptists have contended against the paedobaptists that circumcision and baptism are not analogous, that they do not have essentially the same meaning or function; but classic covenant theology will not budge on the contrary affirmation. Circumcision was a spiritual (not secular) sign for a spiritual (not secular) people, pointing to the reality of the covenant of grace prior to the arrival of Christ.

Both signs (baptism and circumcision) belong to faith, and not to any other; and therefore the timing of the sign's application may be determined by personal faith-profession in one instance, or (in the case of one who ought to be spoken for) on another person's behalf by the believer who presents his household for baptism along with himself. The faith of a parent is first put in the place of the minor, an element of which faith is trust in this promise of God: "I will be God to you, and to your children." It is a blessing and a great responsibility of every covenant child to make good use of the advantage of providential positioning, leading to his own profession of the faith in which he was raised.

I realize you may not agree with those statements, but my goal is less persuasion as to aid in understanding why a Presbyterian believes and acts as he does. So far as we believe it, OT circumcision was rightly possessed only by OT saints after Abraham's day, marking those truly who were of the faith of Abraham. Unbelievers of the OT age no more possessed right to circumcision than do unbelievers of the NT age possess right to baptism. And yet, children and other household members of the visible church (an institution for believers) of the OT were ordained to receive the external sign of membership along with their professing head. The concept was then what it is now: that signs applied externally should finally be in conformity with internal faith associated with the sign. Absent faith, the sign is ultimately a sign for condemnation as the promise of the sign is spurned rather than embraced.

So, to bring all of this back specifically to baptism, this rite is not by the Presbyterian being "opened to non-believers." It isn't for a rebellious child who frankly repudiates his parent's newfound faith, and will not accept being presented for baptism by them. It isn't for a theoretical modern-day servant, as it wasn't for an ancient slave lacking all intention of accepting the new faith of his master. Nor is it for liars or the deluded. It is for a helpless infant, a submissive child, or another radical subordinate or ward of a modern believer, who by this sign publicly acknowledges that all he is and possesses belongs to his faithful Savior. A new, adult believer takes baptism in connection to his faith, as it points to Christ; and the same believer claims baptism for his whole house that he intends to teach the fear and admonition of the Lord.

There is an expectation of teaching in connection with the gospel, and its reception and embrace. Should evidence of faith cease or never be seen, discipline blocks access to the Table of the Lord. We don't baptize people who refuse, implicitly or explicitly, to be Christ's disciples. It has never been otherwise with the church, either before Christ's coming recorded in the NT Gospels or in the present age. But (we say Scripture teaches) some are acknowledged as disciples outwardly before they ever had the freedom or potentially the inclination to refuse the identification. It's a pattern we Presbyterians see established for the church prior to the NC inauguration, and not changed upon the fullness come to be in the NC.
 

DanSSwing

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks, Rev. Buchanan. I appreciate your response as well as the explanatory power of the Presbyterian position. I'm currently in the awkward place of being nearly on the fence on this issue, as I find that both sides have strong arguments. My approach is that, until I have the time to dedicate to really dig more into the broader Covenantal frameworks--to include the issues of apostasy and grafting (Romans 11), I would rather err on the side of following what the apostles explicitly did and commanded be done in the Bible (however difficult that may be to determine), which is why I am interested in the "household" argument.
 

Jason F.

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks, Rev. Buchanan. I appreciate your response as well as the explanatory power of the Presbyterian position. I'm currently in the awkward place of being nearly on the fence on this issue, as I find that both sides have strong arguments. My approach is that, until I have the time to dedicate to really dig more into the broader Covenantal frameworks--to include the issues of apostasy and grafting (Romans 11), I would rather err on the side of following what the apostles explicitly did and commanded be done in the Bible (however difficult that may be to determine), which is why I am interested in the "household" argument.
If you have the time, I would recommend listening to Dr. James White's 14 part series on You Tube, for the Baptist perspective, and R. Scott Clark's 15 part series on the Heidelcast blog titled I Will Be a God To You and To Your Children, for the paedo view. Time consuming, but worth it, for someone sitting on the fence, as I was not long ago.
 

Northern Crofter

Puritan Board Freshman
the broader Covenantal frameworks
Although they share much in some areas, there is, as perhaps expected, a rather large difference between the 1689 London Baptist Confession and the 1647
Westminster Confession of Faith in dealing with the sacraments. One of the foundational differences is that the latter sees in the sacraments of the "New Testament" a continuation of and not simply a fulfillment of those of the "Old Testament." For example, the LBC states that "Baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world." ("Of Baptism and the Lord's Supper," 28.2), making no connection to or continuation of the sacraments in the "Old Testament." In contrast, the WCF states that " The sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New." (Of the Sacraments, 27.5).
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Thanks, Rev. Buchanan. I appreciate your response as well as the explanatory power of the Presbyterian position. I'm currently in the awkward place of being nearly on the fence on this issue, as I find that both sides have strong arguments. My approach is that, until I have the time to dedicate to really dig more into the broader Covenantal frameworks--to include the issues of apostasy and grafting (Romans 11), I would rather err on the side of following what the apostles explicitly did and commanded be done in the Bible (however difficult that may be to determine), which is why I am interested in the "household" argument.
OK. I'm not after scalps.
Infant baptism should be an element of the conclusion of one's sacramental theology; not a pious practice in search of a theological defense.
 
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