Origins of Credobaptism

Discussion in 'Baptism' started by pslagle2012, Oct 14, 2017.

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  1. pslagle2012

    pslagle2012 Puritan Board Freshman

    I was listening to a Reformed Forum podcast that stated Credobaptism (meaning the view that believers only should be baptized) originated in the Reformation era and there is little to no evidence of it prior to that or in the early church. Is this true? My wife is Baptist and I am Presbyterian. She has recently been surprised by the evidence for infant baptism in the early church.
  2. BG

    BG Puritan Board Junior

    Yes it is true.
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  3. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Except that the Didache (sp) seemed to indicate immersion, as that would be the normal meaning assigned assigned to the NT word used for baptism.
  4. BG

    BG Puritan Board Junior

    The question was about credo baptism. Where does the didache say to submerge?
  5. pslagle2012

    pslagle2012 Puritan Board Freshman

    Specifically I am talking about the belief that only believers can be baptized, regardless of mode.
  6. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Thanks for pointing that out to me, as I would see both Reformed and Baptist ways as being legit in the sense not needing to be redone again, not unless the person was persuaded/convicted that would be the thing to do.
  7. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The point was made, I believe, in your initial query that asked about the antiquity of 'paedobaptism': that it is important to distinguish between two parts of the single baptismal issue. Namely, the look of some practice, and it's significance.

    There were Christian-elements during the patristic church-era that would inevitably have practiced something like 'credobaptism,' inasmuch as they delayed baptism for as long as they dared, in order to maximize it's supposed benefits. If you could be baptized on your deathbed, you would pretty much wash away a lifetime of sins: from the stain of original sin, to the sins prior to saving faith, to the sins after claiming Christ as Lord and Savior.

    Then, there's the practice no one doubts: that converts from the beginning were regularly baptized either upon initial conversion, or after a period of catechizing in the content of the faith. In either of these cases, the practice of infant baptism is largely sidelined. The practice in view is concerned with bringing in professors to church membership and privilege. Baptism is supposed to relate to that, somehow.

    And yet, as the example of delayed baptism demonstrates, the underlying issue is the understood significance of the practice. What did folks intend by what they did, and was this intention in accord with the apostolic doctrine? How far was it removed? It is somewhat anachronistic to use the early church to defend the Reformation era's theology of baptism among the Protestants; and then assert that the English Baptists have no recourse to the same body of history, if they choose to refer to elements of it as rather supportive of certain contentions they make.

    The issue is further complicated by two items of historical note. One is the occasional bit of knowledge we retain of baptismal (or similar) practices of various fringe or heretical groups from ancient through medieval periods. It doesn't help things, that some modern Baptist historians have latched onto "anything non-Roman" as evidence of the persistence of true faith and practice outside the Roman institutional church where all evils were housed. The Albigenses/Cathari for instance have been appealed to as proto-Baptist, mainly (it is reasoned) because Rome must have persecuted them because of their good faith and practice (there being no other possible motive?).

    Second, the Anabaptist movement that arose in parallel to the Reformation (esp. Lutheran/Reformed/Anglican) produced an entire third stream of history of about 500yrs old today. The Anabaptist theology and practice of baptism is the real "new to the late era" baptism. The first purveyors of the Radical reformation were not embarrassed to proclaim they were resurrecting the (supposed) apostolic practices, which were essentially lost for 1500yrs. Again, one must draw the distinction between their employment of some form of baptismal practice, and the significance which they imputed to it.

    That said, the truth is that the Anabaptist approach has exerted definite influence upon a whole swath of the modern 'evangelical' church. Such that, the modern justification for baptism in that vaguely defined conglomeration of Christian-groups is largely borrowed from the Anabaptists, not the ancient church, not Rome (of course), and not the Reformers.

    It is the case, that one may trace some baptismal affinities in the English Baptist movement to influences from the continental Anabaptists. The Isles were far from hermetically sealed off from Europe. John Smyth was an Englishman gone to Amsterdam, influenced by Mennonite (Anabaptist) sects there, and set up possibly the first English Baptist church there in 1609. He self-baptized, though not by immersion. His group eventually split between those who joined the Mennonites, and those who returned to England, setting up the first church of record (first one we can affirm historically) in London in about 1611.

    This page shows several authors rebuting the idea of lineal descent of English Baptists from the continental Anabaptists (the whole paper is worth reading in conjunction with this question). I think it can be shown that on the principal or core issues of the faith, the doctrine of the English Baptists was not a product of the Radical reformation, but of the Reformers. True enough. And yet, it remains true that what is proved in the paper supports the idea that the credobaptism of the Baptists is essentially restorationist. Purification of baptism, it is said, required the elimination of subjecting infants to the rite. There is far less continuity, in this view, to the habit of the church through the intervening centuries.
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  8. pslagle2012

    pslagle2012 Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for that thorough reply. If I understand you correctly, we can find credo-like practices in the early church but the believers-only theology that is distinctively baptist is historically recent. Correct?
  9. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member


    I've made an effort to address the historic question, which (due to the nature of the theological argument over the biblical source material appealed to by all sides) begins with post-apostolic materials.

    My claim is there's virtually no relatively-pure theology of baptism by the time we have some substantial literary discussion of the topic. In the truly early-going, all there is are statements that largely repeat biblical language (making it possible for people of widely different opinions today to appropriate them as they will); or pithy inscriptions.

    When we get to the discussions, we have to contend immediately with considerable sub-biblical theology tainting the church-rite as a whole. This is a basic contention of both Baptists and Reformed, as they defend their theological formulations pertaining to their respective rites over against Rome, which considers those early discussions "good beginnings" in the development (as they speak today) of their own doctrine.

    Without granting the basic Baptist contention, I'm aiming at evenhanded treatment of the data, allowing them to interpret what's there just as I want the freedom to interpret it. So that, when we finally get down to assessing what is and is not biblical contained in the evidence of history, it may be possible for someone to judge which side has a superior argument.

    I again recommend reading the linked thesis in toto from the reformedreader (Ref.Bapt.) website. It is an academic study of methodology as it critiques some defenders of the Separatist origin for the English Baptists, finding them both competent and at times biased. If you didn't know it already, you find it was as late as the 1640s that the English Baptists "restored" full immersion as the one true baptismal method; and up till then the mode was treated as variable. So (the question goes), is the first English Baptist church begun around 1610 or around 1640? Which date marks the time the Baptists truly "came out of the wilderness," since the days of the Apostles?*

    *(immersion today being generally regarded as a non-negotiable Baptist distinctive)
  10. KeithW

    KeithW Puritan Board Freshman

    Rev. Buchanan, how does sacralism fit into the history of baptism? I've heard it said that baptismal records before the Reformation (which included infants) were used by the state to determine tax roles. So the state didn't like it when there was something other than paedobaptism.
  11. Gforce9

    Gforce9 Puritan Board Junior

    I'll let others help with the history......I only wish to encourage you in checking out Refomed Forum. Camden is a great resource (I believe his Doctoral paper was on Roman theology at 2nd Latern) and he has some great guests and topics!
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The early church seemed universally under the spell of baptismal regeneration and believed that baptism granted new life. That is always a struggle for me because I tend to think of the early church as very pure, but many were Marcionites, and believed in this magical view of baptismal and were largely Chiliasts as well.
  13. BG

    BG Puritan Board Junior

    Some things never change.
  14. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    This is certainly true to an extent, but people also tended to speak more mystically and figuratively than we do today, and so they didn't always mean precisely what they said in a purely literal sense.
  15. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I'm confident that some competent historian can show that sacralism as a prevalent politico-religious theory has traded in baptismal currency over its lifetime.

    Did some European government (or all of them) at any point use the (state) church's baptismal records to determine its tax roll? That's a narrow historical inquiry, and depending on the surviving records of the procedure employed to the end, it could be proved (or largely disproved).

    It could be proved that it happened once, in one locale;
    or it might be shown that it happened many times in one locale;
    or it happened so many times that it is fair to say it was a rule over a span of time.

    It could be proved that it happened repeatedly in some general time frame, over numerous locales, though split by language and custom--yet limited to a smaller frame of reference by some metric;
    or it could be demonstrated as a nearly universal inheritance, say, from the Justinian Code;
    or it happens that because population churn was so slight in Europe over significantly long periods of time, baptismal rolls and tax rolls are simply coincidental rather than demonstrative of any causal connection.
    My point: proving an historical connection between any two things--especially some major thing--is a sticky wicket. It's why most professional historic monographs are often (comically) narrow. Because it is harder than it looks. The larger the claim, the easier it is to challenge it, and poke holes in the overall argument. Professional rivals like nothing better than taking down their competition.

    Most authors after coming to the limit of their investigation, if they have any intention of looking further out, prefer to offer two or more modestly presented theories as possible avenues of causal exploration, as to how their topic is woven into the broader tapestry of history. Even these, if sufficiently provoking to the ego of another, will prompt publication of additional and contrary (maybe better) interpretive options.

    Before the era of secular birth-certificates, might a State have viewed the church's baptismal and burial records (encompassing the majority of a given territory's population) as an instrument of control? It's a plausible theory. But how much the technique might have been relied upon, how difficult it might have been to actually coordinate the data prior to the age of automation, or how jealous a given prelate might have been to guard his institutional data--these and many other lines of inquiry and challenges to assumptions are all wide open.

  16. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    The ECF were a mixed group, as they held solid to some Apostolic truths, but seemed to deviate away on others, as you pointed out here.
  17. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

  18. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    Are you saying that Westminster divines believed in baptismal regeneration?
  19. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Yes and no; not in the light of your definition-to which I assume is the aberrant view. Westminster and the reformed believed that if God so chooses to use the sign to regenerate, he can and sometimes does. In this way, they believed in BR. Rome and others believe that it is efficacious every time. In this, we would disagree.
  20. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    Do you think BR would be a good term to avoid? Some are converted through the preaching. Should we call this Preaching Regeneration? If we understand the baptism or the preaching to be the instrumental cause and not the efficient cause (to borrow from justification terminology), why not avoid the term altogether?
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2017
  21. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    I agree. The term carries along with it obvious prejudices, and for good reason. The distinction is important, none the less. Coin a phrase. :p
  22. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Except that the Bible makes it clear that it is the preaching of the Gospel that the Spirit uses to regenerate sinners, not any ordinance, as those are to be taken by the redeemed .
  23. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I do not think that Reformed/Calvinist would hold to that theology regarding the Sacraments.
  24. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Regeneration is a distinct function in the order of salvation; it is not the same as conversion. Make the distinction.

    I am assuming that you did not read through this thread before posting. I provided a paper from my website on the idea as it has quotes from many reformed as well as the Westminster Standards take on the subject.

    ~Read more, think before posting.
  25. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I did read thruyour link, and must have misunderstood some of it, as do see the scriptures teaching that regeneration/faith/salvation are all part of the so called salvation package God applies towards His elect in Christ, and so would appear to happen to us all at the same time.
  26. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    This 'package' you mention is called the ordo salutis; it has a number of components. Study that.

    In many cases, yes-in others, no. God is not bound by any mans mind. It being that we have instances in scripture showing men were set apart from the womb and birth, since they had not sat under any outward call yet, we must assume that these examples are in regard to regeneration alone, apart from conversion, as conversion requires the outward call and inward. Men cannot be converted outside of ascending to biblical facts. So, given that both the WCF and LBC both mention infants that are elect, we can take for granted that God regenerates when and how he wills-age is irrelevant. Wisdom is only applied to the heart of a man if he is first regenerated from above-see John 3. Regeneration is an act of God alone. Conversion, though it is also an act of God alone, it requires information to complete the process. Our faith is subject based.

    This may help:
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2017
  27. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

  28. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I do agree with you that there are examples such as John the Baptist being called from the womb, and do see that regeneration is the act of God by which a sinner can receive a new heart and mind in order to receive Jesus and get saved.
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