I have been studying baptism for a while now. Though I only recently joined the Baptist church, it wasn’t the only time my beliefs on baptism had been challenged. My first debate on Baptism was at a meager 10 years old. My second true debate was at 23, after spending my teen years trying to understand the meaning of my own baptism and what it means to be a born-again Christian. I’ve revisited it multiple times in the last 12 years, as I have been re-introduced to the debate and teaching my children the apologetics to justify their own baptisms when I find credo-Baptists the best at teaching kids to read the Bible.
Over the last year, it has struck me that the theologies of Credo and Paedo baptism follow the arguments on nationalism really closely. I’d like to share my thoughts with you on this subject. First, I’ll start with outlining the different theologies of baptism.
I’m going to do my best to accurately reflect this theology. I have incredible issues with it, so if I fail to adequately represent it, please let me know.
First, Credo Baptists take a very literal view of scripture in their justification for refusing baptism to the infant children of believing parents. They strongly believe that without any examples in scripture of infants being baptized, then infants must not have been baptized and so it is not a valid baptism.
The credo-Baptist believes that repentance and receiving of Christ must come before baptism. To the credo-baptist, once you have confessed Christ as savior, nothing can separate you from Him. If you fall away and deny Christ later in life, then your salvation wasn’t a true salvation and your baptism was a false baptism. To avoid apostasy and to ensure that a proper confession of faith has been reached, they have placed age-related boundaries around baptism so as a false or immature and coerced confession does not result in a false baptism. They guard baptism the same way the Lutherans guard communion without believing in the same damning consequences that Lutherans believe in with regards to communion.
I have yet to meet a fundamentalist credo-Baptist who believes that you can’t go to heaven if you have not been baptized. I believe these are Congregationalists and they are more a North Mid-Western denomination, not a Southern one. All the credo-Baptists I have met believe baptism is an outward sign of an inward condition and that that inward condition is what ultimately determines our salvation. Failure to be baptized after confession does not take away your salvation, but it does call it into question as it then becomes a matter of obedience to Christ – that we should be saved and then be baptized.
Being convicted on this after a great amount of study and attempting to be convinced otherwise (I follow a lot of credo Baptists and even listened to a MacArthur debate on it), I admit to bias.
Paedo-baptists do not conflict with credo-Baptists when it comes to the baptism of new adult believers. It is only where it concerns the infant children of believers that conflict arises, of which we have no examples in scripture as they were all new adult believers to the Christian faith.
Paedo-baptists come by their conviction via inference of scripture. Paul makes it clear several times that Baptism by water is the sign of the new covenant the way that circumcision was the sign of the old covenant. In many ways, they parallel each other except baptism is more inclusive in that women can be baptized, where-as they could not be circumcized. The paedo-baptist believes that because circumcision was offered (and commanded) for the infant children of members of the old covenant, then to limit the infant children of members of the new covenant from being full participants in the body of Christ in communion with their families would require the New Testament writers and apostles to actually say so. The burden to deviate from what has been is on those proposing a change to say the change is necessary. In absence of the command not to baptize infants, it should rather be assumed that infant children of believers are welcomed into the church via baptism the same way infant children of the Old Covenant were welcomed into the covenant via circumcision.
The paedo-baptist must necessarily accept that it is possible for a baptized Christian to leave the faith and suffer the way an unbeliever would. Hebrews 6:4-6
stands in stark contrast to the general credo-Baptist interpretation of Romans 6:38-39.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
However, the credo-Baptist has to come to terms with Hebrews 6:4-6 in that even a genuine believer can leave.
Other verses like that of I Corinthians 7:14 make more sense in light of paedo-baptism where credo-baptism voids them of meaning:
1 Corinthians 7:14
In this, sanctification of the husband is for the purpose of his offspring with his believing wife. This says those children are holy.
Credo-Baptists believe they are basing their beliefs solely on scripture, but in order to justify not baptizing infants, they have had to create a fence around baptism that can’t be breached until a certain accepted “age of reason” has been reached or they can justify their faith in just the right words. It does not accept a three-year-old’s confession of faith as a genuine expression in order to be embraced as a member of the church body. Even if the children of believing parents exhibit passion and excitement, and a hunger and thirst for the Word, if they have not yet reached that maturity, they can not be baptized. This, in my experience, creates confusion.
It is taught that a born-again Christian exhibits a change when they come to salvific faith in Christ. But if a child has been so since they were young children, the passion and thirst they have for God now may not be all that different from what they had before. These children go through crisis of faith that results in multiple confessions, believing it didn’t take the first time around. It becomes about them and what they have done rather than what Christ has done, and that shifts the focus off the Gospel to a lie.
For more information on this debate, if you are interested, I sourced the format of this essay largely from the Ligonier’s baptism debate between R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur.