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Believers Baptism or Infant Baptism?

On Sunday we had nine baptisms (I think) which was great - with Adrian Holloway preaching. I was struck that many of those being baptised were from Christian families. Often such people speak as if that's a poor testimony to have - but I'm a fan. What a blessing to have had parents raise them in the faith. Some had doubtless been 'baptised' as children. Some must have faced the interesting tension between honouring their parents faith, and having come to different conclusions on baptism.

A few years ago I was seriously looking at ministry in the Church of England and spend time studying the Anglican/Presbyterian position on baptism. Should be said that by that point I'd been christened and then confirmed in my early teens, before becoming a Christian at 18 and being baptised at 19. Bishop Wallace Benn conmmended John Murray's Christian Baptism to me as the book that convinced him on the issue. I read it and I wasn't. I'd not particularly found any books that argued well the other way - most baptists seem to just say 'it's obvious', which is reasonable enough but not all that helpful!

This seems to get there. PDF: Stephen J. Wellum on Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants from Believers Baptism
ht: JT - 'baptism as a test case for biblical theology'
"...circumcision, as a type, pointed to a spiritual regeneration. Baptism, on the other hand, testifies that by faith these realities have occurred. Baptism marks and defines the children of God, those who believe in Messiah Jesus. That is why we baptize only those who have confessed Jesus as Lord, who have experienced his power, who are, by faith and spiritual rebirth, Abraham’s true spiritual seed." (PDF p63 of 66)
Wellum continues...
"What does baptism signify? As already stated, it signifies a believer’s union with Christ, by grace through faith, and all the benefits that result from that union. It testifi es that one has enteredinto the realities of the new covenant and as such, has experienced regeneration, the gift and down-payment of the Spirit, and the forgiveness of sin. It graphically signifies that a believer is now a member of the body of Christ..." (PDF p64 of 66)
We meet and sing the gospel. We meet and preach the gospel. We eat communion and preach the gospel. We baptise and preach the gospel. It's simple really (!), gospel, gospel, gospel because "Christ has come, God deals with all nations directly through his Son".


  1. About time the Christian blogosphere had some robust debate again...

    I like the posts here as a general argument from the paedobaptist perspective.

    I have the book on my shelf but will have a look through the pdf sometime soon. However, a couple of questions:

    1) So what is the place of believer's children in the church? Are they members without the sign or are they non-members?

    2) Acts 2:38-39 - I'm well aware that there are ways of explaining baptism in this passage away but none of them hit the mark to me. If you were on of the 3000 who responded that day would you have taken your baby up to be baptised, based on what Peter said? Or to put it another way, if you were Peter, preaching repentance to a bunch of Jews, and baptism was now only for professing believers (and not their children too - which is a major change to the covenantal sign)... would you, as Peter have been a bit more careful with what you said?

  2. There was a lot of new stuff to get to from Acts 2, and we could critique Peter for raising the bar too much - believing in Jesus who they just killed was a big ask, and barring John's baptism, baptism itself was fairly new... but he taught it and they did it. That Pentecost is "a major change" moment doesn't seem all that problematic.

    I'm not sure how much I want to launch a big debate on the subject... :s !

  3. Too late, teeheehee. OK, it's not too late, I won't be contentious. On Acts 2, point taken, lots of big asks, but he did actually say those things about Jesus, and tell every one of them to be baptised - whereas what he does say about children is in line and doesn't hint at any change from the old covenant 'you and your children'.

    Obviously, this is a pet verse for paedobaptists and on something coomplicated like this, one verse does not an argument make. I've just never heard a credobaptist understanding of that passage that is exegetically solid and would genuinely like to.

  4. I suspect there's a better sense of parents instructing their children (in view of what we get in Ephesians) such that it is unthinkable that a parent would believe and not instruct their child to do the same...

    It's all a question of continuity/discontinuity. Clearly there is some continuity, but evidently much discontinuity. Hence why, helpfully JT notes this as being "a test case for biblical theology".

  5. Yeah, and that I agree with (preaching Ephesians 6 in a couple of weeks).

    And the question certainly does hinge on covenant issues rather than household baptism/immersion baptism NT texts. Obviously immersion is another question but related because most people don't like dunking babies (I do).

  6. When we say Baptism is a sign of what has happened - that someone has died and risen and is now in union with Christ, you may as well dunk them properly!

  7. Totally. I think a sprinkling is still a baptism, for a few reasons, but dunking is better symbolically, and everything seems to point towards that being the earliest practice.

    As you know however, I've done both, just to be sure ;)

  8. I was struck that many of those being baptised were from Christian families. Often such people speak as if that's a poor testimony to have - but I'm a fan.

    I'm as strongly infant baptist as they come, but I don't want to dwell on that here - the link to Pete Jackson's 'Noah's baptism' takes you to a very comprehensive series.

    I agree that being a Christian and coming from a Christian family is a good testimony to have. Indeed, it really should be that way. Parents (especially fathers) should be bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Doug Wilson puts it something along the lines of, "We want our children to have boring testimonies" (not that any testimony is boring of course!). Do we really want children rejecting the Christian faith for a time, pursuing all that the world has to offer and then return?

  9. Daniel, there's work to though in overcoming the anti-family rampant individualism that infects Christianity though so that people can speak joyfully of the priviledges of being raised to know Jesus...

    One of those baptised last Sunday was a mother, and three of her children were baptised - you could see her joy at them being baptised but it'd be great to see more children rejoicing in what their parents have taught and modelled of the gospel for them, how this isn't just "it becomes mine" but joyfully "I share my parents faith".

    Voddie Baucham is pursuing the the glory of the Christian family.

  10. I've wanted to buy Voddie's last book, Family Driven Faith for a while. Voddie is well worth listening to on a number of things.

    It seems to me that small groups/cell groups/home groups would be better arranged as family groups. Households and families meeting together, adopting any single Christians/older, lonelier people in and acting and learning from the Bible like a family does.

    Nurture in the community of faith, with interaction with Godly people of all ages, surely is the ideal environment for children to be discipled.

    Can anyone tell me why this isn't (or shouldn't) be the default situation in churches?

  11. My Dad and I have batted that idea around for some time... what's with homegroups without the kids or with only half of a married couple because the other one is babysitting... flippin' wierd.

    My Relayworker is loving Voddie's What He Must Be, and I imagine Family Driven Faith is pretty outstanding...

    Somewhere "we" decided that family was a bad thing....

  12. I think it has a lot to do with the idea that a "testimony" has to involve you having done something really really bad in order to be saved from it.

    "Jesus is amazing, has blessed me, and kept me from harm" somehow does not get much airtime compared to "I used to take Heroin but now I love Jesus"

    The "evangelistic" speakers on the mission circuit tend to have really dire "pre-conversion" experiences, implying "Even I got saved, so you can too".

    No-one gets invited to speak at an Alpha supper with the testimony "I gave my life to Jesus aged 4 and have walked with him ever since", which is a tremendous shame.

  13. There are practical issues when children are involved, obviously. How about having a Sunday lunch together (doesn't have to be fancy) and enjoying some study/prayer over cheese and biscuits. All over by 3pm, no babysitters required, no midweek meetings *necessary* and even time to go to an evening service/play footie.

  14. I can completely sympathize with the the lack of a rigorous defence of confessing baptism from baptists. I was temporarily swayed by paedobaptism because no-one ever argued baptism was for adults other than by circular logic. Then about a week after that I changed my mind when my minister preached on the first half of Romans 6 and it all came crashing down.

    Also, fascinating fact time, in certain Anglican documents (I say certain because I don't know which) it insists that unless an infant is sickly they should be fully immersed when baptised.

  15. Paul asked
    1) So what is the place of believer's children in the church? Are they members without the sign or are they non-members?

    Certainly this is an old debate; Hercules Collins addressed these questions in his "Orthodox Catechism" a credobaptist version of the Heidelberg Catechism:
    Or, 2. They must mean conditionally, on consideration that when they come to years of maturity, they by true Faith, Love, and Holiness of life, taking hold of God’s Covenant of Grace, shall have the Privileges of it.

    This being their sense, I then demand what real spiritual privilege the Infant-Seed of Believers, as such, have more than the Infant Seed of Unbelievers, if they live also to years of maturity, and by true Faith and Love take hold God’s Covenant (b)?

    I further demand, whether the Seal of the Covenant do not under those considerations belong as much to the Children of Unbelievers as to the Children of Believers?

    Yea, and more too, under consideration the Infant Seed of the Unbeliever should take hold of God’s Covenant, and the Believers Infant-Seed do not (c); as often this is seen to the sorrow of many Godly Parents.
    (c) Isa. 56.3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Acts 10.34, 35. John 3.16.

    2) Acts 2:38-9 "For you and your children"
    Please don't forget the rest "and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."

  16. Junior - I was specifically asking Dave his views, but am happy to interact with the catechism you linked and quoted. I (tentatively) reject the two possible positions offered in the catechism. It is possible for someone to be in covenant with God and enjoy benefits for a time before being cut off. John 15. This is not to be taken as me denying Perseverance of the Saints.

    On your answer to my second question; I deliberately didn't quote any particular words so I didn't forget the end of the sentence. I don't see how this answers the question I raised. How does the fact that this gospel and baptism is for all nations, whom God will call to themselves show that it's not for infants? Any Jewish new believer would have, based on the words recorded, have taken his family, infants included to be baptised. Of course, that doesn't mean that he was right, but if so, Peter was being very unclear, and doing a bad job of contextualisation...

  17. Jesus was circumcised aged 8 days, and dedicated in the Temple. Jesus was baptised (with John's baptism of repentance) about 28-30 years later.

    Baptism wasn't understood at Pentecost as something to do for infants - it was a public declaration of repentance before then. The you and your children was saying that it wasn't just for these Pentecost listeners - after all those that are far off as well: those God will call to himself.

    Confirmation is effectively dry credobaptism and dedication dry paedobaptism.

    Society sees baptism as becoming a Christian - hence the prevalent nominalism. Clearly there's a problem with people thinking the sign, not what the sign points to is what is effective - Paul is really rather against that (esp with circumcision). If we are to be gospel people, at the moment (though perhaps not for much longer) paedobaptism is a stumbling block, it's like Peter eating only with Jews. The conversion element has to be stressed (Muslims really are surprised with even the 4-year old conversion and walk with the Lord, providing it doesn't have the phrase "I've been a Christian as long as I can remember" - if it talks about making a choice, an opt in, then it's so radical towards them) to fight this nominalism and "I'm a good person, I've been baptised therefore I'm a Christian."

  18. Si - "The you and your children was saying that it wasn't just for these Pentecost listeners - after all those that are far off as well: those God will call to himself."

    Yeah, it can be taken that way, but do you think anyone present took it that way? Wasn't it misleading for him to be talking about individual children, somewhere down the line where they come to faith? Sure, if he'd stood up and said that nowadays, we may well take the Baptist position but we should remember who he's talking to...

    You said: "Confirmation is effectively dry credobaptism and dedication dry paedobaptism."

    Well, yes and no. In most cases they're treated pretty similarly. I think Confirmation is a slightly odd practice - although I have nothing against it, there's no need for it either. But if we are to say that only baptised people eat the bread and drink the wine then there is a significant difference.

    On the nominalism issue you raise - Amen to nominalism being bad. Isn't "I walked down the aisle at 14" "I was baptised at 16" or "I prayed Jesus into my heart aged 13" the Baptist equivalent? There are a lot of people who talk like this, is credobaptism to blame?

    Obviously paedobaptists have to be extra careful here, but credos have a different issue. Can you tell your baby/toddler that Jesus died for them? Can you bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6) when you think they're unconverted? But to what extent can children be part of the church before they are able to express faith. Are they 'vipers in diapers' or are they part of the body? Children from beginning to end of the Bible are treated as, and assumed to be the latter, unless evidence shows us otherwise.

  19. "...circumcision, as a type, pointed to a spiritual regeneration."

    What about Romans 4:11 where circumcision was a sign and a seal of Abraham's righteousness by faith?

  20. I haven't read the JT article you link to, so I'm not refuting his point. But in my experience, the best exemplars of biblical theology are often also paedobaptists. Calvin, Goldsworthy, Jordan or Leithart for example. The case for covenant infant baptism rests on biblical theology imho. Obviously, the best proponents of adult baptism argue from biblical theology too. But that it hasn't been a strong marker of baptistic thinking (or predominance) historically speaking, in contrast to the presbyterian/ reformed stream of thought, ought to give us pause for thought, no?

  21. Paul - "Yeah, it can be taken that way, but do you think anyone present took it that way? Wasn't it misleading for him to be talking about individual children, somewhere down the line where they come to faith? Sure, if he'd stood up and said that nowadays, we may well take the Baptist position but we should remember who he's talking to..."

    The old classic selective quoting to make a point?

    the whole paragraph that Paul only quoted the second half of - Baptism wasn't understood at Pentecost as something to do for infants - it was a public declaration of repentance before then. The you and your children was saying that it wasn't just for these Pentecost listeners - after all those that are far off as well: those God will call to himself.

    Baptism in AD30 was linked closely to the Baptism of John (though Jesus also did some baptisms at the beginning of his ministry) - it was linked with repentance, it was linked with the Holy Spirit through the teaching of John about Jesus and Jesus' baptism itself.

    At Pentecost, I cannot see how baptism would have been linked with circumcision in the minds of the Jews. Can you explain how? Your point about Pentecost basically rests on this assumption.

    Isn't "I walked down the aisle at 14" "I was baptised at 16" or "I prayed Jesus into my heart aged 13" the Baptist equivalent? There are a lot of people who talk like this, is credobaptism to blame?
    Only one of them is baptism related. And you must agree, that credobaptism makes it much harder for a non-believer to be baptised - of course you have some professing believers that aren't actually believers.

    Paedobaptism is a definite no-no for those who aren't children of believers (which are a grey area, I'd admit).

    It all boils down to whether you consider baptism to be a circumcision replacement, to be a sign of being in the community. Don't forget that Jesus had both - baptised as an adult.

  22. Dave,

    Regarding your response to me: I agree absolutely.

    On the discussion about homegroups &c, and broadening things slightly, one thing my fiancee and I (and others) have noticed is that doing things in church as couples is discouraged - if there's something on in church involving splitting into groups, quite often couples are encouraged to split up, or if they don't are at least teased about it. Or at meals before Bible studies in church, if a husband and wife are each leading a group, it isn't at all uncommon for them not to sit with each other. You sometimes see couples not sitting next to each other at church. Again, this seems to be symptompatic - in a slightly different way - of individualism and an anti-family atmosphere when thinking about the Christian life.

  23. It is very strange - some of it is an oversensitivity on singleness, but I'm sure a lot is an embarrassment about family and marriage, as if this glorious picture of Christ and his bride the Church is something to hide rather than display whole heartedly. We don't get that caution from scripture, we get it from sin.

  24. Lads, loving the helpful banter.
    What do you boys reckon about these points?
    1. Donald Macleod's argument in 'A Faith To Live By' (Christian Focus): when we move from old covenant to new, the whole point is we move from good to better. In the old covenant, provision was made for the children of believing parents; if this is removed from the new covenant, how is it better? This isn't a conclusive argument, but is interesting.
    2. Someone here somewhere says dunking is the best symbolically. Macleod argues that sprinkling, pouring and dunking are all biblical and all beautiful. I would wonder whether we like dunking best perhaps because of our cultural emphasis on it?
    3. Michael Green's book 'Baptism: its purpose, practice and power' (sadly out of print but the best I've read on the subject) has a really thought-provoking suggestion that the most prevalent question on baptism is not who, or how, but why. What's the point of baptism? He argues that it is not just a sign or symbol, or opportunity for public declaration of faith, but is an integral part of becoming a Christian. The apostles preaching the gospel in Acts called for a response of "repent, believe, and be baptised" interchangeably, so it's not just a work we do after conversion, but it is involved in our conversion somehow. That throws open a whole load of questions on our current practice of baptism perhaps bigger than the paedo/credo one.

  25. Si - I think baptism had richer meanings and associations to the Jews than just John the Baptist - Peter talks about Noah's Ark incident as corresponding to baptism (1 Peter 3, also note similarities with Jesus' baptism). Noah was saved through water to start a new humanity. We become part of the new humanity (in Christ) through baptism. Is there anywhere in the John the Baptist texts that shows that the baptism of repentance wasn't for households (unlike Noah's of course)?

    On the nominalism - the other two statements of walking the aisle and praying into hearts... no, you're right, they're not related to baptism but they are historically related to Baptist practice. If faithful, gospel proclaiming paedobaptists can be linked to nominalists from their tradition, so can baptists.

    Would you be happy for a 4 year old who proclaims that they love Jesus to be baptised? I hear different answers to this from different baptists and I think it reveals some important issues.

    Thanks for your replies, they're helpful and making me think.

    Daniel - I sympathise with your comments on 'couples' in churches. Potty if you ask me.

    Kenny - Peter would say "your baptism now saves you" - have you read the Baptised Body by Peter Leithart? I own it but haven't read it yet, but I understand he gets into this stuff.

    On dunking - it certainly seems to have been the primary mode in the early church, from the fonts that were used (eg. enormous) to the fact that John the Baptist baptised "at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there". Symbolically, having thought through all of the arguments I was going to bring up for dunking being symbolically best I've decided they're not as good as I figured. If baptism is death of old self and being born again in the Kingdom, it's surely appropriate for it to be the whole of yourself going under and returning? Although, pouring or sprinkling is done on the head, and the head represents the whole. I'm not so sure on this.

  26. Douglas Wilson has an excellent short work arguing very ably for the baptism of covenant children called 'to a thousand generations' available from here:

    I've read Leithart. Enjoyed it immensely. Didn't agree with everything, but he makes some very excellent points.

  27. If one argues from the Bible, and only from the Bible, it seems to me that one will not be able to come to a definite conclusion, but will probably lean towards a rejection of the paedobaptist position. John Piper argues this very well in "Brothers, we are not Professionals".

    There is, however, another angle on this one. All the Christian baptisms that are mentioned in the Bible are baptisms of people who are coming from outside the Christian church and entering it. There are no baptisms at all of people who have been brought up in the Christian church or born into it. And if you think about it, that is quite interesting. The death and resurrection of Jesus took place roughly the year A.D. 30. The baptism of the 3000 in Jerusalem that we heard about also took place that year. The book of Acts covers roughly 30 years, ending in about A.D. 60. The various letters are being written from about A.D. 48 to the 60s, and possibly after. By the time these books are being written, there will have been hundreds, if not thousands, of children born to Christian parents. There are no clues in the New Testament at all about whether these children were baptised as infants or not. There are no indications that the church waited for them to be old enough to speak for themselves. The New Testament is completely silent. There is no evidence of discussion or division over this issue - which would seem to indicate that there was no discussion or division over it. They would appear to have all had the same policy - they all would have agreed - either infant baptism was OK, or it was unthinkable.

    Let’s move on. The apostles all died - the last of them in the 80s or 90s. We move into the 2nd century. We have quite a few Christian writings from the 2nd century (& the late first century). There is no mention of infant baptism. These writings mention disagreements about various things in the church. They don’t mention any disagreements about infant baptism. Things therefore appear to be going on much as they were in New Testament times. We come to the third century. And that is when we meet our first references to infant baptism, and there are four between the year 200 and 260. And it is clear from all four that infant baptism is considered fairly normal by that time. Origen writes “The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism to infants.” And no one is arguing with him. There is no debate on the subject. He simply mentions it in passing. This complete absence of debate on the subject tells us that either the New Testament church baptised babies - or, when the baptism of babies was introduced, it was completely uncontroversial, and no-one batted an eyelid. That seems to me unlikely. I think that if the church had a policy that only those who give a believable profession of faith should be baptised, and someone tried to bring in infant baptism, there would be big arguments. For that reason, it seems to me to be virtually certain that the church in New Testament times did baptise the children of believers - and therefore that it is appropriate that we should do so.

  28. Young Mr Brown (great name),
    While I agree very much with your basic point, I have to say that I really do think the scriptures speak to this far more clearly than we sometimes think is the case. I've blogged here about methodology when there's no proof-text/ direct example available to us:

    Although there are no texts that are written directly to address the question, the bible sufficiently deals with all the relevant theological issues we need to consider in order to come to the right conclusion. With regard to these we have scores of texts that deal directly, indirectly, and plenty of handy hints along the way too.

    Not that the bible doesn't speak even more clearly on some other questions (the deity of Christ, the fact and physicality of the resurrection, for e.g.). But the bible gives us enough to make up our minds on this issue of infant baptism, and to do so on the basis of scripture, not just the (albeit helpful) testimony of subsequent church history.

  29. Have you seen the new collection of books by Douglas Wilson from Logos Bible Software?

    It contains, among other things, an interesting book on infant baptism.

    I thought you might be interested: Douglas Wilson Collection


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