Letters to the Editor #24 (Baptism vs Baptism)

It comes as no surprise that an article about my position on baptism generated quite a number of letters to the editor. What surprised and delighted me was that they came from all over the world. Not only that, but many of them added nicely to the conversation. Here are a few representative samples.

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Comments on Why I Am Not Paedobaptist

I, too, have gone back and forth on this issue. I was raised in a credobaptist tradition and was baptized as a believer. A few years ago, I started attending a Lutheran church (although I do not hold to all of Lutheran doctrine, this was the only church in my area, that I could find, that preached the Gospel). I read and listened to various arguments for both positions (including the Sproul-MacArthur debate you mentioned). Both sides seemed to have a compelling argument, so I was undecided for awhile. A debate on baptism with Dr. James White and Gregg Strawbridge finally convinced me of the credobaptist view. Specifically, Dr. White argued that paedobaptists apply an Old Testament paradigm to a New Testament teaching. Essentially, circumcision applied to the biological descendants of Abraham, while baptism applies to his spiritual descendants. Since it is only by a profession of faith that we can know who are Abraham’s descendants, we cannot baptize infants.
—Gary G, Fontana, CA

Tim: I have watched some, though not all of that debate. I will keep watching it. I appreciate this kind of friendly, informative debate as a means to come to convictions, to deepen existing convictions, and to better understand alternative viewpoints.

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I agree with most of what you say in your article, and understand the tentativeness you express in declaring your view “right” and the view of those—who are otherwise clearly evangelical and orthodox in their Christian beliefs—as “wrong.” However, I believe their is a much more significant harm introduced by the paedobaptist view than what you describe, and it is this: Despite verbal (and written) insistence that the act of baptism is not what “saves” the child (i.e., it is not what brings the child out of the kingdom of this world and into the kingdom of God), the act of baptizing that infant speaks an entirely different message to that child’s family, as well as to the congregation of that church and to non-believers who are present (or who are even aware of the church’s practice). Paedobaptism is unbiblical. We are not acting in truth (nor in love) when we do not clearly declare it to be so.
—Larry O, Grayson, GA

Tim: I would caution you to be careful when using the word “unbiblical” in this context. I know it is strictly true that one of the two positions is unbiblical, but we also need to acknowledge that both are within the bounds of orthodoxy and the gospel thrives under both beliefs. It is undoubtedly true that some streams of Protestantism fall into the trap of assuming that baptizing a child somehow saves him, but there are many others where the parents and church fully understand that baptism does not regenerate and that they still very much need to preach the gospel to their children and call on them to respond to it.

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I appreciate your honesty and respectful tone in this article. I was baptised as a child and grew up in the church, but am now excluded from membership of my current church due to my not having received credobaptism. The situation is difficult because both positions make a strong case, and I do not want to a) get baptised just to become a member b) devalue or undermine the meaning of baptism c) (most importantly!) disobey Christ. Your article summarised the issues nicely, and helps frame my thinking as I read and pray about this issue further. Thanks.
—Greg D, Glasgow, Scotland

Tim: I’m glad to hear it, Greg. Baptist churches are like most others in that they will not welcome people into membership who have not been baptized. They do not recognize infant baptism as a valid baptism and, hence, require that each member first be baptized as a believer. There is a clear path of progress from professing faith to being baptized to becoming a member. While this is not universal among Baptists, it is the common practice.

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Thank you for your brotherly love toward us who are paedobaptists. Often when I read a credobaptist’s description of paedobaptists, I feel mischaracterized as one who believes in baptismal regeneration or as one who feels good that my child is a member of the covenant with God and so is careless in bringing up my child in the training and discipline of the Lord. We had our children baptized because we were following our best understanding of God’s Word, and we did teach them and disciple them in the Christian faith as we continued to follow our best understanding of God’s Word.

I am grieved by the fact that while most Baptists will admit with you that we are within the bounds of orthodoxy and are Christian brothers and sisters, we are kept from joining in the family meal of the Lord’s supper in their churches. We are warned away just as if we are unbelievers or unrepentant adulators. The Lord knows how to make his commands perfectly clear, but he did not give specific requirements for baptism as concretely as he provided the directions for the making of the items used in worship in the tabernacle. I pray that one day all Christ’s visible church may meet at his table in all his congregations and proclaim together the Lord’s death until he comes again.
—Susan R, Allen, TX

Tim: I think there is another way of seeing this, and it’s to be thankful that churches are taking seriously the responsibility to fence the Lord’s table. I’d much rather be excluded from participating in Lord’s supper in a church where they are serious about purity than participate in one that opens the doors far too wide. I think most sound churches work hard to find the proper balance.

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Thank you for your brief article. This is an issue that really tore my family up for a time. It was even suggested I was abusing a covenant child by not baptizing her. I maintained my view that both views were within orthodoxy and that obedience in this and bringing the child up in the nurture and admonition of the LORD was what was most important. It got ugly at times. We weathered it and it was dropped eventually. It still hurts at times though. I stay quiet about it as I think it could flare again and bring more discord when we have had much loss and pain over the past few years. I too have tried, being raised in the Presbyterian Church and from a family of pastors for centuries in the Presbyterian Church, which I was reminded of frequently, to find a way to be convinced. That never happened. Unity with those of differing convictions on this and other non-essential theological positions is my aim, and worship with a precious church family of mostly paedobaptists currently. We disagree but do not divide over it. I still celebrate with parents when they bring their child to be baptized. If we agree on the essentials then we can fellowship freely and in love as the Body of Christ.
—Colin F, Clarksville, TN

Tim: Unfortunately the beautiful doctrine of baptism has too often turned into a battleground. I am sure many convinced paedobaptists can tell how they’ve come under fire for making the alternate choice.

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Thanks for your article on “Why I’m not a Paedobaptist.” As someone who has grown up in “reverse” to you – dedicated as a child in the Baptist Church and Baptised as a Believer in my teens, yet now a part of the Anglican Church – I found it stimulating. I’d like to ask about your thoughts on “baptism of membership.” In your article, you wrote a line regarding being baptised for membership into a church. “…in order to become a member, I had to be baptized as a believer.” As far as I can tell, there is no scriptural basis for a second (or even more!) baptism to indicate membership into a specific local church. Would you be able to elaborate?
—Tim B, Adelaide, Australia

Tim: Yes, I’m glad to elaborate. All I meant was that I had not yet been baptized as a believer and, therefore, according to Baptist doctrine, had not been baptized at all. In order to come into the membership of that church I first had to be baptized. I didn’t mention a more difficult issue—this church was only willing to accept baptism by immersion. Aileen had been baptized as an adult but not by immersion. She had to wrestle through the issue of whether or not she could in good conscience be “rebaptized,” this time by immersion.

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Thank you for writing about this issue with grace and honesty. I grew up in a baptist church, and now I’m a member of one. There are virtually no Presbyterian churches in my area. The closest practice to baptizing children I’ve seen is the Roman Catholic Church, though I know their belief system is works-based, therefore, they do not baptize children out of the same orthodox convictions Presbyterians do. I’m a single Christian girl, and I also believe in credobaptism. Anyway, you mentioned in your article that though this is an important issue, it is not a critical one…which allows us to work together with those who are paedobaptists. My question is, how would you advise a single Paedobaptist and a single credobaptist who wish to marry each other? Are these opposing views a deal-breaker for marriage? Would love to hear your take on this. Thanks!
—Katherine B, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Tim: This is a difficult issue and one that probably needs to be taken case-by-case rather than in broad ways. It also demands more space than I can give it here. So very quickly, it is difficult to see how, if such a couple marries and has children, they will have unity in raising their children if one believes it will be disobedient to baptize children and the other believes it will be disobedient not to. One of them will have to violate convictions and conscience, something that is never wise nor safe. I might point you to Russell Moore’s thoughts on marriage with theological divisions. The context is different but the questions and concerns will be much the same. Either way, such a situation needs to be approached carefully, prayerfully, and with input from other mature Christians.

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Hi Tim. While I would also associate myself with being a credo baptist, I earnestly try to understand why paedobaptists do hold to infant baptism. In some of my searching, I have heard those who do hold to it question why credo baptists practice baby dedications. What are your thoughts on baby dedications and do you see them as a similar practice to those who practice infant baptism?
—Kaleb P, Kitchener, ON

Tim: That, too, is a little outside what I can answer here. But let me say this: Our Baptist church does not practice baby dedications. We do not consider them unbiblical as much as a-biblical. The Bible neither commands nor forbids them which gives us freedom to practice them or not practice them. We have chosen not to. I will see if I can expand our reasons into an article and share it here in the future.

Comments on The Things You Think You Can Handle on Your Own

I appreciated this article’s call to pray for the things I don’t think to pray about, and it’s a worthy thing to consider—I intend to spend some time prayerfully thinking about in which areas I need to pray more. On the flip side, though, I do want to offer an attitude of prayer that perhaps was missing in the article. In the instances of daily provision and safety while traveling, I tend to see those as places where it is more faithful to depend on God as my Father to take care of me. A child fully expects there to be food at each meal, and has every confidence in his daddy’s expert driving skills; he doesn’t ask his father to be sure there will be lunch or to drive safely. So I find myself wondering if perhaps the best way to be prayerful about some things is to simply trust that God has already provided and is an expert in caring for those needs, and to thank Him for His provision.
—Jordan S, Lawrenceville, GA