The Baptism Debate

Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, other Reformed, and some Anglican all believe in either infant baptism or both infant baptism and baptismal regeneration. I submit, respectfully, that these believers are all wrong in their understanding of baptism. In this post, I will discuss the fundamental differences between the credobaptist and paedobaptism positions, and I’ll show why the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is utterly unbiblical.

Background

All the Church Fathers were fallible men who weren’t writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus I don’t find long lists of Church Father quotes convincing in the least when it comes to baptism and baptismal regeneration! I go solely by Scripture. SOLA SCRIPTURA!

And I’ve heard Christians say, “What about people like Polycarp, Ignatius, and others the apostles trained, surely they have a correct doctrine?” I reject this position because even in Scripture while the New Testament was still being written, we see the apostle Paul had to correct the heretical beliefs of people who he himself trained in the faith! If it can happen to an apostle, it can happen to someone the apostle trained. I put more stock in what the Reformers of the Church believe because they operate on the basis of Sola Scriptura which is thoroughly biblical! Catholics, Orthodox, and other heterodox churches also greatly appeal to the Church Fathers for much of their erroneous theology. So that doesn’t pass muster with me.

It’s clear in Scripture that:

  • Infant baptism is not biblical.
  • Baptismal regeneration is utterly alien to Scripture and only heavy eisegesis and cherry-picking words or sentences out of proper context can be used to support it.

Infant Baptism

Some of the seminal texts used to legitimize the practice of infant baptism are:

Acts 16:15 “And when she was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us” [cf. 18:18].

Acts 16:33  “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family.”

1 Corinthians 1:16  “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas.”

It is a major assumption to infer from these texts that infants were baptized. Many households have no infants. There is not one explicit text in Scripture demonstrating conclusively that infants were baptized. Thus the paedobaptist argument is one from silence which is the weakest of all arguments.

Hermeneutics

Some salient points to keep in mind:

  • Misinterpreting the covenant signs: The new covenant is wholly new and better than the old. It is not merely a continuation or addendum of the old covenant. It represents a radically new paradigm. The covenant sign of the old covenant was the circumcision of males only. The covenant sign of the new covenant is spiritual baptism (circumcision of the heart), of males and females.
  • Covenant membership: In the old covenant, not every member was regenerated. In fact, it seems the majority were not. The new covenant however has all members as being regenerate (the elect).
  • Following the wrong model: The New Testament model of salvation is clear and unambiguous: one is to repent and then believe the Gospel. An infant can do neither.
  • Argument from silence: The New Testament does not contain one explicit or unambiguous example of an infant being baptized. If infant baptism is true and given its importance it’s hard to fathom how God could have silence on this issue. Given that the majority of Reformed adhere to the Regulative Principle they would have to reject infant baptism since God doesn’t command it.

The Bible is entirely silent about infant baptism, either pro or con. We admit it. We do not profess to get infant baptism from its pages.” “We would not find infant baptism in the Bible, because it is not there, and cannot be gotten out of the Bible.

Dr. Albertus Pieters – Reformed theologian, “Why we baptize infants”.

Baptismal Regeneration

I will not address the strongest evidence proponents of baptismal regeneration use to defend their doctrine.

The following quote may appear at face value to support their position. However, if we scrutinize it with the proper hermeneutics and do solid exegesis of the texts we will see clearly that the proper interpretation of Scripture does not affirm baptismal regeneration.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

1 Peter 3:14-22 (ESV)

Puritan Matthew Henry, in his famous commentary on Scripture, explained what the Apostle Peter truly meant and it does not support baptismal regeneration.

We sanctify God before others, when our conduct invites and encourages them to glorify and honour him. What was the ground and reason of their hope? We should be able to defend our religion with meekness, in the fear of God. There is no room for any other fears where this great fear is; it disturbs not. The conscience is good, when it does its office well. That person is in a sad condition on whom sin and suffering meet: sin makes suffering extreme, comfortless, and destructive. Surely it is better to suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing, whatever our natural impatience at times may suggest. The example of Christ is an argument for patience under sufferings. In the case of our Lord’s suffering, he that knew no sin, suffered instead of those who knew no righteousness. The blessed end and design of our Lord’s sufferings were, to reconcile us to God, and to bring us to eternal glory. He was put to death in respect of his human nature, but was quickened and raised by the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christ could not be freed from sufferings, why should Christians think to be so? God takes exact notice of the means and advantages people in all ages have had. As to the old world, Christ sent his Spirit; gave warning by Noah. But though the patience of God waits long, it will cease at last. And the spirits of disobedient sinners, as soon as they are out of their bodies, are committed to the prison of hell, where those that despised Noah’s warning now are, and from whence there is no redemption. Noah’s salvation in the ark upon the water, which carried him above the floods, set forth the salvation of all true believers. That temporal salvation by the ark was a type of the eternal salvation of believers by baptism of the Holy Spirit. To prevent mistakes, the apostle declares what he means by saving baptism; not the outward ceremony of washing with water, which, in itself, does no more than put away the filth of the flesh, but that baptism, of which the baptismal water formed the sign. Not the outward ordinance, but when a man, by the regeneration of the Spirit, was enabled to repent and profess faith, and purpose a new life, uprightly, and as in the presence of God. Let us beware that we rest not upon outward forms. Let us learn to look on the ordinances of God spiritually, and to inquire after the spiritual effect and working of them on our consciences. We would willingly have all religion reduced to outward things. But many who were baptized, and constantly attended the ordinances, have remained without Christ, died in their sins, and are now past recovery. Rest not then till thou art cleansed by the Spirit of Christ and the blood of Christ. His resurrection from the dead is that whereby we are assured of purifying and peace.

Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible

Note that Henry says “to prevent mistakes”, because he saw the errors of the Papists and Lutherans. He knows there would be many, sadly, who interjects the false notion that an ordinance & sacrament could confer saving grace, rather than the Holy Spirit who does quicken a soul and thus confer regeneration wholly apart from any work of man.

Salvation is monergistic (God acting alone), not synergistic (God and man acting together). The latter is the heresy of semi-Pelagianism.

I should note that baptismal regenerationists love using the early Church Fathers, to prove their diabolical misinterpretation of 1 Peter 3. They do this with all the so-called proof verses which they believe legitimize baptismal regeneration.m The Church Fathers were fallible men. They were given insights on some matters of Scripture, but to treat them as if they are an infallible oracle of truth is quite absurd.

Credobaptism

I believe that the credobaptist position (also known as believer’s baptism) is the most consistent and biblical. In this view, a sinner is effectually called by God, is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, repents, and believes the Gospel.

Debate

Here’s a great debate between two good friends, Drs. R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur on the topic of baptism

Conclusion

We must love our paedobaptist brethren, yet we have a duty to point out their flagrant error and call them to repentance and right belief. Soli Deo Gloria!

Much weight is given to the Reformers and certainly, their teaching is vital and much needed. I love the Reformers, and I thank God for their obedience and service. However, I don’t believe they were infallible. We must be careful not to idolize a group of people and believe they alone had the greatest understanding of the truth. Or believe that their theological opinions were infallible and inerrant! Catholics and Orthodox do this with the Church Fathers.

Luther was certainly wrong in his support of baptismal regeneration. And I believe Calvin was wrong on infant baptism.

I believe God wants us to be always Bereans searching the Scriptures and comparing doctrine with what Scripture says. We should always be striving for perfection in our doctrine and should always be reforming (semper reformanda); I believe we Reformed Baptists have done that. At great cost and through much suffering we held on to the truth. Everything comes back to God’s Word.

Postscript

My friend David left a good comment on this post which I wanted to address and publish in the post itself because I think it helps clarify some issues readers may have.

Good evening David.

The new covenant is radically different than the old as I said in my post. Scripture does explain the purpose and nature of the new covenant. Most in the old were not regenerated whereas everyone in the new is regenerated.

You are thinking in OT terms. You need to think by NT mindset since so much has changed. God has always had a covenant people, but the old system was always a shadow pointing to the fuller and better covenant in Christ. To assert that since circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, infant baptism must thus be the sign of the new covenant is simplistic and fallacious. Circumcision of the heart (as I explained in my post) is the sign of entrance into the new covenant in Christ. The old covenant was a physical covenant. Man had to do certain work to enter the covenant. The new covenant is a purely spiritual covenant as Jesus explained to Nicodemus. Thus a work like an infant baptism is meaningless and does nothing, but get the baby wet. You can’t do physical work to enter into the new covenant.

Being born again through the Holy Spirit quickening a soul and bringing it to life spiritually, and then sincere repentance and belief in the Gospel is the ONLY way to enter into the new covenant. Infants can neither repent nor believe. Thus they are excluded from the old covenant until and if such time the Lord is pleased to regenerate them. And one more thing about the old covenant: it applied to the children (technically only the males, the females were left in the lurch) and granted them entrance into the covenant but what benefits did they receive? They were part of the nation of Israel (citizenship as we’d say) and had temporal blessings such as the right to live, work, and marry. They were NOT guaranteed salvation in the old covenant. Salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The vast majority of those Israelites under the old covenant were reprobates who were never to be regenerated. The new covenant is a covenant of salvation.

The majority of people I know who were baptized as infants and considered by their parents and churches to be “covenant children” grew up to be reprobates! So that is prima facie evidence that infant baptism is futile. Whereas I know very very few people who sincerely repented and believed the Gospel and later fell away proving they were never regenerated. It does happen, but there are literally hundreds of millions of baptized infants who go to Hell and that is a fact. When Scripture says your children are holy it means through the faith of the parents and being raised in a Christian home they are set apart from pagan children, and they have the chance to be exposed to God’s Word and the Gospel. However, that doesn’t mean they are part of the Elect.

Plenty of Elect parents have non-Elect children! In fact, the pagan who hears the Gospel for the first time, repents, and is granted saving faith in Christ alone is much better off than the hundreds of millions of people who I’ve seen were baptized as infants, even in Reformed families, and heard the Gospel hundreds or even thousands of times, yet they hardened their hearts and were inoculated again the Gospel! These people are much harder to reach. I’d argue that infant baptism does more harm than good overall. For so many people it lures them into a false sense of security and they grow up thinking they are saved by virtue of their infant baptism!

Oh and my post addresses baptismal regeneration and infant baptism – 2 different topics. I never asserted that the Reformed held to baptismal regeneration so you should apologize for fo accusing me of a strawman fallacy.

3 responses to “The Baptism Debate”

  1. Very well written Zak! I don’t think it’s said anywhere in the Bible about infant baptism! Maybe it should be a part of Christian faith and not assume that a baby should be saved at such a young age! The Christian faith should be taught and then a person should choose whether or not they want to be baptized and saved!

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  2. If children were involved in the covenant for thousands of years and then all of sudden were no longer involved then why is there no mention of why that is the case? That would be such a radical change that one would expect some kind of mention as to why the change happened. Furthermore, how do you execute Colossians 2:11-12? I have yet to see a reformed Baptist properly execute that text. It seems you must jump through hermeneutical hoops just to get around it. Also, I reject baptismal regeneration and so do every reformed Christian so it is a strawman fallacy to attribute that to us.

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    • Good evening David.

      The new covenant is radically different than the old as I said in my post. Scripture does explain the purpose and nature of the new covenant. Most in the old were not regenerated whereas everyone in the new is regenerated.

      You are thinking in OT terms. You need to think by NT mindset since so much has changed. God has always had a covenant people, but the old system was always a shadow pointing to the fuller and better covenant in Christ. To assert that since circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, infant baptism must thus be the sign of the new covenant is simplistic and fallacious. Circumcision of the heart (as I explained in my post) is the sign of entrance into the new covenant in Christ. The old covenant was a physical covenant. Man had to do certain work to enter the covenant. The new covenant is a purely spiritual covenant as Jesus explained to Nicodemus. Thus a work like an infant baptism is meaningless and does nothing, but get the baby wet. You can’t do physical work to enter into the new covenant.

      Being born again through the Holy Spirit quickening a soul and bringing it to life spiritually, and then sincere repentance and belief in the Gospel is the ONLY way to enter into the new covenant. Infants can neither repent nor believe. Thus they are excluded from the old covenant until and if such time the Lord is pleased to regenerate them. And one more thing about the old covenant: it applied to the children (technically only the males, the females were left in the lurch) and granted them entrance into the covenant but what benefits did they receive? They were part of the nation of Israel (citizenship as we’d say) and had temporal blessings such as the right to live, work, and marry. They were NOT guaranteed salvation in the old covenant. Salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The vast majority of those Israelites under the old covenant were reprobates who were never to be regenerated. The new covenant is a covenant of salvation.

      The majority of people I know who were baptized as infants and considered by their parents and churches to be “covenant children” grew up to be reprobates! So that is prima facie evidence that infant baptism is futile. Whereas I know very very few people who sincerely repented and believed the Gospel and later fell away proving they were never regenerated. It does happen, but there are literally hundreds of millions of baptized infants who go to Hell and that is a fact. When Scripture says your children are holy it means through the faith of the parents and being raised in a Christian home they are set apart from pagan children, and they have the chance to be exposed to God’s Word and the Gospel. However, that doesn’t mean they are part of the Elect.

      Plenty of Elect parents have non-Elect children! In fact, the pagan who hears the Gospel for the first time, repents, and is granted saving faith in Christ alone is much better off than the hundreds of millions of people who I’ve seen were baptized as infants, even in Reformed families, and heard the Gospel hundreds or even thousands of times, yet they hardened their hearts and were inoculated again the Gospel! These people are much harder to reach. I’d argue that infant baptism does more harm than good overall. For so many people it lures them into a false sense of security and they grow up thinking they are saved by virtue of their infant baptism!

      Oh and my post addresses baptismal regeneration and infant baptism – 2 different topics. I never asserted that the Reformed held to baptismal regeneration so you should apologize for fo accusing me of a strawman fallacy.

      Like

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