Monday, February 28, 2011

The case for Credo Baptism I

Note: This is the argument Alistair Begg made at the 1997 Ligonier conference on the topic of padeo-vs-credo baptism. I'm just going to drop it in here at this point because this is a superb rendition of it, even though this is actually the evidence that the Baptist understanding of covenants is the correct one.

The Argument


Baptism is a New Testament idea first found in Matthew 3:1,6, Luke 3:3 where a great multitude of people are coming out to hear John preach and repent of their sins.  This sets the trend that anytime we see baptism it is in regards to repentance and belief.
  • Acts 2:41 speaks to the people first accepting, then being baptized.
  • Acts 2:38 speaks to the command of first believing and repenting.
  • In Acts 8:12 they believed, then were baptized- even Simon in Acts 8:13 first believed, and his was a shaky faith. 
  • In Acts 8:36 the Eunuch wishes to be baptized, and some very early scribe didn't want a misunderstanding to occur, so he added "If you believe you may. And the Eunuch replied, I believe Jesus is the Son of God." What's interesting is that while it may be a textual addition, it tells us a lot about how the early church perceived baptism: as connected intimately and inseparably with belief.
  • In Acts 10:47 Cornelius believes, receives the Holy Spirit, and is then baptized.
  • In Acts 16:14 Lydia believes because God opens her heart, then is baptized and demonstrates her faith in belief and charity toward Paul.
  • In Acts 16:31 the jailer believes the power of God and the testimony of Paul, Timothy and Silas, and is baptized, him and his whole house. As a side note, the Paedos live in this verse, but a closer look shows us that it's much more likely the children believed and were baptized as well (if there were children). 
  • Crispus and the Corinthians were baptized after believing in Acts 18:8.
  • In Acts 22 Paul tells his own story, how he was convicted, repenting in darkness until he received his sight and was baptized.
Since baptism and faith belong together, credo-baptism must follow, because it alone recognizes that a personal, living belief and repentance are the central aspect of baptism. Why?  Because to baptize babies is to break that link, against the direction of the explicit teachings of the Scriptures. It's unfaithful to the New Testament understanding of baptism.  It's not as if the scripture is clear on adults confessing and silent, or vague, or blank on what we should do with our infants.  The Bible is entirely clear that baptism belongs behind faith.  Infants do not possess the ability to understand right or wrong Is 7:16, or even know their right hands from their left Jonah 4:11, therefore baptism is not for them.

Having realized the fatal concession a paedo-baptist might turn to verses regarding the idea of covenant children. But this too is ineffective, for what delights God is not children, but faithful children.
  • Notice that in Mark 9:42: the punishment awaits those who tamper with children who believe
  • In Acts 2:39 the idea is not that the children are saved apart from faith, but that this promise is good for everyone, you, your children, strangers--all men may believe in Christ and find refuge.
  • In Mark 10:15 the children are encouraged to come to Him, but in v16 it's clear that their faith and acceptance of the Kingdom of heaven makes them precious. Or we might say that this has nothing whatsoever to do with baptism, and that would be a valid argument as well.
To think that our covenant children may (or should) be baptized apart from a personal, living, repenting, faith is then to miss the whole purpose of baptism. It's to denigrate the greatness of faith and the centrality of it's place in the New Covenant.  Baptism is a participation in Christ's death, Rom 6:3, into a new life and body 1 Cor 12:13, Gal 3:27.  It follows after faith.  It's the mark of faith, the uniform of faith, the evidence of faith. It should by no means be divorced from an active, living, confessional faith.

Now let's move on to a bonus round argument against the paedo-baptists

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1 comment:

scoots said...

Hello, I thought I’d jump in here with a bit of discussion.

I think a little-discussed point here is that the NT never says anything about how the church is to deal with baptism for children raised in the church. To me, that is a *really big deal*. Here we have this incredibly important question that affects the practices of every church, and the NT simply never tells us what to do.

The key point of the believer-baptism argument, it seems to me, is that a person must be able to repent in order to be baptized. This is based on the idea that people in the NT who get baptized always seem to repent. And yet we rarely note that the only examples of baptisms we have in the NT are of adult *converts* –– that is, people who were not raised Christian. That is, unless, Acts 16:33 includes children.

As you note, folks who favor infant-baptism place a lot of weight on this last verse. The thing is, those of us who favor believer baptism for those raised in the church have *zero* verses that reflect our practice. There is never a single baptism described of a person who was raised in the church! We know Timothy was raised in the church, but we don’t know when he was baptized.

Now, what we do is, we take a reasonable step and argue *by analogy* that a child raised in the church must arrive at the same place (i.e., a sinner in need of repentance) as the adult converts described in the Bible. It’s a fine argument, but the recourse to the age of accountability in the OT has always left me cold, especially since it is most nearly (though not definitively) associated with the age of twenty (Num 14:29-30; 32:11-12; Deut 1:39). It’s a fine way to make the best of a difficult question, but I can’t view it as a scripture anchor we can be sure of.

I know there are other important points of the argument I haven’t addressed, but on the whole I have to consider the evidence ambiguous. I cannot stress enough that the NT *never* says when to baptize children who are raised Christian. The only possible hint is Acts 16:33.

In this situation, I see Christians taking two different interpretive approaches in light of the ambiguity: (1) one is that the scriptures *must* have a clear answer, and so we assume our arguments are more airtight than they really are. (2) The other is that we allow a place for tradition and creative theological reflection in the practice of the church––even on matters as important as baptism.

Church of Christ people tend to take the first approach, but I confess that issues like baptism have led me to turn to the second conclusion instead. For this reason, while I think adult believer baptism is best, I see no persuasive scriptural reason why God would not be equally glorified by infant baptism.

Thanks for your post. I like the strengths of credo-baptism that you point out here, and I have no intention to denigrate them. I hope I’ve been respectful, even as I perhaps disagree on how Christians might practice.