At first glance the two traditions didn’t seem that dissimilar. We both regard baptism as a sacrament. We both baptize people who may or may not actually be saved. Both see baptism as ushering people into the visible church. Both immerse (although Presbyterians relax this somewhat). Both believe that adult converts must be baptized. Both see it as the sign of a promise. Both baptize persons when they enter the new covenant. But Presbyterians baptize infants and we don't. I’m going to make an honest effort to sort out which is the more Biblical, and I’m going to use this blog as a scratch pad to do it. Before I begin then I need to say a few words about how I intend to approach this issue.
First, I’m purposely narrowing the scope of my study at the outset to Baptists vs Presbyterians. In reality there is something like six views of baptism: Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Lutheran, and Anglican. Of these I’m not going to consider the Catholic position because I think the view is too strongly objective, the Anglican and Lutheran by similarity to the Presbyterian, and I’m going to dismiss the Church of Christ because I’m no longer in the Churches of Christ for a variety of reasons. This series will only be pitting the Baptist against the Presbyterian—and no more.
Secondly, for this debate I’ll be putting on the hat of the side I’m arguing for and presenting the best possible case I can in that tradition. So when making the case for the Presbyterian I'm going to argue as if I were one, and when it’s the Baptists turn I’m going to do my best to put down everything I believe in good working order. I’m also going to try and avoid critiquing while presenting, because I want the views to be seen for what they are and not how I feel about them. From now Baptist will be denoted by “credo-baptist” and Presbyterian or Reformed will be denoted as “paedo-baptist.”
Third, I'll be taking the foundational assumptions required by each tradition and simply accepting them. The paedo points the finger and says, "You threw the kids out of the covenant, the burden of proof is on you to show the evidence for a discontinuity in familial solidarity." The credo fires back, "Where does it say kids should be baptized? They’re not in the New Covenant." So to simply things I’m just going to say everyone is right.
Fourth, ultimately only one side can be correct. Either baptism is inseparably connected with faith and only those who make a profession of it should be baptized, or the lack of overturning the established Old Testament pattern indicates the children of believers are in covenant with God and warrant the sign. I don't see a tertium quid. Either infants should be baptized, or they shouldn't. If infant baptism is Biblical then I don't see why infants should be denied it, and likewise if baptism is reserved only for professors of faith then including infants is clearly impossible since they lack the ability to profess anything. If a third option somehow presents itself over the course of this study then I'll look into it, but for now I’m going to work under the principle that these two views are mutually exclusive.
Now for an outline of how I think this "debate" is going to go based on my research and readings so far. From what I can tell there are essentially four credo and two paedo arguments that make the point for their tradition.
C1: The Old Testament was a physical era, not the spiritual one we have today. Giving the sign of the covenant to infants made sense when that sign was a physical bloodline marker and not the sign of faith in Christ, but now that we’re a spiritual people we shouldn’t take our spiritual sign and put it on a physical seed as though we’re still living in a bygone era.
C2: The New Testament indicates baptism is for those who make a credible profession of faith. It never indicates otherwise.
C3: The terms of the New Covenant state that those who are in the New Covenant are regenerate and forgiven. Since we’re brought into this New Covenant of salvation by profession of faith (and not by being born into a Christian family) it is obvious that Baptism is only for the professing believer (and therefore not for the infant).
C4: Because the sign of Baptism was given to adults and not infants in the Old Testament, it should be given to adults and not infants in the New Testament.
P1: God has established that covenant signs are for believers and their families. Children are likewise to receive baptism which is the sign of the New Covenant.
P2: The Covenant of Grace was initially given circumcision as its sign, and in the fullness of time God replaced circumcision with baptism. Since God demanded circumcision be given to infants we should give baptism to infants.
In the coming posts I’ll take each of these in order, then I'll attempt to see which worldview makes more sense of the evidence of Scripture, then I'll see which Scripture points to. So I begin with the first argument: