9 things I like about Credobaptism (as a pedobaptist)
One of the things I am convinced about in the credo/pedobaptist debate is that neither side is clear cut. As R.C. Sproul stated in his debate with John Macarthur on this topic:
“In the absence of explicit teaching, both sides in this controversy are forced to rely upon inferences drawn from what IS explicit in Scripture, and that should – by the very virtue of that fact – force us to go the second mile in patience with one another when we recognise I can not prove to John Macarthur that Scripture commands the baptism of infants and by not baptising infants he is being disobedient to his Lord, and at the same time, he can’t point to a text in the bible that explicitly prohibits infant baptism and say to you ‘R.C. you have to stop doing what Scripture prohibits’. I think we all understand the absence of the explicit directives in either case, and since we are both relying upon inferences, we have to be exceedingly patient and charitable with each other.”
After a lot of time, reading, reflection, prayer and discussion, I think I agree with R.C. Sproul, both on his position that infant baptism is ok, but also on his position that both sides have good arguments. Because of these arguments, I have flipped and flopped on this issue for years, and if you have done your own thinking on this issue and have come out a credobaptist, I wouldn’t blame you for it. My best friend since childhood, Daniel Farrugia has a similar spiritual journey to me. We were both brought up in the Catholic Church and were baptised as infants, we both responded to the gospel in our teens and we both have continued to grow in our faith and become passionate followers of Christ and active members of our respective churches. Daniel ended up in a Baptist church and is settled as a credobaptist, and I ended up in a Presbyterian church and am settled as a pedobaptist. I’m not sure if there is any “chicken and the egg” thing happening there with the denomination and the position, but in any case, we both love the gospel and yet will make different choices in regard to whether we baptise our kids.
In the vein of generosity that R.C. was encouraging, I thought I would list the 8 things that have at different times convinced me of the credobaptist position. These are things that I really, really like about credobaptism. Even though I have come down off the fence as a pedobaptist, I have not come down as a militant one. I admit I could be wrong. And the following are the points that mean I will always respect and even defend credobaptism as a valid position to take. They haven’t been enough to convince me, but if they convince you, I would not hold it against you.
9 things I really, really like about the credobaptist position (even though I am ok with infant baptism):
It’s simple. It tries to just read the text as it stands and obey it sincerely. The argument goes like this: “Peter said, repent and be baptised and you will receive…” (Acts 2:38). That’s the order, why mess with it? It’s not a very deep or sophisticated argument, but that to me is actually its strength. Some pedobaptists can argue in a way that makes you feel like you need a Masters of Divinity specialising in covenantal theology before you can wrap your head around their position. The best of the credobaptist arguments are the simplest. Infant baptism isn’t taught, so let’s not do it. Repent and be baptised is taught, so let’s do that. I really like that simplicity.
It aims to ensure that no one can call themselves a Christian falsely. Nominal and cultural Christianity are a really big issue. There are millions of people around the world that would tick “Christian” on the census form and yet when they meet Jesus one day, they will say, “Lord, Lord” but he will say, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23). Part of the problem is that we are too quick to call someone a “Christian” simply because they assume that title. I think wanting it to be clear who is and isn’t a Christian is a good thing and purifying our churches from “census” Christians is a noble goal. Credobaptism aims to only baptise those who have consciously and publicly agreed to and embraced the gospel, and this comes from a godly desire to protect individuals, the church community, and the reputation of the gospel itself. I admire and agree with those goals.
It’s evangelistic. Everyone, including the children brought up by believing parents, is called to repent and put their trust in Christ. The call goes out to all and everyone is expected to respond individually. This tries to avoid any feelings of privilege that someone may feel because they grew up in a Christian household. John the Baptist addresses a similar issue with the Jews who were coming out to be baptised: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (Luke 3:8). John didn’t allow them to rest on the fact that they were brought up with a certain faith. They had to repent and respond, just like everyone else. Many credobaptists have the same fiery, evangelistic drive as they encourage their kids, when they’re ready, to respond to the gospel with, repentance, faith, a public profession and with baptism. I like that fieriness.
It creates a memorable experience for every Christian. This point sounds silly, but it used to be one of the biggest reasons why I agreed with credobaptism for a long time. Think about it, there aren’t many “once off” rituals in the bible. In the Old Testament, the sacrifices were done every day. In the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper is done whenever Christians gathered. These rituals kids could watch and grow to understand over time. But there are some rituals that happen once. Circumcision and baptism are examples of this. Now, pedobaptists often compare these two rituals to show how it is ok that they are performed on children, but baptism has a significant disadvantage. With circumcision, the Jewish guy could look down every morning and be reminded that he was circumcised. With baptism, the experience comes and then goes, with no ongoing objective reminder that it has taken place. The feeling of the water washing over your body as a reminder of your sins being washed away is only ongoing if it can be remembered. Nowadays, pedobaptists can solve that problem by recording infant baptisms so that they can be watched later, but that seems a poor comparison to actually being able to remember the experience personally. Like having a cut foreskin, or killing a lamb, or eating bread and drinking wine, baptism is a very physically tactile experience. It seems like the nature of the ritual of baptism lends itself to being performed on those that can remember it. Of course, this is more of a practical argument than a biblical one, but it’s still pretty impressive to me.
It makes reading Paul writings about baptism easier. When Paul writes, “For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27), and “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4), he makes strong connections between his audience’s baptism and their salvation. Pedobaptists would point out that this is because he was writing to first generation Christians who were baptised at the moment of their conversion and so that connection is appropriate, and that if he was writing a few decades later, he might have written differently with a more mixed audience. Whether or not that is true, it still remains difficult for pedobaptists who are raising their kids to read the Scriptures. What will I say to my daughter when she reads Paul making such a connection between baptism and salvation? When she reads that “all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death” how is that true for her? Do I think her infant baptism saves her? Not at all! So how should she read those passages? Now, I’m not saying that there is no answer to these questions. I just like how credobaptism seems to avoid having to answer them.
It aims to avoid the heresy of baptismal regeneration. Baptismal regeneration is the teaching that the act of baptism is a holy sacrament that actually saves the person who it is performed on. The Catholic Church holds this view, teaching: “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” (Catholic Catechism). This is, pure and simple, a very unbiblical lie and it is one of the biggest heresies that the Catholic Church teaches. Unfortunately, when the general non-Christian world thinks of infant baptism, they generally think of the Catholic understanding of it. For example, there is a presumption amongst some of my work colleagues that my wife & I are getting our daughter baptised as a sort of spiritual insurance policy. That is not the case. I do not think there is anything magical or special about the water of baptism. It is not blessed and the act of getting wet by it will not make one bit of spiritual difference by itself. Of course, I believe that about any adult baptisms as well. The only thing that saves a person is the atoning sacrifice of Christ which is applied to a person when they respond to it in faith. At my daughter’s baptism, I’m sure my minister will go to lengths to explain this so that no one will presume that we believe in the false teaching of baptismal regeneration. The very fact that we have to do that though, is sad and annoying. Now, there are those who believe baptismal regeneration in the credobaptist camp, but by strongly linking baptism with a profession of faith, most credobaptist churches try to avoid anyone being able to make this presumption.
7. DON CARSON
Some of my favourite US preachers are credobaptists. Now this may seem like a silly argument, but hey, we’re getting to the end of the list! I have a great admiration for the passion of John Piper and the sharp teaching of Matt Chandler and the brilliant scholarship of Don Carson, and they are all credobaptists. Now, I don’t want to give in to idol worship, but that’s impressive to me. Especially Don Carson, who many would agree, is one of the greatest biblical scholars in the world. The problem is, there are also heaps of awesome Christian teachers, like R.C Sproul and Tim Keller and even my own minister, Neil Chambers, who have also done their homework and have reached a pedobaptist position. I guess this argument doesn’t convince me either way, but it does give me a sense of humility and generosity when it comes to this debate and engaging with people on either side of it.
There is a part of me that wishes I had been encouraged to get baptised when I became a Christian at aged 16. Unlike every Christian, I do have a clear moment when the scales fell from my eyes and God opened my heart to the gospel and I also have a clear moment when I repented and responded to Christ and the difference for me before and after that moment was as dramatic as night and day. It would have been very cool to have an experience like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36 who said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptised?”. Or it would have been cool to have a big event at church or down at the beach where I shared my testimony and invited all my friends along. In the end, after about 7 years of being a Christian, my minister allowed me to choose whether I wanted to get baptised or whether I wanted to embrace my infant baptism. I decided the latter. Although, I know my infant baptism was done in the Catholic Church and so was probably surrounded by false teachings about baptismal regeneration, that simple ritual has a symbol that is far greater than the understanding of the people who were present. The baptism symbolised the washing off of my sins, which, in God’s sovereignty and mercy to me, became a reality in my life 16 years later. So, I am very happy to say that I was baptised as an infant, because it powerfully points to God’s amazing work in my life. Having said that, an adult baptism at the beach would have been cool.
9. IN COMMON
Credobaptists generally have a love for the bible and the message of the gospel of Christ. Credobaptist churches have their problems, and some of those problems are due to their position on baptism, but pedobaptist churches have their problems based on their position on baptism as well. The key I think, is to look at which churches are being faithful to the bible, which churches are loving, which churches are gospel-focussed and which churches are concerned with the things that God is concerned with. When I have that criteria, I find both credobaptist and pedobaptist churches. I’m not saying this debate is not important. It is, and every Christian should think about it and come to some position of conviction (if only when they have their own children and then have to decide), but even though it is important, it is not of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). The bible is very clear on many issues, but the fact is, the bible is not clear on this issue. At least not explicitly clear. So, as R.C Sproul says, “since we are both relying upon inferences, we have to be exceedingly patient and charitable with each other.” Both sides have their strengths and dangers, and we should encourage each other to build on the strengths and be wary of the dangers. Many credobaptists are godly, gospel-focussed followers of Christ. Heck, two of the three guys I had as my groomsmen were credobaptists, and the third one was a Presbyterian minister so he didn’t stand a chance to be anything other than a pedo (sorry Cam, but it’s true). All in all, I admire credobaptism and many of the credobaptists that believe it. We have much more in common that in conflict.
So that’s my list!
I hope if you came to this as a pedobaptist who thinks that credobaptism position has no good arguments, that you have been given a few things to chew over to at least earn your respect for the position.
If you came to this as a credobaptist, you might be filled with renewed confidence in your position and instead be wanting to ask me the question that a friend did recently: “If you have so many good things to say about credobaptism then why are you opting for infant baptism?”
That’s a great question and the answer is in the fact that although this is a list of the things I really like about credobaptism, I could have also written a listen of the things I don’t like about credobaptism or a list of all the things I do like about pedobaptism. I can acknowledge valid and weighty arguments, without having to feel they are enough to win me over. I do think there are weaknesses with the credobaptist position. I even think there are weaknesses with a few of the points I have made in this blog post. But there are also weaknesses in the pedobaptist position. I guess I just feel at the end of the day, pedobaptism has stronger strengths and less weaknesses. But the exploration of that are for a different article.
(edit: I have now written that article explaining my defense of pedobaptism in detail. You can read it HERE)
If you are a credobaptist and you feel I have poorly or unfairly represented the arguments in this article, please do tell me in the comments below. I do not want to be accused of creating a “straw man” for my own benefit.
My main challenge is for all of us to do what I have done here with the ideas that you disagree with, but still respect. Acknowledge their good points. Defend them even! And may we all try to be “exceedingly patient and charitable with each other.”