On Becoming Presbyterian

During seminary I became convinced of infant baptism. This might come as a surprise to some folks, since I have been somewhat discreet on social media about this development. This is mainly because I was still a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an active member at a Baptist church as I wrestled with this issue, and I did not want to appear divisive. But as of last October my wife and I joined a Presbyterian church here in Louisville, last December I graduated from Southern, and this May I came under care of the Ohio River Valley Presbytery in the PCA and began a one-year pastoral internship. So it now seems appropriate to write about this topic.

This post is a semi-autobiographical account of how I came to change my mind on this issue. Initially, the need for a post like this was impressed on me after a couple different people I know, upon hearing that Ivy and I have become Presbyterian, wondered if we had gone liberal. This is understandable, since the PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian denomination in America. But the notion that I have drifted leftward is mistaken. After graduating seminary, I am even more, not less, convinced of issues like the inerrancy of Scripture, male-only eldership, and the sinfulness of homosexuality. I am currently a candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is a theologically and morally conservative Presbyterian denomination. Nothing on that front has changed.

More generally though, I wanted to write this post so that family and friends can have a better idea of what exactly has changed in my views and how that change came about.

Initial Study

At some point before I attended Bible college at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I decided that I needed to sit down and figure out this whole baptism issue. While John Piper, the chancellor of the college, was a credobaptist—meaning he held that only professing believers should be baptized—many other contemporary Reformed preachers and teachers were paedobaptist (e.g., R. C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, Tim Keller)—meaning they hold that the infants of believers also should be baptized. While I had grown up Baptist, I had never really studied the Scriptural arguments for or against credobaptism. I figured that since there were such reputable Reformed teachers on either side of the issue, I ought to look into the other side. I wanted to be sure I was going to the right Bible college, after all. I was open to becoming a paedobaptist, if I came to see that the Scriptures require it.

I do not remember all of what I read on either side of the issue, but this should give you some idea. I read just about every article and sermon by John Piper written in favor of credobaptism or against paedobaptism that I could find—I remember in particular this sermon and this article. I read a few other articles on credobaptism that I was able to find online. I also read a few articles on the paedobaptist side: something like this and this.

I felt the pull toward the paedobaptists, but I found their arguments complicated and hard to grasp. They spoke a lot about covenants and circumcision and Abraham, and so on, and I had not yet read through the Bible more than once or twice and was still getting oriented to its history and structure. The credobaptist arguments, on the other hand, were much simpler and easier to grasp: there are no examples of infant baptism, and there are examples of credobaptism, and we see the apostles going around proclaiming, “Repent and be baptized.” But these fairly standard arguments, while simple, did not seem to me very strong. The paedobaptists countered that there are lots of things that we do not have an explicit example for in Scripture that are not for that reason condemned (women taking communion, for example). And while we have examples of believers being baptized, this does not mean that only believers were baptized, nor need the summons to “repent and believe” imply anything further than that the apostles were addressing non-Christian adults in an evangelistic setting. While Scripture has no explicit example of infant baptism, it does not explicitly forbid infant baptism, either. So the most common credobaptist arguments seemed answerable. On the other hand, I wasn’t quite convinced of the paedobaptists’ own arguments yet, which I still struggled to understand.

Then I found it—Stephen Wellum’s chapter in Believer’s Baptism, where Wellum gives his new covenant argument for credobaptism. Briefly, he holds, on the basis of the new covenant promise given in Jeremiah 31:31–34 and its usage in Hebrews 8:6–13, that the new covenant is new and better than the old because the old covenant community, Israel, was a mixed community, consisting of both believers and unbelievers, regenerate and unregenerate. The new covenant, however, which Jesus brought in the New Testament, promises that all who are in it will be saved. The new covenant community, then, is a fully regenerate community. Again, in the old covenant one “gets in” by natural birth, while in the new covenant one “gets in” not by natural birth, but by new birth—by regeneration and faith. Only the regenerate are members of the new covenant, and since baptism is the sign of entry into the covenant community, only those who evidence themselves to be regenerate by means of a credible profession of faith should receive the sign of the new covenant.

Wellum’s argument basically settled it for me. I attempted to find a paedobaptist argument online that responded to his argument, but I couldn’t find anything at the time. I presumed this was because he was right and no answer could be given. At the very least, if the paedobaptists were ever going to win me over to their side, they would need to offer me a plausible response to Wellum’s new covenant argument. In the absence of that, I felt pretty good about being a Baptist.

A Weird Baptist

So I went to Bible college. I am incredibly grateful for my years at Bethlehem College and Seminary. The Lord grew and matured me in a number of areas during my time there.

While I was in college a couple of my classmates became convinced of paedobaptism. I remember putting Wellum’s new covenant argument to them and asking them for a response. I do not remember how they replied, but I was not convinced at the time. Wellum’s new covenant argument still held the day for me. I recall an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church leading a class period in which he explained how he came to change his mind from paedobaptist to credobaptist views. The question for him was: is the new covenant perfect now, or is it perfect later? For him, he came to believe it was perfect now—meaning that the new covenant community is entirely regenerate, and therefore we should only baptize those who evidence themselves to be regenerate by a credible profession of faith. This sounded good to me, and so I remained credobaptist for the rest of Bible college.

In other areas though, I was becoming a weird Baptist. I was thinking through some other issues relating to baptism, and beginning to adopt views that are atypical for Baptists and which, in retrospect, served to pave the way for my later change of mind.

First, while I was in college there was an online kerfuffle among credobaptists over whether or not young children who profess faith should be baptized. Mark Jones critiqued Jonathan Leeman’s view that parents should wait to baptize their children until they reach adulthood or are close to it. This led to reactions from Andrew Wilson, Joe Rigney, Patrick Schreiner, and Wilson again. Previous posts on this subject resurfaced from Trevin Wax, John Starke, and Justin Taylor. I followed all of this with some interest, having been baptized at age 7. Reading an old article from Vern Poythress against indifferentism and rigorism really sealed the deal for me: we should not look with suspicion or skepticism on child-like professions of faith; rather, we should extend to them the judgment of charity and baptize them young.

Second, I came to hold that you should be baptized only once. One problem with baptizing young children is that as they enter into adolescence they can go through a season of rebelliousness and become caught in cycles of sin. As they mature through this, they will often experience a great strengthening of faith at some point and enter into a new state of spiritual maturity. This can lead to a crisis of faith: Was I really saved when I was baptized as a child? Did I have true and genuine faith at the time? If not, or if I’m not sure, do I need to be re-baptized?

The deeper question here is whether the validity of baptism depends upon the presence of saving faith or merely upon the presence of a profession of faith (whether or not it is saving). I came to hold the latter: the mere profession of faith is all that is required in order for baptism to be rightly administered. Future lapses of faith or even outright apostasy does not nullify the fact of baptism. If you leave the faith and come back later, you do not need to be baptized again. To make the validity of baptism depend on the presence of saving faith is to leave too much room for doubt, vacillation, and uncertainty. Sensitive consciences, the introspective, or even just those with an inclination for the melodramatic will always find the ability to question their genuineness, and thus to seek re-baptism again and again. But we cannot infallibly read someone’s heart, nor are we entirely competent to read our own. Baptism is more objective than all of that, or so it seemed to me.

Third—and this is where things really start to get dicey—by the time I was wrapping up my undergraduate studies I began to think that infant baptism was improper, but not invalid. Those baptized as infants were baptized at the wrong time (before profession of faith) and with the wrong mode (by sprinkling or pouring), but they were still baptized. They do not need to be re-baptized in order to become members of a church or partake of the Lord’s Table.

An important backdrop to my wrestling with this issue is historical controversy over John Piper’s position of open church membership. The central question was whether we must exclude from church membership and from the Lord’s Supper those who were baptized as infants and who are also convinced that Scripture teaches that infant baptism is a valid mode of baptism and that re-baptism is improper. John Piper argued no: the door to the local church should be as wide as the door to the universal church. In order to get into the universal church, one simply must repent and believe. It does not make sense to require more than this as an entry requirement for the local church, because then you would effectively be excommunicating someone over a secondary, non-salvific issue. To bar someone from the Lord’s Table or from local church membership is, in effect, front-door excommunication. If there were no other churches around, you would effectively be shutting them out of the church. Now, Piper still maintained that infant baptism is invalid. Strictly speaking, he thought that those who were “baptized” as infants were not actually baptized. He just thought that they should still be allowed to church membership and the Lord’s Table, provided they evidence themselves to be regenerate and true believers. Misinterpreting the teaching of Scripture regarding a secondary issue is insufficient grounds to deny someone membership in the church or fellowship at the Table. Piper lost this argument at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and he received criticism from Mark Dever, Wayne Grudem, and other Baptists on this point.

Throughout college I agreed enthusiastically with Piper here; however, I came to question whether we should really say that those baptized as infants have not been baptized at all. After all, this is not how we normally talk. Baptists tend to speak of how it is wrong to baptize babies, not of how it is impossible to do so. This does not settle the matter of course, because in speech we often use a kind of shorthand, and it is much easier to criticize “the baptism of infants” than “the so-called ‘baptism’ of infants.” But it still raises the question of which aspects of baptism—as to its elements, mode, or circumstances—are (1) essential for its validity, without which there is no baptism at all; which aspects are (2) essential for its health or well-being, without which a baptism is merely defective and improper; and which aspects are (3) purely accidental, which affect neither its validity nor its well-being and can differ from church to church.

An example of (1), aspects essential for validity, would be the application of water in the Triune name. Without this, we do not have a Christian baptism at all, as all orthodox Christians would agree.

Examples of (2), aspects essential for health or well-being, might be whether a pastor or a layperson should baptize, or whether the baptism should be done in a church assembly or spontaneously in a fountain at the park. These matters may be viewed as pertaining to what is appropriate or inappropriate, ideal or not ideal, and yet getting this wrong does not nullify the baptism entirely.

Examples of (3), aspects purely accidental, might be what the baptizer or the one baptized should wear, whether it’s a white robe or a T-shirt and a swimsuit. It might also include the precise wording of the things spoken by the baptizer, and whether or not the one baptized shares their testimony as part of the rite. It might also include whether baptism is done every Sunday or on select Sundays throughout the year.

Someone may put an issue in (2) that another would put in (3), or vice versa. This is to be expected, as the distance between (2) and (3) is lesser than the distance between (1) and either (2) or (3). If we disagree over matters in (2) and (3) we at least still have a baptism, though it may be either more or less healthy or proper or in accordance with biblical principles. If we disagree over matters in (1) we do not have a baptism at all. There is a clear difference between the sort of issues that fall under either (2) or (3), and the sort of issues that fall under (1).

Most Baptists assume that the issues of the timing of baptism in relation to the profession of faith (whether the baptism follows or precedes it) and of the mode of application (whether full immersion or pouring/sprinkling) are in category 1, rather than category 2. But why? I found that many Baptists simply don’t even ask this question. For my part, I could not see a reason why infant baptism should be treated as a category 1 error rather than a category 2 error. So, around the time I graduated college, I was inclined to view those baptized as infants as culpable of a category 2 error: their baptism was improper and unideal, but it was still a baptism. While this view is atypical among Baptists, I at least had a few credobaptists on my side: at the time I knew of Andrew Wilson and Karl Barth, and more recently I have found out that Joe Rigney and Gavin Ortlund also articulate this position.

I should also note—though I realize this is not by any means conclusive—that my study of church history in college further challenged me to ask this question. One of the things that my undergraduate education did was widen my horizons, and gave me a deeper appreciation for world history and the church’s rich and varied theological heritage. So I was reading with pleasure the early church Fathers, Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, Bavinck, and many others. As I was doing so, I was not viewing them with suspicion as those who may not have really been Christians at all, but as my fathers in the faith. But then I was immediately faced with a question: Were all of these theological giants unbaptized? Even worse: Was Christ’s church left, for around 1400 years, without baptism? While I did not think it impossible that this might be the case, it did not seem plausible, and it at least meant that those arguing that infant baptism was invalid, rather than merely improper, had quite a burden of proof on their hands.

Fourth, and more briefly, from my study of Scripture, church history, and Reformed dogmatics, I adopted a Calvinistic view of sacramental efficacy rather than the Zwinglian viewpoint more typical among today’s Baptists. Instead of viewing the sacraments as primarily a matter of one’s own self-expression, whether of faith or repentance or anything else, I viewed baptism as first and primarily a divine expression, a means of grace by which God speaks and strengthens our faith. Baptism is a tangible, visible word through which God in a unique way proclaims his saving promises: as surely as your body is washed clean with this water, so surely is your body and soul spiritually washed clean of sin and guilt by the blood of Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit. Baptism is first of all a divine testimony before it is a human testimony. There are a number of Reformed Baptists who may agree with this, to be sure, but they are a minority among Baptists today, and the logic here fits very well within a paedobaptist perspective and less comfortably in a credobaptist one.

Finally, as I was learning Koine Greek and becoming more comfortable with it, I was becoming less sure that the Greek word βαπτιζω (baptizo) and its cognates only ever mean immerse. In fact, by my first semester of seminary I came to hold that the immersion-only view could not well-explain texts like Mark 7:4 (majority reading); Luke 11:38; Acts 1:5 with 2:16–17, 33; 1 Corinthians 10:1–2; and Hebrews 9:10. All of these texts use the word baptizo or its noun form, and yet seem clearly to refer to something other than submersion. In some cases it even seems to be referring to water coming down from above. Alastair Roberts had an article on this that I found intriguing at the time, and later I found John Murray argue explicitly for the position that I had arrived at.

So at the close of my first semester of seminary I was still a Baptist, but I was a pretty weird Baptist. Essentially the only thing that was keeping me Baptist was not hearing a good alternative to Stephen Wellum’s reading of the new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:31–34. Again: I had assumed that I had not heard a good answer to it because there wasn’t one. The new covenant is new and better because it is an entirely regenerate community, and this new covenant is perfect now, not later. I couldn’t really see another way of reading it.

Another Way of Reading It

I actually first heard of a fairly compelling alternative reading of the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:31–34 from one of my Baptist professors during my first year at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I will spare his name for the purposes of this blog post, but I remember sitting in his class one day, listening to him give his understanding of the new covenant promises that are found in the Old Testament. He argued, first, that we have to do justice to the original audience of the new covenant promises: the nation of Israel. Jeremiah promises that the new covenant will be made not with an amorphous group called “God’s people,” but “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The question of how Gentiles have anything to do with this new covenant promise is a good one, and one that we find the answer for in Romans 11:16–24: Gentiles are grafted into the olive tree of Israel by faith. Because of this, the promises originally given to Israel also apply to Gentile believers in the church, but the original, specific referent to Israel needs to be acknowledged.

He went even further than this, and argued that we cannot wrench Jeremiah 31:31–34 from its context. In prophetic literature, the new covenant promises are part of a broader picture involving the return from exile, the restoration of Jerusalem, the reign of the Messianic king, the nations flowing to Jerusalem, the abolition of death, worldwide judgment, etc. The new covenant promise is a package deal, bound up with all of these other things, and my professor held that these other things clearly are not fulfilled yet, though we do see their inauguration in the first coming of Christ and his present work in the world through his church. This means that the new covenant as well, while having been inaugurated by Christ, still awaits its complete fulfillment. We do not yet see the new covenant here in its fullness in the same way that we do not yet see all things subjected to Christ, sin and death eradicated, and the nations discipled. After all, Jeremiah says that in the new covenant we will not have to tell one another to “know the Lord,” and yet there are still those among us who do not know the Lord (1 Cor 15:34; 2 Tim 2:16–19). We still have to practice church discipline, hypocrites exist among us, and we must admonish one another every day, lest we be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from the living God (1 Cor 5; 1 Tim 1:20; Heb 3:12–13; 10:24–31; 12:15–17). Ultimately, my professor argued, the new covenant will not be fulfilled until Jesus’ second coming.

I actually raised my hand in class and asked, “Then why aren’t we Presbyterians?” I was amazed that a Baptist could make such an argument! It was just the sort of response I could imagine a Presbyterian giving to Wellum’s new covenant argument. My professor responded by referring to how we see the pattern in the New Testament of first repenting, then being baptized, and other such arguments. But these were just the sort of arguments that did not carry the day for me.

Further Study

Surprisingly, at the time this didn’t have much of an effect on me. I carried on being a Baptist for another couple months without thinking too much about it. There were other things going on in my life that distracted me for awhile. I put these thoughts on hold.

But by the start of my second semester of seminary, I was no longer a convinced credobaptist, though I was also not a convinced paedobaptist. It is a little bit mysterious how I arrived at my uncertainty regarding baptism: it just kind of hit me all of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue. Between my first and second semester, my wife and I had decided to switch churches in Louisville. It was during the few days between the membership interview and being presented as members the next Sunday that I found myself to be a baptism agnostic.

It just hit me one day that I did not have very good reasons for being a credobaptist. Wellum’s new covenant argument was the one thing that had me convinced, but even another Baptist professor at my seminary was able to articulate a plausible alternative reading. Surely there were thoughtful interactions with Wellum’s argument from Reformed paedobaptists that I had not read. I was not careful enough in my initial research. So I declared myself undecided on the whole issue of credo- vs. paedobaptism, and read some stuff from paedobaptists. My undergraduate and graduate education was all done by Baptists, so I had heard and understood their side of things quite well, though I threw in Tom Schreiner’s (ed.) Believer’s Baptism for good measure. A sampling of some of the more significant paedobaptist resources I read are John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, O. Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Covenants, Doug Wilson’s To a Thousand Generations, Gregg Strawbridge’s (ed.) The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, Robert Letham’s A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Baptism, and David Gibson’s “‘Fathers of Faith, My Fathers Now!’: On Abraham, Covenant, and the Theology of Paedobaptism.”

By the end of that study I found the paedobaptist case compelling, and by the end of my second year of seminary my wife and I had to leave our Baptist church, which required that members not have a settled conviction against credobaptism. Now after graduating seminary this past December, I am glad to be a member at a PCA church in Louisville, a pastoral candidate in the Ohio Valley Presbytery, and serving a one-year internship at my church.

Conclusion

The question of whether or not Christians should baptize their infants and young children is important, but it is a secondary issue. As an aspiring pastor, it was especially requisite that I should personally struggle through this, but I am sure glad to be on the other side of it.

Hopefully friends and family find this semi-autobiographical account of how this change came about helpful. In a future post I plan to more directly explain my views on infant baptism, address some related issues, and share a fuller, annotated bibliography of resources I found helpful. Until then, like a good Presbyterian, I would direct inquiring minds to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Image by wal_172619 from Pixabay

34 thoughts on “On Becoming Presbyterian”

  1. Clayton, thanks for writing this account. It was helpful to understand your train of thought and hyperlinked articles and books also provide a good concrete account of the individuals who influenced your thinking. One particular thing that challenged me was the use of baptizo in Mark; I haven’t studied Greek in a while, but I have understood baptism as immersion. I will need to revisit the use of the word, and its semantic range, in the future.

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  2. Hello Clayton,
    James Zekveld posted a link to your blog article, which I appreciated reading. I did respond with the following comment and thought I should communicate it to you as well. Blessings on your future ministry!
    Maurice Luimes:
    Brothers, Here is an excellent, clear article regarding Jeremiah 31:34, New Covenant membership, and baptism. It is is a clear scriptural answer to Wellum’s argument. I believe it is even more helpful than the argument that the New Covenant is only fully realized in heaven. http://scriptura.journals.ac.za/pub/article/view/1134/1079 (Downloadable pdf).

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    1. Thank you for sharing this Maurice. I will definitely have to check it out! Part of the realization for me was simply that there are plausible alternative readings, consistent with a paedobaptist scheme. I tend to view the prophecy of the new covenant, along with other sorts of prophecy, as having multiple fulfillments taking place in various stages, ultimately climaxing in the eternal state.

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  3. Thank you for this post. I’m looking forward to your next one. Your journey into Presbyterianism mirrors my own in a number of ways. I was a Reformed Baptist for a number of years but was on the fence regarding paedobaptism for most of that time. I’m now serving as a pastor in the Northern New England Presbytery of the PCA.

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  4. Thanks, Clayton. I mainly appreciate your clear wisdom in timing over such an unfortunately “hot button” topic in evangelicalism (whatever that means these days!). Though you may not agree with all he says (mainly his views on baptismal efficacy), you should check out Leithart’s recent The Baptized Body (2007, ~150 pp.)—a short, well-written, and (I think) important book. (https://www.amazon.com/Baptized-Body-Peter-J-Leithart/dp/1591280486)

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    1. Thanks Colton. I am familiar with the thesis and main points of Leithart’s work, though I have not read it. While I enjoy and have been profited by Leithart’s work on biblical theology, symbolism, and eschatology, I do have some pretty significant disagreements with himon issues of ecclesiology and sacramental efficacy–particularly his aversion to the visible/invisible church distinction. Leithart actually departs pretty significantly from Calvin, Westminster, and the majority Reformed consensus on these things, as he himself recognizes in that book. I will be getting into some of this in my next post, but I will say that I have found Steven Wedgeworth very helpful in this area, especially the following: https://wedgewords.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/the-federal-vision-and-reformed-theology/, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/790274002?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1, and https://calvinistinternational.com/2013/03/14/the-sacraments-do-not-confer-grace/

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  5. Wait, wait, wait … you just might find Leithart appealing. The most quoted author next to Scripture is Calvin; he’s trying to correct modern Reformed folk with their own ammo: Calvin. The quotes from you at the bottom sound very much like Leithart: Baptism is God’s doing. But Leithart would go further: baptism saves you *because through baptism you are united to Christ’s very body,* and Christ’s very body is the *physical expression* of the church—thus, Leithart seeks to eliminate the dichotomy of the physical/spiritual church. For Leithart, the true church is physical, and everyone united to the physical church by baptism is saved. Those who are united, again for Leithart, can fall away into apostasy—and in those cases, they are severed from the body, Christ’s very body. I thought the book very good, very compelling, though not comprehensive (and he says that at the beginning) and not without leaving the reader with crucial practical outworkings of his thesis. All in all, definitely worth the read.

    Your quote: “I adopted a Calvinistic view of sacramental efficacy rather than the Zwinglian viewpoint more typical among today’s Baptists. Instead of viewing the sacraments as primarily a matter of one’s own self-expression, whether of faith or repentance or anything else, I viewed baptism as first and primarily a divine expression, a means of grace by which God speaks and strengthens our faith. Baptism is a tangible, visible word through which God in a unique way proclaims his saving promises: as surely as your body is washed clean with this water, so surely is your body and soul spiritually washed clean of sin and guilt by the blood of Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit. Baptism is first of all a divine testimony before it is a human testimony. There are a number of Reformed Baptists who may agree with this, to be sure, but they are a minority among Baptists today, and the logic here fits very well within a paedobaptist perspective and less comfortably in a credobaptist one.”

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    1. Yeah I disagree with Leithart here quite strongly. Keep an eye out for my next post. I am going to unpack there a bit of my theology of infant baptism, including my understanding of baptismal efficacy, which differs pretty significantly from Leithart’s. I think the resources we have on baptismal efficacy in Calvin, the Reformed Orthodox, Westminster, Bavinck et al. are rich, compelling, and most faithful to Scripture; no “root-branch reform” (Leithart’s words) needed. Leithart collapses the invisible church into the visible church and treats baptism as solely operating on that level. My own view attempts to explain how baptism plays out on both levels, both with regard to the visible and the invisible, the external and the internal, the objective and the subjective.

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  6. Excellent post, Clayton. Thank you!

    Note, and feel free to remove my comment if you correct this, but I think there’s a very minor typo in the line that should read (insertion in caps): “These matters may BE viewed as pertaining to what is appropriate or inappropriate, ideal or not ideal, and yet getting this wrong does not nullify the baptism entirely.”

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  7. My mother passed this article to me, since I recently joined the Anglican Catholic Church after spending about 8 years in Southern Baptist circles. I attended California Baptist University, Gateway Seminary, and SBTS prior to graduating with my M.Div. My story is quite different in some ways because I had a change in heart regarding Scripture and Tradition (I nearly became RC or EO before going the Canterbury way), and I struggled more with the ecclesiology than the sacraments; however, I do resonate with your struggles through Paedobaptism, especially as they relate to church history. I found, that much of what is taught as ‘biblical’ in Southern Baptist circles are fairly innovative theological ideas, with little pedigree in 1500 years of church history, and even more so if you read Charles Taylor and other philosophers who have done work in Secular Modern Philosophy and its effects on Religious perceptions. This always bothered me, even before I accepted the reasonable authority of the Apostolic Church. Two additional changes for me were seeing that faith and grace is communal and that worship is not merely subjective. For example, the faith of one person effects grace on another via prayer, and Jesus sometimes heals one person because of the faith of another (or a whole group in the case of the paraplegic dropped through the roof). Also, it was hard to imagine that the objective beauty and ritual of worship in the OT would be completely wiped out in the New Covenant, much as you would see argued in Infant Baptism, where the covenant is both objective and communal with our children. This explains the communal faith and objective nature of sacraments when our children are affected by God’s grace through the waters of Baptism. Our faith is accounted to/for them and God’s grace goes to them to light a flame that we can only pray will be grown as they grow.

    I will say that this road for me was painful. I left a Reformed Baptist tradition to a Catholic one, and I feared rejection (an unreasonable fear, I found). It was especially hard for my wife, who I did not speak to enough during my struggles. I wrote a post similar to this (it was a ‘confession’ of sorts, and shorter), and the response was charitable but some people did question my salvation (not out of malice, fortunately). It appears that you are at peace with your journey and your theology, which is great!

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    1. Hi James! I’m glad you found this post helpful on some level. It does sound like we have some overlap and some dissimilarity. I do think that modern individualism is definitely at play in much of contemporary Baptist thought. But for myself, I was never tempted to go Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. I had read too much Calvin, Luther, the Reformers, and the Reformed Orthodox to go the Roman road. I found their account of the relationship between Scripture and tradition, ecclesiology, justification, etc. far more compelling, both biblically and rationally. Even though they did subordinate tradition to scripture, the Reformers did not denigrate tradition; in fact, one of the things they did was show how Roman teachings were actually the innovative ones. Calvin and the Reformers evidence a great familiarity with the early church fathers and medieval doctors. I am currently reading through Herman Bavinck’s Dogmatics and have found him very, very helpful on these kinds of issues.

      You may be interested in my future post where I unpack more of my theology of baptism. I would invite any interaction you might have over there! I suspect we have some differences but that we would agree on some areas as well.

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  8. Thanks for your helpful article. I would like to offer some push back if that’s alright. It seems like the lynch pin was the issue of the new covenant, and whether or not it had been fully consummated (a perfectly pure community) or not yet fully consummated (still a mixed community). I find it quite reasonable to suggest that it is not fully consummated, and is evidenced by the ongoing need for church discipline. However, does not the commands for church discipline show us that our mandate is to have the church be as pure or non-mixed as we can? If the mixed nature of the church is the expectation, why do discipline at all? Just let it go on being mixed until the consummation. Is not the church a type of the fullness that is to come? For me, it does not seem consistent to bring unbelieving infants into the church through baptism because the church is to be mixed, and yet remove unbelieving adults from the church because the church is to be pure. Perhaps I’m reading your arguments wrong?

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    1. Hey, thanks for the engagement! I’ll be dealing with quite a bit of this in my next post. For now I’ll just say that if we are mandated to have the church be as pure or non-mixed as possible we wouldn’t baptize new converts. We would wait for them to stay in the faith and show signs of true repentance for a certain amount of time: a year, a couple years, a decade. The longer the better!

      You’d probably say: well we know we can’t go that far because that contradicts what we see in Scripture, the book of Acts, and so forth. But this basically means that we need to adjust the original principle: our mandate is not to have the church as pure or non-mixed as possible, but to have the church be as pure or non-mixed as God’s word indicates.

      Another factor is how you view your children. I hold, and will argue, that believers should, in accordance with the judgment of charity, view their children as elect and regenerate until they prove themselves otherwise through observable apostasy and rebellion.

      More on this to come though!

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      1. I’m not in favor of years of testing prior to baptism and membership because baptism accompanies conversion and is not a reward for long-term testing. I do not think credible profession requires long-term testing. However, credible profession does prevent you from baptizing someone who doesn’t know the gospel and thinks that getting wet will save them. I was not previously aware of the doctrine of presumptive regeneration as many paedobaptists do not hold that. I would say biblically, regeneration comes by the Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God, not somehow bestowed upon children of believing parents apart from or chronologically before repentance and faith (although logically before). The biblical account would suggest that all human beings are presumed spiritually dead, unless God has produced life in them by faith. I would also point out that presumptive regeneration would be an argument against a mixed group in the church, since you presume they are regenerate and therefore part of the church. So you don’t baptized infants because the Bible assumes a mixed church, but because the Bible assumes the children are truly the church because they are regenerate. In any case, I look forward to the next post.

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  9. Fascinating story. I have found that the more reformed I became in my theological thinking, the less dogmatic became about baptism. I was baptized as an infant(Lutheran), but when I was profoundly regenerated at the age of 21, I was baptized by immersion in a lake buy a presbyterian pastor, ironically. Apparently he did not inquire about whether I had been baptized as an infant nor do I recall bringing that up. At the time I considered everything about my church upbringing to be bogus. If I had it to do all over again, believing what I believe now, I would have considered my infant baptism completely valid and not been re-baptized. The key thing for me was reading be reformed in Presbyterian view of infant baptism as contrasted with the Lutheran View that I had been raised in. That view equating the act of baptism with regeneration. I do not know what I would have done had I had children. If I had been married during childbearing years, I probably would not have baptized them as my thinking had not yet changed. If I was now still in my child bearing years, I think I would baptize them. Of course if that were the case, I would have to convince my wife. LOL our current church is Credo Baptist and we are about to become members, but since I was adult baptized by immersion, I think I’ve got that covered. The Lord bless you in your continuing journey in the ministry.

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  10. Hi Clayton, I came here since Tim Challies linked to your post. Your itinerary is quite interesting.
    Perhaps this is an obvious question but you said that you came to be convinced by paedobaptism. However, belonging to Presbyterianism is not a foregone conclusion.

    You said that at one point you raised your hand in class and asked: “Then why aren’t we Presbyterians?”. However, I wonder: why Presbyterian? Why aren’t you Congregational?
    That is, Presbyterians differ from Baptists not only in paedobaptism, but in the whole area of ecclesiology. So you also must have been convinced about the rightness of the Presbyterian form of church polity. That would be interesting to hear, too.
    So, why aren’t you Congregational?
    God bless you and your ministry richly.

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    1. Hi, Eduardo! I do intend to address this in my following post as well, briefly. As a spoiler: I don’t think the Bible mandates either Congregationalism, Presbyterianism, or Episcopacy. This is a matter of prudence and good order, not direct divine command.

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  11. Clayton,
    Thank you for this theological biography (my pastor referred me to this post, since I’m trying to compose an infant baptist argument myself). I’d just like to offer a comment regarding Wellum’s argument about the new covenant. I first heard that argument from John MacArthur in a recording of his debate with R.C. Sproul on infant baptism. My comment is: When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he said of the cup, “This is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). Everyone there drank (Mark 14:23), and it seems Judas was still among them (Luke 22:14-23, if I read that right). This appears to imply that for all who were present–being disciples in an outward sense–Jesus was including them as, outwardly, members of the New Covenant, though clearly in the inward/spiritual sense Judas was not a member of the new covenant, whereas the rest were members inwardly/spiritually. So perhaps we should consider two senses when reading Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant.

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    1. Hey Duane. That inward/outward distinction is the very place I am going to go in my next post. I think we’re seeing it in much the same way. I found great clarity from Stephen Marshall (a Westminster Divine) on this.

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      1. Good, thanks, I look forward to reading your next post. One additional thought on the inward/outward or visible/invisible distinction: You use as the definition of credobaptism “that only professing believers should be baptized.” Depending on how the definition is interpreted, it could be taken to mean a mixture of the visible (professing) and the invisible (believers), which I think is problematic. The church can only baptize those who are visibly members of the new covenant, since the church is unable to discern who is invisibly a member of the new covenant. Only God can make the two groups significantly overlap.

        Consequently credobaptists, to be honest, should at most take credobaptism to mean “that only people who *profess* to believe should be baptized” (since the church can’t tell who is both professing to believe and believing).
        And for the same reason, even though people refer to “credobaptism” as “believer baptism,” I contend that there really are no believer baptists. And we pedobaptists, who of course believe in baptizing not only infants but also adults, are really “covenant baptists.”

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        1. P.S.: Hence, I’d rather refer to credobaptists as “confessor baptists.” I don’t know what they would think of that.

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        2. In my experience, I have found that when I press Baptists in my circles on that point, they concede that we cannot see the heart. They just hold that we should ideally only baptize those who are truly regenerate, and the best way to tell if someone is regenerate is via a credible profession of faith. I think this position has some problematic holes, as I shall explore later on and as I hinted in my reply to Mark’s comment above.

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  12. Clayton, I too wanted to thank you for this theological biography. I too made the long journey (roughly a decade long) from credobaptism to paedobaptism. I grew up Baptist, went to a baptist high school, baptist college, and an historically baptist seminary. I knew the arguments for credobaptism backwards and forwards, but the more I studied and learned the more unsure I became. For me, it was primarily the theological inconsistency of credobaptistic churches that sent me in search of an answer. As I read your post, the similarities between my own journey and yours were uncanny, although my wife and I landed in the CRC, rather than the PCA. Last year, we baptized my son and I can say it was one of the best decisions my wife and I ever made as parents, even though getting to that decision was long and difficult. I have read and heard countless arguments for both paedobaptism and credobaptism throughout my studies, but something about this autobiographical post spoke to me like nothing before. Maybe it was personal aspect of it or maybe it was the resemblance to my own journey that spoke to me. Whatever the case, thank you again for sharing.

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  13. I’m a bit late to the party here, but thank you for the post and list of resources, Clayton. This is helpful. I’d like to resolve my “baptism agnosticism,” but unsure where I’m going to wind up eventually. Lots of implications either way—especially as someone aiming at overseas work and hoping to be sent by a Reformed Baptist church :). We shall see. At any rate, I have some more books to read now, so thanks very much.

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