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  • Writer's picturePastor Jared

Why we are a Reformed Church that does not baptize infants, Part 2 of 2

In the previous post I articulated 5 reasons why we, as a Reformed Church, practice credobaptism (CB) and, therefore, do not baptize infants. The simple reason is that we do not believe it to be a practice that is mandated in Scripture. Here are 4 more reasons why we do not practice paedobaptism (PB).

[Note: many of my arguments have been gleaned from a myriad of sources. I am particularly indebted to work done by John Piper, Sam Storms and the volume edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright, Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, et. al.]

#6 -- The nature of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ differs in one significant way (although there are many differences) from the covenant God made with Abraham. (cf. Storms)

We read in Hebrews 8:11 of one of the chief characteristics of the New Covenant and those who are members of it,

And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (ESV).

In the Old Testament, the people of God (Israel) were a mixed community, composed of both believers and non-believers. Not everyone who was circumcised in his flesh was circumcised in his heart. This is why members of the nation of Israel had to be exhorted to “know” the Lord. But under the New Covenant we encounter an entirely different situation. Every member of the New Covenant is a regenerate believer. The promise in this verse (cf Jeremiah 31:31-34) is that every member of the New Covenant will experience personal and first-hand saving knowledge of God.

In the New Covenant, then, only those who come to saving faith are members of the New Covenant community. To be sure there may, in fact, be those who are a part of the local Church who are not true believers. But those who are genuinely saved and genuinely members of the New Covenant are all born again and justified by faith in Jesus.

PB argue that since in the Old Testament circumcision, as the sign of the covenant, was applied to all, even though many never came to saving faith, baptism, as the sign of the New Covenant, should be applied to all, even though many who are baptized will never come to saving faith. But the New Covenant differs significantly from every biblical covenant that preceded it and thus the analogy breaks down.

Unlike in the Old Testament, everywhere in the New Testament we read that members of the New Covenant are born-again, justified believers in Jesus. Therefore it is only to them that the ordinance of baptism is applied. Members of the New Covenant are those who have the law of God written on their hearts; they are those who belong to God in a relationship of personal Spirit-initiated intimacy; they are those know God; they are those whose sins have been forgiven.

This is why we do not baptize infants; they have not yet trusted Christ for salvation and thus are not members of the New Covenant.

#7 -- There is a difference between the New Covenant people of God (the Church) and the Old Covenant people of God (Israel). (cf. Piper)

There are many differences between the New Covenant people called the Church and the Old Covenant people called Israel. These differences explain why it was fitting to give the Old Covenant sign of circumcision to the infants of Israel, and why it is not fitting to give the New Covenant sign of baptism to the infants of the Church. In other words, even though there is an overlap in meaning between baptism and circumcision (cf. Romans 4:11), circumcision and baptism don't have the same role to play in the covenant people of God because the way God constituted his people in the Old Testament and the way he is constituting the Church today are fundamentally different.

Romans 9:7-8 show us that there are actually two Israel's - one physical and one spiritual. This is significant because it confirms the Old Testament reality that ethnic Israel was actually a mixed community, even though the covenant sign was given to the entire group. There were, in the nation of Israel, those who were circumcised externally only, but who were not part of the remnant of Israel, "true Israel".

John Piper asks a key question in this regard,

is the New Testament Church -- the Church today -- a continuation of the larger mixed group of ethnic, religious, national Israel, or is the Church a continuation of the remnant of the true sons of Abraham who are children of God by faith in Christ? Are we a Spirit-born, new covenant community with the law of God written on our hearts and defined by faith?

He heads to Galatians 4:22-28 to answer the question. He remarks,

The people of the covenant in the Old Testament were made up of Israel according to the flesh -- an ethnic, national, religious people containing "children of the flesh" and "children of God." Therefore it was fitting that circumcision was given to all the children of the flesh.

But the people of the new covenant, called the Church of Jesus Christ, is being built in a fundamentally different way. The church is not based on any ethnic, national distinctives but on the reality of faith alone, by grace alone in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not a continuation of Israel as a whole; it is a continuation of the true Israel, the remnant -- not the children of the flesh, but the children of promise.

Therefore, it is not fitting that the children born merely according to the flesh receive the sign of the covenant, baptism.

#8 -- The PB understanding of sacrament, which is biblically correct, runs contrary to their practice of baptism. (cf. Shawn Wright, “Logic of Reformed Paedobaptists” in Believers Baptism)

In his Institutes (4,14ff) John Calvin maintains that God graciously provides for his people and offers promises in the sacraments. These promises are objective because they are made by the sovereign God. But, he notes, there is also a subjective requirement to a sacrament in which a person responds to the promises of God in the sacraments; Christians must put their trust in the God who graciously gives the sacraments to them in order to strengthen their weak faith and to reassure them of their union with Christ.

Obviously this is possible for believers who are baptized upon the confession of their faith (CB). But this same thinking cannot be so applied to infants who have no such ability to grasp Christ, the truths of the gospel, or to exercise faith. Thus the PB definition of sacrament is better than their practice.

Let me give you an example from the Heidelberg Catechism, Q’s 66-68 (italics below are mine)

66 Q. What are the sacraments?

A. The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by their use he might the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel.

And this is the promise: that God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.

67 Q. Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?

A. Yes, indeed. The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel and assures us by the sacraments that our entire salvation rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross.

68 Q. How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant?

A. Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.

This sure sounds like cognizance by the participant is necessary for the acceptance of the sacraments does it not? Do you see the incongruity? I think the definition of sacrament is correct and biblical; as are all definitions of sacrament found in the Reformed confessions and catechisms. The problem occurs when these definitions are applied to baptism by PB. Doing so leaves us, I think, with three options, two of which we don’t want any part of.

  1. Redefine ‘sacrament’ so that baptism can fit within it - if you do this you will probably run into one of two problems; (1) it will no longer be a biblically defensible definition; or (2) you will not be able to include the Lord’s supper in the new definition.

  2. Don’t call baptism a sacrament - I don’t think this is an option for us based on similar reasoning to #1 above.

  3. Redefine (biblically) their understanding of baptism - this is, I think, the only, and best, option.

Moving to a CB position removes all three of these issues.

#9 -- PB definitions of baptism run contrary to their practice of baptism.

Once again John Calvin. He defines baptism this way,

the sign of initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children.” (Institutes, 4.15.1)

John Murray defines baptism like this,

Baptism is an ordinance instituted by Christ and is the sign and seal of union with him. This is just saying that it is the sign and seal of membership in that body of which Christ is the Head.” He goes on to say that There are “two import[s] of baptism” -- union with Christ and purification from sin. (Christian Baptism, 31)

The Heidelberg Catechism defines baptism this way (italics below are mine),

69. Q. How does holy baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross benefits you?

A. In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins.

74. Q. Should infants, too, be baptized?

A. Yes.Infants as well as adults belong to God's covenant and congregation. Through Christ's blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith,are promised to them no less than to adults. Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant,they must be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the old covenant by circumcision, in place of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant.

The problem is evident. Each of these statements appeal to the necessary response of faith on the part of the one baptized, yet in question and answer 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism the language switches to promise language. So which one is it? A sign and seal to the participant ("to you") of the surety of the salvation of Christ, or baptism as merely a promise of what might happen in the future, should the individual come to faith in Christ? It sure sounds like the PB definition of baptism is for believers; does it not? The statements are reflective of New Testament teaching, but their practice is not.

Conclusion - Is it possible for PB and CB to get along in the same church?

I believe the answer to this question is a resounding yes! My reason, in short, is based on the fact that we must be very careful in excluding believers from the Church. Let me briefly explain. The exclusion of a fellow believer from the fellowship of the Church and all that is included in it (service, church discipline, the Lord's Supper, etc.) is a move that is far to close to what the Church is commanded to do with unbelievers - excommunication. Scripture commands us to deny participation in the Church to unbelievers, NOT to fellow believers (unless, of course, they are under church discipline). Thus excluding either a PB or a CB from the Church based on their perspective on baptism, denies them participation in the New Covenant community and all of the necessary benefits of being part of God's people that Scripture articulates their soul requires. Taking this step, I believe, is a great error; one that is a significant detriment to both the individual believer and the Church at large.

Let me expand on my short reasoning with the wisdom of Wane Grudem and John Piper as they reflect on this issue. I will quote from them extensively below.

I agree with Grudem (the 1st edition of his Systematic Theology - he qualifies, in an unhelpful manner, the following statements in his 2nd edition), when he advocated finding a way to have those who are convinced of the opposing positions of PB and CB as members of the same local church. He said,

… excluding a true brother in Christ from membership in the local church is far more serious than most of us think it is. This would mean that Baptist churches would have to be willing to allow into membership those who had been baptized as infants and whose conviction of conscience, after careful consideration is that their infant baptism was valid and should not be repeated. Of course, Baptist churches could be free to preach and to attempt to persuade prospective churches members that they should be baptized as believers, but if some, after careful consideration, are simply not persuaded, it does not seem appropriate to make this a barrier to membership.

I also agree with Piper when he writes:

When I weigh the kind of imperfection involved in tolerating an invalid baptism because some of our members are deeply persuaded that it is biblically valid, over against the kind of imperfection involved in saying to a son or daughter of the living God, “You are excluded from the local church,” my biblical sense is that the latter is more unthinkable than the former. The local church is a visible expression of the invisible, universal, body of Christ. To exclude from it is virtually the same as excommunication.

He goes on to say in the same vein:

I would say that when a person looks a true and precious brother in the eye and says, “You may not join this church,” he is doing one of two things: Seriously diminishing our spiritual union in Christ, or seriously minimizing the importance of church membership. Very few, it seems to me, have really come to terms with the seriousness of excluding believers from membership in the local church. It is preemptive excommunication.

So does admitting a PB into membership into our church, which is CB, a validation of their PB? I think not. Why? Piper again:

Admitting a conscientious paedobaptist to membership in a Baptist church would not say that the infant baptism is valid. What it does say is: “Your mistaken understanding of baptism and the invalid baptism that follows from it are not the kind of disagreement, mistake, and failure that we are going to use in defining the meaning of the local church. We view you as a brother whose resting place is Christ alone, through grace alone, by faith alone, to the glory of God alone. You are in the Body of Christ. You may be in this body of Christ.”

The question of whether or not Scripture commands infants to be baptized is serious for those of us in the Reformed theological tradition - to go against 500+ years of ecclessiological history and the majority of the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms should not be taken lightly. But, I believer, the Scriptures require to do so. This is the ONLY reason why I am a CB and not a PB.

Unfortunately, there are many Reformed denominations who would not consider our body to be a "true church" on account of our practice of baptism; nor would they allow me to preach from their pulpit. I find this to be disturbing. I have also heard some in the Reformed community go so far as to question the gospel of, say Baptists, due to their adherence to CB. [To be fair, I am also aware of Baptists who are equally ungracious and accusatory toward adherents of PB.] I believe that this is no way to treat fellow believers who are part of the same universal church, the same New Covenant, who preach and teach the same gospel and who adhere to Reformed theology. My prayer is that we may find a way forward, together, despite our differences.

Soli Deo Gloria


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