Infant Baptism vs. Believer’s Baptism

Hello Mr. Kelly,

I hope you can find the time to address a few questions I have. There is a divisive issue that has been hanging in the background of the small gathering of believers that my wife and I join with on sundays. There are a few people within this group that look at Baptism in a different light than what I get from the scriptures when I read them. The problem is that we are a “small” group of believers who have been looking for a pastor. This seems to mean that a clear stand needs to be taken on this point (I think the Lord is forcing us to deal with this). I have looked into the scriptures and I can see /some/ basis for the pedobaptist [that is: infant baptism] view (or at least what I think the pedobaptist stand is) but not much.

The greater part of the people here who have the pedobaptist viewpoint are starting or have young families and will want their children baptised. This also dictates that a position be taken on this issue. We were (my wife and I) totally oblivious to this type of issue until now, assuming that this belief belonged to the Roman Catholic “faith” and various watered down type denominations. We were surprised to find it dividing a church that preaches from the bible not tradition. Can you illuminate for me a little of the origins of this (strange) position, and exactly what the grounds for it are. I understand that there are various “strains” of this doctrine. What are they, and how do they impact the witness and strength of a Christian who holds to them? A mutual friend thought you might have some insight that I would find helpful .

Thank you for the emails that you send out. it is interesting to see the varied questions that people of faith are facing the world over. Of necessity your letters are not the kind of light reading that one can just breeze over. I usually read the ones relevant to my own struggles when they arrive and the others tend to wait awhile but please keep me on your list. It is good to know that I am not the only one with questions. May God bless you in your work for him.

Kind regards

I hope to give your question the time it deserves, or recommend something appropriate, but for now I am dealing with some time sensitive priorities that prevent an adequate response.

Until then, I would certainly counsel that no believer should divide over the mode of baptism. That’s not to say that it isn’t a significant issue. We certainly want scriptural authority and biblical precedent for all that we practice, but I know of too many genuinely regenerate believers that stand on different sides of this issue, and it would seem to me more than a pity, but a sin, to permit it to become divisive. God forbid that differences over the proper mode of baptism should rob believers “of like precious faith” their privilege to belong to one another in true fellowship and to cooperate in gospel labors.

I could never, however, make any concession whatsoever to the damning heresy of ‘baptismal regeneration’. While some under this teaching are no doubt regenerate, despite its pernicious implications, still, I could never give my unreserved support to any organized communion that subscribes to this view, because it represents a serious confusion of the gospel. Its implications effectively sterilize and abort the gospel. One might just as well make circumcision mandatory for salvation.

Baptismal regeneration is inherited from the sacramentalism of Rome. It continued to survive in a less pernicious form in post-Luther Lutheranism, but has been more lately revived in full sectarian force by the so-called ‘restoration’ movement led by Alexander Campbell, father founder of the so-called “Church of Christ.” It also appears in some Pentecostal circles, such as the “oneness” group. This is a serious error undermining the very nature of the gospel, as witnessed by the legalism and humanism that usually attends it. Happily, this is not what’s in question among you. The mode of baptism is a far less serious issue, and does not justify separation, provided a patient and generous spirit of tolerance can be maintained among you.

I will say that the pedo-baptists are operating on the basis of some presuppositions concerning the covenants and the dispensations that really go back to the debate over the question of the ‘continuity between the testaments’, a topic of tremendous significance, but also of greatest difficulty. To even begin to do the subject justice, I would have to come back to that, and to make matters worse, I have my own understanding that is neither dispensational nor entirely covenantal in the traditional ‘reformed’ sense, but a blend of elements from both. But that’s for another time.

Not that it should influence anything without due consideration of the case from scripture, but my own view is what is called “believer’s baptism,” which understands the ordinance as only of significance for those for whom conscious repentance is possible, and only such that also bear the true marks of regeneration. Furthermore, I do not think that baptism should be understood as initiation into the ‘local church’ as in Baptist ecclesiology. Every believer should indeed be identified with a local body in responsible covenant relationship and accountability under the government of that body. However, the ordinance of baptism is for anyone, wherever they may be.

According to 1Pet 3:21, baptism is an “answer (response) of a good conscience” (not an “appeal for” a good conscience, as unfortunately translated in some modern translations; contra Moulton Geden Greek Conc). The “good conscience” is obtained only by faith in Christ’s resurrection. Baptism stands as a figure (pictorial enactment signifying a testimonial obedience of identification with His death and resurrection) of that saving transaction accomplished through faith alone, since the heart (conscience) is only “purified by faith” (Acts 15:9). We are never “saved” by a figure or type, or by any ordinance! According to NT precedent, baptism is only administered to those that give evidence of repentance (Mt 3:8), and that show signs of true regeneration (Acts 8:37; 10:47). This alone constituted one as a candidate for baptism according to NT precedent. Well, I could go on, but must cut this short.

Be assured of my interest to return to this as time permits. I count it a privilege to be a resource to you. On that note, consider locating something written by my all-time favorite, John Bunyan, author of the famed allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, on the subject of Christian unity. Also, I’m informed that a title is in rare republication by the author of the classic The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. It is Irenicum by Jeremiah Burroughs. It’s one I hope to get, as this is a topic of deepest interest to me in these days. Christian disunity over things that God knows should never justify division has cost us plenty, but nothing like it’s about to, if what I believe about the end is true.

Your friend in the cause of God and truth, Reggie

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