Some Random, Incomplete, mostly borrowed notes on the Baptism Debate


“Baptism is, therefore, personally instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a sign (that is, a visible representation of God’s word of promise, and an outward token of inward spiritual realities). It is also a seal (that is, a mark or visible confirmation of God’s promises in the Covenant of Grace, all of which are received by faith). Baptism is a picture of our union with Christ, and thus a perpetual reminder of the forgiveness of sins, regeneration, adoption, and eternal life, by grace, through Christ.

In baptism, the covenant promise of God is made visible to believers and their children. All Christians agree that baptism is to be applied to believers. This is obvious. Additionally, most Christians, today and in history, have also believed that Scripture teaches that the children of believing parents should be baptized, because of the unity of the covenant of grace, and because the children of believers have been part of the household of God since Old Testament times.

This is seen in Genesis 17:7 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” God tells Abraham in 17:10-12 that the covenant sign is to be applied to Abraham, his descendants and even the Gentiles of his household. This threefold covenant formula (you, your children, and Gentiles brought within the covenant family) is repeated and expanded by Peter in Acts 2:39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

Hence, because the children of believers are part of the covenant community, the visible church, in the New Covenant as well as the Old Covenant, they are to receive baptism, and have a special access to the outward privileges of the church.

Water baptism does not regenerate children (any more than it regenerates an adult!); rather, by baptism, children of believers are solemnly acknowledged as members of the visible Church, distinguished from the world, and brought into blessed company with believers.

An obligation comes with baptism: All who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce Satan, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh.

We should reiterate, children are baptized because they are in the covenant, not in the covenant by virtue of their baptism. Water baptism does not regenerate children, but the fruit of this means of grace (like the other ordinary means of grace) reaches to the whole course of our life.

Covenant children, by virtue of being children of believing parents, are members of the Church, which is signified in baptism, but this is not sufficient to make them continue members of the Church. We look for them to exercise faith and repentance, and to make public confession and profession of their faith in Christ.” Ligon Duncan

Baptist Arguments against Infant Baptism

In summary they are two: It does not occur in Scripture, and infants are not capable of exercising faith, the pre-requisite for baptism.

John MacArthur Expands

1 ) Infant baptism is not commanded in the NT (or found anywhere in Scripture)

Response:  It is found in Gen 17:7, the covenant sign belongs to the covenant children.

2)  Infant baptism is not Christian Baptism (JM)

Christian baptism is this: somebody believes as an adult, they repent of their sin, they confess Jesus as Lord, they acknowledge Him as Savior, they are saved, then they are baptized. That is New Testament Christian baptism. (JM)

Response: Baptism is God telling us he is faithful to his Word and promise.  Our response of faith is not necessary to the essence of the sacrament, but God’s faithfulness is.  Baptism is the rite of initiation into the covenant community, it means the same thing to the infant as it does to the adult believer.  It is a sign and seal, a picture and guarantee of the covenant of Grace and all the blessing that belong to us and are received by faith.

3)  Infant baptism is not a replacement sign for the Abrahamic sign of circumcision.

Circumcision introduced infants into an earthly and temporary community, the nation of Israel.  That nation has passed away so the sign has passed away.  But, both circumcision and Baptist point to the same spiritual reality, the circumcision of the heart, the circumcision made without hands – spiritual regeneration, washing, cleansing and participation in the spiritual community (covenant community).

4)  Infant baptism is not consistent with the nature of the church.

Believers only church, a pure church, a professing church.

“paedo-baptism destroys the redeemed church idea. It just completely assaults the idea that this is a redeemed community of people who have come to personal faith in Jesus Christ.” (JM)

Even Baptists do not have a pure church,  an exclusively professing church – they have tares among the wheat too.  The church, in this life, was never intended to be spotless or without wrinkles – but one day, in the future, it will be.  Their ecclesiology is too high.

5) Infant baptism is not consistent with the Gospel.

Some advocate an “unconscious faith”, a surrogate faith, a dormant faith – but that is not real personal faith that the gospel demands.

Yes, but our faith is not required for the essence of the covenant sign, God’s faithfulness is.  Just as the gospel promise goes out to all based on the faithfulness and promise of God, and it is a real, sincere call, so too baptism is based on the faithfulness of God and is a real, sincere call to faith in the promises of God.  It is consistent with the gospel, and is a picture and exhortation of it.

The points of difference

We differ on hermeneutics.

If you start with the NT you will become a Baptist.

If you start with the OT you will baptize infants.

We differ on what baptism is.

A sign and seal of the covenant of grace.

A sign and personal testimony of my faith.  SBC 2000,  “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”

“Baptism is not a sign of the child’s faith; it is a sign of what the child will receive by faith.  It is a sign of God’s promise, which is received by faith.” (RC vol 3, p. 116)

In baptism God says something to us, not we to him.

We differ on the church.

Baptists believe in a purer church than had in the OT, believers only.

We believe that the church belongs to believers and their seed, just like in the OT.

What is the basis, the ground of baptism?

Is it faith, dormant faith, presumptive regeneration, surrogate faith? No.

It is the covenant of Grace, the promise belongs to believers and their children.  This is an objective, not a subjective ground for baptism.  We baptize because they are in covenant with God.

Baptism and Faith

Is faith a prerequisite or a post requisite?  Faith is required in order to receive the blessing signified and sealed in baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or even the Word preached.  Does baptism assume faith?  Does baptism follow faith?  Does baptism strengthen faith?  It strengthens faith.

“Although baptism, like the external calling, still produces many a blessing even for unbelievers, its true fruit and full power can only be enjoyed by believers.  Objectively baptism, like the Word, remains the same.  Those who faith receive the Word and hence also those who in faith receive baptism really obtain the promise that God has attached to it…. For maturing believers…the sacraments do not gradually decrease in importance but continually gain in value.  To the eye of faith they even more beautifully and gloriously display the riches of God’s grace.  For every believer and for the whole church, they are proof of grace received, a sign of God’s faithfulness, a basis for pleading one’s case in prayer, a supporting pillar for one’s faith, and an exhortation to new obedience.”  Bavinck, vol 4, p. 532.

Believers can ‘improve’ their baptism.

Q. 167. How is baptism to be improved by us?

A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

Early Church On Baptism

Tertullian, believing that baptism washed away all previous sins taught “deferment of baptism is more profitable…. All who understand what a burden baptism is will have more fear of obtaining it than of its postponement.”  It was best to postpone baptism for as long as possible, since one otherwise ran the danger of again falling into sin and of losing the grace received in baptism. (Bavinck, vol 4, 522)

Augustine, though that baptism was only for believers, and knowing infants incapable of faith, he appealed to the faith of the parents as responding in place of the children.  “They believe by reason of the faith of the parents.”  This is the faith of another (fides aliena), and its tendency was towards baptismal regeneration.

Arguments for Infant baptism

1)      There is continuity between the OC and the NC.

2)     Baptism is the covenant sign in the NC, replacing Circumcision as the covenant sign of the OC.

3)     God did command infants to receive the covenant sign of circumcision.

4)     Covenant signs are of the righteousness that we have by faith, not the faith that we have by righteousness.

5)     There are household baptisms in the NT.

6)     Infants of believers are included in the NC (1 Cor 7:14)

7)     By AD 200, infant baptism was the universal practice of the church.

Baptist Arguments against Infant baptism

1)      There is no explicit command to baptism infants in the NT.

2)     Baptism is a sign of faith, infants don’t have faith.

3)     There seems to be a NT progress from repentance and faith and then be baptized.

4)     There are 12 records of baptisms in the NT, all of adults; none explicitly of children.

5)     Circumcision marked ethnic separation; that is not longer true in the NC.

6)     Some believe in baptismal regeneration which gives false hope.

7)     Not until the middle of the 2nd century do we have a record of infant baptism.

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