Adrian Warnock has been presenting an interview with Wayne Grudem in several parts. In part 7, Grudem presents an argument against the position my congregation takes on baptism, and I don't think the argument should ultimately be convincing, so I wanted to respond to it here.
Paedobaptists baptize their children as infants. They do this as an indication that they place their children in God's hands while dedicating themselves to raising this child to understand the Christian gospel and to train the child in godliness. Credobaptists think children should wait until they can express their commitment to Christ before being baptized, since baptism should be something only a conscious believer should undergo. I didn't know this, but Grudem says the Evangelical Free Church has been allowing people to do either, according to whichever view they agree with. (Peter Kirk notes in the comments that the Church of England allows both as well. Matthew Sims says the Free Presbyterian Church does as well, and PamBG says the British Methodists also do. I didn't know that for any of them.) Grudem has welcomed this position and encouraged others to take it. It turns out to be the same position my congregation has had since the late 70s, when they first formed. But Grudem now worries that the position cannot hold up and will ultimately implode because of its attempt to reconcile two views that cannot be reconciled. I disagree.
My congregation takes the view that neither view can so clearly be shown from scripture as to justify practicing only one of them. Parents are given the option of (1) baptizing their children as infants and then having a confirmation if that child turns out to become a faithful Christian upon reaching an age when such a thing can be discovered or (2) dedicating their children as infants, leaving baptism to be pursued at a later date when genuine commitment to Christ is clear enough. The content of infant baptism and infant dedication is pretty much the same thing, with minor enough differences that justify the difference in whether it is called baptism. The content of credobaptism and confirmation is also pretty much the same thing, with the difference being slight enough to justify a different name for it, but it's mostly a difference of what it's called.
Now Grudem's argument is as follows:
For people who hold to infant baptism, they have to be able to say that it’s OK for believing parents not to baptize their infant children, which seems to them to be disobeying a command of Scripture as they understand it. How can they really say this?
On the other side, those who hold to believer’s baptism (as I do) have to be willing to admit into church membership people who have been baptized as infants, and who did not, of course, make any profession of faith at the time they were baptized. But these people (such as myself) who think that genuine baptism has to follow a personal profession of faith are then put in position of saying that infant baptism is also a valid form of baptism. And that contradicts what they believe about the essential nature of baptism - that it is an outward sign of an inward spiritual change, so that the apostle Paul could say, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)
I'll take the first part first. People who hold to infant baptism do not have to believe that it's not ok for parents not to baptize their children. They might in fact believe (1) that it's not a sin not to baptize but rather see it as just a bad idea. On the other hand, they might believe (2) that it's a minor sin of the sort that shouldn't cause division but insist on not committing that sin themselves (and also to engage in dialogue on that issue with those who disagree as they would on any other). Finally, they could accept (3) that someone who dedicates their child but refuses to call it baptism has nonetheless baptized their child. A good friend of mine in my congregation who still considers himself really still a member of the PCA takes exactly this view. He thinks our dedications of our children amount to baptisms.
So there are three different potential views that avoid Grudem's problem. That means this shouldn't necessarily make this a barrier to allowing the church to be what it is, which is the gathering of believers regardless of these sorts of differences. (We don't see Paul allowing the divisions in I Corinthians allowing them to separate into congregations according to their different views. He rather assumes throughout the epistle that their differences should stand alongside each other in the same congregations.)
Now there are people who hold more extreme views on baptism, and they wouldn't end up in this sort of congregation, but a paedobaptist intending to hold the mediating position will try to argue that that view of infant baptism is wrong. That is in fact what the one elder in my congregation who is a paedobaptist argues. Neither position is so clear in scripture that anyone could seriously argue that it's a sin to do the one that happens to be wrong. The fact that people on both sides look at the same biblical passages in different ways and maintain orthodoxy in every other way while also existing in large numbers within evangelicalism seems to me to show that. I'm not prepared to argue to all paedobaptists that they must adopt this view, but all I need to show is that someone can accept paedobaptism along with this sort of view. Once you do that, you should be ok with getting along with others in your congregation who have a different view on this.
Similarly, credobaptists in such a setting need not take Grudem's view. He thinks of people who have been baptized as infants as not being baptized, and it is thus immoral for congregations to allow people to think they've been baptized when they haven't been. The same three positions are available here. Someone might think (1) that those baptized as infants have not really been baptized, but they think they have been and thus aren't doing anything immoral by not being genuinely baptized. Alternatively, one might think (2) that those who are baptized as infants and then never re-baptized later have not genuinely been baptized, and it is wrong not to be baptized genuinely, but it's not on the level of the kinds of sins that must be confronted in terms of church discipline or causing divisions. Finally, someone might think (3) those who are baptized as infants are not thereby baptized, but the confirmation is basically the equivalent of a baptism in terms of its content. You lose some of the imagery, but imagery is imagery. That's unfortunate but not a sin. That is in fact my position.
So there are several ways a credobaptist can get around Grudem's problem. Not every credobaptist will take this line, and Grudem himself seems not to want to say any of those things. Still, this shows that someone of either view (paedobaptism or credobaptism) can consistently hold to the position of the Evangelical Free Church, my own congregation, and anyone else who advocates accepting members who will take either position on baptism. The position itself does not necessarily implode, as Grudem thinks it does.
I must reiterate again that some people will not in good conscience be able to take part in such a congregation. I would insist to them that I think they misunderstand the biblical teachings on baptism. But my goal here is not to convince paedobaptists or credobaptists of the mediating position. It's to show that a congregation can hold such a position consistently as long as the paedobaptists and credobaptists in the congregation are willing to take the more moderating positions of those views that I've outlined. Therefore, Grudem's argument doesn't show the impossibility of such a situation lasting (and I think the continued existence of my own congregation for 28 years with no real difficulty is also testament to the potential longevity of a congregation holding this position).