Views on Baptism

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Marcus Maher reviews a new book called Three Views on Baptism. It basically covers the two main views of baptism found among Protestants along with a third view by Anthony Lane that is very close to what my own congregation does, and I've hardly ever seen anyone argue for such a view in print (which I think is the best practice, for the record).

The idea is that scripture isn't clear enough on the issue of baptism to justify a congregation requiring either believer's baptism or infant baptism. Instead, a congregation should leave it to the parents to decide whether they will (a) baptize their infant in anticipation of a later confirmation or (b) dedicate in anticipation of a later baptism (with pretty much the same content expressed at whichever one ends up occurring).

I happen to be of the view that each practice is functionally equivalent to the other practice. One of them conceptualizes it in a more biblical way, but the other does the same thing under a less-biblical way of describing it and conceiving of it.

As I commented on Marcus' post, I think there are two issues going on here, one of which isn't remotely settled by Lane's approach. Here are two separate questions:

1. What should a church allow in terms of its practice (only infant, only believer's, leave it to the conscience of the parents)?
2. What should a parent do (which might involve how parents choose a congregation to be members of or mighty involve choosing what to do in a dual-practice congregation)?

Even if you answer the first question with dual-practice (as I would), you still need an answer to the second question. I belong to a dual-practice congregation, and I think they made the right choice to allow both. But I think the scriptures do favor believer's baptism. Someone else might disagree with me (as several members of my congregation do, including one of the three elders). But I don't think that disagreement is grounds for division, which is why I favor the dual-practice approach.

What I don't think Lane really answers, though, is the second question. Favoring dual-practice in a congregation doesn't mean not taking a view on which to do when it comes time to decide between them, and it seemed to me from the review that Lane doesn't take a stance on that question. He thus hasn't answered the main question the other two authors are debating in the book, which is a little strange if the book is supposed to cover three views on the same question.


Hi Jeremy,

You are correct that Lane doesn't take a stance on what instance parents should do. What I mentioned in the comments of my blog (comment #2) and I'll also write here for the benefit of your readers, is that he gives parents the following guidance based on the assumption that baptism is an act of initiation. Lane is ok with parents making either decision. He even asked a diagnostic question, would you give your child communion? If the answer is yes, then it shows that you consider the child to already have begun initiation into the church and thus it would make sense for you to baptize them. If you wouldn't give them communion, then it wouldn't make sense to baptize them. Outside of that there's no guidance for the individual that I recall.

With that said, Ferguson and Ware never make the distinction between the two questions you ask either. In fact they never tell you which question they are answering nor does the book specify. It's left fairly open ended. Thinking about it now, it seems to me that they Ware and Ferguson were answering #1 (which on their views makes the answer to #2 automatic). This makes Lane's essay's inclusion more natural.

Communion was a fellowship meal that entire congregations took part in every time they ate together, probably conducted something like the Passover meal with its content related to what they ate except with Christian content, including Jesus' words in the gospels at the Last Supper. Given that, I'm actually beginning to wonder about the usual prohibition of keeping children from participating if you're going to do it the biblical way. But no one does it the biblical way, and what most Protestants take communion to be doesn't seem appropriate for unbelieving children who aren't in the covenant, so I do think it might be a good idea for them to wait until they're baptized/confirmed (i.e. the second event) given what people now take communion to be.

If Lane has a dual-practice view on communion, then he definitely differs from what my congregation practices. They specifically do not condone paedo-communion. Most covenant theologians who practice paedo-baptism don't either.

The practice of leaving the decision to the parents is the standard practice in the Anglican church. I'm sure that there must be Anglican theologians who argue for this position in print, but I can't cite anyone.

Really? I was under the impression that Anglicans just practiced paedobaptism.

Something was mentioned off-handed about Anglicanism moving to dual practice in the book, the impression I got was that this is a recent trend in the Anglican church.

Here is a problem that paedobaptists might have with the dual-aligned congregation as you describe it, where credobaptists have dedication ceremonies for their children. If you accept the Regulative Principle of worship (as many Presbyterian paedobaptists do), you will probably reject performing significant ceremonies in public worship that don't have specific biblical warrant. And if you are a paedobaptist, you'll think that dedication will be one such ceremony. This is compatible with epistemic humility about the biblical warrant for paedobaptism.

You could solve this problem by having a dual-aligned congregation that just doesn't have ceremonies other than baptism -- no dedication, for instance.

I myself have recently come down on the side of credobaptism. It seems clear to me that communion is the new covenant version of the OT feasts, which are meals of the covenant family. So if you are admitted to the covenant family (read: baptized), you should be permitted to take part in the feasts. So paedobaptists should practice paedocommunion; credobaptists should practice credocommunion.

On the last point, you might distinguish between the covenant community and those in the covenant (which roughly lines up with the modern distinction between the visible/invisible church). That might undermine the need for paedobaptism and credobaptism to line up exactly with paedocommunion and credocommunion. The connections aren't quite as necessary if the covenant community can do things those in the covenant shouldn't do.

As for the Regulative Principle, there are plausible and implausible ways of appealing to such a principle. Since the principle itself isn't in scripture, I happen to think it's self-undermining. But even if you accept such a principle, you might do so the way Tim Keller does, and that allows for all manner of things not explicitly discussed in scripture, or you might do so the way the Reformed Presbyterians do, which leads them to restrict themselves to singing psalms with no accompaniment on the ground that they don't have the actual music used for the psalms in biblical worship, but at least they can use the biblical words. To be quite honest, even this doesn't satisfy the very use of the Regulative Principle that they invoke, because they invent tunes not in the Bible, and they use translations not in the original text. They use prayers concocted by contemporary people on the spot and give sermons that aren't just the reading of scripture. That kind of use of the Regulative Principle is impossible, and it's hard for me to imagine someone using it to prevent dedications (when there is a temple dedication of Jesus in the NT) but not taking it to that kind of ridiculous extreme.

A much better application of the Regulative Principle (if we were to accept it, and we shouldn't) is to say that we should adopt the principles given explicitly in scripture to govern worship and no others (which is the part I disagree with; there are moral obligations and good principles that aren't explicitly found in descriptions of public worship in the NT). But those principles include the principle to edify, and we then have to figure out what edifies. We can ask if dance does edify. If it does, we can do it. If it doesn't, we shouldn't. The NT is silent on dance, so the extreme Regulative Principle adherent would say no in principle. But Tim Keller would evaluate it by biblical criteria rather than dismissing it merely because no one happens to mention whether the NT church did it. That kind of Regulative Principle, while still inadequate, is certainly far superior to the RP way of doing things. Once you do that, I see no reason not to include a parental commitment to raise a child by inculcating the gospel and instilling godliness and a congregational commitment to aid the parents in doing so. There are certainly biblical principles behind making such expressions corporately, so a more plausible Regulative Principle should allow that easily.

Whether or not the regulative principle can be found in scripture depends on how the ten commandments are enumerated. Catholics/Lutherans consider the prohibitions against having other gods and against making any graven image to be components of the same commandment. They then split the prohibitions against covetousness, which ensures that the number of commandments is ten. Presbyterians, on the other hand, see a single commandment against covetousness and insist that the prohibition against graven images is a separate commandment from that against having other gods.

The difference is this: under the first system, we may not make graven images of other gods. Whether or not this is appropriate practice for the true God is simply not addressed. Under the second system, any prohibition against graven images of other gods is already implied in the commandment against having the gods themselves. Consequently, the second commandment constitutes a prohibition against making any graven image of the true God. The WSC, 51 explains that the second commandment forbids "the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His Word." The prohibition, then, is not simply against representing God through visible means, but is against any element of worship that would give us the wrong mental image of who God is. In order to minimize this, our worship is to be limited to those ways that God has appointed.

Kevin, that's a creative argument, but I think what's doing the real work is the last part. It seems bad to do anything that would give us the wrong mental image of who God is, so the same principle can be explained without all the controversial ten commandments stuff (which seems like a huge stretch to me to begin with).

But wanting to minimize worship that gives us the wrong image of God doesn't necessitate limited our worship only to explicit things mentioned in the NT. I don't see any argument for that implication.

I probably could have explained it without reference to the ten commandments; however, my primary point wasn't so much to defend the Regulative Principle as it was to respond to your statement that “the principle itself isn't in scripture.” Since you followed this by saying, “I happen to think it's self-undermining,” I inferred you meant that everyone agreed that it wasn't in scripture. As long as adherents believe that it is in scripture, even if this results from faulty exegesis, I couldn't see how this would result in being self-undermining. They, i.e., we, would simply be wrong.

The Regulative Principle is intentionally grounded in scripture, and the primary text is the second commandment. My argument, while it may or may not be creative, is not original. What I call 'wrong mental image', Calvin calls, 'carnal idea'. In his comments on this commandment (Institutes II.VIII.17), he writes, “ he here more plainly declares what his nature is, and what kind of worship with which he is to be honoured, in order that we may not presume to form any carnal idea of him. The purport of the commandment, therefore, is, that he will not have his legitimate worship profaned by superstitious rites. Wherefore, in general, he calls us entirely away from the carnal frivolous observances which our stupid minds are wont to devise after forming some gross idea of the divine nature, while, at the same time, he instructs us in the worship which is legitimate, namely, spiritual worship of his own appointment.”

This is not the only text used in support of the Regulative Principle; however, it should suffice for the point that supporters thereof intend, at least, to ground it in scripture. Getting back to the topic of your post, as well as the comment that introduced the regulative principle, I would object if my church decided to allow dedication ceremonies in place of paedobaptism. It goes back to our view of what baptism is. In an earlier post, you had written that 'the content of infant baptism and infant dedication is pretty much the same thing'. You said the same thing of the content of credobaptism and confirmation. You wrote of those who 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.” I don't doubt that many paedobaptists hold this view; consequently, I can see the consistency of the practice in your own congregation. But it wouldn't work in mine. While we see your description of paedobaptist intent as part of the picture, we also believe that, baptism being a sacrament, the primary actor is God and not the parents. It is both a means of grace and a picture of grace compatible with a Calvinistic view of soteriology in which God acts first. Our view of baptism cannot be separated from our view of God. The dedication of an unbaptized infant, being nothing more than an act of the parents, would necessitate a view of God in which he was not the first actor.

My claim is that it's not in scripture and that it's self-undermining. My claim is not that no one thinks it's in scripture or that no one thinks it's not self-undermining. If it's in fact no in scripture, that's enough or it to be self-undermining.

The empiricists didn't think their principle of trusting no source of information but their senses was self-undermining. But it is, because you can't get that principle from trusting only in your senses.

Also, my claim is that the content of paedobaptism (as practiced by Protestants) and infant dedication is identical, not that everyone who does either believes they're identical. Similarly, I think the content of credobaptism and confirmation are identical, not that everyone who does either thinks they're identical.

I've never been sure what a sacrament is even supposed to be, so I've been skeptical that there are any such things. But if your account that it's something God-initiated is correct, then why shouldn't infant dedications be God-initiated? Why wouldn't the godly desire to raise one's child in the faith and the commitment in public to do so be God-initiated? This should especially be so if Calvinism is true.

"Since the principle (Regulative Principle) itself isn't in scripture, I happen to think it's self-undermining."

I've heard people say the same thing about Sola Scriptura. Nothing to add, just popped into my head.

I agree about the empiricists. In this case, however, their principle is self-undermining despite what they think because it could not be otherwise. It's in the very nature of the principle. The same is not the case in disputes about the content of scripture. It is possible that scripture could have taught the Regulative Principle, been silent on the issue, or taught the Normative Principle. If the Regulative Principle is not in scripture, then scripture itself undermines it. Since this absence would not be necessary, though, the Regulative Principle, because it claims that all matters of worship should be grounded in scripture (either directly or through good and necessary consequence), would be self-undermining only if, by intentionally being grounded in something other than scripture, it was made an exception to its own rule.

I understand your claim about the identity of content between paedobaptism and infant dedication, even if I don't agree with it. Since we take contradictory positions, only one of us can be right. Objective reality does not submit itself to a belief system. That being said, practice is subject to belief. My church could never substitute infant dedication for paedobaptism because of our belief that the one is substantially different from the other.

There certainly is a sense in which the desire to publicly commit to raising one's child in the faith is God-initiated. Likewise, I wouldn't argue that the desire of credobaptists to teach their children to submit to baptism upon profession of faith is not God-initiated. There is biblical precedent both for the dedicating of one's children and for the baptism of believers. Nevertheless, the mere fact that a desire is God-initiated does not imply that anyone acting on that desire is going to have all the details correct. In any event, when speaking of God being the first actor in baptism, I wasn't referring to him initiating the desire to have one's child baptized, even though I believe this to be true. Rather, I meant that, through the means of baptism, God makes an offer and promise of the grace of regeneration and salvation to worthy receivers, or 'such as that grace belongeth unto'. [For more on this, see the Westminster Confession chapters XXVII-XXIX.] In baptism, the promise is made by God; in infant dedications, by the parents.

Furthermore, since we see baptism as the functional equivalent of circumcision (with necessary adjustments made due to Christ's first advent), it is possible to show a biblical distinction between dedication and baptism. You gave the example of the temple dedication of Jesus, and it is precisely because of this that I couldn't use the Regulative Principle to make a case against infant dedication. Even so, according to the sequence of events both recorded in Luke and laid out in Mosaic law, I can make a case against the dedication of unbaptized infants. Jesus, as with all sons of faithful Jewish parents, was circumcised on the eighth day. His dedication, due to regulations concerning the purification of his mother, could have been no earlier than his fortieth day. An uncircumcised child, brought to the temple for dedication, would not have been accepted.

Danny- They would be right if Sola Scriptura really weren't in scripture. The mistake comes in the assumption that Sola Scriptura requires that every matter of faith or practice be warranted with a specific statement in scripture. It does not. According to the Westminster Confession I.VI, "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture..." The Bible's presentation of itself as a rule of faith and practice, together with its explicit prohibitions against additions or subtractions, as well as its presentation of Christ as the summation of God's revelation, all work together to make the case that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice, i.e., Sola Scriptura.


What does your church do if someone who was baptized as an infant wants to be rebaptized because they see their first baptism as invalid (esp. if they were baptized as an infant in your church)?

Our church is thinking about going dual-practice and this is one of the sticky discussion points right now.

I'm not sure, but now I'm curious, so I'll have to ask someone who would know. I know they have recognized Catholic baptisms among people who don't consider themselves ever to have been genuine believers while Catholic and then converted genuinely later in life. I don't know if they've encountered people who don't consider such baptisms valid and want to be re-baptized. My suspicion is that they would honor their conscience and re-baptize them, but I'll have to ask one of the elders to be sure.

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