Old Dialog on Baptism

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I was clearing out some files on my computer this evening, and came across a dialog on baptism I wrote eons ago. I don’t think it was ever published anywhere, but who knows?

Because it seemed the easiest and most natural way to do this, I decided to place my answers to objections in the context of a fictional conversation between a mature Christian who has been questioning his baptist assumptions, but is by no means convinced of the paedobaptist position, and another Christian, who is firmly convinced of the paedobaptist position. While such a setting is very suitable for covering a large number of disconnected issues, and is also more readable for many, there is a possibility of setting up a “straw man” in such a debate. That was certainly not my intention, but the reader will have to judge how successful my attempt at evenhandedness was.

My characters are John, a baptist, and Paul a paedobaptist. They are friends on good terms with one another, and so should we be.

John helped himself to the coffee, settled in his chair, and looked at Paul with a mock solemnity. “Are you sure you don’t mind a bunch more questions?”

Paul laughed. “I certainly don’t mind the number of questions. Sometimes I mind the ones I can’t answer.”

John smiled. “Well, I have a pile of them. Some I know we have talked about before, but I still need to get them settled in my mind. And others we may have not talked about . . .”

“Go right ahead.”

“You have said before that the type of covenantal infant baptism you espouse has nothing in common with Roman Catholic baptism. But why does it appear to so many Christians that the contrary is the case? Why does infant baptism look like a relic of Catholicism that the Reformation didn’t get to?”

Paul nodded. “They look the same because both baptisms have water, a baby, and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They look similar at first glance. But appearances, as the saying goes, are deceiving.”

Paul pointed at his library shelf, and continued. “For example, look at that set of books. Augustine’s City of God there is bound in the same way as Darwin’s Origin of Species. They look very similar, especially from this distance. But I have read them both and they differ in what they say. And of course what they say makes all the difference.”

“Okay. So what is the difference between what you say about infant baptism, and what the Roman church says?”

Paul thought for a moment. “The best way to summarize the difference is to say that the Roman church claims that baptism accomplishes a spiritual work of regenerative grace in the infant. It works ex opere operato, which means that it works automatically.”

“And the covenantal paedobaptist position . . . “

“. . . says that the baptism is a sign of the covenant between God and His people, and that the sign placed on this infant points to Christ, who is the sole righteousness of that covenant. The sign points away from the infant to Christ, not from Christ to the infant.”

“Don’t you believe that the state of the child has anything to do with it?”

“Well, of course it does. If the child never comes to saving faith, he is shown to be a false witness concerning Christ because he is giving conflicting testimony. His baptism points to the righteousness of Christ, while his life refuses to point to the righteousness of Christ. And if he comes to profess true evangelical faith, he is not a lying witness. His baptism and his life do not conflict.”

John pressed the point. “But say a child is baptized, and that child is not elect, what do you think the baptism does for him?”

“First, it gets him wet . . .”

John grinned. “But not very wet, right?”

Paul laughed. “Right. And secondly, if the child never comes to profess a true saving faith his baptism only increases his condemnation. The child receives no spiritual blessing from the baptism at all.”

“So why do it?”

“The Bible commands it.”

“Oh, right. I forgot all about that.” They both laughed.

John paused for a few moments. Then he resumed. “Doesn’t it bother you that there are no recorded instances of an infant being baptized in the New Testament?”

“No, not really. Should it?”

John sat back in his chair. “Well, of course it should. It is a real stumbling block for people like me. I would be happy to be a paedobaptist — all I need is one tiny verse.”

Paul leaned forward. “Mind if I change the subject — just for a moment? It’ll come back to this question.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Do you think that women should be able to partake of the Lord’s Supper?”


“I said, do you think that women should be able to partake of the Lord’s Supper?”

“Of course.”

Paul was shaking his head. “Well, I don’t know . . .”

John laughed. “Okay. So what’s the point?”

“Well, don’t get me wrong. I’d be happy to be a femino/communionist — all I need is one tiny verse.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that we have no recorded instance anywhere in Scripture of a woman partaking of the Lord’s Supper.”

John was shaking his head. “Now you’re not serious about this, are you? You believe that women should receive the Lord’s Supper, don’t you?”

Paul laughed. “Certainly.”

“Well, then, why did you bring this up?”

“I didn’t bring it up. You brought it up. You seemed to be saying that we can’t offer an ordinance of the church to a class of people unless we have at least one verse showing the first century church offering that ordinance to that same class of people.”

“Well, why do you think women should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper?”

“Because we should argue from what the Bible teaches about the status of women to the ordinance, and not from the recorded narratives of the ordinance to the theological status of women.”

“Fine. Okay. Translate, please.”

Paul nodded. “The Bible says that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Believing husbands and wives are joint heirs of eternal life. Women were baptized, along with men. Therefore, because we know their standing in the church, we must not keep them away from the Lord’s Supper, which is an ordinance of the church.”

“Fine. I agree with that.”

“But how would you answer someone who reasoned against you. When you said that in Christ there was neither male nor female, they said this was true but the passage did not mention the Lord’s Supper. There was no wine and bread in the passage at all. And when you said that wives were joint heirs with their husbands, they said this was all very well and good but there was still no mention of the Lord’s Supper. And when you pointed out that women were baptized, they said that baptism was not the same thing as communion. All they demand is one tiny verse that says, point blank, flat out, that Lydia participated in the cup of the new covenant. One tiny verse is not that much to ask — but it isn’t there. Is this demand a reasonable one?”

John shook his head. “No, of course not. Every reasonable Christian would agree that women should partake of the Lord’s Supper.”

“But in order to say this we would have to agree that it is reasonable to ascertain the standing of a group of individuals, as described in Scripture, and reason from that status to their qualifications for participation in the ordinance?”

“Uh oh. I guess so. Let’s see where you take this.”

“The procedure which we both agree is questionable when applied to women is the one employed by baptists in denying infants the right to baptism.”

John shook his head. “I don’t see it. The verses you cited before concerning women are very clear.”

“They are only clear to everyone because no one is currently disputing the right of women to partake in the Supper. If someone were disputing it, then this issue would quickly be as fogged up as the infant baptism debate is. But clarity should be an exegetical concern, and not a measure of how much Christians disagree about something.”

“Well, can you name me one verse that is as exegetically clear about the standing of children as the verses you cited about the standing of women were?”

“Fine. There are countless passages. Will you settle for two for now?”


“In Luke 18, some infants and children of Jewish parents are brought to Jesus for a blessing. At least some of them are infants — Luke uses the word brephos — and Jesus blesses them. And then he says that of such is the kingdom of heaven . . .”

John interrupted. “But Jesus is not baptizing in that passage. There is no water here.”

“Of course not. But there are infants here. I was not claiming any water or baptisms in the passage. I was simply citing it as a passage which teaches us the status of our children. We are told that of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Do you mean all children in the world have this status?”

Paul shook his head. “No, and that brings us to the second passage I was going to mention. In 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul distinguishes between the children of unbelievers, calling them unclean, and the children of at least one believer, calling them saints.”

John sank back in his chair, but he still looked dubious. “Go on.”

Paul continued. “The temptation is to treat this whole debate over infant baptism as a disagreement over baptism. It really is not. It is a disagreement over the status of our children. If someone denied women access to the Lord’s Supper, the dispute would not be about the nature of the Lord’s Supper at all. The debate would be about the status of women. In the same way, this debate is not over baptism. It is over children.”

“Well, you certainly have my attention. I’ll have to think about this one. Different angle for a moment?”

“Do it.”    

John paused for a moment, and then resumed. “Do you agree that the early church baptized by immersion?”

Paul nodded assent. “I certainly do.”

“Doesn’t that make you question your denomination’s practice? Almost all your baptisms are administered through sprinkling or pouring.”

Paul shook his head. “No, it doesn’t cause me to question at all.”

John grinned. “Okay, it doesn’t. But should it?”

“No, not really. Baptism by immersion is not the only thing the early church practiced. They also baptized their catechumens, men and women both, in the nude, they did so by triune immersion, and, of course, they baptized infants.”

“Well . . .”

Paul continued. “The real question behind this is the role of church history in settling the baptism question. It seems to me that baptists have trouble making up their minds on the place church history should have. It hardly makes sense to appeal to the early fathers on the mode of baptism, and yet assert the fathers were guilty of introducing a gross corruption of the apostolic doctrine with regard to the subjects of baptism. I think we are on far safer ground to simply stay with the Scriptures.”

John answered. “I think you have a point there. Our only standard should be Scripture.”

“Right. Only Scripture. But you realize of course that the standard of Scripture alone also removes another common baptist argument against paedobaptism.”

John laughed. “Okay, I’ll bite. What argument is that?”

“The argument from nominalism in churches which practice infant baptism. If we limit our discussion to Scripture alone, we won’t find ourselves talking about infant baptism being the cause of apostasy and decline in paedobaptist churches. Many churches have fallen away, but Scripture does not identify their doctrine of baptism as the culprit.”

John thought for a few minutes, and then concurred. “I’ll buy that.”

John took a sip of coffee, and then continued. “I’d like to hear your defense of confirmation classes, and the process of confirmation.”

“Well, I don’t have a defense for it.”

“You admit that confirmation is an extrabiblical practice?”

“Yes. Don’t you?”

“Well, of course, I do. I’m the baptist. But why don’t you feel the need to defend confirmation?”

“Because I don’t believe in it. Why don’t you feel the need to defend baptism for the dead? Because you don’t believe in it and neither does your church — even though the cult that practices baptism for the dead also practices immersion. But even though there is a superficial resemblance between what they do and what you do, you shouldn’t have to defend what they do, right?”

“Right. I’m glad we agree.”

“And so I shouldn’t have to defend what other churches do when our church doesn’t agree with it. My denomination has enough of a hard time defending the practices we believe to be scriptural. Why should we spend any extra time defending the practices of other churches that we believe are unscriptural?”

“Okay, okay. Leave me alone.” Both men laughed again.

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10 years ago

Thank you Mr. Wilson, this was very helpful and insightful.

10 years ago

Something for Baptists and evangelicals to think about: the Baptist doctrine of the “Age of Accountability” is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. Isn’t it strange that God provided a means for the babies and toddlers of his chosen people in the Old Testament to be part of his Covenant promises but is completely silent about the issue in the New Testament? Jesus seemed to really love the little children… but he never mentions even once, if the Baptist/evangelical view of salvation is correct, how a Christian parent can be assured that if something dreadful happens to their… Read more »