After I became a Calvinist (around 1988), a series of events conspired to bring me to paedobaptist convictions as well. It happened on this wise.
I had come to an understanding of the doctrines of grace while preaching through the book of Romans; when I started the series through that book I did not hold to them, and when I finished I did. I remember telling one of the other elders that I did not know what I was going to say when I got to “those chapters.” There was a lot more to this process, which I will probably record some other time, but my interest here is to record one of the consequences of coming to Calvinist convictions. When I became a Calvinist, the most immediate result was that our church became the only church in our area where these convictions were showing up in the pulpit. The church had been evolving out of its “Jesus-people” origins, and when I began preaching the sovereignty of grace, one of the first things that happened was that the church began to attract various Reformed refugees who had been hiding out in various other places. The overwhelming majority of these refugees were Presbyterian or Reformed . . . and paedobaptist. So they began coming to this Calvinist and baptistic fellowship, which was better, one supposes, than nothing. One day the inevitable happened. One of these families was blessed with a baby, and the father asked me to baptize it. This was, of course, quite an outlandish suggestion, but I decided that I need to read something about all this, so that I could understand where these people were coming from. This is where a lot of my troubles have always arisen — reading — and I would join a twelve-step program to deal with it, but they would probably ask me to read something.
Anyhow, I began to read various books on the subject. The baptists made good sense to me, and the paedobaptists would argue yammer yammer covenant yammer yammer yammer covenant yammer suffer the little children. I was making no headway. One of the best Baptist books I read was Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, which my wife once saw in my briefcase, and admonished me for. “What are you doing?” “Don’t worry, he’s against it,” I said. The more I read the more I became convinced that the paedobaptists had no Scripture. As I read I did not have that slippy feeling that I had had earlier, say, with Calvinism. The concrete of my baptistic upbringing was hardening
The thing that up-ended me was an essay that I got (from a friend, Roy Atwood) on covenant succession, written by Rob Rayburn. Roy had been talking to Rob, and had described the “process” I was going through, and so Rob gave him the essay, when Roy then gave to me. The essay rattled me completely, in large measure because Rayburn effectively tied infant baptism in with the promises of God in Scripture. We can trust in faith that our children will follow and serve our God faithfully. This rattled me because I had learned covenant succession from my staunchly baptistic father. He had taught me down to my bones that we can believe God for our children, and that is what I had always believed. In effect, Rayburn was appealing to something that I had always held, and then urged me (though not in these words) to put my water where my mouth was.
I was in trouble and I knew it. I told my wife what was happening to me (although it hadn’t happened yet). I had fallen out of the airplane, and had some idea of where I was going to hit. But I had not hit yet. She took it like a trooper, as she always does. After that I informed my elders about what was happening to me, and where I thought I was probably going to land.
There were three elders besides myself, and the initial response was actually quite good. We committed as a group of elders to study the subject, which we began to do. The church (at that time named Community Evangelical Fellowship) had a baptistic statement of faith (which I had written). As a result of our study we failed to come to agreement, although I was still in free fall. I was not yet willing to say, simply, “I am a paedobaptist.” There were a number of reasons for this — bigoted reluctance to declare as a paedobaptist being among them. The situation was desperate. I was like the elders of Jabash, asking for seven days to send around for help. If not, I would surrender and lose the right eye.
It was at this point that the miracle happened. One of the other elders suggested that because the four elders were not in agreement on the subject of baptism we should therefore remove the baptistic statements from our statement of faith. I told the elders that it was not necessary to do that on my account. I was the one who was changing. If I landed as a paedo (Idaho, land of famous paedos!), I was willing never to teach or preach on the subject, and I was willing to refrain from baptizing infants. In short, I was willing to roll over completely on the subject. This was because I was convinced that in this sort of situation, this was how God would work. But this elder insisted, and a motion was made, and the baptistic clause was removed from the statement of faith. I was still an agno-baptist, but now, so was the church.
We continued to study and discuss it, and continued to get nowhere. I was writing the material that eventually became To A Thousand Generations, which was another oddity. I was not a paedobaptist, but I was writing an argument for paedobaptism, primarily because I needed to read it. The standard paedobaptist works (which I now appreciate greatly) were just not answering the peculiar questions that I had. They were not scratching my particular baptist itch. But at some point in there, I finally settled, finally came down. I remember telling the kids at dinner, “Well, we are paedobaptist now.” The announcement was met with spirited discussion, argumentation, and then thorough acceptance.
In the meantime, I believe the other elders realized what they had done by removing the baptistic statement from our statement of faith. I had become a paedobaptist in a church that had absolutely no statement at all on the subject. One position was no more privileged than the other.
At this point, unfortunately, they decided to simply assert that the church was still baptistic on the basis of some baptistic sounding turns of phrase that were still in the statement of faith. There were a number of issues involved, and it was kind of messy, but the upshot was that they wanted me to recant my convictions or step down from the pastorate, and even if I did recant my convictions, I would be rotated out of the pulpit on a regular basis. They sent out a letter outlining their proposal to the heads of households in our church, and assured the men that they would take no action without first receiving their input. We met with the heads of households to get their input — which they pointedly gave. The men there at that meeting said, in effect, that they wanted no one to resign, and that they wanted us to work this out.
After the meeting, I was expecting the other elders to make a decision, which our family was fully prepared to submit to. If I was removed from the pastorate, we were not going to leave the church — it was our home. I told Nancy that the following Sunday we would still be there in our row. But instead of making a decision, the whole thing ended in a whimper. One of the elders, sadly, left the church after just a few weeks. One stepped down as elder, but remained in the church until we baptized the first infant about a year later. And the third elder genuinely received the input from the men of the church, and has continued to serve the congregation faithfully, down to the present.
The most remarkable thing about all this was the removal of the baptistic phrase from the statement of faith. I can only attribute it to God turning human hearts directly. The vote was unanimous — three baptists and one head-scratcher. It was one of the most striking things I have seen my life.