Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Brief Answers to Baptist Objections

In earlier posts I have written about the doctrine of the covenant and how this doctrine informs our practice of baptism. In discussing baptism, I argued for the practice of infant baptism, that is, that believers and their children ought to be baptized. Here I want to briefly address a few common Baptist objections to this practice.

Objection: There is no command or example in the Bible of the baptism of the infants of believers.

1. An explicit example is not needed, since it was the default practice to include children with their parents, a common assumption among the original recipients of the apostles' preaching and writings. This was the case naturally (not just in Israel) and due to the way God had worked in the past, particularly with his clear commands regarding circumcision. The exclusion of infants would be the practice in need of biblical command or example.

2. While infants are not explicitly mentioned, in principle they are included when the Bible speaks of the believer’s “household” which would be in some sense “saved” and which was baptized (Acts 16:15, 31-34).

3. There is an explicit example of infants being baptized in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 when all Israel (which we know included infants) is described as being “baptized.”

4. It teaches it by deduction, as I have observed in my prior post. It can be deduced in several ways. For example: (premise 1) the disciples of Christ ought to be baptized (Matt. 28:28-20); (premise 2) the children of believers are disciples of Christ, being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4); (conclusion) therefore they ought to be baptized.

Objection: Baptism is a person’s testimony of their choice to believe, and infants are incapable of doing this. 

Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s promise and our engagement to be God’s, but it is not primarily a testimony of our faith to the world. It does visibly distinguish us from the world, but the Bible does not speak of baptism as our testimony to the world - more often it speaks of it as a testimony to us (Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12, Gal. 3:27).

Objection: Baptism is no good without faith, therefore only professing believers ought to be baptized. The pattern is repent, believe, and be baptized. 

This is the same with circumcision: Abraham repented, believed, and then was given circumcision. Circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness he had by faith (Rom. 4:11). But it did not logically follow, nor does it now logically follow, that the sign could not be applied to the believer’s offspring. The sign and seal of the righteousness which comes by faith was given to infants.

Objection: Baptism must be by immersion, and infants can’t be immersed, so therefore it must be for those who are older. 

1. Infants can be immersed. Eastern Orthodox churches practice baptism by immersion and baptize infants in that manner. See here. Even if immersion was required, it wouldn't be an argument against infant baptism.

2. Scripture does not teach that baptism must be by immersion. It must simply be washing with water. The word baptism means “washing” and can refer to immersion, sprinkling, or pouring (Mark 7:4, Heb. 9:10). Sprinkling is used as a symbol of God’s cleansing and regenerating work in Ezek. 36:25, Is. 52:15, Heb. 10:22, and the Spirit is described as being “poured out” on God’s people in a way connected with baptism (Acts 2, 10, Titus 3:5-6).

3. The earliest record of the mode of baptism we have outside the Bible, the Didache, allows for both immersion and pouring. “…baptize…in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit” (7.1-3).

Objection: The new covenant only includes the regenerate, as Jeremiah 31:31-34 says. 

1. This still doesn’t help us determine who to baptize, since we cannot see infallibly who is regenerate.

2. The New Testament sees the threat of apostasy by visible saints in the same way that it was a threat in the Old Testament (e.g. Hebrews, 1 Cor. 10).

3. This passage does not say that the new covenant will achieve this by setting new standards for entrance. Rather, it says it will achieve this by God writing the law on their hearts (by the Spirit, in a parallel passage in Ezekiel 36:25-27). It is a promise of greater blessings, not of greater restrictions.

4. Deuteronomy 30:1-6 describes the same idea - God internally renewing his people following captivity - and explicitly includes children, promising to “circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring.”

Objection: People who are baptized as infants don’t take seriously the need to repent and believe. 

Sadly, this is sometimes true. I have found this objection especially from those with a Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant background, but nominalism is a threat in every church. It was true in the Old Testament, and it was true in the New Testament. But presumption was not addressed in the Bible by restricting circumcision or baptism to mature believers. The prophets and apostles addressed it by exhorting all the church to repent and believe, to be circumcised in the heart, not merely in the flesh. In fact, baptism ought to give more reason to earnestly train our children in the faith and call them to embrace the covenant, to live up to their baptismal identity. But the best way to address this practical objection is by example. May we who practice infant baptism not separate it from the duty to raise up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, encouraging them to embrace Christ and calling upon God to grant the reality symbolized in baptism.

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