You: A credobaptist1 (likely of the Baptist variety) considering embracing paedobaptism2 (likely of the Presbyterian variety). At this point, you’ve seen something in paedobaptist arguments; perhaps it’s the New Testament emphasis on households or perhaps an apparent continuity between the New Covenant and the covenant of circumcision made with Abraham. You are at a point where you are willing to tell others that you are considering these things; perhaps you even ask them to convince you otherwise, but deep down you suspect you may have already reached your conclusions and passed the point of no return.
Me: A Baptist pastor who wants to help! I have some advice for you, and it is probably not the advice you are expecting.
My advice for you
Put everything on hold until you have studied congregationalism.3
Or, to give you something more directly actionable, read Jonathan Leeman’s Don’t Fire Your Church Members.
Now why on earth would I recommend this?
- As stated in the introduction, I’m assuming you’ve already done a bit of study on baptism, so it’s not clear I have anything to offer you haven’t already considered. Perhaps if we were face-to-face, I could discuss the matter with you for long hours, but even then, there’s something psychological about this point in your journey that would resist new arguments. I don’t say that as an insult or to accuse you of being closed-minded; it’s just a reality of human weakness and the deliberative process.
- Most people don't learn about Baptist polity (i.e., congregationalism) and so don't think much of it. They don’t realize it’s a great treasure that's typically lost in a switch to another kind of practice.
- Congregationalism is more fundamental than credobaptism and therefore should precede any conclusions on baptism. Congregational suffrage necessitates regenerate membership but not the other way around.
- In many respects, in pitting them against their opposing positions, the case for congregationalism is more straightforward than the case for credobaptism. In other words, in working out related doctrinal issues, it represents low-hanging fruit.
A right understanding of church polity4—which I would argue congregationalism is—answers the question “who holds the keys of the kingdom, and how should they be exercised?” (Matthew 16:19). These keys are used to remove from the church (i.e., excommunicate) in Matthew 18 and used to add to the church (i.e., baptize) in Matthew 28. Your understanding of the keys must inform your understanding of their use in baptism.
If you are inclined to dismiss this advice as irrelevant, please consider that connection just described. I’ll say it again.
Put everything on hold until you have studied congregationalism.
My advice for others
Maybe I assumed to much about you and you aren’t nearly as far along in your considerations of paedobaptism as I described in the introduction. Maybe no one has ever taught you Baptist covenant theology and you didn’t realize there was a serious counter argument to the one-covenant-multiple-administrations model, common in Presbyterianism.
If that’s the case, I would simply point out that the New Covenant is not like the Old (Jeremiah 31:31-32), and the unity between them is found in typological reference (i.e., foreshadowing), not in essential identity. Here’s a reading list to help you contemplate this point.
- The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom by Samuel Renihan5
- The Distinctiveness of 17th Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, by Pascal Denault
- Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen
Of course, this is a short article primarily designed to call to attention the relevance of church polity. It’s jumping past the basics, assuming you already have those covered. But since I’d feel negligent if I didn’t at least mention them, here are some steps you simply cannot afford to skip.
- Read God’s word to look for guidance.
- Pray that the Holy Spirit would lead you into all truth.
- Ask your pastors for help as they are the ones God has ordained to watch over your soul.
Wrestling with this question of doctrine is a difficult matter, and the implications for church life and even family life are weighty. May God bless you and keep you!
Credobaptism is the practice of only baptizing those who have made a credible profession of faith.↩
Paedobaptism is the practice of baptizing infants (of believers).↩
Congregationalism is the practice of a congregation exercising the highest authority in church life. For example, in congregationalism, the congregation’s vote on a matter cannot be overruled.↩
I.e., church government.↩
Full disclosure: This book was published after I studied the matter for myself, so I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but it’s supposed to be one of the best modern works in this vein, so I didn’t want to leave it off the list.↩