Do infant baptisms count? Reconsider Open Membership
I’m a Baptist – a very happy Baptist – but you don’t need to capitalize b for me. First and foremost, I am a Christian, identifying first with Christ, and only secondarily with my dear Baptist brothers and sisters.
We Baptists sometimes encounter a tension created by our Baptist beliefs: How do we as Baptists relate to those whose baptismal belief and practice differ from our own? In particular, what is our relationship with individuals and Pedobaptist churches?
Pedobaptism (from the Greek root pedo for “child”) is the practice of baptizing the children of believers in infancy, in anticipation of their profession of faith in Christ. Rather than baptize after someone professes the faith, as do the Credobaptists (creed for “faith”), paedobaptists view baptism as the New Testament counterpart to Old Testament circumcision. Therefore, they administer the visible and public sign of the covenant to the children of Christians.
Now, we Baptists believe that the Paedobaptists are wrong in their baptismal theology and practice. We think they are wrong. At the same time, we do not believe that understanding and applying baptism correctly is essential for someone to be a true Christian. We view sincere, Christ-loving Paedobaptists as our brothers and sisters, and we want to celebrate our common confession of faith in the Triune God and our salvation in Jesus Christ.
This creates a voltage between two pulses. First there is the baptist impulse—we want to teach and practice according to our Credobaptist beliefs. We believe that baptism is a visible sign of invisible realities. Baptism is public and objective, like a wedding ceremony. And like a wedding ceremony, at baptism, God makes promises to us, we receive those promises by faith, and we also make promises to Him. God promises to forgive our sins and transform our lives, and we promise to trust and follow Jesus as Lord, Savior, and Treasure. In baptism we publicly identify ourselves with Christ, and he publicly identifies himself with us. We say, “You are our God”, and God says, “You are my people”. And as Credobaptists, we believe that only those who have made a credible profession of faith should be baptized.
“Christians must have a holy instinct to recognize and welcome all true Christians as visible saints in the Lord.”
On the other hand, there is what might be called the catholicity impulse. Word Catholic here does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church, but rather means universal. It is the recognition that the people of God, the church of Christ, is bigger than our local church, bigger than our denomination, bigger than our theological tribe. As the Apostles’ Creed says, “We believe in the communion of saints. As professing saints, we seek to maintain holy fellowship and fellowship in the worship of God with other Christians. This fellowship should be extended to all who everywhere call on the name of the Lord Jesus. Thus, Christians should have a holy instinct to recognize and welcome all genuine Christians as visible saints in the Lord, despite the various disagreements we may have with them on matters of secondary or tertiary importance.
These two impulses create a tension in our gaze on the baptisms of pedobaptist traditions. Are these pedobaptisms valid baptisms? Or are they not baptisms at all? Can we welcome into the church those who were baptized as children? Can we welcome them to the Lord’s Table?
Different Aspects of the Church
Let’s start with the church and its government. Theologians often consider the Church under different aspects.
The church as universal and invisible is composed of all those at all times and in all places who are chosen in Christ and united to him by faith through the Spirit into one body. The church as universal and visible is made up of all who are baptized in the Trinitarian name and do not undermine this profession by fundamental errors or an ungodly life. The church as visible and local is made up of all those in a given area who agree to come together to hear the proclamation of the word of God, engage in corporate worship, practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, build faith each other through multiple ministries of love, hold each other accountable in the obedience of faith through biblical discipline, and engage in local and global evangelism.
Many aspects of local church government are matters of biblically informed prudence. These questions must be ordered in the light of nature, informed by the general principles of the word of God. Prudence enables us to take these general principles, derived from general and special revelation, and apply them wisely in concrete contexts.
Two areas of church government that must be ordained by biblically informed prudence are, first, the requirements and expectations for local church membership, and second, the requirements and expectations for leadership in the church. local church. Local church membership is an inference from biblical passages that assume an identifiable body of believers (so that individuals can exercise and be subject to church discipline) as well as the responsibility of pastor-elders to oversee a particular people.
The scriptures teach, both by precept and by example, that the requirements for church leadership are higher than the requirements for church membership. Consistent with this expectation, it is prudent to expect a greater degree of theological knowledge and clarity from leaders than from members.
Thus, it seems prudent that membership in the local church be extended to all who profess faith in Christ and apprehend the basic truths of the gospel. Likewise, it seems prudent that leadership in the local church be limited to those who are able to teach all of God’s counsel. For example, in my own church, while members are not required to be reformed in their soteriology or complementary in their anthropology to join, leaders are required to hold these beliefs to teach and govern.
Baptism and church membership
How is baptism then taken into account? As the Affirmation of Faith of the Willing God says,
Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord by which those who have repented and come to faith (Acts 2:38; Colossians 2:12) express their union with Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3) in his death and resurrection ( Romans 6:3). –4), by being immersed (Acts 8:36-39; Romans 6:4) in water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). It is a sign of belonging to the new people of God (Mark 1:4-5; Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 3:7), the true Israel, and an emblem of burial and purification (Hebrews 10 :22). , meaning death to the old life of unbelief and cleansing from the pollution of sin. (12.3)
Baptism marks entry into the universal and visible church and is a prerequisite for membership in the local visible church. Putting it this way explains the fact that Christians are not rebaptized each time they join a new local congregation. Instead, like a passport, their baptism alone is recognized by all subsequent congregations as meeting this membership requirement.
This definition of baptism includes four elements:
- the water
- in the name of the Trinity
- by immersion
- after repentance and faith in Christ
Essentially, all Christians consider the first two elements essential for a baptism to be valid. Many Baptists view the third element as important, but not essential. In other words, many Baptist churches accept water and pour baptisms of professing believers as being “valid but incorrect” or “true but irregular” baptisms. The question relates to the fourth element. Is the administration of baptism after repentance and faith an essential part of a baptism?
Some Baptists say yes. These Baptists (as far as I know, the majority of Baptists in America today) deny that child baptisms are baptisms. Because they believe baptism should only be applied to professing believers, those who were sprinkled with water as babies were not baptized. At the same time, almost all also believe that there is true christians who have bad baptismal theology and bad practice.
However, this position creates a number of confusions and inconsistencies. For example, this position sends mixed messages to non-Baptists. He says, “We consider you a believer, but we cannot receive you into our church, nor welcome you to the Lord’s Table without your being (re)baptized as a believer. Your baptismal error is so significant that it prevents you from being a member, although it does not prevent us from being ‘together for the gospel’.
Moreover, since proper ordinance administration is a necessary mark of a true church, such a position seems to deny that Paedobaptist churches are churches at all, since they do not baptize their members. And because they fail to baptize their members, it would seem that they are also unable to eat the Lord’s Supper, since the family meal requires the presence of a real family.
On the other hand, I would say that if the water and the Trinitarian name are essential in baptism, the other two elements are important for the correct the administration of baptism, but not essential for the validity of baptism. In other words, the proper mode of baptism is immersion, and the proper time for baptism is after one has believed. However, one can be wrong about these elements and still administer and receive a valid baptism.
Valid but incorrect
Pedobaptisms can therefore be considered valid but improper baptisms. The use of water in the Trinitarian name (or the name of Jesus, Acts 2:38; 10:48; 19:5) to mark entry into the visible church establishes the validity of baptism. The sprinkling or pouring of water (rather than immersion), as well as the application of water to infants, render baptisms unfit.
“Pedobaptisms may be considered valid but improper baptisms.”
The result is that we are able to duly honor both the Baptist impulse and the Catholic impulse. As Baptists, church leaders teach the biblical meaning of baptism and practice the proper administration of baptism. At the same time, we can consider the paedobaptist churches that embrace the basic truths of the gospel to be true churches, despite their error on baptism. Indeed, recognizing their baptisms as valid is one of the the basic ways of recognizing them as true churches.
Guided by biblically informed caution, we might then regard all valid baptisms—including those that are inappropriate as to mode and timing—as sufficient prerequisites for church membership, provided there is a credible profession of faith. Moreover, we might consider these valid baptisms sufficient prerequisites for partaking in the Lord’s Supper, provided the Table is kept as reserved for those who trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sins.