Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Credobaptism vs. Paedobaptism

Baptism was one of those topics in seminary that created a lot of back and forth discussion. At least from my perspective. And that was because I strongly disagreed with the Reformed* view of Baptism. I disagreed with it so much that I decided to not seek ordination in the Reformed Church of America. But I was still attending classes at a Reformed seminary. Theology and Worship classes were taught from a Reformed perspective and this included paedobaptism, which is the technical term for baptizing infants. I on the other hand hold to believer's baptism or as I have recently heard it called, credobaptism.**

For the most part I felt that my classmates were very respectful of my views and engaged them with intellectual honesty. They avoided bad arguments*** and challenged my understanding very well. Yet they never did convince me to change my mind.

One of the issues that I see as a serious problem for paedobaptism is how it looks at the union with Christ and the church. An infant that is baptized is considered a part of the covenant community by the Reformed church. My problem with this is that this means that the covenant community contains those that may never make a profession of faith in Christ. However I felt that during these discussions I was not able to make as solid and succinct of an argument as I would have liked. I had the idea in my head but for some reason I could not get it out on paper in the way that I wanted to.

Then last week I came across this article posted by Justin Taylor. It is an interview that Taylor did with Stephen Wellum. Dr. Wellum is the professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. My view of baptism was not actually about baptism but rather I viewed it in terms of union with Christ. Dr. Wellum actually approaches baptism through our understanding of the different covenants in the Bible. In the interview Dr. Wellum stated:

This change of “structure” also means that there has been a change of “nature.” Under the old covenant, Israel was a “mixed entity,” namely a community of believers and unbelievers (not all Israel was Israel to use the language from Romans 9). But with the coming of the new covenant in Jesus Christ and the giving of the Spirit in eschatological fulfillment, the new covenant community is viewed as a regenerate people. Furthermore, this change of “nature” is also linked to the work of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant age. The NT is clear that it is the Spirit who has brought life and who enables God’s people to follow God’s decrees and to keep God’s laws, thus making us covenant-keepers and not covenant-breakers. It is the Spirit who unites us to Christ so that all Christians, by definition, are those “in Christ” who have the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). In fact, I argue that this is precisely what Jeremiah 31 anticipates—which has now arrived in Christ. Thus we could say it this way: under the new covenant all will know the Lord in a direct fashion, and all will have the law written on their hearts and experience the full forgiveness of sin. Thus, in contrast to the old covenant community which was a “mixed entity,” the new covenant community will be a regenerate people. This is what I mean when I say that the “structure” and “nature” of the new covenant is different than the old.

Dr. Wellum makes a sharp distinction between the different covenants of the Bible. And the New Covenant that comes in Christ changes the nature of the Covenant community. No longer is that community to be made up of both believers and non-believers. He goes on to say:

Under the old covenant, one could make a distinction between the physical and spiritual seed of Abraham (the locus of the covenant community is different from the locus of the elect). Under the old covenant, both “seeds” (physical and spiritual) received the covenant sign of circumcision and both were viewed as full covenant members in the national sense, even though it was only the remnant who were the true spiritual seed of Abraham. But this kind of distinction is not legitimate under the new covenant where the locus of the covenant community and the elect are the same. In other words, one cannot speak of a “remnant” in the new covenant community, like one could under the old covenant. All those who are “in Christ” are a regenerate people, and as such it is only they who may receive the sign of the covenant, namely baptism.

I really appreciate how he was able to summarize my thoughts so well.

The interview contains a lot more information regarding what he sees as the differences between credobaptism and paedobaptism. I would highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in this debate.

*It is important for me to define and clarify terms. In this posting I am differentiating between Reformed as a particular set of beliefs as found in the Reformed Church of America (RCA) as opposed to the general reformed beliefs found in Protestantism. The views similar to that of the RCA can also be found in the Christian Reformed Churches (CRC), the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) as well as others from the Reformed tradition. When I say that I disagree with the Reformed church or that I am not Reformed does not mean that I reject the general beliefs that came out of the Reformation or that I even disagree with someone like John Calvin. Rather I disagree with certain aspects of their beliefs and still consider myself reformed in the sense that Protestantism as a whole is "reformed" from the Catholic Church.

**The argument is not between infant baptism and adult baptism. Rather it is between the belief in baptizing the children of believers vs. the belief in baptizing only those that have made a profession of faith. I have always been a believer baptist and I was baptized at 7 years old. I highly doubt that anyone would consider that "adult" baptism.

***One of the bad arguments that I had to deal with came from some of the authors of our text books. For example, on page 286 of his book Faith Seeking Understanding author Daniel Migliore stated the following as an argument against believer baptism: "Does the Holy work in infants? Geoffrey Bomiley is surely right to say that it would be shocking to answer this question in the negative. The Holy Spirit can and does work in the lives of infants and children through the ministrations of their parents, guardians, teachers, and friends. Why not also through the proper practice of infant baptism? The working of God's spirit is not restricted by gender, race, or class. Neither is it restricted by age."

This argument is both misleading and insulting. It is what is called a straw man argument in that it sets up a "straw man" that is both easy to defeat and a complete misrepresentation of the opposing view point. I find it even more insulting today than I did the day that I read it. Migliore falsely sets up the proposition that believer baptists are adult only baptists and that they believe that God only works through adults. What I find even more insulting is that he even goes as far as to claim that believer baptists should be considered the same as those that discriminate based on gender, race or class. This argument does not even come close to dealing with the issues. It simply relies on, in effect, insults and name calling.

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