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::: Scenario Experiment for Baptists: Infant Baptism and Church Membership :::

A Question For Baptists :: How would you counsel a young married couple who 1) want to join your church but have only been baptized as infants in a Presbyterian church and who 2) do not think they need to be baptized at your church since they were baptized as infants in the Presbyterian church?

:: One Possible Distinctly Baptist Approach to this Scenario :: 

First, as a preliminary point, I would make sure this couple—let’s call them the Robertson’s—understood why the church practices baptism in the first place: because Christ commanded it (Mt 28:19-20).  After this, the first thing I would want to establish at length is the meaning of baptism.  The reason I would start here is because unless one first understands the meaning of baptism, it is harder to discern the importance of doing it one way or the other or administering it to only certain people and excluding others.  In other words, the answer to the question of the proper subjects of baptism (and also mode) flows logically and naturally from a discussion of the meaning of baptism itself.  My chief text in this endeavor would be Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:11-12 where the emphasis is on dying with Christ and being raised to new life.[1] After reading through these texts, I would hope to conclude to the Robertson’s satisfaction that baptism symbolizes chiefly one’s death to sin (or the death of the “old man”) and new life in Christ (or “the new man”). 

Furthermore, in accordance with the way the apostles appeared to understand the role of baptism, it is the initiation right or “way of entry” into the Christian church.  I would walk them through the earliest examples of Christian baptisms carried out by the apostles in accordance with the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20—Acts 2:37; 8:12-17, 35-38; 9:18 cf. 22:16; 10:44-48; 16:13-15, 30-34; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:14-16.  My objective would be to show that in each case, the pattern is basically the same: people hear the gospel, believe, and are baptized as a way of making public confession of their faith in Christ and entering the fellowship of the church. 

Certain passages, however, might demand special attention, for they are often understood to give early accounts of infant baptism (Acts 16:13-15, 30-34; 18:8).  In the case of Lydia, it is said that she “and her household” were baptized (Acts 16:15).  Here I would say something like this:

Now, it is possible that Lydia had children, perhaps even infants.  Yet it would be speculative—especially in light of the meaning of baptism and the pattern we see in the book of Acts where faith and repentance precede baptism—to conclude that since Lydia’s household might have had infants, we should understand that she in fact did have infants and that they were baptized.  The text nowhere mentions that Lydia’s household included infants, although one might suppose it hypothetically possible.  Furthermore, the narratives in Acts are abbreviated, and when we compare this account with the account found in Acts 18:8 (“Crispus … believed in the Lord with all his household”), one should understand this account to imply that the gospel message was also proclaimed in the hearing of Lydia’s household and they believed and so were baptized. 

The only other case where the “household” language is used in connection with baptism is Acts 16:30-34.  Here, however, the condensed nature of the narrative is even more apparent: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-34).  Without understanding the text to have implied that the apostle Paul also preached the gospel to Cornelius’ household, we would be forced to conclude that Cornelius’ household—both adults and infants—were saved through Cornelius’ faith.  Not even Protestants who hold to infant baptism believe such a thing as this is possible.  Therefore, to read these texts as though they were early accounts of “household” baptisms—including infants—is to misunderstand the elliptical nature of narrative flow of the book of Acts.

Next I would explain the Catholic position—along with the teaching of Martin Luther—that baptism actually effects salvation in those to whom it is administered, pointing out that such a view of the sacrament of baptism runs counter to the narrative pattern in the book of Acts.  Finally, I would explain the Protestant (non-Lutheran) understanding of the meaning of infant baptism by way of analogy to circumcision in the Old Testament. 

“First,” I would say, “although circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant and baptism is a sign in the New Covenant, it does not follow—and is nowhere explicitly taught in scripture—that therefore, all the details about the one apply to the other (such as the proper subjects of the sign of the covenant).”  At this point I would point to the discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  I would take the Robertson’s to Jeremiah 31:31-33

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

“Second,” I would say, “one of the major differences between the two covenants (Old and New) is that all the members of the New Covenant are those whose sins have been forgiven and whose hearts have been changed (‘I will put My law within them’).” 

I would close my polemical tirade by capitalizing once again on the meaning of baptism.  “Finally,” I would say, “as we have seen already from Paul’s epistles and from the Acts narratives, baptism does not signify death to sin and new life in general, but the death and new life of the individual being baptized.”  I would conclude, hopefully to their satisfaction, that infant baptism, while certainly done in good faith by those who administer it or have it administered to their infants, is nonetheless misguided; it is not in accord with the biblical notions of the meaning of baptism and misunderstands the condensed nature of the Acts narratives and the “household” language.

On the basis of such argumentation, I would encourage them to be immersed as believers while discouraging them from thinking about it as a “rebaptism,” since their first baptism—though done in good faith by their parents—was not a legitimate baptism.  I would try to make it sound like a grand idea: “You will have the opportunity to be baptized for the first time!”  If they would be unconvinced and refuse to be baptized, however, I would probably take the matter to the elders for discussion and council.             


[1] Although baptism may also symbolizes the forgiveness of sins based on Acts 22:16, I am inclined to interpret this (and Titus 3:5) as both actually associating baptism with regeneration rather than forgiveness.



  1. Troy Sutherland says:


    (1) Household baptisms- The household baptism argument does not rely on the presumption of infants being in the house. It is tied to the idea that every covenantal administration prior to the new covenant has included households. In the creation covenant, the covenant was made with Adam and his household (seen from the fact that when he fell, all his posterity fell with him). The Noahic covenant is made with Noah and his house. The Abrahamic covenant is made with Abraham and his house. The Mosaic covenant includes households as well. Therefore, when the book of Acts speaks of household baptisms, it confirms the fact that the household principle is still in place.

    (2) Pattern- You pointed to a particular pattern that we see in Acts: people hear, believe, and are baptized. While this is true of adults, what does this mean for the children of believers? As we saw above, every other covenantal administration in the Scriptures prior to the new covenant included the children. The burden of proof seems to be on the baptist to show that the children should now be treated in the same way as adults. The debate could easily be solved if baptists would point to one explicit example of a child of a believer first growing up, professing faith, and then being baptized. The problem is that no such example exists in Scripture. The best argument that baptists put forth is Jeremiah 31 and the nature of the new covenant, which I will come back to in (4). However, it is important to point out that when the baptist uses Jeremiah 31 to exclude infants from receiving the new covenant sign of initiation, he is arguing by means of implication, not explicit teaching.

    While those holding to infant baptism are usually accused of not having an explicit example and for arguing by means of implication, in this instance it is the baptist that does not have the explicit example, and he argues against infant baptism by means of implication.

    (3) Circumcision and Baptism- You make the point that we should not apply all the details about circumcision to baptism. For the most part this seems to be valid. However, there are clear points of continuity between the two. This would mean that you cannot argue against infant baptism on the basis of points of continuity, because if it refutes infant baptism then it refutes infant circumcision. For example, baptism is certainly tied in some sense to regeneration (or death and new life), as you pointed out. However, circumcision was also tied in some sense to regeneration (Rom. 2:29). Since this is a point of continuity between the two, any argument against infant baptism on this basis is an argument against infant circumcision. The problem with this argument is that we know infant circumcision is valid, which means infant baptism cannot be rejected on this basis.

    (4) Jeremiah 31- this passage is often used to show that the nature of the new covenant is different than the Mosaic covenant. In the Mosaic covenant, the visible covenant community was mixed with believers and unbelievers, whereas in the new covenant the community will only contain believers. If this is what the passage means, then baptists have a problem. Is it really the case that in baptist churches every single member knows the Lord and has their sins forgiven? Nearly all baptists are going to say that while that is the goal, it is not the case that every single baptist member is saved. Of course, Jeremiah 31 does not say this will be a goal, but rather it will be a reality. In this baptists are admitting that either their interpretation is wrong, or this passage of Scripture has not yet been fulfilled.

  2. theophilogue says:


    Thanks again for your critique. This is exactly what I enjoy doing: having people critique my reasoning. It’s the only way true learning takes place. I have already learned from you from our last dialogue, and I trust I will learn from you again.

    Please do not read a frustrated tone of voice into my counter-thoughts. I am delighted to interact with you! I welcome a critique of my counter-thoughts below, and have ordered them according to your enumeration for your convenience.

    (1) Either way it relies on the idea that “household” (because of its use in the covenantal language of the Old Testament) includes infants. If your argument is that it may or may not have included infants in the particular cases in Acts, then you have no clear example of an infant baptism in the Acts narrative. If you aren’t willing to allow your argument to be dependent on “household” including infants in the particular examples in Acts, wouldn’t you be in the same boat you are trying to sink: the boat of “you don’t have any examples of x, therefore the burden of proof remains on you.”

    (2) If all we knew was that children were all included in the OT covenant, and that there was no example of children growing up first and making a profession of faith before being baptized, then I would agree with you that Baptists would have the burden of proof. But we know much more than that—things that must also enter the equation that are unfavorable to your own position. If there is no clear example of infant baptism + a clear change in the very DNA of the covenant that specifically has to do with changing the whole basis of covenant membership + the pattern of adult baptism in the New Testament __after__ professions of faith … well, that makes infant baptism an unsafe assumption and removes the burden of proof from the Baptist. The concept of “burden of proof” is often abused. Unless all the information is considered, a selective choosing of the evidence can always make it seem like the burden of proof rests on “the other guy,” but once Jer 31 (and other passages that are similar to this one that redefine the covenant, calling it “new”) are considered, it’s no longer easy to see why it would be the Baptists burden to prove the basis of covenant membership has changed and the OT model cannot be taken for granted.

    (3) Your logic on this point seems conflated to me. Arguing against infant baptism FOR THE NEW COVENANT does not argue against infant circumcision FOR THE OLD COVENANT. Different standards apply to each covenant, depending on what the scripture teaches about the continuity vs. discontinuity between them. It seems you have failed to account for this in your argument, and are thus begging the question.

    (4) The Baptist church is not “the church universal” (even though some narrow minded Baptist might fancy such a notion). If unregenerate people make professions of faith and desire baptism and “slip through the cracks” of a church that only wants regenerate members, that isn’t a “proof” or argument against the Baptist church’s stance that God’s true church is made up of only regenerate members, and/or that God wants to the local church to be as close of a reflection of this pure church as is humanly possible.

    Thanks again for your interaction. I hope you will respond when you get a chance.



  3. Troy Sutherland says:


    Thanks for the interaction. I always enjoy a chance to learn from my baptist brothers. Sorry about the length of this comment.

    (1) In the OT, the term “household” refers to everyone in the house, whether there were infants or not. So, when previous covenants embraced households, infants were included when they were there.

    When we come to the new covenant, Luke seems to make it a priority to point out “household” baptisms. It seems as though Luke is demonstrating the continuity with old and new at this point (the covenant embracing households). The baptist would need to show that Luke is using the term “household” in a narrow sense to only refer to houses that have people old enough to profess faith.

    The baptist tries to show that Luke must be using the term “household” differently because of the discontinuity between old and new taught in Jeremiah 31. However, even if baptists are right about Jeremiah 31, I still think they should feel a little uncomfortable about all the household baptisms. At best, Luke’s references to the household baptisms would be confusing to a Jewish audience, given their background. Also, how many times do you hear of household baptisms today in baptist churches, even with the baptist understanding? In any case, baptists will never be convinced apart from paedobaptists dealing with Jeremiah 31 (perhaps rightfully so).

    Also, I am not so much concerned with explicit examples. For example, we have no explicit examples of women taking the Lord’s Supper, but I do not think we should conclude that women should not partake. It can be argued by means of necessary implication. The only reason I mentioned the idea of explicit example is because oftentimes baptists think this issue is an open and shut case because paedobaptists do not have an explicit example of infant baptism, and because paedobaptists have to argue by means of implication. I was pointing out that in one sense the baptist does not have an explicit example, and he too must argue by means of implication. If one is refuted this way, then so is the other. However, I do not think either should be refuted on this basis.

    (2) I agree with what you are saying here. Of course the paedobaptist does not see Jeremiah 31 as a significant part of the information that needs to be taken into account. So, once again the baptist interpretation of Jeremiah 31 (and similar passages) must be dealt with in order for there to be a resolution.

    (3) I am not sure I understand the force of your refutation here. You argued in your post that since baptism signifies regeneration, it should not be given to infants. I pointed out that circumcision also signifies regeneration. If signifying regeneration is grounds to not give the sign to infants, then you have not only refuted infant baptism, but you have refuted infant circumcision. You would need to show why it refutes infant baptism in one case, but leaves infant circumcision in place, since both signify the same reality.

    (4) It seems like you are saying that Jeremiah 31 is not talking about the visible church, which is often times mixed with believers and unbelievers, but rather it is talking about the invisible church. Therefore, Jeremiah 31 is saying that the invisible church will be uncorrupted, for they will all know the Lord.

    If I have understood you correctly, then a few problems arise. First, even in the Mosaic covenant, the invisible church was uncorrupted, for they all knew the Lord. If this is what baptists are saying will be true of the new covenant, then I am not sure where the discontinuity is with the Mosaic covenant. In the OT, the visible church was mixed with believers and unbelievers, despite the fact that God required all covenant members to be believers, while the invisible church only contained true believers who knew the Lord.

    Second, baptists may be saying that in the Mosaic covenant, the covenant extended to the visible community, whereas in the new covenant, the covenant only extends to the invisible church. This is where the discontinuity lies. The problem with this line of thinking is that if the covenant no longer extends to the visible community, then the covenant and thus the church is in fact invisible. There is no visible covenant or church. To call a local gathering of people “the church” would be impossible, for such language presupposes a relationship with God, and such a relationship with God is only by means of regeneration, which is a work of the heart, something men cannot see. The people of God are no longer a visible entity, as in the OT. This seemingly creates a big problem.

    Third, Jeremiah 31 is focusing on a problem with the Mosaic covenant as it relates to the visible people of God, namely, the covenant is broken by the people. This occurs because the covenant contains a mix of believers and unbelievers. However, Jeremiah says that a time is coming when all the people will know the Lord. In other words, Jeremiah is prophesying about an expansion of God’s grace. This poses a problem for the baptist interpretation of the passage.

    Rather than God’s grace expanding to the entire visible community, the baptist is saying that there has only been a change in definition of the covenant people from those who visibly gather to those who are regenerate, thus restricting the boundaries of the covenant and excluding those who are not regenerate. No work of God is really needed in this case, for all that was needed was a redefining of the covenant people. If this is how we understand the new covenant, then it is no fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah speaks of an expansion of God’s grace, not a redefinition of the covenant that simply excludes those who are unregenerate.

    Here is a similar Scriptural example to illustrate my point. In Numbers 11, the Lord takes some of the Spirit from Moses and puts it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. Joshua witnesses two men prophesying, and he goes to Moses and says, “‘Stop them.’ But Moses said to him, ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’” In this scenario, only 71 of God’s covenant people have the Spirit, and Moses wishes that all the covenant people had the Spirit. What if God came to Moses the next day and redefined the covenant to only include the 71 who have the Spirit, excluding everyone else? Would anyone think this was a fulfillment of Moses’ desire that all the covenant people have the Spirit, since all do in fact have the Spirit? No. Moses was looking for an expansion of God’s grace, not a redefinition of the covenant that simply excludes those without the Spirit.

  4. theophilogue says:


    Thanks again for your interaction! Sorry it took me a few days to respond.

    I think we are getting somewhere. I have enumerated my points according to your points to make it convenient for you to trace what I’m responding to. Hope to hear from you soon!

    1a. I think you are reading too much OT theology into the NT reference to “household,” given the nature of explicit teaching concerning the New Covenant. Your “proof texts” for infant baptism, in my estimation, will have to be more than supposed implicit references to infants in the “household” language of Acts.

    1b. The “household” language is indeed inconvenient for the Baptist position, but I think the explicit teachings about the changes on the covenant are even more inconvenient for the paedobaptist position.

    1c1. I only brought up the “you don’t have any explicit examples of x” because 1) paedobaptists often point to the “household” references as examples of infants being included in baptism and 2) you were using it as an argument (saying “if baptists would point to one explicit example of a child of a believer first growing up, professing faith, and then being baptized”). I agree with your presupposition that lack of explicit examples ruins one’s position.

    1c2. Your example about not having explicit references to women taking the Lord’s supper does not hold water. __Believing__ women are explicitly depicted as believing and belonging as members of the New Covenant, whereas no such reality is depicted with infants.

    2. Agreed.

    3. Actually, I argued that New Covenant baptism signifies the regeneration of the one being baptized—not regeneration in general. This nullifies your point here.

    4a. Jesus say’s “On this rock, I will build my church,” so the “church” language seems to be something future and therefore unique to the New Covenant. But you are using “invisible church” to refer to regenerate members of the Old Covenant. As I understand it, the transition in the New Covenant is this: the corrupted members of the covenant are kicked out. God did require all covenant members to be believers under the Old Covenant, but not all believed. God doesn’t just command belief under the New Covenant, he effectually works faith in those who are members of the New Covenant. That’s my position.

    4b. The NEW covenant _does_ extend to the visible community, just not all of it. Even though the visible community is supposed to be made up of regenerate believers, this isn’t always the case. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the invisible church does not overlap with the visible church. Therefore, the NEW covenant does extend to the visible church, just not all of it.

    The New Testament calls local gatherings “churches” even when it is understood that some of them may not be truly regenerate, but this doesn’t mean that God intended it to be that way. The church is also called “holy,” but it’s members are not always holy are they? But this doesn’t mean that’s not the way God wants it to be and commands it to be.

    Likewise, my position is that God wants the New Covenant to be pure, and the church to be pure (i.e. only made up of those who are regenerate and holy). If a pastor strives for this kind of church, exercising church discipline and discernment on membership qualifications, there will be a great overlap between the invisible (pure, regenerate, holy) church and the visible church.

    4c. Well … God didn’t merely kick out the unregenerate members when he changed the terms of the covenant, _he engrafted Gentiles_ (an unprecedented move) by faith. This _does_ take a miracle and work of God. This is the expansion Jeremaih and the prophets speak about.

    Hope that will help your next response to be more close to a critique of what my actual position is.


  5. Troy Sutherland says:


    Thanks for the response. Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. It has been a crazy week.

    1. I think we are basically agreed that how one interprets “household” is determined by the continuity or discontinuity between OT and NT. Paedobaptists hold to more continuity while baptists hold to more discontinuity. So, if the new covenant is radically different in terms of its nature and structure like the baptist says, then I understand why the reference to “household” is not completely convincing. However, if baptist proof for the radical changes in the nature and structure of the covenant is wrong, then “household” baptisms fits perfectly with the OT idea of households.

    You said, “I agree with your presupposition that lack of explicit examples ruins one’s position.” I do not think we agree here. I think this is a false standard that some baptists have. This is why I brought up the fact that there is no explicit example of women taking the Lord’s Supper. There is not one. However, you can argue that since they are believers who are baptized, they belong to the new covenant, which is the body of Christ, which is the church, and we since are all one in Christ, they too ought to take the Lord’s Supper. But this kind of argumentation is by means of necessary implication, not explicit example.

    Also, baptists have no explicit example of how we should treat our children in regards to baptism. There is not one explicit example of a child of a believer first growing up, professing faith, and then being baptized. You may argue that this idea is necessary because of the nature of the new covenant, what is required of adults, etc., but this does not meet the standard of explicit example. The point of all this is to say that it has never been a good argument to refute paedobaptism for lacking an explicit example.

    3. You said that baptism signifies the regeneration of the one being baptized, not regeneration in general. Could you elaborate on this point? I know you asserted that it signifies the regeneration “of the one being baptized,” but is this in the text itself?

    But let’s say you are right. Could not someone argue that this was true with Abraham as well? He believed God and then he was circumcised. Did it not signify his justification and regeneration (Rom. 4:11). If it did, then how could God give the sign to infants? The fact that God still gave the sign to infants seemingly refutes this baptist argument. The fact that either circumcision or baptism in a believing adult signifies their own regeneration does not mean the sign should not be given to infants.

    4. You said that when Jesus said that He will build His church, He is saying that the church is a future reality that is unique to the new covenant. However, Matt. 18:15-17 speaks of the church as if it already exists. Also, in Acts 7:38, Stephen refers to the “church” (ekklesia) in the wilderness, when talking about the OT people of God.

    Let me restate one main problem I think your view has. If the new covenant only extends to the regenerate, then the new covenant people cannot be located. Regeneration is an inward work of the heart, not visible to us. If an unbeliever asked, “Where are the new covenant people of God?” What would we say? Would we point to a local gathering? If yes, then what if the unbeliever said, “So, you are saying that every single person in this local gathering belongs to the new covenant?” If our response is no, then the unbeliever may say, “Then which ones represent the actual new covenant people?” What is our answer? If we merely say that it is those people who truly believe and are truly regenerate, then we have basically told this unbeliever that we cannot actually identify or locate the new covenant people, and this is proven every time a baptist allows someone to become a member who is not in fact regenerate. This is a big problem.

    In the OT, you could identify and locate the people of God as those who are circumcised, but in the NT the people of God cannot be identified or located in the baptist view. If the church is the body of Christ, then what right do we have to call our local gatherings “the church” unless in fact its members belong to Christ in some sense? It seems like we are being less than straight forward and truthful when we speak of our local gatherings as churches when we do not know if all (or any) are in fact part of the body of Christ. And the fact that Paul has no problem calling these local gatherings “the church” seems to show that Paul was not a baptist in this sense. All those who were baptized in some sense belong to Christ (this does not make them all regenerate though). This is why Paul can argue in 1 Cor. 10:1-13 that the OT people of God were baptized (and it was entire families) and they had spiritual food and drink (in fact he says the rock they drank from was Christ) and yet they came under the judgment of God. So also, the NT people of God that Paul is writing to, who are baptized and have the Lord’s Supper, should be warned as well lest they too come under the judgment of God. Paul is here drawing parallels between the people of God in the OT and the people of God in the NT, not contrasts like the baptist position requires.

    Let me state the problem differently. The church is the body of Christ. If our local gatherings are in fact the church, then unbelieving members are in some sense a part of the body of Christ. If you reject this idea, then your local gathering should not be called “the church” because unbelievers do in fact belong to this local gathering (even if this is discouraged). Even Tom Schreiner admits that our local gatherings will be a mix of believers and unbelievers until Christ returns.

    Lastly, I understand that baptists can affirm that God has grafted in the Gentiles and that this takes a miracle of God (and perhaps others). However, Jeremiah 31 is usually used to show that the new covenant only contains regenerate people, which means that the covenant is no longer coterminous with the visible community of the people. This movement from a mixed covenant (believers and unbelievers) to a supposedly pure covenant (only believers) involves no miraculous work of God in this sense. It only requires a redefinition of the covenant so as to exclude certain people. My point is that this is not what Jeremiah prophesied. He was speaking of an expansion of God’s grace to the entire visible community, not a redefinition of the covenant people. This seems to refute the baptist interpretation of Jeremiah 31, which then undermines their whole case for the radical changes in the new covenant structure.

  6. theophilogue says:


    I will have a more substantive response later, but I just wanted you to know that I just realized that when I said “I agree with your presupposition that lack of explicit examples ruins one’s position” … I meant to say, “I agree with your presupposition that lack of explicit examples DOES NOT necessarily ruin one’s position.”

    Sorry. Don’t know how I mistyped that.


  7. theophilogue says:


    Sorry it took me so long. I was on vacation last week. I think the longer we exchange ideas on this, the more we understand each other better, even if we still hold to differing positions. I still think we are getting somewhere.

    So … here are my thoughts.

    1a. What matters to me is not so much whether an argument is by implication or explicit example, but whether an argument is sound given the totality of data.

    To illustrate: One might argue that we should build a temple because there explicit examples of commands from God in the Old Testament to build a temple. One might argue that there is an explicit examples of regular healings by ministers of the gospel (and therefore we should expect most pastors today to have healing powers). One might argue that there is no explicit example of God commanding people not to look at pornography. One might argue that there is no explicit example of pastors in the New Testament having a building. Etc. In each case, what is important is not so much whether there are explicit examples or not explicit examples, but the soundness of reasoning given the totality of relevant information.

    1b. Arguments may have explicit examples yet be very weak; other arguments might lack explicit examples yet be very strong.

    To illustrate: Women should take the Lord’s supper (lack of explicit example, but sound reasoning). Abuse of cocaine and crack cocaine are sinful (no explicit example, but strong arguments by implication). There is nothing wrong with using a church building (lack of explicit example, sound reasoning).

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s foul play to bring up the fact that there are no explicit examples of infant baptism, just like it’s not foul play for you to bring up that there are no explicit examples of anyone forbidding infant baptism (making sure they grow up first). It seems like you are using a double standard by criticizing my point about no explicit examples of infant baptism while making a similar argument about no explicit examples of anyone forbidding infant baptism (or waiting until a child gets older).

    1c. My argument is this: Not only are there no examples of infant baptism, but there seems to be a new requirement for entrance into the New Covenant community—that of faith in Jesus Christ. While God still required faith under the Old Covenant, he did not discriminate covenant members based on this requirement, but allowed both for infants and unbelieving Jews to remain in the covenant people. If faith is a requirement for entrance into the New Covenant Community this is a strong argument against infant baptism regardless of whether there is an explicit example of instance whether an infant is refused baptism.

    3a. You ask “is this in the text itself?”

    It’s in the text by implication of the fact that 1) faith in Christ is a requirement for entrance into the New Covenant community and 2) in every example of baptism in the New Testament, baptism does not signify the faith anyone except the one being baptized.

    3b. This argument does not appear sound to me. In the Old Covenant, circumcision was given to both Abraham (who believed) and his children/infants who did not believe. Therefore, circumcision signified faith, but not necessarily the faith of everyone who was circumcised (e.g. the infants being circumcised). Baptism in the New Covenant, on the other hand, always signifies the faith of the individual being baptized.

    4a. Matt 18 & Acts 7—Fair enough, but it doesn’t undermine my point: if we refer to the New Covenant Community as “the church” we must think of it as different from “the church” which is the Old Covenant Community. This is the distinction I am concerned to uphold.

    4b. I think you are straining your argument at this point.

    It’s not hard to understand if someone asks, “Where is the New Covenant Community?” for me to point to local gatherings and when they ask, “So are they all believers?” for me to say, “Well … they all profess to be, so we judge in charity that they are unless or until they renounce their faith. Only the Lord knows with absolute certainty who are his.”

    This is not hard to understand. Your dilemma of “What do we say?” is overwrought.

    Your argument is very similar to holding that because any minister could be living a secret life of hypocrisy (as many may in fact be) that we can never point to godly ministers and say “They are God’s true spokesman, living examples of Christ-likeness.” After all, they might secretly be living a life of hypocrisy, so we can never identify with absolute certainty who the “real” godly ministers actually are since only God knows who is and who is not secretly living a life of hypocrisy. Just because only God knows for sure doesn’t mean that we can’t point to Godly ministers and say that they are awesome men (or women) of God.

    It’s also similar to asking the question, “If only God knows who are truly elect, how can He expect us to only marry other believers? How do we know for sure who is and who is not a true believer (i.e. elect?).

    Likewise, only God knows with absolute certainty who among the local gathering of professed believers are perhaps not truly elect.

    On this point, I think the following verse is relevant.

    2 Timothy 2:16-19 :: “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.'”

    We are to consider those who confess Christ and renounce their sins as believers, even if it might turn out that God knowns they are not. Therefore, when we say “This is the church,” we are designating the way God would have us to designate, since only he knows whether there are any members who will be like the seed that was chocked out by the thorn bushes, or the man who stands before the Lord saying, “Lord, Lord, we did many wonderful things in your name … and the Lord will say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you.”

    I really think you are overstating your case here. It’s not a “problem” for the Baptist position, its just a humbling reality that only the Lord knows for sure those who are his. Your desire for attaining that level of certainty about “the church” is a striving after the kind of precision only God has. That’s not a “problem” for the Baptist position, that just a problem created by your desire for perfect certainty.

    4c. Paul’s parallels (continuity) do not nullify the Baptist position for certain types of discontinuity.

    5. I don’t agree with your interpretation of Jeremiah. I believe the prophetic discourses of Jeremiah and the other prophets are full of symbolic and apocalyptic imagery that Paul and the other NT authors find fulfilled in the Kingdom of God spreading to the Gentiles. I believe that Jeremiah 31 is one of these passages, but I do not wish to argue this point at length right now. Maybe I will come back to it later.

    Hope that helps! Look forward to your response.


  8. Troy Sutherland says:


    Sorry for the delay.

    1. I think we are in complete agreement.

    3. When I asked if it is in the text itself, you responded with two things. First, you said that faith in Christ is a requirement for entrance into the new covenant. The problem with this is that it begs the question. It assumes a baptist position to argue for the baptist position. Part of the very thing we are debating is whether or not the same qualifications apply for adults and children. To assume it is the same is to assume the correctness of the view you are supposed to be arguing for.

    Second, you said that in every single example of baptism in the NT, it does not signify the faith of anyone except the one being baptized. In response, my question was: how do you know baptism signifies the regeneration of “the one being baptized”? Your answer seems to just reassert your view, but I was asking you to justify your view.

    Moving on, the case of Abraham’s circumcision can be taken three ways. First, circumcision signified his regeneration and justification, while it was different for the infants circumcised. Second, circumcision signified regeneration and justification in a general way for both Abraham and the infants. Third, circumcision signified his regeneration and justification and it signified the infant’s regeneration and circumcision.

    All three options seem to work for the paedobaptist. In the first option the paedobaptist will ask why the difference in how circumcision functioned between adults, in that it signifies their own regeneration and justification, and children, in that it signifies those realities in general, cannot be translated to baptism. The second option fits perfectly for the paedobaptist and removes a normal baptist argument against baptizing infants. The third option brings both views together in that infants are baptized according to baptist logic.

    4. I will have to really consider and give some more thought to the possibility that I may be straining my argument on this point. But here are a few more things to think about.

    You said that we can still consider them the church by means of a judgment of charity. We assume the best about them until they renounce the faith. Even with this answer, I still think there is a radical difference from old to new. In the OT, the people of God could be identified with certainty, though this was not possible for determining who exactly the faithful ones were. But in the NT, the people of God cannot be identified with certainty, because only the faithful really belong. The objectivity of the OT people of God has been lost with the NT people of God in the baptist view. By objectivity I mean identifiable, concrete, visible, photographable, etc. I do not think this is some unrealistic quest for certainty because this was a reality in the OT.

    There are consequences to this kind of view. Beyond the fact that it has a slight Gnostic flavor to it, it leads to the denigration of the visible church. After all, the visible gathering in the baptist view is not the real people of God, but only an approximation of it. The real people of God are only those who have a true faith in Christ. Is it any surprise that there are many people today that downplay the need to belong to a local church body, since they belong to the “true, invisible church?”

    You also said that only the Lord knows those who are his, which explains why we are forced to designate the church as we do. In response, in the book of Revelation there are seven letters to seven “churches.” But in this case, it was not someone like the apostle Paul writing to them. Rather the Lord Jesus is addressing the seven churches. Very clearly there are unbelievers in these local gatherings, yet Jesus still calls them the church. In this case, you cannot say that the writer does not know with certainty who belongs to the Lord, thus explaining his judgment of charity. Jesus knows those who are His (making a distinction between His people and the elect), and He still calls them the church, unbelievers included. How do you explain this given your view?

    Let me give a further line of evidence. Jesus tells His disciples, “He who receives you receives Me, and He who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40). If someone receives Christ, they receive the Father. The opposite is also true. “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.” There is an identification between the Father and the Son. If you accept one, you accept the other, and if you reject one, you reject the other. In Matt. 10:40, we see that Jesus is also identified with His people in the same way. If you reject the church, you reject Christ. A good example of this is the apostle Paul. On the road to Damascus, Jesus says to Paul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” In other words, when Paul was persecuting the church, he was persecuting Christ. He is the head, and we are to body. But was Paul persecuting the invisible church or the visible people? You have admitted that we cannot know with certainty who the faithful are, which means Paul could not have singled them out. No, rather Paul was persecuting all those identified with the church of Jesus Christ, which means Christ’s body includes both believers and unbelievers.

    Let me give another line of evidence. Ezekiel 11:17-21 is a prophecy about the new covenant. Ezekiel 11:17 says that God will gather a people and bring them back to the land of Israel. When they come to the land, they will remove all of its detestable things and abominations (11:18). God will take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh so that they will obey Him (11:19-20). However, Ezekiel 11:21 says, “‘But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their conduct down on their own heads,’ declares the Lord God.” This passage indicates that among the people that are brought back to the land, there are some that are disobedient and come under judgment. According to this passage, not every single person in the new covenant is regenerate. This explains why the writer of Hebrews can say,

    “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace. For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, “The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:26-31).

    Unless we are Arminians, it seems like we must say that the new covenant is a group larger than God’s elect people. In other words, there are unregenerate people that belong to the new covenant that will come under judgment. Can the baptist view ever say that the Lord will judge His new covenant people, like the writer of Hebrews says? This would be impossible if in fact the new covenant only contains regenerate people.

    The point of all these lines of evidence is to show that the new covenant does not contain only regenerate people, which in turn undermines the baptist argument against paedobaptism.

  9. Bradley says:


    Sorry I haven’t responded yet. I would rather respond when I have plenty of time than give a half-baked response that’s rushed.


  10. Troy Sutherland says:


    No problem. I am extemely busy right now, so take your time.


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