Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Faith Validates Baptism: A Note on Wayne Grudem's Change of Mind

Justin Taylor discusses Wayne Grudem's second thoughts about churches allowing individual pastors and families to make the decision regarding believers vs. infant baptism for themselves, a la the Evangelical Free Church of America. Grudem recognizes that the differing administrations of baptism do imply differing theological convictions about baptism and what it means, and appears to be moving toward a more traditional Baptist position.

Although my convictions are also strongly in favor of believer's baptism, in seminary I did have to grapple with the issue of solid Christian brothers whom I knew to be serving the Lord with all their hearts who had been baptized as infants and were satisfied that their baptism was legitimate. Since I recognized from Colossians 2:11-12 the important parallel between circumcision and baptism--essentially, baptism functions like circumcision in the Old Testament: it is the entrance and sign of being among the covenant people--I therefore couldn't regard it as a simple doctrinal difference. If infant baptism has no legitimacy whatever, then an infant-baptized Christian is an unbaptized Christian, which is sort of analogous to an uncircumcised Jew!

Baptism was essentially the New Testament altar call.The position I eventually came to is this: faith is what validates baptism. This may seem a little obvious, but there are large implications once it is fleshed out a little. Faith validates baptism regardless of whether that faith comes prior to or subsequent to baptism. I'm still convinced that the biblical model is that one enters into baptism as a profession of the faith that one has already entered into--i.e., baptism was essentially the New Testament altar call. So it's really appropriate only to believers. But I also believe that if a person were baptized before coming into faith (e.g., as an infant), and that person subsequently did come into faith in Christ, that person's faith in Christ would validate the baptism that he or she had already undergone. Such a person would, in fact, be a baptized believer. I would have no objection if a person who had been baptized as an infant and later came to faith chose to be rebaptised--once again, as a profession of faith and as a sign of having come into the covenant community--but if that person chose to accept his or her infant baptism as now legitimate, having been validated by their faith, I would have no objection to that either.

So as a pastor, I would only baptize those who had come to faith. As a father, I have only allowed my children to be baptized when I felt that they were able to make a credible profession of faith. This, as I said before, is because it is faith that validates baptism; there is no reason to baptize someone who has not come into faith in Christ. The great danger of infant baptism is that it gives a false sense of security; people believe that their status with God is acceptable because they have been baptized as infants. (It also has the tendency to "lock" a person into a particular denomination before they have the ability to choose.) Nonetheless, as a believer, I will look on a person who trusts in Christ for salvation and has been baptized as an infant as a fellow baptized believer, because I believe that that person's faith in Christ has validated the baptism they had as a child.


  1. Good post. As you know, I'm strongly "credo" myself. While I could (and would) definitely be charitable with someone who "relies" on an infant baptism, I always encourage re-baptism. I've always felt that baptism, while symbolic, is a vital first act of obedience. If we can't be obedient in such a small thing, how can we expect to live a life of obedience. I'm not going to be legalistic about it at this point, but it's not a small issue for me.

    The issue that I am pondering these days is the relationship between baptism and communion, but I won't hijack this thread. :-)

  2. Thread? It's barely a stub at this point! Hijack away; I'd be happy for the interaction.

    I also think that baptism is a "vital first act of obedience." But let's say someone is baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian church. Later on, say around age 20, they come to a genuine saving faith. They stay Presby for another ten years, develop differing doctrinal convictions, and end up, oh, let's say, AG or SBC. (One must cater to one's audience....) So at this point, ten years into a genuine Christian experience, my question is, how strongly should we "encourage" re-baptism? In what sense is this a "first act of obedience" anymore?

    (Of course, all this is moot if we just wait to get baptized until it's legit in the first place.)

  3. You're right, the "first act of obedience" becomes moot in that kind of situation. Like I said, I wouldn't be legalistic about it but I probably would gently encourage re-baptism. I'll freely admit, however, that it's a point of personal principle rather than theology at that point.

  4. Keith, good post - and I agree wholeheartedly. As a believer in believer's baptism, I nevertheless am embarrassed by those who suggest that believers in infant baptism are somehow less faithful to scripture, or that they have simply not read their bibles. I may not agree with the covenant theology (because the new covenant is entered through faith, not birth), but I respect that others have thought about the issue and disagreed with me.

    However, as Bob has suggested - there is a link to communion here. Communion is a feast for all believers. If we have baptised children as infants, and if those children profess their faith in Christ, then on what grounds would we forbid them from taking communion?

    I happen to attend an Anglican church (despite my rather un-anglican theology) which has a full sized baptistry, and "re-enacts" baptisms for adults who have come to faith, and which does not forbid children from communion if they have professed faith in Christ.

  5. Stephen--

    I think both you and Bob are correct about communion. Of course, the caveat that you suggested, "if those children profess their faith in Christ," is another good reason for baptism also to be delayed until that time.

    My own conviction regarding the relationship between baptism and communion is that people should not take communion until after they have been baptized, and once they have been baptized, communion should not be withheld from them. In credobaptist circles it is sometimes the case that young people are taking communion for some time before choosing to be baptized, by which practice the initiatory aspect of baptism gets lost. I personally did not allow my children to take communion until I felt they had made a credible profession of faith and were baptized.

    Now, we have another sort of problem. My younger children, who are baptized, do not participate in communion because they are downstairs in a children's church service. We've taken communion as a family after the service, but it's not the same.

    I like how your church handles baptism. If I were in a church that allowed infant baptism at all, that's the way I'd like to see it handled.

  6. Baptism is a public confesion of faith it does not mean you are saved. It is to show true Christians that you beleive the same thing. Baptism mean "to dip in the death" so that we are covered with the death of Christ, which still does not mean we are saved. Baptism b sprinkling in not Baptism at all. It is only a symbolic act. It is just as silly as saying 'I "accept" Jesus Christ and His sacrafice'. You all need to read Fatal Flaw by James R. White to learn true Biblical Christanity, so you all can defend against the enmy and the unbleiver alike.