Monday, November 8, 2010

Reformed Baptism Critique #1

OK, before I start this I should say that I was baptized as an infant and I'm very grateful for the faith legacy of my family and my parent's commitment to raise me as a Christian.  I also have the utmost respect for the godliness and sincerity of many of my paedo-baptising brothers and sisters, that doesn't change the fact, however, that on this subject I think they are totally wrong and that my own baptism as a baby was no baptism at all and so when I was later baptised as an adult, that was my first and only baptism and not a "rebaptism" at all. 

I came across this article via TC Robinson who did so via Will LeeThe article is written by Richard L. Pratt, Jr. professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida, and so I don't think I can be accused of attacking a straw man.  If someone reading this thinks his presentation is not representative they should let me know. This should not be taken as an attack on any person but as a genuine attempt to engage the ideas in a robust fashion.

In its own way, the Reformed understanding of baptism is highly sacramental. That is, Reformed theology views baptism as a mysterious encounter with God that takes place through a rite involving physical elements and special ceremony. Through this encounter, God graciously distributes blessings to those who participate by faith and also judgment to those who participate without faith. (p1)

In this I have little to say except that I am perhaps a less typical Baptist in that I don't object to sacramentalist language being applied to baptism (nor to the Lord's Supper).  However, for any talk of sacrementalism not to degenerate into mystical superstition or magic, "particpation by faith" has to be a key concept.  Any idea that just having a rite done to you regardless of your own disposition towards God can be efficacious is superstition pure and simple.

For example, Paul spoke of baptism as “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5). He also wrote that, through baptism, believers are united to Christ and die to sin (Rom. 6:3-7). Peter, in turn, when asked what was required for salvation, replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Elsewhere, Peter boldly declared, “Baptism … now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). These and many other New Testament passages at least seem to indicate that baptism is much more than a symbol. In the language of the Bible, spiritual realities such as rebirth, renewal, forgiveness, salvation, and union with Christ are intimately associated with the rite of baptism. (p2)

Although Pratt wrongly conflates the "wasing of rebirth" with the "renewal by the Holy Spirit" which are two separate things, every one of the scriptures he cites clearly links baptism with repentance, there is no suggestion of the "baptise now, repent later" aproach to baptism found in mainline churches.  Instead baptism and repentance go hand in hand.  As Pratt points out, "spiritual realities" are "intimately associated with the rite of baptism."  Infant baptism surely severs the rite from the reality when it is given to an infant incapable of repentance.  The most important verse in this regard is perhaps Romans 6:3-7, rather than some sort of spiritual reality or philosphical metaphor Paul understands "dying to sin" to be a very real concrete ethical process of ceasing to perform the works of the flesh (see Rom 6:11-14, Col 3:5-11) how can a baby die to sin?  They cannot, they are cute, but they are not yet moral agents.

Pratt is yet to make his case for infant baptism, but I must confess at this stage to be at a loss to see how he can build a case for such on the foundations he has laid so far.  Stay tuned.

Let me know what you think,  :-)


  1. Good stuff! But I have a question for you, one Baptist to another: Are you saying that infant baptism is administered in hope of these infants coming to repentance at that age?

  2. Hi TC, thanks for stopping by. No I dont think they do expect infants to come to repentance until later, hence it is a "baptise now, repent later" scheme, which as the video in the next post shows can result in a lot of unfulfilled baptisms.

  3. Interesting topic! I was raised in a Presbyterian church but fortunately my family aren't paedo-baptists and I wasn't dunked until the age of 17.

    Have you come across the across the argument for infant baptism because families are baptised in the NT? The presumption is that infants were probably present/included and therefore infant baptism is Biblical. I don't really think it holds much water though... :P

  4. Hi Ryan, indeed, it is the most common argument. I'm sure I'll get to it at some stage.


The Gourd is the Messiah!?

No this is not a Monty Python sketch, but my new article on Jonah's gourd and the way it is (possibly/probably/maybe) referenced in Mark...