Thursday, July 12, 2007

The "Heart" of the Paedo- vs. Credobaptist Matter

When I was at CHBC, I had the joy of participating in membership interviews, often sitting in as other pastors conducted them and often conducting them myself. In the last couple of months there, it seemed the Lord had me conduct all the interviews with people who struggled with believer's baptism. They were often people who had come from paedobaptist traditions and the idea of being "baptized again" (as they would put it) troubled them.

I didn't know why the Lord had me involved in so many discussions of this sort. But now that I'm at FBC, a church like CHBC that attracts people from so many backgrounds, I can see His wisdom more clearly. And I am thankful for the earlier training.

But here's what I notice. Objections to the credobaptist position runs along two lines usually. Some people have theological convictions. They're committed to a paedo perspective and are perhaps well-trained in that understanding. But, honestly, that's a minority of people I see.

The majority of people have a different objection. They are troubled in heart about what being baptized as a believer implies about their parents, earlier church affiliation, and judgment that someone is in error. In other words, they don't want to appear to be saying something critical, ungrateful, or uncharitable about their loved ones who raised them or churches they're fond of. For the majority of people I see, that's the heart of the matter.

In those cases, I'm convinced that people are helped if they can come to understand at least two things. First, the truth of Scripture should determine their feelings rather than having their feelings determine what they accept as true. We often determine what we accept as true by how this or that proposition makes us feel. If it feels difficult or disconcerting, we often reject it. If it "feels right" or acceptable, then we're inclined to accept it. The Word of God must be the locomotive's enine and our feelings the caboose. We must receive the Word of God with meekness (James 1:21), which must mean in part that we conform our feelings to the truth. That can be a slow process at times, but it is nonetheless necessary.

Second, people in this situation need to be helped to see that for many people in paedobaptist traditions the infant "baptism" is conducted with the hope of genuine saving faith to follow. They don't believe the act saves the child, but look forward with the hope of future salvation. Baptism as a believing adult, in accordance with the pattern of Scripture, is in one sense the future hoped for in that earlier rite. It does imply, on the one hand, that the earlier exercise was not a baptism and that the church and family were in error. But on the other hand, the what such situations afford is the opportunity to identify with Christ in a self-conscious way, to celebrate the saving work of Christ as it's proclaimed in baptism, to demonstrate conformity to the Word of God in baptism, and, certainly not least, to rejoice that what parents and family hoped for years ago in infant "baptism" is "fulfilled" when an adult child stands for and with Christ in conscious faith and baptism.

I don't hold to infant "baptism," obviously. But I don't think the motive and hopes of parents who do should be impugned and disregarded. And I think a number of new members to our church have been helped by knowing that and celebrating that fact that their parents' best hopes for them are fulfilled in a saving and personal knowledge of Christ, expressed in part by baptism. That lies close to the heart of the matter.


LouLove said...

Man,the picture of the baptism is a beautiful scene.

How you deal with those with infant baptism backgrounds is gracious and wise.

Does FBC allow membership to those who do not want believer's baptism?

BTW - I sent you an e-mail a couple days ago. When you find time between baptisms and studying and counseling and other non-essentials of ministry could you please deal with the more important aspects of Pastoral ministry like checking e-mail.

FellowElder said...

Good to hear from you brother. And I'll be sure to get to the essentials of checking emails some time today :-)

No, we don't allow membership to those who do not pursue believer's baptism. We have a couple of folks who are regular attenders who don't feel they can join over the baptism issue. They've been faithful in many ways, including being encouragements to me personally, but they are not members as yet.

And here's where I think local churches feel the strongest pinch from this issue: a couple of the folks described above are clearly leadership material. However, they can't participate in the leadership of the church if they can't commit to membership. Ideally, one hopes they either join or find a good church where they can serve and strengthen the body without the constraint over this issue.

GUNNY said...

Very good thoughts and considerate way to approach what can really be a sensitive issue for many.

At the end of the day, there's also the reality of obedience in spite of feelings and the feelings may follow suit.

Unknown said...

I really like that approach, especially the way the second point turns it from polemic to positive affirmation of the hope expressed in the childhood symbol.

I listened to your 9Marks interview and was encouraged by your humble attitude and the story of God's work in your life. May the Lord continue to bless you pastoring and writing ministries!

Jessica said...

Hello Pastor Thabiti, I have a question about baptisms by sprinkling and baptisms by immersion. I know the theological difference between the two is that the immersion is viewed as symbolic of death to self and regeneration in Christ. (Immersion in water = death, coming out of the water = new life) The sprinkling may be viewed more as a cleansing of the sinful, tainted self (The verse I always thought of is )

Therefore, would you consider baptism by sprinkling to be an invalid baptism? And thus, if someone were to seek membership in your church who has been baptized as a believer by sprinkling, would you insist on that person getting "re-"baptized?

Thanks for answering my question.
-Jessica, CA

FellowElder said...

Hi Jessica,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. And thanks for the good question.

I assume you mean an adult believer who was sprinkled, not an infant? If so, I'd generally want to know the circumstances that warranted sprinkling rather than immersion. As a general rule, I'd encourage the person to conform to the pattern of Scripture and be baptized according to that rule. But most every case is different, and I'd want to explore the particulars.

Now, I have a question for you. You have a great blog. Nice clean look. How do you get your book covers to align so nicely in the sidebar and to have the icons direct the user to the book ordering information instead of to a bigger picture of the book cover?

May the Lord's favor rest on you in Christ!

Anonymous said...


I'm just curious why you responded to Jessica with "I assume you mean an ADULT believer who was sprinkled." (emphasis mine) Is it not sufficient that the person is a believer? Just seeking clarification and understanding. Thanks.

FellowElder said...

I assumed it was an adult in question because the original post assumed paedo- or infant baptism (which generally is sprinkling, unless you're Eastern Orthodox or something) vs. believer's baptism. So, assuming the original post included sprinkling of children, I inferred that the distinction the questioner was making was an adult sprinkling. Just an inference.

JATB said...

"I don't hold to infant 'baptism,' obviously. But I don't think the motive and hopes of parents who do should be impugned and disregarded."

Apparently you actually do wish to impugn those motives and hopes, since you chose to put the word baptism in scare quotes. As a fellow Christian who happens to believe quite strongly in infant baptism, I find that highly insulting.

I understand that Baptists have a completely different theology of baptism, but please recognize fact that there are sincere, Bible-believing Christians who sincerely disagree with you, and that this doesn't mean that they don't believe the Bible, or that you are "more saved" than they are. That is what your use of scare quotes here implies.