Can credobaptists consistently accept paedobaptists into membership?

I have recently seen three articles relating to traditional credobaptist views on baptism. Firstly, Bill Kynes at The Gospel Coalition outlines his view as a baptist willing to admit paedobaptists to membership. In response to this article, Jonathan Leeming at 9Marks argues this position is simply not credible. Finally, an independent yet related post by Andrew Wilson at Think Theology helpfully and briefly outlines the central problem (without giving any solution). Here, he considers the issue with the added complication of subscribing to a Strict Baptist position (which, I should admit, I do). So, comes the question, can baptists consistently admit convinced paedobaptists into membership?

Jonathan Leeming offers two central arguments as to why membership for the paedobaptist is simply inconsistent for the baptist. Firstly, he argues if you are willing to admit paedobaptists to membership you are, by default, a paedobaptist. Secondly, he argues baptism is an objective, subjective, and social sign. However, he contends there is no objective or social sign if the subjective belief of the individual is not present. He states the contention that the objective and social signs happen at baptism, whilst the subjective sign catches up retrospectively upon belief as an adult, is false as without the presence of subjective belief the objective and social signs simply don’t exist.

His first argument is particularly poor. Simply because one accepts paedobaptists into membership – who themselves fully believe they have fulfilled Jesus’ command to be baptised – does not make one a de facto paedobaptist. It is simply not true to argue that accepting the paedobaptist into membership is the same as telling yourself “paedobaptism is essentially okay”. 

Leeming’s appeal to views on slavery and abortion simply don’t help his case. Firstly, the reason “pro-choicers” cannot credibly be anti-abortion is because they actively promote the right to choose. The issue is not that they personally oppose abortion, it is that they specifically and actively encourage it as an acceptable practice (whether they themselves would do it or not)! The convinced credobaptist is not actively encouraging, or practicing, paedobaptism. They do not carry out paedobaptism nor do they teach that it is the prescribed mode of baptism. Unlike “pro-choicers”, they cannot in any serious way be considered to be promoting paedobaptist principles.

Secondly, the logic of Leeming’s argument is flawed. There are many areas in which we allow individuals freedom but with whom we vehemently disagree. To take Leeming’s argument to it’s logical conclusion, we must say that permission of anything with which we disagree is, in reality, to support the act no matter how much we oppose it. That would mean Leeming himself must insist upon an American, theocratic Christian state or else he must be, in reality, OK with apostasy and false religion. Worse still, this view would mean God himself – who permits, yet does not condone, sin – must actually be OK with it really. The argument is clearly a nonsense.

The argument that there is no social or objective sign without subjective belief is much more cogent. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced this is insurmountable if one is Reformed (as 9Marks certainly are). If we hold to the traditional Reformed ordo salutis, we note that election, calling and regeneration all occur prior to conversion. Though I’m not sure I’d want to make this argument or press it too far (I am thinking aloud here), one could argue that paedobaptism mirrors the ordo salutis. Baptism, symbolising our regeneration, coming before conversion. Though it wouldn’t be usual, nor the proper mode of baptism, if conversion did actually and really come later, it follows (on a reformed schema) that the person was elect at the point they were baptised (though they were unaware of the fact at the time). Therefore, we could view their baptism as effective in retrospect despite it not being the proper mode. Likewise, could one not argue the subjective belief – coming after the fact – makes good the social and objective signs? As above, though it is not the proper and usual mode of baptism, why could paedobaptism not be considered effective following conversion? Though it is ‘out of order’ does not necessarily mean it was ineffective altogether and carried no significance.

Kynes argues that humility (effectively, “I could be wrong”) means he would not refuse to admit a paedobaptist into membership. This is not a good appeal to humility. If one is a convinced baptist, this is something of a moot point as he evidently doesn’t believe he is wrong. If he did, he would practice paedobaptism alone, or as well as, credobaptism. That he doesn’t promote paedobaptism suggests that he doesn’t think he is wrong. Equally, this appeal to humility would not hold water on other issues. One would not argue that “I could be wrong” over the deity of Christ so we better admit those that reject this doctrine to membership. We rightly work out  our doctrinal positions prayerfully and then submit to what we believe scripture to teach. I don’t see how this issue of baptism is any different. However, Kynes appeals to charity and theology seem more legitimate.

Of course, it is right that those in open disobedience to Christ should not be admitted to church membership. However, the committed paedobaptist would contend they are not disobedient; they have fulfilled Jesus’ command to be baptised (albeit out of order and an improper mode). Based upon our agreement of the truth of the gospel and the nature of salvation, does charity not allow us to view the paedobaptism as retroactive? Indeed, as I commented above, the individual was elect at the point of baptism if conversion later truly occurs.

On this basis, I see no reason for baptists to be viewed as inconsistent for admitting paedobaptists to membership. The baptist is not encouraging paedobaptism nor teaching that it is a valid and acceptable mode of baptism. What they are saying is, given the conversion of the paedobaptist, the baptism can be considered “in effect” albeit out of order. As such, the baptist can consistently admit the paedobaptist to membership without condoning or promoting that mode of baptism. 

For the Strict Baptist, the addition of communion adds no further complication. If a believer is admitted to membership, that same believer is permitted to partake of communion. The issue for the Strict Baptist lies, not in the communion table but, in the admission to membership which has been handled already.

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