Regular followers of this blog will know that I am a Reformed Baptist. That is, I believe in reformed soteriology, the doctrines of grace and believe that baptism ought to be by immersion for those who can testify to their belief in the gospel. But why believe that baptism should only be granted to those who can profess faith?
Jesus instituted baptism as an adult: First and foremost, Christ is to be our guide. It is notable that God did not command Mary & Joseph to take Jesus to the nearest font as a child and baptise him as a result of his inclusion in the covenant. If the Lord had intended us to baptise our children due to their inclusion in the covenant, it would have made sense for him to do this with the one who came to obey the law perfectly and who acts as our primary guide in matters of faith and practice. He was, however, baptised by John the Baptist as an example to his followers.
There are no examples of any other form of baptism in the New Testament: Just as Jesus instituted baptism as an adult, telling his disciples to follow his example, so they did. They were all baptised as adults (fair enough, not one of them was born into a Christian family). After them, all the baptisms we read about were of those who professed belief. Were there children among the households who were baptised? Probably. But we are told in Acts 10 that ‘all who heard the message received the Holy Spirit’ and it is apparent that this is perceived through the speaking of tongues, prompting Peter to baptise them all. Acts 16 has the household baptisms of Lydia and the Philippian jailer. In the jailer’s case, v34 makes clear he ‘had believed in God’ and this along with ‘all his household’ – implying everyone who was baptised had themselves believed. Lydia’s household baptism is less clear, but there is no explicit statement of paedobaptism (nor obvious implication). Most committed paedobaptists accept the household baptism are, at best, unclear. Apart from appeal to the household baptisms – of which only Lydia’s permits the possibility – there are no examples of any paedobaptisms in scripture.
The covenant signs belong to those in the covenant: Jesus is clear that the New Covenant is the one established by his blood. It is, therefore, reasonable to consider those in the covenant as those to whom the blood of Christ is applied. Scripture is clear that the benefits of Christ’s blood are applied to believers by faith alone, in Christ alone. It is on this ground that all mainline Christian denominations and churches accept that the Lord’s Supper is only for those who have expressed faith in Christ; that is, those to whom Christ’s blood applies. If faith is the means of inclusion in the covenant, it follows that the other covenant sign – baptism – ought similarly to apply to those in the covenant. Baptism marks one’s entry into the covenant and communion represents one’s ongoing standing therein. There is a false distinction drawn when baptism is granted to those apparently in the covenant whilst withholding the other covenant sign from them. Federal Visionists are right to suggest, along with credobaptists, that these two signs stand together and those who receive one rightly ought to receive the other.
Jesus commands his followers to make disciples and then baptise them as a sign of their belonging to the covenant: The Great Commission is that portion of scripture in which Jesus tells his followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ This same command, the order of which seems significant, is picked up by the disciples who insist that their hearers ‘repent and be baptised’. The household baptisms seemed to follow this same pattern in which they believed and they were baptised following their profession of faith. There is not a single example of a baptism taking place before a profession of faith in scripture nor is there is a single command to baptise anybody who has not made a profession of faith.
The early church baptised and then added people to the church: Acts 2:41 tells us the practice of the early church: ‘those who received his word, were baptised and… were added that day’. It is those who received the word who were then baptised and joined to the church. This is in line with Jesus’ universal command to make disciples and then baptise them. This seems to be affirmed by Paul’s suggestion that all members of the church were baptised (cf. Rom 6:3). Children of believers may rightly be considered part of the ‘covenant community’ just as those who were part of Israel, but not true believers, similarly belonged this way. But this does not mean they are in the covenant itself and nor are they members of the church by proxy. It is those who believe by faith, are baptised and then added to our number who may rightly be considered in the covenant and members of the local church. Again, there is not a single example of anybody joining the church in scripture who had not professed faith and subsequently been through the waters of baptism.
Sola scriptura: Cheekily, perhaps, I then conclude that the doctrine of scripture alone means we must only undertake credobaptism. We are not submitting to scripture alone as our final authority in faith and practice – as containing everything necessary for salvation – if we are, in fact, conducting forms of baptism for which there are no examples in scripture nor any clear command to carry out.