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Little child, for you


On Sunday we are having Ruby baptised.
Here are some reasons why

1. Because we are children of Abraham so we treat our children the way he treated his (Genesis 17).

2. Because the New Testament never retracts 2000 years of Biblical practice regarding households and the covenant sign.

3. Because the covenant sign (even the sign and seal of "justification by faith") is explicitly for children of the covenant to grow up into (Romans 4:11)

4. Because sacraments are visible words and we want to tell her God loves her.

5. Because we want to surround her with every gospel promise.

6. Because we want to raise her as a Christian.

7. Because she's not a Muslim, a pagan or a neutral. She is ours and we are Christ's.

8. Because "as for me and my *household* we will serve the LORD." (Josh 24:15)

9. Because in the Bible when households rejoice in the Lord, households are baptised. This household rejoices in the Lord.

10. Because we want to pray and worship with Ruby and foreigners to the covenant cannot do that.

11. Because we want to declare to her, to the church, the world and every principality and power that Ruby belongs to Jesus.

12. Because she belongs to Christ's body.

13. Because nothing says "Gospel" like declaring Christ's love to the powerless.

14. Because we want her personal response to Jesus to be a personal *response* to Jesus.

15. Because we think faith is so vital that we must do everything we can to elicit faith - therefore we drench her in God's promises.

16. Because to be credo-anything, the promise must come first. And baptism is a promise.

17. Because we don't so much dedicate Ruby to Jesus, He claims her for His own.

18. Because Jesus said "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them." (Matthew 19:14)

19. Because, as regards our simple trust in Christ, we are meant to be like children, not the other way around. (Matthew 18:3)

20. Because faith does not earn gospel promises, gospel promises elicit faith.

21. Because sacraments are not our declarations to God but His to us. The arrow comes down - and it comes down to the unworthy.



81 thoughts on “Little child, for you

  1. Glen

    Sissy I'm afraid. The quote is from Hugenot liturgy of 17th century. It's also used in the Church of Scotland.

    Thanks Aled :)

  2. Rich Owen

    The Methodists use that liturgy too as far as I remember...

    Have a lovely day, Glen, Emma and Ruby.

  3. Emma Lawson

    This all makes sense, but I could cite all of your reasons in justification of dedication too and replace with the title, why I decided to have a 'dedication and thanksgiving service'. I understand all of the reasons you've given. I should mention that I go to a baptist church but if I went to a C of E I would just as well have my children baptised. It's largely down to the tradition of the denomination I guess.

  4. Glen

    Thanks everyone. That's very kind Ian

    Hey Emma, actually I think that apart from 8, 11 and 18 a credo-baptist can't say what I'm saying here. I really think a dedication is wonderful but the arrow is going in the opposite direction. We would then be offering Ruby to God rather than Jesus claiming Ruby for His own. If both sides were really saying the same thing we wouldn't have both sides. I'm not wanting to get contentious about this but I am wanting to say there's a difference and this is what it feels like on this side of the difference.

  5. Mike Bull

    Hi Glen
    Baptism is about the second birth, not the first (John 1:12). It begins with circumcision of heart, not flesh. It's like a knighthood. Abrahamic sonship was redefined from physical/social to spiritual - "true Jews" - which is why the Pharisees could be sons of Abraham (flesh) and of the devil (heart). Paedobaptism is entirely "carnal" in that sense - a social demarcation which Paul would rail against.
    Credobaptism is a spiritual/ethical sign which transcends all social demarcations (such as circumcision). Paedobaptism just turns it into another social demarcation. See: Europe.
    Christianity is more like Communism - nobody is born a Communist. Baptism is a public testimony of allegiance. In Christ, the Covenant graduated from an earthly father to the heavenly one. Paedobaptism is all about being under guardians and guidance (stoichiea) when baptism is about being a guardian. The Covenant grew up in Jesus. Paedobaptism is about offspring - the womb instead of the tomb. It says we are still waiting for the seed, and He has not yet come in the flesh. And based on Genesis 15, any Covenant sign on infants should include some real estate in Palestine (Gen. 3 and Ge. 15 = fruit of Land and womb. Baptism is about fruit of the Spirit, beginning with legal testimony as a "martyr") Cheers, Mike

  6. Glen

    Hi Mike, on the day of Pentecost as believers queue for baptism, many holding their children in their arms, do you think any of them understood anything like that? If not, on what basis were infants turned away from baptism in Acts 2 and why wasn't that preclusion ever made explicit to a people trained for 2000 years to give the covenant sign to their offspring?

    (Welcome to the blog by the way :)

  7. Si

    Well, if sprinkling is good enough for Jesus (as seen in this photo, despite the presence of a river, then it's good enough for anyone. ;)

    I guess there would be 'issues' with doing infant baptisms the Eastern way, especially with a 6-week old like Ruby. Whereas the theological issues are minor.

  8. Chris W

    No offence intended, but this is how these all look:

    1. Because we are children of Abraham so we baptize our unbelieving household servants just like he circumcised his (Genesis 17).

    2. Because the New Testament never retracts 2000 years of Biblical practice regarding household servants and the covenant sign.

    3. Because circumcision is a covenant sign explicitly for males of the covenant to grow up into (Romans 4:11), and new covenant "children" are the same (John 1:12-13).

    4. Because sacraments are visible words and we want to tell our unbelieving friends that God loves them.

    5. Because we want to surround our unbelieving friends with every gospel promise.

    6. Because we want to raise her as a Christian, just like believing Gentiles under the Old Covenant did with their kids.

    7. Because she’s not a Muslim, a pagan or a neutral. She is Christ’s, just like the Muslims and pagans are Christ's (Matthew 28:18).

    8. Because “as for me and my household [servants] we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15)

    9. Because in the Bible when [most people from] households rejoice in the Lord, [most people from] households are baptised. [Most people from] this household rejoice in the Lord.

    10. Because we want to pray and worship with Ruby and foreigners to the covenant couldn't do that until the Gospel came.

    11. Because we want to declare to her, to the church, the world and every principality and power that Ruby belongs to Jesus, just like everything else in heaven and on earth.

    12. Because I want her to belong to Christ’s body.

    13. Because nothing says “Gospel” like declaring Christ’s love to the unbelieving powerless.

    14. Because we want our unbelieving neighbour's personal response to Jesus to be a personal *response* to Jesus.

    15. Because we think faith is so vital that we must do everything we can to elicit faith – therefore we drench everyone we can in God’s promises.

    16. Because to be credo-anything, the promise must come first. And the gospel is a promise. Baptism is the gospel.

    17. Because we don’t so much dedicate Ruby to Jesus, He claims her for His own, just like the rest of creation.

    18. Because Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them” and she cannot come to Jesus unless she is baptized first.

    19. Because, as regards our simple trust in Christ, we are meant to be like children born of God, not the other way around. (Matthew 18:3)

    20. Because faith does not earn gospel promises, gospel promises elicit faith. So you can't believe until you are baptized.

    21. Because sacraments are not administered in response to our faith in God but are about His faithfulness to us. The arrow comes down – and it comes down to the unworthy and unbelieving.

  9. Glen

    Hey Emma - see? Told you what I was saying was different ;-)

    Hi Chris, no offence taken at all.

    1. It was sons and servants in Genesis 17. And it was certainly sons for the next two millennia.

    2. See above.

    3. Abe = new covenant.

    4. I'm not talking about baptising folks outside the covenant. I'm talking about the Abrahamic practice of credo-paedo covenant signs. Credo for believers but the household comes in under their wings.

    5. see 4.

    6. Covenant members raise their children as covenant members. Not sure why that should change or where the Bible ever says that it should. If we imagine that OT = carnal and faith didn't matter we are confusing Moses and Abraham and disagreeing with Galatians 3.

    7. see 4.

    8. Surely you're not arguing that household *excludes* the children?

    9. Why read our individualistic rationalistic mindset into straightforward verses about corporate realities?

    10. ...and when the gospel came to the nations we rejoiced that the Abrahamic promise was being fulfilled and acted accordingly. Foreigners to the covenant are strangers to God. Therefore our children either have communion with God or they don't. Every Christian parent I know acts as though their kids do, but some have the inconsistency of implicitly affirming their childrens' insider status but explicitly denying it sacramentally.

    11. I imagine we agree that there's Christ, His body and the world and that the body and the world belong to Christ in different ways?

    12. That's our disagreement but I maintain that credo parents in large part raise their children as though they are part of the body. I reckon that's a healthy instinct that fits better with the biblical paedo-credo-baptist position.

    13. Exactly. Romans 5:8

    14. No, see 4.

    15. No, see 4.

    16. Baptism is certainly gospel proclamation. The gospel is not "an idea" it always comes as a word - whether spoken or sacramental.

    17. No, see 11.

    18. No but baptism is very closely connected to "coming to Christ" in the NT

    19. Jesus was surely referencing the unwashed kids being brought to Him, not children of God? (I've probably misunderstood this one)

    20. I'm not making that argument. But I am saying that "promise -> faith" is a helpful explanatory framework for understanding the paedo-credo-baptist position.

    21. Rightly receiving the sacraments, rightly administered, is to receive the word - i.e. a kind of faith. You might argue that it's not right to administer it to infants, but if it is biblically right to include infants in the covenant sign then there simply isn't the problem of unbelieving reception. The reception is a kind of faith. On the other hand, if we only understand faith to be intellectual assent to propositions we excommunicate a lot of people, not just infants.

  10. Chris W

    Hi Glen, thanks for your response. I hope we can maintain a civil tone! :)

    1. Households always included servants. Under Abraham, male servants received the same covenant sign as other males of the household. If there's any evidence that the practice of household circumcision (including servants) changed later on, I'd be interested to see it.

    3. The covenant with Abraham is not the New Covenant, rather the *promise* made to Abraham is a promise of new covenant. This promise is now fulfilled in Christ and the Church (which includes those "nations" promised to Abraham). The new covenant has a *new* promise - the promise of resurrection.

    4. If sacraments are merely 'visible words' of the Gospel, then why can't they be applied to willing unbelievers? If the Gospel is sufficient for unbelievers, then it is sufficient for the children of believers, who are brought up under the sound of the Gospel.

    6. It's not OT = Carnal and NT = faith. It's OT = Gentiles are strangers and NT = Gentiles are full covenant members. Now that the bridegroom has come, everyone is welcome to come to the wedding feast (by faith).

    8. I'm arguing that you have to include servants as well if you're doing things on a household basis. And unbelieving children and spouses.

    9. You're mixing corporate and individual language. Does the fact that everyone in the household believes (with a few exceptions) mean that everyone individually (without exceptions) should be baptised?

    10. All nations belong to King Jesus. There are no 'strangers' to the new covenant.

    11. Yes, there is a difference. His body consists of those who have personally responded in faith.

    12. King Jesus rules over all nations - everyone is welcome. Raising children under the sound of the Gospel is no different to inviting non-Christians to worship services to sing songs to Jesus and encounter Him in the Word.

    13. The preached Gospel *is* that declaration, both to unbelieving friends and to our kids.

    16. Gospel = promise, Baptism = response in faith.

    18. Yes, but baptism is a personal response, as above.

    19. My point is that Jesus welcomes children because they picture children born of God (John 1:12-13), not because all children are automatically Christians.

    20. See my response to 16.

    21. Yes, faith is not merely intellectual assent to propositions. It is a willingness to lay down one's life for Christ, as a martyr. Jesus ties this to both NT sacraments (Mark 10:38).

  11. Cal

    Beautiful explanation Glen. Some of what you listed is why I moved from a strict credobaptism to a corporate, credo catholic baptism, for the mentally retarded, children, adults, elderly, teens, etc.

    Why don't we force it? Because we cannot respond for those who can. A parent can for the child under their care, or a brother for a mentally enfeebled sister. This is also a point where I diverge from correlations from the family to the State. But I digress.

    Mike's point about it being a social demarcation is true, and Europe's current state is a partial result of this. That's not the fault of a catholic Baptism, but from the Gospel being domesticated to being a function of society. That's a conversation on Constantine(!). It's a valid criticism, but not constitutive of the theological weight.

    He's also right that no one is "born" a Christian. Even children (infants!) need a second birth, which is the Word-Promise reality of baptism. But one's parents are not guardians of this, as in the sense of Israel, but to be Instructors, just as anyone entering the faith is to receive instruction.

    Plus, allow the reality of psychological functions. Children born in Christian houses, with parents concerned for their reception of the gospel, will eventually receive it. Most probably because they're encouraged to do so! Yet how many children might leave the faith when they leave the house? If we allow for that kind of apostasy, and it happens, then I don't know why we insert a lot of additional steps.

    As Glenn said, so many parents raise their children as Christians even though they are not baptized. Why deny them the reality?

  12. Chris W

    Hi Cal,
    Just to let you know that I responded to your comment on my blog.

    Your blog is so 'where it's at' that people even use it to send personal messages.

  13. Glen

    1. If we were in a culture that has household servants I'd be very happy to think through Genesis 17 and its application to that scenario. But none of that changes the fact that infants were included in the covenant for 2000 years and you're saying the new covenant removes that blessing - a retrograde step. I don't see it.

    3. Covenant = promise (Gal 3). Abraham is not promised a promise, he's promised cosmic blessings and we come in on those blessings (again Gal3).

    4.Baptism is an effectual visible word - creating what it proclaims. I don't apply it to unbelievers because, following Gen 17, I'm credo-paedo-baptist.

    6. Well, if we take your position, "everyone is welcome" except those Jesus identified as the very epitome of kingdom-people: little children - the people included for 2 millennia but then apparently disbarred because the new covenant is so superior ;-)

    8. Fine if - having explained the ramifications and properly catechised them - they then wanted to go through with it (of course that would basically = faith)

    9. I still think you're reading in individuals when the Bible speaks corporately.

    10. "no strangers to the new covenant" except our little ones who can do nothing at all to qualify for it because you've set the bar to a height that is, by definition, out of their reach.

    11. Well that's at the heart of this debate. Of course we come in by faith but can households share in "the faith" - both old and new testaments say yes.

    12. We're meant to treat our children like outsiders at a years-long evangelistic service? I don't think any Christian parents actually do this. Not would I recommend it :)

    13. And the sacraments preach

    16. Like communion, baptism is both.

    18. It's certainly oriented towards faith (just like adoption papers are oriented towards the child owning their adoption in later life) but the sign and seal itself can be given to infants - just as the first 3/4 of the Bible teaches and the final quarter never abrogates.

    20. I'm not saying all children are automatically Christians but that it would be strange if the new covenant suddenly excluded from the covenant the very ones who epitomise kingdom citizens

    21. See the adoption example from 18. Of course faith involves our dying with Christ and rising to new life. But to be baptised is to be brought into that realm and covenant children are to own the reality as they grow.

    God bless

  14. Glen

    Sorry for typos and slightly strident tone. I tapped out the reply one thumbed with a crying baby in the other arm.

    Appreciate you brother and learning lots from you.

  15. Glen

    NB: I've just, very slightly, updated 6. and 8. from my original comment listed as 8:45pm above.

  16. Irena Serena

    Hi Glen (and others),

    I think this is a really great discussion, not just because of what is said but even more because of the implications of what is said. What are we all, paedo and credo alike, *actually* saying about infants? Sure, the credo-baptist looks puzzled when they hear my bottom line: I genuinely believe that baptism makes my bubble-blowing baby a Christian in the fullest sense of the word. And there are all sorts of ways in which the baptist might protest - No, christian faith isn't inherited, and (doubly) no, baptism doesn't regenerate an infant. But what's a credo-baptist saying about children in the *positive*?

    I guess these questions are for Chris:

    In your view, is an infant, unable to profess faith, able to enjoy the benefits of Jesus' death and resurrection? Is there a way for them to be transferred from original sin's kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of the beloved Son? Can they be God's children and living members of Christ's body? The paedo-baptist,in most traditions, can say a hearty "YES!" to each of these. Because of baptism.

    Puzzlement ensues again. Agreed, there are all sorts of questions and objections that need to be dealt with further down the line - apostasy, cultural christianity etc. But what's the alternative to saying "yes" to these questions?

    Put that way, I'm sure you'll agree that this is an INCREDIBLY important issue. What we're talking about relates to the very soul of the gospel - "who is the blood of Christ for?".



  17. Emma Lawson

    So Jesus doesn't claim my kids for His own unless they partake in an infant baptism? Sorry I don't mean that to sound so emotive just asking. I'm still not sure I understand.

  18. Emma Lawson

    Should I be booking them in at the next opportunity so I can be sure they are drenched enough in the promises of God? Phraisng this in question form not to be facetious but just so I can really try to understand where you're coming from. Congratulations on your daughter and I hope you have a great time on Sunday : )

  19. Glen

    Hey Emma,

    Just to say - our positions on this don't make the slightest difference to Jesus' love for our kids nor our love for our kids. That needs saying.

    For me I'd answer the question by saying "Your children do belong to Jesus (cos that's the way His covenant works) therefore why withold this sacrament from them and why treat them as outsiders?" It's not that Jesus won't love your kids till you baptise them. It's that Jesus does love them and here's a way of telling them.

    From my point of view it's the credo position that says "X needs to happen to Ruby before she's in." What's more, that X is completely beyond Ruby right now.

    Think of it as the difference between adoption and fostering. You may have never considered that adopting needy children was an option. You always thought that you had to foster them until the child could legally testify that she wanted to be in the family. Ok, that's cool if that's what the law is. But if you discover that the law does allow you to adopt the child from the earliest time I would say that *that* is the far superior option. It reflects better the kind of family environment you want the child to belong to and it puts your love - not the child's - in the driving position.

    Now... might you adopt a child that walks away from the family? Yes, but that's never the intention. And you don't fix that problem by fostering until such time as the child signs on the dotted line.

    So yes I think your children should be baptised - not because they'll be unloved until or unless they are. (It's that kind of conditionality that makes me so uncomfortable with the credo position). I say baptise them *because* Jesus loves them and you love them.

    Every blessing in Him

  20. Chris W

    Hi Glen,

    Some great points there. I too am learning a lot.

    1. The new covenant takes the 'land' covenant made with Israel and expands it to include the whole earth. The 'sign' of the new covenant, in this respect, is Jesus himself, who is Lord of all nations. He sums up everything that circumcision represented in Himself. So there is no loss of blessing for our children, only a gain - for everyone.

    In summary, we don't need a special sign to approach God in the new covenant, since Jesus is our sign and He is a mediator for all people. That's not what baptism is for - baptism is about mission, those who have responded and want to join Jesus's dangerous, self-sacrificing disciples.

    3. I agree that the promise is part of the covenant with Abraham, but the new covenant is the fulfilment of those promises (in Christ and the Church). I do agree broadly with covenant theology though, so I suspect we're not too far apart here. But Romans 4:11 is about Abraham, not about all the circumcised.

    4. Baptism is certainly an effectual visible word (received by faith) but it's also a response - a personal identification with Christ in his death and resurrection.

    6. See 1. Jesus never says the children in this passage are actually citizens of the kingdom (which would require willing martyrdom), rather, he uses them as a metaphor to teach the disciples what children of God are like. He also uses fig trees, sheep, crops as metaphors at other times.

    8. By "explaining the ramifications" in catechesis, I take it that you understand baptism to be a significant act, one of personal self-sacrifice and laying down one's life before Christ? If that is the case, then I can only agree, and would extend this reasoning not only to those in that household, but to everyone.

    But this necessarily excludes infants, who cannot willingly lay down their lives. A man who throws himself on a bomb to save his battalion is a hero, but a man who throws his baby on the bomb to accomplish the same thing is not. Penal substitution (the most heroic act of martyrdom ever) requires that Jesus is a *willing* sacrifice. And that's what baptism means.

    9. If household faith is truly corporate, then the parents can receive baptism on behalf of their children, just as males received the sign on behalf of females under the old covenant.

    10. See 1.

    11. See 9.

    12. Perhaps this says more about how we treat unbelievers than about how we treat our children!

    13. The sacraments preach to the world that *these people* are willing to lay down their lives for Jesus. Such faith strikes fear into the hearts of our enemies and could well lead them to repentance.

    16. See 13.

    18. See 1.

    20. See 6.

    21. Babies cannot willingly lay down their lives like Jesus did. Romans 6 and Colossians 2 are about believers personally identifying with Christ's death and resurrection.

    The number of points is shrinking!

  21. Chris W


    An infant is not capable of the fullness of faith described in the New Testament, and in that sense the answer is no. However, Jesus represents all nations and intercedes for them, so in terms of those who pass away in infancy, it may well be that they are redeemed by Christ anyway. But it's not something we are told much about in scripture so I am hesitant to make any certain verdict.

    In the Credobaptist position, baptism is not for that anyway. It's for those who answer directly to the authority of the Church, who are willing to lay down their life for Christ. It's a kind of knighthood, an official delegation of those who go out into all the nations to represent Christ in everything they do.

    A question I would ask you in return: what about the infant children of non-Christians? To consider only our children is not enough - Jesus is for everyone!

  22. Irena Serena

    Hi Chris,

    there are certainly things an infant won't personally participate in - mission, being one example. When I say fullness, I mean the reality of being a forgiven child of God with the earnest of God's Spirit. The credo-baptist position says that this can't happen - so I ask, what's the current status of your children? I assume a priori that ALL are born dead in trespasses and sins, disconnected from the life of God and I don't see any middle category between children of God and children of wrath (a middle category like "age of accountability", which is a judicial category that says nothing about the child's *being*). So unless there's some extraordinary way for children to become what, by nature, they are not then the kingdom really is shut in infant faces.

    If that's how you see your not-yet-professing-faith non-christian child, on what basis do you pray "our Father" with them? It seems to me, that on your view, you don't *actually* think God is their Father. That's the inconsistently in credo-baptist parenting that Glen speaks of above. I may be wrong in position, but I don't have that inconsistency because I'm certain that my toddler really is addressing his Father by the Spirit.

    I appreciate that the baptistic position doesn't allow baptism to have the kind of power I'm describing. That's one where baptists disagree with the *vast* majority of Christians, both now and historically. But I find few credo-baptists who have actually thought through what their position is actually committing them to: a gospel that has no discernible way of saving infants from sin and bringing them into living relationship with Christ. That's the bottom line of all this. Chris: is there a way for infants, that doesn't deny original sin and gives more than just a "not guilty till you're 12" badge??

    In answer to your question about non-Christian children: I'm saying there IS a way for them to be living members of Christ's body. You're saying there ISN'T - whether infants of Christians or non-Christians. What am I missing? We all lean on God's mercy and hope infants dying young will be saved but, as you say, Scripture doesn't give us absolute certainty.

    Yet now the Spirit the Bride say "come!"... even if you need to carried by your parents.

  23. Chris W

    Hi Serena,

    I don't have any children. There, that was easy ;)

    These are good questions you're asking, important issues which need addressing. I can certainly agree with you that all are born dead in trespasses and are by nature children of wrath, including the children of believers. All I am saying in this respect is the same thing that you would say about the children of non-believers. It's not that there's some "age of accountability" they need to reach, it's that our children need the Gospel of Christ, and so we raise them in hope that they will respond to this Gospel which we earnestly preach to them.

    In terms of the "treating children as Christians" accusation, this is certainly a challenge for the position, but there are two possible ways of looking at this which make sense to me.

    1) God simply *is* the Father of all - which includes our children. Although they are children of wrath, they can still cry out to God as Father, just as the raven does when it is hungry. "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth."

    2) By teaching them how to pray and sing as children of God, we are giving them a vocabulary which they can one day own for themselves as full, participating members of the body of Christ.

    Regarding the power of Baptism, I agree that Baptism does have a great deal of power, but only if it is a personal identification with Christ in His suffering, death and resurrection, since that's what "faith" means (that's how Jesus defines a disciple). And despite all your objections, you still haven't answered the pressing question: What about the children of non-believers? If Jesus is Lord of all nations, why should they be excluded from consideration?

  24. Irena Serena

    Dear Emma,

    I'm not sure if your question is addressed generally or specifically to Glen, so I hope you don't mind me commenting:-).

    These issues are so, so emotive because we're talking about our children and what their relationship to Jesus is. So I've often heard the same question from people: "are you saying my child isn't a child of God/Christian?". Funnily enough, on more than one occasion the person saying this to me is the very person that has just told me that *my* child needs to make a profession of faith and accept Jesus for themselves before I can go around proudly calling them a Christian. Do you see why that's really odd?

    The credo-baptist is happy to see their child as not a Christian (in the true sense of the word) and insists that *my* child is a non-Christian too. But when I give reasons as to why my child is now a Christian through baptism, it's taken as a horrendous slight on their child. But really at most what I'm doing is agreeing with the person I'm speaking to: so you don't actually think your child is a Christian? Fair enough.

    But... if you do think your child is a Christian, what's stopping them from being baptised?

    I don't mean these questions as to elicit an answer from you on Glen's blog. It's down to you to lovingly steward the gift of your children, and I'm sure that's what your doing within what you believe is best for them. But baptism, historically understood, really is an option that claims to do way, waaay more for your child than their dedication claimed to.

    Every blessing,


  25. Irena Serena

    Dear Chris,

    I don't teach non-Christian people (including children) to rejoice in God's forgiveness of all their sins and that the Holy Spirit lives in their hearts. That would be completely irreconcilable with any Christian position. If you want to define God's fatherhood in that, then yes we're all his children. But that's not what Paul means when he calls us children (Gal 3 - incidentally in specific reference to baptism), and I'm sure you'll agree.

    We want our children (and other vulnerable people) to be God's children in the latter sense, and what the credo-baptist says is that there is NO discernible way for that to happen.

    As for the question of children with non-Christian parents: as far as I understand, the historic consideration is more to do with having reasonable grounds to assume that the child being baptised will be encouraged to grow in the faith/church, than with status of the parents. Yes, we often fail miserably in this area. And yes, children need to be nurtured in Christ in Word and Sacrament or they will certainly fall away. But that's the reason we ask for committed christian parents and sponsors - to respond for the child and to promise to rear them in faith, and not because the gift only belongs to those with Christian parents.

    With the vocabulary for the future comment, I think you'd find yourself asking them to consistently express things that are categorically (in your thinking) not true. How would you teach a toddler to say/sing, for themselves, "thank you for saving me" without your tongue in your cheek?

    Further, how would you address ethical aspects that are specifically for Christians?? For example, "you must gather with other Christians" (Heb 10); or the classic, "don't date non-Christian boys". On what grounds do we expect these things from children who aren't Christians?

    In my position, I can tell my little one that he must gather with his brothers and sisters because they *are* his brothers and sister in the living body of Christ. I can tell him that light has no fellowship with darkness, so pick a Christian. These are just examples, but examples of a very important difference in *how* credo and paedo parents raise their children.

    You believe children are born in sin, enemies of God. Isn't it a problem for you, and huge pause for thought, that your theology doesn't have any discernible way for that to be remedied?

    Baptism means personal identification with Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection (Rom 6).

  26. Irena Serena

    * key typo, para 1... should read "if you want to define God's fatherhood in that general sense, then yes we are all his children".

    Sorry :-)

  27. Chris W

    Dear Serena,

    Learning to call God our Father in the general sense is not the same as calling Him our Father in the special sense, no. But it's certainly a good stepping stone along the way. If it's really as problematic as you say to teach them to use Christian vocabulary, then perhaps we shouldn't invite our non-Christian friends to Church. After all, they might accidentally sing a hymn or recite a creed or other corporate prayer which contains words which they can't fully affirm! ;)

    I appreciate that the household baptism view is concerned for the mentally handicapped and so on as well and I think that's great. However, that's not what Baptism is for. Baptising a baby (or a mentally handicapped person) is analogous to enlisting them in the army. It won't help them or anyone else.

    In terms of how you instruct them about moral issues, well, it depends on the issue. Most Christian morals would apply quite straightforwardly (don't steal, lie etc), but the more thorny issues which you raise won't be particularly relevant until they are a bit older (about 9/10). It's only when they reach puberty that dating really means anything and they might start to think about not going to Church, and by that age, most household Baptists will have confirmed them and most credo Baptists will be willing to baptise them if they have made a meaningful commitment to follow Christ.

    The only way to remedy alienation from God is by repentance and faith. If Baptism means personal identification with Christ in His suffering, death and resurrection, then babies don't qualify, since a baby cannot be a martyr.


  28. Irena Serena


    I think your response is definitely the one that's consistent with your theology; something which most credo-baptists I've spoken to haven't been able/willing to admit.

    In the end, you're saying that the economy of salvation is such that there is NO immediate remedy for alienation from God if you're a little child. In love and respect, I put it to you that this is an unbelievably monstrous position (which, of course, is not to say anything of you and the many credo-baptists I know that love the Lord and seek to follow what the Bible teaches).

    That doesn't ipso facto mean your position isn't true, which is a separate debate. But it does show that our differences have huge ramifications on what the gospel actually is and that this isn't a so-called "secondary issue". The church fathers never speak of it as such and consistently talk about baptism (including infant) in a completely different way to what you describe.

    Really appreciated the interaction :-)

    Blessings in Christ,


  29. Chris W


    It's a real shame you see it that way. Especially since your position is equally "monstrous" with respect to the vast majority of children alive today (ie. from non-believing families). And I do think this is a secondary issue, although I appreciate that people use the term in different ways.

    But thanks for the interaction anyway!

  30. Irena Serena


    The children-can't-be-born-again position applies to the children of non-believing families. It just happens to apply to those that want their infants to be Christians too, and therefore to every single infant.

    My position is that baptism is for all nations - and all children. That parents don't bring them to baptism (and then raise them in the faith) is a tragedy that has nothing to do with my position and quite a bit to do with yours.

    To be clear, that this is a primary issue doesn't meant that I don't consider you a dear brother in Christ . Baptised into one body being the cause ;-)

  31. Fiona

    Thank you for listing your reasons Glen. I'm sure it will be a wonderful service full of celebration with your family. I have had many interesting discussions about this with friends of both viewpoints. I think baptism is one of these grey area secondary issues Paul writes about in Romans 14 where we should be informed and respectful of our brothers and sisters.

    Personally I was raised in a Baptist church, dedicated as a baby and then decided to be baptised 2 years after commiting to Christ for the first time. While I can appreciate the keeping of the covenants and see the inclusive household view with the example of the centurion in one of Jesus' parables, I come from the view that I came to faith and then chose to be baptised as an outward symbol of an inner change wth a fuller understanding of the symbolism.

    I have come across so many non-Christians/agnostics who have the view "I was dunked as a baby, I'm good." which saddens me because as soon as I challenge it I am accused of questioning their upbringing, which indeed I am and is a very sensitive topic so we don't get very far.

    Whether the understanding of what baptism represents comes before or after the water, it's vital that it is explained so people make the much more important decision to believe and embrace Christ as their own just as they are his.

  32. Glen

    Hi Chris,

    I still don't think you've given due weight to Genesis 17 (I wouldn't!). If the sign is appropriate not only for the conscious believer but also their household then virtually all your points against paedo-baptism fail.

    It's fine to see elements of martyrdom and militarism in baptism - on Sunday we will all implore Ruby to "Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil!". Brilliant! There are also elements of washing, of union with Christ, of being clothed in Christ, of dying and rising in Him, etc, etc. All good! And the sign of baptism means all these things. Brilliant. So we put it on our child - adopting her into these realities so that she grows up into them from the inside. Just as the sign of justification by faith is placed on Israelite infants, so the sign of martyrdom (and everything else) is placed on infant Christians.

    You seem to want to make this sacrament into a declaration *by* the recipient and proclaimed *to* the world. I think sacraments are fundamentally declarations *by* God *to* the recipient. It's energising to hear you speak of gung-ho "Knights", counting the cost and taking on the world. I'm sure there's a time and a place for that - maybe confirmation? But I just don't see the Bible teaching it as the essence of *baptism*. Romans 6 tells us we are included in Christ's death and resurrection by being baptised into Him. I don't read "throwing myself onto a grenade for Christ" here - I read, "I've been crucified with Christ already."

    Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a bit of "solider of Christ" imagery - neither does the Anglican liturgy. But to say that this is the heart and soul of baptism and that the recipient *must* be willing first seems to ignore the biblical practice of 2000 years that is never abrogated in the NT and it makes your position less ana-baptist, more ana-dedicationist. It becomes much less a sacrament in the ways the NT speaks of and more a kind of "passing out parade" where the declarations are mainly the soldier's.

    As for the land stuff - Romans 4 sees the fulfilment of "land/eretz" as "the world/cosmos." Of course that reality holds true in the risen Christ but the tangibility of "land" is not abolished but fulfilled. I'd say the same about the covenant signs. It sounds like a neat theory to say that "signs" in the OT are replaced by the reality of *Christ* in the NT, but the NT just doesn't speak like that. Christ always comes incarnated and His promises come in creaturely forms: water, wheat, wine and words. When we read about how baptism clothes us with Christ and unites us to Him in His death and resurrection and washes us with the Holy Spirit and saves us I don't know how we can downplay it in the way you suggest. You said:

    "we don’t need a special sign to approach God in the new covenant, since Jesus is our sign and He is a mediator for all people."

    God approaches *us* and He does it by giving us Jesus *in* word and sacrament. We can't downplay or sideline the sacraments and we ought not to ignore the direction in which the sign primarily travels.

  33. Glen

    Hi Rhys,

    Who is the covenant with?

    In eternity: Christ
    In OT terms (which are often owned in the NT also): Israel ('the Israel of God')
    In NT terms: the Church, the body of Christ.

  34. Irena Serena

    ... and because it is the universal practice of all Christians for the first 1500 years after its institution.

    The only kind of Christian that calls this a secondary issue is the kind that denies its power to regenerate and to deliver the forgiveness of sins (nicene creed, acts 2:38, acts 22:16 and a whole plethora of NT passages) - e.g. baptistically-minded evangelicals. The vast majority of other Christians along with the fathers see it not as a mere "symbol of an inner change" that's already happened, but as the (ordinarily speaking) means through which that inner change occurs. In other words, an issue of inestimable importance.

  35. Glen

    Hi Fiona,

    I hear you on the issue of the unbelieving baptised. Here's what I can say to them from my perspective: You've been showered with heavenly blessings and you've walked away. You're like an adopted child who has run away from home but still claiming you're on speaking terms with your family. If your adoption means anything then spend time with your family. If you don't spend any time with your family then you've really spat on your adoption papers and it's an affront worse than never being adopted at all.

    Sorta thing.

    Of course I'd also say that to those baptised as adults who have walked away.

    The one thing I wouldn't do is to say "Your baptism means/meant nothing" cos that's just not the way the Bible speaks.

  36. Emma Lawson

    Hi Irena/Glen!

    I had a dedication and thanksgiving service for our baby son at our baptist church, because they don't do the whole sprinkling with water and liturgy thing, so that's what happened. Maybe there isn't a case for dedication biblically, but I wanted to publicly give thanks for his life, and invite our church family to be part of his life growing up. Also, I found the example of Hannah 'dedicating' Samuel to the Lord very profound, and there was an element personally of doing something that signified an 'upward' direction, here-is-our-son-Lord-He-is-yours type thing, in the context of church family. I don't mean to downplay the significance of infant baptism, and I think those making the case for it have done so strongly and I don't really disagree!
    My son is not a Christian in the professing faith and conscious repentance sense because he's 19 months old...
    However, I do believe that he is loved by God, but no one is denying that as Glen pointed out, and I don't believe He is in danger of eternal separation from God. I believe He is part of our covenant community and part of our church, and will bring him up as best I can to know God's love for Him and grow up into that reality. That's good enough for me. If this is the case then as you ask Glen, why withhold the sacrament of infant baptism? I'm just thinking what our options would be: we could do a sort of top-up service in our church but, given that we don't have infant baptisms in our church, because it's not a C of E, not sure that could happen as we had a service for him already. That would seem bit odd. Or, I could get him booked in at a local C of E but then we wouldn't honestly be inviting the congregation there to be part of his life personally because we don't know them personally, so that would also be a bit odd!
    I don't have a problem with anyone wanting to have their children baptised as babies, however I'm still also not sure why it should 'top-up'/supercede what has happened with our little one already. What is the implication for my children if they do not have an infant baptism, if they aren't any less loved by God, or any less recipients of His mercy and grace, or any less part of our church family? Glen, if you respond to any of this can you respond to this question in particular, because I guess it's the upshot of all this?

    It's a bit late, apologies for my confused and muddled way of putting things. Thank you for responding : )

  37. Glen

    Hi Emma,

    One of the great things about baptism is about is visibly identifying with your church family and saying "we belong together." So I don't think it would be appropriate in these circumstances for you to make a stand that may well undermine the unity that baptism proclaims. Just as the adoption papers then lead to enjoying life together in that family, so baptism is meant to lead into an enjoyment of that church-family life together. Therefore I don't think it would be ideal to get baptised as a ritual divorced from the church fellowship in which you want your child to be nurtured.

    In these circumstances I would say, remain devoted to your local church and ask for advice from your leadership about all the ways in which you can honour the beloved status of your children and bring them up as Christians. Having your child baptised elsewhere won't make them any more integrated into the life of your church - the very opposite.

    Circumstances might change in your church or in your life and baptism might become an option down the track but given that baptism is meant to be a great unifier (Eph 4:5) a divisive baptism would be unwise.

    To use the adoption analogy again - God knows you want to adopt, not just foster and he will honour that desire. He can be trusted with your children :)

  38. Irena Serena

    Hey Emma,

    I agree with Glen, but with a little to add. It's really obvious from your comments that your sincere intention is for your son to be God's child and to enjoy all the blessings that we've been talking about. If you're not currently in a position to receive baptism there's good reason to think that your heartfelt desire is honoured by God - we do, after all, have a God that infinitely loves you and your little boy to the point of death on the cross.

    On the other hand, church ministers *are* held to account for their doctrine and I think deliberately blocking off God's grace from those in your care is no small fry. That said, it's important for you, unless God is definitely calling you elsewhere, to be faithful to your church leaders and entrust yourself to Jesus under their care. It's what we all should do.

    If you're happy to treat your children as Christians, that's a great thing, and I'm happy to join you:-). I know and respect many people who sincerely want to raise their children as Christians and have had dedications, without truly understanding the differences between it and baptism. I encourage them to baptise - some of them are in a position to do so and do, others (like you) aren't and don't. What I find troubling, though, is when people deliberately *despise* available infant baptism and refuse to look into it with seriousness. That, I think, puts them in a tricky position.

    Every blessing for you and your son. I pray he grows to love the Lord and the church family that you're part of.

  39. Chris W

    Hi Glen,

    I think Genesis 17 undermines your approach. Abraham was to circumcise every male in his household without exception. There's nothing here about a requirement for personal faith and repentance prior to adult servants receiving circumcision (which is what you would require for any adult interested in baptism). This suggests that baptism and circumcision are not similar in the way that you've proposed.

    Circumcision was a tribal distinction associated with physical seed (that's why those with crushed genitals and other seed-related defects couldn't join Israel), intended to create a specific nation and culture. Baptism, on the other hand, is supposed to transcend cultures as the fulfilment of the "many nations" promised to Abraham. Each circumcision was a "sign and seal" not of the recipient's faith, but of Abraham's faith in the promise (Romans 4:11). Baptism announces that the promise has now been fulfilled in the Jew-Gentile Church (Galatians 3:26-29).

    Looking at some of the new testament texts, Romans 6 and Colossians 2 both speak of a believer personally identifying with Christ's death in baptism, that they might walk in newness of life. 1 Peter 3, when speaking of baptism, treats it as an act of personal appeal to God. The book of Acts associates baptism specifically with repentance, which requires a personal response. The language used over and over again suggests that baptism entails a personal response, so I struggle to see how it makes sense to administer it in a corporate, household fashion.

    In terms of martyrdom, I'm thinking mostly of Jesus's remarks in the gospels, where he teaches that being his disciple means being willing to "lay down our life" or to "take up our cross". And baptism is specifically said to be for disciples in the great commission (Matthew 28). As I've mentioned before, Jesus even likens both sacraments directly to martyrdom in Mark 10:38. Can an infant be a martyr?

    Lastly, I agree that we receive Christ in word and sacrament, but I think the order matters. I think it's in the word first, followed by the sacrament once we have responded in faith. And whereas the word is something we hear, the sacrament is something we do (whether it be getting wet, eating or drinking!).

    A question: One aspect of your argument which you seem to regard as quite important, but which I haven't fully grasped yet is the idea that sacraments are not primarily something we do, but something God does. Where would you get this from scripture?

    All the best,

  40. Irena Serena

    Hey Chris,

    Coming to church, paying attention to the preacher and hearing the Word is in a sense something we do. Coming to the font or the communion rail is something that we do in the same sense. But what's meant by baptism being God's work, is that the saving effects are his doing. Forgiving sins is something God alone does. Giving new life and grafting into Christ's Body is something God alone does. The minister baptises *in the name* of the triune God - he baptises, the candidate is baptised. All the real, significant action, like when we are quickened by the Word of the preacher, is something he does. That's not to say we don't do something by getting up in the morning and putting ourselves in the way of the Word and Sacraments. And that's not to say baptism doesn't serve as our profession of faith before men and our promise to be faithful to God's will for our lives - yes, those are things we do.

    But it's only by denying that God *actually* does the things the scripture says he does, which our baptismal liturgies specifically speak over the candidate, that you can see baptism as primarily a work we do.

    The reason why there's never agreement on these questions is because we don't agree on what baptism actually *is*, adult or otherwise. If in it God *gives* new life and works the forgiveness of sins (rather than merely symbolising or firming up what's already happened), it's obvious that we'll give it to the explicitly willing and to the needy sinner that won't refuse or despise it (e.g. an infant). Otherwise, it's like leaving an infant in a burning building because he doesn't have the ability to ask to be saved (which is very different to a burly adult that refuses to be rescued).

    What constantly amazes me is that otherwise biblically minded Christians will never (ever!) speak about salvation the way the Apostles do. Repent and... give your life to Jesus and you will receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the holy sprit... and then get baptised to show everyone what's happened already. Rise up and... say the sinners prayer and wash away your sins. Nein. The bible speaks in a very different way on this.

    Recently, I went to a C of E baptism in the morning followed by a Baptist one in the evening. Quite a contrast! In the first, God lovingly condescended to meet the candidate in the water, clothed them with his Son and promised them the kingdom. In the second all we were told was the candidates seriousness about following Jesus and great pains were taken to point out that God wasn't doing anything at all.

    I know which sounds more like Jesus!

  41. Brian Midmore

    There has been a move from the idea of salvation of a people to salvation of the individual. 'He shall save his people from their sins'. Paul saw the idea of covenant continuing into the NT era. Jesus Messiah was the fulfillment of the covenant the telos nomou, the completion of the mosaic covenant. The covenant had not ended but was fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Paul wrote Romans 9-11 because he had hoped for Israel to be saved as an entire people, not just individually. When Ruby grows up she will have plenty of opportunity to affirm the covenantal decision made on her behalf by her parents. She is an individual but not only an individual.

  42. Irena Serena


    Agreed. Which is why being baptised into Christ's Body the Church *is* baptism into salvation and every blessing (they're not, as some would have it, two separate things). Abide in Him - that's to say, stay connected to the Head by being in the Body (Church) through Word and Sacrament.

  43. Glen

    Hey Chris,

    Genesis has circumcised households, Acts has baptised households

    In Genesis we never learn how willing the household members are

    In Acts we never learn how willing the household members are

    In Genesis we see slaves in the household

    In Acts we have every reason to assume slaves in the household (eg think Lydia)

    In Genesis the promise is for your children

    In Acts the promise is for your children.

    I understand why you want to paint circumcision in carnal, nation-building terms but neither testament sees that as the meaning of circumcision.

    In the OT, circumcision is explicitly taught as bringing you into a spiritual reality that is beyond infants but nonetheless given to infants and to be owned later (Deut 10; Deut 30; Jer 4; Jer 9)

    Ditto the NT (Rom 4:11; cf Rom 2)

    Therefore the biblical practice for two millennia is for a credo-paedo covenant sign. Credo for those converting but given to the household to grow up into.

    Not only is that understanding of households not abrogated we see it casually assumed time and again in the NT. If 2000 years practice were being overturned then the NT needs to be a Lot clearer because it looks to me like an OT theology of households is being assumed not abrogated.

    On baptism being God's act I'd just point to all the ways it's spoken of - it clothes us with Christ and unites us to His death and resurrection and washes us with the Holy Spirit and saves us. Only God can do that.

    It's only if we imagine baptism to be a far lesser thing than what the NT teaches that we could imagine it being primarily our thing - "our response."

    Oh - on the topic of how the paedo-baptist position enfranchises infants of *un*believers... Well it has this implication: Go after households - heads of households in particular. That I think is the biblical and much more fruitful method of evangelism. Our rampant individualism does not serve us well - we should go after families.

    It's interesting that baptist-influenced kids work tends to treat *all* kids as pagans but especially seeks the conversion moment of the child of unbelievers - with or without the knowledge of their parents. And then we try to evangelise up the chain - dad last. I think a good covenant theology would lead to much healthier practices when it comes to children's work. I imagine we might have a good measure of agreement on this one. :)

  44. Glen

    Hey Grant,

    Funnily enough in our twitter convo you called baptism a "sign and seal" of our faith (which is exactly how Rom 4:11 describes circumcision). So I'm glad we're both noticing the continuity here :).

    As to why the form of the sign has changed... Abraham cut off the flesh of his *seed* - his sons. When The Seed - The Son - was cut off, that particular sign is fulfilled for all, both men and women. The renewed sign is no longer gender specific because we're not waiting for The Son to come any more and it's no longer bloody because we're no longer waiting for the Son to be cut off.

    Obviously I don't think circumcision and baptism are similar in every way - nor do I think the PB position relies on baptism being the direct fulfilment of circumcision. Obviously in Colossians 2, Christ fulfils circumcision and then brings us into its fulfilment in baptism) but, crucially, the theology of covenant and household and the sign's relationship to inner reality are all laid out in the Old Testament and they must form our default understanding. Households and covenant signs do not erupt out of nowhere in Acts. If we therefore begin our theology of covenant signs in Acts rather than Genesis we are bound to go wrong. Sadly I see that this is the very basic mistake that is made time and again in baptist arguments.

    Thanks for the links. I'd love to check them out if I have time.

  45. Chris W

    Hi Glen,

    I think it's important not to approach covenant signs in a homogenous way. For instance, the rainbow is a covenant sign, but not in the same way that passover was! To say that both Genesis and Acts share a focus on households may be true, but there are several differences we could highlight with respect to circumcision and baptism:

    1) Circumcision was administered regardless of the personal faith of the adult receiving it. All that mattered is that they belonged to a Jewish household. In the case of adult baptisms, however, personal faith and repentance are required prior to reception.

    2) Circumcision, as a 'head' rite, was only administered to males because the rite pointed to Jesus in a special way. Baptism is a 'body' rite administered to both males and females now that the Church (the *body* of Christ) has entered into history.

    3) Circumcision was a 'cutting' of the flesh, like the slain animal placed on the alter. Once the Pentecostal fire came however, the sacrifice was being accepted by God as a fragrant offering in His sight. This is why baptism is different - it recognises that the fire of the Spirit has now come upon believers in a new way.

    I'm sure that both of us recogise that there was an important spiritual dimension to circumcision, in that it testified to circumcision of the heart. However, just as females could learn this powerful message from the males who were circumcised, so too could gentiles learn it from Jews who were circumcised.

    Otherwise, what are we to say - that God intentionally excluded gentiles from salvation because they were eunuchs or because they didn't have a father, or because they were born in the wrong nation? These seed-related conditions for joining the covenant people point us to the reality that the nation of Israel was simply not the same as the new covenant Church - being defined according to important social and cultural customs destined to be transcended when the new covenant came. When Jesus died on the cross, Israel went into the grave and when He rose again, Israel was reborn as a new kind of covenant people - the Church.

    It just looks a lot like this "OT theology of households" upon which paedobaptism is based is a fabrication. Whilst the household has always been an important social institution given by God from the beginning and a means God can certainly use in salvation, I don't think it plays as central a role as you are positing. Although I certainly agree with you about the evangelism stuff :)

    Looking at the promise to "you and your children and those who are afar off" in Acts 2, I think there are two possible meanings for this:

    1) "You and your children" refers to Jews and "those who are afar off" refers to Gentiles. The promise is to all humanity - both Jews and Gentiles.

    2) "You and your children refers to Jews and "those who are afar off" refers to the scattered exiles. The promise comes first to the Jews (then to the Gentiles, as we discover later in Acts).

    Under either interpretation though, I'm not sure how you get infants into that, since it's a personal invitation to "repent". Not only that, but the passage goes on to say: "So those who *received his word* were baptized" (v41).

    Regarding baptism as an act of God, I can only agree that God acts powerfully in baptism. This is an area where baptists really need to stop and actually read the texts about baptism, instead of falsely maintaining that it "doesn't do anything". However, ultimately we don't need to create an opposition between God's action and ours - imagine what a tangle we'd make of salvation if we created such an opposition! All of those baptism texts (as I have outlined previously) assume personal faith and self-identification with Christ on the part of the one undergoing the rite.

    I maintain that undergoing the rite of circumcision is never described in anything like the kind of language that undergoing baptism is described in, perhaps with the exception of Abraham. Ironically, it's me who takes the *corporate* reading of Romans 4:11 - you're the one taking an individualising approach by applying it to each individual circumcised person ;-)


    I agree completely that baptists often don't read or take seriously what the bible says about baptism. I think this is a great shame, although I see some denominations such as Newfrontiers making positive steps in developing a more biblical theology of baptism, which I find encouraging.


  46. Glen

    Hi Chris,

    I can agree to so much of what you say here. I don't want to be heard as saying that baptism is simply an unbloody circumcision. Yes there is death and resurrection for the sign, just as there is for Israel and the covenant itself. But it is the same reality passed through that death and resurrection.

    I disagree with 1). Adults were circumcised in the OT at the front edge of mission - so Abraham in Genesis 17 but also the nations in Exodus 12:48. Anyone wanting to partake of pre-resurrection Lord's Supper (Passover), had to be pre-resurrection baptised (circumcised) - they and their households. In the resurrected Exodus (i.e. the gospel events) we find ourselves again at the front edge of mission. So of course what are we going to see? We're going to see lots and lots of people who, by faith, are responding to the new covenant promise. Therefore they're going to need the new sign placed on them - they and their households. Well of course. This has been the practice of God's people woven into their life from the very beginning and the New Testament never tries to unpick it.

    Of course there is a personal call to "repent" in this new covenant summons but the paedo baptist says "Yes, of course, that's what the sign is and means - but growing up into this reality as a household has been the way from the beginning. And no-one ever speaks against it in the NT. On the contrary we see households and "for your children" mentioned without a bunch of caveats to say "Yes but we don't mean in the OT way." By the way, for me in Acts 2 it just seems like there are households in Jerusalem celebrating Pentecost and Peter says, this is for them too.

    On Romans 4:11 - I'm not individualising, on the contrary the sign universally is about justification by faith. Corporately, covenant people come under that sign whether or not, in that moment, they have justifying faith.

    Gotta run.

  47. Irena Serena


    Yeah, I've heard of some positive changes there too. Can't see them making room in their theology for Christian infants, though. Having spoken to some folks there, their commitment to "faith alone" is so strong, that they have to make developed cognitive capacity an unattainable *condition* to coming to Jesus. Sweet irony.

    Still, all's I've been trying to do is push for a
    recognition of where credoism leads and what it says children can't have. Really enjoyed chatting to you, mate, and have appreciated some of the things you've said.

    Every blessing :-)

  48. Chris W

    Hey Glen,

    Please could I have a clarification regarding 1, since I don't quite follow your reasoning here? You say that circumcision was required for all males in the household in order for a person to participate in passover. With this much we are in agreement (Exodus 12:48).

    However, in the event that a 14-year-old child decides he doesn't want to submit to baptism (which Jesus predicted would sometimes happen - Luke 12:49-53), should the father be barred from taking communion? Or should baptism be forced upon the child? It would seem to me that unless you take one of those positions, you have to maintain that the two rites do not have the same 'household' character.

    With respect to the "you and your children" passage, I think this is referring to Jews, who were still under the covenant with Moses. To enter the new covenant people, personal repentance expressed in baptism was required. It was the same with John's baptism, Jews who already shared in the benefits of circumcision receiving something new, a baptism of personal repentance. And John was a Baptist, don't you know :P


  49. Chris W


    Yes, it's been great, thanks for the interaction! One small pointer though, is it "faith alone" that you take issue with, or their interpretation of "faith alone"? After all, Lutherans believe in "faith alone" and yet hold to baptismal regeneration (following Luther) and so do many Reformed Anglicans. I guess it all comes down to how you define "faith".


  50. Irena Serena

    Hey Chris,

    Sorry, wasn't clear. Definitely hold to faith alone, with infant regeneration being one of the greatest examples of the doctrine - i.e. helpless, completely empty of your own righteousness and unable to do anything, Jesus gives himself to you anyway (so now you can continue to trust him for the rest of your life, knowing he's already graced you at your weakest).

    The irony I refer to is that in rejecting infant regeneration in order to defend "faith alone", these guys place an unattainable condition on people coming to Jesus. Which, notionally at least, I reckon we'd agree is the very opposite of faith alone.

  51. Irena Serena

    Reminds me of a quote from Luther, on the same issue:

    "But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it. Now, if I believe this, what else is it than believing in God as in Him who has given and planted His Word into this ordinance, and proposes to us this external thing wherein we may apprehend such a treasure?"

  52. Chris W

    Hi Serena,

    Yes, I imagined that you would probably hold to a position like Luther's. Just thought I'd check. Obviously, I am more of a Calvinist than a Lutheran (I say that despite Calvin being a staunch paedobaptist!).

    All the best,

  53. Irena Serena


    Yeah, Luther is a pretty good expositor of the patristic doctrine of baptism. And he's a dude!

    My only hope in our interaction is that I've at least made you *want* infant regeneration to be true. A tiny bit... maybe? ;-)

  54. Chris W


    Luther is totally a dude. But having spent the last half a decade as a vacillating paedobaptist, I will say with confidence that it doesn't matter what I want to be true. It only matters what the Word of God teaches on the matter. Being a (still vacillating) credobaptist might not offer as much comfort when it comes to our children, but perhaps that's the point - we trust in the mercy of God.

    But, I could be wrong ;-)


  55. Irena Serena

    That's just me borrowing from Pascal. I'm sure you've heard the famous quote... Ok, so I've made a key alteration ;-)

    "Men despise [infant regeneration]. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that [infant baptism] is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is".

  56. Kingswood Hart

    You certailny seem to have opened a can of worms with that one!
    I don't have strong views on this but have a question: will/should your daughter be taking communion from a young age as well? It seems from your reasoning that the children of Christians, being brought up as Christians, should take the Lord's Supper, to show their inclusion in the Body of Christ. However, the paedobaptist churches of which I am aware (C of E) don't do this, and only give communion to children who have been confirmed. What do you think about this?

  57. Chris W


    A number of different considerations, such as the following:

    1) The concrete forms which the respective covenant signs take (Circumcision is a cutting of the flesh of males, whereas Baptism is a washing in water of males and females with accompanying words).
    2) The nature of the covenant people (Israel excluded those without a legitimate father, those from certain nations, and those with other defects associated with seed-bearing - whereas the church includes all people of faith)
    3) The expansion of the covenant (the Old Covenant made with Israel, the New Covenant made with all nations)
    4) The nature of a biblical household (included not only children, but also slaves and others - more like a business than a modern household)

    Mostly though, it's through interactions with Mike Bull. I've pasted below the link to his articles on baptism if you're interested.

  58. Irena Serena

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for the link. I've read a couple of posts and seen you in the comments section - as the Hey Chris,

    Thanks for the link. I've read a couple of posts and seen you in the comments section - as the vacillating paedobaptist! :-)

    Really hope I'm not flogging the dead horse if I make a few comments and ask some questions? It's been a good chat so far.

    Your comments point to the expansion of the knowledge of the Lord, which is why it doesn't make sense to me that you'd go for the position that excludes a huge group from being one with Jesus. The continuity between circumcision and baptism is scriptural and patristic but, as Glen says, infant baptism doesn't stand or fall on typology. Infant baptism stands on what baptism does and who it's for (every sinner). From what you've said, you're up for the idea that baptism is (ordinarily) how people "come to Jesus". But then you want to hinder the children, explicitly against Jesus words. That a person who thinks we don't actually *come to Jesus" by baptism (e.g. mere symbol baptist) thinks withholding is a biblical option, is much less surprising.

    I don't see "let them come to me" as somehow trumping "repent and believe". But the faith that brings one to Christ is often supplied by somebody else when the person in need is incapable - think of the paralytic , forgiven on basis of his friends' faith, or Lazarus raised on the faith of his sisters. On your view, there's no way for universality of the gospel to coexist with faith, repentance etc. And universality goes.

    We agree that adult Jewish or pagan hearers are told to believe the gospel and then receive the baptism of repentance. But nowhere do we find a child, unable to supply that faith, turned away. In fact, nowhere do we see *explicit* reference to what the Christian initiation of children of believers actually looks like. No instances at all of children growing up in believing households, reaching the age of accountability and being baptised. It's all silence. So on what grounds do we baptise these children at all? Why not just assume, if we take these first century accounts as universally prescriptive, that Christian baptism is only for adult converts?

    Obviously this is a ridiculous use of scripture, but I'd argue that baptists have to base their teenager-reared-under-the-sound-of-the-gospel baptisms on the same lack of explicit evidence they claim we fall into. The historical christian tradition is infant baptism: the baptist has to just start their own tradition, completely contrary to deepest antiquity we know of.

    And I guess that's my immediate difficulty with Mike Bull's material. It's completely and utterly alien to the modus loquendi and theology of the fathers. Any pee wee who's grown up in a traditional church knows that episcopal confirmation, not baptism, is the sacrament of our priesthood and the making of "soldiers of Christ", for example. It just astonishes me that somebody can claim that this whooole area of how and who God saves is something that the fathers were pagan about and in complete defiance of the Apostles, but at the same time claim the creeds and some form of continuity with them (I'm only assuming that he does).

    My question for you is: I've seen you're a fan of Leithart! You going to his conference in March?

  59. Chris W

    Yep - that's me in the comments.

    I can agree that it doesn't stand or fall on typology, but rather on the nature of faith and on what "coming to Jesus" means. So I guess I would suggest that:

    "Faith" = "personal self-identification with Christ, esp. in his death & resurrection"

    "Coming to Jesus" = "Responding in faith to the call of the Gospel"

    Baptism is not, in this understanding, "coming to Jesus", but is something designating those who have already come to Him. That doesn't mean that there isn't tremendous spiritual blessing in the act of course (like union with Christ, growth in holiness, personal assurance etc).

    To answer some of your points...

    "nowhere do we find a child, unable to supply that faith, turned away"

    No, but then we don't explicitly see infants being baptised either. So we need to think about how to understand these texts based on wider theological considerations, like the nature of the covenant, the theology of covenant signs, the status of the people of God etc. Credobaptism, in its most mature form, is not simply a knee-jerk "taking what we literally see in the texts and applying it directly" - which would be impossible anyway. Wider theological considerations matter and should inform how we read the texts and apply them.

    "the faith that brings one to Christ is often supplied by somebody else"

    This is (I reckon) one of the strongest arguments for infant baptism and one which I've heard before at least a few times. My only answer would be that the immediate application of these texts seems to be more about believers interceding for others in prayer and witness, rather than about the "corporate" nature of faith.

    Re: Leithart, yep, I will be at the Saturday one and the Monday one (and at Steve Jeffery's church on the Saturday - busy weekend!). Will be awesome to see you there if you're at one of them :)

  60. Chris W

    Correction: "Steve Jeffery's church on the *Sunday*"

    Also, I should add that many Baptists see evidence in early documents like the Didache and in the design of some of the early baptismal fonts that credobaptism may well have been the earliest practice. I don't claim to be an expert in this area, though ;)

  61. Irena Serena

    Bro, you've defined "coming to Jesus" in a way that can't apply to babies. And yet we have Jesus clearly saying to babies "let them come to me". It's obvious to me that gospel narratives aren't just plain descriptions of random events, but were written to form the matrix of the early church's self-understanding of what it does. Saying that Jesus was always into gathering sinners to sup with him infuses the Lord's Supper with meaning. And of course when I read a parable about the justification of the publican immediately before the blessing of babies in Luke, I'm to understand that we're really not supposed to follow the pharisee and the disciples in begrudging the kingdom to such people.

    I guess I'm still trying to figure out your view, which wants to say that baptism *does* something but then stops short by saying it merely designates those for whom it has already happened. Did Paul get baptised to wash away sins, or because his sins were already washed (Acts 22:16)?

    My whole point about silence of scripture is just that - explicit references aren't the way we construct theology. Like you say, we look to wider theological considerations, and I can see few more fundamental considerations than the kingdom being for all (and babies that are carried by grown ups, it seems, especially).

    Hope to meet up with Glen on the Monday. So might see you there! Sounds like an intense weekend and great fun :-)

  62. Chris W


    "we have Jesus clearly saying to babies 'let them come to me'"

    He means in person - the children come to Him (as a physical person) because "of such is the kingdom of God", that is, believers are called "children of God" and children symbolically represent that reality. That doesn't mean that all children of believers are necessarily members of the kingdom. Jesus elsewhere uses sheep, crops etc as metaphors to represent realities pertaining to the kingdom of God. Children of believers today can "come to Jesus" in a similar way by coming to their baptised parents, as those delegated to mediate the blessings of Christ to others.

    "Washing away/forgiveness of sins" - I take this to refer to baptism cleansing us from the presence and power of sin, not as a merely legal declaration. So faith unites us to Christ legally (wiping the record of debt), then baptism enables radical holiness. Does that make paedobaptists unholy? Perhaps sometimes, but this could also depend on whether an infant baptism is still valid - not sure on this one, unlike Mike (who is definitely orthodox, by the way).

    That's my take, anyway. By the way, how would you answer the last question I posed to Glen? I'll paste it again below. Not asking to prove a point, I'm genuinely interested in what response a paedobaptist would give to the question.

    "Hey Glen,

    Please could I have a clarification regarding 1, since I don’t quite follow your reasoning here? You say that circumcision was required for all males in the household in order for a person to participate in passover. With this much we are in agreement (Exodus 12:48).

    However, in the event that a 14-year-old child decides he doesn’t want to submit to baptism (which Jesus predicted would sometimes happen – Luke 12:49-53), should the father be barred from taking communion? Or should baptism be forced upon the child? It would seem to me that unless you take one of those positions, you have to maintain that the two rites do not have the same ‘household’ character."

    Looking forward to seeing you and Glen at the Monday conference, even if I turn out to be the only (wavering) Baptist in a room full of baby-sprinklers :)

  63. Irena Serena


    It's not to say children of believers are de facto Christians, but to say that Jesus invites them (and all children) to come regardless of cognitive capacity. Indeed, we should become like little children. But the invite for *actual* little children, heirs of the kingdom, is clearly happening in the text. And you have to do a whooole lot of gymnastics to obscure the meaning of it ;-).

    The scriptures that tie baptism to union with Christ and legal acquittal have been referred to a lot in this thread and are too many to count. Where do you get these distinctions from?

    I suppose the question of validity of baptism cuts the other way too: if infant baptism IS valid, a subsequent baptism is a serious sin because it despises God's grace where it was actually given. Not to say, obviously, that this is forgiven as ignorance (unless as a leader you pressure others to do it so they can play in the band at your NFI church - that there might start to get seriously serious!).

    As for the questions to Glen, it's obviously a tricky one. Firstly, we all agree that there are elements of continuity and elements of discontinuity in Covs (most obviously in the matter and form). I'm a bit wary of the question, because what it seems to be trying to do is use the muddiness of real life to set the agenda for ordinary church practice. A bit like saying that marriage can't be a life long union between two, because occasionally we have to deal with excruciatingly difficult pastoral situations like polygamous converts in Africa. Of course marriage is what it is, and the grey areas are worked out while maintaining the rule.

    As it is, the general rule is that a child that is able to rationally answer for himself isn't baptised as an infant (i.e. on the sureties of parents/sponsors). Therefore, I guess a wayward teenager answers to Christ and the community for themselves and wouldn't qualify as one of the fathers males (in a way that a bondslave, of whatever age, would). Don't stop bringing the blighter to church, though, if you can. Although he's not coming in as one of your males in the strict sense, maybe he'll believe and be baptised :-).

    Millions of tricky scenarios I can think of: absent father wants communion but mother won't let infants be baptised. These are all worked out with pastoral prudence and I've never heard of someone being unwelcome because of these things. That said, we work out the grey areas around a rule that stands: Christian parents must baptise their children.

  64. Chris W


    I can't see how that gospel passage has anything to do with "cognitive capacity". Jesus invites the children to come to Him, takes them in his arms and blesses them. He then explains to those around about a precious lesson we can learn from children - that they symbolically represent kingdom people (children of God).

    Regarding the distinction between a legal declaration (justification) and growth in holiness (sanctification), I can see this progression particularly in Paul's thought in Romans. In chapters 3-5 there is a discussion of salvation (which is by faith alone), then in chapter 6 he moves on to Baptism and its application to growth in holiness.

    My question to Glen was not based upon an unusual situation. When an adult with a spouse/family comes to faith in Christ, there will likely be people in their household who will not be interested in accepting Christianity or in being baptised. That passage from Exodus makes it clear that if the males in the household aren't circumcised, the people in it can't take Passover. If this is not the case with baptism, then it cannot be argued that the 'household' principle has been carried over from one covenant into another.

  65. Irena Serena


    Same point re babies coming to Jesus (Luke 22). Disciples try to rebuke the parents, but he welcomes them. The story doesn't just teach us that *we* should be like them, but also that *they* themselves are fit for reception to the kingdom. The triangle between the credo-baptists, the rebuking disciples and the pharisee is interesting. They all choose a person, and decide God's grace isn't for them. Jesus doesn't agree.

    Again, faith alone and baptism are not unrelated. Everything to do with salvation in Rom 3-5 presupposes the union with Christ, death and resurrection in him etc that Rom 6 speaks of. I've never come across a Christian tradition that divies them up like that. What kind of church do you attend?

    "There will likely be people in their household who will not be interested in accepting Christianity or in being baptised".

    Infants don't reject the gospel, and are therefore baptised on the faith of another. You don't baptise a teenager who is reasonably aware of what baptism/becoming a Christian is but actively rejects it - if I was his father, he wouldn't qualify as "one of my males" in the way Exodus describes. The exception I describe is something like a father who can't baptise those whom he should be bringing (estranged children that only see him once a week, for example). Household today answers for those people that you're in a position to decide for as head of the house, which is a narrower than it once was (without bondservice for example).

    Besides, I think the application of the passage isn't that a father with uncircumcised kids can't celebrate the passover PER SE, but that it's not to be celebrated in his house with his pagan children joining in. The NT parallel clearly is that every house (church) admits to the Supper only the baptised, and sins by admitting foreigners to the covenant. A father with a stiff-necked unbaptised teenager doesn't bring them to holy communion; unless he does, I don't see a problem. Glen's point still remains though, in God's house anyone who is not baptised is just a visitor, despite what we inconsistently say about those children.

  66. Brian Midmore

    Chris 'we can learn from children – that they symbolically represent kingdom people (children of God)' but according to the adult baptist position can never be the people of God. (If we understand becoming the people of God involves baptism).

  67. Rich Owen

    Getting back to liturgy for a moment... (you know us baptistic types, always love a bit of liturgical content... *mwahaha*)

    This is what I use at our church, and have been privileged to use again last weekend for 2 more folks.

    "Based upon your profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I now baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Buried with Him in His death, and raised with Him in His resurrection to walk in the newness of life"

    In baptisitic churches like ours, the temptation is often to miss out the latter statement - but that *is* the gospel promise, and the absolute basis of the first clause. I always make it clear beforehand that baptism is a promise from God to the candidate, not the other way round.

    I know that won't move the debate along, but I do feel that those of us in typically credo churches need to recover that sense of gospel promise in baptism and stop it becoming about me showing my commitment to Jesus... meh... It's Jesus commitment to me that matters.



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