A Credobaptist Response to a Paedobaptist Friend

Nick Smith and Rick HogaboamFirst of all, everything below that is in bold is my response to the contents of my friend, Nick Smith’s post (BTW, that’s Nick on the the left and me on the right in the posted picture): http://www.nsmithfam.org/2013/07/really-yes-really/

He was responding to my post (which he linked and is linked in his pasted response below) on my brief comments about Augustine and Luther’s positive affirmation of what I dubbed “surrogate faith.” I thought that pasting his entire response and then marking off my response in bold wouldbe the most helpful way to follow the conversation. Please don’t confuse my bold font as speaking more authoritatively and loudly than my highly esteemed colleague.

In a recent blog post, my good friend Rick Hogaboam worries about the way in which Augustine and Luther maintain the connection between faith and baptism:

“Augustine and Luther developed a doctrine of efficacy in surrogate faith on behalf of the baptized infant. The fact that an appeal is made for such actually affirms the NT witness of faith and baptism being linked. Once one is all in behind the practice of infant baptism, it causes the creation of surrogate faith and/or paedofaith. Or one maintains the link of faith to baptism in requiring profession of faith as an “Amen” to their baptism. It seems much easier to practice baptism based on the professed faith of the one being baptized than to create these other categories that have hardly any Biblical warrant.”

Here is part of the Luther quote that he offers:

“Here I say what all say: Infants are aided by the faith of others, namely, those who bring them to baptism. For the Word of God is powerful, when it is uttered, to change even a godless heart, which is no less deaf and helpless than any infant.”

He then points out that, rather than disputing the connection between faith and baptism:

“Luther gladly embraces the burden of tying faith to baptism, but argues that the faith of others supplies the requisite. Really?”

I didn’t dispute the connection between faith and baptism because I actually affirm it and am suggesting that Augustine and Luther are also right in maintaining the connection, but are linking it too heavily to the parent and not the child. While there may be strong arguments for household baptism based on solidarity to a believing parent, most modern Reformers would say that baptism calls for faith from the recipient. Certainly Augustine and Luther would also emphasize the need for eventual faith from the baptized infant, they seem to over-weigh parental faith as providing the prerequisite apostolic demand of repentance.

Really? Well, yes, really. Now, to be clear, I’m not aware of many participants in current discussions about infant baptism in Reformed and evangelical circles who think that Luther’s account is the last word. He lacks the robust covenantal rationale that is present in Reformed arguments, and has an insufficiently covenantal account of baptismal efficacy.

But the sarcastic dismissal of Luther’s way of connecting faith and baptism with a “really?” reveals a strange disregard for the more broadly Reformed arguments, since the Reformed account, while different with Luther, is nevertheless similar. You cannot sarcastically dismiss one without dismissing the other. And despite the flippant reference to “categories that have hardly any Biblical warrant,” Luther’s insistence on relating the baptism of infants to the faith of their parents is in fact deeply rooted in the testimony of scripture in both Old and New Testaments.

First, the baptism of infants is related to the faith of their parents, because they receive the sign and seal of the covenant on the basis of promises given to their parents. God promised Abraham that he would be “a God to you and to your offspring after you” (Gen. 17:7). The Apostle Peter echoes that promise, applying it the church as the true children of Abraham: “the promise is for you and for your children” (Acts 2:39). When parents put their faith in those promises, their children are then the recipients of the covenant sign. In the Old Testament that sign was circumcision; in the New Testament the sign is baptism (Colossians 2:11-12).The faith of the parents is the basis upon which the children receive the covenant sign.

While I readily concede that Baptists need to develop a better theology of the “oikos” (household) and the solidarity of such in redemptive history, the argument for the application of baptism based on such solidarity to the faith of a parent is not explicitly taught in the NT. I dispute Acts 2:39 as necessitating household baptism and would say that one can only safely draw a dogmatic conclusion that the covenant is promissory in nature, no different than the OT, expect for the more explicit dimension of those who are “far off” in keeping with the telos of the Abrahamic Covenant of cosmic blessing. The condition of Acts 2:39 is God’s divine calling in salvation (bold mine):

Acts 2:39 (ESV) — 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

Second, the baptism of infants is related to the faith of their parents, because the promises given to their parents are also given to them as members of a covenant household. Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith” (Romans 4:11). Note very carefully: circumcision was a seal of something that you could only receive by faith. You might say that circumcision and faith were always and necessarily related. And yet his household received the sign as well (Genesis 17:10). Why? Because God is not an American individualist. He works by covenant households. And so the faith of Abraham was the basis upon which his children received the sign and seal of the covenant of grace.

I concede the strength of Reformed emphases that include corporate union in Christ, solidarity of the household, and affirmation of the Spiritual value in the Abrahamic covenant sign of circumcision – as well as combining the temporal/Spiritual nature of God’s covenant promises, which clearly take into account the children of believers. I won’t provide a comprehensive thesis of my nuanced baptistic understanding of these matters, but summarize my reservations as follows: I don’t see a one for one analogy between circumcision and baptism. In other words, the theology of baptism in the NT forbids me to adopt a practice that is informed by the application of circumcision – even if I’m sympathetic to the chain of reasoning that would posit infant baptism as the outcome of “good and necessary inference” (to use the words of John Murray).  

The children of believers are recipients of God’s covenant grace in the New Testament as much as (indeed, more than) in the Old. This is why the Apostle Paul assumes that our children are “holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14), that they are present in the covenant assembly (Colossians 3:20), and that they are “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1). Therefore, the children of believing parents rightly receive the sign and seal of inclusion in the covenant of grace.

“Covenant grace” would need some explication for me to responsibly respond. What exactly is it? What does it confer? Is it offertory or promissory in nature? Is it electing grace in an infallible sense (relating to the decree of election)? I’m genuinely interested in developing this further because I have evolved in my understanding of children in a Christian household and whether they are provisionally assured of salvation, as children.

So, it might “seem much easier” to make the sealing of God’s promises await the faith of the individual, but it would not be more biblical. Indeed, the biblical pattern is that first God’s promises are sealed, and then we respond in faith to what God has promised.

I would argue that the offer of the Gospel needs to be responded to in faith as a necessary requisite for baptism, which also links to the promise of the Holy Spirit, who was seen as normatively imparted as part of the full salvation-initiation package. Acts 8 records what is treated as an exceptional case where repentance and baptism were administered, but the Holy Spirit was not given:

Acts 8:14–17 (ESV) — 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Later, in Acts 10, we find another exception, except in this case the Holy Spirit was manifest prior to baptism – and faith was assumed as implied in the reception of the Spirit:

Acts 10:44–48 (ESV) — 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

My point in bringing these narratives into the discussion is that Peter’s admonition that the hearers on Pentecost should repent, be baptized, and thus receive the Holy Spirit, seems to be the Apostolic salvation-initiation paradigm for all who would be saved. The accounts in Acts 8 and 10 suggest that baptism without the Holy Spirit is incomplete and that evidence of the Holy Spirit sufficiently argues for the right to baptism. To commend a practice that admits infants to the waters of baptism, which may or may not be followed by faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit, seems to separate what was commended as a package deal.

You might think this argument wrong; but it deserves a rather less flippant dismissal. Really? Yes, really.

I was a bit flippant, but would say (or I should say, ask) Luther and Augustine the same thing in response to their arguments. I’m also rather convinced that “surrogate” confession of faith by a parent on behalf of the baptized infant was a practice that evolved into the church and was not the apostolic practice. The fact that a confession of faith was demanded at all for all those being baptized, individually, seems to argue that the normative rite of admission in baptism required faith from the one being baptized. Noted baptism historian, David F. Wright (though an Anglican), seems to suggest such in this extended excerpt from his volume Infant Baptism in Historical Practice:

Among the issues left unclear by Hippolytus is the form of words in which parents or relatives answer for ‘the little ones’. All the available evidence indicates that the early baptismal rites were originally established to cater solely for those able to speak for themselves, and were only slowly and sometimes awkwardly adapted to infant (baby) subjects. Although Hippolytus could not be plainer in revealing the contemporary Roman practice of baptizing babies and children, all that the rest of the work says about baptism, its preparation and its sequel, makes sense only of persons of responsible years. The point can be made another way. If one were to remove three brief sentences about parvuli, everything else in the work would require one to conclude that only professing believers were baptized. Infant baptism nestles wholly under the mantle of believers’ baptism, although it is quite visible. This might suggest that infant baptism is of recent origin, but the slow adaptation of liturgical procedure to infants evident in later sources cautions against overconfident deductions.10 As late as, and later than, Augustine, the baptismal questions were still being addressed about the baby to the parent or sponsor in the third person, ‘Does he believe in God?’ etc., with the reply, ‘He believes’. Already in Hippolytus the special provision made for those who cannot answer for themselves marks babies out as abnormal subjects for baptism, and we must assume, in default of contrary evidence, that at this time the third person was used in question and answer about them, thus drawing attention to their abnormal, even if by now routine, inclusion.[1]


[1] Wright, D. F. (2007). Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective (7). Great Britain: Paternoster.

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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