Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View (part 3)

Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View

In the debate I did with James White, (Now on Youtube) I wanted to provide a simple way to address some complex issues of interpretation relating to baptism, so I named three fallacies that (I believe) attend the Believer’s Baptism view. This post addresses the third fallacy: Baptizing the Invisible Church. This fallacy is thinking that by “believer’s baptism” one baptizes only “believers” or “regenerate persons” or only those that are “saved.” On the other hand, Baptists accuse paedobaptists of baptizing “unbelievers” and “unregenerate” individuals (see my previous fallacy discussion, Vipers in Diapers).

Baptists, like Dr. White, continually engage in an equivocation. They will say they baptize “believers” by which they mean people who have been saved. But when pressed they specify they mean, “professors” or “confessors” (i.e., those who have the capacity to somehow verbally confess some declarations of their belief and do so). When such Baptists go on the defensive they will say things like, “Where in the Bible is any ‘unbelieving, unrepentant person’ ever baptized?” – then a quick qualification follows: “Where in the Bible is any ‘unbelieving, unrepentant person’ ever knowingly baptized by the apostles?” This statement is almost verbatim from Dr. White in the debate.

The “knowingly baptizing an unbeliever” qualification guards the view from the case of Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9ff). Simon S’s case is unique in the Bible on two accounts: 1) He is the only person who was basically cursed and called to repent by Peter after he was baptized. “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God” (Acts  8:21). Before the Spirit was conferred by the apostles (in this unique Samaritan example), he was excluded from Christ. 2) He, as it turns out, is the only named person baptized (post Pentecost) that could have had children whom were not baptized. Of the nine individuals baptized and individually identified, six are (very arguably) household cases, the Eunuch and Saul/Paul do not have children, and that leaves Simon. (For a proof of Gaius being a household case see my talk here (about 14 minutes into it). Therefore, of all the pericope’s on baptism, Simon the Sorcerer is only person who could have had children whom were not baptized. That is why I have emphasized in the debate and other presentations, that Simon S is the best example of the Baptist view. He alone is the only non-household example that might have conceivable had a household/children.

Baptists commonly talk as though every baptismal example in the NT is of an adult, apart from his/her household, and then there are these exceptional cases where a household consists of mature individuals who through a revival are all of age and all of them individually confess the faith. As if, each of them “walk down the aisle” and lo and behold an entire family came on the 12th verse of Just as I Am and their household-ness is strictly anomalous, since in the new covenant it is an individual choice. The facts do not support this point of view. Six of nine individuals named are arguably household cases (at least five are indisputable, leaving aside Gaius) and the others don’t have children, leaving Simon. Simon is the best example of the Baptist precedent. He could have had a family, but the household is not mentioned. That is not true of any other individual identified.

Now back to the main point, “Baptizing the Invisible Church,” Simon’s case is also instructive here. Acts 8:12 states, “Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip.” Yet he turns out to have “no part” in Christ. I realize this example creates some problems. “How could he have believed? Did he lose his salvation?” If we take the text in a direct manner, we could say: he believed, but his belief was temporary and not rooted (Matt. 13:7). Like those who believed in Jesus in John 2, they followed for the wrong reasons. This becomes evident in the case of Simon.

Stepping away from the particulars, look at the big picture of this example: a baptized man believed temporarily, was drawn toward the power of the apostles, yet he fell away and is condemned. What can this teach if not that we do not baptize only “invisible Church members” or only the elect or only regenerate people or true “believers”? Even when the apostolic legates (Philip) do the baptism, the baptism of “believers” does not guarantee fidelity and the regeneration of the baptized. If this is the case with Spirit-led Philip, then no one should presume today.

The view, the “New Covenant only includes regenerate people” (based on a misreading of Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8), really amounts to assuming  we should only baptize the regenerate. But since we cannot on any account actually do that (and neither could the apostles), then this view cannot be the right basis or theology of our practice. The actual Reformed Baptist practice is, “only regenerate individuals are in the new covenant, therefore (ergo) we only baptize professors.” But professors are not the same as regenerate individuals. The argument is illogical. If the only people to receive baptism (a sign of membership) must be known to be regenerate, then we are in a hopeless practical and pastoral situation. However, the Baptist view fudges or equivocates. They talk the talk of “regeneration,” but then walk the walk of mere “profession” of faith.

Practically, most Baptists baptize young children upon a simple profession. The Reformed Baptist, rejecting this, await the teen years to greater assurance of knowing the truth of their profession. I really tried to press this point on Dr. White in the debate. Something like, “so little children are inauthentic, but teens are honest?” He did not like that line of questioning. Well, at 51, I can only say, the “age argument” on authenticity is just folly.  My goodness, I was baptized on profession at 10 (after being shown the film, The Burning Hell, let’s hope that’s not on Youtube). At 16 I had a dozen contradictory views of spiritual things flashing in my head. I think I was more sincere at a younger age, actually.

For my well-meaning Baptist brethren, I would suggest only baptizing those over 50, but it would be better to wait until the hour of death for the greatest sincerity and credibility. I want to advocate, not for believer’s baptism, but for “die-er’s baptism.”

Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View (part 1)

Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View

In the debate I did with James White, I wanted to provide a simple way to address some complex issues of interpretation relating to baptism, so I named three fallacies that (I believe) attend the Believer’s Baptism view. This is a post to elaborate on the first of them.

The Eunuch Fallacy – assuming that adult conversion examples/commands settle the case of the children of believers. Why weren’t the eunuch’s children baptized? (umm, well, he’s got no) . . .

The interactions with Baptists of which I am aware assume without argumentation or cogent proof that a command or an example of adult baptism proves that children/infants should not be baptized. This is one of the most significant issues in addressing the subjects of baptism. Is it really true that  a command to “believe and be baptized” or an example of an adult’s profession of faith prior to baptism (like the Eunuch, Acts 8) (of itself) proves the exclusion of children in baptism? I think there are many reasons to rethink this.

If children were never ever included in any biblical signs or covenants, etc., then one might assume only those that have the capacity to confess the faith could be baptized. But we have thousands of years of the inclusion of children in signs of covenant prior to this. We have an entire theology of the generational promises (Gen. 18:19; Ex. 34:7). In the case of circumcision we have exactly the same kind of sign inclusion: adults coming into the (old) covenant submitted themselves to Yahweh, but their infants were included (without conscious consent). So the Baptist case depends on a very important assumption: the commands and example to believe and be baptized actually exclude children/infants from participation. But could someone please show this from the Bible?

We all agree about adult converts—they must confess their faith prior to baptism. Baptists and paedobaptists disagree about how to deal with the infant (and young) children of Christians. There is no explicit example of  “infant baptism” in the Bible. Baptists also should admit: neither is there an explicit case of a Christian’s child who grows up and is baptized on profession. The Bible does not explicitly address the baptism of children either way. This is a fact. This lack of an explicit basis should be acknowledged on both sides. We cannot settle the case by appealing to an explicit passage in the Bible which tells us this child was baptized or this child was not baptized. The cases of adult baptisms do not automatically settle the question.

The Baptist case rests on the assumption that “believe and be baptized” actually means “only those with the capacity to consciously confess their belief are to be baptized.” To make this assumption is a fallacy since it assumes adult capacity excludes children/infants. This was not true from Genesis to Malachi (at least). We have an entire world of biblical history prior to new covenant baptism which include commands/actions of adults as well as the inclusion of infant children. Circumcision is one example and many other rites like passover, and sacrificial meals and acts in the tabernacle/temple also include children.

I would enjoy seeing a Baptist start on the “level playing field” and then make the argument, e.g., acknowledging that the Bible does not explicitly address the baptism of children either way (infant or growing up to profess). By the way, no Baptist I know has thus made this admission which is not a matter of interpretation, but plain fact: no believers’ baptism of Christian’s child is recorded in the Bible. Could someone please argue the Baptist case from the Bible, rather than make fallacious assumptions about commands/examples of adults?

How would one argue this Baptist case? Let me suggest several way to overcome the Eunuch Fallacy:

One could argue that the Old Testament is in no way authoritative about anything and become a Marcionite, thus dismissing the OT god (sorry, I just could not resist). Seriously though, I really do have concerns when I hear Baptists routinely make “semi-marcionite” arguments that only the NT is relevant to the discussion of baptism. Let me be specific: listen to the White-Strawbridge 2015. Who refers to all the Bible as authoritative on baptism and who excludes part of the Bible as relevant? As a matter of fact, both 1 Cor. 10:1-4 and Heb. 9:10 refer explicitly to “baptisms” in the OT. Therefore, it is quite wrong to exclude the OT conceptions from the issue of baptism.

One could argue that in the new covenant no children are included in salvation, let alone baptism. I was moved early in my adopting paedobaptism by the beautiful words of the Heidelberg Catechism (73) on this point:

“Infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people, and they, no less than adults, are promised deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood
and the Holy Spirit who produces faith. Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant, they too should be incorporated into the Christian church
and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.”

As this doctrinal summary states, children, “no less than adults, are promised” the salvation accomplished in Christ. This is surely a comfort to all who have lost children in miscarriages and infancy. I remember a kind of epiphany about this (circa 1997). Children can have salvation. Baptism represents salvation. Children should get baptism.

One could argue that in the new covenant we are agnostic about the status of children (in salvation) and so we wait to purify the church with only those that are regenerate prior to baptism. (I used to hold this view. I think this is the substance of the “new covenant” Reformed Baptist view). But baptizing those who consciously profess faith prior to baptism is clearly not the same as baptizing those who are actually regenerate prior to baptism. It is not as though all Baptist churches have “only regenerate members” and paedobaptist churches sadly include unregenerate people. We can only deal “covenantally” with people. We do not have access to the “invisible/elect/regenerate” church roll to know who to baptize and who not to baptize. (In another post I will address the fallacy, “Baptizing the invisible Church.”)

One could argue that in the new covenant, though children may be saved, baptism (like certain priestly rites of the OT, e.g., ordination) only applies to adults/mature because it is not about salvation but setting a person apart for service, e.g., the “staff uniform of the new covenant.” (This is the view of Michael Bull). But is this the explicit teaching about baptism in the Bible? “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21). This verse must be explained (and the covenantal approach makes the most sense on it), but let me assure you that it is in the Bible. It is pretty hard to reconcile 1 Pet. 3:21 and about 20 other verses on baptism with the view that baptism only refers to an elite group of those in the Church. Rather, most Baptists and paedobaptists agree, baptism admits a person to the Church in a covenantal rite.

I am sure there are more defenses of the Baptist view (on the point of the Eunuch Fallacy) than I have represented in this post. So please write me and I will try to interact with it. WGS at