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.”