September 25, 2023



Posted in Theologically Speaking

I once asked some good Christian friends how they, as rational, intelligent people, could go along with this crazy idea some people have of baptising or sprinkling infants. They laughed in such a way as to indicate that I wasn’t the first person to ask such a question. They didn’t answer but simply gave me a slim book to read, William the Baptist, by James M. Chaney who wrote it back in 1877!

It was a great little human interest story, a bit of a romance really, describing the doctrinal worries of a Baptist gentleman as he courted his Presbyterian sweetheart. I couldn’t put it down.

When I did, I cannot say I understood the doctrine of infant baptism. But I could see that it wasn’t the obvious open-and-shut case I had thought it was. A fair bit of further study followed, and by borrowing some comparative diagrams from some authors and working them over myself, I came up with the table  (ie. set of comparisons) below, which I trust is reasonably accurate as I tried to soften the dogmatism in the originals. This only barely begins to explain the difference between the two main positions within the Protestant camp. What seemed more important or significant was that this doctrine, like most others, cannot be considered in isolation, but is inextricably entwined within the wider range of doctrines, the whole of which makes up one’s theology.

In other words, we must be slow to speak ill of another’s theology unless we are familiar with the bigger picture. If we as home schooling parents disparage another denomination, we have already transgressed and set a bad example as well. I know how easy it is to do….I have had to make two public apologies for just such offences within the last five days. Ripping into others’ ideas on baptism, for example, mainly because they don’t match your own, breeds the ugly bigotry we Christians are always being accused of displaying. Note the two areas of total agreement below: #1 and #12. Symbolism is not an exact field of study but very subjective. And none of us can possibly know the state of a person’s heart. Therefore we must learn to show patience, long-suffering, mercy and compassion to others, just as our Lord has shown to us. Even though it may be obvious to us that the other guy doesn’t have it all together,  remember  …neither do we.

Believer’s Baptism (BB) — Infant Baptism (IB)

1. BB is symbolic only and causes no change in the one being baptised.

IB is symbolic only and causes no change in the one being baptised.

2. BB signifies a believer has turned to the Lord.

IB signifies a child has been set apart to the Lord.

3. BB is done on a profession of faith by the one being baptised.

IB is done on a declaration by the parents of the one being baptised that they will rear that one in the Christian faith.

4. BB demonstrates a sharp discontinuity between the OT and the NT: believer’s baptism is unlike anything which had gone before in the same way that being born again as a Christian is unlike anything which had gone before.

IB demonstrates a close continuity from the OT into the NT: bringing infants of believing families into the covenant community of God’s people is continued, although the accompanying rite of circumcision is changed to the bloodless rite of water baptism.

5. BB portrays the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

IB portrays a setting apart, being sanctified, made holy.

6. BB – the believer is identifying self with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, promising to live hereafter for Him.

IB – the parents acknowledge that God has total claim to the child’s life but also claim God’s promise to bless the children of faithful believers.

7. BB – water symbolises cleansing from sin.

IB – water symbolises cleansing from sin via the Holy Spirit coming down upon (pouring or sprinkling).

8. BB indicates that God works with individuals.

IB indicates that God works with individuals through the context of families.

9BB is a badge of membership in the Body of Christ. 

IB is a mark of ownership by God.

10BB confirms that the believer has accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour.

IB confirms that God has accepted the child into His covenant family by virtue of confessing parents.

11. BB centres upon man’s believing.

IB centres upon God’s fulfilling His promise.

12. BB – sometimes the one baptised appears to be unregenerate after all.

IB – sometimes the one baptised appears to be unregenerate after all.

From Keystone Magazine
March 1998 , Vol. IV No.1
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig