“The Sin of Infant Baptism”, Written by a Sinning Baptist
In my article in the new 9Marks e-journal, I wrote, “I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.”
That statement, much to my surprise, has caused concern among some. That a Baptist thinks infant baptism is wrong was no news to earlier generations of paedobaptists. Today, it seems to be a surprise. Now, the truth is out, all of these years, I have been cooperating with those I take to be sinners–Ligon Duncan, Peter Jensen, Phillip Jensen, Philip Ryken, J. I. Packer and many others too numerous to name–sinners specifically on this point of infant baptism. I have been speaking with them at conferences, having them as friends, reading their books, learning from them and inviting them to preach in our congregation, even as I happily preach in theirs. Indeed, several paedobaptist ministers even have articles in that same 9Marks e-journal.
Some may think that such a “wrong” should not be called a sin. I understand a sin to be disobedience to God (regardless of intent). When I read Numbers 15:29-30 and Hebrews 9:7 I certainly see that Scripture presents some sins as being deliberate, and others as being unintentional. I certainly do not think my paedobaptist brethren are intentionally sinning in this. In fact, they even think that they are obeying God so, short of them changing their understanding of the Bible’s teaching on this, I can’t expect any “repentance,” because they lovingly but firmly disagree with the Baptist understanding of this.
Nevertheless, as I understand the words of Christ in Matt. 28:18-20 Christians are commanded to baptize and to be baptized, and the practice of infant baptism inhibits the obedience of what I take to be a quite straightforward command. I understand explanations that have been given about the practice of infant baptism (Orthodox/Roman, Lutheran and Reformed) but am sincerely persuaded that none of them line up with God’s own Word. This does not cause me to doubt the sincerity of my reformed paedobaptist brethren, nor even their judgment in general. It is simply that on this point they’ve got it wrong, and their error, involving as it does a requiring of something Scripture does not require (infant baptism), and the consequence of a denying of an action Scripture does require (believers baptism) is sinful (though unintentionally so).
I cannot do better than cite a Baptist minister from 150 years ago who made a similar point–J. L. Reynolds: “On the subject of infant baptism, and what seems to me to be its legitimate tendencies, I have recorded my sentiments without reserve, and, I trust, without offence. I impeach no man’s motives; nor do I question the piety and sincerity of those of my Christian brethren who believe that the practice is sanctioned by divine command. Many pedobaptists are among the lights and ornaments of the age; their ministry has been blessed of God to the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and their Churches present numerous examples of pure and unaffected piety. Such men would not, knowingly, contravene the law of Christ. They would welcome the obloquy of the world, and even the agonies of martyrdom, in obedience to the command of their Lord and King, and rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. It is impossible not to admire and love men whose faith and practice associate them with Baxter, Leighton, Edwards, and Martyn, and who breathe their heavenly spirit. While I think I see and regret their errors, I would extend to them the same indulgence which I ask for my own,” (Dever, ed., Polity, p. 328).
Of course, my paedobaptist brethren may very well think that I am in sin in withholding from children the sign of God’s gracious covenant. I understand and regret the disagreement, but am well used to it by this point, and look forward to heaven, where all our disagreements will be composed. Until that time, I intend to encourage ministers to be Together for the Gospel as much as we can, working together in the extension of the Gospel in our own towns and cities, and around the world. I see no inconsistency in working with others who hold precious the same Gospel, regardless of what other disagreements we may have.