I Rarely venture into the topic of baptism since it can be quite a heated argument. I have far too much love for my Paedobaptist brothers to make this subject a point of separation. However, there are times when I think it necessary to broach the topic. At times it is necessary to clarify where Reformed or Covenantal Baptists make their case from. Not all Baptists come from the same angle. I also see many young people new to the doctrines of grace dive head first into infant baptism since most of their learning of these doctrines come from Paedobaptists and surely if they were so right on those issues they couldn’t possibly be wrong on baptism? Then there are those Baptists that don’t really know what is going on. All they have been taught growing up is that baptism is for believers only. They don’t know how to answer objections or questions from Paedobaptists on the issue of baptism. They are left confused and sometimes upset that they can’t answer. These are some reasons why I dare venture into the topic of baptism. But, perhaps, the most important one is that it is a biblical matter that requires much attention. It is no small thing. I, as a Reformed Baptist, view it as a sacrament ( I know that some Baptists are extremely uncomfortable with that word since it “reeks” of Rome but I prefer sacrament to ordinance) and something to be expounded on.
When dealing with my fellow infant baptizing brothers the issue that comes up the most is the relation of circumcision to baptism. Rather than offer my thoughts I turn to Alan Conner and his book Covenant Children Today:
The argument that we want to examine in this chapter runs like this-Since the Abrahamic Covenant required that all the Jews circumcise their male infants, this practice of giving the covenant sign to infants would have naturally carried into the New Testament and been applied to baptism unless it was explicitly rescinded.
This argument, however, is severely weakened by how circumcision is understood in the New Testament. Based on what the New Testament teaches about circumcision , it would seem to be highly improbable that it could ever be a pattern for baptism, especially among Gentile believers. In fact, the evidence which we will discuss below suggests that unless the apostles had explicitly commanded the baptism of infants among Gentile believers, it would have had too much opposition to ever be put into practice.
Consider, first, the practice of circumcision among the Jewish believers in the first century. The New Testament gives no evidence that the early Jewish Christians baptized their infants, but rather indicates that they continued the Old Covenant rite of circumcision. When Paul at the end of his third missionary journey, arrived at Jerusalem (around A.D. 57), he gave a missionary report to James and the elders about how the Lord was saving Gentiles. They rejoiced and glorified God but were concerned that Paul’s reputation among the Jewish believers at Jerusalem was being maligned. Acts 20:21…James and the elders were concerned about these Jewish believers who continued to be “zealous for the law.” They had been told that Paul was teaching the Jews “not to circumcise their children” anymore. This created a serious and delicate problem that prompted James and the elders to suggest a plan to Paul by which his reputation could be cleared up.
What we see from this passage is that the Jewish believers at this time were still practicing infant circumcision and that there is no evidence of a shift to infant baptism. For them, the law of circumcision was still an important part of their Jewish heritage and there was great opposition against giving it up. Thus, there is no clear transition from infant circumcision to infant baptism among the Jewish believers, and the likelihood that they practiced both is unrealistic given their commitment to the Law of Moses.
On the other hand, we see nothing in the New Testament to support the notion that Gentile believers imitated the Jewish believers in their practice of infant circumcision. In fact, there are solid reasons why the practice of circumcision, or any practice of baptism based on circumcision, would have been outright rejected by the Gentiles in the church…The issue of circumcision was an explosive issue within the early church. Some Jewish believers wanted the Gentiles to become circumcised, but they resisted. This was such an important issue to the Jewish church that some were saying that the Gentiles could not even be saved unless they were circumcised (Acts 15:1). A huge uproar was in the making. This required apostolic intervention, for the Gospel was at stake…As Paul and others returned back to Antioch with the news of the verdict, they all, especially the Gentile believers, rejoiced because of its encouragement (Acts 15:31). The issue was settled and the letter was signed, sealed and delivered. The Gentiles were not bound in any way to practice circumcision.
Thus, any attempt to implement the practice of infant baptism on the principle of circumcision would have aroused intense suspicion. With the Jerusalem Council on their side, the Gentiles would have naturally resisted any attempt to bring them under the law of the Jews by trying to pattern baptism after circumcision…
There was no fence straddling by Paul on this issue. Circumcision was the poster-child issue for the Jewish system of woks salvation and Paul was bound in spirit to fight against it. The gospel of grace must be defended against this attack.
So now let us imagine the scenario put forward by the paedobaptist point of view. Someone enters the church and tells Gentile believers that they need to start baptizing their infant children. These believers would have scratched their heads and asked for some justification for this new practice. At this point the argument is advanced, “because of Old Testament circumcision. “You should baptize your infants because the law required us to circumcise our infants and this principle has not changed.” “The principle of circumcision lives on in the New Covenant, only now it applies to baptism.” Now, be honest, don’t you see a bit of contradiction here? Do you think the Gentiles in the church would have accepted such a practice based on such an argument? Don’t you think there might have been a little cause for alarm? The inherent contradiction is glaring. I think they would have revolted on the spot, and for good reason. To argue for infant baptism on the basis circumcision would have been viewed as an obvious attempt to be brought back under the yoke of bondage…
Such a conclusion seems not only reasonable but unavoidable given the amount of teaching by Paul on this issue. Trying to establish baptism on the foundation of circumcision would have gone over like a lead brick on quicksand. The Gentile church would not have easily given up their freedom on this issue without a fight. Their freedom from circumcision would have been a major obstacle to accepting any practice based on the Old testament ritual. Surely if this objection was to be overturned, there must be some clear and irrefutable teaching from the apostles themselves stating that baptism should follow the practice of circumcision and be given to infants. But there is no such teaching found in the entire New Testament. Why is this? Maybe it is because the issue of infant baptism never occurred in the lifetime of the apostles. Maybe the practice of infant baptism never even came up in the first century. This suggestion best explains why the New Testament never attempts to harmonize the obvious contradiction between infant baptism and the abrogation of the practice of circumcision for the Gentile believers. Therefore, it seems highly improbable that Gentile Christians ever would have embraced infant baptism on the dangerous ground and Christ-severing practice of circumcision (Galatians 5:1-4) without a clear directive from the apostles themselves. Thus, the paedobaptist argument turns against its owner. Contrary to their reasoning that the practice of infant circumcision would have carried over into infant baptism unless explicitly rescinded, it appears more consistent with Scripture to say that infant baptism based on infant circumcision would not have been accepted, especially by the Gentile believers, unless explicitly commanded. And, no such command exists in all of the New Testament.*
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Conner, Alan. Covenant Children Today (Owensboro: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2007), p. 66-70.