An Open Letter to Our Credo-Baptist and Paedo-Baptist Brethren

Reformed Church of the Holy Trinity recently joined Evangel Presbytery, and this essay was written by pastor James Brown as a defense for why he led his Credo-Baptist church to join a presbytery that has both Credo-Baptist and Paedo-Baptist churches.

It’s quite good, and I was moved by his obvious love for the church. God bless you, brother!

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I look forward to reading!

James Brown is the hardest working pastor in the ministry.

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As I recall, the Evangel Presbytery is not as open to paedo-communion as it is to credo-baptism. Is that correct?

Regretfully, no.

Hi Bill! Thanks for posting. Josiah is right: we reject paedo-communion.

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@daveburch you would find this interesting

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What is the standard by which the baptized children of believers are accepted into communion?

A profession of faith. A child, and especially a very young child, will obviously not articulate their faith the way that an adult would, and we make allowances for that. But a credible profession of faith before a couple elders is required.

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Took me a couple days to read through this, but I’m thankful that I did. I think this is probably the most helpful thing I’ve ever read on the topic. I appreciate that he writes from a sober-minded view of the history of the subject matter, and that he aims to address the problem theologically, as opposed to just writing a sentimental call to unity that attempts to appeal to our post-modern sensibilities.

I suppose I have one criticism (and I am speaking as a credo-baptist). The point he continued to hammer throughout – his main thesis, I suppose – was the convey that the division between Reformed paedo-baptists and Reformed credo-baptists doesn’t have to do with the nature or essence of baptism, but rather with time and mode. He argues (I think this is a fair paraphrase) that the “efficacy” of baptism is the same whether or not a person is baptized prior to a profession of faith, or after a profession of faith, and I don’t think I have any reason to disagree with him. I would not consider myself to be among the Reformed baptists who hold staunchly to re-baptism. If I understand his meaning correctly, I think I can agree with him when he argues that the old “anabaptist” position needs to die out.

But this is where it gets a bit hairy for me. It is easy for me to agree with his position when the group I am surveying are those who have already professed Christ. It’s easy for me to retro-actively affirm the baptism of a person who is standing in front of me giving a credible profession of faith, and showing visible signs of new life. But when I stop to try and define what exactly we mean when we talk about the “efficacy” of baptism, I am not sure I am still on his bandwagon. He talks about the “efficacy” of baptism, but I don’t know that he ever really connects with what the efficacy really is.

We all affirm that baptism has no salvific merit. He makes that point, and I don’t believe it needs to be restated. Nor is there anything mystical that transpires during the act of baptism, as though grace were a nebulous thing. What, then, is its efficacy?

I believe that the “efficacy” of baptism is that it marks the professing believer (whether they end up showing themselves to be truly regenerate or not) with a visible, irrevocable connection with the New Covenant of Christ Jesus. When a person responds to the command to be baptized – in infantile obedience to the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:38) – they are declaring themselves to belong to him. It is their first response to the New Covenant, like the people at Sinai saying “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8). From that moment onward, we now speak and reason with this person on the basis of their profession of faith, and their baptism.

The “efficacy” of baptism, or the way it works as a means of grace, I would argue, is in the fact that it anchors the conscience of the individual who was baptized. It allows us, as the church, to appeal to a sinning believer, saying to them things like:

“How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” - Romans 6:2-3)

The reason it has “efficacy” is precisely because this individual professed Christ and was baptized willfully in response to a command. “Brother, you are walking in a manner that is inconsistent with what Christ has done in you. You made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Tim. 6:2). Were you not baptized into Christ? Was your faith in vain? Walk then in a manner worthy of your baptism.”

Such appeals have no place or efficacy in the life of a person who was baptized by their parents as a baby, but makes no profession of faith themselves. But that’s just another way of saying that a person’s baptism is only efficacious following a profession of faith, which I think agrees with the author.

I guess I really just want to be careful that the profession be maintained as vital, and substantive. To call this merely a debate of “time and mode” I believe presupposes that all children of believers will profess faith at some point. The author seems to adhere to this presupposition:

Reformed Credo-Baptists disagree with the timing of baptism with regard to the children of believing parents. However, we do believe the children of believing parents should receive the sign and seal. The question is when?

When should we baptize the children of believing parents? When those children profess Christ and desire to obey him through baptism. But I wouldn’t reduce that to a “timing” issue. As it stands, the only way I can see baptism being efficacious is when it is done by a person in obedience to Christ, in connection with their profession of faith.

Anyway, maybe that’s just my credo-baptist knee jerk to the article. In any event, when it’s all said and done, I am very thankful with the author’s conclusions, and how he gets there. I think he very successfully argues for why this issue ought not be a cause for ecclesiastical schism among Reformed Christians.

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@JBrown is on here now, and I just want to make sure he gets notified of new comments here.

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Both in this thread and the liturgy thread now active, one thing to point out is the consistency of Evangel Presbytery in being disciplined by historic Reformed doctrine and practice. Thus we do not practice paedo (infant) communion, nor have we turned away from historic Catholic/Reformed liturgy to Jeff Meyers’ innovations.

Rob Rayburn began promoting paedocommunion back in the late eighties, but about a decade before then during my Gordon-Conwell years, a fellow seminarian coming to Reformed doctrine from a Baptist background smugly glanced over his shoulder at me one day, and said, “Tim, if we’re going to baptize babies, we should give them the Lord’s Supper, too.” Evangel Presbytery has not fallen into this error condemned explicitly by the Council of Trent and the Reformers (especially John Calvin).

The only innovation on historic Reformed doctrine and practice which has been embraced by Evangel is this matter of freedom of conscience in time and mode of baptism. But as I’ve often said in connection with Trinity Reformed Church’s sweet unity across this difference for almost a quarter-century now, it would never work if we did not live in agreement across the congregation that the covenant promises are applied to our descendants in the New Testament, also. So credo children and paedo children alike are members of the church and have the privilege of its love, instruction, and discipline.

This leaves us with the question of whether our innovation of sharing the same worship service with credos and paedos present is a more radical break with historic reformed paedobaptist doctrine and practice than the paedocommunion shooting through the PCA (for instance) right now?

To us, the answer is clear. To others here in Santifyville, the answer is murky or some would even say Evangel is less Reformed than their paedocommunion fellowship. My response is that the same halfway covenant regarding the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was practised in Colonial New England and died out. In the end, it’s my prayer the Reformed church will once again rise to the occasion and turn away from men like Solomon Stoddard who gave the Lord’s Supper to the unregenerate because he believed (as many paedocommunionists actually believe still today) that the Lord’s Supper is a converting ordinance.

This is the heart of the disagreement between those who have turned aside to paedocommunion today, and those who continue in the well-worn paths of the Protestant Reformation in rejecting it. A lesson I have not yet been able to convince my paedocommunion brothers of yet is that halfway covenants never escape ex opere operato.

So again, Evangel Presbytery is a boringly normal Westminster confessional union of Reformed polity and doctrine with the exception that we embrace local church worship and fellowship across the paedobaptist/credobaptist division. Love,

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In addition to this, we expect that the child will fully participate in the entire worship service, and in particular, give full attention to the preached Word. Of course, we don’t expect a child to understand the sermon like an adult, but if a child finds the sermon to be tedious and would prefer to draw or read a Bible storybook, then that child is not ready to partake of the visible Word, even if he or she does have a credible profession of faith.

Interesting thing is how often children drawing during sermon show by their drawings they got the point, perfectly.

Regretfully, my kids are not part of that group.

I recall reading that doodling during class can help with remembering what was taught. I am not even of the group that can doodle…

At any rate, I don’t think anybody is confused by your basic idea, Joel: able to participate, and doing so. I do try to make a point of engaging the kids during each sermon, hopefully at multiple points throughout the sermon, by asking them questions and waiting for them to answer out loud. Sometimes it works better than others. I’m often surprised by what the kids come out with.

I think there is no question that kids may pay more attention to and learn more from the sermon than we might expect, but my concern is about reverence. The sort of drawing my kids engage in during the sermon is the sort of drawing they do during a car trip or at home for fun – it’s a means to help pass the time. The analogy would be when I check my email during a meeting at work. Yes, I am also engaged in the meeting but my mind is divided, and if it were an important meeting requiring my full attention, or presided over by an important authority, then my engaging in email would be rightly viewed as disrespectful. And what meeting is more important than corporate worship on the Lord’s Day? For the younger children, I am happy when they pay partial attention and respond to the pastor’s questions during the sermon, but when it comes to communing, I expect children to devote the same fullness of attention that adults ought to.

Joseph would know that I have hanging on my wall a series of sketches done by a son of the church who is now my son-in-law perfectly illustrating the sermons they were drawn during. He may be the outlier, but regularly parents and children have presented me such pictures following the service, so some kids whistle while they work. Not all, for sure.

True, although he was in high school or college before those particular ones came in, I think. Lol.

Thank you for your clear answer. As a credobaptist, I sometimes wonder, and so I appreciate the response.

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