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.