Anacredobaptism: The rebaptism of prodigal credobaptists

1 Corinthians 5/2 Corinthians 2 seems to be a powerful argument against rebaptism of those who repent after excommunication. There might be a desire on the part of the one being re-admitted into membership to say that his previous confession was obviously defective, thus the need for rebaptism, but that easy out should be avoided. Instead, the hard work of repentance and reconciliation should be pursued.

Maybe that’s because most sensible Baptists get that it’s an obviously unbiblical practice. Baptists are so diverse you don’t have to look very far for bad Baptist theology or practice. Rather like shooting fish in a barrel. Fortunately Presbyterians are a much tighter group when it comes to policing their own variances in doctrine and practice (wink wink)!

In all seriousness, this is why understanding the two divergent streams of Baptist theology is so important. There is a confessional stream that directly descends from the Magisterial Reformation. Then there is the anabaptist/revivalistic stream that has almost always identified itself against the reformed tradition. Add in that there are plenty like me who’ve switched streams and are trying to pursue not just a pure church but a healthy and historically reformed church.

I think this is key, and it seems to be to be one of the main battlegrounds of our day. The error of ‘justificationism’ (if I can coin a term) is the key liberalism we face at the the present time. [Historical note: classical reformed theology sees regeneration and sanctification as virtually synonymous. Regeneration generally refers to the Spirit’s work in sanctification, and sanctification refers to the believer’s responsibility in regeneration.]

The lack of sanctification is especially sad, because a lack of assurance seems endemic in our day. WCF 16 is clear that sanctification drives assurance. Want to feel closer to God? Pursue conformity to Christ.


Dear Aaron, yes I debated whether to write “justification” or “regeneration,” but I think regeneration is normally understood by the reformed as preceding the gift of faith. So I’m not sure where I could find what you say is “classical reformed theology” alive and well, today. Too, I’m a little uncomfortable with that word “responsibility” in connection with your definition of sanctification. Doesn’t it make it seem, somewhat, that sanctification is not the work of the Holy Spirit, but the work of man? Would you open both these matters up more for me, please? Love,

You’re right that regeneration often refers to the initial work of the Spirit, and we tend to use it today as synonymous with the new birth. Historically (prior to the early 1900s) the Reformed had a more holistic understanding of regeneration - as a process (progressive sanctification) and not just a moment. WCF 13 shows how the Puritans understood regeneration/sanctification, and in their development there’s not really much of a distinction between those two words. Owen wrote more about regeneration or even renovation than sanctification, but it was clear he was talking about the whole process of sanctification throughout a believer’s life, rather than just the initial Spirit-begun moment of new spiritual life. (His Pneumatologia is the fullest development of all these subjects from that time.)

Berkhof explains it well: ‘Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man [new birth/moment], and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy…and the first holy exercise of this new disposition is secured [process/progressive],’ from his Systematic Theology, 469.

Justification is one-sided (monergistic); God declares us righteous. Regeneration/sanctification is two-sided (synergistic); the Spirit awakens spiritual life and then ensures believers actually respond according to that new life.

Justification deals with our status; we are declared righteous though inherently sinful. Regeneration/sanctification deals with our nature; we ourselves are actually made righteous (in our nature: our minds, wills, and affections).

Justification is God’s work and God’s alone; we contribute nothing. Regeneration/sanctification is a work that the Spirit initiates but we also genuinely and actually respond to. We are truly sanctified as we act according to the Spirit’s power at work within us.

I can give you more references if you’d like (Calvin, Turretin, more Puritans). This was absolutely incredible for me, because it shows how much an earlier generation of Reformed pastors understood about the importance of sanctification. The way they developed these themes is light years away from our pastoral theology on these subjects today, and they connected sanctification to the whole of theology. It’s not just about ‘stop sinning,’ it’s about the Triune God at work in us not only to enable us to be more like Christ, but to actually make us more like Christ.


Not sure Berkof is good to use when he writes “that act of God” which implants the new life in man. Given the belief that the new birth Jesus speaks of in John 3 is synonymous with regeneration today among Reformed men, I wonder if it’s best to try to revert to usage that makes regeneration synonymous with sanctification. I wonder if it would not simply confuse the sheep rather than emphasizing the “being saved” teaching of Scripture? I have to check Turretin and others, but maybe there is another way to restore the doctrines of perseverance and sanctification to preaching and pastoral care, which as you say is a desperate need today and has been for 50-100 years, at least here in North America. Love,

PS: I’ll not try to hijack this thread any further.


I did not know this was a thing in SBC churches. I definitely saw it to varying degrees in the IFB.

I wonder if this is because, speaking generally, it’s non-Calvinistic Baptists who are responsible for more of the re-baptising that we see today. A Reformed theology of regeneration (new birth), sin, continuing sanctification, the sacraments, and church discipline should lead one to be rather skeptical about claims to the effect of ‘I was never really converted before.’

That said, for those who have been baptised as young children in a revivalistic Baptist church, I’m less bothered about baptising them as adults (not that I would insist on it), especially if they never had more than a Sunday School profession of faith and their earliest maturity was marked by rebellion against God. That’s why many Reformed Baptists today are urging children to wait until they can demonstrate both some sort of functional independence and a genuine heart of repentance.

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On the theme of sanctification - CS Lewis once put it that, “God will not love us because we are good, but He will make us good because He loves us”; meaning that our “efforts” do not sanctify us, nearly as much as they are about co-operating with God as He sanctifies us. I find this approach very helpful, but what are others’ thoughts?

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… That’s why many Reformed Baptists today are urging children to wait until they can demonstrate both some sort of functional independence and a genuine heart of repentance.

Yes, that strikes me as very wise. On a side-note - Pentecostals are baptistic, but I have never heard of anyone coming from that setting who, having been baptised by immersion, has then been rebaptised.

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I actually find this practice rather irritating. Frankly, I loathe the “wait and see” approach to baptism among Reformed Baptists. The arbitrary, probationary “fruit inspection” period is so radically hypocritical it drives me insane.

Billy professes faith. Billy is able to articulate and convey understanding of the gospel. Parents say, “Praise God, Billy. We are thankful for what God seems to be doing in you. Keep believing in Jesus. We should talk to the elders sometime to see about baptizing you.”

Three days later, Billy is sluggish to take out the garbage when Mom asks, and grumbles a bit when Mom tells him to do it again. Mom tells Dad, and Mom and Dad agree that Billy probably isn’t ready to be baptized. The fruit just isn’t there.

Meanwhile, Dad has an outburst of anger against the kids every week. Mom routinely disrespects her husband and undermines his authority in the face of the children. Dad teaches his children to complain every time Mom prepares a dinner that he doesn’t much care for.

And yet they are in the kingdom, baptized and in good standing with the church.

Hypocrisy. Plain and simple.

I’ll say it again. Baptism is an infantile act of a new believer. We err when we treat it like a mark of maturity. I dream of a baptistic paradigm where we are eager and willing to accept infantile professions of Christian faith. Hear what I mean there. I am not talking about dunking our kids the first time they profess theism, or a desire not to go to hell (i.e. the revivalistic, non-reformed baptist paradigm that comprises much of the egalitarian evangelical ethos), but rather an understanding of their sin against a holy God, the answer found in Jesus Christ who died for sinners and rose again, and an expressed desire to forsake sin and follow him. This should be plenty good enough to warrant (or dare I say merit, as this is exactly how it quietly gets treated) being baptized and added to the membership of the church, and to receive all the discipleship care of the church – including encouragement, admonishment, and even formal discipline if they grow up and by their conduct demonstrate that they are not true Israelites.

Church discipline is the biblical prescription for cleansing the leaven from among us. Instead, the Reformed Baptist approach is to try (in futility, it turns out) to head off the need for church discipline by being over-scrupulous on the front end and making it hard to join the church. I think we deny the example of Scripture in this.


Agreed, dear brother. My dear reformed credo elder who, with his wife, did a superb job homeschooling his full quiver (ten or so, and now all out of their house) is one of the better Bible teachers I’ve known, adding godliness to knowledge. Early in our history at Trinity Reformed Church, we were discussing this issue and he expressed regret over the herd mentality of baptism of our credo families’ children, adding offhandedly that he thought it best to delay baptisms of children of credo families until they reached the age of twenty or so, when things would be clearer.

In time, he repudiated his view, and it was never hypocrisy on his part. But again, this is the reason I keep poking credos at the point of your doctrine of your excellence in protecting the purity of the church, and explcity or implicit condemnation of paedos on same. This was true from the time of the Reformation, and the fact that credos don’t admit this badness at the center of their sacramentology doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Not in favor of reformed sacramentalism. Would say it’s common within even the most orthodox reformed paedo churches.

Reading your comment reminded me of one of my children’s schoolteachers who was a member of our congregation telling Mary Lee and me that our daughter should apply for membership and be welcome to the Lord’s table because her faith was clear to him. This was when she was in maybe second grade and it hit me at the time that this is the way the church is supposed to handle her children. Together, sharing the responsibilities.

He’s now a PCA pastor in Knoxville shepherding a flock. His name is John McKenzie and his congregation is West Hills Presbyterian Church. Love,


If that’s what you’re talking about, agree heartily. However I think there’s a rather large gulf between the hypocrisy you describe and the practice of baptising children who still believe in Santa Claus. Infantile act, yes, but it is still an act of genuine faith. And faith requires discernment with children every bit as much as it does with adults. The early church very quickly developed catechesis classes prior to baptism for precisely this purpose. 20 may not be necessary, but I think it’s failing in the right direction compared to 4, at least in a Baptist church.

I think it’s less about some abstract ideal of ‘purity’ and more about what baptism truly represents and means for the one professing faith and being baptised.

If baptism is an ‘act of dedication of himself’ to the triune God…’an act of engagement by the recipient of the ordinance’ to the triune God, and if baptism is ‘the sacrament of union to the Savior and admission into the Christian church, the ordinance itself points out the necessity of its restriction to those who ‘’name the name of Christ,’’ and whose life and conduct are not outwardly inconsistent with their claim to be numbered among his people.’ *That from the noted credobaptist James Bannerman.

Maybe @tbbayly is happy with credobaptists adopting paedobaptist theology regarding the baptism of their children, but I’d rather baptists spend more time considering what paedobaptists have said about the baptism of adults as the paradigm!

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You meant noted paedobaptist, I think. Love

My attempt at humour!


It is harmful to souls. I speak from experience. I was raised in a Reformed Baptist church and carefully taught to see myself as a sinner in need of salvation, rather than raised as a Christian. So I discounted all my childlike belief in God as insincere and didn’t publicly say I believed in God and Jesus until I was in college. This made me feel like an enemy and outsider in my teenaged years, regretfully. These should have been formative years maturation from the instruction and fellowship of my Christian brothers, not to mention Communion.

Because I had taken so long and the church members rightfully saw me as someone with the capability of being an idiot, the church wasn’t planning to offer me baptism until perhaps two years of waiting and seeing. I got married before then. My wife and I had long conversations leading up to marriage and planned to become ‘confessional’ Lutherans. I thought the doctrine made sense but was still seeing it as a curious outsider, in retrospect. She was a Christian since early grade school and found herself in the strange position of essentially marrying an unbeliever, but prayed about it a lot and was hopeful.

Shortly after marriage I went through new member instruction at our LCMS church and was baptized. Six weeks and I was in. (Our pastor offered to baptize me before membership, but my old training kicked in and I wanted to wait and be sure.)

Once I was baptized and living in full communion with a local church, I started to change significantly. I felt my brain healing. Walking as a Christian made me capable of real faith and contrition and character improvement. The better doctrinal situation helped but it was evident God worked through His gifts to me, and He wanted me to have started earlier.

If I had not met my wife and pulled into the Lutheran church, I don’t know what would have happened. There were other boys and girls my age who were never allowed to be baptized during the periods when they professed faith, and weren’t given as clear of a second chance sign that I’d experienced. Few of them consider themselves a Christian today, that I know. It’s a harmful practice.

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I became a Christian as a senior in college. Because I never was a “big sinner” before my conversion, I don’t know if there was a lot of visible fruit apparent after my conversion, aside from regular attendance in corporate worship and Bible studies. But inwardly I felt a very dramatic transformation in my attitudes and desires of my heart. I was ready to take up the cross and endure suffering, and that is what happened as my sanctification began.

For many years it puzzled me when I came across professing Christians who engaged in gross sins, not as a brief fall to a sudden temptation, but instead as a pattern of life. My naive conclusion was that these people could not possibly be truly regenerate because they were doing worse sins while claiming to know Christ than I ever did as an unbeliever. But many years later, I modified my conclusion and decided that some of these people truly were regenerate believers, albeit fallen into great sins for lengthy periods of time. Others were not, however, and the distinguishing factor was whether they eventually began living in greater righteousness and holiness or fell away completely.

Anecdotally, it seems that most professing Christians who get into patterns of gross sin grew up in the church. My working hypothesis is that a man who becomes a Christian as an adult has counted the cost and is ready to take up the cross because otherwise there’s no point to following Christ – if he doesn’t want to suffer, he might as well remain an unbeliever. But people who grow up in the church are uncertain for a period of time whether they really want to take up the cross or not or abandon Christ or not. Since it is not possible to bear good fruit while avoiding suffering for righteousness, these churchgoers can show fruit little different from unbelievers. But those who are truly called and have real faith eventually decide to take up the cross and become genuine disciples, and those who are not called and who lack real faith eventually abandon Christ and the church altogether.

My view right now is that it’s not really possible to know for sure how credible a profession of faith is until it is seen whether the man perseveres to the end. Probably an unchurched man who comes to Christ as an adult has a more credible profession because he has little incentive to falsely profess or misunderstand his own heart. But the profession of a child, teenager, or young adult who grew up in the church? Who knows? Ten or twenty years may tell. But as a paedobaptist, this doesn’t trouble me because I don’t believe baptism must follow a genuine profession of faith.


To offer some pushback: unless baptism functioned ex opere operato, regenerating the hearts of everyone who receives the sign – which of course it doesn’t – why shouldn’t your Baptist church leaders view this anecdote as evidence that they are on the right track? After all, they refused baptism to souls who apparently proved to be false professors.

One thing I think you might say is that, if we treat our children as outside of the covenant and ‘impure’ – of which behavior refusing to baptize them is part – we will put a wedge between them and the Church, and they will be less likely to be shaped in the patterns of discipline that God uses to save us. But will they be less likely to hear the Gospel? Less likely to recognize their need of a Savior? If they hear and believe, then they will cleave to the Church even if the Church afflicts them, because God will uphold them. So, in the case of a regenerate child who professes faith and is denied baptism, withholding baptism and full integration into the life of the church might dull his sanctification, but it wouldn’t cause him to apostatize. Otherwise we’d be in the strange position of saying that we ought to treat the unregenerate as regenerate lest we be guilty of their blood…


Well said (Joel as well.) Their biggest concern was that someone might think they are saved when they actually are not. Obviously I have theological disagreements with you two on this view of justification, regeneration and sacraments, but I don’t doubt the love and concern for children behind the practice. Certainly not from my parents and the pastor who spoke to me the most about becoming saved. But I do stand by my assessment of it and I think the children who were allowed to be baptized early, and let their ‘feeling like I’m a Christian’ be treated as actually being a Christian, did much better.

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Think a central issue is whether sacraments themselves, w/out any profession of personal faith, save the man. So Solomon Stoddard believed and practiced, and most Lutherans and CRECs today believe and/or practice—not to mention a host of other churches. Another central issue is whether the absence of Biblical fencing of the sacraments is a trustworthy indication of ex opere operato belief even where such a belief is denied by the one failing any Biblical fencing of the sacraments. (And yes, I believe it is trustworthy.) In other words, I think it’s better to discuss the sacraments than membership, so that among credos, the interview for baptism is necessarily the interview for membership, and the Lord’s Table privilege is given necessarily subordinate to the first decision (membership).

Maybe the best way to find clarity between credos and paedos, pastorally speaking, is to probe what men believe about the church’s authority over other people’s children whose parents are members. And specifically, do the children of the church have the privilege of the rebuke, exhortation, and discipline of the church, both informally and formally? Asking and debating that question is very, very revealing—as I wrote in a Canon Press book years ago: Covenant children and the emasculation of the church, with a tribute to my father... | BaylyBlog Love,


That’s one of the key issues for me.

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This is how we handle it at our church. There is no such thing as baptizing a person who is not simultaneously coming into membership, and only our members take communion (i.e. closed communion). Of course, for someone joining our church who has already been baptized as a believer in the past, we do not require rebaptism. As has already been discussed: One Lord, one Spirit, one baptism.

Yes, amen. One of the things I’ve given a good deal of thought to over the years as I’ve considered and studied presbyterian covenantalism vs. reformed baptist is the practical outworking of how we view our unbaptized/not-yet-professing children in relationship to the church.

What I’ve observed in my past among non-reformed baptistic churches is that there really doesn’t seem to be any deliberate form given to the church’s relationship to the children of members at all. It’s like the children are just kind of floating out there. They are under the authority of their parents, of course, but the church’s relationship to the children – and the pastor’s relationship, specifically – is virtually non-existent. There may be some nice “hello’s” exchanged on a Sunday morning, but I found that everyone’s kids are kind of unknown to everyone else. Families very much exist in silos.

That’s a dramatic contrast to the formal view of presbyterianism, which regards the covenant children to be part of the visible church, whether they are communicant or not.

What’s been interesting and refreshing to me in my own reformed baptist paradigm – speaking for my church only – is that while we stop short of calling the children members of the visible church, they are very much engaged and embraced as “part of the covenant community” (those are my words, anyway), with all the love and discipleship and pastoral care that comes along with it. Stated another way, I believe I have witnessed and experienced that there is a way to be credobaptist without treating our children like devilish little outsiders – maintaining that our children are, in fact, “part of the church,” while also not clouding the belief that those who are part of God’s covenant people are those who have been converted.

Even so, it remains a concern of mine that we must be careful to encourage faith in our children, and actually expect that God will save them, as opposed to creating an environment where our children are inadvertently trained to always be doubting their faith.