Bannerman on credobaptism being the rule

What with Evangel Presbytery spreading her wings, I found this portion of James Bannerman’s (Scottish Presbyterian) The Church of Christ wonderfully helpful and encouraging…


I typed this out because I thought it was interesting and fruitful and just a little bit hard to read. I made the underlined part bold mostly to help divide up the long paragraph. I hope to comment on this at a later time.

Such is the efficacy of Baptism to an adult believer. What is the virtue or efficacy of the ordinance when administered to infants incapable of faith, although not incapable of being made partakers in the grace which the Spirit confers? In entering on the consideration of this delicate and difficult subject, it is necessary, in order to clear our way to it, to lay down one or two preliminary propositions of much importance in the discussion.

First, The proper and true type of Baptism, as a Sacrament in the Church of Christ, is the Baptism of adults, and not the Baptism of infants. In consequence of the altered circumstances of the Christian Church at present, as compared with the era when Baptism was first appointed, we are apt to overlook this truth. The growth and prevalence of the visible Church, and the comparative fewness of the instances of adult conversion to an outward profession of Christianity amongst us, have led to the Baptism of infants being almost the only Baptism with which we are familiar. The very opposite of this was witnessed in the Church of Christ at first. And the true type of Baptism, from examining which we are to gather our notions of its nature and efficacy, is to be found in the adult Baptisms of the early days of Christianity, and not in the only Baptism commonly practiced now in the professing Church, the Baptism of infants. It is of very great importance, in dealing with the question of the nature

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and efficacy of Baptism, to remember this. Both among the enemies and the friends of infant Baptism the neglect of this distinction has been the occasion of numberless errors in regard to the import and effects of the Sacrament. Men have judged of the nature and efficacy of Baptism from the type of the ordinance, as exhibited in the case of baptized adults. They have reversed the legitimate order of the argument, and argued from the case of infants to that of adults, and not from the case of adults to that of infants. It is abundantly obvious that adult Baptism is the rule, and infant Baptism the exceptional case, and we must take our idea of the ordinance in its nature and effects not from the exception, but from the rule. The ordinance of Baptism is no more to be judged of from its ministration to children, than is the ordinance of preaching to be judged of from its ministration to children. The Sacrament in its complete features and perfect character is to be witnessed in the case of those subjects of it whose moral and intellectual nature has been fully developed and is entire, and not in the case of those subjects of it whose moral and intellectual being is no more than rudimental and in embryo. Infants are subjects of Baptism in so far as, and no farther than their spiritual and intellectual nature permits it. And it is an error, abundant illustration of which could be given from the writings both of the advocates and opponents of infant Baptism, to make Baptism applicable in the same sense and to the same extent to infants and to adults, and to form our notions and frame our theory of the Sacrament from its character as exhibited in the case of infants. It is very plain, and very important to remember, that the only true and complete type of Baptism is found in the instance of those subjects of it who are capable both of faith and repentance, not in the instance of those subjects of it who are not capable of either. The Bible model of Baptism is adult Baptism, and not infant.


This is very interesting, because it dovetails with some scholarly articles I have read by David Wright, the late Church of Scotland theologian. Wright’s study of early church baptismal liturgies and vows led him to conclude that the baptismal rite developed with adult converts in mind. As the church matured and grew, and infant baptism became the dominant form of baptism, these credo-Baptist rites were awkwardly adapted to infants. The same things were done, but sponsors had to answer for the infant being baptized.

See here: Triablogue: The History Of Infant Baptism

Baptism in the thought of David Wright.pdf (423.1 KB)
David Wright Infant Baptism Article.pdf (231.3 KB)

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First, Bannerman the Sr. is so very good, particularly on the sacraments. Recommended him over and over again.

Second, readers ought not make the mistake that by his wording here, Bannerman is calling infant baptism a defective administration of the sacrament. It would be easy to understand him in this way. Infant baptism is Biblical, but only as an extension, if you will, of the reasons and principles of adult believer baptism.

One could make the mistake of concluding that infant communion flows from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the same way, based upon the same principle of federal headship. And well it might were it not for the explicit command of Scripture that, prior to partaking, a man must “examine himself” concerning his discernment of the body of Christ. Former baptists who have become convinced of infant baptism often dismiss this command with the statement, “well children can’t examine themselves, so obviously this command doesn’t apply to them.”

But the command is so very specific and so very integral to the Biblical pattern and liturgy laid down for the Lord’s Supper in 1Corinthians 11 that we have no justification for dismissing it week after week, month after month, year after year with anywhere from a quarter to half the participants in our Lord’s Day worship who are not yet capable of personal self-examination, nor repentance and faith.

There’s a reason all the Reformers, and particularly Calvin, condemned paedocommunion. We can be sympathetic to former baptists’ predisposition toward this error, but then we must call them to humble themselves under the historic Protestant and Reformed church’s practice of paedobaptism and condemnation of paedocommunion. Love,


Bannerman is responding to the error I have seen some repenting Baptists make, which is to say that infant baptism is the purest expression of the sacrament of baptism because the recipient is purely passive and unaware of what is happening to him. I take Bannerman to be cautioning us that infant baptism only makes sense if the infant is under the federal headship of an adult who professes faith, just as the first households baptized in the New Testament were baptized because of the head of household’s profession of faith.


This brought to mind an interesting happening when I was listening to a lecture by Father Patrick Henry Reardon (archpriest in the Antiochian Archdiocese, roughly equivalent to a monsigor in the Roman church) at last fall’s Touchstone Conference. His printed lecture from which he was reading came to a place where baptism was mentioned parenthetically.

Going off text, Fr. Reardon said (approximately; I’m calling this up from memory): “By the way, I do not baptize infants!” [emphasis was his!].

The auditorium was as quiet as if it were empty. Everyone knew that he must have baptized hundreds of infants (at a minimum), at his age and ecclesiastical background. Fr. Reardon let the silence hang for a good five seconds, though it seemed like forever. And then he proclaimed in a loud voice, “I only baptize households!” [again, his emphasis].

As he then explained, he routinely refused to baptize infants when brought to him by an aged aunt or grandmother, who admit that the father and mother are not ever going to be present because they don’t want anything to do with “organized religion,” but are willing to satisfy some matron who wishes to put the baby through some sort of religious ceremony.

“When a Christian family - a father and/or mother, who preside over the child’s home, who are known to me to be faithful to their Christian profession - when such bring an infant to me, I baptize it because it is thereby incorporated not only into the Church but also into the Christian household which is already baptized.”


Thanks for this helpful explanation. I’ve been thinking over these words by Bannerman the last few days, and this is a really helpful clarification of his words.

I’ve often thought that a solid Reformed Baptist is in closer agreement on baptism to a solid Reformed paedobaptist than he is with your average Arminian/Evangelical/Fundamentalist Baptist than either of them would like to admit, and Bannerman’s points above help show that.


Absolutely, and Bannerman on the sacraments shows that again and again.

Little known fact. Calvin advised baptizing those Fr. Reardon refuses, so long as there are sponsors prepared to promise to raise the child in the Christian faith. Sort of Reformed godparents. He didn’t think the continuity of the covenant should necessarily be interrupted merely because one generation of parents (parent) were pagans or excommunicated. Love,


That’s interesting, I’ve never heard that. I wonder if it was building on this reasoning of Calvin’s that led to some Puritans holding to a Half-way Covenant.

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I wouldn’t know for sure, of course, since I did not query him on particulars (Fr. Reardon, that is), but I doubt that he would refuse baptism when there are credible sponsors for an infant.

On the other hand, how credible is someone who is already in their seventies, so far as their commitment to rear the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Two-thirds of my high school graduating class are already dead! My age-peers are dropping like hail stones. And my lovely bride and I - committed and engaged with our grandchildren, to prepare and deploy Bible-education syllabi for their visits to us - we’re thoroughly pooped after a three-day weekend with them.

The vows taken by the parents/sponsors in an Anglican baptism - taken in the child’s name and stead, and also for themselves read as follows:

Minister: Dost thou, therefore, in the name of your Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?

Answer: I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavor not to follow, nor be led by them.

Minister: Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles’ Creed?

Answer: I do.

Minister: Wilt thou be baptized in this Faith?

Answer: That is my desire.

Minister: Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?

Answer: I will, by God’s help.

Minister: Having now, in the name of your Child, made these promises, will ye also on your part take heed that your Child learn the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe, to his soul’s health?

Answer: I will, by God’s help.

Minister: Will ye take heed that your Child he brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him, so soon as he is sufficiently instructed?

Answer: I will, God being my helper

It seems a minister of the gospel (or any evangelist), operating under the above framework for Christian baptism (which Fr. Reardon does), has only two options: to make a judgment call as to the capacity of any who bring an infant for baptism to fulfill the duties of his sponsorship. Otherwise, he might instead take every opportunity he runs across to baptize any infant or child who comes his way.

Thanks. This was my question. It almost seems as though he is saying infant baptism is defective, but its 2 paragraphs of a book I havent read so you need more context. I appreciate the clarification.