Paedobaptism. A debate

My goal in my post was not to attack paedobaptism on theological grounds (though I have no problem doing so) but to attack it by the same standard by which Pastor Bayly was suggesting mothers like seeing their kids have communion because it gives them assurance of their salvation. I was simply pointing out I see the same thing when it comes to paedobaptism. Even, I would add, if the pastors give plenty of information regarding what baptism isn’t doing. To which the question becomes, well, what exactly is it doing then, besides giving parents some peace of mind that they’ve checked all the traditional reformed boxes?

I’m not talking about frequency, just motivation. Both can be motivated by trying to attain fire insurance for your little one. Perhaps the weekly assurance of salvation is something mothers are more comforted by, while fathers are more comforted by the once and done sacrament? Not saying I think that, just thinking out loud.

Maybe not for Leithart, but I think for Wilson. For Wilson it’s all about entering the covenant, thought that doesn’t mean entering heaven. The difference between FV dark and light perhaps? Get rid of paedobaptism and all these silly arguments disappear.

I will happily acknowledge all abuses of baptism by credos. I will note, though, that lack of fruit in a convert generally has to do with a lack of church discipline, which is perhaps the main problem in credo churches. But yes, credos attempts at church growth through gimmicky altar calls, sign this paper, check-this-box, etc. methods, are very similar to a parent doing the same vicariously for their baby, whether through paedobaptism or paedocommunion. Both are basically “name it and claim it” methods.

How does a parent take any comfort in a ritual which may or may not really do anything? The real hope is that God blesses faithful Christian parenting.

I get it, and I agree with most of your original post. I just think it applies to paedobaptism too (faith always precedes baptism in the Bible). But taking comfort in an outward sign, like circumcision for the Judaizers, is common to both paedosacraments, say I.

Yes! But can’t you see this is no different from how kids come to baptism, through their mother and father? How can you say one is familial and the other isn’t?

I think one of the strongest arguments for paedobaptism is the practice of “baby dedication” that I’ve seen carried out in credobaptist churches. What’s the point of baby dedication, except to acknowledge that the child belongs to God in a special way not applicable to the children of unbelievers? And why invent such an extrabiblical practice except as an implicit recognition of the validity of paedobaptism?

Although the preaching of the Word is the principal means by which a child (or anyone) is brought to faith, baptism is also a means of grace, as are the prayers of the parents. Just as hearing the preaching of the Word does not assure salvation, neither does baptism nor prayer, but that does not mean they are useless or not means of grace.


A couple notes:
1.) I edited a couple recent posts thinking nobody had seen them yet then read to find out Joel had responded to things I edited out. My bad. Hopefully that doesn’t completely confuse anyone reading this thread. But I do stand by everything in all my versions of my posts, so I don’t mind them being interacted with.
2.) Is this Joel Norris of Tree of Life in Boulder many years ago? If so, hi Joel! Stevie Opp, do you remember me?

I think that is a valid question, but I think it is equally valid going the other direction. What is a paedobaptism but a baby dedication using a Bible word to justify it? It looks nothing like a biblical baptism (immersion) while simultaneously sending a very different message. Like a baby dedication, it sends the message that we as parents commit to raise this baby in the ways of God and ask for your help and prayers. Whereas a biblical baptism is picture of a death and resurrection, going down to the grave and returning washed clean and commissioned to be a witness to the gospel. Entirely different thing. Again, I agree that a paedobaptism looks a lot like a baby dedication, but to its detriment.

Show me what real use a paedobaptism has ever had for anybody and I will strongly consider changing my mind.

Yes, it is the same Joel. I definitely remember you, and as soon as saw your name pop up here, I wondered if it was the same Stevie (though Steven now). I am very glad to see you are staying strong in the faith, and please convey my greetings and greatest respect to your mother.

A sign can be a symbol for more than one thing. Consider Old Testament circumcision. On one level, it was the sign of incorporation into the covenant community (Gen. 17:9-14). On another level, it was a symbol of the cutting away of sin, as demonstrated by the need to be circumcised in the heart (e.g., Deut. 30:6, Jer. 4:4, Rom. 2:29). When Jewish parents circumcised their infant boys and presented them before the LORD (Luke 2:22-24), was that an entirely different thing from circumcision being a seal of righteousness by the cutting away of the sinful flesh (Col. 2:11, Rom. 4:11)? The Bible doesn’t seem to view it that way. Similarly, parents who have their infants baptized and commit to raising them in the ways of God do so expressly because their children have new life in Christ and have been washed clean from sin**. The fact that some children later fall away from the faith does not invalidate baptism any more than Old Testament Jews falling away from the faith invalidated circumcision. And the application of baptism (and circumcision) to infants is an illustration of God’s sovereign grace in that infants obviously do not do anything to merit salvation.

** Note that I do not mean actual regeneration, but refer to the sign.

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Not sure I follow. What “real use” can you “show” for a believer’s baptism?


The arguments you are making aren’t particularly convincing in establishing your thesis that paedobaptism is the same as paedocommunion.

I’m a credobaptist by hard conviction, but biblical support for the inclusion of children of believers in the visible Church is abundant. I remember once hearing pastor Bayly (Tim) preach that the Scriptures treat believer’s children as both godly and ungodly. Sometimes Scripture says our children belong to God. And at other times it says that they only belong to God if they have faith and regeneration. They are included, and yet unless they have faith they are not included. I don’t think the Holy Spirit has the same kind of problems we have with appearing contradictory.

Our children are part of the visible Church and belong to God, and yet unless they are regenerated by God they have no claim to Him or His promises. Paedobaptists and credobaptists can have unity in love over that, with disagreement over when the sign and seal of baptism should be applied to our children.

I do understand your observation of paedobaptists treating their children’s baptism as fire insurance, but the same (as some have pointed out above) is true of credobaptists across America in their observance of accepting Jesus into their hearts. We are idol factories and turn everything good into sacramentalism. But taking note of that sin doesn’t diminish the arguments that paedobaptists are making for covenant inclusion.

Paedobaptism, depending on how we interpret Scripture and use good and necessary consequence in applying it, can be argued for from the Scriptures.

Paedocommunion has very weak support from Scripture because there are objective and straight forward conditions for use of the sacrament. Paedocommunionists have to chop up and slaughter 1 Cor 11 to get to their practice.

So while I sympathize with your observations about paedobaptists being susceptible to sacramentalism, it doesn’t mean paedobaptism is sacramentalism. As for paedocommunion, it always is sacramentalism since it disregards 1 Cor 11.


Thanks to all of you who gave some criticisms and thoughts. May I recommend to everyone Bannerman’s two-volume work on the church, particularly where it deals with the sacraments, generally, and baptism and the Lord’s supper, specifically. Lots of the confusion commonly seen among baptsts and paedo-baptists alike concerning the sacraments, not to mention those rejecting historic reformed orthodox sacramentology by practicing the paedocommunion error, would have things clarified for them by studying Bannerman. Far and away the best thing I’ve read on the sacraments, so a word to the wise. Love,churchofchrist_acro.pdf (2.9 MB)


I was responding to Joel Norris who said that just because something doesn’t assure salvation doesn’t mean it’s useless. My question is what use does a paedobaptism have that makes it different from a baby dedication or Christening?

Here are the uses of a biblical baptism:
-Typologically, it is a washing like the washings of the priests in the Old Covenant. Therefore it establishes you as a priest (1 Peter 2:9), an ambassador of the New Covenant which everybody is now under. (Baptism doesn’t put you in the covenant. Everybody is born into the covenant under King Jesus. What it does is make you a representative of it. A staff uniform, if you will).
-It is a witness. It tells the world whose team you are now on. This is why groups like ISIS cut off people’s heads when they are baptized. And the purpose of witness is that it overcomes the wicked one (Rev. 12:11).
-Like what Tim says happens with the elder interview before being allowed to have communion, that is what baptism, properly understood, should do. It is what puts you under church authority and subject to church discipline.
-It is a voluntary death to self, like a knighthood. And having that status as “Christian” is a powerful thing. My favorite line in Kingdom of Heaven is when Orlando Bloom’s character, right after knighting everybody, is asked by the cynical priest, “Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?” Orlando Bloom responds with a simple answer: “Yes.” Baptism, when done biblically, has the same effect.
-Baptism provides a time, day, and place where one remembers when they signed up to represent Christ on this earth. “But people are insincere, or don’t know what they’re getting into, etc.” you might say. So what? The fake ones don’t nullify the real ones. ----People break vows all the time. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them. Baptism is in many ways like enlisting in the military or getting married. Yes, many times people don’t go into it correctly and it falls apart. That doesn’t mean we don’t do it or dilute it so that it doesn’t mean as much as it is supposed to.
-Finally, baptism, understood properly, deals with a bad conscience (1 Peter 3:21). In context, it saves you from thinking you’re not following the Jewish law well enough. But we’ve all got our own legalisms to deal with and baptism is the sign that said you are dead and alive in Christ and there is no condemnation.
Those are things a biblical baptism does. As you can see, it is all directly tied to the gospel. And faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Babies don’t have faith in Jesus Christ. They are not called to be child soldiers or child brides in any sense. They don’t have unclean consciences that need washing. They are not representing Christ on this earth, and therefore are not priests.

Hi Jacob,
That’s not my thesis. My thesis here is only that the motivations are often the same. Tim sees assurance of salvation for your kids as a motivator for paedocommunion. I see, oftentimes, the same for paedobaptism.

I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t take their kids to church, or that their names and pictures can’t be in the church directory. Beyond that, I’m not sure what you are arguing for.

I think the contrast can all be boiled down to what I wrote in my response to Joseph. There is a difference between being under a covenant (under the rule of King Jesus) vs. being an ambassador of the covenant (a representative of King Jesus). Another way of saying it is there is a difference between attending an event vs. being on staff for that event. Christians are the ones on Heaven’s staff for the world.

I would say some paedobaptists can have unity with some credobaptists. Here is why I say that: I, as a credobaptist, would not have such unity because I don’t think my child’s baptism has anything to do with me being the father at all. In fact, that is the whole point. In baptism, he is recognizing he is a child of God and that trumps all family authority.
Additionally, a credobaptist like yourself who says, if I’m hearing you right, that baptism does not provide anything without regeneration, would not find common ground with a paedobaptist (and there are many) who says that baptism does in fact change a child’s status before God, regardless of his belief or unbelief.

You said you are a credobaptist by hard conviction. How then can you say a paedobaptism is something good that may be idolized? What is good about a paedobaptism, besides intentions?

But you’ve rejected all of those arguments because you are a credobaptist by hard conviction, correct? (Not trying to be ornery, just not sure why you are giving so much praise for arguments you disagree with).

Either paedobaptism is legitimate or it is not. If not, it is sacramentalism. How could it not be?

Thanks for hosting this discussion, Tim! I’m a big fan of yours, and Warhorn in general. I spend a lot of time on the road and tune into the podcasts often.

Thanks to everyone who has engaged with me here. I promise I didn’t enter into this looking to start a debate on paedobaptism. Also, I know I’ve said some things here you may not have heard anywhere (such as the whole world being under the New Covenant. That was a major shift in thinking for me when I learned it), I admit I am not the run-of-the-mill “credo”. If you’d like to see my thoughts in a nutshell, I wrote this a couple years ago:
You can skip down to the section titled “Covenant,” though I would recommend reading the intro. and the part at the beginning about Narnia in order to understand the planet metaphors.

I will continue to respond to comments in this forum if they continue, but did want to check in to let everyone know I’m thankful for the interaction.



I suppose christening could be the same as paedobaptism, though that word is not used in Reformed churches. In other churches, “christening” might be accompanied by theological views not shared by Reformed churches. Baby dedication is different from paedobaptism in that the former is an invented man-made ceremony whereas the latter is a sacrament commanded in the Bible.

In Reformed churches, children baptized as infants make a public profession of faith and take the same vows as any adult prior to taking communion. But even before they profess faith, they are subject to the authority of the church. Are unbaptized children in credobaptist churches not under the authority of the church? Do the pastor and elders have no more authority to exhort an unbaptized child than a public school teacher or Little League coach?

Here I think you have the wrong analogy. At the most fundamental level, a Christian is not someone who has volunteered to join one association rather than another but instead a Christian is a citizen of the kingdom of God rather than the realm of Satan. As such, baptism is like a birth certificate rather than a marriage license. Neither you nor I had any choice in our birth as citizens of the United States, but because of that both of us were granted the rights and duties of citizens of the same. When it came time to pay taxes and register for the Selective Service, we did not have the choice to opt out on the ground that we never volunteered to become U.S. citizens. The only options were punishment for failure to fulfill the required duties or renunciation of citizenship and emigration. In the same way, children born to Christian parents are members of the the visible church, and baptism is recognition of that fact, just like the issuance of a birth certificate. They may later renounce their membership, but we pray that the day will come when they will take up the full responsibilities of membership, just like you and I have done as citizens of the United States.

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Or even more to the point, do they have no more authority over or responsibility for the children of church members than they do over the children of unbelievers?

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If it looks like a baby dedication, walks like a baby dedication, talks like a baby dedication…

They are under the authority of their parents. What situation would require a pastor to exercise authority over a child in the church that isn’t already the parents’ job?

Agreed, but it is the new birth, the second birth, that gives you this citizenship (John 3:3).

The “visible church” does not provide a child with anything spiritual that is not also available to anyone who is not baptized. What does a baby baptized into the visible church have that any unbaptized baby doesn’t have? We are to baptize believers into Christ. Christ is not the visible church. Christ is the body of believers.

Believing the gospel is part of taking up the full responsibility of membership in the church? But everybody, churched or unchurched, is commanded to believe the gospel (1 John 3:23). Therefore, what is the point of baptizing someone into the “visible church”?

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The problem with your argument is that in this world we see only the visible church. Even in the most pure credobaptist church there is no guarantee that a person who professes faith and is baptized is actually regenerate and truly in the body of Christ. So either you need some way to infallibly determine who belongs to the invisible church, or you need to cease baptism altogether, or you need to accept that some who are baptized do not truly belong to Christ. And if you go with the last option, what will you call this mixed group other than the visible church?

What you are doing here is undermining the authority of the church. If there is no difference between the visible church and the world, then the visible church has no authority, even over its own members. Since there is no way to determine who is truly regenerate, every Christian will be left to his own devices to determine what to believe and how to act (Judg. 21:25).

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Sorry, you got it completely wrong.

  1. It’s the baby dedication that mimics the paedobaptism, not the other way around.
  2. The words are different, the pastor says “I baptize you…” in the baptism, not just a blessing.
  3. “If it looks like the baptism of John, walks like the baptism of John, talks like the baptism of John…” … but it still isn’t the same thing, see Acts.

Daft question, but when did the church start baptising children, and specifically infants? We do have the example of Jesus’ dedication to keep in mind …

2nd century at the latest. Maybe even from the start, it’s just not explicitly reported.

There was no church yet at that point, plus Jesus himself never baptized anybody. Even Paul avoided when evangelizing, leaving it to the local elders.

I’m not opposed to the idea of the visible church (though perhaps the audible church would be a better term since the church is made up of confessors). We just disagree on who should be counted in it.

I never said there was no difference. The difference is in the confession, in the creed. The members of the church have a different creed than those not in the church. That is the difference. Baptism is a public declaration of that creed and therefore that difference. Baptism is putting oneself under the authority of Christ so that one may have authority in the world. Like a knighting, we allow ourselves to go under the sword in order to bear the sword.

The point is they are nearly identical twins, regardless of who was born first. That in itself is a problem because a biblical baptism does not entail these similarities.

Pastors say a lot of things.

I don’t follow your argument here. Please point me to the passage in Acts you are referring to.