Note: I owe many of these thoughts to Neil Jeffers who reviewed the book in the first volume of Ecclesia Reformanda.
The volume entitled Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ published in 2006 is in the words of reviewer Neil Jeffers, “the most significant contribution on the Baptist side since Fred Malone’s The Baptism of Disciples Alone.” The book edited by American Reformed Baptists, Thomas Shreiner and Shawn Wright, expresses clear concerns about the “paedobaptist theology and practice.” This book is the best response to Presbyterian paedobaptism ever written. It marries, to borrow Jeffers’ language, “careful biblical theology with appropriate systematic deductions.” At the same time, this book is an inadequate response to paedobaptism. Let me explain this supposed contradiction in affirmations. First, this volume offers a valid and definitive response to the commonly accepted paedobaptist version so common in our own day. According to certain factions of Presbyterianism, baptism–applied to infants–is only a sign without any efficacy attached to the rite (sacrament). It singles out an individual to receive special and prayerful attention from parents and congregation for the future conversion of the child baptized. The child is merely dedicated in a sophisticated manner to differentiate it from a Baptist’s dedication ceremony. This is nothing more than a “wet dedication.” The trivializing of paedobaptism in Reformed circles only confirm the denigration of sacramental theology; an un-confessional position denied by Calvin and the Westminster Divines.
Secondly, Shreiner advocates that passages like Titus 3 “have in mind water baptism, not just spirit baptism.” This is Calvin’s position, especially in I Corinthians 12 (contra Charles Hodge). In my estimation this is a fortunate move forward for modern reformed baptists. This duality is fabricated in some Presbyterian circles and I am pleased that certain Baptists are not afraid to affirm the obvious.
Thirdly, the reason this is an inadequate response to paedobaptism is that it does not address a growing consensus withing the Reformed Faith, and that is that believers must have access to the Lord’s Table. Baptists have argued correctly and consistently that if paedobaptists are correct then they must give access to the table to their baptized children, since as Schreiner and Wright observes: “Such a divide between baptism and the Lord’s Supper cannot be sustained from the NT, for it is clear that those baptized participated in communion (pg. 5 in Believer’s Baptism).” Yes, exactly. Precisely. But this criticism does not affect me or those in the Reformed circles and pubs I abide. Presbyterian arguments based on I Corinthians 11:29 carry no weight whatsoever. Paul has been largely misinterpreted and I have no problem with respectfully disagreeing with my Reformed forefathers, especially Calvin who denied paedocommunion. Semper Reformanda means correcting past errors even of our esteemed forefathers.
Fourthly, another reason this book failed to address the real issue is because the authors assume that only adults can have faith. But as Rich Lusk observes in his book Paedofaith, Reformed commentators differ on the issue of infant faith. If it is true that only normal adults can profess faith in Jesus Christ, then as Jeffers notes, “this raises serious questions about those with severe mental handicap.” Infants can have faith. Faith is not a one-size-fits-all-deal. Faith is expressed at unique and different levels. As James Jordan observes, “every baptism is infant baptism.” Even an adult baptized is infant in his faith.
Finally, the idea of regenerate church is quite absurd. What certainty can one have of one’s profession? A pastor may think he is absolutely sure of a man’s profession and baptize him, but what if he abandons the faith a year later? Does this happen? I’d say quite regularly.
Conclusion: If Baptists (especially these fine writers) applied their view of baptism to infants we would have an identical position. For us paedobaptists, adult baptism is not enough. Even in this new creation and new world established and founded by Christ, our Great High Priest, the promises remain to you and to your children.