Points of agreement and disagreement on baptism

Yesterday, Ian Paul published an interview with Stephen Kuhrt regarding his revised version of his dad’s book, Believing in Baptism. You can read the interview here. Ian, somewhat impishly, tagged me in it on Facebook suggesting I might blow a gasket reading it given it was advocating for paedobaptism. Obviously, there were some significant things I disagreed with. But there were some points of agreement too.

So, I thought it might be worth landing in a blog post on those points of agreement. I will note some of the things I think were misleading and/or mischaracterising too. But I thought it would be interesting to highlight where we can agree.

Covenants

I think, particularly helpful, was the insight regarding the covenants. Kuhrt states, ‘At points readers may think that the new edition has become a book on the covenant rather than baptism! But this is done because of the conviction that pretty much every misunderstanding of baptism is rooted in a failure to engage with the nature of the covenant narrative that binds the whole of the biblical story together and the cosmology and eschatology underlying and shaping this story.’ I think this is essentially right.

In my discussions with thoughtful paedobaptists, the argument ultimately centres on this question. Whether Calvinistic paedobaptist, 1689 Federal Baptist, New Covenant Baptist or Dispensationalist, the answer to the question of who should be baptised does come down – at least in significant part – to how you understand the covenants in scripture and what continuities and discontinuities. The way discussions often unroll, it is not always clear that these differences are key. But I very much agree with Kuhrt that our understanding of how the covenants sit together will prove decisive in the question of whom we baptise and why.

Membership

The other significant point of agreement I would have with Kuhrt is that those we baptise should be full members of the church. As a Baptist, I don’t recognise anything other than full membership. One is either a member eligible to receive communion or one is not. Kuhrt argues, ‘infant baptism is only being practiced with integrity when it goes hand in hand with an absolute commitment on the part of the church to the nurture of baptised children aimed at enabling them to respond to their baptism with a life of faith.’

Whilst I am not an advocate of paedobaptism, Baptists would agree wholeheartedly that those who are baptised ought to be rightly included fully in the life of the church. There is no biblical warrant for us to divorce baptism, communion and membership. All three hang together. As I have argued here, it is a point on which we would see federal vision advocates as properly consistent with their practice on baptism.

Credo not adult

I was a little perplexed by the use of the phrase ‘adult baptism’ to refer to credobaptists. Whilst, of course, we do baptise adults, we don’t only baptise adults. Just a week ago, I baptised a child. Admittedly, not a very young child, but someone who hasn’t left school yet. That baptism was not carried out on ground of being an adult; it was on grounds of a clear profession of faith. Having done so, that girl is now a ‘full member’ of the church and was admitted to the table this Sunday just past.

We are pointedly credobaptist, not adult baptist. It is a misnomer that does the rounds amongst paedobaptists and it always jars. It feels a touch ignorant, which doesn’t help us with our (potentially jaundiced) view that our position is often caricatured so that paedobaptists can attempt to knock down a straw man.

Not wanting to talk about it

I was similarly surprised by the suggestion that Baptists often don’t want to talk about these things, in case paedobaptists might convince us we are wrong! Frankly, I found that suggestion bizarre. We are usually accused of wanting to talk about these things too much, not shying away from such discussion. Nor are is it usual to assume we’re worried we might be persuaded. It has been noted, by many paedobaptists, that we are sometimes too reliant on the (apparent) ‘obviousness’ of our position. Naturally we do think it obvious, but I think the point that is being made is that – if we thought a bit more deeply, particularly within a less immediately obvious covenantal framework – we might see that our position is wrong (according to the paedobaptist who note this tendency). But it is unusual for people to think us a little wary of the discussion on that ground.

So, there are two points on which I agree with the thrust of the interview and two (more minor) points on which I didn’t. But there were no gaskets blown.