Dipping into Baptism 6: the case for infant baptism

Continuing our discussion of a good recent book on the contested waters of baptism is Baptism: Three Views, edited by the late David F Wright just before he died.

The three views are:

1. Believers’ Baptism View: Bruce A. Ware

2. Infant Baptism View: Sinclair B. Ferguson

3. Dual-Practice Baptism View: Anthony N. S. Lane

In this post I’ll focus on Sinclair Ferguson’s main points and then in the next one with responses from Ware and Lane:

Baptism is of second order significance compared to the preaching of the gospel (cf Paul in 1 Cor 1:17). Yet baptism is tied closely to that gospel. It is an ordinance of the gospel.

All Christians are therefore ‘baptists’. And paedobaptists also baptise adult believers (if they have not been baptised as infants).

1. Evidence for infant baptism in the post-apostolic church

From a review of evidence, Ferguson concludes that the evidence is patchy, but by the end of the 2nd Cent it seems forms of infant baptism were being practiced, even if the theological reasons for this are obscure. But neither is there evidence of serious theological discussion or objection to this practice.

Within this period, there was a fusion of baptism and regeneration, with baptism being practiced in a ‘clinical’ way – for mortally ill babies as a form of life insurance.

2. Baptism in the Biblical Testimony

Ferguson locates baptism within the history of divine covenants. [Covenant is crucial to Reformed theology’s view of baptism]. ‘Baptism is a “sign and seal” of the covenant of grace’, just as circumcision was (Rom 4:11). It is a visual ‘sign’ of being baptised into Christ’s death. It is a seal in that it ‘confirms’ and authenticates what it signifies.

There is a continuity between baptism and circumcision. Obviously with differences – in the NT it is for men and women and is not confined to ethnic Israel. But his big point is that they have the same ‘core symbolism’ of regeneration, cleansing, repentance. The emphasis Ferguson lays big stress on is baptism being understood as being focused on Christ (rather than our faith) within a covenantal framework.

3. Baptism of Infants

Within the unity of the Bible’s covenantal framework, Ferguson argues for a continuity of infants and their believing parents receiving the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. At OT covenants talked of God’s promise to ‘you and you seed’, so the principle continues into the NT (he appeals to Acts 2:39 and Peter’s speech here).

Since baptism a sign and seal of the gospel, it is as applicable to infants as to adults.

“The children of believers receive the same promise as their parents and are therefore to be baptized” (105).

And importantly he addresses the rather obvious point of the separation of baptism and faith. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to the rite itself. The gospel rite of baptism calls all to lifelong conversion characterised by faith and repentance.



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