I’ve gotten in a number of debates with Baptists. Mostly online, some in person. None of them formal of course just more of a conversation really. At first I was seeking it out because I wanted to test what I was learning about Lutheran theology to see if there were any holes in it. If I do it these days it’s because I think either they or someone else will benefit from it. I don’t feel the need to keep having this conversation over and over, mostly because it just gets repetitive after a while.
Today I’m going to collate these experiences into one fictional conversation. The two speakers will be Mr Armchair and Mr Baptist.
These days I typically receive an unsought conversation when I post a picture that happens to have a baby being baptized so we will start there.
Mr Baptist: Cute picture but you should know that infant baptism exist nowhere in scripture.
Mr Armchair: Jesus says to baptize all nations and babies are part of a nation.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:19-20 NASB1995
Mr Baptist: ah but he didn’t specifically say babies. You’re reading that in.
Mr Armchair: He didn’t specifically cite any demographic other than those whom all nations applies. Where did he specifically exclude babies? You’re reading that in.
Mr Baptist: Well he can’t have meant babies because all of the examples in Acts are of adults being baptized after they repent.
Mr Armchair: I’m happy to address that but I want to get something out of the way first.
Mr Baptist: Sure thing.
Mr Armchair: When a pentecostal cites examples of people speaking in tongues how do you address that?
Mr Baptist: Well the first thing I point out is that narrative isn’t normative, and that we shouldn’t cite descriptive stories as a command of what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to go about it.
Mr Armchair: So you don’t think it’s inconsistent to not take that approach with baptism? Shouldn’t we interpret isolated examples through Christ’s prescriptive teachings?
Mr Baptist: No it’s not inconsistent at all. Scripture is sufficient therefore all examples in Acts give us the full picture.
Mr Armchair: Just like speaking in tongues?
Mr Baptist: No that’s completely different.
Mr Armchair: Okay I’ll trust you see a difference. Here’s another one though, Why do you commune women when there are no specific examples of women receiving communion?
Mr Baptist: That’s easy, because women are a part of the body of Christ.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”Galatians 3:28 NASB1995
Mr Armchair: That’s true but it doesn’t specifically show them receiving communion. That’s the standard you gave me for baptism. Also babies fall under the broad categories of male, female, Jew, and Greek and can certainly be part of the Body of Christ but you don’t commune them.
Mr Baptist: No that’s different we are talking about baptism not communion.
Mr Armchair: To me it appears your standards shift widely based on the topic. But for the sake of the conversation I’ll trust you see a difference.
To answer your original premise though just because we see examples of people repenting before receiving baptism doesn’t equal a command that this is the only chain of events allowed. It just means that’s how it happened that time.
Let me illustrate. The verse most frequently cited for requiring repentance before baptism is Acts 2:38
“Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”Acts 2:38-39 NASB1995
The problem here is Peter doesn’t say this is the ONLY way to go about things. If you read earlier in the chapter you will see he already preached the gospel to those present so we should expect the hearers of the Word to have faith (Rom 10:17).
Peter taught them before Baptizing them even though Jesus said to Baptize before teaching (Matt 20:28). So it stands to reason you could also do it the way Jesus prescriptively taught and baptize first, which is how we do it with babies in case you were wondering. Also notice Peter said this promise is for your children.
Mr Baptist: Ah but the Greek word for children doesn’t have to mean a baby. It could just as easily mean an older child.
Mr Armchair: Right but the word doesn’t exclude babies either and he was speaking to a crowd which presumably had children of all ages, including babies, so if he intended to exclude certain ages now would have been a good time to clarify.
But you wanted examples and there’s more. There’s also household baptisms.
(1) Cornelius (Acts 10); (2) Lydia (Acts 16); (3) Philippian jailer (Acts 16); (4) Crispus (Acts 18); (5) Stephanus (I Corinthians 1)
Mr Baptist: I knew you’d bring this up. We don’t even know that babies were in those households. Many homes today have no babies at all.
Mr Armchair: Well in the first century it was common to have many married couples with many children living in one large household. Multifamily homes were quite the norm. You don’t even have to go back that far in human history to see alot more of that than you do today. Also, birth control wasn’t a thing so high birthrates and high infant mortality were also quite normal. So it would actually be quite strange if none of those households cited had any babies in them. In fact, if infant baptism was against the rules we would expect at least one of these passages to specifically state the babies weren’t baptized.
With respect, reading in a command not to baptize babies just because only adults are apparent in the narrative isn’t that different than just writing a verse in there yourself that says not to baptize babies. Either way you’re adding to God’s Word. Jesus said to baptize all nations and that’s enough, we don’t need more than that.
Mr Baptist: The fact of the matter is it doesn’t specifically cite that babies were baptized and we know they couldn’t have been because baptism doesn’t save you, baptism is a work and we are not saved by works. Just like how the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized and he was promised to be in heaven by Christ himself.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB1995
Baptism is something you do after you’re saved. It’s an outward sign or symbol of an inward change, and babies can’t demonstrate that change has taken place.
Mr Armchair: Nice. Now we’ve arrived at what we are actually talking about. Regarding the thief on the cross it needs to be mentioned that he technically died under the old covenant. It should be said that the thief likely did receive circumcision though… as a baby. So with respect the thief on the cross simply isn’t relevant here.
I’m happy to address your other concerns on this because I too do not believe in works salvation. I can’t promise we will agree but we will understand each other better. Fair enough? May I proceed with a few questions first before addressing your objection directly?
Mr Baptist: Sure thing.
Mr Armchair: Do you believe babies can have faith?
Mr Baptist: Faith is belief and a baby can’t say they believe.
Mr Armchair: So babies who die go to hell?
[Note to reader, many baptist have a more orthodox view of original sin than I’m going to demonstrate here. I’m representing them now based on what I see them say most normally. That said, if they have a more orthodox view of original sin the conversation does go a little differently at this point]
Mr Baptist: No, they are innocent until the age of accountability.
Mr Armchair: Okay but the Bible says we are “by nature” children of wrath (eph 2:3) and woven in iniquity (psa 51:5). Are you denying original sin?
Mr Baptist: Original sin is just a weakness to sin, we don’t inherit adams guilt.
Mr Armchair: It says BY NATURE children of WRATH though. How is it guiltless people deserve God’s wrath? Wrath is a strong word.
Mr Baptist: I see that but the verse you cited in psalms can be interpreted other ways. It’s just a poetic flourish it doesn’t mean babies bear guilt.
Mr Armchair: I know of the other ways that texts gets interpreted that’s why I focused my argument on Ephesians 2:3. It says by nature.
Mr Baptist: Yes but it doesn’t say Babies
Mr Armchair: Babies have a different nature than they do later?
Mr Baptist: It doesn’t matter because they can’t express belief, like I said.
Mr Armchair: Neither can people in a coma, or people who are severely mentally handicapped and past the age of accountability.
We are going to disagree here. Here’s the point of why I asked.
The Bible in some places defines faith as a noun. Notice when you cited Ephesians 2:8-9 it said that faith is a gift. Gifts are nouns, even in Greek.
While it’s true as you say sometimes the word faith is used as a verb it’s also true scripture uses it as a noun. Both or either can be true, context is king. But let it be resolved that when Ephesians 2:8-9 uses the word faith it’s very much in a noun sense because it’s described as a gift. So when romans 10:17 says faith comes from hearing the Word preached it’s fair to understand that God gives you this gift at least when you hear the Word.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 NASB1995
I’m sure we mostly agree on that particular point. Baptists take preaching the gospel very seriously.
When scripture describes Baptism as something God does to you it’s fair to read it as HIS work not yours. Read this passage carefully. Notice which nouns are performing which verbs. Ask yourself is God doing something to the person in this verse or are they doing it for God?
“and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” Colossians 2:11-13 NASB1995
“The working of God” is what’s going on here. This baptism Paul speaks of isn’t man’s work it’s God’s work. Therefore it can’t be works salvation at all when God is the one doing the parts that matter.
So when we see elsewhere that baptism saves you it’s best understood that it’s God’s work saving you by giving you faith just as he does when the Word is preached back in Romans 10:17.
“Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”1 Peter 3:21 NASB1995
Mr Baptist: Well there’s a few things I need to say about that. First off the verse you cite in Colossians isn’t about water baptism at all it’s about being born again, the thing water baptism is only symbolic of. Secondly, Peter actually says the water isn’t what saves you if you keep reading that verse.
Mr Armchair: While one can receive faith by other means like I said earlier, and thereby be born again as you say, the verse I cited in Colossians actually says Baptism in it and since there’s only one Baptism (Eph 4:5) and you yourself quote Jesus words when you perform a water baptism (Matt 20:28) then it’s certainly fair to understand Paul as citing water Baptism in Colossians as there is no other Baptism with which to cite.
To address your second point Paul doesn’t say you’re saved by baptism but not by baptism. He says you’re saved by baptism, not by this part of it that you see but by this part of it that you don’t see. To read it your way I’d have to read appealing for a clean conscience as the act that saves and besides cutting his sentence in half that would also be works salvation in your view wouldn’t it?
Mr Baptist: No, baptism is something you choose to do. It’s a work. We are not saved by works.
Mr Armchair: So babies choose to be baptized?
Mr Baptist: No. There are no examples of infant baptism in scripture!
As you can see this example ends there. This isn’t always the precise end point but it’s a contender for the most common. Usually I see no point in circling back to ground already covered.
Once your conversation does that it means either you weren’t clear or they aren’t understanding and unless there’s an obvious way of breaking past that it’s time to call it quits.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m some kind of debate guru. I’ve gotten out of my depth before. For example, if someone is super fluent in the original languages I will usually concede that I’m more interested in reading their debate with someone on their level rather than having one.
In my experience Reformed Baptists will usually be alot sharper and produce better debates than this example. They will generally appeal to their systematic instead of to their culture and that can branch into a variety of directions.
You have to make them focus on the verses that they like to steam roll over with their systematics. Otherwise you just end up in a systematic slinging contest from different traditions and that’s no fun.
This one just gives the reader an example of a conversation with random baptist of the day. I hope it was at least amusing and that maybe you saw something here you’ve missed before.
Feel free to share your experiences in the comments if you like. Also, should you find yourself in a similar conversation feel free to drop this link at the start and ask your baptist friend which part he or she wants to skip ahead to. May save you some time.