This post will look at the third and last position discussed in Baptism: Three Views. First, Dr. Bruce Ware used a (truncated) systematic theological approach to defend believers’ baptism. Then Dr. Sinclair Ferguson used a biblical theological approach to defend infant baptism. Now Dr. Anthony Lane will use a historical theology approach to defend what he called the dual practice approach.
Here is not what he means- most Reformed paedobaptist churches do not bind the consciences of credobaptist members. They do not exercise church discipline for not practicing the doctrine of the church. Most often such members are not eligible for office, however. Some baptist churches also recognize the infant baptism of members, refusing to bind their consciences. Those members often are not permitted to hold office due to their divergent views. This is not “dual practice” per se, but extending grace to those who differ on a non-essential.
Dual Practice occurs in denominations, or congregations, that have no official practice but allow freedom to parents on the issue of whether or not to baptize or dedicate their children. When I was between pastoral calls, I was open to considering the Evangelical Free Church since they were considering removing pre-milennialism from their statement of faith. But they eventually decided to keep that, ruling me out. Congregations there are free to practice each according to the theology of the pastor & lay leaders. In the Evangelical Covenant, mentioned by Ware, they officially practice both based on the desire/convictions of the parents. Ware was opposed to this, seeing it as binding his conscience. As a good Southern Baptist, he has no problem binding the conscience of others forcing them to be baptized if they want to become members. My mother-in-law was forced to do this to join an independent Baptist church. So his comments come across to me as hypocritical.
Back to Lane’s views. He states that Marcel’s defense of infant baptism (which was very helpful to me) led him into believers’ baptism. And then Beasley-Murray’s book led him into dual practice despite the author’s intention. He sounds to me to be a contrarian. The NT texts, he says, teach a converts’ baptism. Baptism, in his view, is part of the conversion process and that there is not true conversion without it. He believes the NT is silent on the issue of infants, and believes that this could be part of a biblical practice of converts’ baptism. He thinks that some household baptisms involved infants, but this is not conclusive.
He turns to church history to argue his point. He uses what he calls a seismological approach. By examining what is going on later in church history we can make some educated guesses about how we got there. This is different than Rob Bell’s trajectory theology where you guess where Paul might be on an issue now, which assumes Paul’s views (or the rest of Scriptures) are culture bound on moral issues. What Lane wants us to see is that people argued for both delaying baptism and for baptizing infants. But these arguments were based on pragmatic concerns, not on the basis of principle. Some of these arguments were based on some bad theology (baptismal regeneration for instance). So, he argues, that churches in the first few centuries practiced both infant baptism and believers’ baptism. They do not seem to be divided by region. The practices, he thinks, are along side one another.
“The silences are there to leave the church liberty to vary its practices to suit different circumstances.”
He makes some silly comments along the way, trying to differentiate between paedobaptists who see it as part of the conversion process for children, and those who see it as the complete process for children. I’m not sure who the latter are. Even Rome, which holds to baptismal regeneration, believes that after the elusive age of accountability post-baptismal sins are an issue.
Like Ware, Lane restricts himself to the New Testament. Why is the Old Testament not instructive? Boys were circumcised on the 8th day, and then they were instructed. Deuteronomy 6 makes this clear. The book of Proverbs is for the instruction of young men, and begins with the call to faith. Proverbs is practical wisdom rooted in a life of faith. The pattern is there in Scripture, just not in the precise place they want to see it. I’m reminded of Francis Chan’s new book promo applying Isaiah 55 to various topics.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
We might not think to apply a sign of righteousness by faith on an unbelieving child, but God did (Genesis 17). We might not think to look for what God says about church practice in the OT, but God puts it there (2 Tim. 3; 1 Cor. 10). We need to humble ourselves and think His thoughts after Him, instead of sitting in judgment upon that Word or putting our standards upon it.
“Paedobaptists bear witness against the individualism of the postmodern age and point to God’s dealing with families. Infant baptism bears witness to God’s prevenient grace, to his work in and through the community. Baptists by contrast bear witness against the scourge of nominal Christianity and remind us that in the strict sense God has no grandchildren. Believers’ baptism bears witness against the dangers of a second hand faith, whereas infant baptism can lead those raised in Christian homes to imagine that they are already Christians and do not need to make a personal response of faith.”
My problem with the end of that quote is that it separates infant baptism from the ministry of the Word. Reformed & covenantal paedobaptists do not neglect the call to personal faith. The Bible teaches it, and so do we. The baptism of infants does not make them grandchild, but calls them to faith that they might become His adopted children.
Ware’s response is two-fold. First, he takes issue with Lane’s seismological approach. He finds it invalid. He also invokes sola scriptura, even though he also uses historical arguments. Lane does not see history as equal to Scripture but uses it, like the Reformers did, to see how other Christians understood Scripture. I may not agree with Lane’s conclusions, but I don’t think he relied too heavily on history. Second, Ware believes that practicing both would violate his conscience. He doesn’t want to baptize any babies because there is no command to. But, interestingly, he dedicates babies in worship services even though there is no command to do so and the only examples are under the Old Covenant. Yes, that was an observation I made near the beginning of my transitional phase. They substitute a practice that is clearly not biblical for one that they think isn’t.
Ferguson is not convinced that diversity of thought and practice can be used to prove dual practice. They are not the same thing and should not be confused as such. He wonders who should make the decision? Are we really to think there is no clear norm and it is a parental free for all?
“For his contention seems to be that the churches were neither credobaptist churches nor paedobaptist churches, but credopaedobaptist churches.”
Lane’s views are interesting, and part of a middle way theology which seeks to make everyone happy but actually makes no one happy. His arguments are not compelling. At least the credobaptist argument is partially compelling if all you have is the New Testament. But Lane’s approach is more about compromise than clear thinking. We do need to extend grace to brothers and sister who disagree on this issue. But churches should have some clear practice when it comes to this issue.
So there you have it. Baptism: Three Views was a very good book and the interchange was helpful at times to get these men to clarify their points. Lane, like Ferguson, recognized the power of presuppositions. Ware may too, but he may also be in denial about his own. He really didn’t address that. At times some of the authors merely dug their heels in and stuck to talking points rather than seeking to remove misunderstandings. But I found it a worthwhile contribution to the discussion, and Ferguson’s essay alone worth the price of the book. But I may be prejudiced.