For What It's Worth: This Paedo is Not Offended

My friend Mark Dever says that baptizing infants is sin. Mike Bird and others are offended and Mark has replied. I’ve received a few emails about this. Frankly, I don’t understand why folk are in high dudgeon. Mark is a Baptist and as such thinks that we paedobaptists (who haven’t been re-baptized) are unbaptized and it is sinful to remain unbaptized. Now, as a principled paedobaptist (baby-baptizer) who started his Christian life as a evangelical Baptist, who came to his views through biblical theology and exegesis, and who is comfortable with the history of the doctrine, I’m quite convinced that the Baptists are wrong, but Mark is right that it’s sinful to remain unbaptized. Further, if he’s right about baptism, he’s right to say that we paedobaptists are sinning. I’m not offended. God bless Mark Dever for taking the holy sacraments seriously and for taking the doctrine of the church seriously. Hang in there buddy.

What I’m about to say is not by way of retaliation. What I’m about to say here is what I’ve said to Mark privately. As a principled paedobaptist, it is not too much to say that believing parents who refuse to baptize covenant children are sinning. This is, after all, what the Reformed Confessions teach. The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Q. 74 says:

74. Are infants also to be baptized?

Yes, for since they belong to the covenant and people of God as well as their parents, and since redemption from sin through the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as the sign of the Covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is instituted.

Art. 34 of the Belgic Confession (1561), one of the confessions of the Dutch Reformed Churches says in part,

For that reason we detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers. We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children.  And truly, Christ has shed his blood no less for washing the little children of believers than he did for adults. Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, just as the Lord commanded in the law that by offering a lamb for them the sacrament of the suffering and death of Christ would be granted them shortly after their birth. This was the sacrament of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, baptism does for our children what circumcision did for the Jewish people. That is why Paul calls baptism the “circumcision of Christ.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith, 28.4-5 says:

4. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

5. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

A recent essay in the Westminster Theological Journal has argued quite reasonably and plausibly that the best interpretation of Art. 5 is as a reference to Baptists. Recall that the Particular Baptists had published a confession of faith in 1644, three years before the WCF was finished. The divines were well aware of the growing Particular and General (to speak anachronistically) Baptist movements.

Evidently it is not fashionable to say that it is sinful not to baptize one’s children. I understand that, but consider this scenario: A Gentile comes to Abraham,

Convert: I’ve heard about your God Yahweh Elohim and have come to believe that He is, in fact, the true God and that the gods of the nations, the gods I formerly served, are nothing but idols. I want to identify with this people, I believe Yahweh and I want to be admitted to His covenant people.”

Abraham: “Yahweh bless you my son. He has given you the grace of trusting in Yahweh and in His promised Savior (John 8:56). I too was a Gentile before God gave me faith in the coming Messiah and the sign and seal of His promise, the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. When Yahweh revealed himself to me He instituted the sign of circumcision to be applied to believers and to their children. As a mercy, I will sharpen the flint rock as well as possible.”

Convert: “I can understand how I should take the sign, but why should my children also receive the sign since they are but infants and we cannot be sure they believe?”

Abraham: “God will have it so. He promised, “I will be a God to you and to your children.” This is the promise of the eternal covenant of grace. They are to be admitted to the administration of the covenant of grace. We trust that by Yahweh’s sovereign grace they too will trust in Yahweh and that the sign will become to them a seal, a promise that just as their schmuck has been removed so too their sins have been removed by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Messiah alone. It is a great sin to refuse to initiate your children into the covenant of grace. Indeed, Yahweh says, “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

According to Reformed theology, the same promise that God made to Abraham is still in force. Indeed, in the New Covenant all the types and shadows having been fulfilled by Christ, the sign of baptism is to be applied to believers and all their children, males and females alike (just as both sexes come to the Lord’s Table). Peter says so in Acts 2:39.

The point here isn’t to make the case for infant baptism but to say that a certain view of the sacraments is of the essence of the Reformed understanding of redemptive history and revelation; it is essential to our (covenant) theology, piety, and practice. We may be wrong but it’s what we believe the Word to teach. We have a moral duty, as Mark does, to confess the Word and teach it.

I’m not offended. Mark is a good friend, a very good scholar, and a churchly gentleman. God bless him and may he embrace the faith of Abraham with us. I stand ready to baptize his children any time he wishes.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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    • They were only strangers so long as they remained uncircumcised. Abraham was a stranger until he was circumcised.

      Gen 17 says:

      “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

      The language of vv. 10-14 is quite comprehensive. Anyone in the visible covenant people had to take the sign. So Abraham did in v. 23: “On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him.” (see also v. 27)

      Exod 12:48 addresses this situation specifically:

      “If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to Yahweh, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.”

      Circumcision was the typological sign and seal of initiation into the visible covenant people. It was applied to believers and to their children. According to Paul, in Rom 4, Abraham’s faith was counted/reckoned to him as righteousness:

      “How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

      The question is whether the covenant promise and pattern instituted in Gen 17 is still in effect. Paedos believe that Paul here and elsewhere (Col 2:11-12) teaches that it is still in effect, that the New Covenant is new relative to Moses and not Abraham. The Mosaic covenant is fulfilled and abrogated but the Abrahamic covenant, while the typological (illustrative) circumstances (bloody circumcision) are fulfilled, the substance of the Abrahamic covenant remains in force as per Gal 3-4.

  1. Exo 12:43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it,
    Exo 12:44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him.
    Exo 12:45 No foreigner or hired servant may eat of it.
    Exo 12:46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.
    Exo 12:47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it.
    Exo 12:48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.
    Exo 12:49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

  2. The Exodus passages as well as the Genesis passages only include those who became or where brought into the household. What of the stranger who did not become part of the family? That is, Melchizedec was a High Priest, but not of the household of Abraham, the only ones who were pressed to be circumcised where 1. those who intended to become not strangers, or 2. those who were bought from strangers and became by purchased members of the family. But, your example is of Abraham where no provision is made for a believer in Yaweh who remained a stranger outside of Abraham’s band, and it does not include those who were believers outside of the Mosaic covenant, i.e. Balaam (no matter what may be said about him, he was from beyond the river, a true believer and real prophet of God though in great error and likely part of a greater cadre of like minded believers as in the case of the wise men who came to Jesus or even of those of Abraham’s time who dwelt in Padam-Haran of who Abraham sent to get a bride for Isaac who were not circumcised but still of the promised children. Beyond that, the elect are gathered from the four corners and are not limited to the house of national Israel anyway nor are necessarily descended from Abraham, either.

    Here’s the problem. The Abrahamic covenant has two distinctly different circumcisions. Abraham’s was different than Isaac’s. Isaac’s was not the sign of the covenant in the same sense as that which Abraham recieved. For Abraham’s was looking to his faith already established, and Isaac’s was that of promise and was not of faith necessarily, for his was given also to Ishmael who was not counted in the promise, for “in Isaac shall your Seed be blessed.”

    Therein is a problem for covenantalism. The sign of circumcision which was instituted in Abrham’s children is not a sign of inclusion in the covenant but a sign of promise for only those who are in Isaac, i.e. His Seed. In that sense, Abrham’s circumcision would only be applied to believers, and was spiritual and hidden, and that only when they believed, for his could not be applied to anyone but him. It was an outward sign of the inward reality signifying Christ in him. Issac’s on the other hand was only the proclamation of the faith that Abraham had and was not a sign of inclusion in covenant, for faith is not corporate but individual. It cannot be, and never was the case that the faith of the parent is transferred to the child, but as Jesus said, unless one is born again he, singular, not corporate. And promise is of faith and not of potentiality but of sureness and certainty.

    As I began, there is no scenario where a stranger coming from outside to faith in the God of Abraham was ever required to be circumcised. It simply doesn’t exist. The only thing that you have established is that within the Abrahamic framework and within the Mosaic framework that these things were true. I find it interesting that you would make Abraham a stanger to God before his circumcision. God’s friendship with Abraham began decades earlier and his circumcision as Romans remarks comes after his faith. God says: “and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” The lands of sojourning were already given and the sign of the covenant is given between Abraham and God after the promises are already his. As this Scripture indicates, the sign of circumcision if post dated in Abraham, but the sign in his children signify it and not their inclusion in it but the promise of it and that in a negative way. The fact is that the circumcision was given after Abraham’s transgression foretelling of John’s remarks, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” It is a sign of exclusion, showing that by the actions of a progenitor a man shall not inherit the kingdom, shall not be part of the covenant.

    In the case of Ishmael, the covenantal sign was clearly a sign of exclusion. This is furthered in the NT where circumcision of the flesh is signatory of exclusion, that is, the outward sign yields nothing in reference to the covenant. In fact Galatians makes it clear that external practice as the means of attaining to the promise is anthema. John begins his Gospel by excluding the “bloods”. So, in reality, the signatory in Isaac is at best negative signifying that by this way no one is included in the covenant. Abraham’s was a sign after belief, that which comes before is a sign of unbelief as long as it is held that by submitting to it makes one in covenant. The reality is that the outward is only a type and in the case of Isaac, not a type of the circumcision into covenant, but a type pointing towards Abraham’s circumcision, that is his faith, his circumcision of heart. Isaac’s circumcision signifies exlcusion by works of the law and points toward inclusion only by the grace of the Spirit. What a difference, then. To cast baptism as circumcision into covenant actually signifies the law by which no one can be saved. Likewise, baptism into covenant, rather than regneration by the Spirit into convenant by the circumcision of Christ, can only accomplish the same condemnation. Baptism does not place us into covenant, but as Abraham’s circumcision, is a sign of having already been born again into the covenant made before time began.

    Something tells me that John is not really being paid close attention here. Nor is the story line of Abraham. Once more. Neither Isaac’s nor Mose’s circumcision was a sign of inclusion, but of exclusion, as John said, it is not by bloods, but by the will of God, for Abraham was not circumcised to be in covenant, he was in covenant and that is why he was circumcised. He was in covenant because he was already born again, not because he would be some day. And his children’s circumcision did not place them into covenant, but pointed to the way by which one is.

    The Romans passage then proves the exact opposite of what you have taken it to mean. And, if it is the case that the Abrahamic covenant is still in affect as you believe, then I suggest that you baptize after belief, because that is what Isaac’s circumcision signified.

    • Two different circumcisions? Really. On what basis do you say this? This screams “special pleading” and “a priori.”

      I’ve never heard this argument.

      “Covenantalism”? You mean like, “This is MY COVENANT” and

      “This is the NEW COVENANT” in my blood?” that sort of “covenantalism”?

      Have you read G. Vos, Hebrews: Epistle of the Diatheke?

  3. Let a Baptist be a Baptist and a Presbyterian be a Presbyterian I say.

    But it appears that even with the revival of predestinarianism or “Calvinism” or “The Doctrines of Grace” (or whatever label we wish to apply to that phenomenon,) that there are many in both camps who just aren’t that sure when it comes to ecclesiology or think the issue to be relatively unimportant. I’ve found that a good many also aren’t convinced that the Bible speaks clearly on some of the issues.

    Indignation or outrage over Mark Dever’s or Scott Clark’s statements is a sign of the doctrinal indifference and in some cases, immaturity of our age.

    It seems that throwing out the “s-bomb” or “h-bomb” when when we believe that the practice of others clearly contradicts Scripture just isn’t politically correct these days. I mean, we wouldn’t want someone’s feelings to get hurt….

  4. Dr. Clark,
    What would you do if non-believing (no credible confession of faith, no attending the means of grace, etc.) parents came to you asking for their child to be baptised?

    • Phil,

      If they were outside the visible covenant community, I would call them to repentance and faith. Depending upon their attitude I would either emphasize the law (were they stubbornly defiant) or the gospel (did they show evidence that they were acutely conscious of their sins). I would point them to Christ and call them to faith. I would exhort them to unite with a true church and to receive the sign and seal of the covenant of grace themselves (if they had not yet received it).

      Should none of this avail, I would turn them away. as I have done throughout my ministry, until they profess faith and unite with a true church. I would continue to pray for them to see their sins and to trust Christ, as we always do.

        • Hi Phil,

          Well, there are two options. 1. Have another Reformed minister do it. This works if there is a nearby Reformed minister handy. 2. Do it yourself under the supervision of the elders. This is how we baptized our children. It was done, as usual, in the morning service. I read the form, an elder read the questions (if memory serves (I was pretty nervous), and then I performed the baptism.

          The first option is probably ideal, but it wasn’t possible for us, so we went with the second.

  5. Great post Scott. I totally agree that if Dever’s theology of baptism is correct, then his attitude is a correct one too.

    I find his argument about there being no scriptural texts positively advocating infant baptism inconsistent. I can’t find a text where the young brought up in Christian homes are commanded to be baptized as believers, so touche.

  6. Let a Baptist be a Baptist and a Presbyterian be a Presbyterian I say.

    Amen to that! I’m not offended either. I listen to Mark Dever’s sermons on my iPod every week and will continue to do so. At the same time my wife and I are looking forward to having our infant son baptized with the sign and seal of the covenant next month. And for what it’s worth to my Baptist friends, a couple Sundays previous to our son’s baptism several of our youth will be baptized for the first time, upon profession of faith and completion of a communicant’s class.

  7. Phil asked, What would you do if non-believing (no credible confession of faith, no attending the means of grace, etc.) parents came to you asking for their child to be baptised?

    I don’t mean to answer this so much as ask another question: is it conceivable that someone who doesn’t care about the faith would want his child baptized?

    But a more interesting question might be: how scandalous would it be to the credo-baptist to suggest that, in the event of their death, when I take custody of my brother’s and SIL’s unbaptized kids I would seek their baptism? Should I make it clear to my brother that naming me as his custodian would entail this? Am I being presumptuous or a consistent paedo? After all, if I name him as my custodian I should probably keep in mind that he will encourage their re-baptism at some point.

    • Actually it happens quite regularly that people want their kids baptized who have no credible faith in Christ.

    • Hi Zrim,

      Yes, Benjamin is right. When I was in Kansas City, people would show up at church during the week (but not so much on Sunday!) to ask me to marry them or baptize their children. Either they view the sacrament as magic or they have a cultural memory or a family memory about baptism. If they let me I would try to explain the significance of baptism but typically they viewed me as a magician and a dispenser of religious power.

      • I forgot about cultural memory and magic. And I call myself a Calvinist.

        I’m still curious if there are any credo’s out there who think I’d be doing something scandalous by baptizing my brother’s kids once they came into my custody?

  8. Professor Clark, here’s a timely article on paedo-baptism within the Church of England that bears upon this discussion. Do you have any thoughts? Click here.


    “read the news report at Times Online about nurse John Hunt who is trying to get his baptism into the Church of England rescinded

    Dr Hunt does not want the Church of England to enjoy special privileges based on 25 million members counted by baptisms carried out on babies when, judging by church attendance of 1.1 million, most of these grown-up babies no longer profess.”

    • Well, according to Paul, baptism and circumcision (Col 2:11-12) both point to the circumcision/crucifixion of Christ, hence the intimate connection in Paul’s mind.

      Given that connection then I’d say to the fellow: good luck unringing that bell!

      That said, as a Yank and a believer in 2 kingdoms, I don’t have much sympathy with state-sponsored religion. The civil magistrate should have nothing to say about baptism and there should be no state church. Baptism and the supper are signs and seals of the covenant of grace not of the civil kingdom.

  9. Scott,

    You say Acts 2:39 teaches that the “sign of baptism is to be applied to believers and all their children.” If we read Acts 2:39 in context, including Acts 2:38, isn’t baptism connected to repentance? All those who repent are baptized and the promise for our children (and those who are far off and everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself) is that if they repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ they will be forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It seems that this passage can not conceive of baptism apart from personal repentance and regeneration by the Holy Spirit (“the gift of the Holy Spirit”). The promise to our children, etc. is that if they repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus, they too will be forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Have I misinterpreted this passage?

    God bless,


    • Nick,

      The short answer is: No more than circumcision was. All your objections would overturn infant circumcision, but there it is. God commanded infant circumcision.

      See the paper on baptism and other resources linked above.

  10. If you’re interested in this topic, then you might well be interested in audio from a debate between reformed pastors on how to handle “Baptiterians”: “Reformed Baptists” who seek membership in a Presbyterian/Reformed church without having to baptize their children. That debate, as well as others, can be found at this link.

  11. Nick,

    “You say Acts 2:39 teaches that the “sign of baptism is to be applied to believers and all their children.” If we read Acts 2:39 in context, including Acts 2:38, isn’t baptism connected to repentance? All those who repent are baptized and the promise for our children (and those who are far off and everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself) is that if they repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ they will be forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    I think that isn’t the best interpretation for at least two reasons:

    i) If Peter meant that the “you and your children and all who were far off” was all people whoever, and all people whoever had “the promise of the Spirit”, then why was Peter so shocked that the gentiles received the Spirit a few chapters later? I mean, on your interpretation, didn’t he just say that the promise of the Spirit was for them of they repented because he meant “all men whoever” back in Acts 2?

    ii) Historically: There is a Western text that has an interesting variation. It is a gentile text and it reads “Be baptized for the promise is for us and our children.” Witherington points out that this change was probably made in 150 A.D. This seems to suggest that Peter meant his statement to refer to the Jews. Witherington offers some speculation that this may be the earliest extra-canonical reference to infant baptism. Why would the Gentile churches change the passage if it was just obvious that Peper meant what modern-day baptists think he meant with his statement? At any rate, the historical point may not be persuasive to you, it is to me…I find it fascinating, so that’s why the exegetical point was made above.

  12. Count me as another paedo who’s glad Dever said he thinks paedobaptism is a sin, just as I consider non-baptism of covenant children a sin.

    One of my best friends is strongly Baptist and he and I have had lots of debates on the subject. One evening I told him how much I appreciated our sharpening discussions because if he’s right I’m in sin and if I’m right he’s in sin. He tried to say “no I don’t think that”, and I reassured him that it was good and proper for him to consider the other baptismal practice sinful. Because we both are Christians, this fact means that God will save the erroneous one despite his error, or maybe both of us if the oil-using Pentecostals are right 😉

    What this conversation did is increase each other’s humility and caution in talking about this. The fact that one of the positions is sin means that both of us need to know what we believe and why we believe it, to quote WHI. It also means that we won’t just brush the discussion aside as unimportant.

  13. This is only partially related to baptism, but I want to know if Reformed churches baptize older children after their parents are saved. For instance, if a husband and wife trust in Christ and they have a eighteen year old son, do they baptize the son?

    Also, why do most Reformed churches not admit baptized children to the Lord’s Supper?

    If you can direct me to an explanation, I’d really appreciate it.

  14. Scott, thanks for this, and thanks for helping temper some of my irritation over this matter. I do have the greatest respect for Mr. Dever but have been irritated at his stance ever since that whole incident with Piper and Bethlehem where Piper was trying to grant some kind of dispensation to paedobaptists. Am I right in understanding that Dever’s and some other baptists position is that they will not serve communion to those who have not been baptized as believers by immersion? In other words, if you or I or Ligon Duncan showed up at his church would we not be allowed or at least be advised to not take communion? If that is the case then isn’t this tantamount to saying that I do not recognize you as a brother in Christ? I used the word “tantamount” here because I am sure that Dever would not say that, but it seems to me that this is the logical conclusion of where he is going. It seems odd to me that one could accept someone as a “brother” at something like T4G but not on Sunday morning in the local church. Is there something I’m missing here, dots I’m not connecting?

    • Hi David,

      Well, I appreciate the intent at Bethlehem Baptist but I sympathize more with Mark’s theology and practice.

      Our practice at OURC is a little different than some, but we follow the Church Order of the Synod of Dort and we administer communion only to those “profess the Reformed religion.” We require communicants to be a member of NAPARC or some other confessional Reformed/Presbyterian body.

      By so restricting the table we are not declaring that no one else is a brother but that we have a doctrine of the church. We can make judgments about various churches/congregations. We recognize that there are believers and brothers/sisters in all sorts of irregular congregations but we cannot simply ignore that irregularity.

      As a gesture of fellowship, Mark just invited me to cross-post my post to the 9Marks blog! So, we’re on good terms. I regard Mark as a brother and he so regards me, but we disagree deeply about the sacraments and the church.

      Why should a Baptist want to commune with a group of people that are, according to his lights, unbaptized? Why should Reformed folk wish to commune with people who don’t regard them as baptized?

      What’s more offensive? Mark’s convictions or those who marginalize the doctrines of the church and sacraments?

    • If the credo’s really believe they are correct then they would also be correct in denying communion to us pedo’s. As a committed Reformed follower of Christ, I happen to believe that all Baptist churches are not true churches and do not administer the Sacraments correctly.

      That doesn’t mean there are not elect in their churches, but I do feel their churches are out of communion with The Church.

  15. “Evidently it is not fashionable to say that it is sinful not to baptize one’s children is sin. ”

    -How would the URCNA handle a case where a person did not submit to God’s covenant doctrine and did not have there children baptized? Doesn’t God’s Word speak in terms of an uncircumcised child being “cut-off” from his people? Would then logically cut-off language apply “bloodlessly” for now the sacrament looks back to Christ in baptism?
    It seems by context God sought to kill Moses for not having his child circumcised: God relented after the deed was done via Moses wife.

  16. I appreciated your reply, Scott. I think that one of the things that gets lost in the baptism conversation is that the whole credo-paedo debate is really a debate over the nature of the church.

    For the Baptist, he believes in the ideal of a regenerate church membership; in order to preserve a pure church, he tries to limit membership to those who give credible evidence of regeneration; and these are the only ones who should be baptized.

    For the Reformed, he believes that the church’s membership is made up of professing believers and their children; that God works through households and gives promises to believing household heads; and that God graciously gives a sign to authenticate his promises to the household head and his/her seed.

    The Baptist tries to merge together the church that God sees (i.e. the invisible church) with the church that he/we see (the visible church). The Reformed tend to want to say that the church we see on Sunday morning–parents and children worshipping God–is the visible church and may be different from the church God sees.

    As a result of all this, I’ve felt (and argued) that Baptist ecclesiology is inherently sectarian because it suggests that they have a pure (nearly eschatological) church and that they (alone) have true baptism. Dever’s comments point in this sectarian direction; it is consistent for him to say what he did. Thankfully, he doesn’t act in ways consistent with his theological position.

  17. This is a very nice article. Thank you for posting and for letting all of us know that there are people like you out there. It is difficult to get into these kinds of conversations, you know, knowing about others’ religions. Not that it really matters, a person is a person, and it really doesn’t matter what their background is, if they are kind to you and to others once you meet them. Yet this stil remains a hot topic in my mind since it defines our upbringing most of the time. I say most of the time because I was baptised a greek orthodox but my mother was an atheist and she did it to make some of the family members hush for potato’s sake! But for parents who really belive in this, it is very important to install (?) a type of “education” that will provide everyone with the choice once old and mature enough to realise what religions mean. No one is BORN a christian or a muslim or a buddhist or a hindu or a taoist or a polytheist… We ar eall born atheists and taught the social aspects of religions with their background myths.

    Best regards,

  18. David Wayne,

    Mark Dever’s church does allow Presbyterians who are members in good standing of an evangelical church to take communion, so he would not turn away you, Dr. Clark, or Dr. Duncan.

  19. What’s more offensive? Mark’s convictions or those who marginalize the doctrines of the church and sacraments?

    I’m sheepish when it comes to the “culture of the offended.” But I think the right answer here is that latter is what is indeed so frustrating. And I have to admit, some of the effort to go out of one’s way to make sure we all know we think the other guy is smart, nice, believing and handsome can tend to nurture such marginalizing.

    That said, the former (Dever’s original words) are still cause for squirming. He sets paedobaptism within a list of things he can’t live with along side “racism.” First, how is this any credit to anybody to say he’s intolerant of racism? Do others actually go around saying, “I can live with racism”? It’s like saying, “I really can’t stand rudeness, dumb decisions and, um, laziness.” I’m not sure how profound that is, especially since we’re all given to rudeness, bad decision making and laze…and racism. And does the absence of sexism mean he can live with that?

    Second, is he implying that paedobaptism is tantamount to racism? I’m still not given to whiny-o-sity, but this does push the limits of wisdom. While I do appreciate his strong conviction on baptism (however misguided), I hope I’d never imply as a paedobaptist that credo-baptism was indistinguishable from racism.

  20. In addition to the conversation between Abraham and a Gentile convert, I would add this conversation between the apostle Peter and a Jewish convert after his Pentecost preaching:

    Jewish convert: God has pricked my heart and I’m convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. I now believe that my good works avail nothing, and he died on the cross for my sins. I now repent of my sins and self-righeousness, and as a sign of this repentance, would you baptize me?

    Peter: Yahweh bless you my son. He has given you the grace of trusting in Yahweh and in his promised Savior (John 8:56). I too believed that I was righteous because of my good works before God gave me faith in the coming Messiah and the sign and seal of his promise, the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. When Yahweh revealed himself to Abraham, he instituted the sign of circumcision to be applied to believers and to their children that they are now part of God’s covenant community. But in the new covenant that Jesus instituted, the bloody sign of circumcision has been replaced by an unbloody sign of water baptism. As a mercy, I will baptize you with the rest of your 3,000 brethren. Are you willing to wait?

    Jewish Convert: Praise Yahweh for this blessing. When I get home, I’m going to tell my family about Jesus so they too would repent and believe and receive water baptism as a sign that they are now part of the God’s new covenant community. Can I bring them back to you so they will also be baptized as you commanded?

    Peter: Please bring only your wife and your teenage children.

    Jewish Convert: I don’t understand. Aren’t you going to baptize all our children?

    Peter: No, our Lord commanded us not to baptize infants and little children because only those who believe and repent of their sin should be baptized.

    Jewish Convert: But… but… all my children were part of the old covenant people. Why are they being excluded in the new covenant? I thought that you said that Yahweh started pouring out his Spirit on ALL flesh today, and that this promise is for me and for my children and even for Gentiles who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

    Peter: Sorry, but our Lord strongly forbade us from baptizing infants.

    Jewish Convert: You mean to say that you’re willing to baptize Gentile people, but not our covenant children?

    Peter: Yes. All who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sin receive eternal life and the sign of water baptism. Infants cannot profess faith and repentance. Sorry.

    Jewish Convert: But our children received the sign of circumcision when they were only eight days old. They didn’t have to profess faith and repentance to be circumcised!

    Peter: Sorry, I can’t do anything for your infants.

    And the Jewish convert and all the other Jews started a riot in all Jerusalem. And word spread throughout Judea and the world that Peter and the other disciples of Jesus were teaching that their infant children were excluded from God’s covenant people. And the 3,000 Jewish converts renounced their faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

  21. A question not beng asked is:

    But are baptist churches “true churches” according to BC 29:

    The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church– and no one ought to be separated from it.

  22. I received this from another URC member:

    FYI, I was listening to Mark Dever on Iron Sharpens Iron (, Wednesday, March 18, 2009, or go directly to, and he indicated that his church forbids visitors who are members in good standing of paedobaptistic churches and who were only baptized as infants from partaking in the Lord’s Supper.

    I suppose a paedobaptistic counterpart would be to forbid those who are members in standing of baptistic churches and who have not had their infant children from partaking in the Lord’s Supper.

    In our church we invite all who are members in good standing of any true church to partake in the Lord’s Supper. We also honor the authority of the elders of any true church by forbidding those who are under discipline from partaking in the Lord’s Supper.

  23. I am ,no doubt, something of a mavrick since I have been pastoring an independent confessional Reformed church going on 16 years now. Mode of baptism is not an issue with us. Baptists as well as paedobaptists are actively involved in every aspect of our church life. We celebrate the Lord’s Table weekly and only fence the Table from unbelievers and people of questionable orthodoxy. I am perplexed that in Devers church fellow Calvinsts like a RC Sproul or a David Wells would be prohibited from coming to the Lord’s Table while a Baptist Arminian like Roger Olson (who is stridently hostile to confessional Reformed theology) would be welcome all because he is a Baptist! Something every wrong with this picture even if it is the out working of a cohesive principle.

  24. Our church has hosted the PCRT on a couple of occasion, the last time Lig Duncan preached on Sunday morning and officated the Table. Having reflected on this a little more, if Devers had been here on that occasion and if I had know his position I would have instructed him before the service to not participate. He may well have refrained anyway because a Presbyterian was presiding, but I would have told him anyway.

  25. Gary,

    Do you have any Lutherans or Anglicans? While the question may sound strange, it would seem to make more sense that you’d have those who descend from the magisterial Reformation instead of those who don’t.

  26. Zrim
    We actually have people from all over the ecclesiatical map-sorta like immigrants that flooded into Geneva. We have patterned our liturgy after Calvin’s- in fact everything we do resembles the kind of service one would have encountered in the three parish churches in Geneva, with one major exception-the preaching isn’t as good.

    • Gary,

      Humility is a virtue.

      Wouldn’t you agree that as perplexing as Dever’s fencing of (paedo) Calvinists but admission of (credo) Baptists may be that, it actually shows some measure of consistency?

      Also, if you have (credo) Baptists do you have any (paedo) Communionists (both of whom claim a lot of Reformed orthodoxy but whose sacramental theology says otherwise)? I know the latter may not be as ubiquitous or broadly sanctioned as the former, but that might just be a matter of time.

  27. Zrim
    I am of the opinion that Calvin would have consider Devers’s position highly problematic and probably run him out of Geneva regardless of Devers sincere claim to be a ‘Calvinist’!

  28. Gary,

    Quite agreed. That’s probably because Calvin didn’t take well to Anabaptists. But at least his Anabaptists were a lot less confused than ours who seem to think they have found a whole number between 4 and 5. Calvin may have been more perplexed than anything. But I suppose if the modern age can produce “3 or 4 point Calvinists” (2 or 1 point Arminians?) then Calvinist-(credo) Baptists shouldn’t be too surprising.

  29. A couple of themes that keep popping up in the discussion are consistency and offense of lack thereof. I am not sure that either of these are really relevant to the whole discussion, and am wondering if someone might explain why they seem to be so important?

    Dever may be “consistent” in his views and practice, but being consistently wrong seems worse than being inconsistently right. Consistency seems like a non-issue when what is really true is being discussed.

    To agree with Dr. Dever, being willing to admit they we all think of one another as failures, and then denying offense seems more Zen than zealous. It appears to be more like a submission to the notion that there are two truths, because the underlying assumptions about what the Gospel really IS are actually different; baptism issues are simply symptomatic of these differences. Dr. Clark, you intimated as much. This is, in my mind, the real issue that needs to be addressed. How can the two camps truly work in unison for the “Gospel” when at root the conceptions of that Gospel differ at the very foundations?

  30. “…In the New Covenant all the types and shadows having been fulfilled by Christ, the sign of baptism is to be applied to believers and all their children, males and females alike (just as both sexes come to the Lord’s Table). Peter says so in Acts 2:39.”

    Dr. Clark, since this topic is front and center again (ala the link in the update of your latest post), I would be very grateful if you would see fit to address the recent comments I made regarding Acts 2:38-39 on your blog, here:

    I am sincerely interested in how you exegete the peadobaptist position from this text, and in knowing what objections you might have regarding my own exegesis of it.


  31. Dr. Clark,

    As this is your website, you can certainly respond to or ignore whatever comments you please. Nonetheless, given your complete lack of response over a period of several days to my repeated inquiries regarding the supposed relation of Acts 2:38-39 in proving the Reformed case for infant baptism, I am left to ponder the following possibilities:

    1. Perhaps you have no convincing means of defending the way this passage is typically used by peadobaptists (including, on numerous occasions, yourself).

    or, 2. perhaps our extreme disdain for all things “baptistic” (which, despite your apparent relationship with men like Rev. Dever, is readily apparent to the point of being downright palpable) compels you to stick your nose up in the air, so to speak, and simply ignore them. (I am not the first person to suggest this either.)

    or, 3. perhaps you are animated (or not) by some combination of these two things.

    Like I said, you definitely have a right to do as you please in this, but people will understandably draw their own conclusions based on such a conspicuously hostile disposition.

    BTW, and quite ironically, I also have to say that I find your attitude about not wanting to even commune with Baptists, or to allow them to under any circumstances be members of a Reformed church to be both QIRCy and quintessentially Anabaptistic – i.e, advancing the notion of building a so-called “pure” visible church – unless of course you would go so far as to deem all baptistic churches, ideas and adherents “false” Christian entities.

    I hope and pray that someday you may come to see the extremist nature of some of your positions in this area. Else-wise, may Gos bless you and your more worthy ministerial pursuits.

    • Charles,

      I’ve been really busy. I don’t have an administrative staff to help me with email and further there are about 60 million Baptists who’ve never heard anything about Reformed theology and the prospect of explaining it individually (which is what Baptists seem to expect) to each one is more than a little daunting.

      I’ve written a great deal about Baptism here and elsewhere.

      Have you read it all?


      Here’s a resource post:

      As to my view being QIRC-y well, I didn’t write the Belgic Confession (1561). It was the Dutch churches who confessed that “we detest the error of the Anabaptists.” I agree with ALL the Reformed churches in the 16th and 17th centuries, none of whom allowed those who denied infant baptism to unite with Reformed churches. I agree with the Synod of Dort that only those who confess “the Reformed Religion” shall be allowed to commune.

      As to who is excluding whom, well, my friend Mark Dever says that neither I nor my children are baptized. I’m not offended by that but it seems if we’re going to go about taking offense that denial of our baptism is sufficient ground, wouldn’t you think?

      Since this is largely a Baptist country it seems that few baptists ever come into contact with actual Reformed theology and when they do it’s a little shocking. I understand.

      Take some time. Do some reading and then we’ll talk.

  32. Wow. Thank you for your response, Dr. Clark. I must say that I didn’t expect this at all. I may have misjudged you in some ways…Please forgive my impatience.

    “Take some time. Do some reading and then we’ll talk.”

    Actually I have already done very extensive reading on the Reformed argument for infant Baptism (or, TRAIB, as I sometimes abbreviate it) over the last 10 years (quite literally dozens and dozens of books, pamphlets, articles, etc.). That effort has included going through most of your articles that you pointed me to. I would venture to say, simply as a matter of fact, that I am probably more extensively versed on this topic than the vast majority of Reformed paedobaptists in the pew – as well as some paedobaptist ministers, quite frankly.

    Also, I have already stated before that I do not agree with the common Baptist exclusion of paedobaptists from their communion, or their diminishing misunderstanding of its sacramental purpose and role (i.e that it is a true means of spiritual grace which supernaturally confirms and strengthens faith in believers – as do other means of grace like rightly partaking in the Lord’s Supper, hearing and believing the faithfully preached Word of God (especially this – Romans 10:17), and true worship and prayer.) I believe men like Rev. Dever are simply wrong in these things. In short, I do not consider myself a Baptist in the full-orbed sense that that term is typically used.

    While I still have numerous questions on numerous aspects of TRAIB, if you are really serious about discussing such things with me, may I suggest that we start with the various issues related to the exegesis of Acts 2:38-39 that I laid out in detail before?

    This passage is a cornerstone argument in TRAIB, but I simply don’t find the highly inferential argument that since Peter used the phrase “and your children” like God did with Abraham in giving him the covenant of circumcision, this then establishes the fact that infants are to receive baptism as well. IMHO, such a theory simply doesn’t hold up under a careful study of Peter’s actual statement and its actual context. Again, the object of the promise in view is clearly not baptism or the right to receive it – quite the contrary. Baptism, along with repentance and God’s electing grace are given as being necessary conditions for receiving the promise (i.e., as you yourself once put it, “salvation,” as would be denoted here by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit). Peter then says that all this is applicable to the elect, whether they are part of his immediate Jewish audience, succeeding generations of their offspring, or gentiles. To read more than this into the text, or to selectively separate its various components by bypassing the plain syntax, as I believe the typical Reformed use of it in our present context does, is highly problematic. And yet this is one of the primary proof-texts that the lean on?!

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