Obviously I’d rather not err at all.

But if I had the choice, I’d prefer to be among mistaken Baptists than mistaken paedo-Baptists.

Although Baptists do not see their children as members of the “covenant community,” most of my Baptist friends do at least as good a job at “covenantal parenting” as paedo-Baptists!

They don’t call it that, of course, but they do it, and usually do it very well. They may not apprehend all the promises, blessings, and privileges of covenantal parenting, but at least their children know that they are “dead in trespasses and sins” and that they need to be born again and converted to Christ. Their parents teach, train, and discipline them accordingly, reminding them of their privileges under the Gospel and warning them of their greater responsibility as a result.

Baptists ducks
That looks like covenantal parenting to me – if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

The Baptist “error” is perhaps more in the area of spiritual psychology – the parents don’t have as much confidence, hope, and optimism (notice I’m not talking of cast-iron-guarantee) that God will bless these appointed means for the conversion of their children.

The children don’t suffer loss. But the parents sometimes do – in that they do not enjoy so much peace from God’s covenant assurances.

Presumption errors
If Baptists sometimes suffer from a lack of confidence, paedo-Baptists can suffer from over-confidence, or more accurately, false confidence. They often presume their children are already Christians and raise them as such.

This can take the form of baptismal presumption, recently articulated by Gene Veith, a Lutheran I highly respect:

The faith that begins with baptism then grows and matures, fed by the “milk” of God’s Word, as the child grows into adulthood, and continuing thereafter.  (That faith can also die if it is not nourished, which is why someone can have been baptized as an infant but then reject the faith and become an unbeliever in need of conversion.)

Parenting Presumption
While most Reformed believers will shudder at the thought of saving faith being imparted at baptism, an increasing number seem to believe that Baptism + Christian parenting will automatically do the same thing. As long as children are baptized, raised by Christian parents, taught by Christian teachers, trained in Christian behavior, and don’t reject Christianity, it is presumed that they are Christians.

I don’t see too much difference between baptismal presumption and parenting presumption. Both presume that the baptized children of Christian parents are born again. They only differ in when. In the former it’s identified with a point in time; in the latter, it’s usually more vague. In the former it’s associated with water; in the latter it’s associated with parenting.

Huge Difference
This presumption makes a huge difference to our parenting. Instead of repeatedly telling children that they are born dead in trespasses and sins and need to be converted to Christ (my own childhood experience of Presbyterianism), they are told, “You are a Christian…act like one.”

Increasing amounts of external discipline and rules are then used to conform the children to Christian norms, and as long as they match up externally, they are told and assured that they are believers. Sounds a lot like the Judaism of Christ’s day doesn’t it! And we know what He preached to the presumptuous then, don’t we (John 3: 1-16; John 8:33-45)!

But what if these baptized children are still “in the flesh” and “of their father the devil?” The parents have great confidence (though it’s often more in their parenting skills than in the grace and power of Christ), but the children are unregenerate and going to hell. They may look and act like true Christians, but they’ve never been told that they need new hearts, that they must be born again, and that they must be converted. That’s for those unbaptized heathen outside the church.

Lower confidence better than false confidence
That’s why I’d rather err with the Baptists. During my parenting years, I may not enjoy the same degree of confidence in God’s promises, but at least my children don’t suffer eternal torments through my false confidence in my parenting skills giving them false confidence that they are saved.

  • http://timeforthought.co.uk Alan Wilson

    Thanks for this. I am a credo-baptist and yesterday witnessed my first (Irish) Presbyterian child baptism – evangelical convictions were very clear throughout.

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  • Rob Schouten

    Is your point of view in harmony with the various baptism formularies of the Reformed churches? It seems to me that all of them, with one accord, want us to think of the baptized children of believers as God’s children who should be taught that they ARE Christians.

    • http://www.faithpcacheraw.org Jason Van Bemmel

      Rob, as a confessional Presbyterian, I think you’re mistaken: The Reformed Confessions do teach that covenant children are members of the church and are children of the covenant, but this does not teach or presume regeneration or salvation. It is more concerned with covenant administration and the place of children in the household of faith, the church.

      Even if Reformed people say their children are “God’s children,” this does not mean they are born-again believers but rather that God has put His covenant promise on them and claims them as His own. That does not mean that they have come to repentance and faith and salvation, but it does mean that we should work toward and expect to see such fruit in their lives. They are born sinners, but they are not in the same place with God as the children of unbelievers. They are not outsiders, strangers to God’s covenant promises.

    • David Murray

      Rob, it’s certainly in line with the Westminster Confession, my own confessional standard. My children are blessed to be raised within the Christian community, and to be outward members of the covenant family of God, but the name “Christian” I reserve for those who have been born again and been converted to Christ (see 28.5&6). Jason puts it quite well below.

      • http://barach.us John Barach

        David: You say that what you write is in line with the Westminster Confession, and perhaps that’s true. But the same divines who wrote the WCF also wrote the Directory for the Publick Worship of God, in which we find the following:

        “That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: THAT THEY ARE CHRISTIANS, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized….”

        Now, that’s not a confessional statement, but it does indicate something of the mindset of the men who wrote the WCF. They had no problem calling all their children “Christians.”

        • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

          Yes, John, they are Christians in the sense that they are not Muslims. They are Christians in the same sense that Nicodemus was a Jew in John 3 – members of the visible church. Like Nicodemus they are highly blessed and privileged. Like Nicodemus, without something far more and deeper than that, they will never see the Kingdom of heaven. I’m sure you make that distinction. My problem is when “Christian” is regularly used without any distinction or qualification whatsoever.

  • http://www.gospelgrace.net/ Luma Simms

    Thank you for this post! It grieves me now to go back and think of how often I used to tell my children “you are a Christian…act like one” and then parenting to get the result. I’ve lived this. No parent intentionally wants to fall into presumption, but we do, for many reasons.

    Your post had my husband and I discussing whether or not this is a pastoral problem or a theological problem. We don’t want to treat a pastoral problem as if it was a theological problem, or vice versa. We have no answers right now, we continue to think on it.

    • David Murray

      Luma, I think it’s both a theological and a pastoral problem. Confused theology makes for confused pastoring and preaching.

      • Rob Schouten

        Our Reformed ancestors had no trouble calling their children “Christians.” I don’t either. See H.Oliphant Old’s book on the Reformed Baptismal Rite of the Sixteenth Century. The prayer at the end of the “Form for the Baptism of Infants” used in most Reformed churches with Dutch roots reads as follows: “Almighty, merciful God and Father, we thank and praise you that you have forgiven us and our children all our sins through the blood of your beloved Son Jesus Christ. You received us through your Holy Spirit as members of your only-begotten Son, and so adopted us to be your children. You sealed and confirmed this to us by holy baptism.” I would say that on the basis of this Form (echoing Scripture), we may and must teach our children that they are forgiven sinners who belong to Christ. I believe that we have fallen away from the high doctrine of baptism reflected in Old’s book and in the Form for Baptism.

        • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

          Rob, most of the men I’ve spoken to about the “Form’s” phraseology interpret these words differently to you, especially in light of the whole Form.

        • Ron B

          Dear Mr. Schouten, I just happened to browse into this web site and noticed your Comments toward Mr. Murray’s Blog. I have never heard of Mr. Murray or you before. Allow me to become your child for the last 30 or so years. If I would have been baptised in your Church, according to your comments I would be considered a “Christian”, from that day. But you would agree with me that the “Reformed ancestors” did not have the power or right to pass that priviledge on to me. Instead you would agree that was their perogative to pass on that tradition. Their are other things you mention that do not pass on that power or right; those would be : H.Oliphant Old’s book on the Reformed Baptismal Rite of the Sixteenth Century.:The prayer at the end of the “Form for the Baptism of Infants : The Reformed churches with Dutch roots : What we may and must teach our children : The high doctrine of baptism reflected in Old’s book and in the Form for Baptism.
          None of that man thought up, paralled, Assumed, Traditionalized, Rite’s, or wishes of the parents or Pastors will ever cross the barrier of my inner hearts faith. If I believe then the door to my heart is open to the Spirit of God. If I conform to teaching, then I am a parrot and not a Christian. The Spirit of God does not leave it up to me to judge my heart, if it be true in belief or not. He Himself reserves that right to HIM alone and not man or Baptism or Creed or any “Feel Good” trappings of a religious community. In Genesis 15 Abram Believed in Adonai and HE credited it to him as as righteousness. God who does not change can see my heart as well as my Children. But my desire for them to have salvation cannot be credited by me or any ritual I wish to impress God with. Frankly HE is not impressed with anything that we do. It is when my Children open the door that he knocks on THEN, it is for God to judge the entry way. And so be it.

  • Philip Larson

    Growing up as a Baptist, I would suggest that there is a loss to the children. In my family and church (my dad was the minister), the emphasis was on what I *did* regarding the Evangel. So it seemed, at least in my upbringing (and in many others I’ve known), credobaptism was incipient Arminianism.

    I’m not claiming that credobaptism implies Arminianism, only that they are highly correlated in practice. May God bless all those parents who avoid this connection.

    • David Murray

      Philip, I see that as a problem with Arminianism rather than with credobaptism. It’s common in Arminian paedo-Baptist circles too.

  • David Murray (Isle of Lewis)

    Hmm. I see your point but I still wouldn’t say I would rather err with them. You focus on one error that is prevalent in liberal Presbyterianism, and granted it is a serious one. But I think liberal Baptists come with their own errors that could surely be equally serious?

    I also thought that presumption is a prevalent problem among the liberal churches across the board, and wouldn’t have thought this would necessarily be much more prevalent in Presbyterian churches.

    I’d also say that parents should bring up covenant children as Christians, in the sense that it is more of a surprise to them if the child rejects Christ. That doesn’t contradict anything you’ve said I don’t think. It’s part of the optimism.

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    • AJ

      David (Isle of Lewis),

      I believe the contradiction is in the perspective. You say, “optimism”, while Dr. Murray has rightly called it, “presumption”.

      If you truly follow your prescription:

      “I’d also say that parents SHOULD bring up covenant children as Christians, in the sense that it is more of a surprise to them if the child rejects Christ.”

      you are presuming, practically speaking, that the child IS regenerate – this is practical baptismal regeneration (or worse, conceptional regeneration). This smacks of salvation being biological, even national, sounds like patriarchal Israel. Birth = new birth.

      Another inherent problem that plagues this presumption is the issue of evangelism, Christians don’t need to be evangelized. The logical progression is that children of believers then, don’t need to be born again, it was enough for them to be born – they are not lost or dead in sin because their parents are believers. They only need to maintain their salvation by continuing to behave and perform like Christians.

      As to Mr. Larson’s point, I’m not sure which is more Arminian:

      The Baptist tells his child,”Repent and be Baptized. Seek Christ for cleansing relief. Believe in Christ for your salvation!”.

      The Peado-baptist tells his child, “Don’t be a covenant breaker. You were born in Christ so don’t reject Him. You were born into the church, make sure you keep the rules to stay in it.”

      • Joshua Smith

        Yeah, that’s a fair characterization. You make the Presbyterian say stuff that sounds just like an Arminian approach–but that is not at all entailed by paedo-baptism.

        Paedo-baptist: “My child, you belong to Christ: trust in Him, seeking forgiveness for your sins every day, and walking in His commandments. (Reads 1 Cor. 10:1-3).”

        Credo-baptist: “My child, you have to be sure that you have faith. Work hard at having faith and maybe God will love you enough to let you get baptized someday.”

        See? Putting words in the mouth of your opponent isn’t an argument.

    • David Murray

      David, I know in Scotland, it’s more associated with liberalism but in North American the problem of presumptive parenting is widespread in conservative reformed circles. I raise my children as sinners (not as Christians) who are privileged to be in the covenant community hearing the Gospel promises. As such, I am optimistic that they will become Christians by God’s sovereign grace and mercy.

      • Jake

        Dr Murray,

        Just a slightly different twist here…

        As padeo baptists we aimed to raise our children ‘knowing’ that they are sinners and also knowing that our parental responsibility within the context of the covenant was to train them ‘in the way that they should go’, which is essentially to train them to live as Christians would live… all within the covenant community as place of learning. We too were optimistic that they would become Christians by God’s sovereign grace and mercy. When they did become Christians, because of their training (as flawed as it was) they were more equipped to live a Christian life of thankful gratitude in response to that free and sovereign grace. This ‘head start’, as it were, in thankful Christian living is also a privileged of covenant community membership.

        • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

          No problems with that, Jake. It was my own experience growing up.

      • David Murray

        Ah ok.

        Sorry I should have explained what I said before posting. Of course I don’t mean that covenant children are saved by default.

        What I mean is that you raise the children to be believers, rather than in the hope they one day will be. You expect them to believe. The shock is that they don’t and not that they do. It’s not presumption by any means. It was my minister Kenny Stewart who I heard this from. I hope I made it clear.

        • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

          Optimistically expecting them to believe is quite different in my mind to raising them as believers.

          • David Murray (Isle of Lewis)

            Yeh I know, I think it is a matter if using different terms to say the same thing.

  • Mark du Preez

    It appears to be rather a strange apriori trade-off

  • http://homeschoolonthecroft.blogspot.com/ Anne

    Yep, I’m joining you on this side of ‘erring bench’… if I *have* to choose one side!

    I think I’ve mentioned here before of the prevalence I see of this way of thinking in books, blogs and articles I read. They (mostly) come from the USA, but that could simply be that this is where most of the volume originates. The stuff I read also (mostly) comes from serious-minded, reformed Christian circles.

    Even some authors from whom I have gained wonderful insight into topics like parenting give me the impression that our children are ‘Christians’ and they must be taught, albeit in a loving way, to act according to what they are.

    Hmmm … Until my children are/were saved, I pray they do *not* act according to what they are… because they were ‘shaped in iniquity, and conceived in sin’ (Psalm 51). They ‘must be born again’, as surely as the ‘heathen’ must.

    Is this to say I have no more hope for their eternity than I would for any Tom, Dick or Harry? Not at all. I have wonderful covenant promises in Scripture, and I must plead them daily. But at the same time, if their salvation was to rest on anything I have done, or their father has done, then I would weep bitter tears of sorrow. Though I love to have God’s promises, yet my hope is in His mercy, and in His mercy alone.

    “Ye must be born again”. Yes you, my precious children. As surely as Nicodemus had to, so do you.

    • http://homeschoolonthecroft.blogspot.com/ Anne

      Oh, and lest that comment makes me sound ‘anti-American’, nothing could be further from the truth (as all who know me will testify!). I suppose the reason I come across the teaching mentioned in this post is that I spend so much time listening to/reading American preachers and authors. It’s precisely *because* I am blessed so often by them that I also so often come across this ‘presumptive parenting’.

  • http://asmallwork.posterous.com Ryan


    What a great post. Thanks for writing it! Lots to think about and pray about as I think about my two young daughters.

  • http://www.frcpp.org Jerrold Lewis

    “Presumptive Parenting”, very well said David. Keep up the good work.

  • Alan Davey

    Then there’s more nuanced views, for example, reformed baptists, who see their children as members of the covenant community, cherish God’s promise “for you and your children”, hope and trust that their children will grow up repenting and believing, urge them so to do, expect and look for credible signs of a real living faith and look forward to the day when their children are baptised on profession of their faith.

    • http://homeschoolonthecroft.blogspot.com/ Anne

      I know this isn’t Facebook, but may I *Like* this? ;)

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      I think I mentioned ducks, Alan!

  • Ed

    You say:

    “I may not enjoy the same degree of confidence in God’s promises”

    There’s a real problem here. Whatever God promises you can have, ought to have, FULL confidence in. God’s promise is to be believed, not enjoyed. It is impossible to presume on a real promise. It is presumptuous to say that God will do LESS than He has promised though. The problem is assuming that YOUR BELIEF saves you rather than the Spirit. If you believe the promises truly, then you are a believer. If you do not believe the promises, i.e. “Do not enjoy the same confidence (confidence means “with faith”) you are just saying that you do not have faith in God’s promises to your children. Then you are an unbeliever. The weakness is in you not God’s promise.


  • Ed

    Let me add that I do see a good bit of presumptive parenting. But it is based on some of your concerns that you mention: “just act like a Christian” But the “acting like a Christian” is not really acting like a Christian biblically defined, but training children to “be nice” That is not what the promises of God are all about.

  • http://afaithfulheritage.blogspot.com Nathan Brackenridge

    Please forgive me, but I do not find any warrant for presuming or calling the children (baptized or not) of Christian parents “covenant children, God’s Children, or the Church in scripture. If there were ever any “covenant children” in the Bible, it would be the Jewish Pharisees, who Jesus called Children of the Devil. All the rituals in the world, biblical or not cannot make a person regenerate. That is the work of the Spirit of God. It is this regeneration that make someone a true child of God and a member of the Body of Christ (the church). I do believe with David that err can happen on both sides. At my first Philadelphia conference of reformed theology on Adoption, there was a Q&A session in which someone asked the question “How could I have ever been considered a child of the devil if I was baptized as a covenant child in the church?” This person assumed they had never been a child of wrath or the devil because she had always been in the church through baptism. This concerns me greatly. Are we not all born depraved and unable to save ourselves? Are we told that we must be born again? Are we saying that baptizing our children some how persuades God to save them a little more than His already predetermined plan? These are important questions that I seek to have answered and am very open too.

    • Ron B

      Abram Gen. 15 Believed in Adonai and HE credited it to him as as righteousness. God who does not change can see my heart as well as my Children. But my desire for them to have salvation cannot be credited by me or any ritual I wish to impress God with. Frankly HE is not impressed with anything that we do. It is when my Children open the door that he knocks on THEN, it is for God to judge the entry way. And so be it.
      So Then Adonai, became a man, Yeshua, HE becomes the Entry Way, and the Way to faith, and the Way to Belief, He is the Mystery of the WAY. Only HE can judge it. Rest in that Mystery.

  • Chris Engelsma

    It seems the older divines were able to embrace both presumptive regeneration and yet still raise their children as sinners. Check this link out: http://books.google.com/books?id=kmAJAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PR11&ots=W4mkOzM0xH&dq=sacramental%20catechism&pg=PA46#v=onepage&q&f=false

    • David Murray

      Guess that goes to show that you can be old and not divine.

    • http://www.frcpp.org Jerrold Lewis


      You might enjoy Samuel Rutherford’s Covenant of Life Opened where he speaks of how our children “Are in, and not in, the Covenant of Grace.” Even older than our beloved Willison, and his wonderful book on the Lord’s Supper. LOVE that book BTW.

  • Dave

    I think in fact its merely a difference of where the baptism falls in the chronology than any actual practical difference in the mindset.

    Many Baptists do show extreme overconfidence in their own efforts and in the influence of the environment they place their children in rather than a recognition of the importance of the gospel in parenting.

    Church involvement, baptism (either infant or “believers”) christian school, isolation from all things “worldly”, all these things perhaps have value, but they don’t ensure anything and in some ways are counterproductive to the gospel reaching kids hearts. I see exactly the errors you describe in most Baptist families, I think its more a question of where baptism falls in the order.

  • Flora Compton

    Thanks for touching on a topic that concerns us greatly i.e the assumption that God’s promises are absolute and that proper training and education will confirm ones children ‘christian’. It ties in with what you previously wrote about the lack of evangelistic preaching in North America. If ministers are unconcerned that those in front of them may be unregenerate and going to a lost eternity, they lack the fervour in their preaching and prayer that the Lord uses to bring conversion. I find the distinction between ‘Evangelical’ and ‘Reformed’ disturbing. The preaching in the Free Church of Scotland that I was nurtured and converted in was ‘Evangelical’ undergirded by the doctrines of the Shorter Catechism and Westminster Confession of Faith. I resisted learning so much Catechism and memorising Scripture but what a blessing to have so much doctrine and Scripture in my head awaiting the illumination of the Holy Spirit when I came to saving faith at the age of 24 years.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Flora, I agree with the link you make between presumptive parenting and the lack of evangelistic preaching.

  • http://www.ayrfreechurchcontinuing.co.uk Gavin Beers

    I get the point you are making. It is perhaps helpful in one direction but not in another. Let me throw another argument into the mix in regard to ‘Presumptive Parenting.’

    We are to presume nothing. Presumptive regeneration is wrong, so is presumptive unregeneration. We treat our children as members of the visible Church and preach the whole word of God to the whole man as we do to other members of the visible Church. We press them with commands to repent and believe and we press them with the duties of the Christian life. As members of the visible Church they are called not only to repent and believe but to bear the reproach of Christ, our theology is mixed up and confusion will result if we fall into Baptist presumptive unregeneration.

    What I describe above is the the only view in my opinion that balances the promises of the covenant to our children and their membership of the covenant community (not just privileged to be among the covenant community hearing the Gospel etc), and the fact that they are sinners in desparate need of a saviour and the new birth.

    Presume nothing. Yet, in parenting your children be positive, not complacent. I’d rather just be a presbyterian.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Gavin, this is the first time I’ve every read anything from you that left me confused! On the basis of the doctrine of total depravity, I believe in presumptive unregeneration. I presume my children are unregenerate by being conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity. I combine that with a high optimism that a merciful God will bless the means of grace to their salvation in His own time and way. I think that is Presbyterianism.

      • http://www.ayrfreechurchcontinuing.co.uk Gavin Beers

        David, I am surprised it tooke me so long to confuse you! I am a touch confused by your confusion however.

        To try and untangle it:

        Your presumption would have been wrong in the case of John the Baptist, David, (likely) Jeremiah, and all those covenant children throughout history that God chose to regnerate in the womb or in infancy. Reformed Theology has always regarded such as a signigicant class. The doctrine of Total Depravity which you posit as the basis of your view of presumptive unregeneration in no way necessitates your position. The only thing it necessitates that we presume is that regeneration is necessary.

        Others wrongly presume that all covenant children are regenerated. On this we agree.

        My point is that both presumptions are wrong. I am encouraged with your optomism in relation to the promises given to our children. Must our optimism only concern the future, does it only kick in when our children are old enough to exercise their wills? This is a concession to Arminianism and is like the erroneous theology of the Disciples who did not wish mothers to bother Jesus with infants. Jesus said however ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven’ i.e. this kind or class of person is in the kingdom of heaven. Our optomism is therefore not only confined to what God might do in the future but what he may already have done in the past with respect to regeneration.

        I will add this caution however. It is clear that many covenant children, the majority even, are not regenerated in infancy. We need to keep this in mind when we deal with our children. This is not the same however as wholesale presumptive unregeneration.

        See this link which describes the view which on the whole I would espouse.

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  • http://www.thinkgospel.com Aaron Dunlop

    Great post, well said David. Thank you for seeing beyond the “theological debate” to the enormous practical implications.

  • Ben Thorp

    I would regard myself as a credo-baptist (neither of my children were baptised, although we held dedication services for both of them). However, I do have an issue with the hard line that (most? all?) Baptist churches take with regards to membership/participation. I have had friends who were very hurt to be placed in a situation where they either had to go against the deeply held convictions of their parents, or the deeply held convictions of their adopted church. I’m not even sure if I would myself be accepted as baptised, because I was baptised at 12 years old, and wasn’t baptised by immersion. And yet I am very firm about my process of salvation, and of my choice to be baptised.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Yes, Ben, I know others in that same situation. It can be very painful especially if there is no other Gospel church in the vicinity.

  • Frederika

    It’s great to see some of my friends responding to this thorny issue which probably will not be solved on this side of heaven – and then it won’t matter. My husband and I were born and raised in the line of Reformed ancestors who did not presume salvation. They would not join a church and/or seceded from a Reformed church where these truths were not preached. These (conservative and “experiential”) Reformed churches base their understanding on the truths rediscovered at the time of the Reformation by Calvin, Luther, etc. and taught in the Reformed Confessions (Belgic, HC, Canons of Dort) and which were discovered again in movements such as the Second Reformation and the Secessions of the 1800s. Our ancestors as far as we can trace them (we can vouch for our parents and grandparents) denied themselves so they could raise us under sound Reformed preaching and send us to Christian schools that did not teach presumptive regeneration – and warned us against this teaching. We, as grandparents, support our children and grandchildren in this teaching and education and are so thankful they are under preaching in Reformed churches where salvation is not presumed, but they are taught they must be born again and have a personal walk with the Lord. I have to say, therefore that the title, “I’d Rather Err With the Baptists” rather hurts me. Sadly, there are historical reasons and there is literature to explain what happened in the mainline Reformed churches. The answer is not to become baptist as the title seems to suggest, but to re-discover our rich Reformed and Presbyterian heritage, of which Matthew Henry is one of my favourites when it comes to his view on infant baptism. I recommend reading him and you will be deeply moved by the Lord’s goodness in offering His grace to children born into the covenant yet have to be converted when they learn to understand what that means. That is what broke my rebellious heart – the Lord came to me first while I spurned Him and He pursued me from my earliest childhood. That is why I could never fall for easy-believism – a problem that is not imaginative in baptist churches.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Definitely, definitely not suggesting anybody should become a Baptist, Ricky. As the title says, I believe Baptists err on this question. Simply saying that if I had to choose between raising children in presumptive regeneration churches or Baptist churches that preach the Gospel to children, I’d choose the latter for my children’s sake. If I had to choose between two errors I would choose the lesser. Thankfully, like yourself, I’ve never had to choose and pray that I never will. I’m very grateful to be raised in churches, and to raise my own children in churches, that baptize children AND preach the Gospel to them. To whomsoever much is given, much shall be required.

  • Connor

    The following statement (although non-binding) was agreed upon by the Free Reformed and Heritage Reformed churches in 2007 (taken from public redords). It may shed some light on the topic:

    a. The Covenant of Grace is with believers and their children, Christ being its Mediator. Acts 2:39,3:25; Gal. 4:28; Heb. 12:24
    b. Our children as members of the Covenant, are subject to its blessings and curses. Gen. 17:7; Ex. 20:2; Deut. 28; Ps. 127:3; Mat. 8:12; Rom. 3:1,2
    c. We do not hold to presumptive regeneration, but expectantly plead for the fulfillment of the Covenant promises, which takes place in the way of regeneration, personal repentance and faith in Christ, worked by the Holy Spirit.
    d. There are two kinds of Covenant children. All Covenant children possess an external holiness, which becomes internal and soul-saving upon regeneration and conversion. Jer. 9:26; Ezek. 16:20,21; Rom. 9:6,7; 11:18-23; 1 Cor. 7:14
    e. It is possible for the Covenant to be broken through disobedience and unbelief. Jer. 31:32; Rom. 10:20,21; Heb. 4:2
    f. The Covenant of Grace is founded on and inseparably connected to the Council of Peace or Covenant of Redemption, which is an agreement among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with regard to the salvation of the elect. Ps. 40, 89
    g. The covenant congregation includes believers, but also those who are hypocrites, presumptuous, self-righteous, careless and indifferent, i.e. all, including children, who have not yet come to faith and repentance. Mat. 7:21-23; 25:1-13; Luke 8:4-15; Acts 8:13; Rom. 16:18; 1 Cor. 16:22; 2 Cor. 2:15-17; 13:5,;Gal. 4:11; Eph. 4:21; Rev. 3:1

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Very helpful, Connor. Thanks.

  • http://barach.us John Barach

    May we not say of our baptized children what Paul says about those who are baptized:

    Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

    Our children were baptized into Christ, and therefore we should be able to tell them that they were baptized into His death, buried with Him through baptism, so that now they should walk in newness of life. (See also Col 2:11-12).

    Galatians 3:26-28: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    Our children were baptized into Christ, and therefore, following this passage, we may (must!) tell them that they have put on Christ.

    1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into[a] one Spirit.”

    Our children were baptized and Paul teaches us here that it was the Spirit who performed that baptism and thereby brought them into one body (which, as the context shows, is the body of Christ, the church). It’s interesting to notice that the Westminster Divines took this verse to refer to entrance into the visible church, judging by their footnote to WCF 25:2; 28:1.

    Notice, too, how the Great Commission applies to our children. In the Great Commission, Jesus sends out His church to make disciples — by baptizing them into the name of the Triune God and teaching them to observe all the things that He has commanded. Our children have been baptized. They have undergone the first step of disciple-making. Now, the church’s calling is to teach them to observe all the things Jesus commanded, that is, to raise them in the light of their baptism and their belonging to the Triune God.

    Finally, it’s valuable to notice how Paul deals with children in his epistles. He addresses them as one of the categories found in the congregations to which he writes. Just as the wives and husbands, fathers, slaves, and masters are included in the audience he calls “you” throughout the letter, so are the children.

    They were part of the original audience. The Colossian children heard Colossians read to them and didn’t think that when the reader said “you” he was talking about some sector of the congregation that didn’t include them. They were included — and they knew it because Paul, in the midst of addressing the whole congregation — said something to them specifically.

    And so our children are to be the current audience of these epistles. We could, for instance, read Colossians to our children, applying to them all the “you” statements and assuring them that these things are for them in Christ.

    That’s how pastors ought to address their whole congregations, men, women, and children — saying to them the things Paul says, the way Paul says them.

    In short: This is who you are — you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God; you were buried with Christ in baptism and raised from the dead with Him; you have stripped off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man which is being renewed — and so be who you are in Christ.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      From my previous comment: Our children are “Christians” in the sense that they are not Muslims. They are Christians in the same sense that Nicodemus was a Jew in John 3 – members of the visible church. Like Nicodemus they are highly blessed and privileged. Like Nicodemus, without something far more and deeper than that, they will never see the Kingdom of heaven. I’m sure you make that distinction. My problem is when “Christian” is regularly used without any distinction or qualification whatsoever.

      All people, especially members of the visible church, are obliged to follow God’s standards. But they never will without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

      I’m presuming that whatever we understand by these “baptism” passages, that we all understand the need for something more than mere water baptism to be saved?

      The same Paul who wrote these passages also wrote Romans 2, and especially Romans 2:28-29, which if I may paraphrase: He is not a Christian who is one outwardly; neither is that baptism which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and baptism is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

      Just as in the OT, the apostles follow the prophets in calling the visible people of God to go much further than rest in their external privileges. Circumcision of the heart was required in the OT. Baptism of the heart is required in the NT. They are the same thing and are the sovereign work of God alone.

      It’s a mistake to interpret some of these NT passages that speak of internal spiritual baptism as referring to outward visible baptism. That’s to confuse the work of the Holy Spirit with H2O.

      • http://barach.us John Barach

        You write: “It’s a mistake to interpret some of these NT passages that speak of internal spiritual baptism as referring to outward visible baptism. That’s to confuse the work of the Holy Spirit with H2O.”

        I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re saying. These passages all speak about *baptism*, which is a ritual involving water. None of them give any indication that they are speaking about some “internal spiritual baptism” that affects our hearts without getting our skin wet at all — unless we accept the question begging argument that says “These passages can’t be about water baptism because water baptism can’t do what these passages say baptism does.”

        In short, baptism is baptism. If one wants to argue that the baptism in question is not in fact the ritual involving water, one must demonstrate that from the text.

        Furthermore, Paul’s whole point in these texts depends on baptism being the “outward” ritual.

        Take 1 Cor 12. Out of all the passages I cited, this is the one for which one could most easily make the case that Paul is talking about a “Spirit baptism,” since he says explicitly “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

        But is Paul talking about some dry, waterless, ritual-less inward “baptism” performed by the Spirit and tantamount to regeneration? That’s certainly not the way the Westminster Divines read this passage; they saw it as speaking of the ritual by which one is brought into the visible church.

        But the context, too, indicates that Paul is not talking about only a certain number of people in the congregation. Rather, the context, which has to do with mutual relations in the church, indicates that Paul is talking to every member of the congregation. We are all one body with gifts to be used in mutual service, and we are to accept each other, even though we are so different. This is not an exhortation for those — whoever they may be — who have received the “inward spiritual baptism” to accept others — whoever *they* may be — who have also received the “inward spiritual baptism.” This is not an invitation to examine each other’s hearts who find out who might actually be part of the body that one is committed to serving. Rather, it is an exhortation for each member of the church — the visible church, as the Divines recognized — to accept every other member and to see himself as gifted in order to serve those other members. How would he recognize those other members? They shared the same baptism he did.

        But what about the reference to the Spirit? Doesn’t that indicate that Paul was talking about some inward work as opposed to some “external” ritual? Not at all.

        Just as through the marriage ceremony (which is a manmade ritual, not spelled out in Scripture) it is God who joins two people together (“What God has joined together…”), and just as in the Lord’s Supper (which involves the physical eating of bread and drinking of wine) it is God, by His Spirit, who nourishes us with the body and blood of Christ, joining us to Him and to one another so that we who are many become one bread, one body (1 Cor 10), so in the ritual of baptism the Spirit is the one at work, bringing people from outside the church into the one body, the body of Christ, which is the church (1 Cor 12).

        Returning to our children: Just as no child in Israel should ever have doubted that he was part of the chosen nation and that he had all the privileges but also the responsibilities of that nation, so our children should be assured that they, as much as their parents, are members of the church, which really is the body of Christ. They are in Christ and they are to live in Him, responding to Him in faith, and we can teach them to sing to God with Psalm 22: “You made me trust while on my mother’s breasts.”

  • Jerry Fryer

    That last comment from John B was great. Trying to figure out if our children are elect or regenerate is counterproductive. What we as parents look for is childlike faith and trust. It’s that simple.

  • Jeremy Sexton

    John Calvin applied the name “Christian” to baptized children. Consider the first four lines of Calvin’s “Instruction in Christian Doctrine for Young Children,” composed in Strasbourg in 1538-9:

    TEACHER: My child, are you a Christian in fact as well as in name?
    CHILD: Yes, my father.
    TEACHER: How is this known to you?
    CHILD: Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    It seems to me that you actually are making the Reformed Baptist error.


  • Todd Robinson

    I do think a response to Pastor Barach is in order. Doesn’t the Bible mean what it says?

  • http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com gary
  • gary

    Why is the New Testament silent on Infant Baptism?

    Baptist/evangelical response:

    The reason there is no mention of infant baptism in the New Testament is because this practice is a Catholic invention that developed two to three centuries after the Apostles. The Bible states that sinners must believe and repent before being baptized. Infants do not have the mental maturity to believe or to make a decision to repent. If God had wanted infants to be baptized he would have specifically mentioned it in Scripture. Infant baptism is NOT scriptural.

    Lutheran response:

    When God made his covenant with Abraham, God included everyone in Abraham’s household in the covenant:

    1. Abraham, the head of the household.
    2. His wife.
    3. His children: teens, toddlers, and infants
    4. His servants and their wives and children.
    5. His slaves and their wives and children.

    Genesis records that it was not just Abraham who God required to be circumcised. His son, his male servants, and his male slaves were all circumcised; more than 300 men and boys.

    Did the act of circumcision save all these people and give them an automatic ticket into heaven? No. Just as in the New Covenant, it is not the sign that saves, it is God’s declaration that saves, received in faith. If these men and boys grew in faith in God, they would be saved. If they later rejected God by living a life of willful sin, they would perish.

    This pattern of including the children of believers in God’s covenant continued for several thousand years until Christ’s resurrection. There is no mention in the OT that the children of the Hebrews were left out of the covenant until they reached an Age of Accountability, at which time they were required to make a decision: Do I want to be a member of the covenant or not? And only if they made an affirmative decision were they then included into God’s covenant. Hebrew/Jewish infants and toddlers have ALWAYS been included in the covenant. There is zero evidence from the OT that says otherwise.

    Infants WERE part of the covenant. If a Hebrew infant died, he was considered “saved”.

    However, circumcision did NOT “save” the male Hebrew child. It was the responsibility of the Hebrew parents to bring up their child in the faith, so that when he was older “he would not depart from it”. The child was born a member of the covenant. Then, as he grew up, he would have the choice: do I want to continue placing my faith in God, or do I want to live in willful sin? If he chose to live by faith, he would be saved. If he chose to live a life of willful sin and never repented, and then died, he would perish.

    When Christ established the New Covenant, he said nothing explicit in the New Testament about the salvation of infants and small children; neither do the Apostles nor any of the writers of the New Testament. Isn’t that odd? If the new Covenant no longer automatically included the children of believers, why didn’t Christ, one of the Apostles, or one of the writers of the NT mention this profound change?

    Why is there no mention in the NT of any adult convert asking this question: “But what about my little children? Are you saying that I have to wait until my children grow up and make a decision for themselves, before I will know if they will be a part of the new faith? What happens if my child dies before he has the opportunity to make this decision?” But no, there is no record in Scripture that any of these questions are made by new converts to the new faith. Isn’t that really, really odd??? As a parent of small children, the FIRST question I would ask would be, “What about my little children?”

    But the New Testament is completely silent on the issue of the salvation or safety of the infants and toddlers of believers. Another interesting point is this: why is there no mention of any child of believers “accepting Christ” when he is an older child (8-12 years old) or as a teenager and then, being baptized? Not one single instance and the writing of the New Testament occurred over a period of 30 years, approximately thirty years after Christ’s death: So over a period of 60 years, not one example of a believer’s child being saved as a teenager and then receiving “Believers Baptism”. Why???

    So isn’t it quite likely that the reason God does not explicitly state in the NT that infants should be baptized, is because everyone in first century Palestine would know that infants and toddlers are included in a household conversion. That fact that Christ and the Apostles did NOT forbid infant baptism was understood to indicate that the pattern of household conversion had not changed: the infants and toddlers of believers are still included in this new and better covenant.

    Circumcision nor Baptism was considered a “Get-into-heaven-free” card. It was understood under both Covenants that the child must be raised in the faith, and that when he was older, he would need to decide for himself whether to continue in the faith and receive everlasting life, or choose a life of sin, breaking the covenant relationship with God, and forfeiting the gift of salvation.

    Which of these two belief systems seems to be most in harmony with Scripture and the writings of the Early Christians?

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  • gary

    I Corinthians 15:29

    Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

    This is a very odd passage of Scripture. The Mormons use this passage as the basis for their belief in Baptism for the Dead. I will present the orthodox Christian/Lutheran view of this passage below, but first I would like us to look at something else in this passage that is odd:

    If the Church in Corinth had been taught by the Apostle Paul that the manner in which one is saved is to pray (verbally or nonverbally) a sincere, penitent, prayer/petition to God, such as a version of the Sinner’s Prayer, why does this passage of God’s Holy Word discuss baptisms for the dead and not “prayers for the dead”, specifically, praying a version of the Sinner’s Prayer for the dead?

    Isn’t that really odd? No matter what activity was actually going on in the Corinthian church regarding “the dead”, why is the discussion/controversy about baptism and not the “true” means of salvation according to Baptists and evangelicals: an internal belief in Christ; an internal “decision” for Christ?

    And even more odd…why didn’t Paul scold the Corinthians for focusing so much on baptism which he had surely taught them (according to Baptists and evangelicals) was nothing other than an act of obedience; a public profession of faith??

    Why so much emphasis on baptism?

    Is it possible that the reason that the Corinthians were so concerned about baptism is that they had been taught by the Apostle Paul and other Christian evangelists that salvation and the promise of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life are received in Baptism, just as orthodox Christians, including Lutherans, have been teaching for almost 2,000 years??

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  • Nathan100

    As a Christian parent – particularly of older children – I am well aware
    of the potential for us to lose faith (something that Baptists and
    Reformed do not believe can occur). This is why we as a family talk
    about the importance of daily repentance even as I daily cry out for
    mercy and help that I may not trust in myself, my own efforts, my own

  • Baptist

    Being a Baptist, I do not hold that the Abrahamic covenant is the covenant of grace, and consequently I do not accept that children born to believers have any covenant privileges.

    Can you please answer the following:

    For argument’s sake, let’s grant that your argument that circumcision was replaced by baptism is correct.

    Who was circumcised in OT? Answer: The Jew.

    Then only the Jew should be baptized in the NT, right?

    So who is the Jew?

    Only 2 possible definitions in the Bible:

    OT Jew- literal descendant of Abraham

    NT Jew – born again believer

    What about the unbelieving child of the born again believer? What sort of Jew is he that he should be baptized?

  • Baptist

    P.S. Can you also please explain the following word from The Directory of Public Worship:

    “That it [baptism] is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: That it is a
    seal of the covenant of grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, and of our
    union with him, of remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and life
    eternal: That the water, in baptism, representeth and signifieth both
    the blood of Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and
    actual; and the sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the
    dominion of sin, and the corruption of our sinful nature: That
    baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifieth the
    cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ, together
    with the mortification of sin, and rising from sin to newness of life,
    by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ: That the promise is
    made to believers and their seed; and that ###the seed and posterity of the
    faithful, born within the church, have, by their birth, interest in the
    covenant###, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of
    the church, under the gospel, no less than the children of Abraham in
    the time of the Old Testament; the covenant of grace, for substance,
    being the same; and the grace of God, and the consolation of believers,
    more plentiful than before: That the Son of God admitted little children
    into his presence, embracing and blessing them, saying, For of such is
    the kingdom of God: That children, by baptism, are solemnly received
    into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and
    them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are
    baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are
    bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: #####That they
    are Christians####, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are
    they baptized.”

    1. What sort of automatic interest do the seed have in the covenant?

    2. How is one a Christian without faith and conversion? Is this not presumptive regeneration?