As a conservative evangelical and an Anglican priest, I have often been in discussions where I am asked how I can possibly defend infant baptism.
And it is a good question. I often have conflicted sense within me. I was brought up within a Free Church tradition, which baptized adult believers and dedicated babies. My transition into ministry within the Anglican church, first as a youth minister required to teach confirmation classes and then as a priest, required to baptize babies, I have had to spend some time thinking this through.
This book sets out the position for each understanding. Each chapter consists of the defense of one of the positions (Bruce Ware is for believers baptism, Sinclair Ferguson for infant baptism and Anthony Lane is for a mixed practice). Then the other two contributors give their response to that position, and the chapter concludes with a final response to the two other responses. Hence this book is just under 200 pages and three chapters long!
However, despite being under 200 pages, these are densely packed pages – filled with historical theology and exegesis of passages. Bruce Ware in defending believers baptism is somewhat aggressive, beginning his chapter with these words: …the sad fact is that our different views of baptism mean that in all likelihood significant portions of Christ’s church are failing to carry out what Christ has commanded, even if this failure stems from good motives.
For Ware there is no evidence of infant baptism in the apostolic or post apostolic period – not until the third century do we have any firm evidence for infant baptism practice. Biblically Ware argues that Paul, in Colossians 2:12 rules out infant baptism, for he says that new life becomes a reality through faith. Hence, for ware, baptism is a sign of regeneration. Also, Ware rejects any symbolic link between circumcision and baptism. He argues that if such a link was meant to be then why is it not stated as such in scripture.
Sinclair Ferguson disagrees. He argues (in a brilliant chapter) that circumcision and baptism share the same core symbolism which points to and is fulfilled in Christ. Ferguson, very interestingly asks whether baptism is a seal of faith or a seal TO faith. His belief is that it is TO faith. He writes:
Baptism signifies and seals the work of Christ crucified and resurrected and the communion with God which is ours THROUGH FAITH.
This was the point of circumcision; it was not a seal of Abraham’s faith response, but of the (covenant) righteousness which he received through faith.
What is Ferguson’s response to the silence of infant baptism in the apostolic and post-apostolic period? I am not sure he answered this as thoroughly, but for Ferguson, you cannot argue from silence and thus that is why the issue demands theological engagement. Also, he uses Acts 2:39, which says:
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Coming from a covenantal position, Ferguson argues that the phrase for the promise is for you and for your children means the covenantal principle remains inviolable. The children of believers receive the same promise as their parents and are therefore to be baptized.
Of course, Ferguson reminds the readers that infant Baptists are not against believers baptism and indeed practice believers baptism. The issue is never infant or believers baptism – but whether infants can biblically be baptized as well as adhering to the practice of infant baptism.
Without disrespect, the strength of the book is in the interaction between Ware and Ferguson. Anthony Lane’s position (that both practices are allowed in Scripture) is the weakest and it is clear from Ware’s response that he does not think it a valid view. Ferguson engages far more respectfully with Lane.
This book is worth the money simply for Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter defending infant baptism, but it is also a great way of seeing the issues involved between infant and believers baptism. While the chapters are dense, they are well written and engaging, giving a lot of information. Whether anyone will actually be persuaded by the arguments to the extent of changing their position is doubtful. But you will come away will a strong respect for the positions and maybe, for the believers baptism advocates, not quite as quick to dismiss or disregard infant baptism.