Story Time: Credo to Paedo
I'm in the midst of putting together a couple series that go through church "confessions". I use the word loosely because the first two I'm considering are the Baptist Faith and Message and the Federal Vision Joint Statement.
In preparing to do this I've let myself enjoy some leisure time (...I don't have any...) to read further on the subjects I am already convinced. In my little reading vacation I stumbled upon Doug Wilson's testimony of "converting" to paedobaptism (aka infant baptism). I thought to myself "hmm self, that might be fun". So I've decided to bring back "story time" and describe, as best I can remember, my experience.
My time as a credo is pretty uneventful. I grew up in churches that practiced believer baptism. I was baptized sometime before age seven (I think) and still have a picture of me getting dressed from my bath. Since I was given no reason to think against the practice, I never thought about the practice. I'm pretty certain that if younger me had been handed Karl Barth on baptism I never would have doubted believer baptism again. Technically this isn't true because it would have been Markus Barth's teaching on the subject...but I digress. Alas, handing someone a Karl Barth book is still illegal in 40 states (joking) and every Southern Baptist church (probably not a joke).
Upon getting married (Summer 2006), my wife and I moved for school. This movement was disrupted on multiple accounts by serving a church over an hour away and eventually co-op jobs. This amount of driving time was utilized listening to the Bible and eventually audio readings of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Now I had been a self proclaimed Calvinist for a while. In fact of the all the things that have almost caused my wife to kill me it would be my Calvinism. But as I have found most Calvinist to be, they were largely ignorant of Calvin. I sought to rectify this and listened to the portions of the large book that interested me most. The early chapters of the Institutes have forever changed my perspective on theology and man. I listened to the portions on the church and even a little on the sacraments. But it was the early chapters that had my head spinning and my full attention.
Really, at the time the biggest thing I came away with was solid rejection of icons and non-Trinitarian theology. At that time I was beginning to recognize these common misunderstands being practiced (yes even icons...in a different sense) within the Protestant church. I was satisfied to be learning and my brain full of new ideas. I was satisfied recognizing how far Protestant churches had come since the Reformation.
As it was nearing my time to graduate (Fall 2009), I found myself in a Barnes & Noble. (In about 10 years no one will know what that is so I'll call it by its general name: a place where real paper books are sold.) I was caught greedily handling Calvin's Institutes and Augustine's City of God. My mother purchased them for me as a graduation gift. The Institutes have been read to about 85-90%...City of God? A paltry 15%. This time reading through Calvin was different. The sections I had learned from required less of my attention and I got further into the work. It was during this period of time that I realized Calvin was both more and less a Calvinist than anyone I had ever met. This remains something I believe to this day.
But Calvin makes a strange bed fellow. It turns out that listening to Calvin is easier than reading Calvin. The weight and length of the book alone cause some people to give up on studying it. Eventually thought I worked my way to the portion on the sacraments. This time I approached them with more interest. I was hooked. The section dealing with the sacraments in general became a marked up mess and I embraced completely the sacramental theology of Calvin including the freedom to refer to them as "means of grace".
I was fully swayed by Calvin's breakdown of baptism and the Lord's Supper. They both were fine, consistent and profitable ways to imagine the sacrament and interpret the Bible. But since I had no kids on the way, and I was taking the Lord's Supper occasionally, that sacrament pressed harder on my mind. I was also able to discuss the Lord's Supper openly in Baptist churches and came to recognize that few Baptist around me were strict memorialist. The words of Calvin were useful in explaining my view and I was able to sharpen my communication of the view into more modern language.
And then the news struck. With children seeming like a improbable natural occurrence, the story of my wife telling me she was pregnant can be quite funny. Needless to say, that "other sacrament" suddenly became a subject of larger concern. Luther's catechism was already in my library and was promptly re-read with new found emphasis on baptism. I had facilitated discussions concerning Luther's baptism (including attending a Lutheran "101" class at a nearby church) and recognized that the accusation of "Baptismal Regeneration" is often substantially unfounded. But I was not satisfied with the Lutheran perspective.
Next into my hands was John Murray's Christian Baptism. The book had beennext on my list of eventual things I might read about Baptism. Highly recommend and relatively short, I devoured the portions on the mode of baptism and the object of baptism. Unbeknownst to me was the fact that Murray was setting me up to be a certain type of Reformed thinker. I soon recognized the importance of including children in the physical membership of the church (this doesn't mean simple SS attendance and choir performances) and the necessity of infant baptism as a sign of this new covenant membership. Murray had essentially slammed the door that Calvin had started swinging.
My wife was also raised Baptist. She unlike me had been more interested in liturgical churches and had more openness to liturgical practices (including infant baptism). But "openness" and "acceptance" are not the same thing. So I lent her John Murray and imagined we would have some good discussion.
I never got the chance to have that discussion. Murray in his section on the mode of baptism had done such a thorough job of evaluating the Scriptures, that she was willing to accept the full argument for covenant baptism almost immediately.
The time came. The baptism of Kenzie was performed in front of close friends and family. Of course there are always questions. But these were answered and discussed. And now the time is fast approaching for the second baptism within my home. As it should, this has incited new found passion to study the object of baptism again. Another season to grow in faith of what God says and promises. My view on paedobaptism has morphed gradually in the past couple years. It is more mature now. It has become more refined and specific in response to specific (and less general) understandings of the Scriptures.
But there isn't much of a conclusion to this story. I remain confident in the infant baptism model. I remain in communion at a Baptist Church. I remain confused at the honest-heart, clear concise commitment parents have for raising their children in the admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4) without acknowledging their participation in the covenant that assumes that commandment (Exd 20:12; Deut 5:2, 16; Eph 6:2).
This is no condemnation of my Baptist friends. Neither is it a challenge to them. I must believe God honors faithfulness even when there is a less than complete understanding of God's administrations. But we must be brought back regularly to the Scriptures to refine our understanding under the particular guidance and language of Scripture. And who knows, we might find ourselves slowly agreeing more with each other.