A.H. Strong and B.B. Warfield on Infant Baptism

In working on this week’s Family Worship Guide, I was looking through some old material I put together for a series of lessons on salvation in the Old Testament and came across the following interaction between the Baptist A.H. Strong and the Presbyterian B.B. Warfield on the subject of infant baptism.

In his Systematic Theology, Strong asserts,

(a) Infant baptism is without warrant, either express or implied, in the Scripture.
(b) Infant baptism is expressly contradicted [by Scripture].[1]

To which, B.B. Warfield replied,

 In this sense of the words, we may admit his first declaration—that there is no express command that infants should be baptized; and with it also the second—that there is in Scripture no clear example of the baptism of infants, that is, if we understand by this that there is no express record, reciting in so many words, that infants were baptized.[2]

I am just wondering: when your opponent’s first two arguments against you are that there is no Scriptural warrant for your practice and you proceed to agree with him, are you really sure you want to proceed with arguing for that practice? I don’t know. Was there a moment when Dr. Warfield paused and really contemplated the force of Dr. Strong’s arguments and the implications of his own admission to the veracity of those arguments? I mean, if I was in a discussion with someone and they said, “The Bible says nothing to support your position and in fact speaks against it.” I would hope that I would not reply with, “Yeah, but…”


[1] A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1979), 951-952.

[2] B.B. Warfield, Studies in Theology “The Polemics of Infant Baptism” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 395.

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John Calvin: Mind Numbingly Incongruous on Baptism

With this being the 500th anniversary of his birth, I have been reading through John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion. I have enjoyed the journey thoroughly.  One thing in particular is the pastoral tone throughout the work.   It has alerted me that anyone who tries to pass off Calvin as the dour dictator of Geneva has obviously spent little time actually reading the man.  Not too surprising I suppose.

Another aspect that has been particularly edifying is Calvin’s repeated statement that we must depend on Scripture alone for faith and practice.  His constant  embrace of the text of Scripture and persistent reluctance to go beyond the clear teaching of Scripture is very instructive.  About 250 pages in I told a fellow-reader that I needed to start keeping track of all such statements.  Alas, I never started keeping the list and the statements just kept on coming.

So it was particularly dissapointing to me when I read the following:

Whether the person baptised is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church. (Institutes 4.15.19)

I have no problem at all with the last phrase, “although it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.”  I have no problem with this because pretty much anyone who is honest with the evidence admits the same thing.  As Phillip Schaff has written, “Respecting the form of baptism, the impartial historian is compelled by exegesis and history substantially to yield the point to the Baptists.”  The word “baptism” means immersion.  Immersion was the practice of the NT church and the entire church for the next several centuries.

So after 1100 pages with multiple injunctions to rely wholly on Scripture for faith and practice; after stating the biblical word means immersion; after conceding that the church for centuries actually did immerse; we are told, “Whether the person baptised is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either…”

In other words, throw out the clear meaning of Scripture; disregard centuries of church practice (20+ centuries if you consider the Orthodox witness); every church is free to practice whatever is convenient.  Sobering.

I praise God for the impact John Calvin had and continues to have on the kingdom of Christ.  I am unworthy to unlatch his shoe.  But I pray that God’s Spirit would graciously continue to convict me of all my beliefs that are theological instead of Scriptural.