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.

A Historical Argument against Infant Baptism from Herman Bavinck

I am a committed credobaptist. I believe that baptism is to be offered only to those who are able to give profession of faith in Jesus Christ. A profession in Christ necessitates one is able to have an understanding of certain things: who Christ is; what Christ has done; and why Christ is needed. For reasons that should be obvious, this rules out the baptism of infants. They are physically and mentally unable to profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, this conviction of mine does not prevent me from reading from and talking to those brothers in the Lord who baptize infants. As I have read John Calvin and B.B. Warfield I have been flummoxed in seeing how they can be so right on what baptism does and does not signify, yet be so blind (in my eyes (no pun intended)) to whom baptism should be offered to. It seems they often make true statements, but do not realize the implications of those statements.

I have not yet entered into Herman Bavinck’s discussion of infant baptism, but while discussing regeneration he makes a couple statements that I think should influence his thinking on the matter. But knowing something about him, and looking at the table of contents in the book I am reading, I know he will not make the connection.

In briefly sketching the history of the church and her belief about regeneration Bavinck writes,

When, having gradually stopped being a missionary church, the church gained its members more from its own children than from among Jews and pagans and for that reason universally introduced infant baptism, people continued to maintain the close connection between baptism and regeneration but had to modify it in important ways. (Reformed Dogmatics, vol IV, p. 54)

This is really a stunning admission from someone who believes in infant baptism. Notice again Bavinck’s identification of the origin of the practice: “having gradually stopped being a missionary church, the church gained its members more from its own children than from among Jews and pagans and for that reason universally introduced infant baptism.”

The reason, according to Bavinck’s understanding, was NOT a careful study of Scriptures; an appeal to apostolic teaching or tradition; or the implications of some covenant of grace. The reason was strictly pragmatic, i.e. most of our members are being born into the church so we might as well baptize them.

Now I am sure that later on, Bavinck will do his best to build a Scriptural argument for infant baptism. But how will he deal with the fact that he has already undercut his position with this historical argument? When you admit that for the first 100-150 years of the existence of the church she did not practice infant baptism and then later state that infant baptism is biblical you are necessarily stating that the church was unbiblical for the first 100-150 years of her existence. The church built upon the foundation of Jesus and the apostles. The church not just built on the apostles, but built by the apostles.

So how could Peter, John, and Paul been so wrong about baptizing infants?