- Joachim Rieck
All Christian denominations basically agree that Christian baptism is the point of entrance into the church. What is not so clear in the minds of many is whether an actual conversion experience should precede Christian baptism and church membership or not.
Evangelical Paedo - Baptists generally baptize their infants into the faith of their believing “covenant parents“ , in the certain hope that in years to come, the LORD would be pleased to add saving faith to these baptized children. Evangelical Paedo Baptists therefore baptize their children in anticipation of their children’s conversion.
Roman Catholic - Paedo Baptists and some Anglicans unashamedly confer a saving status upon their children in the act of baptism. In their view baptism actually saves! This is called baptismal regeneration.
The Paedo- Baptist movement generally does not baptise by immersion (although the Greek word ‘baptizo’ suggests immersion ). They ‘baptize’ by sprinkling! The Eastern Orthodox church is an exception in this matter. In keeping with the true meaning of ‘baptizo’ they practise infant immersion!
Credo Baptists believe that baptism by immersion should only follow upon conversion. For this they have strong scriptural warrant, since every instance of baptism in the New Testament follows (and never precedes) conversion. Baptists believe that conversion is the warrant for baptism, which leads into church membership.
IS PAEDO BAPTISM REALLY REFORMED ?
Here follows a perhaps controversial question : Are Paedo Baptists really reformed in their practise of baptism ?
At a recent meeting with some dear Paedo Baptist brothers they expressed their doubt to me as to whether a Baptist could really be reformed. Without entering into a long debate on who owns the name “Reformed”, I want to suggest that we use the title ‘reformed’ in a “biblical” sense and not in a “philosophical” sense. To be sure, no one is ever completely biblical, and the reformation process should be on-going (Semper Reformanda – ‘ always reforming’)
The conscience of a true Reformer is always bound by the Word of God. When Martin Luther, the famous German Reformer was asked to recant his Protestant beliefs before the Council of Worms (April 16-26 , 1521 AD) he said this:
“Unless I am convicted by Scriptures and plain reason- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other concerning - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise . God help me. Amen”
Following Luther’s logic, I too must say to my Paedo Baptist brothers that “Scripture and plain reason” must determine my understanding on this subject . I say this as one who himself was born into the Lutheran tradition, but who has subsequently rejected the unreformed view of “Lutheran baptism”.
How could I possible dispute on this matter with the great Luther and for that matter, Calvin? I will say only this. If Luther and Calvin with their profound understanding of the Word of God had given their great minds to further study on this subject, and if they had lived longer, and in peaceful times, and with a more settled disposition, both would have come to the same view on believers baptism as some of their contemporaries, the often despised Anabaptists. Anabaptist Swiss pastors such as Conrad Grebel, Georg Blaurock and Felix Manz were godly and competent men. Their contributions to the corporate Reformation effort has often been underrated.
My argument with Paedo Baptists is that their view of baptism is essentially unreformed! It is a hangover of a “sacralistic society”  , cemented by the Roman emperor Constantine and fomented later by Roman Catholicism. By the end of the 4th Century, “not yet baptized persons were required to attend catechism classes in preparation for baptism; all who after attending such classes who refused to present themselves for baptism… were subject to the ultimate sentence.”
And so, infant baptism had become a tradition in the church rather than a biblical practise. When tradition rules over the plain teaching of Scripture, the Spirit who causes His Word to be inspired is grieved. This unreformed tradition of baptizing babies into the communion of the church has spawned a huge group of “nominal believers “ in the world. A nominal believer is a person who may be convinced but not converted !
Baptists commit a similar mistake when they baptize and add unconverted people into membership.
When we ignore the necessity, importance and primacy of the new birth as the vital entry point into Christ and into the church, we will soon find that our churches will slowly die, for the church that is populated by unregenerate men and women is indeed a barren tree!
“Christianity grows alien to its essence when it is made into law for those who have been born instead of reborn” .
Many mainline denominations (including many Baptist churches ) are now led by unconverted men and women. Having not entered through the narrow gate themselves (Matt 7:13, 14) they cannot teach and persuade others concerning the importance and necessity of the new birth (John 3:1-8). If we ignore the necessity of the new birth, then the only other alternative is a mechanical view of conversion. The doctrine of baptism has sadly been abused to this end.
Oddly enough, a good number of evangelical believers today continue to hold on to the practise of infant baptism, justifying this practise by appealing to God’s covenant with the believer. If a child has a converted parent, then it is said that the child is subject to the privileges of the covenant of God with his /her parent(s). There is much truth in this. The covenant that the believing parent has with God is indeed a rich blessing and a source of hope. God requires parents to teach their children, pray for their children, and walk in covenantal faithfulness before their children. There is certainly much hope for parents who walk in covenantal faithfulness before their God. However, the covenant requires children to respond obediently to their parents teaching.
The covenant was never designed by God to be an unconditional guarantee that believer’s children would be automatically saved because their parents were in covenant with God! The whole history of Israel is surely a sad testimony to this. Second generation believers are often notoriously unfaithful to the God of their fathers.
The hope of the Christian parent does not begin with the act of baptism. The hope of the Christian parent begins with wrestling in prayer for the souls of their children who are born after the likeness of the fallen Adam. The Christian parent will remain restless in this regard until their offspring are in Christ, after which they should be baptized and introduced to the church – the ekklesia – literally ‘the called out ones.’
We are of the opinion that Luther and Calvin did unfortunately not take the Reformation far enough in this matter. They did not reform the Roman Catholic practise of infant baptism.
Thankfully then there were those children of the Reformation (e.g. the Anabaptists and the English Baptists ) that did see the plain meaning, teaching and practise of Scripture in this regard. Their insistence upon the biblical practise of the manner and mode of baptism made them to inherit the name “Baptist”. They clearly saw that the New Testament practise of baptism always only applied to believers. They also saw very clearly ,that since baptism is the biblical response to one’s profession of faith, that this act also became the door to church membership.
Reformed Baptists therefore teach that only those who are converted and baptized should have a right to membership in Christ's church.
 Roland Bainton : Here I stand, p. 185f
 To be sure he wasn’t disputing on baptism ! He was defending the 5 SOLA’s
 A good resource for further study on the Anabaptists: “The Anabaptist Story” by William Estep. Eerdmans 1996 ( 3rd ed.)
 A sacral society is a society held together by a religion to which all the members of that society are committed” (Leonard Verduin : The Reformers and their Step children , p. 23)
 Verduin :p 32
 Verduin: p.31