Why Paedobaptism leads to Presbyterianism! (or at least should!)

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Ben Williamson teaches at Johannesburg Bible College and works for Melville Union Church, in a previous life he was one of my first interns at IPC when I was even more clueless than I am now. As everyone knows there are no jobs in Presbyterianism and so Ben has taken the plunge and sold out to the Beast. He wrote to me after my thoughts on FIEC and I give the following with his permission. He rightly makes the connection between one's view of the sacraments and polity. Ben is obviously writing in broad brushstrokes so those of a sensitive disposition (of which an awful lot of Ref21 readers are) should look away now..........

One of the reasons that there are few if any Paedobaptist churches in FIEC or, apart from Grove chapel, anywhere that I am aware of is because the issue of church government and baptism are theologically linked. That is to say the same theological convictions which lead one to a paedobaptist position also leads you to seek denominational structure and oversight. The same convictions which lead one to baptistic position lead one to establish an independent church. What I am not saying that paedobaptist and independent or Baptist and err... dependent(?) never go together. What I am saying is they shouldn't because they are essentially contradictory positions.

Let me try to explain.

The Paedobaptist position involves belief that God deals not simply with individuals but with corporate community. My identity in worship is not just me and Jesus, but I am part of the body of Christ and the church, within which I worship God. Now of course Baptist's believe in church but I think from Paedobaptist position you see church as broader, not a mere collection of believer (which I think that Baptist position lends itself to) but believers part of community. Essentially both Baptist as Paedobaptist agree that church is one sense both corporate and a collectional but a paedobaptist positions leads to great emphasis on the former while the Baptist position the latter. Paedobaptism after all affirm a child identification, not with their personal faith, although the pray that will come, but with the corporate body of faith. While we pray that the baptism will be a sign and seal of the validity of their own faith should they not profess it does deny the sacrament's value it is still a sign of faith but not the individuals. So, this emphasis in paedobaptism consistently leads to an emphasis on a broader community of believers beyond the individual. The Baptist position does the opposite as opposed to identity being tied up with the community it is tied to the individual who professes faith, thus his individual identity is that thing that grants him entry into the corporate body. Simplistically (perhaps too much so) in a paedobaptist approach the community defines the individual while in a Baptist set up the individuals define the community. (Of course I am not saying individual faith doesn't matter to the Paedobaptist or that the corporate body doesn't matter to Baptist but that there is a subtle difference in emphasis).

This difference fundamentally affects the way in which you engage with the wider Christian community. In a Baptist position the greater focus on the independence of the individual naturally translates into an emphasis on the independence of a church. After all if what defines you as an individual is your profession of faith and not a association with a body, that will be the case for a church which you set up. The key is what your church believes not what body you associate with. Again we all believe this to some extent, after all it is no good aligning yourself with an orthodox denomination while engaging in false teach etc. But do you see how the Baptist emphasis naturally leads to independency.

On the other hand paedobaptism leads the other way. In a very simple level paedobaptism leads to a belief in the catholic church (note the small 'c'), it assumes the acceptance of other tradition including to small extent Catholic (note the big 'C'). After all we do not require that a child baptized in a Roman Catholic church must be re-baptized. Why? because the validity baptism isn't dependent on the individual, or even the church, but on God's covenant promises to his people. Paedobaptism is a position which affirms our continuity with Old Testament Israel. The Church is the new Israel this continuity of itself leads to and acknowledgement that higher structure are necessary, there is valid biblical identity beyond just the mere local, just as there was beyond the local synagogue in the OT. The emphasis on community also blunts the constant attempt to bring about a 'pure' church via separation. Of course a 'pure' and faithful church is desirable and to be aimed at but implicit in the corporate view of church is that we will never all agree on everything but we accept people in the community nonetheless. The move towards a 'pure' church happens not necessarily with increased separatism but working to reform the larger body. If my identity is focused first on my individual profession of faith then I am always checking others have that same profession which will lead to separation where we conclude not. If my identity is focused first on the community my concern will be building that community rather than seeking complete uniformity within the members.

The basic point is because Paedobaptism is more focused on the community it lead to denominationalism while as credobaptism is more focused on the individual it leads to independency. My purpose is not to argue my position, although obviously I have one, but to point out the link hence the reason why independent paedobaptist churches are rare.

Posted November 5, 2012 @ 11:22 AM by Paul Levy
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