Saturday, December 03, 2016

"The real reason evangelicals don't baptize babies"

From a sociological standpoint, Morris is probably on to something. Mind you, it's patronizing insofar as you have many Baptists who have thoughtful, principled reasons for opposing paedobaptism. So his analysis borders on a hasty generalization.

But that caveat aside, he's probably right that for many evangelical Americans, opposition to paedobaptism is influenced by a revivalist paradigm. And I share his aversion to decisional evangelism.

However, even though I myself am a tepid paedobaptist, his analysis is one-sided. To begin with, decisional evangelism represents a travesty of conversion. But we shouldn't judge the principle by the travesty.

Moreover, we need to compare and contrast that to the opposite error. The 18C evangelical revival was a heaven-sent reaction to the dead formalism of liturgical churches. If decisional evangelism is bad, so is the presumption that your child is saved because a minister sprinkled water on its head. Many people are only too happy to seek spiritual shortcuts and vest false assurance in religious ceremonies. Ironically, the revivalism of Finney and Graham is just a different kind of ritualism, replacing baptism with the sacrament of the altar call. 

The basic problem is taking a cookie-cutter approach to everyone. But everyone doesn't have the same experience. On the one hand, some people are devout, lifelong Christians. They were Christian for as long as they can remember. For them, there was never a conscious transition. And there couldn't be, since it was real to them as soon as they had the cognitive development to reflect on it.

On the other hand, you have nominal Christians. Some of them lose their hereditary faith. Others assume they are Christian just because they grew up in church. 

A good pastor needs to preach an evangelistic sermon every so often. Take nothing for granted. 


  1. You give a fair treatment, Steve. I say that as a reformed Baptist in the SBC who despises the quasi-Pelagianistic (if not outright Pelagian) decision-oriented focus of many in my denomination. I use an odd term here because I don't think most people have thought about it in terms of historic Pelagianism. In fact, they haven't thought about it outside of the kinds of sermons they have heard: "Give your life to Christ!" "Ask Jesus into your heart!" "With every eye closed and every head bowed if you have made that decision tonight , pray after me..."

    But that's the thing. I think Morris is giving many people too much credit for making a well-educated decision on their theology.

    There is a difference between decision and baptism. The way these two things are related have a whole host of beliefs ranging from baptismal regeneration to hyper-Calvinism to optional baptism to Pelagianism to universalism.

    Believing something for the wrong reason doesn't make that belief incorrect. Or perhaps he's arguing that credo-baptism results in poor theology rather than the other way around and should be abandoned because of the false justification it elicits from uneducated church members.

    The solution in any case, however, isn't to abandon credo-baptism because of a lack of education. Rather, the solution is to educate. Not only preaching the true Gospel from time-to-time to the church, but also sitting the church down and teaching them why they are credo-baptists. Even good Calvinists believe that the elect will make a decision to follow Christ and calling for a reaction from faith to the Gospel is a biblical part of a Gospel presentation. That reaction is an epistemological necessity in the body of believers and a sign that the ontological regeneration has occurred. For non-reformed baptists, they typically simply conflate the epistemology with the ontology. For reformed Baptists, baptism is the ordained way of expressing this faith publicly.

    So in a sense, Morris is right. However, his complaint is against the less-informed as though they were more informed and as though all credo-baptists were similarly less informed.

  2. The churches in Europe should be a cautionary tale for us paedobaptists on the dangers of formalism that invariably arises from an out-of-whack sacramentology. The church buildings are extremely impressive, and it is hard not to be moved by an evensong service with a boy's choir reverberating throughout a centuries-old cathedral. And sure enough everyone there is a "Christian" because they were baptized as a baby, even though they have capitulated to liberalism in doctrine and live like any common, semi-virtuous pagan.