The Westminster Assembly Debates Credopaedobaptism

The Westminster Assembly Debates Credopaedobaptism

In the seventeenth-century polemics of paedobaptism and credobaptism, one of the common arguments asserted by the English Particular Baptists was that their paedobaptist brothers agreed that a profession of faith was a necessary prerequisite for baptism. To make their point, Particular Baptists like Andrew Ritor, Benjamin Coxe, William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys, and Thomas Patient appealed to the catechism of the Church of England, which was appended to the Book of Common Prayer. The catechism specifically required a profession of faith and repentance before admission to baptism. Here is the portion to which they referred:Church of England Catechism in Book of Common Prayer

The Particular Baptists viewed this as inconsistent credobaptism, or perhaps we could call it “credopaedobaptism.” If actual repentance and faith were necessary, how could these be promised by parents or godparents? Given their strong Calvinism, the idea of promising actual faith and repentance (which could only be given by God) for another was an absurdity. To the Particular Baptists, this presupposed the election and thus salvation of children, many of which were not saved. If the children were presupposed as elect, then salvation could be lost. If the children were not presupposed as elect, then there could be no presupposition of God-given repentance and faith in them.

When the Westminster Assembly began its work reforming the Church of England  in order to impose national uniformity through a new Confession of Faith, Catechism, and Directory for Public Worship (with a few more documents), they inherited the unlucky task of wrestling with the question of a profession of faith in baptism. George Gillespie’s Notes of Debates and Proceedings of the Westminster Assembly give us a glimpse into how the Assembly handled it. Read below and decide for yourself if their conclusions about credopaedobaptism were satisfactory.

Gillespie, Notes of Debates and Proceedings, 89-90Gillespie, Notes of Debates and Proceedings, 90Gillespie, Notes of Debates and Proceedings, 91Gillespie, Notes of Debates and Proceedings, 91-1

A Word to Christian Internet Debaters

It is an increasing reality that many Christians, especially younger ones, are regularly engaging in theological debate (and occasionally discussion) through blogs, Facebook pages, forums, and other internet-based contexts. While there are many benefits to the internet, such as dissemination of otherwise unavailable materials, communicating with those who are far away, and gleaning from the wisdom, experience, and thoughts of others, there is much danger.

One of the dangers of the internet, thinking specifically of Christians and theology, is that there is little to no accountability placed on the individual in relation to his local church. Anyone can argue any point, pursue any theological trend, make any theological accusation, pick and choose any theological view, and all without the oversight of the elders to whom those individuals have professed to be in submission (assuming biblical church membership and leadership).

Would you want your elders to see the way that you have argued with other brothers and sisters on the internet? Would you read the same material and write the same arguments and speak so confidently if it were not for the anonymity and hyper-separation that the internet offers? Would you treat brothers and sisters the same way sitting with them at a lunch table during a fellowship meal at church? Are you as wonderful as you think you are?

The context in which you do theology (i.e. study, develop, and articulate theology) is extremely important. The internet is a poor context for doing theology. The local church, the Sunday School class, the weekly sermon, the midweek bible study–those are the best environments for doing theology. Don’t like those? Why’s that? Because you don’t get to teach and argue and debate and lead? Christ knows how to gift his church with teachers. If the church has not recognized you as a teacher gifted by Christ for the equipping of the saints, what makes you think that the whole internet needs your teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness? And if Christ has gifted your local church with teachers, why are they not the primary source of your teaching?

Find good blogs, good sermons, good articles, good resources, and benefit from those on the internet, but only by way of complement and supplement to the regular diet of biblical and accountable teaching in your local church. Even so, be very cautious in stepping up to the lecture podium of the internet. It’s one thing to give an answer to those who ask. It’s another thing to take the Heresy Hammer to every last person who clearly needs the overwhelming wisdom which you have brought to this world for the first time.

When the majority of one’s theological formation is molded by internet interaction, the results can be disastrous, even if your doctrine is sound. Why? Because you have become accustomed to a no-limits, no-accountability, no-personal-interaction form of theology. It’s purely you and what you think against everyone else and what they think. You have argued your points clearly. The other person has not. You are right. They are wrong. Even if you’re right, and even if they’re wrong, this breeds pride, self-sufficiency, and an overconfidence in one’s own theological discernment. You are right because you are right, not because you are confessing the biblical faith with the generations before you.

On top of all this, how many Christians can argue circles around others on the internet, but cannot live a consistent Christian life on even the most basic levels? If we are busy honoring God with our lives, loving our wives, raising our children, shunning sin, pursuing purity, working hard in jobs or schools, and participating in the life of the local church, debating Joe Schmoe on the internet will become a low priority, and it should be. Pay more attention to your personal sanctification, and less attention to the aberrations of the faceless internet, and you will be doing more good for God’s kingdom and your own soul. Don’t let your love be word and talk; don’t let your religion be internet orthodoxy.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(James 1:26-27 ESV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
(James 3:13-18 ESV)

Obediah Wills, Infant Baptism Asserted and Vindicated, Preface, 7-8

From Obed Wills’ Infant Baptism Asserted and Vindicated (1674)