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Infant Baptism: Commanded, Forbidden, or Neither?

Infant baptism is forbidden unless it is commanded.

Now, that may seem obvious to most Christians, but there are some who believe that infant baptism is lawful even if it is not commanded in scripture.

A few years ago, I came across a book entitled Baptism: Three Views edited by David. F. Wright.[1]

The title puzzled me because I knew the book was addressing the subject of infant baptism.

I also knew that one of the contributors (Sinclair Ferguson) was for infant baptism, and another (Bruce Ware) was against infant baptism.

But I was surprised to discover that the third contributor (Anthony Lane) argued for a middle position, which he called “the dual-practice view.” According to Lane, both paedobaptism and credobaptism are legitimate options for the church and the Christian family.

Both Ferguson and Ware assume that baptism is either forbidden or commanded. But Lane argues Christian parents are free to choose whether or not to have their children baptized. Lane also argues that the church should leave the decision up to the parents.

Even though confessional Presbyterians affirm the position defended by Ferguson, in practice, some of them are following the advice of Lane. Presbyterians teach that infant baptism is biblical, but they are often reluctant to require it as a divine imperative.

I think one of the reasons is that they fail to recognize that what is deduced from scripture by good and necessary consequence (Westminster Confession 1:6) is just as binding as an explicit command. If infant baptism may be deduced from scripture by good and necessary consequence, then it is a divine imperative, just as if it stood written, “Thou shalt baptize infants.”

Robert Shaw explains,

In maintaining the perfection of the Scriptures, we do not insist that every article of religion is contained in Scriptures in so many words; but we hold that conclusions fairly deduced from the declarations of the Word of God are as truly parts of divine revelation as if they were expressly taught in the Sacred Volume. That good and necessary consequences deduced from Scripture are to be received as part of the rule of our faith and practice, is evident from the example of our Savior in proving the doctrine of the resurrection against the Sadducees,—Matt. xxii. 31,32; and from the example of Paul, who proved that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, by reasoning with the Jews out of the Old Testament Scriptures.—Acts xvii. 2, 3. “All Scripture” is declared to be “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness;” but all these ends cannot be obtained, unless by the deduction of consequences. Legitimate consequences, indeed, only bring out the full meaning of the words of Scripture; and as we are endued with the faculty of reason, and commanded to search the Scriptures, it was manifestly intended that we should draw conclusions from what is therein set down in express words.

Michael Bushell rightly explains that the Westminster Confession of Faith “clearly operates on the assumption that principles derived from the Word by ‘good and necessary consequence’ [cf. WCF 1:6] are every bit as binding upon us as those ‘expressly set down in Scripture.’”[2]

James H. Thornwell argued that this interpretation of the Confession has always been the Puritan view.

We have not been able to lay our hands upon a single Puritan Confession of Faith which does not explicitly teach that necessary inferences from Scripture are of equal authority with its express statements: nor have we found a single Puritan writer, having occasion to allude to the subject, who has not explicitly taught the same things.

So if infant baptism may be deduced from scripture by good and necessary consequence, then it is a divine imperative, just as if it stood written, “Thou shalt baptize infants.”

Those who hold to the regulative principle of worship—which asserts that “not to command is to forbid”—must either affirm that infant baptism is commanded by God or it is forbidden by God.

What seems to me to be incompatible with the regulative principle of worship is Lane’s “dual-practice view.”

Either we must baptize infants or we must not baptize them. It’s either lawful or unlawful. But the one thing it cannot be—if the regulative principle is true—is optional.

[1]David F. Wright, Baptism Three Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009).

[2]Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody (Pittsburgh, PA: Crown and Covenant, 1993) 123.


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