Somebody’s Been Using My Baptist ‘Regeneration-Goggles’ i.e. A Common Paedobaptist Argument that Cuts Both Ways

I recently saw a mini-debate on a Facebook thread between Baptists and Paedobaptists (I am a recovering Facebook debater who occasionally gives in to temptation). This time I resisted the urge to comment, but one remark in particular caught my attention. I’ve heard it before, and I’ve been thinking about how to respond. A Paedobaptist brother said a Baptist brother something to the effect of, “Do you have regeneration-goggles?” In other words, you Baptists say that baptism is only for believers who show signs of regeneration; yet regeneration is an inner/invisible work of the Spirit on the believer; unless you have ‘regeneration-goggles,’ you have no way of knowing who and who is not a true believer; therefore it is fine to apply baptism to infants even though they don’t show signs of faith and regeneration. Now, it doesn’t quite follow that this should argue for paedobaptistm; rather, it merely shows that Baptists do not practice believer’s baptism without error, and we’d be very hard-pressed to find a Baptist who ever claimed perfect application of baptism.

But even though Paedobaptists criticize baptists’ ‘regeneration-goggles,’ they themselves have a pair that they use in at least three instances. They look for signs of faith and repentance, making a judgment about what is an invisible inner work.

First, many paedobaptists practice credo-communion. As says the Report of Minority No. 1 of the Committee on Paedocommunion: Why Children Are to Be Excluded from the Lord’s Supper, from the 54th General Assembly of the OPC’s Report of the Committee on Paedocommunion: “The feeding [upon the body and blood of Christ] is true and real ‘while’ by faith participants receive and apply Christ and all his benefits to themselves. Where there is no faith, or no active participation, there is no communication, and no application to themselves of Christ and the benefits of the covenant.” As a Baptist, I heartily affirm this rejection of paedo-communion, but my question to my paedobaptist brothers who also reject it is: how do you know who is a true believer, and therefore worthy of communion, if faith is an inner work of the Spirit? Since you can’t practice credo-communion without error, occasionally letting a nominal Christian partake of the supper, shouldn’t you rather allow every member of of the New Covenant partake of it, not only believers? Are you confusing the sign with the thing signified, as you consider credo-baptism does?

But let’s say that you’re a paedobaptist who is consistent in accepting paedocommunion, do you use regeneration-goggles? (This critique also applies to those who reject paedocommunion) I assert that you still do. How? Church membership. You may not look for faith as a requirement for baptism or communion, but you do believe that church membership is only for believers who show signs of faith and repentance. Again, as a baptist, I heartily affirm regenerate church membership, but the advantage that I have is that my view of church membership flows out of my ecclesiology; yours does not. You may scoff and claim that membership in a local church is totally different from membership in the New Covenant. But it seems to me that that is quite indefensible; you’re saying that some members of the church (unregenerate covenant children) are not members of the local church. Not only is there no support for this in the New Testament, but there’s no parallel to it in the Old Testament. It seems that in practice, insofar as church membership is concerning, your ecclesiology is Baptistic.
In any event my question to my Paedobaptist brothers who practice regenerate church membership: how do you know who is a true believer, and therefore worthy of membership, if faith is an inner work of the Spirit? Since you can’t practice regenerate church membership without error, occasionally letting a nominal Christian into church membership, shouldn’t you rather allow all members of the New Covenant (covenant children too) be local church members, not only believers?

But yet there is still another case in which paedobaptists use ‘regeneration-goggles,’ i.e. think faith and repentance are requisite to baptism: the man or woman who comes out of a non-Christian background, wasn’t born into the covenant, who comes to faith in Christ and now, in accordance with the Lord’s commands, must be baptized. Do you baptize anyone who merely confesses Christ or do you look for signs of true faith and repentance? Do you question them to see if they truly know the gospel? I hope you do; baptists do. In this sense, paedobaptists sometimes practice credo-baptism in the case mentioned above. But my question is: how do you know who if he or she is a true believer if faith is an inner work of the Spirit? Do you use ‘regeneration-goggles’?

I hope by now we all see how neither-here-nor-there is the argument that since baptists can’t peer into the hearts of people to see if they truly believe, credobaptism is not viable. Addressing this argument is not a refutation of Paedobaptism per se, nor is it a full case for credobaptism, but hopefully, by removing it, we can clarify the real issues and proceed further into more profitable discussions.

2 thoughts on “Somebody’s Been Using My Baptist ‘Regeneration-Goggles’ i.e. A Common Paedobaptist Argument that Cuts Both Ways

  1. Andy

    Hey Ryan,

    Paedobaptist here. I think you make some good points, but slip up in one major way: a responsible paedobaptist would never talk about faith as a criteria for baptism.

    What I believe this facebook debater was getting at is that the criteria given by baptists for baptism (those who truly have faith) is impossible to implement and is fraught with many errors. We are not being inconsistent saying this, because our own criteria is not “those who have faith,” but those who confess faith and new obedience. (WCF 24.3)” We are not analyzing faith, but the confession of faith: a major difference.

    This is helpful to recongize in that it distinguishes the claims that Presbyterian churches make about those who are baptist versus what a baptist church claims. A presbyterian proclaims that those who are baptized are members of the church; baptist churches proclaim that the baptized are saved.

    1. Post author

      Hey Andy!

      Yours is the first comment that I’ve gotten in a while that’s not been spam; so I was quite excited to see your comment.
      I reread my article, and I can’t find a place where I say that the aforementioned facebook-debater, or any paedobaptist said, that faith is a criterion for baptism. If I did, please show me; it wouldn’t be the first time I missed something. I’m well aware that paedobaptists confessionally do not require faith and repentance for baptism; you are right to say that this doesn’t make your position inconsistent. However, what I do think makes your position inconsistent, and what the article is about, is this: by saying that the baptist requirement for baptism is “impossible to implement and is fraught with many errors” you say the same thing about your withholding of the Lord’s Supper from those who have not yet professed faith in Christ. And I should clarify that when I say the requirement is for “those who have faith,” I mean those who confess faith, as the LBCF says, “Those who actually profess repentance towards God, faith in and obedience to our Lord Jesus are the only proper subjects of this ordinance”(29.2). I said in several places that the Baptist goes about this by looking for signs of an inner work.
      To put in another way, you wrote, “Baptist churches proclaim that the baptized are saved.” True, but the credo-communionist presbyterian also proclaims that the recipients of the Lord’s Supper are also saved since “by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death”(Larger Catechism 170). And just as baptists can be mistaken by admitting a false professor to the waters of baptism, so can the presbyterian be mistaken by admitting a false professor to the table of the Lord (WCF 29.8). However, the fact that the church occasionally fallibly applies the criteria, does not mean that the criteria are impossible to implement. We could say that the criteria are impossible to implement perfectly and we’d be correct; but no baptist that I have ever read has ever argued that the criteria are applied perfectly by baptist congregations.
      Hopefully that clarifies my argument. Thanks for stopping by. Please feel free to respond, critique, or heckle (well, no, don’t heckle, but you get the idea). Or maybe we could chat about it some time in ye olde library.


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