This is a response to Raul Enyedi's article entitled "Should Baptist Baptize Children?" You can read that by clicking on the link to it in this text. It can also be found on Pugh's Corner under "Articles by Raul Enyedi of Romania".
by Jeff Short
An open interaction with Raul Enyedi’s, “Should Baptists Baptize Children?”
I read an article by Raul Enyedi recently shared on social media and sent directly to me via private message. Bro. Enyedi is a Baptist pastor in Bocsa, Romania. He is studious, uses English well, and is a capable writer. I pray he will be gracious if I have made any error in identifying him. We have not met personally, though I and the church I pastor are thankful for the church in Romania and pray for our brothers and sisters there.
I don’t have much more to go on than the text of the article, and that’s what I want to interact with. I am using the text as the article was sent to me in Word format. The article contained 3,647 words in 21 paragraphs. I will put the text of his article in blockquotes and number the paragraphs in brackets for reference, e.g., . I do this in hope I don’t misrepresent him and to help anyone interested to follow the interaction. Hereafter, I will address Bro. Enyedi directly.
The Problem Stated
The problem identified is “baptizing young children,” and since you qualified the churches as, “our churches,” and “our kind of churches,” I am assuming you mean Sovereign Grace Landmark Baptist Churches. It is important to note that my remarks are not concerning Southern Baptists, or any other groups, or the Arminian practices of high-pressure child evangelism. The tone of the opening gives the impression this problem is something of an epidemic in the United States among “our churches.” It may be a big problem, but I am unaware of it. Most of the churches I am aware of here are hardly baptizing anybody, much less young children.
The opening paragraph ends with a request for a “fair hearing.” I infer
from your request for a fair hearing that you are also inclined to give a
fair hearing, which would be a discussion and the reason I am interacting
with your article in this open way.
Toward a Cautious Reading of History
You seem well-read in Baptist history. Would you provide some references that speak specifically to this subject, either the baptizing of young children or the deliberate delaying of baptism? I would be interested to read those. I am aware of a couple of statements in the mid-19th century.
I am not asserting agreement with Spurgeon or Dagg in everything, but merely pointing out a couple of examples. Spurgeon speaks in that sermon of the salvation of the very young, such that they are lisping their profession of faith in Christ. He is directly refuting infant baptism/sprinkling in the sermon but does refer to children making conscious professions of faith and being received into church fellowship. Yes, I am assuming he means by baptism because I don’t know any other way of being received into church fellowship. If he means something else, that is not clear in the sermon.
You concluded your historical research deciding this is “something new.” Did you not find it in history because it didn’t happen, or could there be other reasons? If you found specific references to delaying baptisms, were they delayed by scriptural precept, or were they delayed in reaction, or overreaction, to Rome and the reformers? There could be many possible explanations why one might not find the practice in the annals of church history and it would take extensive research to draw reasonable conclusions. I agree with your following paragraph that history is not the rule of faith and practice, but the Bible is.
Part of the problem with researching this subject in history is demonstrated in your article. You have tried to address something specifically but have done so in general terms so that I’m still not clear on exactly what you mean. You have written of “young children,” “preteen children,” “teenage years,” “adulthood,” “children,” “little children,” and the Swiss Reformer not baptizing until “12 years old.” In one place you stated, “the conversion of little children (their repentance and faith) is something that cannot be verified until years later when they grow into adulthood,” and then later wrote, “Teenage years are the earliest usual age when the first fruits of true conversion can be seen, therefore, we believe it is wise that baptism is not considered before anyone reaches this age.” You also wrote, “Delaying baptism until definite signs of conversion are obvious (in later teenage years at least) will confirm to children the seriousness of the subject and will lead them to continually evaluate themselves until they are assured by the Lord regarding their salvation.” So is it adulthood when conversion can be verified satisfactorily enough for baptism, or is it the teenage years, which start at thirteen? Or, is it the later teenage years? What is the exact minimum age for baptism according to Scripture? At what year of age can we declare someone a valid candidate where one year less of age would make them invalid candidates according to the Bible?
Another problem is the way we think about childhood and maturity is not the same at all times in all cultures. Our modern conception of childhood and mature adulthood is a product of the development of child psychology of the 20th century. In the 21st century we now have a further designation of kidult that refers to delayed adulthood where independence is not established until ages in the 20’s and 30’s for some. Periods of schooling are extended and marriage is delayed later than in previous generations.
Ideas about maturity, responsibility, and capacity change. Compulsory school attendance in the 19th century ended at 14. Most of us don’t have to go too far back in our family histories to find brides who were 14 or 15 years old, maybe younger. At 17, George Washington was named the Official Surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia. David Farragut was born in 1801 and was a commissioned midshipman aboard the warship Essex at age 9. He served in the navy during the war of 1812. He was given command of a ship and a specific mission to accomplish when he was 12. At age 10 or 11, Clara Barton began nursing her brother back to health with a competence that surprised the medical staff and saw it through for two years until he was recovered.
My point is that we need to be careful when reading history that we are not projecting our modern concepts and notions onto the historians of that day. I suppose we also need to be careful when we talk about what “children” are capable of and not capable of.
The Interpretation of Scripture
You wrote, “When we look in the Scriptures we do not find a minimum age of the candidate stated.” I agree the Bible never gives a minimum age for baptism and I agree we do not prove Bible doctrine from silence. The argument from silence is a double-edged sword because it leads to the regulative regress—The Bible doesn’t say to do it, but neither does it say not to do it. The argument from silence is viewed as either restrictive or permissive. I have seen the argument from silence used to prove the sprinkling of babies, that instrumental accompaniment should not be used for congregational singing, exclusive psalmody, praying to saints, and more. We complain about it because it’s used arbitrarily and without contextual warrant. Silence can be meaningful, but it needs to be shown how it is meaningful and why from the context. Even when silence is meaningful, it is never conclusive alone. It might add something and it might not. At best, silence can only be supportive and not definitive.
The crux of your biblical argument is in this third paragraph. Everything else you say is based on a presuppositional conclusion you have drawn from a few examples and a form of the argument from silence. The structure of argument generically stated is: the Bible gives a few examples of A, B, and C; therefore, only A, B, and C are valid and D through Z are invalid. To put it another way, the statement of anything is the statement of everything. You have taken the restrictive view of the argument from silence—everything not stated is excluded. The argument runs like this: The Bible says A happened, therefore only A ever happened and X did not happen.
Interpretations have to be validated by the Scripture. With a valid interpretative principle, we draw valid conclusions and they are consistent. So let’s test this principle and see if the conclusion is valid. Acts chapter 1 tells of the church tarrying together in Jerusalem as Jesus commanded. Verses 13-14 specifically name the eleven disciples, women, Mary, and Jesus’s brothers. Verse 15 gives the membership of the church as “about an hundred and twenty.” There were 15 men (eleven disciples and Jesus’s four brothers), Mary, and unnumbered women. According to the principle, there must have been about 104 women and no other men. Of course, we encounter a problem when we get to verse 23 and find two men were among their number “from the baptism of John,” named Joseph and Matthias who were not brothers of Jesus. When Peter addressed the church, he addressed the “Men and brethren” (Acts 1:16); that is andres adelphoi, or brother men, though we know women were present.
Acts 2 gives the first record of baptisms in the book. Verse 5 specifically states men were in Jerusalem. When Peter addressed the multitude, he addressed men (vv. 14, 22, 29). Verse 41 states that 3,000 were baptized after receiving the word gladly. According to the principle, we must conclude that the 3,000 were only men. The account only specifies men being in the multitude. Does this seem reasonable? Peter stated what was happening on the day of Pentecost was a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel that signaled they were in the last days. He spoke of the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, including sons, daughters, young men, old men, servants, and handmaidens. He commanded everyone to be baptized upon the repentance of sins and said, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:41).
Acts 4:4 reports that through the preaching of Jesus, the number of men in the Jerusalem church increased to about 5,000. Apparently, they had not added any women to this point?
Chapter 5 speaks of “young men” in verse 6 and 10. The word in verse 6 is neoteroi and means a youth down to one recent born. The word in verse 10 is neaniskoi and means a youth under 40 years, which was considered full age. Verse 14 does say “men and women” were added, as does 8:12 and 17:12. Those passages could mean that in those instances men and women 40 and over were baptized or believed. The phrase could also be less specific in order to emphasize the diversity of the many people who were being baptized. Unless a specific age is given, the words used are not specific and can cover a range of ages. We could quibble over the ages. Some scholars say full age was reached at 20 and others say 40. Regardless of that, we cannot establish a precise age from the Bible.
In the case of the household baptisms (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16), we are only told that all of the house were baptized. The baby sprinklers use this as their strong argument. We must agree that because the Bible doesn’t give an example of an eight day old baby being baptized, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The answer is not to artificially constrain the text. Regardless of the silence, we know baby sprinklers are wrong because of the true nature of salvation and baptism. The Bible teaches salvation includes conscious faith and that baptism does not regenerate. If the Spirit had wanted to teach an age restriction, he could have done so in any of the didactic teachings or commands about salvation or baptism, but he did not do so.
The problem is you are arguing the same way the baby sprinklers are, only in the reverse. They assume baby sprinkling and assume the households mentioned must have included babies. You are assuming adult baptisms and assume the households were only adults, though you cannot specify an age. We don’t have to do this to prove a point. This is a narrative account of an event. Regardless of who was in the household, we don’t find anything inconsistent with the Bible doctrine of the nature of salvation or baptism. Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to them, commanded them to believe, and then they were baptized (Acts 16:30-33).
Furthermore, if we take this method of interpretation and go to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, we read that the twelve were in the room with Jesus (Matthew 26:20) and that only men were at the table (John 13:28). By this method, we have no example of women partaking of the Lord’s Supper and must conclude it is for adult men only.
This interpretive method does not work for at least two reasons. 1) Acts is narrative history. You are not applying this method to specific commands but rather to statements of what happened. 2) There is no scriptural reason to interpret this way. This principle of interpretation must be demonstrated from Scripture that we should take the statement of anything to be the statement of everything.
The Fruits of Repentance
The example of John the Baptist is pertinent to this discussion. We do find John calling for fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8), but the text says more than that. There were those that came to him and many were Pharisees and Sadducees, and some were publicans and soldiers. John rebuked them for trusting in Abraham rather than Jesus (Matthew 3:8-9; Luke 3:8), lack of love for their neighbor (Luke 3:11), extortion (Luke 3:13), abusiveness, false witness, and covetousness (Luke 3:14). They also doubted his message and questioned if John was the Messiah (Luke 3:15). John rebuked their sin and pointed them to Christ, the coming One (Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16-17). So John did not baptize those who did not believe in Christ and repent of their sin.
That’s not all of the story though. John came preaching a message of repentance and the coming of the kingdom by the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 3:1-2; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). There were other people that came to John besides those we looked at in the previous paragraph. These others came receiving the word John preached, confessing their sins, and John baptized them (Matthew 3:5-6; Mark 1:5). There were those John baptized and those he didn’t, but what we don’t find with John or the churches in Acts is any lengthy probation period between conversion and baptism. Those John didn’t baptize were obviously not scriptural candidates because they were not believing and repenting.
At the root of this issue is the question of who is a scriptural candidate for baptism? This question is answered by studying the didactic teaching and explicit commands concerning salvation, i.e. repentance and faith, and baptism. The Scripture does not set an age for either, so why should we set an age? Any age we set is going to be arbitrary. A person is either a scriptural candidate for baptism or not, regardless of age. Trying to talk about this in terms of age cannot be done from the biblical text.
You wrote: “The Lord can save someone at an early age. But the conversion of little children (their repentance and faith) is something that cannot be verified until years later when they grow into adulthood and become independent enough to make their own choices and experience life on their own.” This conclusion is based on what Scripture? As far as I can tell, this is based on the presupposition you’ve drawn from a couple of examples of supposed adults being baptized using an unproven method of interpreting silence. Your two statements are inconsistent. Here is the shape of your argument:
Churches are commanded to baptize those who come to believe (Matthew 28:19). All who come to believe are commanded to be baptized (Acts 2:38). The great commission is: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. The idea of making a disciple, then teaching and observing them for years, and then baptizing them is not consistent with the command nor the practice of the churches in the New Testament. Are we to take one who has been saved and instruct them to be disobedient to God (1 Peter 3:21), to not publicly profess Jesus Christ and their faith in him (Romans 6:3-4), and to deny their new identity in Christ (Colossians 2:6-13).
My point again is that we are to examine candidates for baptism. John refused to baptize Pharisees because they did not come in repentance and faith. It wasn’t that they were professing Christ and repenting of sin and John told them they would have to wait a few years to make sure. Again, he did baptize those who came repenting and believing. It is simply not about age. In 1 John we have many criteria for judging the claims of salvation, but not one of those is based on age.
It is apparent at this point you have added three extrabiblical requirements.
No Scripture proves any of those. Presuppositions based on silence in a few narrative passages does not prove any of those. If you’re going to write to churches to correct them for the error of baptizing too young and not following these requirements, then you are going to have to actually demonstrate them from Scripture, including a clear minimum age that is too young. Churches have a responsibility in judgment concerning baptism, mission work, church discipline, finances, and more. Churches have to continually seek wisdom, search the Scriptures, pray, exercise prudence in all matters. A young child may well be an improper candidate, but for that matter, a forty-year-old can be an improper candidate as well. John discerned the Pharisees were improper candidates and did not baptize them and neither should we baptize improper candidates.
You have argued that a child is an improper candidate, though you haven’t exactly given an age. For sake of the argument, let’s say a preteen makes a profession and is baptized. They grow into adulthood, which also hasn’t been established by age. They have consistently shown the fruits you’ve talked about in their life and have been faithful to the local body. At 40 years old they move to Bocsa and wish to unite with the church there. What would you do? According to what you’ve expressed in this article, you would have to explain to them that their baptism was invalid based on their age making them an improper candidate when they were baptized. You would then have to baptize them in order to receive them into membership. Are you willing to own that consequence of what you are teaching? Even if you do practice this in consistency with what you wrote, that doesn’t prove it from Scripture but only demonstrates consistency on your part.
Some of what I would say would start to get repetitive, so I want to make only one observation from this section. The concern in this section, and also in some other places in the article, is false professions. False professions are real and are concerning. False professions, though, come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. Just to clarify again, I am considering churches where the Gospel is preached and not places where people, especially young children, are pressured and manipulated into decisions and repeating prayers.
The answer to false professions is to consistently preach the true Gospel, not to add extrabiblical protections against false professions. If Jesus (John 6:60, 70-71), Philip (Acts 8:9-13, 18-23), and Paul (2 Timothy 4:10) had false professions, we will also. In fact, the Bible assures us we will have false professions by the parables of the sower, the wheat and tares, the net, the wise and foolish virgins; the visions of future judgments (Matthew 7:21-23; 25:31-46); the reality of false teachers in our midst (Acts 20:29-30); and further warnings. If we are to guard against false professions by extra-strenuous practices, why were we not told so in Scripture? Why are we not given special procedures for dealing with special groups of people, e.g., preteens, teens, young adults, adults, etc.?
The Bible also tells us how false professors are dealt with. Some will be weeded out by persecutions (Matthew 13:21). Some will fall away into temptations (Matthew 13:22; 2 Timothy 4:10). Some will be removed by church discipline (Matthew 18:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5). Some will depart of their own (1 John 2:18-19). Some will go through their whole life never being exposed as a hypocrite and even self-deceived until judgment (Matthew 7:21-23). Ultimately, God is the judge and he is the one who knows men’s hearts.
Our responsibility in light of this is not to add extra requirements but to do what Jesus commanded us to do and teach the baptized believers all things Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20). Consider Paul’s example. He wrote letters to those he called brethren and he was deliberate and explicitly clear in preaching the Gospel to them. We must be consistently clear about sin, depravity, unrighteousness, and self-righteousness. We must be consistently clear about saving faith and God’s grace in salvation apart from works. We must be consistently clear about repentance and calling men to repentance. We must be consistently clear about our standing and new identity in Jesus Christ and not in gifts, goodness, intelligence, maturity, baptism, etc. We must be consistently clear that saving faith brings forth fruit of good works and perseveres unto the end.
You wrote: “They involve the ability to understand concepts like life, death, good, evil, justice, forgiveness, service, love, sacrifice, etc. They also involve the ability to know ourselves and evaluate our past actions, character and world view in light of the statements of the Gospel. It should be obvious that preteen children are not able to comprehend the Gospel as described above except in a limited and superficial way. God can save them even with limited understanding, but there is no guarantee of true conversion until they will be independent enough to make their own choices: to know themselves and discover their own identity.”
I am very confused by these statements. Earlier you wrote, “The Lord can save someone at an early age.” Then here you wrote, “preteen children are not able to comprehend the Gospel … except in a limited and superficial way.” Then you wrote, “God can save them even with a limited understanding, but there is no guarantee of true conversion until they will be independent enough to make their own choices…”
Is regeneration conditioned on maturity, ability to comprehend, and fully understand “life, death, good, evil, justice, forgiveness, service, love, sacrifice, etc.”? Or, is regeneration a supernatural, sovereign, monergistic work of the Spirit where he gives life, faith, and repentance to those chosen by God unto salvation? Is regeneration with the effectual drawing of God unto Christ for salvation not based on anything we are, have done, or can do? Does regeneration happen at the time sovereignly appointed by God before we were ever born (Galatians 1:15-16) according to his will and not our’s?
Also, regardless of age, our confidence is never to be in our baptism but in Christ alone. Why would we assume anyone of any age to have assurance of salvation based on their baptism? That’s actually covenant theology and not the biblical Gospel.
This section deals with church membership and the assertions made about independence and individuality are not in the Bible. A church member in the Bible is one who has made a profession of faith in Christ, including the repentance of sin, and has been baptized by the church into the membership. Where is the requirement for omni-competence in every member? Paul taught that the body has many different members though they are equally part of the body they are not equal to one another. Churches face many tough things and have to judge, discern, and decide. That doesn’t mean that each individual has equal ability or competence to do so. Churches are given pastors, teachers, shepherds, elders, deacons, i.e., spiritual leadership and oversight. There are special requirements for such men that they be able to teach, lead, and rule well. A novice is not suitable to be a pastor, but he is to be a church member if he has professed Christ and obeyed him in baptism. The whole body is to work together to edify itself in love that every member grows up to maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16).
I have known saints in the later years of life who had a good testimony of many years of faithfulness and fruit of the Spirit who had limited understanding in complex matters. Does this mean they couldn’t be church members? This makes no sense to me at all. What of weaker brothers in the church and the commands to receive them, help them, and support them (Romans 14:1; 15:1; 1 Corinthians 8:9; 12:22-24; 1 Thessalonians 5:14)? Did not Paul address the church in Corinth as “babes in Christ” because they lacked maturity (1 Corinthians 3:1-2)?
The individualism you have asserted is strange to me. It seems to suggest that church membership nullifies or supersedes any authority and relationship structures in a person’s life. The way we relate to one another in the church is always going to be with respect to the relationships and authorities we are under. If you have a husband and a wife who are members of a church and one of them is in sin, the church needs to deal with that one, but on some levels that dealing is going to be with both of them. One example would be the way Paul dealt with Onesimus. Onesimus was the slave of Philemon and Paul recognized and respected that relationship and authority structure. He instructed Onesimus to return to Philemon and appealed to Philemon to receive him as a brother in forgiveness. In the Roman world, slaves were not free and independent. Paul recognized that Onesimus could not act completely independent and individually and he dealt with him through Philemon.
By your principles, slaves could not be members of a church. However, Paul specifically addressed slaves in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 7:20-24). He instructed them to be faithful and obedient to their masters, as they were also instructed in other epistles (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:1-3; 1 Peter 2:18-24). You will note he also instructed the masters in their responsibility to their slaves.
The church epistles do the same thing with husbands, wives, parents, and children (Ephesians 5:22-33; 6:1-4; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Peter 3:1-7). In fact, one of the evidences of salvation and faith is how a person submits to the authorities they are under in life (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Corinthians 16:15-16; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Timothy 2:11; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 2:13; 5:5). The church has the responsibility of teaching godly, humble submission to proper authorities, not individualism.
This is the rest of the article. It is mostly practical words and there is a lot of good in it. Where I don’t understand or disagree should be obvious. I don’t want to repeat myself, so I will only make a few comments. You are obviously concerned about a problem in American churches. I do repeat here that maybe it is a big problem, but I don’t know where this is happening. I admit that the churches here have problems. There are problems of pride, traditionalism, lack of humility, lack of grace, lack of consistent go-therefore evangelism, neglect of the whole counsel of God in favor of hobby-horses, ax grinding, preachers who see themselves as pastors-at-large, busybodies, laziness, neglect of discipline, phariseeism, worldliness, and we could go on. One of the greatest needs of the hour is for churches to get back to the actual text of Scripture, the “Thus saith the Lord,” and not the thus saith John Gill, A. W. Pink, or anyone else.
Concerning this issue, the Bible does not set a minimum age and I don’t see the point in discussing this in terms of age. If we are clear about salvation and baptism, then we should be clear on who is a proper candidate without adding extrabiblical requirements. I agree with you that we should take salvation, baptism, church membership, and discipleship very seriously.
If you’re reading this then you must have read the whole article. I appreciate that. To you and the church there in Romania I extend nothing but brotherly love, appreciation, and thankfulness for your witness in that part of the world. May all of the Lord’s churches everywhere be first-love faithful to Christ and be as the Bereans ever searching the Scriptures daily to prove all things and hold fast to that which is good.
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726