We’ve had a couple baptisms of infants lately and so I’ve been answering a number of questions. Here are my thoughts on some of the key differences between paedobaptists and credobaptists….
Good questions! I think that there are a number of issues at play in this discussion. I’ll give you some thoughts that you can chew on and ask some more. I would heartily recommend Doug Wilson’s book “To a Thousand Generations.” I found it particularly helpful as I wrestled with these issues. The difference between credobaptism and paedobaptism is like two different sets of prescription glasses. Hence, it is challenging to isolate the real differences between the two in short space. There are lots of intertwined issues and it has taken me years to work through them – indeed, I’m still working! But let me try to hit a couple major points – I may not hit all your questions so ask again if I miss something that is important.
Two central, related issues in this debate are the nature of the new covenant and the meaning of baptism. On the one hand, credobaptists insist that the new covenant includes only believers (“all shall know me, from the least to the greatest” – Jer 31:34). Because credobaptists insist that the new covenant includes only believers, they thereby endeavor to limit baptism to those who have made a personal profession of faith and thus given personal evidence of regeneration. While this evidence is not absolute (witness the case of Simon the magician in Acts 8), this evidence at least gives us more confidence that the individual is personally converted than we would have otherwise. Baptism, in this view, is an evidence of the individual’s faith, an external evidence of an internal change.
So these are two of the “watershed” issues that separate credobaptists and paedobaptists.
I certainly grant that there are distinctions between the old covenant and the new covenant. But these distinctions are chiefly of the “new covenant has more” variety. Old Covenant = Gospel primarily in Israel; New Covenant = Gospel to all nations. Old Covenant = Sign applied only to men; New Covenant = Sign for all members. Old Covenant = Ethnic Israel; New Covenant = Spiritual Israel. But even in the OC there were hints and anticipations of some of these things – Rahab, Ruth, Nineveh, Psalms, etc. So to address whether children are viewed differently in the new covenant, we’d have to ask what the NT teaches about kids (and also what the OT prophets taught about kids in their prophecies). And what we find is glorious continuity – Jesus blesses the children, even infants, of his disciples (Lk 18:15ff); Paul issues his commands to “households” which includes kids and he exhorts the kids to obey their parents “in the Lord” (Eph 6). So there is continuity in the way we are to view our children – they are members with us of the kingdom of God and are to be brought up in the faith to love and cherish the ways of the Lord. By nature they, like we, are “outsiders” and “children of wrath”; but, by grace, they are incorporated into the people of God and marked out as God’s own children, summoned to walk with Him all their days.