Interview with Wellum on Infant Baptism

I have heard nothing but great things about Steve Wellum’s chapter in Believer’s Baptism. Perhaps the most rave review of it that I personally heard was from one of the stay-at-home moms in our church!

I don’t know that a theologian could get a higher compliment than that: a stay-at-home mom devoured what he had written and loves to talk about how that piece of theological writing helped her understanding. Praise God!

Anyway, Justin Taylor has now interviewed Dr. Wellum on these issues, and I commend both the chapter and this interchange to you for your careful consideration.

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  1. Jim,

    Hey buddy. It’s been a while. I’ve got a question for you about Wellum’s article. I posted this over at Taylor’s blog and no one really interacted with it. I thought you might be able to give me some help.


    Thanks for all of the posts on baptism. They’ve really made me think. The issue is more complicated than I’d previously realized.

    I’m a credo-baptist, but I have a question about some of the things in your interview with Wellum. As I understand it, baptism is the sign of entrance into the new covenant. But there is no guarantee that every professing believer is truly regenerate. So it is possible to baptize a false professing believer. So are all baptized professing Christians members of the new covenant community?

    If so, assuming that not all professing Christians will be saved on the last day, does this mean that the new covenant community is still a “mixed” community? We accept professions of faith, but we cannot guarantee that every professor will persevere in faith. Some may be false believers. In which case, what is the difference between the baptist and paedobaptist on this point? The Baptist cannot guarantee that every person he baptizes is in fact regenerate.

    Wellum seems to admit as much when he says in response to the question about the visible church:

    “At this point, what is often questioned is this: On any given gathering of the people of God are there not unbelievers in the midst, or even false professions of faith which then are viewed as the visible church? No doubt, it is the case that in any gathering of God’s people there are unbelievers and false professions. The difference is that in the new covenant we do not view these individuals as joined to Christ, in faith union with him, and members of the new covenant community.”

    So false members of the people of God are not truly members of the new covenant community, even if they are baptized. To me, this sounds like the new covenant community is another way of speaking of the invisible church (whereas paedobaptists want to connect the new covenant community to the visible church). Am I reading that correctly?

    In essence, are all baptized professors members of the new covenant community? If yes, then how does this differ from the paedo-baptist view of a mixed covenant community? If no, then how do you determine who is in the new covenant community (if not by baptism or profession)?

    Thanks for your help.

  2. Joey,

    It seems to me that the crucial distinction is that Baptists are doing everything they can to preserve regenerate church membership. Of course, only God knows the heart, so we will be mistaken by some people who “go out from us because they are not really of us,” but we’re nevertheless requiring a “credible profession of faith,” which usually means a profession accompanied by evidence of regeneration.

    The paedo-baptists, by contrast, are cultivating a situation in which they have a bunch of people baptized who have not professed faith. I think these two situations are in no way analogous.

    You might appreciate Tom Schreiner’s approach to these issues in his interview on Baptism on the Converse With Scholars program. If you go to their website it should be easy enough to find the interview.

    Hope this helps!


  3. Jim,

    Thanks for the response. I do see the difference between what each view aims for. However, I’m still confused who the “new covenant community” is on a credo-baptist view. Is it the visible church (which is a mixed community, however well we may aim for it to be regenerate)? Or is it the invisible church (in which case we can say that it exists, and that certain people appear to be in it, but can’t say with absolute certainty who is in it)?

    Sorry for all of the questions. I’ve been wrestling through the issue lately (JT got me thinking about it with his posts on infant baptism and Poythress’ article on early childhood baptisms). On a practical level, I am seeking to determine how rigorous we should be on the front end (before we baptize). Should their be a period of testing before we allow someone to be baptized? Or should we do it as soon as they profess faith? Does this hold true for only adults, or for children also? What level of intellectual maturity is required to be baptized? If a child professes, should we still wait to baptize until they’ve matured and demonstrated that their profession is “credible?” Or should we honor their profession (even at 4 or 5) and then seek to hold them to it throughout their childhood and teenage years? Lots of practical questions. But before I can really examine those, I’m trying to determine what baptism is doing in relation to the church.

    So, should the new covenant community be equated to the visible church or the invisible church (or neither)? Are all those who are baptized on a credible profession of faith considered to be members of the new covenant community? Thanks for your help, Jim.

  4. Joey,

    Thanks for your note.

    The visible church from the credo-baptist position is the true church, which is the new covenant community. We don’t know who the elect are, only God does, but we do the best we can. So, on the front end, we require a credible profession of faith, which includes obedience to Jesus, the first point of which we understand to be believer’s baptism by immersion.

    Then, on the back end, the church is kept pure by the practice of church discipline. So, Jesus instructed us to exclude those who may have given a credible profession, been baptized, but now show that they have not been born again by refusing to repent of their sin.

    I think this makes it as clear as it can be, though Jesus indicates that some will be surprised on the last day (Matt 7:21-23).

    I’m sympathetic with the approach to who gets baptized and when articulated by Dever in his contribution to the Schreiner/Wright volume.

    Baptism is the initiatory rite into church membership.

    Yes. The new covenant community should be equated with the visible church, and all those baptized on credible profession of faith should be regarded as members of that community. Any who refuse to repent of their sin, however, show that they have not been regenerated and should be taken through the process of discipline in the hopes that they will be brought to repentance.

    Hope this helps!


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