Confessing Faith

Or, Questions for Credo Baptism

Scripture: Selected Scriptures

Date: March 5, 2017

Speaker: Sean Higgins

For a couple reasons we’re going to have to wait another week to find out what the seven ugly cows symbolize in Genesis 41. This morning I’m going to teach about baptism, and that is because of timing and because of some fire in my bones. These are relevant things for our worship, and now is a good time to talk about them.

One reason for talking about baptism today is that I intended to talk about baptism two Sundays ago, on the Lord’s Day before the marriage seminar. I’d been brainstorming for a while about preaching about the relationship between liturgy and marriage for the morning service of the seminar, and I’d also observed that Genesis 41 is fiddy-seven verses long, justifying a two-part study. Rather than cover half the chapter and then wait two weeks I thought a one-part-something would fit. I was planning to preach on baptism.

It turns out that Jim preached that morning since I was gone, then we talked about spouses and worship, and so I could get back to Genesis 41 today without fear of splitting up the study, but I will next week.

Baptism is a subject that has come up in a couple ways recently. Since our liturgy leans toward the Reformed, even Presbyterian direction, we have some more covenantal types paying us attention. The question comes up, “Will you baptize our babies?” or, “Will you accept that I was baptized as a baby?” The elders have talked about it at a couple of our meetings and we think the answer is No. We won’t baptize babies nor do we think it’s right. Why? It’s a reasonable question.

At the same time we are baptizing younger kids, some younger than perhaps everyone is comfortable with. We have another baptism scheduled for Resurrection Sunday evening, six weeks from today. So what do we expect when it comes to a child’s profession of faith? Maybe if we work through those questions it will help parents disciple their children in regard to professing their faith in Christ in baptism.

So let’s work through why we’re credo not paedo baptizers and then talk about the initial, foundational credo that should be professed.

Credo NOT Paedo

Credo is a Latin verb translated “I believe” or even “I confess.” The creeds and confessions in church history, such as The Apostles’ Creed (which begins, Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae,), are called “creeds” because they are a statement of what someone believes.

Paedo is a Latin noun for “child,” but in this discussion it usually refers to an infant, a newborn baby.

Credo-baptizters (such as Baptists) baptize based on one’s belief in Christian doctrine and paedo-baptizers (such as Lutherans, Presbyterians, Christian Reformed, Methodists, and of course, Catholics) baptize based on one’s birth to Christian parents.

Both sides agree that when the gospel is preached to a man for the first time, and that man repents of his sin and turns from his false worship to put his faith in Jesus Christ, he should be baptized. First generation converts—who are necessarily old enough to know what is happening—must be baptized as part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18).

The question comes when that Christian has kids. Those kids are born into a what is now a Christian home, and should those children be raised as unbelievers? Paul told the parents in the church in Ephesus to raise their kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). In other words, fathers should raise believers. Christian parents should raise worshippers. Christian parents should not let their child wander in spiritual indecision until sometime when he can make his informed decision. Fathers are to inform the minds and consciences of their sons and daughters by the Word and among the church. But not all credo-baptists have been so dutiful.

One very reasonable criticism of the hands-off approach is that Baptists typically look for a crisis conversion. The child needs a testimony, and that will present itself at some watershed moment of turning from sin and toward Jesus. Such crisis conversion fits with individualistic thinking in the U.S., especially in the context of revivals and alter calls and “personal relationship with Jesus” talk. Too many of our Baptist brothers have neglected their responsibilities by waiting for their child’s conversion.

On the other hand are those who talk about “covenant” and generations and family/community. They see a similarity between, if not actual replacement of, Israel and the church. The sign of circumcision initiated every male child into God’s Old Covenant people; circumcision identified them. They compare baptism to circumcision as identifying the baby with the New Covenant people, the Church, as the initial sign.

The criticisms of crisis conversion are too true to be ignored. The observation that baptism is a sign of identity just as circumcision did is also very interesting. The problem with both observations is that both miss what baptism is based on. It is not based on conversion per se, though it should happen around conversion. It is also not based on whether or not one’s parents are in the covenant, though that should make a difference, too. Baptism is based on confession, both confession of sin and mostly confession of faith in Christ. This is credo baptism.

Every imperative to baptism in the New Testament belongs with repentance and faith in Jesus (for example, Acts 2:38, 22:16); being baptized is deliberate, not done without will or conscious consideration. Every example of baptism in the NT follows a response to the gospel (for example, Acts 2:42, 8:12-13, 18:8). There is no command to Christian parents to baptize their children as there were to Jewish parents to circumcise their sons. The reports of household baptisms cannot clearly be shown to have included infants in the household or that the infants were numbered in this ordinance.

Men are saved by faith. As cute as it was for Luther to claim that God gave babies faith, he strangely thought that only though babies of believing parents could have it. Why such limitation? That still bases baptism on something other than the candidates confession of faith. But as it has been written, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). “With the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10).

Baptism into Christ belongs with belief in Christ confessed. It is based not on birth but on rebirth. It does not require a crisis, it does require some cognition and ability to communicate belief. If you’re interested in reading more about this, I highly recommend A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptism by Matt Waymeyer.

We love many of our paedo-baptist brothers. We would say that they are Christians. However, we do not think that their baptism is acceptable. We will fellowship with them, even share communion with them at the Lord’s Table. At TEC, however, we will not affirm them as members of this local body, and therefore they cannot hold the office of deacon or elder among us.

How Much Credo?

Our conviction that a confession of faith in Christ is necessary prior to baptism does not require that the creed of the candidate be too long or complicated. “I do” is not an extensive or elaborate part of the marriage covenant, but it is also not optional.

Baptism is an initiating ordinance. It is an act of obedient faith early in the disciple’s walk. We reject that a candidate must “prove it” by years of living as a faithful Christian before he can be identified as one. Again, some of our Baptist brothers are wrong on this, postponing the ordinance until the baptismal candidate reaches a more mature and/or independent walk. They both put a burden of proof on the new believer while keeping from that new believer a necessary weapon in his fight of sanctification.

Paul told the Roman believers when they were tempted to sin: remember your baptism. Remember the spiritual reality that your baptism pictures: you are dead to sin and alive to God.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1–4)

Baptism is a sword for our sanctification, and it is wrong to expect soldiers to earn their sword by slaying sin first. By “protecting” baptism from false professions we’re sending believers into battle unprotected.

We want to encourage the faith of our children. We want to teach them about salvation through Jesus Christ the Savior and about discipleship in sanctification. In the Great Commission the order is not insignificant; we baptize and then teach to obey, so spiritual immaturity is not a reason not to baptize. Most Christians will be baptized at the least mature stage of their discipleship, which is exactly how God determined it. That doesn’t mean, however, that God doesn’t determine the initial level of understanding required as well.

What is the initial credo that we should expect? “Minimum” is the wrong word because it implies that there’s nothing else necessary. Initial acknowledges that it is a start to a life of learning and following, but there is a place to begin. One step inside the house is enough to be in the house, but you still have to get in the door.

Let’s say that you are a Christian parent raising your children to believe in Jesus and to obey Him and to worship Him. What questions should you ask to start with and what answers should you expect?

These are the sorts of questions that the elders will ask during an interview with a candidate for baptism. Older candidates get these questions and questions about their testimony; What brought you from that house to this one? For those being raised in a Christian home, all they’ve known is one house, one way of life, and we want them to know a basic set of truths before initiating them into the water.

Here is a nine question credo:

  • Why do you want to be baptized? I want to be baptized because I believe in Jesus as my Savior and want to obey His command to be baptized.
  • Who is Jesus? Jesus is God’s only Son, our Lord, the second Person of the Trinity, who is perfect and without sin.
  • What did Jesus do? Jesus died on the cross for our sin, was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
  • What is sin and why is it so bad? Sin is disobedience against God’s law and deserves the punishment of death.
  • How can you be saved? Salvation is by faith alone.
  • Does baptism save you? No.
  • What does baptism do? Baptism shows that I died and rose again with Christ. Baptism also identifies me with His Body, the Church.
  • Are you gladly willing to identify with Christ and His Church? Yes.
  • Will you commit to learn and obey all Christ has commanded? Yes.

These answer the basics of the gospel and the basics about baptism itself. Parents ought to work with their kids so that their small disciples can answer. Parents should also read through our “What We Believe in Brief” statement with their child, and everything in it should be agreeable though it doesn’t all need to be committed to memory.

There are at least two errors that can come from catechesis such as this. One error would be teaching to the test rather than teaching as a way to communicate faith. Answers are easy enough to parrot, but we want these answers to be expressions of believing hearts. Do the answers show a profession of knowledge or a profession of faith? Do you see a desire for obedience and delight in praising God? Do you see humble repentance and a desire for reconciliation? Or do you just want your kid to get their baptism medal for their achievement collection?

A second error would be demanding precision in profession without any exceptions. While the above answers are not a high bar, there are some persons with mental and/or verbal communication problems that may never be able to do more than nod or grunt assent but who nevertheless give evidence of understanding and gladness in the truths of salvation. For those who are simply too young, whose speech is not yet developed, there is no harm in waiting a while. For those for whom waiting isn’t likely to change their abilities to communicate, we ought to be generous in looking for signs of their faith rather than defects in their answers. Those exceptions, though, don’t make a rule for the rest.


Have you been baptized as a confession of your faith? Is embarrassment keeping you from identifying with Jesus? Shame is not a good reason to avoid the public profession.

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32–33)

On one end of the spectrum, parents who baptize their babies may think things are okay because their kid is in the covenant. On the other end, parents who won’t baptize their babies may think they shouldn’t even mention the covenant; they don’t want their kid to have “their” faith. Both extremes are a failure to understand that baptized believers have taken the intentional, initial step of discipleship, and it is a long road of learning what there is to believe in the Bible and all the ways Christ calls us to follow Him. Christian parents should teach their children about regeneration, whether or not it involves a crisis, and they should teach their children about truth and obedience, without ever disconnecting both from faith.

Of course we don’t want to provide false assurance to church-goers or to our children. False assurance of salvation is a deadly weapon that the enemy has used to lull many souls to eternal destruction. Parents and disciplers and pastors are not charged to make people feel good about their profession of faith no matter what. Those who are born of God cannot continue to sin. “No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). Ongoing, and especially hard-hearted, unrepentant sinners ought not to have assurance of salvation.

But false assurance is starved in a culture of discipleship beginning with, not ending with, baptism. The primary danger isn’t whether or not we’re willing to baptize an immature believer, but whether or not we’re willing to disciple them.

Are you fighting sin according to your baptism? Are you committed to learning to observe all that Jesus commanded?

Note: here is a related message, Declaring Allegiance

See more sermons from the Miscellaneous by Sean Higgins series.