This article is about my personal interactions with Presbyterians and how they influenced me.
When I started writing my article on paedobaptism, I took a cue from other short essays on the topic that invariably mixed biographical details about their conversion (or lack thereof) with the theological considerations themselves. I guess this speaks to how personal theology is for these people (which is a good thing). As I continued adding more and more biographical details, I realized that the biography was becoming inappropriately large for what was intended to be a short and sweet treatise on paedobaptism. Not wanting to toss out what I wrote, I decided to create this page and include said details here.
As noted in the introduction of my paedobaptism article, no one can accuse me of hostility or phobia toward paedobaptism. Is it even significant for me to mention that? I mean, this is only a secondary issue. Well, while it is a secondary issue, it is still a fairly sensitive and occasionally emotional issue for some Christians, no doubt because it involves our children and how we view them in relation to God, his promises, and his church. Consequently, when I critique Presbyterian paedobaptism I think it is relevant that I can make a compelling case that I have no hostility or phobia toward it. Indeed, I showed great open-mindedness.
Growing up, I only associated liberal or at least tepid churches with paedobaptism. My parents baptized me as an infant in the United Methodist Church1, but we left that denomination when I was fourteen due its lack of depth and solid biblical teaching, at which time we started attending a baptist church. It was here that I first heard a clear presentation of the gospel and became saved at age fifteen. I was baptized as a believer a month later. We also lived near some beautiful Lutheran, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches. I knew plenty of people who were baptized in these churches as infants and do not recall anything of them having a passion for God. Most did not even consider themselves Christian, except perhaps in the most vague cultural sense.
Needless to say, it came as quite a shock in my late teens when I started studying presuppositionalism and learned that Presbyterians were some of the most solid believers out there. I incorrectly thought that all paedobaptists believed in baptismal regeneration and assumed that all evangelicals were baptists. Thankfully that ignorance left me, even if my baptist alignment didn’t. In my early two mid twenties, certainly my most theologically formative years, I surrounded myself with Presbyterianism in three ways:
First, my greatest theological influences and even my theological mentor at the time were dyed-in-the-wool Presbyterians, mostly in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, arguably the most hardcore Presbyterian denomination. (I’m sure PCA members would cringe at me saying that.) Philosophers like Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, Gordon Clark, and John Robbins (in the area of apologetics) and Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, and John Calvin (in the area of theology) all had my reverence and influenced me deeply. Pound for pound, Presbyterians clearly outshined Baptists in the area of theological advancement, in my opinion.2
Second, because of my deep appreciation for the intellectualism of Presbyterianism, I chose to attend a Presbyterian church (PCA) despite having baptist options in the area. (I did attend a baptist church for a little over a year, but the distance from my house, lack of teaching opportunities, and lack of single women compelled me to switch.) There I made many close friends, involved myself in ministry, and enjoyed the teaching and worship thoroughly. Were I still living in that area, it is quite possible I would have attended there for the long-term with my family (although not participating in paedobaptism).
Third, being single at the time and heartily believing that men not called to celibacy should intentionally pursue marriage, I pursued many Calvinist women, who, more often than not, were Presbyterian. Some I met at church but others I met online via Sovereign Grace Singles. (My mentor, who lived in Delaware, also half-jokingly told me that as soon as I became a paedobaptist, he knew of a lovely Presbyterian girl he wanted to introduce to me. Noted.) As I met or dated these women, I made it clear that I was still working through the issue of baptism, but wherever I settled, it would be an area where I ought to lead. (I only remember one woman, a RPCNA member, saying that this could cause a clash with her father. Also noted.) Fortuitously, the woman I married was baptist and from a baptist family.
As I mention briefly in the introduction of my paedobaptism article, I did become a closet Presbyterian for a few months in 2009, because I knew of no way to refute the formal argument for paedobaptism presented here. I also found many baptist critiques of paedobaptism either convoluted (e.g., Reformed Baptist responses) or outright weak (e.g., claiming it is wrong simply because it is not explicitly commanded or demonstrated in the New Testament). It was not until I began discoursing with a gentleman who subscribed to “New Covenant theology” that I heard a clear critique of covenant theology and, consequently, paedobaptism.
- With water collected from the Jordan River, no less!
- For the record, I don’t think the strong intellectualism within Presbyterianism owes itself to paedobaptism or even covenant theology but rather Calvinism, which in turn seems to create a better balance between reason and emotions than I have seen in other evangelical denominations.