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A minister prepares to baptize a believer.

Believer’s baptism (occasionally called credobaptism, from the Latin word credo) is the Christian practice of baptism as this is understood by many Protestant churches and those that descend from the Anabaptist tradition. A person is baptized on the basis of his or her profession of faith in Jesus Christ and as admission into a local community of faith. It may be contrasted to infant baptism (pedobaptism or paedobaptism, from the Greek paido meaning “child”), in which infants or young children may be baptized upon request of a parent who professes faith. Such baptisms are performed in various manners: believer's baptism by immersion is more common than by affusion or aspersion.



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Historical Background
Protestantism · Puritanism · Anabaptism

General · Strict · Reformed

Doctrinal distinctives
Priesthood of all believers · Individual soul liberty · Ordinances · Separation of church and state · Sola scriptura · Congregationalism · Offices · Confessions

Pivotal figures
John Smyth · Thomas Helwys · Roger Williams · John Bunyan · Shubal Stearns · Andrew Fuller · Charles Spurgeon · D. N. Jackson

Baptist Conventions and Unions

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Christians who practice believer's baptism believe that saving grace and church membership are gifts from God by the recipient's faith alone and cannot be imparted or transferred from one person to another (such as from parent to child) by sacraments such as baptism. These tenets render infant baptism meaningless within their belief system. Because infants cannot hear or believe the gospel message, neither can they repent or profess Christ as the Son of God. Credobaptists have differing views concerning the status of children who are too young to profess faith (Matthew 19:14).

Believer’s baptism is held by Baptists to have no saving effect, but to be a public expression of faith, symbolically representative of the inner conversion of the person being baptized.

Some other Christian groups hold baptism to have salvific value. Churches of Christ understand baptism to be an integral part of the conversion process, rather than just a symbol of conversion.[1]:184 Integral teachings of Churches of Christ include the following:

  • Baptism by immersion is a necessary part of salvation without which one cannot enter into the kingdom of God, John 3:3–5; 1 Peter 3:21
  • The church, set up by Christ with the keys given to the Apostles (Matthew 16:16–18, 18:18) was established on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and required baptism for "remission of sins" amongst the penitent believers and promised the "gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38)
  • Without the indwelling Holy Spirit obtained at the time of immersion, there is no salvation, Acts 5:32, Romans 8:9–11, 16.

Arguments for Credobaptism


Advocates of believer’s baptism argue that the New Testament does not describe instances of infant baptism, and that during the New Testament era, the early church required converts to have conscious, deliberate faith in Jesus Christ. Defenders of infant baptism counter that the book of Acts records instances of the baptism of entire households, and that these baptisms likely included children. However, none of the passages cited by defenders of infant baptism expressly state that the household included young children who were not capable of conscious belief, while some of the stories about household baptisms explicitly state that all members of the household believed prior to baptism.

Defenders of infant baptism sometimes claim that baptism replaces the Jewish practice of circumcision, and is therefore appropriate for infants. Advocates of believer’s baptism counter that no New Testament passages state that baptism replaces circumcision. On the contrary, the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 was called to clarify circumcision, long after the practice of baptism was established. In the old Covenant, males were circumcised. In the new, all — male and female, Jew and Greek, bond and free — may join the family of God.

Many Reformed Baptists, however, agree with the principles of Covenant Theology and agree that Baptism has, in a sense, replaced circumcision as the sign of covenant. They disagree with the typical Reformed argument that, as the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament (namely circumcision) was administered to infants, so should the sign of the covenant in the New Testament church (namely baptism) be ministered to infants. They (Reformed Baptists) argue that the covenant community in the Old Testament constituted the physical sons of Abraham and made up physical Israel whereas the covenant community in the New Testament constitutes the spiritual sons of Abraham and thus form the spiritual Israel. Thus, they argue, the sign of the covenant should only be administered to spiritual sons. From Galatians 3:7, they (Reformed Baptists) argue that it is “people of faith who are the sons of Abraham” and baptism should be administered only to confessing believers and not infants, who are incapable of producing the requisite faith.[2]

Theologians from churches that teach that baptism is required for salvation sometimes point to Jesus' statement that children should be allowed to come to him. Advocates of believer's baptism counter that Jesus blessed the children and did not baptize them. Advocates of believer's baptism do evangelize children and do baptize children who credibly profess faith in Him.


Defenders of infant baptism have attempted to trace the practice to the New Testament era, but generally acknowledge that no unambiguous evidence exists that the practice existed prior to the second century.[3] The oldest surviving manual of church discipline, the Didache, envisions the baptism of adults. Advocates of believer's baptism contend that non-Biblical sources are not authoritative, and that no evidence exists from the Bible or early Christian literature that infant baptism was practiced by the apostles.

Another argument posed by some advocates of believer's baptism focuses on the fact that most churches that practice infant baptism were churches that were heavily intertwined with the state in medieval and Reformation-era Europe. In many instances, citizens of a nation were required under penalty of law to belong to the state church. Infant baptism marked the infant as a citizen of the nation and a loyal subject of the reigning political order as much as it marked the infant as a Christian. To denominations like the Baptists, which have historically stressed religious liberty, toleration, and separation of church and state, this practice is an unacceptable violation of the basic human right to self-determination in matters of spirituality and religion.



Other advocates of credobaptism point to patristics to establish that the apostolical tradition was for children to become catechumens and baptized only after being trained and discipled in the basics of Christian doctrine. For examples, they point to St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Origen and others who were each baptized at adult age (sometimes 30 years or older), despite the fact of them growing up in Christian households / families.


For further patristics, they point to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine and others who wrote procedures for catechumenical instruction (contrasted to writing procedures for the baptizing of infants.)

In addition, earlier patristical writings such as Didache and Tertullian[4] prescribe baptismal candidates to fasting, prayer, confessions, etc. before being allowed to be baptized. Tertullian (son of a presbyter) writes, "Christians are made, not born." [5] On the other hand Tertullian acknowledges that infant baptism was a common practice in his day. He opposes it not on doctrinal grounds but practical ones, suggesting that baptism be postponed until after marriage so that one can be cleansed of the fornication one commits before marriage in baptism. Tertullian also later in life became a Montanist and the strict views on post-baptismal sin which that sect took affected some of his writing.


Finally, several ecclesiastical histories seem to omit any discussion of infant baptism. Eusebius of Caesarea (describing 1–320 AD) gives ample discussion of baptisms, but makes no reference to the baptism of infants.[6] Instead, Eusebius discusses the various positions, particularly during the time of Cyprian, wherein it was discussed whether those who were baptized by heretics needed to be re-baptized. (This might be argued to be irrelevant if the individuals involved in heresy were baptized as infants, but the question was really whether a sacrament was valid if administered by a heretic, and so the question was whether a person baptized by a heretic should be rebaptized.)

Likewise, the church history of Socrates Scholasticus (305–438 AD) mentions a handful of examples of baptisms, none of which describe the baptizing of infants.[7] However, by this time the practice of baptizing infants was common, as can be seen in the Pelagian writings of Augustine.

Similarly, the church history written by Evagrius Scholasticus (431–594 AD) also provides descriptions of baptisms, none of which communicate the baptism of infants.[8]

Age of accountability

Believer's baptism is administered only to persons who have passed the age of accountability or reason, which is based upon a reading of the New Testament that only believers should be baptized. Some claim that it is also based upon the Jewish tradition of Bar Mitzvah at the age of 12 or 13, at which point Jewish children become responsible for their actions and "one to whom the commandments apply." This analogy is not very helpful since a Jew who is not Bar Mitzvah is nonetheless considered to be fully a Jew -- whereas the notion of an "unbaptised Christian" is more problematic. Many Christian theologians regard baptism as analogous to the Jewish practice of circumcision, rather than analogous to the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, although there are no explicit sections of the New Testament that support this idea.

Among credobaptists, differences in denominational practice (and in psychological development among children) can cause the "age of accountability" to be set higher or lower. Many developmentally challenged individuals never reach this stage regardless of age. Sometimes the pastor or church leader will determine the believer's understanding and conviction through personal interviews. In the case of a minor, parents' permission will also often be sought.

However it is a major assumption that all credobaptists believe in an "age of accountability." Not all denominations or assemblies who practice credobaptism believe in this doctrine. Many believe in predestination, and that God will prolong a person's life until they are capable of receiving baptism of their own free will.

Furthermore, not all credobaptists believe in the doctrine of original sin. Many credobaptists believe that we are only held responsible for our personal sins, and that Jesus addressed the sins of Adam on the cross. As a result, according to some credobaptists, an infant does not need to repent and baptize away sins they have never personally committed.

Comparison to liturgical tradition

Some suggest that believer's baptism combines two rites from the liturgical churches (the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, and Anglican Churches): confirmation and (infant) baptism.

In the liturgical churches, it is generally held that (infant) baptism is the initiatory rite that believer's baptism also marks. Infant baptism differs from believer's baptism in that the baptisand is not making a profession of the faith for themselves. The liturgical traditions transfer this aspect of Christian life to confirmation, where the one-time infant baptist publicly assumes the responsibilities of his baptismal covenant and makes his own profession of faith (usually using the words of the Apostles' Creed).


In areas where those who practice believer's baptism are the physical or cultural majority, the ritual may function as a rite of passage, by which the child is granted the status of an adult. Most denominations who practice believer's baptism also specify the mode of baptism, generally preferring immersion (in which the baptisand is lowered completely beneath the surface of a body of water) over affusion (in which water is sprinkled or poured over the baptisand). In the case of physical disability or inability to be totally submerged under water, as with the elderly, bedridden, and nearly dead, the pouring of water upon the baptismal candidate is acceptable to some.

In some denominations, believer's baptism is a prerequisite to full church membership. This is generally the case with churches with a congregational form of church government. Persons who wish to become part of the church must undergo believer's baptism in that local body, or another body whose baptism the local body honors. Typically, local churches will honor the baptism of another church, if that tradition is of similar faith and practice, or if not, then if the person was baptized (usually by immersion) subsequent to conversion.

Denominational connections

Believer's baptism is one of several distinctive doctrines associated closely with the Baptist and Anabaptist (literally, rebaptizer) traditions, and their theological relatives. Among these are the members of the American Restoration Movement. All churches associated with Pentecostalism also practice believer's baptism.

In Holiness, many Baptist, and some other churches, a ritual known as Dedication or Infant Dedication supplements or replaces infant baptism. However, unlike baptism, the rite is centered upon the parents, who dedicate the child to God and vow to raise him/her in a God-fearing home. Although Dedication often occurs at the same age as infant baptism, it is not considered a replacement for baptism nor is it considered salvific for the child.

Believer's baptism is more prevalent in Christian traditions that maintain that there is a state of innocency from birth to the age of accountability (if the believer, due to mental or emotional disability, is not likely to gain the ability to judge the morality of his or her actions, this state of innocency persists for life). Credobaptism is less prevalent in traditions that maintain that the corruption of original sin is present at birth and is sufficient guilt in the eyes of God to cause the child to be damned or be in limbo, should it die before baptism.

Many churches that baptize infants, such as the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox denominations, have functioned as national, state-established churches in various European and Latin American countries. During the Reformation, the relationship of the church to the state was a contentious issue, and infant baptism was seen as a way to ensure that society remained religiously homogeneous. As a result, groups that rejected infant baptism were seen as subversive and were often persecuted.[9]


Statistics based on membership totals reported by various denominations state that churches that practice infant baptism represent about 80% of Christians.[10] However, these statistics do not reflect the fact that different denominations use different criteria for counting members, and that infant-baptizing churches count young children as members, while denominations that practice believer's baptism do not. Churches that practice believer's baptism generally do not consider individuals with formal church membership who do not actively practice Christian spirituality (for example, see Cultural Catholic) as true Christians. Many churches that practice believer's baptism also practice congregational self-government, which makes it difficult for statisticians to collect complete data. These and other factors make comparisons of church membership statistics suspect.[11] The fastest growing branches of Christianity are evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which nearly always practice credobaptism.

Theological Objections

One standard theological argument leveled against believer's baptism is that it makes the efficacy of the sacrament dependent upon the understanding of the baptism; that is, it depends upon what the baptised knows. This runs counter to the Calvinistic belief that God saves whomever he wills, regardless of any worthiness or knowledge on the part of the saved. Reformed Baptist theologians counter that believer's baptism is fully consistent with Calvin's doctrine of unconditional election, and that when properly understood it is also the most appropriate expression of Covenant theology.

Even in theological circles where some response to God's call is considered necessary for the convert (such as belief, confession, repentance, and prayer), a believer's baptism is usually categorized as a work instead of a response of faith, though not always (see Baptism in the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ).[citation needed] Among churches of Christ, for example, baptism is seen as a passive act of faith rather than a meritorious work; it "is a confession that a person has nothing to offer God."[12]:112 While Churches of Christ do not describe baptism as a "sacrament", their view of it can legitimately be described as "sacramental."[1]:186[13]:66 They see the power of baptism coming from God, who chose to use baptism as a vehicle, rather than from the water or the act itself,[1]:186 and understand baptism to be an integral part of the conversion process, rather than just a symbol of conversion.[1]:184 A recent trend is to emphasize the transformational aspect of baptism: instead of describing it as just a legal requirement or sign of something that happened in the past, it is seen as "the event that places the believer 'into Christ' where God does the ongoing work of transformation."[13]:66 Because of the belief that baptism is a necessary part of salvation, some Baptists hold that the Churches of Christ endorse the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, equating water baptism with baptism of the Holy Spirit.[14] However, members of the Churches of Christ reject this, arguing that since faith and repentance are necessary, and that the cleansing of sins is by the blood of Christ through the grace of God, baptism is not an inherently redeeming ritual.[15]:133[14][16]:630,631 One author from the churches of Christ describes the relationship between faith and baptism this way, "Faith is the reason why a person is a child of God; baptism is the time at which one is incorporated into Christ and so becomes a child of God" (italics are in the source).[17]:170 Baptism is understood as a confessional expression of faith and repentance,[17]:179-182 rather than a "work" that earns salvation.[17]:170

See also


  • Malone, Fred (2003). The baptism of disciples alone: A covenantal argument for credobaptism versus paedobaptism. Founders Press, ISBN 0-9713361-3-X
  • Stander, Hendick F. and Louw, Johannes P. (2004). Baptism in the Early Church, Carey Publications, ISBN 0-9527913-1-5
  • Schreiner, Thomas R. and Wright, Shawn (ed.), Believer's Baptism: The Covenant Sign of the New Age in Christ, B&H Publishing Group (2007), ISBN 0805432493


  1. ^ a b c d Rees Bryant, Baptism, Why Wait?: Faith's Response in Conversion, College Press, 1999, ISBN 0899008585, 9780899008585, 224 pages
  2. ^ A Celebration of Baptism,
  3. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church,
  4. ^ Tertuallian, "On Baptism", chapters 18-20.
  5. ^ Tertullian, Apology, xviii
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Eerdman's Handbook to Christian Belief, p. 443. Lion Publishing. 1982.
  10. ^ Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents
  11. ^ For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not purge ex-members from its membership rolls unless they formally renounce their faith using the procedure laid out in Catholic canon law, while many Protestant churches routinely purge lapsed members from their rolls.
  12. ^ Harold Hazelip, Gary Holloway, Randall J. Harris, Mark C. Black, Theology Matters: In Honor of Harold Hazelip: Answers for the Church Today, College Press, 1998, ISBN 0899008135, 9780899008134, 368 pages
  13. ^ a b Douglas Allen Foster and Anthony L. Dunnavant, The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Churches of Christ, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0802838987, 9780802838988, 854 pages, entry on Baptism
  14. ^ a b Douglas A. Foster, "Churches of Christ and Baptism: An Historical and Theological Overview," Restoration Quarterly, Volume 43/Number 2 (2001)
  15. ^ Tom J. Nettles, Richard L. Pratt, Jr., John H. Armstrong, Robert Kolb, Understanding Four Views on Baptism, Zondervan, 2007, ISBN 0310262674, 9780310262671, 222 pages
  16. ^ Douglas Allen Foster and Anthony L. Dunnavant, The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Churches of Christ, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0802838987, 9780802838988, 854 pages, entry on Regeneration
  17. ^ a b c Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996, ISBN 0802841899, 9780802841896, 443 pages

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