Zachary Crofton (1626-1672) and the Baptismal Burden of Proof
Oct 13, 2016
God wants Christians to baptize their infant children.
It took me a while to make such a claim. I was converted at 21 and spiritually raised in Arminian Baptist circles. Eventually, I embraced the “doctrines of grace” and joined a Reformed Baptist church where I started to struggle with my convictions on baptism.
I wrestled with my position for over two years. As a credobaptist (supporting believers-only baptism), I used the “the burden of proof” argument: If God wants us to baptize infants, show us a clear command or least an explicit example in the New Testament to do so. The paedobaptist (supporting children's baptism) must assume this burden of proof.
Once, I laid this “burden” on a Presbyterian friend who responded, “For the sake of debate, I’ll assume the burden, but really it lies with you.” What? He was telling me that I needed to prove that God no longer deals with children now as he did under the Old Covenant. Eventually, I had to confess that the burden of proof to deny the obligation for baptizing infants was heavier than the one to prove it. So how did this happen?
I was helped, in part, by a lesser known Puritan, Zachary Crofton (1626-1672). This Irish Presbyterian minister moved to England (1646), where he pastored and was later ejected for nonconformity when Charles II was restored (1660). One of his works was on baptism: A Short Catechism Briefly Propounding, and Plainly Shewing the Vertue and Value of Baptism (London, 1663). Along the way, he asks: “But what is the interest of Infants in the Old Testament to us under the new?” After his general answer, he asserts: “The Enemies of our Baptism, cry for an express command to baptize Infants; but instead of shewing any, we think we have good reason to say, we and such Infants, have by a long Tenure an interest in the Covenant.” Crofton turns the demand back on his opponents: “[S]hew us a clear Gospel Writ of Ejection, if you think now to dispossess us.”
Without equating the Old and New Covenants (and their respective signs of circumcision and baptism), Crofton highlights the continuity between them. He argues that we need a “clear reason” for changing our view of children as “holy seed to God” under the Old Covenant to “prophane and estranged to God” under the New. By implying the holiness of believers’ children here, he is not speaking of that which belongs to the regenerate alone but a “federal holiness by the extent of the Covenant” according to 1 Corinthians 7:14. This implies certain spiritual blessings for all children of believers whether elect or not. Crofton maintains that the credobaptist must show that God prohibits the sign of the covenant to infants or provide an explicit example of such an action.
On the contrary, the New Testament shows otherwise. Most importantly, when thousands of Jews respond to Peter’s preaching in Acts 2, he tells them to turn from sin to Christ for forgiveness as manifested by baptism. He then assures them that this “promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (KJV). He sets their children apart from those who are “afar off,” as if to place them in a special category. How are we to understand this? The way a first-century Jew would, of course. They would have concluded that God views their children in this new era of the Savior, the New Covenant, in the same way as he did the Old—covenantally. In connection with the household baptisms of Acts, for example, the burden is upon me as a credobaptist to disprove the idea that children no longer received the sign of the covenant. By the way, it is not whether infants were present in these instances that matters most, but the covenant solidarity of households (e.g. Joshua 24;15) God continued to recognize.
I had to admit that there exists no evidence that children were refused access to or were removed from (in the case of Jewish Christians) the covenant and all of its blessings. Such a transition would have caused an uproar in the church, and the silence regarding such speaks very loudly. In fact, in the one recorded controversy regarding covenant children (Acts 21:21-26) Paul affirms their ongoing status.
I used to be a Reformed Baptist, and, yes, I know the arguments against everything I said above. I am thinking about them right now! However, without time or space here to cover them, I urge you to at least consider, when it comes to convictions on baptism, with whom does the burden of proof really lie?