A quote from Tom Nettles about the paedo accusation that Baptists treat their children like pagans:
The paedobaptist may object, “You have a deficient view of the standing of your children. You treat them virtually as pagans.” John Owen, the great Puritan theologian of the seventeenth century, when he said that those who reject infant Baptism (as taught within the Reformed tradition) “leave the seed of believers, whilst in their infant state, in the same condition with those of pagans and infidels; expressly contrary to God’s covenant.”12 This is an unfair, but emotionally understandable, response from people whose theology has taught them to view their children as participants in the covenant of grace (even believers, according to Thomas Shepard) by virtue of their flesh relationship with their parents.
The meaning of the objection, however, is not quite clear. Does it mean that Baptists act as pagans and teach their children to worship idols? Does it contemplate Baptist parents having altars on which they offer sacrifices to appease or please various pagan deities? Do Baptist parents hide the Law and the Gospel from their children and await the coming of an apostle into the home like Paul into Lystra or Athens to preach to their pagan children? Do we account our children as practicing participants in a superstitious system which worships and serves the creature instead of the Creator?
These fabricated scenarios are absurd, and it is obvious that Baptists do not treat their children like pagans. But if the question means that we acknowledge that they are children of wrath even as the children of pagans are children of wrath, we must say, “How else can they be regarded?” Titus 3:3-4, Ephesians 2:1-3, and Romans 3:9 affirm the unity of all people, Jew and Gentile, those living under special revelation and those not under special revelation, as “all under sin,” “by nature children of wrath,” and “foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures.” Since the children of believers are not exempt from that verdict, we withhold from them the sign which says “I am resurrected to walk in newness of life.” This in itself should be considered a great advantage, for we do not give children any false hope from a supposed covenantal relationship. We call them to repentance, not to a facade of Christian deportment plastered over a wrath-deserving heart.
Baptists do recognize, however, that by God’s grace, these children are born into homes in which the light of the gospel has dispelled the darkness of this present evil age and the knowledge of Christ informs the actions and attitudes of each day. They thus have great privilege and great responsibility. But everyone should see, with all candor, that none of these benefits is either commenced or augmented by infant Baptism.
They are surrounded with Christian friends and a loving, prayerful environment. They come to know some of the choicest people on earth as mature Christians in the Church befriend them and encourage them. Regular and fervent prayers are offered to God for their physical and spiritual protection and their conversion. They are instructed daily in the home in gospel truth and week by week in the church through the preached Word. This is perhaps the greatest blessing since God is pleased through the foolishness of what is preached to save those who believe; faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.
Dr. Tom J. Nettles is Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Church.