My first appointment today was with a seminary student of mine who also attends our church. He is a sharp student in his early forties who left a lucrative career in order to pursue God’s call to pastoral ministry. He asked me to review his research paper and suggest ways he could improve it. In discussing his paper, he explained how his position on baptism had recently begun to change from a believer’s-baptist (credobaptist) position to an infant-baptist (paedobaptist) position. Even though I am a convinced paedobaptist, I urged him as a first-year seminary student to take extraordinary care in his study of baptism in particular and in his study of Scripture in general. I explained that his understanding of the recipients of baptism must come as a result of his serious study of Scripture itself and, what’s more, that his study of Scripture must be done with careful exegesis and a consistent hermeneutic (method of interpretation). Although I want him to affirm paedobaptism, I only want him to do so on account of careful biblical interpretation, not simply on account of the seminary and church he attends or the theologians and pastors he respects.
In my own four-year-long journey toward affirming paedobaptism—fighting against it all the way—I began to see that it wasn’t only my understanding of baptism that was changing but my understanding of biblical covenants, the continuity between covenants, the church, and, more foundationally, my understanding of hermeneutics. I came to see that the fundamental difference between credobaptists and paedobaptists is our hermeneutic in approaching certain passages of Scripture.
Although the word hermeneutic is intimidating, a proper hermeneutic is essential to all forms of communication. And whether we know it or not, everyone has a hermeneutic. The goal, however, is that our hermeneutic be biblically faithful and that we strive to apply it consistently without allowing any hermeneutical fallacies to corrupt our exegesis of Scripture. Our hermeneutic emerges from Scripture and, reciprocally, helps us to interpret Scripture, thus informing all our theology. All Christians, both credobaptist and paedobaptist, affirm the authority of Scripture, yet we sometimes disagree in our interpretation of it on account of our hermeneutical differences. Therefore, we do well to study hermeneutics and the fallacies that can unfortunately affect our interpretation of Scripture, to the end that we might rightly divide the Word of Truth as we all strive to glorify God in all we think, do, and say as we live coram Deo, before His face forever.
Dr. Burk Parsons is editor of Tabletalk magazine and serves as senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla. He is editor of Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace. He is on Twitter at @BurkParsons.