From time to time an individual believer, a church, or a Christian institution will come to a different conclusion regarding a formerly held conviction and as a result, change their theological position. Sometimes this is a sign of compromise, other times it is a sign of theological humility.
A wonderful example of the latter is found in the ministry of Adoniram Judson. Judson was ordained as a paedobaptist and sent to the mission field by a paedobaptist church. He eventually became persuaded of believer’s baptism and ministered on the mission field as a credobaptist.
In a letter to her friend on September 7, 1812, Ann Judson describes how they came to change their formerly held conviction regarding infant baptism (thanks to Michael Haykin for calling my attention to this letter).
You may, perhaps, think this change very sudden, as I have said nothing of it before; but, my dear girl, this alteration hath not been the work of an hour, a day, or a month. The subject has been maturely, candidly, and, I hope, prayerfully examined for months. An examination of the subject of baptism commenced on board the Caravan [the ship on which the Judsons sailed to India].
As Mr. Judson was continuing the translation of the New Testament, which he began in America, he had many doubts respecting the meaning of the word baptize. This, with the idea of meeting the Baptists at Serampore [William Carey and others], when he would wish to defend his own sentiments induced a more thorough examination of the foundation of the Pedobaptist system. The more he examined, the more his doubts increased; and, unwilling as he was to admit it, he was afraid the Baptists were right and he wrong. After we arrived at Calcutta…he again renewed the subject. I felt afraid he would become a Baptist, and frequently urged the unhappy consequences if he should. But he said his duty compelled him to satisfy his own mind, and embrace those sentiments which appeared most concordant with Scripture. I always took the Pedobaptist side in reasoning with him, even after I was as doubtful of the truth of their system as he.
We left Serampore to reside in Calcutta a week or two, before the arrival of our brethren; and as we had nothing in particular to occupy our attention, we confined it exclusively to this subject. We procured the best authors on both sides, compared them with the Scriptures, examined and re-examined the sentiments of Baptists and Pedobaptists, and were finally compelled, from a conviction of truth, to embrace those of the former.
Thus, my dear Nancy, we are confirmed Baptists, not because we wished to be, but because truth compelled us to be. We have endeavored to count the cost, and be prepared for the many severe trials resulting from this change of sentiment. We anticipate the loss of reputation, and of the affection and esteem of many of our American friends. … We feel that we are alone in the world, with no real friend and no one on whom we can depend but God.
So what can we take away? In considering doctrinal change one should:
(1) Bathe the matter in prayer, with an attitude of humility and sincerity;
(2) Work from your current context, giving adherence and benefit of the doubt to your tradition [in this case paedobaptism];
(3) Spend much time in the actual text of the Scripture;
(4) Listen to the best voices on both sides of the issue;
(5) Take time if possible;
(6) Count the cost;
(7) Bind your conscience to the Word of God alone.