Skip to comments.The Million-Dollar Infant Baptism
Posted on 03/08/2007 10:53:14 AM PST by Alex Murphy
Several weeks ago I had the unique experience of witnessing my first infant baptism. I suppose that one statement says a lot about my own spiritual background in that I managed to live 54 years without ever seeing an infant baptism in person. I was raised Baptist and have spent my ministerial career serving in churches that practiced believers' baptism by immersion. Those are the circles in I have moved and felt most comfortable. And yet when all of Christendom is taken in consideration, that position is decidedly in the minority. Catholics, the Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and all the Reformed churches practice infant baptism. I witnessed my first one while preaching at a Reformed church in Elmhurst, Illinois. And I even had a personal connection because it happened that years earlier I had married the first couple whose children were being baptized that day.
The pastor began by asking the parents if they were true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. He also asked them to affirm their commitment to raise their children in the church and to teach them the Word of God. His comments were essentially no different than the ones I make whenever I do a child dedication. Just before the baptism itself, he used a fascinating illustration. Suppose, he said to the parents, that a rich uncle came to you this morning and said, "I'm giving each of your children a check for a million dollars." You would be thrilled and your children would be blessed even though they wouldn't understand the significance of it. The check would guarantee your children's financial future. However, a million-dollar check is useless unless the person who receives it also endorses it and deposits it in the bank. If you never endorse it, the million dollars never really becomes yours. Infant baptism, he said, is like that. It's like a million-dollar check in that it brings the promises of God to the child but those promises are of no effect unless the child personally comes to faith in Jesus Christ. I am paraphrasing but I think that's a fair summary of the pastor's words.
Then he dipped his hands in the water of the baptismal font, placed it in the forehead of each child, and if I'm not mistaken, he did it three times, saying that it was done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All in all, it was a beautiful and simple ceremony. I was glad to be there to observe it. Those of us who hold to believers' baptism tend to have several major objections to infant baptism. Two are biblical and one is more pastoral in nature.
1) There is no example of infant baptism in the New Testament.
2) There is no command to baptize babies in the New Testament.
3) Many people who have been baptized as infants believe they are going to heaven because a priest or a pastor sprinkled some water on their forehead when they were a few weeks old.
It is #3 that is our chief objection. Too many people trust in their church connection (and thus in their infant baptism) who give no evidence at all of knowing Christ personally, trusting him, loving him, serving him, following him and obeying him, They never darken the doors of any church and seem to have no spiritual interest, yet they believe they are going to heaven because they are "members of God's family" by virtue of infant baptism. Sometimes they are even told that by church leaders.
Thats why I liked the million-dollar illustration. It makes clear that no one goes to heaven because water was sprinkled on them when they were a baby. And by implication, it teaches that infant baptism does not and cannot save. It is Christ who saves by faith. We are saved when we "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31).
The pastor quoted the words of Jesus who said, "Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them" (Matthew 19:14). I smiled wryly and thought of Spurgeon's sermon Children Brought to Christ, and Not to the Font, but that was just my "inner Baptist" coming out.
Christians differ in our understanding of baptism, and it is not likely that we will agree on this until we get to heaven. For a good recent summary of various views, see the brand-new Understanding Four Views on Baptism, edited by John Armstrong and featuring presentations (and rebuttals) by representatives of the Baptist, Reformed, Lutheran and Christian Church/Church of Christ positions.
I remain convinced that believers' baptism is scriptural, but at the same time I recognize that thoughtful Christians disagree over this issue. I suppose (this is my "inner Baptist" coming out again) that if you have to have infant baptism, I like the way the pastor did it, with a strong emphasis on the fact that the children are not saved by baptism and must later come to personal saving faith in Christ. I can have happy fellowship with Christians of that conviction and will also be happy to baptize those children again (or for the first time, from my point of view) when they trust Christ as Savior.
One other note. This week I have enjoyed reading a delightful little book by Stephen J. Nichols called The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. In his chapter on John Calvin, he notes that "only two heresies were punishable by death in the Holy Roman Empire--heresies relating to the Trinity and the insistence on believers' baptism (in the place of infant baptism)" (p. 80). That made me sit up straight. Great issues are at stake in the baptism debate and I do not wish to minimize them. Where the gospel is faithfully preached and believed, we can recognize that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ despite our deeply-held convictions in certain areas. We will sometimes have to agree to disagree and even to worship in different churches while still extending the hand of Christian fellowship across the watery divide of baptism.
Hmmmm....I was thinking about this some more today and it does make me wonder what precisely is being accomplished with infant baptism. If it's a check that the person has not cashed, how does this differ from say a person who has not been baptized as an infant? I guess it raises more questions in my mind then it answers.
From a practical standpoint, it is "locking in" most of those infants to membership in that particular sect. Also, it is making the family a part of a community. However, I don't believe it is advancing any greater understanding.
Believer's Baptism takes on a deeper meaning for the individual because they are at an age where thought was involved. A baby has no idea what's going on.
This raises an interesting question. What is the effect of baptism on the non-elect?
It gets them wet.
For an issue this important - our salvation could hinge on the correct answer - lets vote on it. After all our opinion is what matters .
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It makes the baptizand an adopted son or daughter of God, a member of the family of God, indwelt with the Divine Life of the Most Blessed Trinity and therefore an heir of heavenly glory.
And all without any merit or even any real participation on their part.
How beautifully anti-Pelagian, and what a magnificent symbol of divine love, which chose us even though we were dead in our sins and trespasses!
Does that answer your question?
Already some good stuff on this thread, so I'll just comment on this Minister's third objection: "3) Many people who have been baptized as infants believe they are going to heaven because a priest or a pastor sprinkled some water on their forehead when they were a few weeks old."
I don't know any Christians who believe this, and it has certainly never been an article of faith of any Church that I know. Catholics, for instance, believe that if you commit a mortal sin at any time after baptism, then you need to repent it, make a confession to a priest, and receive the sacrament of absolution.
I was born and bred an Episcopalian, and many of my brethren really didn't think too much about doctrine. But in the High Church, much the same was believed. And those Episcopalians who don't go to confession--probably a large majority--nevertheless are supposed to sincerely repent their sins and make an act of contrition to God.
Luther encouraged auricular confession for the forgiveness of what he called public sins, although this became uncommon later in the Lutheran churches.
Well, I could go on, but it would be a very naive member of any of the traditional churches who believed that infant baptism was enough to get you into heaven no matter what happened in the rest of your life.
Campion: "John the Baptist didn't administer Christian baptism, and Jesus was God in the flesh who had no sin."
So what kind of baptism is Matthew 3 talking about? Satanic baptism?
4 And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
And you are correct that Jesus was without sin, which is exactly the point wmfights was making - why did Jesus ask John to baptize Him?
This always reminds me of John Piper and his little suggestion in his church that believer's baptisms should not necessarily be a requirement for church membership. I believe he was voted down, but it's interesting that he has also preached against infant baptism:
From "I BAPTIZE YOU WITH WATER" :
"Now what does all this tell us about baptism? Three things: 1. It tells us that John's baptism is not simple continuation of circumcision. This is important because those who defend infant baptism often appeal to circumcision as the old sign of the covenant and say that baptism is the new sign. The one was given to infants and so should the other be. Circumcision was the sign of belonging to the Old Covenant people of God. Every Jewish male received it. If you were born Jewish, you received the sign of the covenant as a baby boy. So at least some of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to see circumcision as the sign of God's favor and of their security as the covenant people. But John's baptism was a radical attack on this false security. He infuriated the Pharisees by calling the people to renounce reliance on the sign of the covenant that they got when they were infants, and to receive another sign to show that they were not relying on Jewish birth, but on the mercy of God received by repentance and faith. A new people within Israel was being formed, and a new sign of a new covenant was being instituted. It was not a simple continuation of circumcision. It was an indictment of a misuse of circumcision as a guarantee of salvation. Circumcision was a sign of ethnic continuity; baptism was a sign of spiritual reality. ...."
Frankly, I'm conflicted on what I would think if a similar suggestion came up in my church. My inclination is that I would have voted "no", but that's not in stone. Piper was careful to couch his idea to apply only to someone if he sincerely and humbly believes that it would be contrary to Scripture and conscience--and not just contrary to family tradition or desires--to be baptized by immersion and thus to count his infant baptism or his adult sprinkling as improper or invalid.
I wonder if there really are a lot of people in that category. I wouldn't imagine so. While still in my Christian infancy, my initial resistance to a believer's baptism was only because of the public nature of it, it had nothing to do with some view that my own infant baptism somehow "counted" definitively. Do any of you have a view on whether you would have supported Piper?
Is it historically inaccurate? Were those not punishable by death in the HRE, or were additional ones so punished?
Harley: "If it's a check that the person has not cashed, how does this differ from say a person who has not been baptized as an infant?"
I guess I am not in total accord with this analogy - at least that it does not explain infant baptism in its entirety. Of course I can only give the perspective of my belief, but my understanding of infant baptism is that it signifies the covenantal relationship between the parents, the Church, and God.
Infant baptism is not salvific (as the unendorsed check implies) but it does provide a sign similar to that of circumcision for the Jews. Why did God command that His chosen people be circumcised? Because He wanted them to be set apart, to be Holy. Circumcision was an outward sign of the covnenant with God. Did the circumcised infant experience personal conversion during the "operation"? Of course not!
Baptism of all stripes is not salvific - adult or infant. Baptism is merely an outward sign of our relationship to God. Infant baptism exhibits the parents promise, and the church's commitment to fulfill the call to raise and nurture their children in the admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, it affords the infant the blessings of a Christian community and family.
Not really. Most of the paedeobaptists accept a baptism from another denomination.
In its early days, the PCA even had a study commission examine whether a Roman Catholic baptism would be valid for membership.
Just to be clear, I meant this in the sense of those potential converts to the Baptist faith. I didn't mean that other Reformers do not think their infant baptisms matter. :) I'm just not aware that many "other" Reformers wind up transferring to Reformed Baptist. (I don't know.)
Essentially a Jewish ritual washing (cf "mikvah") as a symbol of repentance from sin.
Christian baptism is administered in the name of the Holy Trinity. John's disciples had never heard of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-6), so they could not have been baptized in the name of the Trinity.
But you don't even need that as proof, there's the obvious issue of chronology. Christian sacraments were all instituted by Christ during his public ministry. Jesus' public ministry began with his baptism by John; John was obviously baptizing before he baptized Christ (Matthew 3:5-13), so John's baptism was not a Christian sacrament.
why did Jesus ask John to baptize Him?
Jesus says to John in Matthew 3:15 "to fulfill all righteousness" ... an enigmatic comment, isn't it? It's a symbolic "passing of the torch" from the final prophet of the Old Covenant to the Prophet par excellance of the New.
Also, Jesus' baptism was a Trinitarian theophany, the first revelation of the Blessed Trinity recorded in the NT.
The "only" part is the part I think is goofy, as though those two were special.
... in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us: baptism ... -- 1 Pt 3:20-21
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. -- Gal 3:26-29
Sounds pretty salvific to me. I think I'll stand with Mr. Luther on this one. Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders!
Forest:"This always reminds me of John Piper and his little suggestion in his church that believer's baptisms should not necessarily be a requirement for church membership.....
Do any of you have a view on whether you would have supported Piper?"
I assume you are speaking specifically whether "believer" baptism should be a pre-requisite for church membership? That being the case, I tend to believe baptism is not essential for salvation although I am unclear if that is the reformed Baptist's stance. What do you believe in this regard?
I think each denomination maintains a certain level of adherance to biblical living to maintain membership. If someone is living a life of blatant, public sin, I would hope this would put their church membership in peril. I suppose granting membership to a non-baptized individual would be allowed but I find it hard to maintain membership without obedience to Christ's command to be baptized. In that regard, making baptism a pre-requisite for church membership does not seem onerous.
Could you expand a little bit on how infant baptism means that God has made a choice? What was the choice between? Did God choose against those who are never baptized? Obviously, plenty who have been baptized do not wind up in Heaven. Are they examples of men's choices trumping God's choices?