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The Million-Dollar Infant Baptism
Crosswalk.com ^ | Dr. Ray Pritchard

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.

That’s 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.


TOPICS: Apologetics; Evangelical Christian; Mainline Protestant; Ministry/Outreach; Theology
KEYWORDS: baptism
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To: Salvation; Pyro7480

So when you say that baptism is salvific, do you imply it is necessary for salvation or that it guarantees salvation.

In other words, if I am baptized in the presrcibed manner, is my salvation secured?


51 posted on 03/09/2007 10:10:05 AM PST by visually_augmented (I was blind, but now I see)
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To: wmfights
but wouldn't baptism serve to make you a member of a particular sect and thus unlikely to look at the beliefs of other sects?

No more so than being raised in a church that practices adult baptism would.

A child raised in a Baptist church would be more likely to remain a baptist in adulthood; a child raised a Methodist is more likely to remain a Methodist. The fact the Methodist was baptised as an infant and the Baptist was not is likely to be the least relevant factor in future membership.

And, not being quite sure what you mean by sect (belief system or denomination), whether an Orthodox Presbyterian , for example, remains one or joins the PCA or the ARP will more likely turn on geographic availability rather than baptism.

52 posted on 03/09/2007 10:56:32 AM PST by PAR35
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To: visually_augmented
So when you say that baptism is salvific, do you imply it is necessary for salvation or that it guarantees salvation.

It's necessary for salvation. The only two "exceptions" according to Catholic teaching are baptism of desire (meaning someone aspiring to be baptized in the Catholic faith dies before actually receiving it) and baptism by blood (meaning martyrdom for the faith, though not baptized).

53 posted on 03/09/2007 10:59:25 AM PST by Pyro7480 ("Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi Jesus" -St. Ralph Sherwin's last words at Tyburn)
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To: PAR35
.. not being quite sure what you mean by sect...

I was told by a group of RC posters that they were insulted by the term denomination. I am not willing to concede the language, so I began using the term sect to differentiate various Christian churches. No hidden meaning behind the term.

54 posted on 03/09/2007 12:07:45 PM PST by wmfights (LUKE 9:49-50 , MARK 9:38-41)
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To: Alex Murphy
and the insistence on believers' baptism ....

Actually, the Justinian Code, dating from the late Roman Christian Emperor--and practiced throughout medieval Europe up into the Reformation (and why they burned heretics) made RE-BAPTISM a capitol offense, not simply being baptized later than infancy. Of course everyone was expected to baptize their infants, and to not do so was seen in those days as a form of political rebellion--treason, besides heretical. I do not think however not baptizing infants was automatically punishable by death--what was shocking (and REALLY considered heretical, treasonous and schismatic) was being baptized as an infant and then being re-baptized as an adult. Such people, named Anabaptists in the Reformation, were indeed executed.

As a pedo-baptist, what I would like from baptists is an acknowledgment that my baptism (and that of the great majority of Christians today, and throughout history) is an authentic baptism--even though they firmly believe infancy is not the best time for baptism.

I may be wrong, but I believe that even in baptist churches, if a person, baptized there as an adolescent, later becomes authentically born-again (due to a false conversion earlier) they are not required (though they may be permitted) to be baptized again. The earlier baptism is valid, even though at that time they were not actually committed personally to Christ. Practice may vary from church to church, but this scenario sounds likely. In any event, unity in the gospel could be increased if, while sticking to one's conviction on when baptism should be administered--others' baptisms are recognized--conditional, of course, as it should be for everyone, that a person has evidenced a personal committment to Christ. I recognize a baptist's baptism as valid, all I ask is that he do the same for mine--even though he himself does not practice or approve of infant baptism.

To just throw some fuel on the fire let me make a couple more points, using the logic from the article:

1)There is no example of women taking communion or being baptized in the New Testament (even though it has been universal practice, as far as we can tell, from the beginning). Should we therefore deny communion and baptism to women?

2) There is also no explicit command to serve communion to women or to baptize them...only universal practice, so, since its not in the bible, why should we do it?

3) Many baptists think that once they are baptized, they are definitely going to heaven, and they apostatize, due to such false assurance. Same issue as with those baptized as infants....

Obviously, I'm not calling for #s 1 or 2, it's just a way to make a point. If something is not specifically exemplified or commanded in the New Testament, that alone does not make it wrong.

55 posted on 03/09/2007 7:46:01 PM PST by AnalogReigns
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To: wmfights
I'm speculating of course, but I think because there is so little difference among us in doctrine that it would be more a result of geography.

Yes, that makes perfect sense to me.

56 posted on 03/09/2007 8:00:58 PM PST by Forest Keeper
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To: AnalogReigns; Alex Murphy; Forest Keeper; blue-duncan
As a pedo-baptist, what I would like from baptists is an acknowledgment that my baptism (and that of the great majority of Christians today, and throughout history) is an authentic baptism--even though they firmly believe infancy is not the best time for baptism.

Because Baptism does not impart Grace (not salvational) I don't get "bent out of shape" over infant Baptism. If done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost I don't see why it would not be "valid". However, the distinction I see between "Believer's Baptism" and "Infant Baptism" is that in "Infant Baptism" the individual has no idea what's going on, has no say in whether they want it done or not, and has not thought through why they should be baptized.

As a Baptist, I've been a member in churches that you must have had a believers Baptism to be a member and also in churches where this is not a requirement. I prefer the churches that require it, but that's a personal preference.

3) Many baptists think that once they are baptized, they are definitely going to heaven, and they apostatize, due to such false assurance. Same issue as with those baptized as infants....

I've never seen this, but anything is possible. I've been a member in a couple Baptist churches and in all of them there was a process to being allowed to be Baptized. You must make a public declaration of Faith and repentance. Then you must attend Baptism classes, typically 2-3 months on Sundays, and then you would be Baptized.

Baptist churches are in a free association with one another. They are not a part of a centralized command and control structure. Thus some practices vary from church to church. It's pretty safe to say that in those that require classes no one is confused about the difference between an ordinance and a sacrament.

57 posted on 03/10/2007 8:32:48 AM PST by wmfights (LUKE 9:49-50 , MARK 9:38-41)
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To: wmfights
I was told by a group of RC posters that they were insulted by the term denomination.

So you are just insulting protestants to be politically correct to your RC friends?

58 posted on 03/11/2007 8:38:38 PM PDT by PAR35
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To: PAR35
So you are just insulting protestants to be politically correct to your RC friends?

I doubt very much I have any RC FRiends.

How is the term sect insulting?

Webster's dictionary: Sect [sekt] n. religious group.

59 posted on 03/12/2007 6:44:33 AM PDT by wmfights (LUKE 9:49-50 , MARK 9:38-41)
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To: wmfights
If it isn't offensive, tell your Catholic friends that they belong to a sect, and see how they react.

Here are some excerpts from a RC site discussing 'sect':

"In the Acts of the Apostles it is applied both in the Latin of the Vulgate and in the English of the Douay version to the religious tendency with which one has identified himself (xxiv, 5; xxvi, 5; xxviii, 22; see xxiv, 14). The Epistles of the New Testament disparagingly apply it to the divisions within the Christian communities. The Epistle to the Galatians (v, 20) numbers among the works of the flesh, "quarrels, dissensions, sects"; and St. Peter in his second Epistle (ii, 1) speaks of the "lying teachers, who shall bring in sects of perdition". In subsequent Catholic ecclesiastical usage this meaning was retained"

"With the rise of Protestantism and the consequent disruption of the Christian religion into numerous denominations, the use of the word sect has become frequent among Christians. It usually implies at present disapproval in the mind of the speaker or writer. "

Emphasis supplied.

60 posted on 03/12/2007 7:57:42 AM PDT by PAR35
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To: PAR35
If it isn't offensive, tell your Catholic friends that they belong to a sect, and see how they react.

As I wrote before, I'm not willing to concede the language. If they want a different definition than that in the dictionary it's their problem. It's the same as the nonsense of claiming they are the one true church.

61 posted on 03/12/2007 8:22:39 AM PDT by wmfights (LUKE 9:49-50 , MARK 9:38-41)
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