There are plenty more aspects to this issue than the argument between baptizing infants or baptizing "believers" only.  There are disagreements over the method: sprinkling or full immersion.  There are arguments about what actually takes place: purely symbolic, sacramental, or even actual forgiveness of sins (original sin included).  Some even say that baptism in necessary for salvation while others would say that it is not.

The interesting part is that all of these positions have some biblical support.  I know, some of you just blew a gasket.  "How the hell does the Bible support baptizing babies??!!"  or "HERESY! How dare you say that the Bible says baptism doesn't remove original sin!"  But bear with me.  Before I start any of this, I have to make one point.  Walter Brueggemann (one of the world's foremost biblical scholars) suggests that it is impossible to interpret scripture completely free of bias.  John Wesley said a similar thing long ago as well.  I agree.  Brueggemann says that we all interpret scripture based on 40 verses (or passages).  We find the 40 that we like/agree with/can ascribe to, and then we sift all other passages through those verses.  So, if one of your verses is Acts 2:37-38 then you will probably view all passages talking about baptism as having to do with people who believe, but also having to do with sins actually being forgiven and the Holy Spirit entering the life at baptism.  However, if you like verse 39 more then you might think baptism is for children.  We all have bias when approaching scripture.  I do too.  But this is my blog so I get to say what I think... lol.

First, is baptism for "believers only" or should the church baptize infants?  I will start by revealing my position.  I strongly believe that we SHOULD baptize infants.  The arguments against are purely arguments of omission.  The fact is, baptism is repeatedly compared with circumcision in the NT.  A Jewish baby is traditionally circumcised on the 8th day.  This circumcision makes that baby a member of Abraham's line.  This takes placed based on the faith and heritage of the parents... the baby has no say in it.  Now, if some one converts later in life to Judaism (traditionally speaking here), he is to be circumcised as an adult to enact the same effect.

Now, if baptism is simply an "outward sign of an inward faith" as many like to say, this analogy makes no sense.  If the ingratiation into the Christian family has already taken place and baptism is merely the outward sign of that, then a baby doesn't need to be baptized. Unfortunately for those who believe this, circumcision meant more than just an outward sign. It was that as well, don't get me wrong, but it began the membership in the community.  That boy was now a Jew for the rest of his life.  No matter what, he had been claimed and that claim was based in the faith of his parents.

Nowhere does the Bible forbid infant baptism.  In fact, a strong argument can be made that when "entire households" are baptized, infants would be included. Jesus warns NOT to hinder the little children from coming to him. And the strongest example of God acting in a person's life based on the faith of others is the story of the paralytic.  A man is brought before Jesus by his friends.  It is the faith of the friends that prompts Jesus to heal the man.  The man does nothing! He could have chosen not to get up. He could have gone home and laid back down on his mat. Many who are baptized, even though they have experienced this healing from God based on the faith of their parents and the priest/pastor end up laying back down on their mat. If you lay down long enough, your muscles will stop working. Nevertheless, just because we do not choose to live in the truth, the truth is no less true.

Those who oppose infant baptism most likely ascribe to a more contractual form of salvation rather than covenantal. The problem is, there was no such thought of contractual salvation until Calvin (pretty much). The promises of God were passed from parent to child. Blood carried it, and blood delivered it.  Jesus' blood was the instrument of the new covenant (not contract). A contract can only be entered into by those who are able to understand it. This is where we get an idea of an "age of accountability." A covenant, however, is passed on with or without our consent. Age of accountability is not found anywhere in the Bible. A key argument against infant baptism is that it is not explicitly found in scripture, but the same folks who make this argument ascribe to the "unscriptural" idea of an age of accountability. It is an interesting inconsistency.

But if it is covenantal instead of contractual, and if it actually begins something rather than just symbolize something that had already begun, then what actually happens at baptism and how do we get it to happen? I loathe reducing God (or the actions of God) to a formula.  If I do A and B then God does C.  It's bologna (I would use another word beginning with "b" if I didn't want to keep this family friendly). But, God promises that if, in faith (whether it be a "believer" or an infant brought before the community of believers) some one is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then that person receives grace. That grace has many functions: it removes sin, it opens up space for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it initiates the person into the community, it begins the relationship with God. Now, again, there is an element of symbolism in this act, but there is so much more as well. The act does symbolize what happens inwardly. It also symbolizes the participant dying and raising again, just like Christ (and with Christ). But grace is present. It is sacramental. Something mysterious takes place and we lose that when we fear what we cannot completely understand.

So, does it have to be by immersion or is sprinkling okay? Well, all of the denominations that use sprinkling agree that the preferred method is immersion. But they all say that it is not the necessary form. What is necessary is: water, faith (again, either of the individual or the community for the individual), and the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If immersion is the only way, why are there so many places in this world where that would be impossible? Does God not want people in the Sahara to be baptized? Do we have to spend money on building a pool in our sanctuary, or can we give that money to the poor and just use a little tub and sprinkle the water? God wants us to use our heads. I find it interesting that it is the people who ascribe to a purely symbolic baptism who also demand immersion. Which is it? Is the act just a symbol and thus, not really necessary, or is it more than that? It is more than that which is why God is just fine with freedom in the method.  Again, only 3 things are said to be necessary (Jesus says unless a person is born of water and the Spirit... He does not say immersed in water): water, faith, and the three names of God.  

Overall, when we reduce baptism to a symbolic act, we lose the mystery that accompanies it. When we close it to only those who believe, we block the saving power of the faith of others in our lives (just like the paralytic got to experience). When we limit it to immersion only, we reduce God to a formula. Baptism is about being a part of the new covenant, joining the family of that covenant, experiencing grace, receiving the Holy Spirit, allowing freedom to reign in our lives and the life of the church, and challenging the community to love this new member of their family. A baby dedication (also not found in the Bible the way those who practice it today do it) does not accomplish all of this and certainly does not bind the community together in covenant.  It is just another line in contract. We need to move beyond the legal and into the familial. God is about relationships, not clauses.


Keith W said...

I preface this comment with the statement that I don't have a strong view either way on infant vs. "believer" baptism; I do lean more towards the latter but it's not a sword I would die on... and I haven't done the deep research to have a firm perspective.

what I find interesting is your comment: "A baby dedication (also not found in the Bible the way those who practice it today do it)..."

coupled with

the earlier perspective on immersion vs. sprinkling.

I find it ironic being that baptism via sprinkling is (using your quote out of context) "also not found in the Bible the way those who practice it today do it."

I love the post, but in the same way sprinkling is a non-existent-biblical-means yet valid means of baptism, I would venture to say dedication could (COULD, not saying it's the best) be a valid "means" to establish/enter the covenantal relationship, especially if it's in the context of Luke 2:22 (which is separate from circumcision).

And more important than baby vs. "believer, sprinkle vs. immersion; the sanctity and reverence to the sacrament demands needs to be redeemed.

That's all I got though,... certainly less than $.02


A Modern Ancient said...

i agree with the your statement. however, the only thing i would point out is that a baby dedication does not contain anything sacramental. that is the only reason i would say it cannot serve to facilitate the entrance into the covenantal relationship. that is why sprinkling (being extra biblical) is still valid (because it still contains the elements of the sacrament) while a baby dedication is not (because it does not contain the elements).

all that being said, i would take a baby dedication over nothing. at least a baby dedication talks about the community helping the parents to enact God experiences in the child's life.