My family has been members for years at Mars Hill Church. I served there in various ministries, as a Deacon, and for the past two years as a Pastor. This summer, we left Mars Hill to join Trinitas Church, a church plant within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Although there is great unity between Mars Hill and the PCA in the most important doctrines, there are differences as well. Of theses, Infant Baptism is the difference that I have been asked about the most by our friends, especially because this Sunday, my three children, Zoraida (4yrs old), Augustine (2yrs old) and Pascal (1month old) are being baptized.
Infant Baptism is not new to me, I have attended churches that practiced Infant Baptism in the past. I also have read many books about Infant Baptism's strong support in history and worldwide practice that were influential, and I've included some of those at the end of this post. Although it has been my conviction that Infant Baptism should be practiced for a long time, we have delayed the baptism of our oldest two children due to respecting and honoring our previous church's convictions on this issue, but now that we have joined a church within a tradition that honors and advocates for Infant Baptism, it is now appropriate and honoring for our children to be baptized. I have faith, and hope for the day when Jesus Christ will unify His Church such that Infant Baptism would return to this normal practice of Christian Baptism in all Christendom.
Evangelicals are deeply divided on many issues like Infant Baptism. Many people have claimed that the solution to these problems are as simple as merely "opening one's bible", yet, this has not brought the unity as predicted, and often it has only lead to further sectarianism and separation. Many have honestly approached the Bible and have come to contrary conclusions, and that is especially true of Infant Baptism. We are too quick to leave our home church to the next one down the road as soon as we encounter something we do not like, and this creates a culture of church-hoping and never committing to any one church. So the question is then, how do I respond?
If we are truly One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, as the Nicene Creed says, then Moltmann explains than the problems of each individual church is also a problem of every church. We cannot say that infant baptism is an internal problem in protestantism, or that Mary and the Pope are internal problems from Roman Catholicism. We are one body, and when one member of the body is sick, the whole body suffers. We cannot run from our problems, or ignore that there are problems, but we have to have faith in Christ's Church and not be afraid to pursue unity and hope for the day that when Christ Jesus puts all things under his feet, such that God is "all in all" (1 Cor 15:25ff).
I admire Jurgen Moltmann's desire to be "Reformed by tradition, but Ecumenical in his future." We are "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church", and we have "one Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 8:6), and we all share the same Holy Scriptures, and yet American Evangelicalism is divided like a piece of glass shattered into a myriad pieces. Read any history of Evangelicalism, such as George Marsden's "Fundamentalism and American Culture", and it is clear that we have suffered deeply from the sin of schism. We are all reading the same scriptures, yet many wise, honest and moral people have come to contrary interpretations of the same texts. The old solutions of, "just going back to the bible", has not driven us to unity, but has caused us to shout at each other, and then stomp our feet off in schism as "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Jdg 21:25). Although the necessary truths of the Christian Faith are clear to all in the bible, "some things hard to understand" (2Pt 3:16). We must "bear all things in love" and love one another, even when we are divided on issues, because a divided household falls. So let's hope and anticipate the day when the Holy Spirit reunifies our divided body.
"All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them" - Westminister Confession of Faith, Chapter I, Section VII
The hard question we must ask ourselves is, as Moltmann said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And as Protestant, we are constantly in need "of revising our talk about God" or as Martin Luther said, "ecclesia semper reformanda est!" Healing the wounds begins with the humility of knowing that we may be wrong on things that are very core to us, because as Karl Barth said, we are always in danger of being the ones saying, "Lord, Lord". So let us heed this, by above all following Jesus' command "that you love one another, just as I have loved you." (John 15:13). Ecumenicalism that tolerates all things has failed, and a return Ecumenicalism where we wait for others to return to us, has also failed to bring unity. We must be humble enough to admit we may be the ones who are wrong, and we must love others that we believe to be in error as we pray for Jesus Christ to unify his Church. Let us be Ecumenical by sitting down to eat together, before we start talking about where disagree, so that we can stand up in faith for what we believe to be the truth, but also love those and have communion with those who we believe to be wrong.
I've been deeply impacted by Eastern Orthodox authors such as Georges V. Florovsky and especially Dumitru Staniloae, who have explained ecumenism by the term "Sobornicity". Sobornicity is the Eastern Orthodox form of the word Catholic, such that we may think of the Catholic Church in terms of unity that still allows for distinctions of beliefs and ecclesiology. We may be unified without an imperial episcopacy or absolute tolerance. We may be united as a coalition of churches, where we may all assert what we believe to be the "One, Holy, Sobornic and Apostolic faith" together. Within my church, I may advocate for truth without fear, yet at the same time advocate by honoring our spiritual parents in the Lord. (Eph 6:1f).
The argument for Infant Baptism stands on the truth that God loves children, and the doors of the Church are not shut to anyone because of age, race, gender, social status, or nationality. The New Covenant has been ratified by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and baptism is a sign and seal of an individual's participation in the covenant. Baptism isn't a work we perform or a magical ritual, but it is a sign of the gospel, that we may look to our baptism as a reminder, as encouragement, that we are members of the New Covenant. Baptism is not something we do to merit salvation, or something that must be redone if we are unfaith, but it is how we are received into the New Covenant. It is evident that the Old Covenant, which is the old form of the New Covenant, clearly contained children who were circumcised. The New Covenant also contains children as well, and we have no right to say that children no longer have access to the New Covenant.
"We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, in whom the law is fulfilled, has by his shed blood put an end to every other shedding of blood, which anyone might do or wish to do in order to atone or satisfy for sins. Having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, Christ established in its place the sacrament of baptism." - Belgic Confession, Article 34
For those who remain in a church that does not baptize children, it is essential that children are affirmed to be a part of the New Covenant, and the Covenant Community being the Church. It is possible to talk positively about our children's participation in the New Covenant in a baptist church, even if baptism is wrongfully delayed. Any one who defines the Gospel in a way that shuts the door to a whole class of people, such as infants, has horribly gone wrong in our understanding of the gospel. "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." (Acts 2:39) and "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Lk 2:10)".
Often the counter arguments to Infant Baptism are based on what is common around us in our culture, and we are not wise enough to look beyond our home town or into the past to see that every church in the history of all church up until now has affirmed a certain group of infants as part of their church in the same tangible way that they have affirmed adults. Anyone who has been to the opposite side of the world knows how unfamiliar the same earth becomes, where all the plans and animals and people look entirely different, such that we become the aliens and minorities. I live near Seattle, which is thousands of miles and years away from the resurrection, we should be cautious to think that our church is the one true church, and what we believe is what has always been believed.
There are millions of Baptists today, but two hundred years ago, there were hardly anyone anywhere who resembled the norm of today. The anabaptists emerged in the Radical Reformation as the first people who objected to Infant Baptism, and they exist today as Amish and Mennonites today. Often Infant Baptism is said to be proved wrong by simply "opening your bible" and "it is plainly refuted" by popular and clever preachers, because we have deeply forgotten where we have come from, and are unaware of how we have come to be where we are and believe what we believe. James K.A. Smith written well of our deep forgetting and reminds us to "Remember you are Catholic".
Many are surprised that all the most famous and influential theologians in church history argued extensively for Infant Baptism: Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, B.B. Warfield, Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Aquinas, Ulrich Zwingli affirmed Infant Baptism. Only in the last hundred years are we starting to find scholars who argue against Infant Baptism, and this is largely due to the success of the Baptist Denominations in America. The protests in popular Evangelicalism are strong and popular today, but these voices are hardly a consensus either, because there are many famous evangelicals today whom practice Infant Baptism such as Tim Keller, Tullian Tchividjian, RC Sproul, and Michael Horton. So I ask under what authority may we not "see it in our bible" considering this long testimony of the church?
My intent in this blog is not to provide an exhaustive proof for Infant Baptism, but provide an explanation for my friends who may be confused why we are now baptizing our children, when so many others have protested so strongly against Infant Baptism. For those who are seeking answers, I am providing this summary of Infant Baptism's dogmatic basis by Louis Berkhof, and have listed several books that were helpful for me to learn about Infant Baptism that I highly recommend. I hope that those who read this and disagree with me would know that I still deeply love them, and still consider you my brothers and sisters in Christ.
(1) THE SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR INFANT BAPTISM. Infant baptism is not based on a single passage of Scripture, but on a series of considerations. The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant, though it also had a national aspect, Rom. 4:16-18; Gal. 3:8-9, 14. This covenant is still in force and is essentially the same as the "new covenant" of the present dispensation, Rom. 4:13-18; Gal. 3:15-18; Heb. 6:13-18. Children shared in the blessings of the covenant, received the sign of circumcision, and were reckoned as part of the congregation if Israel, 2 Chron. 20:13; Joel 2:16. In the New Testament baptism is substituted for circumcision as the sign and seal of entrance into the covenant, Acts 2:39; Col. 2:11-12. The "new covenant" is represented in Scripture as more gracious than the old, Isa. 54:13; Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:11, and therefore could hardly exclude children. This is also unlikely in view of such passages as Matt. 19:14; Acts 2:39; 1Cor. 7:14. Moreover, whole households were baptized and it is unlikely that these contained no children, Acts 16:15; 16:33; 1Cor. 1:16.
(2) THE GROUND AND OPERATION OF INFANT BAPTISM. In Reformed circles some hold that children are baptized on the ground of a presumptive regeneration, that is, on the assumption (not the assurance), that they are regenerated. Others take the position that they are baptized on the ground of the all-comprehensive covenant promise of God, which also includes the promise of regeneration. This view deserves preference. The covenant promise affords the only certain and objective ground for the baptism of infants. But if the question is raised, how infant baptism can function as a means of grace to strengthen spiritual life, the answer is that it can at the very moment of its administration strengthen the regenerate life, if already present in the child, and can strengthen faith later on when the significance of baptism is more clearly understood. Its operation is not necessarily limited to the very moment of its administration.
-- Louis Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine, Chapter 26,
Here are a few books I recommend to read that do an excellent job explaining the argument biblical for Infant Baptism:
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter 15-16
- Joachim Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries
- Joachim Jeremias, The Origins of Infant Baptism
- John Murray, Christian Baptism
- Oscar Cullmann, Baptism in the New Testament
- B.B. Warfield, The Doctrine of Infant Salvation (Studies in Theology)
- B.B. Warfield, The Archaeology of the Mode of Baptism (Studies in Theology)
And to show my cards, here is what I regard as the best counter argument:
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.4 fragment
Related: Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Dumitru Staniloae, George Marsden, Georges V. Florovsky, infant baptism, institutes of the christian religion, John Calvin, Karl Barth, mark noll, Oscar Cullman