Thursday, 15 March 2012

Point/Counterpoint Email Exchange on Infant Baptism

A while back, when my daughter was born, I re-looked into the issue of infant baptism. My Baptist upbringing held its ground, but I do think I started to see the other sides argument clearer - perhaps my present Anglican surroundings are having an influence on me... Anyway, from my previous post on infant baptism, and from some other verbal discussions, I got into an email exchange with a guy who's opinions I respect a lot. I have asked for permission to post this exchange and they have agreed to it as long as it is clear that this email exchange was in the context of a dialogue rather than some dogmatic teaching that they hold to. (They are happy to be named in this post, but I don't think it is necessary, as I just want their ideas to stand out over and above who is giving them - maybe I am also scared of an argument from authority, as I have none :)

Below are the points they raised with me, with my responses in italics. Under my comments is their reply to my comments, in some places they have broken up my comments to respond to one of my points (hopefully you will get it):

1. The foundation of baptism is the covenant of grace – that God calls some into an eternal, special relationship with him appropriated by faith in his promises.
Or is the sign of baptism as sign of new life and that your sins have been cleaned? I think each argument starts at a different point as the meaning of baptism. Is it a sign of the new covenant or a sign of belief?
I’m talking about ‘the foundation of’, not ‘the sign of’. A foundation is the underpinning for something.

2. In the Old Testament the sign and seal of the covenant of grace is circumcision Genesis 17:7-14. Circumcision includes infants and foreigners who become a part of Israel, ie. not just biological descendants of Abraham.
3. In the NT baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant of grace, only now, after Jesus shows how the covenant of grace is fulfilled, it is more specifically a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sin that comes through faith in Christ, and of our regeneration and adoption as children of God through the Holy Spirit.
I agree with the fact that it is “a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sin that comes through faith in Christ” and all that... Doesn’t that mean you have to repent first and then receive the sign? Infants can’t do that.
See points 7, 8 ,9 and 10
It is interesting to note that John the Baptist was baptising people before Jesus’ death on the cross. His baptism was one of repentance, and I think post Christ’s death the meaning continues, and I don’t think infants can repent of their sins.
John’s baptism was something a bit different to Baptism in Jesus name I think Acts 19

4. You see the connection between circumcision and baptism coming out in Col 2:11-12 where both circumcision and baptism are used metaphorically to describe the outworking of the covenant of grace.
This verse is probably the best link between circumcision and baptism in the NT. I haven’t look up any commentaries, but I think it is another way Paul is saying we have put off the old self and put on the new self. We are dead to sin and alive in Christ.

Verse 11 talks about how we have put off the “body of the flesh” and that the circumcision we have is not a literal one, but a metaphoric/spiritual one (“not by human hands” but by God). (Perhaps Paul is taking about been circumcised by faith (Rom 3:30)).

Verse 12 talks of how we have been metaphorically/spiritually been buried with Christ (perhaps the symbol of immersion is relevant here) and that we are metaphorically/spiritually raised with Christ by the same power that He was raised with.

Paul perhaps is using symbolic language to convey his point to people who understand the symbols. Circumcision involves cutting and removing (putting off the body of the flesh) and baptism involves been buried (immersed) and raised again (coming out of the water, showing clean, new life). Is this a sign of the “covenant of grace” (whatever that means - but we both think it doesn’t mean saving faith. I would say the OT covenant is also one of grace), or is Paul taking about a saving faith here? I think he is.
Still need to do some more thinking about it.

5. While not necessary for salvation, baptism shows that someone is included in the covenant of grace. But then it is up to the person who is baptised to put their faith in Christ which is necessary for salvation. (Just as it was up to the circumcised to put their faith in the promises of God so that they might have salvation.) Galatians 3:6-9
Your order is different to how I think it should go. First faith in Jesus and then be baptised. Again with John the Baptist, people were confessing their sins and then getting dunked. All the people in Acts first repented and then were baptised. Simon in Acts 8 does show that you can be baptised and not be saved, but he at least still expressed some faith before been baptised...
This point really only applies to infants who are baptised. I agree with you that faith needs to be expressed first in the case of adult baptism.

6. Not all baptised people, even those baptised as adults, will keep their faith in Christ and so receive salvation. Hence it is understood that some who are baptised as infants won’t go on to have a saving faith in Christ. 1 Tim 4:1
1 Tim 4:1 doesn’t reference people who are baptised, or people who are said to be under the convent. It is just like the other warnings in the NT that talks of people leaving the church. Yes they may have been baptised (I would say more than likely they were), but I think its a bit of a stretch to say that the people in 1 Tim 4:1 that Paul is talking about are those who were baptised as infants.1 Tim 4:3 I think is who Paul is talking about in verse 1 and they sound like false teachers who somehow got to a teaching position. Been baptised or not doesn’t seem to be on the agenda here.
I agree with your point. I was just countering the argument I sometimes hear that infant baptism doesn’t count for much because there is no guarantee that the infant will grow up as a true believer – it doesn’t necessarily happen with adult baptism

7. Jesus regards children as members of the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:13ff
Jesus used children as metaphors for people of the kingdom of God. Matthew 11:16, 18:3, 19:13
True. But it would be a little odd if Jesus didn’t also mean that children can be members of the kingdom of God too.

8. Peter confirms that children are included in the covenant of grace. Acts 2:39
Peter confirmed that future generations of Jews and Gentiles are included in the covenant of grace. Act 2:39
Again true. But odd if Peter didn’t also mean real children

9. Paul confirms that children (within the household) are included in the covenant of grace. Acts 16:31ff.
Children aren’t directly mentioned in this passage. It does show that to be saved you must first believe in God. Then after believing the jailer was baptised. I think it also implies that everyone in the household also believed.
It could also mean that any children who can’t express belief are included in the covenant of grace. I agree that children aren’t specifically mentioned, but when you included all the other ‘household baptism/saving’ references it would be odd if there weren’t any children in any of these households and it never says ‘the household was baptised except the children’

10. There is an organic connection in the way the Spirit works in families through the faith of one or more members of the household Acts 11:14; 16:14-15; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16; Also especially 1 Cor 7:14
I would say the Spirit does work through families in some sense, but we both agree it is not a saving faith. Just because your parents are Christian doesn’t mean your children will be. Again it comes down to if baptism is about saving faith, or some general idea about been under the covenant. All Act’s examples seem to suggest it is about belief...
I think I want to say that children born to Christian parents and who are baptised have to choose to opt out. Whereas children born to non-believers who are not baptised have to choose to opt in. I think I am of the view that baptism is more a sign and seal of the covenant of grace that Jesus fulfilled and that we can live under, rather than a sign of saving faith.
I’m not going to say that 1 Cor 7:14 is a useless verse, but I am going to say that I have no idea what Paul really means. It is a little shaky to build anything off that one verse. It doesn’t talk about baptism, it does talk about somehow children of one believing parent are set apart.
I am not building anything off that one verse. Just using it as extra weight of evidence for infant baptism!

11. No where in the NT does it say that children shouldn’t be baptized.
No where in the NT does it say that children should be baptised.
Yes, but because of the connection with OT circumcision I think the onus is on Baptists to prove that children shouldn’t be baptised.

12. I think we have to ask ourselves, ‘Am I go to raise my young children as though they are included in the covenant of grace and so will have their faith in Christ. Or am I going to raise them as though they are outside of the covenant and need to be proselytised’ If the former, then it makes sense to have them baptised as infants.
I think I am going to raise my child to have every opportunity to see God for them self by teaching them the Bible. This means they don’t automatically know it, and so need to be told the message of salvation through Jesus. I think my child needs to know about Jesus and so needs to be told.
We raised our kids on the assumption that, by God’s grace, (and points 7, 8, 9, 10) they were in the kingdom. But we still had to teach them about Jesus etc.

The truth is, you don’t need to express faith in Christ to be saved otherwise all who die as infants are condemned. 

I think you can have more hope in your daughters adoption into the kingdom of God than you seem to be giving yourself.


  1. Glad to see that you are questioning something that people just "do" thinking that it will "get" them something.

    Somewhere along the line Christians need to face up to the fact that we can and do accept a denominal line of thinking above a Biblical persepective and push that line of thinking. Why? To be part of that denomination and their statistics. So the parents will feel secure having them "done".

    When did child baptism come into the Anglican and Catholic church?

    Why with all the freedom in Christ why do we try to tie people in knots and take them back to legalism?

    What happens to children who are not part of a household ie their parents and family have died? The adopted children that Christ says we are.

    To say that people who don't know God should "opt in" is based on what?

    In the end whether children come into a relationship with God will not depend on baptism. There is not concrete absolute command in the Bible that says that it is needed as a child or an adult. There are signs and vague references and if that is what people use to justify their positions so be it.

    If you baptise a child do they know or care as they are usually a baby? All the references above are about children. What age were you thinking?

    Was Jesus or any of the disciples baptised as children? Seems they did well without it.

    The issue can be a huge distraction to other more important things such as loving and caring for the child and therefore showing them more than a sign but a genuine commitment to their spiritual life.


  2. Hi Mum,

    Thanks for posting. It is good to know my mother reads my blog :)

    I think legalism about baptism can cut both ways, its not just the infant baptism guys who say you must do it in a certain way.

    I don't think any denomination wants to be unfaithful to the Bible and as you said there is no absolute command about what age you should be baptised at, and I think that is why there is so confusion. So people lean on different approaches to scripture to try and be faithful to the text.

    What we can all agree on is the Jesus does ask his disciples to make more disciples and to baptise them. I think it is secondary if it is done via full immersion, sprinkling, when they are young, a teenager or an adult. The primary importance is that people actually get baptised and continue to be a disciple of Jesus.

    We live in a funny time when there are a bunch of people who have been baptised as a kid and now don't attend a church, while there are a bunch of people who attend a church who haven't be baptised. Somehow I don't think that was the plan or intention of baptism...