Baptism: babies or believers?

Let me offer a disclaimer up front that the either/or of baptism causes too much divisiveness within the church; whichever side you stand on, this is not a salvation issue.  It is one that I find fascinating to think through, but, like eschatology, my conclusions aren’t going to impede on my salvation or yours.

There are two commonly held beliefs on when baptism should occur for an individual.  Paedobaptists make their claim that babies and young children are ushered into the covenant community by being baptized before the local church body.  Whereas, credobaptists claim that baptism should occur once an individual professes their belief in Christ as Savior, so the timing falls closer to an age of accountability.

There are too many caveats to name that each of these camps make when arguing their case.  I’ll readily admit that I am a credobaptist, but also admit that I was a fence sitter between the two when our son was born.  I didn’t have much interest in even knowing where I wanted to stand, but I surely wasn’t bent by others’ opinions on it, so, rather than make an uninformed choice, we did what what we do best…procrastinated.  Our son is now 8 and, now that I consider myself informed on the matter, the apathetic choice to procrastinate paid off in this case.  He is not baptized and he is in no danger of going to hell because of it.

Paedobaptists would never assert that persons not baptized as infants are destined for hell; I don’t mean to imply that they do.  They’re clear in explaining that their beliefs about infant baptism are centered on the covenant community and how the new covenant is aligned with the old covenant of circumcision.  Also stressed is the utmost importance of a child being raised within a church community so they can learn about the gospel, experience the accountability that fellowship offers, and then profess their faith at a later time before this covenant community.  I’m certain I’m missing other core factors that they’d express, but you get the gist.

All of the intentions by my paedobaptist brothers and sisters in Christ are noteworthy and deserving of respect.  However, research through the Scriptures, first and foremost, and supplemental readings by those who’ve poured over the baptism divide, have led me to the opposite conclusion.  John Calvin himself was unapologetically paedobaptist, and as much as his writings inspire me and his mind for theology amazes me, I respectfully disagree on the basis of how baptism is portrayed in the Bible.

No, there aren’t any directives I can cite by verse that command us to baptize at any certain age.  Sometimes it’s not as easy as deciphering whether women should be leaders, or whether Jesus wins in the end.  And sometimes that is God not spelling the answer out because the question isn’t one that we are to dwell on.  If we choose to continue to find His will, there is a danger many of us Christians fall into by picking out individual verses from our Bibles to suit the agenda we’re pushing.  To consult the whole of Scripture, as open mindedly as we can, and make logical conclusions to our questions, requires wisdom, but that wisdom gained is well worth the time.  Too may sermons to cite, but the common saying is “let Scripture interpret Scripture.”  So, yes, a convincing enough case for credobaptism can be made with Bible verses when used contextually.

The assertion that infant circumcision is aligned with infant baptism introduced enough doubt, for me anyhow, to proceed ahead with caution.  Deuteronomy 30:6 says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”  Reference to circumcision being an inward spiritual renewal, not just an outward expression of belonging, is also in the first part of Jeremiah 4:4, where God says “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts…” to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem.  Neither of these are negating the fact that God entered into a covenant with man by ordering a physical circumcision of infant boys on their 8th day of life outside the womb, but they are contextual proofs that God’s desires were for our hearts to be set apart, in devotion to Him.

In staying with this direct line paedobaptists draw between the two covenants, I always beg for an answer to the question of: what about the baby girls?  None have sufficed.  Where did the souls and bodies of the female children fit in among God’s covenant with Abraham?  In my previous post, “A woman’s place is…,” I don’t hesitate to repeat God’s intent for the position for women (although it’s not politically correct in today’s culture), but the biblical backing for our gender to be left out of such an important covenant that somehow relates to the current covenant of baptism, just isn’t there.  Did God forget us gals?  Nope.  Did God intend for only boys to be entered into the covenant of circumcision?  Yes.  Then how do paedobaptists draw that line when the severance is clearly made right there?  Citing Colossians 2:9-14 as a defense only brings more doubt to this connection because, once again, Paul is speaking metaphorically and is inclusive of all who are in Christ.

There are numerous examples in Scripture that set up the belief that baptism is meant for confessing believers.  Repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), they that received his word were baptized (Acts 2:41), when they heard this they were baptized (Acts 19:5), whoever believes this and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16), then he rose and was baptized (Acts 9:18): it doesn’t stop there.  Although these were written after the sacrament of water baptism was introduced to Christians, it is difficult to deny that baptism was conducted with repentant followers of Christ’s teachings.  In addition, as the sacrament continued throughout the remainder of the New Testament writings, there is no explicit connection mentioned that it was now to be performed on each additional family member born into Christian households 8 days after they’re given the breath of life.

I love that those who behold infant baptism are highly concerned with a covenant community.  It is commendable.  However, there seems to be an urgency included in their motive to see infants within their church be baptized.  This undue pressure is telling of their outlook on the gospel.  Adherents are adamant that infant baptism isn’t intended to save the child, but that implication still stagnates regardless. The doctrine of election is one that shouldn’t cause us to be sluggards when we try to follow the directions of Jesus in the Great Commission, but it can help quiet the artificial urgency we may have in baptism of those who haven’t had the opportunity to profess their faith verbally before witnesses.

Our Lord makes it known that there is a distinction between baptism with water and baptism of the Holy Spirit.  He even includes the always curious baptism by fire in His Word (Matthew 3:11), which I see correlating back to the repetitive verses scattered throughout Leviticus and Numbers (Leviticus 1:13, 17, 2:2, 3, 9, 10, 3:5, 16, 8:21, 28, Numbers 15:10, 14) where the sacrifices made to the Lord, by fire, were a pleasing aroma.  When our church traditions cause us to carry out a sacrament He left us with in a way that we assume the role of baptizing souls, with even the hint that our actions are imparting the wondrous baptism of the Spirit upon our babies, I become uncomfortable.  Incredibly uncomfortable.

My son hasn’t been baptized with water, but as he ages, he shows fruit in that God may just have baptized him with the Holy Spirit.  Even with fire, perhaps, as I hear his words express how he feels about God it gives me hope that they’re an aroma pleasing to Him.  One day, some day, God willing, he will follow Christ and be led to seek water baptism to further please our Lord.  Until then, we worship the God who knows the hearts of His elect, and I have no biblical basis to think that having him baptized as an infant would’ve had any impact whatsoever. As we move ahead, let’s go back to the Great Commission Jesus spoke (Matthew 28:18-20) and follow His words in the order He placed them: go, make disciples, baptize them, teach them.

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