Saturday, July 7, 2012

Infant Baptism

I can't say that I have ever truly understood the reasoning behind infant baptism within the Protestant tradition. Infant baptism in Catholicism makes sense, since that's just one of many good things that you can do to get grace and work your way toward heaven. But from the Christian standpoint that we are not saved by being born into a Christian household, that we do not “get more grace” because of baptism or any other sacrament, and that baptism is symbolic of salvation (being buried with Christ and rising again), infant baptism does not follow.

Three Symbols: Dedication, Infant Baptism, Believers-Baptism

Now, I believe in infant dedication. Often, parents will, in front of their local congregation, dedicate their child to the Lord. This seems awesome. But this is also a different symbolism than the symbolism of baptism and salvation. You see, all unbelieving children of Christians can be dedicated to God, and only the ones who eventually (by their admission anyway) come to faith in Christ and are born again will be baptized. The two symbols are complementary, not competitive.

Christians who follow the tradition of infant baptism will sometimes say that baptism is not symbolic of salvation, but symbolic of being in a covenant relationship with God (which unbelieving children are also in). Well, then, we have two baptisms – each is representative of a different thing. That leaves two possibilities: Either the two baptisms can be complimentary (one symbolizing the covenant relationship, and one symbolizing salvation/rebirth) OR Only of the ideas of what baptism represents is correct.

I reject the first hypothesis, that the two baptisms can be complimentary, because we read in the Scriptures:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Eph 4:4-6

So then, either believers-baptism is correct, or else infant baptism is correct.

The Mystery of Reformed Infant Baptism

With the Reformed point of view, infant baptism makes even less sense. You see, in a non-Calvinist sense of Covenental Theology, it may be believed that the children of believers are loved by God (who desires their salvation), and given extra grace, which makes their salvation more likely. But in Calvinism, you are either elect or you're not. You either are given so much grace that you cannot resist salvation, or so little grace that you cannot possibly repent. Therefore, the children of believers are in the same boat, the same situation, as any other non-believer: no one knows whether they are “elect” or “non-elect” until they come to faith (elect) or die unrepentant (non-elect). No one knows if God loves them, or will give them enough grace, until one of those two things happens.

The only favor God could show to the children of believers, in this worldview, is that He could save a higher percentage of the children of believers than of the world at large. Maybe in the world at large, He saves 1 out of every 25 people, but He also saves 1 out of every 5 children of believers. But this is just speculation, not a promise or covenant. So the baptism could not possibly symbolize this
extra favor” of higher percentage salvation which is not promised in the Bible. Therefore, in reformed tradition, this infant baptism can only symbolize a “Covenental relationship” in which God promises to save all of those He unconditionally elects, regenerates, and causes to have faith. But that covenant applies to the whole world. Why not baptize the world??

Which Baptism is Correct?

Well, who am I to say? I believe that Believer's baptism, which is symbolic of repentance, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, faith, salvation, having sins washed away, and dying with Christ and being raised again(death of the “old man” and regeneration), is correct. But this belief is only justified if that's what the Bible teaches is the true symbolism of Baptism:

Symbolisms mentioned: Repentance, indwelling of the Holy Spirit
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Mt 3:11

[ONE EXCEPTION: Jesus needed no repentance, but was baptized anyway by John]

Symbolisms mentioned: Indwelling of the Holy Spirit
“I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mk 1:8

Symbolisms mentioned: Faith, Salvation
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mk 16:16

Symbolisms mentioned: Faith, Salvation
“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized...” Acts 2:41

Symbolisms mentioned: Dying with Christ and being raised again(death of the “old man” and regeneration)
“Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Rom 6:2-4

Symbolism mentioned: Sins being Washed Away
“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22:16

So, with the exception of Christ's Baptism, all of the symbolism associated with Baptism is associated with realities accompanying salvation: repentance, faith, sins washed away, salvation, being indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and dying to sin/being raised to newness of life. Not one of these is associated with the state of non-belief. Therefore, I would conclude that if there is truly only “one baptism” in Christianity, then believer's baptism must be that one, because it affirms the symbolism mentioned above in those eight verses quoted from the Scriptures.

What about households? These are also verses that refer to a whole household being Baptized:

“And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.” Acts 16:33

Well, the verse does not say whether everyone in his family believed or not. Based on the symbolism listed previously, I would say that baptism is reserved for believers, and would conclude that all of his family believed. Another verse about a (separate) entire household is consistent with my conclusion, because it spells out that the entire household believed:

“Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” Acts 18:8

Therefore, it seems clear that Biblical Baptism is symbolic of repentance, faith, sins washed away, salvation, being indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and dying to sin/being raised to newness of life, not of some other coventantal relationship that does not include these elements.  Given that understanding, only those who profess repentance and faith should be allowed to be baptized, just like only professing believers should be allowed to participate in the Lord's Supper/Breaking of Bread.