Infant Baptism

This past week at our monthly pastors Circuit gathering, we had a mini-seminar on baptism.  At the end of the seminar an interesting discussion erupted regarding the Lutheran insistence on infant baptism as Scriptural.  That would have all been well and good except that a friend asked me to weigh in on the topic via Facebook this week.  And while pastors arguing about stuff doesn’t necessarily require a response, I’m always willing to weigh in for a friend.

Lutherans baptize babies.  There are a variety of very good theological reasons for this practice, but the claim that it is Scriptural is one that, at the very least, is challenging to defend.  
Infant baptism is a historic practice of the Church.  While there was a time early on in Christianity when some people felt that you needed to wait until just before death to be baptized (so that you wouldn’t sin after baptism and therefore fulfill misinterpreted verses like “be perfect” (Matthew 5:48), the vast majority of Christian history has reflected the baptism of babies, consistent with an understanding that baptism is an act of God, a sacrament, not a human action.
Serious objections to infant baptism came into the norm in certain Protestant denominations after the Reformation.  Certain teachers arose (Ulrich Zwingli, John Smyth) who insisted that infant baptisms were invalid because they did not involve a profession of faith.  This theology is still prevalent in some Protestant denominations, such as Baptists.  
Lutherans rejected these teachings from the beginning (as did John Calvin).  
So, does the Bible anywhere say that we should baptize babies?  Not in that specific language, and the fact that the Bible does not explicitly describe a baby being baptized does not make the practice unBiblical.  There are multiple places in Scripture where the baptism of infants and small children likely occurred, even if not explicitly described:
  • Acts 11 – Cornelius and his household
  • Acts 16 – Lydia and her household 
  • Acts 16 – the Philippian jailor and his household
  • Acts 18 – Crispus and his household
  • 1 Corinthians 1 – Stephanas and his household
Of these, the account of Crispus in Acts 18 could be rejected by some opponents of infant baptism because it explicitly talks about coming to faith and baptism as a result of that.  But the other accounts don’t specify this ordering, and I don’t think that Acts 18 is necessarily prescriptive of how baptism must work (following a confession of faith), but rather descriptive of that particular event.  
Are babies mentioned specifically in any of these events?  No.  Could it be possible that there were no babies or small children present to be baptized?  Certainly.  Is that a rather convoluted and forced way of interpreting those passages?  Most definitely.  Does it seem reasonable that in at least one of these situations, babies and children were involved?  I completely think so.  Is this in keeping with the overall Scriptural use of the term household (whether in the Hebrew or Greek)?  Yes.  
We can combine this with other passages in Scripture to reinforce the idea that infant baptism is Biblical.  Consider Jesus’ rather unconventional attitude towards children in Luke 18.  Children are included in the kingdom.  Children matter.  And it isn’t an issue of their intellectual assent or spiritual faith.
All of this taken together supports the Lutheran position on baptism as Scriptural.  It also maintains baptism as something that God does, not something we do.  It is the moment when the Holy Spirit kills us and makes us alive again.  When our sinful nature is drown in the water and we are raised again to new life in Christ.  These are things which we experience, but we do not cause them.  
All this being said, how do we then act towards our brothers and sisters in the faith who reject the idea of infant baptism and preach that baptism is rather a time for public confession of the faith?  Well, first of all we deal with them humbly and in love.  I don’t agree with their Biblical interpretation, but I don’t believe that this is a matter of salvation, either.  I believe that heaven will have many good, faithful, and dedicated Baptists there.  So I deal with them in love here and now as well.  
I think that the doctrine of baptism is important and worth discussing and debating about.  I believe it has real ramifications on the Christian life, and particularly on the confidence that we have in the forgiveness and grace of God.  Is all of that dependent on me and my confession of faith?  What if I wasn’t sincere in that confession of faith?  What if I did it more to make my parents happy then because I really believed?  How sincere is sincere enough?  There are many ways that Satan can cause me to doubt my relationship to God if baptism and the life of faith is exclusively something that I create and maintain.
If baptism is an act of God, then I can have faith in what God has done in my baptism.  I don’t have to doubt what God has said about me and done to me in baptism.  Am I sinful still?  Of course.  Are my motives often selfish and impure?  Absolutely.  But God’s are not.  I can direct myself and others to our baptism as an anchor for our faith.  God has declared me his through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is the faith that an infant is baptized into.  Can that grace and forgiveness be rejected?  Certainly.  I may need to examine my attitude towards God, but I never need to doubt his attitude towards me.  
Thoughts?  Comments?  Corrections?
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One Response to “Infant Baptism”

  1. Sarah Says:

    So….I read the blog, then looked up Luther’s statement on it in the Large Catechism.We also looked at summary of a sermon he did on it. Andy and I ended up having a lengthy discussion. We tried to extricate in simplest terms the reasons for infant baptism. I agree that it is something that God is doing and not something WE do. I agree that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what allows the process of sanctification to begin in us. I agree that ‘household’ includes children. But when it came to ‘alien faith’ I have a hard time. It seems that Luther is working a little too hard to justify infant baptism there. It’s almost like he decided “Infant baptism has been done for a long time, let’s find some reasons for it. Can I extricate this example and apply to infant baptism?” (In the case of the Centurian and the servant)

    I’m not trying to be argumentative, just trying to understand it. And, while I think a LOT of what Luther did is great…I have a hard time taking the words of a MAN and equating them with God’s commands…particularly given where we live. Martin Luther did so many amazing things for God, but he was also a fallible man so I just want to make sure I’m looking at things critically and not taking the words of a man over the bible. And I FULLY agree that we need to look at whether bible stories are meant to be prescriptive or descriptive of an instance. I just can’t see where the description of the Centurian pleading for the healing of his servant is justification for infant baptism. That seems like taking things out of context. Alien faith is not a concept we see anywhere in the bible (that I am aware of).

    Just trying to understand! Many moons ago when Lilly was born, Andy and I actually had fairly substantial argument over whether to baptize her as an infant or not. (Actually, the real argument came because I sort of threw him under the bus with my family when they asked about her baptism and I told them to “take that up with my husband.” My point was that if HE didn’t want to baptize her as an infant, he should be okay with explaining the decision to others…That aside, it was not cool of me to throw him under the bus like that!) It’s the only MAJOR argument we’ve had in our marriage. I finally decided that if he is the head our household, I would submit to his decision for this. But it always bothered me that I didn’t have a clear understanding or ability to explain the reasons for infant baptism. That might be too much information but it’s where all this is coming from. Some friends are moving and one church the husband tried out basically told him he would have to be rebaptized if he wanted to become a member because they don’t accept his infant baptism. I would walk away from a church like that and look elsewhere but I think he was considering it. So the topic was all brought up again. Thanks for addressing it!

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