Baptism, Round 2

Thanks to Sarah for some additional questions and thoughts, which I’ve decided to just answer in the context of a new post rather than as a comment on her comment on the last post.  Clear as mud?
Here are some of Sarah’s comments, which launch what follows:
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….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). 

First, glad that Andy survived the under-the-bus-treatment!  Second, many respects to you for the respect you gave Andy as the head of the household, even when you disagreed with his stance.  Your ability as a couple to work through that speaks volumes to the love and respect you have for each other.  

Secondly, no worries about being argumentative.  You’re not.  It’s a shame that our culture so conditions us to fear any questioning of anyone else as rudeness, so that we have to couch our thoughts so delicately.  I find myself doing this all the time and it drives me nuts!  I started this blog as a place for people to think things out and through – not just me but hopefully others as well.  We have to be able and willing to engage in intelligent theological dialogue.  Thank you for doing so!

Luther’s use of alien faith and the Centurion account in Matthew 8 have to be understood properly.  Luther firmly adhered to the idea that one must have personal faith in Jesus Christ.  But he also argues that the faith of the Centurion resulted in his servant’s healing, apart from the servant’s faith.  An example would be you praying for healing for one of your Mormon neighbors.  God might grant that prayer request, offered up by you, in faith.  Your neighbor would benefit from your faith in Jesus Christ, even if your neighbor doesn’t share.  You couldn’t pray for God to accept your neighbor to salvation despite her lack of faith.  There is a limit to what “alien faith” can do.
In the baptismal arena, the faith of the parents can bring the child to the pastor for baptism.  Their faith has placed the child in a situation where the child can receive God’s promises in baptism.  The child does not benefit from the parent’s faith beyond this point.  But this alien faith has brought the child to a place where she can receive the promises of God in baptism.  This is what Luther is getting at in paragraph 31, page 84, of his Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany in 1525.  
But I think what Luther says just a few paragraphs later really drives to the issue of the disagreement over infant baptism.  That division I believe is driven by our Enlightenment/Rationalism/Modernity heritage of the glorification of the intellect.  We can’t comprehend the idea that faith is something different than intellectual understanding and assent.  Many people can’t comprehend the idea of being human if the intellect is in some way deficient or altered.   This has led to people justifying abortion and euthanasia and all sorts of other things, just because someone’s intellectual capacities differ from what we consider normal or proper.  
In the realm of baptism, people can’t conceive that a child could receive and benefit from something without rational, conscious, volitional acceptance.  Verbal assent and acceptance isn’t enough – a four-year old or younger could do that, could affirm that they love God and believe in Jesus.  But that’s not acceptable.  It must represent intellectual apprehension.  We must understand with our intellects – that’s what faith becomes commensurate with.  Luther nails this with paragraph 38:
“Tell me, why do you baptize a man when he has come to the age of reason?  You answer: He hears God’s Word and believes.  I ask: How do you know that?  You answer: He professes it with his mouth.  What shall I say?  How, if he lies and deceives?  You cannot see his heart.  Very well, then you baptize for no other reason than for what the man shows himself to be externally, and you are uncertain of his faith, and must believe that if he has not more within in his heart than you perceive without, neither his hearing, nor his profession, nor his faith will help him; for it may all be a delusion and no true faith.  Who then are you, that you say external hearing and profession are necessary to baptism; where these are wanting one must not baptize?  You yourself must confess that such hearing and profession are uncertain, and not enough for one to receive baptism.  Now upon what do you baptize?  How will you justify your actions when you thus bungle baptism and bring it into doubt?  Is it not the fact that you must come and say that it is not becoming for you to know or do more than that he whom you are to baptize be brought to you and ask baptism from you; and you must believe or commit the matter to God, whether he inwardly truly believes or not?  In this way you are excused and baptize aright.   why then will you not do the same for the children, whom Christ commands to be brought to him and promises to bless?  But you wish first to have the outward hearing and profession, which you yourself acknowledge is uncertain and not sufficient for baptism on the part of the one to be baptized.  And you let go the sure word of Christ, in which he bids the little children to be brought unto him, on account of your uncertain external hearing.”
We can’t explain what faith is.  We recognize it in ourselves as an acceptance, an active trust, and we have difficulty separating that concept from our intellect, our conscious volition.  But it can’t be only that, as Luther explains in the next paragraph:
“Moreover tell me, where is the reason of a Christian while he is asleep, since his faith and the grace of God never leave him?  If faith can thus continue without the aid of reason, so that the latter is not conscious of it, why should it not also begin in children before reason knows anything about it?  IN the same way I would like to say of every hour in which a Christian lives and is busy and occupied, that he is not conscious of his faith and reason
, and yet his faith does not on that account cease.  God’s work are mysterious and wonderful, where and when he wills: and again manifest enough, where and when he wills.  Judgment upon them is too high and deep for us.”
Do I think that salvation through faith is only available to those who can articulate doctrine properly?  No.  Do I believe that salvation through faith requires intellectual assent of some sort from those capable of it?  Yes.  Baptism is not a magic rite that excuses the recipient from the living out of their faith as they grow and mature.  But I believe that God grants his promises, begins his promises, aside from intellectual assent.  An adult that comes to faith in Jesus Christ does not do so of their own volition, apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart and mind beforehand.  How much more is God capable of doing within the heart and mind of a child, an infant, who is nurtured and raised in a Christian home and Church?
Now, to bring this full circle, we need to determine if these guiding principles are in keeping with Scripture or not.  Since we’ve already agreed that Scripture never explicitly commands or demonstrates infant baptism, we have to determine if we can infer from the scope of Scripture whether this represents God’s work in and through us.  
I think Jesus’ interaction with children in Matthew 18-19 is a valid place to start.  Have the children articulated any form of saving faith in Jesus as the Son of God?  He doesn’t grab a child and say “Hey kid, do you believe in me as the Son of God who is here to die for your sins and give you eternal life?” and then the child does this and then Jesus uses the child as an example?  Granted – Jesus is not referring to baptism here.  But he is indicating that even children are capable of saving faith.  
Did Abraham articulate a saving faith in God back in Genesis 12, or did Abraham simply do what God told him to do?  Yet God made promises to Abraham in Chapter 12 before Abraham could demonstrate his willingness or ability to be obedient.  Isn’t this what God does in baptism?  He makes us promises.  Promises that we are forgiven.  Promises that grace is extended to us in Jesus Christ?  And like Abraham, can’t a baby receive those promises?
Now, to be certain, baptism isn’t the end of the story!  The promises have been made, but that child needs to be raised in the faith so that they accept those promises as their own in faith.  The promises are sure, but we need to receive them in faith, and comes later (in the case of an infant or small child).  It doesn’t seem to be the case that the promises can’t be made until we have already expressed hope and faith in them.  
More thoughts?  I hope so!

4 Responses to “Baptism, Round 2”

  1. Doug Vossler Says:

    Acts 2:38-39 is another place in scripture (when Peter spoke to the crowd on the day of Pentecost)where baptism of infants and small children likely occurred. “Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 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.”

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    Definitely a great (and timely, given that we just celebrated Pentecost) reference!  Thanks Doug.

  3. Sarah Says:

    Thanks! I think the reasons make much more sense now. Previously when someone would say something like “People who are baptized as infants think they are saved and they can then just live however they want,” My response was, “Um…NO. I don’t know anyone who was baptized as an infant who thinks that. Baptism does not save you.” But I could not explain the reasons for infant baptism. I think I could reasonably discuss it now. :D

  4. Paul Nelson Says:

    Both sides have these “hidden” things that they seek to protect against.  Those who reject infant baptism often do so on the grounds (erroneous as they may be) that it leaves the person with a sense of entitlement, as though nothing need ever be done again.  To be fair, Roman Catholicism is often accused of fostering this attitude and I run into many people who seem to suffer from it to some extent.  But no Catholic theologian would ever agree that this is what the Church teaches!

    People who reject waiting until an age of accountability often do so that it means that the person being baptized must think that baptism is a human affair, my action vs. God’s action.  This does not have to be so (though I’m curious to find out how often this idea is really conveyed).  

    Trying to talk in terms that take all of the issues into account (and sanctification is a big one on both sides) really helps.  I hope you’ll keep asking questions – it helps me better refine my answers.  Which continually need refinement.  I’m grateful for the indulgence of my readers as it continues to happen!.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s