Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Infant Baptism History Question

Averill and Dave are planning for Baby G's baptism in a couple of months and in the process of thinking about this big event in the life of their new family, some questions about infant baptism came up.  

How come infant baptism was not completely rejected by the Protestants during the Reformation since they rejected most of the traditions of the Catholic church of the day? Of course we know that many Protestant traditions do not practice infant baptism, but the "mainline" denominations do.

The best answer I could come up with was that the practice was too important and comforting to the people of that day because of the high rate of infant mortality to be abandoned by the reformers. 

Certainly they did reject the Catholic doctrine of that taught that unbaptised infants and children could not enter heaven, but remained in a limbo between heaven and hell. Did the reformers reject infant baptism as well early in that period and then later decide to go along with it to comfort their followers?

Clearly the answer to this is above my pay grade, but fortunately there are many learned pastors and scholars among my Gentle Readers and perhaps one or more of you would be good enough to educate me with your comments.


Robin said...

Want my ordination exam answer on this one ?!

The VERY abbreviated version of many,many pages:

1) Calvin: baptism represents God's covenant with us, much as circumcision represents God's covenant with the Jews; hence, baptism at all, and

2) We believe that God calls us before we can turn to God, that God loves us and seeks relationship with us before we are capable of responding; hence, infant baptism is a fine and good thing (Calvin didn't believe that we have to race to the baptismal font, as salvation is not at issue, but we shouldn't put it off either) -- as opposed to the Anabaptist strain of the Reformation; Anabaptists were much persecuted in that era for not baptizing babies and children because they believe that baptism should follow a person's choice for God made in maturity.

Baby G's will be a lovely day!

Quotidian Grace said...

A+ on that answer, Robin! I forwarded it to Averill. You covered all the points we talked about, including Calvin's position on the subject.

Many thanks!

Julie said...

Baptism recognizes what God has already done and continues to do. (As does Communion.) One of the things that I always remember at baptisms is something I learned from a former APTS president - "the parents go to the font with their child and return to their seats with their brother or sister in Christ." Sure helps me see/think/pray about those little ones in a different way!

Prayers for Graham, Averill, and Dave.

Quotidian Grace said...

Julie, what a beautiful thought! Thanks so much for sharing it and for your prayers.

Hans Cornelder said...

Karl Barth said that infant baptism is not in the Bible, and therefore should have no place in the church. He said that we have cut the biblical baptism in two halves: in Scripture there is no baptism without the personal faith and repentance of the baptized. In infant baptism we have the parents stand in for the faith and repentance part, however we have added another rite, confirmation, when those baptized as infants, confess their faith and repentance for themselves.
In many baptists groups they have a rite called Dedication of infants. Kids get only baptized when they are ready to confess and repent, often at a rather young age. Baptists feel the need of doing something at the beginning of life.
The difference between baptist and non-baptist Christians is that both have two rites replacing the one Baptism that Scripture has, and they only differ in that they use water and the word baptism at a different time.
Let us get together as Reformed Christians with the Baptists! Although two halves don't make a whole, we have an almost identical Baptism/Dedication and Confirmation/Baptism practice, with the differences often almost negligeable. Baptism should not separate Christians! The United Church of South India decided thus in 1947.

Quotidian Grace said...

Hans, thank you! That is a cogent analysis of the "two rites in one" and it helps me understand the differences between us. Which as you say, should not divide us.

Big Ben said...

I must say that there is a form of covenantal baptism practiced in ACTS. When a father/master would become a follower of Christ, he was baptized along with his entire family including laborers/slaves. This symbolized a form of covenant that goes beyond our response. That we belong to God, body and soul, whether we fully understand this or not. I believe in infant baptism for the simple reason that God first loved us. Every time I joyfully celebrate an infant baptism I read this baptismal statement from the French Reformed Church:
“Little children, for you, Jesus Christ came into the world: for you he lived among us and showed God’s love; for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last ‘It is accomplished!’ For you he triumphed over death and rose in newness of life; for you he ascended to reign at god’s right hand. All this he did for you, little children, though you do not know it yet. And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled: We love God because God first loves us.”

Charles Hedrick said...

My pithy version: For Baptists, baptism represents our decision for Christ. For Reformed baptism represents Christ's decision for us.

Quotidian Grace said...

@Big Ben--love the French Reformed Church liturgy! Thanks so much for sharing it.

@Charles, great succinct statement!

Hans Cornelder said...

Big Ben,

There are five "household baptisms" in the New Testament. The household (oikos) certainly could but not necessarily did include young children not yet capable of faith and repentance. No infants are explicitly mentioned in any of the five household baptism texts. In several it is stated that the whole household believed and was baptized (the jailor).
Whenever the New Testament speaks theologically about the meaning of baptism, it is never about baptism without faith and repentance of the baptized.

Crimson Rambler said...

Friends of mine from an Anabaptist background brought their young one -- he was five -- for baptism after the father of the family had done extensive study, and written a doctoral dissertation, on the poetry and theology of George Herbert -- for him, the insight that God's grace "antedates" our faith was a sufficient reason to celebrate baptism for a young child.
And in another family, a little girl of about that same age informed her parents that she wanted to be baptized in order "to share the Jesus-bread with everybody else", and her parents (also Anabaptist in background) were persuaded by that rationale.

Gary said...

Baptists and evangelicals are absolutely correct...there is no SPECIFIC mention in the New Testament that the Apostles baptized infants. There are references to entire households being converted and baptized, but we orthodox cannot prove, just from Scripture, that these households had infants, and neither can Baptists and evangelicals prove, just from Scripture, that they did not.

One interesting point that Baptists/evangelicals should note is that although there is no specific mention of infant baptism in the Bible...neither is there a prohibition of infant baptism in the Bible. Christians are commanded by Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and to baptize all nations. No age restrictions are mentioned. If Christ had intended his followers to understand that infants could not be baptized in the New Covenant, in a household conversion process as was the practice of the Jews of Christ's day in converting Gentile households to the Covenant of Abraham, it is strange that no mention is made of this prohibition.

So, the only real way to find out if Infant Baptism was practiced by the Apostles is to look at the writings of the early Christians, some of whom were disciples of the Apostles, such as Polycarp, and see what they said on this issue.

And here is a key point: Infant Baptism makes absolutely no sense if you believe that sinners can and must make an informed, mature decision to believe in order to be saved. Infants cannot make informed, mature decisions, so if this is the correct Doctrine of Justification/Salvation, Infant Baptism is clearly false teaching. But the (arminian) Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is unscriptural. Being forced to make a decision to obtain a gift, makes the gift no longer free. This is salvation by works!

Baptism is a command of God. It is not a work of man. God says in plain, simple language, in multiple locations in the Bible, that he saves/forgives sins in Baptism. We orthodox Christians accept God's literal Word. We take our infants to be baptized because God says to do it. Our infants are not saved because we perform the act of bringing them to the baptismal font...they are saved by the power of God's Word pronounced at the time of the Baptism. Christians have believed this for 2,000 years!

There is no evidence that any Christian in the early Church believed that sinners are saved by making a free will decision and then are baptized solely as a public profession of faith. None.

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Gary said...

"The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23)

The fact that children die shows that they are subject to the consequences of sin just like adults. If children are not held responsible by God for the Original Sin inherited from their Grandfather Adam, they would never die until they reach an Age of Accountability, when "their eyes are opened to the knowledge of Good and Evil".

But the Bible never mentions an age of accountability. Instead, it teaches that "the whole world (is) held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19), Psalms 51:5, Eph. 2:3.

Just because something doesn't seem fair, doesn't mean it is not true. As Paul says in Romans, who are we the created to question the Creator.

All human beings, including infants, are born sinners and are in need of a Savior to redeem them from original sin and the penalty of that sin: death...both physical and spiritual.

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Gary said...

Maybe the Baptism debate has been approached from the wrong direction. Instead of starting with our disagreements, let's start with what Baptists/evangelicals and orthodox Christians AGREE upon: All persons who believe and have faith in Christ as their Savior should follow his command and be baptized as soon as possible.

So the next question is: Can an infant believe and have faith?

If I can prove to you from Scripture that infants not only can but DO believe and have faith, would you accept infant baptism as Scriptural?