Saturday, March 03, 2007

Five reasons why I think Christians should baptise their children

For most of my life, I've held to "believers only" baptism (i.e. usually adult, or at least older children). But tomorrow, I am having all three of my children (aged 4.5 yrs, 2 yrs and 5 mths) baptised. Why am I doing this?

I am doing this because I have come to quite firmly believe that Christian believers should baptise their children. [Note, I still do not think unbelievers or "nominal Christians" should baptise their children; it is that practice that turned me off infant baptism for so long.]

Why do I now think this? I could go on for ages, and I'm not sure I'm yet able to articulate this as well as I'd like to, but here's five reasons:

1. The starting point is to say that baptism itself is important. On its own, the mere splashing or pouring or immersing in water may not necessarily mean much, but what that water points to are things of profound and amazing wonder - the washing away of sin, our burial and resurrection with Christ, and the pouring of God's Spirit into our hearts. In the New Testament, baptism was the expected norm for the Christian, the sign that you belonged to God and were part of his community. I could go on. But the point is, we too often undervalue baptism (some can also overvalue it) but it is a wonderful thing because it points to even greater things.

2. I believe that Jesus's great commission of making disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them to obey all he had commanded, starts at home with our own family - we are to baptise and teach our children, that they too might be disciples of Christ. Indeed, we should treat them as little disciples from day 1. We treat them as part of God's family, part of the church. We don't treat them as pagans requiring conversion, but as little Christians requiring discipling.

3. It is often said that there is no precedent in the New Testament of children or infants being baptised. Putting aside the various "households" being baptised that are referred to in the book of Acts, this argument misses the whole point of Acts. The book of Acts is all about new converts, the first generation of believers. It was groundbreaking stuff. There is nothing in the New Testament that discounts the possibility that the second generation, the children of those first believers, were baptised. Indeed, the references to households being baptised suggests that is exactly what happened.

4. One difficulty with so-called believers baptism is our definition of "belief" or "faith". We seem to require a faith that is sufficiently mature before qualifying for baptism. Why is not the faith of a three year old who knows that Jesus is God not sufficient faith? Do they have to be able to articulate the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement to qualify? What about the little two year old who says a simple grace of "Dear God, dinner, Amen" - why is not that simple trust in God sufficient? Where do we draw the line? In my mind, the only logical time to baptise the child of a Christian family, who will hopefully never know a time when they did not know Jesus, is as an infant.

5. But in any event, ultimately baptism is not about my choice, my decision, my faith. What I love about infant baptism is that it shifts the emphasis to God's choice, God's decision and God's faithfulness. Just as the initiative in the baptism comes from outside the child, so too does the initiative in salvation come from outside ourselves. Our salvation is not about our own faith, but about God's faithfulness. Baptism, and especially infant baptism, points to this.


Ruth said...

Congratulations to your kids today. I loved each of my kids baptisms - especially 'D's because 'A' was really old enough to be thrilled that our church was praying especially for 'D'. 'A' invited everyone he knew to the service!!!

As someone who considers herself to have been a Christian all her life, I'd also like to say, that although I didn't quite understand everything as a child (and still don't as an adult), I certainly knew that I was/am sinful, that Jesus died for me, and that I was part of God's family.

steve said...

I always say to people, "Would you, in the words of the Bible consider your child to be a member of the kingdom?"

Most say yes, and rightly so

Then I ask, "Then why would you deny them the Christ given symbol of that reality?"

There isnt really a comback at that point

credo-baptist said...

steve, i don't know any credo-baptist that would affirm that their children are a member of the kingdom of God unless they have repented, believed, and confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Andy M said...

Credo, how do you judge whether a child has "repented, believed and confessed Jesus as Lord"? If a 2 year old said they had, would you take their word for it or consider they weren't old enough to make such a confession? What about a 3 year old? A 4 year old? The problem I have with the Baptist position is that it seems to assume a child must have reached a sufficiently mature age before such a confession can be accepted as such. I just don't know where we can draw the line.

credo-baptist said...

precisely, andy. which brings me to concur with your first point.

Baptism is important.

You stated that baptism "points to ... things of profound and amazing wonder - the washing away of sin, our burial and resurrection with Christ, and the pouring of God's Spirit into our hearts."

Because it is an important act of obedience, far be it from me as a parent to baptize my child when they are not even regenerate. Their sins are not washed away. They are not broken from their bondage to sin, buried, and raised again to a new life. The Spirit does not live in their hearts.

Should they come to (God-have-mercy) reject the faith of their parents later what significance then does their baptism hold. In such a case it becomes a mockery.

I would rather that they be certain of their commitment to God before engaging in such a wonderful act. Many believers in the early church were required to engage in 1 year of intense discipleship before the church would baptize them.

Mike Doyle said...


Just a point of interest, it seems that the biblical accounts in the NT of baptism don't include a prolonged period between confession and baptism. They also don't include the baptisers questioning the baptisees faith, or doing courses etc before baptism. It seems that baptisms happened when people confessed.

Andy has pointed out the biblical accounts deal only with first generation Christians, and perhaps we need to be more cynical about people's beliefs now-a-days, helping people understand the decision they have made.

Steve - though I am not against infant baptism, I wonder what exactly I would be denying my children by with-holding baptism. I could argue that it may be helpful, as they can rely on their faith in Jesus as a sign of their Christianity, rather then an outside sign that may fool them.

Mind you - though I obviously don't hold baptism is very high regards, I do love a good baptism - what a great reminder of what Christ as done for us, and the public declaration of someone's repentance and desire to follow him! (or in an infants case, the desire of the parent).

Andy M said...

Credo - when exactly do you think a child has the opportunity to become regenerate, to have his or her sins washed away, be raised again to life, to have the Spirit indwelling? You seem to restrict this opportunity only to the person who can have a sufficiently mature faith, perhaps even to have undergone a 1 year intense discipleship course!! As Mike says, in the NT church people were baptised immediately - baptism was not withheld until a doctrine exame could be passed!

And a baptised child falling away from the faith presents no more of a mockery to baptism than does the adult who was baptised as an adult believer but later falls from the faith. That is no argument against baptising infants.

Andy M said...

But Mike, I must take issue with you elsewhere (at the risk of taking the bait of you just trying to rile me up again!!!). What's with the whole "not holding baptism in high regard"? Why on earth wouldn't you? I don't mean giving it a higher place than is warranted, but to say you don't hold it in high regard at all is a bit much isn't it??

And what's with this idea that withholding baptism from your child "may be helpful, as they can rely on their faith in Jesus as a sign of their Christianity, rather then an outside sign that may fool them." Since when do we rely on our faith in Jesus? Don't we rely on Jesus full stop? I wouldn't want to rely on my faith! That was part of the whole point of my post - baptising children takes the emphasis off my faith and puts it back onto God who is the one who initiates the very things that baptism symbolises. Baptism points to Jesus, not to me and my faith. As such, I want my children to appreciate their baptism as a pointer to Jesus. Why would I want to withhold that?

And what do you mean by an outside sign that may fool them? Don't you mean an outside sign that people may twist and misinterpret and misemphasise so as to fool them? The fact some people get baptism wrong is no reason to withhold it being administered
in a way that is rightly understood. Excuse the pun, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater Mike! There is no reason for withholding a God-given sign just because some people might misunderstand it.

Anyway, we've had this discussion before ...

Mike Doyle said...

Bad choice of words (in several parts)...

I don't have a "high" doctrine of baptism - I hope I am developing a biblical view of baptism - which at the moment (to lay my cards on the table) seems to be that it is an appropriate cultural expression of repentance and faith. And dare I say it, possibly still an appropriate cultural expression today.

You are right - I don't want to rely on my faith, but on Jesus.

But I have had hundreds of conversations with people who rely on their baptism as a sign of conversion - in fact, will look at their baptism as being made right or part of God's family.

And that is a very very common error (perhaps even more common then a "right" view of baptism), and an error you can help avoid by not baptising.

I'm not making a law here, but it is right to consider the cultural climate of where and how you do your baptism. Does your culture think baptism is a sign of repentance and faith, or something more?

So yes - the fact that some people (many people actually) get baptism wrong is a great reason not to baptise, as it becomes a stumbling block. The same can be argued of many other cultural things that may have once been useful, but are now a stumbling block (priestly robes, lent, etc etc)

Can we rescue baptism? Perhaps.

It is worth rescuing? most likely, I'm thinking it through.

Of course, none of this is me suggesting that baptism should be banned! As I said, I love a good baptism.

Andy M said...

I know where you're coming from with that Mike because one reason (amongst others) that we didn't baptise our children immediately when they were born was because we thought it might be wrongly understood by some people we know and given too high an importance.

But I now feel strongly that those who get these things wrong should not be able to spoil the party for others. I passionately believe that the response to a wrong view of baptism (or lord's supper or whatever) is not to ditch it, but to reclaim it and show how it can be done well. As you say, you love a good baptism! Let's promote good baptisms rather than not doing it at all because we think it's a stumbling block.

Also, I wouldn't put baptism in same category of "cultural things that may have once been useful, but are now a stumbling block". Neither priestly robes or lent, the two examples you gave, have NT biblical precedent and sanction, whereas baptism does.

symota said...

Where are your verses??? That's a great little opinion piece, but there was no scripture. Please do some more studying and praying before you jump to conclusions that are primarily based on reason.

When the early church had divisions in their theology and were claiming one thought better than the other, Paul wrote to them about their divisions (read 1 Cor. 3): "Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a 'fool' so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their craftiness'; and again, 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.'"

Andy M said...

Hi Symota,

Thanks for your comments brother. I'm not sure I see how the 1 Cor passage you cite applies here. Are you suggesting that just because I've put forward a view on infant baptism (hardly a minority position) I'm being divisive or applying the wisdom of the world? If you could clarify that would be good.

As to using scripture, fair call in one sense. But I wasn't setting out to provide a comprehensive scriptural defence of infant baptism, just five thoughts on the issue I'd had.

The call to point to scriptural support could equally apply to the so-called "believers' baptism" position. There's much the Bible doesn't say about baptism, and any position on baptism is going to inevitably use reason (which is not bad in itself) to fill in the gaps.

The verses in scripture regarding baptism are directed at completely new converts and are largely silent on how baptism works in the second, third, fourth etc generation of believers.

You will probably point me to the verses that say "believe and be baptised" etc. But my problem is where do you pin down exactly when a child is capable of believing? How well do they need to be able to articulate such "belief" before we treat them as part of the church? My almost 5 year old I am quite sure "believes" and has gradually grown into that, which is what I would hope for all Christian kids.

Anyway, happy to interact on it further if you want to make more comments.

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Anonymous said...

The reality is you have made your decision from the volume of silence of the scriptures. You mention the word "household", and assume the children were baptized, no indication is given that children who did not understand were baptized.

No where do we see anyone getting baptized that did not understand. And, the key passage in Acts 8:26-38 shows us that a credible profession of faith was given before baptism was administered. It is ludicrous to assume that knowledge of the existence of God equals repentance and faith, the qualifiers for baptism.

Andre said...

I enjoyed reading your blog. I am not in agreement with everything you said and feel that the reasons you believe what you do is because of the practices of the modern church.

There are only two instances which I find in the Bible that a believer gets baptized. First, it was the family in Corinth. Most commentaries say that God poured the Spirit on them because Peter and his team would of had difficulty believing that uncircumcised persons could get become believers. The second was Paul who probably repented when he saw the light and heard Jesus' voice. Both the family and Paul received baptism immediately after. The rest were persons who desired to repent and baptism accompanied their repentance. The prerequisite for baptism is to know that one is a sinner and wants to die to the sinful nature (unite oneself to Christs death)and to be resurrected in newness of life (unite oneself in Christ's resurrection). Thus become born again.

I baptize children, but they must do it as a pledge of a good conscience before God. (1 Pet 3:21) This eliminates some children. Unless they can tell me that they have sin and want to be baptized to get rid of it, I do not baptize them. There is no precedence in the early church of getting forgiveness for sin for the first time outside of baptism. In the early church it was through baptism that one died and became born again (a child of God). Then they received the Holy Spirit immediately as part of the baptism process by the laying on of hands.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Andy. We came to God because it was God that called us, not by ourselves.

Infants can believe by faith too. afterall faith comes by hearing the word of God.

John the baptist could hear the voice of mary the mother of God from the womb of his mother and he leaped with joy.

Baptism has several functions;
initiation into the kingdom of God is primary. Forgiveness of sins and receiving of the Holy spirit are part.

If a baby can be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb (because the parents are belivers (Luke 1:41 for example) ...the scriptures confirm. So why not baptise them?

Jesus told us of the heart of God: bring the children, for they are examples of the kingdom. You need faith as litlle as a mustard seed..thats all you need. like a child's faith.

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