Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Decisionism and infant baptism

This is a post script to my last post below on "decisionism" and also follows through on some of the thoughts I posted a few months ago on infant baptism.

You see, ultimately I think the problem with the so-called "believers baptism" model is that it is decisionistic in its focus. It says a child cannot be baptised until she is old enough to have made a mature and well informed "decision". It doesn't seem to accept that faith is something that a child can grow into, and there may be no moment of "decision". There is a constant attempt to evangelize the child and have the child reach a point where they can "pray the prayer".

This is the wrong focus. You tell your 2 year old child that God created the world, that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus died on a cross, that Jesus rose from the dead, and the child will tend to believe those words. Some continue to grow in that belief, others later reject it, but the belief can and is nonetheless present at a young age. Infant baptism is an affirmation of that reality.


Justin S said...

We don't wait till they can 'pray some specific prayer'. We do wait until they can articulate that they are a sinner in need of Grace and that they believe Jesus is the answer.

I have 4yr old and 2yr olds boys and neither has been able to grasp the idea fully yet. To my 4yr old Jesus is just another guy w/ Magic powers who is one of many cool superheros to choose from. If you ask He will say that Jesus is God. He will say that God made him, but he doesn't grasp the separation created between him and God when he sins and I don't think he grasps that his sin is against God, but only worries about sinning against me, my wife, or his brother.

It is wierd that both sides of the argument appeal to grace. I feel like I am in no rush to baptize my boys until they want to be baptized and I can in good conscience say that I see them being 'made holy'(sanctification) by the power of the indwelling spirit that comes w/ salvation(which comes through confession of Christ as Lord and Saviour).

Because I am reformed in my theology, I am not worried about 'a decision' or a specific moment that they, somehow, make themselves saved through some magic prayer because I believe it is God's calling and God's work to save, but I also see that when God does stuff it has effects that are seen. He also expects us to respond. We use our faculties to respond to God all the time.

Paedo-baptists use their faculties to read the bible and study the history of baby baptisma and then they respond by making a decision to become a paedo-baptist. Then they appeal to others to make a similar decision. Until you could see that I believe in your argument, I don't think you'd consider me a baby baptist.

God is not stuck in the systems that He has set up like preaching and confession of belief in Christ. He could make the rocks cry out if He wants. I don't want to put Him or the mystery of Salvation in a box that is perfectly measurable. But the bible lays out some pretty clear guidlines of the outward signs of the inner/ cosmic reality of salvation

Andy M said...

Thanks Justin. I appreciate your thoughts. Believe me, I understand where you're coming from having held those views for most of my life.

I guess my concern with that stance though is how much does a child really need to grasp given their limited understanding of the world generally? And does it mean a child cannot be saved by God until they can articulate the gospel, their need as a sinner and their reliance on Christ?

Owls said...

Hmm. No, I'm afraid I don't think the concept of adult baptism is dependent on the kind of decisionism you're talking about, Andy.

My current thinking...

I think it depends on 2 factors:

1) whether you think children's faith is independent of their parents, or not. I.e. it has to do with
(a)individualistic; or
(b)corporate belief in children

2) what you think baptism is a sign of. It seems that one of the difficulties is that baptism of children brought up Christian doesn't seem to be something the Bible explicitly addresses. So we need to make a decision about what we think baptism does or is for.
You might think baptism is a sign of
(x) belonging to Christ ; or
(y) a sign of a person's taking on
following Jesus as an individual.

You then get the following combinations:

If you think (x) is true, then regardless of whether you hold (a) or (b), you will think infant baptism is appropriate.

If you think (y) is true, and:
(a) is true, then you will think infants should be baptised
(b) is true, then you will think baptism shouldn't happen until the individual is an independent person no longer morally & spiritually incorporated into their parents standing, even if they've always been a Christian.

(Note that none of these positions relies on there being a point of decision before which the child was not a Christian.)

(And I can't help it, I'm a philosopher. I think factorially.)

Am I right in thinking you would hold to (a) and (y)? I.e. you hold an individualistic view of the 'children-of-believers-salvation', and believe that baptism is a sign of their taking on the faith for themselves.

I'm a (b), but not sure about (x) and (y). I'm drawn to the view that there are 2 significant spiritual points in the life of a child brought up to be Christian: one as a new member incorporated into the body of Christ under the headship of its parents; the other where the child leaves that headship as a spiritually mature individual. And I'm not sure it's very important at which of these points you baptise; I think both are worth marking with some kind of public ritual or outward signs, be it (for an infant) baptim, dedication, thankgiving, welcoming into church family, christening; or (for a mature person) adult baptism, confirmation, public testimony, etc.

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