Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Baptizing Little Believers?

I'm interested in some feedback from other Mafia members, and all other Reformed Baptists on this one.

I want to talk about baptizing children upon their profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

As a Calvinistic Baptist myself, I'll lay my cards on the table right at the outset on this one: I say just baptize them. I know that's a controversial position to hold. I know, for instance, that it's rumored that Spurgeon did not baptize his own twin sons until they were 19, even though neither one of them had ever confessed anything other than faith in Christ. (And whatever that guy did has to be right...right?)

I know the concern from the other position is over protecting the regenerate church membership. It's about doing what we can to ensure that we're not baptizing the unregenerate. I get that, and I appreciate the concern.

But here are my random thoughts on the matter:

1. It's not the baptism of children that necessarily produces unregenerate church members: it's a faulty and/or false gospel that is centered on emotional response and the free will of fallen man. If we repent of preaching that sort of "gospel" and return to preaching the apostolic content of the Gospel of Christ, then the response that we will get will be far less likely to be emotion-driven in the first place.

2. Scripture only ever gives us one hurdle to clear prior to baptism, and there's some manuscript evidence, apparently, that even this one hurdle may not be original with Luke. In Acts 8, when the eunuch asked why he couldn't be baptized, Philip replied that he could if only he believed. The eunuch said he did, and Philip baptized him. He didn't catechize him first, or make him fill out a seeker's workbook, or wait months for fruit to appear. But again, consistent with #1 above, Philip knew he had preached the genuine Gospel to him.

3. If anyone had a right to be gun-shy about baptizing new converts, it was Philip. He had just previously been involved with the whole sad incident involving Simon Magus and his false conversion/false baptism. But getting burned by Simon didn't cause him to hesitate to pull the trigger once faith in Christ was confessed.

4. We are tempted to demand that children have adult-like faith, but Scripture tells us we adults need to become childlike or we shall in no wise see the kingdom of heaven!

5. By not baptizing children who confess Christ consistent with their ability to understand, and by demanding to see some fruit first, we generally make it more difficult for them to be baptized than we do for adult converts.

6. Again, baptizing kids is not the problem: Manipulating kids into being baptized, with things like Vacation Bible School peer pressure and Fire Engine Baptistries, and with a lobotomized "Gospel" of the spiritual ABC's is the problem. You want to stop baptizing the unregenerate, then start preaching the true gospel and start relying on God to call those whom He will, completely apart from your parlor tricks and machinations to make it happen.

7. We should baptize on confession of faith, which confession is consistent with ability to understand, and is not blatantly contradicted by anything. This is true for both adults and children. Now, each of us sins, and thereby we are all habitual contradictors of our confessed faith; but we shouldn't withhold baptism from professing believers unless there is some obvious, glaring defect. Like, "I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I also believe Mohammed is the Son of God." Or, like the guy who confesses on Sunday morning to believe but the whole town's heard what hell he raised on Saturday night...you might want to wait and see some repentance in a case like that. But those are major, obvious contradictions. If you have a third or fourth grader who has listened to your consistent, expository presentation of the Gospel and subsequently confesses to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that forgiveness is through His Name, I'm not sure what the great wisdom is in waiting around for something more.

None of this is in stone for me, as in, I'm looking for interaction on this. I'm truly interested in your thoughts.

17 comments:

Exist~Dissolve said...

I would say that the question hinges upon whether or not one believes that baptism is efficacious for the salvation of the baptized. If so, one should fully affirm the propriety of baptism at any age, for to be baptized is to be incorporated into the salvation of God revealed within the community of believers.

If, on the other hand, the legitimacy of baptism is tied solely to a linearly prior "confession of faith," the meaningfulness and efficacy of baptism being therein dissolved exclusively within the private psychology of the conscientious baptized-one, then to baptize or not to baptize is really a non-issue, not much more important than what kind of chicken will be served at the church potluck following the ceremony.

This is why, of course, baptism must be understood within the complex of salvation that is revealed within the life of the church, not merely in the individual psychologizing of its members.

Rhett said...

Gordan,

I agree with your points here...

Dusty McDust said...

I'm pretty sure it's never appropriate to refuse to baptize anyone who says they believe and want to be baptized.

False faith is false faith -- okay, fine. We know it exists in many forms -- including the "fruit-bearing" form, shockingly. It seems absurdly presumptuous to "responsibly" withold baptism until the convert proves he's saved. "Oh, okay -- he stopped having that affair and he put $50 bucks in the plate three weeks in a row -- now we can baptize him." Is THAT when it's okay? Or shouldn't you wait for three more weeks, then maybe three more after that, just to be sure?

Pretty laughable, really. Just baptize 'em when they profess, regardless of their age, and let God sort 'em out in the end. I know it's a horribly cliche thing to say, but I'm certain we really will be surprised by the make-up of the population of heaven when we get there. No way around that, no matter how wisely, cleverly, carefully "discerning" we are (especially the Reformed; talk about wise, clever and careful! Man, we're good!) in this life.

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

Dusty, you seem to be very genuine in your evangelistic zeal. However, scripture is clear of a particular order in the great commission. Make Disciples --> Teach them all things I have commanded you --> Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Ok, the crux of the issue is that baptism of for disciples, not mere professors. Now, nobody's discernment will be perfectly accurate, and we don't baptize anyone based on the amount of offerering we give, but lets say someone comes down professing to be a believer and desires to either join as a member, or to be baptized, thus making him a member of that local body. Should we sign him up and dunk him in the holy bath water, or should we speak to him and find out of he truly understands the gospel? I say that we should do that. If he wants to be baptized and has no comprehension of the gospel, then he has not trusted in the gospel. Just a thought.

Scribe said...

I'm with Joah's position here...I personally hold to "Believer's Baptism"...

Gordan said...

Who is Joah?

I believe in "Believer's Baptism" as well. My worry is that we can easily slide into "Disciple's Baptism" on this.

I honestly see the Biblical pattern being one that urges us to connect the symbol of a thing as closely as possible to the substance. I mean, since Baptism is a sign and symbol of the washing of regeneration, we ought not put it off longer than absolutely needed.

I do agree with Joshua above, though, about interviewing the candidate for baptism prior to allowing it. But even in that instance, with a new adult convert, how perfect does their theology need to be?

I think we Baptists tend to see baptism as the fence that quarantines off the regenerate church from the unregenerate world. But, I think the Scriptural evidence is on the side of seeing church discipline in that place, not baptism. It is the professing believer's response to the discipline process that will prove who and what he really is.

Again, just thoughts. Willing to be wrong on this.

Exist~Dissolve said...

Who is Joah?

He meant to say "Joel."

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

Gordan, I do not believe you are wrong...Church Discipline is essential, because even if we strive for purity in our discerning baptism candidates, it is not fool-proof. We need not go to the extent of baptizing only the best theologians, nor do we need to dunk everyone who claims to love Jesus....Exercise discernment in baptism, and then those who become members through baptism, exercise discernment through church discipline. Our goal is the purity and holiness of the church.

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

Joel, I highly doubt that.

Dusty McDust said...

(Joshua -- I'm a little doubtful about your "prescribed order" treatment of the Great Commission. Jesus mentions "...baptizing them..." in conjunction with teaching/making disciples. There's no implication of a do-A-then-do-B set of instructions being laid out.)

I do agree with Joshua above, though, about interviewing the candidate for baptism prior to allowing it. But even in that instance, with a new adult convert, how perfect does their theology need to be?

Gordan says it nicely here; that articulates the main thought behind my comment.

Very few new Christians, if any, have a well-developed sense of the particulars and implications involved in confessing Christ as their savior, confessing that they believe the Gospel, etc.

So -- if a sweet little 7-year-old girl comes up to a preacher and says she's a believer and wants to be baptized, is it the right course of action (or even particularly imaginable) that, after talking to the little girl and discovering that she thinks God loves everyone in the world and wants them all to believe in Jesus, the preacher should tell the little girl with her sweet, simple, sincere faith in Jesus, "Nope, sorry little girl. Can't baptize you. Not until you demonstrate a solid understanding of what's wrong with the devilish doctrines of Arminianism which you are currently embracing."

Of course you baptize that little girl. If you refuse to, you need to get your neck fitted for the millstone. She's got the rest of her Christian life to get her simple childlike faith thoroughly adultified by all our glorious theological arguments.

And how often does it happen that a total stranger comes up to a preacher, in no particular context (such as having just listened to the preacher's Gospel presentation, etc.), asks to be baptized, and the preacher immediately dunks him in water and says Hallelujah without talking to the guy first? That's a nice theoretical situation, but it doesn't strike me as all that profitable to discuss it, as if it's a reality Christians deal with.

Gordan said...

Exist, sorry, I didn't see your first comment awaiting moderation until just now.

I actually agree with you about this.

If the church saves people by baptizing them, then by all means let's baptize everyone!!

But if we don't believe baptism is ultimately salvific, then I agree that the arguments we get into about when and who and how are not of primary importance.

Exist~Dissolve said...

If the church saves people by baptizing them, then by all means let's baptize everyone!!

I wouldn't say that the church saves people by baptism, for salvation--as the church has affirmed from its genesis--is from God alone. However, I would also affirm, in Origen's words, that as the 8 of the ark were saved through the waters, so are we saved through a like sign. In this way, baptism is not salvific because it is somehow mechanistically tied to justification with God; rather, it is salvific because it occurs within the life of the church wherein the salvation of God is being revealed.

But if we don't believe baptism is ultimately salvific, then I agree that the arguments we get into about when and who and how are not of primary importance.

True.

Gordan said...

Well, Origen didn't come up with that, of course. The apostle Peter did, and frankly that's a passage that Baptists need to deal with. In what sense is it true that "baptism now saves?" (1 Peter 3:20-21)

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

Dusty, I agree with your position on the theoretical seven year old girl. Sure, we don't expect people to be theologians when the first trust in Christ, But an understanding that we are sinful in need of a Savior who died for our sins, and who is Lord of our lives must be confessed. I do believe seven year olds are capable of this. What I am concerned about are the people who walk the isle to be saved at least once a month because they feel like every little temporal sin they commit causes them to lose their eternal salvation that wasn't bought by them anyway.

This my friend is a reality. I have seen this in several contexts from youth to adults because of the absurdity of modern pragmatism and finneyism. If we resort to this, we will produce false converts. Yet where the biblical gospel is preached, I do not believe we will have too many problems with baptism.
So my solution: Preach the Biblical Gospel, speak to the candidates for baptism, if they are way off or are dumbfounded, then use discernment in placing them as members in the local church. I would be more willing to baptize a small child than I would an adult. Children accept the gospel by simple faith, while adults may be susceptible to creating an idol in their own mind and having faith in that.

Exist~Dissolve said...

I should mention that I believe adult candidates for baptism should have to conclude a significant amount of time in catechetical formation (like several years), including a serious and uncompromising mentoring relationship with someone who is in full communion with the church.

The reason I also affirm the legitimacy of infant and child baptism is because the fact that it occurs within the community of believers would seem to presuppose that the child being baptized will be raised in continuing communion with the church.

Obviously, actual practice is much different, as many have linked baptism with a mechanistic understanding of salvation, as if the waters are alone the instruments of reconciliation with God. But even with that caveat, God's salvation in baptism is not limited to the "propriety" of practice nor the failure of the community to do that which it was mandated by Christ to do in raising the child to faith in Christ. So then, even still, I would advocate for the baptism of children.

theoldadam said...

I know this post is a ways back. But I can't help from chiming in.

I agree with the guy (the Godfather) pictured on your blog.

He said, "for a thousand years God has honored (infant) baptism, and now you say that it is wrong?"

Almost every single Reformer was baptised (and not re-baptised) as an infant. I was baptised as an infant.
God is the One who does the baptising. When we invoke His truine name, along with the water, He shows up. And when He shows up, He doesn't just sit there and twiddle His thumbs...He acts!

Our profession of faith in baptism is meaningless. We are faithless...He is faithful.

In our baptism (at whatever age) God adopts us into His family.

I'll stick with my homeboy Luther on this one.

Thanks.

- Steve Martin San Clemente, CA

Gordan Runyan said...

Hi, Steve.

I wondered when someone was going to call us on some aspect of that guy we've got in our masthead. Either by contrasting Lutheranism with Reformed theology, or, as you have here, pointing out that he wasn't a baptist.

I actually agree with a main portion of your sentiment above, the bit about baptism being what the Lord does. I think you have veered close to the rocky shores of baptismal regeneration there, but I do have sympathy for the idea that Baptists tend to think of the rite as something we do to claim God, instead of the other way around (which I like better.)

You don't need to apologize for chiming in.