A Case For Infant Baptism (Part 1): The Evangelical Argument Against.

I recently posted the following status update on facebook:

“Thinking of infant baptism. Evangelical arguments against just don’t sound as convincing these days. What say you?”

It didn’t take long for people to chime in with their responses. There were all sorts of opinions on the matter and, not surprisingly, most evangelical leaning folks argued against it. You can read some of the responses here.

The Evangelical argument against.
Most folks I know who argue against infant baptism do so on the basis of “believers baptism”. As I see it there are 3 main points which make up the argument for believers baptism: 1) A focus on the individual believer, 2) the importance of a cognitive “decision for Christ”, and 3) baptism as symbol.

1) Focus on the individual.
Believers baptism is the decision of a particular individual who has made particular choices and confessions. The decision to be baptized into the Body of Christ is one that cannot be made by others on your behalf. You must make that decision, consciously, on your own. Folks must “own their faith”.

2) The importance of a cognitive “decision for Christ”.
This is closely connected with the first point. Here, the focus is on the individual’s confession. The individual must “believe and be baptized”. First there is belief, then profession, then baptism. Of course, central to belief in this sense is a cognitive assent to the fact that “Jesus is Lord” or whatever. And, in order to chose one must properly understand. As one commenter put it, one must have “the ability to thoughtful choose Christ” before they can be baptized. This is common sentiment among evangelicals. Baptism must “mean something”. What is important is that the individual has chosen Christ. Baptism signifies this choice.

3) Baptism as symbol.
Once the onus is placed on the individual to believe and make a decision for Christ then the door is open to view baptism as a mere symbol. And, indeed, this is what we see happen in evangelical churches across the globe. Baptism, we are told, is a public act that signifies an inner faith. The public act isn’t all that important. The waters of baptism aren’t all that significant. They simply point to something else. They point towards the inner faith of the individual. A faith which they have “made their own” and now desire to publicly demonstrate in front of others. It is a “declaration of faith”. And, since infants cannot publicly declare their faith, it would be inappropriate (or, meaningless) to baptize them. Finally, since baptism isn’t really all that significant in and of itself we are free to either chose to be baptized or not. Water or no water, what is important is the individual proclamation of faith towards which baptism is said to point.

Of course, I think this is all rather problematic. In my next post I want to put forward an argument for infant baptism, an argument that I believe counters the 3 points laid out above.

In the mean time, what do you think? Have I accurately summarized this? Is this fair? Of course I’ve probably missed some things. What other arguments are there for “believers baptism” and do you think they are problematic at all?

Peace.

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4 comments
  1. gary said:

    There is more evidence in the NT supporting infant baptism than there is condemning or prohibiting the practice:

    1. “Baptize all nations” does not include an age restriction in the Great Commission (GC).

    2. There is no mention in the GC of requiring an older child/adult “decision for Christ” prior to baptizing! Isn’t that really, really odd? If the only means of salvation is an adult “decision for Christ”, why would Christ not mention this in his final comments to his disciples before ascending to heaven? Why didn’t he say, “Go into all the world, and lead people to Christ by telling them to pray and ask me into their hearts. Then, teach them everything I have commanded you, including being baptized as a public profession of faith.”

    Nope. That isn’t what he said, is it?

    Baptize, baptize, baptize, baptize, baptize. It is repeated over 100 times in the NT. “Be born again” is mentioned twice, and “accept Christ/make a decision for Christ is NEVER mentioned in the NT!

    The simple, plain rendering of multiple passages of Scripture state the following:

    1. It is the power of God’s Word that saves.

    2. The Word saves only those who have been predestined by God to be saved. You will never understand how infant baptism/salvation is possible if you believe that sinners have a free will regarding spiritual matters and are required to make a “decision” before God is allowed to save them. You must believe in (Single, not Double) Predestination to understand Infant Baptism.

    3. When God quickens the spiritually dead souls of those he has predestined, at some point in their lives, they become spiritually alive and therefore believe and repent. There is NO decision on the part of the sinner.

    4. God is not limited to the “when” of salvation. God can save an adult by the preaching of his Word BEFORE baptism, and God can and does save sinners by the power of his Word spoken/pronounced during Baptism.

    The Church has always believed this. Baptism IS necessary for salvation, in that if one rejects or neglects to be baptized, he demonstrates he does not have true faith, and very likely will go to hell when he dies. But, baptism is NOT mandatory, in that God can and does save outside of baptism as was the case with all the OT saints, the thief on the cross, and many martyrs over the last 2,000 years.

    It is the lack of faith/belief that damns, not the lack of baptism.

    In conclusion, Christ did not give any age restrictions for baptism. Christ did not require a “decision for Christ” prior to being baptized. Christ did not require believing PRIOR to baptism. More than five entire households, filled with servants and slaves, were baptized. It is mathematically virtually impossible that none of these households had infants or toddlers, and Scripture says that the ENTIRE household was baptized. There is no mention of an exception for the infants and toddlers.

    The explicit mention of the baptism of infants is not mentioned in these household conversions for the same reason that the baptism of teenagers in the households is not explicitly mentioned; or the baptism of the household’s servants, their wives, and their teenagers; or the baptism of the household’s slaves, their wives, and their teenagers. These subcategories of the “household” are not mentioned because everyone in the middle east, in the first century AD, knew and expected that these subgroups are ALWAYS included in a household conversion when the head of the household converts.

    The Baptist worldview of only allowing persons who can make a conscious decision to believe prior to being baptized is a sixteenth century, industrialized western European mind set. First century Jews and other Mediterranean peoples would have NEVER left their children in a spiritual state of “limbo”, outside of the parents’ new religion, to make a “decision” for themselves when they grew up. Such a practice would have been unheard of and outrageous!

    In the post-Resurrection period of the NT, there are only TWO explicit examples of INDIVIDUAL conversions: Saul/Paul and the Ethiopian eunuch. Neither one had families: Saul/Paul probably by choice; the eunuch for obvious reasons. Household conversion was the norm in the NT, NOT individual conversion.

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