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?