I’ve been wanting to jump into this topic for a long time, but haven’t been sure just how to do it. I’ve chosen to start into the infant baptism issue, but I want to let all of you know where I’m coming from in general terms first.
First come definitions for those who may not be familiar with the range of views in baptism:
Believer’s Baptism: the belief that only those people (children and adults) who have first made a profession of faith in Christ as Savior are proper candidates for baptism. Once baptized, these believers become members of the church (and so this reflects the idea that only regenerate believers should be church members). The key here is that the recipient of baptism must believe before baptism. This form of baptism is usually practiced by those who believe complete immersion is the proper method, but it is certainly true that people can make a profession of faith and THEN receive baptism even in churches that practice infant baptism. In that case, you’d still have a believer’s baptism, but typically by sprinkling, the mode used in Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, or Catholic churches. Catholicism, though, thinks something is taking place at baptism that many others would not (see below).
Infant Baptism: Also known as paedobaptism / pedobaptism. This is the belief that infants, before they are able to believe in Christ, should be baptized. The method is nearly always sprinkling or pouring, though some Greek orthodox do immerse infants. The purpose (or effect) varies. In Catholicism, this rite is thought to remove original sin and brings the child into the church. In non-catholic Reformed churches (and Presbyterian) this is not the case, but it serves to usher the infant into the membership of the church (hence these churches do not believe in regenerate-only church membership). In Lutheranism the meaning varies, depending on what you read. Lutherans don’t want to adopt the catholic view, though many sound like it. It may be fair to generalize here and say that infant baptism starts the child on the road to God, so to speak, without being “too catholic” in its effect or impact. Churches that practice believer’s baptism do not practice infant baptism since infants cannot believe. In Reformed, Presbyterian, and Lutheran contexts, the baptized infant is also thought to be accepted into a “covenant relationship” with God/Christ through baptism (this is often linked to election), though the child must later believe (“confirm their baptism” and hence demonstrate their status as an elect of God).
Immersion: putting the recipient under water (once) to illustrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Triune immersion – the above, but done three times (Father, Son, Spirit)
Sprinkling – the minister / priest dips his hand into the water and sprinkles it onto the head of the recipient of baptism (adult or infant)
Pouring – just what it sounds like; the recipient gets wetter than the above.
Baptismal Regeneration: This is often thought of as the idea that baptism removes sin and means forgiveness of sin. It is actually referring to the removal or original sin, though many who embrace this idea sound like it confers salvation. A sloppy catholic will make it sound like that. A careful catholic will know the distinction, and that salvation is the result of other sacraments and holy living, mixed with faith in Christ.
So, where do various denominations get these ideas? While they would all say “the Bible,” that cannot be coherent since there is so much divergence. In reality, these ideas come about on the basis of certain presuppositions brought to various passages and (here’s where I get into trouble) sloppy thinking about the results. What I mean by the latter is that people are content to not examine where certain ideas lead, assuming (poorly) that ideas can be held in theological isolation from other parts of theology. This may sound surprising, but I personally would classify baptism as one of the most unexamined ideas in faith and practice in most, if not all, Christian denominations. It never ceases to amaze me how disconnected and incoherent the topic comes across in church / pulpit teaching AND theology books.
My views in general are:
1. The idea of infant baptism can certainly be defended biblically, given certain presuppositions about a few things, and can be argued better than it presently is (anywhere I’ve seen – sounds like an amazing claim, but just wait till you sample the confusion).
2. No view of baptism should be connected with the dispensing of saving grace, the removal of original sin, the removal of any sin, or kick-starting the infant toward Christ (see #5 below for a hint as to why). Its meaning is other.
3. Believer’s baptism is the easiest view to defend from Scripture, but it too depends on certain presuppositions.
4. Immersion vs. sprinkling or pouring depends on one’s decision about what the word picture of baptism means. Neither view is self-evident from the text only.
** 5. This one is asterisked for a reason: Paul makes *some sort* of connection between baptism and circumcision in Col. 2:10-12. Your choice here will move you toward or away from infant baptism. But regardless of the choice ** if you accept a connection, that means you cannot say something about baptism that is not true of circumcision. THIS is precisley where the worst thinking in this topic occurs, with awful results.
To be continued…