Saturday, 12 February 2011
As someone who has been brought up in his faith within an Anabaptist type movement I've not been in favor of infant baptism for several years. My approach to the issue has always been summed up in the words "It can't hurt." I acknowledge that scripture does not directly address the issue and how one ought to approach it. However, my opinion may be changing. I may be starting to like the idea and I now see that scripture may not answer the question of "should we baptize infants" but it does give us indications of how the kingdom of God exists and operates and gives an idea of how early believers may have practiced baptism.
Baptism is the outward expression of one's faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and it is also the ritual performed by both a community and individual in order to accept a person into the community/Body/Bride of Christ. It is as much a personal action as it is a community ritual. The baptism of an individual has just as much importance for the entire faith community as it does for the individual in the sense that both are changed in identity by the sacrament. To seek baptism is to choose to enter into a community identified by and united with Jesus Christ. For the Church to baptize someone is for that community to accept them as Christ has into his fold and commit themselves to this new member of Christ's body. It is like a hand accepting a pinky it was lacking. Much more could be said about the beautiful sacrament of baptism (and believe that I would talk about its goodness all day if it were beneficial and desired by readers) but for our purposes here this will suffice for an explanation of the nature and affect of baptism.
I have not been in favor of infant baptism for the same reason as many Anabaptists; an infant does not possess the experiences, education, or mentally capacity necessary to make the type of decision that precedes and necessitates the sacrament of baptism. An infant can not understand the sacrament and thus is forcefully brought into a community is did not desire to enter into. The argument here is that only an adult who is familiar with his/her own sin, Christ, and the Church could commit to such a ritual.
The arguments that have been challenging my position accept the same truths. However, the perspective is different. The position above seems to accept the importance of baptism for the individual but not the community. First, on the other side, while the infant may not be able to make the choice, the community and parents surrounding the infant have choices to make. They must decide how they will love and accept the infant. Will the community accept the child into itself or will they look upon the infant as an alien as it grows in their midst? To baptize the infant is an act not of force but love. It is a commitment made by the parents and community to love the child and raise it as a member of the body of Christ. What parent does not want to raise their child in the way that it should go (Proverbs 22:6)?
Second, baptism is likened to circumcision in the Old Testament. Yahweh commanded his people to be circumcised (a discipline focused only on males) so that they may be marked as a unique society within creation. In the New Testament circumcision is abolished as a marking of God's people and baptism becomes the new ritual (and to step on an egalitarian soapbox, it is for both male and females, exampling progress in the revelation of God's kingdom and the equality that exists in it). When children were born into the Israel community they were circumcised. They had no choice (a hot button issue these days) but as infants today would not have a choice in their baptism. This does not seem to trouble God though. In fact, he commands it be done for he wants all new additions to his society to be marked for in His name. This includes both infants and converts. The New Testament gives examples of entire families coming to faith and being baptized together (Acts 16:15, 33; 1 Corinthians 1:16). Many supporters of infant baptism believe this to include children below the age of accountability, including infants.
This practice is one of the oldest in Christian history. Why would this change today? What reason do we have to believe God no longer desires for new additions of his unique and divine society to be marked in his name be they converts or infants? We know it is commanded for converts and that it is the New Covenant equivalent to circumcision so it only makes sense that infant baptism should be practiced. Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), a church reformer, once wrote of infant baptism,
The sacraments are given as a public testimony of that grace which is previously present to every individual. This baptism is administered in the presence of the Church to one who before receiving it either confessed the religion of Christ, or has the word of promise whereby he is known to belong to the Church. Hence, it is that when we baptise an adult we ask him whether he believes. If he answer, Yea, that all at length he receives baptism. Faith, therefore, has been present before he receives baptism. Faith, then, is not given in baptism. But when an infant is offered the question is asked whether its parents offer it for baptism. When they reply through witnesses that they wish it baptised the infant is baptised. Here also God's promise precedes, thus He regards our infants as belonging to Church no less than those of the Hebrews For when they who are of the Church offer it, the infant is baptised under the law that since it has been born of Christians it is regarded by the divine promise among the members of the Church... By baptism, therefore, the Church publicly receives one. who had previously been received through grace. Baptism, therefore, does not bring grace, but testifies to the Church that grace been given for him to whom it is administered.
Perhaps it seems this position swings the pendulum too far the opposite direction of the Anabaptist view by focusing too much on the community and not enough on the individual. If this were all the stance offered it would be true. However, those who baptize infants are not so foolish as to neglect the choice of the child. After the baptism the community seeks to raise him/her as a Christian and when the child has reached a level of maturity in experience, education, and mental capacity to respond to their sin, Christ, and the Church then they may be "confirmed." Confirmation is a ceremony in which previously baptized members of the Church stand before the community, after accepting the required theological education, and officially accept their baptism. Whereas at their initial baptism the individual was accepted by the community and God, so now at the confirmation he/she officially accepts God and the community by accepting the legitimacy of their baptism with a commitment to live up to the baptism for the rest of eternity. If, in their maturity, the individual does not wish to accept their baptism then they are free to do so and consider themselves to have been given an overly celebrated bath early in life. In doing so the individual is released from the Body of Christ and mourned over greatly for they have chosen to not accept the love, grace, and life that was given to them from every holy influence that raised them.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Are you persuaded that infant baptism should be practiced, doesn't cause harm, should be avoided? Have you been given a different perspective on the issue? If so, will you please share perspectives you have encountered?