Theophany

Eric over On the Wittenburg Trail has a challenging post regarding Paedo (infant) baptism entitled “Is It Sin?” asking the question of whether it is a sin to withhold baptism from infants. He makes some good arguments, largely hinging upon Luke 18, but also incorporating the Great Commission, i.e. the command to make disciples of all nations. As he says:

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Notice the preface to Christ’s command. “All authority… has been given to me.” This could be called a “kingdom issue.” Jesus is the King – the anointed ruler of God’s kingdom. His throne has been established and now his rule must be extended. Therefore, the whole body of disciples, Christ’s Church, is called to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them. Who is eligible to receive membership in God’s kingdom? Who is eligible to become a disciple?

Most churches would say that everybody is eligible, but there is a large minority who say that only those who personally express their willingness to accept the call to discipleship, with all of its attendant responsibilities, should be admitted to its privileges. Therefore, among many Christians, infants and small children are systematically excluded from Christian discipleship.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me…” He calls for the little children and not just the older children. Scripture tells us explicitly that this category of children includes “even infants” (Luke 18:15-17). “…and do not hinder them…” We see elsewhere in scripture that such language is associated with water baptism (Acts 8:36 “What prevents me?” and 10:47 “Can anyone withhold water?”). “…for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” This is the clincher. What was only suspected when we read Matthew 28:19,20 is explicitly confirmed for us in the dual witness of Matthew 19:14 and Luke 18:16. Infants and little children, so young as to be brought to Jesus in the arms of their parents and guardians, are given a place in God’s kingdom. They are eligible for discipleship.

{read it all}

Eric also has a latter post in which he asks for an example of infants and children being excluded from baptism in Acts. Here are my responses to them:

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One cardinal rule of scriptural interpretation might be helpful here: women and children are only specifically or individually mentioned in scripture under exceptional circumstances. Given the fact that Baptism signifies membership in the New Covenant, and it was described by the Apostles in reference to circumcision and the Old Covenant, surely it would have been worthy of remark if infants and children were excluded, particularly in the Jewish context, if not in the Gentile. Consider the points made by Bishop John Stark Ravenscroft in the 19th century, which I think still hold true:

First–As the covenant of mercy established in the blood of Christ, is one and the same, under every dispensation of religion, and embraces every description of persons, (every creature under heaven, is the strong expression of St. Paul) it must embrace infants as well as adults. But as there are no revealed means of becoming parties to the Christian covenant, but by the waters of baptism, I consider infants entitled to this benefit. “For the promise is unto you and to your children.”

Secondly–As it pleased God, in constituting the Old Testament Church, to command the membership of infants, and to direct them to be taken into covenant with him, by recieving the seal thereof at eight days old; I consider, that an alteration in the seal merely, without any alteration in the conditions of the covenant, does not make such a change as to exclude those who were before admissible. I therefore receive infants to membership in the Church of Christ, by the now appointed seal of baptism.

Thirdly–as the covenant is an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, no change, in any thing that relates to its essence, can be made, from the very nature of the parties to it, Almightly God, and mortal man. As therefore, the benefits of this covenant were once extended to infants by divine appointment, and no notice of any repeal of this privilege is either known or pleaded, as a minister of Christ I dare not take upon me to narrow or curtail the grace of God, by refusing its seal now, to those who were once clearly entitled to it, upon any presumed inconsistency, or specious reasonings of an incapacity of which I cannot judge. I therefore baptize them.

It’s this last point–“an incapacity of which I cannot judge”–that creates the hang-up for Baptist theology. I was raised Baptist, but the more I pray and study this issue, the more I hear a sneaking understanding of a rationalistic works-based salvation in the popular understanding of their theology. The emphasis on “making a decision” is such that it places the weight of salvation on the mental capacities of an individual–where’s the grace in that?

A simple question to ask of someone who believes in believer’s baptism is whether they would baptise a mentally handicapped person, or someone who had brain damage and their cognitive ability prevented them from “making a decision.” If they would, then why would they exclude infants who, while not fully developed cognitively, have a soul and a will that can respond to God ? If they would not, then it must truly all be about the work of the person, and they’ve slipped into a works righteousness and gnosticism that is foriegn to the grace of Christ.

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I certainly wouldn’t limmit a theology of Baptism to covenant theology. I would describe it as all about God’s grace and God’s action–I’m uncomfortable with anything that seems to make salvation too much about man’s action (a problem of both a mechanistic account of baptism and an overly individualistic evangelicalism). I would describe it primarily as a means of grace through which God works to in-spire faith through the Holy Spirit. As you have already demonstrated, the fact that not everyone who is baptized as an infant goes on to lead a Christian life no more stands against paedobaptism than the fact that some people who have conversion experiences and are baptized as adults and then don’t live into their faith discredits adult baptism (which incedently, in a post-Christendom age desperate for evangelism, should be more numerous than infant Baptism). Faith is a work of God in our hearts through grace which grows as we respond in obedience and humility, seeking his will for our lives–when we don’t, we harden our hearts and reject his free offer of salvation. But I’m rambling. Have a good night–wonderful post.. I appreciate your question and will respond to it in my next post… sorry for taking this somewhat off track… briefly I would say that your association of the Great Commission with infant baptism is intriguing, but I need to think about it a little more before I can respond.

Additionally, I asked the following question of a poster who favors believer’s baptism:

Is faith a work of the rational mind, brought about and nourished by human will or is it a work of God in us through the Holy Spirit? If it is the former, which classes of people besides infants cannot, by definition, have faith? If it is the latter, and not a work of the rational mind, then why are infants excluded from having it?

I asked this question because it seems to me that the primary focus of disagreement isn’t so much over who should be baptized as it is over who can have faith.. and further, what faith actually is. I would contend that most American evangelicals have moved away from the Reformational (basically Augustinian) understanding of faith and toward a rationalistic (one might even say modernist) understanding of faith as a work of the mind rather than the will or the yearning of the soul for God. I’ll have to post more on this later.