The first time I attended a baptism in a Baptist church the pastor baptised a young man and then invited any other Christians who had not being baptised to be baptised too. He explained that being baptised as a believer was a matter of obedience. However I believe that this is too simplistic. Do we really believe that people who believe in infant baptist only do so because they are being disobedient? Do we not realise that some of the greatest evangelicals in history and some of the greatest evangelical Bible scholars believe in baptising infants? How many of us have actually looked at the arguments in favour of infant baptism? Are we too quick to conclude that the Bible only teaches the baptism of believers?
I am going to put forward three arguments in favour of infant baptism and then tell you why I don't agree with them.
1. Infant baptism recognises that the children of believers are holy
But what do we make of the following verse from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians? '... if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy' (1 Corinthians 7:13-14).
The situation Paul envisages here is that of a married adult who comes to faith. Paul says that they should not divorce their spouse and that they make their spouse and children holy. What it doesn't say is that it makes their spouse or children Christians, for two verses later Paul refers to the possibility of the unbelieving spouse coming to faith.
In what way does a Christian spouse/parent make their spouse/child holy? The spouse/children of a Christian are holy or set apart from other people in the world by the fact that their Christian spouse/parent exerts a positive spiritual influence upon them and so they are more likely to come to faith themselves. While this text talks about the special privilege of the children of a believer it involves a leap of logic to say that this means we should baptise them. After all this verse also speaks of the special privilege of the spouse of a believer but we would never contemplate baptising them before they came to faith.
2. Infant baptism recognises the notion of household baptism
On four occasions in the book of Acts there are stories that speak of households undergoing baptism. But I believe that it requires another leap of logic to suggest that this points to the baptism of infants.
Take the famous case of the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16). Paul and Silas are in prison. There is an earthquake and the doors are opened. The jailer fears that the prisoners will escape and is about to take his life. Paul assures him that no one has escaped. The jailer asks, 'what must I do to be saved?' Paul replies, 'believe in The Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.' The apostles speaks the word of God to the household. The household believes and the household is baptised that same night.
Notice that it is the household who are taught, the household that believe, and the household that are baptised. Either the use of the term household refers to those old enough, in the household, to respond in faith or there were no infants in this household. I think that it is reasonable to apply this logic to each of the cases of household baptism. Certainly there is no explicit reference to infants being baptised.
3. Infant baptism links baptism with circumcision
In the Old Testament baby boys were circumcised on their eighth day. Circumcision was the sign of being initiated into the covenant community. Circumcision did not save you. In order to be saved a child needed to grow up and respond to God with faith. So the parallel between circumcision and baptism seem obvious. Or does it?
Listen to what the Apostle Paul says to the Colossians. 'In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead' (Colossians 2:11-12).
In the Old Testament God related to a nation of people that was connected with Abraham. You could actually be a part of this promised people without being a person of faith. If your parents were a part of the people of Abraham then you were too. It was related to your physical birth and demonstrated by physical circumcision.
But physical circumcision pointed to something more important. The Old Testament speaks of the need to have your heart circumcised. Having your heart circumcised meant placing your trust in God. Only then were you following Abraham's example of faith. Only then could you have your sins forgiven. Only then were you a spiritual descendent of Abraham.
In the New Testament physical descent from Abraham does not matter. God no longer relates to chosen nation. What matters is following Abraham's example of faith and being one of his spiritual descendants. Physical circumcision no longer matters for anything but only faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).
So physical circumcision (preformed on a infant and connected with physical birth) pointed to the need for circumcision of the heart (related to faith and connected with spiritual birth). It is this circumcision of the heart, that 'not preformed by hands', that Paul links to baptism.
The apostle speaks of baptism in terms of buried with Christ in his death and raised with Christ in his resurrection. This is what happens with spiritual birth. Can you see why this involves being immersed in a full body of water. The image of going down into the grave and being raised again to life can't be symbolised with a mere sprinkling of water. Think of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). It is when the eunuch comes across a body of water that he says he should be baptised; if only a sprinkling was needed then he could have used some of his drinking water.
4. Do you need to be baptised to be saved?
What does the apostle Peter mean when he says 'baptism ... saves you' (1 Peter 3:21)? The Roman Catholic Church used to teach that baptism made you a Christian. They taught that becoming a Christian was the result of a mechanical procedure. Could this be?
Impossible! Think for a moment of the thief on the cross. Jesus death introduced the new covenant. Jesus died before that thief. The new covenant sign was baptism. The thief was not baptised but had been assured that he would be with Jesus in paradise. You can be saved without being baptised.
Also, think of the whole argument of Paul in the letter to the Romans. He insists that salvation is by faith. It is not faith plus baptism that saves you but faith alone. Indeed Paul's letter to the Galatians was aimed at opposing those who said that you could only be saved if you were circumcised. Imagine how strange it would be if he was argue like that if he believed that you had to be baptised in order to be saved.
So what does Peter mean when he says baptism saves? He is saying that what baptism pictures saves you. Baptism is a picture of dying with Christ, having your sins washed away and being raised to life. This is what Peter seems to imply when he goes on to writes that baptism is 'not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God'(NLT).
In the old marriage services the bride and groom used to say, 'with this ring I thee wed'. Of course it wasn't the giving of the ring that made the couple married but the promises and union that made them married. The rings pictured the reality. Similar it is the reality pictured by baptism that saves.
1. There are faithful Christians who sincerely believe that infant baptism is biblical. They do not believe that being baptised makes you a Christian. They recognise the need for personal faith. Amongst their number are some of the greatest heroes of evangelical faith and some of the greatest evangelical scholars. While baptism is an important issue it should be possible for Christians who disagree on this issue to enjoy close fellowship. In the 1700s John Newton (the composer of Amazing Grace) and William Carey (referred to as the father of modern missions) were two of the leading evangelicals. They disagreed on this issue yet the had great respect for each other.
2. For a number of years I used to speculate that there could be a number of legitimate ways of being baptised. After all if baptism is merely a symbol of a reality then maybe there are different ways this reality could be pictured. I don't believe that any more. I believe that baptism should always follow faith. Therefore I don't actually believe that that who were 'baptised' as infants are actually baptised. I will respect such people but seek to persuade them to be baptised.
3. Finally, baptism is about conversion rather than maturity. Baptism is a picture of what happens when you are born again. In the New Testament baptism always follows soon after becoming a Christian. While I would delay baptism in the case of young people, to see if their faith demonstrates its reality through their adolescence, it makes no sense to delay baptism for years after becoming a Christian.
Over the summer I hope to take a few weeks holiday, I will be involved in two kids' clubs that we are hosting, I am hoping to do a lot of reading for next year's teaching series, I want to visit a few people, and it would delight me to have a few baptism services. After all as a church we have received the commission to 'Go ... and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you'.