Brad recently pointed out a post on Skippy’s Stack discussing paedobaptism (the baptism of children) which spawned a few comments from Skippy’s readers. Much was said about personal preference and opinion, but there was little Scriptural reference employed in order to back those preferences up. I thought it might be worth delving a bit into what Christian baptism is as defined in the Bible, what it is not and what difference that ultimately makes.
This entire debate would be easily solved if the Bible took a clear stance on the issue of the baptism of children; unfortunately, no unequivocal statements on the subject can be found in the Bible and those which we can find are often open to differing theological interpretations (see Welty’s [a Baptist] A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism and Horne’s [a Reformed Presbyterian] response for a good outline of the two primary Protestant schools of thought on the issue).
The baptism we most often associate with the term is one performed by human hands using water, reminscent of the baptism practiced by John (Mark 1:6-8). There is no curative, restorative or salvationary aspect to this baptism; rather, it is intended as an outward symbol of an inward change and commitment. Baptism, as practiced by the modern Church is often compared with the circumcision practiced by the Israelites. There is no salvation accomplished through baptism, just as there is no salvation accomplished through circumcision; rather, they serve as symbols or marks, showing that person to be under a Covenant. As Paul points out in Romans 4:9-16:
9Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
13It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspringâ€”not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
The entirety of the book of Romans is well worth a careful reading, as Paul quite clearly and systematically lays out the case for salvation by faith and no other means.
However, the fact that we are saved by a baptism in the Spirit and not one of water does not remove the impetus for a baptism by human hands – far from it! In fact, we are commanded by none other that Jesus himself to:
go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit[.]
While our true baptism in the Spirit occurs supernaturally after our acceptance of Christ (Acts 1:5,8, Joel 2:28-29), it is incumbent upon us to seek the salvation and earthly baptism of those around us. Therefore, I do not think there is any reason to look down upon infant baptism, nor should we look down upon multiple baptisms, as long as we remember that baptism by water in and of itself does not accomplish salvation, otherwise Jesus was a liar and died for nothing. If salvation can be accomplished by human hands (I submit that it cannot), then, as Paul points out, faith is worthless and a lost cause. One cannot be saved by human intervention, be it intervention on your own part or on the part of a pastor, priest or parent. Baptising children is unimportant in an ultimate sense – as long as the children grow up to accept Christ, there is no difference. To pretend otherwise is to distort the Gospel and to ignore stated Biblical truths.
And so, as Christians, I believe that we should all be mindful of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:13 as we discuss baptism:
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one bodyâ€”whether Jews or Greeks, slave or freeâ€”and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Ultimately, the power of baptism is in its symbolism – we are all inducted into a single Church body. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and should rejoice for each one of us that is shown, through the sacrament and symbolism of baptism, to be a part of that body. Any disputes that arise over this issue and cause conflict and strife should be held up to the truth of Scripture and then dropped if they are found to be ultimately unimportant.
At least that’s my take on it.