Why I believe in infant baptism — ten thoughts

Infant baptism is one of those issues that won’t go away, but which is a pretty big decision for a lot of people. So here are my thoughts on this question, such as they are. I hope they’re helpful. They are by no means definitive; and in fact writing this has clarified a number of issues for me that I need to think further about, so I’m happy to interact with people on this. This is a fairly long post, which I hope some people will bother to read and think about. Because of this, I will also make it available to download as a pdf on the essays page.

Why I believe in infant baptism — ten thoughts

1. Baptism is not an optional extra for Christians. Despite the exegetical wrigglings of some, this seems to me to be obvious. Jesus commissioned his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them…” (Matt 28:20); and the practice of baptism accompanying conversion to Christian faith is taken for granted throughout the New Testament (e.g. Acts 8:37), and used as the basis of theological reflection (e.g. Rom 6:4). The argument that when Paul refers to Christians being buried with Christ in baptism (e.g. Col 2:12) he means Christ’s death—his “baptism” (Mark 10:38)—seems to me inadequate: it doesn’t account for Jesus command, and it ignores straightforward evidence like John 4:1–2, Acts 10:47, and 1 Corinthians 1:13–17. Baptism with water was normal for Christians from day one. It came from Jesus. We should keep doing it.

2. So what is baptism then? Baptism is, very basically, a sign, a symbolic act, a ritual that signifies something, or as theology has typically called it, a sacrament. What does baptism signify? Most fundamentally, baptism signifies what happens when a person’s life is transformed by Jesus. Baptism is a sign of new birth with Christ. There are two aspects to this. First, baptism signifies the washing, or cleansing from sin, that comes through union with Christ (e.g. 1 Cor 6:11). Second, baptism symbolizes burial and resurrection, going down and coming up. This is a bit less obvious; and especially when you don’t have some kind of full immersion in water going on it’s not very clear. But it’s still there, as it should be, as Paul draws heavily on this image: “we were buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:4). Baptism symbolically enacts how a person’s life is transformed by Christ: they are cleansed of their sins, they die and rise again, there is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).

3. There is a sense, therefore, in which baptism is a word. Baptism says something; it proclaims a reality: “this woman’s life has been recreated in Christ”. Sacraments have thus been understood in Christian history as “visible words”. But whose word? Not the minister’s. Nor the candidate’s. God’s. Baptism is a visible word from God, a divinely given announcement of the definitive reality of a particular life.

4. Baptism is a sign, a visible word, of new life in Christ. However, it is not identical with this reality. A sign is not the thing it signifies. It is connected to it; but they are distinct. Emphatically, therefore, baptism does not equal conversion, it signifies it; it proclaims it, but it does not achieve it. People are not saved by being baptized; they are saved, and this is depicted and announced in baptism. How are they saved? Through sharing in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ through faith. How else? Baptism is an expression of this more fundamental reality.

(5. As an aside therefore, if forced to answer the intensely irritating question whether people absolutely need to be baptized in order to be saved, I would say no. However, this whole way of approaching things is misguided. Quite apart from being badly reductionistic — why do we want just the bare minimum? — it assumes we know how exactly salvation happens in someone’s life, how people are brought to new life in Christ. Yet I suspect that this is actually a more obscure reality than we think, and one which is perhaps quite inaccessible to us. We should presume that Jesus knew what he was doing when he gave us baptism. Perhaps part of the reason was to give a clarity to our experiences that he knows we need.)

6. A sign, then, is not the same thing as the reality it signifies. It seems to me that one interesting implication of this is that there is nothing essentially wrong about baptizing someone at a time quite removed from the moment they confess Christian faith. Someone who has been a follower of Jesus for years can still be meaningfully baptized; and a baptism is not rendered meaningless because the child does not responsibly own their faith for some years to come — indeed, does any baptism actually coincide with the event of conversion? Perhaps the Ethiopian eunuch’s? Infant baptism is therefore not ruled out by the argument that it is often distant in time from an individual’s personal decision to follow Christ.

7. But correspondingly, infant baptism is also not ruled in by the argument that people can be Christian their whole lives long! Why not let everyone, then, be baptized as an adult? Yet we shouldn’t confuse what is logically legitimate with what is best practice. It makes sense for the sign of baptism to relate temporally to the reality of coming to faith. That’s why new converts are normally baptized soonish, and it’s why, I think, the New Testament so often speaks of people’s baptism as the moment they were saved (e.g. Galatians 3:27). But it’s for precisely this reason that it makes sense for many people who grow up as Christians to be baptized as infants; or do we want to reject the possibility that someone can grow up as a believer even from their earliest days?

8. But, someone may protest, what good is a sign that I can’t remember! I think three things need to be said here. First, baptism is not just a sign for the candidate; it is also for the congregation, including Christian parents. Why should they be denied the assurance and comfort that comes from baptism? Yes, there are those who grow up to repudiate their infant baptism; but there are also those who don’t, and the former case should not tarnish the later. This is especially relevant for parents of a child who dies early. What are we saying by refusing to baptize such a child. Again, do we not think God can save children? Second: that said, however, the sign is, centrally, for the benefit of the person being baptized. This must, therefore, be taken into account in infant baptism, where the candidate cannot normally remember the event. So the parents have the obligation of assuring the child of her baptism and explaining its significance — baptism certificates are very valuable here. Also, if you are going to baptize infants, you’ve got to have something like confirmation, a moment when the person claims their baptism as his own. Third, we need to be careful before unthinkingly treating memory as a stable factor in this whole equation. Remembering is a tricky thing — on the whole straightforward, but by no means one hundred per cent reliable. There are many other conceivable ways in which someone might not be able to remember their baptism and yet know it had happened to them, or need to be assured of this by others.

9. Infant baptism has a few other significant pluses. First, infant baptism detaches the sign of baptism from any particular response made by the individual (though it emphatically does not detach it from response per se). This can be appropriate and, indeed, helpful for people who grow into faith and along the way make many responses, perhaps of increasing maturity and comprehension, none of which can be identified as “the moment” they became a Christian without some arbitrariness and doubt. Indeed, all types of baptism can play this role, of bringing a clarity and unity to what was a complex and sometimes drawn out process in someone’s life by declaring, “this is what has happened here, in this person’s journey, they have been saved”. Infant baptism does the same thing, just at a different moment. Second, infant baptism makes it plain that salvation is more about God’s work than our response. It is only God’s sovereign, powerful grace that saves anyone; and God can save even helpless, dependent children — indeed only helpless, dependent children (cf. Mark 10:13–16). Third, infant baptism reminds us that God can and does save people who cannot make an intelligent response, whether they be children, or the mentally ill or severely disabled, or perhaps the senile. To say that only those who make an intelligent response can be baptized is to shut God’s mercy off from those we know receive it.

10. Finally, though there are real complexities and problems raised by infant baptism, these need to be carefully considered. The great difficulty for many, of course, is those whose baptism as an infant makes no obvious impact on their lives. In this category are the great bulk of “cultural” baptisms. However, it seems to me that to blame this problem on infant baptism itself is in many cases completely unreasonable. The fault, surely, lies with the parents who promise to bring their children up in the faith and then make no effort to keep their promises, or with the churches and ministers who happily baptize without any real challenge to the parents or any attempt to integrate them into the community. You could argue that the practice will inevitably breed these problems, but that does not seem to me to be self-evident, nor indeed sufficient to turn us against it. But what about those children of diligent Christian parents who do not stay true to their infant baptism. This is indeed a challenge. But it must be pointed out that this is not greatly different to the case of those who, having been baptized as adults, go on to abandon their faith. A tragedy, a mystery, a worry; but it doesn’t stop us baptizing.

20 thoughts on “Why I believe in infant baptism — ten thoughts

  1. “People are not saved by being baptized” – Andrew
    “And baptism […] now saves you” – Peter :-)

    I’m no expert on sacramentology, but my impression is that sacraments are not just any old sign with an arbitrary relation between signifier and signified. They are signs that participate in the reality that they signify. Example: an engagement ring is a more or less arbitrary expression of romantic love. However, a kiss is a symbol of love that participates in the reality that it signifies. The acceptance and affection within a relationship are not just made visible in a kiss, but they are enacted and strengthened. Perhaps sacraments are more like a kiss than an engagement ring.

    Putting this another way, in speech act theory there is a difference between speech acts that merely describe something and those that enact something. Sacraments are not merely visual aids to our understanding of the gospel, but they are the good news done to us. We are fed by Christ in the eating of the bread. We are washed clean in the waters of baptism. The sign doesn’t just signify, it also acts within a relationship, opening up new possibilities, begins or builds relationship.

    But are the sacraments necessary? Can we feed on Christ in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving without bread and wine? Can we be buried and rise with Christ without baptismal water? (Can we hear the word of God without listening to holy scripture?) God can do these things (he can speak through a donkey if that is what we need!); but I take it we are commanded to seek them in these forms.

    That aside, I’m with you on the rest of the points and think this is a good summary of a case for infant baptism (I would also add a mention of the antiquity of the practice as corroboration. Irenaeus treats it as a matter of course, not an innovation).

    And on a personal note, Aurora is to be baptised on Sunday. Praise God!

  2. ooh andrew. you dangled a bait and i will have to chew on it. i’ll try to be gentle.

    firstly i’m glad you think that baptism is neither salvific nor essential for salvation but as a direction from jesus we all ought to be baptised. i share with you your irritation at questions about the need to be baptised in order to be saved. i can also go with you on the sign/word understanding of baptism.

    i just can’t come at the argument that meaningful baptism occurs independent of time and context. it sounds a little post-modern to me. things do have objective meanings that stand for all time.
    i think your justification of infant baptism because it doesn’t connote salvation undervalues the original intent of infant baptism.

    you may be interested to know that i find the covenantal arguments about infant baptism almost persuasive. they articulate a rich sense of the importance that the christian community has to play in nurturing someone to faith. the starting point of accepting an infant as ‘one of us’ from the moment they are presented to the church is very appealing and a corrective to the individualist approach evangelicals bring to this issue.

    the other argument that adult baptism is no guarantee that there will be no moving away from faith so it doesn’t matter if infant baptism occurs with no subsequent movement to faith again, to my mind, plays down the traditional significance of infant baptism.

    denominational identity is an important issue. the way we express ourselves in our outward signs is becoming increasingly important. we have to be clear that we know what we are doing and why we are doing it for an effective public witness.

    i am currently a part of a taskforce in the baptist denomination looking at our identity. you won’t be surprised to hear that we talk about baptism at nearly every meeting. we all agree that believer’s baptism by immersion is not a primary identifying feature of baptist church life although if asked, most people will say that that is what they know about baptists.

    we don’t really want to be known only as people who baptise. baptists are really about giving full expression to Christian freedom. in the way we organise our churches, in the way we worship, in our daily walk and in our public witness. these qualities are not as identifiable as a public baptism so baptism is what we are known for.

    my final thought is that it seems to me your denomination is on a trajectory towards a low-church model. why continue to do something that has impications for the next generation of believers? it adds a complication for young believers who may wish to express their faith by baptismin the future. this will seem natural to them because of the kind of culture they will have been raised in but they will be aware that in a funny kind of way they have been baptised and 2 baptisms don’t make sense. they will be wanting to express themselves like this but the fact that they have been bapitised as infants will hold them back. this to me is one of the most powerfull reasons to refrain from infant baptism. it does a put a kind of burden on the next generation.

    a simple thanksgiving service with promises given to raise the child in a christian manner in front of the gathered church is grounded in the reality of the time. such a service conveys a word of promise, commitment and hope. it also conveys a message to others that the community respects the freedom of the individual to embrace or to reject the faith. there is always that possibility in any infant dedication service and the implicit acknowledgement of that endows it with integrity, grace, dignity and meaningfulness.

  3. Thanks for this Andrew. I’ve always been pro infant baptism, although probably not quite in a manner quite as well thought through as this! It is especially timely since Chris and I are going to make promises as Godparents to a precious little one in a couple of weeks.

    I loved your reflections in point 9. I think my affection for infant baptism has been because I understand baptism to be a sign that we trust God to be at work in the life of the person being baptised.

    I have enjoyed being part of churches where both adults and infants are baptised as they enter into the household of faith (whether by choice or birth). I think it helps me reflect both on what a humbling experience baptism is – you can’t qualify for it by reaching some level of theological maturity, rather you enter into it through grace – and at the same time on what a glorious experience it is – for in it we celebrate the fact that God chooses even (or especially) the weak in the world to be His.

  4. Thanks Natalie, Byron, and Kristine for interesting, encouraging and thought-provoking comments. I don’t have time now to respond to everything you’ve said — nor do I necessarily think I can. But I appreciate the interaction very much and will ponder your comments carefully. Thanks.

  5. Well said, and I agree. The most important points you’ve made (and the ones which remain most convincing for me) are these: 1) Baptism acknowledges God’s sovereignty in salvation (and yes, we believe in the God who can and does rescue infants). 2) The argument I most often hear against infant baptism is ‘what if they don’t become/stay Christians?’ Well dealt with at 8(1) and 10: those baptised as adults can also walk away after baptism.

    I happen to love baptism services, and I haven’t yet heard a convincing argument as to why we should limit their encouragement (to the baptised and the congregation) to adults, despite the complications. Thanks for the thoughts :)

  6. Kristine, thanks for your thoughts and taking the time to disagree. I don’t think we’ve met but since Andrew has said that he doesn’t have time to respond, I hope you don’t mind if I take up a couple of the points you raised.

    i think your justification of infant baptism because it doesn’t connote salvation undervalues the original intent of infant baptism.
    Can you say more about what you mean here and what you understand to be “the original intent of infant baptism”?

    Do you mean that because the early church believed that infant baptism was in some way salvific (a claim that needs to be unpacked carefully, by the way), it is not possible to practice it without this belief? To my mind, that seems a little odd. Our practices can and do change their meaning. The original meaning of democracy included the assumption that only those who held (significant amounts of) land were given a vote. Does that “failure” render all democratic systems compromised by their historical origin? There is nothing to stop the meaning and understanding of a practice legitimately shifting, even developing, over time. The original meaning(s) of infant baptism is of historical interest and is not irrelevant to contemporary debates, but those discussions are not simply determined by how this practice has been understood at certain points in the past. I am unsure how this approach can then be labelled “post-modern”.

    NB I think that baptism does indeed connote salvation, but it is the outward expression of participation in salvation, not the ground of salvation (which is the person and work of Christ).

    my final thought is that it seems to me your denomination is on a trajectory towards a low-church model. why continue to do something that has impications for the next generation of believers? it adds a complication for young believers who may wish to express their faith by baptismin the future.
    So since Anglicans are going to end up as Baptists, they should embrace Baptist practice now and save the fuss? :-) I would question the reading of that trajectory, and more importantly the assumption that “low church” means a Baptist view of baptism. It is quite possible to be a consistent low church Anglican and practice infant baptism, indeed, that has been the historical norm for centuries.

    Andrew has outlined good reasons for embracing the blessing of baptising infants. Leaving them unbaptised in case they end up Baptists wrestling with their conscience over a second baptism makes as much sense as Baptists baptising infants in case they grow up to embrace paedobaptism (as I have, having been raised Baptist) and are left wondering why their baptism was so late, rendering it somewhat arbitrary and years out of sync with the reality it expresses.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

    Grace & peace,

  7. hey all.

    thanks for the post, andrew & to others for thoughtful, pointed yet polite responses: a credit to the family!

    andrew, I thought your [deliberate?] avoidance of families/covenants gave the whole list a great slant on the issue – nicely done.

    your expression of the temporal disjuncture I found really helpful. thanks.

    byron’s opener (the baptism that saves) made me think of what we mean when we say (or scripture says) that we’re saved by faith. Makes me think that “saved by _____” isn’t as clear as we’d like it always to be. Just like erro’s point about a complexity that reminds us that this is a work of God.

    Also, byron, your reduction of ms morrison’s trajectory was sidesplitting.

    kristine, I thought that your description of baptism/confirmation as “two baptisms” might not be exactly how [we] anglicans might describe the concept and practice of confirmation.

    and finally, did I really read that “baptists are really about giving full expression to Christian freedom”?? I wonder how the person who isn’t allowed to vote at the church where they have attended and served for the last ten years would feel about that description. I understand that your desire is to move away from being defined as a ‘single issue’ … but as long as you’re called ‘baptists’ …

  8. First, as a first-time reader, thanks for a good read and a gracious commenting environment.

    As an Anabaptist (Mennonite), I really enjoyed your defense of baptism. Though I believe differently than you regarding the advisability of infant baptism, the bulk of what you’ve said here is good material I am better off for having read.

    I appreciated your comment that baptism can be meaningful even if it does not occur near the time of conversion, but there seems to be a significant difference between the use of a sign as a response to conversion and as an expression of hope for conversion. If we are willing to baptize infants on the basis of hope (and nurture), why not baptize interested potential converts on the grounds that, like the children of Christians, they do not yet express belief but are engaged with the life of the church and are influenced by faithful believers?

    I appreciated your comment that God can save those who cannot make an intelligent response. But the conditions that might prevent such a response might also prevent receiving the other sacraments. An infant, for instance, cannot receive the Lord’s Table until weaning. It is similar with those among us who need feeding tubes. If we trust that God can save those who cannot receive one sacrament, I don’t understand why we should compromise (what I understand to be) the responsive nature of another sacrament, baptism.

  9. Joel and Kristine – Ah, the penny drops! Sorry for my forgetfulness! Good to “meet” you again Kristine. :-)

    Roger – Regarding the “full expression to Christian freedom”, I understand your point and feel it personally for my mother, who, having been very faithful and active in a Baptist church for almost twenty years, was eventually invited to take up a role on staff (more or less getting paid for what she was already doing as a part time job). However, she had been raised as an Anglican and so baptised as an infant. This being unrecognised by the church’s constitution, she was unable to become a member (and had not been one the whole time, despite having four children who were all baptised members) and so was unable to take up the position on staff. Eventually, she submitted to re-baptism and has now been on staff many years. Now perhaps some would say it doesn’t matter. But symbolically, she had to reject her earlier baptism as invalid, and by extension, also to reject the baptisms of seven of her grandchildren as well.

    Despite this personal story, I am still not sure that the claim is thereby invalidated. Christian freedom doesn’t simply mean complete lack of framework or the ability to act however one chooses. Such “freedom” is an anarchy that often destroys or diminishes possibilities, so having regulations is not necessarily a reduction of freedom, but is often the condition of its possibility. Would we be more free to travel on the roads if there were no road rules?

    And since this is the case, it is also not obvious to me that Baptist ecclesiology or theology expresses a greater exercise of Christian freedom than other attempts to be faithful to Christ. Other examples of Baptist “unfreedom” could be added – of congregations ruled by a tyrannous majority of members who consistently spit out pastors after a few years, of congregations who suppress the minorities within them through voting them down rather than careful listening and mutual growth, and so on. And yes, there are also counterexamples in other traditions of abuses of power that lead to diminishments of Christian freedom (overbearing bishops, rectors who abuse their tenure, and so on). But my point is that the claim that Baptists are about giving full expression to Christian freedom is both polemical and aspirational. This is not a problem. But it is not obviously and self-evidently true, as the nature of Christian freedom is complex in a good creation with many good things, both great and small, that are worth preserving and nurturing.

    Theophilus – there seems to be a significant difference between the use of a sign as a response to conversion and as an expression of hope for conversion.
    I suspect there may also be differences in how “conversion” is understood in our respective traditions. Is it possible for someone to have known Jesus from their earliest days? To have received him into their lives with their mother’s milk (as it were)? Or does conversion require a fully developed intellect and will? If it is possible for an infant to already be in Christ, then infant baptism is not simply a hope for future conversion, but a sign of the child’s present rightful status amongst the household of faith. This can, of course, be rejected as the child grows (just as an adult convert can reject their baptism). If this is true, then both adult and child baptism are a sign of hope, but of the hope for perseverance rather than conversion.

    Thanks one and all for this very interesting discussion. I hope I am not overstaying my welcome with these long posts, but they have been helpful for me as I’m thinking this through.

    Grace & peace,

  10. Hi folks. Thanks very much for a great discussion full of thoughtful responses. I am glad to have provoked debate and it has helped me clarify at least what I need to think further about. My apologies for being less than fully involved, although I don’t think I could have added much to Byron’s comments.

    For me, the key issue to continue to dwell on is the one Byron mentioned first up: the relation between the sign and the reality. It is not arbitrary, hence the sacraments have been spoken of as “effective signs”. But I’m not yet quite sure how to express this without going where I feel (and perhaps I am wrong) is a bit far.

    Roger, thanks for picking up on my avoidance of the covenant approach — that was exactly what I was trying to do. This is not a Presbyterian theology of infant baptism.

    Finally, I also want to respond to Kristine’s point about what she sees as a “low church trajectory” that Anglicans are headed on. I think there is some truth to this observation as far as Sydney goes (and given a suitably vague definition of “low church”), but I’m not really in favour of it. Part of the point of a post like this is to give fresh articulation to alternative ways of looking at things that to my mind are very important. I hope to be able to continue this in the future.

    Thanks again.

  11. hi andrew,
    i guess the discussion is over, but i would be interested to know if you think baptism is a promissory sign. i don’t think covenant can legitimately be avoided if the sign signifies anything to do with the new covenant. the really interesting thing for me (i am a fence sitter – i think the scriptures will accommodate infant baptism but …) is the definition endorsed in sydney diocese of ekklesia as a gathering. i would be glad of correction, but i don’t think the traditional statements concerning infant baptism was formulated with this definition. i would be interested to hear a defence of infant baptism in the context of a ‘gathered’ ecclesiology and i am sure we will hear one this year. i am guessing it will have to chart the waters between a reformed baptist understanding of an effectual covenant community, whereby the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the sign of the covenant, and that of teh covenant community as the church ‘general.’ as far as i can tell, the concept of a covenant community as westminster defines it necessitates a notion of general church.



  12. Hi Andrew and others – thanks for the interesting read!

    For those of you at Moore, I’m in 1st year and always keen to discuss this, so feel free to bring it up if we meet over morning tea : )

    I’m a Baptist in the sense that I grew up in a Baptist church, but more significantly grew up as a thinking adult Christian at a Baptist Church (Petersham Baptist). At the moment I kind of ‘assume’ a Baptist view on Baptism and Church membership/governance, but I have to admit my convictions are not exactly the product of a thoroughly thought out theology. From talking to various people over the years I think few people (anglican, baptist or whatever) have a well thought out theology on this stuff… I think it’s partly a result of a healthy culture in Sydney that doesn’t exalt denominational differences. However I do think it’s a shame that most of us are ‘un-thought-through’ on baptism and… well, ecclesiology in general. Let’s bring it out in the open more! (with grace of course : )

    Anyways, in the vain hope that you are all patiently checking this post for more comments daily, I have a few questions.

    1. I can see the appropriate side of infant baptism given the conviction that children raised by committed Christian parents are themselves Christian, but I haven’t been given good reason to believe that such children are in fact Christians. Can anyone point me in a good direction to do some persuasive reading (this is not rhetorical : )? The common statement I’ve heard is “we are raising our children to be little Christians, not little atheists or even little agnostics!” I agree, but this is exactly what a Baptist would say too… it doesn’t guarantee or even imply (I think) that the child is actually a Christian.

    2. I am interested to hear how important people think the actual meaning of the word ‘Baptizo’ is… I’m sure you all know that it really just has a common meaning of immersed or overwhelmed. I’ve been given the impression that the transliteration ‘Baptize’ is a product of translators trying not to create trouble when the first english bibles were being translated. (feel free to correct!)
    Combined with the fact that the normal NT practice of Baptism certainly seemed to be immersion of the convert (or repentant jew in John’s situation) in water (a river for example) leads me to see the sprinkling of people (babies or adults) as a later development. Perhaps a harmless development… but it just doesn’t seem to be the picture of Baptism in the NT. Do you guys think the actual meaning of the word is important? (again, genuine question)

    3. I have taken onboard the comments about salvation of individuals not being entirely straightforward (particularly in terms of a moment when it happened)… however I do think the NT (epistles mainly) leads me to think it’s basically about responding in faith to the gospel message. And I can think of a number of times when Paul says things like, “when you heard the word and believed…” and then implications of salvation, transferring kingdoms, given life… etc. This naturally pushes me to a ‘believers baptism’ practice, although I concede that highlighting ‘hearing with faith’ doesn’t solve much for the question of when the child of Christian parents ‘became a Christian’…
    Kristine, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what the ideal Baptist approach is on Baptising children of Christians… is it at 18? 5 and up? During youth group years?

    Anyways, this is way long enough for someone as uneducated as me on the matter!


    ps. hope to catch up at college over this Andrew..

  13. Matthew,

    Very interesting questions and thanks for being keen to think about ecclesiology more. As you say, evangelicals have typically sidelined these discussions in the interest of unity, but the differences are still there and need not be threatening (once you all become Anglicans, of course!). ;-)

    For the moment, I will simply address your second point (not because the others are uninteresting, but just because of a current lack of time) and say that I agree that where possible, baptisms should be “overwhelming”, and the BCP agrees! See the discussion here.

  14. Fascinating discussion, however, I’m a little bemused at the avoidance of covenant promises in relation to baptism. FYI: I’m an Anglican from a Presbyterian background–but evangelical all the way. I came to Anglicanism through studies of Luther (in Germany, actually) as well as the evident love I encountered in Anglican churches–and since, one theological historical definition of the Anglican “via media” is a mediation between Lutheran and Reformed theologies–here I am.

    Infant baptism only made logical sense to me when I understood the conditional nature of the New Covenant. While a person’s perseverance/election is unconditional (God know’s every one He has called…and will keep them safe) we as finite Christians cannot know whether a person will persevere in the faith or not… Hence the New Covenant has, like all the other covenants in scripture…both blessings AND curses attached to it; that is it is conditional as to the blessings of salvation.

    If we receive the good news of Jesus joyfully, and ultimately make Him fully our Lord and Master, then, we receive the covenant promises–that is life forever in the resurrection, in the New Heavens and New Earth (I LOVE N.T. Wright’s explanation on eternal life…).

    If however, through lack of perseverance, we do NOT ultimately believe and receive the gospel good news….we receive the covenant curses, that is hell itself.

    Both kinds of people though were a part of….the New Covenant…in that they were in a place to know and hear the good news of Jesus. Some received and kept it joyfully–others did not receive and keep this good news joyfully.

    Neither was in the same place as people who never heard of Jesus.

    Baptism is therefore reserved for those who are in a place to receive and keep the gospel joyfully–and that includes babies of believing parents. Does it guarantee ultimate salvation? No, only Jesus and His work and love does that. It is however a sign and seal of participation in the New Covenant family…both in its blessings, and curses.

    Basically, I’m saying baptism only made logical sense (and yes, it is more than logical…God’s mysteries always are) to me when I understood there are three kinds of people in the world, not two. There are those who are in a position to know and respond to the good news of Jesus, those who truly have, and, those who have never heard.

    Traditional evangelical teaching indicates only two kinds of people in the world–the saved and unsaved–and the saved are all those who’ve made a reasonable profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Yet we all know many who seemed to have made a genuine profession–but who’ve fallen away–and we also know it is God’s grace in Jesus which saves, NOT our rational understanding and acceptance of it…hence God can and does save babies and mentally disabled people…who therefore should not be refused baptism.

    I am tempted to say the water and the Word though distinguished are inseparable….a la Luther…but, I won’t, rather to rest in mystery.


  15. I see i’m more than a year late to the party, but what a great discussion everyone. Thanks so much for your contributions.
    I’ve recently begun a search for “The Anglican Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism” by Stott, Motyer, and Gatiss. Anyone see that book? Some good theological heads applied to this subject, so i’m eagerly awaiting my copy.
    I wonder what anyone might think of my simplistic acceptance of infant baptism from the following perspective: When i observe a Baptism in our little Episcopal church, i picture the scene in Mark 2:3-5. They lower a paralytic through the roof to the feet of Jesus. “And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
    As i say, it’s simplistic, but seems to me to be exactly what we are doing.
    I’d love your thoughts. Peace to you all…

    • Thanks Byron. Since i posted the original comment, i have mentioned this in a small group discussion with some friends.
      To carry the image further, notice that Jesus hears some grumbling about how sins could possibly be forgiven in this manner. This corresponds to some who doubt the effectiveness of our practice.
      Then He says to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and walk.” Isn’t that what we believe–that one day our Lord will speak to the one who was Baptized years earlier, saying, “now it’s time for you to respond. Will you rise up and make this faith your own?”
      And when this person does “put feet on this faith,” as his/her own, will we not all then slap our knees and exclaim, “That’s what i’m talkin’ about!!!” (“We’ve never seen anything like this!”)

  16. I guess the key to this reading is that the passage that Jesus saw “their” faith (i.e. the friends’), rather than that of the paralytic. Otherwise, it might be suggested that he put them up to it and so it was really his faith in trusting to be lowered.

  17. This is a nice and irenic older discussion. Anyone want to get back in the water with it?? : )
    Re a reference to the key issue I’m wondering where people would think it important as to whether or not they believe Jesus did or did not baptise infants in relation to their own theology of baptism.
    For instance if one looks at the stress on his teaching in all the gospels on readical discipleship … take up the cross daily, … you must love me more than …. you must count the cost …. one could suggest that it wouldn’t be harmonious with Jesus simultaneously saying to his disciples or those wishing to be …. by the way if any of you have any babies you should bring them to me know to baptise them as my disciples or I’ll have one of the 12 or 70 do it ect …

    If one assumes then that Jesus did not in fact baptise infants what are the implications for assuming (and it IS a rather massive assumption) that Jesus intended for them to be “done” as part of the great commission.

    What if baptism as intended by Jesus was supposed to be a response of those willing to make the commitement he asked for and in relation to the early xtians it is certainly a reflection of that to see ones whole life now being dead in Christ and a rising to a new life with him (Romans 6 ect)? What if by its intrinsic nature it required a sort of voluntary kenosis of Phil 2.5 … a choosing to humble oneself … and give up all that one was … in order to be a disciple of Christ?
    What if Baptism was intended to be highly experiential on many levels including that of being a highly memorable experience rather than an assurance of an event you can’t remember … primarily for the individual rather than the public body (hence Acts 9 & 19 & 10 & immediate baptisms)?

    Just a few thoughts,
    Best wishes,


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