infant baptism (without the backache)

I’m always a little puzzled when I hear the opponents of infant baptism crowing about how unconvincing they find the analogy with Old Testament circumcision.

They see it as bending over backwards to make such a strong connection with circumcision — not least because of the view of how the Old Testament relates to the New that this connection presupposes.

I tend to agree. It is bending over backwards.

And I could do without the backache!

The thing is, I’m not sure the analogy with circumcision — or its covenant framework — is required to support the conclusion that ‘The Baptism of young children is … to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ’ (as it’s put in the Anglican The Thirty-Nine Articles).

My friend, Andrew, the soon-to-be godfather to my infant son, has written both more comprehensively and more winsomely in defence of infant baptism than I’m able.

For me, two considerations carry the day in favour of baptising infants:

First, the issue can’t be settled by simple appeal to the relevant texts. The decision about whether or not to baptise the children of believers is a second generation Christian problem. No New Testament author speaks directly to the issue.

That means we’ve got no choice but to do some careful thinking and feeling with the grain of the texts to figure out how to faithfully appropriate their teaching today.

And for my money, the infant baptism question comes down to whether or not you agree with the claim The Thirty-Nine Articles make that the sacraments in general and baptism in particular aren’t only about our ‘profession’ but more fundamentally about God’s action.

I do. So I’m in favour of baptising infants.

Second, I worry about the strong connection between baptism and (a particular articulate expression of) our subjective response to Christ’s work that most opponents of infant baptism want to insist on.

I’m aware, of course, that the relevant New Testament texts bring repentance, faith and even some degree of articulate and content-ful confession into close connection with baptism.

Mind you, so does the Book of Common Prayer service of ‘Publick Baptism of Infants’ upon which modern Anglican practice is based. There, parents and godparents make a declaration of Christian commitment on the child’s behalf. And they do so in the prayerful confidence that through God’s work the child will in due time lay hold of the faith for her- or himself (which is what Confirmation is all about).

But I hesitate to go where many opponents of infant baptism do in prescribing quite definitely the response called for — usually an adult profession of faith and repentance.

Our infant son responds to our love and care … in his childlike way. Who’s to say he can’t respond to Jesus — knowing and loving and serving him — until he’s an adult? In fact, didn’t Jesus say something about adults becoming more like children to enter the kingdom?

Bottom line: we intend to raise our son as a Christian (fully expecting that he’ll need to mature and grow into it — in all sorts of ways, articulate understanding among them).

That’s why we’re going to baptise him.

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3 comments

  1. Hey Chris – nice post! Hope you’re well mate 🙂

    I’m not a hardcore covenantalist, but honestly don’t know how you can do infant baptism without a doctrine of the covenant. I’ve heard people explain it as being baptised into the ‘Promise’, but that doesn’t make sense to me – no-one disputes whether the promise is for you and your children (except credo-baptists). But since the BCP speaks of entering the Church upon baptism, how do you enter into the Church without entering into the covenant? Or, in other words, don’t we implicitly have a covenantal theology going with infant baptism anyway?

    It just seems to me that the whole reformed tradition did it this way, and we don’t, but somehow want to hold onto infant baptism. Does this have something to do with a covenant-less ecclesiology?

    Love to hear your thoughts mate!

    Blessings,
    M.

    1. Hi Mark. Doing well, thanks. And thanks for the question!

      I guess I’ve never seen what ‘covenant’ talk — and especially a one-sided emphasis on the continuity between the Old and New Testaments — adds to the discussion (except a reason for credobaptists to get grumpy and think they’ve won because of all the NT indications of discontinuity). I’m happy to learn and be corrected, though.

      Maybe you’re right and I do have an implicit covenant theology going with my claims about infant baptism. When it comes to Peter’s speech in Acts 2 (to which you refer), in context, isn’t “the promise” he mentions Joel’s promise about the Spirit being poured out on all without distinction in the end times? So there is a broad connection with the covenant/s — or the one-plan-of-God-through-Israel-for-the-world (as Tom Wright puts it) — fulfilled in Jesus. But surely that’s far more minimal than what lots of paedobaptists want?

      I’m not sure whether this is connected with a covenant-less ecclesiology. But I have to confess that I’m not even sure I know what that means — or what a ‘covenant-full ecclesiology’ might look like.

  2. The Anglican basis of infant baptism is based largely on Mark 10. Jesus welcomes kids, and he gives them a blessing, so we can assume he’d be willing to give this one here that we’re baptizing a blessing too. It’s different to what I understand a Presbyterian basis to be, isn’t it?

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