Thursday, March 6, 2008

To B(aptize) or not to B(aptize)? That is the question.

A common argument between those of the reformed tradition (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, etc.) and those of baptistic tradition is whether or not there are grounds for paedobaptism (that is, infant baptism) in accordance with Scripture. My purpose here is to outline a few of the major concerns held by each side and ultimately demonstrate the Baptist conviction.

One of the first arguments Baptists make is that there is no explicit evidence of paedobaptism in the pages of Scripture. This is a poor argument or rather, an incomplete one, as we offer it to our reformed brethren. The general purpose of baptism is the same amongst both circles. We baptize as an act of obedience to God, identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Baptism does not save us, but rather it is the sign of the covenant between God and His people. The Old Testament sign of the covenant (Abrahamic) was circumcision (Genesis 17:9-14). The very fact that children were circumcised and demonstrated the sign of the covenant is a comparison used as to why we should baptize our children as a sign of the new covenant in Christ’s blood.

Considering all these things, saying that there is no explicit evidence of paedobaptism in the pages of Scripture is a weak argument. If we held this mentality in all things, how is it we would be able to practice liberty in non-essentials? The truth is not that we do not practice paedobaptism because there is no explicit evidence of it in the pages of Scripture, but rather that we do not practice paedobaptism because there is no explicit evidence of it in the pages of Scripture coupled with the fact that there is in fact explicit evidence of credobaptism (Mark 1:5, Luke 7:29, Acts 19:5, Colossians 2:12, Luke 3:12, John 4:1, Acts 2:41, and Acts 9:18). Understanding that baptism is both prescribed and described as an act of obedience identifying in Christ’s death and resurrection for the believer in the pages of Scripture is what prompts us to exercise credobaptism while prohibiting paedobaptism. We see these evidences by such Scripture verses as Mark 1:4 (John’s baptism of repentance, an act incapable by infants), Acts 2:38-41; 19:3-5 (baptism of repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, both acts incapable by infants), Romans 6:3-4, and Colossians 2:12.

An additional point to make over the argument of the sign of the covenant being demonstrated by infants in the Old Testament is that it was demonstrated by male infants alone. The absence of female infants, or just females generally, from the ability to demonstrate the sign of the covenant just reaffirms the fact that we, in Christ, have a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6).

The final argument I would like to present is that of the reformed support for paedobaptism by the evidence of practice throughout Church history. While I have not fully reviewed the history nor can I accurately verify the truth of this claim, I can however comment on the validity of the argument. Even a nominal Christian can attest to the fact that tradition does not dictate theology. This fact is in spite of Paul’s admonition to us against traditional conformity with the world in Romans 12:1-2. This line of thinking is why many who confuse the purpose of Church history attempt to refute the Holy Trinity by such affirmative proclamations as the Nicene Creed from the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Although the purpose of the Council was to officially refute such heresy as non-trinitarianism espoused by heretics such as Arius, and not to establish a new teaching by the Church (argued to be trinitarianism), the point to be made here is that our authority is not sola ecclesia, but rather sola scriptura. Understanding our final authority comes from Scripture alone, and not Church tradition, dissolves an appeal to Church history as an authority in light of documented Scriptural references to the contrary.

In hopes of coming to a stronger conviction of credobaptism as opposed to paedobaptism, I close with a simple denotation of the Greek word baptizo, translated into English as baptize. This word denotes a full submersion as opposed to pouring or sprinkling of water. Although a more popular argument against sprinkling or pouring in method of baptism, the point here is that we cannot fully submerge an infant without certain qualms over their safety. If we are being true to the Greek of the New Testament in our method of baptism by immersion, then we cannot reasonably expect anyone to baptize infants against their safety, against explicit Scriptural demonstrations of credobaptism, against the lack of explicit demonstrations of paedobaptism in the pages of Scripture, against a better covenant in Christ’s blood, and against an appeal to Church history as an authoritative means of developing our theology.

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