2006-02-27

Baptising Children

Here's a response I want to make to an article at FIDE-O. Since the guys there are apt to determine which comments are worthwhile and which are not, and because of the insufferable blind spots that naturally come from being American Dispensational Baptists, I'll post it here instead.

It took me a while, but I think Baptizing kids is biblical. I'll be presenting some pretty dense arguments that have been shrunk down, which means that there will be a lot of assumptions.

First, we need to remember that God's people have always been on earth. The church started when Adam and Eve were around. Before Christ, though, God's people were pretty much confined to the political and cultural entity known as Israel. God's people since the fall have all had their sins forgiven through Christ, with the only difference being that those before Christ placed their faith in God's promises, while those after Christ placed their faith in Christ's death and resurrection. In other words, "Christians" existed long before Christ in a theological sense (they were God's people and placed their trust in God's promises), but obviously not in a literalistic sense (calling them "Christians" would be anachronistic).

The problem with Israel was that while those who were "true followers" or "true believers" or "Christians who didn't know it" could only be found within the political and cultural entity of the nation of Israel, there were many examples of Israelites who were not true believers. Korah, for example, was obviously an Israelite (he was a Levite) but his actions in opposing Moses earned him instant supernatural burial. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the history of Israel and (later) Judah know that there were many Israelites who were not true followers of God.

So we have the "visible" people of God obviously being the nation of Israel, and within that visible people of God is the invisible people of God - the "true believers" if you will.

After Christ came, a new visible people of God was instituted and the old one dispensed with. All true believers within the old people of God recognised Jesus as Messiah and became Christians. What is the visible people of God after Christ? It is the Church.

And just like Israel, the "true believers" exist within the church, while the church itself has many unbelievers present.

The Old Testament people of God had two important ceremonies that helped define them as a people. The first was circumcision, whereby a male child soon after birth was circumcised on the eighth day. This was a once-off ceremony that occurred early on in the life of the person, who had Israelites as parents. The second ceremony was the passover festival. Celebrated regularly, the festival involved the ingesting of food that helped represent God's act of salvation by rescuing them from captivity in Israel.

It is obvious that the Passover festival is mirrored in the celebration of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament people of God. The church, meeting together in the name of Christ, ingests food that helps remind them of how Christ's death on the cross saved them from their slavery to sin.

In the same way, Circumcision is mirrored in baptism. Circumcision and baptism are explicitly linked in Colossians 2.11-12. Like Circumcision, baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime event that occurs in the life of the Christian.

But remember that, just as circumcision and the passover were external signs for the Old Testament people of God, so are Baptism and the Lord's Supper today - they are the signs of the external people of God.

In practice this means that the children of believers should be baptised since they are already part of God's external people of God. If a person is an unbaptised unbeliever who is then converted, then they should be baptised. But if a person has been baptised as a child, and who then comes to faith later in life, then their baptism is perfectly valid (this is my own personal experience - I was baptised as a baby but became a Christian when I was 13).

The big argument that Baptists promote is the idea that, in the New Testament, only believers are baptised. When Baptism and Circumcision are understood side by side, though, it means that, in addition to "believer's baptism", the baptism of the children of believers is perfectly biblical.

The fact that the children may end up rejecting Christ is no evidence at all that pedo-baptism is wrong. After all, Korah and his followers ended up rejecting God's servant, Moses, and were sent directly to the grave for their actions - and these people were circumcised as children.

So while the NT describes only the baptism of believers, it does not prescribe the baptism of believers only.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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3 comments:

Ali said...

My own position at this stage is that the Bible does not give enough information to be able to dogmatically state whether paedo-baptism is right or not. On a purely pragmatic level, it seems more merciful to hold off "signing a person up" to a covenant when there is no guarantee they will not abandon it and so bring greater condemnation on themselves.

But while I reject the idea that baptism need be immersion, the move from Old Testament to New Testament seems to be a move from outward to heartward (Hebrews 8:10-12), and so I am sympathetic to the idea that a confession of a heart change (true or otherwise) is needed for baptism. It certainly keeps greater focus on what Christianity is meant to be - faith, not ceremony. I may be wrong, but my very spotted look at denominations in general indicates that, over time, those with paedo-baptism drift into nominalism more easily.

apodeictic said...

The problem with debates such as this one over baptism is that the problem is not really about baptism but actually indicative of a wider hermeneutical problem. *How* do we interpret the Biblical data? You can't just look up the word 'baptism' etc in a concordance and conclude that because the NT never mentions one indubitable instance of infant baptism that believers-only baptism is the only appropriate form of baptism.

On this logic we could argue that since the Bible only records baptisms taking place in certain geographical areas (eg Palestine, Asia Minor) that the only valid form of baptism is one performed here and not elsewhere (eg Australia). Since there is no recorded instance in the NT of a baptism taking place in Australia my Australian Baptism is obviously not Biblical!

I hope you see the silliness of this argument. The recorded instances of baptism in the NT are no more normative on the issue of WHO (and HOW one) should be baptised as it is on the question of WHERE one should be baptised. And I don't hear American dispensationalists telling converts to go and get baptised in the River Jordan, lest their baptism in the jacuzzi in the First Baptist Church of Nowheresville be invalid in the Lord's sight.

We need to read the Biblical data within an interpretive framework or hermeneutic. My framework tells me that despite no recorded instances in the NT of baptism taking place in Australia, of course it is appropriate for Christians in Australia to be baptised in Australia. My interpretive framework also happens to lead me to the conclusion that despite no clear instance of infant baptism being recorded in the NT it is appropriate for Christian believers to have their infants baptised. Now this depends on my understanding of the Bible as a whole and the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. I believe in a fundamental continuity between the testaments. Christ came not to abolish but to fulfil the law. There is and always was ONE people of God. The NT era is not a radical break from the OT but a fulfilment of it. Granted, some things are not carried over from the Old Covenant to the New, but many others indeed are. Does New Testament silence mean we assme that Old Testament principles still apply because they have not been overruled in the New? Or is it the other way round (viz. that unless the NT explicitly affirms something out of the OT that it doesn't apply to Christian believers under the New Covenant)?

That has massive implications for how we interpret the NT data on baptism. If we see the OT and NT as radically different, addressed to two fundamentally different peoples (dispensationalism) then we will likely fall on the side of believers-only baptism. If we accept a fundamental continuity between the testaments with the Old fulfilled in the New (Covenant Theology) and both speaking of one people of God then we will likely fall in the camp of paedobaptism.

The Dispensationalist reads the Biblical data with a certain hermeneutic which results in believers-only baptism while the Covenant Theologian reads the very same Biblical data with a differnt hermeneutic that results in paedobaptism.

So the issue is not really 'what does the NT *say* on Baptism?'. A concordance will help you answer that preliminary question. Rather, the real issue is '*Given* what the NT says on baptism, what does it *mean*?'. This will require us tackling head-on the question of what hermenutic is the most faithful to the Bible. I happen to think the dispensationalist hermenutic -- and its concomitant 'believers-only baptism' -- is fundamentally unfaithful to the Bible.

Jason Goroncy said...

Good post mate. Keep thinking it through. By the way, have you read Geoffrey Bromiley's little book called 'Children of Promise'? It's a great defence of infant baptism that I think is well worth the read. I'm also currently posting some thoughts on baptism on my blog (http://www.ptforsythfiles.blogspot.com) if you want to check them out some time. I've ommitted all the footnotes and refs but if you want them just let me know at the end of the posts. I will probably give it about 7 posts. Keep up the good work.