The Fear of Baptizing Children
As a credobaptist (one who believes in baptizing only professing believers), I find paedobaptism (baptizing the covenant children of believers) unpersuasive for numerous reasons: (1) there is no explicit mention of or instruction for paedobaptism in the NT; (2) paedobaptists assume without warrant that “household baptisms” mean that that there must have been infants in the households and ignore the fact that Paul “spoke the word to all . . . who were in his house” (Acts 16:32); (3) the practice of baptism was routinely connected with repentance and faith; (4) the theology of baptism requires repentance and faith—as Paul says, we are “buried with [Christ] in baptism” and “raised through faith” (Col. 2:12), and Peter virtually defines baptism as “as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Pet. 3:21); (5) entrance into the covenant people of God is by spiritual birth, not physical birth—the design of which is that all who belong to God’s covenant people truly know him (Heb. 8:11).
But that’s not the point of this post. If we assume that credobaptism is the NT understanding of baptism, then we are faced with the question of the age at which our children should be baptized.
A recent post by Julian Freeman expresses my own position. He argues that in these intra-credobaptist discussions, we are fearing the wrong thing: namely, the fear that we might be wrong. As he expresses the question: “What if we baptize someone who ends up not really being converted? Then what?’
He gives two reasons that this is the wrong question to ask:
First, we should not be afraid of getting it wrong, because even the apostles did. Have you ever noticed how many people apostasize in the New Testament? How many of Paul’s partners in ministry turned away (1 Tim 1.18-20; 2 Tim 4.10, 16)? And what of the disaster that was Simon Magus (Acts 8.9-24)? Certainly all of these had been baptized.
Second, we should not be afraid of getting it wrong because we are not charged with ‘getting it right’ in the first place. We’re never called to be the police of baptism, ensuring that only those who give good enough proof get in the pool. We’re called to baptize and disciple all who give profession of faith in Jesus as the risen Lord and Master of their lives.
Think about it; how much credible evidence could the people in Acts have given who heard one gospel message and were saved? Yet, they were baptized. Then discipled. And those who, in the process of discipleship, proved that their conversion was not genuine were disciplined out of the church. The answer is not to make sure people are converted before baptism, but after, in the context of local church membership, where they can be discipled and taught to obey King Jesus, with a strong dose of accountability, as part of a community.
This is where I think our ecclesiological paradigms can take us down the wrong path. A certain position fits the paradigm, but the exegetical evidence is completely lacking. I would put “do not baptize someone until you have years of observing fruits of repentance” in that category. I’d also put “do not share the Lord’s Table with someone who has not been baptized as a believer” in this category. In the “system,” these make sense. But they cannot be squared, in my opinion, with bigger and clearer principles in the NT (namely, baptize upon a credible profession of faith; share the Table with all who have been baptized in Jesus, that is, all true believers).
Julian goes on to identify some of the things we should be fearing in our practice of baptizing people:
Rather than a fear of ‘getting it wrong’ with someone (and then introducing somewhat arbitrary qualifications of age and genuine proof of conversion), we should be fearing suffocating baby Christians. And this is a real danger.
Here’s what I mean: The enjoyment of means of grace in the life of a Christian are like breathing and the grace itself is the believer’s oxygen. Without means of grace there will be no intake of oxygen. What we seriously need to ask ourselves is this: Is baptism a means of grace or not? Because if it is, we’re essentially telling the youngest of baby Christians (new converts of whatever age) to continue living without breathing, without taking in grace through God’s appointed means.
And it gets worse. Since proper baptist doctrine withholds participation in the Lord’s Supper, membership, and pastoral oversight to those who have already been baptized as believers, we’re withholding just about every corporate means of grace from this infant believer. And then we tell them to ‘prove’ their life in Christ, all the while denying them the oxygen their growth and life so desperately needs.
That is something we should genuinely fear.
At the end of the day, we have to remember that Jesus told his adult disciples to repent, becoming like children (Matt. 18:3). Then many of us turn around and tell our children that their faith is not worthy of baptism until they have repent like an adult.