Infant Baptism

Acts 11:14 ESV  "...he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.'

Acts 16:14-15 ESV  One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  (15)  And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:30-31 ESV  Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"  (31)  And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Acts 18:8 ESV  Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

One of the great divisive issues in the Church of Jesus Christ is the baptism of infants.  In the United Methodist Church we firmly believe in infant baptism, and I am thankful for that.  However, while growing up in the Methodist Church infant baptism was the one doctrine that I could not come to grips with.  Whenever I would bring infant baptism into question I was always met with the "Jesus loves children" response, or with the "you don't know whether or not infants were a part of the 'households' mentioned in acts." (You can see the passages above.)  Neither of these arguments ever satisfied me.  

The fact that Jesus loves children in no way necessitates their baptism and though Jesus called the little children to come to him, he never called them to come to him for baptism.  The "Jesus loves the children" argument just rings hollow.  I have never met a baptist that would deny the love of Christ towards children, and because Christ loves children we should do all in our power to assure that children are afforded the opportunity to hear the Gospel of redemption.  Nonetheless it is not adequate reason for infant baptism.

The other argument that "There may have been infants in the 'households' mentioned in acts" is an argument from silence.  There may have been... that is true... and there may not have been.  It seems absurd to base a doctrine as important as baptism on a "might have been" type of argument.  Arguments from silence are used constantly in liberal Christianity, because you can argue anything from silence.  For instance, Jesus never spoke on homosexuality, and homosexuals existed then, therefore because Jesus never said anything it is ok.  That is an argument from silence, yet you can make the argument then that everything which Jesus never spoke about is permissible, which is a foolish stance to take.  I bring this up, not to make a point against the homosexual, but to make a point against arguing from silence.

In the setting I grew up in, these two primary arguments for infant baptism were the only arguments I heard.  While listening to friends from believer baptizing churches speak I sensed that their arguments were far stronger than the ones I had heard, therefore it was settled in my mind that infant baptism was not biblical.  So how did I ever come to the understanding that infant baptism was indeed proper, and even biblically normative?  It was not through what I heard in the UMC.  I will say that the term 'infant baptism' is not really a term I like,  I prefer 'household baptism'.  The reason for baptizing infants is not because "there might have been infants in the household", the reason for baptizing infants is that it was and is biblically normative that entire households be baptized when the head of household comes to faith in Christ.  It is difficult to refute.  We have no instances of explicit infant baptism, yet household baptism is clearly a biblical norm.  Why do I baptize infants, because I baptize households, and the infant happens to be a part of that household.

This is completely consistent with the old testament as well, when a non-Jew converted, they and their household would be ceremonially washed (baptism) and circumcised.  You cannot get through either the Old or the New Testament avoiding th reality of the household as a single unit.  How many promises of God must we read that are for you and your offspring before you will begin to see that the physical family has spiritual covenant implications.  God makes promises not only to us, but to our children as well, which by that promise makes them a part of the covenant of promise.  Does that mean our children will be automatically redeemed, no, not at all, but it does mean they are a part of a covenant family because their heads of household believe.  Did all circumcised Jews follow the Lord?  Of course not, yet they were all a part of the covenant of circumcision.  Baptism is no different.  Baptism is all about a covenant relationship with God through Christ, families enter into this covenant together.  Is the entire baptized family secure, no, salvation is by faith, not baptism, yet baptism is entry into that covenant community.  Are all members of your church saved? Probably not, but they are all members of your covenant community.

Methodists, we have good reason to baptize households, including their infants, but the reason is not 'Jesus loves kids', and it is not that "there might have been infants in the household", our reason is because it establishes those in the household as members of the covenant community of faith.

1 comment:

Dave Pettengill said...

I am with you Jay I struggled with this topic for quite awhile. I didn't really go to church until near the end of my 9th grade year and I gave my life to Christ at a Baptist church. So I didn't really believe in "infant baptism" as I never saw that practiced in my church only baby dedications. After H.S. I went to a Wesleyan-Armenian university and I have served at numerous UMC's and I had a very difficult time seeing "infant Baptism's" as Biblical. I would tend to get alot of the answers well thats a practice the UMC has always practiced which really doesn't matter to me because it could still be unbiblical, or like you said Jesus loves the children so we are committing to raise the children in the faith or the silent response "infants might have been baptized as part of the household". I greatly appreciate your insight on this as I have begun to look at this topic in the same way you have. I have never really heard it said "Household Baptism" before but that sounds like a much more accurate description. Maybe it is fussing over semantics but I believe it provides clarity to an often misunderstood topic of faith.