Sunday, July 22, 2012
Baptismal debate... porteds larger problems
If Scripture will not silence its detractors with its own cohesive argument for sacramental baptism of infants, small children, youth, and adults, then we have to ask what did the early Church do with baptism. If the early Christians got it wrong, it must have been wrong from early days... OR, they have it right and infant baptism is exactly the presumptive practice of Scripture that accompanies its rich baptismal theology.
It is a pure and simple historical fact that the Church has always baptized infants. The very earliest Christian documents outside of Scripture speak of the practice which is presumed in Scripture. For example take the Apostolic Tradition written about 215 A.D. which directs the baptismal practice of the Church by saying:
The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family. (Apostolic Tradition # 21)
This is neither the first nor the only document of early Christian history that speaks to the baptism of infants and small children but this is explicit in addressing those who cannot speak for themselves and of the parental role as sponsors who speak on their behalf in testimony to the miracle of grace given and bestowed in baptism.
Why, then, are we so uneasy about questions directed to infant baptism? The church bodies which refuse this practice should be on the defensive for they are the ones out of step with Scripture and tradition. It seems to me that if we Lutherans can be caught up in doubt over an explicit baptismal practice, consistent with the doctrine of baptism found in Scripture and amply attested in the early Church, well, then, we can be caught up in doubt about anything and everything we believe, confess, and teach.
It is a great sadness that Lutheran doubts can be so easily exploited by those so clearly in the wrong when it comes to baptism. Theirs is the novel or new teaching here -- not ours! It should not be. We should be exploiting doubts in their minds and not the other way round. This is the tip of the iceberg. Just weeks ago we took in new members and one of the things asked of them is if Lutheran confession is consistent with Scripture -- the true teaching of Scripture:
P Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from them and confessed in the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?
R I do.
I have never had someone say "I don't" but clearly the depth of this conviction is at issue here. One of the most troubling things about Lutherans is that we too quickly concede the position of Scripture to others and assume that our own confession and faith does not square with Scripture (and tradition). Clearly one of the areas in which we need to work most is this confidence that our faith is grounded in Scripture, faithful to Scripture, and accurately reflects what Scripture unequivocally teaches. Period. In Bible study and catechesis the most consistent questions I receive are those which ask "but what about" the teachings of other churches (here, most likely Baptist, Church of Christ, or holiness groups). "But..." -- in other words -- can they be wrong and we be right? Yes. Period. This is most certainly true.
Until we address this Lutheran deference and doubt, we will continue to bring people in the front door only to have them sneak out the back door into one of the many stripes of evangelicalism...