Monday, July 7, 2014

Discerning the age for baptism. . .

Though by definition Baptists agree that a person should be baptized only after confessing faith in Jesus Christ, there are several views on how old a believer must be, or should be, before such a confession can be trusted and acted upon. The views range, on the one end, from baptizing a confessing believer no matter how young to, on the other end, not baptizing them until they are practically independent from their parents.

With those words, one blogger raises the specter of a dispute among the Baptists over the age appropriate for baptism.  He then shows several congregation's choices and their reasoning behind their choice.  It is all very interesting.  They range from any age (which does not, I presume, include infants but perhaps as young as 5) to in between (as young 12), to delayed semi-adulthood, whatever that might look like).  Some Lutherans might cheer the prospect of Baptists exploring baptism at a younger age -- I am not one of them.

The issue here is not one of age but of what faith is and what baptism is.  It appears that on this count, Baptists show little desire to become more Biblical in their understanding of what faith is and what baptism is.  In my mind it matters little the change in age if you still are not hearing what Scripture says and what the Church has confessed.

Faith is not knowledge, understanding, and consent.  Faith is trust.  Jesus affirms such when He insists that the little ones believe in Him and that adults must become as little children in order to enter the Kingdom.  No creative exegesis of these texts can explain why it is that from the get go the Church understood these words to mean that infants and toddlers could, should, and would be included in the baptismal command and promise.  As long as Baptists are looking for signs of faith, a rudimentary understanding of the faith, and a certain maturity to make a promise, the age of the baptismal candidate is the least of the problems.  To be sure, we do not disdain knowledge, understanding, and consent but these are the fruit of the Spirit's work within the trusting heart in whom the baptismal grace has been given and these remain the domain of the daily realm of sanctifying grace that sustains what God has begun and brings it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Secondly, as long as baptism remains the obedient act of the faithful, the issue of who gets baptized is less significant than the refusal to acknowledge the Scriptural witness to what baptism really is.  Baptism saves us.  By baptism we are connected to Christ's death and raised with Him to newness of life.  Baptism places upon us the new and perfect clothing of Christ's righteousness.  Baptism is our incorporation into Christ and into the Church Christ has established by His blood.  Baptism is the means of grace by which the old man has been drowned and the new person has arisen.  The passages abound on what God does, gives, bestows, and describes baptism as but the list of passages that accord the greater responsibility to the baptized is severely lacking.  What good is it to baptize a person at a younger age if the baptism that you are baptizing into remains a work of man, a reflection of our obedience, and its efficacy is dependent upon the strength of our will and promise?

The truth is, although I submit to the decision of the Church through the ages to accept baptism in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I find it at best inconsistent that we accept the formula when the people administering that formula and those receiving it clearly do not intend to enter into the baptismal mystery clearly described by Scripture and confessed by the Church through every generation.  So I will permit myself no joy over the prospect of Baptists baptizing at a younger age and instead find myself even more confused and confounded by the actions of those who claim to have no truth but Scripture with respect to baptism.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

As a former Baptist, it constantly confuses me to hear Baptists accusing those who baptize infants of holding a low view of Baptism. How thankful I am that God spared me till I was seven years old. How thankful I am that God ignores the intent and belief of the 'baptizer' and the misguided and falsely instructed baptismal candidate.

It is so simple they can't see it, I suppose. God is doing the work here, not the believer. Forget the age and the depth of the water.

It is a Sacrament, not an Ordinance.