Why I Believe in Infant Baptism
Over the past month, two babies in my family, a cousin and a niece, were both brought before their church congregations in the sight of God and community. One was baptized in an Episcopal church, and the other was dedicated in a Baptist church. This sparked some interesting discussions on the different views between baptism and dedication, infant baptism versus believer’s baptism, different views on sacraments and ordinances, and reflections on church history, scripture, and tradition.
I’ve taken this opportunity to really reflect on why I truly believe in infant baptism, more than just from Christian tradition and Methodist practice. This post proposes what I have come to believe and desire to share, and with that I am not judging or condemning anyone who might believe differently about baptism or sacraments in general. Rather, I welcome any responses, either public or private, to enter into discussion about sacramental theology. I believe infant baptism is theologically and scripturally sound and better communicates the nature of God’s grace and love as expressed in Scripture. Here are a few reasons why.
1. It Emphasizes Christ’s Action, Rather Than Man’s
Infant baptism is an affirmation of what Christ has done for the child already through His redeeming love and grace. In contrast, believer’s baptism emphasizes the work of the believer; it focuses on a person’s action by making a cognitive decision. Infant dedication emphasizes the action of a parent: “We give our child to you God; please bless them.” Infant baptism emphasizes the action of Christ: “They are already mine; I bought them with my blood.”
2. It Affirms an Unlimited Atonement
Infant baptism affirms that Christ’s redeeming work is for all of humanity. Calvinists may not agree with this point; rather, they believe that Christ died for the elect only, and that grace is provided only to those who are elected, or chosen, predestined by God. But as a Methodist, I concur with the larger Christian tradition, outside of the Reformed understanding, of an unlimited atonement. I believe that Christ died for all of humanity and that prevenient grace is given freely to all people as a gift.
3. It Responds to Prevenient Grace
Infant baptism acknowledges the prevenient grace given to all through the atonement of Christ. Baptism is not justification; it is not a saving ordinance. I don’t think it is justifying grace that we speak of in baptism – we are justified by faith through grace, and justifying grace comes through responding to Christ in faith. However, infant baptism is a response to prevenient grace, given to all, and it is in that form of grace where God continually seeks us and draws us to Him, leading us to faith.
4. It Professes a Communal Understanding of Faith
Infant baptism reflects a more communal view of life and faith. Individualism is a modern western phenomenon; consequently, the idea of a personal individualized faith has been present only in Western Christianity for the last few hundred years. Scripture, both Old and New Testament, affirm a more communal culture and relationship with God. Infant baptism professes that through the communal faith of one’s family, a child is in before they’re out. Again, baptism is less about a cognitive ascent to doctrine, personal decision, or witness, and more about what Christ has done by grace.
5. It Acknowledges the Covenant Relationship with Christ
Infant baptism reflects entering into a covenant relationship with God. Jews were born physically into the old covenant and received the sign of that covenant, circumcision. They received it as infants, before ever making a cognitive decision to be Jewish; further, if he so chooses, a Jewish man could walk away from his religion at any time. We see examples of Jews who ignored God all throughout the Old Testament.
Likewise, baptism is the sign of the new covenant, to be received in response to the covenant of grace established by Christ and His church. Just like a circumcised Jew born into the old covenant, infant baptism does not require an intellectual ascent to the right form of religion, doctrine, or dogma; again it is not a salvation ordinance, it is a response to prevenient grace. Infant baptism welcomes a child into the kingdom of heaven on earth, the body of Christ, the church, through the faith of their parents.
6. It Shares in Christ’s Death and Resurrection
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Baptism reflects a sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ. The old self is buried in the waters of baptism and rises in the grace of the new covenant. There is no good reason why an infant shouldn’t share in the redeeming work of Christ, given freely for all. Just look at Acts 2:38-39.
7. It Cleanses Original Sin
Baptism is the washing away of sin, both actual sin and original sin. In infant baptism, the bondage of original sin is broken off and the child is made free and pure. Within the first 1500 years of Christendom, there was only one known theologian [at least that I can recall] who opposed infant baptism: Tertullian. Ironically, his reason for opposing infant baptism was that he believed the sacrament to be so efficacious in cleansing sin that a believer should wait until they are near death before being baptized, thereby ensuring the maximum benefit of the sacrament. (I don’t think his doctrine of grace had developed well enough by the early 3rd century – in that we look to Augustine 200 years later)
I believe that infant baptism is a response to the prevenient grace that is given to all in Christ’s redeeming work through entering into the new covenant Church by sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ and the washing away of sin. Infant baptism is like a check that has been written and given to a child to cover all of their debts for their entire life. The child has been given that check, but they must take it to the bank and deposit it – and that’s where faith and justification come in.
Better still, infant baptism is the gift of Christ being given to a child. The child might not understand the gift, and they might not even be able to open it up yet. But it is given; Christ has given himself as a free gift. And there will come a day in that child’s life when they will open that gift and understand what it means. It might even take an entire lifetime to fully unpack that gift – in fact, it does take us all a lifetime to unpack the gift of Christ, growing to understand our redemption, salvation, and sanctification.
One last thing. I believe that infant baptism is not a symbol, but a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Something spiritual happens within the child, cleansing them, anointing them, joining them with Christ, and with the communion of saints and the body, that is the Church. It is both a gift of grace and a response to grace. It truly is a mysterion (the Greek word for sacrament, meaning “mystery”).
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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