Baptism Into God's Family

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IntolerantElle has a question for those who see baptism as a means of grace. Why do parents not baptize their children as soon as possible after birth? Now I believe she has in mind the Lutheran view, but Presbyterians have some answer to this question that I don't think is available to Lutherans. The extent to which they see baptism as a means of grace isn't any more than Baptists see baby dedications as a means of grace, which is pretty much equivalent to how all Christians see preaching, godly correction, Bible study, or the gift of encouragement as a means of grace. What's more difficult is if you mean something stronger in seeing it as a means of grace, which I think Lutherans do. But the most intriguing element of her post is the closing line, because it raises the issue that most fundamentally convinced me of the wrongness of paedobaptism, and it's something so radical that I refused to believe that paedobaptists really taught this until some of them insisted on it to me as an argument for their view. IntolerantElle says, "I know I couldn't stand to look my newborn in the eyes and know I was the one responsible for keeping him from being part of God's family."

That's what I think is the biggest anomaly in the paedobaptist view. The idea is that baptism brings you into God's family, as if outward washings are the effective agent of who is in Christ and who isn't in Christ. I think you'd be hard-pressed to convince Paul that what brings someone into Christ is outward baptism rather than an inner work of God. Presbyterians are more likely to say that a baptized infant is now in the covenant, but it amounts to the same thing. Those in the covenant are those in God's family. What's odd to me is that they end up denying that someone in the covenant is saved, which amounts to saying that those in God's family aren't all saved. There are genuine reprobates in the new covenant and thus in the family of God, which means there are genuine reprobates who are in Christ. They won't remain in Christ, and thus they're not elect, but that doesn't stop this view from undermining the fundamental biblical divide between those in Christ and those not in Christ.

I say this as someone who happily attends a congregation that will honor parents' convictions on this issue, which I think is the correct view for a congregation to take, and I say it as someone who sees what paedobaptists doing with their children as the same as what credobaptists do when they decicate (with confirmation and credobaptism as serving the an equivalent purpose at an older age). My willingness to say all that doesn't stop me from thinking the paedobaptist view is false.

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I was asleep at the switch and managed to miss this post by Jeremy Pierce called Baptism Into God's Family. Jeremy is arguing against infant baptism and there is a lengthy section of the post that I want to quote Read More

18 Comments

In many respects I think this is a continuation of the old dissension on transubtantiation and memorial in the question of the Lord's Supper. It is a difference of the representation of something and the substance of the thing.

Baptism is a symbol of something very real that takes place, but it is not that thing, or as you put it:"as if outward washings are the effective agent of who is in Christ and who isn't in Christ".

If we believe that we are justified through faith and saved by grace.... then all the outward accoutrements are simply bearing witness to a fact, not instrumental in creating the fact.

In some ways I see this as man wresting from God, again. Instead of submission to Truth and receiving and responding being all dependent upon God, man again tries to take credit by something that he does- or somehow invalidates by what is not done.

This matter of salvation is totally within the confines of what God does... all our works are born from that, and in no way causative, but this just shows how loathe man is to give up claim to some of the glory. And that is the case in all these questions. A refusal to see ones own helplessness, but also a refusal to see God in His Glory as being worthy of every shred of gratefulness.


Amazing, but all these years later "protestants" are still attempting to remake the Faith.

Or every man a pope.

I don't think the metaphysical basis of the Catholic reason for seeing the eucharist as a means of grace is necessary for seeing it as a means of grace. You don't have to think of it as the same event of Christ's sacrifice spread out through time to see it as God's grace transforming someone. So it's not the same issue reasserting itself. The Presbyterian view is part of the Roman Catholic view but not all of it. The Lutheran view is a little more of it but still not from the same basis.

All babies go to heaven. Period. I just can't see it any other way. Especially with the abortion rate. I know I have no theological basis for this, so I'm going totally by my heart and what I know of God's character.

I like the point that you make with this post, though, Jeremy.

You're right that there's no theological basis for that view, Marla, unless there's a theological basis for universalism anyway. I think the biblical statements about original sin, God's wrath, God's justice, everyone's deserving of hell without exception, and the necessity of trusting in Christ explicitly should lead us to the opposite assumption, but it's not something I'll be dogmatic about. It's an assumption based on the general statements in scripture that one should think would be qualified at least somewhere if this were a real exception.

I guess that it may be a weak theological basis, but would a just God condem a life that never experienced free will? Additionally, does not the Bar Mitzvah serve to recognize the time when one is old enough to make a decision and maturally understand freewill?

I see in the scriptures that although there is doctrine of original sin, it is not activated until sin is committed. Otherwise God would be unjust; Christ said: "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." I believe this is the place of grace for the unborn and infants. If they live long enough they are doomed to sin at some point... and need to volitionally accept the salvation of Christ.

As for popes: we may not all be popes, but surely every pope is, like all of us, a sinner saved by grace. Amen?

I don't see anything in the Bible about free will as necessary for damnation. I don't see anything about sin not taking effect until sins are committed. It's a sin nature. Very young children are enemies of God as much as any unregenerate person is. Might it not be as unjust to save them without overcoming the problem that's true of every human being as it would be to save Hitler without dealing with his problem of sin? Damnation in scripture is not about how badly one has sinned. It's about possessing a nature opposed to God.

The only way children could be saved is through regeneration by the Holy Spirit. I don't see any time in scripture when that clearly happens aside from belief, and I do statements that say it can only happen with belief. God would have to do a special work of regeneration with each child who would die young enough. I won't rule that out as impossible, but I don't see any support for it. I also don't see anything about bar mitvahs in the Bible, never mind anything about bar mitzvahs as a ground for when salvation isn't automatic. There's an age for military service, and there's an age for Levites to begin their tabernacle/temple service, but those ages are much older than the contemporary bar mitvah age.

God is just; I have faith that whatever happens is just. Even though the answer is not clear, could God be anything but just?

Jeremy, I repeated my view here, so you might want to see Jared of the Thinklings' response:

http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/intellectuelle/archives/001435.html

I also brought up another point. What about Jesus saying that we must be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven? Who is more like a child than an actual child? Doesn't it imply that children are innocent, though they have a sinful nature? Don't mean to tread on inclusivism, and I know this could turn into the abortion debate (when does a fetus become a person, when does a child become an adult). I'm curious about the original language of the Bible when referring to salvation--does it apply to all persons or just adults (men and women)? I know there are specific verses directed at or about children, but not in terms of salvation. I'm sure you think I'm grasping at straws here (or strawmen) but since the Bible doesn't specifically address this issue, I'd like to think that God's character of justice and mercy would result in the salvation of babies, and dare I say, children who die. Okay, crucify my thinking ;)

I don't think Jesus meant that we must first become innocent before we can be saved. That would be a sure way to earn our salvation. The point about children is that children are trusting and don't let all sorts of other concerns get in the way.

Actually, I don't think that Jesus meant that we must become innocent or that we need to be trusting (though we do). The context of Jesus' statement is a question about who is greatest in the Kingdom. It is a social status question. Jesus essentially answers "those like children". And in that time and place, children had a similar social standing to slaves--they were towards or at the bottom of the social standings.

This interpretation corrosponds well with Jesus' statements about the humble being lifted up, the first being last and the last being first, etc. Greatness, in God's economy, is totally upsidedown from our view of it.

Maybe that's so for Matthew 18, which explicitly speaks of humbling yourself like a child, but there are other places where he gives this sort of statement.

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children (Matthew 11:25, ESV)

This one clearly shows a contrast between those who have learned a lot and those who haven't. You might see some connection between the learned and pride and the ignorant and humility, but I don;t think that's the main point. There's something about those who don't have a lot of knowledge that we must have to understand the things of God. It seems much more likely to me that it's about those who are willing to be taught and those who think they've learned it all.

I more or less agree with Jeremy; It is the strength of the faith of a child that we are asked to have. Father say do "A," child does "A" without second thought, having a level of faith that only a child could have.

Good point. I was clearly thinking of a different passage than you were.

Hi Jeremy,
I agree with the post. Picking up on the comments, and speaking as an ex-Catholic, I think I see what Ilona was getting at with the transubstantion example. It is similar in the sense that it holds one is saved (or in the covenant - same thing) by an action. With transubstantion one simply consumes the host (wafer) - that's it. Now Jesus is "in you". Yet this doesn't deal with a whole range of necessities in itself. Like all analogies it will break down on some details, as you point out.
I have seen this issue - infant salvation - debated beofre and it is a difficult one because scripture is largely silent. You said:
"The only way children could be saved is through regeneration by the Holy Spirit. I don't see any time in scripture when that clearly happens aside from belief, and I do statements that say it can only happen with belief."
I point some-one once made in another discussion on this issue (not on a blog) was that we don't know if the infant believes. Or what God takes as belief. We think in terms of language - yet God can communicate in other ways. And then there's the knotty theological problem of timing, which gets a bit mechanical and possibly contrived - regeneration before belief, simultaneous with, or after. I go with either of the first two options there - the third is getting Arminian.
I don't agree with Marla's position, which seems to be wishful thinking.
Good post and good discussion.

As I said, I have no problem with regeneration at a very early age. It seems to have taken place with John the Baptist in the womb, though that's not 100% clear. I'm not sure why we should insist on it with every child who will die young, as Marla's view requires, or assume it with children on the grounds that they're ours and baptized, as paedobaptism almost amounts to. I have no problem with it in principle and think it probably occurs.

on babies going to heaven (or not)

If we trust that God cannot make a mistake, then we must trust him to do the right thing here, also.

This is a hard pill for me (I lost five babies before I had my son and one of them is his twin) - - I would truly like Biblical reassurance that all babies go to heaven.

MacArthur and Spurgeon believe that all babies that die will go to heaven (MacArthur says, "instant heaven"). Spurgeon believed that the God that ordained that these babies would die before they could accept or reject Christ would, by the sovereign grace of God, be elect.

I'm just trusting God - knowing that I'll get to heaven and know that, whatever the outcome, God doesn't make any mistakes.

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