Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Infant Baptism

Wednesday after Pentecost 17
September 30, 2009

The Lord be with you

On August 23 I put a post about the ELCA’s recent decision concerning the acceptance of active homosexuals as pastors on this blog. Chris left a comment on that post, mainly about infant baptism, prompted by my profile description. We had a short exchange of comments on infant baptism, and other topics. As it has been over a month since Christ has left a new comment, I assume the exchange is over. It has occurred to me that those portions of this exchange concerning infant baptism might be of interest to others. What follows are those portions.

8/23 – Chris wrote: … I am intrigued by your profile where you state: "I was blessed to have parents that had me baptized as an infant and I've been a Christian ever since."

1. Where in the Bible does God command "babies" or young children to get baptized?

2. Where in the Bible do you find an example of a baby or young child who gets baptized and is then recognized as a Christian?

3. How can a baby repent of sin, have faith in Jesus Christ, and be baptized of the Spirit (which the Bible clearly tells us is the way to become a Christian)?

If you don't have a Biblical answer to these questions (especially #3), how can you honestly say you were a "Christian" from the time you were a baby?

I am genuinely interested in your response.

8/23 – Chris wrote: I wanted to clarify my questions.

- While I understand there aren't necessarily any references to the "elderly" being baptized in the Bible, you would agree there are references to "adults" being baptized? I'm sure you would also agree that the elderly would be referred to as adults, right?

- When Jesus states in Matthew 28:19, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," you wouldn't think this means we should "force" an adult to get baptized (by water) because they are in these nations? Do you? What if we did force an adult to get baptized (and they didn't believe)? Would God recognize it? If not, then why should we "force" a baby to get baptized without his or her permission (or proof of repentance of sins)?

- According to Mark 16:16, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; he who believes not shall be damned." If a baby gets baptized and does not believe, how can they be saved? Besides a speculative interpretation of Luke 18 (which doesn't specifically say babies can believe in Christ), where does the Bible specifically say they can believe and have faith?

- As for Colossians 2:11-12, you would agree that "circumcision made without hands" refers also to baptism of the Spirit instead of just a physical immersion or sprinkling of water? Without repentance of sins or faith in Christ, how can a baby be circumcised by the Spirit?

I hope you do not think I'm trying to attack you. I'm genuinely interested in your position.

8/24 – I wrote: Answering your questions about baptism and salvation could easily fill a book. I’ll try to be brief …

The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23);” that “all” includes adults, children and infants.

The Bible teaches that we are “saved by grace through faith” in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9). No other means of salvation is available, not for adults, not for children, and not for infants.

If infants and children cannot believe, then infants and children cannot be saved. But Scripture teaches that infants and children can believe. Infant faith is depicted in Ps 8:2, which is quoted by our Lord in Matt 21:16. In Lk 18:15 we read that people were bringing “even infants” to the Lord. The Greek is ta brefā, which can only mean infants. When the adults tried to prevent this Jesus rebuked them and said, in referring to the children, “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” But the only way this response of our Lord’s could be accurate is if the children had faith. In Matt 18:6 we are warned to not cause “little ones” to stumble in their faith. More passages could be added to show that small children, even infants, can have faith.

Repentance and faith in Christ are gifts from God, the work of the Holy Spirit. We contribute nothing to this work, as Scripture makes very clear in places like Eph 2:8-9, 2 Cor 3:5; Ro 3:27-28.

Certainly a sound biblical message is one way the Holy Spirit works this miracle of salvation (2 Thess 2:14). In Lutheran circles, therefore, we call the Word of God a “Means of Grace.” That is, it is a means God uses to bring his grace to us.

Another way the Holy Spirit can work faith in the heart is through Baptism. 1 Peter 3:21 says, “baptism now saves you.” You cannot be saved if you do not have faith in Jesus. If baptism saves you then baptism is a means the Spirit uses to give faith. Peter makes this clear that he is speaking of a normal baptism with water by referring to the effect of the water as not simply being the removal of dirt. Instead baptism guarantees a “good conscience before God.” A good conscience before God can only be received by grace through faith, therefore baptism must give the gift of faith.

In Acts 22:16 we read, “Get up, and calling on His Name, be baptized and have your sins washed away.” In 1 Cor 6:11 we read, “but you have been washed (referring to baptism), you have been made holy, you have been justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” In Eph. 5:26 baptism is called a “washing of regeneration.” Passages like these can easily be multiplied.

The book of Acts covers the first couple of decades of Church history. During this time Christianity was a minority religion. Wherever the Gospel went, everyone was a non-Christian. Naturally it would be adults that were getting baptized. However there are the well-know “household” passages (Acts 11:14; 16:15, 33). In a world without birth-control, it is unreasonable to assume there were no small children or infants.

There are also the words of Peter in his Pentecost sermon. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all who are far away, all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). The promise of baptism is not “for your children after they become adults.” The promise of baptism is not for “all the adults who are far off.” Notice also the connection between baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit in Peter’s words.

Jesus says in Matt 18 28, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them …” He did not say, teach and baptize, but baptize and teach. Also, children, even infants, are part of all nations. Jesus didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all adults in the nations …”

You speak of forcing someone to be baptized, as if baptizing a child is “forcing” something. God does not “force” us to faith. The Spirit gives us faith. Unless you feel all gifts are being forced upon you, then the connection of being “forced” to be baptized doesn’t apply. A baby being baptized is no more forced to faith than any adult that is equally dependent on the work of the Spirit. The Spirit creates in us a willing spirit (Ps 51:10), no matter what age we are when he works his miracle of faith. Would you say that a mother is “forcing” her child to eat? Neither does baptism force faith.

As for Colossians 2:11-12, it is a reference to real baptism, with water and the Spirit, as Peter described in his Pentecost sermon. There is no biblical reason to separate the work of the Holy Spirit from baptism. Paul describes baptism in Titus 3 as a washing of water with the word. Through the word of God the Spirit puts God’s grace in it. Faith clings to those promises. I’ve only gone over a few of the promises.

Actually baptizing infants is a powerful statement about being saved by grace through faith and not by our works. As we get older we try to take credit for our salvation by claiming we did something; (had a good disposition, said some kind of prayer, made a decision for Jesus, etc.) to become Christians. This can lead us to trust in whatever we “did” instead of trusting Jesus. A baby cannot claim they did anything. They simply receive God’s grace, the gift of faith.

Finally, and I have to say this, it worked for me and millions of other alive today, and uncounted billions who have gone before. I, like they, trust in Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Triune God, as my Savior. He is our Lord. He granted us faith and salvation through the waters of baptism. We believe that we must stand with the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the ages on this point.

As the 300-year-old hymn put it:

Baptized into Your name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among Your saints, Your chosen host.
Buried with Christ and dead to sin,
Your Spirit now shall live within

8/24 – Chris wrote: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I was saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ only three months ago and am unfamiliar with Lutheran doctrines. Like I said before, I hope you don't think I am attacking you with my questions. Sometimes it's difficult to hear someone's voice through a computer screen. I hope you don't mind if I ask you some additional questions after I study in more depth (and meditate on) the verses you quoted.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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