Why worry about baptism?
Lately, I have been thinking lots about baptism. I am talking to people, posting thoughts on facebook, listening to talks and reading a really helpful book called, “Baptism: Three Views“.Â My aim is to reach a biblically faithful understanding of baptism and come to some conclusion as to which “camp” I sit in. There are many different understandings of baptism and people have debated it for centuries, but I am only considering three basic views – “pedo-baptism” (the idea that it’s appropriate to baptise children of Christian parents), “credo-baptism” (the idea that only professing Christians should be baptised) and “inbetweedo-baptism” (not a real term, but represents the view that either position is ok and there does not need to be uniformity between Christians on the issue).
But as the title of this blog asks… why worry about baptism? Why go to such lengths to think through an issue that may not be resolvable and is definitely not core to the gospel? Well, firstly I do want to acknowledge that I do think this is not a core gospel issue. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, a point that is most clearly shown by the story in Acts 10:43-48 where people respond to the call to believe in Jesus for forgiveness, are born again and given theÂ Holy Spirit, and after all that are baptised. Only Jesus saves us and he does so when we put our faith in him, which is why Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “It is by graceÂ you have been saved,Â through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –Â not by works,Â so that no one can boast.” Baptism doesn’t save us, so why worry about it?
Well, baptism might not be necessary for salvation, but it is connected with salvation. All the views of baptism that I respect (namely the three that I mentioned above) acknowledge that baptism is an important ritual that Jesus commanded his disciples to perform as they spread the message of the gospel and made disciples. The final words of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s gospel record this command: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Â Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,Â baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,Â and teachingÂ them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with youÂ always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Any Christian that takes seriously Jesus’ authority and his command for us to make disciples and spread his teaching, has to engage with what he means when he commands us to “baptise”.
First and foremost, it must challenge all Christians to get baptised themselves. There may be muchÂ debate about whether or not we should baptise our kids, but if you are an un-baptised Christian, then the call and biblical expectation to get baptised is a no-brainer. I understand some Christians may want to think through exactly what it all means, or they may be unsure about the mode of baptism (dunk or pour), or they want to make the event something their friends and family can come to, but those concerns should not drag on too long. We should rather have the enthusiasm of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36, who after comprehendingÂ the gospel, said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” To put it off indefinitely or to simply ignore it,Â is I think, dishonouring to the beautiful ritual that baptism is supposed to be.Â At best it is a sign of being ignorant of the importance Scripture puts on it, and at worst it is an act of willing disobedience to the clear command of Jesus. So, if you haven’t done it and you’re a follower of Jesus, then get your bathers and get on with it!
MY JOURNEY WITH BAPTISM
So baptism is important to think about for all Christians, but why am I particularly engaging with this issue now? Well, the answer is in the blog I wrote before this one. I have a baby on the way. And so, I feel I need to come to some conclusion as to whether or not God wants me to get my child baptised. One thing I have come to realise is, I can’t do nothing. I can’t sit on the fence indefinitely. Basically, if I think about it for 20 years and then decide I believe that the pedobaptist view is correct, it’s a bit too late. It’s like someone driving towards a cliff asÂ they are asking themselves “To be or not to be”. Once they hit the cliff, they have decided “not to be” whether they are ready for it or not! In the end, I do think there is some merit to the case for pedobaptism and so I think I should consider it before my child is too old and I have accepted the “credobaptist” position by default!
Even though my child’s impending birthday does create a sense of urgency (if you can call 6 months “urgent”), even before I was married I was interested in understanding baptism. You see, I was brought up in aÂ Catholic family and so was baptised as an infant myself. For most of my childhood I didn’t contemplate my own baptism, but it did effect the way I understood Christianity. I was always taught that my baptism was like my ticket into heaven, and because of it, I was a child of God.
As opposed to what I now know the bible teaches, the Catholic Church’s position is that God uses the actual act of baptism to save us. The Catholic Catechism teaches: “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the SpiritÂ and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”Â
Due to this teaching, I always just presumed I had a relationship with God and so I did not engage with the message of the gospel or the call to put my trust in Jesus for my forgiveness. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I started to question this idea. Despite being told I was right with God, I didn’t feel it. It didn’t ring true to my experience.
At aged 16, I finally heard the message that I could beÂ freed from my sin and received this rebirth as a child of God, not through my baptism, but through trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection. I heard this message through a pentecostal family, who were very much “credobaptists”. The daughter, who I was dating at the time, even told me how she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Saviour and was baptised at the young age of 5!
After becoming a Christian I developed a real disgust with the idea of infant baptism. After all, it was my infant baptism that lied to me that I was already right with God and prevented me from seeking the truth about the gospel. At least, that’s how I felt. I came to think that infant baptism was the primary thing wrong with the Catholic Church and was the cause of most of their problems. Also, I had such a wonderful example of “believer” baptism in this pentecostal family’s testimony and now, my own experience.
I would have happily remained a devout credobaptist if it wasn’t for the Christian Union. If you haven’t heard of them, they are a wonderfulÂ evangelical group that meets on University campuses around Australia, teaching, evangelising, training and mentoring students. It was through the Christian Union (or CU as we called it) that I really started to delve into studying the Bible. The pentecostal church I had started going to was loving and full of enthusiasm, but they were not good at bible teaching. It was the CU that helped me study the bible, write bible studies, ask questions, seek answers, engage in robust theological discussion and get a fuller and clearerÂ understanding of the gospel.
The CU (and its parent organisation, AFES) is made up of lots of denominations, but clearly there was a dominance of Anglican and Presbyterian churches. It was through the CU that I started attending Bundoora Presbyterian Church (a church I have now been going to for aroundÂ 14 years). It was also through the CU that I heard the crazy idea that some Christians who knew the gospel and studied the bible, also believed that you could baptise infants!
You can image how shocked I was. For nearly 5 years I had believed that infant baptism was the biggest poison to true Christianity. I was thoroughly convinced that no valid biblical argument could be made for pedobaptism, but, not wanting to be stubborn in my beliefs, I was willing to be swayed. I looked for a solid biblical article that would explain the position to me, and low and behold… I found one! I am very sad to report I can’t supply a copy of this article, but I can testify to it’s arguments being solid and biblically based. It didn’t completely convince me, but it did show me that there was more to this debate than just what I had experienced in my childhood and conversion.
From that point on, I was pretty much “on the fence” on the issue. Over the years I have done some thinking and discussing on the issue, but nothing that would compel me to pick a side. I would hear one argument and find it robust and convincing, but then I would hear a valid rebuttle and a presentation of the opposing view that was also robust and convincing.
As I said earlier, with a child on the way I feel I should once again pick up this issue and see if I can come to any settled position. Although I am an active member in my local presbyterian church, I feel no specific loyalty to agree with its position on this matter. My minister, Neil Chambers, is wise and very biblical, keeping our church focussed on the core issues of the gospel and not forcing people to agree with the official presbyterian position on an issue is not clear in Scripture. He definitely is a pedobaptist, but he would not expect I would have to agree with that position in order to be a member or be involved in church ministry. His focus has always be that Christian parents raise their children to love Jesus, whether they baptise them or not.
So, here I am, still on the fence. After years of reading and discussing, I feel I am getting a good grasp on both sides of the debate. In fact, if you are fully convinced of either position, I reckon I could happily and passionately argue for the opposing view. This doesn’t help me in my goal to reach some conclusion myself, but it does give me a respect for both sides, a humility when it comes to these issues, and an acknowledgement that neither side is “clearly” wrong or wildly unbiblical.
Now, I haven’t actually gone into the arguments for either position in this blog. This is partly because I am still reading the book “Baptism: Three Views” and wanting to solidify my thoughts a bit more. I will hopefully write another blog down the track to reveal and explain which position I have decided upon, when (or if) I eventually reach a decision. I just thought I’d write this blog to explain a bit of my journey so far and why I find it personally very stimulating, engaging and interesting to think about the issue of baptism.
To aid my journey, please feel free to do the following, either in the comments on this blog, or in an email to me personally:
- Share your own journey and questions relating to this issue.
- Pass on any articles, sermons or thoughts that you find explain either position well.
- Catch up with me to ask your own questions or to discuss or debate the topic with me. I’d love that!
Please also pray for me. This issue may be complex and both sides may have valid arguments, but I do want to be faithful to Scripture and the commands of Jesus, in how I think about this issue. At the same time, I don’t want to give this issue more time than I should. As my brother Tony advised me, ‘I believe with the first child your primary thought will be “I must not drop you” until you relax. Just enjoy those early days.’Â Good counsel.
So, why worry about baptism? Well, I don’t plan to worry too much. But I am looking forward to the journey.Â
In the meantime, if you want a laugh, have a read of a funny post I wrote on this topic last year…10 alternatives to â€œcredobaptismâ€ & â€œpaedobaptismâ€
1) I think one thing you need to ask yourself is, what does my partner want. It takes two to have a child.
2) Obviously you will be bringing the child up to love God, so personally I don’t see the rush. Maybe all your children can be baptised together when you have the last – if you fall that side of the fence by then! They are already safe with Jesus until they choose otherwise.
Lynley, thanks for your comments.
1) I am discussing it extensively with my wife. Hopefully, we will be in harmony and agreement in the position we finally come to. But in the end, we both have to come to the position individually. If there is a “right” and “wrong” position (which there may not be), then neither my wife nor I should reach our decision based on what the other would prefer. In the same way I don’t want to discount infant baptism just because of my experience and I wouldn’t want to embrace infant baptism just because my minister believes it, I also don’t want my wife to be swayed by my conclusion or visa versa. Naturally, that creates a complexity if we reach different conclusions, but we will cross that bridge if it comes.
2) I agree there really is no big rush, and I love the idea of our whole family being baptised together! As for your comment that “they are already safe with Jesus until they choose otherwise”, what do you mean by “safe”?
I believe a person is covered by the sacrifice of Jesus until they ‘come of age’ and choose to be covered by Jesus sacrifice or reject him. I do not believe being baptised gives any one a special claim to eternal life. I believe baptism is a witness – testimony. For the believer it is a witness to his/her choice to follow Jesus. For the infant it is a witness that the parents desire to bring the child up to follow Jesus.
Hi Simon. I had my children baptised as babies which I no longer agree with. I am a believer of adult baptism after you have made up your own mind. However, I agree that baptism doesn’t save you. I believe that children will go to Heaven. I believe that at some point we do have to make a decision to agree with Jesus in what He has already done for us. I believe baptism is a sign that we agree with Jesus that He died and we died with Him and He rose again and we rose too. Just my thoughts these days.
Hi Simon. I’ll try and catch up with you once I’ve written my sermons on baptism in the next few weeks (preaching them on the 18th and 25th). I’m convinced of paedo-baptism, although I agree it’s not a salvation issue and it’s tricky to understand at times. Here are some thoughts I have rattling around in my head.
– Baptism is a sign of Gods covenant relationship with his people that seems to operate a lot like circumcision. They both point to membership of an earthly group of people but also point to the same spiritual process, namely regeneration (which only those who have faith receive). Colossians 2:11-13 makes this link.
– Baptism is a seal from God, a guarantee that if the recipient has faith, they will receive the spiritual reality being signified. If baptism was merely a sign of my commitment to God then I’d possibly need to get re-baptised every time I stumbled (something that some churches actually practice). Therefore baptism is most properly about Gods commitment, not mine.
– Since the children of Israelites were considered members of Gods covenant people (at least the visible, earthly group) they were to receive the sign of circumcision. If after Christ, children are no longer part of Gods people (as the credo-baptist position teaches), then surely there would have been a command in the New Testament to NOT give children the new covenant sign.
– I could go on but I won’t …
I was baptised as a baby and then when I was about 15 decided – based on not a lot other than a ‘vibe’ – I was angry with my parents for doing so. I didn’t get re-baptized though because although I didn’t think my paedo-baptism was biblical I was prepared to go as far as saying it was ‘invalid.’
When I went to Ridley as an 18 year old I read some more about it and also at that time started being influenced by a lot of American Baptists and independents like Piper, Carson & Driscoll, I became a more convinced of credo-baptism. I also went through Anglican formation and did placements at various Anglican churches as I was preparing to be ordained. At these churches, which were a bit ‘higher’ than the church I’d grown up in (St. Hilary’s Kew), what I experienced really put me off infant baptism. I saw these families coming in about once a month or so (at one church in particular there were a lot of these and there was a popular school nearby that I think you needed a baptism certificate to get into) to get their kid ‘done’. They would come in with about 100 relatives, all dressed up, take lots of photos, completely take over our church service and then leave, never to be seen again. And this kept happening. After a while my wife and I just started saying ‘What is going on here? Why on earth are we doing this?’
I talked to the minister about it, who was also my supervisor at the time and his arguments were not persuasive at all. I was angry with him for letting these people take over our church service but more that I felt they were leaving with a really bad and dangerous view of things – that they had God’s blessing on their child because they had ‘done the right thing’ (or sometimes ‘done what grandma wanted’) and got them baptized (or ‘christened’ is what they’d usually call it). Had we just given them a false assurance?
A few years later we had our first child and the question came up again for me, similar to you right now. People stated asking me what I was going to do. I said ‘No way I’m baptising my child.’ In my experience all my close friends who were Christians didn’t baptise their kids but by non-Christian friends DID. So by this point it was almost ridiculous and like baptism was a sign that you were NOT a Christian. In my friendship group it was literally divided down the lines of unbelievers getting their kids baptised and believers not doing so.
BUT I started talking to a few more people about it, including a long discussion with Shane Rogerson on a clergy conference. He was the one mainly who bought me back to the paedo-baptist position. He asked me a number of questions like:
– Do you think your son is a Christian/do you treat him as a Christian? A. Yes
– Will your son go for Hawthorn (like you do) or will you let him ‘decide’ when he’s older? A. Hell no!!
– Are you really a Reformed bloke who believes salvation is really from the Lord? A. Yes
– Are you going to let abuses of infant baptism ruin it? ie. Reject, Accept, redeem. Mmmmmm
I think it was this last question that was the turning point for me. I’d read all the covenant stuff in college and understood the arguments there. BUt my experiences on placement left such a sour taste in my mouth i had let my experience trump everything else. I just didn’t want to be lumped in with all those people who had a superstitious view of baptism. But Shane got me thinking that that wasnt really a good reason.
So we baptised Declan and Grace a few years ago and we’ll hopefully get around to baptising Alexander soon. I see grace operating in their lives and I think they are part of our church family (God’s covenant family) so I baptise them. I like to preach when I do it about how this puts the focus on God’s work in salvation, not our work. I think it bucks against the individualism in our culture (‘my decision’). In other words I ‘redeem’ infant baptism when I do it, but clearly explaining what it means and what it doesn’t mean.
But I totally get people who are credo-baptists too. I don’t spend much time trying to convince people about this when there’s usually much bigger fish to fry.