05 March 2007

A Response to "Five reasons why I think Christians should baptise their children"

Andy puts forth five reasons why he thinks that infant baptism is the way to go:

1. The starting point is to say that baptism itself is important. On its own, the mere splashing or pouring or immersing in water may not necessarily mean much, but what that water points to are things of profound and amazing wonder - the washing away of sin, our burial and resurrection with Christ, and the pouring of God's Spirit into our hearts.

This is all well and good for the parents, but how is an infant to understand the meaning behind baptism?

3. It is often said that there is no precedent in the New Testament of children or infants being baptised. Putting aside the various "households" being baptised that are referred to in the book of Acts, this argument misses the whole point of Acts. The book of Acts is all about new converts, the first generation of believers.

Yes, but in the martyrdom narratives (e.g. Felicitas and Polycarp, etc.), and in the early Church in general, baptism was a big deal. In some instances, catechumens would prepare for a year or more before baptism. Although the shift to infant baptism, or at least its relative prevalence, was pretty early,1 adult baptism was the norm (at least for a while) for a reason.

4. One difficulty with so-called believers baptism is our definition of "belief" or "faith". We seem to require a faith that is sufficiently mature before qualifying for baptism. Why is not the faith of a three year old who knows that Jesus is God not sufficient faith?

Oh, a sticky wicket! This is me being nice: faith is mature when the implications of belief and intellectual assent are reasonably understood. Faith is "sufficiently mature" when one understands the implications of what they adhere to; when they are able to inquire and analyze.

This is me being mean: does any Christian really understand what they are assenting to on a doctrinal level? I don't think so. Case in point: "Why is not the faith of a three year old who knows that Jesus is God not sufficient faith?" Well, 1) because three year olds do not have the mental capacity to grapple with the metaphysical messiness of statements like "Jesus is God" (such a formulation, I may point out, completely fucks up the Trinity). 2) Because faith is not verbal assent. A three year old repeats the words without knowing what faith even is.

5. But in any event, ultimately baptism is not about my choice, my decision, my faith. What I love about infant baptism is that it shifts the emphasis to God's choice, God's decision and God's faithfulness.

But if it's God's choice, then why bother with baptism at all? If it is the agency of God which does all the work, why bother?

As the rite of passage into the community of believers, baptism should have as a pre-condition the full conscious assent of the baptized. Baptism is bundled up with an agreement of sorts, an agreement to even be a Christian, an agreement to believe certain things (implicitly at least), and an agreement to be a part of a community. This being the case, adult baptism is the way to go.

1. First solid evidence of infant baptism is in the early third century (The Story of Christianity, Gonzalez, p. 97).


steve said...

So what you are saying is that faith is not possible for those who cannot make an appropriate assent?

What do you do in the situation of the mental, spastics and children?

Do they need to come to an appropriate understanding of the trinity, atonemnet, or is salvation therefore lost to everyone becasue no one can fully and completely understand it like God can?

Walter Stringfellow said...

No, no that children are incapable of faith, but that as an intellectual and social commitment, those being baptized should be aware as possible of those things they are assenting to.

As for the severely mentally retarded, etc., you might as well baptize them at birth because their ability to make critical judgments might not make it past that of a child's anyway.

I don't think that knowing the fine points of the Trinity and so forth are prerequisites for Christian faith, but faith includes certain doctrinal points. If a person is capable, they should be aware as possible of the theology of their faith.

And what kind of God would send a "spastic" to Hell, anyway? ;)