Theological Comment-Question of the Day

Jess and I are currently attending a weekly adult education class on the sacraments at our Anglican church. Since most of the class last spring was on Communion, the majority of the class this fall is dedicated to baptism. Being good Anglicans, the default position of the teacher and most of the parishioners is infant baptism. Jess and I, having been raised in free church traditions—and me specifically in a vaguely Anabaptist tradition—naturally default toward believer’s baptism. We are also parents of an infant . . . well, toddler. Naturally, Jess and I naturally find the discussions highly relevant and quite personal.

But this is all just backstory. What I’m thinking is, one of the many critiques of infant baptism by those of the believer’s baptism stripe is: not enough scriptural support! Fair enough in its own way. But. It seems that for infant baptizers, baptism is a way to deal with Original Sin. Infants are born dead in their sin. Infant baptism provides a way of salvation for babies who have no other way of being saved. There is plenty of scriptural support for Original Sin. Believer’s baptism people also believe in Original Sin, but deal with it differently, usually by way of some variation on a doctrine of the age of accountability (let’s call it AoA) for the young ‘un (i.e., since infants don’t really have a say in the matter, they are not held accountable for their sins until a certain age). This seems consistent with the believers baptism scheme overall, but not with Original Sin. It seems that the doctrine of Original Sin (remember: lots of scriptural support) would trump a doctrine of an age of accountability (for which there is no scriptural support whatsoever), thus making infant baptism, or some other practice or belief with more explanatory power than AoA, necessary.


10 comments so far

  1. chad on

    Is the question part of the “comment-question” of the day, “Am I right?”

  2. jeffreimer on

    Sure. Or “Do you agree?” Or “What am I overlooking?”

  3. Josh on

    The other thing I’ve heard argued is that God’s grace is what saves us anyway, baptism or no. So, God can save an infant who’s not been baptized same as he can save an adult who is. It’s all his grace. In my vaguely anabaptist tradition, age of accountability hasn’t really come up (for which I am thankful). I think we undervalue baptism in my tradition, but it seems more coherent to me than AoA, at least.

  4. jeffreimer on

    But where does that leave Original Sin? Are we “born dead in our sins” or do we grow into them (which sounds mildly Pelagian)?

  5. Dad on

    I understand that the Anglican Catechism answers the question, “What is required of persons to be baptized?” with the words, “Repentance, whereby they forsake sin, and faith, whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that sacrament.” It seems quite a stretch to extend that sacrament so described to someone who cannot repent, forsake sin, exercise faith, or believe the promises of God. Obviously the Anglicans have found a way to make that leap.

    It almost sounds like you’re suggesting that a believer baptism position does not account for original sin in infants before AoA. We certainly believe in ‘original sin’ (lots of Scriptural support). I think the believer baptism ‘solves’ the problem of original sin in infants by simply believing that God chooses to apply the benefits of the atonement of Christ to that infant before AoA. There is certainly at least as much Scriptural support for that explanation as the way to make the atonement efficacious for the infant (David’s comment about his son [‘I will go to him], Christ’s words [‘of such is the kingdom of God’]) as there is for the infant baptism position.

    Personally, I would modify your description of believer baptism advocates’ critique of infant baptism from ‘not enough Scriptural support’ to ‘essentially zero Scriptural support.’ I recognize the appeal to the ‘household’ baptism passages in Acts, but it does not necessarily follow that the baptism of an entire household included the baptism of infants, especially since the context is of adults coming to faith in Christ.

    Good discussion. I’d love to hear more of your thinking.

  6. RCochran on

    My question would be: In what way does infant baptism deal with Original Sin? I recognize that infant baptism was introduced, in part, to deal with “the problem,” but I’m not sure if there is any way to reason from Scripture that it does deal with the problem. The problem of Original Sin is solved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

    Despite the fact that I am a life long Baptist, there is much about infant baptism that appeals to me. But this argument, for me, isn’t really all that compelling.

  7. Kristi on

    I agree with Dad. It seems like you have to twist your reasoning to an extreme degree to justify infant baptism, and you don’t with believer’s baptism: the case is inherently clear and compelling from Scripture. My pastor at GEPC spent a whole Sunday teaching on the scriptural support for infant baptism while he was preaching through Acts, and while I found his arguments interesting, in the end, they just didn’t hold water with me, if you’ll pardon the expression. Too much contortion involved–like you’re trying to stretch Scripture to fit this tradition, rather than the other way round.

  8. jeffreimer on

    Thanks for your comments. I’m still thinking these through, and I want to respond, but other responsibilities prevent me from taking the time. If anybody else has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

  9. derekryanbrown on

    I agree with Ryan’s question (“In what way does infant baptism deal with Original Sin?”), for that seems to be the crux of the matter. Moreover, it raises the larger question, in what way does baptism (for anyone) deal with Original Sin?

    However one answers that question they must begin, I would argue, with Romans 5. There Paul makes it explicit that the sin brought into the world by Adam was dealt with by God in the cross of Christ. Baptism only comes up in ch. 6 after Paul has addressed the issue of how God has answered the plight of human sin. I know this doesn’t answer the whole issue, but I think it is important to bear in mind.

  10. Lucas on

    Okay, so I missed this conversation until now. Maybe nobody will be reading following this so my points will not be rebutted and so, I assume, correct in every way. I notice the comments so far are leaning pretty strongly for believer’s baptism. I, however, am a supporter of infant baptism and I would like to add a couple of thoughts into the mix. First, one can’t divide infant baptism from confirmation. The baptism of the infant, at least in the Methodist tradition, is a sacrament rooted entirely in the prevenient grace of God. Confirmation follows the AoA and is the time when the person responds to God’s grace with intentional commitment and affirms their baptism before the congregation (or is baptized if they weren’t as an infant).
    Secondly, I wonder why Calvinists would both not support infant baptism and seem to apply some apparent sense of efficacy to the believer’s decision to be baptized. It seems that given a Calvinistic understanding of grace would incline a person to see baptism as wholly out of the hands of any person. Yet, some of the anabaptist and free church supporters of believer’s baptism claim reformed theology… Does anyone have insight on this?
    Finally, I know that this is not an argument, especially for exegetically inclined folks, but it does strike me that the majority of Christians (globally and historically) have supported some understanding and practice of infant baptism. This includes the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and others who all practice infant baptism. Again, though not an argument, I think those who only support believer’s baptism do need to provide some clarity about how we are to interpret this.
    Interesting stuff!

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