Monthly Archives: November 2014

Infant vs Adult Baptism

Editor’s note:  This was undoubtedly written as a mental exercise when faced with members of his congregation that favored adult baptism over infant baptism and the problem of what to do about it.  He sent this note (which I did edit) to a number of individuals to get feedback.  The return correspondence didn’t completely support his conclusions and I am uncertain if that influenced his later thoughts on it. In any event, this reflects to some extent the time that it was written (probably late 1970s) as I believe that the Christian Reformed Church has since allowed at least local congregations to decide whether to allow children to partake in the Lord’s Supper. This is a good example of how he was ahead of his time and thought “outside the box”. 

The Christian Reformed Church, like many other churches, is committed to infant baptism.  However, there is NOT agreement as to its meaning.  One group says it is covenantal, like circumcision; the child belongs to the Christian community.  (I Cor 7:14)  Nothing is said as to the individual recipients’s salvation.  Romans says plainly that not all Old Testament covenant members were saved.  Others say that baptism is a symbol of salvation for adults and infants alike.  The problem with that is, what about the majority of baptized children who do not remain even church members upon reaching maturity?  Facts do not fit our wishes.  Our baptism forms are an attempt to say both views, and thus are self-contradicting.  Church order commentary is even more so.  Biggest compromise is rule regarding adopted children; baptism is optional!

Many calvinists do not believe in infant baptism.  And many Baptists believe that Christian’s children are covenantal, building Christian schools, etc.  And we have always recognized an accepted Triune baptism performed in any church, whether Catholic or Mormon, etc.  We insist that the mode of baptism is not important; while immersion may be preferable it may not always be practical.  As an aside, the large Eastern Orthodox church practices immersion of infants.

There are some members in our church that are being re-baptized (either mode) upon confirmation of faith or other occasion.  Synod, the CRC’s governing body, did not regard this as meriting discipline, but pastoral admonition, and the recipient should not be allowed to hold office in the church.  While Belgic Confession XXXIV says we “ought to baptized but once”, it may have in mind those who might want it repeated frequently, or those who say that their infant baptism was not valid.  Most Christian Reformed members re-baptized as adults regard it as a confirmation, re-affirmation, or personal validation of what their parents did in their behalf.  (Some denominations anoint with oil at “confirmation”.)  We recognize the difference between full and minor by means of admitting the former to the second sacrament, the Lord’s Supper.  (To speak of non-full members as “baptized” members is poor terminology;  ALL members are baptized!)  However, the propriety of limiting Communion to full members has been questioned; in the Old Testament EVERYBODY partook of the passover (which all agree has been replaced by the Lord’s Supper); some New Testament denominations allow children to participate.

To this point, I have stated the facts.  Now for a few observations:  First, any baptism should imply more for the recipient than merely belonging to the visible church.  A dedication ceremony would take care of that and recognize our children as special, deserving Christian nurture, etc.  But the very formula – “Into the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” means simply engrafting into Christ.  (One liturgical committee caught in a dilemma, sought to cut the Gordian knot by changing the formula to “in the name of”, which means simply baptizing by God’s authority, but leaving the meaning of the ceremony open.)  At one time in our short denomination history, parents who themselves were not full members could have their children baptized.  Meaning what it does (Mark 16:16) it would seem that those who cannot make a confession of their faith (children) cannot qualify for baptism.  Does the Bible give two grounds for baptism, or have two kinds, or have two meanings, one which applies to children, the other to adults?

Second, on the Indian Reservation (as well as in the Nigerian church) some covenantal children are not brought for baptism.  There may be a practical reason, e.g. the lack of ready availability of an ordained official.  Or is it confusion in their minds as to baptism’s meaning, which seems to mean something so much different in the adults’ experience from that of the unconscious child’s situation?  Regarding the converts’ children who ARE baptized as children, the fall-away rate is great; is it that THEY have a casual, presumptuous attitude toward their “easy” baptism?  Might not dedication in every case make the assumption of parental covenantal responsibilities more obvious, plus the recipients personal ones, later?

To clarify, by “dedication,” I mean an official, formal ceremony in divine worship at which parents affirm, as presently, their own personal salvation, conviction of the fact of our natural birth in sin thru Adam, of the necessity of rebirth in Christ who died to take away the sin of the world, and a solemn promise to regard their child as a member of the covenant, with all the rights and responsibilities that this favored condition involves for the parents as well as the children.

The question may be asked as to whether this difference of infant vs adult baptism is one that is tolerable within a body of believers who are completely agreed as to such “fundamentals” as the Inspiration of Scripture, Deity of the Lord Jesus, Justification by Faith, etc.  In fact, a person may have reservations about infant baptism and be completely committed to such specific creedal standards as the Five Points of Calvinism, which do not concern themselves with the former question.

If advocates of infant baptism should argue – properly enough – that there ought to be some symbol, ceremony sacrament to mark the minor members of the ‘family of God’, as circumcision did (for only male children in the Old Testament), the obvious answer would be to let them share in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  If this seems unthinkable, remember:  1. Baptism is a once-and-for-all sacrament, while the Lord’s Supper is repeated and can be withheld at any time; 2. While baptism is an individual matter and could well wait for personal decision, the Lord’s Supper is by very nature and name a communal, familial affair;  3. There isn’t a shred of Scripture argument against it;  4. To the contrary, Scripture would favor it on the score that the Lord’s Supper has certainly come in the place of the Passover, in which ALL children took part, almost from birth.  (By contrast, the claim that baptism has come in the place of circumcision is highly inferential and is, of course, the very question at issue, and the subject of differing opinions within the Reformed tradition as well as with those outside it.)

Salvation vs Sanctification

Salvation (eternal life) is such a marvelous thing that it can be looked at from many different angles. (That’s why we have different Christian ‘denominations”.)  Part of being saved, being a Christian, is to have one’s sins forgiven, to be regarded as “not guilty”.  But that is only the legal side of it, like a person being allowed to drive a car or vote at a certain age, when perhaps he/she knows how to do these things long before, or perhaps never does know how.  Or, a bankrupt person might have all his debts paid and still not know how to manage money, so that he goes bankrupt all over again.  Or, a caucasian may adopt an orphan of a different race and give him money, education, and even his family name, but that will not make him a caucasian.

When God saves a person he/she becomes a new person.  (II Cor 5:17)  God puts His very life – eternal, perfect, wise, loving, patient – into that person.  It is like a heart transplant.  That is why, in some countries, when a person becomes a Christian he takes on a new name, to show that he is “somebody else”, different.  In heaven we will all have a personal, unique name, one of God’s endless number of names, like Comforter, Strong, Wise, etc.

This change is called “Sanctification”, “to be made holy”, good, God-like.  We use that word for two things (just as water is called H2O, because it is made up of hydrogen and oxygen).  Human beings consist of three “parts”; like animals, he has a body.  Like the angels, he has or is a soul (which is made up of mind, emotions or feelings, and a will, which is also our conscience, our decision-maker.)   Besides this he (she) is a spirit.  In Genesis we read that God made Adam’s body out of the ground (the same elements that are in vegetables that we eat), and breathed His life into Adam, and he became a living soul, person.   When Adam sinned, what he did was spit God’s spirit out of him, or cut the wire of life that connected him to God.  Spiritually he was dead, like a car with a dead battery, or a heart that stops beating.  (Adam kept on “living” for a while before he died physically, like a car can coast after the gas is all gone or the motor kills.)

When God saves us, he breathes his life (Spirit) back into us.  (John 20:22)  He does that through Christ, who was Holy Spirit-born, filled, and poured out, passing his life on to us, like a funnel, or a channel.  (Acts 2:33)  God uses us, in turn, to be channels of that same life, His Spirit, to others, just as he made human beings capable of being creators, re-producers, of fellow human-beings, in their own likeness.  (John 7:38)  So, we are sanctified, made perfect, the minute that we become a Christian.  The real “us”, our spirit, is completely holy, because his spirit is a “part” of Christ’s (God’s) Spirit, which is completely perfect.  (I Cor 1:30)

But, like a computer that has been programmed with some wrong or bad input, a person’s “soul” (his thinking, wishes/desires, and his decisions/will) has been programmed so long to like bad things, think wrongly, and make poor choices that his new spirit has to slowly but steadily change all this in his soul.  Now his body does not tell him what and when to eat (like animals and unconverted people), but his new “I”.  His ears and glands don’t tell him what music to play or what person to marry.  Christ in him(her) teaches him what is good, best, better; S(he) is not an imitator of “everybody else”, but is trans-formed, re-formed, re-newed bit by bit in mind, emotions, and will.  Now he is able to say, against Satan, other tempters, environment (like hunger, danger, lust) “I will/won’t”, and do it or not do it, according to what Christ in him decides.  (A Christian never says, “the good that I want to do, I cannot”, etc.  That is the experience of a self-saver, a penitent alcoholic without Christ, a “good neighbor”.)  This change of the soul is also called sanctification, and God/Christ does that too.  (Phil 2:13; 3:12-15)

So, it is not correct to say only that to be a Christian means that you will go to heaven when you die; it is something great and good that happens here and now, in this life, in body and soul.  It is not correct to say merely that Jesus died for you; Jesus could have died a thousand times and that would not get a single person into heaven.  Jesus rose from death and is alive right now, a human being, living his eternal life inside of each of his children, followers.  (The phrase “in Christ” is found 150 times in the New Testament.)  In the Old Testament God was with his people; now he is in us.  Being a church member is not the same as being a Christian; many church-leaders are lost now and forever.  It is not being a “good”, nice person; many will say in the judgement day that they did many wonderful “works”, miracles, even in Jesus’ name – think of the Red Cross, YMCA, etc.

Verses in Scripture that tell us that we have a new nature and our old one died (and is buried) include Ephesians 4:22-24, Col. 3:3; 5,9,10.  This is so real that the Bible says that when Christ died, we died with him, and when he rose, a new Person, we rose with him. (Rom 6:5-8; Col 2:9, 12; 3:1)  This is like our being “in” our parents before we were born, and after we are born we become more and more like them.