Few, if any, topics foster more dissention between various Christian denominations than baptism, particularly infant baptism. There are tremendous differences concerning the purpose, method and timing (age of the one being baptized) of baptism. This has been so since the very earliest days of the universal church.
Within Christianity, baptism is universally viewed as the application of water to a person. It is one of the earliest processes by which that individual enters into the fellowship of a congregation or the universal church. Beyond this, there are widely divergent views on baptism.
Three Views on the Nature of Baptism
The Sacramental View
According to this belief, baptism is the means by which God conveys grace. The person being baptized receives REMISSION from sins and is given a new nature. This is often referred to as being “born again.”
In some denominations the belief is that the power to convey grace is within the rite (or sacrament) itself. It is not the water, but the sacrament as established by God and administered by the church that produces a change within the individual.
In other denominations following the sacramental view it is the faith within of the person being baptized that is emphasized.
The primary scriptural reference given for the sacramental view is John 3:5:
|Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.|
The Covenantal View
This view holds that baptism is a sign and seal of the Covenant that God made to save humankind. God forgives and regenerates. Not only is baptism a sign of the covenant, it is also the means by which people enter into the covenant.
Under this New Testament view, baptism serves the same basic purpose that circumcision did for those in the Old Testament. Baptism symbolizes a washing away of sin and a spiritual renewal.
The Covenantal View is supported by Colossians 2:11-12:
|In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.|
The Symbolic View
This view stresses that baptism does not, in and of itself, cause a change in the person or his relationship with God. Instead, baptism is an outward sign of the inner change that has already taken place within the individual. It is a public testimony of the change that has already occurred. No spiritual benefit derives directly from baptism.
Scriptural support can be found in Romans 6:3-4:
|Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.|
(Most of the above information is taken from Nelson’s New Illustrated Dictionary)
As you can see these views differ widely.
These denominational and doctrinal differences run even deeper. The basic question is: Should a person be baptized as an infant or should baptism be delayed until the person has come to a personal, conscious decision to be baptized.
This is no small difference. The beliefs run from “until baptized, one can not enter heaven” to “it is an abomination to baptize an infant.”
The Case for Infant Baptism
Groups who practice infant baptism also have adult baptism. The following arguments support infant baptism:
1. In the New Testament, entire households were baptized. This would have included infants.
2. Jesus commanded that His disciples bring children to Him. When they did so, Jesus blessed them.
3. For those who hold the covenantal view, children were participants in the OT covenant made with Abraham.
4. For those with the sacramental view, unbaptized individuals can not enter heaven. Therefore, anyone who dies without being baptized will enter some state of limbo.
5. Historically and traditionally, infant baptism has been practiced since as early as the 2nd century.
The Case for Believer’s Baptism
Those holding this view believe that baptism should be restricted to those who actually exercise faith. Infants, of course, are not capable of making this decision. Normally, baptism under this belief would not take place until the “middle school” years, or even much later.
The following are the arguments most often offered by those supporting believer’s baptism:
1. In every incidence in the NT where the person being baptized is named or known that person was an adult. Church repentance and confession of faith came before baptism.
2. None of the scriptural references to “baptism of households” specifically mention infants.
3. Jesus’ blessings of children do not specifically mention baptism.
Many of those groups that practice “believer’s baptism” do have a ritual called “child dedication.” This ritual is basically a declaration by the child’s parents and the congregation that the child bill be brought up within a believer’s household and be led toward their own faith.
I pray that this blog be read as it is intended, to build the Body of Christ.
Alive in The Word