Thinking Out Loud

December 29, 2016

The Opposite of Infant Baptism: Why Evangelicals Opt Out

This article was a link list item two weeks ago, but I found myself thinking about it somewhat continuously since, and last night it came up again at the supper table. The writer blogs at Patheos under the banner Troubler of Israel but I’m otherwise unfamiliar with his work.

I’ve quoted this in full, though you are strongly encouraged to read it at source and join the over 300 comments; just click the link in the title below. The only difference here is that I’ve placed one paragraph in bold face type which I believe deserves special attention.

The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies
by G. Shane Morris

Friends (especially those expecting children) ask me with surprising frequency why I believe in infant baptism. For a couple of years, I replied by giving what I think the best biblical reasons are. But I usually don’t take that route anymore, because I’ve realized that’s not what convinced me.

For most evangelicals, what stands in the way of baptizing infants isn’t a lack of biblical evidence, but an interpretive lens they wear when reading Scripture. That lens–shaped by revivals, rugged individualism, and a sacramental theology untethered from the church’s means of grace–makes conversion the chief article of the faith. We should expect this, since American evangelical theology was forged on the frontier, in camp meetings, to the sound of fire-and-brimstone preaching.

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term 'baptism.'

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term ‘baptism.’

The core assumption here is that you must have a conversion experience to be saved. You must turn away from a past life toward a new one, usually with tears and laments attesting your sincerity. And this view of Christianity works well in an evangelistic setting, where many have lived as open unbelievers. The problem is it’s an awkward fit when it comes to multi-generational faith.

Anyone who was raised in a Christian home and still believes in Jesus knows that there wasn’t a time when he or she transitioned from “unbelief” to “belief.” We were never “converted.” It was simply inculcated from infancy, and for as long as we can remember, we have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, whether we were baptized as a baby or not.

But because of the baptistic emphasis on conversion, many (if not most) raised in those churches found ourselves “converting” over and over, reciting the “sinner’s prayer” at countless altar calls during our childhood and teenage years, certain that each time, we were truly sincere, but always finding ourselves back at the altar. Some of us even asked to be re-baptized upon our fresh conversions. And everyone raised in evangelical churches will know what I mean when I say “testimony envy,”–that real and perverse jealousy you feel when someone who lived a nastier pre-conversion life than you shares their story.

This is where I think the chief difficulty with infant baptism lies, at least for American evangelicals. I don’t believe baptistic evangelicals really view their children as unregenerate pagans before their “credible profession of faith.” If they did, they wouldn’t teach them to say the Lord’s Prayer or to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I think what’s really going on is a kind of alternative sacramentalism, where a dramatic conversion experience, rather than baptism, is the rite of Christian initiation.

Thus, children raised in this setting feel the need to manufacture tearful conversions over and over to prove their sincerity. And rather than their present trust in Christ, they’re taught (implicitly or explicitly) to look back to a time, a place, and a prayer, and stake their salvation on that.

Infant baptism runs counter to this entire system. It declares visibly that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their “conversions.” It illustrates that the branches God grafts in to His Son aren’t sterile. They bud and blossom, producing new branches that have never drunk another tree’s sap. And most importantly, it matches the lived experiences of believers’ children, rather than continually imposing a system on them that was designed for first-generation converts.

Almost always, I see the lights come on after explaining this point to an evangelical friend. And in most cases, their acceptance of infant baptism isn’t far behind.

 

February 25, 2011

Believer’s Baptism: How Young is Too Young?

She couldn’t be seen over the rail of the baptismal tank. Despite having a clear line of sight, the best we could do is listen to the audio as the pastor explained that at nine-years-old, she was the youngest person ever baptized in that church, and was doing so only after a great deal of discussion with her, her parents, and the pastoral staff.

I couldn’t help but think she was too young…

I was thirteen when I was baptized in the Peoples Church in Toronto by Dr. Paul B. Smith, the son of iconic missionary statesman Oswald J. Smith. It was a Wednesday night, but most of the 2,200 seats in the auditorium were filled. I was given a number. There were over 100 people baptized that night and it was done alphabetically. I think I was 119.  We each filed through the platform and gave a 30-second testimony. Then the actual baptisms started.

There’s no way the pastor knew everyone he baptized that night. So as we entered the water a small name tag was pinned to our inner sleeve.  Then it was over.

I was glad it was over. I wanted to get it over. I was baptized out of guilt.

For some reason, I felt that I had completed all my obligations to the church and to God once I had had “accepted” Jesus as “my personal Savior.” So when a traveling Evangelist rolled in when I was eleven and gave several invitations for people to, as he said it with his accent, be ‘bap-i-tized,’ I suddenly realized I was spiritually incomplete, and thereby spiritually inferior.

With the baptisms conducted on weeknights, I didn’t get the exposure to it that those growing up in other churches did, growing up where a baptism could occur in the context of any particular Sunday service. As the evangelist asked people to raise their hands if they’d never been baptized as believers, I raised my hand, but when he asked how many of those would like to commit to being baptized, I cowered into something best described as a sitting fetal position.

My parents wisely decided that I should postpone this important event for at least a year, but I spent the better part of church services in what turned out to be about two years — especially when the invitation was given, as it was every Sunday night — feeling like a prisoner who is about to be taken out to be shot. Guilt is not a great motivator for spiritual decision making.

To compound things, I have a gift with words and with speaking, so when it did happen a couple of years later, my 30-second soundbite so impressed the leadership that I was asked to give a much longer testimony in Sunday School a few weeks later.

I spoke well. My spirituality was firmly established in the minds of the people who mattered. I was a rising spiritual superstar.

But I was only thirteen.

In hindsight, eighteen would have been the perfect time for me to be baptized. At that point, I wasn’t just capable of giving a testimony, but I was inching toward living a testimony; and not just before the church crowd but at a very secular university. I was choosing my friends and my activities on the basis of my faith, and was going public with my beliefs in a much larger way than many.

Between thirteen and eighteen, a few things happened to indicate that I was not quite established on the spiritual trajectory where I now find myself. Looking back, I wish I could have been baptized at twenty-one, or thirty-one, or even last week. It’s one of those, “If only I knew then what I know now” situations. But for me, waiting until after high-school graduation would have been most meaningful.

So how young is too young?

…Things worked out for the nine-year-old baptismal candidate. She married a youth pastor and they have a couple of kids and are faithfully serving the Lord. But what about the rest?

I really wanted to be part of the discussion of this at Kingdom People last week, but as mentioned yesterday, thanks to an impersonator, I’m now blocked from commenting at all my favorite sites.  Be sure to read his very brief article and the comments which follow.

I recognize some of you have a ‘sacramental’ view of Baptism and some have view it as an ‘ordinance.’  I also realize some of you believe that infant baptism is sufficient, though the New Testament appears not to support this.

What are your thoughts on this?  Does your church mandate a specific age? Leave a comment, and then in a few days, we’ll look at the parallel issue: Younger children partaking of Communion, aka Eucharist, aka Lord’s supper.

Like birth, baptism means life. It is done once, yet it is for all of our life….we need to discover ways to communicate baptismal living. If I say, “I was married,” you will likely assume that my wife has died or I am divorced. But if I say, “I am married,” you will assume I have a wife and that on a certain date I was married and still am. Although it is true and essential to say I was baptized, it is also necessary to assert, “I am baptized.”

~Thomas H. Schattauer

The first picture, of the Mormon Baptism is apparently everyone’s default child baptism pic. If you’ve seen it one website, you’ve probably seen it on fifty. The second picture is from a Baptist Church. The third one may be taking in place in potentially chilly waters in British Columbia, Canada.

Related post at this blog: The Lord’s Table: How Young is Too Young?

Only marginally related story if you need a smile!

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