The eminent theologian John Calvin said, “If [infant baptism] appears to have been contrived by the mere rashness of men, let us bid it farewell.” Knowing Calvin was a paedobaptist, when I first read this in Calvin’s Institutes it gave me pause.
Calvin was very familiar with the rite of infant baptism as it was practiced by the medieval church. As a reformer—as a leader among reformers—Calvin wanted to see all unbiblical practices stripped away from the church. Literally every church tradition in Calvin’s day was under scrutiny: if they did not find warrant in Scripture, it was discarded. And there was plenty of teaching in the church about baptism Calvin disagreed with. So why didn’t Calvin see infant baptism as something manufactured “by the mere rashness of men”?
But Calvin didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. (Yes, the pun is intentional.) In his final analysis, he believed infant baptism should be practiced in the church, not because the church “had always done it that way” but because he believed it was Scriptural.
This was the question I too was seeking to answer: is it Scriptural?
As I stated in my last two posts, early in my exploration of infant baptism, my attraction to it was not based on reading great arguments for it. Primarily, my attraction was to the idea of the covenant household. As I looked into the Bible I started to develop a “theology of generations.” I was taking note that God didn’t treat the children of Israel like he did the children of the nations. They enjoyed a special favor and special obligations, many times in spite of any sign of real, regenerate faith. They were Abraham’s kids, and that meant something to God.
I started to ask the question: Could it be true that the same favor rests on my kids? If this is true, what does it tell me about how I am to raise my children?
For me, the infant baptism question shifted from being a mere theological curiosity to being a parenting question. This raised the stakes for me considerably.
My Objections to Infant Baptism
With this exploration I knew eventually I would come to the subject of circumcision. Talking to paedobaptists, I knew the connection between circumcision and baptism was a strong one for them. Just as circumcision was a rite for all males born in Abraham’s household—whether he be 8-day-old Isaac, or 13-year-old Ishmael, or 99-year-old Abraham—baptism was a rite for all members of the church, even those newly born.
But I had several objections. Certainly there is a huge discontinuity between circumcision and baptism, I thought. The two couldn’t be more different. Aside from the obvious external dissimilarities, don’t these rites carry very different meanings?
If fact, I believed it was the very difference between these rites that made the Baptist case so strong. One of the limitations of the Old Covenant, I thought, was that its sign of membership (circumcision) was too inclusive: it allowed those who didn’t have genuine faith to be a part of the covenant community. This was one reason why Israel was always falling into idolatry. And this is one reason why the New Covenant is so much better: it only admits those who make a profession of faith, not those who have a family connection.
To baptize babies, I thought, is to take a step backwards: it allows potentially non-regenerate people into the fold of the church, counts them as Christians, and therefore opens the church up to the same reproach as ancient Israel. This is why God so often connects the sign of baptism to belief in the New Testament: He was undoing many of the weaknesses of the old system.
These were, for me, the primary reasons why I embraced baptistic theology.
I knew, therefore, if I was every going to be able to embrace infant baptism, several roadblocks would need to be cleared away:
- I needed to be convinced that circumcision was a pledge of real spiritual blessings, not just a physical sign of being descended from Abraham.
- I needed to be convinced that the inclusiveness of the Old Covenant was not something God sought to change in the New Covenant (i.e. I needed to see children of believers as part of the New Covenant, not just the Old.)
- I needed to see some vital connection between circumcision and baptism.
- I needed to understand, if infant baptism is a right practice, why baptism and faith always seem to go hand-in-hand throughout the New Testament. Why, if infant baptism is correct, is baptism linked to union with Christ?
These were the hurdles the paedobaptists needed to overcome. Over the next several posts I’ll be dealing with these one at a time.
. . . .
Read all the posts in this series: