A Common but Poor Argument Directed at Baptists

There is an interesting article up over at Gene Veith’s blog discussing sort of a strange trend among Southern Baptists. It seems that more and more Southern Baptist churches are baptizing children ages five years and younger. Anyone who knows anything about Baptist theology will almost instinctively get that “uh…what?” look on his face. I’m not a Southern Baptist so I don’t really have a dog in that fight. Rather I want to address something that Dr. Veith wrote in his article.

Quoting Dr. Veith “Baptists–who require faith as a precondition of baptism, rather than seeing baptism as a means of grace and the faith that receives it– have insisted that infants and young children cannot have faith.  I have never understood that.  Of course babies and toddlers can have faith.  They have faith–which has to do with trust, a sense of dependency, and relationship and is never just intellectual knowledge–in their parents.  Why not in their Heavenly Father?”    

This is a common rejoinder leveled at Baptists by those who hold to a paedobaptist, sacramentally oriented theology; but there is a major problem with this argument. The reason the argument fails is that it relies on a misrepresentation of the position it seeks to critique and correct. Most of the readers of this blog will recognize this category of error as the straw man argument.

Specifically at issue is the characterization of Baptists as believing that faith is “just intellectual knowledge”. This canard needs to stop. While I certainly do not think that Dr. Veith is motivated by malice, it is clear that he, and the many others who have argued this way, has not thought this particular argument through. So unless I am wrong in the critique I am going to offer in this article, this argument needs to be shown the left foot of fellowship. To do any less than discard this argument would then become intentionally misleading and none of us want to be that.

I am unaware of any Baptist confession of faith, or Baptist theologian who defines faith as being mere intellectual apprehension of facts. The 1689 London Baptist Confession gives us a lovely explanation of faith:

“The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.

By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word for the authority of God himself, and also apprehendeth an excellency therein above all other writings and all things in the world, as it bears forth the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices, and the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in his workings and operations: and so is enabled to cast his soul upon the truth thus believed; and also acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come; but the principal acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

This faith, although it be different in degrees, and may be weak or strong, yet it is in the least degree of it different in the kind or nature of it, as is all other saving grace, from the faith and common grace of temporary believers; and therefore, though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory, growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.”

I want the reader to notice something about this. While this confessional fleshing out of the meaning of faith certainly assumes a knowledge of the facts of the gospel as being a necessary condition for faith, it cannot be reasonably maintained that it defines faith as nothing more than knowledge of the gospel. What’s the point?

Dr. Veith’s indictment of the particular Baptist objection “infants cannot have faith” rests on this faulty characterization of Baptist theology. Faith is trust, trust in someone we know, someone we have heard of. And what does scripture say?

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:13-17

You can say that an infant “trusts” his parents but it’s a non-starter because an infant knows about his parents. Biblical faith can legitimately be defined as simple trust in Christ. But who ever trusted in someone of whom they were unaware? That is the point of that particular objection to infant baptism. Baptists don’t draw a direct synonymy between mere knowledge and faith. They simply see, as Lutherans will happily acknowledge, that faith must have an object. It should be obvious that in order for someone or something to be an object of faith it must be known about.

So we can clearly see two things. First, the “we know infants can have faith in God because they trust their parents” argument is seen to be a faulty comparison. Faith isn’t simple knowledge (The demons believe and tremble), but knowledge is required. Infants know about their parents because they can see them, even if that knowledge is simple in nature. There is no reason to assume that infants know about Christ. Second, we see that this counter-argument aimed at the Baptist objection is merit-less because it relies on a false characterization of Baptist theology.

Would that people as well known and influential as Dr. Veith were a little more careful.

 

 

 

About Andrew

God is good. I am not. Jesus saved me.
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48 Responses to A Common but Poor Argument Directed at Baptists

  1. Andrew,

    “That is the point of that particular objection to infant baptism. Baptists don’t draw a direct synonymy between mere knowledge and faith.”

    Thanks for this post. Could you unpack this a bit more for me? I am having a hard time understanding exactly what you are saying.

    +Nathan

    Like

  2. Andrew says:

    My aim is to point out that this weird accusation that Baptists think faith and intellectual knowledge are synonymous is unfounded and that being so, any rejoinder to the Baptist assertion that only disciples should be baptized which is based on that faulty characterization is one that should be discarded.

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      Andrew,
      Is that what he is saying or is he saying that Baptists are insisting that a particular kind of knowledge must be associated with faith?
      You say:
      “Infants know about their parents because they can see them, even if that knowledge is simple in nature. There is no reason to assume that infants know about Christ.”
      …but this is precisely what is the issue. Why would you assume that infants do not know about Christ, especially in light of what is said about infants in the New Testament and the Psalms? (see for example Psalm 22).
      Here is a post I wrote dealing with this issue in more depth:
      http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/knowledge-first-and-foremost-baby-king-david-vs-adult-st-thomas/
      +Nathan

      Like

  3. Andrew says:

    “Why would you assume that infants do not know about Christ, especially in light of what is said about infants in the New Testament and the Psalms? (see for example Psalm 22).”

    Because there is nothing in the NT or Psalm 22 that suggests I should assume infants know about Christ.

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      From my post:

      My argument builds on truths like those exemplified in Psalm 22:

      “…you are he who took me from the womb;
      you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
      On you was I cast from my birth,
      and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

      Note that when we are talking about the faith of the little ones (the foremost example now being the baptized) we are not really talking primarily about matters of the intellect, but rather personal trust in Another.

      Note that David can assert that he trusted the Lord at His mother’s breast. In which case, did not David know the Lord – really and truly – even then? (in a John 17:3 kind-of-way, of course: saving knowledge). It seems clear that he did, for we can’t trust a person without knowing them to some extent. Here then, we see that it is personal trust in God that pertains to the highest knowledge. This seed of knowledge is then continually developed in us by wise teachers. We come to understand how Christian doctrine, the Scriptures, and the Rule of Faith are those things that continually nurture us in the world, that make sense of our relationship with God, and keep us from going “out of bounds”.

      (end quote)

      Andrew, do you think that the NT and Psalms shows that infants born into believing families can know God?

      +PR

      Like

  4. Andrew says:

    God can do whatever He wants. John The Baptist had the Holy Spirit from before he was born. I do not assume, because scripture wont allow me to, that this is normative or cause for me to assume that infants have faith in general. The NT’s depiction of faith requires cognitive understanding, but it does not reduce faith to cognitive understanding.

    There is no reason to assume that an infant knows God just because he is born into a believing family. There is every reason to believe that the infant is born naturally at enmity with Him, including the author of Psalm 22, David. David wrote Psalm 51 as well, and the man repenting in Psalm 51 is all David, not Christ. “I was brought forth in iniquity (not faith) In sin did my mother conceive me.”

    Like

  5. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    “The NT’s depiction of faith requires cognitive understanding, but it does not reduce faith to cognitive understanding.”

    What Scripture passages do you have in mind here Andrew?

    “There is no reason to assume that an infant knows God just because he is born into a believing family. There is every reason to believe that the infant is born naturally at enmity with Him”,

    Well, yes, of course. Still, I have been speaking God’s words to my children since they were born, and faith comes by hearing the word. Beyond that, we know that, as I Peter says, “baptism saves”. We also know that salvation does not happen apart from faith.

    +PR

    Like

  6. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    My apologies about the PR – I was answering students at the same time I was writing that comment…. (PR = Prof. Rinne)

    +Nathan

    Like

  7. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    Just to clarify: When I asked what Scripture passages you had in mind, I meant regarding this part of the sentence: “The NT’s depiction of faith requires cognitive understanding….”

    …because I know we agree on the second part of the sentence, i.e. that the NT “does not reduce faith to cognitive understanding”.

    +Nathan

    Like

  8. Andrew says:

    “What Scripture passages do you have in mind here Andrew?”

    I think Romans 10 is pretty clear. The gospel is propositional. It is not rationalistic to insist that one understand propositions before one can believe them or trust the one from who they come.

    I have heard some Lutherans argue that “faith comes by hearing” refers literally to the sound waves hitting someone’s ear drum when the gospel is spoken in order to defend the idea of infant faith. That seems to me to be a rather obvious case of absurd literalism. Paul clearly has hearing and understanding in mind.

    “Well, yes, of course. Still, I have been speaking God’s words to my children since they were born, and faith comes by hearing the word. Beyond that, we know that, as I Peter says, “baptism saves”. We also know that salvation does not happen apart from faith.”

    Yes, faith comes by hearing; but hearing doesn’t guarantee that faith will happen.

    I don’t want to address 1 Peter 3:21 because I am writing an article about it.

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      Andrew,

      OK, yes, I am not willing to say that God does not create such knowledge in infants through His words (a la John the Baptist). That seems overly rationalistic to me.

      +PR

      Like

  9. Andrew says:

    Nathan, are you a cessationist?

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      Andrew,

      I don’t know. I have heard varying definitions of that. I do believe that God still does miracles and exorcisms today, particularly in parts of the world where the Gospel is first gaining a foothold. I can’t wait to hear why you ask though…

      +Nathan

      Like

  10. truthunites says:

    Andrew,

    Great post and great responses to Nathan.

    I thought these rejoinders of yours clinched a winning rebuttal:

    (1) “There is no reason to assume that an infant knows God just because he is born into a believing family. There is every reason to believe that the infant is born naturally at enmity with Him, including the author of Psalm 22, David. David wrote Psalm 51 as well, and the man repenting in Psalm 51 is all David, not Christ. “I was brought forth in iniquity (not faith) In sin did my mother conceive me.”

    (2) “I have heard some Lutherans argue that “faith comes by hearing” refers literally to the sound waves hitting someone’s ear drum when the gospel is spoken in order to defend the idea of infant faith. That seems to me to be a rather obvious case of absurd literalism. Paul clearly has hearing and understanding in mind.”

    LOL!! That’s a good one. Because even though it seems like a joke, it’s really not!

    Like

  11. Andrew says:

    Is there anybody walking around that can prophesy the way the apostles could? How about anyone that can heal with his shadow? Even cessationists, most anyway, allow for miraculous healing when and where God chooses.

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      Andrew,

      I would think not. But how is this relevant to the discussion at hand?

      TU – confused. How can it be a clinching and winning rebuttal when I agree with what he says?

      +Nathan

      Like

  12. truthunites says:

    Yes Nathan, you do seem confused. Recall these two claims you made.

    Your 1st claim: “(Andrew) There is no reason to assume that infants know about Christ.”

    …but this is precisely what is the issue. Why would you assume that infants do not know about Christ, especially in light of what is said about infants in the New Testament and the Psalms?”

    Your 2nd claim: “Still, I have been speaking God’s words to my children since they were born, and faith comes by hearing the word.”

    ——

    Andrew rebutted both of these claims. Since you now say that you agree with him, do you now retract the claims above?

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      First, to you both:

      “Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and avenger” (Psalm 8:2)

      Gotta love it, right?

      TU,

      I obviously agree with Andrew about this: “There is no reason to assume that an infant knows God just because he is born into a believing family. There is every reason to believe that the infant is born naturally at enmity with Him”. I think he knew that even when he mentioned it above.

      Andrew said, “Yes, faith comes by hearing; but hearing doesn’t guarantee that faith will happen.”

      We are told to baptize infants. Even many Reformed agree with that (as well they should, for baptism is compared to circumcision). We are told baptism saves. We know salvation includes faith. So baptism does guarantee this happens, regardless of the point about in utero John the Baptist clearly understanding the words of Christ and leaping in the womb.

      Andrew,

      “In that case, there is no reason to assume that any infant has faith upon being baptized and having the gospel spoken over him.”

      I think you have it precisely the opposite way around. I think that there is nothing to suggest that children are incapable of faith even before baptism (note that Luther and his pastor Bugenhagen gave assurance to Christians parents that unbaptized infants were saved because of the prayers of the parents – see Karl Hess, “The faith of unbaptized infants” in the new LOGIA). And it seems to me that there is absolutely no reason to assume that any infant, does not have faith upon being baptized – particularly when we are told to become like little children. Jesus’ promise is that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children who are brought to him in faith by other believers (see Mark 10) – they “have the word” in this sense (hence adults who hear this word that God grants infants a faith of their own, believe it, and therefore bring their unborn infants to Jesus in prayer and confidently rest in their salvation – i.e. Luther and Bugenhagen’s view). So I should probably just say this: who cares whether or not they are able to hear or learn?

      Andrew, I am not identifying myself with cessationism – I am just not a “charismatic”. I said: “I do believe that God still does miracles and exorcisms today, particularly in parts of the world where the Gospel is first gaining a foothold.”

      So… that means that I will pray for healing and even other gifts today. I ask God to give me all the gifts he wants, even tongues and interpretation, if he so desires. Just because I would be critical of the majority of persons who say they have this gift does not mean that I do not think they exist. The point is that this is a sidebar. It is clearly not to be our focus. It was not Paul’s focus. It is not to be the main thing. That’s all. (see here for more on my fuller view: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/how-god-communicates-with-us-outside-of-but-in-harmony-with-the-scriptures-part-ii/ ). Confessional Lutheranism makes no statements about cessationism.

      Jesus and the Apostles were unique. There were not Apostles after the Apostles. Those miracles functioned for a specific purpose, and that was to reveal the One who was to come who saves and heals the world. We see this clearly in Jesus’ answers to John’s disciples, when he doubted.

      +Nathan

      Like

  13. Andrew says:

    Nathan, it is relevant in that it goes to how the bible is read, given the bible’s teaching as a whole about what faith is, how it comes, and what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for saving faith.

    I would not deny that John The Baptist had the Holy Spirit indwelling him from the womb, probably from conception. I could even grant for the sake of argument that David had the same gift (although I remain in reality unconvinced by the use of Psalm 22 to prove that).

    What I wonder is why you jump from those two special cases in particular to the general belief in infant faith when scripture is crystal clear that faith requires one to hear, comprehend, and believe, in that order. You said that you preach the word to your children ever day. That’s wonderful. But scripture NEVER says that hearing guarantees faith. Hearing the gospel is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for faith. In that case, there is no reason to assume that any infant has faith upon being baptized and having the gospel spoken over him.

    My point in bringing up cessationism is, as I said above, to raise the issue of how the bible is read. It is my assertion that you have an inconsistent hermeneutic. If you read the scriptural data on the apostolic sign gifts the same way you read the data on faith and infants, you wouldn’t be a cessationist. You couldn’t be. The fact that it happened and we aren’t explicitly told “no more sign gifts after the death of the last apostle” anywhere in scripture would be proof enough of the current validity of the sign gifts, if you read the bible in a hermeneutically consistent manner.

    This inconsistency in your hermeneutic is a clear indicator that in one of the two cases your tradition has interfered with sound interpretation of the biblical text. So, unless I am diagnosing this hermeneutical issue incorrectly you’ll have to give up either cessationism, which would make you an enthusiast and by definition not a confessional Lutheran, or infant faith and by definition not a confessional Lutheran. It doesn’t matter which way you want to adjust your interpretive approach. If your approach were consistent, you wouldn’t have this dilemma.

    For what its worth, I think you’re right on the money regarding cessationism. However, I don’t think your defense of infant faith rises to the level of being a cogent, biblical defense of the idea.

    Like

  14. Andrew says:

    ““Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and avenger” (Psalm 8:2)”

    Does this verse prove that we can assume a baby has faith? Is the theme of Psalm 8 the nature of saving faith and who does or doesn’t have it? Isn’t the theme of Psalm 8 the glory of God in creation? Since I haven’t asserted that babies are not part of creation, I fail to see how this verse is directly relevant. But that isn’t the only problem with your use of Psalm 8:2. It shows up on the lips of Jesus in the NT. It shows up in Matthew 21 when the Pharisees and priests are angry about children saying “Hosanna to the Son of David” about or to Jesus.

    What was at issue? The Pharisees were angry that Jesus was receiving the praise due to Yahweh. There weren’t any infants mentioned. Infants can’t say “Hosanna to the Son of David”. Infant faith is not the issue here. The idea of infant faith is not the issue in either place this statement shows up in scripture. At issue in the OT is the glory of God shown in creation. At issue in Matthew is the propriety of Jesus receiving the glory due to God alone. So again I am left wondering why you bring it up as a proof-text.

    I had a whole (very long) response to the rest of your points that I have decided to keep under my hat for now. Instead I want to ask you a different question.

    Why does hearing guarantee faith in an infant but not an adult?

    Like

  15. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    Jesus says:

    “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’….”

    Infants can vocalize, and Jesus clearly suggests they praise God, regardless of whether or not they are some of the ones doing so here. They are a part of the whole theme at issue, and to suggest that they praise and glorify God apart from faith would be to take a position at odds with the text.

    Baptism of infants is commanded in Scripture. Baptism is always inextricably connected with regeneration and salvation in Scripture. Salvation does not come apart from faith.

    +Nathan

    Like

  16. Andrew says:

    Nathan, please answer this question. Why does hearing guarantee faith in an infant but not an adult?

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      Andrew,

      I don’t believe that I have ever insisted that this must be the case, even as I think that a good case can be made for this. In sum, although infants are filled to the brim with original sin as we are, ***they are held up for us as models***. They are willing to be nothing but given to, and receive God’s good gifts.

      +Nathan

      Like

  17. Andrew says:

    DO you believe that or not?

    Like

  18. truthunites says:

    Nathan Rinne: “Baptism of infants is commanded in Scripture.”

    What NT Scripture verses are you citing?

    Like

  19. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    Yes, I believe that infants in general who have God’s word spoken to them believe it, but I realize that not everyone believes this and I don’t think someone must believe it to hold to sound Christian doctrine. We should believe that in some sense infants are our models for trusting God (I would identify these passages with infants who have parents concerned to bring them to Jesus). We are to baptize infants though (John 3:5-6, Matt 28:19-20, Acts 2:38-39 and Col. 2:11) and recognize that baptism regenerates and saves.

    +Nathan

    Like

  20. Andrew says:

    Can an infant resist the Holy Spirit and be unsaved in spite of his baptism?

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      Andrew,

      I don’t know for sure but I’m inclined to think not, given Christ’s words about infants. Especially if an infant is regularly hearing the word of God, gathered with the people of God.

      +Nathan

      Like

  21. Andrew says:

    At what point does the capacity for non-faith redevelop?

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      Andrew,

      I don’t know – but I think what is important is that parents always keep speaking the Gospel to their children and pray for them, because a living faith the children own with all their heart, soul, strength and mind is always a concern to godly parents.

      +Nathan

      Like

  22. Andrew says:

    Where does scripture ascribe to baptized infants the inability for having non-faith?

    Like

  23. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    And why would we assume that they do have the ability for non-faith, given Jesus’ generalizing words about them?

    +Nathan

    Like

  24. truthunites says:

    Nathan Rinne: “Baptism of infants is commanded in Scripture.”

    Me: “What NT Scripture verses are you citing?”

    Nathan Rinne: “We are to baptize infants though (John 3:5-6, Matt 28:19-20, Acts 2:38-39 and Col. 2:11) and recognize that baptism regenerates and saves.”

    Let’s take a look at the verses you cited:

    o John 3:5-6: “5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

    o Matthew 28:19-20: “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    o Acts 2:38-39: “38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

    o Colossians 2:11: “11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ,”

    Sorry Nathan, but the verses you cited do not support your assertion: “Baptism of infants is commanded in Scripture.”

    Like

  25. Andrew says:

    Nathan, you said “And why would we assume that they do have the ability for non-faith, given Jesus’ generalizing words about them?”

    Because they are still sinners and scripture nowhere says that they lack the ability for unbelief. Jesus never makes such a statement; but scripture states the opposite in more than one place (Psalm 51, Genesis 8). You draw the inference that baptism causes faith (whether or not that is a valid inference aside for now), you draw the inference that infants are to be baptized (And it is an inference, valid or not), and then you infer from those inferences that infants who have been baptized and have had the gospel spoken to them are to be assumed to have faith. You have to posit some kind of growing up into the ability to not believe. How is this any different from the Evangelical idea of the age of accountability? Is it not the same rationalistic error applied on the opposite pole?

    With all due respect I am at a loss as to how it is you can argue like that. This is the same kind of illegitimate inference drawing of which the Reformed are often accused by Lutherans and others.

    Like

  26. infanttheology says:

    TUAD,

    Well, we are both asserting, without doing any exegesis or explanation. The reason for that on my part is lack of time, combined with the general conviction that these passages are pretty clear.

    Andrew,

    Again, I am not saying that they have any ability to produce faith and I find it frustrating that you do not seem willing to accept that this is what I believe down to the core of my being. And again, insofar as Jesus distinguishes between adults and children (even infants), I simply need to cling to this without speculating about ages of accountability. The fact of the matter is that we always, at the very least from our baptism onwards, need to have faith in Christ.

    +Nathan

    Like

  27. truthunites says:

    Nathan Rinne: “you do not seem willing to accept that this is what I believe down to the core of my being.”

    I’m willing to accept that there’s unhelpful irrational emotionalism at the core of your being on this issue of infant baptism.

    Here’s a post that was published after Andrew published this one. It’s titled: Against Infant Baptism and it’s reasonably argued and cogent, devoid of unhelpful emotionalism.

    “I had an aunt whose grandson died as a teenager. Later she told me, “Johnny was baptized and confirmed in the [family] church; he’s in heaven and that’s that.” Now, I never met Johnny. I can’t speak to his eternal state. But surely even the most ardent advocate of infant baptism will agree that my aunt’s comment represents a serious problem. We know from experience that some good church kids turn out to be bad adults. Some never adopt the faith of their parents. Some become heinous criminals.

    In short, if those who “endure to the end” will be saved, then infant baptism and confirmation do not prove that anyone is a Christian.

    Now, the same could be said for adult baptism. Over time, we’ll discover that some conversions just “didn’t take,” as Mark Twain might say.

    Why am I whacking this particular hornet’s nest? These thoughts follow from my recent essay on Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus said that we all must be born again. And some say that this happens in baptism – even a baptism done without our consent. They may base this, in part, on the Lord’s statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6, NAS95)

    It’s almost comical to read various commentators on what Jesus means by born of water. Some think it’s obviously a reference to water baptism (as converts to Judaism were baptized, as John had baptized, etc.). Others think that that interpretation arose in Africa more than a hundred years later, and born of water is obviously a parallel to born of the flesh, that is, physical birth. Regardless of our views on that, we can see that the operational part of the statement is the born of the Spirit part. That’s the point Jesus was trying to hammer home to Nicodemus. He was contrasting the earth-bound vision of the Pharisee to the kingdom of God, a spiritual kingdom requiring new, spiritual eyes.

    If you wanted to become a Christian in the early centuries, you first had to undergo a period of probation and instruction as a “catechumen.” You would not be baptized immediately upon your profession of faith. We’re going to look to see whether you’ve stopped beating your wife, and whether you’ve returned the money you stole from your employer. And we’re going to teach you the essential doctrines of Christianity. Then, at your baptism, you’ll recite the articles of faith that will later be incorporated into the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed. You’ll be dunked (not sprinkled – it’s a symbol of burial, after all) in water, and after you come up, the elders will lay hands on you and pray for you to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Now, at what point in that process did you become a Christian? At which stage were you born again? Was it when you repented and believed the gospel? Catechumens were sometimes martyred. These unbaptized martyrs were considered brothers and sisters in the Lord. Was it while you were under the water? If baptism in water is rebirth by the Holy Spirit, why did the elders pray for a second baptism? Despite all their discussion of the “saving laver,” the early church must have believed that being born again is not the same as being baptized in water.

    Peter clarified all this for us, if we would listen to him: Corresponding to that [the flood of Noah], baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…. (1 Peter 3:21, NAS95) If we think that some water on our skin will save us, we’re looking at the physical symbol as if it were the spiritual reality it symbolizes. We’re thinking like a Pharisee, in the physical dimension. Water can clean your flesh, but it cannot touch your spirit. For a spiritual cleansing we need a spiritual Agent. Peter says that baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience. Who makes an appeal for a good conscience? Isn’t it a person whose conscience accuses him of sin? How can a baby make such an appeal, or how can I make that appeal on behalf of someone else?

    Let me close with an analogy. You probably know that the LDS (Mormon) church has a practice of baptism for the dead. They find your great-great-grandfather Sol’s name on a census record, and a member of that church is baptized on Sol’s behalf. Some people are deeply offended by this, and I don’t suppose I can blame them. But, emotions aside, it seems to me that grandpappy Sol can’t possibly be harmed by it.

    Contrast this with infant baptism, another kind of baptism without the consent of the baptized. In this – as we agreed at the beginning of the article – harm may be done to little Johnny; and harm may be done to relatives and others who believe that Johnny’s name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life when it was written in the church registry, as if by automatic pen.

    To extend the analogy, the LDS church says that baptism for the dead does not move the departed from one church or one kingdom to another – it merely gives the deceased person the opportunity to make that decision for himself. Similarly, as some understand it, infant baptism allows the person to agree, fourteen or so years later, that he’s OK with having been baptized, and is now giving his consent to all that that entails, after the fact. That is called “confirmation.” (That’s not a universal definition of confirmation, but it is a traditional and a popular view, as exemplified by my aunt’s remark.)

    You may find baptism for the dead a little creepy – and I’m not in any way defending it – but it seems to be a benign exercise compared to telling Johnny he was “born again,” or at least made a shoe-in for the kingdom of God, his rebirth only contingent on some weekend classes and a ceremony, when he was sprinkled with water as an infant.

    How far are both of these from Jesus’ description of the unpredictable, uncontrollable wind, His symbol for the mystery of the new birth – in those who believe. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8, NAS95)

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  28. infanttheology says:

    TUAD,

    Sigh. Well, perhaps to some I do seem overly emotional though I think (I emphasize think) this is far from the case. As best I can tell, as I have written each of these responses on this thread, it has been a rather unemotional process for me. : )

    Interesting piece. Still, I rarely, if ever, recognize the Lutheran position in pieces like this. Generally, people have totally failed to understand us. They should take a look at what Luther has to say in the Small catechism and wrestle with that.

    The post deals with I Peter 3:15.

    Here’s a good response to that: http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com/2011/09/03/baptism-still-good-consciencizes-you/

    Here’s the post:

    [Question:]

    Many Lutheran pastors use the verse 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism… now saves you…” However, the verse goes on to say “…not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” Couldn’t Baptists use the second half of the verse (context) to prove that the first half of the verse is correct only in light of it being a “pledge” as in the pledge a believer makes in a believers Baptism?

    -J
    J – This would again deal with who is active in Baptism. Is Baptism a
    matter of man’s action towards God, or God acting upon man for man’s
    benefit? Let’s look at the larger context of the passage – verses
    18-22 and see who is the subject of the active verbs and the passive
    verbs.

    The active verbs
    Verse 18. Christ suffered…
    … that He might bring us…

    Verse 19. He went….
    He proclaimed….

    Verse 20
    They (the spirits in prison) did not obey
    God’s patience waited…

    Verse 21, Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves

    Verse 22, Who [Jesus] has gone into heaven…
    Who [Jesus] is at the right hand.

    Now the Passive Verbs

    Verse 18 [us] being put to death in the flesh…
    [us] being made alive in the Spirit

    Verse 20 the ark was being prepared

    Verse 22 with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to
    Him.

    In this whole passage, it is God is who actively doing the verbs. The
    only exception is when people do not believe. And likewise, we see
    things happening to man – being put to death, being made alive in the
    Spirit. So suddenly look at the idea of a “pledge” and suddenly say
    that *we* must be the ones making the pledge seems to go against the
    grain of how everything else is working in this passage.

    Now, as to the idea of the pledge (or “appeal” in the ESV) – in this
    we ought remember that Christ is the One who gathers His lost sheep,
    He is the one who cleanses us, He is the one who is our intercessor to
    the Father, the One who appeals to God on our behalf. Indeed in the
    verse this pledge, this appeal doesn’t come *through* our conscience,
    but rather through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is for us, it
    is for a good conscience (that we might have a clean conscience on
    account of Christ).

    The argument that Baptism is primarily an act of man doesn’t really
    mesh with how this passage treats the idea.

    Rev. Eric J. Brown
    Zion Lutheran Church – Lahoma, OK
    Also, I handle this explicitly in a recent video:

    -RevFisk

    http://www.youtube.com/v/TjcrsZFVyKw” />

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  29. infanttheology says:

    TUAD,

    Let me ask specifically: what in particular in this thread do you think I have gotten irrationally emotional about?

    +Nathan

    Like

  30. Andrew says:

    Nathan, You said:

    “Again, I am not saying that they have any ability to produce faith and I find it frustrating that you do not seem willing to accept that this is what I believe down to the core of my being. And again, insofar as Jesus distinguishes between adults and children (even infants), I simply need to cling to this without speculating about ages of accountability. The fact of the matter is that we always, at the very least from our baptism onwards, need to have faith in Christ.”

    I never asserted that you believe they have that ability. What I have asserted is that you are making inferences that are not warranted by the scriptural data and that your position that babies do not have the ability to not believe, in spite of their being born not believing, is in fact not supported by scripture. This is another area where your theology forces you to deal with the scriptural data inconsistently.

    Since one baptized as an infant is guaranteed to have faith, until he develops the ability to not believe, the infant is one of Jesus’ sheep, right?

    In John 10 Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice and will not follow another. They will not. It doesn’t say that they might not. It says “will not follow another”. This is said about all of Jesus sheep, be they adults, infants, teenagers, etc…So here Jesus ascribes this general inability to unbelieve, at least in an ultimate and final sense, to his sheep. All of them. No age group is mentioned.

    This is plain language which is actually dealing with the subject at hand and yet you will say that these infant sheep cannot not believe now but later on, when they have the ability to not believe, they will be able to leave their shepherd and “follow another”.

    So we have no unambiguous scriptural passage that states what you are claiming must be true i.e. that baptized infants cannot not have faith, and yet we have John 10 which states with zero ambiguity that Jesus’ sheep “will not follow another” and you will maintain that they actually might, just so long as they are not infants.

    It is this sort of thing that causes me to roll my eyes when I hear Lutherans accuse others, normally Reformed people, of rationalism and using certain scriptural passages to negate other scriptural passages in order to maintain a theological system.

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  31. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    We are not talking about babies in general. All I am saying is that we have no good reason to think or believe or suspect that babies of believing and faithful parents who have them baptized – because the little pagans are born in original sin – do not believe in Christ.

    On the contrary, based on Christ’s words about those children who are brought to Him by faithful believers, we have every reason to believe they do. And to rest in that peace.

    “In John 10 Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice and will not follow another. They will not. It doesn’t say that they might not. It says “will not follow another”.”

    Well, now you are getting into the P in TULIP. You know what we think about that. See Jordan Cooper’s helpful work on the topic.

    +Nathan

    Like

    • infanttheology says:

      Both of you might find this interesting. A helpful summary of one of the articles I mentioned above:

      http://deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/infant-faith-prior-to-baptism-the-lost-work-of-johannes-bugenhagen/

      +Nathan

      Like

      • truthunites says:

        Nathan,

        I did find it interesting. Interesting in terms of observing the lengths by which Lutherans and early Lutherans (can’t get any earlier than Luther’s pastor in Wittenberg) will go to maintain their theological dogma. And to be brief, it’s interesting from a historical perspective of Lutheranism, and yet so very much unconvincing.

        The key paragraph, and by which the whole argument rests and ultimately fails so miserably is this:

        “Briefly, Bugenhagen argues that infants have the promise of salvation given to them by Christ when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

        To take that one verse and then to irresponsibly extrapolate it to:

        (1) Infant baptism
        (2) Infant faith prior to baptism

        is simply ridiculous. Laughable actually.

        Reminds me of those Pentecostal sects that say snake handling is normative. Take one verse out of Scripture and blow it all out of context. Same, same.

        Like

  32. truthunites says:

    “TUAD,

    Let me ask specifically: what in particular in this thread do you think I have gotten irrationally emotional about?

    Okay. See this comment of yours reproduced below:

    “Andrew,

    Again, I am not saying that they have any ability to produce faith and I find it frustrating that you do not seem willing to accept that this is what I believe down to the core of my being. And again, insofar as Jesus distinguishes between adults and children (even infants), I simply need to cling to this without speculating about ages of accountability.”

    “I believe down to the core of my being.”

    “I simply need to cling to this.”

    Sounds like a middle school girl in the early stages of puberty. “I emote, therefore must be.” “It’s in my heart of hearts, the core of my being.” “I simply need to cling to this.” “I simply need to cling to this.” “I simply need to cling to this!” “Don’t you see? I simply need to cling to this.”

    As Andrew described with accurate observation: “It is this sort of thing that causes me to roll my eyes when I hear Lutherans … in order to maintain a theological system.”

    Lutheranism uber alles!

    (Both audible and inaudible snickers.)

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  33. infanttheology says:

    TUAD,

    “To take that one verse and then to irresponsibly extrapolate it to:

    (1) Infant baptism
    (2) Infant faith prior to baptism

    is simply ridiculous. Laughable actually.”

    TUAD – as is evident from above, we are hardly talking about one verse.

    Yes, baptism now saves. Good news for us Lutherans!

    +Nathan

    Like

    • truthunites says:

      “TUAD – as is evident from above, we are hardly talking about one verse.”

      Nathan – as is evident from Hess’s article above, there is only one verse cited in his article.

      “Yes, baptism now saves. Good news for us Lutherans!”

      Yes, Jesus now saves. Good news for us Biblical Christians!

      P.S. FWIW, I have been informed by some baptized Lutherans that there are (quite likely to be, almost certainly so) baptized Lutherans in Hell. Given this, these baptized Lutherans in Hell would sternly differ with the proclamation, “Yes, baptism now saves. Good news for us Lutherans!”

      Like

  34. infanttheology says:

    TUAD,

    Clearly, Pastor Hess would never say that only that one passage means that we should baptize infants.

    Of course there will be baptized Lutherans in hell. There will be people there who said they believed in Jesus there to.

    +Nathan

    Like

    • truthunites says:

      “Clearly, Pastor Hess would never say that only that one passage means that we should baptize infants.

      Clearly, the article that you cited above for Pastor Hess was about infant faith prior to baptism. That blogpost of his only cited one verse.

      “Of course there will be baptized Lutherans in hell.”

      Nathan, would you stipulate that there are (have been and/or will be) some baptized Lutherans in Hell who were told and informed by Lutheran clergy and/or layman repeatedly “Baptism now saves you” and based upon that repeated dictum, they believed wholeheartedly that they were saved to the end because after all, it was objective fact that they were baptized in a Lutheran parish?

      Like

      • infanttheology says:

        TUAD,

        Could happen – but hopefully most persons do not have pastors like this who would give such comfort to the impenitent. Again, the same thing could happen with some people who are told that by putting their faith in Jesus Christ they will be saved.

        You said:

        “To take that one verse and then to irresponsibly extrapolate it to:

        (1) Infant baptism…”

        That is what I was responding to.

        No more time to talk today. Will have to pick up later.

        +Nathan

        Like

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