My Baptismal Journey – an Essay on the Validity of Infant Baptism
in an Antipedobaptist Denomination.
Infant baptism is a fiercely debated issue today within and outside evangelical Christian circles. I heard both the pedobaptist and antipedobaptist sides argued this past summer by potential chaplains (Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox) while attending the Chaplain Candidate Course for the United States Air Force, but I also heard of the infant baptism polemic in more homogeneous settings like a Basic Christian Doctrine class at Asbury Theological Seminary. The title of this Essay, My Baptismal Journey – an Essay on the Validity of Infant Baptism in an Antipedobaptist Denomination, introduces the theme of the essay, infant baptism, but also highlights the working thesis of this essay: the legitimacy of infant baptism in an antipedobaptist denomination. My prayer is to navigate the delicate middle way for those of us who were baptized as infants, but now find ourselves in a denomination that practices strictly a “believer’s baptism.” The thesis of this essay follows my own sacramental journey of discovery which covers the themes of one baptism, baptismal legitimacy, baptism as sacrament, and the amplification of grace in infant baptism.
I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic denomination. My parents had me baptized as an infant and I was raised and educated in the Roman Catholic Church until my confirmation in high school. By the time I was in high school, I had “lapsed” in my heart from an evangelical faith in Christ and painfully, with an agnostic limp, finished the requirements of my Roman Catholic confirmation. I went away to a public university with at best an empty lukewarm faith, but full membership in the church. Eventually the Lord in His providence led me to the United States Air Force where I started attending bible studies and eventually came to a saving faith in Christ. I attended mass regularly, but within a year of whole-heartedly following Christ, I found myself theologically a Protestant.
I quickly became active in the Protestant chapels on base, but was confronted about my Roman Catholic baptism for the first time at a non-denominational church that I attended off base on Saturday nights. The pastor was insistent that I needed to be baptized again because my original baptism as a child was done by a Roman Catholic priest and I was not old enough to receive Christ. I was stunned and confused at the pastor’s claim regarding my need for rebaptism, and took it to the prayer closet and consistently searched the Scriptures. I had trouble finding a Biblical account of an explicit infant baptism; however, the Holy Spirit did illumine Scripture supporting one baptism and reminded me of the words from the Nicene Creed, “And I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church: I acknowledge one Baptism for the Remission of sins.” It was hard to shake the fact that if I consented to this pastor, I would be baptized twice. Not only would I be going against the Nicene Creed that stood as the church’s theological backbone for over 1,600 years, but I would also be going against the Word of God. Ephesians 4:4-6 concludes that there is “one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” There was not one baptism for those who followed Paul and another for those who followed Apollos, but only one baptism into Christ which is comprised of one body.
Legitimacy of Baptism
Not only would this pastor have me violate Scripture, but he would have had me buy into the lie of the Donatists in the fourth century. The pastor of this large, reformed, non-denominational church also insisted that all Roman Catholics held heretical views so my Roman Catholic baptism was illegitimate. The Donatists claimed that a baptism administered by lapsed clergy (or was consecrated by a lapsed bishop like Caecilian) was illegitimate and such persons needed a new baptism. The church sided with the Caecilian view that the “validity of the sacraments and of other such acts cannot be made to depend on the worthiness of the one administering them.” Despite some views held by Roman Catholics that I disagree with theologically, I could not honestly believe that my infant baptism was illegitimate because it was performed by a Roman Catholic priest. If the sacraments depended on the righteousness of the one administering it, then we would all be in a constant state of doubt regarding the validity of any sacrament. Our Father doesn’t chose to bless any sacrament based on holiness (ours or even His), but by His abundant grace mediated in Jesus Christ. The Book of Common Prayer upholds this view in the Articles of Religion, “Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s instruction and promise.” So the legitimacy of an infant baptism is found in the faithfulness of Christ and not in the faithfulness of the one administering the sacrament to the infant.
Baptism as a Sacrament
As my story up to this point has shown, there is a tendency to view baptism as merely a symbol of an individual’s salvation instead of as a sacrament of and for the church body. A sacrament can be defined as a practice of the church that is mysteriously “used by God to confirm divine promises to believers and are somehow the means by which the recipient enters into the truths they represent.” It is not just a remembrance of what Christ has done for us or a symbol of entry into a new community of faith as Zwingli would suggest. Something truly supernatural occurs in the life of the one who is baptized that connects them with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Augustine spoke of these acts as “the visible form of an invisible grace” or as a “sign of a sacred thing.” Baptism needs to be looked at again without the lenses prescribed to us by the philosophy of the Enlightenment.
The rise of a “believer’s baptism” as the prima facie method within evangelicalism today is due largely to the Enlightenment’s innate disdain towards all things supernatural. We must be able to answer the question that Jesus posed to the religious authorities concerning John’s baptism, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” Although this question in its original context was posed as a ruse to escape the carnal inquiry of the Jewish religious leaders, it still merits an answer today. When a person says that a baptism (infant, child, or adult) is just “remembrance” or is a “public act of one’s inward faith in Christ”, he or she is saying “baptism is from man to God” instead of saying “from God to man.” As Thomas Oden states, “The baptism of Jesus was necessary not that Christ be purified, but that he once for all consecrate the sign of baptism – water – which was to become the grace-laden instrument of the sanctification of humanity.” Christ cleaned the water for us, so that by entering into its depths we are, “buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” The blood of the Lamb who was slain makes the waters of baptism legitimate for infants as well as adults not based on our age, gender, piety, or social status, but on his abundant grace and love.
In my present denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, I am faced once again with the challenge of being in an antipedobaptist denomination. Unlike the non-denominational pastor previously mentioned in this essay, my current denomination does not coerce one to be baptized again; however, they only practice a “believer’s baptism” and will baptize members again. The C&MA’s current view on baptism is traced back to its founder, A.B. Simpson who became troubled over his own infant baptism. Simpson searched the Scriptures, fasted, and prayed before coming to the conclusion that he should be baptized again by immersion. Simpson commented on his rebaptism as “a matter of individual conscience, that he had no wish to argue or even agitate the matter, and that he was not free to unite with another denomination which made baptism by immersion a term of communion.” While I disagree with Simpson’s rebaptism, I do affirm his desire not to unite with other antipedobaptist denominations that require adult baptism for membership.
Simpson and most antipedobaptist equate baptism with the individual and with choice. The strongest arguments against infant baptism are the Scriptural references that seemingly demonstrate that baptism is something that should be cognitively understood by the individual prior to undergoing. The call of Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized” would appear to validate the antipedobaptist view since an infant cannot cognitively repent; however, a close reading of this and similar verses demonstrate specific commands for adult converts. The evangelistic baptism of the New Testament is not a systematic law stating at what age one can be baptized. The original members of the church had to be adult converts. Imagine Paul trying to evangelize an infant without first evangelizing the child’s parents. Another argument raised by antipedobaptist is that there are no explicit references to children being baptized in Scripture. While there are no explicit instances of an infant being baptized, neither is there an instance of a physically challenged person. And we have no problem baptizing someone who is physically challenged, because “Scripture teaches that baptism is for everyone and never qualifies it by restricting people according to gender, age, abilities, race, and so one.” The doctrine of the trinity, which is clearly supported by Scripture implicitly, is also not explicitly stated in Scripture. Although Scripture does not explicitly state infant baptism, it can be alluded to in the baptism of households. In Acts 16 it is recorded that Lydia (a woman, gasp!) and her household were baptized. This verse in Acts 16 highlights that those who are members of the one body of Christ were “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
The Amplification of Grace in Infant Baptism.
The specific type of grace that is amplified in infant baptism is called prevenient grace. It is according to John Wesley, “the ‘drawings’ of ‘the Father’, the desires after God, which if we yield to them, increase more and more.” It is only by this grace that we can truly even choose to be baptized and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord. The idea of preventing grace really didn’t start with John Wesley, but with Augustine’s argument against the semi-Pelagians. Augustine taught that wills of men are “prevented by the grace of God, and that it is God who makes them to will the good which they refused.” Infant baptism acknowledges the prevenient grace of God and amplifies when an infant is baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection as a member of the body of Christ. Infant baptism acknowledges the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the infant as well as in the family and Community to which the Lord has entrusted the infant. When an infant is dedicated to the Lord it is as though his or her parents plant them alone before God, but when an infant is baptized they are planted amongst a community in Christ. The infant dedication is like planting a seed alone in a pot to be transplanted later into a garden, but an infant baptism is like planting a seed in a garden of mature plants.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “Can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” The truth is that none of us can or were expected to bear what Christ bore on our behalf on Calvary’s cross. As James Torrance put it so well, “it is by his baptism for us – his cross, his atoning death and his resurrection – that he forgives and sanctifies and secures our sonship.” Since adults are unable to secure sonship for themselves, how can they deny such a gift for their infants? If someone were to write a check for your infant’s education and date it twenty years into the future, would you take it with thanksgiving or tell them to bring cash when your child is old enough to decide whether or not to go to university? Either way the child has to choose to receive the money as an adult, but by their parents taking the check on their child’s behalf as an infant they are receiving an inheritance for their child that encourages them to go to university and cash the check as adult.
Whether an infant is baptized or dedicated, there is still the possibility of lapsing and turning away from the faith when they become adults. The difference being that an infant that is baptized is choosing to leave a body they were in, but an infant who is merely dedicated is choosing to walk away from something they were never technically in. I recently was asked by my younger cousin, Danny, to be his confirmation sponsor. Before the confirmation ceremony, I was pleased to discover that the Bishop asked the confirmation candidates to reaffirm their baptismal vows that were taken on their behalf as infants. During the confirmation ceremony the candidates were anointed with oil and prayed for by the Bishop. In the Orthodox Church this is referred to as the second sacrament of initiation, but as Alexander Schmemann correctly articulates, “it is not so much another sacrament as the very fulfillment of baptism, its “confirmation” by the Holy Spirit. It can be distinguished from baptism only insofar as life can be distinguished from birth.”
My sacramental journey has been a path that has challenged my views on baptism and has forced me to ask hard questions, but these questions have taken me deeper into the realities of the sacraments. In this essay I showed the Scriptural support and 1,600 year old Nicene Creed tradition affirming one baptism, showed the legitimacy of baptism administered by clergy of a different denomination, articulated why baptism is a sacrament, and how infant baptism amplifies prevenient grace. I called this essay, My Baptismal Journey because baptism is not meant to be a one stop shop on your way to heaven, but a place we return to regularly. For by returning regularly to the promise of our baptism, we return to Calvary’s cross to find the savior’s sacrifice for us. Baptism awakens us to the reality that we are forgiven and washed clean by what Jesus has done for us. My hope in this essay was to take us past the adjectives (Believer’s/Infant) to a place where we can more fully embrace the Blessed Sacrament, baptism.
 Hugh T. Kerr, “The Nicene Creed,” in Readings in Christian Thought (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 74-76.
 Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1984), 151-156.
 The Church of England, The Book of Common Prayer- Articles of Relgion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 704-705.
 Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 104.
 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity – Volume 2 – The Reformation to the Present Day (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 55-57.
 James F. White, The Sacraments in Protestant Practice and Faith (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 39.
 Matthew 21:25 cf. Luke 20:4.
 Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology – Volume Two: The Word of Life (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 239.
 Romans 6:4.
 A.B. Simpson, The Fourfold Gospel: Jesus as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King, Harold J. Chadwick, ed. (Orlando: Bridge-Logos, 2007), 6.
 Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum –Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 224.
 Galatians 3:28.
 John Wesley, The Scripture Way of Salvation, Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed., John Wesley’s Sermons – an Anthology (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1991), 372-373.
 Augustine, Prevenient Grace, Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 60.
 Mark 10:38.
 James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Truine God of Grace (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1996), 77.
 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), 75.