Discuss the issue of infant baptism vs. adult baptism.

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Discuss the issue of infant baptism vs. adult baptism.

Post by Admin on Fri Jul 01, 2016 9:39 pm

Full disclosure: I was brought up Lutheran and was baptized as an infant (December 1955). During my time in the Marines, I began attending a Baptist church and received adult baptism (December 1976) as I began to understand my responsibilities through the teachings of Scripture, and I have performed staff and pastoral ministry in the context of Baptist churches. Our word “baptism” comes from the Greek word “baptize,” which simply means “to immerse.” The significance of the act, however, is that it is a public identification of a person having been joined to Christ, and identifying with the death and burial of Jesus (symbolized by the immersion) and His resurrection (symbolized by the bringing up out of the water). In the New Testament, it is connected with the repentance which occurs when one surrenders to Jesus Christ. We first find it being mentioned at the end of Peter’s great Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, where the Bible says, When the people heard this [Peter’s message], they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 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. . . . Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day—Acts 2:37-38, 41. The idea being presented is NOT that baptism somehow becomes a means of salvation but rather that baptism is a celebration of the salvation that has occurred in the life of the believer. It is, as Christian author Norman Geisler has so aptly put it, “an outward act of an inner fact” that has been totally performed by the saving grace of God through the work of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross. It is not a requirement to be saved; this is best shown by the salvation experience of the thief on the cross next to Christ: Then he [the thief] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”—Luke 23:42-43. Obviously that thief never had the opportunity to be baptized. At the same time, it was not necessary for his salvation; Christ makes that abundantly clear. When baptism is seen as a necessary work in order to be saved, it starts to stray in “salvation by works,” which is clearly denounced throughout the New Testament. As Paul told the church at Ephesus, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast—Paul, Ephesians 2:8-9. And as he counseled his pastoral protégé, Titus, But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life—Paul, Titus 3:4-7.
One of the most telling traits of baptism as the Bible teaches it is that is a conscious act of obedience by the believer. It is a response to an understanding of what God has done—a response to which an infant would not be capable. In fact, in most evangelical churches in which I have seen infant baptisms done, the service itself comes across as very much of a parental and child dedication to the understanding that the newborn is a gift from God and that the parents are dedicating themselves to bringing up that child in the awe and love of the Lord—a completely appropriate gesture—with the desired outcome of the child itself one day surrendering to the saving faith found only in Jesus Christ. Believing that infant baptism has somehow “saved” the child positions that salvation as being provided or performed by the parent—a work—which would be contrary to the teachings of Scripture. And one of the most important ministries of a pastor is in this area of baptism, that the candidates for baptism thoroughly understand what Jesus has done, what has been done to them through their surrender to God through Christ and, finally, the statement of commitment to God and identification with Christ they are making through this sacrament.
One of the other teachings of Scripture—one more gleaned from an understanding and grasp of God’s grace and mercy versus specific verses that teach it—is the idea of the “age of accountability,” an idea that says that God will not hold the sins of an individual against them while that individual is too young or immature to fully understand or grasp either their slavery to sin or Christ’s remedy of salvation. One specific place this teaching comes from is when King David finally hears of the death of the infant son who was born as a result of the adulterous relationship between him and Bathsheba. As the Bible tells it, On the seventh day the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.” David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.” Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me”—II Samuel 12:18-23. Biblically, that child is a sinner. As David himself said, Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me—David, Psalm 51:5. And as Paul later affirmed in his letter to the Romans, [S]in entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—Paul, Romans 5:12. David seems to be saying that, though he will not see his son on earth, he will see him in heaven. Obviously an infant could do nothing for the sins with which he is born into this world, but God in His grace and understanding of what an infant is not capable of demonstrates His love, grace and forgiveness by providing an eternal home with Him in heaven.

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