I will be returning to my “Bad News” series in the near future. For now though, this is on my heart, and I think it needs to be said. Please note, I am NOT educated in theology, church history, or doctrine. I am a Christian though, and believe that God’s word is clear and understandable. I am willing to be taught, and to have my opinions refuted, but for now I strongly hold to what I write here below.
Last time, I left off with this statement, which I believe is supported by a careful reading of 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 16:16 along with the rest of scripture: “it is faith which saves us, and that without that faith, even if we are baptized, we are condemned.”
Why is it that child or infant baptism is such a long standing tradition in so many churches? I think that, in part, it’s based on a mishandling of Peter’s words on the subject. After all, if baptism saves us (which Peter said, but which we’ve also demonstrated is only partially true), then baptizing infants would save them. I also think that this tradition is based on the misapplication of several descriptive passages of scripture. Dr. Mueller makes an appeal to tradition in his tract “Why Baptize Children?” An appeal is made to the early “church fathers,” and to several descriptive passages of scripture where entire households believed and were baptized. The analogy is also drawn between circumcision and baptism, and other scriptures are discussed purporting to command that children be baptized.
I don’t want to leave this subject with an unfair treatment, so lets look at that. First of all, you’ll note that I have made a distinction between prescriptive and descriptive passages of scripture in earlier posts on this subject, and I do again here. A prescriptive passage of scripture gives us a direct command or instruction to follow, such as “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'” (Acts 16:31). Here, the command, the prescription is to “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” It’s very clear that we are told to believe in Jesus to be saved. A descriptive passage on the other hand simply tells what happened. For example, we know that David was a man after God’s own heart, (Acts 13:22) yet we read in 2 Samuel 11 all about his adultery and murderous acts. An adulterer and murderer was a man after God’s own heart? Can we take these two passages together to condone adultery and murder?
God forbid! Are we to take the account of King Solomon and his many wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3) as prescriptive? Can we use it to condone polygamy? Of course not. The ending of verse three tells us that his wives led him astray. A little further on and we read “So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.” (1 Kings 11:6) And let’s not forget what Moses had to say about kings having many wives either. (Deuteronomy 17:17). The point is, just because the bible describes something doesn’t mean it prescribes it.
Earlier in this series I argued that simply because something is traditional does not mean that it is biblical. But that doesn’t mean it’s not biblical either. Whole households believed and were baptized in the bible. Nothing in those passages indicates that there were children in those households, and it’s easy to conceive of a household with no children or babies. I can give my own as an example. At the same time, there is noting in those passages that indicates that there were not children in those households. The descriptive passages about whole households believing and being baptized fail to make a persuasive case, to me at least, either for or against child baptism.
But what about those passages of scripture that are purported to command child baptism? If these passages truly do command it, then logical arguments to the contrary are not to be trusted. After all, we are to trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not on our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5) If God’s word says it, that settles it, whether I agree with it or not! So what do these passages really say?
The passage cited in the tract is Colossians 2:11-12. This passage makes an analogy between circumcision and baptism, but it does not command the baptism of a child on his eighth day of life as the Mosaic law did for male children with circumcision. Further, all believers are commanded to be baptized, even women. The law of Moses did not command baby girls to be circumcised, so at least on that point the analogy fails. As such, this is a rather weak argument for child baptism. (although Dr. Mueller argues that Colossians therefore expands on the law of circumcision). Remember that short newspaper clipping? It makes a similar argument that just as circumcision was an ordinance for entry into the Jewish nation, so baptism is an ordinance required for entry into Christianity, and so it should apply to children as circumcision did.
The argument continues noting that “babies belong to all the nations” and since the great commission is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them,” (Matthew 28:16-20) that we are to baptize the babies of all nations. Are we then to make disciples of the babies of all nations, children to young to even understand human instruction and thus be discipled? A disciple is someone who adheres to the teaching of another. How can an infant even understand the teaching of another? And, the great commission is commanding us to baptize the disciples we make, not all people of all nations including those who refuse to be our disciples.
Back to Colossians and circumcision for a moment. In Israel, actually from Abraham and not Moses, newborn males were to be circumcised in the foreskin of their flesh and any male that wanted to be joined to Israel also had to be circumcised. This was a sign and a token that pointed to a promised circumcision of the heart. That circumcision of the heart is what the analogy in Colossians 2:11-12 is talking about. And, it is timely when a new believer is baptized, since the circumcision of the heart, the joining of the new believer in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ comes with the new birth of the Christian. That is, when the Christian is born again not of flesh and blood but of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5)
Once again, we’re over 1,000 words. More next time.