Now, the other place where the Churches of Christ (and Baptists) disagree with most of the rest of Christianity is in the acceptability of infant baptism (even if performed by immersion). I don’t want to re-walk well-worn ground, other than to summarize what the readers surely already know.
Those opposed to infant baptism argue —
* Biblical baptism is for those capable of believing and repenting —
(Acts 2:38 ESV) 38 And Peter said to them, “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
(Mar 16:16 ESV) Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
(Acts 8:12) But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
* Nations where infant baptism is the near-universal practice tend to have a nominal, weak Christianity.
* Infant baptism is closely tied with Constantinian, state religion and did not become widely practiced until baptism became essential to citizenship.
* Confirmation is unheard of in New Testament or early church practice.
Those favoring infant baptism argue —
* The New Testament has multiple examples of “household” baptisms, and it’s wildly improbable that there were no young children in those households.
* If infants can’t be baptized, what is their eternal fate if they die?
* There is no concept in the New Testament of an “age of accountability.”
* Jesus said,
(Mat 19:14 ESV) but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
* Paul compares baptism to circumcision, and circumcision was administered to the male children of Israelites on the 8th day after birth.
(Col 2:11-12 ESV) 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
* Infant baptism can be dated back to at least the 3rd century in the early church fathers.
Again, I’m trying to be fair — not to persuade the readers to go baptize their babies. To me, the biggest objection is that salvation is for those who confess “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9), and I don’t see how an infant can do that. But disagreeing with me makes you neither rebellious nor ignorant. Some of the greatest theologians the world has ever known have favored infant baptism. I think they’re mistaken, but they’re not idiots or rebellious.
Back to the Paradox
And so, with this information in mind, we recognize that the community of believers is also a community of people who’ve been baptized — or who, at least, in all honesty, and with considerable scholarship, consider themselves baptized. If I disagree with an Anglican or Baptist regarding baptism, we still agree on Jesus. We still agree on repentance. And we still agree that Christians ought to be baptized.
Indeed, the Anglican and I would team up against the Baptist, arguing that baptism is the moment of salvation — whereas the Baptist and I would team up against the Anglican to argue that the proper mode is immersion and the proper recipient is a penitent believer.
We must dismiss from our thinking the perverse notion that other denominations willfully and ignorantly ignore our arguments. No, they just disagree.
With that out of the way, we still have to wrestle with what God will do with a penitent believer, who wants to obey God with all her heart, who reaches the wrong conclusion regarding the purposes or mode of or age for baptism. Does God damn such a person because she was baptized as an infant? Or received baptism by pouring? Or took the dozens of verses saying that all with faith are saved so literally that she concluded she was saved when she first believed?
There are two ways of addressing that question. First, we can be loyal to our tradition, and treat those with imperfect baptisms as damned because they are in error — and if we reach that conclusion, we would be quite consistent with those who damn those who worship with an instrument because they are in error. But we would soon find ourselves struggling to define — from the scriptures — just which errors damn and which do not.
Second, we can open our Bibles to see how God deals with those who approach him with penitence and faith — but are otherwise less than ideal candidates for his forgiveness. And when we do this, we find that God always accepts those who come to him with penitence and faith.
I gave many examples of God’s doing just this in the Amazing Grace series.
I just want to mention one here. When David sinned with Bathsheba, he wrote,
(Psa 51:16-17 ESV) 6 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Now, the Law of Moses is quite clear that, in fact, God wants burnt offerings as a condition of forgiving sin. That’s what the rule says. It’s in the text. But David sees through the law to the heart of God, recognizing that the sacrifices only point to a deeper, richer, truer meaning. God wants our hearts.
To much the same effect is —
(Psa 40:6-8 ESV) 6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. 7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: 8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
(Psa 34:16-19 ESV) 16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. 17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
You see, it ultimately comes down to your understanding of who God is. Is God watching us, hoping we’ll make some technical mistake, overlooking some subtly revealed truth — so he can say he told us what to do but we were too stupid to find it? Or does God actually want us to make it to heaven?
Does God create traps for the unwary? Or does he look for ways to rescue us from our weakness and failings?
That’s the heart of the argument. But there’s a nice, logical way to state it: Does God keep his promises or not? Does he keep all of his promises or just some of them?
Obviously, God keeps every single promise he’s ever made. So how will God deal with the fact that he promised to save all those with submissive faith in Jesus? Well, he’ll keep his promise. It’s not complicated.
Next: Is perfect baptism required?