Jay, DOES Acts 2:38 “certainly suggest that the simultaneous receipt of water and Spirit would be the normative Christian experience”? … Where in the Scriptures does it tell us that children of first generation converts or thirty-third generation converts or converts born into an already “Christianised” culture will have the same conversion experience as those on the day of Pentecost?
I conclude that concurrent water and Spirit baptism are normative for several reasons. Acts 2:38 is one, but in the Pauline epistles, it’s clear that Paul sees all saved people as baptized in both water and the Spirit, and yet he teaches that there is but “one baptism.” Moreover, his imagery often blends water baptism with Spirit baptism —
(1Co 12:13 ESV) 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Compare Romans 6 to Romans 8. Chapter 6 assumes that all Christians are water baptized, and chapter 8 teaches that all Christians have the indwelling Spirit.
And then there are the Acts conversion stories where water baptism is tied to receipt of the Spirit or salvation — the Ephesians in Acts 19 and Paul in Acts 22:16 particularly.
But, as you know, I’ve often taught that faith in Jesus (not mere intellectual acceptance) is the ultimate test of salvation, and so there can be cases where water baptism and Spirit baptism are separated. I suppose that may be why Hebrews refers to elementary teachings about “baptisms.”
(Heb 6:1-2 NIV1984) Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
“Baptisms” is true to the Greek, but bothers translators because they can imagine but one baptism — forgetting about baptism with the Spirit. And if it’s true that baptism with the Spirit is received by all Christians, then it should indeed be an elementary teaching, along with water baptism.
The salvation of the children of Christian parents
To me, the difficult case for children of citizens of the Kingdom, that is, a Christian household. Do those children pass from saved (due to unaccountability), to damned (due to accountability), and then back to saved upon baptism? And what if the baptism is too soon? And just when does a child become accountable?
And just what does it mean to be “accountable”? After all, why spank a 4-year old for bad behavior if he’s not accountable for his sins? You don’t discipline a baby for pinching his sister. He’s truly not accountable. But you’d discipline a 4-year old!
You see, I think we’ve taken the concept of accountability from Arminius (who opposed Calvin) and re-interpreted it in terms of faith, that is, without admitting it to ourselves. We’ve concluded that a child is accountable when old enough to make a genuine faith commitment — which is quite a different thing from not being accountable for sin. We’ve assumed, not unreasonably, that God would not damn a child for lack of faith if the child is too young to have faith.
John Mark Hicks argues that children of the saved are saved by virtue of being born into the Kingdom — not by sheer inheritance but by faith in Jesus.
Our children … have been nurtured by family and community. They have walked a path of faith and discipleship throughout their years. And when they come to their baptism, they do not come as “lost” little people. They come as believers–people who have lived in relationship with God since their birth–ready to own their discipleship, declare their allegiance to the Father, and commit to the way of the cross as followers of Jesus.
And I’ve been pretty plain that all with faith (not mere intellectual acceptance) are saved. I base this on the fact that this is what the Bible says — repeatedly.
Does that mean children should be baptized as infants? I don’t see how that follows at all.
Does it mean they should be baptized despite already being saved? Absolutely. If Cornelius had to be baptized after receiving the Spirit and if Paul had to be baptized after having met with Jesus himself in heaven, we aren’t too good to be baptized along with them. In so doing, we join with Jesus in his submission.
When? Well, there isn’t a hard line. In fact, the more the decision comes from the child, and not from some artificially imposed age or pressure from the minister at Bible camp, the better. The goal isn’t to get them into the water, as though a commitment coerced by social pressure or a fire-and-brimstone sermon will change a life. No, the goal is for a child raised in a Christian home to adopt his parents’ faith as his own.
Those of us who grew up in Christian homes never remember a moment when we first believed, but we do remember when we first realized that we don’t have to believe, that we must make a choice whether to follow Jesus along with our parents — or not. Many of us struggled greatly with that decision, and to me, that’s the important decision and the one we should celebrate in baptism.
It’s not the moment of salvation so much as the moment of maturing in faith. No longer are we spiritual babes being carried by our parents. At that moment, we learn to walk on our own spiritual feet. It’s big deal.
Wise youth ministers work hard to help teens find that moment and make that decision. Poor youth ministers push kids to be baptized before they decide as individuals to be followers of Jesus, pushing baptism as merely a sacrament that saves souls rather than as a commitment to follow Jesus. And there’s a difference.
A key is to better understand “repent,” which we often preach means “stop sinning,” but it’s better thought of as making a commitment to have faith in Jesus and so to follow Jesus. But we often unintentionally teach our children that baptism is a cheap insurance policy against hell rather than a decision to leads to a life of sacrifice.
The bottom line, to me, is that children born in faith, who have a genuine faith in Jesus throughout their lives, are always saved, because they always have faith. But sometimes, because we panic over a child’s reluctance to be baptized, we push baptism as the goal, the end of Christian parenting — fearing that the child might die before becoming saved.
The result is bad teaching, pushing baptism more than Jesus, immersion more than commitment, and rite more than a sacrificed life. Hopefully, we can trust God’s promises to save all who have faith and so patiently and gently instruct our children, helping them find a personal love for Jesus at the time that is right for them.
Now, I leave to the readers this question: When does such a child receive the Spirit?