So, my last post, in addition to being fascinating exegesis, had a point. I didn’t even realize the point at the time, but our dear brother Eugene has brought up an important question that just happens to fit with the direction I was moving in. May we thank the movement of the Holy Spirit! As it turns out (I didn’t intend it initially, but caught myself before I spent four hours writing a tome!), this is a topic worthy of more than one post, so here begins a series.
Many evangelical churches reject the practice of infant baptism (or “paedobaptism”) as an unscriptural practice, especially those who derive their thoughts on Baptism from the Anabaptist tradition — the Baptists today (who are more descendants of the Calvinist tradition than of the Anabaptists, except for this view), the Churches of Christ, and many others who have descended from the Second Great Awakening in America. I will argue, from Scripture, that the baptism of infants is not only scriptural, but an apostolic and essential Christian doctrine, taught and practiced since the earliest days of the Church.
This argument goes to the heart of our understanding of what Baptism even is: for according to one’s understanding, the baptism of infants either becomes critical or it becomes nonsensical. For many Protestants, understanding Baptism is reduced to only their personal interpretation of the Scriptures; but for a truthful view, we must look not only to the Scriptures, but to how the earliest Christians understood the Scriptures. This is not an argument about sola scriptura. Even proponents of that view must admit that Scripture is written in a language we don’t innately understand, in a culture very different from our own. How we understand the words of Scripture, in our language and in the context of our own culture, might be quite wrong, if we presume concepts and views that neither the biblical authors nor their recipients would have understood. The correct interpretation of Scripture, as even most learned Protestants have acknowledged, is to strive to understand as fully as possible the language and cultural context in which culture was written.
And the way to do that is to look to writings outside Scripture. Hardcore proponents of sola scriptura recoil at the very idea; for it is “Scripture alone” that we need as our rule of faith. But consider even that statement: “Scripture alone is our sole rule of faith.” Even relying on Scripture as one’s sole rule — the authority on which matters of doctrine and practice are founded — does not dismiss the importance of other writings. Many Protestants read and reflect on the teachings and commentaries of the great Protestant leaders of the past — Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, and many others — drawing great inspiration and edification from them. Are they using their words as a “rule of faith”? No, they say, but merely as helps in understanding the rule of faith. And the matter of reading the writings of the Early Church is absolutely no different: Even if one does not accept that the Church Fathers speak with authority, their words can be a great help in understanding Scripture — for they were the earliest disciples of the Apostles; the ones to whom the Apostles themselves would have explained their writings. They are the ones in the best position to help us understand Scripture — both by speaking the language and understanding the culture in which Scripture was written, and by having received their understanding of Scripture from the Apostles themselves, or from the Apostles’ disciples; and they are the best ones to show us how the Early Church believed and how they put those beliefs into practice.
So, with these thoughts in mind, we will continue to the next leg of our journey: What is Baptism? The two major views that I will explore are the traditional, catholic understanding, which is my own: that Baptism was established by Christ a the Sacrament, an outward, physical action that represents and actually accomplishes an inward spiritual reality, by which He washes away our sins, infuses us with His sanctifying grace, regenerates us and gives us a new birth in Him, unites us with His Body the Church, and gives us the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and the view of many evangelical Christians, called “believers’ baptism” or “credobaptism”: that baptism is only a sign or ordinance that merely symbolizes the spiritual reality that our sins have been forgiven and that we are united to Christ; that it is only for believers, those who have actually come to a mature understanding and faith in Jesus Christ, as a public profession of their faith for them to make before God’s people, the Church. Stay tuned!
(See also the rest of my series on Baptism and on the Sacraments — which, I kind of petered out on; sorry. I will pick that up again after my thesis is in the can. I covered Baptism, Confirmation, and some on the Eucharist — but the Eucharist was a lot to chew!)