“We don’t want to impose our religion on her. We are going to let her decide what she wants to believe.” Many pastors know the disappointment that comes from these words. “We just don’t think we should baptize our baby.” Now, there are a lot of reasons people offer up to avoid infant baptism. But, of all the reasons, this one for me has become the most disturbing.
Now, before I give my reasons for such an assertion, and at the risk of wasting your precious time with a theology blog, I think it might be wise to cut off at the pass the argument which suggests there is no Biblical basis for baptizing an infant.
I have become convinced that to arrive at the conclusion that infant baptism is against the Bible, one must make additions to the Scripture. I know, I know, the argument usually goes the opposite way: “There is no evidence or clear command for the baptism of babies in the Bible, therefore to do so would be to go beyond the text of God’s Word.” I’ve heard it again and again. But, it is just as easy to make the opposite argument since there is also no evidence or clear command against infant baptism in the Bible. So, this is an argument from silence. In fact, in order to deny infant baptism, you have to add your theology to the text with some forced qualifiers, for example:
(NOTE: the theological qualifiers are in bold and not part of the text…)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…except for the babies, of course. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20).
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you except your babies in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children except, of course, the baby ones and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus…well, except for the babies, they are not yet one with us because we all know you shouldn’t baptize them. (Gal. 3:27-28).
And the list goes on. You’ll forgive the snark, though I must say, these passages are qualified to death every time I hear them preached by churches who deny baptism to infants. The text is never allowed to speak for itself on baptism, I suppose.
But, at least those churches which deny baptism to infants attempt to do so on the basis of Scripture. Though I disagree with the conclusions of many “credo-baptists” (that is, churches who believe baptism is only a confession of the Christian and not a promise from Jesus), I must at least respect the fact that they are seeking to draw their belief from Scripture.
I have a different concern about the parents who have decided not to baptize their children for the reason given at the beginning of this blog: they don’t want to impose their religion on their children, so the children can decide what to believe for themselves. But, what are these parents scared of? What is it they don’t want to impose? Is it God? When push comes to shove, most likely that is it. But what is it about “their” religion they are afraid to impose? Why wouldn’t we want to give our children the promise of forgiveness, eternal life, and a Father in heaven who is kindly disposed toward them? Why wouldn’t we want the promises of the cross and empty tomb delivered into the lives of our beautiful, spiritually dead babies?
Sharing Your Child with God
I wonder if, apart from false belief and a lack of understanding, there aren’t two deeper reasons that prevent parents from baptizing their babies. First, as I implied a moment ago, maybe the problem is God Himself. I wonder if parents aren’t all that keen on sharing their children with God. As Christians, we believe our children are a gift from God (Psalm 127). We put our name on them when we sign the birth certificate and give our lives to them. But, to baptize them means that Someone greater is going to put His name on them and give them gifts beyond our abilities. Then, He’s going to tell us how to raise them, what to teach them, what—or should I say Who—to believe. Perhaps there’s something deep down inside of us, the old parents of Cain and Abel, shall we say, that simply doesn’t want to give up authority over our children. We’d prefer they hold us in the highest regard. So, we play God and tell them, “You have a choice with your faith, and you’ll thank me later on when you realize what freedom I’ve given you.” Perhaps the problem is we don’t want to be the parent, we want to be the god!
Babies need to be baptized for the same reason that all Christians need to be absolved: All of us are born into and contribute to this sin-wrecked show of a life.
But, this leads me to my second point. I am certainly open to the argument that the last paragraph is nothing more than my own theological speculation (though, I’d bet there is some truth in it… which is why I wrote it!). However, I do think parents really are trying to keep their kids free, but not from the God of mercy, but from the church baptism connects them to. Parents, along with many of us, are afraid of binding our children to a group of people who simply cannot seem to stop judging the rest of the world. The church, far too often, presents itself as a courthouse set to judge the culture instead of as a storehouse of hope for sinners who live on forgiveness and the merciful word of Christ. We all want our children to be merciful and kind—but more so, we know that they need to be treated with mercy and kindness. What troubles me is that I’m not sure parents in our culture actually believe the church is a place where that sort of thing can be found.
Why is it always the disciples that are keeping the babies away?
Babies need to be baptized for the same reason that all Christians need to be absolved: All of us are born into and contribute to this sin-wrecked show of a life. All of us need to have our sins drowned out of us daily as much as we need to be raised to life daily by the baptismal word of forgiveness. Perhaps what we need to recover is Martin Luther’s—really, the New Testament’s—simple vision of the church as that place where Jesus “daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” (Small Catechism, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed) Perhaps if we came down off our moral high horses and left our political pulpits and instead championed our Lord’s blood-bought promises of forgiveness for sinful parents and babies alike we’d have an easier time convincing parents that baptism is good news for their child; that the God Who is giving Himself to the baby in baptism is one of kindness and mercy!
There are no good reasons for parents to avoid baptizing their children. So, let us pray that as the church, we don’t give them any!