Have you ever heard people say during the baptism of an infant that there will come a day when the infant will make the pledges being made her own? Language like this ought to be dropped altogether.
To see why, we might want to consider this by analogy to something very close in nature to baptism: adoption—for we can rightly say that baptism is when we are adopted into God’s family. When parents decide to adopt a child, are they required to take vows on the part of the child who will some day make the vows his own? No. Consent of the child has no place in adoption proceedings. The judge might rightly ask an older child, or perhaps even an adult for consent in an adoption at a later age. But the consent is not part of the procedure for an infant. The adoption is valid without it. The relationship may well be rocky at a later date. The child may become estranged from the parents. Similar things occur in a natural relationship. But as nobody decides to be born, so also nobody decides to be born again.
The Question of How Much Faith?
When we focus on something coming later, we are clearly making the idea of an adult convert the model for the normative Christian. Now there are adult converts to the faith, to be sure. For most of these, they respond to the Word of God when they hear the Gospel preached and come to faith. But once we start focusing on the faith itself, everything will become uncertain. Questions of “How much faith?” will arise. Questions of obedience and the appropriate disposition of the will will arise. There will never be a shortage of teachers who lament the shallow conversions we see around, and insist on looking for signs of election, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some day they hope to weed the wheat field, or lead an army of only the zealous. But we did not learn Christ this way. We should be learning our theology from our practice. We practice infant baptism because that is the ancient practice, following the command of Scripture. If the ancient world didn’t understand modern individualism well enough to see that infants ought not be baptized, so much the worse for modern theory.
We practice infant baptism because that is the ancient practice, following the command of Scripture.
Christ said “Let the children come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” This did not just mean that somehow a child is an object lesson and you should emulate a little childish humility when you come to Christ. He was saying that these children were actual members of his kingdom. If we imagine there are qualities of adult carefulness mixed in the faith wherever it is real, we are reminded that there are members of the kingdom who possess none of these qualities. If this is so there is hope not only for the infant, but for the infantile. These so-called qualities of the faith might actually be hindrances to faith.
To speak as if someday in the future the infant will be adding to what is present in baptism is to hope for something we should not hope for. The infant is made a true child of God in baptism. To hope for something more later is like saying to somebody, “Well, it’s too bad you’re limping along on those legs of yours, but one day we’ll have a wheelchair for you.”
Don’t look forward to the day when the baby can become more like you. Make this the day you aspire to be more like the baby. One who will be saved by God despite having nothing to offer. One whose resistance and crying is not an occasion for anxiety, but for laughter.