Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Why Do We Baptize Babies? 3
Virtually all Christian traditions agree that converts to Christianity ought to be baptized. Disagreement comes between those who believe only converts should be baptized and those who believe the children of believers may also be baptized. Anglican's are in the second group. This raises a question, why do Anglican's believe children are also proper candidates for baptism?
Let me begin my answer in this post and complete it in the next few to come.
The first thing to note is the inconclusiveness of the New Testament. There is no text in the New Testament that identifies the proper candidate for baptism - believer or child of believer. The New Testament is just plain silent. Second, while there are a number of examples of believers receiving baptism in Acts, there are also examples of whole households receiving baptism. The only person in these texts professing faith is the head of the household. All we are told about the other members is that they were baptized as well. The household texts don't claim children of believers were baptized, but they do create ambiguity. We simply do not know for sure who was in that household. And we do not know if every member of the household professed faith before being baptized.
Since we cannot answer the question from New Testament resources, Anglicans believe the next place to go is to the Old Testament. While we do not find baptism in the Old Testament we do find a rite of initiation into life in God and the people of God: circumcision. Circumcision is not the same thing as baptism, but there are similarities. Like baptism, it is a rite of initiation into life in God and his people. But notice, the rite was not only for adults who joined Israel, but for the sons of Israelites. Here's the point: circumcision was for believers and for children of believers. Circumcision functioned as sign of faith (Romans 4:11). Therefore, circumcision makes clear there is nothing inherently problematic in God's economy for the sign of faith to proceed the profession of faith. There is much more that can be said about this than a blog post gives room for. However, the basic point is that Anglicans see in the Old Testament rite of circumcision part of the basis for offering the New Testament rite of baptism to converts and to children of believers.
More needs to be said. Stay tuned.