Thoughts on Infant Baptism

I sympathize with both sides of the infant baptism debate. On the one hand, I value my baptism. I can remember it, and it is meaningful that I can remember it. It symbolized for me my commitment to Christ. Notice the operative terms in this paragraph: I... I... I... for me my. Believer's baptism is "me" centered, and modern Western culture is individualist in orientation.

On the other hand, I think children are "in" until God brings them to the point where they can choose not to be. Did the early church baptize infants? I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if they did, for the ancient world was a group oriented culture (e.g., Acts 16:15, 33). I do believe that the children of Christians ate the Lord's Supper along with everyone else, since it was originally a meal (1 Cor. 10). The assumption would have been that they were "in" until one way or another they made it clear they were not.

So I like the symbolism of infant baptism that puts a claim on the salvation of our children--not a presumption that they will be saved, but a commitment to cooperate with God's prevenient grace and a symbolic affirmation that they are more "in" than "out." They are sanctified by the believing parents and thus made holy (1 Cor. 7:14).

I believe children of an early age go to heaven when they die--whether they are baptized or not. I don't think they're like animals who don't count, and I have a hard time believing God sends them to hell when they had no chance at all.

Now also important is my belief that baptism doesn't actually save you. I think in theory you can make it to heaven without baptism (a relief to you Salvationists, Quakers, and babies out there). Nevertheless, I think it is an important symbol that the New Testament universally affirms as expected.

In fact, I think it is more than just a symbol in the sense that as a sacrament, I think it actually catalyzes God's grace to you. I would go so far as to say that I believe an infant who has been baptized has a better chance of eventually becoming a Christian than one that has not, even though I know this poses some issues for the matter of free will (but then again, so does the idea of praying for the lost).

And so, I see benefits to both. Believer's baptism is more meaningful to me because I make the choice and receive the sacramental benefit consciously. But as a parent, infant baptism places a claim on the child for God in a sacramental way and says, this child is God's--stay away Satan.

I wish we could do it twice, frankly, if it didn't seem to play games of disbelief with God. I would rebaptize someone if they wished, however, because I believe God is very pragmatic.

So where do I come down on this issue? I am sympathetic to both practices. Because baptism doesn't actually save you, I don't think the timing is as important as some people make it (the Wesleyan Church thankfully allows baptism at any age or even never at all).

But ultimately I had my children baptized because I didn't want them hanging in limbo during this period of their life (yes, in a Wesleyan church). God considers them "in" during this period, so I wanted them to be symbolically in as well. I also wanted them to receive any sacramental benefit it might carry.

What I donít like is the self-centered individualism of Western culture. Christianity isn't all about me. You (plural) are the temple of God, not you singular (1 Cor. 3:16). I think the next few years will see an increasing awareness among American Christians of how hyper-self-preoccupied we are--without even realizing it, I hate to say.