baptism is for believers


Baptism is for believers.

I believe scripture plainly teaches that only those who believe in Christ should be baptized.  And I’ll get to why I hold this view in time.  But first I want to look at some of the best arguments I’ve heard for infant baptism.  They generally go something like this:  

(above image courtesy of south biscayne church)

1.  Baptism is the new circumcision.  And circumcision was done on the 8th day of an infants’ life.  So infants should be baptized as a sign of the new covenant.
 This is demonstrated in Colossians 2:11-12:

In [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 

[I won’t mention how that last sentence makes clear that all this is made possible by faith.  Oops, I did mention it.]

2.  In the New Testament we often read of large crowds or entire households being baptized together.  This necessarily included adult men and women, servants and/or slaves, and children and infants.

3.  Also, the household baptismal occurrences demonstrate that the head of a household can decide for all those in his care that they would be baptized.  An individual and personal faith is not necessary for baptism.

4.  Some variance of “We’re consecrating or dedicating our children to the Lord.”


My thoughts on the above conclusions:

1.  Baptism is indeed a “new circumcision,” but Paul makes it clear that baptism is both different and better than circumcision.  His reasoning is that baptism is rooted in one’s faith.  This seems to me to be the bulk of his argument:  Your circumcision and ancestry cannot make you a child of God; rather your faith makes you such.  And baptism is the new circumcision which comes by faith.  This is evidenced from the above Colossians text (as I accidentally mentioned), but is even more plain from Romans chapters 2-6, which deal with justification by faith and the shortcomings of physical circumcision.  Baptism’s relationship with faith is in fact clearly demonstrated throughout the whole of the New Testament, but we’ll get to some of those passages just a bit later.

[Also, it would just seem odd (or even illogical) to replace circumcision with baptism (or anything else) if the “new circumcision” is simply going to function in the exact same way.  But, come to mention it, were females circumcised?  Do infant baptizers deal in girl babies?]

2.  I have no reason to assume babies or young children were baptized with the rest of the crowds in the numerous passages in which crowds or households together come to faith.  In fact, if anything, I have reasons NOT to assume infants were baptized.  This is mostly due to incredibly frequent statements concerning the baptism of “those who believed.”*

But it’s also odd that we often make a point to say women and children were not counted in New Testament times.  For example, in the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, to demonstrate how incredible that miracle was, we make clear that there were actually 5000 men — plus women and children (as if  feeding only 5000 people with a little fish and biscuits isn’t impressive enough).  So why would we assume the very opposite here, and include infants (who, by the way, don’t fit the description of being capable of believing in Christ)?  My answer:  because we’re going to the text looking for something to prop up our  already present beliefs concerning infant baptism.

[It’s also worth noting that, in the case of Cornelius and his household being baptized, when Peter recounts the story for the sake of his Jewish Christian friends, one of the foci is that the Cornelius and the Gentiles at Caesarea were repentant.]

3.  As to the head of a household making faith decisions for his entire household, I’m not so against that idea.  This is how people in many cultures around the world make decisions; and their decisions are still quite valid ones.  In the states we often frown on faith decisions made in a group because we’re so very in love with individualism and we like our personal savior Jesus.  But one could certainly argue that the New Testament supports faith decisions by committee.  This is the best argument, in my opinion, for infant baptism, but it’s still incredibly far from conclusive — especially when we take into account some of the passages we’ll look at a little later.

4.  I have no problem with consecrating our children to the Lord.  I just don’t at all believe this is the purpose of (or even a purpose of) baptism.  I think it’s strange that, in the absence of a proper dedication ceremony, many have chosen to tweak a clearly defined sacrament to suit their own purposes.  There’s simply zero evidence in scripture of baptism’s involvement in the dedication of children to God.  Perhaps we should let baptism function as New Testament authors suggest, and find another way to dedicate our children to God (ie. special prayer services, etc)?


I chose to begin this post with a few arguments for infant baptism, and my defense against those conclusions.  Though I should be clear that what I’ve written above is not at all my basis for holding the position that baptism is for believers.  Rather, what I see as the plain and undeniable evidence for believers’ baptism follows.  The first is the one which is most commonly argued, though the second seems to me to provide us with the greatest conclusive evidence:

1.  Belief is a prerequisite for baptism.  In fact, belief in Jesus as the Son of God seems to be one of the only prerequisites for baptism.  Consider these passages (and also consider this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Acts 2:37-41 — Those who were “cut to the heart” asked how to accept Jesus, and then all who accepted Peter’s message were baptized.
  • Acts 8:12 — Those who believed Philip’s message about the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ were baptized.
  • Acts 8:36-37** — The Ethiopian Eunuch sees water and asks if he can be baptized.  Philip’s answer: “If you believe with all your heart.”
  • Acts 16:30-34 — When the Philippian jailer asked what to do to be saved, Paul and Silas said to believe in the Lord Jesus.  Once the jailers family did believe, they were baptized.
  • Acts 18:7-8 — The ruler of the synagogue (Crispus), his household, and many other Corinthians believed and were then baptized.
  • Acts 19:1-7 — About 12 guys had already believed in Jesus, but had only been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism (of repentance only — they’d not yet received the Holy Spirit).  So they were baptized again, this time in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • Galatians 3:26-27 — Baptism was the product of faith in Christ.
  • Colossians 2:9-12 — Through faith in the power of God, and at baptism, believers were given the fullness of Christ.

2.  Repentance is a prerequisite for baptism.  Some argue that an infant can indeed believe in Jesus Christ and the power of God, accepting the message of the kingdom.  I think that’s silly.  But little argument can be made that an infant can repent, putting to death his old life and its sinful nature.  There are of course a few proof texts that could be offered here, such as Acts 2:38, in which the crowd at Pentecost were told to “repent and be baptized.”  But I will offer only one passage, because I see it as so very compelling a chapter:

Romans 6

Paul’s intention in this chapter is NOT to teach on baptism.  Rather, he is simply urging the Roman Christians to stop sinning.  But we can learn a great deal about baptism in the process.  Paul views baptism as a marker in the life of the Christian; it signifies the point in time in which that believer put to death his old self, was buried with Christ, and was raised to be a new creation.  He encourages each Christian to think about the sinful life he once lived, and to remember that in baptism he agreed to kill that old man and all the sin with which he was involved.  This participation in Christ is indeed how the Christian is united with Christ.

The entirety of Romans 6 (not to mention the surrounding chapters) makes absolutely no sense if baptism is not for those who are capable of believing in Christ and putting to death their sinful ways.


Final Thoughts

I hesitated to bring up this topic in my series on baptism for three reasons:

  1. It is quite a controversial subject to many, it seems.  And I don’t want to promote argument for the sake of argument.
  2. It seems clear to me that the doctrine of infant baptism has to be accepted apart from any objective reading of scripture.  In order to defend or strengthen any view of infant baptism, one must go to the Bible seeking to do so.  And then one must blindly read a great deal into a very few passages while completely ignoring many others.  Why should I spend a lot of time arguing from scripture about a doctrine the proponents of which are by nature willing to ignore or bend scripture in order to hold?
  3. I am admittedly dogmatic on the subject of believers’ baptism.  And so I knew my words on the subject would tends toward being rude and ungracious (as in #2 above).  And I hate to come across that way.  At the same time though, I don’t want to be apologetic about the clarity of scripture versus the traditions of man.  I am not so when I write concerning wrongful traditions my own tribe holds, and I don’t know that I ever should be.

In the end, obviously, I decided to write the post.  I figure I’m working on a fairly comprehensive study of water baptism….  I ought to address even those aspects of it which make me appear obstinate, bad-mannered, and generally unlikable.  I do welcome disagreement, and I should make clear that I don’t in any way believe myself infallible (or even unlikely to misunderstand scripture).  I’ve been wrong on plenty of things, and am certainly not afraid to change my mind if a better interpretation of scripture is offered.

* Also consider the following account from Acts 8:12, in which it’s specifically stated not only that it was those who believed who were baptized, but men and women:
But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women.
** Verse 37 does not appear in early manuscripts.  Feel free to throw this one out if you like; the point is still clear.

This post is the sixth in a series on baptism.  The first three posts are here:


Filed under baptism

35 responses to “baptism is for believers

  1. Pingback: baptism is for believers | aliens and strangers « Baptism « Church Leadership

  2. I find you extremely likable after reading this. =)

    My neighbors recently had their newborn daughter baptized (sprinkled, not biblical immersion). The Grandmother was telling me about it and said, “The day of Pentecost was pretty important you know.”

    I didn’t know the Grandmother, so I didn’t bother starting a conversation with her about it. I just let it go. But that got me thinking about some of the very stuff you have been posting on. Somehow, they have forced their beliefs onto Scripture (IMHO) because Pentecost speaks about the baptisms of people who not only believed, but also were repenting and putting their faith in Jesus. Not something an 8 day, old baby can do.

    The Greek word obviously denotes that baptism was by immersion, not sprinkling. Sprinkling wasn’t even considered an acceptable form of baptism until the 1300’s some time. So the idea of using a form of baptism that isn’t biblical, along with attaching it to an individual who can’t put any faith in Jesus or repent of sins, it seems hard to recognize it as a legitimate form of biblical baptism.

    Again, didn’t want to start this argument with Grandma in the driveway. =)

    I’m pretty rigid on this subject too. I have really enjoyed reading your study on this even though I haven’t commented much. Thanks for writing it.

    • i think it’s a general rule of life that one should never argue in a driveway with a grandmother — one’s own grandmother or someone else’s.

      and we’ll be getting to immersion soon. thanks for the comments, stan.

  3. Craig Bullington

    A conversation I have had with many a friend…

    I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusions, although I think it’s worth mentioning that all of the arguments on both sides are addressed to and coming from a protestant perspective. For Catholics & Orthodox it comes down entirely to where we receive authority on these matters.

    on another note, i’m contemplating bringing my fiddle to geita, and was wondering if you think humidity would be a problem. I know you have a banjo and Carson has a guitar, I don’t really know if those instruments have problems with changing humidity but I thought i’d check. I’d love to bring it, I just don’t want to destroy it in the process.

    • as per authority, i do realize i’m writing from a wholly protestant perspective. it’s difficult for me to even think through matters otherwise — though i’m trying to broaden my theological horizons a bit. i went to orthodox morning prayers the other day in geita.

      per your fiddle, i’d say bring it. but if you’re really concerned i’d ask carson; are you friends with him on facebook? it’s not really all that humid here (i mean way less than south alabama), though whatever humidity there is, it’s everywhere (whereas we keep it outside in alabama by way of a/c). i can’t myself imagine damage occurring — but carson would know better.

  4. As Craig says, it comes down to where we receive authority. If we receive Scripture in isolation, without an interpretive tradition which includes historically documented norms from as early as the first century, then authority to interpret Scripture belongs to the individual- and different individuals will certainly create different interpretations even on radically necessary doctrine.

    If we receive Scripture from the Church who wrote and compiled it,* then the authority to interpret Scripture belongs to the entire body, not to the individual. If a certain interpretation is the norm of practice of the entire Church from early times, then for us to assume that the Body of Christ got it wrong all these years and we only just** discovered what it really means is… well, it’s something.

    *You’re bold with your belief here, so I’ll be bold with mine. No rudeness or lack of grace received or intended.

    **OK, 500 years ago. But that’s very recent in Church time.

    • james, i thought about you after i wrote this post. i am bold but, as you already know, intend no rudeness or lack of grace. thanks for returning the favor. [i’d state that you could be much bolder even than you were without fear of hurting my feeings.]

      i remember struggling during my masters work with the idea of a rule of faith. and you know from our discussions that i’m greatly lacking in my knowledge of church history (i learned more from our discussion during breakfast than from my church history class in college — though this has less to do with the university and teacher and more to do with me skipping class to play frisbee).

      i do believe scripture should be interpreted in community; that’s one of the roles of the church. but i also believe mankind is inclined to christen his own personal traditions. i don’t think of all tradition as bad, but i separate in my mind (to some extent) the traditions of God and those of man. and i’m wary of the traditions of man. no doubt it’s possible this is a mistrust of the Holy Spirit’s guidance throughout history on my part.

      i also realize the perceived arrogance in saying everyone’s gotten it wrong up until now. but the church has to self-correct in some way. we’re certainly not selling indulgences anymore. at least not us protestants (snicker).

      you said, “if a certain interpretation is the norm of practice of the entire Church from early times….” and i have to wonder what date constitutes “early times.” i realize there’s some disagreement about when infant baptism began. but it seems to me that any careful reading — scratch that, any skimming even — of the new testament shows that the earliest church was not baptizing or sprinkling infants. so the same argument made against 500 years ago “introducing” believers’ baptism could have (should have) been made against introducing infant baptism to begin with.

      or do you guys read it as if from the very beginning infants were baptized?

      • Brett,

        Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian write of infant baptism (triple-immersion, Trinitarian) being quite normal as early as the second century. First-century historical documentation for this particular norm isn’t there, although of course we interpret the passages in Acts as you would expect us to.

        This is an issue where, respectfully, I say that Scripture is inconclusive. The book of Acts ends with the Church still so young that there aren’t many second-generation Christians, so the Church didn’t yet have to come up with a norm for receiving people born into Christian families. There is no rock-solid evidence of infant baptism in Scripture, nor is there any rock-solid condemnation.

        But it seems clear that by the second century, infant baptism was regarded as a long-standing norm. If the Church had already slipped into error by then, then she did so very very quickly. And we’d be in the awkward place of saying that the 4th-century Church who compiled and defined the New Testament canon was able to do so without error under the direction of the Holy Spirit, even as she had already, for centuries, been defying the Holy Spirit by baptizing infants.

        As for sprinkling-baptism and plenary indulgences- these are inventions of the medieval Roman Catholic Church that y’all are very right to reject. I have plenty more I could say about that.

        • although, if i understand correctly, the didache says a great deal about baptism, while assuming all “baptizees” are older and able to believe. [though it does mention sprinkling as an option when there’s not enough water…] and that would come before your three guys, right? but i’m not historian and don’t claim to be.

          i suppose i’m with you, though, that there’s no rock solid evidence either way as per infant baptism (rock being pretty solid). and it makes perfect sense that the new testament might not speak to babies being born into christian families, as we’re seeing solely initial conversions. but i don’t know how you can deal with these three things:

          1. baptism is so often mentioned as coming alongside belief (nearly every time — and it’s implied probably every time).
          2. baptism is (not nearly as often, but sometimes) mentioned as coming alongside repentance.
          3. paul (in rom 6 and col 2) seems to be very clear that baptism was administered at the moment (or very near to it) when an individual committed to put to death his old life and sin and live the new life God would give him.

          what does the orthodox christian do with those ideas?

          • Yes, the Didache is early enough that it’s focused exclusively on adult converts rather than people born into Christian families. The first records of how the Church deals with people born into Christian families come a few decades later.

            The short response to your first two points are that the community and the family are responsible for making decisions on a child’s behalf until the child is old enough to make those decisions independently- your point no.3 in the original post. The child is raised as a believer, and the child is raised in repentance- and so, full membership in the Body is not withheld from the child.

            3. Yes, and the case of the Ethiopian eunuch speaks to this as well- “I believe, here’s water, please baptize me.” But this is an argument against withholding baptism from those who are ready to commit their lives to Christ, not an argument in favor of withholding baptism from those who are ready to be committed to Christ.

            So there is a distinction between those who deliberately, intentionally, willfully do not believe and those who are received into a community which deliberately, intentionally does believe although they are not yet mature enough as individuals to articulate the Christian faith. The former can be called “unbelievers,” but not the latter.

            But I’m repeating things that you have already summarized fairly, and have already responded to well. So the difference here, I believe, lies in the context that we use to interpret Scripture.

    • also, after you left town the other day i continued thinking through what would have to change in my theology in order for me to convert to orthodoxy…. (don’t worry, everyone, it’s just a thought question). i decided i think the most difficult thing for me would be having weigh so heavily — seemingly against scripture — church tradition.

      i’m not saying you guys just do whatever you want and don’t believe there’s any authority in scripture. but i have a strong bent towards “read the bible and do what is says,” regardless of what the church has said for years. i do want scripture to be interpreted in community, and i want those communities to carefully weigh what the Holy Spirit has guided (or put up with) for centuries before us. but in the end, if it seems to be clear from scripture alone, that’s the interpretation i think the church ought to accept.

      i just think about all the ideas in christianity that lasted so long before being “corrected.” i also think about how mistaken the jews were when they accepted their traditions over the words of prophets and “common sense” teachings of God.

      • Not a lot for me to disagree with here, although I know we’d not see eye to eye on how to apply the principles. I have a hard time conceiving of Christian Scripture as distinct from Christian tradition or in opposition to it, but then there are plenty of things you might call “Christian tradition” that I might call “bad habits.” Or “good habits.”

        Baptism, for example, is Christian tradition. In fact, Trinitarian water baptism by immersion is clearly Christian tradition. Triple-immersion baptism of infants is a very old habit which I believe is a very good habit and is affirmed by Christian tradition. It is a pastoral application of the tradition of baptism.

        Baptism by pouring or sprinking (when there is enough water available to immerse) is a pastoral application of the tradition of baptism which is, I believe, a bad habit. It is also a bad habit for parents to deliberately, intentionally keep their children out of the Body of Christ* until they are old enough to reject or accept this identity as individuals. But these bad habits don’t make the baptism less real when it happens- they don’t keep the Holy Spirit away.

        You mention Christian ideas that lasted a long time before they were “corrected.” Any examples?

        *I say this boldly, hoping not to sound ungracious, knowing that this wording would be rejected by parents who do not have their children baptized. And I say it in the context that my Godly parents did not have me baptized when I was born. I know their decision was out of love, and they DID raise me to follow Christ, and I don’t resent them for their decision.

        • james, if you’re tiring of this conversation we can stop. or we can move to email. or i can keep asking questions here. [did you read the link on yesterday’s morning blend about chess? it sums up well (in my mind) our discussion and why i enjoy it.]

          i want to know more about orthodox interpretation of scripture. you said you have a hard time separating church tradition from christian scripture. so you may not be able even to answer my questions: do you guys start with orthodox doctrine as a baseline and then go to the bible to interpret scripture, seeing it through the lens of already established traditions?

          or does your average orthodox just accept that the church must have gotten it all right (with the aid of the Holy Spirit, obviously), so we should just accept it.

          or do you go to scripture, and during your interpretation take into account church history and orthodox stances?

          • Brett, I’m enjoying the conversation- and yes, I appreciated the chess analogy.

            We start with Christian worship as a baseline, and we use Scripture as the foundational source of Christian worship. You’ve seen us praying the Psalms in our daily services, singing texts from the Gospels, and reading aloud portions from the Epistles and from the Gospels.

            So we receive the words of Scripture primarily as they are proclaimed and sung in the context of Christian worship; many passages become so familiar as hymns that they can be easily called to mind for personal meditation and prayer. Scripture gives us the context and even the language to use when approaching God both in public worship and in personal prayer.

            Personal study and meditation on Scripture is important, of course, but this use of Scripture is secondary to the primary use of Scripture as Christian worship. And when we study Scripture, we do tend to see it through the lens of established Christian worship.

            So in terms of worship (remembering that all the holy mysteries, including baptism, are liturgical actions which are carried out in the context of Christian worship), we do assume that the Church has gotten it right. We trust Scripture because the Church is the source of Scripture, and so we trust the Church to have a sound foundation for her interpretation- we trust that the Holy Spirit is acting here.

            What that looks like may be different than what you might expect, though. The Church makes doctrinal clarifications through councils, and it’s often a century or two before the decisions of a certain council come to be regarded as authoritative- guided by the Holy Spirit- by the entire Church: that is to say, by the faithful. The most recent such council was in the eighth century. Since that time, we say the stuff that matters about the Christian faith has been figured out, there’s nothing more to clarify.

            So your average Orthodox Christian does take the rule of faith as a given, working out their own salvation in this context, and may go no further than saying “I’m doing X because that’s what I’ve been told I’m supposed to do.” (When I say ‘average Orthodox Christian,’ compare that to ‘average Protestant Christian’ in the most nominal sense of the word.)

            But there are times when I am reading Scripture and come across something which seems at odds with the way we do things as a Church. My initial assumption will be that it’s more likely that I’m not getting it right than that the entire Church has been getting it wrong all along and I’ve just figured out something brand new. If it’s especially troubling, I might be motivated to investigate further.

            For good reason, I am biased against putting too much trust in my own intellect, and am biased towards having greater trust in the faith of the Church. I’ve learned the hard way that elevating my own judgment too high can be disastrous. Perhaps because of this bias, my investigations tend to lead me towards appreciating the faith of the Church rather than rejecting it.

          • i’m quoting you, for sake of clarity:
            “But there are times when I am reading Scripture and come across something which seems at odds with the way we do things as a Church. My initial assumption will be that it’s more likely that I’m not getting it right than that the entire Church has been getting it wrong all along and I’ve just figured out something brand new.”

            really interesting (not in a bad way); i really do mean that it’s interesting. when i read scripture and come across something which seems at odds with the way we do things as a church (granted “we” have a very short history), my first question is, “have we missed it here?” and then i’ll study the topic further to at least try to read scripture unbiased (i know, impossible). and then i look to others in the church (a very broad definition of church, mind you — including protestant, orthodox, catholic beliefs, etc) to see how they’ve interpreted the text. when i come to the interpretation that seems to fit best with the whole of scripture, that’s the one i’ll hold as my own (for then, at least). i rarely (make that never) assume the Holy Spirit has simply guided my one denomination to truth.

            but that seems to be one of our fundamental differences. to some extent, because of the history of the orthodox church, you guys have to believe the Holy Spirit is guiding you guys to truth and everyone else is only getting partial truth and help from Him — or none at all. and i’d argue the Spirit lives inside every believer, and therefore is working in all groups of believers.

            “For good reason, I am biased against putting too much trust in my own intellect, and am biased towards having greater trust in the faith of the Church.”

            i’m also biased against putting too much trust in my own intellect. but my bias extends to not putting too much trust in the intellect of (or even in the Spirit’s work in) any one person, council, denomination, etc. i don’t use church tradition as my baseline. but i value it a great deal; only i extend consideration to all who would go by Christ’s name (or something like that).

            at the same time, though, my intellect is what i’ve got — as far as goes intellect. so, while i don’t depend solely on it, i use it as well as i possibly can (which is not so well all the time).

        • i don’t mind the knock on parents intentionally keeping children out of the body of Christ. if you don’t speak plainly, how will i understand?

          i ascribe to similar views as you do when it comes to doctrine, though i wouldn’t word it as church tradition and good and bad habits. i’m not sure how i’d word it, but i certainly believe that attempting by force to bring children into the kingdom by baptizing them at birth will not indeed keep them out of the kingdom. i just think their baptism is going to come years before their decision to be a follower of Christ (not that i pinpoint this decision at a very specific point in time — it’s a process, and probably even more so a process when raised in a christian family). and i think their rite of passage that paul speaks to will be lost. of course, i assume you guys have created a new rite of passage for the older kids / young adults to make a “formal” decision or declaration that they do intend buy into this Jesus stuff.

          so i suppose i view it like a bad habit. i’d probably word it, though, a misunderstanding of scripture or baptism. but not at all a misunderstanding that will prevent parent or child from entering the kingdom.

          as for christian ideas being corrected late in the church, we’d probably disagree on many of them. and others still (the majority, perhaps) you guys probably were not a part of by breaking from the catholic church. also i said these ideas lasted a long time, when in actuality i should have worded it that they were commonly accepted by the church (but not necessarily lasting long as in dating back to the 1st century). but i was thinking of things like:

          – keeping the bible out of the hands of lay people
          – the crusades
          – acceptance of slavery
          – whatever the schism was about in 1054?

          • Yeah, I do have a problem with the idea of a momentary decision to become a follower of Christ that can be clearly pinpointed… it’s definitely a process. Which is why we don’t have a rite of passage for a “formal” decision or coming-of-age the way some traditions have bar mitzvahs and confirmations. Everything that needs to be done for a person to become a full member of the Church is done at the same moment- baptism is followed immediately by chrismation (anointing with oil as a seal of the Holy Spirit), followed immediately by receiving Holy Communion. So for a child born into a Christian family, this will all happen about forty days after birth.

            You’ve stated that baptism is passive. We take that line of reasoning a bit farther than you do, perhaps. And yes, infants are brought into the Church by force- just as they are brought out of the womb by force, fed by force, maybe even circumcised by force, etc. Later in life, they will have to make personal decisions about whether to continue eating, to remain part of their family, to follow Christ, and a thousand other things- but at the beginning of life, they receive all these things passively.

          • Short response is that the first three things you mention are not a matter of Christian doctrine- they are practices, and were never universal practices. The first two came about in the medieval Western Church. The third… well, that’s more complicated, isn’t it? It would be very tangential, but it might be a worthwhile conversation to have.

            The schism was about authority- whether it rests in the Church as a body, or in the person of the bishop of Rome. Our take is that the idea of Roman supremacy was first introduced as a doctrine by the Church of Rome in 1014, and was soundly rejected by the Church as a body less than half-a-century later. So it’s a recent idea, clearly contrary to Christian tradition, and was quickly discarded. Of course you’ll get a different perspective from a Roman Catholic.

          • again, quoting:
            “And yes, infants are brought into the Church by force- just as they are brought out of the womb by force, fed by force, maybe even circumcised by force, etc. Later in life, they will have to make personal decisions about whether to continue eating…”

            i saw this one coming as soon as i typed it. and your argument here makes perfect sense. i can’t really argue against making decisions on behalf of our children. and i don’t have an “individualistic” enough concept of salvation to argue that it has to be a personal choice, by one person all alone.

            my big hump to get over (which doesn’t require response and is only being stated because i’m pinpointing differences which have certainly already been made clear) is that i just can’t find in scripture anything to support infant baptism, but find a great deal that attaches it to belief and repentance. i don’t buy the idea that children in christian families don’t have need to repent (not that you’re selling this) but i would agree completely that we can’t simply classify them as “unbelievers.”

            at some point those children are going to have to make a decision to die to sin and live obedient lives to Christ. and baptism (both logically and scripturally) seems to fit best in that place. at some point a child will decide either to participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ or not to. and i can’t understand any reason for them to have already been through a ceremony which proclaims that they one day will indeed decide to participate. EXCEPT 1) if you’re concerned with original sin and the like, and need to get them forgiven quickly, 2) if you start with the premise that whatever the church does (or has done for long enough) is automatically correct. and i’m not saying these are ridiculous notions; i just don’t accept either of them.

          • Nope, I’m not selling what you’re not buying. For quite a while in the first centuries of Christendom there were two attitudes towards baptism- one is that, it’s so terribly hard to repent after you’ve joined the Church, better to delay membership in the Church until your deathbed so that once you become a Christian you don’t muck things up by sinning again. The other attitude was that, better to become a Christian as quickly as possible- and yes, you will sin again after baptism, but that’s what repentance is for.

            The second attitude prevailed, and it’s pretty rare to see people waiting intentionally until their deathbed before committing their lives to Christ- even though it means that yes, Christians have to do lots of repenting even after they’ve become Christians.

            1) original sin isn’t the issue with us that it is in Augustinian/ Anselmian/ Calvinist tradition, so that’s not what’s going on here, and 2) well, that’s certainly part of it, but there’s more to it than just that.

            Baptism does not proclaim that the baptized person will one day decide to participate in the death and Resurrection of Christ. Baptism is participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ. A young child isn’t making a mature, adult decision to participate, and yet the child is nevertheless participating. As they mature, every day of their lives they will get to decide whether to remain in the way of belief and repentance, whether to participate daily in the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ, or whether to go their own way. This is a decision they’ll be making multiple times every day of their lives. But long before they know enough of good & evil to choose to go astray, they have already started on the right path.

            But yeah, I think we’re both pinpointing things we’ve already clarified.

  5. Daniel

    I think I would agree with James on topics/subjects that are obscure in nature and require more interpretation, but I believe this particular topic reads pretty plainly.

  6. Pingback: brett’s morning blend (21july11) | aliens and strangers

  7. Tom


    James you hit a home run on this one. James, one compelling thing that you said was, “It seems clear to me that the doctrine of infant baptism has to be accepted apart from any objective reading of scripture.” I would say this is true of any doctrine. It is naive to say that any of us is can achieve an objective reading of scripture on our own. As a former C.O.C. member I feel I can speak to this. We were taught a hermeneutic growing up that led us to these conclusions. That hermenuetic is not the product of Long years of christian faith and thought. It is the product of the rejection of long years of faith and thought. It is the product of rationalism. Alexander Campbell actually said that he attempted to apply the scientific method to his reading of scripture. I don’t want to judge him, he did the best he could, but this is astonishingly ignorant. We must have community, the community of faith, and that community includes the dead. In the churches of Christ we only had 200 years of rationalists, diests, modernists to learn from. How can the early church be “restored,” by using the New Testament, when the early church did not have the New Testament at all. The church wrote the New Testament, the New Testament did not write the church. The church came first, and if you look at from the perspective of everyone being able to have their own copy of the Bible, and even be able to draw these conclusions, then the church came about 1600 years earlier. When the text was written, it was meant to be read outloud in community in the context of the assembly (sounds like liturgy to me)

    My issue with the view of baptism you are writing about is that it takes salvation out of God’s hands and puts it in the hands of the individual (there is that word again). It is not enough to be baptized, but you must think certain things when you are being baptized, you must believe, believe the right things, and have the right reasons for why you are being baptized. If not, you get baptized again. I remember thinking that I was so glad that I had figured it out. That someone had taken me to the right texts, and in the right order, so that I came to the right conclusion. When it comes to understanding, it seems to me that the age is irrelevant. No one understands baptism, only God does. Apart from a sacramental understanding, I don’t get how it works.

    The other problem with this view is that is based on a modern view of what salvation means, rather than what the new testament writers were thinking. I don’t think they were thinking of the famous revivals of the last few hundred years when they wrote. One second you are lost, the next you are saved.


    • tom, i appreciate the conversation. though i feel like you’re speaking to the Church of Christ and not to me. i agree with much of what you’ve written in the first paragraph, which is odd, because you seem to assume that i simply follow the traditional denominational lines on all issues (or at least on that of baptism).

      also, much of what you believe me to be saying (or thinking) about baptism, i do not. i claim very little understanding to be prerequisite for baptism: belief and repentance, that’s it. i don’t believe one has to have all the answers or even most of the answers (or even many of the answers). there must be present, from what i understand in scripture, a belief that Jesus is the son of God and a willingness to leave a sinful nature behind to follow him. that’s all.

      and while i don’t understand all the orthodox christian views, my guess is they require the same as what i’ve stated above. only they allow belief to be “transferred” from parent to child. and that child will never experience the same kind of repentance an adult convert would. i can understand those views and don’t think they’re ridiculous; i just don’t find in scripture anything which would lead me to believe faith can be transferred in this way. and i don’t like robbing a child of this important rite of passage (though it’s not robbing in the orthodox church).

      [also, i would guess those who hold fast to church tradition require more in baptism than i do. namely that the new christian affirm church tradition as having authority. and maybe that an understanding of the trinity be present, and probably a few other things. but that’s just a guess on my part.]

      the difference goes something like this: i believe we ought to whenever possible let the plain meaning of the text stand on its own — and allow church tradition to weigh in when the meaning is unclear. and others believe we should interpret scripture through the lens of church tradition, assuming the Holy Spirit has guided us to truth all along.

      one of the reasons i don’t like choice number two is because already by the time the new testament was written there was a lot of wrong practice in the early church. hence, the reasons for all those epistles to have been written in the first place.

      i think and write from a bible-as-our-authority viewpoint. and i don’t hide that i base my beliefs on that premise. i understand others do it differently, and am not withholding fellowship from them for that. it’s a difference, and obviously i think my way is right — or else i would have adopted another way.

      i hope my thoughts didn’t come across as rude. i just wanted to be clear on what i believe, because i felt like you were assuming i believe a christian must have all the answers before they can be baptized and in order to be a christian. but i truly do welcome the conversation.

    • also, i agree with you completely on what i understand of your comment on salvation. i don’t believe it to be a point in time situation at all. and of all the views of salvation that i know, i think i like the orthodox view the best. many in the church of Christ are leaning that direction by thinking of salvation as involving justification, sanctification, and glorification. but we’re still not quite there yet — as we separate the three out into rather distinct parts.

      salvation, it seems to me, does include those three ideas, but they’re not nearly so discrete as we often assume. i’d say our language in a way makes lines of demarcation where there should be none.

      all of that to say, though, that my ideas on baptism are not at all based on a point-in-time notion of salvation. they are based on a point-in-time baptism, though. but every concrete example of baptism in the new testament occurs at some specific point in time.

  8. Tom

    Sorry for the terrible grammer and misspelled words.

  9. Jason

    This is a great conversation. There is one point that has not been made clear (in my reading of the initial and the responses), so let me attempt to make it clear.

    Just to be fair, James (not Brett), when you say that parents “keep their children out of the Church,” or something like that, by not baptizing them…this is totally not even close to those parents beliefs (and don’t hear me necessarily defending them, just explaining). They believe that baptism is re-acceptance into relationship with God through Jesus. They believe they themselves as well as their children had this relationship when they were young and unsinful (yes, there is also an original sin relationship here, or actually a lack thereof), and lost it when they became sinful, thereby regaining it upon their believer’s baptism.

    I’ve been involved in many a conversation about when a kid should be baptized (i.e., when they have become sinful, etc.), which of course is one of the issues you deal with when you stray from infant baptism. Also, I’ve had a bunch of conversations about if children do have relationship with Christ and the Church as younguns pre-baptism, then why don’t they partake of the Eucharist (and I know some families whose children do partake).

    So, to be clear, baptism for us Campbellites is about relationship with Christ (relationship with the Church may or may not even be mentioned) by removal of sin, or conversely the restoration of the state of innocence we possessed when we were born.

    Also (and secondarily), wasn’t this issue decided officially (read: doctrinally) for the church in the 5th century when Augustine won his debate with Palladius over us being sinners b/c we’re sinners, per Augustine, as opposed to us being sinners b/c we sin, per Palladius. A secondary issue was infant baptism, as this argument does indeed affect how one perceives it: a necessity or not. Augustine, you can guess, was pro-infant baptism, so when the church rubber-stamped his side of the debate, the secondary issue of infant baptism was also rubber-stamped.

    We like to think that history was intentional. But how intentional are our lives? How much of our lives is a happy accident?

    • Yes, Jason, that’s fair- and the tradition you describe is also the tradition I was raised (and, as a 15-year-old, baptized) in; I certainly know that my characterization of not baptizing infants is not at all how my parents (for example) understand the matter.

      You mean Augustine v Pelagius, right? There were local councils in the West that confirmed Augustine’s teachings on concupiscence. These teachings have never been rejected by the Church at large, but neither did they strongly influence Christendom beyond the West. Infant baptism was already a widely practiced norm many centuries prior.

      PS are you around? I’m not having success with your phone number lately.

    • question: i think we all understand salvation as a process, to some extent or another. is baptism, though, considered (and james, i’m mostly wondering about the orthodox view) the exact point at which a person is accepted into the church? so that if i waited until 12 to be baptized, i was not a part of the body of Christ until 12, in any form or fashion?

      [of course, jason (or anyone else), i’d love your answer as well. i think i know what the typical CofC answer is, but i’m not sure. and if i do know, i’m not sure i agree…]

      • Yes, from our perspective: baptism is the way you become a Christian, the way you formally and publicly unite yourself to the Body of Christ- it’s how you join the Church.

        So no, you’re not a member of the Church until you join the Church. Just like you’re not married until you get married, nor a high-school graduate until you graduate from high school. A person who declines or delays baptism is not, prior to baptism, a member of the Body of Christ in any definite, tangible way. (forms or fashions we can leave safely to God)

  10. Brett, I’ve just been reading what Wikipedia has to say about Church of Christ theology of baptism. Interesting stuff, although of course I’m taking it with a large grain of salt. Still, it gives me some good context for reading your posts on the topic.

    • now i want to go and read what wikipedia says about the CofC theology of baptism. depending on who wrote that section, i’m guessing i could reject anywhere from the majority to almost none. as you know, each Church of Christ is autonomous (to varying extents) and interprets scripture from within its own context. so there’s a vast array of views within our tribe.

      • Yes- I wasn’t reading the Wikipedia article to learn what you believe. Rather, to see the context from which (and to which) you’re speaking. Wikipedia has some very interesting, and not awfully accurate, things to say about the faith of my own Church, so I’m taking it with a big old grain of salt. Nevertheless- interesting and helpful.

  11. Tom

    Yes sorry I did go on a bit of a rant. I was responding to what, in past expierience, went behind some of the words you used, more than what you actually said. I would say, based on what you are saying, that you already are “orthodox” at least half-way. You wrote, “i believe we ought to whenever possible let the plain meaning of the text stand on its own — and allow church tradition to weigh in when the meaning is unclear.” To say we will consult traditiion, this is not a very COC thing to say, and i would say it is still based on the notion that you could ever find a plain meaning. I dispute that is even possible, but for the sake of argument… I would say that if the meaning is plain it is because we inherited 2000 years of thought and writing on this subject that has made it plain. You also wrote, “others believe we should interpret scripture through the lens of church tradition, assuming the Holy Spirit has guided us to truth all along.” I guess I would say what else could they assume? Tradition was all we had for a long time.
    I am in a weird spot here defending the Orthodox (although it is the oldest tradition), I am not Orthodox, although I would say I am orthodox. I am an Episcopalian. I am enjoying the conversation. Wish I had more time to write. The other James was talking around the Orthodox view of scripture. I have heard that the thought is that it does not actually become the word of God until it is read aloud in the assembly.

    • tom, i may have ranted a bit too. i think i take offense to being grouped into traditional CofC thought — and may have assumed you were doing that more than you were. sorry if i was rude.

      “To say we will consult tradition, this is not a very COC thing to say…”

      i agree. probably not very traditional CofC. but one big difference between my consulting of tradition and the orthodox view (besides that tradition is their baseline) is that i would argue we should consult church tradition in the larger and broader sense. it seems any theology shifts after the year 1000 (or 1500 or whenever) are not considered because 1) they came from outside the one true church, or 2) they came too late to be valid possibilities.

      as per #1, i don’t accept that the orthodox church is the one true church.

      as per #2, judging by time would seem an odd decision if for no other reasons because we’re limiting the Holy Spirit’s work to what he did in the beginning of church history. also, though, if needed changes were brought about in the 1500s (or whenever), well by the year 5000, those would have been the beliefs that had been around the longest.

      ” ‘others believe we should interpret scripture through the lens of church tradition, assuming the Holy Spirit has guided us to truth all along.’ I guess I would say what else could they assume?”

      they could assume that 1) sometimes, even with the Holy Spirit, christians make mistakes and 2) that one church doesn’t have all the Holy Spirit and his guidance.

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