Views on Baptism
Baptism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the religious rite of sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or of immersion in water, symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission to the Christian Church”. For Christians however, it holds a meaning deeper than words can express. With regard to the appropriate subjects of baptism, two opposing views have been enumerated. Christians hold to the belief of the baptism of infants or in believer’s baptism. [i] These two views are rooted deeply in different denominational doctrines, but at their core hold a presupposition of what Baptism actually means and accomplishes. Depending on the interpretation of Scripture and a church or denomination’s doctrine, a Christian can either believe that the act of Baptism is a sacramental act where Salvation occurs, or it can be a cognitive exercise of a public profession of obedience.
Infant baptism is dealt with differently between Lutherans, Catholics, and Baptists. Lutherans believe that infants that are baptized will have an unconscious faith. They state that faith does not require the ability to reason, thus their faith is implicit per Matthew 18:6. Lutherans also argue that infants are baptized because of the faith of their parents or the church, which then points to the infant’s faith as vicarious. Catholic doctrine, however, states that baptism does not require an existing faith (occurring ex opera operato) and only requires someone to present the infant for baptism. [ii] The Baptist denomination has taught that baptism is an outward rite and confirms that the person being baptized is publically acknowledging their preexisting faith and turning their life over to Christ and His will. [iii] The actual baptism event is held more as a cognitive exercise rather than a sacramental one because the baptismal candidate has already accepted Christ and has already experienced salvation. [iv] The Baptist candidate for baptism is a person who has previously accepted Jesus Christ as their savior and is desiring to follow His public example of obedience by the symbolic burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is because of this that infants cannot declare their faith, and thus should not be baptized. It is important to also note that when studying the appropriate candidates for baptism, Scripture lacks any indication in the New Testament that infant baptism took place. [v]
Consenting views to the Baptist teaching argue that John 3:5 states that “No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and Spirit” so baptism by water appears to be a requirement of being born again. [vi] Of course, this verse could more likely be stating that a person is born of water (physical birth per the water surrounding a baby in utro) and being born by the baptism of the Holy Spirit at their Salvation. [vii] Arguments for infant baptism also claim that certain verses in the New Testament state that entire households were baptized, however Scripture is not specific that the household even had infants as occupants, or even whether the word household was meant to include infants. [viii] Most current New Testament scholars, however, do concede the point that it is merely possible that entire households included the baptism of infants and is not stated emphatically within Scripture. [ix]
This issue, among others as well, can become quite divisive within a church body. However, because most Baptist churches abide by the Southern Baptist Convention’s “Baptist Faith and Message” this issue may not be a usual prime mover in a church’s decision to split, but could be a secondary factor. Unfortunately, because churches are made up of imperfect people, conflicts do arise, and churches have split from everything from the color of the carpet to personality conflicts to leadership structure to doctrine. There is a compelling argument that a church should not split for any reason, save a movement away from sound doctrine. More likely, as is the case frequently, the church does not “split” per se, but members or prospects leave one church to attend another where their beliefs and views are more closely held. Issues ranging from baptizing an infant, the actual age at which a church will baptize a child, to honoring an adult’s infant baptism can become difficult topics where a Baptist pastor’s obligation is to spend time and walk strategically through God’s word with a congregant, lovingly explaining reasons while at the same time not taking away from that person’s experience. Certainly as a body of believers, churches should hold to kindness and respect for each other, but also holding to established parameters for baptism given that church’s doctrine.
[i] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 1028.
[ii] Ibid., 1020.
[iii] The Baptist Faith and Message: A Statement Adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention June 14, 2000 (Nashville, Tenn.: LifeWay Christian Resources, ©2000), 14.
[iv] Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, rev., full-color ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2009), 494.
[v] Ibid., 495.
[vi] Erickson, 934.
[vii] The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, ©1983-©19), 281.
[viii] Erickson, 1029.