Pastor Bob O'Bannon
There is a common experience for many people who visit New Life: They appreciate that the people are warm and friendly; they value the emphasis placed on sound Biblical preaching; they are grateful that the church is evangelical and Gospel-centered; they are relieved to find they are not in a liberal mainline church.
But then it happens — they see us baptize a baby, and they don’t know what to make of it. They’ve seen Catholics baptize babies, but they’ve seen evangelicals only baptize believers. So what do you do with an evangelical church that also baptizes babies?
This blog is not intended to be a full explanation of the Presbyterian doctrine of infant baptism, but it does attempt to refute some of the immediate and common objections that come to the minds of evangelicals who are surprised to see us baptizing children at New Life.
Objection: It makes no sense to baptize a baby who doesn’t understand what baptism means.
Answer: This objection proves too much. Circumcision, which Rom. 4:11 tells us is a sign of the righteousness we have by faith (I.e., the Gospel), was commanded in Genesis 17 to be given to children, but certainly the infants in Abraham’s day had no understanding of what faith and righteousness mean. This particular argument against infant baptism would also invalidate infant circumcision, which was explicitly commanded in the Bible.
Objection: Infant baptism is a Roman Catholic practice.
Answer: It is true that Roman Catholics practice infant baptism, but that doesn’t make the practice wrong, just as the Mormons’ practice of believer’s baptism doesn’t make believer’s baptism wrong. It is interesting to note that Baptists are Protestants, and many of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation believed in and practiced infant baptism (John Hus, John Calvin, John Knox, Martin Luther, John Wycliff, William Tyndale). It should also be noted that Presbyterians practice infant baptism for very different reasons than Roman Catholics, but that is a topic for a different blog.
Objection: There are no examples in the Bible of babies getting baptized.
Answer: This is not necessarily true. In the Bible, there are frequent mentions of household baptisms (Acts 16:15, 16:33-34, 1 Cor. 1:16), and it is likely that infants were included in those households. But whether this is true or not, the Baptist often does not acknowledge that he has a similar problem. In order to support his position in the same way he is asking of the Presbyterian, he has to show an example in the New Testament of a child being born into a Christian family who then was not baptized until he made a profession of faith at a more mature age. There are no examples in the New Testament of this happening. It is true that adult converts are baptized in the New Testament, but these are first-generation converts; that is, they are the kinds of baptisms that would take place in a missionary situation where the Gospel was preached to people who had never heard it before. In such a case, a Presbyterian would baptize those adult converts just as enthusiastically as a Baptist would. But this is a different situation than a Christian child being reared in a Christian family and being denied the sign of baptism until some kind of age of accountability. That practice finds no precedent in the New Testament.
Objection: Infant baptism gives people a false sense of assurance.
Answer: It is true that infant baptism can be wrongly practiced in such a way that a child is given a false sense of being a Christian. For example, to a child asking searching questions about his or her salvation, a Presbyterian parent might respond: “You have nothing to worry about — you’ve been baptized as a child!” That would be a grievous error. But the same kind of error can happen with believer’s baptism. To a child asking searching questions about his or her salvation, a Baptist parent might respond: “You have nothing to worry about — you were immersed as a teenager!” There is always a temptation to trust in something or someone other than Christ for our justification before God. What is important is that parents offer clear and Biblical teaching to ward off unbiblical conclusions, just as we would explain that the Gospel of grace is not a license to sin, and just as we would explain that the Trinity does not mean we believe in three gods.
Again, I understand that there is much more to be said on this issue, and I am not so delusional as to surmise that these four points would fully persuade someone to baptize a baby. My hope is that those offering the above objections to the Presbyterian doctrine would consider that perhaps those challenges are not as decisive as once believed.