Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Fictional Dialogue on Infant Baptism

[written in 1995]

Zeke the "Jesus Freak": Hey Cathy, why do Catholics baptize babies? It's pointless since they don't know what's going on and can't repent, according to Acts 2:38 and Mark 6:16.

Cathy the Catholic: But where in the Bible does it specifically prohibit the baptism of babies?

Zeke: Well . . . I guess it never says that. But . . .

Cathy: But don't you only follow what's plainly taught in the pages of Scripture?

Zeke: It's a conclusion that follows from ideas that are clearly in Scripture. It's still a biblical doctrine.

Cathy: Ah! That's a big difference. Now we're both in the same boat, since the Bible doesn't explicitly teach about baptism of infants. We must make inferences. Catholics maintain that there are many strong indications of our view.

Zeke: Where? I've never seen any in 17 years of being saved.

Cathy: In Acts 16:15,33, 18:8 (cf. 11:14), and 1 Corinthians 1:16 it is stated that an individual and his "whole household" were baptized. It would be hard to say this involved no small children. Paul in Colossians 2:11-13 makes a connection between baptism and circumcision. Israel was the church before Christ (Acts 7:38, Romans 9:4). Circumcision, given to 8-day old boys, was the seal of the covenant God made with Abraham, which applies to us also (Galatians 3:14,29). It was a sign of repentance and future faith (Romans 4:11). Infants were just as much a part of the covenant as adults (Genesis 17:7, Deuteronomy 29:10-12, cf. Matthew 19:14). Likewise, baptism is the seal of the New Covenant in Christ. It signifies cleansing from sin, just as circumcision did (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4, 9:25, Romans 2:28-9, Philippians 3:3). Infants are wholly saved by God's grace just as adults are, only apart from their rational and willful consent. Their parents act in their behalf.

Zeke: That's not possible. You have to repent and be born again in order to receive salvation, as John 3:5 says.

Cathy: It doesn't exactly say that. It says that one must be "born of water and the Spirit." Catholics, along with the Church Fathers such as St. Augustine and many Protestants (for example, Lutherans and Anglicans), interpret this as a reference to baptism, and a proof of the necessity of infant baptism.

Zeke: That doesn't make sense. Water here refers to the amniotic sac when a baby is born. Babies can't be born again. Jesus is contrasting natural with spiritual birth.

Cathy: Are you saying then that a baby can't be saved, and will go to hell if it dies before the "age of reason"?

Zeke: No, no, I would never say that. God is too merciful to let that happen to an innocent little baby.

Cathy: But you believe in original sin (1 Corinthians 15:22), inherited by all people from the Fall of Adam and Eve, right?

Zeke: Well, yeah. What are you getting at?

Cathy: Once you say that a baby can be saved, then clearly there is a justification for baptizing infants, since there are factors other than their own consent which enter into the question of their salvation. Thus, you have arrived at a more communal, covenantal view of salvation (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 7:14, 12:13), rather than the individualistic notion that many evangelicals have. The reality of original sin makes baptism desirable as soon as possible, since it removes the punishment and guilt due to sin and infuses sanctifying grace. This is why most Protestants through history, including Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Reformed, and Presbyterians, have baptized infants.

Zeke: Now wait a minute. Surely you don't believe that baptism actually does anything, do you? It's only a symbol.

Cathy: You evangelicals always seem to deny that matter can be a conveyor of grace, and too often frown on the idea of sacraments, which are physical, visible means whereby grace is conferred.

Zeke: We don't believe in those things because they're unbiblical. The Bible talks about the Spirit giving grace (John 6:63, Romans 8:1-10), not matter. Catholics are always getting weird about things such as statues, relics, rosary beads, the wafer of communion, and holy water. This usually degenerates into idolatry.

Cathy: I disagree. God Himself took on flesh in Christ. Paul's handkerchiefs healed the sick (Acts 19:12), as did even Peter's shadow (Acts 5:15)! Likewise, baptism is said to regenerate sinners. Acts 2:38 speaks of being baptized "for the forgiveness of your sins." 1 Peter 3:21 says "baptism . . . now saves you" (cf. Mark 16:16, Romans 6:3-4). Paul recalls how Ananias told him to be "baptized, and wash away your sins" (Acts 22:16). In 1 Corinthians 6:11 Paul sure seems to imply an organic connection between baptism (washed), sanctification and justification, whereas evangelicals separate all three. Titus 3:5 says that "he saved us, . . . by the washing of regeneration." What more biblical proof is needed? Is this all to be explained as "symbolic"?

Zeke: I gotta run. I have some questions for my pastor . . .

[See the in-depth follow-up dialogue, stimulated by a critique of this paper: Dialogue on the Biblical Evidence for Infant Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration]

4 comments:

Illuvatar said...

Hi Dave...the link you've posted at the bottom to the longer dialogue is broken unfortunately
:-/

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks. That link went to my old website. I'll change it to the current blog URL right now.

Maroun said...

Hi Dave .
I know that you are very busy , but i will give it a try anyway and try to ask you something about infant baptism ?If you could answer my question , even shortly , i sure would apreciate it , and if not,i understand anyway ...
I was reading again this book written by saint Augustine . On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin (Book II). In this book as you well know , saint Augustine was addressing the errors of Pelagius and Coelestius , and in Chapter 12 [XI.]— A Portion of the Proceedings of the Synod of Palestine in the Cause of Pelagius.I read this condemnation by saint Augustine and by the synod of Palestine :that infants, even if they are unbaptized, have eternal life;
Now my question is this?Is the Church today saying (especialy when today the Church says there is no limbo) is the Church teaching nowadays that unbaptised infants do have eternel life ?
I know that in the cathechism we read this :1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"63 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
Now for me there is a huge difference between allowing us to hope , and saying for sure . I mean , we can always hope that unbaptised infants will inherit God`s kingdom as the cathechism teaches . But is the Church also teaching nowadays that for sure unbaptised infants will inherit God`s kingdom?Because i am having difficulties with this claim...
GBU Dave and i really hope that you could spare me a few of your precious minutes ...

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Maroun,

Fortunately, I have an article on this very topic by a good friend:

The Eternal Destination of Very Young Infants Who Perish, According to Catholicism (David W. Emery)

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/12/eternal-fate-of-very-young-infants-who.html

Hope that is helpful for you.