Saturday, February 28, 2009

Baptizing Children

This is probably not a popular view, but it is one that I hold. I am not rabid about this; I don't go around trying to debate the point with parents who have chosen to do this, but I am pretty opinionated.

I do not think children should be baptized. I don't think there should be a rule about it, but I think it is bad practice.


Think about it: Baptism is a sign, it is a covenant. You are making a commitment to step out of one way of life and into another. The old man is dying, the new man is rising. You are exchanging one life for another.

How does a child do this? How do they weigh this out? What life are they exchanging?

Can I be honest? Isn't this more about the parent than the child? Isn't it more about the parent feeling safe and affirmed? Kodak moment?

Having taught for 18 years, I have found this to be true: Most children parrot the thoughts and opinions of their parents. Their politics and spirituality are all picked up from their parents' wake. Their is very little personal insight in their worldview.

So then I ask: Does it not cheapen baptism to direct a child into it? Are we not announcing that baptism is not really all that important, if a certain amount of soul searching is not needed in the decision process?

I do not think scripture's silence on this is a clincher for my case, but I believe it does lend some weight. You do not see children being baptized in scripture. I believe that is because the apostles understood that a child simply does not have the faculties or experience to make such a decision.

So how old then? Again, I do not desire hard and fast rules on this but I would ask believers to consider: If you do not think your child is old enough to select a spouse, why would you direct them into a decision of baptism? Is not baptism, in many ways, a more important decision than marriage?


WES ELLIS said...

It's good to raise this question and I thank you for doing so. I searched my own blog and I am surprised that I haven't written about this myself.

I think that what you are doing is presupposing a particular definition of Baptism. You are projecting that view onto the practice of infant (or child) baptism when, in fact, said practice is done within an entirely different theological framework.

You say "Baptism is a sign, it is a covenant. You are making a commitment to step out of one way of life and into another. The old man is dying, the new man is rising. You are exchanging one life for another." I think that this is a legitimate view but not the only view. Baptism is indeed a sign and a covenant but could not what you describe thereafter simply be the act of being “born again” and could not one distinguish this from baptism. Could not “exchanging one life for another” be a post baptismal experience?

Consider another view: perhaps baptism is in fact “more about the parent than the child” but not in the sense of a “Kodak moment” but in the sense of a covenant. And perhaps it’s more about the church as a whole than it is about the parent too. In baptism the true identity of the child is proclaimed, the child is accepted into the family of God, the church commits to raising said child into the church and the new humanity of the church, and thereafter the child’s life is about living and choosing his/her way into that identity. This is not unlike the pattern Jesus took, though I know there are some valid issues with his age. Jesus entered the water not as a sign of conversion but as a fulfillment of righteousness and God used that event to declare to the world Jesus’ true identity: beloved son of God. Remember the whole dove thing? It wasn’t as much what it meant to Jesus it was more about what it meant to God. Jesus’ identity is proclaimed and from there on his life is about living and choosing into that identity. Jesus went straight from baptism to wilderness where he showed his “commitment to step out of one way of life and into another,” where he chose God’s way rather than Satan’s.

Two definitions of baptism (both are sacramental):
1. Yours… a sign of conversion.
2. God’s, through the church, declaration of identity and the churches’ covenantal commitment to raising the child up into that identity, into the new humanity.

Both practices—infant and adult baptism—make sense when you understand them in their particular theological contexts, don’t they?

Churches that practice infant baptism usually also have “confirmation” which is the post-baptismal experience—learning what baptism was all about and what the true identity of humanity is in Christ.

(if you don't mind, I think I'm going to edit this comment a bit more and post it on my blog)

Andrew said...

I was thinking more of children than infants, but from my perspective, what you are describing is a dedication rather than a baptism. When I have seen babies dedicated, it is all about the parent - their commitments and covenants to the child and God.

Perhaps it is just semantics, but in your description that would sound more like circumcision; something that is completely parent directed in accordance with their tradition but requires nothing of the individual for whom it is happening. It is the parents picking the path, whether the child follows that path as they grow is another matter.

In my view, it isn't baptism if the individual being baptized is not an active, cognizant participant (otherwise, all the forced baptisms of the middle ages would be legit). Jesus was baptized, but he was an active participant... without his willing participation there is no baptism. I just do not believe your average kid under 15ish is in anyway capable of weighing the cost and therefore able to make an informed decision.

Commit to raise them in Christ? Yep! Dedicate yourself to that cause? Yep! But baptism is their decision when they have lived life a little and decided to follow Christ.

In my humble opinion. :)

Brook said...

"In my view, it isn't baptism if the individual being baptized is not an active, cognizant participant"

curious, then, what is your take on baptism for the dead? (1Cor.15:29).

curmudgeon said...

I have long been of the opinion that baptism is not for children. None of mine were and I took some heat from many relatives. I think, like Andrew there is a contract and a commitment. More important to me is the residual damage that can be done to a child who starts their journey to self discovery after baptism and discovers that the ways of his parents are not working for him. There is guilt and anguish and it can be very destructive.

I also believe that most religion is generational and is inherited. As such, I know of many folks who never questioned or took the journey and go through the motions of faith with no real satisfaction.

Andrew said...

I don't think there is enough said to actually be able to have a take on that. I know what my LDS friends would say (and they believe the person has to accept that baptism done on their behalf). Do Catholics have an opinion?

Andrew said...

....and discovers that the ways of his parents are not working for him....

Spot on! I have unfortunately seen many an occasion where someone has to "reject" a view they had never "accepted" in the first place. I think half my Christian high school went through that.

I am thinking there is a certain amount of arrogance to presume the faith of one's children. I am a Christian, but my son and daughter will have to choose their roads as they come to them. I can offer my insight, but the decisions must be theirs.... and decisions require options.

Brook said...

I think that's my point. the bible doesn't say much at all about it, only that people get baptized FOR the dead (which implies that the baptism is not for themselves AND those who the baptism is for are NOT cognizant nor able to accept or reject that which is done on their behalf). I follow and agree with just about everything you say on it, but I don't agree with the either/or aspect of it - on that, I agree with Wes. It is a legitimate view, but doesn't need to be the ONLY view. there's just no such dichotomy in scripture on the issue.

I think, with scripture in general, and issues like this in particular, I have to take the Shakespearian view: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy". We may know some, but we don't know all, and we certainly don't know enough to start excluding that which is not in our personal field of understanding.

WES ELLIS said...

to go back to your response to my comment...
You're right in saying "in my view" because that's exactly what I'm saying... it's your view. And you're also quite right to compare it to circumcision, there are correlative points. All I want to do is to show you that once you understand the theological context, the infant baptism thing makes sense.

I think you're right to say that in a church which practices adult baptism, within that theological framework, child baptism doesn't make sense.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

Some churches believe a child is born in/with sin. This is why they baptize children/babies. Other churches believe that there is no sin in a baby/child and baptism is done as a result of a choice the person makes when they decide to follow Christ and then baptism (usually by immersion) is performed. There are plusses and minuses of both. But we have to remember that Christian baptism only means something if the person baptized decides to follow Christ. It is a symbol of dedicating your life to Christ just as marriage is a symbol of dedicating your life to becoming a couple with the other person. If in your heart you don't take your marriage vows seriously, the wedding vows don't mean anything. Just the same as if you are baptized but don't really profess your belief in Jesus, the baptism doesn't mean anything. But baptizing babies is just as legitimate as an adult undergoing baptism by immersion. Why? Because we are dealing with an Infinite God. God isn't bound by time. So if a baby is baptized it means the same as if an adult is baptized. The question is the HEART of the baptized person. If the adult that is baptized doesn't profess Christ in his/her heart, the baptism isn't worth anything. And a baby being baptized surely can't decide "for" Christ...but some day if he/she does, the baptism has already taken place and is just as legitimate as if the person was baptized as an adult.

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