“But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children…” — Deuteronomy 4:9, NRSV
I been part of three different denominations in my life—all of which came out of the Pennsylvania German Pietistic revivals of the 18th Century: the Churches of God, the Church of the Brethren, and the Brethren in Christ Church. All of these groups subscribed to believer’s baptism, as this form of baptism was seen as a way to symbolize new birth experienced through these Pietistic movements. Interestingly, these groups would have largely had similar origins and their early leaders did somewhat interact with each other. Some people have concluded that these revivals didn’t form a unified denomination largely because they couldn’t agree on the same method of believer’s baptism.
Being raised and serving in a tradition that only practices adult believer’s baptism, I have never had to wrestle with the idea of paedobaptism (infant baptism). Several years ago, I heard an Anglican priest give a message about paedobaptism—his audience was an Anabaptist church. This was the first time I stopped to think about the complexities of that issue. It was during that time that I started doing more reading about paedobaptism in different Christian circles. I did my undergraduate work with a Wesleyan university and during that time, I never talked about paedobaptism. I was aware that it was an accepted doctrine in the Wesleyan Church (believer’s baptism is also practiced), but I never thought much about the theological implications of that practice.
Several months ago, my wife and I accidentally attended an Episcopalian Eucharist and Christening. It was accidental in the sense that we weren’t expecting to experience an infant baptism. As I read the liturgy being read during the Christening, I found a new appreciation for paedobaptism that I admittedly had never had before.
“Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present
is brought up in the Christian faith and life? I will, with God’s help.
Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow
into the full stature of Christ? I will, with God’s help.
… Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works. Amen.” — Book of Common Prayer
So I give you all of this background to say that I have never had to wrestle with infant baptism, but it’s a theological concept I have grown toward understanding. There are several biblical passages that both defend and refute infant baptism, but there is never a single Scripture discouraging the practice. Theologically, I personally stand on the fence with infant baptism, but I appreciate something about the practice. It teaches a child that they a part of the church from day one. It reminds me of the passage from Deuteronomy 4 at the beginning of this post. Infant baptism isn’t about saving a child (because I don’t believe baptism water saves anyone—although, I know some traditions do), but it’s a symbol of inclusion in a similar desire to “make the things you’ve seen known to your children.” It’s not about choosing a faith for your child, but it’s about giving them the tools to grow into their faith. Child dedication found in believer’s churches addresses the same concept in many ways.
I am still a strong advocate of believer’s baptism and believe that it’s actually a beautiful thing to be able to make the decision to be baptized as a believing adult. With this said, I share these ideas because I think there is merit in understanding the practices of our brothers and sisters in different traditions of our faith. I am pastoring in a denomination that only practices believer’s baptism and so that is the method that I resonate with, but I appreciate the heart behind the practice of my Wesleyan, Methodist, Anglican, and Episcopalian brothers and sisters.
If you’re looking for some further reading on this subject, let me suggest two resources I found helpful:
1. The Skinny on Wesleyans and Baptism by Ken Schenck
2. The Anglican Way by Thomas McKenzie, ch. 19