This is part two in my super-awesome explanation of the beliefs that led me to the Anglo-Catholic tradition, the beliefs I adopted when joining the Anglican Communion, and other things tangentially related. Up now: Infant Baptism!
It took me a while to believe that Infant Baptism was appropriate; not only appropriate, but right. Actually, I can't remember any particular moment when I was like, "Okay, I believe in Infant Baptism now." I kind of slowly and passively evolved to that position. And not only that, but I eventually came to the rather horrible conclusion that *GASP!* Baptism saves. Yup, that's right; we call that "Baptismal Regeneration". Let me give you some of the reasons that convinced me:
The Testimony of the Church Today
Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, The Anglican Communion, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians (among other Reformed Christians); there are relatively few doctrinal points these groups all share that aren't already shared among the rest of the denominations within orthodox Christianity (or as C.S. Lewis would call it, mere Christianity). Altogether, they make up the vast, vast majority of Christians in the world.
However, one thing they do all have in common is the validity of Infant Baptism. They don't all have the same reasons for practicing Infant Baptism (some, like many of the Reformed for example, don't believe in Baptismal Regeneration), but they do still all practice this (as we shall soon see) ancient Tradition. Let's look at the numbers of these groups:
(Note: I recognize that not absolutely every person in these groups would consider Infant Baptism to be a valid Baptism; as well, not every Christian outside of these numbers would discount Infant Baptism. I know a few Baptists and non-denoms, for example, who have no problem with Infant Baptism. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to personally interview every single Christian out there, so these numbers will have to do. Sorry. If it makes you feel better, you can take off 10% of the final number or something--a more than generous concession. Think of it as a tithe, I guess.)
Roman Catholicism is 1.1 billion strong, representing 50.1% of Christians in the world,
The Orthodox Churches of the East claim a little more than 260 million worldwide, giving them 11.9% of the Christian population (1.36 billion, or 62% of the Christian population thus far).
The Anglican Communion has almost 85 million (fine, fine: 84,867,840. Ya happy?), which accounts for 4% of the world's Christians (okay, OKAY! 3.88578335760007%). That makes up almost 66% of Christians so far.
Next up: Lutherans. They make up almost 78 million members, which is about 3.6%, adding it up to 69.6% total.
After that is the Presbyterian/Reformed. who boast about 56 million, or 2.6%. This would make the total 72.2% (Since there is a category for Baptists already in this study, it is assumed that the Reformed Baptists are in that group rather than this. However, feel free to not include these numbers in the total.).
Finally, there are the Methodists. They have a little over 27 million, or 1.3% of the worldwide Church (sidenote: the first Infant Baptism I saw was at a Methodist Church!). This finally (finally! I hate math!) brings us to the grand total of 73.5% of the world's Christians who are part of traditions that hold to Infant Baptism.
(Source: Pew Research Center: Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population, December 2011)
Wow; a total of 73.5% of Christians worldwide hold to Infant Baptism.
"But James!" I hear exclaimed. "That's the bandwagon fallacy! Just because it's popular doesn't mean it's right!" Did I say that? I'm sorry; when did I ever claim that that was my argument? Please calm down and let me finish. Yes. Thank you. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Popularity of the Tradition.
Now, what does all of this data tell us? It tells us that this is a well, well established Tradition in the Church. There are a few assumptions that I take with my understanding of Christianity that make me favor Infant Baptism when I view these statistics:
-The Holy Spirit leads and guides His Church to more growth throughout the centuries.
-Baptism itself is an essential of the Faith (whether credo-baptist or paedo-baptist--hopefully I don't need to define those terms--this should ring true).
-The Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to universally/near universally misunderstand an essential of the Faith for its entire existence in a most fundamental way.
People may have problems with these three assumptions; that's a discussion for a later time. If these assumptions ring true, as I believe they do, then it certainly makes sense to conclude that Infant Baptism is a valid Baptism. But the fact that Infant Baptism is practiced by the vast majority of the Church is not an argument in and of itself. In fact, those assumptions don't need to even be held; you can skip over them for this part of the overall argument. Just remember those numbers at the end of this article.
"Well I don't care about what people today think; they're just using man's traditions. What does the Bible say?"
Hold your horses; I'm getting there, but not quite yet; next up...
The Testimony of Church History
Oh, where to start? There are so many Church Fathers who can be quoted on this one. I'll have to settle for just a few of the big ones: St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Cyprian of Carthage, and St. Irenaeus of Lyons (I'm working backwards through history for a reason). Keep in mind that multiple Church Fathers who lived in the first four centuries can be quoted as well; in fact, I'll name some: Origen, Tertullian (the only known Church Father who advised against it--it would be odd to argue against something that wasn't happening--nonetheless, he advocated that they shouldn't be Baptized until they were...three years old. Not exactly the "age of accountability" that people like to arbitrarily push), St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and possibly St. Hippolytus of Rome, depending on if a particular writing was in fact written by him.
St. Augustine of Hippo:
"And this is the firm tradition of the Universal Church, in the respect of the Baptism of Infants, who certainly are as yet unable, 'with the heart to believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth to make confession unto salvation' as the thief (on the cross next to Jesus) could do; nay, who even, by crying and moaning when the mystery is performed upon them, raise their voices in opposition to the mysterious words, and yet no Christian will say that they are Baptized to no purpose. (24) And if anyone seek for Divine Authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by Apostolical Authority, still we can form a true conjecture of the value of the Sacrament of Baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision...(here, a lengthy explanation of how Circumcision and Baptism parallel is given)...so infants, who are Baptized, the Sacrament of regeneration (say wha?!?!?) is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow..."--On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book IV, chapters 23-24 (written approximately A.D. 400)
(Note that this is only one of many quotes from St. Augustine on the same topic.)
St. Cyprian of Carthage:
"But in respect of the case of the infants, which you (Fidus) say ought not to be Baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be Baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man."--The Epistles of St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter LVIII, 2 (written approximately A.D. 253)
(Well, apparently someone here thought that babies shouldn't be Baptized...until they were eight days old. Not exactly a refutation of Infant Baptism. Fidus was making the connection of Baptism and circumcision, just like St. Augustine. I'm thinking this may come up in one of my later arguments...)
St. Irenaeus of Lyons:
"Now this is what Faith does for us, as the elders, the disciples of the Apostles, have handed down to us. First of all, it has admonished us to remember that we have received Baptism for the remission of sins in the Name of God the Father, and in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who became Incarnate and died and raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this Baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God, that we be no more children of mortal men, but of the eternal everlasting God; and that the eternal and everlasting One is God, and is above all creatures, and that all things whatsoever are subject to Him; and that what is subject to Him was all made by Him; so that God is not ruler and Lord of what is another's, but of His Own, and all things are God's; that God, therefore, is the Almighty, and all things whatsoever are from God."--The Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching, (written approximately A.D. 180)
"And again, giving to the Disciples the power of regeneration into God, He (Jesus) said to them, 'Go and teach all nations, Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'"--Against Heresis, Book III, 17:1 (written approximately A.D. 180) (italics added)
(The above quotes are meant to demonstrate that St. Irenaeus actually held to Baptismal Regeneration. In other words, Baptism is the beginning point of salvation. Note that, in the second of the above quotations, the phrase "regeneration into God" is synonymous with Baptism for the Bishop.)
"For He (Jesus) came to save all through means of Himself--all, I say, who through Him are born again to God--infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men."--Against Heresies, Book II, 22:4 (written approximately A.D. 180) (italics added)
(In this final quote from St. Irenaeus, it is shown that "infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men" are Baptized, as the phrase "born again to God" is used by him to mean Baptism. I can't think of another way in which infants would be "born again to God" for St. Irenaeus. Scholars widely agree that this is the first explicit, undeniable mention of Infant Baptism in the Early Church.)
What we've established is that the Early Church practiced Infant Baptism, as well as Baptismal Regeneration, at least explicitly since the 2nd century. What's more, few people argued against it. Even Tertullian merely argued that Baptizing later in life (at the ripe old age of three, which would still be considered Infant Baptism by most today...) was preferable, as it appears he believed one was lost if he sinned after Baptism.
Now, there's also another point, and this is incredibly important: St. Irenaeus was born into a Christian family. We know that he was for Infant Baptism. He very likely was born and raised in the town of Smyrna, where St. Polycarp was the Bishop at the time (the early 2nd century). In fact, as a youth St. Irenaeus knew St. Polycarp. According to St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and St. Jerome, St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist (the Disciple whom Jesus loved, the guy who wrote five books of the Bible; ever heard of him?).
St. Irenaeus gives no indication that Infant Baptism is a new practice, especially since he never tries to lay it out as an argument in and of itself. It's a passing reference, a sort of "off the cuff" mention. He takes it for granted, because he assumes the audience reading his writings already believe this. Because of this, it is entirely plausible that he himself was Baptized as an infant, as he was born into a Christian family. If so, then that likely was overseen by St. Polycarp, the same St. Polycarp who was taught and ordained as a Bishop by the Apostle John.
See what I'm getting at, here?
The Testimony of Scripture:
There are many passages that teach that Baptism is more than a mere memorial or symbol:
"How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been Baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism
into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be unified with Him in a Resurrection like His..." (Romans 6:1b-5 ESVUK; actually, the passage keeps going and going about this; you should read the entire chapter!)
"He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that being Justified through His Grace we might become heirs according to the hope of Eternal Life." (Titus 3:5-7 ESVUK)
"For as many of you as were Baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:27 ESVUK)
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the Righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but being made alive in the spirit, in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," (1 Peter 3:18-21, ESVUK)
Baptism actually does something, according to not only these passages, but every passage that talks about what Baptism is for. At least according to these four, we are:
-Baptized into the death of Jesus
-Regenerated by Baptism
-Baptized into Christ Himself!
-Saved by Baptism (not by the mere water itself, but by the appeal to God)
"But James! Even if that is all the right interpretation, that last passage in 1 Peter can't be for infants! They can't make an appeal to God for a good conscience!"
Of course they can't. Which is why the parents are making the appeal.
"But James! The fierce individualism and anti-communal views of the West which rose up during the "Enlightenment" period that tried to elevate man to the status of God and daily tries to get rid of the supernatural is the lens in which we should look at the Scriptures, because looking anachronistically at Scripture is the best method of interpretation!"
Um...no it's not...
Look. Yes, the Scriptures do talk about the uniqueness of each person made in the Image of God. Yes, you are not just a number to God. However, the fierce autonomy so desired by many of us in the West is NOT what Scripture advocates. Community is incredibly important to St. Paul; that's why he's always talking about unity in Christ.
Furthermore, the ancient world, the world in which the Scriptures were written, actually held to this whole corporate-family unit thingy. The father made the decisions, and the family went along with the father. I mean, when Joshua said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." he didn't stop to say, "Hey, guys: are you going to serve the LORD with me? Are you? How about you? And you? Oh, I can't ask you yet because you haven't reached the Age of Accountability." Same with the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-40); it's just simply assumed that, since he is becoming a Christian, the rest of his family will. That's NOT to say that repentance is not involved in salvation, or personal faith, but the mindset was far more family-oriented and respectful of parents (hm, sounds like a good Commandment...) than ours today.
Of course, our families are FAR more Godly and respectful today than in those days; psh, silly ancient people. ^_^
Speaking of the Old Testament...
"In Him also you were circumcised, with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in Baptism (there's that line, again!), in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, Who raised Him from the dead." (Colossians 2:11-12 ESVUK)
Here, St. Paul makes a clear connection between circumcision and Baptism. Circumcision marked the people of God in the Old Testament, and Baptism marks the people of God in the New. And who got circumcised in the Old Testament? Did the Israelites have an "age of accountability"? Well, I guess you could say it was an eight-day waiting period...but that's hardly old enough to "make a decision for yourself", now, is it? So apparently, if Baptism is replacing circumcision then we have another reason to advocate for Infant Baptism! And let's not forget that whole "buried with Him in Baptism" thing!
So what have we seen, here?
We've seen that:
-The vast majority of the Church today practices Infant Baptism, and believes that Baptism actually does something.
-The entire history of the Church demonstrates that Baptismal Regeneration and Infant Baptism have been believed and practiced since at least (explicitly, that is) the 2nd century, and that there is good evidence in believing that the disciple of St. John practiced Infant Baptism.
-The Scriptures teach that Baptism buries us with Christ, raises us with Christ, places us within Christ, saves us, and is the same thing as circumcision in the Old Testament, which was practiced on children.
If the vast majority of Christians today and in history practice and believe a certain thing, and you have to take passages like the ones quoted about "metaphorically" in order to deny that practice and that belief...I'm sorry, but that's not enough.
I mean if you want to, just take all of the passages above (and others!) about Baptism and read them. Just read them. Don't try to make them metaphors or anything; just ask, "What is St. _____ or Jesus trying to say in this text?" Let go of the de-supernaturalizing mentality of the present day. Don't try to argue one passage against the other, like saying, "Well, passage X says Y, so your literal interpretation CAN'T be right!" Really? You want to do that? Pit passages against each other, and not try to say, "How can both be true?" I mean, I'm not denying that metaphors happen in Scripture. But if Scripture constantly talks like Baptism actually does some very specific things, and the history of the Church demonstrates that that is the near universal (universal until the Reformation) interpretation, then...who are we to de-supernaturalize it? Because that's exactly what we are doing.
Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, and not of our own works. But is Baptism a work? A work of our own? I mean, if Scripture called it a work of our own, you might have an argument there. But...Scripture clearly exclaims that it is not a work of our own, Baptism: it's something supernatural. We have been Baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Let that sink in.
Take all of Scripture as true, not just bits and pieces.
(All Early Church Father quotes, except for St. Irenaeus' "Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching", are from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D., revised and arranged by A. Cleveland Coxe, D.D., and from The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D., both from Hendrickson Publishers. And I own them; they're totes awesome!)
(Also, you need to look at these YouTube videos. I may have a disagreement or two with my Lutheran brothers and sisters, but they get a lot of stuff right. Check them out!)
A defense of Baptism.
An awesome conversation between St. Paul and St. Mark on Baptism.
Another really good defense of Baptism.