Today*, my friend Paul (he of Prodigal Paul fame) shared the following status, which is itself a quote of Martin Luther’s:
““You say you don’t baptize children because they don’t believe. Why do you preach the Word to adults who don’t believe, unless perhaps in the hope that they may believe? You do it on the strength of God’s command alone. For if you baptize me because I say I believe, then you baptize on account of me and in my name. Therefore, since you don’t know whether I believe or don’t believe, you do it only because of God’s command. It isn’t necessary to exclude children, since as a rule you baptize all, whether they believe or not. It would be a terrible thing if I were baptized on the strength of my confession.” – Martin Luther (Table Talk No. 549) on paedobaptism”
First off: If someone says they don’t believe in infant baptism because the children don’t believe..Luther I am WITH you brother!** I don’t believe, and would like to think that most people that don’t believe, in infant baptism have issues with it for reasons far more complex then that.
A little back story first: My husband grew up in the Catholic Church. While we have had very few “dig my feet in, I will not agree with you” type fights over the course of our relationship–this topic has caused more then one of those. He is trying to understand why I am so vehemently against baptizing our children (at the moment we’re in the “over my dead body” stage). And what we recently broke it down to is this: My feelings about infant baptizim stem from what I believe baptism means. As I understand it the biblical (and my theological***) definition of baptism is: “An individual of their own free will and desire stands before their church family (and ideally the family that raised them) and says before everyone gathered:
“I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that he is the Son of God. That he died on a cross to save me from damnation and that he descended into hell. I believe that he rose from hell–from the dead–after 3 days. That he spent 40 days ministering to his disciples and to the world and then he rose to heaven. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father and he will someday come to judge the living and the dead. I believe that is only through belief in Jesus Christ that I am saved and that I may enter heaven’s gates. I choose to follow him for all of my days.”
To be blunt: a child lacks the capability of making such a decision. A child lacks the capability of knowing the ramifications of such a decision. Now, I was baptized at nine years old. One of my brothers was around 7 and my other brother was around 16. Did any of us fully grasp the commitment we were making? I would say no, I didn’t fully grasp the commitment i was making. But I did grasp that it was my decision to make. That I knew–and know–with ever fiber of my being that my declaration was true. Jesus is the Son of God and he did die on a cross for me and my salvation. I didn’t know how hard it would be. Or how much I would struggle with my faith. But what has kept me going in those times of rock bottom darkness is the same belief that caused me to want to be baptized. That I know–deep within my soul–that Jesus is the son of God. I might be absolutely furious at him–and at God–I might refuse to pray or talk to him or deal with him. But I know he is the Son of God. I know it as I know there’ll be oxygen to breathe–I just know. What a terrible tragedy to steal that from your child. It actually makes my heart hurt.
Now, if you believe that baptism is simply the “marking” of a child–the promise that you will raise your child in the faith and do your best to shepherd them in the faith–that’s something completely different. But if that’s truly what you are trying to do, I truly don’t understand why that can’t be achieved with a dedication ceremony. For those that haven’t seen this particular ceremony: Essentially the parents (or several groups of parents) stand with their children before the congregation and pledge to raise their child in the faith. Sometimes there are Godparents. Now, there might be perfectly theologically legitimate reasons to baptize your children. I would truly enjoy hearing what your reasons are. But so far, I haven’t heard one that I didn’t think: “Have a dedication ceremony.”
At the core of my baptism beliefs are two Biblical/theological convictions and one personal one:
1. I simply don’t know of any biblical example of infant baptism…but I know of plenty of examples of “grown”individuals choosing to be baptized. (To be fair, they weren’t really clear on WHO John was baptizing, so children absolutely could have been there…but it’s not mentioned). And baptism is so important I guess I feel like we shouldn’t really try and extrapolate too much from what the Bible gives us.
2. I don’t believe that children are born with sin. I believe that children, like all humans, are born with the capability of sinning. I believe that the curse we bear from the Garden of Eden is not that we are born with sin, it’s that we are born far from God. And we spend our whole lives trying to find him..even if we don’t know that’s what we’re doing.
Being a Christian hard. It takes everything you have and more then you ever thought you did to follow God. I refuse to make that decision for my child. It is too momentous a decision for me to make for them. And that moment of pure belief..that moment of knowing is too wonderful, too bright, and too joyful to steal from them.
An ending note: If you choose to baptize your children I will happily be there and praise the Lord with you. I will hug you and kiss you babies and pledge with the rest of the congregation with all my heart to do what I can to help you raise them as Christian. Just because I don’t want to baptize my children doesn’t mean I have any judgement about anyone who does. It takes all kinds of people and all kinds of belief to make a church.
” I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. ” C. S. Lewis (Probably taken out of context, but it’s the best way I’ve found to describe my faith.)
*Ok, it was last week now. But when I started writing this, it was today.
**Oh come on, I make terrible puns. This isn’t new.
**Part of this is the theology I was raised with, part of it is me figuring stuff out on my own.