This article looks at baptism and Christian unity. The author also discusses children in the Word of God (passages like Mark 10:14 and Matthew 18:3)

Source: Christian Renewal, 2009. 2 pages.

Is Infant Baptism Divisive?

In my understanding it isn't until the end of the second century that we have unambiguous evidence of infant baptism. The Western church father Hippolytus writes of the practice in The Apostolic Tradition (ca. 215). Tertullian in North Africa argues against infant baptism in his De Baptismo (ca. 210) on the ground that infants are innocent. The Eastern theologian Origen indicates that he was baptized as an infant, pushing an attestation of infant baptism back at least to the late second century (ca. 185). Prior to that the sources available to us are largely silent.

The Diversity of an Immature Church🔗

The early church was marked by the inconsistency and diversity that one would expect of a rapidly growing fledgling institution. The apparent ambiguity regarding the practice of infant baptism equally applies to the practice of baptism in general where tremendous diversity exists within the early church in terms of the manner of baptism (and the various rituals which attended it) and the theology behind baptism.

It is undeniably true that there was resistance to the practice of infant baptism in the early church in some quarters (contra Samuel Millar). I've often speculated that the practice initially may have met with warm reception among Jewish converts to Christianity in the first century because of their prior convictions about familial and household solidarity and that it became suspect only as the gospel reached non-Jewish peoples throughout Asia Minor and beyond.

It is very significant to note that Tertullian objected to infant baptism on the ground that infants are innocent. In the third and fourth centuries the church was compelled to clarify its theology of human depravity and began to realize how erroneous it was to attribute innocence to infants because they too were implicated in original sin. On account of the debates between Augustine and Pelagius the church finally and formally adopted an understanding of original sin in which children were included in the guilt and power of sin inherited from Adam.

Infant baptism, from this point on, quickly became the universally attested practice of the church in the East and the West. This leads me to question: if diversity of practice regarding the baptism of infants was present in the second century because of a failure to understand the biblical teaching on original sin, do we really want to return to this diversity?

Those who reject infant baptism need to reflect on their understanding of human depravity, and the implications of that understanding for the salvation of infants. We in Reformed churches practice infant baptism (aside from a wealth of biblical warrant, to be unveiled on some other occasion) in part because we recognize the radical need, even among our infant children, for the mercy of God and the promises of his gracious covenant.

Don't Baptists Talk to Their Babies?🔗

Beyond this it strikes me as the epitome of modernity to make the gospel an adults-only affair. They who can't think or talk or can't think or talk well are excluded from the privileges. God is not so discriminating; he's not embarrassed about babies. He relishes in telling us he loves us before we are able to tell him we love him.

After all, don't Baptists talk to their babies? I've always wanted, but lacked the courage, to ask my Baptist friends that question. I've never encountered a parent who didn't talk to his or her infant child. “You're such a cutie! Just look at your little smile! Do you know that you have your mother's dimples? Did you dirty your diaper again?”

What would you call a parent who refused to talk to his children until they were able to learn to speak? Is abusive perhaps too strong? Why do parents talk to their infant children? These children can't understand what we say. It's all gobbledygook. Parents talk to their children because they love their children. And God talks to his infant covenant children, telling them wonderful promises, because he loves them.

In baptistic theology children must first become adults before God will speak to them or assure them of anything. I find it interesting that the Bible pushes us in the opposite direction: the adults must become children. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word Jesus uses here is not the generic word for children (teknon) but the word used for newborn infants (paidion).

How did Jesus respond to his disciples when they, keeping children away from Jesus, acted like the rationalists (children must first be able to think) and the voluntarists (children must first be able to choose) of the church today? He was fuming angry (Mark 10:14). It's no less an offense to keep covenant children from the blessings of Jesus today.

What if John MacArthur were in Church?🔗

John Currie had been an Alliance pastor for many years before he found his way to the little church I pastored in Grande Prairie, AB. He and I had many debates en route to his being convinced of infant baptism. He seemed puzzled initially that I would not support having a Baptist preacher deliver the sermon in a Sunday service. “But what if John MacArthur were in church?” he asked.

John Currie knew I loved John MacArthur. When I was 17 years old I read MacArthur's Our Sufficiency in Christ and I was never the same; I became Reformed by an overwhelming conviction. I'm not always as impressed by Dr. MacArthur's exegesis as I once was, but I still regard him as a father in the faith, and always will.

If MacArthur is a father in the faith, then certainly he's a brother in Christ. We should cherish all of our brothers in Christ, including those with whom we have fundamental theological differences. Moreover, our interaction with them should always be characterized by humility. It's one thing I continue to admire about Dr. MacArthur – he works hard at becoming a child, in terms of humility.

Infant baptism is divisive. The division is as lamentable as it is necessary. I remain convinced that we should not share our pulpits with Baptist ministers. But I'm glad we share with the Baptists a wonderful Saviour; or better, I'm glad the wonderful Saviour will have us both.

Is infant baptism divisive?

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.