Speaking of Faith: How to Defend Infant Baptism and Have Fun Doing It
By Timothy Pauls
"You baptize babies? That's not right."
Sooner or later, you're going to hear it. It's lonely being Lutheran sometimes, especially when it comes to the joy of Christ's presence in the Sacraments. A lot of your fellow Christians believe that infant Baptism is just plain wrong, and they'll probably be willing to tell you so. In fact, if you were baptized as a baby, sooner or later they're going to tell you that your Baptism didn't count.
You might take infant Baptism for granted; and when someone tells you it didn't count, you might not know what to say. Your memorization of the Small Catechism may vanish in a puff of panic. Fear not! Here are some of the most common arguments against infant Baptism, and how to respond.
1."Salvation is something you choose, and babies can't choose."
Your response: "When was the last time a dead guy made himself alive?"
Reason: This is HUGE! Lutherans disagree with many fellow Christians about infant Baptism because we start from different foundations. The Bible says that all are born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-2). Dead means, well, dead. It means that you're unable to do anything to make yourself alive. It means that God has to do all the work to make you alive. Salvation isn't something you choose. Salvation is a gift. Grace is a gift. Faith is a gift. All three are gifts of God, a package deal (Ephesians 2:8-9). It's God who does all the work, and if God does all the work to save someone, what would keep Him from saving a baby?
When it comes down to it, a lot of Christians believe that we have enough life in us to choose to be saved. For them, Baptism is a rite in which you choose to be a Christian--and since babies can't choose, they shouldn't be baptized. But dead people can't do anything. If you want, pick a Bible text where Jesus raised someone from the dead, like Lazarus (John 11:43-44), Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:41-42), or the boy at Nain (Luke 7:14-15). Ask your friend, "What did the dead one do to be alive?" The answer is nothing! Jesus did all the work. It works the same way when it comes to salvation: if we're dead in sin, He does all the work to save us. He has to! Thanks be to God, He does.
You might also ask, "Could Jesus raise a baby from the dead?" The answer, of course, is yes. Why couldn't He give eternal life to a baby in Holy Baptism?
2."Babies aren't old enough to understand what's happening."
Response #1: "Should we withhold food from babies until they understand nutrition?"
Reason: Newborn babies are cuddly blobs who don't seem to understand much of anything. But even though they don't understand what milk or formula does, it still gives them the nutrition they need in order to keep from starving to death. Babies don't understand how blankets keep them warm, but blankets keep them warm anyway. Babies don't understand diapers, but parents still put them on. See where this is going? Since God is the One who gives forgiveness in Baptism, forgiveness helps the baby even if the baby doesn't understand it.
Response #2: "What did you do in order to be born?"
Reason: Babies don't do anything to be born. Being born is something done to them, not something they do. When Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, He says, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Jesus didn't tell Nicodemus to birth himself. He told him to be born—that's something that He Himself would do to Nicodemus. So if God can see to it that we are born into this world without our help, why can't He see to it that we're born from above without our help?
Response #3: If you want, you can also casually mention circumcision. (There are just so many casual conversations about circumcision these days, aren't there?) In the Old Testament, baby boys were circumcised when they were eight days old. It wasn't something they chose to do, but something that was done to them. If they were circumcised, they were part of God's people. If they weren't, they were cut off from God's people for breaking God's covenant (Genesis 17:12-14). The baby boy was either one of God's people or not, and he didn't have a say in the matter! Colossians 2:11-12 says that circumcision foreshadowed Baptism. Baptism delivers us into God's family, no matter how old we are.
3."God doesn't hold the sins of kids against them until they reach a certain age."
Response: "Who took care of all the orphans after the Flood?"
Reason: God sent the Flood because every thought of mankind was evil (Genesis 6:5). If God doesn't hold the sins of young children against them, then they should have been spared from the flood; but the children perished, too. The tragic fact is that we're sinful from the moment we're conceived (Psalm 51:5), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).The idea that children reach a certain age before God holds sin against them is a human idea. It isn't found in Scripture. Once again, don't forget circumcision; a nine-day-old boy was no longer among God's people if he wasn't circumcised! It wasn't his fault, but it was still true. He had to be brought in by circumcision. We need to be brought in by Holy Baptism.
4."The Bible never tells us to baptize babies."
Response #1: "How old were you when you became a citizen of your country?"
Reason: Jesus told His disciples to make disciples of "all nations" (Matthew 28:19). As soon as you're born, you're part of a nation. Therefore, babies are included unless the Lord said, "all nations, over the age of twelve." He didn't say that. He simply said, "all nations." Babies are people, too.
Response #2: "Where does the Bible tell us to baptize women?"
Reason: The Bible never explicitly tells us to baptize women. However, we read that women were baptized (Acts 8:12).Why? Because women are included in "all nations." So are babies.
In reality, all of these arguments hinge on a basic question: Is salvation all God's work, or do you help? And since Holy Baptism saves you (1 Peter 3:21), is Baptism God's work or yours? Scripture makes it clear: God saves you, and He saves you in Holy Baptism (Titus 3:5). Jesus does the work of joining you to His death and resurrection, by water and the Word (Romans 6:4). He gives. You live. If you present this great news, will you convince everyone you talk to? Probably not. But either way, it's still the truth. By virtue of your Baptism, you're the Lord's. Faith is the Holy Spirit's work anyway, not yours. You just get to speak. Have fun!
This article was previously published in the Spring 2008 issue of Higher Things Magazine.
Rev. Timothy Pauls is the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho.
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