Saturday, August 1, 2015
A Final word on Infant Baptism
Two sobering truths about infant baptism demonstrate that the doctrine is derived not from exegetical proofs but rather a faulty theological scheme. This post will serve as a summary to my very discursive interaction with paedobaptism and specifically, Paul Manata’s argument in favor of that doctrine. The first is a logical syllogism from New Testament evidence and the second is from the first 200 years of church history.
1 Every article of church polity, worship, conduct, doctrine, discipline and activity are all clearly contained within the confines of the New Testament.
2 Infant baptism is not clearly contained within the confines of the New Testament.
3 Therefore, infant baptism is not an article of church polity, worship, conduct, doctrine, discipline and activity.
The first premise is very simple. This premise is not asserting that no church has ever instituted policies or worship practices, etc. that have no support in the New Testament. What it is claiming is that these elements have their authority from the clear teachings and principles of New Testament Scripture. When we look for polity of elders and deacons, we see it in Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 as well as other places. We can read about how the church worshiped in Acts and Ephesians as well as other places. We know that Christian conduct and doctrine must have their only source in New Testament Scripture. We also see that Christian activities and even discipline are spelled out in black and white in the New Testament Scripture. The New Testament Church is indeed a New Testament Church. And members of the New Covenant are members in the New Testament Church.
There is no connection, not a single shred of connection between New Covenant baptism and Old Covenant circumcision. The circumcision of the flesh was a type of the New Covenant circumcision of the heart. In other words, physical circumcision was the type while regeneration is the antitype. There is no proof anywhere in the New Testament that baptism and circumcision are related. We have been circumcised by a circumcision made without hands. (Col. 2:11) The opportunities for God to reveal such a basic element of Christian doctrine abound throughout the New Testament. God had no reservations about revealing to us all the other aspects of basic Christian doctrine, like baptism, faith and repentance, regeneration, Christian duty, worship, prayer, etc. Jesus could have said something about this doctrine but He did not. Luke, in recording the history of the ancient church had almost endless opportunity but said nothing about it. Paul, Peter, and John had enough space to include this doctrine but nowhere bothered themselves with it. The writer to the Hebrews most certainly could have made the connection but ignored it completely. One has to ask if it makes sense to permit such silence on something as basic as our paedobaptist brothers consider it to be in the life of the church. At a minimum we have to admit that it is indeed puzzling that something so basic would be accompanied, not by scant evidence, but rather by absolutely no evidence whatsoever.
Historically speaking, there is no evidence from the first two-hundred years in the church that infant baptism was ever practiced. For the time before this (200 AD) we do not possess a single piece of information that gives concrete testimony to the existence of infant baptism. (Aland, 101) So then what is the historical basis for infant baptism in the Christian Church? Contrary to our paedobaptist brothers’ connection to the covenant, when the Christian Church first began to baptize infants, it was due to the issue of original sin. The struggle with infant baptism in the early church was related to the doctrine of original sin. We see the remarks by Tertullian, “Why should innocent infancy be in such a hurry to come to the forgiveness of sins?” Tertullian associated baptism with cleansing and forgiveness of sins. Origen, although he accepted the view that infant baptism was of apostolic origin, struggled to understand why an infant would require forgiveness and pardon of sins. Origen then connected baptism with pardon and forgiveness of sins. Cyprian was the first to connect infant baptism to original sin. There was a practice in come churches to wait until the 8th day to baptize the infant. But Cyprian argued that if the worse of sinners ought to be baptized immediately, receiving pardon and forgiveness of sins, why then should we withhold such grace from a newly born infant? Augustin followed both Ambrose in his view on original sin and Cyprian in his logic on baptism.
The earliest available evidence from the ancient church is clear. When infant baptism was introduced to the church, whenever that was, it was done so as a result of the logical inference of original sin. The argument was not made from the Old Covenant pattern of circumcision even if a loose connection from a religious rite may have been present somewhere in their thinking. The thrust of the belief supporting infant baptism was inferred from the belief in the doctrine of original sin. If all Adams progeny is wholly contaminated from the womb, then infants are in need or pardon from birth. And if baptism provide for pardon and forgiveness of sins, then infants ought to be baptized. Augustine referred to infants as being in the clutches of the devil because they were born contaminated with the sin of Adam.
These facts pose a serious problem for a paedobaptist brothers. If they are going to call on evidence from the ancient church, a few generations removed from the apostles, then they will have to accept the justification for the practice of infant baptism from that ancient church as well. One cannot use the historical evidence that the church baptized infants in the third century unless one also uses the same argument in support of that practice. Do paedobaptists argue that baptism provides for pardon and forgiveness of sin? Indeed, they do not. Their argument for the legitimacy of infant baptism is fundamentally different from that of the ancient church. For that reason, we can reject the paedobaptist claim that church history supports their practice. Indeed, church history is in clear dispute with their practice. Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, and Augustine would all disagree with the reasons offered by the reformed paedobaptists for their doctrine of infant baptism.
In summary then, we have seen that a survey of the New Testament shows no clear evidence that infant baptism ought to be included in the polity, doctrine, or worship practice of the catholic church. If it is true that Christian polity, doctrine, and practice ought to have clear support in the New Testament or ought to be so clearly derived from principles of clear doctrine, then we have no choice but to admit that infant baptism is lacking in that support. We have also seen the that the first evidence of infant baptism in the history of the church in the extant records shows that the practice was built upon an argument that took on a fundamentally different structure. Like the New Testament teaching on the relationship between baptism and true repentance, the practice of infant baptism seemed to emerge as a product of an attempt to ensure the salvation of infants. If this is not baptismal regeneration, it is only a step removed. In light of these two very basic and simple observations, I think it is more safe to reject the doctrine of infant baptism. I think of the principle that the more obscure a doctrine, the less likely it is to be true, or useful to the spiritual growth and well-being of the Church. For this reason, it seems prudent to me to reject the claims of Paul Manata and our paedobaptist brothers. We simply must demand that something so basic and so imposed upon the lives of believers as infant baptism must be accompanied with the strongest and clearest support of New Testament Scripture which is the only guide for the Church and it is also our only guide for how we should approach the rest of Scripture, meaning, the Old Testament. In other words, the New Testament is the grid through which everything else must be interpreted because it is the clearest and final revelation from God.