Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Infant Baptism, Infant Faith, and Infant Confession through Godparents

Here's a comment I posted on another Lutheran blog when another comment raised the issue of rejecting infant baptism:

Some people say that infants should not be baptized. But the Bible teaches otherwise. In 1 Co 10, Paul notes that everyone in Israel — infants as well as adults — were “all” under the cloud and that “all” passed through the Red sea, and that “all” were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (vv. 1-2). Paul then twice writes that this event serves as an example that the Christian church needs to follow and learn (1 Co 10.6, 11).

It is worth emphasizing that Paul points to Israel's baptism as a nation in the Red Sea. And Paul expressly says that Israel's baptism in the Red Sea serves as an example for the Christian church to follow. So when we then think biblically about the Great Commission that Jesus gave us -- that we are to make disciples of the nations by baptizing them i.e., by baptizing the nations -- then we cannot help but draw upon the single example of a national baptism that God gives us in the Scriptures, and that is Israel's national baptism, which included the baptism of "all" who were in Israel, including the little babies.

So, too, Peter says “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.38). Peter then expressly states that this promise is for the children of his hearers, as well as for Gentiles who are far off.

In response, people who say that infants should not be baptized say that Peter’s promise does not apply to babies, because babies cannot repent.

But let’s consider what the Bible actually teaches that babies can do: Infants can praise God (Ps 8.2) and can be filled with the Spirit (Lk 1.15). So, too, the Scriptures teach us that infants can fall down and worship God (2 Chronicles 20.13 with 18). Similarly, “little ones” (which is the Hebrew word translated as “children” by the NIV), “stand in the presence of God” (Dt 29.10-11), and enter into a covenant with God which “confirms you this day as his people, that he may be your God” (Dt 29.13).

So when talking about whether babies can have faith, what do we believe? God's word or human eyes?

To be sure, infants cannot do all those things by themselves. That's why we have their parents and godparents speak for them before God. The Bible teaches this as well. The Bible teaches that representatives can speak for and represent those who can't. The “whole congregation of the Lord,” which includes infants, is said to “speak” through only a few representatives (Josh 22.14-16). And “all” are said to “hear” when only the representatives hear (Josh 23.2, cf., 24.1-2). So, too, “all” are committed when representatives gather before God (2 Chr 5.2-3, cf., chs 5-7, esp., 6.3, 7.4). The Bible’s representative principle extends to generational representation as well (Dt 29.14-15). So, too, in baptism, adults speak for and represent the infant. Godparents speaking for infants is Biblical. And, thus, the Apostolic practice of baptizing "households" (Acts 16.15, 33, 18.8, 1 Co 1.16) is entirely nonproblematic for Lutherans.

The Bible makes clear that baptism is for “all,” and that the forgiveness promised in baptism is explicitly also “for our children.” The Scriptures teach us that infants can do all things that believers do – stand before God, fall down and worship God, praise God, and be members of God’s people. Just as representatives in the Bible speak for the whole assembly of God—including infants—parents and godparents can speak for their children, expressing their faith and their repentance. The form of baptism used in Lutheran churches is entirely consistent with what the Bible teaches us about God’s relationship with the infants of believing parents. All of us are saved by baptism into Jesus Christ, adult and child alike.

Finally, as for the thief on the cross. God blessed him, but it's simply and obviously wrong to draw conclusions contrary to the Scriptures from exceptional circumstances. Jesus gives us the general practice: He tells his church to make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them his word. You thereby nullify the Word of God by trying to make a rule out of an exception.


Blogger Mike Bull said...

Dear Jim

Good arguments but I think you are confusing the corporate picture with the personal. After all, not all members of the nation of Israel were circumcised as individuals, but as a national "body" they were. As a nation, they pictured the coming Christ.

Just so, the greater maturity of the church as a body, which is indeed a new baptized nation, is reflected in the personal baptism of those who respond to the Christ who came.

Females could not be circumcised because the Covenant head is male. They could not picture personally what Israel pictured as a whole.

I believe infants cannot be baptized because they cannot respond, i.e. they cannot picture as individuals the more mature, more glorious state of the New Covenant body, the "female" Bride.

So the promise was for their children, but we never see this enacted in Scripture by any individual child's baptism.

Circumcision was by proxy - the God-parent. Circumcision was the responsibility of the Father, and it pleased Him to bruise His Son. It is Father/Son.

But there is no baptism by proxy. The Bride responds to the Son's call, and witnesses to her salvation in song. It is not Father/Son but Spirit.

I do, however, think that believing children should be baptized and allowed communion as early as possible.

May 01, 2010 6:27 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hi Mike,

[1] I'm not sure your argument actually matters for baptism, but Israel is God's bride. The church is God's bride as the continuation of Israel.

[2] The idea that babies do not respond to God's grace is a notion that is contrary to what the Bible expressly teaches.

[3] 1 Co 10 is Paul's teaching in the new covenant, a discussion explicitly in the context of sacraments (which continues at least through 1 Co 13):

"For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were ALL under the cloud and ALL passed through the sea; and ALL were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and ALL ate the same spiritual food; and ALL drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
Now these things happened as examples for us . . .
. . .
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."

May 02, 2010 3:52 PM  
Blogger Mike Bull said...


Thanks for your reply.

I doubt we're going to agree on this, but it is sure interesting to discuss.

From what I can see with my limited vision, part of the problem is that God works in the same pattern at many levels -- the Scriptures are like a fractal.

So with Israel as bride, there is a head-and-body pattern within the Old Covenant. We have Moses as head and the people as body. As history continues we have the Tabernacle of Moses as torn head, and the Tabernacle of David as rebuilt body. As it continues further, we have Daniel as exiled, ascended head (Exodus/Lev) and Esther as approaching body (Deuteronomy). Then taking the former days and latter days together, we have the "Ark" kings as head and the Restoration era "Lampstand" as body.

But then, and this is my point, when we take the whole Bible into view, Old Covenant Israel's circumcision pictures the male Covenant head Who would be torn apart (blood). And the New Covenant "Tabernacle of David" is the rebuilt Covenant body - which always involves a "bridal" response to the Bridegroom as she approaches to stand on the crystal sea (water).

The exodus from Egypt works the same way: Blood, fire, water. But then the entire journey to Canaan follows the same pattern, Passover blood, Numbers holy fire, and Jordan water. It is the same thing but with a wider scope.

In 1 Corinthians 10, the baptism Paul speaks of is the exodus of the "head," the Passover "veil" of Christ. It is followed by the bride's adultery, and he exhorts the Corinthians not to be such a "body."

So Paul is not working within the smaller "Exodus" fractal but the larger "Egypt to Canaan" one. This "head" baptism is a "Red Sea" baptism. It is the exodus from slavery. It refers to our salvation, our covering under the blood of Christ.

But New Covenant baptism is a "Jordan" baptism. Yes, this too is a baptism of the whole body. An individual pictures this by being someone who approaches in faith, not someone who is brought. And the picture also requires full immersion to picture the whole body. It is not so much a passing under but a passing through into government.

If anything, Paul's use of "all" here would require that "all" members of the church should be converted, repentant, regenerate - under the Passover blood. This cannot practically include infants. It is not about being born, as was the Old Covenant, but about being born again. It is not blood but Spirit. We pass under the blood of the CHILD and approach the throne as a "bridal" army of MEN.

Regarding babies responding to the grace of God, I do not dispute this. But then, once again, this is more about the passive, purifying, singular, Covenant head "child" than the submitting, mature, purified, plural, Covenant "body".

There is another factor which I find extremely interesting, and that is that circumcision was all about heredity, but New Covenant baptism destroys/replaces it with a choice, the "if" of discipleship to Jesus. I have a post here about that:


I hope this makes sense.

Kind regards,

May 02, 2010 6:03 PM  

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