Latest posts by Greg Goebel (see all)
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Why baptize infants? The Anglican theme verse for children would have to be “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Starting very early in the life of the Christian Church, Christian children were seen as members of the covenant community of faith. Just as Israel brought their sons to the sign of the Covenant, circumcision, we bring our children to the sign of the New Covenant, called Baptism (see Col 2:11-13). We, therefore, treat our children as Christians, teaching them from the beginning how to live as a member of the Body of Christ, and not withholding from them any grace they need through Christ to grow into that faith. In other words, we believe we are “letting them come to Jesus” as he commanded.
St Peter, preaching the Gospel to the people, says,
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (Acts 2:38-39 ESV)
During the Reformation, all of the leading reformers retained infant baptism, a fact which shocks many American Protestants today. Luther looked at it this way:
Since our baptizing has been thus from the beginning of Christianity and the custom has been to baptize children, and since no one can prove with good reasons that they do not have faith, we should not make changes and build on such weak arguments. For if we are going to change or do away with customs that are traditional, it is necessary to prove convincingly that these are contrary to the Word of God. (“Concerning Rebaptism”, p 353).
Calvin followed Augustine in viewing paedobaptism as an acknowledgment of original sin and absolute grace. The helpless baby reminds us that we are all like infants in God’s presence.
The Undivided Church and the Reformers believed that helpless infants were proper candidates for baptism. The tradition doesn’t usually align along those lines. Pretty much everyone has believed that children of Christian parents should be baptized. The Bible does seem to command it, since Peter said Baptism was “for your children.” Jesus warned us not to keep the children from him. I see a pattern here!
But what about their salvation? Instead of envisioning their coming to Christ as a one-time event, we believe we must be continually bringing them to Jesus in many different ways and at many different times, each and every day. We are doing this through the Sacraments, the Spirit, and the Scripture. We trust Jesus to work in their hearts, and encourage them to grow into their faith in him. Will they have dramatic, personal experiences of Christ? Maybe not dramatic (although that is good too!) but we are always looking for the signs of the Spirit and doing what we can to fan the flames of love.
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