As I was at pains to underline last time, I hope to explore the question of why I believe we should baptise our children, but in as irenic a way as possible. I am aware of how deeply our convictions on such issues can run, and I hope I can lay out my own understanding of the key Biblical, and theological reasons why I believe in infant baptism, without leaving others feeling alienated, or disaffected. I will not be engaging with those positions I disagree with, and am settling for positively stating my own understanding of the Bible’s teaching.
Because the question of whether or not children should be baptised is so contentious, it might be worth clearing the air of possible misconceptions. There can be a lot of preconceived ideas that we bring to the discussion. They can be born out of our cultural presuppositions, our theological assumptions and how they affect how we read the Bible, or our own experience of Church life which we inevitably take to be normative. But whatever their source, they can cloud the issues and lead to all kinds of misunderstanding.
It is also worth recognising at the outset that these are not academic questions that we have the luxury of discussing in the rarefied atmosphere of a seminar room. These are questions that affect us deeply, and that have shaped decisions we have made about our own lives of discipleship, as well as those of our children. We have been baptised – some as children, some as adults, and some as both. We are invested in the positions we hold. That makes it even more important that we proceed very cautiously and with as much clarity as we can manage; and is in part why I am being so very tentative in these articles.
So, what am I not arguing for? In no particular order:
· I am not trying to justify the pragmatic retention of something I know to be an unBilbical mediaeval practise for the sake of unity and ease, or perhaps mission. I mention this because have been surprised over the years how many times this has been assumed. The idea seems to be that as someone who takes the Bible seriously, I couldn’t really believe in baptising children, but am willing to live with it because of the advantages I gain from being a minister in the Church of England. At this stage let me just say that there are (I think) compelling Biblical reasons as to why we should include our children in the sacramental life of the Church i.e. I hold my position out of genuine conviction.
· Baptismal regeneration. This is the idea that everyone who is baptised is automatically a born again Christian by virtue of that baptism. I really don’t think the Bible teaches this. As far as I can tell from reading the Scriptures, it is the Holy Spirit who applies the work of Christ. Baptism doesn’t guarantee faith, either at the point of baptism, or in the years following. There are those who have been baptised as children and as adults, but who have later tragically left the faith.
· Baptising children washes away original sin. Again, I’d like to be quite clear that the Bible doesn’t teach this. I don’t believe it, and I don’t think the Church of England (or indeed any Reformed Church) has ever sanctioned this view.
· That every child should be baptised. I know that this has largely been the historical situation in England (though not universally) but – if I can put it like this – we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the baptismal water (sorry!). The fact that a rite of the Church has been abused or misused in the past doesn’t mean it is necessarily wrong. Our reaction is not to stop baptising children altogether if that is indeed a Biblical practise, but rather to make sure that we are doing so appropriately and within the parameters laid down in Scripture. It has never been official policy of the Church of England to have an unqualified ‘open’ Baptismal policy – though that is hardly comforting when we consider how badly the Church has in fact misappropriated it (I’ll come back to this next time).
· Neither am I denying that adults who become Christians (and who haven’t previously been baptised) should be baptised. Clearly they should. Many of the baptisms in the Book of Acts fall precisely into this category: Adults who have not grown up in the Church, and who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are (immediately!) baptised. This is recognised as entirely Biblical, and in the old Book of Common Prayer is rather quaintly referred to as the baptism of those of ‘riper years’.
I hope that I have now sufficiently cleared the ground to begin to explain constructively in my next article why I believe that Christian parents should baptise their children. Let me put it rather cheekily: my contention is that if you were to sit down and read the Bible without prejudice, it would never cross our mind that baptism should be denied to our children. Don’t believe me? I’ll show you…
 If you worship at St. John’s, but haven’t been baptised, and would like to be, please speak with Mark