January 26, 2012

Infant Baptism vs. Baby Dedication: Part I

I’ve had a couple infant baptisms over the past few months and have a number of couples that are expecting babies to arrive soon and the topic of baptism vs. dedication was brought up recently. I don’t think “vs.” is the best way to frame it but we’ll work with it for the purposes of this post. A couple different thoughts were raised so I thought I would write a two-part post in response.

Is infant baptism scriptural? 
It was not uncommon for the apostles to baptize entire families, including babies & small children. We see examples of this in Acts 16:11-15, 31-34; 18:7-8; 1 Cor. 1:16. Baptizing an infant would fit well with the Jewish thought of covenant and how baby boys would be circumcised on the eighth day to represent their involvement in the covenant and then have the opportunity to “own” that for themselves at their Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for girls). In The United Methodist Church, the opportunity to “own” one’s infant baptism comes through the process we call Confirmation.

John Wesley talked about a form of grace he called prevenient. The idea is this type of grace comes before, or prior to, one’s realization of its presence. It is by God’s grace that we even become aware of God’s grace. For me, infant baptism has become one of the most beautiful pictures of God’s prevenient grace, present in a baby’s life before s/he is ever aware of it. It seems as though infant baptism speaks to the very nature of grace, which is always prior.

What are your thoughts? Where do you see yourself on this topic? Look for Part II talking about doing a baby dedication at an infant baptism church.


PJ Zeilstra said...

I tried commenting on this the other day and had a wonderful comment, but of course I lost it all. I will try again...
I looked at the references that you gave it while only one specifically states it, they imply to me that the whole household believed and then was baptized. It doesn't seem that just the father believed and therfore the whole family was baptized. I don't get from these that a baby must be baptized in order to be saved at a young age.
Although, I did not have a term, I think that I believe in the philosophy of prevenient that you mentioned. (you will have to tell me how tht is pronounced on Sunday). I don't see how a person can be saved until they are able to comprehend their sin and the grace that God extends.

I also wonder if I don't believe that infant baptism is biblical, if it makes a difference if I do baptize him. I think that it is good to show to the church and the world that I will raise him in the ways of the Lord, but is that better expressed in a baptism or dedication? I don't know, maybe it is up to the individual family.

I apologize for the possible rambling of this comment, I am a little rushed this morning. My first one was a lot better :)

Steve and Andrea LaMotte said...

Good post to get some thinking going. I have trouble saying that infant baptism is scriptural because of the reasons that PJ said previous. The text speak about households being baptized in reference to conversion- with no explicit mention of children.

That said, I think the UMC's stance on infant baptism is more about a theology of grace than it is a scriptural mandate. Jesus is seen engaging little children (who would not been highly thought of- evidenced by the disciples shoo-ing them away) and extending grace to them.

Because we don't "re-baptize" people who are baptized as children- (for good theological reasons), I wonder if we miss out on a great right of passage or sign-act when people make a confession of faith/get saved.

I've really appreciated Ben Witherington's book, Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism.