My journey makes for a story twice told, and it’s a tale of changing back and forth regarding a theology of infant baptism. The changes did not come in the way that one changes a channel or dinner plans or clothing. With each change, old friends were lost and new ones made.
Passions run high when it comes to the practice of infant baptism. I hope that Christian parents of like faith will find the theology that propelled me down this path to be fuel for their own quest. To that end, I want to unpack those propellants in retrospect, looking back at the key moments in my trek when different theological pillars fell into place and emboldened me in my adventure. Those pillars seemed to support the singular conclusion that Christian parents ought to have their babies baptized. I’ll enumerate those ten or so pillars over the next few installments, and then I will explain why they ultimately failed to support the load I placed upon them. You may conclude differently, and that’s fitting, for the journey is not sterile and pre-programmed but lively and personal.
Theology is more than abstract doctrine believed with Stoic conviction. Good and strong beliefs tend to be fleshed out in the context of an emotion-filled journey whereby we come to lively convictions in the midst of Christian and familial relationships, and those same relationships are affected by the mutual struggle for meaning. Having a child qualifies as one of those theology-provoking moments where the difference between the journey and the doctrine are hard to discern and where the struggle is acutely felt.
For my wife and I, it was a Presbyterian minister who suggested infant baptism, and it was when he showed us the unity of the Old and New Testaments. That’s the first pillar. The continuity between the covenants is rooted in Jesus who pointed to himself as the uniting God-Man of the two testaments: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me,” John 5:46. That verse, and others like it, taught me that the Old Testament is not disconnected from the New. The two testaments are linked, and in that linkage, children are never excluded from their status as being members of the covenant community (keep that in mind, as I will come back to it).
Like all stories, mine involves a background, a struggle, and a resolution. Our background was that of being Southern Baptists. That was all we knew. And suddenly we found ourselves isolated from our Baptist friends who were shocked that we would consider a theology that meant the peculiar practice of infant baptism. Baptism is for believers! End of discussion… so they argued. But I started to see unity between the testaments. Children were members of the covenant community, and what was true in the Old Testament was not abandoned in the New – indeed, quite the opposite, the Old Testament crescendoed in Christ.
I found this idea both foreign to my denominational peers, and resisted when I stated it along with my budding conclusion that children are still members of the covenant community. That resistance had a strange impact on me. It made me think I may have stumbled upon something secret and valuable. The fact that close friends and teachers were not conversant regarding this unity, and the fact that I was attracted to it, had the double effect of driving me further in my quest.
All of this will be further developed as I examine the other pillars on which I built the practice of infant baptism.
This is part one of a six part series being published bi-weekly in the Miami County Republic Friday edition. This installment was printed on December 10th, 2010. These publications are part of a series I will be teaching on alternating Thursday nights in 2011. Continue reading part two of this series.