Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What has Infant Baptism Done?

What has Infant Baptism done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the end of Christendom by David F. Wright.
Paternoster 2005
Reveiwed by Bror Erickson

“By the end of the volume the reader will be thoroughly acquainted with the harmful effects that this practice has had and its failure at the present time to turn people into practicing Christians or even church goers. This (to quote the subtitle) inquiry at the end of Christendom’ forcefully points to the failure of infant baptism to ‘deliver the goods” in today’s world, whatever may have been its effectiveness in the past.” (from the forward by Tony lane)
So the book tackles the question that the title asks. It looks at the history of baptism in the church, and at the Biblical basis for this practice. The author David Wright argues for a mixed practice. Baptizing infants and adults as the occasion arises.
I think the book asks the wrong question, and misplaces blame. Why is it the fault of infant baptism that the western world is suffering from empty churches and Christians who do not know their faith? Even the author himself admits that the records for the “believer Baptist churches” don’t necessarily look any better than for those churches that practice infant baptism.(pg 85) So why attack infant baptism? Could it possibly be that there are other factors that go into lack of “discipleship.” Perhaps it is the concept of Christendom and the close relationship between citizenship and church membership in western Europe. One might look back at the Constantinian Era of the church with mixed emotions, and even think of that as an unfortunate but enduring turn in the history of the Church. Perhaps the problem has been the failure given this relationship of churches to come anywhere close to practicing church discipline such as that the Paul proposes in 1 Corinthians. Perhaps it has been the wont of churches to be blown about by every wind of doctrine rather than holding fast to the gospel. Perhaps we can blame it on inadequate theological education and practical training for the pastoral office. (One reviewer of this book has failed to be impressed with the theological astuteness of the author.) Perhaps the lack of this education and training has simply led to poor pastoring. Why infant baptism? Why does it bare the blame, and not the lack of pastoral visitation, Christian education, and poor sermons? Is it perhaps easier to blame the Holy Spirit than it is to blame the pastor?
Is it the task of baptism to make “committed Christians” when this has been divorced from the second part of the great commission, “to teach them to observe all that I have commanded you”? David Wright may be a paedo Baptist, but he writes as one without understanding of why he does what he does. His heart, more or less, based on this written confession, is with the Baptists. He fails to hide his colors where this is concerned, but pretty much buys into the Baptist argument from the beginning. Calling the ancient rites of baptism “ventriloquist acts” does not endear him to me. Failing to understand that adults and infants are to be baptized alike because one does not enter the kingdom if one does not enter like a little child. At one point he suggests that with the advent of infant baptism “Christianity became a matter of heredity, not decision.” (Pg 74) One wonders when Christianity was ever to be a matter of either of those two choices? I thought being a Christian was a matter of election, election that actually happens in and through the means of grace, baptism being but one of those.
That said, there are at times rays of light breaking through the discourse, as when David Wright challenges the reader to look up all the references to baptism (Many of those which are not even considered in this book such as Eph 5:26) and see whether or not baptism is “an ordinance or sacrament which is merely symbolic rather than truly effective as a means by which Christ or the Holy Spirit worked our blessing.” (Pg. 88)He then precedes to do that, and draws a fairly convincing conclusion, even for the Baptist I would think, that it is “a means by which Christ or the Holy Spirit works our blessing.” It’s a mixed bag.


Frank Sonnek said...

"what has infant baptism done to baptism" is "what has baptism done to baptism".

My guess is that it has made itself useful in creating believers, children of abraham, out of stony hearts in fulfillment of that prophecy of Jesus.

Bror Erickson said...

Exactly Frank!

Steve Martin said...

I'd hate to see where I would be today had my parents not brought me the font when I was a baby.

God make alive in Baptism. He kills off, and makes alive.

I don't care what the sectarians think about it.

Bror Erickson said...

Right Steve. God bless the parents who baptize their children and do not think this is just some sort of nicety that can be foregone long enough for the children to despise it themselves.

Bror Erickson said...

The title of the book already assumes, though the author would deny this, that there is something wrong with infant baptism. He buys in to the baptist pragmatic argument against baptism. Look, they don't all turn out to be believers, dedicated disciples or even church goers, as the author writes. What?!!! Waiting till there old enough to despise the sacrament with the thought that they are pledging themselves to God thereby, doesn't help. I know many who were baptized even in High school, who stopped going to church, and didn't live very "christian" lives. Most went to church to pick up chicks, and the emotional manipulation that went on there just prepared them all the more for the boys and their desires with them.
I think this is one of those things they call begging the question. the real question is is it o.k. to baptize children and I think Acts 2:38-39 as well as Collosians 2 answers that question quite well.

Larry said...

It's the same old tired stuff be it Rome, Baptist, Reformed, pietist, etc...it ask the entirely wrong question and falls into temptation. It's always the wrong question to ask or imply that the Gospel (be it Word, baptism or the LS) is only really the Gospel IF it produces X effect, usually very narrowlly and subjectively defined by the author/pastor/theologian doing the asking.

Paul already answers this in Romans regarding circumcision in a like way, to paraphrase Paul, what if some did not believe, so what, let all men be liars and God be true.

The author wants to contradict this as does all so called "practical Christianity", and it ASSUMES from general to particular and vice versa (based on its own criteria of a committed Christian) that baptism has in the end failed historically. Perhaps more came back to the faith, there's no practical way reason and observation can assess this with ANY level accuracy that would pass a laugh test the rigors of science would require (the alleged failure of baptism or other means of grace) at the final moment of death and the death bed.

Luther even recognized this when he said that many a monk at the last moment searching in terror for salvation would behold a crucifix held before them and say in their last breath, "THEIR is my salvation".

Having been steeped in evangelical pietism and crap for years I would argue the opposite, that many of the alleged committed Christians where highest quality Pharisees I've ever known in my life. Yet they would meet the very criteria such authors as this allege as success.

To a hammer everything looks like a nail, and to pietism in every form it manifests itself it's gospel looks like practical success.