What has Infant Baptism done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the end of Christendom by David F. Wright.
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.