Friday, March 30, 2007

Infant Baptism, Baptist style

The tradition I was born into was Baptist. It's been an up and down relationship ever since.

One of the key tenets of being a Baptist is the whole baptizing thing. Baptists believe that only believers should be baptized. Where covenant theologians would see baptism as more the seal of the new covenant like circumcision was the seal of the old covenant, Baptists have historically focused more on the identification of the believer with the death and resurrection of Jesus in baptism, so the preacher will say "buried with Christ in baptism" when he dunks the person under, then "raised to walk in newness of life" when he pulls them back up.

Consequently, through most of Baptist history, only older children or adults were baptized. But there is a trend in current USAmerican Baptist life to baptize younger and younger children as a response to their professing their faith in Jesus. Is this a good thing? Is it true to our theology?

Now lest I be casting stones while living in a glass house, I should note that I baptized my own son when he was 9, and I myself was 9 when I was baptized. So I'm really asking the questions above.

But maybe what gets to me more is the younger and younger focus on evangelizing children. It's one thing to have a few 9 or 10 year olds who seem to genuinely want to commit their lives to following the Way of Jesus. It's a whole other thing to target groups of kids as young as 4, 5 or 6 and be teaching adults how to lead a group of 6 year olds in a prayer of repentance and commitment to Jesus. Is this really viable strategy for churches today? Are there legitimate or illegitimate reasons for this?

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