Agree to disagree okay on infant baptism?

My blogging friend Talbot Davis has stirred up a good deal of heat and conversation by writing that he no longer believes in infant baptism.

It’s not complicated, it’s not a spiritual birthmark, it’s not a naming ceremony, it’s not even the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.  It’s death to the old life and resurrection to the new.  And babies don’t have old lives to die to.

I have written on this issue a few times, and Talbot and I have exchanged views in public and private. He is convinced believer’s baptism is Scriptural. I will point out as well that the pastor of one of the largest United Methodist congregations in my conference is an active proponent of believer’s baptism and infant dedication. So far neither the vortex of hell nor the bishop’s ire has overtaken that pastor.

As you might imagine — given my ‘company man’ and Wesleyan ways — I support the United Methodist law and doctrine on infant baptism, even though I myself was an adult convert to the faith.

Here are two of my posts about infant baptism in the UMC, if you care to read them (the second is more polemical):

Why I baptize infants

United Methodists baptize babies

And, on a slightly different note, here is one of my favorite John Wesley statements on baptism, in which Father John argues in favor of sprinkling as a valid form of baptism.

It is true, we read of being “buried with Christ in baptism.” But nothing can be inferred from such a figurative expression. Nay, if it held exactly, it would make as much for sprinkling as for plunging; since, in burying, the body is not plunged through the substance of the earth, but rather earth is poured or sprinkled upon it.


12 thoughts on “Agree to disagree okay on infant baptism?

  1. My question continues to be this: how is what Rev Davis is practicing any different than a United Methodist pastor that performs a same-sex union? Why is one ok, but not the other?

    1. Dalton, although I’m not clergy, I would say this: A same-sex union is not a sacrament ordained by Jesus, but baptism is. Baptism and Holy Communion are the two sacraments recognized in United Methodist doctrine; one, the initiating, outward sign of the invisible, inward grace of God, and the other the holy mystery in which we both remember Jesus and receive spiritual sustenance for our ongoing discipleship. These sacraments are immutable; the nature of marriage can and has change (see divorce and remarriage).

  2. He’s right. It’s not complicated. The Jews had a baptismal theology (1 Cor 10:2) and practice prior to Jesus and nothing in the New Testament would give us reason to believe that the practice changed, even as the meaning behind the practice was fulfilled in Christ. Now, I agree to disagree with Baptist, ICC, and EFCA friends (quite lovingly, in fact), but I have difficulty respecting people who openly disregard the theology they have promised to uphold.

  3. My concern is his belief that baptism is now more about “our decision”

    He has reduced baptism from a sacrament to just a public action on our part. I gather from his website and other things his theology is more sola scriptura/Calvinistic than born of tradition,reason,scripture,experience Wesleyanism.

    1. Talbot could speak to his own theology better than I can, but I know him to preach and teach Wesleyan doctrine on the key Calvinist touch points. My guess is that he puts more emphasis on Scripture as primary than most UM proponents of the quadrilateral do, but I personally do not find that to be a fault.

  4. I was baptized when I was 3 months old and couldn’t tell you a thing about it (except that I had a fabulous baptismal outfit). In 1969, during a particular rough period of time, I was told by a Baptist seminary student that baptism didn’t count and I needed to be baptized that night if I expected my soul to be saved. I have a number of pieces on my blog where I talk about that night and my response, which was a polite “no”.

    I said “no” because I believed then and I believe now that I was raised with the baptism in mind. Now, I watch a lot of families baptize their infant children and know that we will probably not see that family in church again until confirmation class time or, more likely, the wedding of that child in the distant future. I don’t know but I hope that the pastor has talked with the family about the need to raise the child with the baptism in mind and not to let it go to waste as it were.

    I sometimes wonder if we as a denomination don’t do infant baptism simply so that we can put the numbers down on the tally sheet. It makes more sense if we could somehow make sure that there is a follow up mechanism in place to make sure that the baptism means something to the individual when they are old enough to know what transpired that Sunday morning early in their life.

    Maybe I was being defensive that night in 1969; maybe I was just being obstinate but I know that my parents brought me to the altar when I was three months old for a reason and they made sure that I lived a life such that and so that when I was able to make a decision on my own, it was the decision to follow Christ.

    That’s the key, I think, to infant baptism. Will the parents raise the child so that the child knows what happened when they were an infant and can make the decision when the proper time comes.

    1. If the key to infant baptism is the parent’s role, then it is not about God doing the baptism. Which is my point that got this whole conversaton started yesterday.

      1. Hi Talbot,

        Did God part the waters of the Red Sea, and were the parents of the children of Israel not involved in the process of bring their children across that same Sea?

        Of course parents are involved, but they cannot “do” the grace of baptism, just as they cannot do the grace of Scripture, or do the grace of church attendance. The grace of all life, from beginning to end, is God’s. We didn’t choose birth. We didn’t choose the Bible. We didn’t choose the church. We don’t choose baptism. God chooses humanity.

        Many blessings,

      2. As I believe I wrote, I have seen too many parents bring their infant child to the church for baptism. It is a BIG deal for the family and the scheduling takes on the manner of a state visit. But when it is all said and done, the family does not return to the church until either the child starts confirmation class or perhaps even later when they wish to get married.

        If that is the case, then I would agree that God is not involved.

        But that wasn’t the case for me. I am pretty sure that I was in church with my parents (or at least my mother) every Sunday from the time I was baptized until today. I was in Sunday School from the time I was able to attend. Neither of those tasks could have been accomplished without my parents. Maybe I am wrong on this but I think that my parents, in answering for me, accepted the responsibility of helping me to grow in the church as much as in the world.

        And when the time came, I made the next decision about following Christ. My parents laid the ground work and that foundation began when they made the decision to have me baptized. I will be honest; I resent it when someone tells me that my baptism does not qualify or is somehow lessen because of how old I was when it was done. I would think that if someone said that I needed to be baptized today because my earlier one didn’t count and I were to do it to meet their objections, then I would be doing it for selfish and personal reasons and God would not be in the mix at all.

    1. An essay (pamphlet?) he wrote on baptism. I took the quote from my collection of his works (Thomas Jackson version).

  5. I’m not entirely sure why, but this has burdened me.

    I do think part of that is believing that infant baptism is a real gift to the Church.

    I wonder why Rev. Davis doesn’t seem to see many of the things God really does do there. I don’t think I can contribute it to naiveté or anything similar as he does appear to have considered this at length and over time. He’s also many years my senior in age and longevity in ministry.

    Regarding my response or his reading, I don’t get it.

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