It Takes A Church To Baptize

It Takes A Church To Baptize July 30, 2018

In a recent article on Get Religion, we encounter a new approach to adult believer’s baptism and thus a new argument against infant baptism:


Why do most Christian churches baptize babies?


This classic issue unexpectedly popped up as news on June 23 due to an Irish Times interview with Mary McAleese, an attorney and the former president of Ireland. McAleese assailed her Catholic Church for its practice of baptizing infants shortly after birth with parents making vows on their behalf.

That treats children as “infant conscripts who are held to lifelong obligations of obedience,” she protested, and that’s a violation of their human rights. “You can’t impose, really, obligations on people who are only two weeks old” or inform them “at seven or eight or 14 or 19 here is what you contracted; here is what you signed up to,” because they did not give their own consent to be church members.

To her, the church’s age-old baptismal practice “worked for many centuries because people didn’t understand that they had the right to say no, the right to walk away.” But she says modern people “have the right to freedom of conscience” although “the Catholic Church has yet to fully embrace that thinking.”

So, it’s about rights. I sure hope Mary McAleese realizes the profound inconsistency she’s walked herself into: do we then say you are not Irish or Northern Irish or American or Danish until you make a choice? Do we wait for children to grow up or until they understand their rights to teach them about what is good, what is honest, what is noble, what is wrong, what is evil?

What she fails to understand here is the fundamental dyadic nature of a human being: we are not individuals until we are nurtured by a family and a community and a society. No one is an island.

Nurturing is the way we become persons.

This has been brought to the fore in a recent wonderful book by Susan Eastman. Freedom or liberty, with their entailment of duties and obligations to others, emerged on the scene only because people in community learned that liberty was the best way for a society to work. What was first was the community.

Which is what I argue in my new book on infant baptism! Just out, it’s called It Takes a Church to Baptize: What the Bible Says about Infant Baptism.

A strong case has been made and can be made for infant baptism in the context of a family and church. A focus on rights, which is found in the clip above, is precisely the antithesis of how the Bible talks about nurturing the faith of our young. Rights language itself is Enlightenment stuff, not biblical stuff. I could go on…

The book discusses important terms dealing with a theology of baptism (like conversion, covenant, salvation) and it talks about the importance of family and church in the baptism process, and it has something to say about whether baptism is God’s act or our act … and more… and I’ll be blogging about it in the days ahead. And I tell my story of shifting from believer’s baptism only to infant baptism as the way forward.

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