When Baptism Doesn’t Count

Today’s blog is one of several that I’ve been intending to write over the last several weeks but now that my finals are behind me, I have time to get caught-up.

There’s an old tale about some folks dying and upon arriving in Heaven, they are given the introductory tour of their new home by none other than Saint Peter. They visit the Catholic section, the Methodist area, the Pentecostal borough and so forth until at last they get to this one neighborhood and St Peter begins whispering. Sensing this sudden change, one of the tourists softly asks, “Why are we whispering?” Peter responds, “We must be quiet because this is the Baptist section and they think they’re the only ones up here.”

Sadly, this is truer than many folks would like to admit.

My topic today is one that has been hitting close to home because the daughter unit has ventured out into the world to spread her wings and for some reason she has decided to worship at a Baptist church. A majority of Protestants in the United States are Baptists in their theology even if they call themselves something else. If your church teaches “The Sinner’s Prayer”, walking the aisle, “making a decision for Christ”, likes singing Just As I Am, or “every head bowed and eye closed” then you are Baptists or the theological offspring of Baptists. Typically these folks will only recognize baptism by immersion and use grape juice for Communion. A corollary is that these guys unchurch everyone else in the body of Christ because we practice infant Baptism.

Before proceeding, let me say a few words about my own experience with this topic in the hopes that I can be granted some credibility by my readers.

I was baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic Church. I attended Catholic School K – 6. After seventh grade, I walked the aisle at a Baptist Church Camp and “gave my life to Jesus Christ”. A few months later I was baptized again in a local Baptist church. I spent many years in the Baptist world and then after wandering for a few more, I trekked thru Charismania until I came at last to a Reformed understanding of Christianity. I understand the arguments on both sides because I literally have been in each camp at some point or another in my life.

Believer’s Baptism
The Baptist argument is that the Bible says Belief and then Baptism. Hence the name, Believer’s Baptism.

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Mark 16: 16

For someone coming from outside the Church, belief and then baptism is normal. Where we have a difference is when talking about children born into a Christian home.  The moral high ground that people think that Believer’s Baptism gives them dissolves quickly in this area.

Essentially, the paradigm that Baptists appear to embrace is that nobody is regarded as a believer until they make a profession of faith and then they can be baptized. This position would include their young children. Such a position would be consistent if somewhat harsh; especially in light of these verses:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 
Acts 2: 38 & 39

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 
Acts 16: 31-33

How can God’s promise be “for you and your children” if children born to Christian parents are just young pagans?

Age of Accountability
Baptists are squeamish about this situation too but their answer is sentimentality not Scripture. You see, they say that they believe that the only way to the Father is faith in Christ but those not professing faith go to Hell. So what happens when a parent has a miscarriage or their child drowns in the neighbor’s pool or said child dies of cancer at three years of age? Surely such innocent children go to Heaven right?

It is at this point that Baptist folks introduce the doctrine of an “age of accountability.” They say that until a child can know the difference between right and wrong that they are in a state of innocence. Thus if a child dies in this state, they will go to Heaven if they die.

I once held this view until “the baby shower.” “The baby shower” was held at Gibson Ranch, here in the Sacramento area. It was in fact an event sponsored by Operation Rescue to crash a company picnic being held by a local abortion clinic. Like others at the event, I got toe-to-toe with some people on the other side. The lady that I got into a discussion with took this concept of an age of accountability and hit me right between the eyes with it. Her argument was simple and effective. “If an unborn child cannot know the difference between right and wrong, where does the child go when it dies?”

I instinctively replied, “To Heaven.”

She continued, “But if that child were born and was old enough to know right from wrong then they could go to Hell for rejecting Jesus, right?”

I answered, “Yes”  and knew that she had me painted into a corner that I couldn’t escape from.

Under this doctrine of an age of accountability, the only way to insure someone would go to Heaven was not by placing their faith in Jesus but being aborted!

Think about it, universal salvation is free to all that are murdered before knowing right and wrong. This principle also allows that the mentally handicapped can be literally put down for their own good and as a bonus we have assurance that we are sending them to Heaven. Could this apply to elderly with dementia too? Lastly, wasn’t this view all the rage in Europe about 80 years ago?

Even though Baptists reject infant baptism, they have a substitute that they practice; baby dedication. They bring an infant before the congregation and make a promise that is very similar to infant baptism to raise their children in the faith in hopes that they will one day believe and make the faith of their parents their own.

Unfortunately, these Baptists that think they are attending “Bible believing” churches are building parts of their faith on the sands of their own creation and not Biblical teaching. Biblically speaking, I could make a better case for Purgatory than for an age of accountability.

Again, what do Baptists do with their children? Are they little pagans or children of the promises of Christ?

Rebaptism
The other situation that you encounter in the Baptist Church (and from their fellow theological travelers) is the kneejerk reaction to unchurch everyone else by saying their baptism is invalid.

However, the Bible only knows one Christian Baptism and one formula for the baptism.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3: 26 – 29

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4: 4–6

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Matthew 28: 19

Again, there is one baptism in the Church and one formula, baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Baptists try to argue two things, you must believe before being baptized and that the method must be immersion. Why is it that Baptists take the Greek word for baptism literally while the Greek word for wine is figurative?

Baptists are not alone in arguing about methodology as it relates to baptism, the Orthodox Church argues that only infant baptism that includes Chrismation is valid.

Since most don’t know what I’m referring to, here is Wikipedia version of Chrismation

Typically, one becomes a member of the Church by baptism and chrismation performed by a priest as a single service, or subsequent to baptism performed by a layman. While chrismation is often performed without baptism, baptism is never performed without chrismation; hence the term “baptism” is construed as referring to the administration of both sacraments (or mysteries), one after the other.
Wikipedia: Chrismation

Why can’t Christians talk about such things as our preference is better than yours instead of unchurching everyone with a different view?

Alternative Interpretation
There is a different paradigm that can be used to look at this question, one that includes a consistent theological view that treats children as Christian children and deals with the biblical teaching that there is one baptism in the Church.

The Bible only knows one baptism. It does not attach an age or belief to performing it. Only the parents (or head of the household depending on how you read it) must believe in order for all to be baptized.

Look at Acts 16: 31-33 or other similar verses.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.

The pattern is clear, parents believe and all –including children are baptized. Such verses don’t list exceptions or weasel words. For those that know the Ten Commandments, you might notice this principle is similar to Exodus 20: 8-11

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Sabbath was for the entire household not just Jewish members.

The historic Christian position is not one of individualism and Arminianism, but Covenantalism. Baptism is the New Testament covenant symbol in the same way as circumcision was in the Old. Thus children are baptized as infants because God’s promise really extends to the next generation just as He promised in both the Old and New Testaments.

So what happens if a child grows up and rejects the faith? The same thing that happened in the Old Testament; the child is treated as a Covenant member until such time as they bear fruit that says otherwise. There is an expectation that as a child matures that he will make the faith of his fathers into his own. The Jews have bar mitzvah (or bat mitzvah) while Christians in many parts of the Church have Confirmation. Confirmation is a reaffirming of the vows made at the infant baptism of a child.  This is where the child makes the faith of their parents into their own.

Confirmation also serves another use which biblically solves the rebaptism dilemma. Let me illustrate.

Teddy Texan lives in Houston and is attending the local mega-church run by Joel Osteen. Joel baptizes Teddy in front of thousands of people. For purposes of this illustration, Joel uses the correct formula and baptizes Teddy in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later, Teddy takes a job in Sweetwater Oklahoma and starts attending the Park Avenue Anglican Assembly. Park Avenue is in a very different theological place than Joel Osteen but Teddy wants to join their church. What should they do? Should they require Teddy to be baptized again? Park Avenue knows that Teddy was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but Joel’s theology is heretical so what should be done? Knowing church history, Park Avenue’s Pastor—because he did have formal biblical training unlike Osteen—knows that this very question was faced by the early church. The answer of the early church was Confirmation. Teddy attends classes to be sure that he believes the historic doctrines of the Creeds and then is welcomed into the church via a Confirmation ceremony.

This has been the historic answer to the rebaptism question, not another baptism but a confirmation of faith. Thus the New Testament position of one faith and one baptism is honored and the doctrine of the Church is defended.

Conclusion

The Bible says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 
Acts 2: 39

The truth is that the Baptists are the ones that are building their theological house on the sands of their own making. There no biblical warrant for children to wait until they can experience “Believer’s Baptism”. There is no such thing as an “age of accountability” in Scripture. There is no such concept as a “sinner’s prayer” or “Alter Call” in the Bible. The Bible does not know a baby dedication ceremony apart from receiving the sign of the Covenant. The only rebaptism you can find is when someone was baptized by John the Baptist and then again by receiving Christian baptism.

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples   and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied.  Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 18: 1-5

Christians being baptized again by another group of Christian believers is not found in the Bible and in fact is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6

I don’t unchurch my Baptist brothers just because they are wrong about one of the core tenants of their theology. I walked in their shoes for the better part of two decades before I was able to set aside their traditions of men and rely on the Bible. I just wish they would grant the rest of Christ’s Church the same grace that we are willing to extend to them.

As for the daughter unit, if she goes forward with joining the Baptists by being rebaptized, she is squandering her inheritance and simultaneously excommunicating her mother and brother. In fact, the practical ramification of rebaptism would be a declaration that she believes her mother and brother are damned and going to spend eternity in Hell. Child, ideas have consequences. I’d like to think you were raised better than that.

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William

Dedicated Christian that has experienced many facets of Christendom thru the years. Father of three and husband of but one wife. Education: Nuclear Reactor Operator while serving in US Navy, Masters in Business Administration, Bachelor's Degree in Government, Microsoft Certified System's Engineer, CompTIA Network Plus and A Plus certifications, and various accounting classes.

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