Month: June 2016

A Case for Infant Baptism (2)

normakennedy / Pixabay

I want to move from the scriptural support for the practice of infant baptism to some that is worldview related.  Mixed with these are some personal, perhaps even sentimental, considerations as to why I remain a paedobaptist.

Believer baptism (credobaptism) puts together the offer of God’s promises and their acceptance.  Infant baptism (paedobaptism) separates the offer from the acceptance.

In my mind, separation has a couple of advantages.

God’s Action, Not Mine

For one thing, applying the sign of baptism on an infant emphasizes God’s promises, rather than the individuals reception of these promises. In infant baptism, God promises–He is the agent–and the little helpless human simply receives.

Every time we witness this ceremony we see again this picture of Grace.  The individual is incapable of responding to God.  They can’t reject him, can’t say thank you. There is no way that we deserve or in any way can earn the blessings of God and unity with Christ as symbolized in baptism.  The very helplessness of the recipient reinforces this idea.

This is a strange idea in our modern culture where the individual is supreme, but not so in the ancient world.   It is likely that the first century writers of the New Testament couldn’t conceive of believer baptism for they were community and family oriented, rather than individual oriented.  When they report that “households” (Acts 16:15 and again in verse 31) were baptized, they would likely be shocked that anyone could think that this didn’t involve children.  It wasn’t until the sixteenth century–the century in which the individual was born–that Christians began to question the legitimacy of infant baptism.

Emphasis on Family

While, primarily emphasizing the actions of God, infant baptism also emphasizes community–the nuclear family, biological or adoptive families, and the church family.

At an infant baptism, following the promises of God, the parents promise and the church body also make some heavy promises. The Bible is very clear that just because you are in the family, doesn’t mean that you will necessarily grow into the transformation for which circumcision is the sign, but God still has established family as the means by which God’s Word is to be taught and lived.

This same principle is embodied in infant baptism.  From my position as the father, infant baptism was a daunting event. In it there is an awareness that this baptism is no guarantee that the child will receive the ultimate spiritual blessings for which it is a signifier. And that if the helpless child in your arms is to know about God’s promises, it is pretty much up to me to communicate them. Standing there the parents become poignantly aware of the awesome responsibility that is theirs to train and teach the child in their arms so that she becomes the individual who will profess her acceptance of God’s promises.

Emphasis on Community

When the parents have made their promises, the church body makes theirs–they accept the obligation to support the parents as they raise the child.  The ceremony of infant baptism emphasizes the actions of God and his agents.

We are talking about two very important events in the life of a Christian–every Christian acknowledges the importance of doing something about the children of believers; every Church also recognizes the importance of the new Christian publicly professing their faith in Christ. The questions is where do we put baptism? And what do we use to commemorate the other significant event?

When those who have been baptized as infants come to faith in Jesus Christ, they publicly profess their faith. This is commemorated in many different ways, but this is how it went with my children. They attended a year long class where they were instructed in the foundational beliefs of the church and discipled in being a member of the Body of Christ. Then they were examined by the church leadership. During a church service, an individual who had been a significant mentor on their spiritual journey, introduced my child. She then offered their testimony, after which hands were laid on her by friends and family and she was blessed with prayer. The church service was followed by a time of fellowship with the church family and later, at home, with the extended family. This was a significant event, and it was treated at such.

Many (all?) churches that practice adult baptism alone, practice child dedication.  Child dedication emphasizes primarily the actions of the parents who bring the child forward for dedication.

I have contended that infant baptism emphasize the actions of God at the baptism and believer baptism emphasizes the actions of the believer.  Those who espouse infant baptism would argue that the practice that acknowledges God as the primary agent is the preferred, and more Biblical, approach.

Who is speaking in baptism? God or the baptized? Or both? For the infant baptizers, it is clearly God–he speaks first and human beings receive (as opposed to, human beings are active and God responds to our obedience). In my tradition, the believer will have their chance to speak, but that won’t be until he or she becomes a beleiver.

In a culture where the individual is god, to baptize infants is counter-cultural.  We swim in the waters of individualism, and a ritual that focuses us on God’s action rather than our own, that focuses on the offer of Grace, rather than on our acceptance of it, is a ritual we ought to observe–if it’s scriptural.  I think that there is strong evidence infant baptism is scriptural.

This is an important issue, but it is not a foundational issue, so I can easily continue to worship in my wonderful credobaptist church.

The Case For Infant Baptism (1)

normakennedy / Pixabay

Lately, I’ve been having a lot conversations about baptism.

Some of these have been with credobaptists who wonder about the scriptural justification for infant baptism. Some with those who were baptized as infants, but now attend a church that holds to believer baptism, and are required to be re-baptized in order to be a member.

This post is my explanation, to those who wonder, why some Christians insist that infant baptism is baptism.

This is a difficult task because, in the case of most protestant denominations who practice it, infant baptism has everything to do with Covenant Theology.  This is more of a worldview, than an interpretation of scripture, so to actually understand infant baptism, you really need to be looking through the lenses of Covenant Theology.

I have no problem with believer baptism (credobaptism). No paedobaptist (infant baptizer) does; it is clear that the church in Acts baptized adults.  Christians are called to be baptized.  When an unbaptized person becomes a believer, they will then be baptized.  Baptism is an important issue, but it is not, as they say, a “Salvation issue.”

I believe that there is adequate historical and scriptural evidence that infant baptism was normative in the early church. I also think that baptism of infants is, today, a counter-cultural practice to which all Christians might consider returning.

Historical Evidence for Infant Baptism

The historical evidence points to infant baptism being practiced in the early church. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) speaks to the universality of infant baptism saying it is  “held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained.”  There is only a century separating John the Apostle and the Church Father Origin, who was certainly baptized as an infant in around 180 AD.

It is reasonable to assert that the practice of baptism as performed in the earliest days of the church, was imitated in the decades that followed; they did what they saw done. By itself, historical evidence like this is not an adequate reason to accept infant baptism, but it can be used as a support to scriptural evidence.

Scripture ought to be our guideline when trying to determine who to baptize. So the question is, What do the scriptures say?

Scriptural Evidence

Well, this is inconclusive. There can be clarity, but to achieve it, you have to read every verse regarding baptism from a particular perspective. If you read it with one perspective, one can convincingly argue that believer baptism is scriptural; if you read it from another, then infant baptism is the way to go. Proof of this is that both credo- and paedobaptists use exactly the same texts to support their views.

Covenantal Approach

Those who baptize infants start with a covenantal perspective. God deals with his people using Covenants. The mark of the Old Covenant was circumcision, carried out long before a child could make any personal response to God. Abraham circumcised Isaac at eight days old (Genesis 21:4). Babies born into a believing home receive this sign of the covenant, and it is clear that the faith of the parents is sufficient for the whole household, including the children. Clearly, children were a part of the Old Testament people of God.

Circumcision was a sign–it pointed to something else–a transformation of the heart. In Deuteronomy 10:16 this is referred to as the “circumcision” of the heart. We also find this language in Jeremiah (4:4). In Ezekiel 36:24-27 it’s called a new heart, a heart of flesh as opposed to one of stone.

Importantly, outward circumcision did not guarantee the inward transformation.   In Jeremiah 9:25-26 it says, “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh–Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab–and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” The sign of circumcision was not simply a sign of belonging to a racial group, or even a particular religion–it was a sign of spiritual transformation. One which the recipient of the sign may or may not experience.

Paul sees circumcision in this way as well. In Romans 2:25-29, especially verses 28-29, he emphasizes that what counts is “circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit.” He then comments on God’s first command to Abraham to circumcise his household: “[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Rom 4:11).  Paul reinforces the idea that physical circumcision is a sign for spiritual transformation. He also says that Abraham is not only the spiritual father of uncircumcised Gentile believers (4:11b), but also of “the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (4:12).

Here we see that faith precedes the sign of the covenant, but once received, the faith of the adult is sufficient for the whole household, including children.

Parallels Between Circumcision and Baptism

The general pattern of scripture shows important parallels between circumcision and baptism; both are a signs of the covenant of the righteousness we receive by faith, both symbolize the righteousness that believers (like Abraham) receive by faith; both point to the cleansing and renewal of the heart, fulfilled ultimately in Jesus.   In the case of circumcision, God commanded that it be administered to Israelite baby boys at 8 days old, before anyone could tell whether God had changed or would change their hearts by his Spirit, whether he would enable them to trust his promises.  The New Testament doesn’t explicitly identify the recipients of the sign of the New Covenant.

Protestant denominations seem to agree that baptism is a sign of union with Christ, symbolizing righteousness in Christ and participation in his Death and Resurrection which can be receive only by faith.   Credobaptists argue that since baptism symbolizes grace received through faith, the recipient ought to have professed their faith before receiving the sign.   Paedobaptists say that, just like circumcision in the Old Covenant, baptism is not a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted, but a sign that it has been offered.

I believe this is the key difference between the two views, so let me say it again, for the sake of emphasis: Supporters of believer baptism see baptism as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted by faith. Supporters of infant baptism see baptism as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been offered and will be received only by faith.  You don’t need to accept either view, but you must conceded that both are reasonable readings of the supporting texts.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Supporters of #believerbaptism see it as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted by faith. Supporters of #infantbaptism see it as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been offered and will be received only by faith. ” quote=”Supporters of believer baptism see it as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted by faith. Supporters of infant baptism see it as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been offered and will be received only by faith. “]

A Sign of the Promise

I think that many of the credobaptist objections to infant baptism are resolved when we allow the sign of baptism to stand as a sign of God’s covenant promises (which can only be received through faith) and not a sign of the acceptance of these promises. If this point is conceded, then we ought to be baptizing babies. The question now is whether or not it is to be conceded.

I think this point ought to be conceded and here’s why: there is no scriptural reason for children to be treated differently under the New Covenant than they were treated under the Old. The Israelite children were clearly considered part of the covenant community–they received the sign of circumcision. It is appropriate to assume the continuity between the two covenants unless there is explicit biblical reasons not to.

Major Changes from Old to New Covenant: Baptism didn’t make the list.

If the children of Christians are to be considered outside of the New Covenant community, then we would expect this significant change to be explicitly expressed in the New Testament writings. All the other ways where the New diverges from the Old is explicitly articulated.

Here’s the list:

  • circumcision is no longer a requirement
  • both Jews and Greeks must be baptized
  • no more animal sacrifices
  • dietary laws no longer apply
  • temple worship is replaced by the “Spiritual Temple”

The New Testament offers no shift in the relationship of children to the covenant, moving them from inside through the covenant sign of circumcision, to outside through exclusion from the covenant sign of baptism. If children were suddenly outside the covenant, a radical change in God’s way of dealing with his people, surely there would have been some discussion, if not a major controversy, that would have been recorded in the New Testament.

Indeed, what is remarkable about the New Covenant is that it became more inclusive. Where the Old Testament sign of circumcision was restricted to males and, in general, Jews. The New Testament covenant adds women and Greeks. It seems inconsistent that the sign of the New Covenant would become less inclusive in just this one way.

In conclusion, paedobaptists would say that every objection raised against the baptism of infants can be raised against circumcision. If these objections are invalid for circumcision, they are invalid for baptism.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Every objection raised against the baptism of infants can be raised against circumcision. If these objections are invalid for circumcision, they are invalid for baptism. #infantbaptism #beleiverbaptism” quote=”Every objection raised against the baptism of infants can be raised against circumcision. If these objections are invalid for circumcision, they are invalid for baptism.”]

There are other dimensions and arguments to infant baptism that I have not gone into because they, too, are not conclusive.

The discussion continues with A Case for Infant Baptism 2.

I Love Audio Books


This past year I’ve been listening to audio books. I like listening to audio when I climb up my local mountain. I looked into Audible Books, but at $14.95USD it was too expensive. They did offer a free book if you gave them a try. Being a cheap Dutchman, I went for the grandfather of all books–War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. That’s 61 hours and 8 minutes of listening for nothing. Audible Books just got pwned! The problem is, I loved this book, seriously–I thought this book was infamous only because it was the longest book. It’s long, but it’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read (listened to). I loved listening to a great reader read it to me. It was very immersive; I hardly felt that I was climbing.

This was such a delight that I thought I would keep my membership for just a few months. Just to knock off some other biggies. Books that I had started, but for one reason or other had not been able to finish: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman.

Just one more. I had seen the trailer for the movie, so I decided I’d listen to the book The Martian by Andy Weir before the movie came out.

I had always meant to read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, but I’d need more than a summer to read it, so I never picked it up. Wow, what a book, and a great performance by John Lee. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is in the top ten of almost every list of must read books, so I checked that one off.

I did some listening directly related to my work: Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor and two collections of her short stories, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything that Rises Must Converge. Also, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.

I have already read Tolkien’s trilogy four times, and the Hobbit at least a dozen times, but the last time was a while back, so I listened to them.

Then I listened to some religious books: The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns, The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan and Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

Most recently I finished Watership Down by Richard Adams, and I am just finishing Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

I purchased a bunch of books on a few very good sales, so i am set for a while. I look forward to another year of listening and hiking.

If you are interested in my recommendations for listening or reading, here is my list in order of awesomeness. I’ve separated Tolkien out because with Tolkien I have no objectivity.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

So here’s my list in order:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Martian by Andy Weir

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor

The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan

A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

From Routine to Ritual: Classroom Attendance


stevepb / Pixabay

So I was thinking of a routine I might turn into a ritual, as per my last post.

A school routine . . .

Attendance!  In every class, I take attendance.  This routine is so routine, there’s probably no one who doesn’t know how this works.  The teacher goes down the alphabetical list, calling out student names and the students say, “Here,” when they hear their name.  It’s a routine; it exists for no other reason that its purpose, and it’s executed quickly and efficiently.

I was thinking that, rather than every student saying the same thing, “Here,” why not have then each reply with something unique?  In my first class, I asked them to reply with their favourite colour when I called their name.  Attendance took a little longer, but the break from routine generated some excitement.

In my other classes, I asked other predictable questions:

  • What is your favourite food?
  • Who is your favourite villain?
  • What is your dream job?

The next day:

  • Who would you like to have coffee with?
  • What’s one book you’d want on a desert island?
  • In which historical period would you like to live?

Then we got a little more creative:

  • Which political or cultural figure would you like to hit with a pie in the face, or give a carnation?
  • What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?
  • What job would you never want?
  • What is your “spirit” animal? No, your “spirit” kitchen appliance?
  • What do you do when you are really sad (one word)?
  • One word, your most t embarrassing moment?
  • What movie would you like to be in, as which character?
  • What stupid superpower would you like to have?
  • What is a characteristic of one of your parents you hope you never acquire?
  • In my English classes I can ask, in which dystopian world would you rather live?

[click_to_tweet tweet=”The routine of classroom attendance, can be transformed into a ritual that creates community and transforms the individuals in it. #teaching #teachingpractices #teacher #education” quote=”The routine of classroom attendance, can be transformed into a ritual that creates community and transforms the individuals in it. “]


Interestingly, these questions generated a lot of excited chatter.  So much that it made it almost impossible to get to the end of the class list.  So we worked on some normative behaviours–“norms” that would improve the ritual.  I asked the students for their ideas and they came up with a good list.

  1. Don’t tell your answer to your neighbour until your name is called.
  2. Look at the person whose name is called so you can hear their contribution.
  3. Respond quickly and positively.
  4. Don’t forget to ask Mr. DeJong his answer.

Rituals mean something beyond the activity itself.  What I like about this attendance ritual is that it sets the tone for the rest of the class.

  • It’s fun and creative.
  • This fun and creativity is focused and contained.
  • This ritual celebrates the uniqueness of each individual as well as the importance of the communal context;
  • the value of each contribution, and contributor, is reinforced by the norm of respectful listening.
  • Everyone gets a voice; everyone’s voice is respected.

These “meanings” are at the core of what I am trying to teach in all of my classes–this “mindless ritual” is helping me to do it.

If you have any other suggestions for “Attendance Questions” please send them in the comment section.  I will be needing about 100 of them.

© 2024

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑