Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Infant Baptism by Immersion

Last night I was discussing the subject of baptism with a Presbyterian friend. I was just listening carefully and not arguing against his paedobaptist ideas, when another friend came over and started to present believers' baptism with Scriptural counter arguments. An informal debate was quickly under way. After a few minutes I wanted to lighten the mood, so I stopped them both and said, "Here's the perfect solution: infant baptism by immersion!" After a slight pause, everyone erupted with laughter. It's the perfect way to end every baptism debate, and until this morning I thought it was a position no one held.

Just before this discussion took place, I had received and published a comment regarding the last post (the one about the Coptic Orthodox mega church that meets in a cave). The commenter asked why I take issue with Coptic Orthodox theology and tradition. This morning, while searching for a documentary I had seen and wanted to refer to, I found the short video below. It is a good short explanation of the Coptic Orthodox Church - and it includes footage of some infant baptisms . . . BY IMMERSION! This is not a joke, and it's actually thrilling to see, even though I'm not real kosher with baptizing babies. [NOTE: no babies were harmed in the making of this documentary]

In truth, infant baptism is perhaps the least of the issues dividing Biblical Protestantism from the Eastern Orthodox Church (in fact, our Reformed paedobaptist friends would not even disagree with it in principle). And while I don't know how to square my Biblical convictions with the theology of the Cave Church, I believe there are true believers there. Perhaps thousands of them. God knows. Christ saves sinners who trust in Him, even in an environment of unbiblical tradition, and even under egregiously poor theology (this is not meant as a harsh judgment on Eastern Orthodox theology, but as exaltation of the saving grace of our God - who is their God, too). While we can (and should) disagree with some teachings or practices, we can't stop Him from saving. And why would we want to? So, let us be ruggedly Biblical as we relentlessly strive to conform our minds to the Truth of God's Word. By all means, we must tenaciously fight off major and minor heresy at every turn. But at the same time, let's be generous and gracious toward those who disagree with us. It would be tragic to condemn those God has justified. After all, our Lord teaches us that we will be judged by our own standard of measure.

It's hard to evaluate who is and isn't a true believer, and it's difficult to know how much error can be present in a saved individual. More soberingly, it's impossible even to discern how much error we still have in ourselves! I haven't figured it all out (and you haven't, either). So we must avoid the trap of setting ourselves up as judges, and we must not close the fence in so tightly that we fail to see God's real work among real Christians in other branches of the visible Church. I welcome any comments on this, agreeing or disagreeing.

If you were a true believer living in Cairo, Egypt, how many churches would you have to choose from? You might well be attending Sunday services at the Cave Church with your arms raised and lovely tears streaming down your face . . . mixed with swirling clouds of incense before mosaic tile portraits of venerated old saints.

The infant immersion baptisms are at 4:50-5:20 on the video. You gotta see it to believe it.

Documentary on the Coptic Orthodox Church

Nice music, too. Perfect for the Christmas season!


  1. That was pretty cute (the baptism)...and the baby got a bath, too:)

    Baptism is a real puzzlement to me, although I am working on it.

    It occurs to me that many who argue that padeobaptism was always practiced, neglect to remember that St.Monica didn't have Augustine baptized as a baby...just sayin'.

  2. Ma,

    That's one I've never heard before, and it makes quite a point. Thanks for commenting.

    I have to admit I turned giddy when I saw the second baby get dunked. Just couldn't stop smiling. Thought for a minute I might have to become Presbyterian myself.

    Then I thought, "Poor baby, he probably won't get to have the joy of being baptized as a believer."


  3. Derek,
    I have been baptized twice. The first as a baby in the Methodist church my parents attended. I was sprinkled. I suppose I am more comfortable with being ''dedicated'' as a baby.

    The second time was after learning about what is commonly called believers baptism. I wanted to be baptized as a believer. I wanted to identify with Christ. I was dunked by my soon to be father-in-law and current pastor in front of many witnesses.

    My studys lead me believe that this type of baptism is correct.

    That being said, there are many out there who I respect that do not agree with me and that is ok with me.

    Baptism, is not a ''hill to die on''.

    The Gospel is.

  4. Rob,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I too have been baptized twice, first in the Lutheran Church as a baby and then as a teenager in an Assembly of God church (how did I ever end up Reformed?).

    Amen to everything you said, I agree completely. Hold fast to that Gospel, and stand firm in it to the end. May our God fulfill all His good work in you, my brother!



  5. Baptism, is not a ''hill to die on''.

    I love it! That is so true.

  6. Baptism, is not a ''hill to die on''.

    Usually - yes.

    But if someone claims it is necessary for salvation as I have occasionally heard some do, then I fight tooth and nail against that idea. It is NOT the gospel, and it is a demonic "doctrine" of baptism that must be scotched from the start.


  7. Tony,

    Great point. Baptismal regeneration amounts to a denial of the Gospel. Anything that competes with the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice encroaches on the one hill that is ALWAYS worth dying on, and the one HE died on.


  8. Tony,
    I agree 100%

    That does dirty the Gospel and becomes false teaching to be sure. Thanks for pointing that out!

  9. To recap . . .

    Age of baptism: infant vs. believer - a minor issue.

    Significance of baptism: cause of regeneration vs. symbol of regeneration - MAJOR issue.

  10. Hi Derek

    Great blog; this is my first visit here.

    Just wanted to "complicate" the issue by offering a little anecdote :

    Dr. R. Scott Clark, preaching on baptism being a sign both of salvation (to believers) and judgment (to unbelivers) used as his text 1 Corinthians, chapter ten. Dr. Clark said, "Both the Israelites and Pharaoh's army experienced a baptism in the Red Sea. The Israelites got sprinkled. Who got immersed?"

    Thought you'd like that : )

    Just for the record, the Covenantal-Reformed position is that baptism serves as a visible sign and seal by which God "...more fully declares and seals to us the promise of the Gospel, namely, that of free grace He grants us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross." (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 66)

    God bless you, brother.

    Craig B

  11. Craig,

    Thanks for the helpful thoughts. I recently read the Heidelberg catechism, how did I overlook that?

    I wonder if church insurance policies take modes of baptism into account? You can stand there being sprinkled all day long with no ill effects, but hold someone under too long and there's bound to be a lawsuit! Or in Pharaoh's case a regime change. :)

    Thanks for commenting; don't be a stranger.


  12. Interesting comments!

    I come from a Christian tradition that highly values baptism.

    We figure that if the Lord commanded us to do something, then we ceratinly ought do it...and if He commands it, then He is in it.

    The reason we love to baptize babies is that it places God's grace above and before our faith.

    My 2 cents.


  13. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for commenting. Having grown up Lutheran, I can certainly sympathize with your view. In general, I have found conservative Lutherans to be refreshingly Biblical in their orientation. What you say about baptism placing God's grace "above and before our faith" is indeed an interesting point. If one views baptism as an actual "means of grace" as opposed to an "ordinance" or symbol, infant baptism makes a lot of sense.

    I enjoyed perusing your blog (love the title, too!).


  14. Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God's covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was "cut off" from God's promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

    "Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

    "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

    This covenant wasn't just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a "decision for God" when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

    If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time "decision for God" upon reaching an "Age of Accountability" in order to be saved.

    Therefore, Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

    The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being "cut off" from God's promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

    Christ said, "He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned."

    It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.


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