Local News: This Tuesday’s Mission Mississippi Prayer Breakfast will be taking place at Tougaloo College in the Owens Center, Room 212 A and B (500 West County Line Rd–Tougaloo, Mississippi). For more information, contact Brenda Wilson at (601) 977-7730. The purpose of Mission Mississippi’s prayer breakfasts, held twice a week at 6 a.m., throughout the metro-Jackson area, is to foster greater unity among Christians across racial and denominational barriers. To learn more about this Jackson-based non-profit ministry, visit the web site.
This week concludes Heidelberg’s discussion of holy Baptism, delving into the debate of whether or not infants should be baptized.
Q 72. Does merely the outward washing of water itself wash away sins?
A: No, for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanses us from all sins.
Reformed Christians refer to baptism as a “means of grace.” This doesn’t mean that baptism can be looked to instead of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Rather, it means that Christ’s sacrifice is made real to us and in us by baptism. It is the means by which Calvary takes root in us.
Q 73. Then why does the Holy Spirit call baptism the water of rebirth and the washing away of sins?
A: God does not speak in this way except for a strong reason. Not only does he teach us by Baptism that just as the dirt of the body is taken away by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Christ, but more important still, the divine pledge and sign he wishes to assure us that we are just as truly washed from our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water.
It’s been said that whereas the sermon is the gospel in word, the sacraments are the gospel in picture. Baptism graphically portrays the spiritual cleansing a Christian experiences.
Q 74. Are infants also to be baptized?
A: Yes, because they, as well as their parents, are included in the covenant and belong to the people of God. Since both redemption from sin through the blood of Christ and the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit are promised to these children no less than their parents, infants are also by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Covenant by circumcision. In the New Covenant baptism has been instituted to take its place.
It’s noteworthy that Presbyterians, somewhat unlike other churches that defend infant baptism, argue that a baby, in order to receive baptism, must have one or more believing parents; proponents of infant baptismal regeneration, seeing baptism as necessary for a baby to go to heaven, wouldn’t necessarily have that prerequisite requirement. Indeed, some Catholic grandmothers, out of a sense of necessity, have been known to baptize their babies at the kitchen sink when it’s become apparent to them that their unbelieving son or daughter doesn’t intend to baptize the baby.
Here is where Reformed theology has been accused by some of being frustratingly vague. In what sense are infants who are “incorporated into the Christian church” not regenerate? Is it possible on one hand to be engrafted into the Body of Christ and on the other hand still in need of conversion?
This is arguably one of the most controversial sections of Heidelberg. Reformed Baptists who thus far would’ve been saying “Amen” would part company with Heidelberg at this point. Opponents of infant baptism point to, among other things, the following facts:
· Infant Baptism is nowhere explicitly taught in the New Testament. For many, that alone is enough to close the deal. There are texts where it’s said to be implied, but all of these are far from conclusive. If God expected babies to be baptized, it would be spelled out.
· Historically, the defense of infant baptism has been rooted in a belief in baptismal regeneration—that infants needed to be baptized in order to go to heaven, and without baptism, they would perish. It is true, as a matter of history, that the two went hand in hand. As infants are themselves sinners, and as baptism washes away original sin, babies must be baptized. Augustine himself popularized the doctrine that unbaptized infants would go to Limbo, an intermediate state of neither bliss nor torment. Presbyterians and Methodists, in teaching infant baptism on one hand but denying baptismal regeneration on the other, are the historical anomaly, committing a serious inconsistency.
· The model in Acts is to “repent and be baptized”, implying that baptism follows belief, rather than preceding it. In answer to the common argument that baptism has replaced circumcision, it’s argued that whereas circumcision marked someone as belonging to the covenant community, baptism is said to also be a sign of regeneration in the New Testament. Circumcision wasn’t ever said to symbolize regeneration. Hence, the difference, and therefore Baptism can’t be perceived as serving the same purpose as circumcision. If babies aren’t regenerate believers, they shouldn’t be given baptism.