Interesting observation at the end of Michael Spencer’s latest post about “rebaptism”, in a footnote asking people not to divert the conversation into a discussion of infant vs adult-only baptism:
Many commenters may not be aware that a scholarly consensus on the historical relationship of believers baptism and infant baptism has existed for some time. Read David Wright, What Has Infant Baptism Done To Baptism? Wright is a paedobaptist and the acknowledged historical authority in Christianity on the history of baptism.
That consensus is that the earliest baptisms were the baptisms of adult converts, and the question of baptizing children arose and eventually became standard in various places in the first two centuries of Christian history.
This does not settle the What does the Bible support? question, but it does say that both positions have a place in Christian history and there is no real discussion about what was being done in the first decades of the Christian movement.
I’ve responded to similar thoughts from Michael in more detail in the past, but here’s a further, throwaway thought on this. If we accept David Wright’s account of the historical consensus (and, not having read Wright, I have no particular reason to doubt what he says), then I’m inclined to say that:
- if we follow how the early/NT church practised baptism, then this will tend to lead us towards restricting baptism only to adult converts;
- if we follow what the early/NT church believed about baptism (its purpose and meaning), then this will tend to lead us towards supporting infant baptism.
I am, of course, wildly oversimplifying. And – while I strongly disagree with the Baptist position – I’m certainly not saying that those holding that view are stubbornly resisting “the plain teaching of Scripture” or only taking a “low” view of baptism. I’m glad that Michael emphasises (in an earlier post) that “when the Church baptizes, it speaks a word from God to the one baptized”, and think it would be healthy for many evangelical churches if this were emphasised more than it usually is.
But the practice of infant baptism came from somewhere, and I suspect it came partly from the early/NT church’s high view of what God does in baptism, leading to a recognition that infants both could and should receive the same blessings for themselves: rebirth, forgiveness, union with Christ, and so on.
It’s certainly difficult to see how the practice of infant baptism could have developed without opposition – indeed, without so much as a ripple of controversy – if it had not been seen as being profoundly consistent with what the church believed about the nature, meaning and purpose of baptism.