I think I’ve had a fresh insight on the whole “baptism and church membership” debate.
In the many conversations we’ve had at First Baptist Church about welcoming members from other denominations the primary objection is this: that infant baptism is not bibical and we don’t want to welcome anyone as a full member who hasn’t been baptized in the biblical way. I agree that baptizing believers by immersion is the biblical way. You read about it again and again in the book of Acts and Paul refers to it repeatedly in his letters. My fresh insight is not about how we baptize but who we baptize. Think about it:
In the Bible the candidate for baptism is, typically:
Who has grown up Jewish or Gentile
Hearing the good news about Jesus for the first time
Responding in faith
Repenting of his or her sins
Entering the new life in Christ
Through the waters of baptism
How different is that from the candidate I often immerse:
Dedicated to God as an infant
Having heard about Jesus all her life
Now professing her faith publicly
And joining the other members of the church by
Taking the next step in her Christian journey
Through the waters of baptism.
That’s beautiful, but it is not—in the strictest sense of the word—biblical.
The biblical pattern is just what you would expect at a time in history when very few people had heard about Jesus, when the word about him was getting out for the first time through the preaching of the apostles. The New Testament tells the story of first-generation Christianity, but it does not tell us the story of the generations that followed. It doesn’t tell us, for example, what happened when Lydia—the first convert on European soil—brought her children and grandchildren to church. We have to look to church history for the answers to those kinds of questions and what church history tells us is that within the first few generations of Christianity people were baptizing babies. Why? Because they didn’t want them to be left out of this wonderful new life they had discovered.
We don’t want our babies to be left out of it either, but we try to follow the biblical pattern as closely as possible by waiting to baptize until they can choose Jesus for themselves. Until then we bring them to church to be dedicated, we nurture them in the Christian faith, we teach them everything we know about Jesus and then we hold our breath, waiting for them to say, “I’m ready.” It’s as close to the biblical pattern as we can come, but it is not the biblical pattern.
It’s the difference between making disciples and raising them.