Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Historic Case for Paedo-Baptism


Although I've been forced to conclude that the paedo-baptists have the weight of Scriptures on their side--essentially a "game over, thanks for playing" result--before I can rest I still had to wrestle through the contention that credo-baptism is the Apostolic view according to history. That's because if the Baptists are right about paedo-baptism being a third century innovation then the apostles were baptists and I need a slice of humble pie while I make a theological u-turn. 
As a personal note, growing up I was taught that believers baptism was normative until the Catholic church pawned their unscriptural practices on an unsuspecting world through the power of the magisterium about 400AD. You can imagine my surprise then when I buckled down to really look into the issue and came across what Cyprian said at the council of Carthage in the year 253AD:
"As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born." (Letters 64:2)."
In other words, infant baptism is the Apostolic position, case closed. For if the Baptists were right the synod would have instead written: "Baptize an infant Fidus? What madness is this? Where did you and the rest of the maniacs get this ridiculous idea? Baptism is for adults who've professed a credible faith, to demonstrate their seriousness about following Jesus. It's symbolic of the forgiveness they experience by belief. How did this ever come up?"
But instead of a puzzled rebuke they nonchalantly issue a direct instruction to baptize the newborns immediately rather than wait even eight days. It’s 180 degrees from the Baptist presupposition and zero degrees from the Presbyterian one. It's so radical that I feel the need to say this again for emphasis: the synod ruled that this new-fangled idea of waiting a week to baptize an infant after their birth wasn’t a valid option for Christians. The weight of this is so powerful that even granting that the Apostles were credo-baptists makes absolutely no difference either. Even supposing the Baptists were right about the first generation being against paedo-baptism still results in the argument against them being iron-clad. 

Granting The Baptist Position

For the synod to speak with such comfortable thoughtlessness on this topic means that the debate was clearly over and not even worth bringing up by this point--a strange thing considering the charge "the Apostoles didn't teach that" could have been leveled against them. It would mean that by the year 250 the issue had been settled in favor of paedo-baptism to such an extent that not only was infant baptism both normal and expected, but nobody even thought to have a different opinion on it even though the Apostles taught otherwise.

There are two explanations for this. Either we give up and admit the Presbyterians are right and the reason everyone was so comfortable about this was because infant baptism was the Apostolic practice, or all the experts who were chosen to issue a definitive ruling on this topic at the council were woefully and totally ignorant about the sacrament. The first is death to the Baptist, but honestly, what are the odds the second being true? As my device physics teacher used to say about our test scores, "Nnn, nnnn, not good. Not good." In fact every point on the continuum is a problem for the Baptist. In the worst case the bishops are malicious and trying to advance infant baptism into an unsuspecting world. I think we can go ahead and rule this out for a number of reasons, not least of all because an aberrant decision would've brought the rest of the Christian world down on them like a fireball during the time of Elijah. As for the best case scenario, for all the bishops to make an honest mistake at the same time means that by 250 the debate had been settled to such an extent that no self respecting theologian would have argued against paedo-baptism. The baby baptizers had so completely and utterly devastated their opposition by the use of the Scriptures that there was not a single person left to raise their voice in protest.

Which would mean that by roughly 210 (at the absolute latest) infant baptism had won over the whole of the Christian world. Worse, John dies in the year 100, so up until that point there's been no way for an opposition to get going. Before 100AD an Apostle can just put up his hands and tell everybody to knock it off since paedo-baptism is wrong, so it's only after his passing that opposition is even possible. Therefore in slightly less than 100 years immediately following the death of the apostles the doctrine of baptism undergoes a major transformation, resulting in infant baptism becoming the unchallenged practice across the whole world with no notable record of its conquest. I cannot stress enough how unlikely this is. Our modern credo-baptist has about as much chance of being right about the apostolic tradition as a tornado going through an automobile junkyard and accidentally assembling a working 737. What other radical doctrinal reversal has completely captured the whole world without even a trace of the dispute in under a hundred years? Even the Arian heresy took longer to be stamped out, and that concerned the obvious truth of the trinity. So how did paedo-baptism take the world by storm so quickly without the credo position even putting up a fight? Scholars like Aland who claim that infant baptism started around the year 200 just make this worse, because that gives infant baptism only something like 20 years to sweep over (at minimum) the whole of Africa, and then go on to be unchallenged by everyone else. It's flatly impossible for a number of reasons.
  1. This isn't a small issue that might have slipped under the radar of the council at Carthage. There's a substantial discrepancy between the Presbyterian and Baptist understanding of a sacrament. Why then don't we have a record of it?
  2. If the synod took the time to write down and address a question as small as "Baptize on day eight or day one?" then surely something like a massive doctrinal shift wouldn't have gone unremarked during a time when someone could just as well have said, "But dad talked with the Apostle Peter about this and he said infant baptism is completely wrong."
  3. All kinds of key doctrinal points were being argued over and worked out during this time. That there's a uniform silence in history on this topic means there was no debate. That there was no debate means any scenario where the church switches from one view to another is impossible. 
  4. That this debate is dropped entirely for over a thousand years is remarkable, considering we are vigorously debating it since the issue "resurfaced." 
  5. The definition of baptism which the credo-baptist uses ensures that infant baptism cannot be arrived at by pushing the age a child is baptized at downward over the years. Nor does the definition allow us to arrive at paedo-baptism via the idea that baptism confers real forgiveness of sin. There's just no mechanism for a change, no reason it should have come up in the first place

Therefore this synod is evidence so convincing that it's all we need to prove that the Baptists are wrong. 

Evidence Other Than The Synod

And yet, if that wasn't enough, there's ample further evidence that infant baptism was indeed the Apostolic practice. Justin Martyr in First Apology (150-155AD) wrote,
"Many men and women who have been disciples of Christ from childhood..." 

This is a quote not at all consistent with the Baptist interpretive framework. And since this comes from the year 150, our timeline is again compressed, this time to within 50 years of the Apostle John, or about the time of death of Polycarp his most notable student. Effectively then the Presbyterian understanding of discipleship and child inclusion is the Apostolic one. But there's more. Hyppolytus, writing in Aposotlic tradition (written down 215AD) said,
"First you should baptize the little ones...for those who cannot speak, their parents should speak."
Origen, who wrote about 248AD said,
"In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants." (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3, and another in Leviticus 14).
"The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9.
Chrysostom (349-407),
"Our circumcision, I mean the grace of baptism, gives cure without pain and procures to us a thousand benefits, and fills us with the grace of the Spirit; and has no determinate time, as that had; but one that is in the very beginning of his age, or one that is in the middle of it, or one that is in his old age, may receive this circumcision made without hands; in which there is no trouble to be undergone but to throw off the load of sins, and to receive pardon for all past offenses (Homily 40 in Genesis)
Augustine, in debating with Pelagius, pointed out that a denial of original sin meant a denial of infant baptism, since what other sin is being remitted on the infant? Pelagius answers,
"Men slander me as if I denied the sacrament of baptism to infants. I never heard of any, not even the most impious heretic who denied baptism to infants."
For both of them not to have even heard of anyone who disagreed with paedo-baptism is telling. Not as telling as the council of Carthage mind you, but telling. And when you put these quotes together with the others (even those I haven't selected) it becomes pretty overwhelmingly clear that there was no dispute in this matter, and that the early church baptized infants because they got the thing from the Apostles. 

The Adult Baptism Movement


Now having said that, there’s one minor argument left to deal with, and it goes something like this, “What about the evidence starting in the year 330AD that infant baptism wasn’t the universal practice? What do you do with the fact that we have records of men who were not baptized as infants, but later as adults? Take for example Constantine, Augustine, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Rufinus.”

But there’s the problem right there. We have a record of it. It’s a discontinuity that sticks out like a sore thumb. Interestingly, Chrysostom and Ambrose speak out against delaying baptism for infants and cite the Apostolic practice as justification, rebuking their own parents for their failure to follow apostolic teaching. That's a huge strike against the baptist. Further, there’s no reason why the church should return to infant baptism after making the jump out of it, but by 401AD at the latest, they did. The adult baptism movement dies out. Why? Well from what I can tell because this movement was based on the premise that it was easier to remit sins with baptism than with prayer and confession. So men were waiting until their deathbed before being baptized so they could receive a full cleansing. See Constantine for example. Infant baptism, being the apostolic practice and having all the weight behind it, later shot that idea down in short order (~40-60 years) and the whole debate went quiet for 1,200 years until the Anabaptists showed up.

Again, notice that this notion of adult baptism persisted for approximately half a century with plenty of records, a birth and a death certificate. It came, it went, infant baptism remained. There’s therefore absolutely no possible way the early church flipped from believers baptism to infant baptism without note, record, or debate in under a hundred years. To assert anything else is simply wishful thinking, and therefore I’m well convinced that paedo-baptism is both the Biblical and the Apostolic practice.


Let me now summarize all my reasons for accepting it (since we’ve covered a lot) before bringing this series to a close.



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