“Abraham the Father of All Who Believe”

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To thousands of new Jewish converts to Christianity, this was the meaning of believers-only baptism: as soon as they believed in Christ, their children, formerly members of God’s own treasured people, now have become unclean, detestable pagans, cut off from God’s covenant promises. And not one of them dared question the apostles; they just sheepishly accepted this horrific fact.

Scripture Readings: Genesis 17:1-14; Romans 4:11-12 (text)

May 13, 2012 Download this sermon (PDF)

 

Today, we witnessed as a congregation the public profession of faith and baptism of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Churches like ours that baptize infants and little children are often misunderstood by many other churches who view this practice as “unbiblical.”

Circumcision of Isaac, stained glass panel, 1525-30.

Circumcision of Isaac, stained glass panel, 1525-30.

So before we look at our text this morning, I would like to clarify a few things about water baptism that are misunderstood—often caricatured—by many evangelicals. I would begin by explaining what water baptism, particularly infant baptism, is not.

First, we do not baptize only infants and little children, but we do baptize adults as well—if they have never been baptized even as infants. Just as we did today in the case of Sam, we also baptize those who are old enough to understand and confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Second, we do not believe that baptism saves a person (baptismal regeneration), the view of Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Sometimes, the Bible seems to speak in this way, wherein there is a spiritual bond and a close connection between baptism and the washing away of sins, such as in Titus 3:5, “he saved us… by the washing of regeneration” and in Matthew 26:26-28, “This [bread] is my body… this [wine] is my blood of the covenant” (see also Gen 17:11; Acts 22:16; 1Cor 5:7; 1Cor 10:1-4). So this spiritual bond is metaphorical and does not equate baptism with salvation.

Third, infant baptism was not invented by Roman Catholics. As early as the mid-2nd century, only about 50 years after all the apostles died, the early church fathers already wrote that the practice of infant baptism was widespread. And since there was no such thing as the Roman Catholic Church until about the 7th century, Roman Catholics did not invent infant baptism. In fact, throughout the first 1,500 years of church history, there was no dissenting voice against infant baptism. The first opposition came from Anabaptist fanatics in the early 1500s. 1

Since this historical fact can not be denied, it is truly astounding when we hear claims that it was so because the whole church—no exceptions— was corrupted! Can you imagine a time in 2,000 years of church history when the whole church was practically dead because of corrupt doctrines, worship, and practices, and not even a single person clung to Biblical truth? Even in the darkness of the medieval age, when the true gospel was almost non-existent, there were still a few, small flickering embers of truth.

What is even more astonishing is this: If the apostles did not baptize the children of the Jews who were the first converts to Christianity—thousands of them—why is it that not even one person raised a dissenting opinion? For Jews, circumcision as a sign of the membership of their children in God’s covenant people was extremely important, and Paul and the other apostles vigorously fought against this Judaizing heresy (Gal 2:1-10; Acts 15:1-5). How then can tens of thousands of them, just meekly accept that their children, formerly members of God’s own treasured people, now have become unclean, detestable pagans, cut off from God’s covenant promises, and in effect, are to be regarded as unclean, detestable pagans?

Fourth, contrary to popular evangelicalism, Jesus as a 40-day-old infant was not “dedicated” at the temple by Mary and Joseph. Rather, they went to the temple to fulfill their Old Testament duties under the Mosaic Law (Lev 12). Mary went to be ceremonially purified after she gave birth to a son (Lev 12:6-7). And the baby Jesus was ceremonially redeemed by another offering according the the law of the Passover feast, because all the firstborn sons of Israel were saved from death by the blood of the Passover lamb (Exod 13:2, 12). So, infant dedication as practiced today by most evangelicals is a result of biblical illiteracy, and therefore is completely unbiblical.

To read the rest of this sermon, click here.

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Notes:

  1. For the history of infant baptism in the early church, see “Infant Baptism in Early Church History” by Dennis Kastens, http://www.mtio.com/articles/aissar40.htm. Accessed 5/14/2012.

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