Sunday, February 15, 2015

Debunking Baptismal Myths #1: Suffer the Children

The scripture is certainly open to interpretation, and just about every possible interpretation of every possible verse has probably been advanced by someone or other since the Bible was compiled early in what is now referred to as the Common Era.

We Can Both Be Wrong, But …

One thing must be understood about interpretation, and that is this: It is very possible (though unlikely, given that the Holy Spirit was given to guide us into all truth) that every extant interpretation of a verse is wrong, and that believers in general have not yet grasped the meaning of a particular passage. In other words, we might all be wrong.

We Can’t Both Be Right

What should be very clear though, both from strict logic and simple common sense, is that diametrically opposite interpretations of a verse cannot possibly both be correct. There is always an answer to be had, whether we have actually found it or not. There is objective truth, not just the turbulence of conflicting opinions. There is a specific point the Lord, the prophet or the apostles were making in any given instance. The statement “There are differences of interpretation”, while accurate, does not relieve us of our obligation to find the best one. It does not end discussion.

It matters to find truth, and we are lessened when we fail to do so.

If that principle is not our starting point, there is little point in trying to understand anything at all and certainly no point in arguing about it.

Infant Baptism

So then, infant baptism, if I may. Luke records that the Lord Jesus told his uncooperative disciples:
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Tim Staples at Catholic Answers springs easily from this incident to the subject of infant baptism. In a paragraph headed “Catholics Are So … New Testament” he looks to this very verse in support of his views:
“These were not just children who were being brought to Jesus, the Greek word here is ‘brephe,’ which mean infants. And again, the Jews listening would understand that the parents’s belief and obedience suffices for the child until he is old enough to own his own faith. The parents bringing children to Christ, according to Christ, is equivalent to the children coming to him on their own. Moreover, because babies are icons of what we all should be, i.e., they put up no obstacles to the work of God in their lives, and they can most obviously do absolutely nothing to merit anything from God, they are reminders of ‘the sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation.’ ”

The Display of Grace

Undoubtedly the Lord is displaying grace here, but there is no logical reason to assume that this grace has anything to do with either salvation or baptism as neither subject is in view, and anyone who thinks it is has to import such conviction from his imagination.

The Lord touched these children. Period. That is what Luke tells us. He welcomed them. He identified with them. He showed love to them. He held them up as examples to his disciples.

But he did not baptize them. He did not sprinkle them. There is no evidence any of them were “saved” in the eternal sense. Every purpose for which this scripture is wrested and misused is a purpose external to the passage itself.

What Actually Happened

The parents brought the children to the Lord in order that he “might touch them”. Perhaps they inferred that some blessing would result for their children. Perhaps they were merely the 1st century equivalent of autograph hounds. The important thing to realize is that we are not told what the motive was, so to speculate is futile (though certainly convenient when you need something to shore up a particularly rickety viewpoint).

Another thing we are NOT told is that the “parents bringing children to Christ, according to Christ, is equivalent to the children coming to him on their own”. That is a fiction concocted by Mr. Staples. The Lord did not say it, and it does not matter whether the children were infants or teenagers since the passage has nothing to do with baptism at all.

Parents and Children

That “the Jews listening would understand that the parents’s belief and obedience suffices for the child until he is old enough to own his own faith” is an even more absurd premise advanced by Mr. Staples. Formally, and in their Law, the Jews knew next to nothing of faith, though some of them, like Abraham and David, seemed to exercise it regularly without driveling on about it. They followed a Law given by Moses by which they hoped to attain to righteousness and, for the best of them, fellowship with God.

Understanding of how this worked was spotty and inconsistent in the Old Testament (compare the views of Job about resurrection with those of King Hezekiah, for example). It took Paul in the New Testament to set out how faith worked and the book of Hebrews to establish that it was really faith that always got the job done where God was concerned even under the Old Covenant.

The average Jew in the time of Christ had no clue about such things, let alone that his own “belief and obedience” might suffice for his child. Such a thing is pure and abject conjecture.

In Conclusion

I promise to stop using this passage against infant baptism if its proponents promise to stop using it to advance their cause. It clearly has nothing to do with the subject.

On the other hand, as to Mr. Staples’ last statement about the grace of salvation, it is not unorthodox to suggest that grace is … well, gracious. I think we can all buy into that, and certainly a helpless, uncomplicated child provides a very clear illustration of what is required in order to enter the kingdom of God.

1 comment :

  1. Therein lies the problem, at some point in catholic history, they decided that grace wasn't sufficient for the salvation of infants. It's no different than other heresy's they've concocted, Mary worship, purgatory (cha ching$) and others.

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a biblical scholar to see that baptism was meant as a public display of a personal and eternal decision to accept Christ's sacrifice and become obedient to Him. It's an obvious sign to others that I am no longer living for this world, I will continue to live in it, but from this point forward I am just passing through from this life to eternal life.