"We don't baptize stupid people."
That's really what it amounts to. "We don't baptize this certain portion of the populous, because they are cognitively unable to comprehend what's happening." This is a problem.
It's a problem because it doesn't take two things seriously:
1. The Bible's teaching about our fallen sinful nature
2. The Bible's teaching about the wonderful promises of Christ for fallen, sinful people.
The problem stems from a misguided understanding of baptism. But even deeper than that, it stems from a faulty understanding of human reason and human will. Those who advocate against infant baptism are trying to hold on to a shred of human effort to participate somehow in their salvation. So, rather than simply let the prescriptive texts of Scripture remain true on the page, many import some flavor of that human effort into the equation when it comes to baptism.
First of all, just consider a couple of texts which teach what we are at birth:
- Ephesians 2:1-3 — we are all, by nature, objects of God's wrath.
- Colossians 2:13 — we are all, at birth, dead in trespasses and sin.
- Romans 3:10-12 — no one is righteous, no one does good, no one seeks for God, etc.
- Romans 3:19 — God's Law has been given to stop up every mouth and to make the whole world accountable to God.
These texts alone should be enough to teach us that we are not some kind of neutral, blank slate individuals at birth. No, we are born enemies of God; haters of God; bent in on ourselves and wanting nothing to do with him. Yes, that cute little baby, only hours old, napping in your arms, might as well have a bazooka in his hand with his finger on the trigger and God in the crosshairs.
At birth, we are the epitome of stupid. We are foolishness incarnate (which highlights just how incredible Christ's teaching is on entering the kingdom of God as a little child, Matthew 18). And we spend a lifetime trying to convince ourselves that that reality is somehow not true; convincing ourselves that we're not as helpless and utterly dependent as we are. It's no wonder that our salvation is all God's work for us, because on our own, we're toast.
It's also no wonder that the texts concerning baptism are so universal in scope. Here are just a few:
- Matthew 28:19-20 — Jesus commands to baptize all nations. But of course he does. People of all nations have sin (including babies) and so people of all nations need forgiveness.
- Acts 2:38-39 — Peter says that the promise of repentance and forgiveness given in baptism is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off. But of course it is. You, your children, and all who are far off have sin, and so all need forgiveness.
- Titus 3:4-5 — God saved you. Not by righteous deeds you have done. But by the washing of renewal and regeneration in the Holy Spirit. But of course he does. How else would you be saved, except to have the atoning death and resurrection of Christ mad yours in baptism (cf. Rom. 6:1-11)? How could the deeds done by an enemy of God, no matter how righteous they look on the face of it, merit his favor? Answer: they can't. So, rather than looking to our righteous deeds or cognition, He saved us out of mercy and lovingkindness. How? By washing us in his gracious promises.
You see, one's doctrine of baptism is intimately tied to one's understanding of the human will. If you believe what the Scriptures teach about our born-in-sin-and-wrath-deserving nature, then it's not a huge leap to baptize infants. Because, frankly, the age of a person is irrelevant. Baptism is God's work to save sinners--all sinners. On the other hand, if you don't think babies are sinful, or at least not accountable for their sin, then not only will you not think baptizing infants is necessary, but even harmful, because you will not have given them the opportunity to comprehend what's happening and make their own decision. Baptizing infants might give them false hope! And so you will have to create some kind of criteria to determine when they become sinful or accountable for their sin, which means looking to their reason and cognition, and holding off baptism until they are smart enough to be able to choose Jesus for themselves. This leads into all manner of despair, because through and through it's asking people not to hope in Christ and his promises, but in themselves and their (supposedly) good will towards God.
But just stop and consider who is left out of the equation; consider who doesn't receive the benefits of these glorious promises. Not only all babies who haven't reached the magical and found-nowhere-in-Scipture 'age of accountability', but also what about the child with severe Down's Syndrome? Who gets to decide when that child is smart enough to receive this gift of baptism? Will the child ever be smart enough? What about the 90-year-old man with Alzheimer's who can't even remember his name? What about the person who has suffered severe brain damage from an accident? Do the promises of their baptism go away? Or what about the person who is simply asleep? They are not cognitive of Christ as they slumber. During the night do the promises of Christ cease to be theirs until they wake up in the morning?
Do you see the problem when we start pointing people to their own works or cognition to be certain of the promises of Christ? The reality is that the promises are stripped away, as the individual is stuck constantly navel gazing at himself and his mind to know the grace of God.
Instead, let's simply confess what Scripture confesses: you and I and all people are sinful from birth (Eph. 2:1-3; Col. 2:13). But God, who is rich in mercy, saved us (Titus 3:3-7). He did this, not because of righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy and lovingkindness. Not only that, but he also did this while we were his enemies (Romans 5:8). God be praised that he has provided a means by which he delivers the goods of his forgiveness to all people through the blessed waters of baptism.
Don't be ashamed to say it: God indeed baptizes stupid people. And that is good news.
Because that means he baptizes even you and me.