I originally wasn’t planning on writing multiple posts about infant baptism, but Richard Beck’s kindly saying that he was eager to follow my thoughts on the matter made me reconsider. I don’t have anything terribly profound to say about infant baptism on top of what I’ve already said, but I would like to discuss (in a very simplified manner) the nature of God’s covenants with us and how that applies to infant baptism.
Salvation and spiritual rebirth – which occur at baptism (John 3.5) – are, I think, best understood as gifts given to us when we enter into covenants with God. I say “covenants” because my current understanding is that we have not entered into a single collective covenant with God (as could perhaps be said of Israel), but rather into multiple individual covenants with God – all covenants of grace, but different covenants nonetheless.
It could very well be that this understanding of the New Covenant(s) is prejudiced by Western individualism or by my non-pædobaptist upbringing. (In fact, there are many dimensions of our spiritual states which I consider to be fundamentally communal; for example, it seems that we do not suffer because our own sin alone, but rather suffer because the world is drenched with the sin of mankind. If this reminds you of original sin, bear this in mind: The observation that a child of abusive parents suffers for sins that are not her own is empirical, not theological.) Nonetheless, the centrality of faith in the New Testament – something difficult to forget after the Reformation – leads me to conclude that we enter into covenants with God only after volitional, individual responses from us. If that is the case, infant baptism simply cuts across the grain of New Testament theology.
What are the alternatives? Covenants could be not at all contingent upon us – but that runs into all sorts of problems that I won’t bother addressing here. Another option is covenants based on the volitional responses of others (e.g., the parents) – but the main example of such a covenant (circumcision) is also the main example of what the new covenant is replacing. Proponents of infant baptism (or just any opponent of what I’m saying) can appeal to Acts 16.15 and 16.33, as well as 1 Corinthians 1.16 – but the evidence from those passages is inconclusive.
This is all a very roundabout way of getting at the real heart of the matter: Why should baptized infants be afforded any spiritual status different than that of unbaptized infants? Better yet: Why should any infant be afforded any spiritual status different than that of any other infant?
Those are the questions that I have yet to see be successfully answered.