Popular understanding and infant baptism

Years ago, Dana Carvey stated on a show that he grew up Lutheran. The interviewer asked what that was like, and he said “Well, sorta Catholic-lite.” That example of absolutizing form while disregarding content, laugh-out-loud funny as it is to this childhood Lutheran, reminds me of the popular understanding of infant baptism.

My sense, with no figures to back it up, is that at least a quarter of the people in paedobaptist churches are closet baptists. Not from any serious study of the issue, mind you, but because: (a) They have never heard the doctrine defended, (b) Most pop evangelical authors, preachers, and musicians are as credobaptist as they are dispensational premillenialist, (c) Paedobaptism is associated with apostate mainline churches, “dead orthodoxy,” and baptismal regeneration, (d) the doctrine isn’t easy for even theologians to state clearly, and (e) there’s a suspicion that the Reformation simply didn’t shed enough “Roman” baggage.

The Reformed case for infant baptism is based on appeals to Scripture: that both old and new covenants are dispensations of the same covenant of grace (cf. Genesis 17, Romans 4), that the church has the same nature and design in both old and new, that baptism is a sign (symbol) and a seal (guarantee) of regeneration to those “to whom the grace belongs” (the elect), and thus that that “baptism is to the new what circumcision is to the old.” Infant baptism was the practice of the early church and the unanimous practice of church until the 16th century, while, in A.A. Hodge’s words, “its impugners (a) date since the Reformation, (b) and are generally guilty of the gross schismatical sin of close communion.” Augustine, c. 350 AD: The doctrine “is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained.”

Now, this whole post is not meant to tweak my Baptist brothers, much less to start an amateur internet debate, but to simply say that — agree or not — the doctrine is based on appeal to Scripture. The popular understanding that it’s nothing but stubborn adherence to tradition is wrong. Then again, with so many who act as if there was no church between the end of the apostolic era and the Reformation (which appallingly cedes vast territories to Rome and Constantinople), maybe this is just part of a wider misunderstanding.

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