I use the term Anabaptist here to refer to someone who deliberately denies baptism to infants. Although technically, the term means “no baptist” and a better term would be credobaptist. I reject the term credobaptist to refer to such people because it does not reflect what I understand belief (credo) to mean. I think that an infant is capable of belief and I have seen no one prove otherwise. This is even a common Lutheran position as well and some Orthodox also hold to this position as well. Additionally, the Catholic Church does not require a mature faith for one to undergo the sacrament of baptism either. So using credobaptism to oppose paedobaptism is simply to turn the term “belief” into something that is entirely intellectual and I believe that term to be completely and perfectly harmonious with paedobaptism.
Some Protestant Evangelicals, such as the Evangelical Covenant Church, have claimed to have “evolved” past our baptismal differences when it comes to one’s orthodoxy regarding baptism. I find this to be a cop-out personally. There was one clear instruction Jesus left to his apostles before he ascended into Heaven. This instruction can be found in Matt. 28:18-20. Matthew 28:18-20 reads, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”” We are commanded to make disciples. How? By baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit/Ghost (translation semantics) and teaching them to observe all Jesus commanded–loving others, serving others in charity, etc.
Protestant Evangelicals believe that baptism is very important to discipleship, don’t get me wrong there. At my first church, whenever someone was being baptized, they would explain that they were doing because Jesus did it. However, Protestant Evangelicals seem to have turned baptism into a legalistic work. If an infant is baptized, they don’t necessarily have to be re-baptized for some Evangelicals but their baptism was just something that was done out of obedience. Dr. Roger E. Olson wrote a post for Christianity Today a while back where he states “paedobaptists could work harder to understand credobaptist concerns and consider re-baptism as completing infant baptism rather than totally rejecting it”. This is equivalent to saying that the baptism given for an infant is not in actuality “good enough”. They need to complete that. This stands in rejection of historic Christian doctrine on baptism which insists on “one baptism for the remission of sins”. There is no worthy concern that can be taken seriously into account by the Anabaptist. The article is overall, more of an attack on paedobaptists by an Anabaptist than it is a genuine attempt at unity.
The major problem with this unity over baptism is that it cannot simply be solved by simply “shaking hands” and “agreeing to disagree” on a subject that “does not pertain to salvation”. If it does not pertain to salvation, then Jesus’s command to baptize others is meaningless. It definitely does matter as to what we believe about baptism. Of course, Evangelicals are always stating that they wish us high churchers would be more “Biblical” at times but Evangelicals generally reject baptismal regeneration.
For the record, baptismal regeneration is the tradition we have been given by the ecumenical councils and creeds accepted by the Church. (Referencing Nicaea-Constantinople of course.) The universal church accepts these two councils of Nicaea and Constantinople as well as the creed–all of the most ancient churches in existence accept these councils and Lutherans and Anglicans do as well. Here is what Nicaea-Constantinople states: “We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins”. Evangelicals who wish to accept this creed will generally state, “one baptism for the remission of sins” does not necessarily mean “baptismal regeneration”. If that does not mean baptismal regeneration, then what does that mean? All of the bishops present in the making of this creed were in fact baptismal regenerationists (in our modern understanding of the term).
Of course, then comes “the Bible never says that!” response.
John 3:3-5 – Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicode′mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Romans 6:1-4 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Titus 3:5 – he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,
Galatians 3:27 – For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
If those verses don’t speak of baptismal regeneration, I don’t know what they speak of.
Of course, then, the Anabaptists falsely accuse baptismal regenerationists of teaching that infants go to Hell if they die unbaptized. However, St. John Chrysostom asserts that infants are in the hands of God (Hom. 28, II-III, On Matthew). In truth, no one really knows what will happen to someone who dies without the grace of baptism. And of course, Evangelicals are generally the ones saying that one needs belief in order to be saved in the first place and many deny that an infant can have belief so how is our view any different? Honestly. Would you like to be told that you believed an infant will go to Hell even if it is baptized simply because of your idea of “sola fide”. Or maybe you’ve changed your mind that faith alone requires one to actually intellectually believe and process things in which case, why are you still not baptizing your believing babies?
For the record, I have universalist leanings. St. Isaac of Nineveh (of the Assyrian Church of the East) is also generally considered a universalist. Do I think someone who dies without baptism will go to Hell? No. I think that when Jesus talks about the “kingdom of God” in John 3:5, he is referring to entrance into the Church. Yes, the Church’s sacraments grant eternal life but eternal life has a new meaning for universalists. Eternal life does not refer to the afterlife but to life granted here on Earth in a new spiritual life that comes from being a member of the Church. Baptism makes the infant a member of the Church. Anabaptists refuse though to grant their infants full membership into the Church. And because of that, Anabaptists are considered heretics.
Oh, but what council considered them heretics? Well, it’s not necessarily an official council but hey, Arminians like to use the Council of Orange against Calvinists so…here it is, the Council of Carthage:
“That infants are baptized for the remission of sins
Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.
For no otherwise can be understood what the Apostle says, By one man sin has come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have sinned, than the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith (regulam fidei) even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration.” (Article 110)
So then why does the nature of baptism matter to the Church? Because this was the command we are given by Jesus. Of course, Evangelicals seem to expect baptismal regeneration to work like magic, meaning that one baptized as an infant will still be a Christian at age 33. It doesn’t work like that though. Before I was baptized, I was guilty of assuming it’d work like magic. It remits sins and incorporates you into the Church but it doesn’t really do anything more. You still need to grow in the life of Christ after baptism. It doesn’t make you a “sinless super-Christian” (all honestly, who the hell even believes there are “sinless super-Christians”?!? That flies in the face of Paul’s writings–Rom. 7:14-20). There is no “once-saved always saved” either. Even if someone is baptized at age 60, they could still always commit apostasy. There is no guarantee. Sorry Evangelicals, it does not work like magic. We cannot just simply “shake hands” on our differences regarding baptism as if “that doctrine does not matter”. If baptism incorporates us into the Church, then we cannot even say we are a Christian until post-baptism (even post-baptism we still may be pre-Christians figuring out what we are becoming).
There is no doubt that baptism incorporates us into the Church. Because of that, I have sincere difficulty accepting an Anabaptist as orthodox. The sacraments are the only guarantee we have that the Spirit is at work in us. Without the sacraments, any one can say they know Jesus personally. Even Bosco the Great.