Cowboys Don't Baptize Babies

I now know the real reason why we evangelicals don’t baptize babies. It’s because we’re cowboys and our doctrine was formed in frontier America. That’s pretty much the core of it, according to an article sent to me in response to my hat tip to the evangelism and disciple-making work of Church of the Violet Crown in Austin. The article says evangelicals really like rugged individualism, frontier camp meetings and fire-and-brimstone preaching. So Yee-haw! and Yippee-yi-o-ki-yay! and all that cowboy, spittoon-spit stuff. Check out an uber-caricature of so-called us at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo-pApe1Kd0. But that is not us.

On the contrary, our conviction that only believers should be baptized is rooted in thoughtful exegesis of many Scriptures. Some who baptize babies believe the act of baptism forgives sin and grants eternal salvation. Some believe that baptism is not salvific, but is akin to circumcision in the Old Testament.

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It is disturbing, though, that those who largely disagree with believers-only baptism are not-so-rarely condescending in their arguments. Instead of addressing and discerning the issues in relevant Scriptures, there’s often a dismissive sarcasm in the discussion that does not appeal to understanding the meaning of the Scriptures.

We can easily discuss conversion and whether Christian parents urge children to embrace the faith or whether the faith is inculcated from infancy, as the article states. Certainly, the faith should be taught as a pattern of life in Christian families, but individual faith is not genuine until it is personally embraced and proven over time by the fruit of belief.

It's a valid criticism that evangelicals tend to hyper-emphasize the moment of conversion rather than the fruit of a life in relationship with Christ. We know that some genuine followers of Christ cannot state an exact date of conversion, sometimes recalling a season of life as their turning point to faith. Even so, that fact in no way validates infant baptism. The two are separate issues. We argue from the Scriptures that no ritual act brings anyone into saving relationship with Christ.

What of the criticism that evangelicals typically claim repeated conversion in countless altar-calls, hoping that this time faith in Christ takes root? That argument makes a mockery of those who endure seasons of doubt and genuinely examine themselves to discern if they truly are in the faith. In fact, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul admonishes each person to do this work of self-examination (2 Corinthians 13:5). Although I have never known even one person who has repeatedly claimed conversion and then has been repeatedly baptized, several of my pastor friends tell me they have known a small number who have claimed that experience. But the bottom line is that this experience is not normative and should not be mocked as if it were.

Lastly, does teaching your children a song such as Jesus Loves Me or the Lord’s Prayer, (known as the Our Father in my Roman Catholic upbringing), mean I really don’t believe children need regeneration? Obviously not. Teaching our children the Lord’s Prayer and singing songs about Jesus’ goodness and love simply teaches children about the character of God and how to approach Him. It’s a silly non-sequitur to conclude that our convictions about innate human depravity are insincere because we teach our children to pray and we teach them songs about Jesus.

The article The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies concludes that evangelicals come to a Yahoo! moment when they begin to understand that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their conversions . . . and that evangelicals impose a system that was designed for first-generation converts. Yeah, well, I’d be interested to read a biblical defense of those deeply spurious conclusions, because I don't think you'd get them from a thoughtful and careful exegesis of the Scriptures. And, apart from all of that, Yippee-yi-o-ki-yay! and Yee-haw! is not us.