Last week I saw a Facebook thread that had been kicked off with a comparison of abortion and infant baptism. Quite a discussion ensued, as you might expect. The initial point being made concerned things parents do that they have no warrant from God to do, and since I am writing here as a paedobaptist it is not surprising that I agreed with the pushback the post generated. There is an important difference between slaughtering your children and dedicating them to God.
At the same time, there is a sense in which I want to commend the instinctive wisdom of the initial observation — a wisdom that is often missing from the saints who practice infant baptism.
The meaning of baptism is death. The initiatory Christian rite is baptism (Matt. 28:18-20), and as Bonhoeffer observed, whenever Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3–4).
Every religion worth its salt claims the children, and every religion does in fact do so — false religions included. The problem with Molech was that he was a false god, an idol, a lying cheat that had no right to that claim. Having no right to claim the death, he had no power to give the resurrection.
It is the same today. The contemporary gods of Orgasm and Personal Convenience, like all other gods, claim the children. 50 million of them have been sacrificed on these altars in our nation alone. To claim to be a god is to claim the children. To claim deity is to claim a right to blood. The problem is that they are claiming something they have no right to claim. If the claim were true, the need for the offering would follow.
But they are not true gods. “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. 8:5–6).
So the distinction between the false gods and the true God is not that they claim the lives of the children and the living God does not. The distinction is that they claim the children for destruction and God claims them for death and resurrection.
The true God does in fact claim the children.
“For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself” (Num. 8:17).
When He claims the firstborn of Israel, He is doing this in lieu of His claim on their lives the night of the first Passover. The angel of death passed over them, but this did not mean his claim was relinquished. God chose the tribe of Levi to stand in for the firstborn of Israel, and God also had chosen the firstborn to stand in for all the children.
So God does in fact claim our children, all of them, and in a sinful world this claim is clinched in a dying. That dying is represented by Christian baptism. This means that every paedobaptist who does not want infant baptism to represent child sacrfice should stop performing the rite. It is child sacrifice with a resurrection following, but it is nonetheless a child sacrifice. Infant baptisms can be endearing, but if that endearing sentiment is allowed to replace what baptism actually means, then we would be better to dispense with the rite altogether.
Baptists mistake, in my view, who is a fitting recipient of baptism. But they do not mistake what baptism actually means. It means death. Death to self, death to me, death to personal space. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. This means that if Christ calls your children — as I believe He has — He bids them come and die. For paedobaptists, it would be the height of theological insanity to offer God what He requires, but to do so only with the proviso that you don’t mean it. What is better — to offer God half of what He requires but really mean it, or to offer Him all of what He requires, children and all, and not mean a word of it?
And so parents who bring their children to the font ought to be terrified, as they are working out salvation with the gospel trembles. One of the questions I ask at such baptisms is “do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for his/her salvation, as you do for your own?” How do we do it for our own? We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).
So Christian parents bringing a baby to be baptized are not coming to a feel good photogenic moment. They should feel like Hannah did as she was looking over her shoulder to see small Samuel, waving at her from the tabernacle.