March 30, 2015

Does Christening and Confirmation Count?

by Clint Archer

baby being dabbedAs the pastor of a Baptist church I frequently encounter this recurring couplet of questions posed by prospective members:

“Since I was baptized as an infant, and then later (in my denomination’s confirmation ceremony) confirmed publically that I trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior, why do you believe I should be re-baptized? Is this re-baptism not a renouncing of my previous confirmation ceremony, which to me was a precious and public expression of my personal trust in Jesus?”

Here is the essence of a letter I recently wrote to answer the question. Let’s call the inquirer something that rhymes with dunking.

Dear Duncan,

Your questions are good and show a commendable desire to reconcile what you have been taught with what you are learning now. Here are four handrails for our thoughts to grip as we wade through the issue.

1. Reasons for infant baptism.

Most Christians in our country were baptized as babies, myself included. There are some regions where this is very common, due to denominations like Methodism, the Dutch Reformed Church, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, and Catholicism who have all sprinkled their influence abroad. As a result of how culturally entwined the practice can become, an extremely common reason people baptize their babies is because everyone in their family has done it for generations. That’s not an argument that holds swimming

In my experience very few people can articulate a theological defense of pedobaptism. Those who do, base their theological convictions on an understanding of the way the Old and New Covenants are related, whereby circumcision is replaced by baptism. But in order for this view—unbelievers being baptized as babies who then get saved later in life—to stay afloat, one has to invent the confirmation ceremony as a substitute for what biblical baptism is meant to be.

The Bible knows nothing of the confirmation ceremony at all. There is not a single mention of it described or explained, and no instruction given about it anywhere in the Bible. Nor is there any case in the Bible of the baptism of an unbeliever being recognized as valid, which is what confirmation is intended to do.

2. The real meaning of baptism.

The word baptize means “to immerse fully under water.” This is not an insignificant detail, because of what the act symbolizes.

What most churches do with babies is sprinkling or dabbing. So, to say “I was baptized as a baby” is to substitute the way Jesus commanded and modeled with an alternative method.

The purpose of baptism, according to Romans 6:3-5, is to illustrate a person who has died to their old life, being buried with Christ, and then being raised with him unto a new life. This picture makes no sense if the person doesn’t yet believe, or if they are too young to have an “old life” of which to repent.

3. Why be “re-baptized”?

To put it bluntly, your infant baptism/christening didn’t count as your obedience to Jesus. (Thus, you are not really being “re-baptized” at all). It may represent your parentsdesire for you to be in the covenant community. But it does not represent your obedience and your faith.

Jesus commanded us to repent, believe, and be baptized to represent that decision. It is only obedience if you do it in response to his command; no one can do it on your behalf.

4. Is baptism a renouncing of prior confirmation?

Your confirmation was the denomination’s version of declaring that you believe in Jesus and repent of your sins. That is a commendable sentiment. I did that too. But then I later learned that the method Jesus wanted us to use to identify with him was full immersion after faith, not manmade confirmation.

Baptism in response to a new understanding of Christ’s command is not renouncing or ignoring everything that happened before in your walk with God. It is just a step of obedience in response to fuller knowledge and understanding of God’s will. The more mature we become in our walk with Jesus, the more our life will conform to his will as revealed in hippo

In our church we encourage people who are being baptized to explain their prior commitment to the Lord and give a testimony of how and when they were saved. We’ve even had octogenarians learn what the Bible says about baptism, and then get baptized in order to obey Jesus. There is no shame in this, it is a celebration of obedience and newfound understanding.

Baptism at that point is not a declaration of prior disobedience as much as a recognition of prior ignorance.

A closing thought to keep in mind is that Jesus was willing to be baptized to identify with us; Jesus commanded us to be baptized to identify with him. He stipulated the exact method (immersion) and timing (when we repent and believe). Why would we want to replace his example with a cultural substitute?

So, Duncan, I hope I haven’t flooded you with information by throwing you in the deep end of the discussion.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • MR

    “Sprinkled their influence,” good one Clint.

  • This post is swimming with too many puns.

    • Better than dry humour, right?

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Thank you for diving into this controversial issue and immersing us with such useful wisdom. It is sure to make a splash.

    • Thank-you for confirming my suspicion.

  • Chappy1689

    If only Baptists would be consistent and stop their unbiblical baby dedications (which look a lot like an infant baptist ceremony sans water), then maybe we’d be taken more seriously regarding this issue.

    • elainebitt

      Not all “Baptists” (I use the word in a general way, not denominational) practice baby dedications. But I don’t see the problem with it, since it has nothing to do with salvation.

      • …nor anything to do with covenant participation and privileges.

        At Grace Church, we have “Parent Dedications,” because, if you think about it, that’s really what a “baby dedication” is getting at anyway — that the parents are committing themselves to raising their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

    • Dedicating your baby is more like dedicating your church building; it’s an expression of worship rather than a theological assertion. I think it can be done in a way that clarifies that it is not just a dry christening.

  • Excellent, clarifying word on this issue, Clint! Right as rain.

    It’s just so clear…I don’t get where the murkiness comes from.

    • Some people don’t open their eyes under water.

  • Karl Heitman

    Great article. I’ll have the opportunity to baptize two men this Easter; one was a former Catholic and asked very similar questions. What would you say about the publicity of baptism, meaning the act of baptism being something done in front of the congregation vs. done with just 1-2 witnesses in a private setting? Some have been baptized in a pond, lake, or pool by their buddy and think that counts. Must baptism be conducted by church leaders in front of the whole congregation to “count?” A lady in my church asked me this and I’m still working on a response…. Thanks!

    • Great question. I encourage people to make the baptism as public as possible for the sake of edification and witness, but it is NOT a biblical requirement. Any believer can baptize any other believer. However, I encourage folks to allow their spiritual leaders to be the ones to baptize them as an acknowledgement of their relationship. It also could be seen to lend an accountability and credibility to the ceremony. But it certainly isn’t a requirement.

  • Johnny

    Excellent post. As for, “It may represent your parents’ desire for you to be in the covenant community”, I can’t help but notice that I’ve been in reformed baptist congregations where very young children, 4-5 years old, would be baptized and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was more the parent’s desire on display than the 4 year old with a genuine brokeness over their sin nature. To me baptism, like the Lord’s table, shouldn’t be an option until a member reaches a viable age of maturity when they are far more likely to have a substantial understanding of their sin and their need of a savior.

    • MR

      I agree, I think parents should wait until there is visible proof of regeneration. I have a hard time believing that children that young could possibly understand. I could be wrong, I’m sure there might be exceptions. But, I have run across many “I did that when I was a kid” cases.

      • As the pastor, I’d spend equal time interviewing the parents’ understanding of baptism as that of the child’s.

    • Sure. I agree. But I also want to avoid being the disciple who Jesus rebukes for keeping the children away from Him!

  • Charlie

    Thanks Clint for explaining your position. You say, “Jesus commanded us to repent, believe, and be baptized to represent that decision.” That seems rather different from Peter who said “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). It seems that Peter understood baptism not merely as an illustration of something that already took place in us, but a means of grace.

    • Or maybe Peter’s Jewish audience on Pentecost understood baptism as a sign well enough for him to not have to parse his wording to accommodate what we take as ambiguous semantics. Either way, a baby can’t do it!

  • Phil Meyer

    Great post Clint! A personal step of obedience to identify with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and to walk with Him in a new life. Christians need to realise that baptism is a command from the Lord Himself, not an optional suggestion.

  • Bill

    What are your thoughts about someone who came to faith as an adult in a presbyterian church, submitted to the leadership of that church, was sprinkled and now desires to join your church. Would you require them to be baptized in order to join?

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