A Wet Dedication? One More Thought on the Baptism Debate
I’ve been interacting with Mike Bird’s recent posts (1, 2) on dual baptism in which he calls paedobaptists and credobaptists to peace and unity. I really appreciate what he has to say on the matter and wish very much that this wasn’t the big deal debate that it is. In my last post, I suggested that the difference between paedos and credos might be beyond reconciliation in that the views contain fundamental theological contradictions. In this post, I want to consider one implication of that contradiction.
Bird helpfully pointed out in his first post that both paedos and credos have a ritual both when a child comes into a believing family and when a child comes to a personal experience of faith. Credobaptists usually have a ceremony for dedicating an infant and then baptize that person when he or she later makes a profession of faith. Paedobaptists baptize their children in infancy and then have a ceremony of confirmation (of the baptism) when the young person later professes faith in Christ. The question for Bird then is: where do you put the water? Sooner or later? The first ritual or the second?
In my previous post I said that paedobaptists see baptism as God acting toward the baptized while credobaptists see it as the baptized acting toward God. This essential difference also sheds light on why paedos baptize infants and credos dedicate them.
For the paedobaptist, if the action is on God’s part to initiate a covenantal relationship with the baptized, then it’s easy to see why that action comes early in the life of the child. God is the one who acts and calls the child to himself long before they are ever aware of it. Any faith on the part of the child is then a response to the covenantal initiation of baptism. The children of believers are not like the children of unbelievers. The children of believers are disciples before they profess faith. Indeed, they are being taught to obey everything Christ commanded long before they are ready for a public profession of Christian faith.
In contrast, the credobaptist sees baptism as a sign of personal faith directed towards God. And when a new child enters that family, there is a dedication of the child to God. But notice the direction of the action here. The family acts to dedicate the child to God. The human agents are active; God is passive. So, the act of dedicating a child is consistent with the act of believer’s baptism; both are human actions directed towards God.
So, the issue is not so much when to bring out the water but who it is that acts. And where you land on the issue of who is acting explains when you bring out the water. Who is the agent in the baptismal act? God? Or the baptized? I’ve often heard it said that a baptism is just a wet dedication. Indeed, I think I may have said as much before taking a closer look at the matter. But such is not the case. A baptism is not a dedication. An infant dedication is a dedication of a child to God. An infant baptism is a covenantal act of grace from God. So, I take this to be more evidence for why the difference is probably irreconcilable.
Let me conclude by saying that the position Bird is articulating is really the paedobaptist position, which is probably why his reflections appeal to me. I long for credobaptists to recognize the validity of the baptisms not only of my own children but of all covenantal children. To my knowledge, all Protestant paedobaptists not only baptize newly believing and previously unbaptized adults, we also recognize the baptisms of other Christian denominations regardless of whether they are paedobaptistic or credobaptistic. So, the change for which Bird is calling would require much more give from the credobaptists than from we paedobaptists. That kind of give would be an essential change in a fundamental tenent of credobaptistic theology and a monumental denial of a previously long held view. And while unity and affirmation are desireable here, I don’t expect my credo friends to change their minds on a matter in which they have such deep conviction. So I’m not holding my breath.