Infant Baptism: A Treatise in Defense of Infant Baptism, Written in the Scholastic Style – Part III

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Snyder: Scholastic Defense of Infant Baptism

Practical Application

Having discussed the reasons for infant baptism, as well as notable arguments against it, and the orthodox responses to those arguments, it remains to be seen why such a work as this treatise is necessary, or at least expedient, and how its content applies to our current ecclesial context. Our practical applications for the doctrine of infant baptism, and for our defense thereof, are fourfold: 1) contemplative, 2) apologetic/evangelical, 3) hermeneutical, and 4) pastoral.

1) As I noted in the first part of this treatise, my aim was (and remains) principally to better inform those holding to the orthodox doctrine of infant baptism, that they might understand more thoroughly the reasons for their believing this way concerning the Christian sacrament of initiation. Such an understanding reveals something of the nature of God, bringing us into greater cognitive intimacy with the Triune LORD for our better understanding His salutary works. Our first practical use or application, then, is contemplative, being an effort at fides quaerens intellectum, or, faith seeking understanding.

2) Concomitantly, a greater understanding of this biblical, catholic, and apostolic doctrine can better equip us for witnessing and defending our faith in our North American context. Though globally a small minority, credo-baptism is the dominant position on baptism in the United States, and therefore requires special attention and treatment, that we might ably defend and advance the orthodox, paedo-baptist doctrine, thereby bringing Christians in this country into greater conformity with the will of God revealed in Scripture as interpreted by the historic and Catholick Church. Thus, there is an apologetic and evangelical (i.e., defending and witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ as contained in the ancient and catholic faith) application as well. This is especially important for us North American Anglicans, since many of our parishioners, and others expressing interest in Anglicanism, are coming from evangelical, credo-baptist backgrounds, and are often predisposed against infant baptism from the start. A thorough knowledge of its biblical warrant and underlying logic will therefore be advantageous in attracting and catechizing new converts to the Church.

3) A more subtle and indirect use is the hermeneutical. By hermeneutics I understand the theory and methodology of textual interpretation, that is, put simply, the way one interprets a text (in this case, the biblical text). As I argued in the second part of this treatise, the interpretive underpinnings of the credo-baptist position, with its rigid insistence on explicitness as the final and ultimate measure of the biblical text’s meaning (which, as we have shown, they do not consistently apply in all places), leaves out a number of fundamental doctrines, thereby precluding anything resembling orthodox Christianity. Indeed, by insisting on an explicit command or instance in Scripture for anything to be counted a Church doctrine, and by jettisoning all inference – however warranted – and the connecting of different passages to one another, we are left with a form of Christian religion so impoverished, so bland, and so bereft of imagination, liveliness, and spirit, as to scarcely be worthy of the name “religion,” much less that of “Christian.” It is to consign oneself to reading the Bible with a “veil” (2nd Corinthians 3:15-17), ignoring the “spirit” for the “letter” of God’s Word (2nd Corinthians 3:6). The hermeneutical application of infant baptism, then, and of our understanding its underlying interpretive basis, consists in, and has the advantage of, curtailing those atrocious interpretive impulses, and promoting more sound ones.

4) Finally, the pastoral advantages mentioned in the first part of this treatise, though mentioned last here, are in fact the first and most critical application of this doctrine. The utterly free and unmerited justification that occurs in the baptism of an infant is so plain a manifestation of the gratuitous character of our salvation that it must be preserved and defended. It is nourishment and comfort to the soul, a powerful check against the temptation to works-righteousness, and the surest means of attributing the whole of our salvation to God, and to Him alone. In a word, infant baptism is the great sacramental bulwark of the Protestant Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone). Our treatise also has the pastoral effect of supporting the consciences of those who received the sacrament as infants, but have been confronted by credo-baptists challenging its validity and, consequently, their salvation. I have personally seen many instances of this sort of intra-Christian squabbling, and hope and pray that the arguments contained in this treatise might aid those whose faith has been attacked in this vulgar, unseemly sort of way, to defend their faith, reinforce their sense of security in Christ, and uphold orthodox Christian doctrine.

In closing, I want to encourage Anglicans and other paedo-baptists (Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox, Reformed, etc.) to share their faith and encourage obedience to the biblical and catholic doctrine of holy baptism, but to do so charitably, and with humility. That God has given to us and to our infant children the sacrament of baptism is a gift, and not ours by right, or on account of any supposed merit of our own. Thankfulness, then, and not pride, is the appropriate attitudinal posture from which to share this gift with other Christians. Moreover, for those who remain obstinate and reject this gift, we ought not judge them too harshly, nor pretend to any certainty concerning their standing before God. The reason for holding to false doctrine is not always a perverse will: invincible ignorance, miseducation, intellectual deficiencies, weakness before the prospect of ideological change, amongst other failings, might be behind such recalcitrance, rather than pride and vanity. With that being said, go forth, and encourage all to follow Christ’s command, and let the little children come!

Series Navigation<< Infant Baptism: A Treatise in Defense of Infant Baptism, Written in the Scholastic Style – Part II

Fr Seth Snyder

Fr Seth Snyder is an Air Force chaplain in the Special Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces, and the vicar at St. Mary the Virgin's Anglican Mission in McConnelsville, Ohio. He holds a B.A.S. in philosophy and history from Ohio University, an M.Div. from Duke Divinity School, an S.T.M. from Yale Divinity School, and he's a Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge University, Corpus Christi College. A brand new lecturer at Reformed Episcopal Seminary, he has a wife, Jessica, and two daughters, Alexis and Abigail.

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