Living in the Southern U.S. of A. as my family does, most of the Christians we know are of the Southern Baptist variety, or of some Evangelical offshoot thereof. (Most of the non-denominational or independent churches around here are splits from Baptist churches. A lot of the non-denominational churches near us really are Baptist churches but don’t want to include the word “Baptist” in their name, because they fear it may scare away the unchurched.)
If you are a Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed (incl. Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Dutch Reformed, and UCC), Anglican/Episcopal, or Lutheran Christian and you live in the South, you have at one point or another had a discussion with someone else about the subject of infant baptism vs. “believers’ baptism.” (Disclaimer: what I am about to say does not apply to the Baptist readers of this blog, each of whom is a very respecful, open-minded individual.) They will often want to tell you that you haven’t really been baptized because you haven’t been baptized “the right way” and at “the right time.” Many delight to use the term “Christening” to describe an infant baptism, using the term pejoratively to connote “a ritual that isn’t really baptism, but that some people only think is a real baptism.” (In fact, “Christening” is a synonym for baptism, not something different from baptism. Every baptism is a Christening, because through baptism a person becomes a part of the visible Church. Through baptism, we take up the Name of Christ. A feature of infant baptism, traditionally, is the child’s receiving his/her forename, which is why your first name is also called your “Christian name.”)
Within the Presbyterian Church, many of our membership have come to us as transfers either from Baptist churches or from one of the aforementioned non-denominational/independent churches, so infant baptism is always a new and strange thing. Because, in the South, any Christian church that is not Baptist is in a decided minority, both Baptists and non-Baptists alike may very easily be led to believe that “believers’ baptism” is the norm among Christians, with infant baptism being a curiosity, practiced by only a handful of churches.
Indeed, one commenter on a blog recently, who had joined a Presbyterian church from one with a believers’ baptism orientation, referred to allowing his/her children to receive covenant baptism as “going with the PCA thing.” No, infant baptism isn’t just “the PCA thing.” Neither is it just “the Presbyterian thing.”
Let’s look at the numbers:
Churches that practice infant baptism (with approximate membership, stats from adherents.com):
Roman Catholic – 1.5 Billion
Eastern Orthodox – 240 Million
Reformed (incl. Presbyterian, RCA, CRCNA, Congregational, UCC, etc.) – 75 Million
Anglican – 73 Million
Methodist – 70 Million
Lutheran – 64 Million
New Apostolic Church – 10 Million
Churches that do not practice infant baptism:
Pentecostal = 105 Million
Baptist – 70 Million
Jehovah’s Witness* – 14.8 Million
Latter Day Saints* – 12.5 Million
Adventist – 12 Million
Campbellite (“Restoration” Churches, incl. Church of Christ) – 5.4 Million
Brethren – 1.5 Million
Mennonite – 1.25 Million
*Although many Evangelicals, including most Baptists, would not accept JW or LDS baptism as valid (as these are not Trinitarian churches), I included their numbers lest I be accused of short-changing those who do not practice infant baptism.
Totals: Approximately 2,032,000,000 (Two Billion, Thirty-two Million) Christians worldwide who practice infant baptism. Approximately 222,450,000 (Two hundred twenty-two million,four hundred fifty thousand) Christians who do not practice infant baptism, and that’s if we count the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. That means over 90% of the world’s Christians practice infant baptism. Infant baptism is hardly just “the PCA thing” or even just “the Presbyterian thing.” Looks more like infant baptism is, for the largest part, “the Christian thing.”
If we look only at Protestant groups, and leave out the LDS, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the New Apostolic Churches, we see that appoximately 61% of Protestants worldwide practice infant baptism, while only 39% do not. Even when we include those three groups, we still find that 57% of Protestants practice infant baptism, while 43% do not. Again, hardly just “the PCA thing.”
I do not say this to denigrate my friends who believe in believers’ baptism. This is just to put things into perspective. I would, however, issue a plea to those of you who do not practice infant baptism and like to make an issue out of it (usually those of the “Fundamentalist” stripe): do not denigrate my baptism or my children’s baptism, because I certainly don’t denigrate yours. Don’t call it a “Christening” in that condescending way. If you routinely refer to all baptisms (regardless of the mode or timing of them) as Christenings, then fine. But most of you don’t. You distinguish a “Christening” from a “real” baptism (i.e. a baptism done your way). Those of us who practice infant baptism accept that others practice baptism in different ways, and we accept your believer’s baptism as valid. We are respectful of your traditions: show a little respect for ours. The same goes for putting baptism in scare quotes when referring to infant baptism, thusly: infant “baptism.” I see this all the time on the blogs. It’s pugnacious and rude.
As anyone can tell from reading this blog, I have close relationships with many Baptists and have worked closely with them over the years. Most of them, I know, find the kind of attitudes I’m describing just as horrific as I do. St. Paul said there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Why some people want to make it something that divides us rather than unites us is beyond me.
We often use this Post-communion Prayer in our worship, from the Liturgy of Lima:
“O Lord our God, we give you thanks for uniting us by baptism in the Body of Christ and for filling us with joy in the Eucharist. Lead us towards the full visible unity of your Church and help us to treasure all the signs of reconciliation you have granted us. Now that we have tasted of the banquet you have prepared for us in the world to come, may we all one day share together the inheritance of the saints in the life of your heavenly city, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.”
That’s what baptism is there for. Uniting us in the Body of Christ. The visible unity of the church. A sign of reconciliation. That we would be one is Jesus’ prayer (John 17). That we would bite and devour one another is not Christ’s idea, but someone else’s entirely.
The theology of and historicity of infant baptism is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say, however, that we who believe in and practice infant baptism do not practice it because we think it’s cute. We don’t practice it simply because it’s traditional. And we don’t practice it because we think it’s like a magic trick or a good luck charm. We have convictions about infant baptism that are derived from Scripture every bit as much as your convictions about believers’ baptism are. A little tolerance, please. Look at the numbers: if you lived somewhere else besides the Southern U.S., you’d be in the decided minority, and you’d want that same tolerance shown to you, wouldn’t you?