I recently moved and had to do the whole church shopping thing. Well, after a lot of looking, I think I’ve found a home! In short, I love my church. I mean I really think it’s the best place I’ve ever worshiped, encountered God, and felt the Holy Spirit moving. However, now that I’ve been there for a few months, I’m starting to realize that the church and I believe some different things, and these things are making me wonder if I can stay. The biggest difference is their view on infant baptism. They baptize infants, I strongly disagree with that. What should I do? Should I stay even though I disagree with them on doctrine?
What a great question. Thank you for asking it and allowing us to engage in this conversation together. But even more than that, thanks for taking your commitment to church seriously. I really respect that you’ve (a) Done the work of church-shopping (which can be exhausting), (b) done the work of examining your churches doctrine (which is important because this is a place that will have a significant impact on you), (c) done the work of actually forming an opinion which, I assume, comes from some manner of education and reflection, and finally, (d) are willing to try and work this out with your church instead of just jumping ship and getting back to shopping. You have my respect, sir.
Let’s start with talking about baptism, and then zoom out to the larger issue, that is, if you can exist in a place where you diverge doctrinally.
I am keenly aware that in an online article, I’m not going to change anyone’s mind on the issue of infant baptism (nor would I really care to). For conversations such as this, a better discourse would likely take place in a trusted small group, lingering dinner table or around a fire-pit. That being said, I do want to give due diligence to your question. So, I’ll give my two-cents as a form of preface to the larger issue. Here we go…
I have no problem with an infant being baptized, here’s why: The Bible, while clear that baptism is a sacred and celebrated proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ, is not clear that infants are to be (or not to be) baptized. The only evidence I see of infants possibly being baptized within the context of scripture occurs in Acts 16:11-15 where Lydia “and the members of her household were baptized”. Can we assume that this woman of working age had children, yes. Actually, put more accurately, yes? Is this a compelling argument for or against God’s will for baptism? It is a tepid argument, at best.
And so, because of the fact that the Bible is relatively silent on this issue, I do not believe (and can’t Biblically prove) that either baptizing or not baptizing infants is something that God has a strong preference on. Additionally, as a former Methodist and as a graduate of a seminary that is grounded in the Wesleyan tradition (what up, Asbury!), I have seen and felt the significance of infants being baptized. To say that God wasn’t in those moments would be untrue. However, I’ve also seen the same thing with infant dedications.
In short, because I’m not compelled Biblically, I’m compelled practically by the evidence of God—and that’s where I land.
Did that change your mind? Of course not. Did it change anyone’s mind? Unlikely. Did I just alienate 50 percent of the readers (not to mention Methodists) who disagree with me? Yep.
So what do we do now, Finn? Well, it sounds to me like we’re in the same spot that you and your church are in. On the surface, everything is cool, but under the surface, there’s some disagreement. To that end, I would encourage you to think through the following as it pertains to your church (and I suppose to us now):
First, is this difference of doctrine of primary importance, or is there flexibility? Put another way, is this a hill you’re willing to die on? For me, infant baptism isn’t one of those hills. However, I’ve got my own hills: Jesus as the Son of God, His death on a Cross, the Triune nature of God and those are just a few of them. But if I went to a church and the pastor said something against those things, I would leave. Is infant baptism one of those things for you? It’s OK if it is, we all have different hills. But it’s important to recognize if it’s actually a deal breaker or simply something you feel strong about. It’s a fine line, to be sure.
The next step is asking yourself, “If it’s not a hill I’ll die on, how can I live and thrive in this church?” To that, I would encourage you to spend time with the folks in the church who’ve prayed through, wrestled with and written this doctrine. Typically, this would be folks in the senior leadership of the church. And in that time, I wouldn’t go in with a heavy-handed, antagonistic posture. But rather I’d approach the time with an openness to learn ask questions, and maybe even be formed in the process. Then, once you’ve spent sufficient time learning from them, I’d respect the position of the church, even if you don’t agree with it. Again, a very fine line.
Finally, if this is a hill you’ll die on, and you just can’t be in a community that baptizes babies (again, that’s your call, and it’s OK) I’d prayerfully consider if this community is the right one for you. Because at the end of the day, it’s not the church that matters, but how God is refining and growing the person of Finn as a part of this community. You need to be able to do your best work caring for people, loving people and being the hands and feet of Jesus for people. If infant baptism just isn’t a thing that you can hurdle, find a place that doesn’t cause you to stumble over that issue.
You’re a good person, Finn. I respect the road you’re on and am grateful for you thoughtfully engaging what it means to believe and trust God.
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.