As a freshman in college, I met my first five-point Calvinist. As we shook hands and introduced ourselves to each other, he started telling me about his theological beliefs. He told me he would only ever date a five-point Calvinist because he would only ever marry a five-point Calvinist. (At this point, I was rolling my eyes because I was pretty sure Jesus should trump whatever theological framework we held to, but that’s beside the point).
He continued that he would only ever marry a five-point Calvinist because he would only ever want a wife who supported infant baptism. At that point, he completely lost me. Through all of my most formative years growing up in church, I had only ever experienced so-called “believers baptism.” I had never seen an infant baptism, only infant dedications. To be quite honest, I was shocked at the notion of baptizing an infant at all. I resolved that I would never, ever become a five-point Calvinist. They seemed only interested in being exclusive, and they insisted on baptizing their babies.
Fast forward a couple of years to when I met my husband. There was a spark between us nearly immediately, and even though we hardly knew each other, we started talking about our faith. I found out he was Reformed, which was something I knew little about. I found out he had been baptized pretty young, and he learned that I had been baptized at age eleven. We agreed that even though we each had different experiences with baptism, that it didn’t really change the fact that we both believed in the same God, and in the same Jesus.
We got married, and I worked to finish my last year of undergraduate studies. All was fine and dandy until my husband started applying to seminaries. All of a sudden it dawned on me that if he became a minister in a Reformed church, he would want us to baptize our future babies. And even if he didn’t care if we waited until our kids were old enough to decide, our congregation would probably expect that we would baptize our children.
From that moment on, I was rigid and dead set against ever believing in the value of infant baptism.
Shortly before I graduated from college, I discerned God calling me to seminary as well. At the time I thought I was being called to a teaching and writing ministry, but I found myself in all the same seminary classes my husband was taking. One of those classes was Introduction to Theology and Worship. And, in that class, a debate broke out about infant baptism. I spoke up strongly against it. “The Bible clearly teaches believers baptism,” I said, with my voice trembling.
I was getting angry. I couldn’t believe how many people could be in support of infant baptism. Isn’t our consent important? When I realized I couldn’t debate my point any longer, I stopped and kept the thoughts of condemnation to myself. I left the classroom and immediately called my mom.
I ranted on and on about how I just couldn’t believe anyone could possibly think infant baptism was biblical, not paying any mind to the fact that my mom was raised Catholic and was baptized as an infant. Eventually she cut me off and said these words:
“I don’t know why this matters so much to you. You were baptized as a toddler.”
I was shocked. “No, I wasn’t. I was eleven. It was at First Christian. I had stood there in the baptistry with the long white robe on. I had told the pastor I believed that Jesus was the Son of God, the one who died so that I could live.”
I was stammering. Sputtering out everything I could think of. I had no idea.
“Yes. You were baptized then, too.”
Wait. What?! I was baptized twice?!
I said softly, “Why was I baptized when I was eleven if I had already been baptized?”
She replied, “Well, it was just so important to you.”
And it had been. But, when she said those words it led me to study the Bible. It led me to consider Christian history and tradition. Suddenly, personal experience and a few texts of Scripture out of context didn’t cut it anymore. I had been baptized twice. And that really messed with me.
I have come to believe that both modes of baptism can be appropriate, but that they stand for, and signify different things. Infant baptism is about God’s covenant relationship with the Church. That’s why we say a baptized infant is received into the “visible membership of the church.” They are part of our family, but that does not mean they have come to believe or have publicly professed faith as of yet. Infant baptism is about God’s commitment.
Believers baptism is about our commitment. It’s about being old enough to own our faith for ourselves and to state our intentions to be faithful in our walk with God. Infant baptism is about God’s commitment. Believers baptism is about our commitment.
Both modes of baptism can be very meaningful, but I do not think someone who was baptized as an infant needs to (or should be) baptized a second time. I know there are people who will disagree with this, but I do not believe that someone has to be baptized in order to be saved. If that were the case, baptism would be some kind of magical rite that strong arms God into giving us some grace.
Salvation is a gift. It is unearned. We don’t deserve it. We cannot do anything to make God give it to us. It is all grace. Baptism testifies to this grace, but it does not demand it from God. God gives freely.
But, along with learning that both modes of baptism are valuable and important if we recognize that they convey different meanings, I also learned the importance of being very careful what theological and liturgical concepts I stake my faith identity on.
Quite simply, we need to be careful of the things we believe, promote, and go to war over. In a few years, we may end up having a lot of words to eat if we don’t hold our beliefs gingerly.
Some beliefs are worth clinging to desperately. Others are less important. But, all of us are theological works-in-progress if we are growing more into the likeness of Jesus. All of us will undergo changes in our theological identities.
And, just to point out the humor in all of it: Even though I had fiercely argued against infant baptism in seminary, I ended up baptizing both of my own children.