Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why We Baptized Both Our Infants: Part 1

Photo by Allen Sorbo.
In a couple of weeks, we will be baptizing our little Mr. Bean.  In this series of three posts, I explain how I came to believe in and practice infant baptism.  I'd like to share our family's perspective with friends and family, and I also hope this series will be something Mr. Bean and Burrito will treasure when they get old enough to read it.

I grew up evangelical and Pentecostal.  As time has gone by, I've grown into a mixture of the riches of that upbringing combined with Lutheran theology (Lutheran teaching about God, faith, and the Bible).

The spiritual riches of my upbringing meant that my mom made sure I had a devotion every day.  I learned to read through the entire Bible and did so multiple times.  Mom (and Dad, to a certain extent) made sure that God was a daily part of life.  We didn't just pray at bedtime, but we prayed throughout the day.  We memorized Scripture.  We were given access to the stories of great Christians from history, particularly missionaries.  These missionaries were our heroes.  Mom was always looking for opportunities to teach my brother and I about faith.  She firmly believed the words of Deuteronomy 6, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" (NIV).  She believed that talk about God should not be relegated to the church building or to bedtime prayers.  She believed we should talk about God all day, in the most natural way possible.  Every interaction was an opportunity to teach about God.  I recently told her that she taught me so well about God that there is no way I can get away from faith.  I don't hold onto faith.  Faith holds onto me.  Or, to be more precise: God holds onto me.  

I can only hope to do as good a job as Mom did instilling faith in both my brother and I.  

But I also find myself coming to new conclusions about faith, conclusions that were not taught to me as I grew up.  I grew up believing that every person must have a definite "moment of decision" where they ask Jesus into their heart.  Then they must ask to be baptized and they must decide to do this.  Baptism was viewed as an act of obedience and discipleship whereby we show that we have turned from the darkness of sin and turned ourselves towards Christ.  My mother's baptism and conversion were counted on the same day, as she was an adult convert.  Though she had been baptized as a baby in the Methodist church, she had not continued to be discipled and taught.  Her mother had been a strong Christian but had died at a young age and my mother was always searching to connect with her mother's faith.  When she came to a saving knowledge of Christ herself, she was baptized again and she counts that as the day she became a Christian.

For me, I asked Jesus into my heart when I was on the changing table (what better place, as we know that Jesus does indeed take out the poop of sin from our lives!).  I was very young--younger than 2, I believe.  In an interesting twist, my mother got lots of doubt from other evangelicals, including her pastor at the time.  They told her, "No, she can't get saved at that age!  She hasn't reached the age of accountability!"  Nevertheless, my mother wrote the story in a journal that she kept of happenings in my young life.  She believed fervently that the faith I had expressed was real.  And she believed it was the work of God in my heart.  

It was a couple more years before I was baptized, at my request.  I had one false start before that.  I remember being toddler or preschool-aged and asking to be baptized.  But when I went to visit the deep pool that was used for baptisms at our church, I was terrified and didn't go through with it.  A while later, my dad ended up baptizing me in a lake on the 4th of July.  

(An aside: In recent times, I've come to wonder why conversion and baptism are so often separated in evangelical churches.  I can understand the Biblical case that can be made for making a decision for Christ but not the separation of baptism from conversion.  This summer, I visited a wonderful evangelical church.  Several people were being baptized that weekend, but a number of them had been previously converted to faith but now were being baptized much later.  In Scripture, baptism comes at the time of conversion.  It shows that conversion has happened.  I am still struggling to understand how this practice came about in evangelical churches.)

Moving on with my story: As I grew into my teenage years, I began to grow into a very anxious, depressive young woman.  Much of my anxiety was framed around matters of faith.  I remember going to a Lutheran church on Christmas one year during this time.  That Christmas morning, a precious little baby was being baptized.  Having grown up believing that infant baptism was absolutely wrong and fearing that this child was going to go to hell, I felt a strong urge to stand up and tell everyone what a horrible thing they were doing.  I wonder what the me of the time would have thought if you had told me that I would one day baptize both of my children as infants!

A little later, we dipped our toe into the Lutheran church again.  A different local Lutheran church was having a weekly service by the lake in Clear Lake, IA.  To be honest, we had been going to dysfunctional Pentecostal churches for a while and I think we were getting fed up with the extremes that we encountered there.  We started attending this church because we liked the service by the lake.  We kept attending because the pastors that we encountered there were balanced and trustworthy.  They were careful students of Scripture.  Little did I know it at the time, but beginning to attend that church was to be a turning point in my life in so many ways...

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of the series, "Why We Baptized Both Our Infants"!


  1. I have realy enjoyed your post. You have had a great faith journy and I loved reading about how you have grown in your faith. I would like to through out some sides of why conversion and baptism are so often separated in evangelical churches. We belive that baptism is the outward sign of an inward change. Baptism is simbolic of our life dieing to sin and raised from that just as Jesus was raised from the dead. So to me the timeing is not as important as what it means. I would agree that the sooner after convertion is better as most of the NT teaches.

    1. Phil, thanks for taking the time to share your perspective. I mean, growing up evangelical I definitely was taught the "outward sign of an inward change" thing but I wonder if that's really in the New Testament. In the NT, baptism seems to be simultaneous with conversion for the most part. There are always exceptions to the rule but in the evangelical churches it almost seems to be the rule to separate the two. Again, the main thing is that faith in Jesus is present and we could certainly quibble over details too much. I guess I'm just trying to understand something that was a given when I was growing up. Blessings!

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