The Practice of Infantile Baptism in Southern Baptist Churches and Subsequent Impact on Regenerate Church Membership -- By: Tony Hemphill

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 18:3 (Summer 2001)
Article: The Practice of Infantile Baptism in Southern Baptist Churches and Subsequent Impact on Regenerate Church Membership
Author: Tony Hemphill


The Practice of Infantile Baptism in
Southern Baptist Churches and Subsequent Impact on
Regenerate Church Membership

Tony Hemphill

M.Div. Student
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587

Introduction

In the August 9, 1967, edition of The Christian Century, there appeared a rather derisive editorial ridiculing baptismal practices in the Southern Baptist Convention. The commentary states that “year after year Southern Baptists drift farther from an avowedly unwavering policy of believer’s baptism and closer to the practice of infant baptism.”1 Statistics were presented that showed in the prior year (1966), 10 percent of all the baptisms in the SBC were children eight years of age or less. The article points out the discrepancy between what the SBC preaches and what member churches practice. The editors attributed the practice of baptizing younger children to the desire to remain the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

Moreover, we suspect that this Southern Baptist violation of Baptist polity is to some extent a case of Saturn’s devouring his children. ... At the rate they are going, the SBC churches will soon run out of reserves. But the important question is what this practice does to four and five year old children. In the churches that practice infant baptism, the child has a decision-making opportunity at a decision-making age. It will be lamentable if children are deprived of this opportunity in the very church that has put such stress on the individual’s right to make his own religious decision (italics added).2

Unfortunately, to a large extent, this editorial has proved to be prophetic. The Strategic Planning Office of Lifeway Christian Resources compiles annual church profile information from participating Southern Baptist churches. Thirty years after the publication of the cited editorial, convention-wide baptisms totaled 379,344. Of these, 51,578 (or 13.5 percent) represent baptisms of children eight years of age and younger.3 Considering the fact that 60 percent of all baptisms were in fact rebaptisms (including 36 percent having been previously baptized in a Southern Baptist church),4 brings the percentage much higher. In fact, as a

percentage of first baptisms, children eight years old and younger represent 34 percent of the total.

It is alarming to realize that fully one third of all first bapti...

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