Linking Small Children with Infants in the Theology of Baptizing -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 59:2 (Fall 1997)
Article: Linking Small Children with Infants in the Theology of Baptizing
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Linking Small Children with Infants in the Theology of Baptizing

Vern Sheridan Poythress

In a previous article, “Indifferentism and Rigorism,”1 I argued that we should baptize small children who give a credible profession of faith in Christ. Since Christian faith is primarily trust rather than intellectual mastery, even a young child can give a credible profession. In judging what is credible leaders must take into account the capacities of the one who is expressing faith.

As a result of change among both baptists and paedobaptists, we may hope to see some degree of rapprochement. But undeniable differences still remain. What, now, is to be done with very young infants before they can talk, or shortly after they speak their first words? We still have a troubling question here.

I. The status of infants

Within the Reformed tradition, a considerable number of people have set forth arguments in favor of paedobaptism (baptizing infant children of believers).2 I believe that their arguments are worthy. But many people, including Reformed baptists, are still not persuaded.3 I would therefore like to explore a complementary approach. We start not with the promise to Abraham but with the preceding reflections about children.

However, our reflections still do not include infants. Nor is it possible directly to extend the argument to them. How do we know how they are

receiving the gospel? How could the Holy Spirit be working in them before the time when they have come to some degree of mastery of at least a fragment of human language? The answer is not so clear.

People may still be influenced by a pattern that has been set in motion with respect to older children. I personally found that my own attitude altered once I began to reckon with 2- and 3- and 4-year-olds. Instinctively I could not withdraw from 1-month- and 3-month-old-infants the welcome that I have just given to children who were a little older. Perhaps my reaction was due partly to the fact that I could sense how the work of God’s Spirit might mysteriously extend into regions that we cannot penetrate rationally.

We have seen already that faith is not confined to those who can verbalize their faith. An adult who is able to hear but not to speak might have faith. Faith is primarily trust in Christ, not verbal articulation of that trust. Moreover, trust can be manifested and demonstrated by nonverbal actions as well by verbal confession. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac demonstrated the reality...

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