My own denomination, The Wesleyan Church permits the baptism of infants, much to the dismay of some fellow Christians. We do not require it, nor even promote it, but for Christian parents who are very serious about their commitment and covenant relationship with God we permit infant baptism. Why? Of course the easy answer is our heritage--our denomination sprang from Methodism, John Wesley and the Church of England. But there are other reasons beyond our historical heritage. Here are some of them.
1. We believe babies go to heaven.
Wesleyans have a strong view of God's grace. Not only is God's grace powerful enough to "save a sinner such as I" but it so powerful that it extends to every child who has not yet reached the age when he or she personally rebelled against God. Thus we believe if a baby dies he or she will go to heaven. No exceptions. We reject the notion that some babies go to hell and others to heaven depending on God's pre-determined choice somewhere in the past. We believe that all infants go to heaven if they die. In that sense they are in the kingdom just as you and I, until they choose to leave, or refuse to personally believe when they reach the age where they can. This view of the "grace that goes before" is much more than a souped up "common grace" as proposed by John Calvin, but is a powerful grace that reaches into the life of a child and offers atonement for the fallen nature inhereted from our first parents. Since we believe this powerful and extensive grace extends to babies, and if they died these babies would be in God's eternal kingdom, we baptize them now.
2. We believe grace is resistible.
Wesleyans believe that grace --even saving grace--is not irresistible. That is, God has extended His grace to all men and women everywhere, not just to some He selected beforehand. So why are not all men and women saved? Some resist this grace. They refuse God's grace making it of no (personal) effect. Although babies are self-centered and cranky at times, we do not believe they are mature enough to have refused or resisted God's grace. Not yet, at least. Having not refused God's grace they are "covered by the blood." They are encompassed by God's mercies until they personally come to the age of accountability for their response to God. Then they might refuse or resist God, or continue in grace. After all Lucifer refused God's grace at His very throne in heaven. Having not yet resisted God's grace, babies are candidates for baptism in my church. This is not to say that one can come to the Father except through Christ; Christ died for all humanity and infants are redeemed persons, not an exemption--it is not just an exception clause of God.
3. We believe grace is revocable.
Wesleyan believe it is possible to "backslide." While the chances of a true believer rebelling against God and rejecting Him are not high, it is nevertheless possible that a saved-by-grace-believer can refuse God's continuing saving grace and walk out of God's family. We believe the relationship with God is bilateral not unilateral. One party can abrogate the covenant. God won't but we could. Thus my church believes even adult baptism is not a once-for-all affair. We regretfully recognize that a baptized adult could someday rebel against God and lose their part in God's kingdom. We believe the same for babies. Though we baptize children we do not think we are doing something irrevocable. Who will be saved in the end? Those who persevere to the end.
4. Our tendency toward optimism
We baptize babies because we expect the best. We expect our children to be Christians. We expect to bring them to church, teach then the Bible, pray with them before bedtime, live a holy life before themů so that they will indeed never rebel against God's grace at all. During New Testament times it was common when a father became a Christians his "whole household" was baptized--including all the children and even slaves. And we baptize babies too. Not many Wesleyans do, but we can. If you do not like this practice, you probably don't like our theology either. But you'll have to agree the practice grows out of our theology. In a sense the parents and church "stand in" for the child's personal faith until they choose to ratify it themselves later. Can they refuse to ratify our decision? Sure. But we baptize a child with full intent on raising them in such a way that they will naturally ratify our faith decision for them. We're that optimistic. One scholar has described the Wesleyan position as having "a pessimism of nature and an optimism of grace."
5. Our high view of children.
Wesleyans retain an extremely high view of children. We believe Jesus did too. We believe that a child should be the adult's example of how to get into the kingdom of God. We believe Jesus really meant it when he warned against causing a child "who believes in me" to stumble. Can children have faith? You bet. And we have thousands in our churches (and many leaders) who claim conversions at age 4-6. We believe in children in our denomination. In fact we are almost unanimously anti-abortion because of this high view of childhood. In fact (though this will really rattle the cage of many of my readers) it is not uncommon for Wesleyans to permit small children to take communion--they go up as a family and even the children participate. Can you see why a denomination so open to admit children to one sacrament would would not refuse to admit them to the other?
6. Our view of sacraments as signs of God's grace.
Wesleyans believe that the sacraments are not saving acts themselves, nor mere testimonies of human decisions. We believe both sacraments are signs of God's grace. Wesleyans do not believe the water saves a child or an adult. The application of water is not saving anyone, nor is it a mere meaningless symbol of what the individual has done (recieving Christ), nor is a sacrament actually accomplishing something in itself (ths act actually saving) but the sacraments are signs of God's grace. They are about God not us.
You are not going to change our denomination's position on this. But still you might have a response to enlighten the writer of this essay and other readers on your own view. If so, make a response to the address below.
So what do you think?
To contribute to the thinking on this issue e-mail your response to Tuesday@indwes.edu
Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury --http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday