Whatever definition we (Christians) might consider for baptism, if an apostle of Jesus Christ has something to say about it, we ought to listen. Not only ought we listen, but we must also consider the implications of what is described, and then change course regarding our own personal views; especially if those views lead to assumptions which do not line up with what the apostle says about it. (We would all agree here.)
Where this becomes extremely important is when the New Testament mentions “households” that were baptized. I say this because not all Christians agree with who the members of the baptized households described in the New Testament might include. Depending upon the denomination and its assumptions about who are or who are not included in these household baptism examples, such assumptions are then often utilized by those of a given denomination for rhetorically defending their specified, baptism practice. In other words, some theological circles at times will use what they think comprises the households to validate the way in which they implement baptism.
But, regardless of what any of us might think is correct regarding who ought to be and who ought not to be baptized, we must all realize that one thing is certain with respect to the household baptisms mentioned in the Bible… Scripture leaves out the explicit make up the baptized households it references. Therefore, we must be cautious when proclaiming who might be or who might not be a part of them, regardless of what some historical traditions might claim.
Here is an example of what I’m talking about…
1 Corinthians 1:14-16 (HCSB)
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my name. I did, in fact, baptize the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else.
In this case, we cannot know for sure what exactly this “household” was composed of from the above verses. We simply are not given the particulars. All that we are told here is that “the household of Stephanas” was baptized. Beyond that, we simply do not know the specifics of his household. Did it include only adults? Did it include adults and children? Or, did it include adults, children, and infants? We really do not know.
Acts 16:14-15 (HCSB)
A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
Again, nothing more is known in this example either, regarding the makeup of Lydia’s household. To speculate about it is to add to scripture, so to go down that road would be to make a mistake.
The point that I’m getting at is, if there is a clear definition of what baptism is in scripture, and if that definition by default then disqualifies certain possibilities regarding the makeup of the particular “household” in view, then we must be open to letting go of the those possibilities. In other words, it would be unscriptural to say that a baptized household referred to in the New Testament consisted of x, y, and z, if the consisting of x, y, and z meant that it did not line up with how baptism is characterized in the New Testament. So, instead of speculating about who might have been and who might not have been part of a particular household baptism account, maybe it would be better to take a different path. Instead of imposing an assumption regarding household makeup in these examples, a better way to go about it would be to try to find out by asking…
Is it possible to get any hint from scripture as to who might have and who might not have been part of the households?
I certainly think so. When we have a clear understanding of what scripture says about what baptism is, then certain assumptions regarding the make up of these households will either be confirmed, or… they must to be aborted.
What is Baptism? (According to Peter)
Fortunately for us, Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, does provide such insight. In his first epistle, Peter gives his audience a simple explanation of what baptism is. He writes…
1 Peter 3:18-21 (HCSB)
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm. In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while an ark was being prepared. In it a few — that is, eight people — were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Baptism is “not a removal of the filth of the flesh.” It is something else. It is “the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” In other words, one who is brought under the water and then out of the water is then proclaiming (through the baptism) that they no longer have any qualms regarding their standing with God, due to Christ bringing them to God (sparing them judgement due to their sin) by His work on the cross. It “corresponds” to the salvific, protection experience that the eight went through who were on the ark; who were spared the waters of judgement in the flood. Another way to say it is, baptism illustrates the fact that the individual being baptized now has a changed heart and is demonstrating a “pledge of good conscience toward God” when they are baptized. Only the made new individual who has repented and has put their trust in Christ ought to be baptized, because such is what is being proclaimed by them in baptism.
Back to Households
If Peter is correct, and who would argue that he’s not, then we must let go of the traditional positions which suggest that those who were part of the households being baptized were individuals who were not capable of making a “pledge of a good conscience toward God.” This would certainly exclude infants, because infants are not equipped to make such a pledge; they could not even grasp what the Gospel is, let alone make such a statement.
A natural question to then ask is…
What then happens to infants when they die?
This is an important question, but I will not address it in this article. (For some thoughts about this matter, please click here for a past article that I wrote on this subject.)
My hope in writing this piece was to show that if we have a proper understanding of baptism, we might then avoid making the wrong assumptions about the makeup of the baptized households which are mentioned in the New Testament, and then change our baptism practice accordingly. We are commanded to baptize, but only those who are capable of making a “pledge of good conscience toward God,” who also can be taught to “observe everything” that Christ has commanded…
Matthew 28:18-20 (HCSB)
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
A question comes to mind…
In light of Peter’s definition of baptism, is it logically feasible to assume that infants would be in view here?
We must wrestle with the ramifications… knowing when to tap out.
Godspeed, to the brethren!
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