Archives For Sacraments

Naomi's Baptism

Steve Childers baptizing his granddaughter.

While in a small gathering of church leaders, one of the leaders jokingly referred to me, in a truly good-humored manner, as “…Steve Childers, my brother in error.” Everyone in the room received the comment as it was meant, a friendly-jab, and laughed out loud–including me. The error he was referring to was my belief that baptizing infants is biblical. I suddenly realized that I was the only one in the room (among 15-20 leaders spending that day together studying the bible, praying, and sharing) who believed in infant baptism.

Even though I bit my lip and resisted the temptation to respond with more than laughter and a smile, I must admit it was hard for me not to mention several other “brothers” (especially one theologian (deceased) whom I knew this leader had the highest respect) who join me in this “error.” I was reminded that, although my belief in baptizing babies is the minority view in Evangelicalism in North America today, the opposite is true when looking back at the history of Christianity—especially the Reformation and the 18th Great Awakenings. R.B. Vincent writes,

“…The overwhelming majority of Christians whom God has used in the past centuries of the Church not only practiced infant baptism but did so because they believed the Scriptures taught it. The great evangelical theologian of the Ancient Church, Augustine, held to the practice and so did the great Reformers: John Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox. Those devout scholars, John Wycliff and William Tyndale, who labored to give us the English Bible, and all the translators involved in the King James Version held that the practice was biblical.

When we come to the Eighteenth Century, we find both John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards, men whom God used in the conversions of untold thousands, all practiced infant baptism. This is true also of the overwhelming majority of the Christians who were involved in settling and founding the United States—from the Pilgrims on the Mayflower to the Huguenots from France.

These were not people who did things because of tradition; they laid down their lives that they might worship God strictly according to the instructions given in Holy Scripture. They held to justification by faith and the necessity of the new birth. To their number must be added most of the authors of the great Evangelical hymns which have stirred the hearts of so many Christians, hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “Rock of Ages…[1]

After 2000 years of church history, guess what? True followers of Christ, who embrace the essential doctrines[2] of Christianity, still have disagreements regarding non-essential doctrines (not essential for salvation). So what should we do? I’ve always loved this historic phrase:

“In essentials, unity;

in non-essentials, liberty;

in all things, charity.”

This phrase has been called “the watchword of Christian peacemakers[3]” by the distinguished 19th century church historian, Philip Schaff. And I love that no one knows for sure who originally wrote it. Although it’s often been wrongly attributed to Augustine, its origin is most likely rooted in the early 17th century where we find it in the Latin writings of relatively unknown church leaders. Many believe that the English Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691) is responsible for popularizing this phrase throughout the English-speaking world of his time.

Whatever the origin of this phrase, it sets before us a desperately needed way for followers of Christ to demonstrate to the watching world the unity we all share in him (“the communion of the saints”). But we must not try to achieve this by reducing what we believe to just a few doctrines we can hold in common with all followers of Christ. History has proven that normally puts us at risk of losing all orthodox Christian beliefs. Nor must we allow ourselves to continue bringing shame on the name of Christ by isolating ourselves from and wrongly criticizing Christians with whom we don’t agree on all the “non-essentials.”

The Christian leader who poked fun at me recently for believing in infant baptism, was doing so in the context of lovingly and graciously including me in an inner-circle of leaders who did not believe what I did about baptism. Why did he do that? Because he believed what desperately needs to be recaptured in our day: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” This is why I really look forward to my next time with him and these dear “brother(s) in error.”

Click here to read a related post, “A ‘Baptist’ (With a Small ‘B’) On Infant Baptism”

[1] Reference:

[2] I consider examples of essential doctrines as including affirmations in the Apostles Creed, Sola Fide (salvation by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Solo Christo (through Christ alone), Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone).
[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 7, p. 650