To Be Human is To Be Chosen: Theological Anthropology in a Reformed Key

“To be determined by God’s election is really the final mystery of every human life.”

–Karl Barth

“What is your life?”

–James 4:14

One of the preeminent questions which confronts every thinking person is this: As a human being, what am I really? At bottom, what am I before anything else? What is my most basic essence?

The Christian tradition answers such questions variously. Any orthodox theological anthropology notes that we human beings are “created,” “good,” “in the Image of God,” “contingent,” “finite,” “embodied,” and yes, “sinful.” For the Christian, these are all indispensable words to describe the nature of human beings. But which is the foremost? Personally, I can only answer the question this way: before anything else—more than anything else—I am chosen.

This declarative statement may take some aback. Is not “createdness” the most basic attribute of the human being, just as “Creator” is the most basic attribute of God? While our essence as creatures is certainly an eternally inescapable feature of our existence, even our status as creatures is grounded in God’s election. Our chosenness is logically prior to anything else about us, even our createdness, because God chose to create us too.

For this reason, a Christian can say, “I exist because God chose to create me. I will continue to exist because God chooses to sustain me. I will exist forever because God has chosen to give me eternal life in Christ.” At every point, from whatever vantage point we view ourselves, the beginning, continuance, and consummation of our existence is determined by the gracious choice of God.

We are because we are chosen.

Think of the many ways in which we humans are chosen by God. God has chosen us to be a part of his creation. He has chosen us to be recipients of his image. He has chosen our nature to become the material of his Incarnation (the Word of God did not assume the nature of animals or inanimate matter, but human nature). God has chosen us to be the focal point of his redemptive activity—certainly God has redeemed all of creation in Christ, but there is no denying we human beings are the center of that redemption, the crown jewel of creation which God has most devotedly labored to restore. These are the various dimensions of our chosenness as humans, to say nothing of the election of Israel, the Church, or individuals as recipients of saving grace.

But these choices have implications for even God Himself. By choosing to create and redeem us, God has fixed not only our course but his own. His choices towards us are also choices which determine his very own being. It may seem impious to suppose that our existence affects or even changes God, but our existence has fixed His Existence on a certain inexorable path.

This is because God has purposed from eternity past not to exist as God without us. He has chosen to be God with us, and only God with us. God could have chosen to not create: to remain in the stillness of His own eternal Being, without creating or interacting with anything outside Himself. That was not his decision. God chose to relate to something other than Himself, something necessarily inferior to God and not God. The eternal decision of God is to exist as God in relation to not-God. But this eternal decision is also irrevocable. Once God created the universe, the die was cast. For the sake of his own honor, God would not bring the world into existence only to revoke its existence after a period—if that were the case, God would not have created in the first place. The creation of the world is God’s final and irrevocable decision to permanently exist in relation to something other than Himself.

Yet God has implicated Himself deeper still. Not only has he created us, the Word of God has also taken our human nature upon Himself and involved Himself in the mess that is human existence. In Christ, God has taken into Himself the creatureliness and embodiedness that is the inescapable essence of the human being. He’s thrown in his lot with us, and now there is no going back. The living God has walked beside us in Christ and will continue to walk alongside us. On the Cross, God goes down into pain, into death, into hell, to experience it alongside us, and then to overcome it. The paschal mystery of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is God’s way of telling us, “I will go through this with you. You will only reach the end of your story after I have reached it first. I will lead the way. Whatever happens to the world, whatever happens to the people in the world, I will go through it with them.”

By creation and incarnation, God has bound Himself up with us in an intimate and painful way, promising to see us through our created existence. This must be seen as a sacrifice on God’s part. God sacrificed the possibility of remaining only by Himself to be with us. He sacrificed the possibility of never knowing strife or pain to suffer and strive in solidarity with his creation. God sacrificed these things for us, and yet what did he get in return? How was he enriched by our existence? We can add nothing to him. The benefits of the divine-human relationship are all piled on our side. Yet that is who God is. He sacrifices for us even though he knows he can get nothing in return. God’s action toward us is pure gift, always, with no way of being repaid.

This is the overarching vision of how God relates to humanity, but we must not let the broad strokes of this theme obscure its application to our own lives. God has elected to be God-with-humanity, but more than that, God has elected to be God with you. If you ever feel insignificant or unheeded by the world, remember that the King of the Universe has chosen you! God’s call bursts forth from the realm of eternity and is addressed to you in all your specificity of time, place, and person. His call breaks through the ignorance and sin of our lives and tells each of us personally, “I have chosen you! I have chosen to be God with you and not without you. Repent and turn unto Me!”

That is the call of God to each of us. It is a call to embrace our destiny, the destiny which God planned before all ages: for us to be united to God in Christ. That we have a destiny at all is due to God’s gracious decision to create us (for that which does not exist can have no destiny). Moreover, the possibility of a human being fulfilling their destiny is determined by God’s call to us from eternity and our response to that call.

Blessed be our God, who has chosen to be God-with-us and not God-without-us. Blessed be our God, who has chosen to create, sustain, and redeem us. Blessed be our God, who has chosen to call us to our eternal destiny in Christ, and to empower us with grace to respond to this call.

As our Lord reminded his apostles and reminds us: “You did not choose me. I chose you.”

Amen. Alleluia.


Why Infant Baptism? A Reformation Answer

Why do the churches which arose directly out of the Reformation (Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian) baptize the children of Christian believers, rather than waiting for said children to come to faith at a mature age, and baptizing them upon a clearly articulated profession of faith? There are many possible answers to this question, but millions of Christians since the sixteenth century, from Baptists to Pentecostals to Reformed thinkers like Schleiermacher and Barth, have found all of them unconvincing.

There are, of course, peculiarly Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox justifications for infant baptism. The Catholic Church’s strong doctrine of original sin, championed by St. Augustine, was tied to the proclamation that baptism washes away the original sin of infants, sin which, even without being accompanied by personal or actual sin, was sufficient to damn these little ones. (Note well, though, that infant baptism did not arise because of a doctrine of original sin; Augustine states that original sin must be true because the Church was already baptizing infants). The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, had a much less forensic doctrine of ancestral sin. Consequently, their justification for infant baptism was an appeal to the continuous practice of the Church since the apostles, as well as the belief that the inner illumination of the Holy Spirit, which dispels the darkness of ignorance and sin, is a process that begins with baptism. Better that the process of illumination starts in infancy than adulthood.

But what about those of us who are Reformation Christians? Surely there must be a peculiarly Reformed answer to why we baptize infants—an answer that makes sense within the grammar of our theological heritage, not merely within the grammar of others’. In this post, I will detail the reasons for infant baptism I find the most compelling, the most beautiful, and the most consonant with the grace-centric character of the Reformation.

Firstly, infant baptism beautifully coincides with, is even made necessary by, Jesus’ teaching on the relation of young children and infants to the kingdom of God. His most important teaching in this regard is contained in a well-known story that appears in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17). When the three accounts are spliced together in proper order, here is the full passage:

Then people were bringing little children and even infants to him in order that he lay his hands on them and pray; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He called for them and said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Then he went on his way.

What does this passage reveal that is relevant to the issue of infant baptism? First, that it is natural for parents who love their children to desire Jesus to bless them. These parents saw that Jesus had a spiritual authority to heal and bless people in wonderful ways, and because they loved their children, they wanted them to receive this blessing also.

Second, there exists, even among Jesus’ followers, a tendency to dismiss small children and infants as not being proper recipients of Jesus’ blessing. Perhaps it is because they cannot “do” anything. They cannot understand Jesus’ teaching yet, nor can they make the individualized decision to believe in Him, let alone perform good works for the advancement of His kingdom.

Yet Jesus was vexed by this attitude toward children and taught his disciples that not only were children not to be prevented from being blessed, but that the blessing of the kingdom was especially appropriate for them. Why? It is surely not because children and infants are sinless. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”; “no one is good, no, not even one.” [1] Anyone who has ever interacted with toddlers or small children has seen the selfishness and petulancy with which they conduct themselves when they do not get what they want. Children can be a petty and self-absorbed lot. Even if childhood possesses a certain innocence, this has more to do with an innocence of knowledge, not moral innocence. There are many things children do not know, and should not know, until adulthood, but this ignorance does not make them righteous.

No, the kingdom of God belongs to children and “even infants” because of their total dependence. They cannot clean themselves, feed themselves, or take care of themselves when sick. They rely completely on their parents, in whom they place their trust. As a result, children do not typically act as if they are “self-made.” St. John calls this “the pride of life”: thinking you are a somebody because of your accomplishments, wealth, education, or some other status marker. [2] Because children cannot have even the illusion of being a somebody in that way, they do not usually have the pride of life, which is an obstacle to entering the kingdom. The kingdom of God belongs to those who have no pretense of having earned their entrance into it.

To not allow infants and children admission into the kingdom until they come to the intellectual maturity and intentionality necessary to make a profession of faith is to say that the kingdom of God is only for those who are old enough, mature enough, and intentional enough to “do something”—in other words, the kingdom of God is for adults, or at least for the adultlike. It is to say that children need to become like adults to enter the kingdom, rather than that adults need to become like children.

We adults may think that our ability to make a conscious “decision” to believe in Christ makes us more inherently save-able than infants or children, but the truth is that spiritually, we adults are helpless to save ourselves from our sins. Even if we are baptized as adults, we are every bit as helpless as infants when it comes to salvation. It is in this sense that “every baptism is an infant baptism.”

This is ultimately why infant baptism makes sense, not only within the Roman and Eastern traditions, but within the Reformation traditions. Above all, the Reformation exalted the grace of God—that unearned, unmerited, undeserved favor that God extends to us in Christ. The Reformers stressed that it is God who takes initiative in all things, not us, especially when it comes to salvation. There is no purer illustration of God taking the initiative and extending his grace to one who has done absolutely nothing to earn, merit or deserve it, than infant baptism. The Reformers understood this, and that is why all the major branches of the Protestant Reformation, except the Anabaptists, agreed that “the Baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.”[3] Infant baptism ties together biblical teachings on grace, the kingdom of God, and Christ’s love for infants and children in a much more satisfactory way than delaying baptism until a profession of faith. It is not something of which we need to feel ashamed or for which we need to apologize.

Don’t be afraid, then, to bring your infants and small children to Jesus for his blessing. Don’t feel embarrassed to plead the blood of Jesus over your children (to use a wonderful evangelical phrase). Jesus will not turn away our children and tell them to wait until they can do more for Him. Instead, he will cleanse them by the washing of water with the Word [4] and transfer them from the dominion of darkness into his kingdom. [5] What could be a greater blessing than that?

[1] Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:3

[2] 1 John 2:16

[3] Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, Article XXVII

[4] Ephesians 5:26

[5] Colossians 1:13

Mary, Advent, and Being a Pro-Life Christian

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of my Catholic upbringing is that I had no devotion to the Virgin Mary throughout my childhood and adolescence. Of course, I did not view her negatively, but I did not ask for her intercessions, nor pray the Angelus, the Rosary, or the Hail Mary. When I became Anglican during university, my lack of Marian devotion and minimal interest in Marian theology remained.

I am increasingly convinced that this is not ideal, especially given my pro-life convictions. The Advent and Christmas seasons provide more support for the pro-life position than any other—the Annunciation and virginal conception, the pregnancy of Mary, the leaping of John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb, even (tragically) Herod’s massacre of the infants. They are also the liturgical seasons in which Mary is most prominent.

This is not coincidental. From Annunciation to Nativity, Mary persisted in her commitment to the sanctity of the life she bore. She is the exemplar of the woman who said yes to life.

Yet Evangelicals have pushed her to the margins of our spirituality, theology, and iconography (not literally our icons, but the whole visual system we present to the world as representing our Christianity). Evangelicals can correct this unfortunate development with an added Marian emphasis in preaching, theology, and devotion, done tastefully and non-excessively (see Luther’s Mariology for a good example). Contemplation of Mary will not only further illuminate the pro-life position, but, like all good Mariology, it will draw our attention to her Son—not the one who said yes to life, but the One who is Life itself.

A Theological and Sociological Critique of Rebaptism

For most of Christian history, the rite of baptism was universally thought to be unrepeatable. If a person was baptized with water in the name of the Holy Trinity, whether as an infant, child, or adult, that person was considered validly baptized and could not be baptized again. Church Fathers, medieval scholastics, and Reformers cited Paul’s declaration that there was “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” as well as the Nicene Creed’s acknowledgement of “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” as justification for this position.[i] This strongly held theological commitment sometimes manifested itself politically. In certain contexts in Christian history (for example, in the Justinian Byzantine Empire or in Reformation-era Zurich), adult rebaptism was an offense punishable by death![ii] For these reasons, “the vast majority of all Christians from the third or fourth century on” were baptized in infancy and never re-baptized as adults.[iii]

With the advent of the Reformation, however, the issue of infant baptism and adult rebaptism was seriously reexamined. To the great chagrin of Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed alike, Anabaptists rejected the practice of infant baptism and re-baptized adults who had been baptized in infancy. Since then, other post-Reformation Christian groups, such as Baptists, Pentecostals, and non-denominational Evangelicals, have also administered rebaptism to persons baptized as infants. What does this practice represent theologically? What does it mean for the person who undergoes rebaptism? Of course, the answers to these questions will depend on the perspective of the one answering them. In this essay, I will present the credobaptist perspective on rebaptism, along with a theological and sociological critique of infant baptism. Then I will present the paedobaptist perspective on rebaptism, as well as a sustained theological and sociological critique of adult rebaptism.[iv]

It is noteworthy that not all credobaptist churches re-baptize. While not baptizing infants themselves, such churches do not require new members to undergo rebaptism if they were baptized as infants. These credobaptists decline to re-baptize out of respect for the spiritual journeys of other Christians, as well as because rebaptism is thought to evidence an un-ecumenical and divisive posture in an already-fractured Christian landscape.[v] Even so, rebaptism is a common enough practice in Anabaptist, Southern Baptist, and Evangelical denominations that a broad perspective on rebaptism can be ascertained. For these credobaptists, baptism is a rite which symbolizes a person’s conversion to Jesus Christ, which has already taken place. Since infants are presumably unable to be converted to Christ, they are not proper recipients of baptism.[vi] According to this view, those who were baptized in infancy were never truly baptized at all, and so rebaptism as a believer is not rebaptism, but a first baptism.[vii]

Credobaptists who hold to this understanding see rebaptism as an appropriate corrective to infant baptism. Commitment to Christ can never be done vicariously; parents cannot believe “for” their children. Every individual will appear before the judgement seat of God, not with all the members of their family and community, but by themselves, answerable for “what [they have] done in the body, whether good or evil.”[viii] Because divine judgement is so radically personal, every person must make a decision for or against Christ on their own. Baptism thus represents the individual’s decision for Christ, which they have made as responsible and accountable creatures before God. Additionally, a person who is baptized as a believer can personally remember their baptism, unlike those who are baptized as infants. Those who are baptized or re-baptized as believers can look back on their mature baptism as a moment when they decisively turned their back on sin and towards Christ. Believer’s baptism therefore gives them an experience to draw upon in times of spiritual doubt or struggle.

Furthermore, rebaptism represents a visceral rejection of both the Erastianism and “cheap grace” historically associated with infant baptism. Since the legalization of Christianity by Constantine in the fourth century, church and state became so closely related that infant baptism was transformed into a badge of inclusion in the state church. Baptism came to represent national and cultural identity more than spiritual identity. For this reason, infant baptism arguably no longer bore witness to either the grace of God or authentic commitment to Christ.[ix] This lamentable situation failed to live up to the radical nature of baptism in the early Christian Church. In that context, to be baptized was to set oneself apart as a member of a community which was frequently persecuted. To accept baptism was to show that one had definitively renounced their previous religious affiliation, whether that was rabbinical Judaism, imperial Roman religion, or paganism. Baptism cost its subjects something, socially and personally. Disownment by one’s family or community, persecution, or even death could be the cost borne by the baptizand.

If state Christianity is the dominant environment, however, accepting baptism is no longer a costly commitment, especially if it is administered in infancy as a matter of social decorum. To be re-baptized, then, not only signifies a rejection of the integrated church-state society inherited from the Constantinian era but is an attempt to model one’s baptism after those of the early Christians.[x] One could even argue that to be re-baptized upon a profession of faith is to renounce nominal Christianity as one would renounce paganism. In societies where infant baptism is the norm, to be re-baptized could result in ostracism, antagonism from family members, and (in some historical cases) legal prosecution. In these ways, rebaptism retains the costly nature of baptism in the New Testament and early Church.

While these critiques of infant baptism outlined above may seem compelling, they are not convincing enough to warrant the practice of rebaptism. For example, paedobaptists readily concede that God will judge each person individually on whether they made a genuine commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior. It is not clear, however, that those who were baptized as infants are somehow unable or less likely to make such a commitment. Baptism is not the only way a person can demonstrate their commitment to Christ; surely, living the Christian life demonstrates one’s commitment to Christ.

As to the charge that infant baptism became associated with Erastianism and cheap grace, this may well be the case, but the abuse of a practice does not imply the need for its abolition. Almost every doctrine or practice in the history of the Church has been abused or distorted, but such distortion calls for correction, not elimination.[xi] Even so, it is not self-evident that infant baptism is necessarily connotative of cheap grace or a lack of costly commitment. For example, Coptic Christians have been persecuted for centuries, in many cases experiencing martyrdom. Copts are typically baptized as infants, and the thought of being re-baptized as an adult would either be offensive or simply not occur to most Coptic Christians. Nonetheless, their commitment to Christ has in many cases proved quite costly, just as it was costly for the Christians of the early Church. It is clear, then, that costly grace, as opposed to cheap grace, is not a function of whether someone receives baptism as an infant or an adult, but of whether someone is devoted to Christ. It is unlikely that those who persecute Christians are concerned with when they were baptized; the important fact is that they are baptized Christians at all.

Another reason paedobaptists reject rebaptism is a different understanding of the relation of baptism to time. In the credobaptist understanding of baptism, correct order is essential in establishing the validity of baptism: one must repent, then have faith in Christ, then be baptized. The paedobaptist, on the other hand, understands the symbolic meaning of baptism to hold irrespective of baptism’s temporal relation to one’s conversion. If baptism symbolizes a person’s death to sin and resurrection to life with Christ, as both credobaptists and paedobaptists affirm, then this symbolic meaning holds, whether baptism occurs before or after one’s conversion. If one is baptized as an infant and is converted to Christ later in life, then baptism is a proleptic symbol which stands at the head of one’s life and prefigures the conversion that is to come. If one is converted to Christ, then baptized, baptism is an anamnestic symbol of the conversion that has already occurred. Baptism symbolizes one’s conversion, either by looking forward or backwards.[xii]

This distinction is crucial to the present consideration of rebaptism, as it illustrates the principle that “proper” chronological order is relativized to God, who transcends time and can consider all points on a timeline at once, rather than sequentially, as humans do. Symbolic meaning is tied to temporal chronology only for humans, not for God. Even if baptism is considered from a human perspective, a baptized person can appreciate what baptism symbolizes irrespective of when it occurred in relation to their conversion (while acknowledging that the exact time of a person’s conversion to Christ is not always so easy to identify).

Moreover, our personal timeline does not belong to us, but to God. God is the creator of all things, including time, and so all time ultimately belongs to him. Human beings exist in time, but do not own it—time is only “on loan” to us from God. Therefore, God’s choice of how our lives unfold in time trumps our preferences regarding the timing of our baptism in relation to our conversion. A person’s life rarely unfolds in a perfectly structured and ideally ordered way. Rather, there are false starts, loose ends, and events that could have occurred more ideally at different times. These temporal imperfections are to be humbly accepted as part of what it means to be human. Similarly, while a person may not like that they were baptized as an infant, to not be re-baptized is to respect that God, in his sovereignty, willed for that person to be born into a family that baptized its children; infant baptism is a part of their personal history whether they like it or not. Such persons were baptized on time that they didn’t choose, but that God and the covenantal community chose for them. To not be re-baptized, even if one wishes one was baptized as a believer, is to humbly yield to the community’s choices on our behalf and to God’s prerogative in determining the sequence of our lives.[xiii]  For a person to undergo rebaptism is for them to attempt to take back control of their personal timeline and insert baptism where they think it should fit. Our time ultimately belongs to God, and so our personal timelines are not ours to manipulate to our satisfaction.

Perfecting one’s chronology also does not ensure faithfulness to Christ any more than being raised in a Christian household.[xiv] Even if one repents, believes in Christ, and is baptized after their conversion, in imitation of the conversion narratives in the Book of Acts, fidelity to Christ is a lifelong task that is not reducible to doing things in the right order. While it is certainly understandable to express concern over an infant baptizand’s potential for falling away, even an adult baptism is no guarantee of lifelong faithfulness to Christ. Every baptism, whether infant or adult, is done in hope, not in certainty: hope that the person being baptized will be faithful to the One who for their sake died and rose again.[xv]

Another dimension of the paedobaptist response to rebaptism is the relativization of the role of memory in the administration of baptism. While credobaptists emphasize the importance of personally remembering one’s baptism, memory of one’s baptism is not necessary for making sense of one’s baptism. While it is true that being baptized or re-baptized as a believer can be a profoundly moving experience and an important memory to draw upon in times of spiritual crisis, it is also true that memory of one’s experience is not necessarily the best grounds for assurance or understanding. For instance, what must it be like to be baptized as a believer and not feel anything? Might this cast doubt on the authenticity of one’s conversion experience or obscure the meaning of baptism for that person? If the meaning of baptism is thought to coincide with one’s memory of baptism, then there is a danger of not being able to separate the meaning of baptism from its emotional impact as an experience.

This danger is not as pronounced for those who are baptized in infancy and never re-baptized. Baptism for them is something beyond memory, beyond experience, and thus can be appreciated for what it objectively stands for rather than what they felt when they received it.

A person does not remember their early childhood, but their parents loved them and were raising them nonetheless. Similarly, God is at work in our early lives whether we remember it or not. Therefore, to argue that a person should be re-baptized so they can remember the experience of being baptized is to place stock in emotive experience rather than the objective grace of God which transcends our memory.

Rebaptism may also overemphasize the role of human action in salvation. Those who desire to be re-baptized can be understandably enthusiastic about demonstrating their personal commitment to Christ in a public, tangible manner, an experience they missed out on when baptized as infants.[xvi] This enthusiasm, however, could become a triumphalist posture that proudly announces to the world the decision one has made, as if the decision of faith is itself an accomplishment. It is noteworthy that infant baptism leaves no room for such a posture. Indeed, the baptizand, as an infant, is completely helpless and cannot boast about anything he or she has done. Infant baptism is thus a striking picture of the dependence of the human being on God. Just as an infant cannot clean itself, feed itself, or take care of itself when ill, so the infant baptizand is unable to provide for his or her own spiritual needs. The sacraments testify that, like a mother, God cleans us (baptism), feeds us (communion), and heals us (anointing of the sick). Rebaptism risks taking a symbol of God’s grace for helpless and dependent sinners and proudly wearing it as a badge of one’s faithfulness to God.[xvii]

Furthermore, the credobaptist objection that baptism should be something that individuals choose for themselves can be seen as an outworking of the modern era’s individualist emphasis on personal choice. Contrary to popular modern sentiments, a person’s life is not the sum of that person’s decisions and choices. While consumerist messages in the Western media often encourage people to “have it their way,” to “choose their own adventure,” or to “be what you wanna be,” Christian theology has historically emphasized that our identity is not chosen by us but is given to us by God. Indeed, there are many aspects of our identity that we do not choose for ourselves. We do not decide the time and place of our birth, our parents, or our genetic inheritance. God chooses these things for us without our input or consultation. Infant baptism (and the corresponding rejection of rebaptism) acknowledges that baptism is one of many things that are chosen for us, for our good, whether we request it or not. Baptism is a community event which transcends a person’s claim to define themselves on their own terms. Rebaptism therefore ultimately runs the risk of being an ecclesial form of the self-definition and self-determination so highly valued in the modern Western world (but, alas, not the ancient Jewish or Christian worlds). A refusal to be re-baptized denotes the humble acknowledgement that the beginning of our life with God was initiated, not by our choice, but by the covenantal care of the community, and ultimately by God himself. To put it biblically, we did not choose him. He chose us.[xviii]

A final observation on this subject concerns the impact of rebaptism on one’s attitude toward other Christians. As Baptist theologian Willie Jennings notes, it can be tempting for credobaptists to use the reception of believer’s baptism as a litmus test for genuine commitment to Christ—that is, that those who were baptized as infants are nominal Christians, but those baptized (or re-baptized) as believers are the ones who are truly committed to Christ.[xix] The equation of infant baptism and nominal Christianity on the one hand and believer’s baptism and genuine Christianity on the other fails to explain the radically Christ-centered lives of millions of Christians who are both sincerely devoted to Christ and were baptized as infants. Of course, there are also millions of devout Christians who were baptized at a mature age; this is part of the reason it is so appropriate to view infant baptism and believer’s baptism as “equivalent alternatives,” rather than to assert that one of these modes is defective and needs correction.[xx]

In summary, there are several reasons why Christians baptized as infants should not be re-baptized as adults. Declining to be re-baptized hedges against the individualism and self-determination characteristic of Western modernity. To not be re-baptized is to eschew reliance on emotion or memory of an experience as grounds for making sense of baptism. It is to respect God’s role as Lord of our personal timelines and to acknowledge that doing things in the “right order” does not establish or ensure faithfulness to Christ. Finally, it resists the triumphalism potentially involved with emphasizing the human decision of faith over the prevenience of divine grace. Recognizing these truths will help Christians baptized as infants rejoice in their one baptism into the one faith of the one Lord.

[i] Ephesians 4:5 (ESV); The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with The Psalter of Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), 327.

[ii] Hans-Jurgen Goertz, The Anabaptists (Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge, 2013), 119.

[iii] Karl Barth, Karl Barth Letters 1961-1968. trans. Geoffrey William Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981), 189.

[iv] Throughout the paper, “paedobaptist” refers to Christian churches or individuals who believe in baptizing professing believers and their children, while “credobaptist” refers to Christian churches or individuals who believe in baptizing only professing believers.

[v] See Jim Somerville, “Rethinking Re-Baptism: What It Means to Be a Member.” Institute for Faith and Learning at Baylor University, 2014, https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/224504.pdf.

[vi] Tom Elliff, “Understanding Baptism.” SBC Life (Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention), September 2006, http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2006/09/sla5.

[vii] “It’s Not “Re-Baptism”: It’s Baptism,” Pulpit and Pen, January 16, 2014, accessed April 16, 2018, http://pulpitandpen.org/2014/01/16/its-not-re-baptism-its-baptism/.

[viii] 2 Corinthians 5:10, ESV

[ix] James W. McClendon, Jr., Systematic Theology: Doctrine (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 391.

[x] See George Hunsinger and Martha L. Moore-Keish, “Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Protestant Sacramental Theology” in The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology ed. Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 403.

[xi] Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, Second ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 285.

[xii] Gerhard O. Forde, “Something to Believe: A Theological Perspective on Infant Baptism,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 47, no. 3 (July 1993): 235-236.

[xiii] Karl Barth is perhaps the most well-known example of a Christian who was baptized as an infant, later came to vigorously oppose the practice of infant baptism, and yet refused to be re-baptized: “I have never maintained that [infant baptism] is not valid baptism. What was said to me back then, unfortunately without my being asked or able to reply, was said, and therefore I do not see why I should replace that baptism by another and second one. I regarded and still regard it as more correct and important to take my one baptism very seriously” [Karl Barth,  Karl Barth Letters 1961-1968 trans. Geoffrey William Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981), 189.]

[xiv] Willie James Jennings, “Grace without Remainder: Why Baptists Should Baptize Their Babies” in Grace upon Grace: Essays in Honor of Thomas A. Langford, ed. Robert K. Johnston, L. Gregory Jones, and Jonathan R. Wilson (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 209.

[xv] Ibid., 214.

[xvi] Reformed Church in America’s Commission on Theology, The Church Speaks: Papers of the Commission on Theology, Reformed Church in America, 1959-1984 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1985), 102.

[xvii] This is not to say that one’s total inability to save oneself is not represented in believer’s baptism. Adult converts are helpless to save themselves as well, which is why they receive baptism as one receives a gift; one does not baptize oneself as an accomplishment. The point is that rebaptism could obscure this reality by emphasizing the decision of the baptizand over the passive reception of salvation as a gift.

[xviii] John 15:16.

[xix] Jennings, “Grace without Remainder,” 212.

[xx] Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No. 111 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), 5.


Fahey, Michael. “Sacraments.” In The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, edited by John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance, 273-276. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Luther, Martin. “Concerning Rebaptism: A Letter to Two Pastors.” In Luther’s Works Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II, edited by Helmut H. Lehman. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1958.

McMaken, W. Travis. The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.