Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cognitive Ability and Faith

Baptists often argue that babies are incapable of faith and therefore should not be baptized. Faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). It is not something that we produce. The Baptist will sometimes say, "Yes, faith is a gift of God and God is capable of giving that gift to anyone but the baby is not capable of having faith." I believe that this demonstrates a deeper problem--the Baptist does not understand what faith is.

To have faith is to trust in God. A baby will not ordinarily be able to demonstrate his trust in God in the same way that an adult can but that does not mean that the baby is incapable of having faith. Because I get hungry, I got a job. I work hard at that job. I go to the grocery store and buy food. I bring the food home and cook it. Then I eat it. If a baby gets hungry, he doesn't get a job. He doesn't go to the grocery store. He doesn't buy food. He doesn't cook it. He just cries. An adult with faith will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. A baby is not capable of speaking. But it would be just as foolish to conclude that a baby does not have faith because he cannot speak as to conclude that he is not hungry because he doesn't have a job. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says that if a person will not work they shouldn't be allowed to eat. But most do not let their children starve to death in hopes of fulfilling this command. But many Christians will withhold something far more important from their children--baptism. And what of those who are mute? Since the passages specifically speak of someone calling on the name of the Lord, does that mean that every mute person goes to hell?

In Psalm 22 the Psalmist says that Yahweh was his God from his mother's belly. Apart from faith it is impossible for Yahweh to be our God. In the ultimate sense this Psalm is about Christ as all the Psalms are but this same Psalm was taken upon the lips of all Israel and each Israelite sung it of himself. Later, the Christian church would sing the Psalms and each Christian would sing this song of himself. John the Baptizer lept for joy in the womb because of his faith in Jesus. Later in life, John the Baptizer would express some doubt as to whether or not Jesus really was the Messiah but there was no indication of doubt while he was in his mother's womb.

During the ministry of Jesus, infants were brought to him by their parents to be blessed. The Apostles turned them away, but Jesus rebuked the Apostles for doing so. The Apostles thought, as many today do, that God's good gifts are useless to a child that does not have cognitive ability. But Jesus said that they were absolutely wrong. Jesus said that in order for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven they had to become like these little children. He did not tell the children they had to become adults. The Baptist will argue that a blessing is not the same thing as baptism and they are correct. But a blessing must be received by faith just as the good gifts of baptism must be received by faith. Jesus was not just conducting some sort of baby dedication service to appease those who wanted something special done with their babies.

Cognitive ability is a good gift from God but because of our sinful nature we often abuse it. Men have used their cognitive ability given to them by God to try to disprove the very One who gave them the gift. The doubt that we experience as adults would not be there without the development of our cognitive ability. We should use our cognitive ability for the good of our neighbor but we often use it only to serve ourselves.

Recent scientific studies have shown that babies are able to discern good and evil when they are six months old. Already at six months old the baby is able to demonstrate that he is able to tell good from evil. But there is no way scientifically to determine whether or not a baby is able to tell before that time but simply unable to express it.

The Scriptures are clear that sin is not something that occurs once we reach an "age of accountability." We are sinners from the time of our conception (Psalm 51). We are all in need of baptism. We all need our sins washed away. The Scriptures never define baptism as our first act of obedience or use any of the other non-salvific language that various man-made traditions like to use today. According the Scriptures, baptism is for the remission of sins and baptism now saves us. Unless babies are not people they need baptism too. In the so-called Great Commission, Jesus says to disciple the nations by baptizing them. Unless babies are not part of the nations they need baptism just as much as adults do. There is no explicit mention of babies but there is not explicit mention of ninety year old ladies either. In Acts 2:38-39, the promise that baptism washes away sins is applied specifically to children.

In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul compares and contrasts circumcision with baptism. From other passages we know that baptism is applied to women as well as men and therefore more inclusive. We are never told that it is more exclusive in any way.

If we doubt that a baby can have faith it is because we doubt the power of God's Word. Scripture is clear. The Devil doesn't go around trying to get us to believe the plain teaching of God's Word. The Devil tries to get us to rationalize and deny the plain teaching of God's Word. Can God really work faith in a baby? The baby can't do anything, how could God save someone like that? But Christ came to save the helpless. Christ did not come to save those who think that they can save themselves. Those who think that they can save themselves through their cognitive abilities are welcome to try. But how would you know if you ever attained a high enough level of cognition? There's always someone smarter than you? What exactly does your IQ have to be?

Those who deny infant faith find themselves in the company of the Apostles who were rebuked by Jesus. They find themselves in the company of those who think that children have to become adults to enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who deny that baptism is salvific find themselves among the likes of Namaan the leper. Do not trust in your cognitive ability to save you. Trust in Christ. Trust Christ's Words.


Anonymous said...

"... Baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." -1 Peter 3:21

Uh .... would you baptize an adult who refuses to say for sure whether or not he or she has faith in Jesus? No, of course not! To do some would be presumptuous.

And so is baptizing a baby who is not certain to have "a good conscience toward God." Why make promises of salvation to someone who has yet to have faith? Do we make God a liar because of the many babies who grow up never to have faith?

Baby baptism is therefore putting the cart before the horse. Doing away with it is to continue in the spirit of the Reformation.

Rev. Jim Roemke said...

What, dear anonymous, are the wages of sin? Do babies pay those wages? Does that not mean they are sinful? Does God abide with sinfulness? Condemning babies because God doesn't fit your rationale is NOT the spirit of the Reformation, nor is complete understanding of the mysteries of faith (and not is the KJV of the Bible, just in case you are one of those baptists).

Chuck Wiese said...


An adult who has vocal capabilities and so forth is physically able to say he believes and so I would expect him to do so. A baby is not and so I would not expect him to do so. An adult who is capable of working should be expected to get a job if he wants to eat. A baby is not capable and should not be required to get a job in order to eat.

But I think you are misreading what Peter says here. Peter does not say, "Baptism now saves us and should be performed as the result of a good conscience toward God." Peter does not say that the baptism is a result of the good conscience but that the good conscience is given with baptism.

If you read the text as it stands very plainly, it says that baptism gives us the answer of a good conscience toward God. It is not some mere washing away of dirt off the body but gives us something objective to show us that our sins have been washed away.

If a subjective good conscience before God were a requirement for baptism, who could be baptized?

The baptism of babies is not based upon presumption but on the promise of Jesus that baptism is for the purpose of the remission of sins. Why wouldn't I want my babies sins to be forgiven?

Many adults are baptized who later fall away from the faith. Many babies grow up and continue in the faith. Some babies fall away from the faith but that does not mean that there was something wrong with the baptism. Because we are sinners we cast away the good gifts that God gives us but that does not mean they are not good gifts.

Doing away with the baptism of babies is not to continue in the spirit of the Reformation but to run away from the Reformation and past the Roman Catholics in the opposite direction. The Reformation was based on a belief that we have done nothing for our salvation. Man does not even baptize. God baptizes. The Triune God marks us as His own. He works through human instruments just as He does in the preaching of the Gospel, but it is God who does the work. God baptizes. What better example of this could there be than the baby who didn't even decide to come to church that day being baptized. The babies that were brought by their parents to be blessed by Jesus did not ask to be blessed by Jesus.

Among the Baptists we find a man-centered view of baptism. Baptism is described by the Baptists in such unBiblical terms as the "first act of obedience." Where is that in the Bible? Why call something that Christ says is for the forgiveness of sins, the first act of obedience? It is utterly Pelagian.