A few months ago a friend, who had been a Baptist and then became a Presbyterian, asked me for a short answer as to why and how I had changed my view of baptism (which had been the view that baptism was by immersion of believers only). The answer I gave him was “short” and thus will not satisfy those who want a full-blown explanation. But maybe the very shortness of my response will be useful to friends as well as casual readers of this site.
1. Ephesians 4 presented serious problems for my view of adult baptism only. If there is "one baptism" then how could I continue to insist that the immersion of adults was the only true Christian baptism? In effect, who was I to reject the baptism of other Christians who were convinced on the basis of good reason and sound judgment? This question deeply troubled me based upon my understanding of the church and the sacraments. I began to see the adult baptism only view as inherently sectarian, though I would not accuse all Baptists of being sectarians in practice.
2. The fact is that so long as I was a Baptist minister I had no "real" theology of children except to say that they were lost souls until some point when they came to confess faith in Christ. I now believe regeneration is not so obvious in real life experience and that faith can grow from a seed that the Spirit grants and then brings to life. This spiritual operation is a sovereign work of God and thus a work of true grace, not of free will or human effort. Luther, for example, argued that this in itself was a strong argument for infant baptism, namely that the child could do nothing but receive what was given to them by their parents and the church.
3. By not including children in the visible covenantal family we regard the Old Testament arrangement as merely preparatory and thus make the New Covenant less inclusive than the Old since children were no longer included in the family. But the New Covenant is better, greater, and more inclusive in scope. The New Covenant is truly new and it is an international missional fulfillment of the old. How could children be included in the lesser (older) arrangement and then be excluded from the better and newer one? This just didn't make sense to me when I asked the question this way. The famous Catholic philosopher Pascal rightly said, "Jesus Christ, whom both Testaments regard, the Old as its hope, the New
as its model, and both as their center." If this is true then the New Covenant must include all the promises of the old, with the focus clearly on Christ who is the center of both. God made promises to Abraham and his seed. I believe those promises are to me, in Christ, and to my seed. I am a spiritual heir of Abraham and we are all joint-heirs of God's promises in Christ, which are all yes and amen!
4. Finally, many texts began to appear to make new sense to me once I began to reject the polemics that I had always embraced. New exegesis resulted from asking the questions of this new theology, a theology which grew out of pastoral practice and love.
I never insist, of course, that anyone has to agree with my change of view regarding baptism. My own son remains an adult immersionist in his ministry as a church planter. My own granddaughter was baptized on profession of faith at age 10 and I rejoiced in the occasion. I obviously have not yet convinced my son on this matter even though you can see on "The ACT 3 Story" (the video on our site: www.act3online.com) that he has my spiritual DNA in most every way. Life and its ambiguities and differences make for real diversity which should make the pursuit of unity a great blessing, which for me this issue is all about in the end.