Infant Baptism: A Letter to Anglican Ordinands

(addressed to ordinands or potential ordinands with doubts on the subject)

I appreciate your dilemma over Baptism very well. It is something I had to wrestle with when I was considering joining the Church of England. At one point I was quite sure I'd be able to convince my future father-in-law, then the vicar of a parish, to become a Baptist!

But the more I studied the subject, the more I became convinced that there was a lot going for the baptism of believers' infants in terms of biblical theology. That is still my position and it is briefly summarised in Infant Baptism is Biblical.

Firstly let me say I think the whole subject can become so emotionally-charged and even guilt-laden that it gets out of proportion. This can happen quite easily at theological college when one is sorting out one's views on many issues. I think it is important to stand back and see it in context.

Secondly, there is no way that infant baptism (of believers' children) is the main issue facing the Church of England at present. It is perfectly possible as an Anglican clergyman to pursue a reasonable policy in the matter. You would need to ensure when applying for a curacy that the vicar was in favour of the sort of policy you have in mind.

Thirdly, it is a fact that the NT does not tell us what the early church did concerning baptism with respect to their small children. Any argument over this is one from silence. That I believe to be a fact, whatever the militant believer's baptism protagonist may say. We must not be less than biblical. But I also want to say that we mustn't be stricter than Scripture either. I hold strongly that to be dogmatically for or against infant baptism on NT grounds is to go beyond the evidence. Each person must make up his own mind.

I do not believe it is possible to be absolutely sure what the early church did (from the NT).  If it really mattered seriously the NT would have been explicit in affirming or denying infant baptism. Surely that is a fundamental inference from the providence of God governing the production of Scripture. There really is enough theological, historical and sociological evidence from Scripture to make out a reasonable case that one could expect the apostles to have incorporated their infants into the covenant. It may not convince everyone, but at least it has sufficient weight to convince many. That being the case, surely, if it mattered, the Holy Spirit would have given explicit teaching.

There are two corollaries of this position:

  • I should be free to believe either view and to undergo either form of baptism;
  • I have no qualms about ministering either form of baptism when requested by a third party according to their conscience and interpretation. In my opinion, Scripture allows both interpretations, so even if I were not convinced of infant baptism, I would respect the interpretation of others and provide them with an infant baptism. That would not be going against my conscience because, in the providence of God, Scripture is unclear. And my conscience should not be stricter than Scripture. Where Scripture is unclear it is right to live and let live over different interpretations.

So I think it is possible to be in the Anglican Church and to accept the corollary of having to do infant baptisms (for believers' children) whilst being more convinced by the arguments for believer's baptism. (I could not, of course, say this if I believed Scripture were unequivocal).

It may be that you have problems about your own baptism, especially if neither your parents or godparents were believers. That is certainly irregular and improper. But, in the wider context, I don't think it invalidates the baptism. In my view baptism consists of:

  • the use of water,
  • in the name of the Trinity,
  • repentance and faith on the part of the candidate.

So long as all those elements have happened (or do happen) to the candidate I believe he is validly baptised whatever the order in which they happened and in spite of any irregularities.

If you cannot be sure about this you could, of course, go for conditional baptism which is less controversial.

In view of your sense of call to the Church of England, you might, if you were convinced by my reasoning, feel that "re-baptism" is not absolutely necessary and might also be the greater of two evils.

If you really must, in all conscience, go forward to "re-baptism", the problem is more acute. It would, no doubt, mean you could not be ordained. I think you must ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I really, after careful study, reflection and prayer, absolutely convinced that the NT rules out infant baptism and that it is such a fundamental issue that I cannot go forward without being "re-baptised" and therefore must be mistaken in thinking God has called me to the Anglican ministry?
  • Am I, in the same way, convinced that I must be "re-baptised" without delay. Or could I postpone the decision to see if I view things differently when I am established in my own parish or to see if the Church of England relaxes its antagonism to conscientious "re-baptism" in the future.
  • Am I, in the same way, absolutely convinced that a somewhat unsatisfactory way forward over my "re-baptism" and the ordination corollary of doing infant baptisms are a greater evil than withdrawing from the prospect of being an Anglican ordinand to be a member/minister in an equally imperfect other denomination?

In the end, you must decide, but I hope my comments help to clarify your mind. I hope you can stay and fight for the Kingdom (and for the nation) with us in the Church of England.
But you must be where God has called you.

God bless you as you decide and prepare for the future.

Rev Tony Higton

© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page