Abuse Does Not Destroy The Essence, But Confirms It

“Baptize an infant? No way! We want to wait for our children to get older so that they can actually mean it, so that they can have a valid baptism.”

Maybe you hold to the position above. Maybe you know someone that holds this position as well. For myself, I have flirted with this ideology in my past. The rationale behind the statement above is simply this,

“I have seen way too many people baptized in the church as a baby only to grow up to live a wild and crazy sin filled life! We baptize them, confirm them and then they drift into lawlessness and the world, never to return! Obviously baptism for babies does not work, it produces nominal Christians at best. Look at the results, it obviously isn’t valid, it is nothing. Let’s wait now! Let the child grow up, show that they are serious and that they will take this baptism to heart and then we can have a valid baptism.”

Personally, I can easily see how people would be offended by the idea of infant baptism and perceive it as invalid and nothing when they look at things from a practical point of view. I can empathize with and understand the frustration of seeing countless individuals baptized as babies only to wander from the church later on in life. It is frustrating, I agree. It is also heart breaking.

A problem exists in the rationale above though. The problem is that the rationale is considering infant baptism as invalid based on the failed end result of nominalism, lawlessness and leaving the faith. In a sense this is reverse-pragmatism. Instead of the end justifying the means, this reverse-pragmatism uses the end to criticize and invalidate the means.

Borrowing some thoughts from Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, let me rephrase a gentle rebuttal to the reverse-pragmatism rationale:

  • If a nonbeliever comes into a worship service, hears the Word and leaves unchanged or even more hardened to the Word we certainly would not consider the preached Word as invalid.
  • If a person does not believe in Jesus, we also wouldn’t say that this unbelief makes Christ into nothing.
  • If a child or citizen disobeys the civil government or his/her parents we would not say that the Government and the parents are invalid, that they are nothing.
  • Logically, these examples don’t make sense and these examples expose the problems with reverse-pragmatism.

Luther comments that this kind of rationale has inverted the whole argument. He states,

“My dear, just invert the argument and rather draw this conclusion: For this very reason Baptism is something and is right, because it has been wrongly received. For if Baptism was not right and true in itself, it could not be misused or sinned against. The saying is, ‘Abuse does not destroy the essence, but confirms it.’ For gold is not the less gold even though a harlot wears it in sin and shame.”

In other words, if baptism was actually nothing or invalid one would not even be considering baptizing in a different manner or time frame. Furthermore, if infant baptism is invalid, then how could one abuse something invalid? Why worry at all, why make it into an issue? If infant baptism is invalid then how can something invalid, something that is nothing, be responsible for the bad end results? Isn’t criticizing and blaming a supposed invalid infant baptism essentially making it into a straw man? However, because baptism is something, because it is valid and because it is an ordained means of grace, we react when it is abused. The reaction that we have to the abuse of infant baptism confirms that it is not invalid but the very opposite that it is valid. Thus, let us release our frustrations not upon this precious means of grace but upon the individual and circumstances that abuse the means. Baptism always remains true, whole, valid and good regardless of how mankind treats it. The abuse of baptism cannot destroy its essence and validity. Rather, the abuse confirms the validity and true essence of infant baptism.

To read more on this subject:
Freedom For The Gospel

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