Editor’s note: This is the second of two columns that take a look a baptism. The first one ran March 29.
Crystal Ann — Harrison, Mont. — SIDS, 1983 — Unbaptized.
Noah Lee — Clear Lake, S.D. — SIDS, 2012 — Unbaptized.
These infants serve as heart-rending bookends in my pastoral history of officiating burials. I return often to the words by Bob Neudorf’s “To My Baby”:
“Does Jesus have my too-small baby in His tender arms? Yes, I think He does.”
But, since Crystal and Noah were not baptized, the Council of Trent (A.D. 1563) declared that these infants are excluded from heaven and are subjects of Limbus (meaning ‘outskirts’) Infantum; they live on in Limbo.
London’s famous preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon on June 5, 1864, from Mark 16:15-16 out of concern for those troubled by the question of an infant’s eternal fate. Spurgeon proclaimed, “Of all the lies which have dragged millions down to hell, I look at this (pedobaptism) as being the most atrocious.”
While denouncing baptism on the Church of England’s list of requirements for salvation, Spurgeon preached another message proving that there is a big difference between bringing children to be blessed by Jesus as found in the Gospels and bringing them to the baptismal font. And lest one should say that “the abuse” of the ritual is no argument against infant baptism, the great preacher said that the practice itself is an abuse. Therefore, Spurgeon urged all who were resting their salvation on baptism to “shake off this venomous faith (false assurance) into the fire as Paul did the viper which fastened to his hand.”
Strong words. But, was Spurgeon’s viewpoint the actual “venomous faith” that was dragging the masses down to hell?
Since many claim that the circumcision of infants in the Old Testament corresponds with the ritual of infant baptism in our New Testament era, let’s read what God recorded in his Bible in order to solve this crucial question. And for the sake of clarity, let’s insert baptism where the Bible speaks of circumcision, and we’ll call this the Contemporary Counterpart Version of the Living Bible:
In A.D. 49, the Apostle Paul was directed by God the Holy Spirit to write, “Those teachers of yours who are trying to convince you to be ‘baptized’ are doing it for just one reason; so that they may be popular and avoid the persecution they would get if they admitted that the cross of Christ alone can save.” (Galatians 6:12) Verse 15 reads, “It doesn’t make any difference now whether we have been ‘baptized’ or not.”
Wow. Maybe Paul saw it differently seven years later when he wrote Romans 4 in A.D. 56:
(Verse 1) “Concerning this question of being saved by faith ... (verse 4) Abraham did not earn his right to heaven by all the good things he did ... (verse 5) God declares a sinner to be good in his sight if they have faith in Christ to save them from God’s wrath ... (verse 10) Abraham was saved before he went through ‘baptism’... (verse 11) and Abraham is the spiritual example for those who believe and are saved.”
That sounds like Spurgeon was not promoting the venomous viper of false faith.
So, who is dragging millions down to hell? Each of us must decide for ourselves. After all, it’s been our individual decision all along.
For those who stand with Spurgeon, who taught that the Crystals and Noahs who die as children go to heaven by way of God’s sovereign and saving grace, Neudorf’s poem speaks to their bereaved heart:
“The banquet was not canceled,
just moved. Just moved.
Yet a tear remains
where baby should have been.
(A baby who is safe in His arms).”
The Rev. Monty Casebolt leads the Livingston Bible Church.
The Faith & Values column appears regularly in the Saturday Life section of The Billings Gazette. Pastors, ethicists, educators or other experts who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, MT 59101. Or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.