The Modern Debate about Infant Baptism – An Anglican Perspective

William G. Witt published some time ago on his blog a very informative in-depth discussion of the modern debates around the sacrament of baptist, infant or otherwise. The text in PDF form can be downloaded HERE.

Witt argues that there are at least five factors that contribute to the legitimacy  of reopening the discussion on the meaning of the sacrament of Baptism:

1. The position of the modern church over against a post-Constantinian culture

2. The collapse of the Augustinian doctrine of “original guilt”

3.  The “Biblical Theology” Movement

4. The ecumenical movement

5. The Liturgical Renewal Movement

After exploring the way in which this renewed debate was carried in various Christian traditions, the author presents and evaluates six models for the understanding of Baptism:

1. The Augustinian Model—Baptism as Cleansing from Original Sin (Vatican Doctrinal

2. The Reformed Model—Baptism as Sign of the Covenant (O. Cullmann, Church of Scotland
Commission on Baptism, E. Schlink)

3. The Environmentalist Model—Baptism as Community Nurture (WCC document “Baptism,
Eucharist, Ministry” (to some extent); Roman Catholic liturgical theologians Edward Kilmartin,
Mark Searle)

4. Infant baptism as incomplete Initiation—Normative Adult Confirmation (Gregory Dix,
Oliver Quick, C.F.D. Moule)

5. Baptism as Discipleship—Exclusive Adult Baptism (Karl and Marcus Barth, Baptists)

6. Baptism as Sacrament of Faith—Normative Adult Baptism (Church of England Theological
Commissions, “Sacramental” British Baptists, Geoffrey Wainright)

And here is Witt’s conclusion to this excellent discussion of the topic:

…the issues that led some members of the  Confessing Church to question the practice of indiscriminate baptism over against the cultural Christianity of the Volkskirche have not changed, only the setting.  The Church still must strive to  maintain its identity within the context of a culture that does not share its values, and we do not always do a good job of it.  Baptism marks the boundaries because baptism is not only the sacrament of Christian initiation, but also—with the Eucharist—the central symbol of Christian identity.  The appropriate summary of Christian baptism is not “getting the baby done,” nor “becoming an inclusive community,” but the recitation of the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe . . .”

I would like to suggest that the reading of this text is a must for anybody interested in the contemporary discussions on the meaning of Baptism, especially, but not only, as related to the Anglican tradition.



Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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