Monday, 7 March 2011

Questions of the Soul–Infant Baptism

Here we are again answering from the Bible the Mormon missionary lessons’ “Questions of the Soul.” These are presented such as to imply that the Book of Mormon alone answers these questions but we have seen that fuller, more correct answers can be found in the Bible. Here is this week’s question:

Does my infant need to be baptised? – The Mormon answer is in Moroni 8 where, in a lengthy (30 verse) rant infant baptism is described as ”an evil abomination” and those who teach it as “in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.” Pretty strong stuff.

My own position is that baptism is for believers, by immersion, a means of grace but not a “work” done for the salvation of the candidate, rather an outward sign of an inward work of the Spirit. It is the saved, those who have already entered into the life of faith, that are baptised.

I am not going to defend a position however. Instead I want take a different approach and draw out some interesting insights from this question and the Mormon attitude it reveals.

The Book of Mormon and the Bible

The Bible, while it of course teaches truth, addresses the question, “How has God dealt with man through history and what are the implications for man today?” In the course of answering that question we learn about God’s purposes in creation, in redemption and in building a community of faith centred on the person and work of Christ.

We learn about how that community works, how it relates to the world and how its members relate to each other and grows in understanding of what God requires, but there is no list of answers to frequently asked questions. Rather, there is an unfolding of revelation as people, individually and collectively, deal with questions of faith and as God deals with them.

The Book of Mormon answers the question, “What do we believe about...?” The story is a vehicle for lengthy discussions about what should be believed. From Nephi’s description of “the great and abominable church” (1 Nephi 13;22;28), through Amulek and Zeezrom discussing God (Alma 11) to this question of paedobaptism doctrine is expounded at length and at every turn.

Mormons think this is a virtue but it is a blunt instrument by comparison, designed to promote a doctrinal package rather than relate the story of God and man. In this story man doesn’t relate to God but to doctrine. No surprise since the single theme throughout the Book of Mormon is apostasy and restoration.

Lehi has the truth and leaves behind an apostate Jerusalem; Nephi has the truth and stands against his apostate brothers; records of the truth are carefully made and kept until finally this truth comes into the hands of Joseph Smith who wants to know “which church is true.”

But the Bible doesn’t work like that. God doesn’t say to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or King David, “They’ve got it all wrong, let me explain the correct doctrine.” In his sermons, Jesus doesn’t expound doctrine, rather he addresses God’s promises and man’s conduct in light of them. If anything, it is the Pharisees, denounced by Jesus, who carefully construct and multiply doctrinal arguments. There is, then, something of the Pharisaic about Mormonism.

Mormon “Authority”

This is typical of how Mormonism works. Mormons are not pastored, they are instructed. They are not nurtured, they are informed, not discipled but disciplined. They don’t have leaders so much as line managers. The tape running in their heads is always asking, “What do we believe about..?” These questions are answered in a didactic fashion and they believe what they are told.

The problem with this form of church government is that it makes no allowance for grace, growth or error. No allowance for error in that, while Mormon prophets self-evidently contradict one another Mormons simply must believe, on pain of discipline, that the prophet is always right. This is blind following not thoughtful discipleship.

No allowance for growth because on the personal or on a church-wide level truth is not discovered, realised, developed and matured into, but dictated and obeyed. Searching the Scriptures becomes an exercise in seeking answers rather than a growing experience of God. This way the Mormon ends up with a poor grasp of Scripture, relying on little more than proof texting. The irony is that in this way Mormons, who lay such store by revelation, fail to understand how biblical revelation works.

No allowance for grace in that there are no secondary issues with Mormons. While paedobaptism is a controversial issue in the Christian Church brothers and sisters in Christ generally do not divide over it. Rather they try to understand each other’s viewpoint while at the same time keeping, as far as possible, the unity of the Spirit.

Mormons of any stripe will not allow any dissent from their brand of the faith (and there are many) and this creates any number of sects of Mormonism, each denouncing, excommunicating and otherwise bad-mouthing all the others. Mormonism has “denominations” but they simply refuse to recognise each other. It makes one wonder who best fits the cynical Mormon picture of an apostate church.

infant baptism

Which brings me to the subject in hand. Christians who believe in paedobaptism put a pretty strong case based in Bible texts and promote the idea that the children of Christian believers are effectively baptised into the “covenant community.” What is puzzling about the Mormon position is not so much that they don’t agree with this view but that they don’t understand it and so vociferously denounce it.

You see, children born into a Mormon family are said to be “born in the covenant.” This means that the work done by their parents in the temple in being sealed together for eternity brings new-born children into the covenant community. A paedobaptist would say the work has been done for the child and so the Mormon would make the same claim.

Furthermore, it is done on the same premise i.e. that someone with the appropriate “authority” vicariously decided for the child that an ordinance should be done for that child to bring them into community. If Mormon children can be born into the covenant then surely Christian children can be baptised into the covenant community?

Mormons would argue that they are Christians and just because they do some things differently, such as build temples, baptise for the dead, add to Scripture, follow prophets etc. this is no reason to preclude them from the wider Christian community. But when the boot is on the other foot there is no one in the world more intolerant than the Mormon. From the nature of God, through the structure of church to the question of infant baptism Mormonism has but one answer; agree with us or be wrong.

 

4 comments:

  1. I do not believe in baptizing infants. It's not in scripture. However, we do dedicate them to the Lord much like Hanah did in the book of Samuel. We ask the Lord to watch over them and help us in our parenting roles, until they reach an accountable age (adolescent or young teenager) and are able to make their own decision. All three of my children were dedicated to the Lord as babies.

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  2. Perfectly correct to my mind. The point I try to make is that, while I don't believe in infant baptism myself, I understand the biblical arguments and would not part company with a Christian who took a paedobaptist position. The Mormon rection is over the top, betrays a sectarian attitude of mind, and is rather hypocritical since they have their own "born in the covenant" teaching.

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  3. I appreciate your candor. There is a point I would like to clarify. According to The Book of Mormon chapter you've quoted (Moroni 8), all children are alive in Christ, not only those "born in the covenant." I believe that a child who dies in a slum in India is just as precious to the Lord as is one who lives two miles away from the Salt Lake Temple; and that Indian child will end up in heaven even without those temple covenants. Jesus Christ is no respecter of persons, and this is especially true where children are concerned; this is the main message of Moroni 8. Those who are old enough to know right from wrong are held accountable for their sins and the way they apply knowledge of His commandments; those who are too young (regardless of time or geography) cannot be held accountable for what they do not know. Christ ensured that in His Atonement.

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  4. Cassidy, Thanks for commenting. You rather prove the point I was making in that you have made this about a point of doctrine instead of an opportunity to learn and understand how others might see things.

    Your point is also rather off the point because I was not comparing the lot of babies in general but the practice of paedobaptism with the Mormon doctrine of being born in the covenant. When people practice the former they are described as ”an evil abomination” and those who teach it as “in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.” As I commented - pretty strong stuff.

    Yet when a Mormon thinks of their child as being born in the covenant it is the same principle, i.e. because of what the parents and the wider community believe and practice the child has a covenantal status in that community. This is not however, it seems, "an evil abomination." But it is the same principle and I would have hoped Mormons would show more grace in understanding this.

    Again, there is a vast difference between what Mormonism teaches and what the Bible says. To you it is all about accountability and whether you know right from wrong. The Bible declares that it is about the fact that we are born in sin and need a Saviour. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. We don't need saving from wrong acts, we need saving from our own sinful nature, which is with us from birth because we are born "in Adam."

    I don't believe God consigns babies to a lost eternity but that is because of his grace, because of the blood of Christ shed on the Cross at Calvary, not because babies are born sinless. An interesting discussion point nevertheless and thanks for sharing.

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