Q: Recently during a discussion about believer’s baptism, one of our class members raised the question about our denomination’s position on infant baptism. We discovered there were many differences of opinion. Additionally, some new members of our church from another tradition said that since they had been baptized as infants in their former church they didn’t see the necessity of being baptized again in our church as adults. So I guess the issues are complicated. Can you help us sort it all out?
A: Your question concerning infant baptism points to continuing misunderstanding as to the nature of the sacrament. First, one should note that the Church of the Nazarene’s 1908 Manual speaks of two kinds of baptism—the baptism of believers and the baptism of infants. No mention is there of infant dedication at all.
While allowances have been made to include infant dedication in our rituals (see 2013-2017 Manual, §800.2), there is a much longer standing tradition within the Church of the Nazarene, coming through our Methodist ancestry, that expressly includes infant baptism among our sacramental rituals.
Admittedly, the acts of infant baptism or dedication do not save the child. Nevertheless, both of these holy actions place the child under the canopy of God’s grace and initiate the child sacramentally into the community of Christian faith, the Church.
We also acknowledge in the Church of the Nazarene, that believers’ baptism is the “sign and seal of the new covenant of grace” (2013-2017 Manual, §800.1). We do not dictate what form the baptism takes: immersion, pouring, anointing.
Regardless of form, on the basis of the believer’s assent to the creed (the Apostles’ Creed), and their public witness of saving faith in Jesus Christ, an adult believer is also initiated into the community of faith. If that adult wanders from the truth, or slips into sin, but later repents and returns to the Lord, we would not require that adult to be “re-baptized.”
Technically, one cannot be “unbaptized” although the rejection of the grace of baptism would place that person in a backslidden state. We would extend the opportunity for a repentant believer to reaffirm their baptismal vows publically, preferably during a service of baptism where new believers are being baptized.
Now to your particular question. When an infant is presented to the Lord for baptism, parents or guardians, on behalf of the child, will be affirming a Christian creedal statement such as the Apostles’ Creed and expressing their sincere desire that the child will acknowledge a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. The same is also true for the ritual of infant dedication.
Later, when that child or youth has embraced the Christian faith as his or her own, it would not be necessary to be re-baptized. The same is true for an adult who has been baptized as an infant.
Instead, during a service of baptism —while not participating in the sacramental ritual itself along with the other baptismal candidates — the child, youth, or adult would be invited to affirm publically the baptismal vows made by their parents at the time of their infant baptism.
Let’s propose a baptismal scenario. Among the candidates for baptism is a young adult who grew up in that local church and was dedicated as an infant, standing side by side with a young teen from the local church who was baptized as an infant. The young adult and the young teen would both participate in the ritual, assent to the baptismal creeds and give personal testimony along with any others being baptized. Yet while the young adult would be immersed, the young teen would not. The teen is choosing to affirm the baptismal decision made by his or her parents or guardians.
This has been our position on infant baptism since the earliest days of the Church of the Nazarene.
Merritt Nielson has been serving as director of curriculum and now is on special assignment in the office of the general editor at the Global Ministry Center.