Infant Baptism…to baptize, or not to baptize?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : July 12, 2007

image Let’s suppose I know a young couple, let us call them Tom and Liz, that have a beautiful baby girl together (who we shall call Lucy). Tom and Liz aren’t married. Liz was raised catholic, but has since embraced a more evangelical approach to her faith. Tom is pretty committed to his faith–and part of his faith is that baptism is for “believers” only. In other words, he isn’t a fan of infant baptism. Liz is generally sympathetic to Tom’s perspective. If left to themselves, they wouldn’t baptize baby Lucy, but wait until she can make a decision for herself.

The problem is Liz’s parents and grandparents. They are very much catholic and expect Lucy to be baptized as an infant. It is a huge deal to them. They are pressuring Liz to baptize Lucy, and Liz is seems willing to go along with it. Tom is uncomfortable with the whole idea, because of his convictions. He is also uncomfortable with the idea of having to make any promises to the priest during the baptism (like that he’ll raise Lucy to be a good Catholic and such). Tom doesn’t know how much real “say” he has, since he isn’t married to Liz. Tom is wondering what, if anything, he should do about the situation.

How would you advise Tom?

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19 Responses to “Infant Baptism…to baptize, or not to baptize?”

  1. Chris on July 12th, 2007 6:32 pm

    I don’t know what I would advise Tom, but I find it interesting that Liz’s family seems most concerned with the baptism of the infant and totally unconcerned with the marital status of the couple.

  2. markvans on July 12th, 2007 6:40 pm

    The couple isn’t actually together anymore.

  3. Richard Daley on July 12th, 2007 7:31 pm

    I’d wonder if they considered a “blessing of the babies” ceremony in the denomination/church/spiritual community of their choice. It will include presenting the baby before God and asking his blessing on the child, as well as promises to raise the child in a Godly way, and since it will be in the denomination of their choice, it would likely be according to their own beliefs (or something similar enough).

    It would avoid some of the theological issues that he has with infant baptism, while allowing the family to participate in a not unfamiliar ceremony. If the family is a little bitter about Liz not being Catholic any more, this may allow them to be a little more comfortable with her choice of denomination.

  4. tom on July 12th, 2007 8:22 pm

    hi, i’m “tom” from the story. allow me to clarify a couple of points that i think may help…
    1. “liz” and i have already had dedication ceremonies in our own home churches.
    2. “liz” feels it is still necessary to have the baptism in order to reduce/avoid friction with her family. this is complicated by her financial situation which may cause her to rely heavily on her family for help (i am helping out as much as i can).

    if i were to clarify what kind of advice i am looking for it would be of the following nature(s)…
    1. to what extent do i involve myself in the matter? i have made it clear to “liz” that i am not in favor, do i take it further?
    2. to waht extent do i involve myself in the ceremony itself? do i attend? do i attend without participation? do i participate fully?

    i am struggling with this. i do not know at what point i put my own convictions aside. i’m not as much concerned that baptism will taint “lucy’s” life. i am more concerned about making vows or declarations before God that i do not intend to uphold. any thoughts are helpful…

  5. Maria Kirby on July 12th, 2007 9:06 pm

    If Tom cares this much about infant baptism does this mean he’s committed to helping raise Lucy? Is he being allowed to be in her life?

    I think Tom is right to think that he probably doesn’t have much ’say’ whether Lucy is baptized or not. It is good to see that Liz’s parents are interested in the spiritual welfare of their granddaughter, even if it is only superficial. Being maternal grandparents they will probably be a significant support in the raising of Lucy. The fact that the child is born out of wedlock has probably broken or damaged his relationship with them. If he were to support Lucy being baptized, particularly in spite of his convictions, it would go a long way towards restoring that relationship.

    As protestants we have had a habit of vilifying catholics. While I share Tom’s convictions, I have come to realize that catholic practices have a lot to offer. I think it might be helpful if someone could explain the positive side to what they do and why it is meaningful. He might not agree with infant baptism, but might be more appreciative of it if he understood it better.

    So often I have seen the children of a relationship used as a manipulating tool against the other parent. Children from a very young age tend to take advantage of differences they perceive in their parents. However the relationship between Tom and Liz progresses, the best thing for Lucy would be that they could be as united and consistent as possible in their parenting; that one would not try and undermine the parenting of the other. If they can work out a positive parenting relationship, its a good start on working out a marriage relationship.

  6. Julius on July 13th, 2007 1:34 am

    This situation is a church matter. This situation can/should best be dealt with with the local church. The local church functioning as it should (as a family) should offer the financial assistance needed by Liz in order to raise Lucy–thereby eliminating the financial” strings” of the family. The family can of course still offer support but they need to understand that the convictions of Liz’s faith (I am making some assumptions here because it’s still unclear as to how solid either of these folks convictions are) do not allow her to take part in something such as a Roman baptism.

    As to the convictions of Tom… Where were these solid convictions when the premarital intimacy occurred? I don’t mean cast stones but rather to hold a professing brother accountable. As far as I can see unless you were the head of the family, which of course necessitates christian marriage (which isn’t necessarily based upon romance but rather covenant faithfulness and sacrificial love and service), the final decision is in fact Liz’s to make. Is marriage out of the question? Has the local assembly been involved in this as well?

    Shalom in Jesus

  7. markvans on July 13th, 2007 1:48 am

    I’m not sure how a quick blog post helps hold someone accountable. I think you must live in a very simple, straight-forward world.

    For the sake of the discussion, let’s assume (which I think is the case):

    1) Marriage isn’t an option.
    2) Any wrong-doing by either Tom or Liz are behind them…no need to bring any of it up.
    3) Let us also assume that Tom is paying child support and that Liz will need some additional help raising the child. Tom will have a relationship with Lucy, but isn’t the primary care-giver.

  8. Daniel on July 13th, 2007 2:02 am

    Tom is at the beginning end of an ~18 year relationship with Liz and her parents. I think it is important that two things happen: it is important that the relationship begin with a cooperative tone. Even if Liz’s parents strike me as a tad controling.

    Everyone is wondering how this relationship is going to work out and it may be helpful if it starts out as positively as possible. Since Tom has very little say best not to make too much out of it. Secondly it is important that Tom set a precident for his voice to be heard and that he be respected even as he respects Liz and her parents.

    I see no reason why, having made his concerns known, Tom could agree to appear but be honest and open about what he can and cannot commit to as part of the ceremony. He should follow his conscious in this respect and ask that it be respected even as he is respecting the convictions of the parents which he does not share.

    Save the knock down drag out fight for something later (like where Lucy will attend Sunday School/catachesim) once a relationship of mutual respect has been established.

    and joy

  9. Mark on July 13th, 2007 2:19 am

    I guess my first thought is something like “what would Jesus say?” I can imagine him saying something like Baptism is for the man, not man for the baptism or something like that. In the end, baptism is a right of passage. It signifies commitment to another way of living…most notably leaving legalism behind for the grace of our saviour. Ultimately the catholic baptism has no meaning more than what the catholics attribute to it, so I would say go ahead with it. I would not on the other hand commit to raising the child as a good catholic as this would be dishonest. When in Rome do as the Romans right?

  10. jim on July 13th, 2007 12:10 pm

    I think Tim needs to do what is in the best interest of the child. Given the fact that the baptism will keep peace in the family that is most likely to provide significant support and care for the daughter beyond what he himself can do, then he needs to go ahead and support that.

    Aside from what the Catholic family may see it as, my understanding of infant baptism is that the community of faith and the family surround the child taking on the vows of faith that they hope the child will one day take on for herself.

    So in that regard, wanting the best for his daughter and committing himself along with others to nurture and raise her into faith in Christ, I’d also say he should participate as fully as he is allowed.

  11. markvans on July 13th, 2007 1:05 pm

    Jim, that isn’t exactly what the understanding is in some traditions, including the Catholic tradition. Tom’s struggle is that, in his understanding of the Catholic tradition, the baptism is seen as salvation and that if he were to be a part of the ritual he would, perhaps, be asked to affirm the saving work of that baptism.

    I recognize that some readers might have zero problem with that. Many might not care. But some might be offended at such a thing. Baptism can a vitally important event in someone’s life, depending upon one’s theology.

  12. jim on July 13th, 2007 2:27 pm

    Oh, I get that the Catholic understanding is very different than my own Presbyterian position and even more radically different than Tom’s.

    What I was trying to say by suggestion that Tom participate as “fully as he is allowed” is this….If Tom can’t answer in good conscience in the affirmative to whatever question the priest puts before him, then won’t the priest dictate to him how much participation if any he is going to be allowed to have in the service?

    In other words, if and when asked, Tom should state clearly his opinion about the matter and let the priest decide just how much he can be involved in the service.

    However, at the very least I do think Tom should be in attendance.

  13. Richard on July 13th, 2007 2:45 pm

    In other words, if and when asked, Tom should state clearly his opinion about the matter and let the priest decide just how much he can be involved in the service.

    I just wanted to say that I agree with this, and actually think that Tom should sit down and talk with the priest to find out what exactly goes into this ceremony, and what he could bear. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time the priest has had to deal with a non-catholic parent, and he should be pretty ok with talking through the entire thing with you.

  14. Disciple on July 14th, 2007 1:33 am

    On one hand I am concerned with this discussion because it shows one of the major problems with Protestantism: everyone has their own opinion on the subject, but no foundations have been offered for that opinion, be it scripture or tradition.

    Nevertheless, if I were to offer advise to this man and woman it would be to begin with what Scripture has to say about baptism, household baptism, etc. Then I would advise them to look to their tradition for insight into the baptismal position. Then I would advise them to gain a better understanding of Catholic theology regarding baptism of infants. It is not so much about salvation as it is about the removal of the stain of original sin. This is evidenced by the Pope’s recent comments about the hope of salvation for unbaptized infants who die (or who are killed through abortion). After this study and much prayer they can make the decision that is consistent with God’s will.

    In the end, all this man can probably do is offer his input to the mother and hope he can influence her decision, but since they are unmarried and she has custody, I would say it is her decision to make because in the absence of a husband she is the head of her household.

  15. markvans on July 14th, 2007 7:35 am


    It is indeed true that Protestants are all over the map when it comes to their opinions. The myth, though, is that Catholics aren’t. Just because they have “official” positions on things doesn’t mean that everyone is in unity.

    I appreciate your desire to get to the heart of the matter, Scripturally speaking. My assumption, and indeed I think it is well-founded, is that “Tom” has given the matter a lot of thought. I can’t speak for Liz. I don’t even know Liz.

    When Protestants hear talk of “removal of original sin” they hear “salvation” because their definition of “salvation” is the removal of original sin through propitiation.

    Just so everyone knows where I’m coming from on this: I am an Anabaptist. I take baptism very seriously. And while I disagree with Catholic teaching on this (and many other things), I by no means have a low opinion of Catholics. I value Catholic tradition, and consider much of its Tradition my own (after all, Anabaptism didn’t emerge from a vacuum).

  16. Rachel on July 14th, 2007 8:47 pm


    What an amazing question, and although I have my own convictions about Baptism, I want to leave them aside, and answer your added questions.
    You ask “Tom”:

    1. to what extent do i involve myself in the matter? i have made it clear to “liz” that i am not in favor, do i take it further?

    2. to what extent do i involve myself in the ceremony itself? do i attend? do i attend without participation? do i participate fully?

    One - good for you and your relationship with “Liz” that you two can share honest dialog. Some co-parents do not have such a gift.

    Two - Small people, children, are such a gift. An amazing bundle of love waiting to be shaped, and you “Tom”, along with a whole host of family now - and “family” to come, will share in that opportunity.

    What seems to be important today is not actually about you per se. It is about this wonderful girl gift you have shared in bringing into this world. As you say you have both already done what holds up each of your values, dedications in your own communities.

    I think it would be a shame if you self excluded from any and all of the participations. In my denomination, we say the Nicene Creed or Baptismal Covenant in worship each Sunday. Do I buy all of it, every week? No. But I show up. I still have questions, but I am unwilling to miss out on the ride of my life.

    This is about your little girl, and EVERYONE who loves her. If it were me, I would set aside my theology, my pride (again if I was you, I am not assuming that you are full of pride - I can only tell you that I struggle with it in my life), my cerebral understanding of right and wrong, and allow my heart to be open to what God might be up to in all of this. My heart and prayers are with you. And with “Liz” and your beautiful joy - “Lucy”

  17. Swandive's Sweetie on July 16th, 2007 12:57 pm

    I’m with Rachel–much of this is about Lucy. When Lucy is older, no matter how her life has or has not included spirituality and religion, she will want to see her dad in the photographs of all the ceremonies she’s ever had. Be in the pictures and there for her. Your feelings about it will be great & growing conversations for her when she’s a teenager!
    My mom was annoyed with my brother & sister-in-law for waiting so long to baptize their son. My mom asked me if I thought it was okay if she baptized him secretly (she baptized both my brother & I on the delivery table!). To the secret baptism idea, I responded “Don’t you think God already knows the intentions of our heart?” I don’t think it’s the water, the oil, the words, or the ceremony, but certainly the hearts of the people who love Lucy and the broad expressions of goodness they model for her.

  18. amy on July 16th, 2007 8:45 pm

    hi tom,
    from what i can tell you’ve gotten some great advice here. even so, i can’t resist chiming in…

    i would pray on it of course.

    i’d also be likely to focus on building peaceful and harmonious relationships with all the little angel’s loved ones. traditions and rituals can be very important to some people. it’s ok to let them baptize the baby. the ceremony can be a divine opportunity to come together.

    renew your mind over the matter and it’ll be a piece of cake.

    (mmm those events have cake don’t they? another reason to move ahead with it! haha– just kidding.)

  19. Mike on July 28th, 2007 10:51 pm

    tom angel has a good point.

    i have two children who were baptized Catholic and at the time i did not want to do it at all. i was firmly against the idea of infant baptism. now my kids are 9 and 12 respectivly and things are quite a bit different. since their mom and i are no longer married, the relious rift that was almost created has been avoided and i have allowed the kids to be guided rather than forced and so far things are going better than i thought they would. the kids love both of our traditions, not having to choose one over the other. i know how passionate we can be about this, but in the years to come it will work out… Mike

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