According to the Fox News website, back in July 2010, a group of American atheists held a “de-baptismal” service. Edwin Kagin, the atheist presiding over this ceremony, “blasted his fellow nonbelievers with . . . [a] hair dryer to symbolically dry up the holy water sprinkled on their heads in days past.”
Kagin, whose personal website is full of anti-God activism, believes that parents are wrong to baptize their children when they’re little and unable to make an informed decision for themselves. The article even says that Kagin calls infant baptism “child abuse.”
One atheist present said his mother told him that at his infant baptism, he “screamed like a banshee . . . so you can see as a young child I didn’t want to be baptized. It’s not fair. I was born atheist, and they were forcing me to become Catholic.”
It makes one wonder if as a child he ever cried while his parents “forced” him to eat, sleep, or use the toilet, but that’s beside the point. The point seems to be that the unbelievers were upset over a baptism they couldn’t choose for themselves.
Some friends of mine had an experience a few years ago with an evangelist who came to the boarding school where they worked. Various faiths were represented at this school, and the children’s parents entrusted them to a caring staff for their character development and academic growth.
The evangelist who showed up for the school-sponsored spiritual activity became pushy and underhanded in his methodology. To my friends’ chagrin, he not only put the children on a guilt trip in his effort to get them to be baptized but baptized several children of different faiths without consulting their parents.
Needless to say, the parents were not overjoyed at their children’s newfound faith! They sent emails and letters and made phone calls to the school complaining about their children’s baptism. They didn’t de-baptize their children with a hair dryer, but they felt just as much angst as the angry atheist.
While I don’t generally side with people like Kagin, and while I think the hair dryer ceremony was a bit juvenile, I do agree with him that baptizing people before they can make a decision for themselves isn’t the right thing to do—not because it’s abusive but because it isn’t biblical. Infant baptism is usually done by sprinkling water on the baby. However, there’s no biblical support for baptizing someone as young as a baby, because babies can’t make informed decisions.
The very word in Greek, baptismos, from which we get our English word baptism, means “to immerse.” And in the two primary stories about baptism—the baptism of Jesus and Philip’s baptism of an Ethiopian man in Acts 8:36–40, both candidates were old enough to make an informed decision.
We read that “as soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ ” (Matthew 3:16, 17).
Historians date Jesus’ baptism to when He was about 30 years old, which is a lot older than many adults who get baptized today. The Gospels also record Jesus as a boy spending time in the temple asking questions about the Bible. Jesus had a spirit of exploration, and He grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52). So obviously, by the time He was 30, He was well informed about the Bible.
When Jesus commissioned His followers to evangelize the entire world, He told them to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20, emphasis added).
The key concepts here are to make disciples, teach them, and baptize them. You can’t be anyone’s disciple or be taught without some kind of study. Not only did Jesus clarify that discipling involves “teaching” but He went on to include in the curriculum “all” that He commanded. Considering that people are still doing doctoral dissertations on what Jesus said, there’s a lot to be taught and learned as one contemplates baptism! We don’t need to know everything—no one ever will—but we must at least have a basic understanding about what a relationship with Jesus involves.
The method of baptism
The story in Acts 8 further highlights how a “believer’s baptism” is to be carried out. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Philip was walking in the desert one day when he met an Ethiopian who was reading the book of Isaiah. Acts says the Ethiopian was reading the passage that says, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth” (Acts 8:32, 33).
This man, like so many others, puzzled over what these words meant. So he asked Philip, “ ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (verses 34, 35). Upon learning who Jesus was, the Ethiopian requested baptism. The Bible says that Philip took him down to a body of water, and they both “went down into the water and Philip baptized him,” and then they “came up out of the water” (verses 38, 39). The obvious meaning is that Philip baptized this man by putting him under the water.
While the Bible shares stories of a baby being dedicated to the Lord (for example, Luke 2:22–24), baptism requires an informed decision by someone who consciously wants to commit his or her life to Jesus.
Before we buy cars, we research makes, models, and things like gas mileage. Before we buy houses, we get a comparative market analysis, examine loan options, and talk to the neighbors. Before we buy clothes, we try them on, and before we buy computers, we try them out. In the same way, before we decide what faith we want to be baptized into, we need to spend some time exploring what we are committing to.
It’s sad that we spend so much time researching items that last a few years and so little time on truths that impact our eternal destiny!
The cruel irony about Kagin is that his own son is a fundamentalist Christian pastor! The reason he gives for abandoning the lack of faith of his father is that he has experienced “a personal revelation in Jesus Christ.”
The goal of all study in the Bible is to have a personal revelation of Jesus Christ. So whether you’re a Christian or are searching to discover the meaning of Christianity, study diligently. And when God impresses you to be baptized based on your study, then is the time to make a commitment to be baptized.