Saturday, July 26, 2008

Eric Liddell on Infant Baptism

You may recall Eric Liddell was one of the main characters of the film Chariots of Fire. Liddell was a missionary in China, but he also loved to run, and competed in the 1924 Olympics. He soon discovered, though, that several of the events in which he was to run -- including his best event, the 100 meters -- were scheduled on Sundays, and he refused to run on the day of rest. He had to choose between winning the gold for himself and his country, and standing for what he believed God wanted of him. He chose the latter. He trained for the 400 meter instead, and surprised everyone by not only winning, but by setting the world record.

At any rate, a few years ago a friend gave me a book Liddell wrote, entitled The Disciplines of the Christian Life. I've only skimmed through it, but he has a one-page appendix where he discusses infant baptism and dedication. My wife and I became Christians as adults, and joined congregations that practice believer baptism. However, Liddell's brief discussion is very intriguing, and makes an excellent case. I present it here without further discussion.

The question of infant baptism or dedication arises only when there are Christian parents. As soon as the Christian society became established, infant baptism became the practice of the Church. The unity of the family is one of the underlying truths of life. Infant baptism gives expression to this fact.

The practice of infant baptism rests also upon the revelation of God given us in Jesus Christ. That revelation makes clear to us that, in the matter of our salvation, God always acts first. God does not wait for man's repentance; he sends his Son to bring about that repentance. He comes to meet us, and our experience of his love creates the spirit of new obedience. Everywhere and always it is God who takes the initiative. The administration of the sacrament of baptism to infants gives a symbolic expression to that primary note in the Christian gospel and is true to the mind of God.

It is in line with this thought that the beautiful incident of our Lord blessing the little children finds its place (Mark 10.13). That is not a warrant for infant baptism, but it emphatically shows that our Lord's blessing was not confined to those who came to him in conscious love or penitence. Further, the words 'for of such is the kingdom of heaven' imply the present membership of the little ones in the heavenly Father's family.

If a child dies before it is baptized, it does not mean that it is damned. God is not like that.

Baptism of the child expresses in symbolic form our trust that God's Spirit will take the initiative in seeking to dwell with and work in and through that child's life.

Baptism is also an act of dedication on the part of the parents. They recognize that the child is a gift from God and they dedicate him or her to God's service, promising to do all they can to lead the child to know, love and follow God.

1 comment:

Scott Nichols said...

Thanks. I just preached on Liddell this Sunday 8/10.