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Book review: Infants and Children in the Church: 5 views

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Adam Harwood and Kevin Lawson have joined with four other gifted biblical scholars to write and edit a much-needed book addressing some very sensitive questions regarding the status of children before God and how beliefs on a number of complex issues impact how we receive and welcome children into our faith communities.

Harwood serves as associate professor of theology and editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary while Lawson is professor of Christian education at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in La Mirada, CA.

The book is entitled Infants and Children in the Church: Five Views on Theology and Ministry. The five views highlighted are Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist.

The specific areas dealt with include: how are infants and children impacted by sin; how does God treat people who die in infancy or childhood; when and how are they considered members of the church; and when and how are they instructed in Christian doctrine.

In each chapter one of the writers presents his doctrinal position and then the other scholars are given the privilege of responding by asking questions, providing an analysis, and giving a critique from their viewpoint. It provides an interesting, academic read, but even laymen who are earnest students of the Word of God will find the book enlightening and compelling.

As a former college debater I thoroughly enjoyed the presentations and rebuttals, the arguments and the refutations.

For example Gregg Strawbridge, author and pastor of All Saints Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, PA, representing reformed theology, argues that infants should be baptized, citing the Heidelberg Catechism as evidence to substantiate his point and claiming that there is a “seed” of regeneration and faith in infancy, particularly if the child has parents who are Christians.

Strawbridge claims that Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:38), Lydia’s household (Acts 16: 15), the Philippian jailer’s household (Acts 16: 33), and Stephanas’ household, (I Corinthians 1:16), including all the children, regardless of age, were baptized.

Then Strawbridge adds, “A strong argument can be made for the household inclusion into the faith, which would include children.”

Strawbridge then quotes Bryan Chapell, who adheres to the life-long reality of faith in covenant children. Chapell declares: “In this atmosphere, faith naturally germinates and matures so that, it is possible, even common, for the children of Christian parents never to know a day that they do not believe that Jesus is their Savior and Lord.”

Harwood refutes the reformed position that children (infants) should be baptized by stating that Baptists root their view of union with Christ and church membership, not in some confession or catechism, but in that Word of God that specifies that those who are in Christ, have first repented of their sin, and confessed Christ prior to their baptism, which is the gateway into the church.           

Harwood further solidifies his position by quoting Malcolm Yarnell, who wrote, “It is all too easy for well-meaning parents to try to rush children into the kingdom of God. If we act hastily, then we may not only contradict the teaching of Scripture that baptism always follows personal conversion but we may also inoculate our children against hearing the gospel in the future.”

Harwood added, “Rushing children into a baptistery is equally as problematic as infant baptism if God has not already worked repentance and faith in their lives.”

This is only a snippet of the vast information, the theological treasures, and scholarly bantering to be found in this book. This volume is a stimulating read and will help you find some answers to certain probing questions and assist you in fortifying your doctrinal position.

Infants and Children in the Church is a 218-page publication of Broadman and Holman Academic and should be available in LifeWay Bookstores nationwide as well as amazon.com.

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