Baptism is slightly topical at the moment, with the Church of England putting an article on its website yesterday entitled Top 10 facts about Christenings (see the helpful commentary/critique by Jake Belder), and (perhaps not unrelated?) with a baby having been born recently (maybe you heard?).
So it seems a good excuse to put up a few thoughts I was having a while ago about the Anglican understanding of infant baptism.
Most people in the Reformed tradition would (I think) argue that infants should be baptised because their parents profess faith in Christ. But, as far as I can tell, there is no hint of this in Anglican practice. On the contrary, an infant is baptised on their own profession of faith. For example...
this Infant must also faithfully, for his part, promise by you that are his sureties, (until he come of age to take it upon himself,) that he will renounce the devil ... . Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil ... ? Foreasmuch as this Child hath promised by you his sureties to renounce the devil ... it is your parts and duties to see that this Infant be taught ... what a solemn vow, promise and profession he hath here made by you."
Common Worship 2000 (emphasis added):
The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors ... Do you reject the devil ... ?
Indeed, John Stott wrote in 1964 (emphasis in original):
[N]either the Bible nor the Prayer Book envisages the baptism of an unbeliever; they assume that the recipient is a true believer. ... There is no baptism in the Church of England except the baptism of a professing believer, adult or infant. The adult candidate’s declaration of repentance, faith and surrender is followed by baptism and the declaration of regeneration. The same is true of an infant in the 1662 service, where it is not the godparents who speak for the child so much as the child who is represented as speaking through his sponsors. The child declares his or her repentance, faith and surrender, and desire for baptism. The child is then baptized and declared regenerate. So he is regenerate, in the same sense as he is a repentant believer in Jesus Christ, namely in the language of anticipatory faith or of sacraments.
In other words, the Anglican view seems to be that infant baptism is actually credo-paedo-baptism: the infant is baptised because he or she has professed faith in Christ. (But, of course, the infant cannot speak for him/herself, so the parents and godparents speak on behalf of the child.)
Now, this may seem somewhat bizarre, to assume that a child is a believer, with no direct evidence for that, and then to put words into the child's mouth and receive the child into the church through baptism. Well, perhaps. But I'm not sure it's any more bizarre than assuming the child is an unbeliever, with no direct evidence for that, and then to exclude the child from belonging to the church by not having them baptised. (No child is "neutral", and there is no "neutral" space which is neither inside the church nor outside the church.) And I certainly don't think it's any more bizarre than just guessing. For example, I'm not sure it makes sense to assume that children of believers will probably not be recipients of the grace of God until their late teens at the earliest, and then, on the balance of probabilities, to assume that they will live the first part of their lives as unbelievers. Why restrict the grace of God in that way? No, but I think the question of whether or not to baptise an infant should not be based on assessing the probabilities (in either direction), but ought to be based on pastoral considerations, reflecting on how best to bring up a child within a Christian family and within the life of the family of believers. And, in that case, doesn't it make sense to assume that the newborn baby genuinely belongs, even if later in life they might disown their family, rather than to do things the other way round?