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Karl Barth on Infant Baptism

April 21, 2011

Recently I came across mention of Barth’s little book containing his lectures on baptism, titled The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism (SCM, 1948). I’ve found several good bits of theology to mull over in the volume, but one of the most surprising things about the work is that Barth rejects infant baptism. For Barth scholars, I’m sure this is no surprise, but I had always assumed that Barth, a Reformed theologian, affirmed paedobaptism, while in fact, he argues against it in this work. Here’s a short passage (pp.40-41):

Baptism without the willingness and readiness of the baptized is true, effectual and effective baptism, but it is not correct; it is not done in obedience, it is not administered according to proper order, and therefore it is necessarily clouded baptism. It must and ought not to be repeated. It is, however, a wound in the body of the Church and a weakness for the baptized, which can certainly be cured but which are so dangerous that another question presents itself to the Church: how long is she prepared to be guilty of the occasioning of this wounding and weakening through a baptismal practice which is, from this standpoint, arbitrary and despotic?

We have in mind here the custom of the baptism of children, or more exactly the baptismus infantium . . .

This short book might just be worth a series of posts on Barth’s theology of baptism.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Crawford permalink
    April 23, 2011 4:42 pm

    Joseph,

    I know you took a class on Barth. Was his view of baptism discussed much? It’s curious to me.

    Matt

  2. Matthew Crawford permalink
    April 24, 2011 2:45 pm

    From my reading of the book, I think he rejected re-baptism because he agreed with the church’s decision in the Donatist controversy that a baptism was valid even when performed in a less-than-perfect way. But he was pretty clear that paedobaptism should be phased out, and he refers to another book (not sure which one he meant), in which he outlines the process for the church to do so. So his rejection of it was clear enough, but you’re right he disagrees with the credobaptist tradition on the need for re-baptism.

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