by: Rev. Ed Schneider
Before we even get started dissecting this age-old controversy within religious customs, I need to acknowledge openly that I was a Baptist pastor for many years, and while so, fought and taught against this particular application of Baptism. I am now and have been for more than two decades been an re-educated convert to the practice of Child Baptism as well as other forms of Baptism….other than “adult immersion.” So, what I am about to express to you, I pray, is a balanced, albeit shortened, explanation on this “separating” issue.
Infant baptism is the most common form of baptism practiced in Christianity throughout its history. That is a fact!
As the name suggests, it is baptism for a person while an infant or child, commonly performed within the first two-three years of life. In the vast majority of all Protestant traditions baptism does not require the active participation of the child being baptized. This “active participation” is of course required in “believer’s” baptism. The theology and process of the act of Infant Baptism is quite different from “adult” or believer’s baptism. Believer’s baptism is a willful act of the baptized, infant baptism is considered to be a symbolic as well as mysterious act of God through which a Divine claim is placed upon the child’s life by God and the Church. Such a claim does not ensure the salvation of the baptized, but rather follows the Biblical tradition of God calling people to himself and that the hope of what is to come is not found within the abilities or effectiveness of the person being baptized but within God himself.
GOD DOES THE CALLING and GOD DOES THE CHOSING (Romans 9:11, 1 Thes. 2:12, Dt. 14:2 Acts 22:14)
This concept of “God does the calling” and “God does the chosing” is at the very heart of this practice. The Bible speaks clearly that God is the one who initiates a person’s salvation…not the person. Thus the freedom and authority the Church has to baptize children relies on the basis that God’s purposes will be accomplished despite the frailty of the humanity that inhabit the baptized Church.
In many Protestant traditions which practice infant baptism, a young adult who was previously baptized as a child, will publicly and purposefully re-establish (OR CLAIM FOR THEMSELVES) the promise of their baptism through a later PROFESSION of PERSONAL FAITH in Jesus Christ. Often this reaffirmation of faith is called “confirmation” or “decision day.” Whatever it may be called, it certainly is required by those who were baptized as infants or smaller children to…at some point in the future…. “profess” Christ for themselves.
One argument is support of the baptism of infants comes from the fact that controversy over the practice itself is obviously absent from the history of the early church.
Here are three very famous church leaders and what they had to say on the subject of Infant Baptism.
There is no questions that Origen was baptized as an infant in 180 A.D., just 80 years after the death of the last Apostle, John the Evangelist. There are other possible references to infant baptism at earlier dates, but these references are somewhat unclear in their meaning. Born in the mid fourth century (358 A.D.), Augustine wrote,
“This doctrine is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained.”
Francis Schaeffer (1912-1982) argued,
“Those who would teach that the practice of the early Church was not infant baptism should be able to show in Church History when it started. There is no such break recorded.”
Although it can be understood that there are differing views on this subject as well as cross-denominational arguments arising on this issue, it is important to note… the scriptures in their totality will provide clarity concerning the subject. Also, it is important to note that the Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and United Church of Canada doctrinal traditions not only support infant baptism but also any other method of baptism to be offered and performed. Their collective rationale for this position relates to the belief that all forms are completely valid.
Again I want to reiterate it is also clear there are other scriptural references that are in opposition to this subject matter. However, like other seemingly opposing scriptural based arguments there generally two accepted ways of approaching biblical conflict. They are:
1) assume the apparent written conflict may have an underlying foundational “truth” that can super cede the conflicting positions, or…
2) assume both sides of the scriptural testimony are instead of being a conflicting “choke-point” are merely biblically presented “choices.”
Here are just a few of the biblical texts supporting infant baptism.
Acts 2:38-39 ~ “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.'”
Acts 16:14-15 ~ “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.”
Acts 16:29-34 ~ “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God —- he and his whole family.”
Supporters of infant baptism can point to the connection between the Old and New Testament concerning the strong link between the covenant of “circumcision” and “baptism.” Supporters of infant baptism note that circumcision and baptism are both signs and seals of the covenant of grace.
Gen 17:9-14 ~ Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner —- those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
What Does Genesis 17 Tell Us.
- The covenant was between God and Abraham.
- The covenant was also between God and Abraham’s descendants.
- The sign of the covenant was in circumcision
- The eight-day-old male could not give his assent to enter into a covenant with God. It was the covenantal relationship of the child’s father with God that demanded the circumcision.
- Compliance with the sign of circumcision was commanded; it was not optional.
- Circumcision was commanded for all of the household. In particular, it was not just for the believing Abraham, but also for:
- the never-to-believe Ishmael, and
- the not-yet-believing Isaac, and
- those slaves that Abraham purchased.
- The sign of circumcision was given on the basis of Abraham’s covenant with God, not on the basis of the recipient’s covenant.
- Those from a Reformed understanding of scripture perform baptism not to save infants, but because they are commanded by a sovereign God who is able to save.
Romans 4:11 ~ And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.
Here a few Common Objections to Infant Baptism and our Response
Objection: There is not one reference to an “infant” being baptized in the Bible, therefore it can not be implied as reasonable and/or commanded.
Answer: While there are no explicit examples of infant baptism, it should be noted that the doctrine of the Trinity or the personhood of the Holy Spirit are also constructed arguments. The arguments in support of infant baptism are also the same type of constructive arguments.
Objection: Believer’s Baptism is the only method supported in the Bible. Therefore, any other type of baptism is invalid.
Galatians 3:27 ~ “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Col. 2:12 ~ “…having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Answer: Those who adhere to “infant baptism” have never said “believer’s baptism” wasn’t valid…just different. It is perfectly reasonable and right to baptize a believer into the family of God through their saving faith in Christ Jesus. It just isn’t the ONLY way.
1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
Finally, I leave you with one rather specific statement regarding water baptism in general, when the following words were placed into the mouth of John the Baptist (Jesus’ cousin) as well as a personal testimony of the subject.
Mark 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
There is so much more on this subject that could be shared. However, we have only scratched the surface of this passionate subject matter. I have been blessed to baptize a little more than 1,200 souls for Christ. The vast majority of these blessed people have been NEW adult believers who were immersed under water as they were initiated into the Christian journey of faith. Just because I prefer adult (believers) baptism doesn’t mean I can’t support “infant” baptism! The opposite of this is also true. Just because I can and do support “infant” baptism doesn’t mean I won’t ENTHUSIASTICALLY support all other biblically based forms of this cherished rite of the Christian community of faith. Remember, the AMOUNT of WATER truly doesn’t matter. It is a SYMBOL of something greater. It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit….the inward awakening of God’s presence…God’s purpose…and God’s empowerment that matters. Peace.