Baby Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration

Baby Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration

 

Baby Baptism
and Baptismal Regeneration

Richard Hollerman


What does the Bible say?

 

Does the Bible teach infant baptism?

What does history reveal about this subject?

Did the early church practice baptismal regeneration?

What does God require of us today?

Preface

Is This Study Really Needed?

Few subjects are as crucial and emotion-filled as that of infant baptism.  Far more than a billion people on earth are depending on this infant religious ceremony to take them to heaven.  They assume that this church ritual is pleasing to God and required by Jesus Christ.  They suppose that when their parents had them baptized as a baby, they were following church teaching and the requirements of God.

These people believe that they were forgiven, saved, regenerated, given the Holy Spirit, and added to the body of Christ by means of this common ecclesiastical rite.  But is this true?  Is this what God commanded and what He expects professing Christian parents to do for their children?  Is this the way that God views baptism?

This crucial subject is something that you, the reader, need to study and carefully consider.  Please do not assume that you have the answers and that your priest or pastor knows God’s will in the matter.  Be like the “noble minded” Bereans of old who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  Take your own Bible in hand and check out the contents of this little booklet.  Read the following pages to discover:

  • Does the Bible teach infant baptism?
  • What does history reveal about this subject?
  • What is “baptismal regeneration”—and is it true?
  • What do most churches believe and teach about infant baptismal regeneration?
  • Have you been baptized as a baby? Have your parents and children?
  • What does God require of us to be saved and go to heaven?

 

Baby Baptism
and Baptismal Regeneration

What does the Bible say?

The subject of baby baptism or infant baptism is not only intriguing but also utterly crucial.  It is far more important than some of our readers may imagine.  As you read the following pages, you will notice how important baptism really is.

The baptism of infants is an accepted practice by vast numbers of professing Christians around the world.  These devotees have experienced an infant baptismal ritual of some kind—but was it a true Biblical baptism?  It has been estimated that there are about 2.1 to 2.3 billion people identified as “Christians” in the world.  And large numbers of these would be infant baptizers.  This includes more than one billion Catholics, 218 million Orthodox, 79 million Anglicans, 70 million Lutherans, as well as tens of millions of others.[i] Estimates are that 75 to 80 percent of professing Christians believe in or have experienced infant baptism.[ii]

Some of the leading infant-baptizing churches and denominations are well known: the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Churches, the Lutheran Churches, the Presbyterian Churches, the Methodist Churches, the Church of the Nazarene, the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Canada, and the United Church of Christ.

If this many people in a wide range of churches have been “baptized” as babies and if their religious leaders promote this practice, does this necessarily mean that God is pleased?  Could this religious sacrament possibly be wrong?  Let’s discuss this important topic, looking to God Himself for the answers.  Along with Paul the apostle, our concern is “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3a).  As we proceed in our discussion, we will be referring to “infant baptism” or the more technical terms known in baptismal discussions—paedobaptism or pedobaptism.

The Word of God Must be our Guide

In order to discover whether infant baptism is true or false, we must have a standard of authority—some way of determining God’s truth on this and every other subject.

Many people who claim to be Christians look to certain other religious authorities for their spiritual guidance in life.  Some people look to a church creed or council.  Others consult their church confession of faith or established discipline.  Still others use church history as a guide for their belief and practice.

Is church tradition really an accurate measure of truth?  This certainly cannot be since tradition deviates from God’s Word so often. Further, various traditions have been handed down, with one differing from the others.  David Pawson writes:

While others may accept this [church tradition] as a decisive authority evangelicals put it also under the judgment of the Word.  Majority opinion or practice does not settle the issue.  Nor does doctrine gain validity by perpetuation through many centuries.  Catholic and Orthodox, Reformed and Puritan—all must be brought under the same critical examination.  Truth is “apostolic.”[iii]

Our Lord Jesus warned that religious tradition can lead us astray rather than lead us to the truth.  He said to the Pharisees, who were oriented to the tradition of the elders, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8).  He continued, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (v. 9).  He charged that these religious leaders were “invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that” (v. 13; cf. Matthew 15:3-11).  He then said to His disciples, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  And if the blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14).

Tradition is positive only if it has been “handed down” by the apostles and prophets of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:2).[iv]  In this case, the believers were to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which [they] were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15; cf. 3:6).

The Roman Catholic Church is ultimately concerned about the magisterium along with religious tradition to direct them into God’s will.  Probably the majority seek spiritual answers from a human authority—such as a pastor, priest, bishop, teacher, or other respected cleric.  Sadly, all of these human sources of authority are limited, fallible, and often defective!  When people seek to establish their religious beliefs and practices by going to any human authority, they dishonor God Himself who requires unrivaled allegiance.

When certain Jewish leaders wanted the apostles of Christ to refrain from teaching the truth, these disciples courageously answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  This must always be our attitude: We will seek answers from God and be willing to obey Him, regardless of what human authorities may want!  Jesus plainly said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

This settles it.  Jesus said that our authority is Jesus Himself—not the fallible teachings of fallible human beings.  Jesus our Lord declared, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48).  If we will be judged by the words of Jesus Christ, the very words of God (verses 49-50), we must receive our spiritual direction from God and not rely on the faulty teachings of mere man.

How Important is Baptism?

Some people may wonder why we should even be concerned about baptism at all, especially infant baptism.   They may think this is a minor issue that should not even be studied or discussed.  They reason, “Are there not dozens of other topics that are of more importance?”  It is not for us to choose whether we will obey the Lord on this or any other subject.  If He has told us what to do, who are we to question His will?  What does God think of baptism?  We’ve written hundreds of pages of articles and booklets on this subject in the past, therefore we want to be very simple and plain in this short and focused treatment.

Since we have noticed that Jesus has all authority, we must ask how He viewed this subject.  Based on this universal authority, Jesus said:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

This is what Bible students call the “Great Commission,” for Jesus is telling His disciples to go throughout the world, to make disciples (learners or followers of Jesus), and this occurs when they baptize people from all nations “into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and then teach these baptized disciples to obey Jesus in all things.  We can see that one becomes a follower of the Lord Jesus by choosing to be baptized and then living his life according to the teachings of God.  Baptism is at the very center of Christ’s Great Commission![v]

The Lord Jesus also gave the Commission to His disciples in the book of Mark.  Notice His command:

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (16:15-16).

Similar to His command in Matthew, here the Lord says that the gospel (the good news) of salvation is to be taken to all the world.  Those who respond to this message in faith (belief) and express this faith in baptism “shall be saved,” whereas those who reject the message of Christ in disbelief  “shall be condemned.”  This again shows how utterly important baptism is to the Lord Jesus!  It is at the very heart of the Great Commission of our Lord!

As we review further scriptures on baptism in Acts and the remaining New Testament books, we will see that the early Christians practiced what Jesus required, as mentioned above.  Baptism was commanded by God through Christ.  Baptism was practiced by the early Christians.  Baptism was essential in the early teaching and practice of the disciples.  Baptism was the indispensable act needed to bring one into the fellowship of the believers.  Indeed, we can see that baptism is utterly important.

What was Needed for Baptism to be True and Valid?

As we look in the Bible for the answer to this question, we will be able to see whether a baby or young child is qualified to be baptized.  Let’s carefully examine what the Bible says is needed at the point of baptism—and ask whether a baby can meet these conditions or whether one must be somewhat older and have some mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity before he is able to be Scripturally baptized.

From our discussion of Matthew 28:18-20 above, we saw that one who wanted to become a disciple must be willing to obey the Lord when he is baptized.  If one is not capable of becoming a follower of Christ, he is not qualified to be baptized.  Obviously, a baby is totally unable to understand anything about discipleship, thus he or she cannot be Scripturally baptized.  These people from all nations must be baptized to show their “commitment to Christ.”[vi]  The participles in the verse (go, baptizing, teaching) describe “aspects of the process” of making disciples.[vii]

Next, we noticed Mark 16:15-16, where we learned that one needed to learn the gospel of Christ Jesus and was to believe it in order to be baptized.  It is clear from this that a little child who doesn’t have the ability to speak or understand the spoken or written word is incapable of being scripturally baptized since he cannot believe (have saving faith).  Remember, Jesus said that one who believes and is baptized shall be saved.  He didn’t say that one who is baptized and later believes will be saved.  (Neither did he say that one who believes is saved and may later be baptized.)  Belief comes before baptism—not after it.  We must accept Jesus’ words at face value and not seek to twist them to support our preconceived religious beliefs.

In the Book of Acts, chapter two, we come to a very important portion of Scripture.  This describes what happened on the day of Pentecost, following the death and resurrection of Christ.  On this memorable day, the apostles received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), and Peter went on to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to thousands of devout Jews from many nations (vv. 14-40).  After telling these people that Jesus had been crucified by them only about 50 days earlier, He had subsequently been raised from the dead by the power of God.  Peter then concluded his remarks, “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36).  God’s means of salvation had been accomplished—but what of the hearer’s response?

The account then says, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37).  This is the question that all of us should ask: What shall we do?  Peter gave God’s answer to their question: “Repent, and each of you be baptized 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 your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (vv. 38-39).  What was Peter’s command to these people, some of whom had rejected Jesus and killed him?    They were to repent of their sins.  We know that a baby or young child doesn’t have the mental capacity or even need to repent of sins.  Furthermore, these sincere inquirers were to demonstrate this repentance when they were baptized in Christ’s name.  Can a child do this?  If a child cannot repent, he cannot be Scripturally baptized.

Let us continue.  Can God “call” to Himself a child—called by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14)?  No, a child cannot even understand or respond to the call, for he cannot understand the gospel.  Some may wonder about this promise of the Spirit offered to the listeners and “their children” (v. 39).  This would be a reference to their children or offspring, when they grew sufficiently to repent and believe the gospel.  It refers to their descendants.  The Holy Spirit “would be available to future generations.”[viii]  We can see that there are no babies here for they cannot repent.  In fact, babies had no personal sins needing repentance (v. 38).  Acts 2:41 specifically tells us who were baptized: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized.”  Only those sufficiently mature to believe and “receive” the word of salvation were baptized.  This necessarily excludes infants.

In Acts 8:12, we learn of the response of people in Samaria to Philip’s preaching. The text says that they “believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.”  Notice that these sincere people first “believed” and then they were “being baptized.”  Especially notice that those baptized were “men and women”—not little children, ones who could not believe the gospel.  This shows that only the adults, only those old enough to personally respond through their own volition, were baptized.  Surely some of these people had little children and, if so, why were they not baptized?  Because those who are baptized must first believe—have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death. In the case of Simon, he also believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13).

The Ethiopian worshiper and visitor to Jerusalem likewise learned of Jesus Christ, believed the message, and was baptized immediately (vv. 35-39).  This follows the general pattern that we see emerging in the book of Acts and the remainder of the New Testament.  Cornelius and his family likewise heard the message of Christ and were baptized (Acts 10:34-48). Again, this is a case where this family believed and then was baptized (cf. Acts 15:9).

Another case in Acts is Lydia, the pious worshiper of God who was baptized by Paul, thereby showing that she was “faithful to the Lord” (Acts 16:14-15).  Notice the connection between faith and baptism again.  Next, the Philippian jailer heard the message of the gospel in the middle of the night, he believed this message, and he and his family were baptized (vv. 31-34).

Paul later preached the gospel in the city of Corinth.  Notice this report of the results: “Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8).  Again, notice that these people heard the message of Christ, they believed it, and then they were baptized.  Note especially that they didn’t first receive baptism and then later believe in Christ.  We should further notice that the household of Crispus also “believed,” thus they were old enough to exercise this faith.  The reverse the Scriptural order would be to entirely m misconceive the meaning of baptism (as an expression of faith).

Acts 22:16 reveals a further aspect of baptism.  In Damascus, Ananias said to Paul (Saul) who had been repenting and praying for three days (Acts 9:9-11).  Ananias asked: “Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”  This indicates that a person has his sins “washed away” when he calls on the Lord in baptism.  Again, a baby cannot call on the Lord for salvation, thus he cannot legitimately be baptized.

In Romans 6:1-5, Paul points out that one dies to sin when he is baptized, then he is raised from the baptismal waters to “walk in newness of life” (v. 4).  Since a baby or young child cannot die to sin and cannot live a new and different life after baptism, we can see that a child is incapable of being Scripturally baptized, according to the apostle.  The passage simply makes no sense if we are speaking about infant baptism.

Paul wrote to the Galatians and described what had happened to them when they came to Christ.  He explained, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).  We notice that they were children of God “through faith” and this was demonstrated (notice the word, “for,” the Greek gar) when they were “baptized into Christ.”  Obviously, it isn’t possible for a baby or little child to demonstrate his faith by being baptized—for he has no faith.  Scripture says that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  One cannot have saving faith apart from “hearing” (or reading) the word of Christ, and this is something that a baby or young child cannot do.

Colossians 2:11-13 also helps us to answer this question about who is qualified to be baptized.  In verse 11, Paul says that the Colossian Christians had experienced a spiritual circumcision, the “circumcision of Christ,” and that involved the removal or “cutting away” of the body of flesh—their old sinful self.  He then describes when this spiritual act of Christ occurred: “. . . having been buried with Him in baptism in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (v. 12).  It is vital that we see that those people who were baptized with Christ in baptism, were also raised up from baptism “through faith.”  As we have noticed before, a little child doesn’t have the capacity to express his faith in baptism.  Only people old enough to believe are qualified to be baptized and only they can experience the reality of Colossians 2:12.

The following verse also shows who is qualified to be baptized: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13).   We notice that these Colossians had been dead in their (“your”) transgressions and they were forgiven of all their (“our”) transgressions.  This speaks of personal sins—not Adamic or so-called original sin.  Thus, no infants are capable of being baptized (v. 12).

One more passage from the Bible may be examined.  Peter says that “baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).  It is significant that in baptism, one is making an “appeal” to God for a good conscience.[ix]  It is like a plea to the Lord to give him a good conscience when he is baptized in water; or perhaps it is a pledge to God of a good conscience.  Clearly, a little child cannot make such an “appeal” or “pledge.”  A baby is totally oblivious to the meaning of the water of baptism.

It would be helpful to note here that faith is not a nebulous “feeling of dependence” or general attitude of reliance.  Some have suggested that a child has this dependent or helpless feeling toward his mother, thus he must have faith.  On the contrary, the faith that is related to salvation in the New Testament has several components.  It involves a conscious belief of the facts of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  It is a trust in Jesus as Savior, Lord and Sin-bearer (John 3:14-17, 36).  It also means that one will yield to Jesus as Lord and King (Romans 10:9-10; Acts 22:16).  It is a renunciation of self and a trust in Jesus as the One who suffered and died for our sins (Romans 3:24-27).

One key aspect of this faith is that it is a belief in the testimony of Scripture regarding God and Jesus Christ.  Paul explains, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  “One can come to faith only through hearing the gospel, and the specific message that must be heard is the word of Christ, that is, the good news about Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior.”[x]  Faith arises in one’s heart when he submissively hears and responds to the message about the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.  An infant or young child cannot hear the message, cannot understand that message, cannot believe that message, and cannot respond to that message.  This leads Jack Cottrell to say:

Infants need not be baptized, nor should they be baptized, indeed they cannot be baptized.  They can of course be dipped in water, but such a dipping would have no spiritual significance.  Infants cannot be baptized any more than they can vote or get married.  It is simply not something that applies to them.  Baptism applies only to adults and to young people who are old enough to know what they are doing.[xi]

Let’s summarize our discussion so far.  We have seen that Jesus commanded people to respond to His gospel with faith and repentance and this repentant faith was to be expressed in baptism. We have also noticed that the early Christians saw the necessity of repenting of sin, believing in Christ, and manifesting this repentance and faith in the act of baptism.  Baptism was never a ritualistic ceremony or semi-magical act apart from one’s conscious and deliberate decision.  But sometimes we are given a common objection:

But weren’t Whole Households of Children Baptized?

One of the main arguments for baby baptism is the fact that sometimes “households” were baptized in New Testament times.  One Catholic site dogmatically states: “The apostolic Church baptized whole ‘households’ (Acts 16:33; 1 Cor. 1:16), a term encompassing children and infants as well as servants.  While these texts do not specifically mention—nor exclude—infants, the very use of the term ‘households’ indicates an understanding of the family as a unit.”[xii]   Another Catholic source also presses this argument:

The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul, although containing only a fragmentary account of the ministry of the Apostles, plainly insinuate that the Apostles baptized children as well as grown persons.  We are told, for instance, that Lydia “was baptized, and her household,” by St. Paul; and that the jailer “was baptized, and all his family.”  The same Apostle baptized also “the household of Stephanas.”[xiii]

  1. Wainwright, a proponent of infant baptism, concedes that this issue of “households” is crucial to give evidence of baptism of babies: “The only piece of potentially hard evidence extant from apostolic times is the reference to the baptism of “households” in Acts (up to four cases) and in Paul (once).”[xiv] If this is the only real evidence of infant baptism, how weighty is it? Let us examine this.

It is true that sometimes the New Testament refers to “households” or “families” (oikos).  Let’s notice how the Bible refers to these households.  First, in John 5:46-53, we see an account of the healing of a royal official’s son.  In verse 53, we read, “He himself believed and his whole household.”  This shows that the members of this household were capable of believing in Jesus.  Surely there were no infants in this case.

Some may point out that Cornelius had a household and surely they were baptized when he was baptized (Acts 10:47-48).  However, verse 2 says that Cornelius was a devout man, “one who feared God with all his household.”  This shows that members of this household were mature enough to “fear” God.  Furthermore, Luke tells us that all those present “were listening to the message” of Peter (v. 44).  Obviously, little children cannot listen to and understand the message of salvation.  Again, verse 46 says that they were “speaking with tongues and exalting God”—a response of those old enough to believe.  The angel had earlier appeared to Cornelius, stating that Peter “will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (11:14).  This suggests that members of the household were sufficiently mature to hear, understand, and receive Peter’s words.  These were the ones who were baptized in vv. 47-48.  It clearly appears that there were no young children in this case.

In Acts 16:15, Luke tells us that Lydia and “her household” were baptized.  In this case we cannot determine the age of the members of this household.  “Household” was a term sufficiently broad to include children of any age, servants, and slaves.  Since Lydia was a business woman—probably a prominent one—she may have had servants.  It appears that she was either unmarried or perhaps a widow, and this would suggest that she had no young children.

Later in the chapter we read of the conversion of the Philippian jailer.  The jailer asked this pertinent question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30).  Paul answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31).  If the jailer was to believe to be saved, is it not reasonable to conclude that his household must be saved in the same way—through faith or belief?  Luke then tells us: “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house” (v. 32).  Notice carefully that this word of the Lord (the word of the gospel) was spoken to both the jailer and “all who were in his house.”  These family members were old enough to hear and respond to the gospel.  The next verse says that “immediately he was baptized, he and all his household” (v. 33).  Here it is clear that the members of the household were all baptized.  Again, we ask, did this household include little babies?  The next verse answers this: “[the jailer] rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (v. 34).  Once again, we clearly see that the members of this household who were baptized were old enough to believe: the whole household believed in God!

Let us notice one more reference in Acts: “Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (18:8).  Here we can see that the family or household of Crispus was composed of members old enough to “believe in the Lord.”  Furthermore, the other Corinthians likewise heard the message, believed that message, and were baptized.  Hearing the gospel and believing it always preceded being baptized.

Someone may suggest that 1 Corinthians 1:16 is a reference to baby baptism.  In this passage, Paul recounts his earlier visit to Corinth and says, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas.”  Does this suggest that Paul baptized little babies or children—those belonging to the family of Stephanas?  The answer is found in 16:15, where Paul writes, “You know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints.”  At least at this time (a few years later), these family members were old enough to “devote themselves for ministry”—a work that suggests some maturity rather than something that babies can do.

All of these instances of the term “household” in the New Testament conversion accounts consisted of rather mature sons and daughters.  They were old enough to hear the word of the gospel, believe that word, and be baptized.  Although this reference to “households” is a common argument by paedobaptists (infant baptizers), there is no justification for infant baptism here.

In fact, paedobaptists are not really consistent in their application of the “household” argument.  “Paedobaptists do not baptize spouses, servants or children upon conversion of a head of household.  The reason cited is that the New Covenant is of greater spirituality. But, is this not a tacit admission of discontinuity between the covenants?  ‘Greater spirituality’ is not exhibited in the baptism of infants and in the exclusion of spouses and older children.”[xv]  Since Old Testament circumcision was given to the whole household, and not just the head of the house, why do paedobaptists not baptize the entire household?

We must conclude that the “household” passages do not lend any support for the view that babies should be baptized.  One writer sums it up well:

The use of such a term as “household” may be, indeed, inexplicit and somewhat vague, but there are no really convincing reasons for suggesting that these examples varied at all from the normative pattern of New Testament baptisms which involved the prior expression of repentance and faith on the part of the recipients.[xvi]

Infant Baptizers sometimes Claim Apostolic Authority

Those who encourage infant baptism make an assortment of claims.  Some admit that there is no New Testament command for infant baptism or example of its practice, yet they firmly state that infant baptism was surely practiced from the very beginning.  One strong proponent of paedobaptism concedes: “Those who reject the Baptism of infants accurately point out that the Bible does not specifically command that infants should be baptized nor are there any specific examples in the Book of Acts of an infant receiving Baptism.”[xvii] Another paedobaptist writer says, “We admit the truth” of the statement that “there is neither command nor example for infant baptism in the New Testament,” yet he clings to the practice.[xviii]

Even though paedobaptists cannot produce a scripture that unmistakably supports the baptism of infants, some of them yet claim that this was the apostolic practice.   For example, one Catholic authority states: “There is no doubt that the early Church practiced infant baptism; and no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced until the Reformation.” [xix]

What Do Infant Baptizing Churches Say about the Purpose of Baptism?

In order for a church to justify the baptism of babies, they must have some rationale for the practice.  This is generally expressed in their church confession or statement of faith.  In order for the baptism of babies to be valid, most of these Churches believe that God works directly on the child, apart from any faith or repentance on the part of the baby.  The theological term is ex opera operato, which means “from the work done.”  This means that a sacrament is effective regardless of the personal response of the one receiving it.  “This effectiveness is not dependent on the faith of the recipient of the grace that comes through the act.”[xx] The term is equivalent to opus operatum.  This means that “the benefit of a sacrament is conferred ‘by virtue of the work wrought.’  In other words, the grace is in the sacrament which conveys it to the passive recipient without the necessity of faith and repentance.”[xxi] With this view, a Church can justify infant baptism, for it is thought to be effective ex opera operato—apart from the infant’s personal response!

What do churches say about the effectiveness of baptism for the infant?  Notice a few of these churches and denominations with the statements expressing their doctrine:

Roman Catholic Church

“[The Catholic Church teaches] that it is a sacrament which accomplishes several things, the first of which is the remission of sin, both original sin and actual sin—only original sin in the case of infants and young children, since they are incapable of actual sin; and both original and actual sin in the case of other persons.”[xxii] The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1980) issued a statement that says that the Catholic Church “knows no other way apart from Baptism for ensuring children’s entry into eternal happiness,” but the Church “can only entrust them to the mercy of God.”[xxiii]

“The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism.  The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.”[xxiv]

Eastern Orthodox Church (Greek, Syrian, Russian, etc.)

“Baptism is the mystery of starting anew, of dying to an old way of life and being born again into a new way of life, in Christ.  In the Orthodox Church, baptism is ‘for the remission of sins’ (cf. the Nicene Creed) and for entrance into the church; the person being baptized is cleansed of all sins and is united to Christ. . . .The cleansing of sins includes the washing away of the ancestral sin.”[xxv]

“Baptism is the mystery which transforms the old, sinful man into the new, pure man; the old life, the sins, any mistakes made are gone and a clean slate is given. Through baptism one is united to the Body of Christ by becoming a member of the Orthodox Church.”[xxvi]

“Due to its importance Baptism is performed in the Orthodox Church as soon as possible.  Infants are usually baptized as soon as they are able to be taken to church.  It is a practice from the primitive Church to baptize infants in spite of the fact that infants do not understand what is going on.  As long as no will goes  against it, the Divine grace will work in its work of salvation, children certainly put no obstacle in the way.  The sacrament works by itself and forgives and regenerates the person.”[xxvii]

“Since the Grace of Baptism is absolutely necessary for all, the sacrament is to be denied to no one, not even infants. . . . As original sin is universal and the need for release from it universal, the Church wisely and justly allows infants to receive the Grace which cleanses them from its stain and gives them, in their innocency, the equipment to fight victoriously against sin. . . . Not only the legitimacy but the necessity of Infant Baptism is attested by the Fathers and the Symbolic Books.”[xxviii]

“To die without having been baptized is to jeopardize one’s eternal state and to be estranged from the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is for this reason, therefore, that infant baptism became a universal practice very early in the history of the Church.  Uncertainty as to the day and hour of death accounts for the custom of baptizing infants soon after birth.”[xxix]

“Against the Anabaptist arguments that infants have no conscious faith and cannot be baptized since it disregards their free will and leaves them no choice, the Eastern Orthodox Church (and Roman Catholic also) holds that infant Baptism is not only legitimate, but absolutely necessary. . . . As Androutsos says: ‘The little ones have need of the regeneration of Baptism, since they have Original Sin.”[xxx]

Anglican Church

“Anglicans believe that Baptism is also the entry into the Church and therefore allows them access to all rights and responsibilities as full members, including the privilege to receive Holy Communion.  Most Anglicans agree that it also cleanses the taint of what the West is called original sin, in the East ancestral sin.”[xxxi]

“Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth.”[xxxii]

“The Baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.”[xxxiii]

Prayer at Infant Baptism: “Almighty and immortal God, the aid of all who need, the helper of all who flee to thee for succour, the life of those who believe, and the resurrection of the dead; We call upon thee for this Infant, that he, coming to thy holy Baptism, may receive remission of sin, by spiritual regeneration. . . . Give thy Holy Spirit to this Infant, that he may be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.”[xxxiv]

Prayer After Infant Baptism: “We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own Child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church. . . .”[xxxv]

Lutheran Church

“[Baptism] works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”[xxxvi] “Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit, and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save.”[xxxvii]

“It is taught among us that Baptism is necessary and that grace is offered through it.  Children, too, should be baptized, for in Baptism they are committed to God and become acceptable to him.  On this account the Anabaptists who teach that infant Baptism is not right are rejected.”[xxxviii]

Episcopal Church

“Our Prayer Book describes baptism as ‘full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.’  What does this mean? . . . Through baptism, individuals become members of the Church — not just the Episcopal Church, but the universal Church extending throughout the world and over time to include Christians from every age.  Since the time of Jesus, Christians have used water as the sign of entry into Christian life.  Water cleanses us from sin, from all that has marred our relationships with God, with others, and with creation.  It plunges us into death, drowning our old life so that we can be raised to new life in Christ.  From it we are born again, into a community where we are adopted daughters and sons of God.”[xxxix]

Methodist Church

“Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy church, are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.  All of this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.”[xl] “The Sacrament of initiation into Christ’s holy church whereby one is incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the spirit.  Baptism washes away sin and clothes one in the righteousness of Christ.”[xli]

Presbyterian Church

“Presbyterian and Reformed Christians contend that baptism is not a mere symbol, but actually conveys grace.  Baptism, according to this tradition, does not produce Christians, but it identifies the child as a member of the covenant community.  Presbyterian and many Reformed Christians see infant baptism as the New Testament form of circumcision, which did not create faith in the eight-day-old Jewish boy but marked him as a member of God’s people.”[xlii] [xliii]

Church of the Nazarene

“Baptism being a symbol of the new covenant, young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training.”[xliv]

United Church of Christ

“The sacrament of baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God. Through baptism a person is joined with the universal church, the body of Christ. In baptism, God works in us the power of forgiveness, the renewal of the spirit, and the knowledge of the call to be God’s people always. . . . Infants, children, youth and adults. For infants and children, as well as for youth and adults who have never been baptized before, baptism marks their acceptance into the care of Christ’s church, the sign and seal of God’s grace and forgiveness, and the beginning of their Christian faith and life. . . . Parents, in consultation with the pastor, may choose sponsors or Godparents for infants and young children who are to be baptized.”[xlv]

At this point, it may be appropriate to remind ourselves that not every church or denomination condones the practice of infant baptism.  Here we list a few of the churches and denominations that reject infant baptism in any form and that insist on some form of what is commonly called, “believer’s baptism”:

  • Baptist Church
  • Pentecostal denominations
  • Assembly of God
  • Anabaptists (Mennonites, Amish, Beachy)
  • Brethren Churches (Church of the Brethren, etc.)
  • Seventh-day Adventist Church
  • Christian Church
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Church of Christ
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • Church of God
  • Plymouth Brethren
  • Church of the Brethren
  • Many independent churches

Why would Anyone Seek to Justify Infant Baptism?

There are a number of arguments that proponents of infant baptism make to justify their practice.  Why would anyone claim that babies should be baptized?  Notice a few of the common but erroneous arguments in favor of infant baptism.

  1. Infants were circumcised in Israel under the first covenant, therefore infants should be baptized in our age under the new covenant.

One common theological position asserts that New Testament baptism took the place of Old Testament circumcision.  This is the main argument of Presbyterian and Reformed churches, but it also is espoused by other paedobaptist denominations.  Those who hold this view argue that Paul’s reference to baptism in Colossians 2:12 is connected to the spiritual circumcision in verse 11.  Therefore, if a kind of “circumcision” occurs when one is baptized, they argue that we should baptize babies just as God required the Jews to circumcise their infants (Genesis 17).

Indeed, circumcision was a very important rite that was required in Israel.  God said to Abraham: “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. . . . It shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you” (17:10-11).  This rite was to be done to male babies on their eighth day (v. 12).

One Catholic source makes this argument about circumcision:

Baptism is the Christian equivalent of circumcision, or “the circumcision of Christ”: “In him you were also circumcised with . . . the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:11–12). Thus, like circumcision, baptism can be given to children as well as adults. The difference is that circumcision was powerless to save (Gal. 5:6, 6:15), but “[b]aptism . . . now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).[xlvi]

Another Catholic source asserts: “Baptism is the Christian equivalent of circumcision, or ‘the circumcision of Christ’ . . . . Thus, like circumcision, baptism can be given to children as well as adults.”[xlvii]

Herman Hoeksema, a committed Calvinist, stresses the direct parallel between the circumcision that Jewish parents gave their male children and the baptism that he believes should be given to their children:

[Paul] writes to the church of the new dispensation, that believers are circumcised in the spiritual sense of the word, and that this spiritual circumcision took place when they were buried with Christ in baptism.  A more direct proof that circumcision and baptism are essentially the same in meaning, the change from the old into the new dispensations, i.e., from the dispensation of shadows into that of the fulfillment, could not be given.[xlviii]

However, there are reasons to reject a direct parallel between circumcision and baptism.  First, circumcision brought the child into a fleshly nation of Israel.  It did not indicate the personal salvation of the circumcised child.  In fact, history shows that most people in Israel were not truly saved.[xlix]  Baptism, in contrast, is directly tied to belief that brings salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21).  Second, notice that circumcision was required on the eighth day.  Nothing of the kind is found in the baptism of the New Testament; in fact, baptism was done immediately as a response to the gospel. It was done any day of the week, any day of the year, any hour of the day (cf. Acts 2:38-41; 8:35-38; 16:30-32).  Third, notice that this rite was only possible for little boys, whereas baptism is for grown people of both genders—men and women alike (Acts 8:12).

Those covenant theologians who promote the circumcision-baptism connection fail to recognize the differences between the Old and New Testaments.  “The Old Testament [is] read as though it were the New, . . . [and] the New Testament is read as though it were the Old.”[l]  Jay Wegter wrote, “New Covenant Christianity required an entirely new ordinance that demonstrated that the recipient was indeed a partaker of spiritual blessings.”[li]

The covenant of circumcision, given to Abraham and his descendants, and continued by Moses in the Law, was much different from the new covenant of Christ, which was established by His blood shed on the cross (Luke 22:20).  There is no direct parallel between them.  Jack Cottrell explains:

The only connection the NT makes between circumcision and baptism is in Col. 2:11-12, and the relationship given there is not substantive but figurative.  That is, the physical removal of a bit of skin by human hands is a figure or a type of the spiritual removal of the old sinful nature “without hands,” which is equivalent to the regeneration or spiritual resurrection that takes place during baptism.  Imposing the meaning and use of circumcision upon Christian baptism is completely without biblical warrant, and it leads ultimately to a denial of everything the NT does teach about the meaning and subjects of baptism.[lii]

Cottrell says that “Christians are under a New Covenant, which does not imitate the conditions for membership which existed under the Old Covenant.  The Old covenant, even the provisions that began as far back as Abraham, was completely fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus (cf. Acts 13:32-33).”[liii]

Especially important is the fact that circumcision normally was for those incapable of faith and repentance, whereas baptism is always viewed as an expression of faith, repentance, and commitment of life.  It is also noteworthy that both circumcision and John’s baptism were required at the very same period of time (Matthew 3:5-8).  The one did not take the place of the other.  Even after the time of John, Jewish Christians continued to circumcise their babies, but they also practiced Christian baptism. Christian baptism didn’t take the place of Jewish circumcision.  Circumcision brought one into an earthly nation of Israel, whereas Christian baptism is related to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).  In Christian baptism, there is a spiritual “circumcision” or cutting off of the flesh and a forgiveness of sins (Colossians 2:11-13).

Circumcision and baptism do have parallels, but very few.  They are entirely different acts, with different meanings, for different subjects, and for different peoples.

Circumcision Christian baptism
Physical Israelites Repentant believers
Male babies All nations
Eight days of age Anytime one seeks Christ
Old Covenant New Covenant
Physical cutting away of flesh Spiritual cutting away of sin
No conditions Conditioned on faith/repentance
Done to a child Personal initiative required

 

One cogent argument against the idea that circumcision took the place of baptism was given by Eric Lyons:

If “baptism replaced circumcision” as some allege, people who already were circumcised according to the law could not be baptized. As J.W. Shepherd stated: “If the one came in the place of the other, the two could not exist at the same time in the same person. But all the Jews that had been circumcised on believing in Christ were baptized” (The Church, the Falling Away, and the Restoration, p. 17). It was God’s will that the Jews, who heard John the Baptist, Jesus, and/or one of His disciples, be baptized regardless of their circumcision (Luke 7:30; John 3:22-24; 4:1-2). If baptism replaced circumcision, how could they both be in effect at the same time, among the same people, and under the same covenant (T. W. Brents, The Gospel Plan of Salvation, pp. 345-347)?[liv]

Since circumcision continued after baptism was instituted by Christ, we can see that it was not replaced by baptism.  It was deemed unnecessary by the death of Christ rather than by Christian baptism.

 

  1. Babies are guilty of Adam’s sin, therefore they need baptism to be cleansed of this impurity.

This is a common rationale by most, but not all, of those who believe in infant baptism.  Since AD 200, and especially since the time of Augustine, about AD 400, the established Catholic Church held that a child is born with the stain of Adam’s sin on his soul.  This Adamic sin, thought to be inherited from Adam, is often called “original sin,” to use a theological term.  The church at the time of Augustine taught that the only way this inherited guilt could be removed was through the rite of baptism.  Augustine went on to teach that unless this sin is removed, the child will be lost and sent to hell to suffer eternally.  This gave parents the needed incentive to have their babies baptized as soon as possible.

The influence of Augustine’s theology on the theology of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches cannot be overestimated:

In the Augustinian-Pelagian controversy infant baptism was a principal support for the doctrine of original sin, rather than the other way around, since baptism was universally recognized as for forgiveness of sins.  With the victory of Augustine’s arguments original sin became the reason for infant baptism in the western church.[lv]

The Catholic Church teaches: “Baptism is a sacrament which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God, and members of the Church.”[lvi] Another authority states: “Having died to sin (both original sin and personal sins are cleansed away in the waters of baptism), you have entered the community of the Church ‘as through a door.’”[lvii]  The authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. . . . The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless gift of becoming a child of God where they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.”[lviii]

Luther broke away from Catholicism about 1520; however, this belief in the necessity of infant baptism was retained and became firmly established in Lutheran theology.  Luther stated in his Small Catechism: “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. . . . [It is] a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost.” The Lutheran Church reasons in this way:

All people—including infants—are sinful and fall short of the glory of God . . . . Like adults, infants die—sure proof that they too are under the curse of sin and death.  According to the Bible, baptism (somewhat like Old Testament circumcision, administered to 8-day-old babies—see Col. 2:11-12) is God’s gracious way of washing away our sins—even the sins of infants—without any help or cooperation on our part.  It is a wonderful gift of a loving and gracious God.[lix]

The Anglican Church in England also taught the need for baptizing babies because of the doctrine of infant guilt inherited from Adam.  The Orthodox Churches likewise based their baptism of infants on this same foundation, calling this inherited guilt “ancestral sin.”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in the eighteenth century, wrote: “As to the grounds of it: If infants are guilty of original sin, they are proper subjects of baptism; seeing in the ordinary way they cannot be saved unless this be washed away by baptism.  It has been already proved that this original stain cleaves to every child of man; and that thereby they are children of wrath, and liable to eternal damnation.”[lx]

This foundation of original sin was entirely faulty, therefore the theology was also faulty.  Matthew says that “children” were brought to Jesus “so that He might lay His hands on them and pray” but His disciples tried to stop this.  The Lord replied, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (19:13-14; cf. Mark 10:13-14).  Instead of these children being guilty of sin and dwelling under the wrath of God, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  Significantly, Luke identifies these children as “babies,” the term brephos, which can refer “to babies or to toddlers” (NET Bible, Luke 18:15-16). W.E. Vine says that the term means “a new born babe.”[lxi]  Cottrell also says:

[Babies] should not be regarded as sinners in need of salvation.  Whatever sin and condemnation all children may have potentially inherited from Adam has already been nullified and canceled for every member of the human race by the atoning work and original grace of Christ (Rom. 5:12-19).  As a result babies are not born guilty or sinful; thus they do not need baptism.  Only when children become old enough to understand the meaning of God’s law and the significance of breaking that law are they considered accountable for it and thus in need of baptism (Rom. 4:15; 7:7-11).[lxii]

We must not overlook an significant point about this.  While baptism is sometimes connected with the forgiveness of sins in Scripture, it is never related to original sin or Adamac sin.  This was also true of the baptism of John.  John the baptizer preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; cf. Luke 3:3).  Whose sins?  The following verse says that people “were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (v. 5).  They confessed their personal sins, not those of Adam or their ancestors, and this was in view when they were baptized.  This is also true of baptism into Christ.  Peter told the Jews on the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).  Notice that a baptism of repentance was related to the forgiveness of their personal sins.  The words of Ananias to Paul (then Saul) are similar: “Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). When Paul called on the Lord in baptism, he would be forgiven of his personal sins—not those of Adam.

Paul’s words to the Colossians about baptism shows this same connection.  After the apostle says that we have been “buried with Him in baptism” and “raised up with Him through faith,” he says, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us of all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:12-13).  Notice that we are dead because of personal transgressions and likewise are forgiven of personal transgressions!

A newborn baby does not need baptism.  An infant does not have the guilt of Adam’s sin on his soul.  Baptism is related to one’s own sin and not sin inherited from another, therefore this argument for infant baptism is without foundation.

  1. Baptism is needed to keep children from entering a place called Limbo or even Hell.

This particular reason for infant baptism is of concern only to Catholics, not to Protestant paedobaptists.  Early Catholics, such as Augustine (AD 400), taught the absolute necessity of infant baptism for babies.  He said that “all the unbaptized (including children), after death, were destined for a diminished but real experience of hell.”[lxiii]  Anselm (AD 1100) said that unbaptized infants go to a place of “natural happiness” which was outside of heaven.[lxiv]  The Catechism of the Council of Trent strongly warns of unbaptized babies: “Infants, unless regenerated unto God through the grace of baptism, whether their parents be Christian or infidel, are born to eternal misery and perdition.”[lxv]

Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized children are under God’s wrath and will spend eternity in hell must have been a great drive in spreading the baptism of infants as soon after birth as possible.  During an era when a surprisingly high percentage of children died at birth and soon thereafter, concerned parents must have been driven to have their children “baptized” by the priest immediately.  This is the reason mentioned by Ferguson: “The principle impetus for the rise and spread of infant baptism may have been the desire that the child not depart life without the safeguard of baptism.”[lxvi]

In 1794, Pius VI said that limbo was a place of natural happiness, where no pain was suffered.[lxvii]  The Council of Cologne declared that “faith teaches us that infants . . . are excluded from the kingdom of heaven if they die [unbaptized].”[lxviii]  The modern Catechism doesn’t mention limbo, but does say that the mercy of God allows us “to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism.”[lxix] [lxx]

Through the centuries, the love and terror of parents who didn’t want their children to be excluded from heaven was enough to urge them to baptize their children as soon as possible after birth to assure their entrance into the Kingdom of God.  If they had only read Christ’s tender words of the children who were brought to Him for prayer, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

  1. Children are to be baptized not to be saved, but because they are already chosen.

Whereas most infant baptizers believe in baptismal regeneration, confessional Calvinists (such as Presbyterians, Reformed, etc.) claim to baptize their children not to be regenerate but because they are assumed to be already regenerate.  Dale Moody explains the rationale in this way:

John Calvin himself did not believe in the damnation of infants born in a Christian household, i.e., the children of the covenant, so his argument for infant baptism was on the ground that they were already regenerate as children of the covenant.  They were to be baptized because they were regenerated rather than in order to be regenerated.[lxxi]

Such Calvinists would believe that some babies are not elect (chosen of God) and these will go to hell, whereas others, children of the elect parents, are assumed to be elect and they will go to heaven.  All of this has been decreed by God before creation, thus the unborn child and the newborn infant are safe and do not need baptism to save them.  While this rationale is clear, it is also clearly false; otherwise, this would be plainly revealed in Scripture.  Baptism is always viewed in Scripture as an expression of personal faith and repentance, not as a sign and seal of the covenant applicable to unconscious babies.

  1. Peter says that children are to be baptized on Pentecost just as their parents are baptized.

Peter says that the “children” of the Jews on Pentecost were to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they were baptized.  The scripture in question is Acts 2:38-39: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized 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 your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

Philip Schaff, the church historian, seeks to justify infant baptism by writing:

We have presumptive and positive arguments for the apostolic origin and character of infant baptism . . . in the express declaration of Peter at the first administration of the ordinance, that this promise of forgiveness of sins and of the Holy Spirit was to the Jews ‘and to their children.’”[lxxii]

The argument is presented in this way: The Holy Spirit is given to an adult when he repents and is baptized, and this promise of the Spirit is not only for the Jews to whom Peter is speaking, but he then includes their children and the Gentiles—“for you and your children and for all who are far off.”  Does this mean that the children (including infants) of these Jews are to be baptized to receive the Holy Spirit?

There are several problems with this interpretation.  First, this would mean that the significance of baptism for the children would be different from that of their parents. For the parents, the baptism was the expression of repentance; but for the children, there would be no prerequisite and no demonstration of repentance.  Second, the three classes of people—the Jews present, their children, and the Gentiles (those far off)—are ones that “the Lord our God will call to Himself.”  Only mature people can respond to God’s “call” to salvation, the “call” of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).  Children cannot respond to this call of the Lord.  Third, since there is only “one baptism” and this baptism is one of faith and repentance (Ephesians 4:5; Acts 2:38), there would be no indication that an entirely different baptism was reserved for young children.  And finally, the term “children” is often used for descendants rather than little ones who presently are children at the time of this instruction.[lxxiii]  F. F. Bruce gives the sense:

The promise of the gospel was extended not only to those present on that occasion, not only to the contemporary generation, but to their descendants as well; not only to the people of Jerusalem, but to those of distant lands.[lxxiv]

We must reject the paedobaptist explanation of Acts 2:39 for they seem to be straining to find justification for infant baptism in a verse that does not support their view.

  1. Jesus blessed the little children, and we have a right to bless our children in baptism.

We have already noticed the account of the children being brought to the Lord so that He could lay His hands on them and bless them (see Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17).  It is clear that this has nothing at all to do with infant baptism.  The children were brought to the Lord so that He might lay His hands on them and pray for them.  Remember, this was at a time when the male babies among those who were brought had been circumcised when eight days old.  While it may remind modern infant baptizers of their practice, there is no connection whatever.  Although some parents do bring their children to be “blessed” by a pastor, this is far different from these Jewish parents bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus through prayer—not baptism.[lxxv]

Yet we continue to see this scripture used with an attempt to prove infant baptism.  The First United Methodist Church of Austin, Texas, states: “We baptize infants because ‘Our Lord has expressly given little children a place among the people of God, which holy privilege must not be denied them.  Remember the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, how he said, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God”’ (Matthew 19:14.”[lxxvi]

A Catholic authority also uses this incident in Christ’s life to “prove” that He believed in infant baptism: “Luke 18:15-16 tells us that ‘they were bringing even infants’ to Jesus; and he himself related this to the kingdom of God: ‘Let the children come to me . . . for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’”[lxxvii] Obviously, this had nothing at all to do with baptism, for Christian baptism was not even practiced at this time.  Another writer appeals to the blessing of the children in Mark 10:14: “What means other than Baptism has God provided whereby little children can be brought to Jesus?  Baptism is the only way we know of.  If you want to obey the command of the Lord Jesus concerning your little children, have them baptized!”[lxxviii]

Some of these statements are unworthy of serious consideration.  When the parents brought their infants to Jesus, they brought them that He might “touch” them (Mark 10:13), so that He might “lay His hands on them and pray” (Matthew 19:13).  If children could be brought to Jesus for Him to touch them and pray for them, how do we have the right to claim that now Jesus would want us to substitute baptism?  This is an excellent illustration of misapplying a text of Holy Scripture.  Notice our earlier discussion to see further how this text cannot be used to support baby baptism.  These verses on the children being brought to Jesus “show that the Lord loved the children without baptism.  For He caressed and blessed them, but did not baptize them nor command that they be baptized.”[lxxix]

Someone may ask, “How can you forbid parents from coming to Jesus for His baptism and for His blessing?”  Nothing forbids them from seeking Christ’s blessing, but what is lacking is any authority for them to ask for baptism for their babies in arms, for this is not found on the pages of Scripture.  Stanley Edwin Anderson charges, “Infant baptism harms children, actually.  The above verses [Matthew 19:13-15] contain not one word about baptism, and it is not even hinted or implied in any way.  Those who brought the children to Christ wanted only that He should lay His hands on them and pray; they did not ask for or expect any kind of baptism.”[lxxx]

Jesus said that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).  How can this be said of a child who is destined for hell because of “original sin”?  No, Jesus said that these little children were destined for God’s kingdom.  G. R. Beasley-Murray comments:

The children are thus said to be the destined heirs of the future Kingdom. . . . They are to be allowed access to Jesus, for the Kingdom of heaven will be given to just such at the Judgment and glory of the parousia.  On what grounds is the Kingdom of heaven to be given to them?  In virtue of their coming to Jesus (Mark 10:14) and receiving the word of the Kingdom (v. 15).

  1. The faith that is manifested in baptism is not that of the child, but of the parents, sponsors, “god parents,” or the church.

Those who baptize babies claim that personal faith is not needed, but the faith of others is essential.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Baptism is the sacrament of faith.  But faith needs the community of believers.  It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. . . . the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized. . . . Children are baptized in the faith of the Church.”[lxxxi] Another authority says, “It is the Church that ‘supplies’ the faith and it is the faith community that nurtures and nourishes that faith.”[lxxxii] These infants “are baptized in the faith of the Church, a faith proclaimed for them by their parents and godparents, who represent both the local Church and the whole society of saints and believers.”[lxxxiii]

The Orthodox Church also maintains that personal faith is not necessary.  It teaches that full membership in the Church is given to children, based on “a confession of faith for a child by his or her godparents.”[lxxxiv] Instead of the child confessing his faith, the sponsor confesses the unconscious child’s faith!  “According to Orthodox doctrine the sacraments act in every case ex opere operato.  The faith of the officiant parents and sponsors make up for the lack of it in the infant.”[lxxxv]  Orthodox writer, Valerian D. Trifa explains:

That infants do not have conscious and deliberate faith is true, but the faith of the Church into which the baptized are admitted, of the parents and sponsors makes up for the lack of it in the infant.[lxxxvi]

The faith of the child is not important (for it would be impossible) but the sponsor who brings the child is the one who confesses faith on behalf of the child!  This may be called proxy faith.  In an Orthodox Church, the sponsor faces the sanctuary and responds to the priest’s inquiry, “Dost thou unite thyself unto Christ?”  The sponsor answers (for the child), “I do unite myself unto Christ.”  The priest continues, “Dost thou believe in Him?”  The sponsor answers, “I believe in Him as my King and as my God.”  The sponsor then recites the Creed.  Again the priest asks, “Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?”  The sponsor (on behalf of the baby) answers, “I have united myself with Christ.”  This is done three times.[lxxxvii]  This is a clear example of proxy faith.  The child who is brought to baptism has no faith, but the adult who stands in for the child is supposed to have this faith.  Obviously, this is entirely foreign to the New Testament.

Martin Luther, in the early sixteenth century, broke with Rome, but he continued to maintain infant baptism.  “Athough Luther opposed many of the doctrines and practices of the Medeival Church, he firmly held to the validity and efficacy of paedobaptism through his life.  The Anabaptists had no more fervent opponent than Luther.”[lxxxviii]

Luther is known as the great proponent of “justification by faith,” but he was ambiguous in his view of faith and baptism.  This reformer was a firm advocate of infant baptism but said that faith need not precede baptism.  In fact, baptism is effective separate and apart from inward faith: “Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting.  For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it.  Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word.”[lxxxix]

Luther went on to say, “We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God.”[xc] However, Luther elsewhere said that God gives the “gift” of faith to the baby when he is baptized!  Luther continues, “No one is saved through the faith of others, but only through his own.”  “The idea that the child is baptized on his own future faith is rejected by Luther as early as 1523.  ‘Faith must be present before or at the baptism, otherwise the child is not rid of sin and the devil.’”[xci]  Luther’s view of infant faith is far different from the usual defense of infant baptizers.  To his credit, Luther did see that one must have faith at the point of baptism, but he used great imagination to “prove” his point.

Incredibly, some confessional Lutherans today continue Luther’s insistence that the infant may actually have faith: “Although we do not claim to understand how this happens or how it is possible, we believe . . . that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant.  This faith cannot yet, of course, be expressed or articulated, yet it is real and present all the same.”[xcii] [xciii]

The Episcopal Church emphasizes the importance of baptizing babies upon the basis of the parents’ faith.  The Book of Common Prayer states:

Each candidate for Holy Baptism is to be sponsored by one or more baptized persons. Sponsors of adults and older children present their candidates and thereby signify their endorsement of the candidates and their intention to support them by prayer and example in their Christian life. Sponsors of infants, commonly called godparents, present their candidates, make promises in their own names, and also take vows on behalf of their candidates.  It is fitting that parents be included among the godparents of their own children. Parents and godparents are to be instructed in the meaning of Baptism, in their duties to help the new Christians grow in the knowledge and love of God, and in their responsibilities as members of his Church.[xciv]

These churches and denominations that promote infant baptism see the need for adults to bring their children to the rite of baptism, but they emphasize that personal faith need not be present prior to baptism.  (As we noted, confessional Lutherans are different, claiming that the unconscious infant does have a miraculous gift of faith at the time of baptism!)  Earlier we established the Biblical teaching that faith (Mark 16:16), repentance (Acts 2:38), and commencement of discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20) must precede and prompt baptism  We also saw that only mature and responsible persons were baptized, not immature and irresponsible children (Acts 8:12).  Personal faith is always emphasized in regard to baptism—but not the faith of the parents, guardians, sponsors, or the church as a whole.  Each person will give an account of himself to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).

  1. Baptism may be performed on a baby, with the assumption that the child will believe in Christ when he matures.

Most infant baptizers admit that the child does not believe in Christ at the time that he is baptized.  However, some of these say that baptism anticipates the faith that will come later through Christian nurture.  A Catholic source puts it this way:

In the Old Testament, those born into Jewish households could be circumcised in anticipation of the Jewish faith in which they would be raised.  Thus in the New Testament, those born in Christian households can be baptized in anticipation of the Christian faith in which they will be raised.  The pattern is the same: if one is an adult, one must have faith before receiving the rite of membership; if one is a child too young to have faith, one may be given the rite of membership in the knowledge that one will be raised in the faith.”[xcv]

The rationale is plain, but it is wrong.  It is true that an eight-day-old baby was circumcised as an unbeliever but the Israelite parents were expected to raise the child in the faith of God.  However, nowhere do we read in the New Testament that a baby was to be baptized as an unbeliever, with the expectation or presumption that he will later believe.  Personal faith in Jesus Christ was the necessary prerequisite to being baptized in the apostolic period.  Furthermore, as we describe elsewhere in this booklet, New Testament baptism is not a direct parallel to Old Testament circumcision.  Further yet, it is presumptuous to assume that a baptized infant will later arrive at a saving faith—for surely most plainly do not.

Calvin himself taught that the child did not have faith but was expected to believe later.  According to Calvin, “infants are baptized into future repentance and faith, and even though these have not yet been formed in them, the seed of both lies hidden within them by the secret working of the Spirit.”[xcvi]

Other paedobaptist denominations take a similar view.  The United Methodist Church states: “A baptized infant comes to profess her or his faith later in life, after having been nurtured and taught by parent(s) or other responsible adults and the community of faith.”[xcvii] Although the traditional Lutherans would say that God miraculously grants faith to a little baby, most paedobaptist churches plainly say that the baptized baby doesn’t believe.  Yet he or she is expected to believe when he grows to maturity.  It is plain that this is not a Biblical argument at all, but proceeds from human wisdom.  It gets the proverbial cart before the horse and it violates clear New Testament teaching and precedent.

  1. Baptism isn’t based on faith but leads to faith.

Many traditional Calvinists believe that infant baptism is a “sign and seal” and should be encouraged for the children of “elect” adults.  Geoffrey W. Bromiley explains:

[Children of confessing Christians] are not necessarily converted, and baptism itself will not convert them, but the gospel promises are before them and every reason exists to believe that the Holy Spirit has begun his work within them.  They thus receive baptism as a sign and seal of the divine election, reconciliation, and regeneration.  As they grow older, they may come quickly to individual repentance and faith.  On the other hand they may move away for a period, or perhaps forever.  But baptism is always there, bearing its witness to the will of the Father, the work of the Son, and the ministry of the Spirit.[xcviii]

There is much speculation and unfounded argumentation here.  The fact is that a Calvinist does not know whether their child is “elect” or not, thus when they baptize him, they may be baptizing a person who will never believe, who may become an atheist!  In this case, baptism is not an evidence of faith or repentance, it is neither a means of the child’s regeneration nor a declaration of it, and there is no assurance that the child will ever have faith.  It is a presumptive act that is without clear Biblical support, yet millions of babies are baptized with this idea in mind.

  1. The subsequent life of a person baptized in infancy validates the act.

We have often noted that people justify their behavior on the basis of their being “blessed” of God in some way.  The “Prosperity” teacher may say that his wealth validates his erroneous “health and wealth” message.  A couple who have remarried after illegitimate divorce may justify their adultery by saying that God is greatly blessing them.  A woman pastor may justify her rejection of the apostolic prohibition of women leadership by saying that she is blessed by the Lord in her ministry.  The Catholic Church may justify their adoration of Mary by citing the devotion and saintly lives of those who exalt her or by claiming that Mary answers their prayers.

Martin Luther made a similar argument for infant baptism.  The following quotation should be carefully examined to see this way of thinking.  In his Larger Catechism, Luther reasons this way:

That the Baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ is sufficiently proved from His own work, namely, that God sanctifies many of them who have been thus baptized, and has given them the Holy Ghost; and that there are yet many even today in whom we perceive that they have the Holy Ghost both because of their doctrine and life; as it is also given to us by the grace of God that we can explain the Scriptures and come to the knowledge of Christ, which is impossible without the Holy Ghost.  But if God did not accept the baptism of infants, He would not give the Holy Ghost nor any of His gifts to any of them; in short, during this long time unto this day no man upon earth could have been a Christian.

Now, since God confirms Baptism by the gifts of His Holy Ghost, as is plainly perceptible in some of the church fathers, as St. Bernard, Gerson, John Hus, and others, who were baptized in infancy, and since the holy Christian Church cannot perish until the end of the world, they must acknowledge that such infant baptism is pleasing to God.  For He can never be opposed to Himself, or support falsehood and wickedness, or for its promotion impart His grace and Spirit.  This is indeed the strongest proof for the simple-minded and unlearned.  For they shall not take from us or overthrow this article: I believe a holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.

We can see that Luther reasoned in way similar to the Prosperity teachers in their promoting covetousness, the women pastors in their promoting women’s public preaching, the Catholic church in their promoting the adoration of Mary, and the adulterous couple in their justification of immorality.  Luther says that one should look at the fruit of the persons who were only baptized as infants.  He says to look at the Holy Spirit in the life of these people, the gifts of the Spirit given to these people, and the correct doctrine of these people.  Doesn’t all of this give evidence that God honors the baptism of babies?  He further says that if God did not accept infant baptism, then no man on earth would be a Christian, since nearly all of the professing Christian Church at this time practiced and promoted the baptism of babies as a cardinal doctrine.  Luther goes so far as to say that this argument is the “strongest proof for the simple-minded and unlearned.”

All of this is faulty reasoning.  He seems to be promoting a doctrine by means of the presumed evidence in life.  It is a pragmatic argument, saying that the result (godly lives) justifies the means (infant baptism).   It is the pragmatic results rather than Biblical precept or precedent.  In contrast, we must always establish a doctrine or practice solidly on the teaching of the Word of God, and not on fallible experience.  One’s experience may be wrong.  One’s reasoning and feelings may be faulty.  But the Word of God is never wrong and this must be our only source of authority.  Ironically, Luther emphasized “Scripture alone” as the foundation of all doctrine, but here he is using experience as the basis of his belief and teaching.

  1. Jesus explicitly said that one needs to be born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.

Elsewhere in this study we have noted that many of the early church writers connected baptism to Christ’s words in John 3:5 about being born of water and the Spirit and the necessity of this for entrance into the Kingdom.  Many paedobaptists continue to use this proof text to support their practice.  “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” is an ecumenical paper by representatives of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestants, and this expresses their common understanding of baptism.  After referring to many New Testament texts on baptism, the document states: “In the fourth gospel Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus indicates that birth by water and Spirit becomes the gracious means of entry into the place where God rules (John 3:5).”[xcix]

Jesus Christ made it plain in His statement to Nicodemus that one must be born again or born from above.  He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [or born from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  He went on to declare, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 5).

John 3:5 was one of the chief verses cited in the post-apostolic church to substantiate the need to baptize babies.  It was thought that birth “of water and the Spirit” is a reference to water baptism.  Today, this same verse is a leading proof text used by infant baptizing churches to “prove” infant baptism.  For instance, the Catholic church makes this claim: “The historic Christian Church has always held that Christ’s law applies to infants as well as adults, for Jesus said that no one can enter heaven unless he has been born again of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).  His words can be taken to apply to anyone capable of belonging to his kingdom.”[c] Again, “[Christ’s] general law on the necessity of baptism (John 3:5) puts no restriction on the subjects of baptism.”[ci]

Christ’s statement in John 3:5 has been variously interpreted over the years.  The question is: Does this refer to literal water or symbolic water?  The context is not entirely decisive.  “Water” is used literally in some verses (John 1:26, 31, 33; 2:7, 9; 3:23; 4:7, 13, 46; 5:4, 7) and it is used symbolically in others (John 4:10, 11, 14, 15; 7:38).  If being born of the Spirit is a reference to being baptized in the Spirit, this would suggest that being born of water is a reference to being baptized in water.  This would imply that we are baptized in the Spirit when we are baptized in water, and vice versa.  However, since Christ doesn’t explain His enigmatic expression, perhaps it is best to not use this verse as a definite proof text for baptism.

Even if the verse is a reference to Spirit and water baptism, or Spirit-water baptism, we should notice who is born of water and the Spirit.  The following verses, which were also spoken to Nicodemus, show that belief in Jesus Christ is crucial to receive eternal life (John 3:15, 16) and salvation (v. 17) and to escape the judgment judged (v. 18) and God’s wrath (v. 36).  It is clear that a baby cannot have this kind of informed faith in Jesus Christ; therefore, even if John 3:5 is a reference to baptism (which may be unclear), it cannot at all apply to infants who are incapable of believing in Christ Jesus.  Infants have no need of the spiritual birth—until they are capable of responding in the way Christ specified.

  1. The New Testament makes provision for the salvation of all people.

Sometimes we find that paedobaptist writers make amazing statements to support the baptism of babies.  For example, Matzat reasons, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is an inclusive message.  ‘God so loved the world,’ and Jesus commanded us to ‘baptize all nations.’  Obviously, infants are a part of the world and represented in all nations.”[cii] Does this argument make sense?  Should babies be baptized because God loves the world?  Should infants be baptized because Jesus said that the apostles were to baptize all nations?

This kind of reasoning is totally false and is a prime example of reading into the text something that is not there.  This is called eisegesis, reading “into” a text, rather than exegesis, taking “from” a text what the author placed in it.  God did love the world of sinners—and this includes atheists, pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and others.  Does this mean that Jesus intended that we baptize all of these?  Yes and no.  These people from all the world are to be baptized—but only if they are able and willing to repent and believe.

What about Jesus’ command to baptize all nations?  Jesus commanded the apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).    What is the means by which disciples are made?  They are made by baptizing people from all nations and commanding them to obey Christ’s teachings.  A disciple is a follower (or learner) of Christ Jesus.  A baby cannot be a disciple of Christ since discipleship requires some knowledge, faith, commitment, and devotion to the Lord.

The similar passage in Mark 16:15-16 helps us to understand Matthew better.  Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who has believed [the gospel] and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”  As in Matthew, Christ’s words in Mark show that people are to be reached by preaching the message of Christ.  Those who believe this message and then are baptized will be saved; those who disbelieve or reject the message will be condemned.  In both cases (Matthew and Mark), there is first teaching, then a response to the message, and only then baptism.  This would exclude all who will not believe or are incapable of belief—such as infants.

  1. Jewish proselyte baptism was for children as well as adults; therefore, Christian baptism must have included children as well.

The origin of the baptism of proselytes is debated, with some claiming a pre-Christian origin and others dating it after AD 100.  One view would say that at the time of Christ, those Gentiles who wanted to become proselytes were required to meet four conditions.  This seems to be the consensus of historians.  Adult Gentiles were required to believe in God and agree to the Mosaic regulations.  The males were required to be circumcised so they could become an heir of the Abrahamic promises and be part of Israel.  They were required to journey to Jerusalem and offer a sacrifice at the temple.  And, finally, they were required to be immersed in water to become a “newborn” Israelite.  This was done in a mikvah, an immersion pool, the remains of which have been frequently found by archaeologists in Jerusalem and elsewhere in our own day.

Some would say that when adult Gentiles were immersed (baptized) in this way, their children were also so immersed.  This, however, is debated.  G. R. Beasley-Murray, in his well-known study on New Testament baptism, explores the question of proselyte baptism, and points out, “The earliest explicit reference to the baptism of a very young child falls just before A.D. 300.”[ciii]  Yet, he does say that this likely does reflect an earlier time.  But regardless of what the truth may be regarding the Jewish practice of baptizing, this same author notes, “We found no clear trace of influence from the Jewish rite on the interpretation of baptism in the New Testament.”[civ]  Another point is that even if Jews would baptize the children of proselytes, it “was solely a rite of conversion and was not applied to children born after the initiation of the parents into Judaism.”[cv]  This is the very thing that paedobaptists would not want: only baptizing the babies of new converts and not baptizing those children born later.  Ferguson looks at the evidence and notes:

Minors of parents who converted were treated as their parents and were immersed.  This practice has been claimed as a support for the practice of infant baptism in the church.  The argument is problematic, not only because of the uncertain date of the origin of proselyte baptism, but also because the practice applied only to the family converting and not subsequent generations.  Another difficulty with the argument is that these minor children had the right to protest what their father did and not be bound by it yet without being treated as apostates.[cvi]

In conclusion, Beasley-Murray writes:

On any view, a divergence from the application of proselyte baptism to children took place in the Christian Church.  Bartsch put the question whether we are not driven to postulate that precisely the abstention of applying baptism to infants provides a decisive illustration of the difference between Christian baptism in the primitive Church and the rites of Greeks and of the Jews.[cvii]

It would seem that Jewish proselyte baptism has no material connection with early Christian baptism.[cviii]

Probably a closer parallel could be found in the baptism of John.  Matthew describes the widespread appeal of John and the great numbers of people flocking to the Jordan River to be baptized by this prophet: “Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6; cf. Mark 1:5).  The important point to note here is that those qualified for John’s baptism were old enough to understand why they were baptized.  Mark says, “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4).  John’s baptism was called “a baptism of repentance” (see also Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4), since repentance was a prerequisite to this baptism and the baptism itself expressed the repentance of sins that these people manifested.

When people came to John, they were fleeing from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7), they were confessing their sins (v. 6; Mark 1:5), and they were instructed on how to live their lives (Luke 3:10-18).  They were heeding John’s call to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).  None of this would apply to babies or young children.  As William Wall stated, “There is no express mention indeed of any children baptized by him.”[cix]

Therefore, those who were baptized of John were preparing for the coming kingdom of God.  They were repenting of their sins and confessing them at the Jordan—and then they were immersed by John the baptizer.  This baptism of John was called “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).  In a similar way, the baptism that Christ commanded in the great commission that the apostles carried out, was a baptism of faith and repentance, and it also was for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; the same phrase is found in the Greek, eis aphesin hymon ton hamartion).  Just as John’s baptism was for those sufficiently mature and responsible to personally repent of their sins and confess them, so Christ’s “great commission” baptism was for those old enough to personally repent of their sins and believe in Christ Jesus.

Obviously, this Christian baptism was not identical to John’s baptism.  It went beyond John’s baptism—for it included a burial into Christ Jesus and into His death, then a resurrection from the water to live a new life (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12-13).  It was also into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), and in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5).

The point is that Christian baptism has similarities with John’s baptism more than Jewish proselyte baptism.  We must also remember that John’s baptism was from God in heaven (Matthew 21:25; John 1:33), just as Christ’s great commission baptism was (Matthew 28:18-19).  Even if proselyte baptism included children, John’s baptism did not—and Christian baptism is directly related to John’s baptism rather than proselyte baptism.

  1. We are free to establish our doctrine of baptism because of the wisdom God has given to us, thus we are not bound to an antiquated book.

Sadly, some religious people and institutions establish their authority by means of church hierarchy, creeds and confessions, religious experience, church tradition, and human reasoning.  Certain theologians may say, “The Bible is very unclear on many things, but God expects us to use the wisdom and common sense that He has given to us.  He gives us the freedom to make doctrinal choices that are in harmony with His principles.”

One writer quotes Kurt Aland who “denies that the practice of the ancient Church should be determinant for us today.” Notice this reasoning:

Too often the inference is made that because the ancient Church practiced infant baptism therefore we should practice it, or contrariwise, because the ancient Church did not baptize infants, therefore neither should we baptize them.  Both of these inferences are denied because today we may understand far better than the ancient Church what baptism essentially requires, and because conditions may be so different that the practice of early times cannot be accepted as an absolute norm for today.[cx]

Are we ready to accept this compromising reasoning?  Do we know “better than the ancient Church” that was guided by the apostles of the Lord?  Are we to say that the practice of the early believers, as taught by Christ and the apostles, is not to be accepted as the “absolute norm for today”?  This is the kind of compromise with personal opinion, post-apostolic tradition, and human reasoning that can negate vast amounts of New Testament teaching!

However, we are never permitted to violate the clear instructions in God’s word in order to pursue our own desires and agendas.  Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  If God has made His will known in His Word, then this settles it—regardless of what any man or group of men may decide.  The issue of the proper subjects of baptism is sufficiently clear in Scripture that we need no changes.

A variation of this point is that the Holy Spirit led the early church to adopt infant baptism, even though the first apostolic Christians only baptized believers.  Writing on reasons why he justifies infant baptism, Joseph F. Eagan says, “The practice of infant baptism is an authentic expression of the Christian Community’s guidance by the Holy Spirit.”[cxi]  Eagan refers to an “instinctive sense” that is “due to the Holy Spirit, who inspires Christians with an intuitive sense of what is authentically Christian.”[cxii]  He says that “this instinctive sense . . .  would be reason enough to believe that God gives their infant all that the New Testament so eloquently ascribed to baptism: new life, divine adoption, temple of the Holy Spirit, etc.”[cxiii]  Eagen says that he attempts “to appreciate how, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the instinctive Christian sense of the early faithful led to the practice of infant baptism in the Church, and why, therefore, infant baptism can, in fact should, be considered an authentic development within Christianity.”[cxiv]

This view raises serious questions with regard to the Spirit-inspired New Testament writings.  Will the Holy Spirit “guide” the church into different beliefs and practices than those found in His inspired Word?  Can we have an “instinctive sense” or “intuitive sense” of what is right regarding baptism or any other subject if that sense violates the clear teaching of God’s Word?  Will the “instinctive sense” that is “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” cause anyone to deviate from and disobey what God, through the apostles, has already revealed?

If we value the God-given nature of the Bible, we know the answers to these questions.  We must always depend on God’s Word for the answers to life’s problems, and we must “learn not to exceed what is written” on the pages of the Word of God (1 Corinthians 4:6).  We must not think that the Holy Spirit will cause us to violate what He has already commanded in the Scriptures.  This includes the temptation to begin a practice such as infant baptism.

  1. The Bible simply assumes the practice of infant baptism, thus it would be wrong to prohibit it.

Some have suggested that we are simply given a command to baptize and we should just assume that this includes all people, of whatever age, unless there is a command to prohibit the practice.  One writer says that the disciples would “consequently go forward in the practice of infant baptism, unless restrained and prohibited by a special interdict.”[cxv]

Moises Pinedo responds to this reasoning by saying, “This argument is fallacious because it suggests that where the Bible does not record a prohibition, everything is acceptable.  The Bible does not prohibit ‘pet baptism.’  So, should we proceed to ‘baptize’ them?”[cxvi]  In fact, since the Bible does require faith and repentance, by this means it does prohibit any baptism that is not characterized by this inner response.

  1. Infant baptism could not have been an innovation or something would be said about it.

Sometimes the argument is made that there is no record of anyone opposing infant baptism, therefore it must have been practiced from the earliest times.  Tertullian would be an exception, for he did oppose infant baptism about AD 200, but he is sometimes dismissed as eccentric.  Further, he doesn’t claim that adult baptism dates from the time of the apostles but he opposes it on pragmatic grounds.  A. A. Hodge writes:

Such an institution must either have been handed down from the apostles, or have had a definite commencement as a novelty, which must have been signalized by opposition and controversy.  As a fact, however, we find it noticed in the very earliest records as a universal custom, and an apostolic tradition.[cxvii]

William Osburn also makes the same argument for the apostolic origin of infant baptism:

We have no mention whatever in any of the early Christian authors of the introduction of the practice of infant baptism; neither did the question of infant or adult baptism ever originate a schism, or even a controversy, in the early church; had such been the case, it would undoubtedly have been recorded somewhere in the contemporary writings, so many of which are entirely devoted to the exposure of the errors in doctrine and discipline which arose in those times.[cxviii]

This claim, however, goes too far.  Furthermore, it is based on silence in the earliest writings.  The earliest record of infant baptism may be the time of Tertullian (AD 200), or perhaps the time of Irenaeus (AD 190), but this merely is an observation that the practice was beginning, not that every child was baptized at this time.  It is true that both Origen (ca AD 225) and Cyprian (AD 250) claimed apostolic authority, but bear in mind that this was 200 years from the time of Christ and some 150 years from the time of the apostles.  We concede that it is perplexing to wonder why conservative writers, loyal to the Scriptures, did not arise even at that time and oppose the baptism of infants.  It must be that this false teaching of baptismal regeneration and false practice of infant baptism must have arisen so gradually and with such incentive that church leaders did not oppose it, other than Tertullian and perhaps others like him.  He strongly did oppose infant baptism, although his argument did not stress that it was unapostolic.

  1. Infant baptism guards against salvation by works.

One of the chief arguments of Luther was that when a child is baptized, this proves that he is not seeking salvation by works.  Baptism of a child simply receives salvation and doesn’t in any way seek baptism which would be justification by personal works, something that Luther wanted to carefully avoid.  We might remember that in his German translation, Luther translated Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the works of the Law.”  He felt justified in inserting the term “alone” into the verse so safeguard that salvation is a free gift.

William Lillie makes a similar argument for infant baptism:

We can here gain some insight as to why Baptism is appropriate at the very beginning of the Christian life even for an unconscious infant.  If we have any part in our own Baptism, even the decision in faith to seek Baptism, there may be a danger of our putting some reliance on that conscious decision, and so our conscious decision and even our personal faith become those “works” on which St. Paul saw the folly of putting reliance.[cxix]

We can see the reasonableness of this argument, for Lillie wants to safeguard the freeness of salvation.  However, his argument surely is wrong and expresses human wisdom.  While there is always the danger of placing “some reliance” on our decision to come to Christ, and while personal faith may be a meritorious way of seeking God’s favor, this doesn’t at all need to be the case.  In the New Testament, all of the baptisms were examples of people “seeking baptism” and all of them were expressions of personal faith in Christ.  We need not resort to unscriptural means (infant baptism) to accomplish worthy goals (ensuring the freeness of salvation).

  1. The Bible nowhere prohibits infant baptism, therefore it must be acceptable.

This is the reasoning of some Bible scholars and churchmen regarding many different unscriptural practices.  “The Bible doesn’t say not to have a Pope!”—thus let us have the unscriptural position of Pope!  “The Bible doesn’t prohibit yearly communion!”—therefore we are not bound to weekly participation in the Lord’s supper.  “The Bible doesn’t forbid praying to Mary and the saints!”—thus we are free to practice these unscriptural activities.  “The Bible doesn’t say there is no place called Purgatory!”—therefore we are free to believe in such a place.

Some would make the unreasonable argument, “I can’t find a single verse that condemns infant baptism, thus we are free to practice this in our church!”  One writer reasons in this way:

There is not one word of Scripture in the New Testament which could be interpreted as a commandment forbidding the baptism of infants.  If infant baptism were the great evil that some profess to believe it is, surely the Bible would contain warnings against it. . . .[cxx]

If baptism, by its very nature, requires repentance on the part of the one baptized, a genuine faith in Christ, a commitment of life, and some comprehension on the nature of baptism, this necessarily excludes infant baptism.  Furthermore, if there was no such practice as infant baptism competing with believer’s baptism, there would have been no condemnation of the practice—for it did not arise for a hundred years after the apostolic period.  Again, must the New Testament condemn every unscriptural practice that could possibly arise in the post-apostolic period—or was it sufficient for the Lord and the apostles to command what was right, with the understanding that any deviation from this would be wrong?

How Did Infant Baptism Begin and Spread?

The origins of infant baptism are clouded in mystery.  Paedobaptists often assert that it was practiced in the time of the apostles; however, this assumption is without solid Biblical evidence.  Many paedobaptists admit that the New Testament itself does not explicitly mention infant baptism.  One Catholic authority concedes, “Ecclesiastical custom with regard to the administration of Baptism has undergone a change in the course of history.  Whereas the early Church baptized adults only, the baptism of children soon became the usual practice.”[cxxi]  A different scholar makes this strong statement:

It is the opinion of the present writer that infant baptism, like much of our present-day church practice, must first be put into the New Testament before it can be taken out.  We would conclude our discussion this far in the words of Robert Nelson, who wrote, “that the New Testament says nothing explicitly about the baptizing of little children is incontestable.”[cxxii]

Yet another writer admits:

It is agreed that there is no unmistakable and explicit reference in the New Testament to the baptism of infants; and it is agreed, likewise, that by the middle of the third century the practice was practically universal in the Church.[cxxiii]

If the baptism of babies is not found in the New Testament writings, when did it begin?  Let’s examine the writers immediately after this period of time.  We will need not only to note direct references to baptism, but also veiled references or possible allusions to the act. We will further see how those writers in the second to fifth centuries looked upon the spiritual condition of infants.

Some of these early writers (sometimes called “fathers”) did not mention infant baptism at all, nor did they mention anything that would help in our understanding of the source of this practice.  Ignatius (ca AD 110), the Didache (ca AD 110-130), and others might be mentioned.  These early writers do mention faith in connection with baptism.  John T. Christian writes, “The writers known as the Apostolic Fathers, Clement, Barnabas, Ignatius and the Pastor of Hermas, all require faith on the part of the candidate baptized.”[cxxiv]  He goes on to quote Charles W. Bennett, professor of historical theology at Garrett Biblical Institute (Methodist), as saying, “The Apostolic Fathers contain no positive information relative to the practice of the church of their time respecting infant baptism.”[cxxv]

What evidence do these early writers supply?  Hermas (about AD 135) writes:

Those who believed are such as these: They are like innocent infants, in whose heart no wickedness enters and who do not know what evil is but always remain in innocence. . . . As many of you then who will continue and be as infants, with no wickedness, will be more honored than all others, for all infants are honored before God.[cxxvi]

I, the angel of repentance, judge all of you to be blessed who are as innocent as infants, because your part is good and honorable before God. [cxxvii]

This suggests that Hermas believed in the innocence of infants, rather than the guilt and sinfulness of babies.  These babies had no need to be cleansed of sins through baptism.

Barnabas (ca. AD 135) wrote: “Since he renewed us in the forgiveness of sins, he made us into another image, so as to have the soul of children, who do not know the evil which destroys the life of men.”[cxxviii] This suggests that Barnabas believed little babies are innocent rather than carrying a taint of sin from Adam (which would need baptism).

Aristides (AD 125) writes: “And when a child has been born to one of them [Christians], they give thanks to God; and if it should die as an infant, they give thanks the more, because it has departed life sinless.”[cxxix] This writer clearly believes in the sinlessness of babies.  Ferguson writes, “The phrase about ‘passed through the world without sins’ suggests that the child entered the world without sin and departed in the same condition.  There is no suggestion of baptism as the reason for this sinless condition.”[cxxx]

Polycarp (AD  155) said at his Roman trial: “Eighty-six years have I served my king.”  This has been thought to refer to the years of his life since being baptized as a baby; however, this is so unclear that it cannot at all be used in support of paedobaptism.  Yet some paedobaptists assert, “Polycarp (69-155), a disciple of the Apostle John, was baptized as an infant.  This enabled him to say at his martyrdom [the passage above is quoted].”[cxxxi] We believe, however, that it is not legitimate for us to use Polycarp’s enigmatic statement to support a questionable practice.

Justin Martyr (AD 155) referred to “many men and women of the age of sixty and seventy years who have been disciples of Christ from childhood.”  This is an ambiguous statement that cannot legitimately be used in support of paedobaptism.  To find baptism here is to “read into” the text.  On the other hand, Justin declared that

In order that we may not remain the children of necessity and ignorance, but may become the children of choice and of knowledge, and may obtain in water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by name alone.”[cxxxii]

Justin here states that those who came to baptism were able to do this of their own choice and only when they repented of their sins.  No children can be found here.

Irenaeus (AD 185) wrote of “innocent children, who have no sense of evil.”[cxxxiii] Simply looking at this, we would assume that this writer believed that babies were innocent and without a need of forgiveness.  However, this same church leader has been cited as referring to the baptism of babies: “For he came to save all by means of himself—all, I say, who by him are born again to God—infants, children, adolescents, young people, and old people.”[cxxxiv]  A Catholic source says that these church writers (including Irenaeus) were raised in Christian homes, thus they “would hardly have upheld infant baptism as apostolic if their own baptisms had been deferred until the age of reason.”[cxxxv]  Wall went so far as to state, “This is the first express mention that we have met with of infant baptism,” however, Brown replied, “It should be noted, however, that baptism is here only inferred, not specifically mentioned.”[cxxxvi]

This is the “earliest plausible reference to infant baptism” among these early writers.[cxxxvii]  Ferguson, however, offers this explanation: “’Born again’ may refer to Christ’s renewing work and not specifically to baptism.  Even if it does mean the same as ‘regeneration’ does elsewhere in Irenaeus, this passage may be rhetorical and not imply that infants actually received baptism.  Nevertheless, the practice of baptizing infants must have begun about Irenaeus’ time, and this passage has the best claim to be the first reference to this practice.”[cxxxviii]  If this is the first reference in history to paedobaptism, we must say that infant baptism began around AD 185, or shortly before—at least in this particular place.[cxxxix]

In regard to these post-apostolic writings, David Pawson writes:

The picture is somewhat confused.  The first explicit reference to infant baptism comes five generations after Christ, though it increases thereafter.  Some scholars find implicit reference some decades earlier, though the instances given depend on the ingenious, if not devious, exegesis.  But even if the “Gap” could be considerably reduced, the fact remains that these writings were not included within the “Canon” of authentic apostolic tradition.  It is better not to rely on these “hints.”[cxl]

Speaking of the effect of baptism on the baptized (and we would apply this to any infants baptized by AD 200), Albert Henry Newman writes:

We may say in general, that during the greater part of the second century the idea prevailed that mere baptism without repentance and faith would be of no value and that the remission of sins takes place only in connection with the baptismal act. By the close of the second century the pagan view that water baptism possesses in itself magical efficacy begins to find expression.[cxli]

Many have emphasized infant baptism teachings of the fifth, fourth, and even third centuries.  But, as Paul Jewett points out:

As one goes back up the stream of evidence from church history, it dwindles to a feeble trickle and disappears altogether with Irenaeus in Gaul about AD 180, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Barnabas, Hermas, Papias, Diognetus, Justin Martyr, Tatian, and the lesser apologists have several references to baptism, but nothing that implies infant baptism.  Especially significant is the case of Justin, who devotes a while chapter (LXI) of his Apology to baptism, yet says nothing about infant baptism, but much about believers’ baptism.[cxlii]

Tertullian was the first to explicitly mention baby baptism—and he was against the practice.[cxliii]  In the latter AD 190s, which was before he fell into the Montanist heresy, Tertullian wrote:

According to the circumstances and nature, and also age, of each person, the delay of baptism is more suitable, especially in the case of small children.  What is the necessity, if there is no such necessity, for the sponsors as well to be brought into danger, since they may fail to keep their promises by reason of death or be deceived by an evil disposition which grows up in the child?  The Lord indeed says, “Do not forbid them to come to me.”  Let them “come” then while they are growing up, while they are learning, while they are instructed why they are coming.  Let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ. In what respect does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins?  Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given?  Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you may be seen to have given “to him to asks.”[cxliv]

Ferguson calls this “the first unambiguous reference” to baby baptism.  He says that this church leader

was not talking about a tendency or a hypothetical situation.  The practice was present and had its defenders.  On the other hand, Tertullian was enough of a traditionalist in his early career that it hardly seems likely that he would oppose a practice of long standing or general acceptance.  He seems to be stating . . . the common position of the church.  He does not sound like an innovator fighting an established custom.  North Africa continued to be the place where infant baptism had its strongest support, and it may be that this was the region where it began.[cxlv]

Agustus Neander added this: “In the latter years of the second century, Tertullian appeared as a Zealous opponent of infant baptism, a proof that it was not then usually considered as an apostolical ordinance, for in that case he would hardly have ventured to speak so strongly against it.”[cxlvi]

  1. K. Howard draws attention to the thorough work of J. Warns, whose conclusion was that “’his [Tertullian’s] protest is the plainest proof that infant baptism was not regarded as an apostolic usage.’ It is, however, possible that ‘in Tertullian’s tract De Baptismo . . . we catch a glimpse of the very beginnings of infant baptism in Carthage and Africa.’”[cxlvii]

Hippolytus of Rome may be dated before AD 235.  In Apostolic Tradition, he wrote: “And they shall baptize the little children first.  And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family.  And next they shall baptize the grown men; and last the women.”[cxlviii] This writer “tells us how baptism was administered in the early third century, and presumably he is describing practices which in their main outlines if not in all details reach back into the second century.  His baptismal ceremony is clearly designed for those of responsible age, who can pass through a catechumenate, fast, renounce the Devil, confess their faith, and join in the communion.”[cxlix] Yet his reference to allowing the parents to “answer” for the child is suggestive of a child too young to personally respond.

We might add here that by the time of Hippolytus, vast false practices and religious traditions had entered the established church, so much that baptism itself was transformed from a simple act of faith and obedience into an elaborate ceremony.  The procedure might be described in this way:

  1. Three years of instruction for the new convert.
  2. The candidate’s life was scrutinized.
  3. On Thursday (Passover and Pentecost were favorite times), the person bathed.
  4. On Friday and Saturday, the candidate fasted.
  5. On Saturday, the candidate was exorcised by the bishop, to drive out demons.
  6. On Saturday night, the candidate spent the time reading Scripture and praying and confessing his sins.
  7. Early on Sunday morning, the water was blessed to give it power to confer spiritual blessings.
  8. The candidate disrobed—he took off all his clothes. Baptism required total nakedness.
  9. The candidate renounced Satan.
  10. The candidate was anointed with oil of exorcism and all evil spirits left as he was prepared to be brought into Christ.
  11. The person confessed his faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  12. He then underwent a triple immersion, being immersed after confessing his faith in the Father, then immersed after confessing the Son, and being immersed after confessing the Spirit.
  13. Anointing with the oil of thanksgiving.
  14. He then put on his clothes.
  15. There was a laying on of hands and a second anointing.
  16. He was given a kiss of peace.
  17. He then was led to a place where he participated in the baptismal eucharist.

This elaborate rite shows how far the Church in the early third century had departed from apostolic Christianity.[cl]  But, obviously, this ritual was only for adults.  Even at this time, probably infant baptism was not as common as some may think.  But instead of a three-year waiting period, infants were baptized as soon after birth as convenient.

The Didascalia Apostolorum was written about AD 220 in Syria.  Cyril E. Pocknee, apparently an Anglican, writes that “this is a treatise of a pastoral rather than a theological nature.  It is intended as a guide to bishops in their pastoral and sacramental ministrations.  It has much to say about baptism and its administration.  But not a word is said about the baptism of infants.”  However, “when the Didascalia came to be revised and used by the anonymous editor of the Apostolic Constitutions about AD 400, we can see a change has taken place.  Not only is the baptism of infants mentioned, but there is a note of urgency in the need for administering the rite to such.”[cli]  Apparently a change of view occurred between AD 220 and AD 400.

Origen (AD 225) clearly supported infant baptism.  This devoted, studious and prolific (yet some would say heretical) author wrote:

I take this occasion to discuss something which our brothers often inquire about.  Infants are baptized for the remission of sins.  Of what kinds?  Or when did they sin?  But since “No one is exempt from stain,” one removes the stain by the mystery of baptism. For this reason infants also are baptized. For “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”[clii]

These verses [Psalm 51:5 and Job 14:5] may be adduced when it is asked why, since the baptism of the church is given for the remission of sins, baptism according to the practice of the church is given even to infants; since indeed if there is in infants nothing which ought to pertain to forgiveness and mercy, the grace of baptism would be superfluous.[cliii]

For this also the church had a tradition from the apostles, to give baptism even to infants.  For they to whom the secrets of the divine mysteries were given knew that there is in all persons the natural stains of sin which must be washed away, by the water and the Spirit. On account of these stains the body itself is called the body of sin.[cliv]

This is the first claim by an early church writer that infant baptism was established by the apostles.  What he means by this, we do not know.  Ferguson suggests that Origin’s claim here may be a reference to Christ’s insistence that people be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), or perhaps His statement that children should not be forbidden from coming to Him (Matthew 19:14), both of which were used to support infant baptism. Also of note is that Origin’s reference is only found in Latin, not in Greek, and the translators were not always accurate or faithful.

Ferguson makes reference to Origin’s views regarding infant baptism, stating that he “affords evidence that the practice preceded the theological justification. . . . The sequence was infant baptisms then the doctrine of infant sinfulness, and not a doctrine of original sin leading to the practice of infant baptism. . . . The child did not have sins of his own.  Origen’s answer was that a stain attaches to birth.   This is not yet a doctrine of original sin (that is, the inheritance of the guilt of Adam’s transgression), for Origen . . . contrasts sin and stain and says the latter attached to Jesus by reason of his taking a human body.”[clv]  Adolph Harnack adds, “It was easy to justify child baptism, as he recognized something sinful in the corporeal birth itself, and believed in sin which had been committed in a former life. The earliest justification of child baptism may therefore be traced back to a philosophical doctrine.”[clvi]

Dale Moody refers to Origen when he wrote, “Patristic baptism indicates that belief in an age of innocence before adolescence and the experience of guilt controlled the practice of baptism until Origen of Alexandria made infant baptism the basis of belief in original sin.”[clvii]  However, we must not think of this as a developed view of “original sin” as taught by later writers, such as Augustine.[clviii]

The third century is when we see infant baptism becoming more common, particularly in North Africa (but also Caesarea, where Origen was located).  Stanley Edwin Anderson speculates that the development came through these steps:

A form of baptismal regeneration arose in which the act of baptism itself was thought to be effective in itself and faith-repentance was deemphasized.

Clinic baptism was allowed (this comes from the Greek kline, bed), in which a sick person was poured if he appeared to be dying (pouring instead of baptism/immersion since the person could not go to the water).

Baptism must have been given to sick and dying babies, even apart from their faith.

Baptism began to be given to any child, just in case the child should die (childhood mortality was high).[clix]

Whether this is totally accurate, we can see the rationale for the development of infant baptism and why it spread.  But we have reservations about this sequence.  Clinic baptism (substitution of copious pouring instead of immersion) seems to have arisen in the mid-third century, whereas infant baptism (apart from clinic baptism) must have arisen about the time of Tertullian in AD 200 or as early as Irenaeus, around AD 185.[clx]  The semi-magical effect of water, however, did seem to promote the idea that water, in itself, could be effect in baptism even of infants.

Cyprian, the North African bishop (AD 253), was a staunch proponent of the baptism of babies as soon as they were born.  He wrote:

If, when they afterwards come to believe, forgiveness of sins is granted even to the worst transgressors and to those who have previously sinned much against God, and if no one is held back from baptism and grace; how much less ought an infant to be held back, who having been born recently has not sinned, except in that being born physically according to Adam, the infant has contracted the contagion of the ancient death by its first birth.  The infant approaches that much more easily to the reception of forgiveness of sins because the sins remitted to it are not its own, but those of another. [clxi]

Cyprian “is the first clear theological exponent of the baptism of new-born babes.”[clxii] Fidus and the bishops of North Africa had inquired whether babies should be baptized on the eighth day, corresponding to Jewish circumcision.  Cyprian’s answer was that the baptism of infants should not wait that long; a baby should be baptized as soon after birth as possible!  The bishop also advocated infant communion and not only infant baptism!  Here are Cyprian’s words:

As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth.  In our council it seemed to us far otherwise.  No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born.[clxiii]

Not content with baptism at eight days of age, Cyprian and his fellow bishops urged earlier baptism!  “Under Cyprian’s influence 66 bishops declared themselves in favor of infant baptism in 253. . . . In the crying and wailing of infants Cyprian heard the request for the grace of baptism.  After Cyprian the baptism of infants became current practice in North Africa.  A similar resolution was passed in 305 by a synod at Elvira in Spain.”[clxiv]

Alexander V. G. Allen writes:

Among the many variations accompanying the history of baptism, the most important was the transition from adult to infant baptism. . . . Evidence that a change was taking place is abundant in the third century.  This change is one of the most significant that has passed over the history of the church.  Adult baptism stood for the principle of individualism, demanding intelligence as the condition of repentance and faith, and the personal vow of obedience as the ground of its proper administration.”[clxv]

Because of what we read in Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origin, Cyprian, and other writings, we can see that the third century was the time when infant baptism spread and was accepted without opposition.  (Be believe, of course, that there were pockets of believers scattered in various places who continued to practice a faith-repentance baptism as in apostolic times.)  E. Glenn Hinson states:

By the mid-third century, baptism of infants was being viewed as a well-established tradition dating from the earliest period of Christian history. . . . From the mid-third century on, baptism of infants was standard practice in both east and west.[clxvi]

By the fourth century infant baptism was becoming much more popular.  One Catholic source says:

In the course of the fourth century it became quite common for people to be born into Christian families, and by the next century, in the whole Mediterranean world, this was the common pattern.  This means that the process of baptism changed considerably.  Infant baptism became the general pattern.[clxvii]

Howard concludes:

From Tertullian onward references to infant baptism becomes increasingly frequent, but it is with the early period that we are concerned, and from the evidence available we are forced to the conclusion that the argument from history would point to the practice being a late introduction, for which the evidence before about AD 220 is scanty, ambiguous and unreliable.[clxviii]

Although infant was becoming more common in the third century, it was not universal.  Edmund Schlink notes that “from Byzantium and Cappadocia we have the tradition that even in the second half of the third century the children of Christian parents were by no means generally baptized.  In this postponement of Baptism it is debated, however, whether infant Baptism had not yet established itself or whether in opposition to an already established practice people subsequently had doubts similar to those of Tertullian.[clxix]

The important church leader, Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 388), wrote: “Do you have an infant child?  Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood.  From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit.  Do you fear the seal [of baptism] because of the weakness of nature?  Or, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!”[clxx] Gregory continued:

“Well, enough,” some will say, “for those who ask for baptism, but what do you have to say about those who are still children, and aware neither of loss nor of grace?  Shall we baptize them too?”  Certainly [I respond], if there is any pressing danger.  Better that they be sanctified unaware, than that they depart unsealed and uninitiated.[clxxi]

Apparently, there were some who denied the appropriateness of infant baptism, but Gregory attempted to urge them to have their babies “sealed” in baptism.

John Chrysostom (AD 388) also promoted the baptism of babies:

You see how many are the benefits of baptism, and some think its heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors [it bestows]!  For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members.”[clxxii]

This shows that by this time, baptism is thought to cleanse the baby from Adamic sin on the soul.

Even while infant baptism was spreading, a strange practice seemed to gain favor among some during the fourth century: that of deferring baptism until later in life!  Brown makes reference to this curious and false practice: “Gregory of Nazianzus was an adult when he was baptized, as was also his intimate friend Basil.  Nectarius, successor to Gregory of Nazianzus, was, like Ambrose, baptized after he was elected bishop of Constantinope.  Chrysostom was in his twenties when baptized.  Constantine postponed baptism until just before his death.  Jerome was baptized after he was twenty.”[clxxiii] While infant baptism was unscriptural, the opposite was just as unscriptural![clxxiv]

“By the fourth century the belief had developed that original sin does not consign the unbaptized to the full pains of hell, but it does prevent entrance into heaven.”[clxxv]  Ambrose wrote: “No one ascends into the kingdom of heaven, except by means of the sacrament of baptism. . . . Moreover to this there is no exception, not the infant, nor he who is unavoidably prevented.  They have however immunity from pains.”[clxxvi]  This was the beginning of the doctrine of Limbo.

Augustine (AD 354-430) was the influential church leader who firmly established infant baptism and gave the underlying theology that would become the Catholic view through the centuries.  These are his words:

What the universal Church holds, not as instituted [invented] by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority.  Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond.[clxxvii]

The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic.[clxxviii]

This influential, leading theologian emphasized the absolute indispensability of this Catholic sacrament for the bestowal of forgiveness and eternal life, even for the benefit of tiny infants.  He stated, “By this grace baptized infants too are ingrafted into his [Christ’s] body, infants who certainly are not yet able to imitate anyone.”[clxxix] Augustine considered baptism utterly obligatory: “If you wish to be a Christian, do not believe, nor say, nor teach, that infants who die before baptism can obtain the remission of original sin.”[clxxx]  Although the Catholic Church of today does not go this far, Augustine taught that unbaptized babies do go to hell: “St. Augustine said all the unbaptized (including children), after death, were destined for a diminished but real experience of hell.”[clxxxi] In the words of Augustine:

Whosoever says that even infants are vivified [given life] in Christ when they depart his life without the participation of His Sacrament [baptism], both opposes the Apostolic preaching and condemns the whole Church which hastens to baptize infants, because it unhesitatingly believes that otherwise they cannot possibly be vivified in Christ.[clxxxii]

He also said that “unbaptized infants share in the common positive misery of the damned.” [clxxxiii]  It should be noted that he says that even “Apostolic preaching” supports the view that unbaptized babies are lost!  It must be conceded, however, that “unbaptized infants would not suffer as severe a punishment in hell as those who lived to adulthood and committed actual sins.”[clxxxiv]

In order to get some idea of the statements in the early church writers on baptism and the first references to infant baptism, we might note the following chart.

Writer Date (AD) Infant Baptism Reference
Didache 100-130 Nothing
Clement of Rome 96 Nothing
Ignatius 110-115 Nothing
Aristides 125 Nothing
Papias 125-130 Nothing
Barnabas 135 Nothing
Hermas 135 Nothing
Diognetus 100s Nothing
Justin 150-155 Nothing
Second Clement Mid-100s Nothing
Polycarp ca 155-178 Nothing
Athenagoras 177 Nothing
Titian 170 Nothing
Irenaeus 180 Possible
Clement of Alex. Before 215 Nothing
Tertullian 190-222 Against
Hippolytus 210 Promoted
Origen 225-253 Promoted
Cyprian 248-258 Promoted
Cyril of Jerusalem 348-386
Basil of Caesarea 379
Ambrose 374-397 Promoted
Jerome 400-420 Promoted
Augustine 400-430 Promoted

 

Now to return to our survey.  The Council of Carthage V (AD 401) stated, “. . . all such children should be baptized without scruple, lest a hesitation should deprive them of the cleansing of the sacraments.  This was urged by the [North African] legates, our brethren, since they redeem many such [abandoned children] from the barbarians.”[clxxxv]

The Council of Meleum II (AD 416) went so far as to state:

Whoever says that infants fresh from their mother’s wombs ought not to be baptized, or say that they are indeed baptized unto the remission of sins, but that they draw nothing of the original sin of Adam, which is expiated in the bath of regeneration . . . let him be anathema [excommunicated]. . . . For on account of this rule of faith even infants, who in themselves thus far have not been able to commit any sin, are therefore truly baptized unto the remission of sins, so that that which they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration.”[clxxxvi]

The Sixteenth Council of Carthage (418) stated: “If any man says that new-born children need not be baptized, . . . let him be anathema.”[clxxxvii] Charles Bennett, in Christian Archaeology, makes this statement: “From the fourth century the propriety of the baptism of infants was unquestioned, and the practice was not unusual; nevertheless, adult baptism was the more common practice for the first six centuries.”[clxxxviii]

Everett Ferguson comments on the view of the early writers that infants are innocent and pure, and states, “It was actually the growth of the practice of infant baptism which led to a changed view of the spiritual condition of the infant.” [clxxxix]  He further states, “As infant baptism became even more general, and since baptism was uniformly regarded as administered ‘for the forgiveness of sins,’ the practice of infant baptism became a decisive argument for the doctrine of original sin.”[cxc]

Infant baptism, therefore, became widespread by the fifth century and continued through the following centuries until the modern era. “The first ecclesiastical command to baptize infants is contained in the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions. . . . In the fifth century infant baptism became a general practice.  The number of large baptisteries that were built in the fifth and sixth centuries, if not simply the continuation of a traditional architecture that was not outmoded, indicates that immersion of adults was still common.”[cxci]   One Catholic authority also notes: “Up to the middle of the 5th century most baptism candidates were adults. . . . From the end of the 5th century until now, the church community has stressed the need for infant baptism and, for various reasons, has often delayed confirmation until preteen or teenage years.”[cxcii]

The historian, Williston Walker, sums up the early understanding of baptism as it relates to infants:

Regarding persons baptized, the strong probability is that, till past the middle of the second century, they were those only of years of discretion.  The first mention of infant baptism, and an obscure one, was about 185, by Irenaeus.  Tertullian spoke distinctly of the practice, but discouraged it as so serious a step that delay of baptism was desirable till character was formed. . . .To Origen infant baptism was an apostolic custom.   Cyprian favored its earliest reception.  Why infant baptism arose there is no certain evidence.  Cyprian . . . argued in its favor from the doctrine of original sin.  Yet the older general opinion seems to have held to the innocency of childhood. . . . Infant baptism did not, however, become universal till the sixth century, largely through the feeling already noted in Tertullian, that so cleansing a sacrament should not be lightly used.[cxciii]

By the time of the Roman emperor Justinian (who reigned AD 527-565), we find what historian Philip Schaff calls “compulsory baptism.”[cxciv] Justinian issued this decree:

All those who have not yet been baptized must come forward, whether they reside in the capital or in the provinces, and go to the very holy churches with their wives, their children, and their households, to be instructed in the true faith of Christians. And once thus instructed and sincerely renounced their former error, let them be judged worthy of redemptive baptism. Should they disobey, let them know that they will be excluded from the State and will no longer have any rights of possession, neither goods nor property; stripped of everything, they will be reduced to penury, without prejudice to the appropriate punishments that will be imposed on them.[cxcv]

Through the following centuries, Roman Catholicism reigned supreme and this institution strongly insisted on infant baptism.  “For more than a thousand years there was no serious dispute about infant Baptism among members of the Catholic Church.”[cxcvi]

Our study above leads us to conclude that infant baptism became widespread in the third and following centuries (except for a period in the fourth century when many church leaders and probably others postponed their baptism until later in life).  “From at least the third century onward Christians baptized infants as standard practice, although some preferred to postpone baptism until late in life, so as to ensure forgiveness for all their preceding sins.”[cxcvii] “The tradition of infant baptism is at least as old as the 3rd century.”[cxcviii]

The fact that so many of these “Church Fathers” promoted infant baptism leads some churchmen to actively promote paedobaptism today and disdain those who would insist on believer’s baptism.  Don Matzat, for instance, makes this extreme assertion:

The fact of the matter is that those who reject and even disdain the Baptism of infants promote a “Believer’s Baptism” are in the minority and actually out-of-step with the historic position of the early Christian Church.  They promote an understanding of grace and faith that is of recent origin.  In fact, their theology arrogantly suggests that the mode of Baptism received by church fathers the likes of Athanasius and Augustine and by the Reformers Luther and Calvin was not proper.[cxcix]

The questions we would pose would be: Why should we assume that the majority are right on this subject or any other subject?  This very writer would say that the entire Catholic Church was wrong, even though it was dominant in Europe for a thousand years!  Why should we assume that the so-called Church Fathers were right in this subject when they were clearly wrong in numerous other areas? If they began to adopt erroneous and even heretical positions on many subjects and practices, is it not possible that they were also faulty in their reasoning about infant baptism?  We believe that this is an important consideration.  Further, if there were serious differences between Luther and  Calvin regarding the meaning of baptism, why should we assume that they were right in their mutual agreement on the subjects of baptism (i.e., infant baptism)?

We have seen how infant baptism arose and spread.  The early church, beginning around AD 200 began to baptize babies and this became more widespread in the following years, until it became virtually universal and unchallenged by the fifth and sixth centuries.  All during the Middle Ages, the established Church—both the western Roman Catholic Church and the eastern Orthodox Church—practiced infant baptism.  When Luther of Germany broke away from the Catholic Church, he continued infant baptisms as a primary doctrine.  The Roman Catholic Council of Trent was an official response to Lutheran dissent.  “The Canons of Trent are mainly exposures of what the Council felt were heretical and dangerous doctrines.  In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, however, there is a full explanation and defense of the Roman practice of baptism.”[cc]  Five arguments were given by this Council in support of infant baptism:

  1. The testimony of the fathers, beginning in about AD 200, is that baptism of infants was an accepted practice. We have seen that human authority counts for nothing but we are bound by the Word of God.
  2. Christ blessed the children, thus we should baptize them. As we have noted elsewhere, this has no relevance at all to infant baptism.
  3. The household baptisms of the New Testament would include young children. We have reviewed these accounts and noted that the family members were old enough to believe and accept the gospel
  4. Circumcision was given to Israelite children, thus baptism should be given to children of Christians. We have responded to this argument as well, for it fails to recognize the vast difference between being a child of the Abrahamic covenant and accepting the New Covenant of Christ.
  5. Infant guilt and condemnation demands a way for children to be forgiven. We have discussed elsewhere that the earlier church writers viewed children as innocent; furthermore, baptism is related to personal guilt and not Adamic guilt.

Trent’s pronouncements may have shored up the Catholic cause, but it had little effect on the growing protest movements.

When Zwingli departed from the Catholic Church in Switzerland at the same time that Luther was active in Germany, he too maintained infant baptism.  Shortly thereafter, John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland strongly held to infant baptism.  In England, Henry VIII broke with Rome and began the Church of England (the Anglican Church) which strongly promoted infant baptism.  Two centuries later, in England, John Wesley began the Methodist Church as a break with the Anglicans, and he also promoted infant baptism.

How Could This Practice have Begun so Soon after the Apostles Lived?

We have observed that there is evidence of infant baptism as early as the time of Tertullian (AD 200) and perhaps even Irenaeus (AD 185).  After this, it seems to have been commonplace, especially in North Africa.  Hippolytus (AD 225), Origen (AD 235), and Cyprian (AD 253) all mention the practice and approve of it, even stating that it came from the apostles.  Cyprian, who has been labeled “the first Catholic” (since some of his views on the established church, baptism, and other matters were later found in Roman Catholicism) emphasized that babies should be baptized as soon as they are born.

The pertinent question comes to us: “If infant baptism is a false doctrine and even sinful, how could it have begun so soon after the death of the apostles?  Wouldn’t the church have been slow to adopt such a false practice?”  Most of the apostles were gone by about AD 70, but John may have lived until about AD 96.  This would mean that infant baptism must have arisen within 75 years after the death of John, and 100 years after most of the apostles were gone.  How could the Church have allowed such a departure from the true teaching of Christ and the apostles so quickly, without a major outcry from many in the church?

This seems incredible to many churchmen and is a leading argument for the claimed apostolic origin of infant baptism.  One Catholic authority makes this very argument: “Infant baptism is assumed in Irenaeus’ writings. . . . Since he was born in a Christian home in Smyrna around the year 140, this means he was probably baptized around 140.  He was also probably baptized by the bishop of Smyrna at that time—Polycarp, a personal disciple of the apostle John, who had died only a few decades before.”[cci] This connection may not be airtight, however.  We don’t know if Irenaeus was “baptized” as a baby, we don’t know if Polycarp baptized him, and we don’t know how faithful Polycarp was to the apostolic teaching, himself.  We simply know that in some areas infant baptism was probably practiced as early as AD 185, when Irenaeus wrote.

We must not assume that people remain changeless and faithful to apostolic teaching for long.  Most of us have known people who were faithful for five or ten years, then fell away.  Many people, after only ten or twenty years, have fallen prey to various false cults, to compromising denominations, and to heretical doctrines.  Entire denominations have changed course after only fifty or one hundred years.  Is it not possible that this could have happened in the early church?

The second century brought numerous false beliefs, views, and practices.  The office of monarchial bishop arose. False views on Christ’s identity and nature were promulgated.  Church organization and autonomy was compromised.  Religious holidays were widespread.  The nature of faith—from a trust in Jesus Christ and His redemptive death to a belief in doctrinal precision—was changed.  Could it not be that the “baptism” of infants also arose at the same time that ritualism, clericalism, and sacerdotalism[ccii] arose?

Pagan converts became increasingly common in the second century and this had decided effects on the beliefs and practices of the professing Christian church.  Sacerdotalism was one of these influences.  Historians Robert A. Baker and John M. Landers explains:

The word sacerdotalism means “priestism.”  Not only the Jewish system but all of the ancient pagan cults included priests and ritual as a part of their religious worship.  The introduction of pagan ideas of external magical efficacy in the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper demanded that such “magic” be preserved by securing trained and qualified persons to administer them.  People began to believe that only the bishop or those trained and authorized by him could effectively call forth the grace resident in these rites.  Thus salvation became identified with the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and these were effective only under the supervision of the bishop.[cciii]

Whether we call this view of the so-called sacraments “magical” or not, the point is that official “priests” or bishops were the only ones qualified to administer baptism, and baptism itself came be viewed as having an intrinsic saving efficacy.  Eventually, this effect was thought to be available even on the part of babies who had no personal faith in the gospel.  As J. Warns, puts it: “The superstitious ideas which came to be associated with baptism count not but lead to infant baptism.”[cciv] [ccv]

Newman also sees a connection between paganism and the effectiveness of baptism for even unconscious infants:

The widespread prevalence of infant lustrations among pagans made the introduction of infant baptism easy and natural.  At first it would be confined to infants in danger of death; but when the idea had taken firm hold on the Christian consciousness that it was a necessary means of the securing cleansing from hereditary sin its progress could not fail to be rapid.[ccvi]

We must remember that there were warnings by Christ and His apostles that false teaching would arise and many would fall away from the truth.  Evidently speaking of the period before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, Jesus stated, “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (Matthew 24:10-11; cf. v. 24).

About AD 57-58, Paul warned the elders of Ephesus with these ominous words: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).  The apostle says that even leaders (“elders” or “overseers,” vv. 17, 28) of the assembly would lead the flock of God astray!

Not only was false teaching, false teachers, and a falling away soon to come about, but this began within the lifetime of the apostles.  Paul wrote to the Romans about AD 56: “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17).  These false teachers were promulgating falsehood that was “contrary to the teaching” which they had learned.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians about AD 55, referring to “false apostles, deceitful workers,” who were “disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).

Perhaps as early as AD 48, Paul wrote to the Christians he had brought to Christ only a couple years earlier: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6; cf. vv. 7-9).  The apostle also speaks of certain false teachings that were unsettling those in Colossae (2:16-19).  Paul writes to certain brothers about a coming “apostasy” (literally, “falling away”) and “a man of lawlessness” who would be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3ff).  Paul wrote much to Timothy about certain ones who were teaching false doctrines in the AD 60s (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-7, 19-20; 4:1-5; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-19; 4:3-4).

Peter also warned about certain “false teachers” who would be among the Christians (2 Peter 2:1ff; 3:16-17), and Jude mentions that certain false teachers in his day had already “crept in unnoticed” (v. 4).  The apostle John speaks of certain false teachers who would lead the believers astray (1 John 2:21-24; 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11).  The letters to the seven assemblies in Asia also give evidence of false teachers (Revelation 2-3).

All of this evidence, scattered throughout the New Testament writings, gives confirmation that false teaching would make a significant impact on the body of Christ.  These false ways that began during the days of the apostles would continue and spread.  Some churchmen, especially Catholics, say that Christ’s body never experienced apostasy, and they seek to prove this by a reference to Matthew16:18.  Jesus said to Peter, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”  They say that since Jesus said that “the gates of Hades” will not overpower His body or “church,” this would say that the true church of the Lord would never apostatize.

Obviously, they claim that this church is the Roman Catholic Church.  On the other hand, the phrase, “the gates of Hades,” “may mean the ‘powers of death,’ i.e., all forces opposed to Christ and His kingdom.”[ccvii] This would mean that the gates of Hades is a metonymy for “the power of death.”[ccviii]   H. L. Ellison remarks that it is not a matter of “Satanic powers” but death (hades is the realm of death), for Christ conquered death when He was resurrected from the dead (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22).[ccix]  Since Christ arose from the dead, all of the prophecies about the establishment of Christ’s body were fulfilled![ccx]

We definitely believe that there were true Christians all through history for the past two thousand years.  However, these scattered faithful saints are not to be identified with the false religious system that was dominant during the Middle Ages and remains prominent in Christendom today.  The Catholic Church of the early centuries was a degeneration of true Christianity—not the true body of Christ.  Authentic believers constituted “a little flock” (Luke 12:32) who remained faithful to the truth of God’s Word and were not swayed by the doctrinal changes of the established institutional church.  The point is that false teaching did infiltrate Christ’s body and led to a massive apostasy after the time of the apostles, and part of this involved the very core of salvation.

Not only did the meaning of Christ’s death change, but how one responds to that redemptive death also was drastically altered.  This means that infant baptism—an invalid religious ceremony—became the door of the church, consequently nearly the whole of the visible church that was identified as “Christ’s Church” (the Catholic Church) had accepted a false religious rite that really didn’t save!  A counterfeit religious ceremony that was thought to confer salvation on unconscious infants became nearly universal, with the result that the entire false church composed of false converts was corrupted.

Motivations in the Rise of Infant Baptism

We may wonder why infant baptism arose at such an early date.  The evidence seems to indicate that it was practiced only one to three generations after the first century apostolic period.   Why did the established church fall into this practice so soon after the death of the apostles?

There must be several reasons why the baptism of infants arose.  First, salvation by faith and repentance became less important as the years went by.  We can see in the New Testament, especially in the writings of the apostle Paul, that justification is by faith (Romans 5:1), salvation is by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), the Holy Spirit is given through faith (Ephesians 1:13), and eternal life comes through faith (1 Timothy 1:16).  The further one goes beyond this early apostolic period, the more that faith became an intellectual exercise rather than a trust and reliance on Jesus Christ and His saving death.  When faith was minimized and changed, the importance of the bare act of baptism was emphasized![ccxi]

Second, in the first century, baptism was seen as an expression of faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 18:8; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12) and the embodiment of repentance (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-5; cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).  By the second century, baptism increasingly was viewed as a ritualistic act that was performed in itself to confer forgiveness.  It was intrinsically effective, objectively effective, without an inner response of the heart.  Faith and repentance began to fade into the background (except to some extent for adults), while a mysterious view of baptism began to prevail.  This new perspective viewed baptism as effective in itself, apart from that which Christ designed for it to express—namely, faith, repentance, and commitment of life.  We can see how infant baptism was the logical outcome of this view.

Ferguson explains how the early post-apostolic church fell into this view of baptism:

The development of the view of baptism as objectively effective, paralleled the development of infant baptism.  If baptism is defined as consisting of water and the Trinitarian formula, then conscious faith and obedience become less important.  In the absence of a personal confession of faith and renunciation of the devil other justifications were offered—the faith of the church; the guarantee by the sponsors that the child would be raised in the church; the child considered a believer by reason of receiving the sacrament of faith (baptism).[ccxii]

Third, baptism came to be seen uniquely as a saving act in itself.  While salvation was related to baptism in the New Testament of the first century (cf. Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; etc.), it was viewed as the occasion of salvation and not the procuring cause or instrumental means of salvation!  Salvation eventually came to be tied directly to the act of baptism, apart from the inner response that was meant to be expressed in the outer act.  However, in the New Testament, we can easily see that there were important and essential prerequisites to baptism:

  • Belief in Christ is necessary (John 3:14-18) for being born of water and the Spirit (vv. 3-7).
  • Repentance of sin brings spiritual life (Acts 11:18) and forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19).
  • Faith in Christ results in eternal life (John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-26; 20:30-1; 1 Timothy 1:16).
  • Responding to the Word of truth results in the new spiritual birth (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23).

Since a little child cannot actively respond to the message of Christ, cannot repent of his sins, and cannot believe in Jesus Christ, it is clear that he cannot be spiritually born again of the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, we remember that Christ emphasized to Nicodemus the absolute necessity of the spiritual birth, the birth of the Spirit.  In John 3:3, Jesus speaks of being “born again” or being “born from above” (see also v. 7), while in verse 5, Jesus adds this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  Then, in verse 6, our Lord refers to being “born of the Spirit.”  This spiritual birth also is found elsewhere in Scripture (cf. John 1:12-13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23).  Many Biblical scholars believe that Christ’s reference to being born “of water and the Spirit” is a reference to baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit.  By the second and third centuries, John 3:5 became a favorite verse in the established church.  It became so crucial in the thinking of the church leaders that for one to be “born of water” as an infant was to enter the kingdom of God.[ccxiii] [ccxiv]

Fifth, many of these early writers and leaders were aware that the Scriptures emphasized the universal experience of sin (Romans 3:23), death (Ephesians 2:1), and condemnation (John 3:17-18; Romans 5:12-21).  They knew that Paul wrote that “death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) and some thought that “all men” (including infants) sinned “in Adam.”  They came to believe that newborn babies had the stain, the contamination, or the contagion of sin on their souls.  They reasoned that the only way this could be removed was through baptism.  A child could not repent, believe, or commit himself to the Lord; however, they assumed that baptism was an act that could be done to the child, apart from the child’s cooperation.  This ceremony “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” was thought to forgive the child of original sin and regenerate the child so that he became a child of God, a member of the Church, and an heir of God’s kingdom.  In a day when childhood death was an ever-present danger, concerned parents could assure their child’s eternal destiny by baptizing him at this early age.[ccxv]

Sixth, as one leaves the apostolic era and proceeds into the second, third, fourth, and fifth centuries, clergymen increasingly were viewed as priests who had special powers with God.  The simplicity of the first century developed into the elaborate ceremony of the third and later centuries.[ccxvi]  Soon, only the elders and bishops were thought to have the right to baptize.  The Church considered them to have the responsibility to baptize so that those in sin (including infants) would be forgiven through the act of baptism.  They became priests with the sacerdotal powers of baptism, which was the “key” to the kingdom of God!

Seventh, early in the post-apostolic period, the connection was established between circumcision in the nation of Israel and baptism in the body of Christ.  Just as a male child was circumcised at eight days of age to become part of the people of God, so it was thought that a child should be baptized as early as possible (soon after birth) to become part of the New Testament people of God, which by then was transforming into the beginning Catholic Church.  This connection between circumcision and baptism bolstered the other factors leading to a baptismal regeneration view.  These professing “Christians” did not see the discontinuity between the old covenant and the new (cf. Galatians 3, Romans 4, 2 Corinthians 3; Hebrews 8).

Eighth, as the established church continued to develop a theology of the sin of infants, this pressed the church to deal with this sinfulness.  Many children died at a young age, during their first year, and concerned parents were driven to find a way to assure the salvation of their little ones.  In this case, popular opinion and concern was the pressure to develop the doctrine of original sin.

Baptismal Regeneration: The Leading False View Demonstrated in Infant Baptism

Not only do paedobaptists nullify the clear Biblical teaching that we are saved by God’s grace through our repentant faith, but they have a corresponding doctrine that contradicts Biblical teaching on baptism.  This doctrine is called baptismal regeneration.

Baptismal regeneration is a theological view that is espoused by most paedobaptists, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, and to some extent the Methodist Church.[ccxvii]  (On the other hand, the Presbyterian Church, although staunchly paedobaptist, rejects this baptismal regeneration view.)  This doctrine is “the belief that water baptism effects the saving work of the Holy Spirit in washing away original sin.  In Roman Catholicism baptism (usually of infants) is understood to confer grace upon the individual, whether or not faith is present.”[ccxviii]  It is “the theory that regeneration is effected by the means of baptism. . .”[ccxix]

An important distinction must be made at this point.  The Bible does connect salvation (1 Peter 3:21), forgiveness (Acts 2:38), life (Colossians 2:12-13), and being clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:26) to baptism, but this is not a bare or empty baptism.  It is a baptism that expresses a repentance of sin and a true faith in Jesus Christ. All of these baptismal verses do not at all give the impression that one is saved or forgiven “by” baptism, per se, but salvation and forgiveness are spiritual blessings related to baptism inasmuch as in baptism and through baptism, these inner responses to Christ and His sacrificial death are manifested in baptism.[ccxx]  Baptism in and of itself in no way is related to forgiveness and salvation!  In fact, baptism, apart from those inward responses (of faith and repentance) that God intended to be demonstrated in baptism, means absolutely nothing.

In contrast to this, baptismal regeneration churches see something intrinsically valuable in the bare act of baptism.  They may say that it must be connected with the Word, or with the Institutional Church, or with the faith of the parents or Church, but they do see baptism as intrinsically valuable to the infant himself, entirely divorced from the child’s own volition.  Since infant baptism cannot be a baptism of repentance (the child has no personal sins to be repented of and surely doesn’t have the capacity to repent), and since it cannot be a baptism of faith (a baby cannot have an informed and Biblical faith in Christ), baptism is emptied of its God-designed meaning, as revealed in the New Testament.  It is not a Scriptural baptism since it is not the baptism described on the pages of Scripture.

Notice that paedobaptist churches definitely say that God does something to and for the child, apart from the child’s personal response of faith, repentance, and commitment.  The Roman Catholic Church says that the baptized are “freed from their sins, are reborn as children of God and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated in the Church.”[ccxxi]  Catholic theology would say: “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.”[ccxxii] The United Methodist Church asserts: “The Church affirms that children being born into the brokenness of the world should receive the cleansing and renewing forgiveness of God no less than adults. . . . In baptism infants enter into a new life in Christ as children of God.” [ccxxiii]

These infant baptizing churches give a design to the act of baptism that is divorced from the very meaning and design that God has assigned for this deeply significant act.  When Scripture says that “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21), Peter in no way was assigning salvation to the bare act of baptism!  It was not “effective” in itself!  Baptism was intended to be an outward expression of an inward faith and repentance, and this faith-repentance baptism is what Peter had in mind.  Only this Biblical baptism can be said to “save”—to use Peter’s words.

Likewise, when Paul says that one is baptized into Christ Jesus and into His death (Romans 6:3-4), he is speaking of a baptism—with a spiritual dimension—that embodies a trust in Christ and His redemptive death as well as a sincere turning away from sin with a resolve to live for God henceforth.  Paul in no way is describing a baptism that was merely an external act, for in the baptism he describes, one dies to sin (Romans 6:1-2) and rises to live a new life (v. 4)—something that a child simply cannot do!

We can see that baptismal regeneration, the belief that something happens to an irresponsible child separate from the child’s own believing and repenting response, is definitely a false doctrine and should be renounced by all who would embrace a Biblical view of this meaningful act.  The interested reader should also read Question No. 4 at the very end of this booklet for a further consideration of this false, misleading, and destructive doctrine.

Infant Baptism Misunderstands Salvation by Faith

As we have noticed, most paedobaptists believe in baptismal regeneration or salvation through the bare act of baptism.  This tends to view the act of baptism almost magically, with some special effect occurring at the moment that the priest or pastor speaks the baptismal words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  In the words of Luther, baptism “works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”[ccxxiv] It is to his credit that Luther says that these salvation blessings come to one who “believes this,” and he went on to say that God miraculously “works faith” in the heart of the infant when he is baptized.

However, as we have seen, since one aspect of faith is a belief in the testimony of Scripture to the deity and work of Jesus Christ, it is utterly impossible for an infant to “believe” in the sense used in Scripture.  Therefore, paedobaptists believe that all of the salvation blessings come by means of baptism alone to one who does n ot believe—one who is an unbeliever!  We refer to such blessings as:

  • Forgiveness
  • Salvation
  • Membership in the body of Christ
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Adoption into God’s family
  • Reconciliation with God
  • Eternal life

Is it true that these and similar spiritual blessings come to a baby who is baptized—separate and apart from personal faith?  We do not refer to the faith of parents, the faith of certain sponsors, or the faith of the church as a whole.  (That is another matter.)  We speak of the faith that is constantly mentioned in the Scriptures—a personal faith in God and a personal faith in Jesus Christ.  Since a baby cannot believe in Christ, in His death, His resurrection, and His deity, all of these spiritual blessings—according to paedobaptists—are thought to be given to unbelievers—to babies who cannot believe!

In great contrast to this prevailing paedobaptist view, the Bible is clear that these salvation blessings come by faith or through faith!  Notice the following:

  1. Salvation comes by faith
  • Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
  • “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
  • “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a).

 

  1. Forgiveness comes by faith
  • “Through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).

 

  1. The Holy Spirit is given by faith
  • “We would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14).
  • “. . . did you receive the Spirit . . . by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2).
  • “. . . having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).

 

  1. Justification comes by faith
  • “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
  • “We maintain that a man is justified by faith” (Romans 3:28).
  • “With the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness [justification]” (Romans 10:10).
  • “. . . even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ” (Galatians 2:16).

 

  1. Eternal life comes by faith
  • “Whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:15).
  • “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  • “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life” (John 5:24).
  • “. . . those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).

 

  1. Sanctification comes by faith
  • “. . . those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18).

 

  1. Cleansing comes by faith
  • “. . . cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).

 

  1. Adoption comes by faith
  • “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).

Let’s see the difference.  According to most paedobaptists (other than Presbyterians and a few others), when the baby is baptized, that baby is forgiven of Adamic sin, regenerated, saved, given the Holy Spirit, redeemed from sin, washed from his sins, made a child of God, and added to the body of Christ.  All of this comes to an infant who is incapable of exercising personal faith.

In contrast, Scripture clearly teaches that by God’s grace through personal faith, one is saved, forgiven, cleansed, sanctified, regenerated, given the Holy Spirit, receives eternal life, and is added to the body of Christ.  This contrast is vast.  The positions are on opposite sides of the valley and no bridge can cross from one side to the other.

Since this is the case, we should be able to see the utterly serious issue involved in this subject.  There are more than one billion people—some 75 to 80 percent of all Christendom—who are trusting in a religious ceremony that was performed on them (without their approval!) and that ceremony was entirely invalid and worthless!  They are trusting in an ecclesiastical rite that meant nothing to God—and surely must have even angered God!  In fact, as Jesus said, they have “neglected,” “set aside,” and “invalidated” the command of God (to experience a baptism of faith and repentance), while tenaciously holding to a religious tradition of man (cf. Mark 7:8-13)!  Further, if all of these spiritual blessings come to one who believes in Christ, and these devoted professing Christians are clinging to an invalid ceremony that was thought to bestow all of the blessings, we end up with a vast number of people who have never, ever received the blessings that they thought they had received in an infant ceremony!

Some may ask, “How can it be that so many people thought that salvation comes through baptism, when the Bible is clear that salvation comes through faith?”  This is a vital question and the following explanation must be carefully noted.

The second, third, and fourth century church leaders were able to read the Bible and they could see that Jesus and the apostles did make serious statements regarding baptism.  They could see that baptism actually is crucial, important, and indispensable.  However, these leaders and writers mistakenly concluded that the spiritual blessings were connected to baptism in and of itself, rather than being connected to the faith and repentance that were meant to be embodied in baptism!  This is an important distinction.

They only emphasized those Scriptural statements that spoke of baptism while neglecting the same or other scriptures that emphasized faith and repentance.  They should have been willing to accept all of the scriptures on salvation and not just a select few!  They assumed that baptism for a baby had a different meaning than baptism of adults, even when the Bible only knows a faith-repentance baptism of responsible persons. Notice that God’s Word does relate baptism to a number of spiritual blessings:

  1. Forgiveness
  • “Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).
  • “. . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. . . . He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:12-13).

 

  1. Salvation
  • “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).
  • “Baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

 

  1. Relationship with God
  • “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in [into] the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

 

  1. Gift of the Holy Spirit
  • “Repent, and each of you be baptized . . . and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38-39).

 

  1. Membership in the body
  • “Those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41, 47).
  • “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

 

  1. Washing away of sin
  • “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

 

  1. Union with Christ
  • “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3).
  • “All of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

 

  1. Justification
  • “How shall we who died to sin still live in it? . . . [We] have been baptized into His death. . . . We have been buried with Him through baptism into death. . . . our old self was crucified with Him. . . . he who has died is freed [acquitted/justified] from sin” (Romans 6:2, 3, 4, 6, 7).

 

  1. Adoption, being a son of God
  • “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).

 

  1. Life (Eternal life)
  • “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
  • “Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him” (Colossians 2:12-13).

These many passages are too clear to be misunderstood or disregarded.  (Yet, sadly, many people who claim to believe in “believer’s baptism” do seem to overlook or even deny them!)  We would not tell the paedobaptist sacramentalists to deny them—for they are part of God’s inspired Word.  Allow God’s word to speak for itself, and let us believe it!  But we would say that it is entirely wrong to lift verses like these out of their context and apply them merely to the act of baptism, apart from the very meaning that Scripture gives to baptism, and apart from the inward motivation and attitude that gives baptism at least part of its meaning.

What do we mean?

  • Baptism not only saves (which sacramental paedobaptists insist), but it is also an “appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21)—which only applies to a mature person.
  • Baptism not only is for the forgiveness of sins, but it is an expression of repentance (Acts 2:38)—which can only apply to a responsible person who is convicted of sins.
  • Baptism not only is meant to be the context by which one can “wash away sins,” but one must “call on the name of the Lord” in baptism (Acts 22:16)—which only a mature person can do.
  • Baptism not only involves a “working of God,” but one must be raised from baptism in faith (Colossians 2:12)—a faith that is only possible for one old enough to believe.
  • Baptism not only is for salvation, but it must be preceded by and express a belief in Jesus Christ and His gospel (Mark 16:16)—which is only possible for a person mature enough to personally believe.

The examples could be continued, but what we wish to point out is clear.  The early post-apostolic church must have taken baptismal teaching and so emphasized this that the crucial element of faith in Jesus as Sin-bearer and Savior was minimized.  Further, they somehow concluded that God would grant the various salvation promises only through a ceremony performed on a newborn child rather than by means of repentance of sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It has even been suggested that the Roman and Egyptian  mystery religions that were popular at the time may have influenced these early churchmen to such an extent that they thought that this ceremony, in and of itself, could bestow the gift of salvation.

We would not want to overlook all of the blessings related to baptism, but we must make sure that we understand why those blessings are so related.  Baptism can be said to save (1 Peter 3:21) because it is the expression or manifestation of faith that saves (Acts 16:31), and faith can be said to save, not because of any virtue in personal faith, but because of the object of faith—the Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive death. The same is true of all of the other salvation blessings.  Baptism is said to be “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38) because baptism is the outward manifestation of an inward faith that is an empty hand extended to receive the forgiveness that God offers because of Christ’s forgiving death (Acts 10:43; Romans 3:24-25).  This is so crucial to see; otherwise, we will fall into the error of the early post-apostolic church as well as paedobaptists of our own day.

One of the most ironic aspects to this is that some of the most insistent proclaimers of “salvation by faith” today are also paedobaptists!  Martin Luther, known for his insistence on “justification by faith alone” was also a radical proponent of infant baptismal regeneration!  The only way he could maintain this is to conclude that the infant was infused with a gift of supernatural faith from God when he was baptized!  If one can prove that the child is incapable of faith, then Luther’s doctrine of salvation by faith is nullified by his insistence on infant baptism.

This is the same as the case of John Wesley, the father of Methodism.  All of his life, Wesley maintained the Anglican doctrine of infant baptism and baptismal regeneration, yet he also emphasized salvation by faith—and he personally claimed that he was justified by faith after reading Luther’s writings on faith and justification.  The ambiguity of both Luther and Wesley could have been resolved if they would have renounced infant baptism and promoted a Biblical baptism of faith, repentance, and commitment.

Some of the Negatives in the Practice of Infant Baptism

  1. The practice of infant baptism results in vast numbers of people omitting genuine baptism.

Obviously, if one believes that he already has been baptized as a baby, he will not seek to be baptized later in life.  In fact, the theology of infant baptism would say that it is wrong, sinful, and evil for adults who have already experienced baptism as a baby to be baptized later in life.  They would assert that this would be two baptisms, whereas Scripture says that there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).  The utter tragedy of this view is that the vast majority of people baptized as babies will never—in all of their life—experience a genuine baptism as adults!  Satan has formulated a false or counterfeit “baptism” for over a billion people that will keep them from obeying the baptism Christ commanded in His great commission!  This is one reason why this false teaching is so destructive to one’s obedience to God and salvation by repentant faith!

  1. Infant baptism results in large numbers of professing Christians not submitting to the New Testament instructions regarding conversion to Christ and salvation.

As in the previous point, only a very few of adults baptized as babies will recognize their spiritual need and choose to be immersed into Christ later in life.  If they think that they have already been baptized—one that “works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation,” as Luther put it—then why would anyone see the need to seek the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, and eternal life as an adult through faith and repentance of sin?  Infant baptism serves to keep people from actual salvation through Christ as an adult repentant believer who chooses to be baptized into Jesus Christ!

If you are a person who has only been “baptized” as a baby, what do you do when you read Matthew 28:18-20 or Mark 16:15-16?  Do you close your eyes to the evident meaning of Christ’s words in these accounts of the commission?  What do you think when you read of the account of the baptism and salvation of those on Pentecost (Acts 2:36-41), of those in Samaria (Acts 8:12), of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:35-39), or the salvation of Paul the apostle (Acts 22:16)?  Do you not apply these scriptures to yourself?  What about the meaning of baptism as detailed in Romans 6:1-5 or Galatians 3:26-27 or Colossians 2:11-13?  Have you been so deceived by what you have read in the Catechism, or what you have heard from a Sunday School teacher or a pastor, that you simply dismiss these scriptures as not applicable to you?  I encourage you to open your eyes and recognize that they do apply to you and to me.

  1. Infant baptismal doctrine results in millions relying on an invalid religious rite.

Sadly, there are hundreds and hundreds of millions of people on earth who are depending on an invalid and unscriptural religious ceremony that was performed on them before they were even conscious!  Priests and pastors who perform this ecclesiastical rite do a great disservice to parents who bring their children to be baptized and especially to those children who grow to adulthood.  These people have been told by their pastor, minister, or priest that this ritual was performed on them and this tends to be the chief consideration and real focus of one’s spiritual security.  Church forms and rituals cannot save.  Only Jesus can save, through a conscious repentant faith.

Stanley Edwin Anderson is deeply concerned about this very issue of insulating hundreds of millions of people against true salvation:

The millions of people who are taught that their infant “baptism” saves them are not likely to listen to the Scriptural plan of salvation.  Who can estimate the countless multitude of people who have died unsaved, largely because of this awful distortion of the gospel?  And millions now living are effectively insulated against the saving gospel of Christ because their priests or pastors and parents say their baby sprinkling saved them.  How urgent the need, then, for a Scriptural study of both baptism and the plan of salvation![ccxxv]

The same author elaborates on this dreadful result of infant baptism:

Those children of paedobaptists who have been “baptized” in their infancy are too apt, later, to depend on that ritual for salvation.  Such a false hope will tend to keep them from a real conversion to Christ in later years.  To give anyone such a false hope is terribly serious.  Assuredly, millions of people have thus been given a spurious token of security from which they have never escaped.[ccxxvi]

  1. Infant baptism results in vast numbers of worldly and unconverted people as active members and participants in infant baptizing churches.

A traditional problem encountered by churches that practice infant baptism is that many or most members do not have clear signs at all of conversion, but they live worldly and compromising lives.  They may be religious, they may be church-goers, they may have a form of religion, but they lack true spirituality.  But this is only part of the problem.  Millions of people baptized as babies never become church members, never attend church, and live lives just like everyone else around them.  Yet these people, according to paedobaptists who believe in infant baptismal regeneration, have been forgiven, saved, regenerated, given the Holy Spirit, and made members of Christ’s body.  Sometimes they acknowledge this and say that the child never was saved, though baptized as a baby.

Pardee discusses some of these dreadful consequences of infant baptism:

To equate infant baptism with believer’s baptism leads to serious spiritual consequences.  It often gives individuals a false assurance.  Many a man has assumed he is on his way to Heaven, even though he has had no personal experience of conversion, simply because he was baptized in infancy.  His failure to apprehend his lost spiritual condition is often traceable to a false religious security instilled by the practice of infant baptism.

Furthermore, the practice of infant baptism leads to a worldly church filled with unregenerate members.  People baptized in infancy often continue as members of the church when they reach adulthood whether or not they have been truly born again.  Hence, the church becomes formalistic and spiritually dead.[ccxxvii]

Generally churches that strongly promote the baptism of babies and omit the baptism of repentant believers also have accepted numerous other innovations, false teachings, and ecclesiastical practices that were unknown in the New Testament community of believers.  Generally speaking, they are ritualistic, ceremonial, formalistic, liturgical, spiritually cold, and have very little regard for a careful study of and exegesis of the Word of God.  Many wouldn’t think of taking their Bible to the gatherings.  This is just part of a frame of mind that is not deeply Biblical and spiritual.  (We acknowledge that there are some paedobaptist churches that do seek to use their Bibles and try to avoid ritualistic expressions.)

All of these results of infant baptism in infant baptizing churches should weigh on the hearts of all paedobaptists.

  1. Infant baptism gives people the false assurance that they were saved without true conversion—without a “born again” experience.

Those baptized in infancy are convinced (through their preacher or priest, through their denominational authorities, or through their church confession of faith) that they were forgiven and born again without initial faith and repentance and commitment of life. It was done to them rather than through their own volition.  Baptism of the infant brings this regeneration, according to Luther and infant baptizers in general.  This is a primary reason why it is nearly impossible to bring infant baptizers to a genuine believer’s baptism and an authentic salvation experience.

  1. The lack of infant baptism troubles many deceived parents who are concerned about the spiritual welfare of their children.

Since baptism is thought to confer the forgiveness of sins, salvation, regeneration, and the Holy Spirit to the unconscious infant, some parents desperately seek baptism as soon as possible after birth to ensure their child’s salvation and place in heaven.

In order to show the concern that Roman Catholics may have concerning a fetus and the absolute need to baptize him or her, the reader may wish to notice this explanation (something that non-Catholics may have difficulty comprehending):

If in the process of delivery it is feared that before it can be fully delivered the child will die, then it should be baptized at once. If the head emerges first, water is poured on it and the absolute form is pronounced. If any other part emerges first, water is poured on it, and the conditional form is used: “If you are capable of being baptized, I baptize you…. etc.” This is because one is not sure if the child is dead or alive.

From the first moment of conception the human fetus is animated by a rational soul. Therefore, in cases of premature birth or miscarriage, the fetus, however small, even if only a few weeks old, must be baptized as long as there is a chance that it has life. If it shows certain signs of life, it must be baptized conditionally: “If you are alive, I baptize you. . .etc.”

Many newly-born infants and fetuses show no signs of life for some hours after delivery, but are really alive. This is why unless putrefaction has set in, such infants and fetuses should be baptized conditionally: “If you are alive. . .etc.”  In cases where the fetus is expelled still enveloped in the membranes, the sac should be opened, and water poured over the fetus, or the fetus immersed in water, and the conditional form is given: “If you are alive. . .etc.”

If the mother dies while the child is still undelivered, it should be withdrawn without delay. Many instances have proven that an undelivered infant may be alive some time after the mother’s death. After withdrawal, the infant or fetus should be baptized absolutely or conditionally, according to whether it shows signs of life or not. Let us insist on this point: we should not miss any chance to send a human soul directly to heaven through these emergency Baptisms. If one cannot take an oath that the infant or fetus is absolutely dead; or that it is absolutely not a human being, then it must be baptized.

In case of doubt, always decide in favor of the human being, for the Sacraments were instituted for man. Reverence for the Sacrament is guarded, in case the subject is dead or not human, by giving the rite conditionally.[ccxxviii]

A rather bizarre case also reveals the desperation of some parents regarding their unbaptized babies:

The many millions of European and American Lutherans are still being taught baptismal regeneration.  This writer was summoned one night to minister to a paedobaptist couple whose little boy had drowned that afternoon.  They had been unable to secure a minister who would now consent to “baptize” the lifeless body.  Frantically, they begged me to save their child’s soul by baptizing the little corpse.  Another child of theirs had been “baptized” a few seconds before its death, so why could not this one be saved a few hours after it had drowned?  The New Testament was read to them, showing its gracious promises to little children (Matthew 19:14; Romans 5:12-21), and that their precious child was perfectly safe without any kind of baptism.  Their consequent relief was exceedingly great.[ccxxix]

Indeed, false teaching given to hundreds of millions of parents has resulted in much pain and concern.  Granted, the above case is somewhat bizarre.  And to be fair, we must admit that many or even most Protestant paedobaptist pastors would believe that unbaptized children are safe and will go to heaven.   Others, such as confessional Calvinists, feel justified in presuming that children who have died are “elect” and thus safe in the Lord.  Many Catholics would not believe that the unbaptized child goes to hell, but neither can he go to Heaven either, but will go to Limbo, a place of pleasantness where the child is forbidden to be in God’s presence.  Yet, the practice of infant baptism has brought much unnecessary concern.

  1. Infant baptizing churches not only practice an unscriptural rite that they call baptism, but they have invented a necessary but unscriptural addition to it called

In this case, one unscriptural practice leads to another unscriptural practice.  “Children baptized as infants or toddlers are sometimes asked to ‘confirm’ their baptismal vows, when they are roughly between eight and 14 years of age, by publicly affirming their faith.”[ccxxx] Lutherans may confirm their young people about age twelve or thirteen.

For Roman Catholics, Confirmation is not an essential affirmation of faith, but is a sacrament that confers an increase and deepening of the grace provided at baptism.  In the Latin-Rite (i.e., Western) Catholic Church, the sacrament is to be conferred at about the age of discretion, generally taken to be about seven.  In Eastern Christianity, including Eastern Catholic Churches, the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred immediately after baptism, and there is obviously no renewal of baptismal promises.”[ccxxxi] “In the United Methodist Church, Confirmation is a rite where baptized individuals recognize the work of God’s grace as well as an embrace of being a disciple.  It often occurs when youth enter their junior high school years, but it may occur at any time that a person is ready to profess their faith.”[ccxxxii]

How should we look on this unscriptural practice that is thought to “complete” an earlier baptism?  Alan Cairns writes:

Though there is no support for the practice of confirmation in the New Testament church, it is widely used. . . . The danger is that the practice of confirmation ends to become part of a sacramentalist view of salvation and is injurious to a truly evangelical presentation of the way of salvation.[ccxxxiii]

Confirmation, of course, is an unscriptural practice that paedobaptists believe is necessary to complete a baptism of infants.  Wegter states, “Infant baptism is an incomplete ordinance as evidenced by the need for confirmation,” then he cites Paul Jewett (Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace) who charges that confirmation as “a distinct rite makes baptism in two parts, of which division the New Testament knows nothing.”[ccxxxiv]   Johannes Warnes plainly states: “Confirmation . . . is a great lie.  For, in the case of boys and girls who are not reborn, the promise made in confirmation . . . is detestable to God.”[ccxxxv]

Since New Testament baptism was for believers who had repented and confessed Christ, we can see that an additional ceremony of confirmation was and is entirely unneeded.  It also gives a false sense of spiritual security.

  1. Infant baptism encourages sprinkling or pouring rather than immersion.

We have been using “baptism” with regard to infant baptism here although in most cases it isn’t even a literal baptism.  We’ve used it in an accommodative way, for we’ve seen in Scripture that what is portrayed as baptism isn’t really New Testament baptism.  Further, since “baptize” in the Greek language, baptizo, technically means immersion, dipping or submersion, we must conclude that since most infant baptisms are not immersions, they also are not literal baptisms—other than the infant immersions in the Orthodox Churches.[ccxxxvi] [ccxxxvii]

Although infant immersion was the standard practice during many centuries, today churches such as the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church, and others merely pour a small amount of water on the baby’s head.  Therefore, even if infant baptism were valid, most churches don’t actually baptize (immerse) but rather sprinkle or pour.  Because many people would object to infant immersion, we can see that they are drawn to infant pouring instead.

  1. Infant baptism is a sin against the child.

Many parents assume that they are doing their child a favor in arranging for their baptism.  Their parents and grandparents and ancestors baptized their babies, and this is the necessary act to assure their child’s salvation and make him a member of the Church.  Maybe they have read the Bible enough to realize that there is no express command or example of infant baptism, but they must push this from their mind and conscience with the thought that their pastor and church would not require such a ceremony if there were any doubt about its legitimacy.

Regardless of motivations for parents (or guardians) in bringing their child to church for baptism, we must recognize it as sinful.[ccxxxviii]  It is without God’s command or Biblical authority and it does a terrible disservice to the child himself.  One writer puts it this way:

“It is a sin against the child: It robs the child: (1) Of the joy of personal acceptance of Christ.  In fact, it is no acceptance of Christ at all.  Christ cannot be accepted in unconsciousness.  And a child is not conscious of Christ—no more than a man who is knocked unconscious.  He has neither faith, love, repentance, nor choice.

“(2) [It robs the child] of personal freedom of choice.  He might not want to be what his parents are trying to force upon him. . . . (3) [It robs the child] of personal responsibility.  His parents tried to do for him what each must do for himself. (4) Infant baptism robs thousands of salvation.  Christ saves only the obedient (Hebrews 5:9). Thousands refuse to obey Christ by being immersed, because they say, ‘My parents had me baptized when I was a baby.’  Parents, though your intentions be good, there is no Bible authority for such a practice; and it nearly always stands in the way of your child obeying Christ later.”[ccxxxix]

  1. Infant baptism is often connected to a State Church concept in which the majority of citizens are Church members but unforgiven and lost.

This is the result we have seen through history.  In Germany, babies were brought for “Christian baptism” by their Lutheran and Catholic parents, but this resulted in a populace very far removed from any semblance to true Christianity.  They were all too willing to accept Hitler as a virtual “god” for they had no saving relationship with the true God of the Bible.

Today, England continues to “baptize” their babies but a mere 5% of the population actively goes to Church.  The same is true of nearly every other European country.  They may have a large church membership, but the membership remain unregenerate and lost.  Infant baptism “has led to the primarily European phenomenon of the [state church] with its great masses of nonworshiping, nonpracticing church members who in effect have repudiated their baptism.”[ccxl]

This has led Moody to charge that “indiscriminate baptism . . . . has resulted in a nation of baptized people very few of whom are practicing Christians in any mature sense.”[ccxli]  (We would add that this procedure has resulted in a populace of non-Christians who think that they are Christians because of an infant ceremony that mistakenly is labeled “baptism”!)

The terrible results of the state church was manifested during the Reformation of the sixteenth church.   When Anabaptists began to object to infant baptism and insisted on “baptizing” only those who could make a commitment of faith, the authorities were furious.  They considered this as an attempt to “unchristianize” the population.  Further, they didn’t want nonresistant Anabaptists to jeopardize the welfare of the nation.  This led to severe persecution of these responsible citizens with thousands being burned at the stake, drowned, or exiled by Catholics as well as Zwinglians or Calvinists, and Lutherans.

  1. Infant baptism is based on the silence of the Scriptures.

Most scholars, including paedobaptists, confess that infant baptism is not clearly taught in the Scriptures and there is no clear-cut example of such a baptism on the pages of the Bible. If the inspired Scriptures do not offer a command, example, or any instruction at all about infant baptism, it is illegitimate of us to accept and practice such a rite as infant baptism.

We must not “exceed what is written” in Scripture (1 Corinthians 4:6), or “go beyond what is written” (ESV, cf. NET Bible, NIV).  God commanded Israel, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, no take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).  Later He added, “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do: you shall not add to nor take away from it” (12:32; cf. Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19).  This argument would say that since neither Christ nor the apostles taught infant baptism and there is no example of such a practice in the New Testament writings, it would be wrong and sinful to add such an institution, especially one that violates so many other principles.

Why Do Some People Continue to Cling to Infant Baptism?

  1. They would need to deny their earlier religious rite.

When people come to see what Scripture teaches about the nature of salvation and baptism, they logically should conclude that their infant baptism is invalid.  However, they are aware that if they choose to repent of their sins and express their faith in Christ by being baptized as an adult, they would be nullifying their earlier infant experience.  Most people are unwilling to humble themselves to do this.  They are unwilling to admit error and acknowledge that their parents and church were in error on this vital matter. Yet Paul said, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

  1. They would need to deny their earlier religious experience.

If one comes to see that he was not forgiven, saved and regenerated as a baby, it is very humiliating for one to come to the conclusion that he has lived his life unforgiven, unregenerated, and unsaved.  People think that this would take away from them a very important part of their life.  They have precious thoughts of this infant ritual that they don’t want to deny.  Therefore, they choose to cling tenaciously to this earlier church ceremony rather than humble themselves before God and others.

  1. They would need to deny the experience of their family and ancestors.

Many people feel a loyalty to their parents or grandparents who are no longer living.  If those people relied on their infant baptism to assure their salvation and place in heaven, it is very hard for the living descendants to make a decision on their own to believe and obey the Lord.  They read the Scriptures as though their father, mother, or grandparents were looking over their shoulders, all of whom may have only been poured as babies.  If they choose to be truly baptized as a believer, they feel that they are condemning their family to hell because of their false teaching and practice.  This is too great a sacrifice for many—maybe most—people, thus they continue to hold to their false system.  They place their parents and grandparents above the Lord Jesus and His will.  However, the Lord Jesus warned, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37; see also Luke 14:26-27).

  1. They would need to deny their church or denomination.

Many people find their sense of identity and their feelings of security in belonging to a particular church or denomination.  If that church holds strongly to a theology of infant baptism (as is the case in much of Christendom), many people would hesitate to do anything that would be seen as disloyal to that church and result in their being excluded from the church.  Large numbers of people are so devoted to their church that they would never think of doing something that would necessarily mean that church is wrong on such a cardinal teaching as infant baptism.  On the contrary, we must always place Jesus and His word before and above any church, any creed or confession, or any church council.  Jesus declared, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:39).

  1. They would need to deny many of their church friends.

If a person were to renounce his infant baptism and seek baptism as an adult believer, he understands that this would alienate his friends in that particular church.  These church friends would know that this adult baptism effectively would “unbaptized” them too, and this would be intolerable to many people.  Again, each person must determine who is more important to him—is it friends or is it God?  Paul wrote, “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?  Or am I striving to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).  Actual truth-seekers need to be willing to accept Scripture alone rather than defective advice or counsel of others.

One time I asked a devoted church leader a crucial question: “John, if you studied the Bible and discovered God’s will on a matter, and you asked your fellow church brethren about the subject and they told you to disobey it, what would you do?”  With little hesitation, he replied, “I would rather accept what my brethren say about it than what I read in the Bible!”  I was dumbfounded at the response of this devoted leader!  This is the kind of obstacle that many people will face when they consider whether they should submit to Biblical baptism when their fellow church-members object.

  1. They would need to deny admired church leaders, teachers, and pastors.

Many church members place their religious leaders—whether pastors, priests, preachers, or bishops—in a very high position.  They so highly regard them that they become more important than the teaching of the Word of God.  They would rather please “Pastor Jones” or “Father O’Hare” or “Bishop Smith” than please Jesus Christ the Lord and Head of the body!  If they were to renounce their infant baptism, they are sure that this revered clergyman would disapprove.  They don’t want to grieve, or upset, or even anger this revered religious authority.  Yet we must remember how Peter asked, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19).

  1. They would need to renounce much of church history through the ages.

Some people have a keen sense of being part of a Christendom that extends back five centuries to the Reformation, or even back seventeen hundred years to the early centuries of the Christian era.  They are aware that hundreds of millions of people lived and died in paedobaptist churches, and are aware that for most of church history, priests and pastors have baptized babies.  These people fear leaving this stream of history by renouncing infant baptism and embracing believer’s baptism.  They would rather place their confidence and hope of heaven in the fallible decisions and faulty views of church councils and denominational leadership than in the pure and simple commands of Jesus and the apostles.

Probably all infant baptizers are concerned with this particular issue.  They are aware that the vast majority of professing “Christians” through history, from AD 300 to the present, have only been “baptized” as babies (actually poured or sprinkled as babies).  They think that if we deny that any of them were truly baptized, we “unchristianize” professing Christians through the ages.  Martin Luther, whom we noticed before, had trouble denying infant baptism for this very reason:

That God, however, approves of the baptism of little children, is shown by this, viz., that God gives the Holy Ghost to those thus baptized [to many who have been baptized in childhood].  For if this baptism would be in vain, the Holy Ghost would be given to none, none would be saved, and finally there would be no Church.  [For there have been many holy men in the Church who have not been baptized otherwise.]  This reason, even taken alone, can sufficiently establish good and godly minds against the godless and fanatical opinions of the Anabaptists.[ccxlii]

Regardless of what the majority may say they have experienced, regardless of the claimed salvation of the majority, and regardless of their assumed evidence of salvation and the Holy Spirit, if the experience of infant baptism is not based on the holy, infallible words of Scripture, we must reject it.  Apparently Luther and his followers didn’t think of the consequences of this doctrine of experience and church history.  Wouldn’t they (and most Protestants after them) concede that the vast majority of Catholics through church history—from AD 400 until the Reformation about AD 1525—were lost and in sin, regardless of their infant baptism?  If Catholics could be lost because they received an invalid ceremony they called baptism and trusted in that experience, why could not Lutherans (or Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others) also be lost for the very same reasons?  Luther’s argument only leads to further problems and inconsistencies.

  1. They would need to launch out on their own, not knowing where to go or what to do for fellowship and security.

Taking such a step as being baptized as an adult believer will necessarily mean that one is doing something that most others would refuse to do and most would not think of doing.  He fears that he will be on his own, without spiritual support or close fellowship in his Christian walk.  John tells us that many Jews refused to follow Jesus publicly because of fear: “Many even of the [Jewish] rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43).  Just as many Jews were unwilling to take a stand for Jesus, so many today are not willing to take a public stand for the Lord by being baptized, for they fear that they will be left alone, without spiritual influence and religious help or fellowship.  It is better to obey the Lord and stand alone than acquiesce to the human desire for fellowship.  Paul one time said that everyone “deserted” him, but he joyfully said, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:16-17).

The Doctrine of Infant Baptism can be a Very Emotional One

There are many subjects in life that can bring emotional responses.  In these matters, many people would rather simply react against the message or the messenger than really examine what the Bible says and what God wants.  Such subjects as materialism, divorce and remarriage, suicide, women pastors and speakers, home schooling, military involvements, nationalism, and other issues cause a great amount of unthinking and unneeded reaction from some people.

Infant baptism can be one of these emotionally-charged subjects.  When a Christian urges a person to thoughtfully study this matter and believe what God says about it, some infant baptizers can become very reactionary.  They are aware that their own spiritual status is at stake and that of their relatives and family.  Their church doctrine and the very foundation of their denomination is at stake.  In fact, their whole life seems to be in jeopardy.

In cases like this, we must simply appeal to the Word of God.  We must urge people to allow Jesus to be Lord of their beliefs and practices, the very One who has the right to command.

Appeal to people to submit their own wills to that of Jesus Christ.  Jesus asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).  Jesus also speaks of the Judgment scene: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21; cf. vv. 22-27).  If Jesus is Lord—and He is—then we must obey what He says.  And Jesus declared, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a).

Did Jesus mean what He said?  Did He mean that this would be followed by His followers and by those who would become His followers?  Yes, He was serious and we must take His words as God’s authoritative and infallible will for all humanity.

You might also thoughtfully consider the love of God in Christ Jesus.  God so loved you that He gave His dear Son (John 3:16), and Jesus so loved you that He laid down His life for you (1 John 3:16-17).  If we truly love God and love the Lord Jesus, we will obey what He says (John 14:15, 21-24; 1 John 5:2-3).  This includes what God says about the need to be baptized (immersed) as a fully repentant and believing responsible person.

There are several responses possible by one who has learned something of God’s will regarding baptism.[ccxliii]  Paul’s preaching to the Athenian philosophers gives these three responses (Acts 17:32-34).  First, some people “sneered” (NASB), “mocked” (ESV), or “scoffed” (NET Bible).  In other words, they treated Paul’s message as unworthy, ridiculous, and foolish.  Today, some will consider this truth about baptism to be foolish and too irrational to accept.  Second, some dismissed Paul’s words by saying, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”  They found his discourse interesting but we don’t know if they ever did examine the evidence and accept the message.  Third, some people “believed” Paul’s message.  This is the desired response to a message from God’s inspired Word.

Consider the response of the Bereans.  Luke says that they made a wise and serious response: “These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  We hope that you will eagerly “receive” the word we have been discussing and that you will “examine” the Scriptures to determine the truthfulness of these things.

 

Let’s Review why Infant Baptism is Invalid

We have looked at infant baptism from various viewpoints and have examined many Biblical passages.  We have compared infant baptism of unbelieving babies with the baptism of repentant believers who are committing their life to Christ Jesus.  Let’s review a few of our findings.  In the New Testament:

  1. Nothing is known of baptism with a proxy faith (of the parents, guardians or church).
  2. Nothing is known of a baptism based on a possible future faith.
  3. Nothing is known of a baptism apart from personal sin.
  4. Nothing is known of a baptism that excludes heartfelt repentance.
  5. Nothing is known of a baptism that doesn’t manifest personal faith.
  6. Nothing is known of a baptism that is not intended to bring discipleship to Christ.
  7. Nothing is known of a baptism that does not demonstrate faith in God and in Christ Jesus.
  8. Nothing is known of a baptism that is not intended to bring a new and changed life.
  9. Nothing is known of two kinds of baptism—one with faith and one without faith.
  10. Nothing is known of a baptism of an unconscious infant or young child.

This shows the wide gulf that exists between the Biblical baptism, that of the great commission of Christ Jesus and the apostles, and the baptism that is common in many large churches and denominations today.  We have not only seen the serious departure from the sound teaching of Scripture regarding baptism but have seen the tragedy that usually comes when one has been “baptized” as a baby.  We have seen how it undermines faith in Christ, repentance of sins, the command of Christ, the commands and examples of the apostles, the practice of the early Christians, the meaning of baptism, and the very gospel of Jesus Christ itself.  It is a “Life and Death” issue—one that is directly related to eternal life and eternal death.  This is why we have spent so much time elaborating on the subject—for you need to be aware of God’s will regarding baptism, for “the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17; cf. Matthew 7:21; Hebrews 10:36).

Let me add a comment we have not addressed earlier in this booklet.  It pertains to young children.  Certain denominations and churches are strongly opposed to infant baptism, and for this we commend them.  However, some of these promote child baptism.  The Southern Baptists, for example, have baptized seven-year-olds and six-year-olds, and maybe younger children.  One Baptist lady I knew had her three-year-old grandson baptized!

Many of the same arguments against infant baptism may be used regarding baptism of young children.  Some of this lowered age of baptism may come from the “easy believism” trend, in which children are asked to “simply believe” in Jesus as their “personal Savior” to be saved, they the pastor proceeds to baptize these children.  Some of this trend would be linked to the “sinner’s prayer” emphasis, in which the parent or preacher simply has a child “repeat a prayer” to be saved, then the child is baptized.  The trend may arise from the “child evangelism” organization and emphasis, in which a concentrated effort is made by participants to encourage the children to “invite Jesus into their heart” and then be baptized.

As we have seen in our study of baby baptism, true baptism requires deep and genuine repentance, a faith in God and in Christ Jesus as suffering Sin-bearer, a confession of Jesus as Lord, and an intention to live a different and new life.  Only if this comprehensive response is present is the person—of whatever age—prepared to be baptized into Christ Jesus and His death for sin.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact age to baptize young people, for it depends on numerous factors, including chronological age, mental age, emotional maturity, spiritual perception, sensitivity of conscience, former Christian teaching about sin and the Savior, fullness of teaching by parents and teachers and others.  Although an age of four or five certainly must be wrong, we can’t give a precise age when baptism maybe Scripturally given.  For some, it may be ten while for others it may be fourteen.  The point is that anyone baptized must have certain basic understandings and commitments for God to accept his or her baptism.

Summary of Our Findings

It may help our comprehension to view some of our Biblical findings in this study.  Notice the following chart.

 

Biblical teaching/example Scripture
John’s baptism required repentance Matthew 3:2, 6-8; Mark 1:4-5
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3
His baptism resulted in fruit—a changed life Matthew 3:7-8; Luke 3:7-14
Christ’s baptism of others denoted discipleship John 4:1-2
Christ’s great commission baptism required faith in the gospel Mark 16:15-16
Christ’s great commission baptism was required for discipleship Matthew 28:19-20
The baptism of Pentecost required a recognition that Jesus was Lord and Christ Acts 2:36-38
The baptism of Pentecost required repentance of sin Acts 2:38

 

Other baptisms in Acts required belief/faith Acts 8:12-13, 35-39; 10:47-48 with 15:9; 16:15, 30-34; 18:8
Other baptisms in Acts required repentance of sin Acts 10:47-48 with 11:18
Paul’s baptism involved calling on the Lord Acts 22:16
Baptism required a death to sin and a resurrection to new life Romans 6:1-5; Colossians 2:11-13
Baptism required faith in Christ Galatians 3:26-27; cf. Hebrews 10:22
Baptism required faith in God’s working Colossians 2:12
Baptism included an appeal to God for a good conscience 1 Peter 3:21

 

We notice that this description of baptism in the New Testament pertains to conscious adults or those young people sufficiently mature to understand the meaning of baptism.  We did include several points on John’s baptism and one on the baptism Christ taught during His earthly life in order to get the background of the great commission Christian baptism.

My Personal Experience

We’ve discussed an important and emotional subject—that of the baptism of infants.  Now let me speak of my own personal experience in an infant baptizing church.  I was raised in the Lutheran Church, a denomination that strongly urges the baptism of babies.  It is an accepted ritual that no one seems to question.  This is in agreement with the writings of Martin Luther, its founder.  I was baptized as a little baby, dutifully and devoutly brought to the pastor by my loving parents.  This is what I assumed was pleasing to God until I was fifteen years of age when I was shocked to learn differently.  At this time, I began to study the Bible for myself and concluded that infant baptism was not practiced in apostolic times nor taught by either Jesus or His apostles.  I was then faced with two alternatives: Either continue in my religious affiliation and be content with my invalid baptism, or depart from the church of my youth and submit to a true baptism, an immersion in water.  I chose the latter.  (If the reader is interested, my full story is found in the booklet, Why I Left the Lutheran Church.)[ccxliv]

Just as I was faced with the decision of whether to obey Jesus Christ as Lord or to be content with my traditional infant baptism and denominational membership, you also may be faced with this crucial decision.  You can plead ignorance no longer for you can see the weight of evidence against infant baptism and the strong evidence for a baptism of faith and repentance as a mature and conscious person.

You won’t be able to plead ignorance, nor will you be able to depend on your parents, and you won’t be able to assume that your church has all of the answers.  God holds you—personally—accountable to know and do His will, especially when it is clearly brought to you.  Paul says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

I plead with you to humble yourself and obey the Lord Jesus Christ, the One with all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) and the One who will one day judge us according to His Word (John 12:48).  I plead with you to turn from all of your sins—including your doctrinal and denominational sins—and flee to God for deliverance through Jesus Christ and His saving death on the cross (Romans 5:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 2:24-25; 3:18; 1 John 4:9-10, 14).

Change your Heart and Mind regarding Infant Baptism

If you have learned God’s will in this little booklet, more clearly than you have ever seen it before, the Lord calls on you to have faith in Him.  What do I mean?   God wants you to trust in Him more than in your own personal experience.   “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26).  Instead of trusting in your own mind, conscience, or heart, be willing to take God at His word regarding baptism and your own spiritual experience.

Yes, the Lord calls on you to trust in His Word more than in your own heart, for God says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else” (Jeremiah 17:9a).  You also need to trust in God more than in your own assumed answered prayers, more than in your assumption that you have known Him all of these years, and more than in all that you once believed in and hoped in.  When you learn the truth about baptism, all of these other confidences must fade away as you simply cling to God’s Word and what it teaches about baptism.

Friend, this very point is the one that has perplexed so many people and caused them to just discard what the Bible says about Baptism.  They have clung to their past experience of infant baptism so tightly that they are unwilling to lay it aside and embrace what the Bible says about the need for true repentance, genuine faith, and sincere commitment of life at the time of baptism.  They would rather hold fast to their baby baptismal ritual than humbly cast themselves on the grace of God by being baptized as an expression of faith, repentance, and commitment of life.  This is the very opposite of faith. Faith is willing to say, “God, I want your will more than my will, I want your truth more than my false ways, I want your word more than all the words of men!  Whatever you say, I will believe.  Whatever you say, I will do!”

God wants you to trust in Him more than in your pastor, your priest, your church, and your denomination.  The Lord says, “Cursed is the man who trust in mankind. . . . Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is in the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:5, 7).   If your minister, your congregation, or your denomination stands for something different than baptism for mature believers, you need to cease trusting in these fallible authorities and begin to trust in God who alone is worthy of our faith.  Jeremiah said to Hananiah, a false prophet, “You have made this people trust in a lie” (Jeremiah 28:15).  Many religious authorities have likewise led people to “trust in a lie” concerning how to be saved and the place of infant baptism.

God wants you to trust in Him more than in famous and well-known church leaders, reformers, professors, and even the Roman prelate or Orthodox patriarch.  He asks you to trust in Him more than church creeds, confessions, disciplines, and councils.  We need to have the attitude of Luther when He was called before the Catholic council (the Diet of Worms in Germany).  When asked to recant his writings against Rome, Luther replied:

Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.  On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.  Amen.[ccxlv]

Although Luther himself failed to take Scripture seriously sometimes, including what God revealed concerning infant baptism versus believer’s baptism, we can appreciate his courageous answer.  We also need to be willing to take the Scriptures over any human authority.

God asks you to trust in Him more than your spouse, your parents, your relatives, and your friends. We all know this deep in our heart.  We know that it is better to trust in God and His Word than in any human source of authority.  As someone has said, “If God has said it, that settles it!”

And God has already spoken about His will regarding how we come to Jesus Christ in baptism.  He has said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).  He has said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  He has also said, “Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

In other words, God wants you to repent of all of your sins, including dependence on all sources of authority other than God Himself.  You must turn from everything that lowers and diminishes the absolute will of God found on the pages of your Bible.  To be specific, you need to repent of relying on an invalid religious ceremony performed on you when you were merely a baby.  This is called repentance.  Your repentance should be a full one, including a sincere repentance of

  • Relying on an invalid ritual called baptism.
  • Supporting a church that promotes infant baptism.
  • Defending infant regeneration rather than seeking the new spiritual birth as a believer.
  • Committing the sin of omission—omitting the very baptism that Christ commanded in His great commission.

You need to not only repent, but you need to submit yourself to a Scriptural baptism (immersion) that demonstrates your inner faith in God, trust in Jesus Christ and His death for sin, and your intention to live a new life in Christ as a new creation (Romans 6:3-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17).   Along with this inner change of attitude, God calls on you to believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and your Savior and Lord (Romans 3:23-28; 6:1-23; 10:9-13).[ccxlvi]

Now is the Time to Exercise Faith and Obey Christ’s Word

It may be much more convenient for one to continue through life without making any major spiritual changes.  If one dares to “rock the theological boat,” he will surely get into trouble.  We resist change—especially if that change has huge ramifications in life and relationships.  Choosing to be baptized as a repentant believer is a change like that.  It may result in alienation from family and friends.  It will result in a separation from one’s church and denomination.  It will require a restudy of many other teachings of Scripture since infant baptism is generally only one of many false doctrines and practices that churches embrace.

If this is your own situation in life, I challenge you to put God first!  Regardless of the earthly consequences, be willing to follow Jesus and His word.  Paul reassures us with this promise: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).  No one can really stand against us if we choose to believe God’s word and obey it, regardless of the cost!  I appeal to you to turn to God and yield to Him today!  Jesus issues this radical call to salvation and discipleship:

If anyone whishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?  For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:34-38).

This booklet has not been a full discussion of the message of the gospel, the good news of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.  We invite you to request many of our booklets that will explain this more fully.  This booklet is merely an attempt to prove that infant baptism was without Biblical authority, therefore without divine approval.  Now is the time for you to learn the full message of salvation!

Questions You May Ask

A study such as this is prone to evoke much perplexity and many questions.  While we cannot hope to answer all of the questions that could be raised, let us mention just a few.

  1. “If infant baptism is false and therefore invalid, how can I explain all of the spiritual experiences I’ve had in my life?”

This definitely is a major quandary that confronts someone who learns that his baptism as an infant is invalid and displeasing to God.  In short, we must keep in mind a basic principle that can be applied to this subject and many others: We cannot judge truth by our experience, but must measure truth by the infallible Word of God.  It is that Word that will judge us on the great Judgment Day (John 12:48), thus whatever God has revealed in the Scriptures is the determining factor and not our assumed personal experience.

Indeed, this issue is one difficult to overcome.  How do we look at the prayers that we thought God had answered?  How do we view the fellowship that we thought we had with God?  How do we explain the assumed “fruit” that we had in our life—love, joy, peace, and all of the others, which one thinks is a demonstration of God’s Spirit in one’s life (Galatians 5:22-23)?

But we must admit that this is a problem of millions of people who discover that they have been dreadfully wrong about other major issues in life.  In all of these cases, we must commit it to God and cling to the truth of His Word.  Regardless of our assumptions about our past spiritual experiences, we will choose to simply believe God’s Word about the need to be baptized as an expression of our faith in Christ and our renunciation of sin and false ways.  To the degree that we were near to God’s will, to the degree that we were influenced rightly by His good Word, and to the degree that we benefitted by His blessings, to that extent we did have a measure of light.  But this is short of salvation.

  1. “How can we understand how certain prominent teachers and pastors have only been baptized (actually sprinkled or poured) as babies and continue to defend and teach the need to be baptized as infants?”

This is another perplexity that we confront regarding this subject.  But it is one that pertains to other basic teachings of Scripture as well.  Certain well-known teachers hold to many different views on important Biblical doctrines (prophecy, the act of baptism, the extent of faith, Lordship salvation, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, denominational differences, worldliness, and others), but this doesn’t settle the issue.  Only the Word of God, properly interpreted, can do that.

Therefore, how do we view prominent leaders, speakers, and authors who have only been baptized as babies or who have belonged to infant-baptizing churches?  What about R. C. Sproul, James Kennedy, Ruth Bell Graham, Mother Teresa, Donald Barnhouse, Bill Bright, Fanny Crosby, Francis Schaeffer, Jay Adams, and others?  How do we explain Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Zwingli, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, William Wilberforce, John Newton, Billy Sunday, and others?  How do we explain the earnest Puritans, the devotional Pietists, the committed Methodists, the pious Wesleyans, and others who were infant baptizers?

As in all of our discussion, we want to focus on God’s will rather than on what a certain respected teacher or preacher may have believed or disbelieved.  We will not be judged by any of the foregoing personalities or religious movements, but we will be judged by God, “the judge of the whole earth,” and to Him we will give account (2 Corinthians 5:10).  We do know that even earnest, devoted, religious, committed teachers and missionaries can be wrong about baptism and numerous other beliefs and practices.  But what is important is what God’s Word teachers.  Let’s not forget Christ’s view of the Judgment:

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name case out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?”  And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Jesus says that “many” will be surprised on the Day of Judgment! They thought that they were doing many religious works and deeds of mercy.  Jesus proceeds to give us a parable.  He describes the foolish man who built the “house” of his life on the sand and when the rains came it fell.  On the other hand, the wise man built the “house” of his life on the rock, and that house stood (Matthew 7:24-27).  Let’s make sure that we build the edifice of our beliefs and practices on the solid foundation of God’s inspired Word, not on what a certain respected man or woman may have believed or taught.

  1. How should we view the situation in which a person was baptized as a baby but is not trusting in that experience; he trusts in a later experience of “inviting Jesus into his heart” or some other form of conversion?

It is true that while most churches teach infant baptismal regeneration, some members of these churches have been influenced by evangelical, fundamentalist, or charismatic preaching (either directly or through television preaching).  They have been told that they should “make a decision for Jesus,” or “invite Christ into your life,” or “simply believe,” then they are assured of their salvation.  Maybe they have gone to a Billy Graham Crusade or some other evangelistic series and come forward for prayer and then think that this is a way of being born again.  Even after this, they don’t repudiate their infant baptism and don’t submit to a so-called believer’s baptism.

This is one of the enigmas that makes little sense.  If they conclude that they were truly saved at such a preaching service, then one would think that they should repudiate their infant baptism as a source of their regeneration and proceed to be baptized as an expression of faith.  But millions continue to trust in their infant baptism as their way of salvation because of what a preacher, pastor, priest, or their parents have said.

Regardless of whether they retain their loyalty to their infant rite or not, or whether they choose to be “baptized” as an adult or not, the form of evangelism that they have been exposed to is not Biblical and should not be defended.  As we earlier noticed, Scripture teaches that one should learn of the truth of Christ Jesus and the good news of His death for our sins and resurrection to new life, then one should repent of his sins and place all of his faith in God through Jesus Christ, and then as he confesses his belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, he should be baptized (immersed) into Christ and into His death, and rise to walk in newness of life.  Therefore, we should encourage both those who have been baptized (probably poured or sprinkled) as babies as well as those who have been baptized as adults (supposedly because of an assumed “born again” experience), to come to Christ for His salvation in the way the Word of God declares.

  1. What actually is baptismal regeneration or baptismal salvation and how should we look at this?

Baptismal regeneration is “the belief that water baptism effects the saving work of the Holy Spirit in washing away original sin.”[ccxlvii]  This is connected to the doctrine of opus operatum or ex opre operato, which comes from the Latin, which signifies that the benefit of baptism is conferred “by virtue of the work wrought.”  “In other words, the grace is in the sacrament which conveys it to the passive recipient without the necessity of faith and repentance.”[ccxlviii]

With this view of baptism, God works directly on the person in virtue of the sacrament, baptism.  Salvation or regeneration is granted directly, apart from any response, any consideration, any heart attitude on the part of the one being baptized.  While some may apply the term, “baptismal regeneration,” in a disparaging way to refer to any belief that one is saved when he is baptized, generally the chief consideration of the doctrine is that salvation is granted in and of the act itself.  It is intrinsic in the rite, apart from the inner response of faith and repentance.

This must be distinguished from what the Bible says about baptism, that one is to demonstrate his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His death by being baptized, and that he is to express his turning from sin through repentance and turning to God and His will.  This faith-repentance baptism is simply an “empty hand extended” by the needy sinner to receive God and His salvation blessings in Christ.  Thus, baptism is related to salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21), forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Colossians 2:12-13), washing away of sins (Acts 22:16), entrance into a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (Matthew 28:19), burial and resurrection with Christ (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12), a spiritual circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12), and union with Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:26-27).  But notice that none of these salvation blessings come directly through baptism, but only through saving faith-repentance expressed in baptism.

Jack Cottrell explains, “Some have gone to the extreme of affirming a causal connection between baptism and salvation.  They have attributed to the baptismal water or to the baptismal act the power to cleanse the soul from sin. . . . This is the doctrine of ‘baptismal regeneration,’ and is usually held in connection with certain forms of infant baptism.”[ccxlix]  The power of water itself seems to have become prominent in many of the early church writers.  “The emphasis on the water, per se, apart from faith and the meaning of the act may be related to the ‘sanctification of the water’” which became “a part of the baptismal ceremony.  This can more properly be called ‘water salvation’ than can the New Testament teaching.”[ccl]

  1. [i] The World Almanac, 2006.
  2. [ii] Don Matzat, “In Defense of Infant Baptism”; “Infant Baptism,” New World Encyclopedia.
  3. [iii] Infant Baptism Under Cross-Examination, 5.
  4. [iv] “Tradition” is from the Greek paradosis and it means “a handing down or on” (Vine, Expository Dictionary).
  5. [v] William H. Pardee comments, “It is impossible to bring into harmony with the Great Commission the baptism of any save believers. To practice the baptism of infants who cannot believe is out of harmony with the Commission; indeed, is contrary to it” (Baptism: Its Importance, Its Subjects, Its Mode, p. 28).
  6. [vi] NASB Study Bible.
  7. [vii] ESV Study Bible. They may denote “means, manner, or even result” (NET Bible).
  8. [viii] Wayne Jackson, Acts—From Jerusalem to Rome, p. 28.
  9. [ix] The Net Bible has pledge, response, answer, all of which imply one is sufficiently mature to understand and commit. The Greek here is eperotema, request, appeal, or pledge (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Bauer, Gingrich, Danker).
  10. [x] ESV Study Bible.
  11. [xi] The Faith Once for All, p. 368.
  12. [xii]com.
  13. [xiii] James C. Gibbons, The Faith of our Fathers, p. 308.
  14. [xiv] “Baptism III,” The NIV Dictionary of the New Testament,” Daniel G. Reid.
  15. [xv] Jay Wegter, “An Examination of the Rationale Behind Paedobaptism” (frontlinemin.org/paedo.asp).
  16. [xvi] KI. Howard, New Testament Baptism, p. 82.
  17. [xvii] Don Matzat, “In Defense of Infant Baptism,” mtio.com/articles.

 

  1. [xviii] Thomas Swan, Water Baptism: What Saith the Scriptures?, p. 8.
  2. [xix] com.
  3. [xx] Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Stanley J. Grenz, et al.
  4. [xxi] Dictionary of Theological Terms, Alan Cairns, p. 255.
  5. [xxii]com.
  6. [xxiii] The Essential Catholic Handbook, 254.

 

  1. [xxiv] Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoted by Moises Pinedo, What the Bible Says about the Catholic Church, p. 144.
  2. [xxv] org/Baptism.
  3. [xxvi] “Eastern Orthodox Church,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthodox_ Church# Baptism.
  4. [xxvii] George H. Demetrakopoulous, Dictionary of Orthodox Theology, pp. 23, 24.
  5. [xxviii] Frank Gavin, Greek Orthodox Thought, 313.
  6. [xxix] Eusebius A. Stephanou, Belief and Practice in the Orthodox Church, p. 28.
  7. [xxx] Valerian D. Trifa, Holy Sacraments for Orthodox Christians, 41-42.
  8. [xxxi] “Baptism,” Wikipedia.
  9. [xxxii] Quoted in “Baptism,” Wikipedia.
  10. [xxxiii] Book of Common Prayer.
  11. [xxxiv]
  12. [xxxv]
  13. [xxxvi]Luther’s Small Catechism.
  14. [xxxvii]Luther’s Large Catechism.
  15. [xxxviii] Cited by Robert A. Baker and John M. Landers, A Summary of Christian History, p. 212.
  16. [xxxix] org.
  17. [xl] The United Methodist Hymnal.
  18. [xli] “Baptism,” Wikipedia.
  19. [xlii] “Infant Baptism,” New World Encyclopedia.
  20. [xliii] The Presbyterian Church would reject the baptismal regeneration view of the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Anglicans, and the Lutherans. They would promote a Covenant Theology that would say that the baptism of the New Covenant is the counterpart of circumcision of the Old Covenant.  Further, Presbyterianism would say that “covenant parents” are to assume that their child is “elect” (chosen of God) before and apart from baptism, with baptism merely being a “sign and seal” of their elect covenant status.
  21. [xliv] “Articles of Faith,” Church of the Nazarene, Nazarene.org.

 

  1. [xlv]org/worship/baptism.

 

  1. [xlvi] From Catholic Answers.

 

  1. [xlvii]com.
  2. [xlviii] The Biblical Ground for the Baptism of Infants, p. 16.
  3. [xlix] William H. Pardee observes, “Not all the physical seed of Abraham inherit the spiritual blessings of the Covenant. The Jews of Christ’s day held the false opinion that being a physical descendant of Abraham guaranteed spiritual blessings.  Christ rejected this view (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; John 8:39-59), as did the Apostles (Romans 9:7, 8).  Furthermore, some of the physical descendants were completely rejected from the Covenant” (Baptism, p. 31).
  4. [l] Quoted by Jay Wegter, “An Examination of the Rationale Behind Paedobaptism” (frontlinemin.org/paedo.asp).
  5. [li] Ibid.
  6. [lii] The Faith Once for All, 367.
  7. [liii] , p. 366.
  8. [liv]org/articles/2287
  9. [lv] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 857.
  10. [lvi] Basic Catechism of Christian Doctrine.
  11. [lvii] The Essential Catholic Handbook, 33.
  12. [lviii] 1250.
  13. [lix] “Why Baptize Infants?” lcms.org.

 

  1. [lx] G. Hobbs, Why Infant Baptism?, p. 13.
  2. [lxi] Expository Dictionary. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says it refers to “baby, infant.”

 

  1. [lxii], p. 366.
  2. [lxiii] Reynolds R. Ekstrom, A New Concise Catholic Dictionary, s.v. “Limbo.”
  3. [lxiv]
  4. [lxv] Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, 213.
  5. [lxvi] Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 133.
  6. [lxvii] A New Concise Catholic Dictionary, s.v., “Limbo.”
  7. [lxviii] “The Existence of Limbo: A Common Doctrine From Which It Would be Rash to Depart,” (tldm.org/news8/limbo.htm#_ednref20-#_ednref20), quoted by Moises Pinedo, What the Bible Says about the Catholic Church, p. 150.
  8. [lxix] Catechism of the Catholic Church,
  9. [lxx] Increasingly Catholics are accepting the possibility that unbaptized babies (and even fetuses!) will be saved. George J. Dyer concludes his study, “The Augustinian idea that unbaptized infants suffer the pains of hell even in a mild form is no longer tenable” (Limbo, quoted by Dale Moody, “Baptism in Recent Research,” Review and Expositor, Winter, 1968, p. 14).  Another writer, Vincent Wilkin, writes in the book From Limbo to Heaven, that “all infants will be saved at the resurrection of the dead” (, p. 15).
  10. [lxxi] “Baptism in Recent Research,” Review and Expositor, Winter, 1968, p. 15.
  11. [lxxii] History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, pp. 470-471.
  12. [lxxiii] The Greek is teknois. Arndt and Gingrich says that this term in Acts 2:39 is used “in a more general sense” for “the plural is used for descendants, posterity” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
  13. [lxxiv] The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Acts, p. 78.
  14. [lxxv]“This passage [Matthew 19:13-15] certainly teaches that infants belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. Infants dying in infancy go to Heaven. But how can this passage be made to teach the baptism of infants? . . . Cannot infants be blessed by Jesus without being baptized?  These children were brought to Christ, not for an ordinance, but for His blessing” (Baptism: Its Importance, Its Subjects, Its Mode, pp. 40-41).
  15. [lxxvi] Presumably, this quotation comes from The United Methodist Hymnal (fumcaustin.org/worship/baptism).
  16. [lxxvii]com.
  17. [lxxviii] Matzat, “In Defense of Infant Baptism,” mtio.com/articles.

 

  1. [lxxix] “Infant Baptism” (gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/I5533.html).
  2. [lxxx] Your Baptism is Important, p. 121. Cyril E. Pocknee makes these observations concerning the blessing of the children: “There is nothing in Tertullian, Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, or Augustine in which reference is made to this lection [Mark 10:13-16], or the similar one in Matthew 19:13-14, as a warrant for infant baptism” (Infant Baptism Yesterday and Today, p. 13).
  3. [lxxxi] 1253, 1255, 1282.
  4. [lxxxii] Encyclopedia of Catholicism.
  5. [lxxxiii] The Essential Catholic Handbook.
  6. [lxxxiv]org/Baptism.

 

  1. [lxxxv] Frank Gavin, Greek Orthodox Thought, p. 311.
  2. [lxxxvi] Holy Sacraments for Orthodox Christians, 42.
  3. [lxxxvii] Eusebius A. Stephanou, Belief and Practice in the Orthodox Church, 29.
  4. [lxxxviii] William Varner, “The Attitude of Various Theological Traditions to Paedobaptism,” Baptist Reformation Review, Spring 1976, p. 22.
  5. [lxxxix] Luther’s Large Catechism.
  6. [xc]
  7. [xci] Quoted from “Infant Baptism” (gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/I5533).
  8. [xcii]org.

 

  1. [xciii] “Lutheranism is more rigid in linking infant baptism to the Augustinian idea of infant guilt than many liberal Roman Catholics would even dare to do. This rigid position drove Luther himself to absurdity.  In his effort to harmonize infant baptism with justification by faith he came forth with a doctrine of infant faith” (Dale Moody, “Baptism in Recent Research,” Review and Expositor, Winter 1968, p. 16).
  2. [xciv] 298.
  3. [xcv]com.
  4. [xcvi]Institutes of the Christian Religion, quoted by James Leo Garrett, Jr., Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 525.
  5. [xcvii]org/worship/articles/water_spirit.
  6. [xcviii] Children of Promise, pp. 80-81.
  7. [xcix] Quoted in “Baptism,” Wikipedia.

 

  • [c]com.
  • [ci]
  • [cii] “In Defense of Infant Baptism” (mtio.com/articles.
  • [ciii] Baptism in the New Testament, p. 329.
  • [civ] , p. 330. “The important fact here is that infant baptism of children born to Christian parents does not parallel—indeed, it contradicts—the pattern of proselyte baptism” (Frank Stagg, New Testament Theology, p. 211). See also Pat E. Harrell, “Jewish Proselyte Baptism, Restoration Quarterly, 1957, p. 163.
  • [cv] , p. 333. Dale Moody points out that even if the children of Jewish converts were baptized, after the ceremony, further children were not baptized. Likewise, if paedobaptists were to apply Jewish infant baptism to the issue of Christian baptism, “it could logically be applied only to children born before the baptism of their parent(s).  This would really argue against the baptism of children born into a Christian household” (“The Origin of Infant Baptism,” in The Teacher’s Yoke, ed. By Jerry Vardaman, et. al., p. 192).
  • [cvi] Baptism in the Early Church, p. 81.
  • [cvii] Baptism in the New Testament, p. 334.
  • [cviii] Note particularly Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, Chapter 4 (“Jewish Washings, Baptismal Movements, and Proselyte Baptism”). Marius Nel reviews Ferguson’s massive work and says that he “comes to the conclusion that Jewish baptismal practices cannot be taken as the direct antecedent for Christian baptismal practices. Not only is the precise chronological relationship between the Jewish baptism of proselytes and the Christian baptism unclear, but are there also a number of important differences between them (although Jewish proselytes baptisms were also one-time, full immersions, they differed from Chrsitian baptism in being self-administered. . . .) (blog.beliefnet.com /jesuscreed/2010/01).
  • [cix] The History of Infant Baptism, quoted by Brown, , p. 24.

 

  • [cx] “Notes and Comments,” The Heythrop Journal, October 1963, p. 388.
  • [cxi] “The Authority and Justification for Infant Baptism,” Review and Expositor, Winter, 1980, p. 52.
  • [cxii] .
  • [cxiii]
  • [cxiv] , p. 53.
  • [cxv] G. Hibbard, Christian Baptism: In Two Parts, p. 95; quoted by Moises Pinedo, What the Bible Says about the Catholic Church, p. 145.
  • [cxvi] Pinedo, p. 145.
  • [cxvii] Outlines of Theology, quoted by Ergatees, The Scripturalness of Infant Baptism and of Sprinkling in Baptism.
  • [cxviii] Doctrinal Errors of the Apostolic and Early Fathers, p. 95, n. 86.
  • [cxix] “Faith and Baptism,” Scottish Journal of Theology, June 1957, p. 151.
  • [cxx] Robert Rayburn, What about Baptism?” 51.
  • [cxxi] Alexander E. Sanford, Pastoral Medicine: Handbook for the Catholic Clergy, pp. 32-33.

 

  • [cxxii] K. Howard, New Testament Baptism, p. 85.
  • [cxxiii] “Notes and Comments,” The Heythrop Journal, October 1963, p. 387.
  • [cxxiv] A History of the Baptists, pbministries.org/History.
  • [cxxv] Christian Archaeology, 1889, p. 291.

 

  • [cxxvi] Similitudes, taken from Early Christians Speak, 3rd Edition, Everett Ferguson, p. 53.

 

  • [cxxvii] Similitudes, Early Christians, p. 53.

 

  • [cxxviii] Early Christians, 53.
  • [cxxix] Apology, from Early Christians, pp. 53-54.
  • [cxxx] Early Christians, 57.
  • [cxxxi] Dennis Kastens, “Ínfant Baptism in Early Church History,” “Issues, Etc.,” mtio.com/articles.

 

  • [cxxxii] Quoted by Christian,
  • [cxxxiii] Against Heresies, from Early Christians, 54.
  • [cxxxiv]
  • [cxxxv]com
  • [cxxxvi] Brown, , p. 24.
  • [cxxxvii] Everett Ferguson, Early Christians, 57.
  • [cxxxviii] Early Christians, 58.
  • [cxxxix] Jack P. Lewis, “Baptismal Practices of the Second and Third Century Church,” Restoration Quarterly, First Quarter, 1983, p. 17.
  • [cxl] Infant Baptism Under Cross-Examination, p. 5.
  • [cxli] A History of Anti-Pedobaptism, 5.
  • [cxlii] Baptism: Baptist View, 6-7.
  • [cxliii] “The earliest definite reference to the baptism of infants is not found until Tertullian, that is at the turn of the second and third centuries. In his work on baptism, he argues that the baptism of little children lays too great a responsibility upon the sponsors, and therefore, except in cases of emergency the practice is to be discountenanced” (J. K. Howard, New Testament Baptism, 85).
  • [cxliv] “On Baptism,” from Early Christians, pp. 54-55.

 

  • [cxlv] Early Christians, p. 58.
  • [cxlvi] The History of the Christian Religion and the Church, quoted by Brown, Ibid., p. 25.

 

  • [cxlvii] New Testament Baptism, p. 86.
  • [cxlviii] Apostolic Tradition, from Early Christians, p. 55.
  • [cxlix] Early Christians, 58.
  • [cl] Early Christians, 35-37. See also E. Glenn Hinson, “Baptism in the Early Church History,” Review and Expositor, Winter 1968, pp. 27-31; KI. W. Noakes, “From New Testament Times until St. Cyprian,” The Study of Liturgy, ed. By Cheslyn Jones, et. al., pp. 91-93; E. J. Yarnold, “The Fourth and Fifth Centuries,” Ibid., pp. 97-105.
  • [cli] Infant Baptism Yesterday and Today, p. 8.
  • [clii] Homily on Luke 14:5, from Early Christians, p. 55.

 

  • [cliii] Homily on Leviticus 8:3, from Early Christians, p. 55.

 

  • [cliv] Commentary on Romans 5:19, from Early Christians, p. 55.

 

  • [clv] Early Christians, 59.
  • [clvi] Baptism: Our Lord’s Command, quoted by Brown, Ibid., p. 26.

 

  • [clvii] “The Origin of Infant Baptism,” in The Teacher’s Yoke, ed. Jerry Vardaman, et. al., p. 193.
  • [clviii] “Origen does not argue from original guilt, but vice versa. Infant baptism was already the practice of the Church and from this he concludes that there must be some mysterious contamination in the soul of the newborn child” (, pp. 197-198). We would add that even at this time, adult baptism appears to have been commonly practiced too and this continued until the time of Augustine.
  • [clix] Your Baptism is Important, p. 104.
  • [clx] See Ferguson, Early Christians, 47-48.
  • [clxi] Epistle 64, from Early Christians, p. 55.

 

 

  • [clxiv]Infant Baptism” (gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/I5533.html.
  • [clxv] Christian Institutions, 406-407; quoted by Henry F. Brown, Baptism through the Centuries, pp. 23-24.

 

  • [clxvi] Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 461.
  • [clxvii] Jose Orlandis, A Short History of the Catholic Church, p. 35, quoted by Moises Pinedo, What the Bible Says about the Catholic Church, 150.
  • [clxviii] New Testament Baptism, 86.
  • [clxix] The Doctrine of Baptism, p. 134.
  • [clxx] Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7, catholic .com.
  • [clxxi] at Catholic.com.
  • [clxxii] Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21; from catholic.com.
  • [clxxiii] Baptism Through the Centuries, p. 26.
  • [clxxiv] “In the fourth century, the delay of baptism became a problem. The feeling developed that such a powerful sacrament which brought forgiveness of all sins should not be utilized too early but reserved until a time when the maximum benefits could be secured” (Early Christians, p. 60).
  • [clxxv] John Sanders, No Other Name, p. 291.
  • [clxxvi] Quoted by Sanders,
  • [clxxvii] On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:24:31, Catholic.com.

 

  • [clxxviii] The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39, catholic.com.

 

  • [clxxix] “Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants,” from catholic.com.
  • [clxxx] Dennis Kastens, “Infant Baptism in Early Church History,” mito.com/articles.
  • [clxxxi] “Limbo,” The New Concise Catholic Dictionary. “Augustine actually assumed that the unbaptized infant of a pious mother would be damned and the baptized infant of an enemy of Christ would be saved (Contra Julianum, 11.11)” (Moody, “The Origin of Infant Baptism, pp. 201-202).
  • [clxxxii] Quoted by Brown, , p. 27.

 

 

 

  • [clxxxix] Early Christians, 57.
  • [cxc] , p. 59.
  • [cxci] , p. 61.
  • [cxcii] Reynolds R. Ekstrom, The New Concise Catholic Dictionary, 29.
  • [cxciii] A History of the Christian Church, pp. 87-88.
  • [cxciv] History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, 1910.
  • [cxcv] “The emperor Justinian I made infant baptism compulsory in the sixth century. This broke down the practice of baptizing at special occasions and of having the bishops as the principal administrators” (Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 133).
  • [cxcvi] Church of Scotland, The Biblical Doctrine of Baptism, 47.
  • [cxcvii] “Infant Baptism,” New World Encyclopedia.
  • [cxcviii] “Baptism,”
  • [cxcix] “In Defense of Infant Baptism,” mtio.com/articles.

 

  • [cc] William Varner, “The Attitude of Various Theological Traditions to Paedobaptism,” Baptist Reformation Review, Sprint 1976.
  • [cci]com
  • [ccii] “Sacerdotalism teaches that by virtue of ordination priests have the gifting of the Spirit whereby they are able to transform mundane physical elements (water, bread and wine) into means of grace” (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Stanley J. Grenz, et. al., p. 104).
  • [cciii] A Summary of Christian History, pp. 37-38.
  • [cciv] Baptism: Its History and Significance, quoted by Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, p. 233.
  • [ccv] “It has been pointed out that from the second century forward the idea gradually gained ground that baptism works more or less magically, the water itself having power” (William A. BeVier, “Water Baptism in the Ancient Church,” Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1959, 137).
  • [ccvi] A History of Anti-Pedobaptism, p. 9.
  • [ccvii] NASB Study Bible.
  • [ccviii] NET Bible.
  • [ccix] The International Bible Commentary, Matthew 16:18.
  • [ccx] “’Gates’ were essential for a city’s security and power. Hades, or Sheol, is the realm of the dead. Death will not overpower the church” (ESV Study Bible).
  • [ccxi] “By 325 faith had lost its personal character as the whole dependence of an individual directly on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Rather, while Christ was a part of the system, faith was to be directed toward the institution called the Church; and salvation did not result from the immediate regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, but was mediated by the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper” (Robert A. Baker and John M. Landers, A Summary of Christian History, 44).
  • [ccxii] Baptism in the Early Church, p. 857.
  • [ccxiii] William Cathcart writes, “The passage in John 3:5, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,’ was understood universally by the fathers of the third century, and their successors for many ages, as teaching the magical efficacy of baptism in regenerating souls” (The Papal System: From its Origin to the Present Time, 1872, p. 159. While the experience that Jesus discussed with Nicodemus may have included water baptism, this definitely was not magical or meritorious, nor was it meant for an unconscious infant incapable of faith.
  • [ccxiv] Ferguson observes, “The strong emphasis on the necessity of baptism was reinforced by John 3:5, which was the favorite baptismal text of the early church” (Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 134).
  • [ccxv] “Once the doctrine of Original Sin had been accepted by the Church at large in the form which doomed everyone dying unbaptized to eternal punishment (though, to be sure, of a very mild kind in the case of infants!), there was the strongest possible incentive to provide baptism for everyone at the earliest possible moment” (Rupert E. Davies, “The Baptist Position Considered,” The London Quarterly & Holborn Review, July 1961).
  • [ccxvi] Apostolic Tradition, by Hippolytus, describes the elaborate rituals prevalent in the early third century.
  • [ccxvii] Some Methodists are reevaluating baptism. Norman Snaith, a Methodist, writes, “In these days, for the majority of people, both Christian and non-Christian, the whole baptism is hedged about with confusion and error. In the first days of the Christian Church, things were different and the significance of the rite was clear.  It was baptism of believers and it was baptism by immersion” (I Believe In, p. 110; quoted by W. Morgan Patterson, “The Role of Baptism in Baptist History, Review and Expositor, Winter 1968, p. 36).
  • [ccxviii] Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms.
  • [ccxix] Dictionary of Theological Terms, Alan Cairns.

 

  • [ccxx] “Unbelievers in the first century were led to Jesus Christ by being taken to the waters of baptism. If I may put it this way, water baptism was the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ in Century One! Baptism accompanied the acceptance of the gospel.  It marked a complete break with the past and a full entrance into Christ and His church.  Baptism was simultaneously an act of faith as well as an expression of faith” (Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, p. 235).
  • [ccxxi] The Essential Catholic Handbook.
  • [ccxxii] Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • [ccxxiii]org/worship.

 

  • [ccxxiv] Luther’s Small Catechism.
  • [ccxxv] Your Baptism is Important, p. 100.
  • [ccxxvi] Ibid., p. 121.
  • [ccxxvii] Baptism, p. 39.
  • [ccxxviii] Taken from: domestic-church.com/CONTENT.DCC/ 19990901/SCRMNTL/ baptism_one.htm#15.
  • [ccxxix] Your Baptism is Important, p. 101.
  • [ccxxx] ”Infant Baptism,” New World Encyclopedia.
  • [ccxxxi]
  • [ccxxxii]
  • [ccxxxiii] Dictionary of Theological Terms, p. 99.
  • [ccxxxiv] “An Examination of the Rationale Behind Paedobaptism.”
  • [ccxxxv] Anderson, Your Baptism is Important, 108.
  • [ccxxxvi] Wilbur Gingrich says that baptize means “dip, immerse” (Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament). W. E. Vine says that baptisma, baptism, consists “of the process of immersion, submersion and emergence” (Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). Arndt and Gingrich says that baptize means dip, immerse, dip oneself, wash (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).  Even the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary says that baptize comes from “to immerse.”
  • [ccxxxvii] “In Orthodox churches immersion is still used for babies, as it used to be in the West” (David Pawson, “Infant Baptism Under Cross-Examination,” 8, n. 2.
  • [ccxxxviii] Amazingly, some paedobaptists would say that it is sinful not to baptize an infant! Charles Hodge, nineteenth century professor at Princeton, writes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion: “They, therefore, sin against God and their own souls who neglect the command to be baptized in the name of the Lord; and their parents sin grievously against the souls of their children, who neglect to consecrate them to God in the ordinance of baptism” (quoted by William Varner, “The Attitude of Various Theological Traditions to Paedobaptism,” Baptist Reformation Review, Spring 1976, p. 31). While it would be sinful to neglect baptism as an adult, how can it be sinful to neglect to baptize a child when this isn’t clearly taught in the Bible?
  • [ccxxxix] G. Hobbs, Why Infant Baptism?, pp. 14-15.
  • [ccxl] James Leo Garrett, Jr., Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 527.
  • [ccxli] “Baptism in Recent Research,” Review and Expositor, Winter 1968, p. 17.
  • [ccxlii] The Book of Concord, ed. Henry Eyster Jacobs, p. 174.
  • [ccxliii] Although we are focusing on infant baptism in this book, the same response are seen in another important baptismal issue: What is the Act of baptism? Is it sprinkling, or pouring, or immersion? This matter evokes the same emotional responses as the issue of the proper subjects of baptism—unbelieving babies or adult believers?
  • [ccxliv] This is also found on our website, www.Truediscipleship.com.
  • [ccxlv] Www-personal.ksu.edu/~lyman/english233/Luther-Diet_of_Worms.htm.
  • [ccxlvi] See also our booklet, Are You Truly a Christian?
  • [ccxlvii] Stanley J. Grenz, et. al., Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms.
  • [ccxlviii] Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, “Opus Operatum.”
  • [ccxlix] The Faith Once for All, p. 361.
  • [ccl] Early Christians, p. 48.

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