Infant Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration

Infant Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration

 

Infant Baptism
and Baptismal Regeneration

What does the Bible say?

Richard Hollerman

Is baby baptism in the Bible?

Have you been baptized as a child?

Does infant baptism forgive and save?

When I was a little baby, my loving and deeply religious parents took me to church where the pastor poured a few drops of water on my tiny head, and said something like, “Richard, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  He signed a Baptismal Certificate to prove that I had received Christian baptism.  I have that certificate to this very day.

As I grew up in a very religious home, I assumed that infant baptism was what God wanted.  It was the only option I knew.  It was just part of “church” and was considered “Christian.”  When I was fifteen-years-of-age, things radically changed.  I opened my Bible and began to study many different topics to determine what really was God’s will.  I became an incessant seeker of truth and this included the subject of baptism.  I’d like to share some of my findings with you in this article.

Authorities say that there are around 2.1 and 2.3 billion people on earth who identify themselves as Christian.  Of this vast number, perhaps 70% to 75% of them belong to churches that baptize babies.  Therefore, this is a very common religious rite that has been practiced for many centuries, perhaps as long as 1800 years!  In addition, the majority of infant baptizers believe that in this ceremony, God has forgiven them of sin and saved them from hell!  This is the official teaching of many churches and denominations.  For example, notice these statements:

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.”[1][1]

Orthodox Church: “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.”[2][2]

Anglican Church: 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.”[3][3]

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.”[4][4] “Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit, and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save.”[5][5]

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.”[6][6]

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.”[7][7] “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.”[8][8]

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.”[9][9] [10][10]

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.”[11][11]

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.”[12][12]

It is clear that many and even most professing Christians in the world today believe that a baby should be baptized and most of the members have only known this rite as a baby.  Beyond this, most of these infant baptizers believe that God works in this water ritual to forgive the child’s “Original Sin,” to save the child from death and hell, to give the child the Holy Spirit, and to make the child part of the Body of Christ.

What Does the Bible Say?

The most important question that we can ask is: “What does God think about infant baptism?”  But in order for us to discover what God thinks about this religious ceremony, we need to search the Word of God.  The Bible commends the honest-hearted people of Berea when they heard Paul the apostle teach them: “These were more noble-minded . . . for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

We encourage you to have the “eagerness” to “examine” your Bible to determine the truth of God regarding infant baptism.  Therefore, we ask, “What is God’s will regarding infant baptism?  Does God want parents to baptize their baby?  Does God do what many churches think He does when a baby is baptized?  Could there be a completely different alternative that God really wants?”  Let’s look in the Bible to answer these serious questions.

What was Baptism in the New Testament?

Before the Lord Jesus Christ left this earth after His resurrection from the dead, He gave his apostles His last instructions that we call the “Great Commission.”  What did Jesus say on this occasion?  He said, “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” (Mark 16:15-16).  Notice carefully that Jesus said:

  • Belief plus Baptism equals Salvation

Jesus wanted the good news of His salvation to be taken to the world.  Those who would believe this and be baptized would be saved.  But notice further.  Jesus didn’t say:

  • He who is Baptized shall be Saved and then should later be Baptized

This would be a big difference, wouldn’t it!  This would be saying that we are free to be baptized first and this will save the baby, and then later that baby should believe in Christ as he grow to maturity.  Although this is taught by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church, and others, we must reject this answer.

Another way of looking at this verse would be the following:

  • He who is elect and regenerated will be saved, thus should be baptized, and later should believe.

This is the view of Presbyterians, Reformed, and others.  They believe that God elects (chooses) the child and based on this, they assume that the child is a member of the “covenant community,” thus he should be baptized.  Later, as the child grows to maturity, he should be led to faith.  As can be seen, this also differs from Christ’s words.

We must also say that certain other people change the order in this way:

  • He who Believes shall be Saved, and then should be Baptized.

This also would change the order that Jesus gave to His apostles.  This would be popular in Fundamentalist Protestantism and Evangelicalism.  If we respect the beloved Savior, we need to do just what He said, without deviation.

Now, let’s go to another account of Christ’s Great Commission: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  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 28:18-20).  In this reading, notice the following:

  • The apostles were to make “disciples,” which comes from the Greek mathetes, meaning a learner or follower.[13][13] We can easily see that this cannot include babies or young children.
  • How did they make disciples? Jesus uses two participles in the Greek to show the way—“baptizing” and “teaching.”  First, they were to baptize these people from all nations.  Baptism wasn’t for anyone who could not be a disciple.
  • They were to be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the Greek language this means that they were baptized into the possession of or into a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  These are blessed experiences that only adults can recognize.
  • Second, these disciples who were baptized were to be taught to obey all that Jesus said. Obviously, a child of one month or one year can’t understand such instruction, thus they are not prepared to be baptized.

We can see from this that Christ’s Great Commission gives no permission or authority to baptize little babies.

What about the Early Christian Practice?

When we come to the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, we learn some fascinating things about baptism.  Let’s examine our Bible about this.

  1. The Day of Pentecost.

On this special Jewish holiday, Peter preached to the sincere gathered people who then asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  They recognized that they were guilty of sin, especially the sin of rejecting their Messiah, and this prompted this weighty question.  Peter answered, “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” (v. 38).  The people were to repent of their sins and be baptized for God’s forgiveness, then He would give them the Holy Spirit as His gift.  Notice these facts:

  • They were to “repent,” which is a change of mind and heart that leads to a change of life. A baby cannot repent of sin. In fact, a newborn baby has no personal sins for which to repent.
  • This repentance was to occur before or at the time of baptism, and this necessarily excludes babies.
  • The Bible then says, “Those who had received his word were baptized” (v. 41). We know that a baby cannot “receive” the word about Jesus and understand it, thus they were not among those baptized on that day.

This again shows that babies have no need to be baptized.

  1. Samaria

When Philip went to the city of Samaria, he found a receptive people.  The record tells us: “When 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” (Acts 8:12).  In this interesting and succinct account, we see that those who believed were the ones who were baptized, and this is further explained as “men and women.”  This shows us that babies or young children were not baptized.

  1. The Ethiopian

Luke the writer gives us a fascinating account of the conversion of a man from Ethiopia who had come to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8).  Philip met him on the road and “preached Jesus to him” (v. 35).  When this sincere worshiper responded, he was immediately baptized (vv. 38-39).  Faith preceded baptism in this case.

  1. Lydia

When Paul and is companions went to the Macedonian city of Philippi, he found Lydia, a worshiper of God, and spoke to word of the Lord to her and others. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul,” and she immediately was baptized (Acts 16:14).  This woman told Paul and his brothers, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay” (v. 15).  Her “faithfulness” indicates an attitude of faith expressed in baptism.

  1. The Jailer

In the same city of Philippi, Paul met a jailer who asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30).  Paul answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31).  The apostle then spoke God’s word to him and his family and “immediately” the jailer “was baptized” (v. 33).  Belief in Christ preceded the baptism.

  1. The Corinthians

Luke gives the account of those who responded to Paul’s preaching in Corinth, a chief city in Achaia (modern Greece). This is the way he summarizes the response: “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).  Once again, we notice that people heard, then they believed, and finally they were baptized.  Only believers were baptized, thus unbelieving infants must not have been baptized.

  1. Paul the Apostle

Luke simply says that Saul (who became Paul) was baptized in Acts 9:18.  Acts 22:16 gives the fuller account.  This records the words of Ananias to Paul: “Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”  We know that a baby can’t obey such a command and especially a child can’t “call” on Christ’s name when he is baptized.  He simply doesn’t have this capability. 

What Do the New Testament Writings Say?

Whereas Acts is mainly historical, the following New Testament letters explained the way of the Lord to those who were already followers of Christ.  We find various facts about baptism in these writings.

  1. Romans 6:2-4

In this deeply spiritual portion of the Bible, we read this: “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore 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 6:2b-4).

When the Romans came to Christ, they “died to sin” or renounced sin so that they would be “dead” to a life of sin in their heart.  Further, they were baptized into Christ and into His death.  At the point of baptism, these Romans began to walk in “newness of life.”  Notice particularly what happened to them and ask yourself if this could be described of a baby or young child.  An infant cannot “die” to sin for he has no sin to die to.  Further, he has no conception of what it means to be buried with Christ or be united to Christ, for a baby doesn’t have the mental ability or spiritual perception to understand these spiritual truths.  Finally, there is no change in the child, thus the child doesn’t renounce his former life to begin to live in newness of life.  He just doesn’t have the spiritual comprehension.  Thus, a baby can’t truly be baptized in a Biblical way.

  1. Galatians 3:26-27

Paul in this passage is referring to the salvation of his readers living in Galatia.  He writes to them, “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).  All of His Christian readers were sons of God by adoption into God’s family.  How did this happen?  It was through their faith in Christ Jesus.  This shows that he is speaking of those mature enough to believe in Christ.  To confirm the fact that they had become sons of God through faith, Paul says that they all had been “baptized into Christ” and at that time they were “clothed” with Christ.  The “for” in verse 27 is the Greek gar, which shows that Paul is offering an explanation, reason, or confirmation of their adoption by faith in verse 26.  It is significant that the ones baptized were those who had faith in Christ.  This necessarily excludes little children who can’t believe with comprehension.

  1. Colossians 2:11-13

Paul explained to the Colossian Christians that they had experienced a spiritual “circumcision” when they came to Christ.  In Judaism, circumcision is a “cutting off” of the flesh, but in Christ, there was a spiritual cutting off—a “removal of the body of the flesh,” or a separation from the sins committed by the body (Colossians 2:11).  The apostle then explains when and how this 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).

Notice that this baptism involved a “burial” and a “resurrection” from the water, and that this resurrection was “through faith in the working of God.”  In baptism, the person had exercised “faith” and this necessarily excludes those incapable of genuine faith.  The following verse then says that they “were dead” in sin, but God had made them alive and forgiven them (v. 13).  Again, this shows that those old enough to repent and believe were baptized.

  1. 1 Peter 3:20-21

In 1 Peter 3:20, Peter says that Noah had built an ark, and through this means he and his family had escaped the destruction of the world and had been “brought safely through the water.”  In a similar way, and in a spiritual way, “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” (v. 21).

Baptism “saves” us—but it is through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Savior (and not through any intrinsic worth of the water).  Notice especially Peter’s comment that this baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the flesh.”  It is not merely cleansing us physically or even ritually (if a reference to Jewish washings), but it is an “appeal” or virtually a prayer to God for a good conscience.  All of this applies to a mature person for a baby can’t make an “appeal” for a good conscience, nor does a baby have a good conscience at the time of his premature baptism.

But Didn’t Whole Families Receive Baptism?

Very frequently those who defend the practice of infant baptism object, “The Bible says that whole households were baptized and surely many of them included tiny babies.”   Yes, the Bible does record various households, but did they include babies incapable of faith and repentance?  Let’s check the record.

The Household of Cornelius. Cornelius was a devout man who feared God along with “all his household” (Acts 10:2).  Peter preached the gospel to this God-fearing man and “his relatives and close friends” and this may have included his household or family (v. 24).  When Cornelius and the hearers believed, they were baptized (vv. 47).  If his household were present and were baptized, did it include little children?  Examine the text with me.  The members of this household “feared God” (v. 2), which takes some maturity.  Further, those assembled “listened” to Peter’s message (v. 44), they spoke with tongues and exalted God (v. 46), they received the word of God (11:1), they heard the spoken word (11:14), and they believed in Christ (11:17; cf. 15:7, 9).  They even repented (11:18).  This does not describe little infants but those of sufficient maturity to hear the gospel and believe it.

The Household of Lydia.  Very little is mentioned about this worthy woman.  Luke simply says that she was a worshiper of God, that she listened to Paul, that God opened her heart and she responded to the message, and that she and her household were baptized (Acts 16:14-15).  “Households” were considered to be composed of the family, relatives, and servants, and we just don’t know who were members of this household nor their ages.  We don’t know why her husband is not mentioned and actually don’t know if she ever married or had children.  Thus we can’t say much about this situation.

The Household of the Jailer. Paul told this receptive Gentile that he needed to believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved (Acts 16:31).  We can immediately see that any members of his household were not very young for Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer “together with all who were in his house” (v. 32).  The jailer was then immediately baptized, “he and all his household” (v. 33).  The jailer then rejoiced greatly, “having believed in God with his whole household” (v. 34).  The members of his household were old enough to hear and receive the spoken gospel, to believe in Christ and in God, and to be baptized.  There couldn’t have been little children in this case.

The Household of Crispus.  The record says, “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).  Although it doesn’t specifically say that the members of the household of Crispus were baptized, we do know that they believed, and we also know that the Corinthians were baptized after they believed.  Presumably this family believed and were baptized like the other Corinthians, thus there are no little babies here.

The Household of Stephanas.  Paul recalls his experience at Corinth and writes, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas” (1 Corinthians 1:16).  Did this household include little babies who were incapable of faith?  This seems to be answered in 1 Corinthians 16:15 where we read, “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.”  Paul had visited this city about AD 51 and he wrote this letter about AD 55, thus only four years went by.  At that time, the household had devoted themselves to serving other Christians, and this is evidence that they were rather mature and not infants.

These incidents of households show that the members were not little babies at all.  They were old enough to listen to the gospel, believe the gospel, respond to the gospel, and be active for the Lord after their baptism.  This common argument of baby baptizers (often called paedobaptists) fails to really be convincing.

Further Considerations

There are many reasons given by baby baptizers why they feel justified in doing what appears to be a faulty practice. What are some of these justifications?

  1. Babies need to be forgiven of “Original Sin.” Original sin is the name given for sin that is thought to be inherited from Adam. But where do we read that the guilt of Adam’s sin has been passed on through the centuries to each person?  Paul says that death spread to all men “because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  We are guilty for personal sin.   

Further, when baptism is connected with forgiveness, it is always forgiveness of one’s own sin, not Adamic sin.  Peter said, “Each of you be baptized . . . for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).  Paul was told to “wash away your sins” when he called on the Lord in baptism (Acts 22:16).  God has “forgiven us all our transgressions” when we respond in baptism (Colossians 2:12-13).  Babies don’t need to be baptized since they have no personal sins to be forgiven.  

  1. Babies need to be baptized since Jewish babies were circumcised. Many infant baptizers claim that since Jews practiced circumcision as part of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17), Christians today should practice baby baptism as part of the New Covenant of Christ.  However, there are great differences between these two administrations.   

The covenant between God and Abraham and later between God and Israel was a fleshly covenant.  Circumcision was a sign of this covenant but this didn’t in any way ensure the salvation or justification of the baby who received it.  On the other hand, the New Covenant requires that baptism be given to those who repent and believe in Christ.  Additionally, circumcision was given only to little boys, on the eighth day of their life, whereas baptism was given to older youth and “men and women” (Acts 8:12) at any time they were willing to repent and be baptized.  No, circumcision can’t be used to promote baby baptism.  

  1. The early church after the time of the apostles baptized babies and we should as well. We are not sure of the first record of infant baptism in history.  Tertullian (AD 200) clearly discusses the baptism of babies, but he opposed the practice.  There is some evidence that one statement of Irenaeus (ca. AD 185 or 190) may indicate that some were baptizing their babies at that time.  Hippolytus (AD 220), Origen (AD 240), and Cyprian (AD 251), all promoted infant baptism.  The great theologian named Augustine (AD 400-430) was a leading advocate of infant baptism, teaching that unbaptized babies who die will be sent to hell.   

While it is true that infant baptism was introduced within 150 years after the apostles and it came to prevail by around AD 400, why is it not mentioned before then?  Why are all of the early writings about baptism silent about infant baptism?  Why is it not mentioned in the New Testament and those writings immediately after the New Testament era?  These are important questions that need to be answered.  

  1. Jesus blessed the little children and this shows that we should baptize them. This is a reference to a beautiful incident in the life of our Lord.  Parents brought their little children, even babies, to Jesus so that “He might lay His hands on them and pray” (Matthew 19:13), but the disciples tried to prevent this.  In response, Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (v. 14).

Does this teach that we should not hinder little babies from coming to Jesus to be baptized?  What possible connection is there between parents bringing children to be blessed and prayed for and children taken to a pastor to be baptized?  There is none.  Jesus even said that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  Little children don’t need baptism for the kingdom of God is theirs.  Baptism is only for those who are not part of God’s kingdom but who want to enter that kingdom (Colossians 1:13).  

  1. The faith expressed in a baby’s baptism is not faith of the child but the faith of another. Some baby baptizers say that the faith of the parents will suffice in the baptism of their child and their faith will save the baby. Others say that the faith of the sponsor or guardian, or the faith of the church, or the faith of the entire body of Christ will make the child’s baptism acceptable.  However, never do we read of a proxy faith in connection with baptism.  The faith that must be exercised for salvation in baptism must be the faith of the baptized person himself or herself (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 18:8; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12).
  2. A child must be baptized since only through baptism can one enter the kingdom of God. The favorite verse for baptism in the early post-apostolic church was John 3:5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  Although baptism is not found in this passage, it definitely was a leading argument for baptism in the second and following centuries.  It says that one must be born of water and the Holy Spirit in order to enter God’s kingdom.

Whether this has some reference to water baptism (as well as Spirit baptism) is beyond the scope of this pamphlet, but we must look at the context of this statement of our Lord.  Jesus says that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16; cf. vv. 15, 17, 18, 36).  Faith or belief is emphasized in the context as the means of receiving eternal life.  We must believe in the Lord Jesus, who was sent by God the Father for our salvation and eternal life.  True faith in Christ is an action that only a person of some age or maturity is able to have; it is not something that a baby or young child can have.  

  1. God allows us to make our own decisions regarding the proper subjects of baptism. Sadly, there are some who think that the Holy Spirit is directing them to make choices in life that are contrary to the Word of God.  Our response is that God will not cause one to do something that is not based on His own infallible Word, the Word that will judge us on that great Judgment Day. Furthermore, God says that we must not add to or take from His Word (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6).  We will be judged by God if we take from or add to His divine will (Revelation 22:18-19).  We must not rely on our own subjective experiences and reasonings; we must rely on God’s Word alone: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool. . . . Trust in the LORD with all your heart” (Proverbs 28:16; 3:5).

The Disaster of Baptismal Regeneration

Most professing “Christians,” especially infant baptizing ones, believe in a form of baptism that is often called baptismal regeneration.  What do we mean by this?

We have noticed that baby baptizers can’t really believe in a full view of salvation by faith since they think that a child is saved, forgiven, and regenerated without faith and apart from faith.  But not only do paedobaptists nullify the clear Biblical teaching that we are saved by God’s grace through our repentant faith, they also have a corresponding doctrine that contradicts Biblical teaching on baptism.  This doctrine is called baptismal regeneration.

Baptismal regeneration is a theological view 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.[14][14]  (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.”[15][15]  It is “the theory that regeneration is effected by the means of baptism. . . .”[16][16] Jack Cottrell says that baptismal regeneration sees “a causal connection between baptism and salvation.”  Baptismal regenerationists “have attributed to the baptismal water or to the baptismal act the power to cleanse the soul from sin, or at least the power to convey that divine cleansing to the soul.  Thus anyone who submits to the physical act of baptism will surely be saved, even in the absence of a proper knowledge of Christ and a positive faith in him.  This is the doctrine of ‘baptismal regeneration,’ and is usually held in connection with certain forms of infant baptism.”[17][17]  Therefore, baptismal regeneration or baptismal salvation sees within the very act of baptism the effective instrument of salvation from sin, separate and apart from faith, repentance, and commitment of life.

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.[18][18]  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 thereby 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.”[19][19]  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.”[20][20] 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.” [21][21]

These infant baptizing churches give a purpose 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.  This view of baptism has had dreadful and far-reaching effects on professing Christianity![22][22]

What Results Come with Infant Baptism?

Many negative results come through the error of infant baptism!  These consequences are widespread and fatal.  Notice a few of them:

Most infant baptizers will never be Scripturally baptized.  Because those who have received infant baptism assume that they have already been baptized, the vast majority will never consider being truly baptized as the Bible directs.  Some will even vehemently refuse to be baptized as a mature, repentant believer.  Even though Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), probably 95% of infant baptizers will go to their graves unbaptized!

Most infant baptizers will assume that they are right with God and spiritually secure. Since they refuse to be baptized as repentant believers, these people will go through life without considering whether they are, in fact, right with God through faith that has been expressed in baptism.  They probably won’t question their infant baptismal rite, thinking that they are right with God.  The Bible warns, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Infant baptism encourages a false religious ceremony of sprinkling or pouring a baby rather than baptizing the baby.  When infant baptism was introduced and continued through the following centuries, this was an actual immersion; more recently sprinkling and pouring water was substituted for immersion.  The Greek word for baptism is baptisma, meaning “the process of immersion, submersion and emergence.”[23][23]  It means “dip, immerse.”[24][24]  Baptize is from baptize and means, dip, immerse, dip oneself, wash.[25][25]  Although the Eastern Orthodox continue to immerse babies, most professing Christians refuse to continue this practice, believing that immersion is too much bother or maybe thinking that the mere presence of water is sufficient and not the quantity of water.  Whatever the reason, infant baptism seems to encourage pouring rather than genuine baptism (immersion).

Nearly all infant baptizing churches have invented another unscriptural practice, confirmation. Most churches conclude that infant baptism is not sufficient in itself.  They think that a later ceremony, as early as age seven or eight or as late as twelve or thirteen, is necessary to complete the earlier ritual.  This rite of confirmation is thought to be the way a child may confirm or validate what happened to him when he was a little baby.  It is the way the church has devised to formally accept the “baptized” child into adult membership of their denomination.  Isn’t it amazing how one unbiblical practice (infant baptism) has led to another unbiblical practice (confirmation).  How much better to simply accept what the Bible reveals about baptism.

Difficulty of Change

We all know the difficulty of making major changes in our life.  Think of changing the way you eat by adopting a new diet.  Think of renouncing tobacco, drugs, or alcohol.  Think of moving a great distance from your childhood home and taking a new job.  Yet, if the motivation is strong enough, we can make these big decisions and changes in our life, even when they require a lot of sacrifice.

Making a major spiritual decision can be even more daunting, heart-rending and life-changing.  If you now see that your infant baptism was really not a baptism in God’s sight and conclude that you accepted a counterfeit religious ceremony that was not really valid, you will need to make some radical changes in life.  Notice these:

  • You will need to renounce your earlier infant baptism, then you will need to choose to be truly baptized (immersed) with this fuller knowledge. This can have life-altering consequences to you, just as it did to me when I chose to believe the truth of Scripture and make this change.
  • You will need to turn from your earlier experience and recognize that you were not really saved and forgiven as you thought you were. If your earlier baptism was thought to confer forgiveness, salvation, and the Holy Spirit to children, you will now conclude that those blessings you thought you had actually were not yours.  This will be a very hard conclusion to come to but, with God’s help, you can do it.
  • You will need to question the presumed experience of your family and friends. Not surprisingly, one of the chief excuses for people not coming to Christ is that they don’t want to feel guilty of departing from the loyalty toward their parents and ancestors.  They feel that if they renounce infant baptism and accept believer’s baptism, they will manifest disrespect for Grandma, or Great-grandfather, or Uncle Bob—all of whom died only knowing infant baptism.  But Jesus declared, “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; cf. Luke 14:26).
  • You will need to deny your friends, church, and denomination. All of this can be a painful experience since time has brought deep ties between you and others.  You must face whether it is more important to show your devotion to your local congregation, your church denomination, and your church friends—or whether it is more imperative to cling to God above all.  Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
  • You will need to deny admired church leaders and much of established church history. Whether it is your church leadership, the so-called “pope” or “patriarch,” certain admired personalities (such as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, “Mother” Teresa, and many others), you will need to remember that they were only poured as babies and not truly baptized.  You will conclude that it is far better to admire and follow Jesus as Lord than any human being, however esteemed he or she may be.  Jesus asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
  • You will need to launch out on your own, simply trusting that God will care for you and see you through to His eternal Kingdom. Without the spiritual support that you formerly relied on, your full confidence must be in God Himself.  Paul was able to say, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).  If you choose to believingly obey God in this matter (and many other matters that He will make plain to you in the future), you will be able to trust Him to care for you and support you. Hopefully, there will be brothers and sisters who support you spiritually in your journey.
  • You will need to face ridicule, rejection, and maybe outright persecution. The early followers of Christ knew that living for Him would bring suffering in life.  Jesus warned, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).  Paul also warned, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  He said, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Let us face the world’s ridicule and even rejection by those nearest to us if only we may follow Jesus and do His will.

What Should I Do Now?

We have covered a few of the major points in this controversy on baptism.  Many other ones could have been mentioned, along with a plethora of Biblical references, but we simply didn’t have the space in this brief treatment.  (We’ve written a number of other booklets on this topic which you will find listed at the end.  The major book on this specific topic is a 124-page volume, Baby Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration: What Does the Bible Say?)

Hopefully by now you recognize the fact that you have not really been baptized in the sight of God and according to His Word.  It may be because you thought you were baptized as a baby and you now realize that this was not really Biblical baptism.  Or perhaps it may be because you were merely sprinkled or poured and not really baptized (immersed) in water.  Or perhaps it was that you thought that baptism was only a “sign and seal” of the Abrahamic covenant or a testimony to others of a presumed previous salvation.  Whatever the reason, you may know now that you have not actually been baptized and you sincerely want to receive a genuine Biblical baptism. What should you do?

Again, we can’t elaborate and this is the reason for the additional literature recommended at the conclusion.  In short, you need to recognize your own guilt of sin and need of forgiveness (Romans 3:23; 6:23).  You need to abandon all dependence on your own works, deeds, and self-effort, for salvation is “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).  You need to renounce your reliance on your church leaders, pastor, priest, teacher, evangelist, bishop, or even revered religious leaders of the past—and you need to place your complete and implicit faith on God alone through Jesus Christ your Sin-bearer and Lord (John 3:14-18; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:23-28; 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8).

You also need to confess Jesus as living Lord. “If you confess with your moth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).  As you come to a deep repentance of sin (turning your back on all sin of which you are aware) and a confident trust in Christ crucified and risen, you then need to express this repentant faith and commitment of life by being baptized (immersed) into Christ and His death (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).  You need to heed the words of Ananias, “Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16; cf. 2:28-29).  Therefore, you need to be baptized in Christ’s name as you call on His divine name to save you.

If we may be of further help in your quest to know God’s will regarding baptism, please let us know immediately.  Remember, it is far better to believe and obey God even when you don’t know where it will take you than to remain where you are, steeped in religious tradition and laden with false religious views and practices.  Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34; cf. vv. 35-38).

Paul the apostle chose to depart from his past life, his past associates, his past religious connections, and his past achievements, and then wrote, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).  Are we willing to do the same?

 

[1][1] Catholic.com.

[2][2] “Eastern Orthodox Church,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthodox_ Church# Baptism.

[3][3] Ibid.

[4][4]Luther’s Small Catechism.

[5][5]Luther’s Large Catechism.

[6][6] Episcopalchurch.org.

[7][7] The United Methodist Hymnal.

[8][8] “Baptism,” Wikipedia.

[9][9] “Infant Baptism,” New World Encyclopedia.

[10][10] 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.

[11][11] “Articles of Faith,” Church of the Nazarene, Nazarene.org.

[12][12] Ucc.org/worship/baptism.

[13][13] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[14][14] 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).

[15][15] Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms.

[16][16] Dictionary of Theological Terms, Alan Cairns.

 

[17][17] The Faith Once for All, p. 361.

[18][18] “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).

[19][19] The Essential Catholic Handbook.

[20][20] Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[21][21] Gbod.org/worship.

[22][22] We do not have the space to describe some of these effect in this little booklet, but our larger treatment discusses this further: Baby Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration: What Does the Bible Say?

[23][23] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[24][24] F. Wilbur Gingrich, Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament.

[25][25] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

 

You might be interested in reading my article: “Why I Left the Lutheran Church”



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