Why Baptize a Baby or Young Child?

Why Baptize a Baby or Young Child?

What does God say?

Does it Really matter?

Richard Hollerman

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What does God say about the persons who may be baptized with His approval?
  • What characteristics of baptism are revealed in the Word of God?
  • Regardless of religious tradition, church practice, denominational doctrines, what does the Bible say about the subjects of baptism?
  • Have you been baptized as a baby yourself—and have you asked yourself if God accepts this religious ritual?
  • May a baby or young child be Biblically baptized?
  • What does God say about this all-important subject?

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Dear God, I love you and need you. Please help me to consider the contents of this little booklet, carefully and prayerfully. Help me to understand and to thoughtfully consider Your word as I study it. Open Your word to my heart and help me to accept all you have for me. In the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Reasons why a Baby Can’t be Scripturally Baptized

Perhaps most people assume that if a church baptizes an infant or young child, that it their own prerogative.  “Who are we to judge them?” is the common response when this subject is raised.  However, just because a church or denomination baptizes the young children of members, this doesn’t necessarily say that the practice is pleasing to God or rests on the teachings of the Bible.

As in all things, we must ask the primary question: “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3).  Christ’s words are also important: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” (Luke 10:26).  If God’s Word teaches infant baptism, let’s accept it and promote it!  But if God’s Word doesn’t give permission to baptize babies, then we must oppose it.

We are aware that the majority of professing “Christian” churches in the world baptize babies, thus the majority of professing “Christians” have only been baptized as babies. But do numbers mean anything?  Will we be judged by God on the basis of what the majority of people do?  No, the majority have often been wrong—in fact, the majority generally are wrong. But we acknowledge that more than half of people who claim to be Christians have only experienced an infant ritual they call “baptism.”

One recognized authority says: “Most Christians belong to denominations that practice infant baptism.  Denominational families that practice infant baptism include Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, some Nazarenes, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Continental Reformed.”  (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Infant_baptism).  The same source states: “For instance, the Roman Catholic Church: 1,100,000,000 (about half of all Christians); the Eastern Orthodox Church: 225,000,000; 115,000,000 members of the Anglican churches; Lutherans and others.”  Indications are that perhaps 70% to 80% of people who profess to be Christians have only been baptized as babies. Thus, it is a common experience.

This shows that hundreds of millions of people who claim to be Christians and say that they believe in Jesus are members of churches who baptize babies—and evidently most of these people have only have been baptized as infants themselves.  Technically, this practice is called “paedobaptism,” from the Greek pais meaning “child” and the Greek baptisma, meaning baptism (immersion).  (This is in contrast to what is commonly called “believer’s baptism.”)

Although these are interesting statistics, we know that they mean nothing in regard to determining what God has revealed in His Word, the Bible. We will be judged by the words of Christ (John 12:48), not by the words, practices and doctrines of religious people and groups. No ecclesiastical authority, organization, or religious body has the right to change a command of Jesus Christ our Lord. So we must go back to the Bible to determine what God wants for us. What does God reveal about who are proper subjects of baptism?

Reasons Why Baby Baptism is Not Biblical

Let’s consider a number of reasons why the baptizing of babies is not justified, according to the Word of God.  If we understand the Biblical meaning and purpose of baptism, we should be able clearly to see why God doesn’t allow the practice—regardless of the number of religious people in the world who have been baptized as babies and who have their own children baptized in this way.

Now, I urge you to be honest with yourself and with God as you read the following pages.  This is the only way to distinguish truth from error, right from wrong.

  1. A baby can’t believe and be baptized.

In His great commission to His apostles to take His Word to the whole world, Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a).  If you have a young child, you can see how impossible it is for a baby to obey this teaching.  Jesus said that one must “believe” and then be “baptized” in order to be saved from sin.  Obviously, a baby is not capable of believing.  Belief or faith is a sincere and whole-hearted acceptance of the testimony of Scripture regarding the person, identity, and redemption of Jesus Christ and a trust or reliance on His sin-bearing sacrifice on the cross for our sins, along with a faith in Christ’s resurrection to new life.

The Bible many times shows that baptism is a response of faith to Christ Jesus (cf. Acts 8:12, 35-39; 16:15, 31-34; 18:8; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12). Since an infant can’t have such a faith, he or she is not eligible to be baptized.

  1. A baby can’t become a disciple of Christ Jesus.

In Matthew’s account of Christ’s Great Commission, we read, “Go therefore and make disciples of all 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).  People from all nations were to be led to discipleship and the way this was to be done was (1) to baptize people (after sharing the good news of Christ with them), and (2) to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded.

A disciple is a person who comes to Christ to learn from Him, to follow Him, and to learn and serve Him.  Thus, a person must be of sufficient maturity to understand the gospel and make a commitment to follow Jesus and His teachings through life.  We can see that a baby or young child doesn’t have the mental or spiritual ability to make such a commitment.

  1. A baby can’t repent of his sins.

When people on the day of Pentecost wanted to know what they needed to do to be forgiven of their sins, Peter plainly 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). This shows that one who wishes to be forgiven of their sins must be willing to repent of all his known sins and then he must be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins. God will then give the gift of the Holy Spirit to the person who so responds.

What is repentance? Repentance is an inner change of heart and mind that issues in a change of life.  But what about a baby? An infant is incapable of repenting of sin. He can’t turn from sin and his self-life. And he can’t demonstrate such a repentance by being baptized.  Baptism is meaningless unless it is “a baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).  This shows that a child has no need to be baptized and can’t rightfully receive such a baptism.

  1. A baby can’t receive the Word of the Lord.

In the same context as the above passage, we read, “Those who received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).  In order to be baptized, a person needs to “receive” or believe, understand, and accept the word about Jesus Christ and His will before he can be Biblically baptized.  In addition, a person can’t really repent of sins unless he can receive with understanding the need to repent and turn from sin. Understanding is essential in coming to Christ (cf. Matthew 13:13, 19, 23; Acts 8:30), but a young child has no capacity to receive Christ and His word with spiritual understanding.

  1. A baby isn’t a man or woman.

This may seem to be a strange statement but we all know it is true.  Notice another revealing Bible verse on baptism that makes it clear: “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).  Not only does this passage show that one must believe or exercise saving faith when he is baptized, but it says that only “men and women” were baptized by Philip.  There were no infants or young children among those baptized. This is the same for today: only mature males and females may be Biblically baptized.

  1. A baby can’t “hear” the Word of God.

We know that a young child can learn something about Jesus, but they can’t really hear with understanding the message of the gospel. They don’t have the mental and spiritual comprehension to received the Word. Scripture says, “Many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8).  As in the other Bible verses we have examined, we see here that one must “hear” (or read) the message about Jesus and salvation, he must then believe that word, and finally he must be baptized on the basis of that faith in Christ. This would necessarily exclude infants as proper subjects for baptism.

  1. A baby can’t rejoice in his baptism.

It is interesting to learn what accompanied baptism in the first century when the gospel was first preached and before false teaching contaminated the truth. One of the emotions that came with a response of baptism was rejoicing!  Luke tells us of the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16:30-34). The Bible says that “immediately he was baptized, he and all his household” (v. 33). What was the response?  “He [the jailer] brought them [Paul and Silas] into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (v. 34). They were so relieved in having been saved from sin and hell, that they immediately “rejoiced greatly” after they “believed in God” and were baptized into Christ (v. 31).

This is what the Ethiopian also did after he was baptized.  The Bible says that after Philip and the Ethiopian “came up out of the water,” the baptized man “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39).  This is the natural response to one who finds God’s welcome forgiveness through baptism. He will rejoice! He will be “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). But we know that a baby several weeks old can’t rejoice at all in baptism!

  1. A baby can’t die to sin.

God describes baptism in very graphic terms.  In one place the apostle Paul asks this question, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2).  In other words, if we have renounced and turned away from sin, how can we continue to live in it?  Paul then tells us the time or occasion when we die to sin in our life: “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” (vv. 3-4). Paul then concludes, “Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11).

This shows that one “dies” to sin or turns away from sin when he is baptized.  When a person (through faith and repentance) is baptized, he is “baptized into Christ Jesus” and baptized into Christ’s death. Further, he is buried with Christ “through baptism into death.”  It is plain that a child can’t understand such an experience in baptism.  Only a person capable of “dying” to his former life and “dying” to his sin can rightfully be baptized in this way.

  1. A baby can’t begin to live a new life.

The same passage we noticed above says that when a person is baptized, He rises from the water to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) or “to live a new life” (NIV).  When a baby is baptized, we know that the condition and behavior of that baby will be just like it was before the baptism. An infant or young child doesn’t understand what is happening and can make no inner response, thus the child can’t live a new life after baptism.

10.A baby can’t be “clothed” with Christ in baptism.

Another blessing accompanying baptism may be found at Galatians 3:26-27. There we read these significant words: “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.”  Here again we see that one expresses faith in Christ and this is verified or demonstrated when one is “baptized into Christ.” What happens when this occurs?  The baptized person “clothes himself with Christ.”  This is a metaphor. Just as one may be “clothed” with a coat which protects him, so one who is baptized is clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! What a blessing this is—but it is one that can’t be experienced by an unconscious baby.

11.A baby can’t rise from baptism in faith.

When a person is baptized, he not only is lowered (immersed) into the water of baptism, but he is also raised from that water. This is similar to a “death” and “resurrection” with water being the medium. But it also indicates a spiritual and inward reality as well!  Paul explains this when he writes, “. . . 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” (Colossians 2:12). This is similar to Romans 6:3-5, isn’t it?  In baptism, one is “raised up” with Christ through “faith in the working of God.”  Again, we can clearly see that a baby can’t be raised from baptism through faith in God’s working. A child is totally unaware of what is happening in baptism.

12.A baby can’t make an appeal to God for a good conscience.

Another passage that helps us to understand baptism better is found at 1 Peter 3:21. Peter writes, “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.”  Look at this carefully. When one is baptized, he makes an “appeal” to God for a good conscience (NASB, ESV).  Can a baby appeal or make a request of God to have a good conscience?  No, a baby doesn’t have any better conscience after baptism as before. Baptism is like a prayer to God with the plea that the baptized one will have a good conscience in and after baptism. This only describes one old enough to understand what is happening in baptism. Another translation has it this way: “. . . the pledge of a good conscience” (NET Bible). When one is baptized he makes a “pledge” to have and maintain a good conscience before the Lord as he walks in newness of life, a life of faith and obedience. A baby is utterly incapable of such a response.

13.A baby can’t call on the Lord in baptism.

Another interesting picture of baptism is found when Ananias speaks to Paul in Damascus. Paul had been fasting and praying for three days when this servant of the Lord visited him and announced how to respond to Jesus Christ and be forgiven of his many sins.  This is what we read: “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).  Is this something that a baby can do?  Obviously not.  There must be personal initiative: “get up.” There must be a personal decision: “be baptized.” There must be a response to Jesus Himself: “calling on His name.”  And there must be a proper motivation: “wash away your sins.”  We can see from this that a baby is incapable of such a response to Christ Jesus.

   14.A baby is not a fit subject for baptism because of the meaning and purpose of the act.

We have already addressed this point to some extent.  But consider these additional reasons. First, baptism was initiated by the person to be baptized. The faith response and commitment could not be by proxy.  A parent or guardian couldn’t believe on behalf of the child. In other words, someone other than the baptized person cannot make a choice for another to be baptized. It was always a decision by the person to be baptized himself or herself.

Second, many pastors, priests, and parents assume that something automatic happens in the act of baptism, separate and apart from the inner meaning of the event. No, the Bible says that baptism partakes of the inner purpose and meaning that God gives to it—an expression of faith and repentance, a response that only a mature person can experience. Nothing is magical or mechanical about the act so that something occurs independent of the person’s own response.

Third, baptism is always related to personal sin (cf. Acts 2:38; 22:16; Colossians 2:12-13) and not sin thought to be inherited from Adam or one’s parents. The person himself or herself was baptized to deal with the guilt of their own sin.

Fourth, Biblical baptism was always a decisive event, one that the person himself or herself chose and could later remember. It was not something done to the person before they had any consciousness of the act.

The meaning of baptism only pertains to a mature person—such items as death to sin, repentance of sin, faith in God, trust in Christ, commitment of life, living a new and changed life, being a participating part of the body of Christ, and much more. This significance doesn’t really pertain to an unconscious infant or young child.

For these reasons, baptism is not appropriate for an infant or immature boy or girl. It pertains to someone old enough to personally respond as an individual who exercises faith, repentance, and commitment of life.

Why Be So Concerned about This?

Maybe you have followed our discussion above and can see that the Bible only teaches a baptism of mature people and now you can understand why baby baptism is a false doctrine and false practice.  However, maybe you can’t see why it is so important to renounce this false view and accept what Scripture teaches.  Let’s try to explain this very simply.

Why is baptism so important?  Why is it so vital that we accept baptism as an expression of our faith in Christ, our repentance of sin, our death to self, and our commitment of life?  This is why: The Bible teaches that baptism is related to the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38; Colossians 2:12-13). Don’t you want to have your sins forgiven?  Scripture teaches that baptism results in the washing away of our sins (Acts 22:16). Wouldn’t you want to have your sins washed away?

Furthermore, baptism is connected to our salvation or deliverance from sin, death, and hell (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21). Wouldn’t you want to be saved and be prepared to meet the Lord?  The Bible connects our baptism with a relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Wouldn’t this be a blessing that you would want to enjoy? Also, baptism is necessary to become a disciple or follower of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). Since Jesus died for you, wouldn’t you want to follow Him and His teaching in life?  Again, baptism is in the context of receiving the Holy Spirit into your heart and life (Acts 2:38-39; Galatians 3:27 with 4:6). Since we must have the Spirit of God to belong to Jesus (Romans 8:9), wouldn’t you want to have the Spirit?

We have also seen that one dies to sin in baptism and is raised to walk a new life in Christ (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12). Do you see a need to die to or put to death your old life and have a completely new life in Christ?  We noticed that one “puts on Christ” in a baptism of faith (Galatians 3:26-27). Wouldn’t you like to put on Christ and be “clothed” with Him who saves you?  Baptism is likewise related to being a member or part of Christ’s body (the family of God) (Acts 2:38 with v. 47; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13).  Don’t you see the importance of being part of God’s eternal family?

If you can see all of these Biblical teachings, surely you can see why we have discussed this subject so thoroughly.  Indeed, it is important that you be baptized—truly and Scripturally baptized.  Since we have discovered that babies can’t really be baptized according to God’s Word, can you now see how vital it is that you be baptized as a repentant and faithful mature person?

Since baby baptism is a doctrine of churches or a false teaching of man (Mark 7:6-13), we must renounce it and turn from it, then be willing to accept the baptism that Jesus and His apostles taught and practiced.  When people “set aside the commandment of God” in order to “keep the tradition of man” (cf. v. 9), they greatly err. When someone is willing to “invalidate the word of God” by their religious or church tradition (cf. v. 13), they dishonor the Lord. Surely you don’t want to do this—especially when your eternal life with the Lord is in the balance!

Do We Now Understand?

As we have noticed the fourteen reasons why a baby can’t be Biblically baptized, maybe you have been thinking of your own experience as a child. Perhaps you are like me. A pastor performed a religious ritual on me as a tiny baby in my mother’s arms.  I had no understanding of what was happening. I didn’t have faith in Christ or God. I didn’t repent of my sins. I didn’t die to sin or begin to live a new life.  I didn’t rejoice (I may have been crying!). I wouldn’t have even known I had received baby baptism if others had not informed me! I experienced none of the characteristics of baptism as presented in the Bible.

When I realized this as a more mature person, I was willing to place all of my faith in God through Christ Jesus and trusted in His sin-bearing sacrifice on the cross for my salvation.  I turned from all known sin and purposed to walk a new life in union with Christ.  I confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9-10). And I was willing to be lowered or buried in baptism and be raised from the water to live a new life with sins forgiven!

If you have had your understanding enlightened by this simple presentation of God’s infallible Word, won’t you be willing to renounce and turn from your invalid, counterfeit and false baby “baptism” and come to the Lord in a baptism that expresses genuine faith, sincere repentance and absolute submission to the Lord’s will.  One day every teaching, every doctrine, and every religious practice that comes from human ingenuity and ecclesiastical tradition will be destroyed. Jesus declared, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13).  Be willing to turn from your false baby baptism and be willing to accept the baptism of faith and repentance found on the pages of your own Bible.




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