The Save the Children Fund in London, England, came up with a novel fund-raising scheme: the sale of small bottles of Jordan water for christenings. The only problem with the scheme is that some of the containers were recycled medicine bottles bearing the stern warning, “Keep away from children.”
It’s not at all a bad idea to keep christening water away from children, for they have no need of baptism. Yet, you know that many children are christened—christening occurs in the Roman Catholic Church and in many Protestant denominations. Tonight, we want to examine the practice in light of Scripture.
The Practice of Infant Baptism
Infant baptism comes from the church’s ancient days.
- Irenaeus, who wrote ca AD 180, said, “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” (Against Heresies 2.22.4).
- Hippolytus, who wrote ca AD 200, wrote, “They shall baptize the 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” (Apostolic Tradition 21.3-5).
- Origen, one of the foremost theologians of the early church, wrote ca AD 225:
- “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’” (Homily on Luke 14.5).
- [After quoting Psalm 51:5 and Job 14:4] “These verses 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” (Homily on Leviticus 8.3).
- [After quoting Leviticus 12:8 and Psalm 51:5] “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 thee stains the body itself is called the body of sin” (Commentary on Romans 5.19).
From The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
- “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 sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church an the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth” (paragraph #1250, p. 319).
- “The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole ‘households’ received baptism, infants may also have been baptized” (paragraph #1252, p. 319).
- “Since the earliest times, baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom” (paragraph #1282, p. 325).
What points then are made to defend infant baptism?
The Catholic Church appeals to the doctrine’s antiquity. As demonstrated from the numerous quotes from the second and third centuries, it’s certain Catholics are correct in saying that this doctrine in ancient. It is probably more than 1800 years old.
But antiquity alone does not make a teaching valid. There were false doctrines within the early church that the apostles had to refute. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Gal 1:6-7). The doctrine Paul was contending with was a mixing of Judaism and Christianity—a binding of the Jewish law on Gentile Christians. If a doctrine is to be accepted solely on the grounds of its antiquity, why not accept the Judaizing gospel? Granted, the Judaizing gospel was rejected by the church at large while infant baptism was accepted, but if the antiquity of a gospel is what matters. . . .
Some of you might be troubled by infant baptism’s antiquity. You might be thinking something like, “OK, for this doctrine to be accepted by 180, it was accepted by 150, if not earlier. That’s only 50 years or so after the death of the last apostle. Maybe we should take a look at baptizing infants.” Let’s not forget the host of passages in which the apostles warned that apostasy would come shortly after their deaths: Acts 20:29-39; 2 Peter 2:1-2.
If I were going to accept a doctrine solely on the basis of its antiquity, what would I need to do with non-Christian religions? Many Far Eastern religions are older than Christianity—should I accept those religions instead of Christianity? If the antiquity of a doctrine were the sole criterion to determine its truthfulness, I don’t know why we shouldn’t accept some religion that was older than Christianity.
The Catholic Church also appeals to the doctrine of Original Sin. I will readily admit that if Original Sin is true, it makes perfect sense to baptize infants; who wants to risk a young child’s going to hell?
Of course, Scripture demonstrates the error of Original Sin. “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him” (Ezek 18:20). Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn 3:4). Sin requires that one break the law, not simply be a descendant of Adam.
The Catholic Church also appeals to the household baptisms of Acts. “Cornelius was expecting them [Peter and those with him] and had called together his relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24). About Lydia we read, “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home” (Acts 16:15).
Those who would appeal to these episodes to justify infant baptism make some serious blunders.
You cannot prove that those in Lydia’s household were her relatives. Slaves would have been considered part of the household; no husband is mentioned; it may have been that Lydia never married—if she were a freed slave, she could have started a business—and the members of her household are slaves, not her relatives. Granted, I’m dealing in speculation, but those who say that Lydia’s household had to have had infants also speculate. Cornelius called together his relatives and friends. We don’t read anything about his children; the relatives Cornelius called together may not have been his children.
Even if the baptisms of Cornelius’ and Lydia’s households involved their descendants, there is no hint whatsoever that infants were baptized. If Tammy and I were not Christians, and I and my household were baptized, there would be two far too young to be baptized. But, in ten years, if I and my household were baptized, I, my wife, and my children would be baptized, but not children too young for baptism.
Many of those who baptize infants appeal to Matthew 28:19-20: “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The argument is that teaching comes after baptism, so you baptize an infant and then you teach that child as he matures. The Greek grammar won’t permit that argument. In Greek baptizing and teaching further define “make disciples”—in other words, baptizing and teaching are the ways disciples are made—the two are viewed as taking place in conjunction with each other, not one occurring after the other.
Many of those who baptize infants also appeal to the ancient practice of circumcision. When males were born into the old people of God, they were circumcised as infants—Genesis 17:9-14. Baptism in the New Testament is called a spiritual circumcision. “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off the [flesh], not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by 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). The argument is that just as the Israelites were circumcised as children and brought up in the covenant, children today should be baptized as infants and brought up in the church.
What Does Scripture Say?
Interestingly, the Bible never mentions infant baptism—there are some who attempt to stretch some passages, which we’ve already mentioned to include infant baptism.
The demands of baptism require that baptism not be administered to children, but only administered to adults.
Baptism requires that individuals have been discipled.
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). The King James Version here reads “teach nations” rather than “disciple nations.” The word for “disciple” literally means “to teach,” but the term refers to much more in the New Testament—the word means that one is following a teacher’s doctrine and way of life. Thus, those who are baptized need to be discipled-they need to be able to pledge themselves to Jesus’ doctrine and way o lie; no infant can become a disciple.
Baptism requires that individuals repent of sin.
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). If a child has not yet sinned, how on earth is that child to repent? Even if we were to allow the false doctrine of original sin and say that children were born in sin, how is an infant going to be able to repent?
Baptism requires that individuals be able to live a new life.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:4). How is a child who has not yet sinned gong to walk in newness of life? Again, if we allow for original sin, how is a child who doesn’t know enough to walk in newness of life walk in that new life?
How can I be saved before God if I do not believe and confess that faith?
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom 10:9-10). How is a child, just a few days from his mother’s womb, going to believe in Jesus Christ and confess that faith?
Infant baptism places too much emphasis on baptism.
Infant baptism makes baptism the key to getting into heaven; it makes baptism the power that saves.
Don’t misunderstand me, baptism is absolutely essential to man’s salvation. Yet, baptism is not the only thing required for man’s salvation—you can baptize a man all day long and if his heart isn’t right—if he doesn’t believe or hasn’t repented—he’s just getting wet.
Infant baptism says that the only thing that matters is the water—the heart doesn’t matter at all. You know that’s not the case. There’s nothing magical in the water of baptism—nothing that saves me from my sin. What saves me is a believing heart which his committed to doing what God requires, including baptism; it’s not the water—it’s God and my obedience to him that’s saving me. Infant baptism says you can remove the heart from the picture and you can just pour some water on someone or dunk someone in water and that’s what saves. Not at all.
Do you need to come tonight with a believing and penitent heart and put Jesus on in baptism? Do you need to come with a heart committed to obeying God and carrying out that obedience through baptism? If you need to come, won’t you come as we stand and sing?