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What does the Bible teach about the Baptism of infants?
Are infants to be included or excluded from Baptism?
There is no doctrine that has caused more unrest, disagreement, and at times angry responses from opponents than the doctrine of Baptism. Those within denominations who baptize infants are put into the position of having to defend the practice, even though the baptism of infants is rooted in the history of the Christian Church and practiced by out 75 percent of Christendom. The response of the adversaries is often angry.
One evangelical radio network discontinued broadcasting The Lutheran Hour after the speaker made a presentation on infant Baptism. In an earlier issue of this journal I spoke about Baptism of my granddaughter and stated that God applied the full righteousness of Jesus Christ to this "empty" infant. I received some angry letters from Baptist pastors who no longer wanted to receive the Issues, Etc. Journal because of my stance on infant Baptism.
The fact of the matter is that those who reject and even disdain the Baptism of infants promote a "Believerís 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. In this regard, Martin Luther writes:
Now if God did not accept the Baptism of infants, he would not have given any of them the Holy Spirit nor any part of him; in short, all this time down to the present day no man on earth could have been a Christian. Since God has confirmed infant baptism through the gift of the Holy Spirit. . . our adversaries must admit that infant Baptism is pleasing to God. For he can never be in conflict with himself, support lies and wickedness, or give his grace and spirit for such ends. (Tappert: Book of Concord, [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959] pp. 442-3).
Even though the title of this article is In Defense of Infant Baptism, the truth of the matter is that those who reject the Baptism of infants are the ones who should be in the position of defending their stance. While infant Baptism is rooted in the history of the early Christian Church, the so-called "Believerís Baptism" originates in the post-Reformation Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century. But be that as it may, the fact still remains that any theological position has to find its basis in Scripture. So, what does the Bible say about the Baptism of infants?
What Does the Bible Say?
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.
While this is true, it is not difficult to explain. The Book of Acts deals with first generation adult converts to Christianity. The Bible does not tell us what these first Christians did with their children as far as Baptism is concerned. In order to definitively answer that question, we must look into the writings of the early church fathers.
Yet, the Bible is not silent in the matter. What you see in the Word of God concerning the Baptism of infants depends upon how you approach the Word. When searching Scripture in order to answer the infant Baptism question, the issue is not whether or not there are any specific references including children and infants in Baptism. Rather, the issue is whether or not there are specific references in Scripture excluding children and infants from Baptism. 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.
The reasoning used by those who reject infant Baptism was the same reasoning used by the Supreme Court in dealing with the abortion issue. The Court was faced with the question of whether or not a fetus is a person who is guaranteed the right to life under the constitution. Should the unborn be included or excluded from the rights of personhood? Since they were unable to answer the question, rather than potentially erring on the side of inclusion, they excluded the unborn and made abortion legal.
Those who reject infant Baptism claim that there is no biblical warrant for including infants and children in Baptism. But the real question is, does the Bible specifically exclude infants and children from Baptism? Definitely not!
In Mark 10: 14 our Lord Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." The Greek word for children in this text is paidia, which means babes in arms. 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!
In addition, there are five references in the New Testament to the Baptism of entire households. Peter baptized the household of Cornelius (Acts 11: 14). In Philippi, Paul baptized the household of Lydia and the household of the jailer (Acts 16: 15, 33). He also baptized the household of Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, he speaks of baptizing the household of Stephanas (1: 16). The Greek word for household is oikon and refers to all the inhabitants of the house including slaves, servants, infants and children. Can anyone seriously suggest that within the households of Cornelius, Lydia, the Jailer, Crispus and Stephanas there were no children or infants present?
In addition, if the members of these households had converted to Judaism, all the males would have been circumcised. This included infants who were at least eight days old. In Colossians 2: 9-12, the Apostle Paul compares the effect of circumcision with the effect of Baptism.
While there are no specific references to infant Baptism in the New Testament, there is every reason to believe that children and infants were included. As you will see when you read Pastor Kastensí article Infant Baptism in Early Church History, the witness of the early church fathers is very clear. Children and infants were included in Baptism.
But Can Infants Believe?
Those who reject infant Baptism practice what they call a "Believerís Baptism." On the basis of Mark 16: 16 ("Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved."), they claim that a person must believe and be able to confess his faith before receiving Baptism. According to this way of thinking, since infants are unable to believe and confess, they are excluded from Baptism. Only those who have reached the "age of reason," or the "age of accountability" are baptized.
This position is specious for a number of reasons.
First of all, Mark 16: 16 is not speaking chronologically. In other words, the text is not saying first believe and then be baptized. The verbs "believe" and "baptized" are participles. Any Christian who has been baptized as an infant can confidently say, "I believe, and I have been baptized." The commission of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 28: 19-20 commands us to make disciples by "baptizing and teaching." If we read this text chronologically, we would contend that teaching follows Baptism. But, it is not intended to be chronological.
The opponents of infant Baptism teach that a person must first believe, confess their faith, be saved. and then baptized. From this perspective, Mark 16: 16 should read, "Whoever believes and is saved will be baptized," rather than "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved."
Second, the issue not whether or not an infant can believe. Infants are not baptized because they believe. They are baptized because of the clear Word, command and promise of God. They are baptized on account of Godís grace, not on account of their faith. Martin Luther writes, "For my faith does not constitute Baptism but receives it" (Tappert: p. 443).
Third, to claim that a person must reach the "age of reason" or the "age of accountability" before receiving Baptism is to claim that there is something within the person that is able to cooperate with the grace of God. This is called synergism, a theological perversion that places man into a cooperative relationship with God in the salvation process. In some cases, the proponents of a "Believerís Baptism" fall into the trap of Pelagianism, an early heresy that denied that man is dead in his trespasses and sin and therefore unable to contribute anything to his salvation - not even his human reason and understanding. Concerning the role of human reason, Martin Luther wrote:
"My friend, what good does reason do when faith and Godís Word are concerned? Is it not a fact that reason most violently resists faith and the Word of God so that because of it, no one can come to faith or put up with Godís Word unless reason is blinded and put to shame? A man must die to reason and become a fool, so to speak, yes, and must become more unreasoning and irrational than any child if he is to come to faith and accept God grace. (Plass: What Luther Says, [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959], Vol. 1, p. 51)
Do those who suggest that human reason is a necessary ingredient for faith to exist also believe that when they are sleeping and their reason is inactive they have lost their faith?
Faith is a miraculous gift of God worked in the heart by the Holy Spirit without human cooperation. If God can bring a stubborn, unbelieving adult to faith through the preaching of the Gospel, would anyone foolishly suggest that he is unable to work the same miracle in the heart of a passive infant through the vehicle of Baptism?
I have on numerous occasions discussed if not debated the subject of infant Baptism with callers on my daily radio program. The scenario is always the same. The opponent of infant Baptism is put off by the fact that we teach and confess that an infant can become a believing Christian by Godís grace through Baptism. The issue is, "Is that all they have to do is be baptized?" The focus is always on what the person is doing or not doing and never on what God is doing and able to do.
Those who teach a "Believerís Baptism" are usually also proponents of Arminian decision theology. They spend more time talking about the fact that they went forward, made a decision, and got saved than upon the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Those who focus upon what they have done in order to be saved will be invariably put off if not angered by the truth of infant Baptism.
Paul writes in Ephesians 2: 8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith, and it is not of our doing. Grace comes before faith. Baptism is a pure administration of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
I knew a young couple who had affiliated with a Lutheran Church but did not embrace the practice of infant Baptism. They were both products of the "Jesus Movement" in the 1960ís and 1970ís and had been baptized in a river. After seriously studying the issue under the guidance of their pastor and especially reading the infant Baptism defense in The Book of Concord, they changed their minds and had their three children baptized. The father explained his change of mind by saying, "We thought we were saved by faith through grace rather than by grace through faith. According to the Bible, grace precedes faith. Therefore, we brought our children under the grace of God."
A Wonderful Gift!
Infant Baptism is a wonderful gift of God. While it is most certainly true that the practice has been abused, as Luther put it, "Precisely because infant Baptism has been wrongly received it has existence and value. The saying goes, ĎMisuse does not destroy the substance, but confirms its existence.í Gold remains no less gold if a harlot wears it in sin and shame" (Tappert, p. 444). The very fact that infant Baptism has been abused indicates its value.
Opponents of infant Baptism are quick to point out that millions of people have been baptized as infants and have never really "come alive" or grown in their relationship with the Lord Jesus. This may indeed be true, but this is not the fault of infant Baptism since the alternative is also true. Millions have been baptized as infants and have in faith laid claim to the benefits of Christís death and resurrection and lived victorious Christian lives.
If the issue here is which method is more successful in making Christians, one might ask the question as to the spiritual condition of the hundreds of thousands of people who have gone forward, made a decision and got saved at the Billy Graham crusades over the past 50 years. What percentage of these people have remained true to their commitment and become alive, victorious Christians?
The issue is not my opinion or your opinion or which method is more effective. The issue is: What does the Bible say? Scripture is very clear: Infants and children are not to be excluded from Baptism.