Are Babies To Be Baptized?

Are Babies To Be Baptized?

When it comes to this question, the Church is divided into two “camps.”  On one side are those who believe that infants and small children can and should be baptized.  They generally take a “covenantal” and/or “sacramental” view of baptism.  On the other side of the debate are those who withhold baptism from anyone unable to make a confession of faith.  These Christians hold to what is commonly called, “Believer Baptism.”

Those who baptize small children often site Matt 19:13-15.  In this passage children were being brought to Jesus so that He might put His hands on them and pray.  Jesus’ disciples tried to stop this, but Jesus rebuked them saying that “for such (the children) is the kingdom of heaven.”  It is often argued that if children make up “the kingdom of heaven,” then we should not forbid to baptize them.

One of the problems with understanding the passage this way is that baptism is certainly not in view in the account.  Parents were not bringing their children to Jesus for water baptism, but for prayer and blessing.  Secondly, to build a case for baptizing children based on Jesus’ statement about children in this passage is to imply something into Jesus’ words that is not obviously stated.  In other words, to make this a proof text about baptism is to put words in Jesus’ mouth.  If, however, we can find a clear teaching on baptism from Jesus or the apostles ordering infant baptism, then we might be able to infer that teaching into a passage like this that does not teach it.  But, does a clear teaching on infant baptism exist?  In short, no; but there are a couple of other passages to consider.

Proponents of infant baptism will often use Acts 16.  In this chapter we have two cases of entire households being baptized (verses 14-15 & 32-34).  In the second instance, Paul & Silas are freed from prison by a divine earthquake.  The jailor ends up taking them to his house, where Paul & Silas share the word.  We then find the jailor and “all his family” being baptized.  Did this include infants and/or small children?  Well, even though the Bible does not provide a census of the family, it does tell us that the jailor believed in God “with all his household.”  This strongly suggests that all those who were baptized also had believed – revealing that everyone who was baptized was old enough to come to faith.  Therefore, this passage does more to support “Believer Baptism” than “Infant Baptism.”

Acts 16:14-15 remains.  In this passage Paul makes his first convert, Lydia, in the city of Philippi.  Paul baptizes her “and her household.”  There is no mention of the household coming to faith as in the jailor’s home.  Were infants and small children baptized with Lydia?  The reading certainly makes it possible – but no one can say for sure since the Bible does not tell us.  Those that say that this is proof of infant baptism only tell us what they believe to be true – not what the Bible actually says.

I believe that the reading of Scripture will lead us toward “believer baptism,” since that is the explicit example given.  But, why do some churches still hold to infant baptism?  This is answered in two categories; Tradition and Conceptual.

Tradition: Clearly, the Church has a long history of baptizing infants.  Irenaeus (190 AD) is one of the earliest Church Fathers to indicate the church was baptizing infants.  Many other early Christian writings indicate the same.  But, the question must be asked; if an early Church Father believes in something, does that make it correct doctrine?  The testimony of most Protestants indicates that this is not the case.  For example, it would appear that the early Church was almost completely “pre-millennial” in her belief.  Yet, almost all churches that baptize infants today reject pre-millennialism.  Furthermore, all Church Fathers before Augustine held to what is today called “Arminianism.”  Yet, today many churches who baptize infants (such as the Presbyterians) reject Arminianism.  It is quite apparent that the acceptance or rejection of a doctrine by a Church Father is not universally binding among Protestants today.  Therefore, Church tradition is not a strong argument in favor of Infant Baptism.

The second category is Conceptual.  By this I mean that proponents of infant baptism hold to the doctrine because of how they understand – or conceptualize – baptism.  It is most commonly stated like this: if God welcomed infant Hebrew boys into the community of faith through circumcision, how much more would God welcome all infants into the far more glorious community of faith (the Church) through baptism?

This seems like a good argument since no one would contend that the New Covenant is less effective than the Old.  But, I don’t believe the question is about the efficacy of the New Covenant.  Rather, the question is: is Circumcision replaced with Baptism? Fortunately, we have some fairly clear teaching on this topic.

In Rom 2:28-29, and Col 2:11, Paul discusses “circumcision” for the New Testament Christian.  But he does not call it baptism.  Rather, the passages seem to suggest that Paul sees it being spiritually fulfilled in something he calls “circumcision of the heart.”  Therefore, there is no good reason to assume that baptism does what circumcision used to do.

Based on the reasoning of the scriptures, I do not believe that a compelling case can be made for Infant Baptism.  Rather, the New Testament more strongly underwrites Believer Baptism.  If, however, one places a very strong reliance on tradition, and not scripture, then the argument for baptizing infants can be made.

Personally, I see the stronger (and more reliable) of the arguments coming from Scripture.  Therefore, I favor Believer Baptism, and find Infant Baptism inconsistent with the teaching of the New Testament.



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