Tag Archives: infant baptism

The Baptism of Infants — Stephen Hughes

At the time that this will be published, my wife will have just given birth to our first child. It is a very emotional time for both of us, and it is one that I look forward to with great anticipation. There is, however, some trepidation involved in this undertaking. We now have the task of raising this little girl in a Christian household with Christian values. I pray every day that we are up to this task. I also pray that she will grow up to be an amazing Christian woman so that she will be with the Lord in eternity some day. The weight of bringing a soul into the world that may one day end up in hell motivates me to be the best Christian father I can be.

It is the common practice among many, including Roman Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians, to baptize infants. If my wife and I were members of these denominations, then we would have already scheduled a baptismal service for our baby girl in a few months. This practice of infant baptism, also known as paedobaptism, runs counter to the teachings of Scripture as this article will prove.

Throughout the New Testament, there are only accounts of adults who were baptized. Each candidate for baptism had the capability to believe in Jesus and repent of his or her sins—infants cannot do either. Despite these facts the proponents for infant baptism will bring up certain passages of Scripture to defend their practice. This article will examine the most widely used of those passages to see whether or not this practice is authorized by Christ in His Word.

Jesus And The Little Children

The first passage under consideration is recorded in three of the four gospel accounts. Matthew’s reads, “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matt. 19:13-14). The problem is that baptism is not mentioned at all in this passage. Luke does record that infants were involved, but this is hardly conclusive concerning baptism (Luke 18:15-17).

This passage teaches something much more profound. Jesus says in Mark’s account that, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15). It is not possible for someone to enter into the kingdom of God unless he receives it as a little child would, with sincerity and trust. One should not be gullible when he hears something of a religious nature, but when it comes to Scripture, he ought to be humble, trust it, and obey it as a little child would. This passage has nothing to do with the baptism of infants.

Whole Households

One of the most widely used argument for infant baptism is the fact that whole households in apostolic times were baptized. Some even argue that surely there were infants in these households. There are five instances in the New Testament where whole households were baptized: Cornelius (Acts 10:2; 11:14), Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:34), Crispus (Acts 18:8), and Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16). J. W. McGarvey commented on this very issue, saying that “There is positive proof that in three of these [households] there was not an infant. In that of Cornelius there was none, for they all spoke in tongues and believed [Acts 10:46; 15:9]; none in that of the jailer, for they all believed and rejoiced in the Lord [Acts 16:34]; and none in that of Stephanas, for ‘they set themselves to minister to the saints’ [1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15]” (McGarvey 94). McGarvey leaves out Crispus in his analysis, but Luke records that his whole household believed. His point is that in none of these three cases do we see infants, for infants cannot believe, speak, let alone speak in tongues, or become ministers, yet Luke records that all the members of these respective households did these things.

Luke’s account of the conversion of Lydia, however, does not mention the faith of Lydia or her household. It says, “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized …” (Acts 16:14-15a). While the faith of Lydia is not explicitly mentioned, it is implied, just as the faith of her household is implied. Even many paedobaptists of McGarvey’s day admitted that there is no evidence one way or the other whether or not Lydia had infants in her home. He quotes Dean Plumptre who said, “… there is no evidence that she had children, or even that she was married. The household may well have consisted of female slaves and freed-women whom she employed, and who made up her familia” (McGarvey 95).

Baptism Unites With Christ

The question the paedobaptist will ask is why anyone would wish to exclude infants from the blessings found in Christ.  The person who is baptized is baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27).  Sin, however, is what separates someone from God (Is. 59:2).  An infant has not sinned and is therefore not separated from God.  The guilt of sin is not passed down through the generations (Ezek. 18:20), but one does often bear the earthly consequences of the sins of his predecessors (Rom. 5:12; Ex. 20:5).

Paul described himself as a child then as an adult, saying, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rom. 7:9). Similarly, when one is born, he is alive spiritually. When he becomes an adult, he begins to understand what God requires of him, and the commandment has come. Then only after he breaks the commandment does he die being separated from God. An act to bring reconciliation to God is not necessary for an infant who has not yet been separated from Him.

Typically the paedobaptist will resort to tradition when it comes to the practice under consideration. Some do attempt to use the Bible, but their reasoning falls flat. There is no record within Scripture of an infant being baptized.

As I consider these arguments with the birth of my daughter, I cannot help but desire the best for her and for her to be in heaven one day. Baptizing her as an infant, however, will not increase her devotion nor will it alter what my wife and I teach her. Most importantly, the Bible does not require it nor teach it. I do pray that one day she will be baptized, but it will be after she has heard and understood the gospel, believed it, repented of her sins, and confessed the beautiful name of Christ. Only then can she have her sins washed away with the blood of Christ in baptism. That will be a glorious and beautiful day—not only for my wife and me, but for the angels in glory as well. 

Stephen and his family worship at the Walterboro Church of Christ in Walterboro, SC.

 

 

Infant Baptism Debate Recap — Wes McAdams

I previously wrote an article on why it’s not biblical to baptize an infant. Because of that article, I was invited to join Presbyterian minister Randy Booth on the Moody Radio program Up For Debate to discuss the issue of infant baptism. After accepting this invitation, I took some time to educate myself about Booth’s position. I was actually surprised to learn I was mistaken in my assumptions about why many denominations baptize infants.

I had previously assumed all infant baptisms were done for the same reason, to wash away “original sin.” The Catholic church, of course, teaches children are born with sin and when the priest administers the water, inherited sin is washed away. There are several problems with this understanding, but this is actually not the understanding of many religious groups that practice so-called “infant baptism.”

My opponent in the debate, Randy Booth, not only explained his position on the radio program, but he also explained his position in his book, Children of the Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism. His two primary arguments are these:

  1. He believes the Old and New Covenants are one covenant, the New Covenant simply being a more inclusive version of the Old Covenant.
  2. Because he believes the Old Covenant is still in force, he sees baptism as merely a new form of circumcision, an outward sign that a person belongs to God’s covenant community.

Based on these two arguments, he (and millions of others who hold the same position) have concluded that infant baptism should be just as important for Christians as infant circumcision was for the Jews. Booth is so confident that baptism correlates directly with circumcision that he wrote, “Any argument against infant baptism is necessarily an argument against infant circumcision.”

The Old and New Covenants

The primary problem with Booth’s doctrine and practice is that it springs from a misunderstanding about how to read the Bible. His belief that the Old and New Testaments are one covenant is a fundamentally flawed understanding. The Hebrew writer, quoting from the prophet Jeremiah, expressly said a New (and better) Covenant had been established by Christ. He said this this New Covenant “makes the first one obsolete” (He. 8:13).

Ironically, one of the hallmarks of the New Covenant is that within the covenant people of God, “no one will have to teach his brother, “saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (He. 8:11). What does this mean? Why do New Covenant people (Christians) not have to say to their brethren, “Know the Lord” and why is this different from the Old Covenant?

Under the first covenant (the Old Testament), people became a part of the nation by simply being born and being circumcised as infants. They could (and many did) grow up not being taught about God. One Israelite could say to another, “God says such-and-such,” and his brother could respond, “Who is God?” and honestly not know the God with whom he was supposed to be in covenant. But that cannot happen under the New Covenant.

Under the New Covenant, the only way to come into the covenant community is by faith. You have to know the Lord before you ever come in. You have to hear who He is and what He has done, and upon this knowledge pass through the waters of baptism.

This is why an infant cannot enter into the covenant. If an infant could enter the covenant, the promise that no one would have to teach his brother to know the Lord would be invalidated. You can only enter the new and better covenant by faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10).

Baptism Is Not Circumcision

In his book, Booth spends the vast majority of time comparing baptism to circumcision. The problem is, there is only one verse in the Bible that makes any sort of comparison between baptism and circumcision and it is far from a one-to-one correlation. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:11-13:

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…”

If you’ll notice, Paul is saying Gentiles were two things: they were uncircumcised AND dead in their trespasses. Paul says, in Christ we receive a spiritual circumcision; that is, our sin is done away with.  He also says, with another metaphor, we are “buried with [Christ] in baptism.”  And when we are buried with Him, we can be “made alive together with Him.”

Do you see?  Baptism is not even called circumcision; it is called a burial (see also Romans 6).  There are two different metaphors being employed here: a spiritual circumcision that Christ performs and a burial with Christ in baptism.  Yes, these things happen simultaneously, but the simple truth of the matter is, Paul did not call baptism a circumcision.

Baptism Is Not An “Outward Sign”

Booth was actually a Baptist minister before he transitioned to the Presbyterian denomination, changing his position on infant baptism. It probably sounds strange to many Baptists that someone would go from the biblical pattern of immersing adults upon a confession of faith to sprinkling babies. But if you consider the Baptist position on baptism, it actually makes perfect sense why he would make that transition.

Most Protestant denominations—whether they sprinkle or immerse—have essentially the same understanding about baptism. They believe baptism is “an outward sign of an inward grace.” In other words, like circumcision, they believe baptism is the sign of the covenant.

It is true that with a covenant, there needs to be a sign, seal, symbol, or token. When God made a covenant not to flood the earth again, He said about the rainbow, “It shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Ge. 9:13). Paul said about Abraham’s circumcision, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Ro. 4:11). So the rainbow and circumcision are examples of how God signifies His covenants with man.

But the problem is, baptism is NEVER called a sign or a seal. Never. Not once. This doctrine is completely made up. It is not taught in Scripture at all, but sadly it is believed by millions.

In fact, by saying baptism is the sign of the covenant, they are ignoring what the New Testament actually teaches about the sign of the covenant. The New Testament teaches, “[You] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” (Ep. 1:13-14). And, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ep. 4:30). And, “[God] has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Co. 1:22).

The Holy Spirit is the sign (or the seal) of the covenant, not baptism. There is no biblical support for saying baptism is an “outward sign” of being God’s covenant people.

Wedding Rings

I was not given an opportunity to respond when Booth made the argument in the radio debate that baptism is like a wedding ring. He said a wedding ring does not make people married, it is simply a sign that they are married and belong to one another. He said baptism is like the wedding ring—it doesn’t put us into a relationship with God, it is simply a sign that we are already in a relationship with God.

But a biblical comparison would be to compare baptism to the wedding ceremony (which actually does make the couple married) and the Holy Spirit would be like the wedding ring. Our baptism is when we make our vows to the Lord and then the Holy Spirit—like a wedding ring—is given as a guarantee, a seal, a sign that we belong to the Bridegroom.

When a person is immersed in water, like a wedding ceremony, he is making a commitment. Paul says at baptism we commit ourselves to be dead to sin (Ro. 6). Jesus says at baptism we commit ourselves to being His disciples (Mt. 28:18-20). Again, if we are going to use the wedding metaphor, baptism must relate to the wedding ceremony, not the wedding ring.

Household Baptisms

When asked if he could show a biblical example of infants being baptized, Booth referred to the book of Acts. He believes that when Scripture says whole households were baptized, it included infants. But there are several big problems with that argument:

First, even Booth admits there is no way to prove there were any infants in those households. So any attempt to argue for infant baptism from these passages is an argument from silence.

Second, the people in these households who were baptized, listened to the word being preached (Ac. 10:44), spoke in tongues and praised God (Ac. 10:46), repented of their sins (Ac. 11:18), and rejoiced after their baptisms (Ac. 16:34). These are all things in which infants could obviously not participate. So if there were any infants in these households, they were not baptized.

“But the Bible doesn’t say some in the households were baptized and some weren’t,” Booth might argue. The answer to that is found in passages like Mark 1:5, which says about John, “All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Although Mark recorded that all of Judea and Jerusalem were baptized, he obviously didn’t mean infants, because infants couldn’t confess their sins. He also didn’t even mean all adults, because the Pharisees rejected John’s teaching and baptism (see Mt. 3:4-10; 21:25).

Whether in a household or in a region, when all the people were baptized, it is all the people who had repentant faith.

Faith, Baptism, and the Forgiveness of Sins

Many find it difficult to reconcile what the New Testament says about grace, faith, salvation, forgiveness, and baptism. They struggle to understand, “If we are saved by grace through faith, how can baptism have anything to do with that?” Because of their confusion, they concoct explanations for baptism (i.e. “outward sign of an inward grace”) which are not biblical.

The host of the radio program, Julie Roys —who is undecided about infant baptism—seemed stunned by the fact that I believe one must be baptized to be saved. She reacted as if she had never heard of such a position. I explained that the New Testament clearly teaches that baptism, when done in repentant faith, is the moment at which a person is saved.

To prove this point, I quoted passages like Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21 and Acts 22:16 to show that is exactly what the Bible teaches. Yet she, and so many others, are preconditioned to reject any doctrine that ties salvation to baptism…even if that doctrine comes straight from the pages of the Scripture.

It really isn’t that hard to understand. The Lord offers to deliver us from slavery to sin, if we will put our trust in Him and follow Him. Like the Israelites God delivered from slavery in Egypt, we must pass through the water into the Promised Land on the other side (see 1 Corinthians 10:2). When we pass through the water, we become a part of God’s covenant community (the church) and are sealed with the Holy Spirit for salvation.

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Wes McAdams is the preaching minister at the Baker Heights Church of Christ in Abilene, TX.