The baby is dressed beautifully as if prepared to be taken to the photography studio. The grandparents have come to town, and the aunts and uncles are there. Plans are made to have a celebrative lunch after the ceremony.What is happening is it is the day for the baby to be taken to church and be baptized, or “christened,” as it is called in some traditions.
At the designated point in the Sunday morning worship service the parents come forward with their baby. The minister takes the baby in his arms to the pleasure of the whole congregation. He pronounces his words of liturgy as he sprinkles water on the child’s head. In most traditions that practice this infant baptism ceremony, declaration is then made that the baby is now a member of the covenant community or the body of Christ.
Is infant baptism, so popular in many Christian denominations, a scriptural and wise practice? What does the Bible say about baptism? Who are the proper subjects of baptism, and how should baptism be administered?
First of all, let’s consider the “pros” of infant baptism; i.e., what is good or what might be the advantages of infant baptism. I believe one of the most positive aspects of this religious ceremony is not in the value or scripturalness of the ceremony itself, but the fact that it affords the opportunity for the parents to express their desire to bring their children into a relationship with God and his church. This is a highly commendable motivation on the part of the parents and of the church. What better desire could parents have for their children, than that they should be connected to God, have faith in God, and serve God! All Christian parents desire this for their children.
A second “pro” of the ceremony of infant baptism is that every time it is performed, it reminds (or it should remind) the people of that local congregation of their responsibility as the body of Christ to educate and raise the children within that congregation in the knowledge and service of the Lord.
So having looked at a couple of what can be positive aspects of infant baptism, let’s step back and consider infant baptism within the whole context of the Bible’s teaching on baptism. Here we will find there are some sharp incongruities between what the Bible teaches about baptism and the practice of infant baptism.
First of all, the thing that we first notice is that the scriptures teach us that baptism should be for believers only, not for infants. And baptism should be administered by total immersion in water, not simply sprinkling water on the head. We believe this because this was the way John the Baptist baptized people. John’s baptism took place at the Jordan River because he needed enough water in which to immerse people upon confession of their sins. Infants could not confess their sins, they didn’t understand the whole concept of sin, and they were not even old enough to talk! It was true then and it is true today.
The Lord Jesus was also baptized by John the Baptist, not because he had sins, but to identify with his people. Our Savior “went up from the water” (Matt. 3:16). This means he must have gone down into the water.
Other evidence from the New Testament confirms our belief in “believer’s baptism by immersion.” For example, when Philip explained to the Ethiopian eunuch the fact that Isaiah 53 was pointing to Christ and his sacrificial death for our sins, the evangelist must have also explained to him the importance and necessity of baptism by immersion, for when they passed a pool of water he asked Philip, “What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts. 8:37) The eunuch believed, and was ready for baptism. Had he only needed to be sprinkled, he would not have seen the importance of a pool of water.
The word “baptize” literally means “to immerse” or “to dip.” The Greek Orthodox church baptizes its people by immersion because they know that is what the word means. Unfortunately, they also baptize young children, which is unscriptural, but at least they are performing the practice in the right manner (that is, they do not just sprinkle water on the head of the one being baptized).
Infant baptism, although popular in several denominations, is a religious ceremony not found in the Bible. The clear and overwhelming evidence from the New Testament is that only believers were baptized, and they were baptized by immersion (Acts 2:38; 9:18; 19:5; Col. 2:12, etc.) Even when whole households are baptized (as that of Cornelius [Acts 10:44-48], Lydia [Acts 16:15] and the Philippian jailer [Acts 16:33]) it is always done in the context of preaching and believing the message by all those who were baptized. Some claim that among those baptized in these households there were infants, but infants are not capable of understanding and responding to the preached Word and therefore could not have qualified to be baptized.
The Word of God with its teaching and examples is our final authority in all matters of church belief and practice. Whenever the traditions of men come in conflict with the Word of God, the traditions of men must yield to the Word of God. Infant baptism is an ancient tradition in the church that may have been introduced in the third century. It was an integral part of Roman Catholicism at the time of the Reformation in the 1500’s. Unfortunately, some of the key Reformers, though they did much good in reviving the teaching of the true Word of God, were still blind to the fallacy of infant baptism. They did not discard this teaching of Roman Catholicism as they did with so many of the other unscriptural teachings of the Roman Church. Martin Luther and John Calvin are among those who tenaciously held on to this unfortunate practice. Historically we are indebted to the Anabaptists (the “re-baptizers”) during the Reformation period who saw the error of infant baptism and reinstituted the practice of believer’s baptism.
What are the “cons” of infant baptism? When we think about the Bible’s teaching on baptism and consider the practice of infant baptism, our evaluation leads us to draw some strong conclusions. We have to say that infant baptism is an erroneous and dangerous practice that should be rejected by all Bible believing churches and Christians. It should be forbidden in all Christian churches for the following reasons:
1) It is not found in the Bible. There is not one clear text in the NT that demonstrates infant baptism. It is true that infant males were circumcised by the Jews in conformity to the Abrahamic covenant and in obedience to the law of Moses in the OT, but this was a sign of belonging to national Israel. The New Covenant sign of belonging to Christ through faith is baptism. It can only be received by those who have become members of the New Covenant through conscious repentance and faith in God through Jesus Christ. An infant cannot repent and believe, so it is impossible for an infant to become a member of the New Covenant.
2) Infant baptism generates a false sense of security in the minds of those who practice it. Though some churches do contend that infant baptism is not salvific (saving), it still produces this false assurance that children are saved in the minds of many church members. Children can grow up thinking they are Christians when they may never have been regenerated. And parents may relax their exhortations to their children to repent of their sin and believe the gospel.
3) Infant baptism fosters an unregenerate church membership. This is especially true in those denominations and churches that clearly declare baptized infants and children to be members of the body of Christ, the church. On the other hand, churches which practice believer’s baptism are less likely to receive unregenerate church members because those who are baptized have made a solemn profession of faith in Christ and are expected to grow as Christian disciples.
4) Infant baptism often leads to the practice of allowing unregenerate children to receive Holy Communion. It is the responsibility of the church and its leaders to insure, as far as possible, that only believers partake of the Lord’s Supper. Unfortunately, allowing unregenerate children to receive Communion puts them in the dangerous position of receiving the bread and cup in an “unworthy manner” and become “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” Why would we want to put children in this position?
Besides the fact that infant baptism cannot be found in the Bible, but also because it produces a false assurance of salvation, results in unregenerate church members, and often allows unregenerate children to receive Holy Communion, infant baptism should be rejected as contrary to the Word of God and dangerous to the spiritual well being of people and the integrity of the local church. This is not to say that all who practice infant baptism (sometimes we refer to them as paedo-baptists – “baby baptizers”) are themselves unregenerate or ineffective Christians. But they are in error on this point and are helping preserve an unscriptural and dangerous teaching which has caused untold damage to the church of God over the centuries.
Many churches who reject infant baptism (those who only baptize professing believers are sometimes referred to as “credo-baptists,” the word “credo” meaning “I believe”) also practice “infant dedication.” In this ceremony the baby is brought forward in the church service to be dedicated to the Lord. The minister and congregation then pray for the infant that he/she would grow to know and serve the Lord in the fellowship of the church. The parents are prayed for also, that they might have the wisdom to raise the child in the nurture of the Lord. So through this means some of the same positive effects that I mentioned above which can accompany infant baptism are instead generated through infant dedication, without the unbiblical practice of infant baptism.
Our responsibility as Christians, as people dedicated to the
authority of God’s Word, is to lay aside any religious teaching or tradition that is contrary to the Bible, and instead believe, practice, and teach what the Bible teaches, including the truth of believer’s baptism. We should pray and hope that those who have not yet understood the Biblical teaching of believer’s baptism by immersion will reexamine the Bible, think about these things, and embrace the scriptural teaching.
by Pastor Jeff Gregory
Good Shepherd Community Church Dallas, Texas