Friday, January 2, 2009

Why I came to the conclusion that infant baptism is scriptural, and is what the early Christians really practiced and taught.

Why I Came To The Conclusion That, Along With Baptism For Adult Converts, Infant Baptism Is Scriptural, And Is What The Early Christians Really Practiced and Taught


I have been on both sides of the fence on this issue. For many years I too believed infant baptism was not scriptural and not what the early Christians did. Back in college studying the Bible with the Church of Christ I was convinced that my infant baptism (which was actually not as an infant but at age 5) was non scriptural and I was re-baptized by submersion as an adult.
(Technically to be immersed is not the same as submersion- Many churches that say they baptize by immersion only, actually mean submersion only. As interpreted by other churches immersion just means water flowing over the head and down over the body and does not necessarily mean submersion)

For many reasons as an adult I began to question this. One of the reasons that led me to look back into this was the fact that my oldest was blind and mentally handicapped. I was basically told at my Baptist Church that since he had the mind of a child that he had no need for baptism. There was an age of accountability. Now I never read anything about an age of accountability in the Bible and other problems with this concept emerged. When is the age of accountability? Well I was told it is different for all children. Ok so how is a loving parent suppose to know? My young child then in theory could be out of God's grace and not saved and I wouldn't even know it. So with this type of reasoning most good Baptist parents want their children to come to salvation early. Since they believed in once saved always saved (which is another discussion), parents tended to push their children to make a profession of faith or say a sinners prayer much too early before the child really understood it. Also they preached an adult believers baptism but I still saw children as young as 4 being baptized. However, that wasn't the norm. My child was mentally handicapped. He understood things as a child and has the faith of a child. I also began to wonder about only submersion as a means of baptism. That actually is a separate discussion from infant baptism so I probably should stick to just one issue for this article. But I did wonder about all the adults back in Christ's time and today that couldn't be Baptized by submersion, due to age and or disabilities. I began to wonder about different parts of the world where it is too cold most of the year etc. Why would God ask us to do something that was so impractical for so many?

Anyway, I started to revisit the issue since many churches, not just the Catholic Church, still baptized infants. Why did they do this, especially if it is unscriptural? Some denominations that baptize infants that I can think of off the top of my head are; Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Orthodox, and Lutheran. The majority of Christendom baptizes infants. Actually in the record of documented church history, adult only baptism by submersion only is a relatively recent thing beginning with the anabaptists.


I went back to the scriptures.

Paul notes that baptism has replaced circumcision (Col. 2:11–12). In that passage, he refers to baptism as "the circumcision of Christ" and "the circumcision made without hands." Of course, usually only infants were circumcised under the Old Law; circumcision of adults was rare, since there were few converts to Judaism. If Paul meant to exclude infants, he would not have chosen circumcision as a parallel for baptism.

Peter explained what happens at baptism when he said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). But he did not restrict this teaching to adults. He added, "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (2:39).

Comparison of Circumcision to Baptism
We know that all who were circumcised in the Old Testament were not believers or did not grow into adulthood believing in the Jewish God –

Rom. 2:28, 29: "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."
There were many who did not confess their sins and walked contrary to the will of God. They received punishment due to it.

Lev. 26:40, 41: "If they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity."

Knowing that not all those who receive the circumcision will be believers, the Lord gave the sign of circumcision even to infants.

Now from the description of the sign, it is evident that both the signs – circumcision and baptism – have exactly the same meaning viz. repentence and turning back to God.

Old covenant : Circumcision
Deut. 10:16: "Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiffnecked."
Deut. 30:6: "And the Lord thy God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." .
Jer. 4:4: "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and take away the foreskin of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem

New Covenant: Baptism
Acts 2:38: "Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost
Act 22:16: "And now, why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." 
Rom. 6:4: "Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life."
Gal. 3 :28: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ

Apart from the comparison between the signs Paul actually equates them in the following passages:

Col. 2:11, 12: "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with him in baptism, whereas also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." .
Phil. 3 :3: "For we are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."

An argument I use to hear as a fundamentalist was baptism requires faith and since infants and very young children (Also the brain injured and mentally handicapped) are incapable of having faith/understanding they cannot be baptized. It is true that Christ prescribed instruction and actual faith for adult converts (Matt. 28:19–20), but his general law on the necessity of baptism (John 3:5) puts no restriction on the subjects of baptism. Although infants are included in the law he establishes, requirements of that law that are impossible to meet because of their age are not applicable to them. They cannot be expected to be instructed and have faith when they are incapable of receiving instruction or manifesting faith. The same was true of circumcision; faith in the Lord was necessary for an adult convert to receive it, but it was not necessary for the children of believers.

Abraham had faith, but Jewish children were circumcised on the faith of their parents not their own faith. Likewise,why not the Children of believers be baptized on the faith of their parents? I believe handicapped children like my oldest son can be baptized on the faith of us, his parents. Also looking at (Matt. 19:14) His words can be taken to apply to anyone capable of belonging to his kingdom. He asserted such even for children: "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven"

(Luke 18:15–16) "Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God’"

The text in Luke 18:15 says, "Now they were bringing even infants to him" (Greek, Prosepheron de auto kai ta brepha). The Greek word brepha means "infants"—children who are quite unable to approach Christ on their own and who could not possibly make a conscious decision to "accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. notice what Jesus said: "to such as these [referring to the infants and children who had been brought to him by their mothers] belongs the kingdom of heaven." The Lord did not require them to make a conscious decision. He says that they are precisely the kind of people who can come to him and receive the kingdom. On what basis, then can infants and young children be excluded from baptism? If Jesus said "let them come unto me," who are we to say "no," and withhold baptism from them?

The Bible never says, "Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation except for infants (mentally handicapped, brain injured etc)"; it simply says, "Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation." Therefore fundamentalists must admit there is an exception for infants unless they wish to condemn instantaneously all infants to hell. That is precisely what they do. In the Baptist Church I was in they taught the idea of "the age of reason or accountability" to help them explain how infants, who haven't accepted Christ or could not possibly have any faith in Christ, would be saved and not go to hell. They make an exception for infants. This is no different than the churches that allow baptism for infants based on the parents faith and not the child's in my opinion.

There is implicit evidence that children were baptized in the Bible- Whole households were baptized. Yes it is an assumption that in these households were children and they too were baptized.

Acts 16:15 (New American Standard Bible) 15And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:33 (New American Standard Bible)33And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.

Acts 18:8 (New American Standard Bible) 8Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

1 Corinthians 1:16 (New American Standard Bible)16Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.

Lastly if infant baptism were not the rule, then we should have references to the children of Christian parents joining the Church only after they had come to the age of reason, and there are no such records in the Bible. In the books of the New Testament that were written later in the first century, during the time when children were raised in the first Christian homes, we never—not even once—find an example of a child raised in a Christian home who is baptized only upon making a "decision for Christ." Rather, it is always assumed that the children of Christian homes are already Christians, that they have already been "baptized into Christ" (Rom. 6:3).

Now for History
(This is not extensive or exhaustive research of history as I don't wish at this point to go back through all my notes and books for documentation at this point for my little blog article)
There are many documents and writings that show that the early Church was baptizing children. They may not have been baptizing many children in Apostolic times because most were adult converts, but as those converts had children it became common for the children of the converts to be baptized and this is documented.

Origen, for instance, wrote in the third century that "according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants" (Holilies on Leviticus, 8:3:11 [A.D. 244]). The Council of Carthage, in 253, condemned the opinion that baptism should be withheld from infants until the eighth day after birth. Later, Augustine taught, "The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned . . . nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic" (Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).

What actually helped me turn the tide in my thinking was a document called the Didache . It is not scripture, but it is a document of the early church at the end of the time of the Apostles around 70 to 90 ad. It is a document that is more of a hand book for early Christians. I kinda think of it as more of a Church bulletin or finding ancient Pastors notes. The Didache . This document is very interesting and describes in detail how to do baptisms. Actually reading through it again it doesn't directly pertain to infant baptism but does describe ways to perform baptism in different circumstances such as when there is no living water (ie: a natural stream) then household water and pouring over the head can be used.

In Conclusion:
1) We see parallels between baptism as the means of entrance into the New Covenant and the practice of circumcision as entrance into the Old Covenant for infant Hebrew males
2) We know from Hebrews that the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant
3) We also see Jesus chastising those who would forbid little children from coming to him
4) There's scriptural record of entire households, presumably containing infants, that were baptized
5) And we know that the Church can provide witness of the practice of infant baptism from the 2nd century onward.
6) Furthermore, nowhere in scripture is the practice explicitly condemned

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