August 12, 2005 § 16 Comments
elsbet_vance is having a very interesting discussion on infant baptism right now, and I promised her an explanation of my stance. Because it is so long, I don’t wish to clutter up her lj post so I will post it here, where it is more manageable. Feel free to read along!
In looking at baptism (or any doctrine) we must not only look at the historical record, but at exactly what the Apostles had to say about it in scripture.
Historically, the early church only baptized those old enough to confess Christ. In fact, the catechumens (those studying to be received into the church) typically went through a mandatory three year process before they were allowed to be baptized. It wasn’t until the 300’s and 400’s that infant baptism (along with many strange doctrines and superstitions) began to take hold and assert themselves in the “Church”. Constantine had mainstreamed the church and muddied the waters of doctrine.
During the Reformation, Luther (a former monk, i believe) did indeed hold on to many Catholic practices (he still considered himself a Catholic) such as infant baptism. The difference during the reformation was the theology *behind* the sacraments. Most of the sacraments were relegated to a more symbolic nature, whereas the Catholic Church had had a more… literal interpretation—baptism as a saving act, the Eucharist being the actual Body and Blood of Christ, etc.
The Anabaptists broke away from the Reformers with their biggest difference being a return to adult baptism. They looked at scriptures (which I will enumerate later) and believed that it is only by a clear conscience, and confession of Christ that one can actually be truly baptized, and so they all rejected their infant baptisms and were baptized anew—hence the name they were given by the Reformers and Catholics—Anabaptists—the re-baptizers.
These Anabaptists restored many scriptures that the Reformers had stopped short of, and were persecuted and killed for their beliefs by both the Catholics and the Reformers—Michael and Marguerite Sattler being two of the more famous of the Anabaptist martyrs.
Today, the debate rages on, but it is not history to which we must look to find the answer but to scripture.
Those that hold to the practice of infant baptism look to only two instances in scripture to support their doctrine. That of Acts 16:15 “When she [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” and Acts 16:32-34 “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.”
While both passages say “the whole family” or “household” there is no indication that there were infants. In fact, in 16:34, it is clear that all who were baptized also believed—something an infant is not capable of.
In studying any doctrine, it is most important to look at all the scripture that references it. All of the scripture must be looked at together in order for a clear picture to be formed.
John’s baptism, as it is described in the gospels, is called one of “repentance.” But Paul makes a distinction between John’s baptism, and the one of Christ—the one that is practiced by the church: Act 19:3-5 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
This verse also shows that these men were re-baptized upon coming to faith in Christ.
Water baptism first appears within the context of the Church in Acts 2:37-38 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Peter gives the reason for baptism right there—”for the forgiveness of your sins,” and the mode “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Other verses explain the purpose and importance of baptism, showing that it is more than just a symbolic act.
Romans 6:3-5 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Going into the waters of baptism is burying the old man, rising up from the waters, we rise with Christ,into new life, leaving our sinful past behind us.
Colossians 2:11-13 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…
Now, you may say, “Aha!! He said that circumcision IS baptism!” Yes, but look at the following words: ” having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God…”
In all passages referring to baptism, it is inextricably linked with faith—something an infant cannot have. Also, it is described as an act that does something. Not as a mere symbolic act, but something that has a very real spiritual consequence.
The scriptures indicate that something is accomplished in baptism, a washing away of sin, a forgiveness of that sin. But there has to be something that we bring to the table.
1Peter 3:20-22 …who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
An infant cannot bring faith to the table, nor a good conscience. Nor can an infant confess Christ.
My final point is also found by looking at 1Peter3:20-22. He makes a powerful statement—twice: and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also and It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand…
“What about the thief on the cross?” you may ask. Who are we to question God? He is sovereign and does as He sees fit. He has commanded us to be baptized, and through His appointed Apostles, has given explanation why. It is His prerogative to wink in times of ignorance or to save when baptism is not possible.
“I thought we were saved by faith and not by works!” Too true. Anyone could wash and wash all day and not be saved if he does not have the saving faith of God. Baptism is not an empty act, but one in which a faithful heart and good conscience must be present. We are saved by our faith, and here is an act which God applies to show our faith in action. As James said, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James2:18.)
In summation, according to Scripture, baptism is not a mere symbol, but an actual act of obedience that, through faith, has a hand in the salvation process. God has ordained it for the purpose of washing away the old man and the forgiveness of past sin, and a raising up into new life— inducting one into the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.
Because of the saving grace that is applied to baptism, and because of the necessity of being a thinking feeling individual, capable of being aware of ones sin, and need for God, infant baptism is not supported by Scripture.