Way back in Podcast 12 we began our series of reviewing the subject of baptism. At that time, I said, “First, we’ll discuss the common objections to water baptism as part of the salvation experience. Next, we’ll look at infant baptism and then, the method of baptism as outlined in the scriptures. Finally, we’ll thoroughly cover what actually happens in water baptism.”
Well, I think we are done reviewing the common objections to water baptism, now let’s begin tackling infant baptism.
Another contentious debate!
Wow! The issue of Infant Baptism has nearly as much contention and division regarding its practices as our main issue, whether baptism is necessary for salvation. For a solid impartial review of the issue, I would point you to the Wikipedia article on the subject. There is a link in this blog post so please visit the website and click on it there.
Here’s that link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_baptism.
Thousands of babies are baptized annually. The Catholic and Lutheran churches both baptize infants as do a number of other denominations. Sometimes these baptisms are called “Christenings.” While the practice of infant baptism is not new, the debate about infant baptism really gained traction in the 1500s; just about the time of the reformation.
You may have heard the term “Anabaptist.” This term labeled an emerging group of European Christians, who believed and taught: infant baptism was invalid. They said. “Only adults, who could make a conscious decision for themselves, were candidates for baptism.”
The Catholics vehemently argued, “No. We want our babies baptized, and our own original baptism as a baby is good enough.”
The dissenters were labeled “heretics” and given the name, “Anabaptist,” which means, “Re-Baptizer.” I guess this kind of gives you an idea of who won the arguments of that day.
The debates over this one issue were serious and sometimes extremely violent. Catholics understandably became super angry because the Anabaptists, to begin with, were stepping on the toes of the church. To further the sting, their claim that infant baptism was invalid, implied millions of catholics were going to Hell because they had not been baptized as an adult. Things could get pretty inflammatory. In my view, neither side offered much Christian charity or grace but because of the magnitude and public nature of the arguments, we have pretty good historical records about those times. We clearly know what the issues were.
Well, flash forward five hundred years and where are we today? Pretty much in the same place! Tons of folks believe babies should be baptized and tons of folks believe only adults can make that decision. When we take a close and humble look at the arguments of both sides and a good look at some of the historical perspective, we are going to discover some incredibly valuable information regarding our main argument, “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” I find this revelation super intriguing.
Pro Infant Baptism
Let’s look at the pro-infant baptism side first and then, in our next lesson, we will examine the opposite side, the arguments against infant baptism.
Proponents who claim infant baptism is valid, will point to a number scriptures to solidify their position. The first one might be the conversion of the Philippian Jailer. The story of his conversion crescendos in…
The Philippian Jailer
“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.”
The claim here is that since the jailer and his “whole family” were baptized, this “family” must have included children and infants. That is certainly possible, but I am personally not confident drawing that conclusion, based on something which is not in the scripture. It asks me to assume too much.
The next scripture is nearby, it is Acts 16:15 and describes the conversion of Lydia, a dealer of purple cloth.
The Conversion of Lydia
“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.”
Once again, the assumption is made that members of Lydia’s household would probably include infants and children. I’m more confident about this reasoning being invalid. Let me explain.
Lydia is an awesome character in the Bible. She is an independent business woman who owns a house large enough to host a small itinerant missionary team. Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke and probably others stayed at her home. Historians suggest Lydia was a widow or at minimum, unmarried because she did not ask her husband about offering accommodations to the preachers and the property is always referred to as “Lydia’s Home.” She insists the brothers stay at her home.
If she is a widow, she was probably a bit older; it would be unlikely there were small children around. She owned property so it was either attained by purchase or inheritance. We do not see a “family” with her, we see a “household.” This may have included relatives, servants and hired help. A household is different from a “family.”
Because Lydia is probably an older, independent, entrepreneur, I am not confident there would have been many infants under her care. So, using this account from Acts, is not very convincing for me either.
The Day of Pentecost
Our third pro-infant baptism scripture is Acts 2:39. This is the conclusion of Peter’s first Gospel message. Peter told the people to repent and be baptized. After his salvation instructions, he adds an important statement from which the pro-infant baptism folks draw their conclusion. It reads in…
“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Is Peter referring to all the little children and babies in the crowd on the day of Pentecost? It is probably safe to assume there were children and infants at the festival. Or, is he referring to the enduring nature of the promise he has just made, by pointing to “your children and your children’s children for all generations?” Since he directed his comments to a multitude of people, many who had no children at all, I have to conclude he is meaning the latter. He is referring to future generations in general, not specific infants or children he may be viewing in the crowd.
Jesus and the Children
Finally, let’s not forget an important statement by Jesus the pro-infant baptism folks employ. It’s Jesus’ appeal to, “Let the little children come to me,” in Luke 18:16.
Does this mean, baptize little children? Does it mean babies should be handed over to Christ in baptism? I don’t think so. This is referring to the type of heart a believer must have in order to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s put his statement in context by reading the entire passage.
People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.
But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
In actuality, Jesus is using the little children as an illustration in order to humble and correct the adults. He warns them; an adult must have the heart of a child or they will never enter the kingdom of God. He is not telling people to baptize their babies or children. This passage harmonizes well with several other comments Jesus made about the child-like heart required for believers. Jesus does not say, “little children” enter the kingdom of heaven. He says; it is people, “such as these.” He concludes with clarifying his meaning; “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” So, the main scriptures used to support the pro-infant baptism position, in my mind, are not super convincing.
Early Church Writings
What about early church writings? Unfortunately, even writings by the early church fathers are inconsistent and tend to point to the current practices and traditions of their day rather than scripture. In essence, they tell us what was happening but don’t provide much scriptural basis for the practices.
I believe the other side of this argument, the anti-infant baptism side, is compelling and obvious. But if you disagree and have some additional scriptural or historical information which might be helpful, I welcome your comments in the forums which accompany this blog post. This is a deep debate and any help and insight you can provide would be welcomed.
The thing that excites me is what this whole debate reveals regarding our main topic. That amazing nugget is coming shortly.
Next, let’s begin talking about the anti-infant baptism side of this important doctrinal issue.Enjoy!