The Anabaptist arguments of the 1500s pitted a deeply entrenched religious system which taught babies should be baptized, against the Anabaptist belief that only adults could make that decision for themselves.
Three Reasons for the Anabaptist’s View
Now, there are a three important facets of the reasoning behind the thinking of the Anabaptists and it seems like we never hear anything about these reasons; we just hear the summation, “babies don’t have faith.”
So, why did the Anabaptist’s considered only adults as valid candidates for baptism? Well, it was because of the additional qualifications. The adult had to hear the Gospel, believe it, accept, confess Jesus as Lord, repent of their sins and decide to be baptized; all of which infants can not do. Just being an adult did not make you a candidate, you had to be an obedient believer in Christ. Their baptisms became known as a “Believer’s Baptism.” This term is still used today in churches which have their roots in the Anabaptist movement, even though the meaning has changed significantly. This one is important so let me explain.
In the 1500s, these Anabaptist believers understood the requirements regarding obedience to the Gospel, which included baptism and only a person who accepted the Gospel was a candidate for baptism. Thus, baptism was done… only to a believer. They did not think they were already saved by their profession of faith; they knew they had to obey. Now, some my argue with this assertion so I will give you proof, shortly.
Today, the term “believer’s baptism” has shifted in meaning. It reflects the the Modern Plan of Salvation’s view that all believers are saved. Today, we are taught that anyone who makes a sincere profession of faith in Christ, is a Christian. By definition, the word “Christian” means sins have been forgiven. When a baptism occurs under the Modern Plan of Salvation, believers are being baptized in obedience to Christ but this baptism is just a ceremony. The evangelical world has even coined a phase to describe this doctrine: “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace.”
So, while the term “believer’s baptism” is still used today, the meaning of the word “believer” has taken on a meaning which was not part of the 1500’s understanding. Today, we are taught that all believers are saved and salvation precedes obedience to Christ.
Anabaptist Means “Re-Baptizer”
The second facet of the Anabaptist reasoning relates to the term, “Anabaptist.” This term means “re-baptizer.” The Catholics insisted; if you were baptized under the Anabaptist plan, you were just being “re-baptized.” In those days, pretty much everyone belonged to the Catholic Church and had been baptized as an infant. The Anabaptists claimed their’s was the only true baptism. Infant baptism did not count. Therefore, the Anabaptists insisted; their baptism was the first and only baptism necessary for a person who had come to faith in Christ. There were not two baptisms, only one; the one an adult obeyed. Therefore, Anabaptists did not consider themselves as “re-baptizers.”
The “Why” of Baptism
The final facet in reasoning was the “why” of baptism. Just think this through. Infant mortality rates of those days was extremely high. Many babies died soon after birth due to common diseases which, today, we have pretty much conquered, such as smallpox or tuberculosis.
This was part of the reason people were baptizing their babies but this does not make sense unless you understand the force behind the reason.
The Catholic church has a doctrine called “original sin.” This doctrine teaches that everyone who has ever been born, inherits the guilt of Adam and Eve. This doctrine says; we are born into sin and we can not escape it. They teach, in accordance with the Nicene Creed, baptism washes away “original sin.”
In order to make sure their babies were spiritually safe, our Catholic friends in the 1500s baptized them. In the event of their pre-mature death, the child would go to Heaven. This reason for infant baptism has never changed. Chat with the parent of a newborn who is baptizing their infant and they will most likely express some connection with this line of thinking… “I don’t want my child to be lost in the event he dies prematurely.”
A quick aside about the Nicene creed. Catholics and Lutherans practice “one baptism for the remission of sin” as described in that creed. Today, both hold fast to this creed and recite it every single week in their worship service. Accordingly, as a matter of practice, they also baptize their babies by sprinkling water on them during a baptism service. Why? So original sin will be removed. Infant baptism is extremely important to these worshipers and it is absolutely connected to the forgiveness of sin. This is still the reason parents baptize their children. Nothing has changed in 500 years.
An Alternative Reasoning
In my mind, I think the Anabaptists had things pretty much figured out, but I don’t think they explained themselves very well. The most compelling argument they offered against baptizing babies was the infant’s inability to have faith. Let’s back up and reframe their argument. Let’s look at this another way.
Jesus came to earth to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sin of mankind. He offered himself freely and provides the free gift of eternal life for all who obey the Gospel. Without question, eternal life is a free gift. It can not be earned by man’s good works or his sincere heart. Jesus only asks one thing of us, “If you love me, you will obey my teaching.” (John 14:15). But how is this done?
At the conclusion of his ministry, Jesus provided very specific instructions to the Apostles explaining how they must continue his salvation work, in perpetuity, blessing all future generations. We know these instructions as, “The Great Commission.”
The first command of The Great Commission is to “Go.” The second command is to “Make Disciples.”
It’s all pretty simple, right? Can you think of any other instructions, outside of The Great Commission which Jesus gave, designed to pass on His ministry? I can’t. The Bible only provides one prescription regarding how to begin a relationship with Christ. I suppose this is why we call it the “Great” Commission. There is nothing else like it in all of scripture.
The Great Commission is easy to understand, easy to learn, easy to teach and easy to pass on (as we are commanded to do) and easy to obey. All of these things are easy to do… for an adult.
So, for me, the Great Commission, the only instructions Jesus gave for continuing his ministry is critical. An infant can’t do any of those things except be baptized, without their consent based on someone else beliefs.
So, I think the Anabaptists were right, but I wanted to offer an alternative reasoning. Simply saying, “Infant baptism is invalid because an infant can’t believe,” severely misses some really important things. The Great Commission is the only direction for conversion found in the Bible and by design, only a capable individual can follow it.
So what about the eternal security of infants or others who are incapable of obeying the Gospel? Will they go to Heaven if they die? We’ll talk about that soon.
Next Up – Original Sin!
Now, behind all of this is that man behind the curtain; the force driving all of this debate which we’ve only mentioned; “Original Sin.” The doctrine of Original Sin plays a massive part in this whole argument. This one reason is the driving force behind a parent’s desire to baptize their newborn. So, I guess we better pause here and talk a little bit about this doctrine.
Let’s break this out as a separate Podcast so it will be easier to find by anyone who may be searching for this particularly subject in and of itself, then we’ll finish our discussion on infant baptism.Enjoy!