Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Case for Infant Baptism



Why We Baptize Babies (The Case for Infant Baptism)

By Dr. Richard P. Bucher


Should we baptize babies? The Christian Church continues to be sharply divided over this important question. Those who answer "yes" (Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, etc.) claim Biblical support for their position. Those who answer "no" (Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, many "Bible" or "evangelical," or "non-denominational" churches) say the Bible is on their side. The pro-infant baptism churches assert that Christ commanded infant baptism. The opposing side asserts that nowhere is such a thing commanded. They hold that at best it is useless and at worst harmful. It is their practice to rebaptize adults who were baptized as babies.

The Lutheran Church has always taught that baptism is for everyone, including infants. We believe that Jesus wants babies to be baptized. We do so for the following reasons.

I - Christ Has Commanded Us

Many raise the objection: "There is not a single example of infant baptism in the New Testament, nor is there any command to do so. Therefore Christians should not baptize babies."
But Jesus has commanded infant baptism. In Matthew 28:19 He says, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . .." Before He ascended, the Lord of the Church commanded us to baptize "all nations," a phrase the Church has always understood to mean "everyone." Matthew 25:31-32 also uses the phrase "all nations" in this way. All nations are to be baptized, regardless of race, color, sex, age, class, or education. Jesus makes no exceptions. He doesn't say, "Baptize all nations except . . .." Everyone is to be baptized, including infants. If we say that babies are not to be included in Christ's Great Commission, then where will it stop? What other people will we exclude?

It is true that there is no example in Scripture of a baby being baptized. However, to conclude from this that babies are not to be baptized is absurd. Neither are there any specific examples of the elderly being baptized, or teenagers, or little children. Instead we read about men (Acts 2:41; 8:35) women (Acts 16:14-15), and entire households being baptized (Acts 10:24,47-48; 16:14-15; 16:30-33; 1 Co. 1:16). The authors of the New Testament documents didn't feel compelled to give examples of every age group or category being baptized. Why should they have? Certainly they understood that "all nations" is all-inclusive.

II - Babies Need Forgiveness

The Bible teaches that infants are born sinful and are in need of forgiveness. Scripture says nothing about an "Age of Accountability" that begins at the age of reason. Its message is that accountability begins at conception. David confesses in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." The Bible teaches original sin, that the corruption and guilt of Adam's sin is passed on to every human being at conception. Jesus affirms this teaching when He says, "Flesh gives birth to flesh" (John 3:5). Paul takes it up in Romans 5:18: "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Furthermore, Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; he who believes not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). According to Jesus, ANYONE who does not believe in Him will be damned. Jesus makes no exception for infants. Babies will not be saved without faith in Jesus. Parents who think they are placing their children under God's grace by "dedicating" them are deceiving themselves. The only dedication that the New Testament knows of is the "dedication" that take place via baptism. That is why infants should be baptized. Like everyone else, they desperately need forgiveness. If infants die before they believe in Jesus, they will be eternally condemned. They, like everyone else, need to be baptized so that they can be born again. Jesus said, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). We believe that baptism is God's special means of grace for children by which He causes them to be born again. To keep them from baptism is to keep them from forgiveness and to endanger them with damnation.

III - Baptism Replaces Circumcision

God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14) demanded that every male child was to be circumcised when eight days old. By circumcision, the baby entered into a covenant relationship with the true God.

St. Paul teaches us that in the New Testament baptism has replaced circumcision. "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism . . ." (Col. 2:11-12).
Given this fact, it would have been natural for first century Jewish believers to baptize infants, since they were accustomed to circumcise their male children at eight days old. It is also logical that if God regarded eight day old male babies as members of His covenant people through circumcision, He will also regard newborn babies to be members of His kingdom through baptism, the "circumcision made without hands."

IV - Infants Can Believe

The most frequent objection to infant baptism is that babies cannot believe. They do not, says the objection, have the intellect necessary to repent and believe in Jesus.

If this is your opinion, Jesus disagrees with you. Luke 18 tells us that certain parents were bringing infants (Greek - brephe) to Jesus, that He might bless them. The disciples rebuked those who brought the babies. Jesus' response is well known: "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it" (Luke 18:15-17). Some have objected that it is "little children" and not infants that Jesus speaks of here. Yet the very little children that the disciples were forbidding were infants. The infants are the focus of the passage. Clearly on this occasion Jesus had babies in mind when He said what He did!

Does this passage speak of infant baptism? No, not directly. It does show that Jesus did not raise the objection that so many do today about babies not being able to believe. According to Jesus, these babies had what it took to be members of the kingdom of God, feeble intellect and all! "Do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God."

Now Jesus does not contradict Himself. The central message of His ministry (the Gospel) was that there was only way to enter God's kingdom. There was only one way to be saved. "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Repeatedly Christ taught that faith in Him was the one way to become a member of God's kingdom (cf. John 3:16-18). Therefore, when He says about babies, "for of such is the kingdom of God," He is telling us that babies can believe (for how else could they enter the kingdom?!).

So if Jesus maintained that babies can believe (though their faith is very simple), who are we to deny it? And who are we to deny baptism to those who can believe? For those still stumbling over infant faith, remember: it is purely by God's grace that any person, adult or child, can believe. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit as much for the adult as for the child (see John 6:44; 1 Cor. 12:3; Eph. 2:1-4). When the adult believes in Christ it is only because the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, has worked the miracle of faith in his heart. So with the infant. If faith, then, is always a miracle, why can we not believe that God would work such miraculous faith in a baby?

Someone might ask, "If babies can believe then why do they need baptism?" Answer: it is through baptism that faith is created in the infant's heart. Baptism, far from being the empty symbolism that many imagine it to be, is the visible Gospel, a powerful means of grace. According to Scripture, baptism "washes away sin" (Acts 22:16), "saves" (1 Peter 3:21; Mark 16:16), causes one to "die to sin, to be buried, and raised up with Christ" (Romans 6:3-4) causes one to be "clothed with Christ" (Galatians 3:27), and to be a member of the body of Christ: "for by one Spirit, were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). It bears repeating: baptism is a special means of God's grace by which He gives faith, forgiveness, and salvation to the infant.

V - The Practice of the Early Church

Those who deny infant baptism have a problem. They must explain why the fathers of the Church's first centuries speak of infant baptism as a universal custom. The Fathers is what we now call Pastors who led the Church after the death of the apostles. When we examine the writings of Irenaeus (d. 202), Tertullian (d. 240), Origen (d. 254), Cyprian (d. 258), and Augustine (d. 430), we see that they all spoke of infant baptism as accepted custom (though Tertullian disagreed with it).

Irenaeus remarks, "For He came to save all through means of Himself all, I say, who through Him are born again to God, infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men" (Against Heresies, Book 1, Ch. 22.4).

In his commentary on Romans, Origin writes, "The Church has received from the apostles the custom of administering baptism even to infants. For those who have been entrusted with the secrets of divine mysteries, knew very well that all are tainted with the stain of original sin, which must be washed off by water and spirit" (Romans Commentary, 5.9).

Cyprian writes, "In respect of the case of infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man... Spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision... we ought to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins - that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another" (Letter 58 to Fidus).

And in his Enchiridion, Augustine declares, "For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none who in baptism does not die to sin" (Enchiridion; ch. 43).

Conclusion

For completeness sake, I have listed five reasons why Christians should baptize infants. The first reason should have been enough. Jesus has commanded His Church to "make disciples of all nations baptizing them . . .." Christ made no exceptions. Infants are part of all nations, as are every other age group. We do not have to prove this. The burden of proof is on those who deny that infants are to be included in "all nations." To deny the blessing of infant baptism because you can't find the words "infant baptism" in the Bible makes as much sense as rejecting the teaching of the Trinity because you can't find the words "Trinity" or "triune" in the Bible.

As to babies not being of the age of reason and therefore not able to believe, I have shown that Christ disagrees. So in a sense, the teaching of infant baptism reveals who your Lord is. Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to baptize all nations, has declared that everyone who dies without faith is damned, and has taught us that infants can believe by God's grace working through baptism. Lord Reason says, "I don't understand how a baby can believe, therefore I reject infant baptism. It makes more sense to me to do it my way." Which Lord will you obey? Will you obey Christ and baptize "all nations," including infants, even though you don't understand it? Or will you obey Reason and reject infant baptism because you don't understand how babies can believe? Which Lord will you obey?

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Balanced article, it is important that the child after baptism is taught the holy scriptures and brought up as a member of God's covenant. I wandered away as a young man but God in His mercy brought this prodigal back. It is better though never to have wandered form the God I love.

hugh ioansant1

steve martin said...

I agree with Hugh about the importance of raising a child in the Church, teaching them the scriptures, about Jesus, and the great thing that has happened to them in baptism.

I was baptised as an infant and never raised in the (Roman Catholic) church. We almost never went to church and had no Christian education that I can remember at home.

But yet the Lord kept me in the promise of my baptism. And when faith came my baptism was complete. Much in the same way that I return to my baptism daily as I go through this life. I wander away from His promise (and Him) and He brings me back and keeps me.

As far as I know, the great reformers were all baptised as babies, and not re-baptised. I guess the Lord saw fit to honor their baptisms as He sees fit to honor ours.

Great article. Thanks St. David, and thanks Pastor Bucher!

- Steve Matin

Nemo said...

I have tried to accept the practice of infant baptism, but remain unconvinced. In fact, I did believe it until actually searching the Scriptures on the topic in an attempt to reinforce by belief. Below are my thoughts.

I - Christ Has Commanded Us (Matthew 28:19: :”Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . ..”

If we are to baptize all nations, why not line them up and start sprinkling the water? Why, then, does the Lutheran church require a profession of faith during the baptismal ceremony (by adults, if they are old enough, and by the congregation, if the child cannot speak)? Why, in Acts, did baptism follow preaching?


II - Babies Need Forgiveness

Of course they do. Does the mere act of baptism give it to them? It is faith, not baptism, that saves. Or do you believe that baptism saves ex opere operato? (See the Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth lectures by by C.F.W. Walther for a refutation http://lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG/)


III - Baptism Replaces Circumcision (a sign of the new covenant)

This is the most convincing argument, except for my understanding is that Lutherans don’t believe in “covenant theology”.

http://utah-lutheran.blogspot.com/2008/07/testament-not-covenant.html;
http://utah-lutheran.blogspot.com/2008/08/waters-of-salvation.html; http://www.geneveith.com/consortium-for-classical-lutheran-education/_734/#comments

There is another, more elaborate argument on this point, but I don’t have time to develop it right now.


IV - Infants Can Believe

Again, I agree. Infants can believe. But that begs the question, do they at the specific time and date of their baptism (and not before), which is planned by their parents and the pastor around the schedule of the church? Is the faith given by the Holy Spirit like a faucet that is turned on by the pastor at baptism and only at baptism? Is that not granting a lot of human control over the Holy Spirit? God calls who He wills, and it would be pretentious of us to presume to know who that is.






V - The Practice of the Early Church

I don’t have enough historical background to go into this one, but based on my limited understanding, this is under dispute. Needless to say, this argument does not carry the same weight as the others.


Conclusion

I believe we can agree that faith is the necessary condition for baptism.


“The truth is that Baptism and Holy Communion place any person under condemnation who does not approach them with faith in his heart. They are means of grace only for the reason that a divine promise has been attached to an external symbol. Having water poured on me is of no benefit to me. Nor am I benefited by actually receiving the body and blood of the Lord in the Holy Supper. Yea, I am rather harmed by going to Communion without faith, because I become guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. It is of paramount importance that I believe, that I regard, not the water in Baptism, but the promise which Christ has attached to the water. It is this promise that requires the water; for only to it has the promise been attached.” - C.F.W. Walther, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”

“faith alone makes the person worthy to receive profitably the saving, divine water. For, since these blessings are here presented and promised in the words in and with the water, they cannot be received in any other way than by believing them with the heart. 34] Without faith it profits nothing, notwithstanding it is in itself a divine superabundant treasure.” -Martin Luther, Large Catechism, “Holy Baptism”

“God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. 36] For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation.” -Martin Luther, Large Catechism, “Holy Baptism”


The question remains, how do we presume to know the faith of another person absent their testimony/declaration? That an infant can believe does not mean that he does. Everyone can believe (be called by the Holy Spirit), but we do not baptize everyone.

steve martin said...

Nemo said:

Conclusion

"I believe we can agree that faith is the necessary condition for baptism."

You believe wrongly, Nemo. I don't agree with that statement at all.

Jesus didn't say go, find out who has faith and baptise them. He said "go... and baptise, and teach." Baptise comes before teach in the sentence.

A lot of people don't believe that God does anything in baptism. You are certainly not alone.

But the majority of the world's Christians do believe that God acts for us in baptism and gives us forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. And the promise is for you and your children. (Acts 2)

Luther said that the Anabaptists (those against infant baptism) look at baptism the way that a cow looks at a new gate.
They can only imagine and believe in what is right in front of their nose. (The last sentence was mine)

David Cochrane said...

Nemo,

We dont line everyone up and baptize them willy nilly because the second part is teaching. Adult instruction is not to grind a confession of faith out of them but rather to teach them the Christian faith.

Many times we have seen people desire baptism prior to the end of adult instruction. This happens after the session on baptism. In addtion after the sessions if a person believes in Jesus but does not accept the Lutheran postion on the sacraments or some other reason they do not join even if he or she was baptized.

Baptism is a gift given to the church but it is to be used as instituted by our Lord Jesus not as we see fit. That is the error of the baptistic types as it is understood as our action and is done for Jesus not done for our benefit.

God's peace. †

Nemo said...

Steve,

Am I misrepresenting Walther and Luther, or are you dismissing them?



David,

You completely sidestepped the issue. Why is there a confession of faith written into the baptismal service?

Are you arguing that baptism saves ex opere operato?

Nemo said...

“Baptism is a gift given to the church but it is to be used as instituted by our Lord Jesus not as we see fit.”

Again, you’re stating the obvious rather than arguing a point. Of course it is to be “used as instituted by our Lord Jesus.” No one is disputing that. What I am trying to do is determine how Jesus intended it to be used.

steve martin said...

Nemo,

I think you are misreading Luther. Luther was a huge believer in infant baptism. He was baptised as an infant.

Take a look at Luther's piece on re-baptising. That should help to understand what Luther thinks of baptism.

David Cochrane said...

Nemo,

No it does not save by going thru the motions. It saves us by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is received by faith. If a person later rejects the faith given baptism does not save him. The same would be true of an older person hearing a sermon, responding with joy to the gift of salvation and later falling away. i.e The parable of the seed.

The point is that baptism belongs to Jesus and is his work. The baptistic types look at it as our work. Similarly the reformed look at it as the church's way to make a baby a member but does not convey forgiveness of sin or gives the Holy Spirit.

God's peace. †

Nemo said...

Steve,

I know Luther was an advocate in infant baptism (please credit me with a basic theological understanding here). It’s just that when I read his defense of it, I have to disregard major parts of what he says about baptism in general. Am I misreading the sections I quoted, specifically the parts that said: “faith alone makes the person worthy to receive profitably the saving, divine water…[w]ithout faith it profits nothing,” and “For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything.”



David,

Would I then be correct in concluding that you see no problem with baptizing an adult who doesn’t have faith, in the hope that faith which will later be bestowed by the Holy Spirit will cling to the baptism?

Also, please refrain from telling me how others view baptism. Attacking their view, rather than defending your own, is not convincing. I have found most Lutheran characterizations of other denominations to be incomplete at best, and wrong at worst. Can you stick to explaining your doctrine, and let other people explain theirs?

David Cochrane said...

Nemo,

I am not sure how you read into what I have said that we should baptize rejectors of Jesus. We go by what the person confesses. If they were later to reject thier faith will in no way say the baptism was incomplete.

As far as referring to baptistic and reformed views I have been both baptist and reformed. Those were my understanding at the time when I belonged to those denoms. It is an incomplete discussion to state what one believes is true and not compare and contrast the opposing views. Any theological writing I have ever read does this. If you see I have mischaracterized a view by all means correct me my friend.

God's peace. †

Nemo said...

David,

“I am not sure how you read into what I have said that we should baptize rejectors of Jesus.”

--I was trying to find where the line was—who you would not baptize. When you declined to agree with me after my first and second post, I began to wonder.

“We go by what the person confesses.”

--Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along? That’s why there is a confession written into the service. Why, then, do you baptize an infant in the absence of a confession, when you would not do such a thing for an adult?

“If they were later to reject thier faith will in no way say the baptism was incomplete.”

--I’ve never argued otherwise.

I knew you were going to appeal to your background when I asked you to leave other views alone. I’ll do the same. I was born, baptized, and confirmed in the Lutheran church, but have since left it due to both the lack of a strong Lutheran church in the area I moved to, and the fact that I found (or was led) to a church that, in my experience, outdoes the Lutherans in depth of theology. Now I am reevaluating my background, and am attempting to see how much of Lutheran theology can be defended. Above are the questions I could not answer regarding infant baptism. As I said earlier, I held that infant baptism was doctrinally sound until I began to read what Scripture had to say on the topic. I presented a point by point refutation to the article you posted, and so far there hasn’t been even an attempt to refute or explain away my objections.

Comparing your view to others is fine; dragging theirs down rather than building yours up is not. You tell me that Lutherans believe baptism belongs to Jesus (and apparently believe you are unique in that) while other denominations turn it into a symbol or a work. This doesn’t help me in the least, because they say the same thing—and would insist that the Lutheran view of baptism turns it into a work. As I said before—and this is based on my experience both within and outside of the Lutheran church—I don’t put much stock in the Lutheran description of another denomination (and vice versa). Hence, I am thoroughly examining Lutheran doctrine/practice and measuring it not only against its own confession, but also against Scripture.

David Cochrane said...

Nemo,

God's blessings as you work through all this stuff.

pacem domine. †

Julie said...

Oftentimes we feel like the oddballs in many groups. My husband and I believe in infant baptism for several reasons. Paedobaptists live in a theological world dominated by credobaptists.

Dr. Bucher did a commendable job in laying out why people practice infant baptism. Thank you for posting the article.

Praise God that baptism is about Christ's redemption for sinners. It is always God's work in us. Everything is.

Anonymous said...

I've written 4 articles in a 6 parts series in defense of Baptismal Regeneration and Infant Baptism. You can find them at www.concordiajt.org , and then click on "His Word is Truth" articles and go to the bottom of that page. I still have two more articles to write in this series (in January and February of 2009). The Lord be with you all!

Pastor Tom Eckstein
Concordia (LCMS), Jamestown, ND

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Anonymous said...

notice first you must make disciples then baptize. an infant can not be made into a disciple. I do not feel you have enough basis for your points.

what is a disciple? someone who has accepted Jesus as their savior and who does what the bible says.

David Cochrane said...

Anonymous,

Matthew 28:19-20a Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

You said: an infant can not be made into a disciple.

Jesus said disciples are made by baptizing and teaching. Infants can receive baptism and are always being taught. Please consider the words of Jesus over church tradition or human reasoning.

God's peace. †

Adam said...

If you Lutherans are trying to say that your ways are the only way.. and that in order to be a Christian you must be a Lutheran. To say the least, I would completely disagree with you. One of the ways to tell if someone is wrong is by seeing fruit of the church. If the church isn’t growing, having non-believers come in, producing disciples to go out into the world to share Jesus, etc. Then it’s pretty easy to see if God is or isn’t at work in the church. I was brought up Lutheran, baptized an infant, got confirmed, and so on. I didn’t receive Christ as my Savior until I was 17 years old. I don't believe in infant baptism at all, but rather in “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:41”And that all Christians are saved by grace through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8. And being born again consists when you personally accept Jesus Christ as your savior and die to yourself. That’s when and only when a spiritual change happens. A baby can’t accept it. And to say that millions upon millions of babies dying every year in other countries or whomever isn’t baptized are going to hell is incorrect. God is an all loving God and wouldn’t let people go to hell who can’t even accept Jesus’ salvation. When Jesus says “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” refers water as a sign of repentance just like in Matthew 3.

Regardless of everything else you may believe about baptism, this proves that you don’t have to be baptized to be saved: Luke 23:40-43. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

But does that mean I leave Lutherans condemned? Absolutely not! And if you Lutherans or anyone believe people are condemned for getting baptized more than once and remain believing in it the rest of their life then I’m here to tell you that your completely wrong with your thoughts and tradition. The bible is for anyone one to read, the Holy Spirit is the person that guides us and teaches us. If we are to go by tradition of a certain denomination all the time, it’s to only deceive ourselves. The Bible alone is and should be our guideline for life. Certainly God puts people in our life to help us understand some things, but if we’re trying to understand what only a pastor or tradition believes in by seeing how he or they define it.. then that’s not right.

I would love to say more. But “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold on to the word of life.” Philippians 2:14-16

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