Thursday, May 3, 2007

Infant Baptism

I've been having a conversation lately with some folks about infant baptism. Here are three articles from an old Issues, Etc. journal that do a nice job defending this important Biblical doctrine. Click on the titles below to go to the articles online.

In Defense of Infant Baptism

Baptism and Faith: Just Whose Work Is It?

Infant Baptism in Early Church History

Also, click here for a short summary from the FAQ's on the LCMS website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Emily, and I am Lutheran. I attend Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada. I have written an article on baptism. I can be contacted at

Infant Baptism

On August 26 2007 my three-month-old daughter Gabriella Michelle was baptized into the Lutheran Church. It was quite an event: my brother, who served as one of the godparents, noted that Gabriella screamed extra loudly when the priest asked whether she would renounce Satan – to which I responded that she was such a little devil herself that she couldn’t possibly renounce one of her own. More seriously, though, the ceremony started me thinking about the subject of infant baptism.

Infant baptism is a contentious issue in the Christian community as a whole. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and traditional Protestants (Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and so on) practise it. An acquaintance of mine from a fundamentalist background who was raised in a predominantly Catholic country - France - was teased by her classmates that she would not go to heaven because she had not been baptized (the current Pope seems to have retracted this position). Other denominations, like most fundamentalists – Baptists, Pentecostals, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etcetera – as well as Mennonites, only baptize adults and in certain cases children above the “age of reason” (around seven). Some of them hold dedication ceremonies for newborns in which the child is “dedicated” to the Lord. They frequently require converts who were christened as babies to be re-baptized. However, even some members of the former group of churches have questioned the validity of infant baptism. For example, a Lutheran former colleague told me he did not consider it Scriptural.

According to Lutherans, other traditional Protestants, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, baptism welcomes a baby into the family of God and into the earthly community of the church. It also creates faiths in the infant’s heart. On the other hand, denominations that restrict baptism to adults or older children state that baptism requires a profession of faith by the individual him- or herself. As a baby is incapable of making such a profession, infant baptism is thus invalid. A “believer’s baptism” is the only valid one. They furthermore claim that christening infants gives them a “false sense of security” because it leads them to believe that baptism alone will open the door to heaven for them.

Meanwhile both sides of the divide cite the Scriptures in support of their respective positions. Opponents of infant christening point out that Jesus himself was baptized as an adult. Infant baptism is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, they add, so that means there is no Scriptural basis for the practice. They provide examples of people like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8: 26-39) who were baptized after they understood that Jesus was the Messiah, a concept a baby or young child can obviously not be expected to grasp.

At the other end of the spectrum, infant-christening churches look to Jesus’ exhortation to his Apostles to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). “All” means exactly what it says, according to this logic, and Jesus did not place any restrictions on the age of people to be baptized. In addition, when Christianity was first spreading, very often entire households, like that of the saleswoman and convert Lydia (Acts 16:15), were baptized. Given that contraception at the time was very inefficient and, anyway, large families were prized (Psalm 127, for instance, reads “children are an heritage of the Lord… Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them”), in all probability those households included babies. A quote from St. Peter further alludes to the place of infant baptism in the early church. In Acts 2: 38, 29 he tells his followers, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ… For the promise is unto you, and to your children;” again, no mention of the ages of the children in question.

Admittedly, certain arguments in favour of infant baptism do not strike me as particularly convincing. For instance, some people claim that baptism was instituted as a replacement for circumcision, which was performed on newborn boys. The major problem with this explanation is that it would not apply (thankfully) to girls. Moreover, Jesus himself and presumably all the male members of the early Jewish Christian community had been circumcised as babies, but they did not forego baptism. Others use Jesus’ words “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God” as a justification for infant baptism. This passage, though, does not refer to Jesus baptizing children but laying his hands on them. Scripture aside, I understand the reasoning why churches that do not christen infants and even some parents in denominations that do feel that the children should decide for themselves whether or not they want to be baptized. Nonetheless, my reading of the Bible leads me to the conclusion that infant baptism is at best advocated and at worst merely permitted by Scripture, not forbidden or deemed inappropriate.

It should be fairly obvious from the first sentence of this essay that I personally believe in infant baptism. However, in my opinion it is important to examine the opposing viewpoint as well. I have chosen to raise my daughter in the Lutheran Church to give her a foundation on which to live her life. I hope she continues in the faith as an adult (I have even set aside her christening gown so that she can use it for her own future children), although I know there are no guarantees she will do so. But baptism seems like a good place to start.