Monday, May 12, 2008

Why baptize infants?

I have often appealed to the baptism of infants as an innovation, arising in Christian history many years after the New Testament Scriptures. Those who uphold infant baptism often appeal to the tradition of the church (quoting early church fathers) for their source and claiming that the traditions of the living church were derived orally but not in written form from the apostles. They make this claim of oral tradition often in spite of the written accounts of the New Testament.

The traditions of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches in matters like the baptism of infants reminds me of the warning Jesus gave to the Jews who also were convinced that their oral Torah found its origin in Moses. Their traditions became so strong they began to trump the written commandments of God in Scripture (see Mark 7:1-19; Matthew 15:1-14). When human traditions are given authority, they find many ways to annul what Scripture enjoins. Such is the case with infant baptism.

The Scriptures emphatically teach that baptism follows the preaching of the gospel, confessed faith and repentance (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2: 38; 3:19; 8:35-38; Rom. 10:9-10). Since infants are incapable hearing the word with understanding, confessing their faith, or repenting of sin, they are not appropriate candidates for baptism.

Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38); baptism is the time when sins are washed away (Acts 22:16); baptism is that time when the old self is crucified with Christ so that the body of sin may be done away (Rom. 6:4-6) and one enters into newness of life being freed from sin; baptism is an act of faith in the working of God who forgives us of sin (Col. 2:12-13); and baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience (1 Pet. 3:21).

When one considers that an infant is sinless and alive spiritually (Rom. 7:7-11) until that point that sin becomes alive, one sees the utter fallacy of baptizing an innocent infant for the remission of his non-existent sins.

Those who baptize infants often do so against the baby's will. Is the heart not to be involved? When the Romans obeyed a form of teaching that made them free from sin, they did so from the heart (Rom. 6:3-7; 16-18). Are we free to baptize adults against their will? If we cannot kidnap an adult and force an immersion against his will, what makes us think we can do so with an infant?

And what is the example of the first century? In Acts 5:14 the Lord was adding "men and women" (aner and gune) to their number in the church (cf. Acts 2:41, 47). Their baptisms came at the hands or under the oversight of the apostles. In Acts 8:12 Philip baptized both "men and women" (again aner and gune).

The terms men and women refer to males and females of responsible age, old enough to be married. These words are set in contrast to infants and boys and girls, who are too immature to be responsible or to marry. Now if the tradition of infant baptism holds to be a rule of faith and practice for the church, why didn't the apostles and Philip know it? Why do we not find this out until a later century? Could it be that infant baptism was never an apostolic tradition at all, but came about as an invention of later leaders?

"The first ecclesiastical command to baptize infants is contained in the fourth‑century Apostolic Constitutions VI:15." (Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, I:64)

"The early Christian feeling about the innocence of infants finds clear expression in second century authors and in the writer who makes the first explicit reference to infant baptism in Christian history, Tertullian (On Baptism 18:1‑10,12). Innocence here meant "sinlessness, or at least guiltlessness." (Ferguson, I:58)

"The earliest likely reference to infant baptism is to be found in Irenaeus" (Against Heresies II.xxii.4). (p. 59) "The first unambiguous reference is to be found in Tertullian (V. 12), and he was opposed to the practice . . .. He seems to be stating, as elsewhere in his treatise On Baptism, the common position of the church." (p. 60)

The fact is the practice of infant baptism was a human innovation, a human tradition that actually nullifies the commandments of Scripture to confess faith and repent of sins (since infants are incapable of such things). Those who hold such views fall into the same trap as the legalistic Jews of Jesus day who demanded the keeping of the traditions of the elders (the supposed oral Torah), which they swore was handed down from Moses in unwritten form.

When people trust in oral traditions supposedly from the apostles and not found in the written Scriptures, they deceive themselves in thinking what they have planted has come from God. Even the false prophets of the Old Testament thought they were speaking the oracles of God (Jeremiah 23:16-40); but they were deceiving themselves. Their words never came from God.

"Every plant which my Father has not planted shall be uprooted." This truth still applies.



dell kimberly said...

Thanks Phil, we can't preach Jesus without preaching baptism. This is as basic as it gets. Without Christ no baptism / Without baptism no Christ. Continue to preach the truth!

Guy said...

do you happen to know just what is the Eastern Orthodox position on the need for infant baptism? i've always understood that they differed greatly from the Catholics on the spiritual state of infants, namely that they don't believe in original sin. if not, i wonder why they insist on baptizing infants. do you know?

Phil Sanders said...

great question! Roman Catholics like the Orthodox church baptize "for the remission of sins." While Catholics believe in original and inherited sin (Augustine), the Orthodox church rejects the notion that babies are born in sin. Orthodox churches reject the concepts of purgatory and limbo.

Even admitting that babies have no sin, they believe the baptism looks forward to later times. Their thinking is that the baby also needs the help of God growing up. They believe, of course, that the infant receives the Holy Spirit at the time of baptism. They regard the Spirit and God's presence in their lives as a blessing.

While Catholics permit sprinkling, the Orthodox Church immerses infants. Most Orthodox Churches have fonts big enough to immerse. There is sometimes a preference for living water (river, lake, sea) for adults who are immersed.

I may be inaccurate on some of this information, since I have only a little knowledge on this matter.


Anonymous said...

Catholics do not sprinkle infants, and never have. The holy water is poured over the infant's forehead. Today, Catholics have the choice of pouring or full immersion. We also have confirmation, which your church does not have. Confirmation is very similar to renewing baptism at the age of acknowledgment. Each Catholic studies from age 6 for Reconcilation, First Holy Communion, and then preparation and study for Holy Confirmation at around age 13 or 14.

Phil Sanders said...

We do not need confirmation, because we expect our people to believe before they repent and are baptized. We certainly teach and train our children long before they obey the gospel. The Bible teaches each person must give an account for himself and act on his own. The idea that a parent may pour water on the head or sprinkle as some do takes away the child's right to decide for himself to become a Christian. As a matter of history, the Council of Ravenna officially accepted sprinkling as a valid substitute for immersion in 1311 AD.