Baptism was not a big deal to me before. I believed that the Catholic Church relied on this man-made tradition of baptizing infants because they were backwards and never thought it fully out - that Catholics were just mindless sheep doing what they were told to do and never reading the Bible to find out what it actually said about needing to be of an accountable age before you can be baptized. (What I didn't realize is that there was no verse about being at an accountable age before deciding to be baptized.)
When I was learning to evangelize, one of the arguments we prepared for non-believers went something like this, "If I'm wrong about my belief in God, what's the worst that will happen to me? I will have lived a life of love and charity the best I could and then I die and get buried and that's the end of that. But what if you're wrong?" The implication was that if the non-believer was wrong about the good news of the Gospel not being true, well then he was going to have hell to pay for being wrong. This argument was not used to scare people into believing in Jesus, but rather as a way to spur them to some deep thinking on the solidity of their beliefs about truth. The same question rang through my mind when I didn't believe in baptizing infants. What if I'm wrong? As any other parent, my children are precious, priceless gifts to me. The answer to "What if I'm wrong about not baptizing infants?" scared me enough that I wanted to know the other side of the argument to see if truth was there.
|This isn't my baby, but it looks just like my Zoë|
Baptism is not optional for salvation. The Bible stresses in verse after verse the necessity of baptism for salvation. In John 3:5 Jesus says, "Verily verily I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." Mark 16:16 says "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved, but he that does not believe will be condemned." 1 Peter 3:21 says baptism saves a person "this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus." Peter insists baptism is integral in salvation in Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." Acts 22:16 "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." In fact, in every instance in the Bible where people learn about Jesus, they are immediately baptized. It wasn't optional.
We are all born with original sin. We can't help it. We inherited our sinful nature from our parents, Adam and Eve. Psalm 51:5 says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." Ephesians 2:3 says that we're "by nature all children of wrath". Jesus says in John 3:6 that "Flesh gives birth to flesh." We were stained with sin from the beginning. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 says "death came through a man (Adam)...For as in Adam all die..." Without salvation, our sinful nature inherited from our first parents is a death sentence. It's a death sentence as soon as we enter the earth. Babies need forgiveness. They need it at birth.
The Bible does not exclude infants from the promise of baptism. The objection that is often brought up against infant baptism is that there is no reference to an infant being baptized in the Bible. However, there is no objection to infant baptism in the Bible, either. So if we are to discuss infant baptism, we have to agree that the Bible does not spell out the words "thou shalt not baptize thy infants". Actually the Bible has several verses that show that baptism was not restricted to adults. In Acts 2:38 Peter commands, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Then in 39 he says (emphasis mine) "This promise is for you and your children..." Jesus himself did not turn away infants when they were brought to Him. In Luke 18:15-16 people brought their infants to Jesus and when the disciples saw this they rebuked the people for bringing their infants (after all, the infants cannot themselves make the decision for Jesus). Jesus corrects them instead welcomes the infants of believers into the kingdom of God, "Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such in the kingdom of God." In 1 Corinthians 1:16 Paul says that he baptized the household of Stephanas.
Jesus instructs the disciples in Matthew 28:19, "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." The term "all nations" has always been understood by Church fathers to
Baptism is to the New Covenant what circumcision was in the Old Covenant. In Colossians 2:11-12 Paul equates baptism with the old circumcision, saying, "you yourself were circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands, by putting of the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, buried with him in baptism..." Christians have no need for physical circumcision. They have already received that inward circumcision, that spiritual cleansing of the heart, that is effected by the Holy Spirit, given to us in baptism.
Circumcision under the Abrahamic covenant was applied to infants on the basis of parental faith. Galatians 3:29 says "if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." We've already seen how Paul explains that baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision.
Now, imagine a father who was Jewish and newly converted to Christianity in 70 A.D. He brings his baby to be included in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the covenant of his father Abraham. Do you think the Apostles would have turned away his baby because his baby could not choose Christ for himself? Of course not! If it were so, then the man would have been turned off by the new covenant, which was preached as a fulfillment of - as better than - the old. Infants were included in the old covenant. They are not to be turned away in the new covenant, which is a better covenant than the old.
Please don't get me wrong. I am not claiming that baptism alone will save someone. But it is necessary.
Baptism is a sacrament, which means it is given to us by Jesus to give us a powerful grace in our lives. Remember, it is only by God's grace that any of us have faith, adult or child or infant. And for an adult or an infant, faith should grow after baptism. The faith required for baptism is not a perfect and mature faith.
I hope I've at least spurred an interest in some to investigate further into the theology behind infant baptism. If I'm wrong that infant baptism is right and true (I don't believe I'm wrong, but let's just ask for argument's sake), what's the worst that would happen? But if you believe it's wrong to baptize infants, what if you're wrong?
And here's a little completely interesting fact. Do you know how Catholics dip their finger in holy water when they enter and leave church? There's meaning behind it! It's to remind us of our baptism! I get sooooo excited about this. I love the opportunity to relive, in a way, my baptism each and every time I go to church and to remind myself that I am His.
Some additional resources:
And, of course the CCC (with Bible references) - start in the section called "The Sacraments of Christian Initiation."