How I see it: paedobaptism (aka infant baptism)
In the discussion of paedobaptism (aka infant baptism), I’ve debated in my head whether I find the practice to be Biblically justified. It’s not that I don’t want to understand how it’s a Biblical practice, I just don’t see how. For the past three years since becoming a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), I’ve read several articles and discussions at length and have listened to a full sermon on why a church says the practice is Biblical. The issue has gained theological steam in my mind as I watch several church members and dear friends baptize their infants. These events have me contemplating whether this is a necessary event I would like my family to participate in should I ever be blessed with a baby. (Heaven knows I won’t be up to the task of figuring this deep theological stuff out with pregnancy brain.)
After much thought, prayer, and deep discussion with my spouse, I’ve decided I do not support the practice of paedobaptism. While I wouldn’t leave my church over it (I joined knowing this) or rail on anyone who administers baptism to infants (I’m so past those days), it’s a practice I disagree with until I can be convinced otherwise. (My husband is also against the practice, if you’re wondering.)
Here are my reasons why I do not support infant baptism:
Argument #1: Baptism is to the New Testament what circumcision was to the Old Testament.
So I don’t get this wrong, I’m quoting a handout on baptism from Tenth Press (from Tenth Presbyterian Church) a friend gave to me. (It’s much more eloquent than the way I originally put it.)
We must go back to the Old Testament practice of circumcision. God instituted circumcision to be the sign that the Hebrews were his covenant people. God did not make separate covenants with many individuals, but a national covenant with a people. The circumcised infant was part of that covenant; it represented the faith of the child’s people and particularly that of his parents. Circumcision was based on the parents’ faith. Was the child guaranteed salvation? No. Every person had to answer for himself or herself. Yet, God clearly set the Jews apart as a people with circumcision as their sign, and they were all included in the external blessings of the covenant.
Baptism functions in the same manner. We, as Christians, are God’s covenant people and baptism is our sign, our testimony that we belong to God. Paul indicates that this distinction is carried over to our children. In I Corinthians 7:14, he speaks of the children as being “holy” (i.e., set apart) because of the father or mother being a believer.
I don’t agree that baptism functions in the same manner. I can’t find a solid Biblical basis for this. Perhaps I’m still looking through dispensational-tinted glasses, but baptism appears to be a symbolic event rather than the deep “sign and seal” paedobaptists say the practice carries.
(A brief detour: in I Corinthians 7:14, not only are the children called “holy” because of a believing parent but an unbelieving spouse is also deemed to be “sanctified” by the believing spouse. But no Bible-believing church would baptize an unbelieving spouse so why baptize infants who aren’t yet able to profess faith of any kind? This verse is rather weak in support of infant baptism.)
In Romans, Paul discusses the division that arose among Jewish Christians about whether Gentile Christians should be circumcised. Here’s what Paul had to say:
For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:25-29)
Paul isn’t saying here that believers, Gentile or Jew, need to be physically circumcised but that circumcision now occurs in the heart through faith by the working of the Holy Spirit.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. (Romans 3:28-30)
From what I deduce here, Paul is saying circumcision and uncircumcision don’t matter unless there is faith in God involved. If we’re going to follow the logic that baptism is the “new circumcision” (so to speak), it still doesn’t matter unless faith in God exists.
And that’s where I stumble. An infant cannot express faith in God and no one has any way of knowing that this infant, born into a covenant Christian family, was predestined from the foundation of the world to believe in Jesus as lord and savior.
Argument #2: Baptism does not confer any means of salvation (as with Roman Catholics) but it’s not just an infant dedication (as with Baptists).
I want to quote Tenth Press’s handout again so I get the doctrinal position correct:
Then are our children saved? No, not by baptism. We look forward to their salvation, just as Jewish parents looked to God to save their own, but we have no automatic guarantees. We pray that our children will enter into the salvation of Christ which baptism represents; we trust that baptism is the foreshadowing of what will actually take place.
If baptism does not guarantee salvation, then why baptize? Why not wait for the child to come to his own decision? Joshua best expressed the mindset that God desires of parents when he said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua could not make his children true believers, but he could take responsibility for how they would be raised and how they would live in his house. Thus, by being children of covenant parents, these children were included in their parents’ external blessings and responsibilities.
In infant baptism, the parents are coming forward not because they thought it to be a good gesture to make before God, but because God has called them forward. And in their coming forward, the purpose is not so much for the parents to say, “Our child is yours,” but to hear God say, “Your child is mine.” Baptism is not so much the parents promising what they will do, but God signifying what he has done for them already.
It’s swimming in dangerous waters (no pun intended) to baptize an infant, hoping that salvation will one day take place. Again, I find no Biblical justification for baptism being administered in this way. I also find no scriptural support for God calling parents forward to baptize their children before expressed belief in Jesus Christ. In fact, baptism then belief is the reverse of what I’ve seen occur in scripture:
Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (Matthew 4:5-6)
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-39, 41)
But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip (Acts 8:12-13a)
Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:4-5)
I wouldn’t call infant baptism heresy as some Christians do, but I don’t find strong Biblical backing for any other order than belief/profession of faith before baptism.
Argument #3: Baptism is for covenant believers and their children.
I’ve seen a couple of scriptures thrown my way on this.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
The verses say “repent and be baptized” — those two go together. If a 4-year-old girl can understand that she is a sinner and accepts the Lord Jesus in her life as a result, I say “amen” to that; dunk or sprinkle her if you’d like. (The mode of baptism is a-whole-nother topic.) The verse does not say infants. But if you can show me an infant who can somehow repent, then baptize that infant away. I haven’t seen it happen yet.
They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.
And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (Acts 16:31-34)
“See? That example shows households can be saved!” I’ve seen this used to support that an infant was likely in this household and therefore baptized. That’s a stretch. We’re inferring something from the text that is never explicitly stated. It’s possible that everyone in the household was at an age of discernment to be able to believe in Jesus Christ. But I’m speculating too. We don’t know for sure, and as such, I find these verses also to be weak support for infant baptism.
Argument #4: Jesus allowed children into His presence and grew upset when he saw the disciples turning them away.
And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)
This verse does not refer to infant baptism at all. In fact, Jesus doesn’t even baptize these children. (Granted, He didn’t baptize anyone.) Jesus does two central things here:
- He embraces them
- He blesses them by laying hands on them
I find a stronger support for infant dedication using these verses than for infant baptism.
Argument #5: Believer’s baptism is simply professor’s baptism.
Perhaps, but I could also say that infant baptism is presumptuous baptism (assuming that the child will grow up to make a profession of faith). The parents have no idea whether the infant is predestined to become a believer in the future.
Argument #6: Baptism is a sign and seal of a promise just like a wedding ring.
I hate this analogy in the discussion of paedobaptism. I think I’d hate it even more if I supported infant baptism because it falls apart.
A wedding ring is a sign and seal that “I am making a promise to this person and this person has made a vow and a promise to me.” Read that again. A wedding ring is a sign and seal of a mutual agreement. The wedding ring is not placed on someone’s finger before that person gets a chance to say “I do.” We are not forced into a marriage (in most Western countries) that we have not chosen to commit ourselves to.
So when an adult chooses to be baptized and a preacher decides to use that analogy, I have no problem with it because an adult can think through the implications of “being married to God” (as it were). An adult can say “I do.” An adult has the choice of backing out.
Infants can do none of those things. An infant is forced into some kind of wedding arrangement that it never asked for or never thought through. It is like a bride who is forced into a marriage with a gag in her mouth and blindfolded then wakes up several years later to either discover that she is madly in love with her groom or that she detests him and wants nothing to do with him. God may make a promise to remain faithful to this child for the rest of its life but the child makes no promises that it will do the same. And it is here that I think we can make a mockery of the deep significance of baptism if a child grows up and chooses to reject Christ in adulthood.
I’ve been in countless debates and arguments trying to understand the scriptural justification for infant baptism in all earnestness, but I suppose I am not one of the “chosen” to understand it. I didn’t write all of this in an attempt to convince anyone why infant baptism is unscriptural; rather, I wrote this out so I could identify all of the reasons why I don’t see Biblical support for the practice. While I disagree with the practice (and maybe even wince as the baby begins to cry while water is sprinkled on its months-old head), I’d much rather hear of when that baby grows up and makes a profession of faith in Christ.
When the Roman Catholic Church baptized me as an infant, they believed that it took away my original sin and gave me a regenerate heart. Maybe they were on to something. It’s unfortunate that I had to leave the Catholic Church to find the salvation promised to me from birth.