Matthew R. Perry

The Argument for Infant Baptism Fails to Persuade

In Church Life, Theology on September 26, 2006 at 9:55 pm

In the Friday, September 29, entry of Ligonier Ministries‘ Tabletalk, the topic is on infant baptism. As a Southern Baptist, I adhere to what is known as believer’s baptism. That is, baptism taking place upon the verbal profession of faith. I hold to the fact that baptism is a sign of a commitment and confession of Christ that has willfully and truly taken place in the heart of the one believing.

In this devotional entry, the writer appeals to a number of items to help uphold his argument.

Church history. “Many Christians follow the majority practice of church history and administer the ordinace to adults and their infant children.” This is truly a poor argument, for many practices have been undertaken throughout church history that are clearly not biblical. The majority of ‘church’ history has held to the validity of the papacy, inquisitions, Mariolatry, the equality of Scripture and Sacred Tradition, etc. — but I do not see where they are biblical.

The argument of silence. “The New Testament nowhere commands us to baptize infants, but neither does it anywhere forbid it” (italics mine). Huh? If this is so important, wouldn’t someone close to Christ have mentioned it at some point? At any point? No! In fact, it’s not even addressed. Friedrich Schleiermacher, wrote, “All traces of infant baptism which have been asserted to be found in the New Testament, must first be inserted there.” Even B.B. Warfield, who advocated infant baptism, conceded that this is not found anywhere in Scripture. John MacArthur states is clearly and boldly (doesn’t he always?):

“It provides no basis for acceptance, certainly no basis for a mandate for infant baptism as some kind of ubiquitous, divinely-ordained ordinance that all children of believers or all children of church members ought to engage in. The fact that it is not there proves absolutely nothing—expect it proves that it’s not valid. It certainly doesn’t prove anything on it’s behalf. To justify that sprinkling of babies should be done because it’s not forbidden in Scripture is to standardize what’s not in the Bible as if it were standard, for the church. It’s to imprint with divine authority something that men invent—to open the way to any ritual, any ceremony, any teaching, any anything that isn’t forbidden specifically in Scripture.”
The connection with Old Testament circumcision. “Circumcision and baptism are linked (Col. 2:8-15), and so baptism, like circumcision, need not be tied to the moment of profession.” But the circumcision of the Old Testament brought them into a community of people known as the race of Israel. But there is nothing of that sort found in the New Testament. The connection is not that of faith that the parents pray that infant has — the connection is that we are not simply to circumcise foreskin, but to circumcise our hearts (Romans 2:28-29). Those ceremonial laws were done away with (Ephesians 2:14) that distinguished Israel from the other pagan nations. But Paul noted, “Not all Israel is Israel.” It was not a circumcision externally, but internally that has always mattered. One could be circumcised on the outside but still have no faith. It is a willful belief worked in them by God.

It marks the child as part of the visible church. “But baptism does mark the child as part of the visible church and liable to stricter judgment if the recipient never trusts God.” So because his parents baptism him without his willful knowledge, he will be held more accountable for the actions of his parents? The use of 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 saying that children are set apart due to their parents I believe deals with influence and the fact that in the providence of God, He gave that child to Christian parents. Will that automatically prove to be key to his salvation? Possibly, but we just don’t know.

As for me, the argument for infant baptism fails to persuade. And just to be clear, my aim is not to Roman Catholics who practice this. Their base of authority is not simply the Scripture but also Sacred Tradition which allows for that in a salvific nature. My desire is to speak to Protestants who hold to this. What do you think? If you hold to paedobaptism, am I missing something?

Blessings!

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  1. I’m a former Protestant (raised Lutheran) and actually never knew what a believer’s baptism was until a couple years ago, even after going to a couple different Baptist churches during college. While I’m Catholic now, as a Protestant I never doubted that my baptism as invalid. Martin Luther’s explanation of the sacrament in the Large Catechism helped me to see that Baptism is God’s work. It is simply water combined with the Word of God, so regardless of your age, spiritual condition, or any other factor, nothing can change it.

    My question is, if faith is ultimately what avails for our salvation, why does it matter if one is baptized as an adult or an infant? To me, believer’s baptism is more of a “work” than infant baptism precisely because infants have no choice. It also shows most clearly how faith is a gift from God and that we cannot attain salvation through any work or choice of our own will. This is why I’m thankful for being baptized as a young child (age 4). Instead of my Baptism resting on a choice I made, it rests completely on the Word of God, so I’ll never doubt it.

    As for Scripture, look to the many examples of God providing salvation through water. Noah and his family were saved throug the Flood while the world was purged of sinful people (in the same way, baptism cleanses our souls). The Israelites were delivered from slavery through the Red Sea while the same water drowned the Egyptians. They also entered the Promised Land through the River Jordan. There is also the Baptism of Christ, when the Holy Spirit descended “like a dove” at that very moment… dove… Noah… hmmm 🙂 I know there is some more Scripture that I don’t konw offhand. I heard quite a few of them at my goddaughter’s Baptism when the priest was blessing the water. The rite recounts all these examples of God providing salvation through water. I’ll have to see if I can find it somewhere on the Internet.

  2. Jason:

    Just some quick and random thoughts.

    Thank you for sharing. It seems that it all depends on your definition of faith. Faith comes from the Greek word ‘pistis’ which implies commitment, trust, and a devoted response. Faith is that trust but there must be an object to that trust in order for faith to be faith.

    As a Calvinist, I believe that faith as well is a give from God where God regenerates the heart and opens the eyes so we may believe.

    It must be said that my post was specifically toward Protestants, but you raise a good point. But it must be said that salvation is not the water. But everytime the water was used as a means to save, it was always preceded by the faith demonstrated willfully and fully by the one having the faith in God: Noah, Moses, and yes Jesus. It’s not the water that’s holy, it’s the faith in the Holy One that ultimately matters.

  3. I definitely don’t argue with the point that faith is ultimately what matters. It’s like Paul says about how speaking in tongues, prophesying, or all these other gifts are nothing without love. Likewise, sacraments, rituals, and even Scripture are worthless to those who lack faith in Christ.

    Still, I’m curious about why it matters whether one was baptized as an infant or adult if faith is all that matters? I know I asked that already, but it was stuck there in the middle a long comment and it’s one question that always comes back to me.

  4. There is a good overview of the history of infant baptism here:

    http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/journals/kastens.htm

    Just out of curiosity, have you ever read any early church writings on baptism, such as the Didache or the catechism of Cyril of Jerusalem?

    The Didache
    http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/noncanon/fathers/ante-nic/didache.htm

    Of Baptism, Cyril of Jerusalem
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf207.ii.xxiv.html

    On Baptism, Tertullian
    http://mb-soft.com/believe/txv/tertullt.htm

  5. Timothy:

    It seems even with these theological giants, they fail to make the case from Scripture that this practice was even warranted or deemed necessary by the Apostles. It is like the idolatry of Mary in the Roman Catholic church. She is not mentioned at all after the Gospels except for one time in Chapter 1 of Acts — yet there are those who make this such a crucial doctrine. If it is so crucial, why did not the Apostles teach on it at all?

    Just some thoughts.

  6. Hey Gentlemen,

    I was browsing through the web looking for articles on infant baptism and I stumbled across this blog. Good thoughts from all angles. I wanted to make a quick post in case anyone is still interested.

    The most confusing thing to me has been the fact that such ‘theoligical giants’ such as Luther, Calvin, Knox, etc. were all paedobaptist. I don’t doubt that even some of the church ‘fathers’ were the same. But one thing I’ve learned through much pain and suffering is that regardless of what ANYONE says, if it is not from the Word of God, it’s not true.

    Just something to consider, have you ever noticed that because of the fact that paedobaptists have NO clear-cut scripture to stand on with this doctrine, they tend to resort to dishonest and unChristian tactics to try and gain followers? For example, Calvin was recorded to have persecuted the Anabaptists and those who wouldn’t succumb to this doctrine. He called them things like ‘idiot’ or ‘stupid’, etc. Instead of being obedient to the Word of God and seeking to win his enemies over with meekness, he actually approved of people being executed (perhaps not over infant baptism, but over other issues). People in Geneva were thrown in jail or excommunicated from the city if they didn’t agree with him. Some were burned.

    I think it’s high time that every true Biblical Christian carefully reconsiders the moral character of some of these men before embracing their teaching. We want to be in line with the principle of Psalm 1:1 ‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…’

    Doesn’t seem too godly to me for a ‘Christian’ man to be embracing heresies and condemning others for not embracing them. Hmmm…perhaps this is key to understanding the church is falling apart. Because we are like the Corinthians, ‘I follow Paul, I follow Apollos…’ How ’bout us? We do the same. Just fill in the blanks with whoever your particular idol is.

    But if we want God’s blessing, let’s pick up our Bibles and read them and this time when we say SOLA SCRIPTURA, let’s mean it, unlike our hypocritical forefathers.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Jeremy Walsh

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