Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Debate Over Infant Baptism

The debate over whether or not infants should be baptized tends to happen most frequently among groups that are tied in one way or another to Calvin and/or Zwingli. This is no coincidence. Although Calvin and Zwingli both practiced infant baptism, they both to one degree or another denied the Scriptural teaching about what baptism is. In fact, the modern Baptist can find his own roots in some of the disciples of Zwingli. Zwingli denied original sin and denied that baptism was salvific and by his own admission was the first to defend infant baptism on primarily covenantal grounds. Calvin did not deny original sin but was unwilling to embrace the strong Scriptural language regarding baptism. The Reformed and Presbyterians speak of baptism as "sign and seal of of the covenant of grace." It may be possible to derive certain covenantal ideas from the Scriptural teaching about baptism but these are only secondary. The Scriptures primarily speak of baptism as salvific. Baptism now saves you, baptism is for the remission of sins, it is the laver of regeneration, we are begotten from above by water and Spirit, etc.

The Baptist then takes the denial that Baptism is salvific one step further. They claim that baptism is an act of obedience on our part that symbolizes our union with Christ. Just as is the case with the Lord's Supper, the Baptist view is actually simpler than the Presbyterian and Reformed view. All they really have to do is read "symbolizes" into every text. There is no reason within Scripture to read "symbolize" into the text but the Baptist reads his own man-made tradition and presuppositions into the text. Since the Baptist assumes that baptism is our work then it cannot be salvific since we are not saved by works. Since baptism is our work then infants should not be baptized because they are incapable of performing the work. But this very statement should cause the Baptist to doubt his own position. Even though the Baptist does not recognize the baptism of the infant as a valid baptism, babies are baptized in the same way that adults are. Water is applied to the person along with the Trinitarian baptismal formula. In both adult and infant baptism, the person being baptized isn't doing any work at all. They are being baptized. Something is being done to them. If I punch someone in the face it is not the other person's work to be punched in the face. They are merely receiving the punch. God does work through human instruments to baptize just as He does to preach the Gospel but in both cases it is God's work.not man's. The man is merely an instrument. Baptists and Reformed/Presbyterians will often argue over the interpretation of Acts 2:38-39.

And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39 ESV)
Both Baptists and Presbyterians/Reformed claim to have the proper interpretation of the text but neither one would actually say what Peter is saying here. Presbyterians/Reformed point to the promise made to children of believers and Baptists point to the need for repentance but neither affirm what the text actually says. The promise in the text is "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Both forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit are promised to all those who repent and are baptized. The promise applies to anyone who hears this promise which includes those standing there, their children, and anyone else who hears the promise later on. Both the Baptist and the Reformed/Presbyterian deny that the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins is given in baptism. Both deny the promise. Baptists say that repentance is required and that babies cannot repent. Although repentance often results in some outward display of repentance among those who are able to provide such a display at its root it is a change of mind as the Greek word itself indicates. Repentance isn't our work either. Repentance is worked in us by the preaching of repentance. The Baptist turns both repentance and baptism into law and demand but God gives them as gift and Gospel.


Gary said...

Excellent points!

Steve Finnell said...


Is infant baptism a Biblical practice? Is infant baptism in agreement with Scripture?

Acts 2:38 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. (NASB)

Infants cannot repent because they do not understand the meaning of repentance nor do they comprehend water baptism. Infants have no sins that need to be forgiven. Infants are not sinners. Infants do not need to repent nor do they need to be baptized.

Only comprehending adults are guilty of sin.

James 1:14-15 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and entice by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.(NASB)

Infant cannot be tempted to sin. Infants are not enticed by their own lusts. Infants do not get drunk and commit fornication. Infant to not commit armed robbery. Infants do not murder. Infants are not sinners.

1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.(NASB)

Infants do not practice sin. Infants do not break God's laws. Infants are not sinners.

Acts 22:16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His, name!(NASB)

Infants are not capable of getting up and being baptized, they cannot even understand the command. Infants cannot call on the name of the Lord.

Acts 8:34-38.....36.....What prevents me from being baptized?" 37 [And Philip said , "If you believe with all your heat, you may." And he answered and said , "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."]....

Infant cannot believe nor can they confess Jesus as the Christ the Son of God. Infants cannot meet the requirements for water baptism. Infant are prevented from being baptized.

Acts 31:30-34 and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 33...and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household......34 having believed in God with his whole household.(NASB)

The jailer had to believe and be baptized to be saved. The jailer did not believe for his household. The jailer was not baptized for his household. Everyone in his household believed before they were baptized. Infants cannot believe, there were no unbelieving infants baptized. Believing always precedes water baptism.

Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.(NASB)

The jailer and his household were saved just as Jesus said in Mark 16:16, they believed and were baptized. Infant cannot believe nor can they consent to be baptized. Infant are not lost, only sinners are lost.

John 8:24 'Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."(NASB)

If you take the position that infants are guilty of sin; then you have to believe that if infants die before they believe that Jesus is the Christ, and the Son of God that infants will die in their sins.

Infants are not sinners.
Infants do not qualify for baptism.
Infants are not lost.
Infants who die without baptism will not go to hell.
Infants who die without believing in Jesus will not go to hell.
Infants who are aborted will not go to hell.

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Chuck Wiese said...

Steve Finnell:

It seems like what you mean by "repentance" really has more to do with the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance than a truly Biblical understanding of repentance. The Greek word means a change of mind and repentance is worked in us by God. God is more than capable of working repentance in an infant.

Infants are sinners. We aren't sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. If babies were not sinners they would not die. The Psalmist says the wicked go forth from the womb speaking lies. Our ability to sin in certain ways is limited by our own abilities in general. If someone goes into a coma they lose the ability to get up and stab somebody but that doesn't mean they cease to be a sinner. If somebody loses the ability to walk, this will also prevent them from being able to carry out certain outward sins.

James is speaking about the progression of sin and its root cause, but James is not saying that lusting in itself isn't sin. That's just not the point James is making. Jesus says that a person who lusts after a woman has already committed adultery in his heart.

People without legs are also incapable of standing up but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be baptized. In the Greek, the command is to be baptized. The "getting up" is a participle. The "getting up" isn't the main thing. The mute cannot call on the name of the Lord. Would you forbid them from being baptized as well? None of the passages say, "First a person has to stand up, then they have to call on the name of the Lord, then you can baptize them." The order that words appear in a sentence to not necessarily mean an order in action.

You also seem to be tying faith to cognitive ability. But then you would have to conclude that evety time you go to sleep you no longer have faith. Faith is a gift of God and it is trust. A newborn baby trusts his mother but he can't explain to you what the word mother means. David said he hoped in God while on his mother's breasts and that God was his God from his mother's belly. This was incorporated into the Psalms and became the confession of every Israelite and later every Christian. The Psalms were written to be used for the entire church. We also have more unique examples such as John the Baptist who lept in the womb. When infants were being brought to Jesus He said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these and told the adults that they must become like the infants not the other way around. The kingdom of heaven is only received through faith.

The Acts 8:37 variant that you cite is pretty weakly attested and seems like a bad place to start building some kind of theological system. That's why it's included in brackets in the version you are copying and pasting from. But regardless, this is a narrative example of what happened, not some command of what must happen in every baptism. The command in general comes from Jesus who said to disciple the nations by baptizing them.

The only place that salvation is found in Christ and it is always received through faith. We receive no promise in Scripture that infants are part of some special class that are saved apart from faith and we have plenty of examples of infant faith in Scripture.