For the past few weeks, I have felt compelled to get back into the swing of blogging with a post detailing the reasons for infant baptism. Finally today I have gotten around to doing just that. I feel like this is an important topic for Catholics and Non-Catholics in Appalachia. Unlike most of the Christian world, where baptizing infants is the majority view, in my part of Appalachia, Christian faith’s that do not baptize infant’s actually carry the majority. This is due in large part to the high number of Pentecostal, Baptist, and Non-Denominational Christians that historically do not support infant baptism. In this part of the world, it is easy to envision a house such as my own that is divided with one spouse believing in infant baptism and the other finding the idea totally contradictory to there idea of baptism. So it is with this blog post that I intend to provide the Appalachian Catholic with some ammo to help your spouse/friend/general inquisitor understand the importance of infant baptism.
Why Baptize Babies?
To Catholic’s well educated in there faith this question can seem so obvious that when asked this question by a Baptist, Pentecostal or similar type of Protestant Christian it is easy for the Catholic to answer in an “are you serious?” way. This approach, as anyone that has ever used it can attest, is not the best way of discussing this issue (or rarely any issue for that matter). To best answer this question we must first understand where the person that is asking the question is coming from. Typically if a Christian is posing this question it is because they believe that baptism is a public symbol of a faith that has already been confessed. In other words baptizing is a symbol of the commitment already made to God by that person after they have come to an age where they can choose to accept God’s salvation for them. They believe that baptism does not convey any grace to the person being baptized but is strictly a public profession of the faith they have conveyed. Thus rendering it both impossible and irrational to baptize an infant. Afterall an infant is incapable of making a confession of faith and choosing to display this decision with the outside world by being baptized. This position, as my Catholic readers will know, is fundamentally contradictory to the Catholic point of view. From the Catholic point of view, baptism is the beginning of one’s faith. That initial sanctification and grace that a person needs to begin their spiritual life. 1 Peter 3:21 states “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”. Here we clearly see the Catholic point of view spelled out by Saint Peter himself. It is through baptism that we are saved and it is through baptism that we are born again into a new person and our sins (original sin of Adam and Eve included) are wiped clean. Although it is true that an infant has not committed and cannot commit personal sin, it is the Catholic view that baptizing infants cleanses them of the stain of original sin, infuses them with the saving grace of God, and starts them on there salvific journey. Understanding these opposing viewpoints is very important for both sides when answering this question. Being conscious that your Protestant friend has a view that baptism is more a public profession of saving faith and not as Catholics believe an essential part of a Christians salvific journey can at least help start down a path of understanding and respect for one another as to why a person does or does not choose to baptize infants.
What Biblical Evidence Is There For Infant Baptism?
Establishing understanding for why Catholic’s baptize infants is just the first step in the process. Even if the person questioning you about infant baptism is at least understanding of the fact that Catholic’s believe baptism washes away our sins, conveys the grace of sanctification, and buries us/raises us up with Christ, you will find that the nobility of our reason is not enough to sway someone’s opinion in most cases. Protestants by virtue of the Sola Scriptura (Bible alone) doctrine need to see compelling evidence within the scriptures itself and understandably so. So what evidence do we have for infant baptism in the bible? Of course, the number one objection is “Nowhere in the bible does it say to baptize an infant” and while this claim is true it is worth pointing out that also nowhere in the bible does it say specifically NOT to baptize infants. So where does that leave us if there is no direct evidence one way or the other? Well, it just means we have to dig a little deeper. The bible actually has quite a bit of evidence within its pages that baptism is meant for infants as well as adults. Look at Luke 18:16 for example, Jesus says “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” While Jesus is not referring directly to baptism here we see a principle being set by Jesus. He is not excluding children from his promise, on the contrary, he is welcoming them and even warning others to not hinder the children coming to Christ. If we back up to verse 15 we see the context of which Jesus is speaking about, it says “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them”. Now it becomes even clearer that Jesus is referring to infants as well as older children. Next let us look at Acts 2:38-39 which says “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 shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”” here again, we see that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and confers God’s grace onto us but we also see that this “promise is to you and to your children”. Wait, what? You read that right. Baptism is for you and your CHILDREN. Now if we go on a few verses we find out that the crowd Peter was talking to that day was around 3,000 people. Granted he did not specifically refer to infants BUT the odds that of those 3,000 people he was not referring to a SINGLE infant in that crowd would be downright astronomical. On top of that if Saint Peter meant to exclude infants it would have been fairly reckless for him to have been talking to 3,000 people and not clarified that hey I was only referring to kids 9 years and older. Afterall it is very likely that a large portion of these people that heard this message had children of all sizes.
I could go on and on with the litany of verses of baptizing of entire households and other proof texts for the baptism of infants but since I am trying to keep this blog post a readable length I will refer you to Catholic Answers for more biblical references.
What About the Connection To Circumcision?
Saint Paul makes a very clear parallel between baptism and circumcision in Colossians 2:10-12. It states
11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Here was see Paul refer to baptism as “the circumcision of Christ”. Drawing a direct connection to circumcision. If Saint Paul intended that infants not be baptized then he certainly picked an extremely odd parallel to draw here. For those not familiar, circumcision was a Jewish practice that required baby boys born in the faith to be circumcised on the 8th day after there birth. Drawing a parallel with a custom that was performed on infants would not have been a good way of illustrating baptism to the people if Saint Paul had intended that infants be excluded. Its worth also noting that Saint Paul makes no attempt to correct the assumption that infants were to be baptized too. It would have been clear to the Colossians that he wanted to include infants in baptism.
What Did the Early Church Think?
The early church was unanimous in its teaching that infants should be baptized. In fact, the only controversy regarding infant baptism was not about if it was right to do but how quickly after birth should it be done! Some Christians drawing on Saint Pauls parallel argued that baptism should be withheld on until the 8th day just as circumcision was. The debate got so hot that a council was called in Carthage in the year 253 AD to settle the matter. The council subsequently ruled that Baptism should NOT be withheld until the 8th day and should be performed as quickly as possible. What’s more, after this decision by the council of Carthage there was no outrage from the Christian community that believed that infants should not be baptized at all. The reason being, no such group of Christians existed. In fact, at no point before the Protestant Reformation can you find any significant rebuking of the practice of infant baptisms. Below are a few quotes from Early Church Fathers on the subject.
Saint Cyprian of Carthage
But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to anyone born of man. (Letter 58:2 AD 253)
Saint Augustine of Hippo
“The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned . . . nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).
Once again I could cite a litany of early church sources that clearly spell out the church’s beliefs on Infant Baptism however that would be outside the scope of a simple blog post.
I hope that you find this post informative and helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a line or if you would like me to go more in depth let me know.