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Biblical Studies Journal Volume 8, Number 1

February 25, 2006

Infant Baptism Under the Light of Biblical Faith

by Bill Moore

INFANT BAPTISM: Baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word for immerse brought over into English. Infant baptism refers to the immersion of an infant in water by a priest or his parents in a Christian religious rite. Baptism is also practiced with no immersion at all, merely the sprinkling of the child (or adult) with water. Sprinkling is unknown in the Eastern Orthodox rite, where the Greek Bible is used.

Infant baptism is often called Christening because of two things: the Biblical teaching of an immersion that brings one into the body of Christ and a later tradition in which the children are not named until “baptized”. Thus, Christening has become both a synonym for baptism and for the naming of someone or something. Large ships are often named, “Christened,” in a ceremony involving smashing a bottle of champagne on the ship's bow.

Those who practice infant baptism vary in their motives. Many do it out of tradition, it's what “our church” practices. Others do so to ensure salvation for the child. They want him to have new life. They dare not wait until he is older, lest he die before requesting baptism on his own. The scriptures showing that new life and salvation result from baptism weigh heavily in their decision for a very special soul, a precious child.

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE SCRIPTURES: The way of salvation taught by Jesus and his apostles is well documented in the New Testament; written by man but inspired by the Holy Spirit. Given that his apostles are in agreement with the Holy Spirit, it would be wrong for me to interpret the inspired scriptures in such a way that would force a contradiction. The author takes the Bible as the foundation for understanding on ultimate matters.

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SALVATION: All men have sinned, for which we face the punishment of Hell. The way of salvation was made possible by God's grace through the redemptive sacrifice and resurrection of his only begotten son, the sinless Jesus. Applying these presuppositions, I will see if the practice of infant baptism corresponds to the way of salvation found in the Bible.

BAPTISM AND FAITH SHARE RESULTS: Of the many salvation topics, this study will focus only on faith and baptism. In the New Testament, we read about results of both faith and baptism which overlap. Faith results in the sinner being created in Jesus Christ for good works, Eph. 2:8. So also in baptism, the sinner is “buried” and “raised” again to walk in newness of life, Romans 6:1-4. It is no exaggeration to say that being created in Jesus for good works is walking in newness of life.

Another result shared by faith and baptism is salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith,...”, Eph. 2:8. “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, .... as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” I Peter 3:21. So, while salvation is “through faith,” somehow we also find that, “Baptism...saves you....” Salvation must result from both faith and baptism.

Do we have two teachings on gaining a new life? Do the apostles describe two ways to be saved? No. Paul offered only one message of Good News (Gal 1:6-9) and his message was affirmed by Peter (II Peter 3:15,16). Neither the Apostles nor we can teach baptism without faith. Hebrews 11:6 makes clear that faith is indispensable to salvation:

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” ESV

So we must interpret the Apostles' teaching about baptism as a teaching which includes faith, rather than a teaching along a separate path. We must assume, in those instances of New Testament baptism that do not directly mention faith, that faith was involved. Otherwise, there is a contradiction and two ways of salvation.

BAPTISING INFANTS DOES NOT ALLOW FOR FAITH: Romans 10:9-10 reveals that salvation depends on a confessed faith:

“...because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” ESV

Saving faith is clearly expected to be an expressed faith, so how is the infant to express his faith, let alone have faith? If the scriptures teach that faith is an essential element of baptism, then the baptism of infants creates a conflict.

Still, some may disagree by saying that faith can come later, after the infant has matured and able to confirm the faith of the parents or the priest. This approach creates confusion about what was accomplished by infant baptism. Was salvation secured after the baptism or much later when faith was confessed? If salvation happened at baptism, then we have a salvation without faith, a form of salvation that contradicts Heb 11:6 (“...for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”)

Please consider two of several passages showing how tightly baptism and faith are bound together. First, Ananias commanding Paul to be baptized:

“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Acts 22:16 ESV

The infant is not able to call on the name of Jesus at his baptism. This act of “calling on his name” is indistinguishable from the “confess[ion]...that Jesus is Lord” of Romans 10:9. We cannot separate a confession of faith from baptism for anyone because it was commanded as part of baptism.

Second, Paul proves that salvation is by faith using baptism. Baptism saves and salvation cannot happen without faith. That is possible because baptism is an expression of faith. Here is the passage where Paul makes this point:

“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Gal 3:26,27 ESV

Therefore, we need not confirm baptism by a later expression of faith. Faith is confirmed by baptism. Faith is necessarily present in obedience to the command to be baptized. If not, then it was not the baptism practiced by first century Christians.

CONCLUSION: The safe course is to follow God's word. If the Bible teaches us that faith is an essential part of baptism, then we need not try to perform “faithless” baptism on infants. But I must address those who are asking about the fate of those little children who are not baptized. The Apostles, by requiring faith, must believe that infants and small children have no need of the salvation that results from a faith-filled baptism. Jesus confirmed that little children have no need of salvation when he told sinners,

“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. 18:3, KJV.

So sinners need to become like little children, that is they must become like those who are innocent. It's only when the innocent consciously sin that they will need baptism. Baptism is the sinners' gateway to new birth, to be come like little children.

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John 3:5 KJV

This new birth is through the waters of baptism by faith in Jesus.

If we disagree, I pray that we both will humbly search the Bible for inspired correction.

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Notes: ESV, English Standard Version. All quotations of scripture from ESV unless otherwise noted. KJV, King James Version 1611.

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