On Infant Baptism

The following was written by John Henderson in response to a fellow Christian’s stance on infant baptism:

Dear Brother,

Since our discussion on infant baptism was in a public setting, I feel at liberty to share this response through my emails and online posts.  It is a matter of the topic itself, not about you or me, and that is why I am protecting your anonymity as well as I can.

Infant baptism has haunted Christendom for as early as 180 A.D.  That was about the time that the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” as predicted in the New Testament began to throw off their cover and promote unscriptural heresies openly and enthusiastically—just as it is happening today.  There has always been God’s remnant in spite of the massive bureaucracies that have pretentiously asserted themselves as the true church.  The gospel was always carried through all of the deception that was going on by those who were committed to the truth of Jesus Christ at any cost, just as it is happening today.  God’s people may be accused of thinking they are the sole possessors of truth but it is actually that they are possessed by the Truth.

No theologian is above scrutiny but the Bible is far above human or demon scrutiny.  It is obligatory upon all students of the Word of God to measure everything that is said in the light of what the Scriptures say.  We should all be like the Bereans of Acts 17:11.

As to infant baptism itself, I must say it is not taught or even debated in the Scriptures, nor was it debated or practiced in the Early Church.  It appears nowhere in the New Testament.  Its practice did not appear until the second century after the Apostles were all gone.

You mentioned that the Church of the Nazarene practices infant baptism.  Unfortunately to the denomination’s discredit, that is true—at least, to some degree.  Some Nazarene writers have claimed that has always been the case among Nazarenes.  You also expressed a commitment to the church Manual.  I should say that, for me, the Manual is just that—a manual.  My allegiance to the statements in the Manual is limited first by an unwavering allegiance to the Scriptures as ultimate, final authority; and then to good sense.  The Manual has been edited and re-edited every four years by the will and vote of man, not something declared by God.  The Scriptures are completely and inerrantly inspired by God.

The origin of infant baptism might be implied from the practice of the Hebrews in initiating Gentiles into Judaism.  It was equated at the time with circumcision, and underage children could be included.  All males were circumcised and the father spoke for the underage children who were also baptized, male and female.  It became a ritual associated with proselyte initiation.  Jews were not baptized in this way.

Some will claim that the household conversions and subsequent baptisms recorded in the New Testament included unreasoning infants, but that is mere unfounded speculation.  Those recorded conversions were clearly connected with responses to the message of Christ and the only logical implication is that the same was true of the household.  If unreasoning babies had been included as participants, it must be concluded that the Scriptures would have said so.  It must be also understood that, biblically, baptism always follows conversion and is never a part of the salvation process as many erroneously teach even today. To teach that baptism, whether of infants or adults, is a means of regeneration is to teach heresy. Infant baptism is historically and traditionally thought of as having to do with the child’s salvation and the Scriptures do not teach that.  A Roman Catholic writer says:  “The sacrament of baptism is administered to infants or adults by pouring of water and the pronouncement of the proper words, and cleanses from original sin.” This often relates to the unofficial Catholic doctrine of Limbo.[1]  The incorporation of this idea into the mind has the potential for deluding a person baptized in infancy who may never actually come to Christ in repentance and faith because he or she depends on the baptism as a means of salvation.

The Nazarene Manual doesn’t go that far but defines infant baptism in such ambiguous and soft terms that other words would serve their meaning better.  By using the term baptism, it still shows an intentional connection to Catholicism in my mind and I take the position that if I want to be Catholic, I know where to go to make application.  It makes no sense to become like them when one can just become one of them, unless you happen to believe they are the sole arbiters of truth for us all.

Since I must reject the idea of infant baptism as biblically valid, I am very content to talk of dedication—a commitment to raise a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and let that child accept Christ as personal Savior and be baptized as a Christian when he or she reaches an age of reasoning and accountability.  There is no need to leave the commandment of God to follow the traditions of men by baptizing infants.

The concept of baptismal regeneration has been a wound on the church at least since AD 370.  One writer says this came about as the result of the idea of adult baptism and infant baptism as being regenerational in nature and that it has caused more bloodshed from both Catholics and Protestants over time than any other conflict. Both Catholic and Protestant bureaucrats have enforced this evil doctrine at the point of military sword rather than relying on the Sword of the Spirit.

The teaching of Jesus according to the unerring Bible is to allow children to come to Him, and forbid them not.  A child capable of reason and choice will easily go to Him, but it must be that the child makes that choice.  We cannot make such decisions for children of any age.

The underlying problem behind all of this in our day is the tragic and rapid development of what is called the emergent church movement among evangelicals.  The movement has many expressions and far too many Christians are simply not aware of what is happening right under their very noses.  The emergent church movement has infected and crippled evangelical denominations in many areas to the point that I question if those denominations will survive as an effective witness of the gospel very much longer.  Their only hope of survival is to return to their first love.

These kinds of false doctrines are part and parcel to that movement.  Most, if not essentially all, of them are deeply embedded in postmodern/New Age and ancient mysticism right out of the medieval church heresies.  Most tragically, many of God’s redeemed today have not learned to discern between truth and error because they have not been adequately taught and do not have the will to search the Scriptures themselves.

Respectfully,

John Henderson

 


[1] Limbo refers to states of oblivion, confinement, or transition that is derived from the theological sense of Limbo (the edge of Hell) as a place where souls remain that cannot enter heaven, for example, unbaptized infants or unbaptized adults who otherwise led a good life.

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One response to “On Infant Baptism

  1. Why is the New Testament silent on Infant Baptism?

    Baptist/evangelical response:

    The reason there is no mention of infant baptism in the New Testament is because this practice is a Catholic invention that developed two to three centuries after the Apostles. The Bible states that sinners must believe and repent before being baptized. Infants do not have the mental maturity to believe or to make a decision to repent. If God had wanted infants to be baptized he would have specifically mentioned it in Scripture. Infant baptism is NOT scriptural.

    Lutheran response:

    When God made his covenant with Abraham, God included everyone in Abraham’s household in the covenant:

    1. Abraham, the head of the household.
    2. His wife.
    3. His children: teens, toddlers, and infants
    4. His servants and their wives and children.
    5. His slaves and their wives and children.

    Genesis records that it was not just Abraham who God required to be circumcised. His son, his male servants, and his male slaves were all circumcised; more than 300 men and boys.

    Did the act of circumcision save all these people and give them an automatic ticket into heaven? No. Just as in the New Covenant, it is not the sign that saves, it is God’s declaration that saves, received in faith. If these men and boys grew in faith in God, they would be saved. If they later rejected God by living a life of willful sin, they would perish.

    This pattern of including the children of believers in God’s covenant continued for several thousand years until Christ’s resurrection. There is no mention in the OT that the children of the Hebrews were left out of the covenant until they reached an Age of Accountability, at which time they were required to make a decision: Do I want to be a member of the covenant or not? And only if they made an affirmative decision were they then included into God’s covenant. Hebrew/Jewish infants and toddlers have ALWAYS been included in the covenant. There is zero evidence from the OT that says otherwise.

    Infants WERE part of the covenant. If a Hebrew infant died, he was considered “saved”.

    However, circumcision did NOT “save” the male Hebrew child. It was the responsibility of the Hebrew parents to bring up their child in the faith, so that when he was older “he would not depart from it”. The child was born a member of the covenant. Then, as he grew up, he would have the choice: do I want to continue placing my faith in God, or do I want to live in willful sin? If he chose to live by faith, he would be saved. If he chose to live a life of willful sin and never repented, and then died, he would perish.

    When Christ established the New Covenant, he said nothing explicit in the New Testament about the salvation of infants and small children; neither do the Apostles nor any of the writers of the New Testament. Isn’t that odd? If the new Covenant no longer automatically included the children of believers, why didn’t Christ, one of the Apostles, or one of the writers of the NT mention this profound change?

    Why is there no mention in the NT of any adult convert asking this question: “But what about my little children? Are you saying that I have to wait until my children grow up and make a decision for themselves, before I will know if they will be a part of the new faith? What happens if my child dies before he has the opportunity to make this decision?” But no, there is no record in Scripture that any of these questions are made by new converts to the new faith. Isn’t that really, really odd??? As a parent of small children, the FIRST question I would ask would be, “What about my little children?”

    But the New Testament is completely silent on the issue of the salvation or safety of the infants and toddlers of believers. Another interesting point is this: why is there no mention of any child of believers “accepting Christ” when he is an older child (8-12 years old) or as a teenager and then, being baptized? Not one single instance and the writing of the New Testament occurred over a period of 30 years, approximately thirty years after Christ’s death: So over a period of 60 years, not one example of a believer’s child being saved as a teenager and then receiving “Believers Baptism”. Why???

    So isn’t it quite likely that the reason God does not explicitly state in the NT that infants should be baptized, is because everyone in first century Palestine would know that infants and toddlers are included in a household conversion. That fact that Christ and the Apostles did NOT forbid infant baptism was understood to indicate that the pattern of household conversion had not changed: the infants and toddlers of believers are still included in this new and better covenant.

    Circumcision nor Baptism was considered a “Get-into-heaven-free” card. It was understood under both Covenants that the child must be raised in the faith, and that when he was older, he would need to decide for himself whether to continue in the faith and receive everlasting life, or choose a life of sin, breaking the covenant relationship with God, and forfeiting the gift of salvation.

    Which of these two belief systems seems to be most in harmony with Scripture and the writings of the Early Christians?

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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