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Why We Baptize Babies (The Case for Infant Baptism)

Should we baptize babies? The Christian Church continues to be sharply divided over this important question. Those who answer "yes" (Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, etc.) claim Biblical support for their position. Those who answer "no" (Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, many "Bible" or "evangelical," or "non-denominational" churches) say the Bible is on their side. The pro-infant baptism churches assert that Christ commanded infant baptism. The opposing side asserts that nowhere is such a thing commanded. They hold that at best it is useless and at worst harmful. It is their practice to rebaptize adults who were baptized as babies.

The Lutheran Church has always taught that baptism is for everyone, including infants. We believe that Jesus wants babies to be baptized. We do so for the following reasons.

I - Christ Has Commanded Us

Many raise the objection: "There is not a single example of infant baptism in the New Testament, nor is there any command to do so. Therefore Christians should not baptize babies."

But Jesus has commanded infant baptism. In Matthew 28:19 He says, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . .." Before He ascended, the Lord of the Church commanded us to baptize "all nations," a phrase the Church has always understood to mean "everyone." Matthew 25:31-32 also uses the phrase "all nations" in this way. All nations are to be baptized, regardless of race, color, sex, age, class, or education. Jesus makes no exceptions. He doesn't say, "Baptize all nations except . . .." Everyone is to be baptized, including infants. If we say that babies are not to be included in Christ's Great Commission, then where will it stop? What other people will we exclude?

It is true that there is no example in Scripture of a baby being baptized. However, to conclude from this that babies are not to be baptized is absurd. Neither are there any specific examples of the elderly being baptized, or teenagers, or little children. Instead we read about men (Acts 2:41 ; 8:35 ) women (Acts 16:14 -15), and entire households being baptized (Acts 10:24 ,47-48; 16:14 -15; 16:30 -33; 1 Co. 1:16 ). The authors of the New Testament documents didn't feel compelled to give examples of every age group or category being baptized. Why should they have? Certainly they understood that "all nations" is all-inclusive.

II - Babies Need Forgiveness

The Bible teaches that infants are born sinful and are in need of forgiveness. Scripture says nothing about an "Age of Accountability" that begins at the age of reason. Its message is that accountability begins at conception. David confesses in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." The Bible teaches original sin, that the corruption and guilt of Adam's sin is passed on to every human being at conception. Jesus affirms this teaching when He says, "Flesh gives birth to flesh" (John 3:5). Paul takes it up in Romans 5:18: "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Furthermore, Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; he who believes not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16 ). According to Jesus, ANYONE who does not believe in Him will be damned. Jesus makes no exception for infants. Babies will not be saved without faith in Jesus. Parents who think they are placing their children under God's grace by "dedicating" them are deceiving themselves. The only dedication that the New Testament knows of is the "dedication" that take place via baptism. That is why infants should be baptized. Like everyone else, they desperately need forgiveness. If infants die before they believe in Jesus, they will be eternally condemned. They, like everyone else, need to be baptized so that they can be born again. Jesus said, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God " (John 3:5). We believe that baptism is God's special means of grace for children by which He causes them to be born again. To keep them from baptism is to keep them from forgiveness and to endanger them with damnation.

III - Baptism Replaces Circumcision

God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:10 -14) demanded that every male child was to be circumcised when eight days old. By circumcision, the baby entered into a covenant relationship with the true God.

St. Paul teaches us that in the New Testament baptism has replaced circumcision. "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism . . ." (Col. 2:11-12).

Given this fact, it would have been natural for first century Jewish believers to baptize infants, since they were accustomed to circumcise their male children at eight days old. It is also logical that if God regarded eight day old male babies as members of His covenant people through circumcision, He will also regard newborn babies to be members of His kingdom through baptism, the "circumcision made without hands."

IV - Infants Can Believe

The most frequent objection to infant baptism is that babies cannot believe. They do not, says the objection, have the intellect necessary to repent and believe in Jesus.

If this is your opinion, Jesus disagrees with you. Luke 18 tells us that certain parents were bringing infants (Greek - brephe) to Jesus, that He might bless them. The disciples rebuked those who brought the babies. Jesus' response is well known: "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God . Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it" (Luke 18:15-17). Some have objected that it is "little children" and not infants that Jesus speaks of here. Yet the very little children that the disciples were forbidding were infants. The infants are the focus of the passage. Clearly on this occasion Jesus had babies in mind when He said what He did!

Does this passage speak of infant baptism? No, not directly. It does show that Jesus did not raise the objection that so many do today about babies not being able to believe. According to Jesus, these babies had what it took to be members of the kingdom of God , feeble intellect and all! "Do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God ."

Now Jesus does not contradict Himself. The central message of His ministry (the Gospel) was that there was only way to enter God's kingdom. There was only one way to be saved. "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16 ). Repeatedly Christ taught that faith in Him was the one way to become a member of God's kingdom (cf. John 3:16 -18). Therefore, when He says about babies, "for of such is the kingdom of God ," He is telling us that babies can believe (for how else could they enter the kingdom?!).

So if Jesus maintained that babies can believe (though their faith is very simple), who are we to deny it? And who are we to deny baptism to those who can believe? For those still stumbling over infant faith, remember: it is purely by God's grace that any person, adult or child, can believe. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit as much for the adult as for the child (see John 6:44 ; 1 Cor. 12:3; Eph. 2:1-4). When the adult believes in Christ it is only because the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, has worked the miracle of faith in his heart. So with the infant. If faith, then, is always a miracle, why can we not believe that God would work such miraculous faith in a baby?

Someone might ask, "If babies can believe then why do they need baptism?" Answer: it is through baptism that faith is created in the infant's heart. Baptism, far from being the empty symbolism that many imagine it to be, is the visible Gospel, a powerful means of grace. According to Scripture, baptism "washes away sin" (Acts 22:16), "saves" (1 Peter 3:21; Mark 16:16), causes one to "die to sin, to be buried, and raised up with Christ" (Romans 6:3-4) causes one to be "clothed with Christ" (Galatians 3:27), and to be a member of the body of Christ: "for by one Spirit, were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). It bears repeating: baptism is a special means of God's grace by which He gives faith, forgiveness, and salvation to the infant.

V - The Practice of the Early Church

Those who deny infant baptism have a problem. They must explain why the fathers of the Church's first centuries speak of infant baptism as a universal custom. The Fathers is what we now call Pastors who led the Church after the death of the apostles. When we examine the writings of Irenaeus (d. 202), Tertullian (d. 240), Origen (d. 254), Cyprian (d. 258), and Augustine (d. 430), we see that they all spoke of infant baptism as accepted custom (though Tertullian disagreed with it).

Irenaeus remarks, "For He came to save all through means of Himself all, I say, who through Him are born again to God, infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men" (Against Heresies, Book 1, Ch. 22.4).

In his commentary on Romans, Origin writes, "The Church has received from the apostles the custom of administering baptism even to infants. For those who have been entrusted with the secrets of divine mysteries, knew very well that all are tainted with the stain of original sin, which must be washed off by water and spirit" (Romans Commentary, 5.9).

Cyprian writes, "In respect of the case of infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after 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 any one born of man... Spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision... we ought to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins - that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another" (Letter 58 to Fidus).

And in his Enchiridion, Augustine declares, "For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none who in baptism does not die to sin" (Enchiridion; ch. 43).


For completeness sake, I have listed five reasons why Christians should baptize infants. The first reason should have been enough. Jesus has commanded His Church to "make disciples of all nations baptizing them . . .." Christ made no exceptions. Infants are part of all nations, as are every other age group. We do not have to prove this. The burden of proof is on those who deny that infants are to be included in "all nations." To deny the blessing of infant baptism because you can't find the words "infant baptism" in the Bible makes as much sense as rejecting the teaching of the Trinity because you can't find the words "Trinity" or "triune" in the Bible.

As to babies not being of the age of reason and therefore not able to believe, I have shown that Christ disagrees. So in a sense, the teaching of infant baptism reveals who your Lord is. Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to baptize all nations, has declared that everyone who dies without faith is damned, and has taught us that infants can believe by God's grace working through baptism. Lord Reason says, "I don't understand how a baby can believe, therefore I reject infant baptism. It makes more sense to me to do it my way." Which Lord will you obey? Will you obey Christ and baptize "all nations," including infants, even though you don't understand it? Or will you obey Reason and reject infant baptism because you don't understand how babies can believe? Which Lord will you obey?

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Baptism is Necessary for the Salvation of Children and Adults

The basic teaching of the Bible and Christianity is that all adults and children are sinners born under the curse of the law and death, and need to be saved from eternal damnation in hell. That is why the Bible says in Matthew 18:11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. Christ came to save all, adults and children, from eternal hell fires to eternal life in paradise. Without His sacrifice on the cross everyone would be lost, but through faith in Him we have eternal life.

The entire purpose of baptism is that through it God promises to save everyone who is baptized from hell to heaven. Any other view of Christianity would make Christ’s death on the cross for our sins utterly ridiculous.

After Peter preached to a large crowd of Jews and told them they were guilty of crucifying the Messiah, they asked Peter what they should do to be saved.

In Acts. 2:38 Peter responded Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

When people speak about "getting saved" they often mislead others to the opinion that there is something they did to save themselves. That is why the Bible says in Eph. 2:8 By grace are you saved through faith and that not of your selves. It is a gift of God not of works lest any man should boast.

Saving faith in Christ is given and sealed through baptism. The jailer at Philippi asked Paul in Acts 16:30-31,33 "...Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. ...And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed [their] stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

When the jailer realized how important baptism was to escape hell and have eternal life, he didn’t waste any time. This kind of coverage is free and a little bit more important than health insurance. Notice that when it says the "jailer and all his were baptized" it means the jailer’s entire family, which would necessarily include infants. Also, notice that there was no mention of being immersed under water in the baptism. Where would they find that much water in the dark, before street lights, in 50 AD, unless the jailer’s house had an indoor swimming pool, which we seriously doubt.

In the account of the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip, notice that after just one conversation with Philip the Ethiopian figured out that the sooner he was baptized, the better. We never know how much time we have Acts 8:36-7 And as they went on [their] way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, [here is] water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him..

In this account it says that both Philip and the Ethiopian went down into the water and in verse 38 they both came up out of the water. Surely, Philip was not immersed and rebaptized with the Ethiopian. In other words, going "down into" and coming "up out of" the water has nothing to do with being immersed. Nowhere in the Bible is it necessary to be completely covered by water in order to have a proper baptism. It just says that baptism saves us. 1Pe 3:21 The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

There is always the question of why little children need to be baptized. Well, they didn’t do anything wrong, they were simply born sinful and under the wrath of God. The Bible says Psalm 51:5 In sin did my mother conceive me and Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, little children are just as much subject to death and eternal damnation as any adult.

Those who refuse to baptize infants are really saying there is no way for children to get to heaven. They are falsely teaching that children don’t need faith to get to heaven or else that all children are born with faith in Christ from the womb, which means there is no need for the church, pastors, and missionaries. Saying that children are not sinful is utterly opposed to Scripture. If children have no sin they would not be subject to illness, deformity, and death, or be stillborn.

Naturally there is not one place in the Bible where a baby requests baptism. How can they? But Peter, speaking about baptism to Jews in Acts 2:38 , also adds in verse 39, The Promise is unto you and your children.

All adults and children get to heaven the same way, through baptism. In Acts, chapter 9, Paul is told his sight will return and he will receive the Holy Ghost. The problem with sight was unique to him but he received the Holy Ghost and eternal life the same way God gives it to every man, woman, and baby, through baptism.

Acts 9:17 ...that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Acts 9:18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

In 325 AD, the same men who decided which books should go into the Bible also wrote the Nicene Creed. It says "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins" Those who believe what the Bible says and wish to practice the Christian religion are baptized and see to it that their children are baptized as soon as possible. Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

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