Baptism Matters: Part 1 (Scripture)
Over the last six months, many of my non-Catholic Christian friends have given birth to their first child. This was brought about, presumably, through the combination of an extremely poor TV lineup last summer and an abundance of free time on their part.
With this wonderful addition to their family, several of these new parents are now facing a dilemma: should they baptize their newborn child?
You see, in many cases, one spouse comes from a denomination where infant baptism isn’t performed (Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, non-denominationals) and the other has come from a denomination where it is standard practice (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist). The parents typically make the choice to either baptize their child or to have some kind of dedication ceremony.
This is an important issue to me. I was once a member of Protestant congregation where they did infant baptisms, but they also carried out child dedications, depending upon the wishes of the parents. This inconsistency was an important catalyst in my study of the ancient Christian faith and my eventual reversion to the Catholic Church.
So, in the next few posts I would like to present the basic case in favour of infant baptism…
The sound of silence
For non-Catholics and non-Orthodox, the only significant question to ask is: what does the Bible say?
Put simply, the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us whether or not infants should be baptized. This raises an important question which every Protestant must answer – what should be their policy be where the Bible is silent upon a particular issue? This is an unfortunate consequence of Sola Scriptura.
Should they err on the side of prohibition? If the Bible doesn’t explicit command it, should they refrain from baptizing infants? Or should they assume that, since it isn’t explicitly forbidden in Sacred Scripture, that it is permitted? If one holds to the Bible alone, this is a difficult question to answer in a consistent fashion.
Only adults in the New Testament?
Those who oppose infant baptism will often point out that in the New Testament we only see adults being baptized. Should we find this argument convincing? I would suggest not…
The presence of adult baptisms in the New Testament is to be expected. After all, as Christian missionaries went out and proclaimed the Gospel, to whom would they preach? Would they preach to adults or to babies? To adults of course! It is therefore natural for us to expect conversion stories of adults in the New Testament. This was the first generation of Christians, after all. I doubt the conversion stories of babies would have been that exciting anyway…
Why no infant baptisms?
That’s all fine and dandy, but why don’t we have any specific examples of babies being baptized in the New Testament?
It is important to remember that the New Testament only chronicles a very thin sliver of time. Scripture gives us only a limited picture of life in the New Testament Church. We only have Acts of the Apostles and what we can derive from the epistles. This isn’t an especially large dataset from which to work.
The New Testament authors were not intending to write a comprehensive (John 21:25) encyclopedia of Christian doctrine nor were they trying to record a complete history of the Church. That was not their purpose in writing.
A consistent standard
I mentioned earlier that every Protestant must decide what should be their policy where the Bible is silent on a particular issue. There are those who argue that, since we don’t have an explicit reference to infant baptism in the Bible, we should not baptize infants. However, is this standard consistently applied?
For example, those who would deny infants baptism would favour a dedication ceremony instead. Can such a practice been found in the New Testament? Chapter and verse?
There are those who would delay baptism until “the age of reason”, but can we find an explicit reference to this in the writings of the Apostolic Church?
If one prohibited infant baptisms because of the lack of a specific New Testament example, why then would one allow for baptism at the age of seven, or ten, or twelve? Where are the Biblical examples of children at these ages being baptized?
Maybe not explicit…but implicit…
However, is it really fair to say that we see only adult baptisms in the New Testament? I think not. There are several passages in the Bible which talk about whole households being baptized:
And when [Lydia] was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. – Acts 16:15
And [Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to [the Jailer] and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family. – Acts 16:32-33
I did baptize also the household of Stephanas… – 1 Corinthians 1:16
Now, one might argue that it doesn’t explicitly say that children were baptized. Sure, it doesn’t. However, I have to ask, why would you assume that they were omitted?
There’s nothing in these passages which indicates that, while their parents were welcomed into the Church, the babies and young children were excluded. I think the burden of proof is on those who deny infant baptism. In contrast, I think we should take Scripture at face value when it speaks of “the household” and “all [the] family”.
We’ll pick up this topic again tomorrow…