by Chad Shaffer and Mike Stine
*This is a brief five part breakdown on the various views of baptism. For convenience sake, links to the other sections are provided at the bottom.
Infant baptism is a topic of debate that has raged for centuries within the church. Numerous churches hold to this practice. Some of these include, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and other churches from a Reformed background.
Proponents of infant baptism count history on their side as mentioning infant baptism. By the time of Origen infant baptism was supposedly widely used. Origen records in 244 that “according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants.” (Holilies on Leviticus, 8:3:11)
It is also argued that in Acts 16:15, 33 the entire household was baptized. Those who hold to infant baptism argue that this would include infants and children from the household. Also used is 1 Corinthians 7:14 that states children are sanctified through a believing parent. This is also used as an argument for infant baptism.
Thirdly, Mark 10:13-16 records Jesus’ dealings with little children. He blesses them and tells his disciples to let them come to him. Those for infant baptism cite Jesus’ dealing with this issue would allow it.
Finally, the strongest argument for infant baptism stems from God’s covenant with His people. In the Old Testament, the covenant of Genesis 17:7 was passed on through the rite of circumcision. This was on the eighth day, while they were still infants. Those who hold to infant baptism see baptism as simply being in place of circumcision. Through baptism, the new covenant is passed on, they argue.
Those who do not believe that infant baptism is a valid form of baptism also cite numerous reasons for believing as they do. The first argument that is used is that there is no scriptural support for infant baptism. In the numerous references to baptism, there is no mention of infants ever being baptized in the Bible. In passages referencing the entire household being saved, there is no indication that these households included infants. Indeed even if they did, a reference to the entire household may not actually include infants. The entire household is also recorded as to have heard the gospel and believed as well as rejoiced at the news, neither of which infants could do.
History, or its silence, also attests to having only a believer’s baptism. Despite many references to baptism by earliest of church fathers, there is no mention of infants being baptized. Origen, more than 200 years removed from the time of Christ, is the first to mention infant baptism.
Those who hold to a believer’s only baptism will refute the idea of circumcision being passed on. The argument is made that circumcision is a requirement of the ceremonial law only and that there is no need for it to be continued. Indeed this controversy is addressed numerous times in the New Testament in Acts and in the Epistles. In Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council it was agreed upon that there was no need for Gentile Christians to be circumcised. Just as circumcision was eliminated, those against infant baptism argue that there is no need for it because it is simply another circumcision which is unneeded.