Article by Timothy Copple.
Is baptizing infants Biblical? Does it violate the Biblical plan of salvation?
Many Protestants think it isn’t Biblical and does violate how one gets “saved.” The reasoning goes something like the following.
The Bible clearly says that the route to salvation is to believe in Jesus (John 3:16), to hear and confess Jesus to be Lord (Romans 10:9), to have faith in Him (Romans 5:1), then one will be saved.
Infants don’t have the ability to believe, hear, understand, and confess Jesus, or have faith. Therefore, they cannot be saved by someone else saying the right words or through a ritual the baby has no awareness of.
So are all babies destined to Hell? Not usually. The denomination I formerly belonged too, while not 100%, was mostly against infant baptisms. They believed that each person reached an age of accountability. That is, when they understood enough to make a decision for themselves. Once that happened, whatever age (usually around 5-13 depending on the maturity level of the child), the child stood in danger of Hell until they got saved. Prior to that point, the innocent child was believed to automatically be saved by God’s mercy.
There are problems with this understanding. Biblical problems and historical problems. We’ll tackle the Biblical ones first.
Infants Were Not the Bible’s Intended Audience
It should go without saying that the Bible was written for those who could read. None of the writers expected a baby to pick up and read their words. They wrote for people who had already come to the age where they could hear, believe, and confess. Because those were the only people who might hear, believe, and confess.
Because of that, such verses as the ones above were not addressing infant’s salvation. They addressed people who could think and process that information. By nature, how and whether infants were saved would be excluded from Biblical discussions unless addressed specifically.
For the above verses to include how an infant must be saved, one has to make the following assumptions not explicitly stated in Scripture:
God intended for those verses to apply to infants equally as to adults.
The converse of this statement is true (a logical fallacy): that if anyone cannot hear, believe, and confess, they cannot be saved.
That God gives infants a free pass from the effects of the Fall until they reach the “age of accountability.”
The last point is introduced to reconcile a seemingly Biblical contradiction between this view of Scripture and Jesus’ words, speaking of the children around Him, “For of such is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:14) It is innately unfair, so it would seem, that a child would go to Hell before having a chance to get saved if he were to die too early. So the doctrine of the age of accountability was introduced, even though there is no mention of it in the Bible.
The Bible Never Explicitly Excludes Infants From Salvation
Simply, there is no verse which says the equivalent of “God wills that all be saved . . . except for infants.” When St. Paul speaks of baptizing households (Acts 16:15, 1 Corinthians 1:16), he makes no effort to suggest he refused to baptize any infants or small children.
While the argument from silence isn’t conclusive, it not only adds weight to the rest, it indicates an extra-biblical assumption at work that infants were excluded from those baptisms when the natural assumption would be that they weren’t. The burden is on proving that they weren’t, not that they were.
The Assumption that Faith is Based on Cognitive Ability is Unbiblical.
According to Jesus, little children do have saving faith and believe:
Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein (Mar 10:15 KJV)
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me . . . (Mat 18:6a KJV)
Indeed, our faith in God does not originate with us, but from God.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Mat 18:6 KJV)
Faith is not foreign to infants and children. Indeed, we are instructed to have the faith of a little child if we expect to make it into the Kingdom of God.
Anti-Infant-Baptism is Based on a Works Based Salvation
St. Paul instructs the Ephesians:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9 KJV)
While it is understood that for an adult to have faith requires aligning their beliefs and confession with Christ’s to be saved by His grace, no one would want to suggest that doing so is a required work in order to get saved. At least, we’d hope not.
Yet by requiring intellectual assent from those who are unable to give it, before they can receive God’s grace, it moves the action from a prerequisite for those who need it to a requirement for everyone, whether infant, small child, or otherwise mentally impaired.
We’ve seen that it is God that gives faith, that salvation is a gift of God, and that children have that faith. Are we now to suggest that God will withhold His saving grace from an infant merely because he fails to show an intellectual agreement? If so, the infant has a work to perform to meet the condition to be saved. If it is truly a gift from God, and not of works, then God would not refrain from saving those who have the faith to believe and accept him, not by intellectual assent, but through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Why then do teens and adults need to intellectual believe to be saved?
When someone participates in the rite of baptism, they are in essence asking to receive God’s saving grace. To put it as St. Paul did in Romans 6, to die with Christ so that by God’s grace and power we are raised to new life with Him.
Different groups have different rites. In one, there might be an altar call and praying through at the “mourner’s bench.” In another, simply praying the “sinner’s prayer” of repentance. Each rite is used to ask God to save someone.
But what if that person, despite having faith and belief in God, from God, cannot ask? Whether due to inability to talk, or the mental abilities are not developed enough to know to ask, or whatever the reason might be, are they lost? Do we hand our children over to Satan until they can ask for themselves, or does the community of the faithful ask in their behalf?
For you see, once someone can understand, can speak for themselves, then they have to ask and consent for themselves to have the fruit of faith and belief in their life and receive God’s saving grace. Before that, it is not a requirement.
Instead, since Scripture shows little children have faith and a belief based in the soul, the Church asks for God’s saving grace upon them through baptism. A baby has no need to intellectually agree with doctrine to have faith. An adult does.
Most anti-infant-bapatism denominations believe a baby is saved anyway until they are able to ask for themselves.
In other words, they believe the baby is automatically baptized by God’s grace without anyone asking. It is taking an extra-biblical route to reach the same destination as physically baptizing the infant.
After all, most Protestant denominations have some concept of the Fall and that an infant is born into a sinful and fallen condition and world. Yet their liturgical practice ignores this spiritual reality if they assume, without anyone asking God for it, all infants are given saving grace and a deferment on the need to ask to get that saving grace.
If true, there is no point in not going ahead and baptizing the infant as Scripture dictates.
One, because it acknowledges the Fall and the effects of ancestral sin upon all born of woman, save one, Jesus Christ.
Two, it acknowledges that it is God who saves, not by the individuals ability to do x, y, or z.
Three, if you’re going to say God saves an infant, why do so through a theological construct not in Scripture nor in the first several hundred years of Church history?
Church History Supports Infant Baptism
Explicit references to infant baptism date back to the second century. Comments from early Church Fathers indicate infant baptism was a common practice by the end of the second century. Prior to that, while there isn't any specific mention of infant baptism, there is also no mention of it not being done or preached against.
Also of note is the absence of any controversy one would expect if infant baptism was denounced by the apostles' teaching. Compare that to the celebration of Pascha (Easter). While most of the Church celebrated it on Sunday, the disciples of John were taught by him to celebrate it on a fixed day during the week. The debate ended up being resolved in a council of the Church.
If the apostles refused to baptize infants, or taught against it, its introduction at some point in the second century would have created a similar controversy. The fact that by the end of the second century it is widespread without a peep of protest indicates that the practice falls in line with what the apostles taught and did.
It isn't until the Reformation that we see any serious opposition to the practice, and then only by small groups. Reformers like Calvin and Luther accepted infant baptism. Even today, the majority of Christian denominations practice infant baptism, with varying theological underpinnings.
Doesn't infant baptism violate the child's will and ability to ascent when he is able to decide?
This question only makes sense in a true “once saved, always saved” theology. That is, if infant baptism is valid, they are going to heaven whether they like it or not, whether they lived as an atheist or believer. Yeah, I'm sure they're going to hate you for that.
But in most theologies, both traditional and Protestant, there is usually an out. Whether free will allows saved people to “backslide” or a modified “once saved, always saved” allows for apparent backsliders to have never been saved in the first place—having been outwardly “saved” at some point doesn't automatically translate into final salvation on the Last Day.
No baptism is going to force someone who decides against it, to live as a Christian and make it to heaven.
But doesn't the child need to accept the faith for themselves?
Yes, they do.
In Orthodoxy, an infant or small child doesn't do confession because they don't have the intellectual ability to recognize sin, repent, and seek to live differently.
When a child does get to that intellectual point, they have their first confession. They confess their sins and receive forgiveness. In so doing, they are trusting in Jesus' mercy and redemption, accepting the Faith for themselves. This is why in some Orthodox circles, a child's first confession is called a “second baptism.”
Infant baptism doesn't preempt the child accepting Christ for themselves when they are ready. It does, however, open them to the benefits of being one with Christ as they grow up.
If parents are worried that baptism could unduly influence them to accept Christ once a teen, then they should also avoid putting that child in Sunday School, or bringing them to church services at all.
Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:14b)
In Orthodoxy, baptism is one's entrance into the Church as a member and the ability to participate in the sacraments of the Church. Unlike Roman Catholics, Orthodox do not withhold the Eucharist from babies and children. But we are not able to give it to them until they've been joined to Christ and His Body in baptism, else it would do more harm than good.
To not baptize infants is to keep them away from Christ. It would be forbidding them to come to Christ, despite the Biblical imperative that we let them approach Him.
We've seen how little ones can believe and have faith more pure than adults, despite the lack of intellectual assent. We've shown how there is no Biblical justification to not baptize infants. We've acknowledged this longstanding practice going back to the second century, and to the apostles.
Upon what basis, then, does one forbid infants and children from coming to Christ via baptism?
I hope I've shown there isn't a biblical bases to deny them God's saving grace, simply because they are mentally unable to ask for it, and plenty of reason believe they have all the faith to be saved that you or I have. Even more so.
Infant baptism is Biblical.
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