Baptism is for believers.
I believe scripture plainly teaches that only those who believe in Christ should be baptized. And I’ll get to why I hold this view in time. But first I want to look at some of the best arguments I’ve heard for infant baptism. They generally go something like this:
(above image courtesy of south biscayne church)
1. Baptism is the new circumcision. And circumcision was done on the 8th day of an infants’ life. So infants should be baptized as a sign of the new covenant. This is demonstrated in Colossians 2:11-12:
In [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
[I won’t mention how that last sentence makes clear that all this is made possible by faith. Oops, I did mention it.]
2. In the New Testament we often read of large crowds or entire households being baptized together. This necessarily included adult men and women, servants and/or slaves, and children and infants.
3. Also, the household baptismal occurrences demonstrate that the head of a household can decide for all those in his care that they would be baptized. An individual and personal faith is not necessary for baptism.
4. Some variance of “We’re consecrating or dedicating our children to the Lord.”
My thoughts on the above conclusions:
1. Baptism is indeed a “new circumcision,” but Paul makes it clear that baptism is both different and better than circumcision. His reasoning is that baptism is rooted in one’s faith. This seems to me to be the bulk of his argument: Your circumcision and ancestry cannot make you a child of God; rather your faith makes you such. And baptism is the new circumcision which comes by faith. This is evidenced from the above Colossians text (as I accidentally mentioned), but is even more plain from Romans chapters 2-6, which deal with justification by faith and the shortcomings of physical circumcision. Baptism’s relationship with faith is in fact clearly demonstrated throughout the whole of the New Testament, but we’ll get to some of those passages just a bit later.
[Also, it would just seem odd (or even illogical) to replace circumcision with baptism (or anything else) if the “new circumcision” is simply going to function in the exact same way. But, come to mention it, were females circumcised? Do infant baptizers deal in girl babies?]
2. I have no reason to assume babies or young children were baptized with the rest of the crowds in the numerous passages in which crowds or households together come to faith. In fact, if anything, I have reasons NOT to assume infants were baptized. This is mostly due to incredibly frequent statements concerning the baptism of “those who believed.”*
But it’s also odd that we often make a point to say women and children were not counted in New Testament times. For example, in the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, to demonstrate how incredible that miracle was, we make clear that there were actually 5000 men — plus women and children (as if feeding only 5000 people with a little fish and biscuits isn’t impressive enough). So why would we assume the very opposite here, and include infants (who, by the way, don’t fit the description of being capable of believing in Christ)? My answer: because we’re going to the text looking for something to prop up our already present beliefs concerning infant baptism.
[It’s also worth noting that, in the case of Cornelius and his household being baptized, when Peter recounts the story for the sake of his Jewish Christian friends, one of the foci is that the Cornelius and the Gentiles at Caesarea were repentant.]
3. As to the head of a household making faith decisions for his entire household, I’m not so against that idea. This is how people in many cultures around the world make decisions; and their decisions are still quite valid ones. In the states we often frown on faith decisions made in a group because we’re so very in love with individualism and we like our personal savior Jesus. But one could certainly argue that the New Testament supports faith decisions by committee. This is the best argument, in my opinion, for infant baptism, but it’s still incredibly far from conclusive — especially when we take into account some of the passages we’ll look at a little later.
4. I have no problem with consecrating our children to the Lord. I just don’t at all believe this is the purpose of (or even a purpose of) baptism. I think it’s strange that, in the absence of a proper dedication ceremony, many have chosen to tweak a clearly defined sacrament to suit their own purposes. There’s simply zero evidence in scripture of baptism’s involvement in the dedication of children to God. Perhaps we should let baptism function as New Testament authors suggest, and find another way to dedicate our children to God (ie. special prayer services, etc)?
I chose to begin this post with a few arguments for infant baptism, and my defense against those conclusions. Though I should be clear that what I’ve written above is not at all my basis for holding the position that baptism is for believers. Rather, what I see as the plain and undeniable evidence for believers’ baptism follows. The first is the one which is most commonly argued, though the second seems to me to provide us with the greatest conclusive evidence:
1. Belief is a prerequisite for baptism. In fact, belief in Jesus as the Son of God seems to be one of the only prerequisites for baptism. Consider these passages (and also consider this is not an exhaustive list):
- Acts 2:37-41 — Those who were “cut to the heart” asked how to accept Jesus, and then all who accepted Peter’s message were baptized.
- Acts 8:12 — Those who believed Philip’s message about the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ were baptized.
- Acts 8:36-37** — The Ethiopian Eunuch sees water and asks if he can be baptized. Philip’s answer: “If you believe with all your heart.”
- Acts 16:30-34 — When the Philippian jailer asked what to do to be saved, Paul and Silas said to believe in the Lord Jesus. Once the jailers family did believe, they were baptized.
- Acts 18:7-8 — The ruler of the synagogue (Crispus), his household, and many other Corinthians believed and were then baptized.
- Acts 19:1-7 — About 12 guys had already believed in Jesus, but had only been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism (of repentance only — they’d not yet received the Holy Spirit). So they were baptized again, this time in the name of Jesus Christ.
- Galatians 3:26-27 — Baptism was the product of faith in Christ.
- Colossians 2:9-12 — Through faith in the power of God, and at baptism, believers were given the fullness of Christ.
2. Repentance is a prerequisite for baptism. Some argue that an infant can indeed believe in Jesus Christ and the power of God, accepting the message of the kingdom. I think that’s silly. But little argument can be made that an infant can repent, putting to death his old life and its sinful nature. There are of course a few proof texts that could be offered here, such as Acts 2:38, in which the crowd at Pentecost were told to “repent and be baptized.” But I will offer only one passage, because I see it as so very compelling a chapter:
Paul’s intention in this chapter is NOT to teach on baptism. Rather, he is simply urging the Roman Christians to stop sinning. But we can learn a great deal about baptism in the process. Paul views baptism as a marker in the life of the Christian; it signifies the point in time in which that believer put to death his old self, was buried with Christ, and was raised to be a new creation. He encourages each Christian to think about the sinful life he once lived, and to remember that in baptism he agreed to kill that old man and all the sin with which he was involved. This participation in Christ is indeed how the Christian is united with Christ.
The entirety of Romans 6 (not to mention the surrounding chapters) makes absolutely no sense if baptism is not for those who are capable of believing in Christ and putting to death their sinful ways.
I hesitated to bring up this topic in my series on baptism for three reasons:
- It is quite a controversial subject to many, it seems. And I don’t want to promote argument for the sake of argument.
- It seems clear to me that the doctrine of infant baptism has to be accepted apart from any objective reading of scripture. In order to defend or strengthen any view of infant baptism, one must go to the Bible seeking to do so. And then one must blindly read a great deal into a very few passages while completely ignoring many others. Why should I spend a lot of time arguing from scripture about a doctrine the proponents of which are by nature willing to ignore or bend scripture in order to hold?
- I am admittedly dogmatic on the subject of believers’ baptism. And so I knew my words on the subject would tends toward being rude and ungracious (as in #2 above). And I hate to come across that way. At the same time though, I don’t want to be apologetic about the clarity of scripture versus the traditions of man. I am not so when I write concerning wrongful traditions my own tribe holds, and I don’t know that I ever should be.
In the end, obviously, I decided to write the post. I figure I’m working on a fairly comprehensive study of water baptism…. I ought to address even those aspects of it which make me appear obstinate, bad-mannered, and generally unlikable. I do welcome disagreement, and I should make clear that I don’t in any way believe myself infallible (or even unlikely to misunderstand scripture). I’ve been wrong on plenty of things, and am certainly not afraid to change my mind if a better interpretation of scripture is offered.
* Also consider the following account from Acts 8:12, in which it’s specifically stated not only that it was those who believed who were baptized, but men and women:
But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women.