Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Defense of Infant Baptism

I've been challenged to provide a biblical defense of the Catholic Tradition of baptism (as opposed to the Baptist Tradition). Pretty much, Catholic Tradition is Infant Baptism and Baptist Tradition is Believer's Baptism.

Many people have attempted this before and failed, so I don't expect that I will succeed in changing his mind that Infant Baptism is just plain wrong. I do want to make it clear that my purpose is not to claim one wrong and the other right; or to claim one is better than the other. After long thought and prayer, I have determined that the theologies behind the two traditions of baptism are very different.

Baptists and those who believe in Believer's Baptism believe it is just that - baptism once you believe. Some of them will even claim that you aren't really saved unless you've been baptized after confession. I don't agree with that group of people - I strongly believe that salvation does not require baptism to be true. I believe that baptism is simply an expression of faith, like fasting and long hours of meditation.

To those that simply believe baptism shouldn't occur until after belief is established, I don't disagree with you and your theology. I find it a good thing. However, I also find that Infant baptism serves its purpose, as well - and is, in fact, biblical. It simply derives its theology from something much older.

This is in two parts. The first addresses the theology behind infant baptism. The second tackles some conceptions that I think are false when it comes to belief in Christ.

First, when Christ came, he made it clear that he was not coming to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). There were commandments that were given in the Old Testament by God to prepare the people for the coming of Christ. Examples are the command to never forget the passover - for the signs given at the passover were repeated when Christ died...and anyone who religiously practiced the passover meal would have recognized those signs (Exodus 12:14). There are others, but hashing this point isn't relevant to this argument.

Another command that was given was that when a gentile chose to become a follower of Jehovah, he had to be circumcised (Genesis 17:10-11) - and so did his whole household (Genesis 17:12-14). In essence, when one chose to become a part of the covenant, his entire family was commanded to become a part of the covenant - regardless of their own feelings on the issue. Examples of this being carried out in scripture include Dinah's lover and his kingdom (Genesis 34) and the risk of Moses' son's life due to his lack of circumcision (Exodus 4:24-27).

Because the Catholic Tradition of baptism is one of a convenantal nature, its theology derives from the Old Testament's method of entering the covenant.

Where Believer's Baptism is an expression of faith of the person being baptized, Infant baptism is an expression of faith of the parents of the child being baptized. To them, this is their declaration of their covenantal bond with Christ a promise to do as God commanded in Deuteronomy - not once, but twice.
5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
~Deuteronomy 6:5-9

18Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
~Deuteronomy 11:18-21

In the Catholic Tradition, parents take full responsibility for their child's faith until they are adults and can claim responsibility for their own faith - just as the jews did and still do when their children come of age. In the Catholic Tradition, it is Confirmation. For the Jews, it is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah - a ceremony where the now young adults take everything they have learned from their parents and accept it as their own faith.

And this brings me to the second part - the matter of belief. Many who believe in the Believer's Baptism believe that only when a person reaches an appropriate age of responsibility can he make a concious claim of faith. The Catholic Tradition doesn't place that stipulation on belief. An 18 month old singing songs in her crib as the sun pours through, conciously aware of the one who created the sun, is capable of true belief. The 4 year old who cries when Jesus dies in his children's bible and shouts with joy that "Jesus is alive!" when he comes back to life is just as capable of true belief. The 6 year old who gives her favorite bible away to a girl whose parents are atheists because she was asking questions about God and Jesus is just as capable of true belief. Even Jesus claimed that more people should have faith like children. If we all had such blind faith like children, wouldn't that mean that none of us should be capable of a concious, reasonable decision of faith? (Matthew 10:15)

For those raised in Christian homes that are taught daily the Christian faith, a child can come to an adult understanding of Christ without ever having that "pivotal moment" of confession and faith. For them, every day is a living confession of faith and there is no remembrance of a life without Christ because he has always been a part of their lives.

And to these children and their parents, Infant baptism is a valid and even right and true expression of faith.

I don't intend for the one who challenged me to change his views on baptism in so much that Believer's Baptism is what he chooses to follow. I do, however, wish to bring about an understanding and graceful acceptance that those who practice infant baptism do so believing it is right and true and that it is just as valid as believer's baptism. And that those baptized as infants do not need to be baptized a second time.


Elusive Wapiti said...

A thoughtful post Christina.

I am one of the Beleiver's Baptism folks that you write about (I don't think baptism is necessary for salvation, but since baptism is a public declaration of your Faith, it is a really really important tradition and symbol).

I don't put any stock in Catholic sprinkling, insofar as it has any relationship whatsoever with salvation. But it may serve the purpose that you describe: investing the parents in the spiritual outcome of their child.

Anyways, while reading your post, I got the distinct impression that infant baptism is akin to a Protestant dedication ceremony. Same end, I think.

Christina said...

Thank you, EW.

And yes, I think you are right about the dedication ceremony.

When I went through confirmation classes, we discussed infant baptism and my interpretation of it was Hannah's dedication of Samuel at the temple. The deacon leading the classes agreed that it was much like that.

Kathy Farrelly said...

"Fundamentalists often criticize the Catholic Church’s practice of baptizing infants. According to them, baptism is for adults and older children, because it is to be administered only after one has undergone a "born again" experience—that is, after one has "accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior." At the instant of acceptance, when he is "born again," the adult becomes a Christian, and his salvation is assured forever. Baptism follows, though it has no actual salvific value. In fact, one who dies before being baptized, but after "being saved," goes to heaven anyway.

As Fundamentalists see it, baptism is not a sacrament (in the true sense of the word), but an ordinance. It does not in any way convey the grace it symbolizes; rather, it is merely a public manifestation of the person’s conversion. Since only an adult or older child can be converted, baptism is inappropriate for infants or for children who have not yet reached the age of reason (generally considered to be age seven). Most Fundamentalists say that during the years before they reach the age of reason infants and young children are automatically saved. Only once a person reaches the age of reason does he need to "accept Jesus" in order to reach heaven.

Since the New Testament era, the Catholic Church has always understood baptism differently, teaching that it is a sacrament which accomplishes several things, the first of which is the remission of sin, both original sin and actual sin—only original sin in the case of infants and young children, since they are incapable of actual sin; and both original and actual sin in the case of older persons.

Peter explained what happens at baptism when he said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). But he did not restrict this teaching to adults. He added, "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (2:39). We also read: "Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16). These commands are universal, not restricted to adults. Further, these commands make clear the necessary connection between baptism and salvation, a
connection explicitly stated in 1 Peter 3:21: "Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Baptism is most certainly an important sacrament in the Catholic religion , and so much, much more than just an expression of faith.

Christina said...


You are right about the Catholic RELIGION.

But I was tackling the Catholic Tradition - which is held by Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Catholics. In the Episcopal and Anglican churches, this is what it is. And it is adopted from the Catholic Tradition.

Hence why I refer to it as such - because it isn't just one denomination that practices it, but the ones that have upheld some of the Catholic Tradition in their worship do practice it.

Elusive Wapiti said...

Well I can more or less validate what the Catholic Encyclopedia says about fundies and their beliefs wrt baptism. A couple of minor quibbles here and there. But on the whole I think it is quite accurate.

That whole sola-scriptura thing is just so pesky, tho. I/we resist elevating the scribblings of man to that of the Word.

Thus the quantity/amount of water dumped on my head matters not, what really matters is what's going on inside.

"...infants and young children...are incapable of actual sin"

Not attempting to start a holy war, but I gotta question this. Do you really think children are incapable of sinning?

Kathy Farrelly said...

"Not attempting to start a holy war, but I gotta question this. Do you really think children are incapable of sinning?"

Children, of course, are capable of sinning if they are over the age of reason, ie seven years old.(roughly, according to maturity)

"...infants and young
children...are incapable of actual sin"

Quite so, as they have not yet attained the age of reason.


"The name given to that period of human life at which persons are deemed to begin to be morally responsible. This, as a rule, happens at the age of seven, or thereabouts, though the use of reason requisite for moral discernment may come before, or may be delayed until notably after, that time"

Christina said...

At 8 months, children are able to distinguish cause and effect.

At 18 months, they understand discipline.

We have all seen the 2 year old who willfully disobeys a parent's "no".

I don't think its very scriptural that children are incapable of sin.

Christina said...

Made a discovery today that is relevant to this post (somewhat).

My mother had me taking communion when I was very young - younger than most parents let their children take communion.

She took it incredibly seriously and also strongly believed in the verse that says that only those with the holy spirit can confess Christ as Lord and Savior.

She would ask us if we loved Jesus, if Jesus was Lord, if Jesus was our Savior. Because we said yes, she was confident that we had the holy spirit on us and would take us up for communion.

I wonder if this had some impact on my inability to remember not believing in Christ. I was learning how to say "Jesus Loves Me" as I learned to speak.

Kathy Farrelly said...

"I don't think its very scriptural that children are incapable of sin."
I hardly think that an 18 month old child saying "no" to a parent constitutes a sin. They are not capable of moral discernment at such a young age.
A sin is committed when one wilfully transgresses, knowing full well that they are offending God, no matter the consequences.

A three year old would not have such cognitive abilities, for example.

Christina said...

A three year old DOES have the cognitive ability to know that when he hits someone, he hurts them.

When he is punished for doing so, he knows he did something bad.

Some won't do it again. Others will.

And there are those who will do it again, watching for their parents' reactions, knowing full well they aren't allowed.

It doesn't matter that he's able to know right from wrong or not. That he does this against his parents will is a part of a sinful nature that is inherent in everyone from birth, thanks to the fall of creation.

Kathy Farrelly said...

It is still not a sin, Christina.

"Sin is nothing else than a morally bad act (St. Thomas, "De malo", 7:3), an act not in accord with reason informed by the Divine law. God has endowed us with reason and free-will, and a sense of responsibility; He has made us subject to His law, which is known to us by the dictates of conscience, and our acts must conform with these dictates, otherwise we sin (Romans 14:23). In every sinful act two things must be considered, the substance of the act and the want of rectitude or conformity (St. Thomas, I-II:72:1). The act is something positive. The sinner intends here and now to act in some determined matter, inordinately electing that particular good in defiance of God's law and the dictates of right reason. The deformity is not directly intended, nor is it involved in the act so far as this is physical, but in the act as coming from the will which has power over its acts and is capable of choosing this or that particular good contained within the scope of its adequate object, i.e. universal good (St. Thomas, "De malo", Q. 3, a. 2, ad 2um). God, the first cause of all reality, is the cause of the physical act as such, the free-will of the deformity (St. Thomas I-II:89:2; "De malo", 3:2). The evil act adequately considered has for its cause the free-will defectively electing some mutable good in place of the eternal good, God, and thus deviating from its true last end.

In every sin a privation of due order or conformity to the moral law is found, but sin is not a pure, or entire privation of all moral good (St. Thomas, "De malo", 2:9; I-II:73:2). There is a twofold privation; one entire which leaves nothing of its opposite, as for instance, darkness which leaves no light; another, not entire, which leaves something of the good to which it is opposed, as for instance, disease which does not entirely destroy the even balance of the bodily functions necessary for health. A pure or entire privation of good could occur in a moral act only on the supposition that the will could incline to evil as such for an object. This is impossible because evil as such is not contained within the scope of the adequate object of the will, which is good. The sinner's intention terminates at some object in which there is a participation of God's goodness, and this object is directly intended by him. The privation of due order, or the deformity, is not directly intended, but is accepted in as much as the sinner's desire tends to an object in which this want of conformity is involved, so that sin is not a pure privation, but a human act deprived of its due rectitude. From the defect arises the evil of the act, from the fact that it is voluntary, its imputability. "

"When he is punished for doing so, he knows he did something bad"

So does a dog...

An impulsive 3 year old who hits another child because he has taken his toy is not malicious in his intent. Nor is he disregarding God's commandments, knowing full
well the outcome of his folly!

He just wants his toy back!

How can a 3 year old understand such complex things.

No, a 3 year old child cannot commit a sin!