Feature Article from Catholic Answers Magazine: The Promise Is to You and to Your Children An Explanation of Infant Baptism by Terry J. Svik source link
Fundamentalists object to infant baptism and criticize the practice primarily for two reasons. Unlike the Catholic Church, which accepts baptism as a sacrament that confers God’s saving grace, Fundamentalists view baptism as an ordinance, a public proclamation of one’s belief in Jesus Christ and the gospel. They claim God cannot confer his grace upon those who do not profess belief, therefore infant baptism is wrong because infants—since they are below the age of reason—cannot express belief. The individual Christian must first attain the age of reason and accept Jesus Christ into his/her heart as personal Lord and Savior prior to baptism.
These “Bible Christians” will sometimes cite Mark 16:16 as a proof text: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” They will say, “See, this proves that one must first believe. Since infants below the age of reason are incapable of belief it is not acceptable to baptize them.” But such thinking places an undue restriction upon God and is not only unbiblical but also unhistorical.
Infants are baptized on the faith of the Church as expressed by their parents. Whether or not one is below the age of reason and capable or incapable of belief is not the issue. Fundamentalists seem to miss this point. The issue is, “Can God confer his grace upon an individual based on the faith of another?” The answer is a resounding “Yes.” The Bible is filled with examples of this.
In Matthew 8:5–13 we read: “As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion answered him, ‘Lord I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this.’ and he does it.’ When Jesus heard him he marveled, and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. . . . And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; be it done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment.”
Here we see the servant healed based on the faith of the centurion. But not only that, the text also tells us that Jesus “marveled” at the faith of the Roman soldier. Would he not also approve of the faith of parents who have their infants baptized?
In Matthew 9:1–7 we read: “And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart my son; your sins are forgiven.’ And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is b.aspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic, ‘Rise, take up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and went home.”
Notice in the narrative that Jesus healed the paralytic when he saw “their” faith, that is, the faith of those who brought the paralytic to him. As the episode is presented in the text, the grace of God’s healing power descends upon the paralytic based on the faith of others.
In Mark 5:21–24 we read: “And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, and besought him, saying, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.’ And he went with him.’ “ The story continues with verse 35 and following: “While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi’
; which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up and walked; for she was twelve years old.”
The Fundamentalist claim that infant baptism is wrong because infants below the age of reason are incapable of a profession of faith falls apart with the preceding verses. Certainly twelve-year-old adolescents are mature enough to profess their own faith when they are alive but not when they are dead. Obviously Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead based upon the faith of her parents, just as God confers his grace upon infants based on the faith of the parents.
In Luke’s Gospel, 9:37–42, we read: “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look upon my son, for he is my only child; and behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him till he foams, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon tore him and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.”
Once again we witness the grace of God working based upon the faith of another. Unquestionably a demoniac would not make a profession of faith, yet Jesus heals the demoniac based upon the faith of his father. We have just seen four instances of the grace of God in action based upon the faith of others, yet Fundamentalists claim the grace of God cannot work in infants because it depends on the faith of others. Infant Baptism Is Not Anti-Biblical
Though the Bible records no instances of infant baptism, neither does it condemn the practice or instruct that baptism is to be reserved for adults only. Furthermore, infant baptism can be implicitly found in the Bible.
Let’s look at the Bible’s record of the baptisms of three different families. Acts 16:33 records the baptism of the jailer and his entire family by Paul. Acts 16:14–15 records the baptism of Lydia along with her household. And 1 Corinthians 1:16 records the baptism of the household of Stephanas.
Collectively, even though these passages do not explicitly indicate the baptism of children, they all imply
the practice. Of course, it is possible for a household to be childless. However, the possibility of that all three households were is remote. Fundamentalists who object to infant baptism must interpret these verses with the assumption that each family had no children.
Circumcision was an important entrance rite for infant boys into the Jewish religion. In Colossians 2:11–12 Paul compares Christian baptism to Jewish circumcision: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
If infant circumcision was appropriate for entrance into the Old Covenant, infant baptism is now appropriate for entrance into the New Covenant.
Finally, in Peter’s speech to the crowd at Pentecost in Acts 2:37–39 he tells the people to “repent and be baptized, every one of you” and “the promise is made to you and to your children.” “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘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. 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.’” Then verse 41 tells us that about three thousand were added that day. It is not logical to assume that this multitude of three thousand consisted of only adults. After all, Peter specifically instructs them that the promise is for them and their children. Infant Baptism Is Historical
As noted in paragraph 1252 of the Catechism
, it can be historically proven from the writings of the Church Fathers that infant baptism dates back at to the second century and possibly earlier. In his Homilies on Leviticus
, (A.D. 245), Origen records: “Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. And if it should seem necessary to do so, there may be added to the aforementioned considerations the fact that in the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins; and according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. And indeed if there were nothing in infants which required a remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous.”
In his Commentaries on Romans
, written around the same time, this same Church Father writes, “The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. For the apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit.”
In the Letter of Cyprian and of His Colleagues to Fidus
(252), Cyprian records, “If, in the case of the worst sinners and of those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this reason does he approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another.”
Finally, in his Literal Interpretation of Genesis
(401–415), the Augustine tells us, “The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic. The age of infancy also has a great weight of witness; for it was the infant age that first merited to pour out its blood for Christ.”
From such testimony it is clear that from its earliest centuries the Catholic Church has administered the sacrament of baptism to infants based on the faith of the parents and the entire Body of Christ. Certainly Fundamentalists would not deny medical care to an infant simply because the infant is below the age of reason and incapable of deciding for itself whether or not such care is pertinent. They would put their faith in a physician to administer whatever care is necessary for the well being of their baby. Yet they will not ask God to administer his grace to their child based upon their own faith. As Christians we need to ask ourselves: What is more important—the physical and temporal or the spiritual and eternal?