The birth of a child is a wonderful gift from God. Those who witness childbirth often describe it as a miracle. Even Scripture confesses children are a blessing, that they are a “gift of the LORD” and “the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3). When we consider an infant begins as a zygote—a single cell organism with its own unique genetic code—the birth of a human being truly is the miracle of life.
At the moment of birth, the mother immediately gains the instinctive desire to protect her offspring, as well as the father (with the exception of those few who, in their wickedness, do not want the child). Both parents possess the unconditional and willing desire to protect their offspring at all costs—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. For religious parents, the spirit of their child tends to be taken more seriously, or at least with more precautions.
The issue for Christians is whether an infant should be baptised, and it is usually dependent on what denomination their church affiliates with. Lutherans, Catholics, and even some Methodists typically baptise their infants whereas a non-denominational or Baptist church refuses to practise the doctrine. Before I approach this issue, we first need to identify what baptism is and why it is necessary for the Christian, and the false doctrine of decision theology also needs to be discussed. Afterwards, I will finally discuss why infant baptism is a necessary doctrine that must be practised in all churches of all denominations. If you’re not Lutheran or Catholic, prepare to have your theological presuppositions be challenged, but I urge you to be as objective as possible. I had to exercise the same objectivity before I was Lutheran and let the text of Scripture speak for itself rather than adding my fallible human reasoning to it. I exhort you to do the same as you read this
What is Baptism?
It is disconcerting to find there are many Christians who believe baptism is “a decision.” The best thing to do is to go straight to the Scriptures and conform our thinking to its revelation without adding any human logic and thereby refraining from putting our logic above the authority of the Scriptures. Sound doctrine is sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), not Scripture plus human reason. The Scriptures never speak of baptism as something we do or a decision we have to make through our own willful power, but something deeply spiritual that happens to us through God’s efficacious Word.
First of all, and simplest of all reasons, we are commanded to baptise in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus did not give a polite suggestion; it was an obligatory command. We’ll be coming back to this several times. The first time we come across baptism is with John the Baptiser. The type of baptism John preached was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). So, in short, that is one thing baptism does: it cleanses us from our sins. Baptists, ironically (and others who agree with them), profess something far differentthan biblical baptism as something that is symbolic and doesn’t do anything. Yet throughout Scripture, it is taught that baptism cleanses us from sins and changes us completely.
Similarly, St. Paul affirmed this when he said, “Get up and be baptised, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). With this verse, it can be argued that Paul is commanding us to wash our sins away ourselves; therefore, it is something we do. But who is the one baptising us? It’s the pastor. Who has given the pastor the authority to baptise in His name? Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus is baptising us through the pastor as His delegate; it is not something we could possibly do to ourselves.
Baptism also gives us the Holy Spirit. St. Peter, at Pentecost, said, “Repent, and each of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The baptism of John the Baptiser pointed to Christ and when He arrived, the baptism of John was moved aside (see also John 1:29-34). Notice how Peter uses the stative verb, be baptised—a passive condition. John the Baptiser was the forerunner of this message, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptised you with water, but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8). John’s baptism was moved aside in that now that Christ has come, His baptism gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. After this, Jesus was baptised, which was necessary for Him to do so in order that He might “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). So, baptism does two things so far: it cleanses us from our sins and we receive the Holy Spirit through it.
Thirdly, Scripture says we are saved by baptism (1 Peter 3:21). Calvinists, with their theological presuppositions, somehow with their distorted logic (i.e. magisterial use of reason) debate the Lutheran interpretation of this passage by arguing that we’re saying baptism is a human work. They argue that we interpret this verse as saying baptism is necessary for salvation. They come to this conclusion about the Lutheran view of baptism because they’ve never read Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, which thoroughly explain baptism as God’s work alone and a single means to salvation, not the only means.
First, we teach baptism is necessary for salvation but not absolutely necessary. That is, it is necessary in the sense that it is commanded, and if one rejects baptism they are rejecting the Holy Spirit since baptism promises Him as a gift. But it is not absolutely necessary that one cannot be saved without baptism insofar as they do not reject it. Lutheranism teaches, for example, that a person is saved by faith alone—when they confess their belief in Christ—and gets baptised to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit because our Lord commanded it. If he dies before he is able to get baptised without rejecting it, Lutherans do not teach this means he was not saved.
Secondly, Calvinists mistakenly think we Lutherans teach baptism is the only means to salvation. We do not teach this. We teach baptism is merely a means to salvation. Why would God give an additional means to salvation? Precisely because infants cannot confess with their mouths Jesus is Lord.
Peter compares baptism to the Flood. God cleansed the earth through the Flood—He wiped out all wickedness and saved Noah through the waters. Corresponding to this, Peter says, baptism likewise saves us by cleansing us from our sins through God’s efficacious Word in the waters. If anything, Calvinists are the ones who preach an unbiblical baptism.
Lastly, Titus 3:5-7 speaks of baptismal regeneration, also known as sanctification: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” I could write an entire research paper on this doctrine alone, but to keep it short, sanctification follows justification.
By this I don’t mean they’re separate. We are justified by faith (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9), and as Paul wrote to Titus our baptism works in our justification to make us heirs of eternal life, which is the sanctification we receive in baptism (baptismal regeneration). Reformed theologians, such as those at CARM, mistakenly define baptismal regeneration as when “God actualizes the forgiveness of sins for the believer” while making the claim that it purports we’re “regenerated at baptism—not faith.”
These are by no means the Lutheran claims of baptismal regeneration. Lutherans acknowledge God declares a sinner forgiven by faith, and reformed theologians misunderstand what we—or rather Scripture—means by “regeneration.” Sanctification, or baptismal regeneration, “means that the Holy Spirit permeates everything the Christian thinks, says, and does” (source). God begins the sanctification in baptism, and He then gives us the ability to do good works. Not good works that add to our salvation, but good works for the benefit of our neighbour. Rather than the source of our good works being ourselves, the source of our good works is now Christ.
In other words, “God works in us to create and confirm faith and to do good to others” (source)—that’s baptismal regeneration. Baptism indeed saves us (1 Peter 3:21). When Lutherans quote this passage, we don’t mean to say baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, but it is essential. Like the thief on the cross, a person on his or her death bed can come to faith in Christ and be justified by that faith and see Christ in Heaven. Baptism is essential, however, in that the mercy and grace of Christ are the only things necessary for salvation, and He offers us this mercy and grace in baptism. Not to mention the first reason I covered for why we baptise: Jesus commanded us to, so let us obey His command. If we adamantly refuse to be baptised or refuse to baptise a person (including infants), however, we are sinning against God.
This brings up a common question, “If I wasn’t baptised as a child and came to faith as an adult, why do I need to be baptised?” Again, Christ commanded us to baptise. I cannot emphasise that any more than I already have. Because Christ commanded it, it is a sacrament. A sacrament is “a sacred act that was instituted by God, has a physical element combined with the Word of God, and conveys the forgiveness of sins. Another definition calls them rites commanded by God with His promise of grace” (Mueller, 528). Jesus, who is God (John 10:30), instituted baptism by commissioning the apostles and all Christians to follow them to baptise all nations (“Go… baptising them”), it is combined with the Word of God (“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”), it is combined with physical elements (the water), and it conveys the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4).
Since it is God’s work toward us, it is connected with the promise of grace. Again, adults need to be baptised because refusing this grace God offers is to reject the Holy Spirit. The other sacraments include Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. We practise all these sacraments because God commanded us to and they each have the above three qualities of being a sacrament as well as being connected with the promise of God’s grace.
All that being said, God’s Word makes baptism effective. The Word of God must be applied to the water in order for baptism to have its effect. Although God works through human hands, it is not human hands that make it effective, and neither is it the water; it is the Word of God (a.k.a. the words of institution). Without the Word of God, it does nothing. The pastor could be an unholy hypocrite while baptising someone, but the person being baptised still receives the promises because the power is through the Word of God, not the hands of the pastor or the individual being baptised. The heresy of Donatism asserts the effectiveness of baptism is dependent upon the holiness of the minister, but if that were true none of our baptisms would be effective. Neither is it dependent on our obedience; it is not our work but God’s work. Nowhere in Scripture is baptism connected to obedience or our allegiance to God; it is only connected to His mercy and what He does to us. By His mercy, in our baptism He saves us (1 Peter 3:21), He clothes us with Christ (Galatians 3:27), He renews and regenerates us with the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), and He raises us in the resurrection of Christ because of our justification (Romans 6).
One of the foundational doctrines of Christianity is the doctrine of original sin—that all human beings are born into sin and, therefore, guilty of sin at the Fall. One thing Lutherans and reformists agree on is the depravity of man. Being born into sin calls for the necessity of forgiveness, and since infants are unable to repent of their own volition, they receive forgiveness through baptism.
The majority of Christians correctly recognise we are born in original sin, yet most oddly believe that in spite of being born in original sin (and therefore guilty of sin and suffer its wages, which is death—Romans 6:23), infants are somehow innocent and don’t need to be baptised. They are a “clean slate.” This is not how Scripture speaks of infants. Instead of salvation depending on the faith Christ gives us, it become dependent upon our ability to rationalise instead. It is impossible to be both born into sin and yet be innocent; that doesn’t make any logical sense no matter how one chooses to look at it. Original sin judges every single one of us as guilty; the Law does not care about age.
Sin and the judgement original sin brings has no compassion. It doesn’t care whether you’re a cute little infant or not; it still convicts you to eternal death in Hell. Original sin is the sin passed on through the seed of Adam and Eve. We don’t suddenly become sinners at a certain age. We are sinners at birth—we have the natural inclination to rebel against God at birth. If infants were not born into original sin and were thus innocent, they would not suffer the effects of sin: disobedience, illness, and death. All of creation disobeys, becomes ill, and dies because all of mankind is guilty of sin and suffers these consequences.
However, there is Good News. Jesus Christ paid the ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) by offering Himself as the sacrifice for all sins “once for all” (Romans 6:10). Through baptism, we are reborn. As St. Paul writes, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We die to our sins at baptism, and as we emerge from the waters we are reborn into a new life.
To Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again'” (John 3:7). What’s interesting is that in the original Greek, He says, “γεννηθῆναι ἂνωθεν” (gennethénai ánothen), which literally translated means, “to be born from above.” The Greek word for “again” is a completely different word, which is πάλιν (palin), and is nowhere in this passage in the original Greek. So, in these true words of Jesus, He paints a beautiful image that to be baptised is not to be born of this world, but from above—from God’s kingdom. This is validated when He says prior to this in verse six, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” In baptism, then, we no longer belong to this world, but the kingdom of God. When we’re born into this world, we are born in the sinful flesh. Through baptism, we are reborn from the Spirit who comes from above.
I’ve already condemned it several times, but the false doctrine of decision theology deserves special attention. The vast majority of Christians fail to understand we have no ability to choose anything to give to God, because while we still live in sin we continue to fail to choose God. If we could choose God, we would sin no longer. Nothing we give to God will ever be enough; that’s why it was necessary for Jesus to save us.
If we could give things to God and do things for Him, then we would still be under the Law and Jesus’ death would’ve been for nothing. However, we are no longer under Law, but grace (Romans 6:14). Not only that, but Jesus Himself said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He also said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Even as we are saved and baptised, the bondage of our will is to sin in the flesh, through the influences of the world, and the Devil.
This is what Paul meant when he said, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:18-20). This is known as the doctrine of the bondage of the will. Even as Christians we have the desire to do what is right—to choose Christ—but we have no ability to carry that out because every single day we choose sin over Him. Therefore, we have no ability to choose Christ. Rather, He chose us. Our concupiscence is to sin, but as believers it is no longer we who do it but, as Paul says, the sin still in us. This is known as simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner).
Christians who believe the false doctrine of decision theology believe it is more right to wait until the child understands what baptism is and then have them “decide” whether or not they want to “accept” Jesus. They say, “I want my child to make their own decision and choose their own religion.” …But, why? When Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6), why? Why would you want them to choose something else that leads them away from Jesus?
Just as we did not choose to be born on this earth, so we do not choose our rebirth in baptism. Decision theology teaches we must “choose” or “accept” Christ, which denies the effects of original sin. Because of original sin, we don’t know what God’s will is and we don’t desire to do what is pleasing to God. Sure, as a Christian you may desire to please Him, but how long does that desire last before you sin again (remember Romans 7:18-20)? Paul also wrote, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). Our minds are hostile to God, no matter how much we claim to love Him, because there always comes a time when we’d rather sin than please God. So how, then, could we ever make a decision for Christ apart from His grace?
Another problem with decision theology is that it teaches people we have partial credit for our conversion—that God does His part, and then we do ours by “making a decision” for Him. Ephesians 2:8-9 rejects this foolish notion, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Indeed, Christians who think we have to “accept” Christ boast of the “fact” that they “accepted” Him. Not to mention Jesus said we did not choose Him, but He chose us (John 15:16).
Conversion is God’s work because, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). We confess Jesus is Lord after receiving the Holy Spirit, not before. In other words, we don’t confess Jesus is Lord and then that gives us the Holy Spirit. Conversely, we receive the Holy Spirit, who then enables us to make the confession, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith” (Luther, 17). And since baptised infants receive the Holy Spirit, they have the ability to confess Christ as their Lord and Saviour. “But what if they reject Christ later? Does that mean the baptism didn’t work?” No, it means they’re no different than adults who were baptised as adults and later on reject the Spirit. Anyone can choose to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), but no one chooses Christ apart from His grace.
The most favoured argument for decision theology comes from Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.” Such people, as usual, ignore the context. Jesus is not saying, “Choose Me. Accept Me.” These were the words Jesus told John to write in a letter to the church of Laodicea. Jesus was calling an unrepentant church to repentance. Because these were Jesus’ words to a church, this is not about unbelievers becoming Christians—there’s nothing suggesting this in the text; it’s Jesus talking to a stagnant church.
Jesus was angry with these unrepentant Christians, which is why He said these words. The doors of their church were closed Christ, and He wanted them to let Him in again. They already knew Jesus; they just shut Him out and needed to let Him in again. Without God’s grace, it is impossible to choose Christ. When we “choose” Him, it is only a response to something He’s already done—the faith He’s already given us. An unbeliever, who’s dead in sin, cannot choose Christ, for dead people cannot do anything unless someone (Christ) revives them back to life, and this is done by faith and in baptism.
Consisder these words by Steven Mueller:
It is noteworthy that such questions are raised in spiritual issues but would never be entertained in other areas of life. A responsible parent would not keep their children out of school until they were old enough to decide whether they wanted to be educated, nor would most allow a minor child to drop out if he did not want to go. They would not withhold medical care from a child until she was old enough to understand the treatement. (qtd. 336-337.)
Some would say this is a farfetched comparison, but it’s really not. It’s the same exact logic used in a similar situation. To say it’s not the same is a logical fallacy called equivocation, which occurs when the definition of a word or phrase changes in the middle of a proposition or syllogism (i.e. a discussion). As children grow up, they despise school, but parents still make them go because they know it’s better to have an education than none at all. Children hate going to the doctor’s but parents still make them go because they also know it’s better for them to be healthy and in good physical condition. Also, lawfully, it would be child neglect not to do so.
Furthermore, it is equally irresponsible and neglectful for Christian parents to deny their infant’s baptism. By doing so, they are neglecting the child from receiving the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and salvation. Scripture says, “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22b-23). It is vital to note the word for “fall” in this text is in the present tense and not passive aorist (past tense passive). In many sermons and social situations when people paraphrase this passage, they have a habit of saying, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That’s not what the text says, and neither does it say “fallen” in the Greek. It’s not something that used to happen up to a certain point. The present tense used here in the Greek denotes it is a continual process. All have sinned and continue to fall short of the glory of God is what the present tense portrays; and there is no distinction. No, not even babies are exempt from God’s Law. Every single human being is a sinner, and it is baptism that cleanses us from all sin.
The biggest claim against infant baptism is the claim that infants don’t have the mental capacity to exercise faith. Of course, an infant cannot deduce Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour like an adult can (although plenty of adults—such as atheists—fail to deduce this as well). This is why at infant baptism, the parent(s) or sponsor(s), and the church speak on behalf of the infant regarding their faith. Let’s observe carefully the words Jesus spoke in the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Baptism and teaching go together, even for the adult! You don’t baptise your infant and say, “Welp, that’s it! My work is done. They’re saved and I don’t need to do anything.” Wrong! Don’t be such a fool. Teaching must continue with the baptism!
God chooses us first and waits for our faithful response. The Israelites in the Old Testament circumcised their 8-day-old infants as a sign of God choosing the offspring of Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17:10-12). An 8-day-old infant is incapable of choosing to believe in God and accept Him as his Lord and Saviour, and it was the same for the Israelite adults who hadn’t been circumcised yet. The circumcised adults also had to get circumcised because God chose them according to His covenant with Abraham; they didn’t choose to be circumcised in the Abrahamic covenant. And when they circumcised their infants, they continued to teach them the Law of the Lord as they grew up. Likewise, God chooses infants (and adults who haven’t been baptised yet) to be included as part of His family in baptism according to His new covenant (a.k.a. new testament) in Jesus Christ, and infants as well as adults are continually taught the Gospel of the Lord.
Returning briefly to Acts 2:38-39, it says baptism and its forgiveness of sins and the receiving of the Holy Spirit are the promise “for you and for your children.” It does not say, “for you and anyone else who comes of age to understand these things,” but simply, “you and your children.”
In Luke 18, Jesus was going to touch the children and bless them, but the disciples, knowing children and infants are unable to make independent decisions, began rebuking the people who were bringing their children forward (which is exactly what people against infant baptism do today). However, Jesus rebuked the disciples, saying, “Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not enter the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:16-17). I have found that children have the most pure of faith—they take Jesus at face value. Jesus didn’t say unless one becomes of age and rationally understands salvation and whom He is will enter the kingdom of God. Rather, He said one who is like a child will enter it. That’s truly remarkable.
In the original Greek, there are certain words used to denote specific age groups. The Greek word Jesus uses here for “children” is βρέφος (brephos), which the most accurate translation of that word is “foetus, baby,” or “infant” (Danker, 74). If the word were truly “child” as a generic term, then the Greek word would have been τέκνον (teknon), but it is not used here. So, people were bringing forth their infants so Jesus might cleanse them from sin, and when the disciples rebuked them since infants are incapable of making independent decisions (and therefore incapable of sinning), Jesus actually rebuked the disciples and demanded they be brought to Him so He could lay His hands on them.
People retort to this evidence by saying, “Well, Jesus didn’t baptise infants anywhere in Scripture.” Jesus didn’t baptise adults anywhere in Scripture either! Nowhere in Scripture does it specifically account Jesus baptising anybody. He laid His hands on people for the forgiveness of sins, including infants and older children, but He didn’t baptise anybody with water as far as we know. Additionally, we have a record of whom the apostles baptised in the book of Acts, including entire households (16:11-15). If faith were an absolutely necessary prerequisite to baptism as some Christians claim it to be, then the apostles would not have baptised entire households, which typically consisted of parents, grandparents, children, and infants in ancient Rome.
Consider also the following words Jesus spoke: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2). This is snarky Jesus at His best! A millstone was one of two large, circular stones used for grinding grain. The image on the right illustrates what Jesus was talking about. Imagine being cast into the sea with that giant thing around your neck. Jesus considers causing a child to fall away from Him a serious offence, and we do exactly this when we refuse infant baptism. He says it’s better for one to forcefully drown than to cause a child to sin! And why not? It certainly is a horrible offence to leave a child wallowing in sin rather than the salvation of baptism. Snarky Jesus does not kid around.
Likewise, Mueller comments, “Infants may not be able to articulate their faith just as they are unable to verbalize their love for their mother, but this does not mean the faith or love are absent from them. With God’s power, it will grow in time, but even infants can believe” (338). Since infants apparently don’t have the mental capacity for faith, then they must not have the mental capacity for love either. Once again, to say this is not the same thing is to commit the logical fallacy of equivocation. Yet we see evidence of an infant’s love for her mother when she desires to be with her.
Likewise, the evidence of faith in an infant is God’s Word in baptism, since faith is a gift of God and not something we somehow manage to create and acquire within ourselves. There is actual evidence of infant faith in Scripture. “And when Elisabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). By lack of faith, reformed Christians will say this is just coincidence. Really? Coincidences with God? If this were just mere coincidence, why would Luke bother writing it in his gospel at all, particularly when he was most concerned with Jesus’ Lordship in his childhood narrative? Obviously Mary, the mother of Jesus, her cousin Elisabeth the mother of John, and the apostle Luke did not see this as mere coincidence, but as a sign of faith in the infant John in response to the infant Jesus in Mary’s womb. God’s Spirit and faith are not limited by age, gender, or economic status; He offers faith to all.
Consider how you “prove” your own faith. Do you happen to be faithful and righteous all the time? Of course not. So how can someone know with certainty that you have faith when you always fail? You can point to all your actions in the past, but none of those matter when you fail to meet the standards of faith, which we do every day. And someone without faith can do all the good things you’ve done. Faith comes from God; therefore, He is the sustainer of faith.
Again, Ephesians 2:8-9 establishes faith is not our own doing or a result of our works. Non-Christians are capable of doing good works just like the ones Christians do (e.g. giving to the poor, donating to charities, volunteering, encouraging a friend, helping victims of a natural disaster, etc.), but we cannot come to the conclusion that by their actions alone they have faith since their lack of belief in God is the obvious rejection of the gift of faith. We cannot determine whether one has faith through physical perceptions, whether they’re an adult or an infant.
Indeed, there are even wolves in sheep’s clothing who appear to have faith, but in truth do not, and it is because of our inability to physically perceive faith that they so easily deceive many. (For example, Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. We know they’re not true Christians not because of their actions, but because their preaching does not line up with God’s Word.) Since we cannot physically perceive faith in rational adults, how can we expect to perceive faith in infants? “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
If faith, and therefore baptism, were dependent on an individual’s capability for higher thinking, then one could erroneously argue people with Downs Syndrome and other serious mental disorders and incapacities are incapable of having faith and thus being baptised. Of course, no one truly makes this absurd argument (I hope), but the argument can nevertheless be made using the same line of logic against infant baptism. Because: since an infant cannot understand baptism, how can we trust someone with Down’s Syndrome or some other mental illness can? Do you see my point in the absurdity of this thinking?
Since faith is not dependent on us somehow creating it and is therefore a gift from God, then God, who is the Creator of the universe, is fully capable of giving a child the gift of faith. Faith and understanding do not go together. Do you understand how God was able to create the entire universe ex nihilo, how He is one being yet three persons, and how He was able to humble Himself as a man and save us from our sins by dying for us? Of course you can’t understand all this. Yet by faith, He enables you to believe and know He is truly capable of all these things, and more than we can ever imagine. Where there is faith, understanding is irrelevant.
Reformed Christians such as Calvinists place God’s sovereignty over all things. God is indeed sovereign. Yet if He is sovereign, how can the Calvinist believe He is not sovereign enough to create faith in an infant? The Calvinist places too much emphasis on the individual’s work when it comes to faith.
What about those who are baptised but never believe?
This is an appropriate concern. First of all, there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). If one loses faith in God and thereby rejects Him, they are no longer saved; but if they believe again, they don’t need to be baptised again. This can be best explained in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I won’t list the whole passage here since this article is long enough as it is, but I’ll summarise it in order to re-familiarise you with it.
In the parable, a father has two sons, the younger of which leaves after receiving his inheritance as a result of demanding it (think of this as our inheritance of baptism). However, the son leaves and “squandered his property in reckless living” (v. 13). Think of this as “squandering” your baptism by losing faith and therefore engaging in reckless living by living in sin. The son eventually realises he has sinned, returns to his father, and says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (v. 19). But the father doesn’t do what we expect. He feels compassion for his son, runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, and says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (v. 24).
Jesus was illustrating how God the Father feels when we return to Him. Imagine losing your faith, running from God, and then returning to Him (perhaps some of you have experienced this). In your humility and self-disappointment, you say to yourself, “I’m not worthy of being His son/daughter again. I’m not worthy of being saved.” But God doesn’t care whether you’re worthy or not! (Truth is, none of us are.) God’s acceptance of us does not depend on our being worthy of being received because if it did, none of us would receive His gift of faith and baptism.
When we run from Him, He rejoices in our return! Paul writes that we were dead in our sins, but by faith God makes us alive with Christ (see Ephesians 2:1-7). When we return to God, He says, “This My son/daughter was dead, and is alive again; he/she was lost, and is found,” and there is celebration in Heaven. We become His adopted sons and daughters by faith (Ephesians 1:5), which is gifted in baptism. And if we leave and come back, to Him we are still His sons and daughters, nothing less. Therefore, only one baptism is necessary.
What now, then? What do we do now that we are baptised? In regards to children, Mueller explains:
A child who is baptized should be raised in faith, instructed in God’s truth, and nurtured in the Christian faith throughout their lives. Parents promise to raise their children in the faith when they are baptized. When they faithfully fulfill this promise, they again demonstrate the truth that, in Christ’s institution, baptism and teaching belong together. (qtd. 338.)
The vocation of the parent is to “bring [their children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), which as I explained earlier goes together with the baptism as delineated in the Great Commission. Likewise, Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” If infant baptism were absolutely ineffective, there would be no Lutherans today, the majority of which have been baptised as infants.
More specifically, how does baptism apply to our daily lives as adults? Martin Luther stressed the vitality of our “daily baptism.” In his Large Catechism, he wrote baptism “must be done without ceasing, that we always keep purging away whatever is of the old Adam. Then what belongs to the new man may come forth” (LC, Part 4, 65). This is the confession of sin on a daily basis, which is also what our baptism begins with.
Baptism is not an excuse to live a life of sin, however. I’ve heard people say, “Since all my sins are forgiven and justified, why can’t I just do whatever I want and repent later?” If you believe you’re justified and think that means Christ left you to wallow in your sins, you misunderstand the Gospel. Paul addressed this issue in Romans 6:1-4:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Baptism is the death of our original sin—the old Adam—and as we rise from the waters, we emerge into a new life in Christ—the new man. Thus, we can’t do whatever we want and just repent later because Christ has precisely called us out of that lifestyle in our baptism. Continuing such a lifestyle of living in sin when baptised is unnatural and a denial of what Christ has done in our baptism (in fact, Paul mentions this in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). This is why it is vital that we daily repent the contrition of our sins—the daily killing of the old Adam. Luther comments:
But what is the old man? It is what is born in human beings from Adam: anger, hate, envy, unchastity, stinginess, laziness, arrogance—yes, unbelief. The old man is infected with all vices and has by nature nothing good in him [Romans 7:18]. Now, when we have come into Christ’s kingdom [John 3:5], these things must daily decrease. The longer we live the more we become gentle, patient, meek, and ever turn away from unbelief, greed, hatred, envy, and arrogance. (qtd. LC, Part 4, 66-67.)
We have seen that all human beings are born in original sin. Because of this, there is no distinction, and the only way to be redeemed from our sins is through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. It is essential that this is done as early as possible. Because of the sinful condition of the world, it is full of many harrowing, and unexpected, tragedies. Original sin causes tragedies upon infants such as stillbirths and sudden infant death syndrome, abrupt illnesses and diseases and genetic defects in the womb, and even parents who are evil enough to kill their infants in utero or ex utero (e.g. abortion, foetal alcohol syndrome, baby shaking). Such tragic cases are indicative of the original sin in infants and therefore born in it, and therefore guilty of sin, calling for the necessity of redemption through Jesus Christ in baptism. We all deserve the wages of sin, which is death. Because of this, we all suffer the consequences of sin, which are disobedience, illness, and death, even in infants. “They haven’t done anything to deserve this,” we might say. Wrong: all are guilty for rebelling against God. Therefore, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); “there is no distinction” (Romans 3:22b).
We can never predict what life may bring because the life we live on this earth is tainted with sin. There is uncertainty in this life, but there is certainty in the life to come. Therefore, the answer to the question, “Is infant baptism necessary,” is: Absolutely. It is absolutely necessary to baptise infants so that they may receive the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, and salvation. Along with it must come the simultaneous teaching and discipline of the Lord through the parents or guardians as they grow up, for Jesus has told us baptism and teaching belong together in the Great Commission. Jesus gave no distinction of age, but all nations—all people, which includes infants. The apostles themselves baptised entire households—entire families. It is intellectually dishonest to assume baptism only applies to minds capable of rational thought. If one refuses infant baptism, it is better for them to put a millstone around their neck and be cast into the sea, sinking to the bottom, for that is a far better fate than the damnation of an infant to suffer the eternal consequences of sin in Hell.
*Disclaimer: this article has been republished with the full permission of Sheep of Christ, which is owned by the author.*
Danker, Frederick W. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2009. Print.
Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.
McCain, Paul Timothy, W.H.T. Dau, and F. Bente. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2009. Print.
Mueller, Steven P., Korey Mass, Timothy Maschke, BRian M. Mosemann, and Gregory Seltz. Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology. Eugene, Or: Wipf & Stock, 2005. Print.
Steadfast Lutherans. http://steadfastlutherans.org/2016/07/baptismal-regeneration-a-false-gospel/
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