Should We Baptize Infants?

If you serve as pastor in a Baptist church, or even if you’ve only sought membership, you know that awkward moment. Someone expresses excitement about joining the church formally. But she was raised Methodist. Or Episcopalian. Or Presbyterian. Or Roman Catholic. She was born again later in life but never sought baptism by immersion. No one suggested she do so, and she didn’t see the point. And she doesn’t see it now, either, when you’ve informed her that she’ll need to baptized according to your definition before you’ll welcome her into membership.

As Ligon Duncan, a Presbyterian, points out in this video, Baptists can look narrow-minded in a tolerant age. But as Thabiti Anyabwile explains in response, Baptists seek to follow a logical progression revealed in Scripture from preaching the gospel to regeneration by the Holy Spirit to baptism to membership and finally communion. 

As the video continues, you’ll see Duncan and Anyabwile discuss the analogy between circumcision and baptism along with the discontinuities between the old and new covenants. And in case you’re not familiar, Duncan offers a quick overview of the often-misunderstood Presbyterian position on baptism. He has plenty of practice, considering he grew up in a South Carolina county with 385 Baptist churches and only about 14 Presbyterian congregations. He’ll show you Presbyterians don’t just baptize babies because they’re liberal, haven’t thought it through, worship tradition, or still can’t escape Roman Catholicism. 

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  • Andrew

    I never understood the reasoning behind interpreting Acts 2:38,39 as support for infant baptism.

    “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (NIV)

    The text reads “clause” –> “promise” –> further explanation

    Promise:”You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”

    Clause: “Repent and be baptized… …in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”.

    Further Explanation: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

    ie. even your children can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit if they repent and are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

    • Rick Owen

      Good observations, Andrew. I would add that “for all whom the Lord our God will call” seems to qualify “you and your children and for all who are far off.”

      The Acts 2:38-39 text goes beyond the paedobaptist formula of “you and your children” to include “all who are far off” — but neither is without qualifications or conditions.

      • On the human side, as you noted, it is necessary to repent and believe — whether we are talking about you, or your children, or those who are far off.

      • From the divine side, faith and repentance and the gift of the Holy Spirit arise from God’s calling which brings anyone who believes in Christ (you, your children, and those who are far off) into His grace and salvation.

      The real point to be explored theologically, in my opinion, is the Covenant of Grace idea. Duncan mentioned it so quickly that some listeners might not have noticed it. But he spoke of “the New Covenant expression of the Covenant of Grace.”

      More thoughts on the significance of this here:

      • Rick Owen

        To correct my quote from Ligon, he said “the New Covenant manifestation of the Covenant of Grace.”

    • Solomon Tingsam Li

      Andrew, I appreciate your concern. What is being expressed by paedobaptists is the notion of federal headship.

      When we see Romans 5, Paul speaks of sin coming into the world through Adam and salvation coming through Christ. They are the federal heads of the covenant.

      The same principal is applied here when we speak of the visible church. Seeing as the head of the family repents and believes they and their household would be baptized as they follow the lead of the head. Hope this helps.

      • Andrew

        Thanks, your comments helps in that it sheds light on understanding the paedobaptist viewpoint is coming from.

        However, in this particular text I do not see the idea Federal Head explicitly stated, it can be only implicitly understood if you already hold to a paedobaptist conviction.

        My question then is why then do paedobaptists seem to often refer to this scripture as a proof-text?

        Verse 39 – “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call”

        I see three categories for the promise, followed by a summary statement –> 1: “For you”, 2: “your children”, 3: “all who are far off”. In summary: “-for all whom the Lord our God will call”.

        When the paedobaptist ‘covenant’ churches baptize children, they admittedly baptize them into the ‘covenant community’ without being certain the child is actually among the elect.

        Therefore baptized children do not necessarily fall into the summary category of “all whom the Lord our God will call”.

        Therefore the promise of this passage cannot be conferred to baptized infants (many paedobaptists would agree).

        Therefore I see infant baptism as simply a symbolic gesture which is not different than a child dedication or ‘celebration of life’ as our Church calls it). If it is merely a symbolic gesture then it cannot be prescribed.

        • Solomon Tingsam Li

          Thank you Andrew for your comments and concerns. It’s nice to have a serious and substantive discussion in a refreshing way.

          The federal headship (for the paedobaptist) can actually be seen in the very verse you pointed out. If the promise is for our children and all those who the Lord calls then that is speaking towards the propagation of the gospel.

          You can subsume from the context then that Peter is admonishing people to preach the gospel. But for that believer to be baptized it is to say that the baptism is leading to witness as well. In this sense you are right.

          You are also right to say that baptized children do not necessarily fall into the category of those who are called. Neither were all those in the OT who were circumcised. Only those who walked in the faith were the elect in the OT.

          None the less, the circumcision and baptism as mentioned in both NT and OT was not only those heads of the family but their families as well (ie Rahab’s family, the centurion, etc.).

          You are also right in saying that the symbolic gesture is no different than child dedication. In fact, paedobaptists would gest at the notion of child dedication and say that it’s an added sacrament that does the same thing that infant baptism would do.

          Paedobaptists all recognize and fully acknowledge the distinction between the invisible and the visible church in this sense. We may open our doors to all and baptize not only our members but their children as well. But that doesn’t mean that all baptized are saved. They must profess the faith later for that prayer to be true. I believe Ligon Duncan did mention this.

          The same can actually be said (as I would argue) for adult baptism though. In fact, I would say that the regenerate may not even be known by their works. Of course, that just makes them bad Christians I suppose. Just the same, there are pious and baptized people who in their hearts may reject the gospel.

          I know some people argue strongly for believer baptism and the confirmation of transformation through testimony. However, there are many who are apostate in both camps. Also, as we discuss it is always good to remember baptism is a sacred institution, but not a necessary institution for salvation (ie. the thief on the cross). The sobering reality of ministry then connects our doctrine to life in this way. To understand that the baptism of both believers and children are sacred not because of the people, but that the act consecrates a people through grace into the visible family of God. It tells us we ought to pray for them, care for them, and teach them as if they were believers hoping they would confess Christ as their Savior.

          I hope this helps further the thoughts.

      • Rick Owen

        I think that reasoning is a stretch, Solomon. There were/are only two legal representatives who stand on behalf of others regarding one’s standing before God: the first Adam and the second Adam (Christ).

        Headship in Scripture is not used for a representative, advocate, mediator or vicar.

        More thoughts here:

    • Bill

      I like your logic, and the year or so I spent studying this topic, I never really thought this verse was enough to logically support infant baptism.

      I also don’t believe that verse by itself is enough on its own to support ANY view on baptism.

      “repent AND be baptized AND [then] you will receive the holy spirit” One, then two then three.

      I know plenty of folks who converted to Christianity but had the Holy Spirit in full before getting baptized. I also know if examples of people who were led to repentence and salvation by the work of the holy spirit. WE can’t use this verse to prove order of baptism after choosing salvation, nor can we use it to support baptism is always needed before the Holy Spirt.

      • Andrew

        I agree, thanks Bill.

        What this verse can be used to prove is only what it states: “If you repent and are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

        Raises the question, what is the “gift of the Holy Spirit” as referred to here. I agree and believe that the Holy Spirit must be at work in a person’s life enabling them to carry out the “Clause” portion of this verse (John 6:44), but it seems the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is something more.

        I don’t have time to go into too great detail now, but given the oppurtunity I would argue that this statement refers to the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

  • Kraig

    I think Baptists and Presbyterians could both agree that baptism is rightly administered to disciples of Jesus. The question would remain, then, as to what constitutes a disciple. Is a disciple (1) any person who is being taught to obey all that Jesus commanded (including my baby girl), or (2) any person who is being taught to obey all that Jesus commanded AND is able to communicate a profession of faith (such as my young son).

    If the latter, it sure is tricky to determine when that communication of a profession of faith is personal and rational–that is, what age or intellectual development or understanding of the gospel must a person achieve before the confession is viable and acceptable for baptism.

    I wonder what a good (Baptist) friend of mine should do with his severely autistic teenage son (he’s nonverbal but can definitely understanding some things–on occasion he’ll even clap and get excited when hearing about Jesus.) Should his son ever be allowed to be baptized and become a member of the church and take communion with his parents? They will be caring for him and taking him to church as long as they live.

    • Rick Owen

      Good thought, Kraig! It seems to me that we find people who are described as disciples (followers) of Jesus in a generic way, but who quit following Him at times (John 6:66) and, thus, were shown not to be His true disciples (John 8:31; 15:8). I would not think these people would be candidates for baptism just because they ‘hung around’ in a mixed audience ‘on the fringe.’

      Baptism relates to membership in the New Covenant — evidenced by regeneration and forgiveness of sins via faith in Christ — not attendance in a crowd or a Bible class or even belonging to a family where some members of the family are believers.

      More thoughts here:

      • John Carpenter

        Meeting together with other of God’s people is an essential part of discipleship (Heb. 10:25) and should not be disparaged (as you typically did) as “attendance in a crowd”. Someone who won’t commit to a body of believers, including elders to help keep watch over them (Heb. 13:17) are not giving evidence of regeneration.

        I wish you would stop trying to proselytize for your less-than Biblical sect.

        • Rick Owen

          John Carpenter, my reference to attendance in a crowd was meant to connect with the example I gave from John 6:66 — of the crowds which followed Jesus but never demonstrated true faith in Him. I suppose the same could be said of some folk today who drop in and out of church services or attend other religious events (crusades, conferences, community prayer breakfasts, etc.) but show no true commitment to Christ and His people.

          The other two settings I mentioned, of a Bible class or a family where others are Christians, were offered as other examples where rubbing shoulders with Christians does not make one a disciple of Jesus.

          I do agree with you that believers should commit to a body of believers which is led by elders who keep watch over them. Our fellowship explains this clearly in several places on our website.

          I am interacting on this blog with fellow believers in the same vein I hope you are — not to proselytize but to edify.

          I don’t know how you can say our fellowship is a “less-than Biblical sect.” Our beliefs align with The Gospel Coalition, Together For The Gospel, Desiring God Ministries and we affirm the Five Solas summarized in The Cambridge Declaration. We challenge every believer to pursue a high level of commitment to Christ and His people through corporate mutual ministry as well as personal witness in the world. All of this is explained clearly on our site:

      • Kraig

        Good observation, Rick, that not all disciples are born again, which is why some disciples fall away. I wonder if the Apostles would agree with this is modified phrase, “For no one is a [disciple] who is merely one outwardly, nor is [baptism] outward and physical. But a [disciple] is one inwardly, and [baptism] is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the [water].”

        Hindsight is 20/20. The “disciples” that follow Jesus and attend church and serve in nursery and participate in service projects and tithe to the church and lift up public prayers to God, only to later fall away and enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin more than God and fellowship with the saints–those “disciples” sure look like disciples before they fall away, and I’m guessing they received water baptism too.

        It seems to me that the practice of every church (Baptist or other) is to baptize all disciples. Among those disciples some will probably fall away. I understand the intention of wanting to baptize only those who are already baptized by the Spirit (born again), but it is impossible to know with certainty until the angels of the Lord separate the wheat from the chaffe (to use a Jesus phrase). So I think my Baptist brothers should stop using that argument, because while it is a great idea to only have born again disciples in the church, it is impossible to carry out. Some people that aren’t born again but appear born again are going to get in. That’s just the way it is. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. (Maybe they get born again later after attending church for 20 years!)

        The difference between Baptists and Presbyterians (and others), as I see it, is only a matter of defining what a disciple is. Both sides would agree that a disciple is one that is being taught to obey all that Jesus commanded and makes a profession of faith. No argument there. But only one side (Presbyterian and others) would agree that a disciple could also be one that is being taught to obey all that Jesus commanded while being mentally or physically incapable at present time to communicate a profession of faith (whether that be an infant, young child, or handicapped person).

        • Rick Owen

          The baptistic view regarding candidates for baptism, as I understand it and accept it, is based on a credible profession of faith, insofar as fellow believers can ascertain such a thing. All are agreed that some will be turncoats. No one I have read or heard advocates any guarantees against this (or absolute proof of salvation) as a prerequisite to baptism.

          Baptists also acknowledge that a person (like John the Baptist) might be a regenerated person before they or others realize this. However, baptism is practiced on the basis of such a person’s subsequent profession. Baptism, as Peter wrote, is the individual’s personal appeal to God for a good conscience, not based on the washing of water, but upon Christ’s resurrection.

          • Kraig

            Rick, I interpreted your blog post linked above as you making the case for baptizing believers only: “Since baptism is for members of the NC, and only those who “know the Lord” are members of the NC community, baptism is only for believers.”

            In your comment above you indicate that candidates for baptism are disciples that make a (credible) profession of faith. I think there is a difference between the two(believers and professors of faith).

            The witness of the New Testament, as I read it, is that there are many who initially make a credible/believable profession of faith, even giving the appearance of spiritual growth and fruit, and then fall away. These people are, for a time, disciples. They are, for a time, part of the visible church community. Everyone should agree to that observation.

            All that to say, I don’t think water baptism is only for born again believers–though it certainly is for them–but water baptism is for all disciples that make a profession of faith. Water baptism is a physical symbol in the physical church, pointing to a spiritual reality in the spiritual church. Hopefully all those physically baptized are or will be spiritually baptized, but the 1:1 ratio is not expected.

            One danger I find some Baptists running into, is trying too hard to determine whether profession of faith is credible prior to administering baptism. So they make guidelines, such as making people wait until they’re 12 or 16, or requiring a long new Christian class.

            • Rick Owen

              I agree, Kraig. Professing believers is a better way to put it. Along with that, we receive into fellowship as believers and treat as believers all who profess faith in Christ until they demonstrate otherwise.

              I agree with you, too, that sometimes too many hurdles and hoops are used in validating a profession of faith. I like Rabbi Duncan’s two questions:

              (1) What has Christ done for you?
              (2) What has Christ done in you?

              Of course, a candidate’s answers will be commensurate with their experience and maturity in Christ.

  • Josh Miller

    I understand that the discussion between Thabiti and Ligon was not meant to be a debate but as a pastor it is troubling to see these godly men and models of the faith exchange giggles and handshakes while disagreeing over such a fundamental aspect of the faith. You’d think we could at least get the Great Commission right.

    • JMH

      Would you feel better if they were angry at each other?

      • Josh Miller

        I should have been more clear. When discussing fundamental truths, like, who is a part of the church and who isn’t, it is appropriate to look at someone and say “you are confusing the gospel”.

        • Jason Tucker

          Mr. Miller. I believe that you may be missing the point that they ARE making regarding baptism and whether or not it confuses the issue of the gospel. It also seems that you may be assuming that their disagreement on the proper mode and recipients of baptism affects their ability to “get the Great Commission right”. The thing I actually appreciate most about these men is their ability to hold to their own ecclesiastical distinctives, based on a faithful reading of Scripture as their final authority, yet also confess that these differences should not hinder a mutual, brotherly pursuit of kingdom initiatives. The church could use much more of this, I believe.

  • Rick Owen

    A helpful insight on a verse used often to support infant baptism.

    “1 Corinthians 7:14 is one of the central proof-texts for infant baptism ‘Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.’ But Paul is addressing a situation where after marriage the husband or wife is converted. Is such a marriage valid? Are the children of such a union illegitimate? Paul’s answer is that the marriage is okay and that the children are ‘sanctioned,’ or legitimate. Paul uses the same word in 1 Timothy 4:5, where food is said to be ‘sanctified.’”

    A good article: “The Hermeneutics of Baptism:”

  • Anthony B. Bradley

    The question is not phrased properly. “Should We Not Baptize Infants?” And this is not a Presbyterian versus Baptist issue either. Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodist also baptize infants. It’s the minority traditions that withhold the sacrament from covenant children.

    • Jacob

      Agreed. The phrasing of the question seems to assume the validity of the creedo-baptist position against a covenant-baptism tradition. Perhaps it was meant from a more cultural perspective. The SBC is the largest evangelical denomination in the United States, and nondenominational churches with credo-baptist tendencies abound. Historically, I think your objection is correct. To a majority of congregations in the United States, however, would be asking the question as stated in the article. They need more plausibility structures.

      • Rick Owen

        Majority arguments can be specious and dangerous.

        • Most of Israel perished in unbelief.
        • Most people are following the broad way which leads to destruction.
        • Most of ‘Christendom’ has followed false teachings and traditions over the centuries.
        • Most ‘Christians’ are Roman Catholic.

    • John Carpenter

      The NT uses the term “covenant children”. In Romans 9 we’re shown that people are in covenant with God because of God’s mercy, not because of human will, works, or ancestry. Infant baptism confuses this essential fact about the gospel and undermines faith in the sovereignty of God.

      We can’t put another person in a covenant with God by a religious ritual. We can only recognize a covenant that has already given evidence that it exists.

      • John Carpenter

        I omitted a “does not”: The NT does NOT use the term “covenant children”.

  • John Carpenter

    We should begin with the command to baptize: Matthew 28:19. There the Lord Jesus tells us to baptize disciples. (The “them” is clearly referring to the “disciples” to be made.) Hence, baptism is for disciples and since there is no way of being able to discern if an infant is a disciple, it is not appropriate to baptism them.

    There indeed maybe a parallel between circumcision and baptism but the practice has to be driven by the direct, unambiguous command to baptize disciples and any theology of “signs of the covenant” developed around that.

    • Solomon Tingsam Li

      I appreciate your heart on this matter. However, there is something which is called “good and necessary inferences”. Doctrines by nature are formed not only by direct and unambiguous language, but also by logical discernment through various Scriptures. Hence, doctrines like the Trinity as well as our understanding of communion.

      In the case of infant baptism, passages such as Colossians 2 where Paul speaks of circumcision and baptism in the same breath the language of the text is consistent with the rest of Scripture as well as the paedobaptist position. Baptism serves in the New Covenant in the same way as circumcision in the old. That is, a way to distinguish the visible church.

      Again, good and necessary inferences are an important part of the Christian understanding of doctrines. That’s why there has been such a huge debate over not only infant baptism but the mode of baptism as well. Also, the debate over what Christ meant when he said, “this is my body” when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. But I do appreciate where you’re coming from.

      • Cindy

        You referred to Colossians 2 in support of infant baptism. However, verses 11 and 12 seems to clearly speak of baptism within the context and affirmation of conversion by faith.

        • Solomon Tingsam Li

          Thanks for the question Cindy.

          What you say is right. However, in Paul’s language we have to ask why circumcision was used. He is referring to the spiritual reality in which the physical signs point to.

          In reference to the discussion, the matter is about the dispensing of these sacraments to particular parties. Infants and adults.

          My point was simply to point to the parallel in their use in the symbolism in the hope of a spiritual reality.

          Not everyone who was circumcised was saved. Conversely neither were all who have been baptized (infant or adult for that matter). The question is “Why these institutions?”

          That is to visually symbolize grace upon those in the visible covenant community. In fact, the cross itself, though a physical reality, points to the spiritual one. It is the exercise of Christ to be circumcised on the cross for the washing of our sins for the church.

          The sacraments themselves always preach the message of grace and they are sacred. However, they are sacred not because the acts themselves or the people “necessarily” are sacred, but because the acts are given by Christ to us to preach this spiritual gospel in the physical way.

          I hope this helps. I believe Kraig right below has said it in a more pithy way. We do this sacrament of baptism in hope that it would be joined with the spiritual reality regardless if we’re talking about adults or infants or even the mentally disabled.

          But, all that to say, the spiritual reality has a distinct relationship with the physical one.

          • Rick Owen

            In Colossins 2, both the circumcision of Christ “without hands” and the cleansing (baptism) which imparts life (“raised with Him”) are of a spiritual nature. This stands in contrast to the Law (physical circumcision, ordinances, etc.) which are not only incapable of imparting life but represent a ministry of death and condemnation ( 2 Cor. 3:7; Gal. 3:10).

            • Solomon Tingsam Li

              Rick, as I pointed out, it is a spiritual thing. However, if you look onto any systematic theology there is also the aspect in which we understand there is a connection between the physical and spiritual in sacraments.

              In fact, that’s one of the qualifications for a sacrament. Any spiritual understanding which Paul provides is to shed light upon the question “why” we do these sacraments. I hope this helps to clarify.

    • Kraig

      There is some parallel between physical circumcision and water baptism–both are physical signs that are worthless unless joined with the spiritual reality.

      As a grown man on behalf of ancient Jews, I thank God for commanding that infant boys be circumcised. That’s mercy, brothers. Remember the Hivites.

      Water baptism is such a delightful practice by comparison. No shedding of blood. No pain. Just getting cleansed by water. Why? Because Jesus is our bridegroom of blood. He endured the cross on our behalf to make us clean. Awesome.

  • Phil

    Acts 2:42 says… “And they devoted themselves to the APOSTLES’ TEACHING and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

    So, then, what do we do with this history of infant baptism in the early church, as it seems to be the practice of the Apostles (i.e., covered under Acts 2:42):

    “The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving baptism also to infants.” – Origen, “Commentary on Roman” circa 246 AD.

    “This [covenant infant baptism] the Church always had, always held.” – St. Augustine (354-430 AD)

    If the Apostles taught it, and if the early church was faithful to the teachings of the Apostles, what’s the problem? To me, covenant family-including-infants baptism should win the argument since history seems to prove that the guys who wrong Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, I/II Peter, James, etc. — in other words, guys with Apostolic authority that we lack! — taught and practiced this. I trust Apostle Paul over “pastor Paul” or whomever.

    Full disclosure: I started looking into this issue as a Reformed-oriented credobaptist, but I have been increasingly drawn to the historicity, biblical continuity, and beauty of covenant family baptism. I think more people would change their minds if they were willing to step back and examine the issue completely open to the possibility of the other position being the right one. How many of us would never have left Arminianism of we hadn’t done that? If you do the same here, you might be just as surprised and delighted.

    • Andrew

      Hi Phil, I would consider myself as a ‘Reformed-oriented credobaptist’ as well. I have been drawn to the idea of infant baptism for some of the same reasons as you have stated, and having just had our first child recently I found myself interested in the topic again.

      However, I have not found a fully convincing biblical-theological argument for it. As a father I would almost like to baptize our daughter, wishing that it held some mystical power to ensure her re-generation or salvation, but alas I have not found convincing precedent for such a belief in scriture.

      The way I have come to view the practice or paedobaptism is as a merely ceremonial gesture, no different than a child dedication or ‘celebration of life’ as my church calls it. We attend a Fellowship Baptist Church in Ontario, and we stood up as a family and covenanted with our church to bring our daughter up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” to the best of our abilities as guided by the Holy Spirit and with the help of our local church.

      To me this is very similar to the paedobaptist idea of baptizing children into the covenant community, but the outward sign of baptism is not used as in the NT we only see beleivers being baptized.

  • Mick Lee

    As a Lutheran, I can tell you we don’t even share enough assumptions together to even have a decent, meaningful argument. Much if not most of the comments above are nonsensical and even (excuse me) graceless.
    We simply fall on opposite sides of a major theological faultline. Most of you subscribe to a “decisional” theology. Lutherans emphatically do not. You believe you decided. We believe we (you and me) were chosen. A world of difference.
    Between the Lord of Hosts and the Evil One, there is no neutral ground to stand around to evaluate which to choose. We are born rebels and under the power of evil. Such is our hearts that we cannot choose God and even if we could we wouldn’t choose Him.
    Hold on to your “adult baptism” theology if you must. Hold on to your false sacred cow of “free will”. From this side of the faultline, it looks more like unbelief.

    • Andrew

      Hi Mick, I consider myself a 5-point Calvinist, firm believer in the final authority of scripture, and I hold to a strong credo-baptist position.

      Can you describe what makes you believe that a view of “chosen theology” as you put it, leads you to hold a paedobaptist conviction?

      • Mick Lee

        I must confess that I find it curious that you describe yourself as a Calvinist yet you reject infant baptism. John Calvin himself taught infant baptism favorably in his Institutes. So, as I say, a curiosity.
        Be that as it may, there is every indication that infant baptism was widely practiced in the early Church as early as the second century if not before. The seminal second century Christian theologians wrote in its defense. It should be noted that the doctrine of infant baptism preceded the formulation of the creeds and the establishment of the Biblical canon.
        Of course, I many of the commenter’s above and below, early theological writings and practice cut no ice with you. I only bring them up to indicate what the early Christian themselves understood the apostolic teachings to mean. In and of themselves, these are not proofs per sea; but they are indicative.
        Along with the “decisional/chosen” faultline there is another just as decisive. The Church is divided by those who believe in the sacraments and those who basically believe there are no such things. To Lutherans, sacraments are real. That is, they are more than memorials, signs of faith, and a public testimony. In sacraments, it is God who acts. Baptism, as St. Paul writes, is not a one-time event only; but a daily washing by the Holy Spirit. As children are born sinners, baptism is not to be refused to them as they are in need of the continual outpouring of God’s grace as well as any adult.
        As far as actual Scripture, both of us observe there is a continual back and forth on what specific passages mean. The advocation of infant baptism by Catholics, Lutherans, the Orthodox, etc. in Scriptural interpretation is quite lengthy and involved. I will not go into all that except to note that nowhere in Scripture is infant baptism expressly forbidden and objections to infant baptism did not really come to the fore until the Enlightenment and its radical focus on the individual.
        But the Scripture that speaks most to the hearts and hearing of Catholics, Lutherans, the Orthodox is Mark 10: 13-15. Jesus says to such is the kingdom of God–who are we to stand in the way?

        • Rick Owen

          Hi Mick Lee,

          As we appeal to and weigh the value of any persons, leaders or widespread practices within the early centuries of Christendom, we should keep in mind that false prophets and their false teachings & practices plagued God’s people throughout the Old Testament era and into the first centuries of the church. Jesus, Paul and other New Testaments writers warned that many would be confused and turned away, even within their own generation, by false teaching and practices — some of which would arise from within the church. Most every New Testament epistle addresses false teaching and practices of some kind.

          Here is a review of some of these warnings and early errors:

          This is why Sola Scriptura is such an important Reformational tenet. “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isaiah 8:20; cf. Matt. 7;24; Luke 16:29). “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

          In addition to a high view of God’s word (and the One who spoke it) as our final Authority, we must also heed His interpretation of His own word. This is the purpose of most of the New Testament. This final revelation from God shows how everything prior to Christ pertains to Christ and God’s New Covenant reality in Him.

          Of course Jesus wants us to bring our children to Him for blessing and life, for only in Him may such be found for anyone. Credobaptists believe this no less than Paedobaptists. But how is this accomplished and imparted? If baptism were such an important channel of grace for this, then wouldn’t this be one of the first instructions given to fathers for the eternal good of their children? What we find instead is for fathers to set an example by their behavior, family management and instruction: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

          If infant baptism regenerated a child, by the ‘choice’ and timing of the parent or priest, then how could and why would Jesus tell Nicodemus that the new birth comes not by human activity but by the sovereign activity of the Holy Spirit, who moves unseen and unpredictably like the wind (John 3:6-8), producing new life which is born not of blood, nor of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13)?

          I highly recommend that all readers of this column buy and read Charles Leiter’s “The Law of Christ” (best priced and available in eBook format, too, through Granted Ministries, where you will also find 3 free online messages by Charles Leiter on this topic). Here is Charles’ review of chapter two (p. 40 from his book) which explains a very important foundational concept that helps us understand God’s New Covenant reality in Christ, which God himself frames and interprets in terms of promise related to Abraham (not law related to Moses) realized only in Christ. This bears upon this discussion of the significance and proper subjects of Christian baptism.

          “With the obvious exception of Christ Himself, the key player in Jewish history was not Moses, but Abraham. All of the foundational principles of salvation were revealed through God’s dealings with him.

          God’s covenant with Abraham centered around promises that God freely gave him. These promises included a seed, a nation, a land, and a blessing. They had their initial fulfillment in Isaac (the promised seed), Israel (the promised nation), Canaan (the promised land), and material prosperity (the promised blessing). But God’s promises to Abraham also had a deeper significance. They find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ (the promised Seed), the church (the promised nation), the new earth (the Promised Land), and justification and its fruits (the promised blessing).

          God ratified His covenant with Abraham hundreds of years before Moses was even born; its fulfillment, therefore, cannot depend in any way on conditions established by the Law of Moses. Christians (the true children of Abraham) will receive their ‘inheritance’ entirely apart from the Law. It is this teaching of Scripture that Paul used to refute the ‘Judaizers.’

          All the history of the Old Testament converges on Christ. Everything God did from the creation onwards, he did with a view to ‘the summing up of all things in Christ.’ Christ is the focal point and goal of the entire Bible!”

          • Mick Lee

            “If infant baptism regenerated a child, by the ‘choice’ and timing of the parent or priest, then how could and why would Jesus tell Nicodemus that the new birth comes not by human activity but by the sovereign activity of the Holy Spirit, who moves unseen and unpredictably like the wind (John 3:6-8), producing new life which is born not of blood, nor of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13)?”

            Rick: I am afraid you are talking around my points. If you read my words carefully, Baptism is a work of God. It has nothing to do with the timing of priests or the parents. As the reformers taught, the sacrament is apprehended by faith but its reality does not depend on the believer’s faith, feeling, or understanding. If one accepts the understanding that trust is faith in its most elemental form, then the infant’s trust and dependence upon those beyond himself (imperfect as his sense of what he is trusting may be) is what apprehends the sacrament and makes it alive. To the reformers, infant baptism is the epitome of Sola Gratia (saved by Grace alone), not a special case of it. The exclusive insistence on the “believer’s baptism” is a refutation of Sola Gratia.

            As a side point, a teaching which you did not bring up but other credobaptists do, the so-called “age of reason” a young child passes into and thereby can believe/accept the Gospel for himself is not a Biblical concept but an invention of the Enlightment. In any event, for a child or adult to believe/accept the Gospel for himself is a spiritual impossibility.

            As I pointed out, while the teachings and traditions of the early Church are not dispositive, they are indicative of what was the apostolic teachings. You refer to the false teachings and traditions mentioned in Paul’s letters; but no where do you do more than suggest infant Baptism is one of those false teachings and traditions. Anabaptist traditions (or credobaptism, if you prefer) was a theological development 15 centuries AFTER the crucifixion. It is an anachronism to read that theology back into early Christianity.
            None of the Scriptural passages you cite are ignored. It is your interpretation of them, however, which are erroneous. Sola Scriptura was standard first advocated by Luther and the Reformers–Luther primarily. In no way they did believe Sola Scripitura refuted infant baptism. Indeed, they brought the weight of Scripture behind the inclusion of infants into the Kingdom of God.

            Perhaps another Scriptural incident is worth a few moments of your reflection. When Jesus approached Matthew the taxcollector, he did not preach to him, give an explanation or a reason why. He simply said, “Come. Follow me.”

  • Edward

    I always thought Philip’s meeting with the eunuch was instructive: Seems to indicate that once he got the gospel and believed it, he said, “What then is to prevent me from being baptized”? Not sure what other discussions they had around the subject, but it seems pretty clear that the eunuch thought baptism followed belief.

    • Kraig

      Edward is right–it’s clear that the eunuch heard the gospel, believed, and then was baptized after attending a 6-week new Christian class (well, maybe not that last part!).

      Of course, the eunuch was a first generation Christian (as was everyone in Acts), so all denominations today would agree that the right order for the eunuch was hear, believe, and be baptized. No Christian church would endorse baptizing a normal adult who did not make a profession of faith.

      But what if the eunuch was not a eunuch, and he had a family with him? Then we might have another “he and his household” baptism.

  • Rick

    I agree with Mick Lee. The assumptions being made by many as to why people support the baptism of infants are way off base. First of all, the Bible never says how old one must be to be baptized. This is a distinction made by those who have already decided not to baptize infants. Where does the Bible say there are people we shouldn’t baptize? Where is the “age of accountability” in Scripture?

    Faith is a gift. God can and does give that gift despite a person’s intellectual capacity. The same hope for salvation that a severely retarded adult has is what an infant has; God can give His righteousness to both.

    So can an infant be a disciple? Yes. Disciples are made by God, not by convincing arguments from men. The question is, is baptism just a symbolic act, can something actually happen in baptism?

    Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized 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. (Romans 6:3-4 ESV)

  • theoldadam


    Of course we should baptize infants!

    Grace before faith!

    God is the Baptizer.

    Does not “the Holy Spirit speak to us in sighs too deep for words” ?

    Ah…yes…God is quite capable of that.


    In churches where there is no real presence of God in the sacraments (baptism, holy communion) the whole ball of wax will revert to…you. It has to.

    No thanks. My seriousness is not up to it. Truth be told…no one is serious enough about this stuff…but God in Christ Jesus.

    • Rick Owen

      The grace which precedes and produces faith is the sovereign, unpredictable, unseen activity of the Holy Spirit in the new birth (John 3:3-8) — “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:6).

      Do you believe baptism sacramentally confers, channels or imparts this to the one who is baptized? If it does, would you say that every baptized person is regenerated? If not, why not?

      On another note, it seems that some folk on this thread have expressed a strong disdain for that which is the fruit of the Spirit: namely, faith (John 1:12-13). This work of God within us (Phil. 2:13) is expressed in a variety of ways personally and individually:

      • one’s initial decision or choice to believe in Christ;
      • one’s initial profession of Christ in baptism; and
      • following Christ in lifelong obedience — also comprised of many daily choices, decisions, affirmations and professions, as well as corporate fellowship with other believers.

      I’ve never understood why some Christians want to pit God’s divine work in us and our human activity (which results from God’s work in us) against each other. Both are realities which Scripture clearly indicates we should accept and rejoice in with equal ease and confidence. Heaven rejoices when a sinner repents (Luke 15:7, 10) and it extols God for His sovereign grace and divine judgments (Rev. 5:9; 19:1ff).

  • theoldadam

    God can surely apart from Baptism.

    And He can surely save, in it.

    He commanded it. He’s active in it. The Bible says it (see my earlier quotes).

    You seem to think God is powerless to give people His Spirit in Baptism. What a small god it is that you have.

    • Rick Owen

      There is only one God and He is all that He is and the same forever regardless of our comprehension of Him, which, like our comprehension of everything else, is partial — “in part” (1 Cor. 13:9, 12). I believe God can do whatever He chooses to do consistent with His nature.

      I was asking about your view of baptism as a sacrament. But you did not answer my questions.

      The only quote I see you posted under the pseudonym “theoldadam” was a misquote and it has nothing to do with baptism. Chapter 8 of Romans addresses “those who are in Christ Jesus” (verse 1). And the verse you misquoted is speaking of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer in Christ.

      You wrote, “Does not ‘the Holy Spirit speak to us in sighs too deep for words’?” The Scripture actually says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26, ESV). In this passage, the Holy Spirit is speaking to God for the believer in Christ, even at times when the believer does not know what to pray for or is unable to express his or her inner stirrings to God.

      I was trying to better understand your previous post and offering you an opportunity to clarify what you meant. You don’t have to answer my questions, but here they are again if you care to further explain your understanding of baptism which you described as a sacrament.

      Do you believe baptism sacramentally confers, channels or imparts regeneration (or the new birth) to the one who is baptized? If it does, would you say that every baptized person is regenerated? If not, why not? I might add, is such a transmission of grace in baptism ‘automatic’ or does it depend in some way on human correctness, faithfulness, etc.?

  • theoldadam

    I forgot to say this,

    Do you really want to rely on ‘your repentance’ when you are finally standing or whatever, before the Living God?

    I sure as heck don’t.

    I’m gonna tell Him flat out, “You Baptized me…I’m counting on the promises that you made to me in my Baptism…that you put me to death and raised me again with you (Romans 6).”

    • Rick Owen

      Our only plea on the day of judgment will be Christ — that is, the perfect obedience of Christ on our behalf and our union in Him by His Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit, however, including our repentance, faith and good works, will indicate whether or not we belong to Jesus as one of His sheep (Matt. 25:31-46; cf. Rom. 2:6-10; Eph. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:7; 2 Pet. 3:14).

      I would encourage you to consider John’s heavenly visions in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Baptism is never mentioned as the key element in believers’ plea or praise to God and the Lamb; nor is it cited by God in His approval of believers. Here is what we find:

      • Godwardly: The person and work of God as the Supreme Creator (4:8-11) and Redeemer by the cleansing blood of Christ is hailed (Rev. 5:9)
      • Manwardly: The genuine belief and persevering obedience of the saints is commended by God (Rev. 2:10; 7:14; 12:11; 15:2; 22:14).

      I see baptism in Romans 6 in more than one sense:

      (1) The first part of verse 3 may refer to water baptism but does not necessarily refer to it. The phrase “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus” may be a general description of believers who are characteristically baptized by water, or it could refer to believers who, as a matter of principle that is true of all genuine believers, are placed into union with Christ by another kind of baptism.

      (2) Legal and spiritual baptism into Christ’s death — that is, believers were crucified with Christ (verse 6) at the Cross and in union with Him in all stages of His redemptive work (verses 4-11; cf. Eph. 2:5-6). Because of this solidarity with Christ objectively, new life arises and continues in the believer’s solidarity with Christ subjectively.

      Water baptism does not place us into union with Christ either legally (at the Cross) or spiritually (via regeneration). It depicts this, but it does not accomplish this.

      • Rick

        There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
        (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV)

        • Rick Owen


          I agree. Now the question is which kind of baptism is being referenced here? Water baptism (Matt. 28:19; 1 Peter 3:21)? Spirit baptism (Acts 1:5; 11:5; Eph. 1:13; Titus 3:3)? Objective identification (legally) with the baptism of death (crucifixion) Christ underwent (Mark 10:39; Luke 12:50; Rom. 6:4-8; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 2:20; Col. 2:11-14; 3:3)?

          Each kind of baptism is taught in Scripture. None of them compete or conflict with the other. They each belong to the matrix of salvation (cross > calling/conversion > consecration). The unifying element for each is that there is no other name given to men by which we must be saved (John 5:43; Acts 4:12).

          Each and every form of baptism is in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, or, as the NT writers sometimes abbreviate this, in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16) who mediates and speaks for the entire Trinity (1 Tim. 2:5).

          • Rick Owen

            The Titus 3:3 reference above is a typo. It should be Titus 3:5.

          • Rick Owen

            The ideas of “chosen” (on the front end) and “consummation” (on the back end) could also be added to complete the matrix of salvation I abbreviated above in parenthesis. Every aspect of our salvation, from eternity past to eternity future, is by virtue of our union with Christ and the blessings He obtained for us (either prospectively, before the Cross, or retrospectively, after the Cross) in the New Covenant.

          • Rick

            Rick, I believe the Bible says there is ONE Baptism, there are no “kinds” of baptism – just as there is one God. That verse couldn’t be clearer. You make a distinction that is not Biblical imo. There is no mstrix. There is simply one baptism.

            • Rick Owen

              The Ephesians 4:4-6 passage you referenced and to which I responded highlights divine elements and activities, not human activities (such as water baptism). Hence, I am inclined to believe it is referring not to water baptism, but to the baptism of the Holy Spirit — that is, of His sealing ministry where He places us into Christ subjectively and experientially through the new birth.

              The Holy Spirit is the one who spiritually baptizes us into Christ. He imparts eternal life which connects the believer to everything which belongs to him or her “in Christ.”

              Given the theme of unity (one body and one Spirit), what follows in this passage (one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all) seems to echo 1 Cor. 12:13: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

              This is the fulfillment of what John the Baptist said of Jesus: “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8; cf. Acts 1:5; 11:16-18; Titus 3:5).

              This connects with the New Covenant which Jesus came to fulfill by His blood (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The two blessings of the New Covenant are new life in the Holy Spirit, who inwardly transforms our heart and mind, and complete & irrevocable forgiveness of sins (Heb. 8:10-12; 10:14-18). Both were obtained at the Cross and are subsequently bestowed by the risen Christ upon His people.

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  • Rick

    But Rick the distinction you make is not in the text. If there is one baptism and that one baptism is not water baptism, then water baptism cannot be baptism at all and we should not refer to it as baptism. There is ONE baptism, not two! – Just as there is one Lord and one faith. Any other Lord or faith must be false – because there is only ONE!

    FYI, Most Christians who believe in infant baptism, consider baptism to be the work of God, not a “human activity”. The human activity saves no one. God alone saves by grace alone through the faith alone that he freely gives us.

  • Rick Owen


    Of course there are several kinds of baptism mentioned in Scripture. I cited specific Scriptures which made this clear. I could have cited more. The author to the Hebrews mentions plural “baptisms” (6:2). Acts 19:3-5 mentions two baptisms: John’s baptism and baptism in the name of Jesus.

    I agree with you that Ephesians 4:5 has in mind “one baptism.” But as I originally asked, which one? Can or should we be dogmatic about this?

    I initially conceded this could be water baptism experienced by a believer as a result of conscious, human choice; just as “one faith” may refer to the objective body of teachings and beliefs related to faith in Christ embraced by a believer consciously and willfully. Just as there is only one message of faith in Christ given to His church to communicate and heed, there is only baptism for the church to advocate and practice, namely, baptism into the Triune Godhead whom Jesus represents.

    Likewise, Eph. 4:5 could have Spirit baptism in mind, just as “one faith” may be similarly viewed within the realm of divine activity — that is, as the subjective faith given by God in salvation as a free gift.

    As I said, I am inclined to view this as Spirit baptism. My reasoning includes the following thoughts:

    • The baptism described here, like the other unifying elements, appears to be universally experienced by all true believers, whereas water baptism might not be. It is conceivable that some (maybe many) Christians have come to faith in Christ in circumstances where they died (perhaps as martyrs or on their death bed) before they were able to undergo water baptism.

    • Likewise, Spirit baptism is what joins the body of Christ in “one Spirit” as “one body.” This overarching oneness (of one Spirit and one body) precedes the mention of baptism and is an indivisible whole of which baptism is a part. The apostle is appealing to the Ephesians, in verse 3, to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in light of all that they share in Christ.

    • Spirit baptism, like the other divine elements and actions mentioned in this passage, is always efficacious, whereas water baptism may not correspond in the same way — that is, it might be experienced by someone who subsequently shows that he or she is not regenerated, or in possession of the Spirit as a true member of the universal body of Christ.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your last statement, “God alone saves by grace alone through the faith alone that he freely gives us.” However, water baptism is not essential to this kind of saving grace, whereas Spirit baptism is. While water baptism pictures salvation, Spirit baptism imparts salvation.

    • Rick

      Well, Rick we will have to agree to disagree. You seem to miss the main point I have been making. The Bible says there is ONE baptism for the Christian (NOT one Spirit baptism!) so there cannot be other kinds of baptism for the Christian. If “water baptism” is not “spirit baptism” then “water baptism” cannot be ANY kind of baptism because there is only one baptism. The problem I see is that you distinguish between “kinds” of baptism when the Bible clearly says there is only one Baptism. When God baptizes in water baptism, the Spirit is involved. Water baptism without God is not baptism. Water Baptism with God IS Spirit baptism!

      That’s why Romans 6:3-4 states that it is by baptism that we walk in newness of life. A symbol can’t do that. Only God can.

      I’ll let you have the last word. The Lord’s blessings to you and yours…

  • Dwight Gingrich

    Andrew and Rick Owen, I want to thank you for your helpful comments. I find them Christ-like in tone, insightful, and faithful to God’s Word. God bless!

    And to all here who are resting fully on Christ’s work and determined to follow him and the writings of his Spirit-filled apostles, God speed!

    As one from the Anabaptist tradition, I agree with the credobaptist position. The discontinuity between circumcision (by ethnicity) and baptism (by faith) appears to me to be clear and strongly emphasized in Scripture. That said, I don’t think we should use credobaptism as a door the exclude children (and adults of limited mental capacity–an issue from above that remains unanswered) out of the kingdom, out of the people of God, or out of our churches.

    I think the question of the place of children among the people of God needs more serious consideration by credobaptists. For instance, and to turn to another New Covenant sign: Scripture is clearer about when an apostate person should *no longer* be welcome at the Lord’s Supper than whether or not children or honest seekers should be included prior to baptism. It gives clear precedent for the former, but (to my knowledge) never mentions the latter.

    Sometimes Scripture doesn’t answer all such questions as clearly as we imagine it should, and then we must proceed humbly with grace.

  • Mick Lee

    Perhaps, as I had written before, we are working from entirely different assumptions. The orthodox among us believe that “something” real happens in the sacraments. Since we believe that apart from the Holy Spirit men cannot come to faith and apart from faith all is sin. Man’s natural spirit tries to justify himself before God. This cannot be done. It takes God’s work to have us trust in Jesus to cover us in His righteousness so that we can stand before the Holy God spotless and perfect.
    In baptism, we receive faith and forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism (a baptism of repentance) was water baptism. However the baptism of Jesus is one of the Spirit that actually imparts the Spirit of God and forgiveness. See Acts 19:1-7 and I think you will see what I mean.
    In the baptism of the Trinity, even infants (who are born sinful) will receive the Spirit and forgiveness. Anyone at any time can and often do reject that faith; but the power of baptism is there for them to trust.
    In Colossians 2:11-13, in fact, Paul speaks of the close connection of circumcision with baptism and what happens in baptism:
    11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,

    We take this passage quite seriously and that Paul is not speaking figuratively. In baptism, it is God who acts and that act is not made real by our puny faith. It is real quite apart from ourselves. Whether we grasp that act to ourselves is another matter.
    I realize that at this point you credobaptists are probably tearing your hair out at our seemingly cluelessness to what to what you think as obvious. But to us baptism is not merely an act following Jesus’ command we should do so. There is literally a promise He makes in baptism. And in the community of faith, the child belongs because even the littlest has faith by their trust in the care of those greater than themselves both human and His Spirit.

    So it is. Perhaps you credobaptists can enlighten me and others as to what you think the sacraments are FOR and what HAPPENS in the sacraments. This is not a trick question. I am really interested. What do you think?

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