The Roman Catholic Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Church of England, the Lutheran Church, the Methodist Church, and many other denominations “baptise” babies. (Please read the tract “Baptism, Sprinkling, Pouring, or Immersion?” to see that pouring or sprinkling water on a person’s head is not Bible baptism.) The ceremony is very beautiful with a special dress worn by the baby, godparents being specified, and even a name given to the child. The christening of a baby is an important social event.
On the other hand many religious teachers reject the baptism of infants, saying that the practice comes from man, not from God. They say that the Bible requires the one baptised to be a believer, not an infant.
To those who want to follow God the controversy is important. After all, God has only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). Which is it – for infants or only for believers?
After Jesus was raised from the dead and just before He ascended to heaven He gathered His apostles together and gave them their final instructions. These instructions are called “the Great Commission” and are found in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24,46-47. In the first two references Jesus specified which persons the apostles were to baptise. Notice what Jesus said a person must do before he can be baptised.
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’" (Matthew 28:18-20)
(Note: All quotations are from the New American Standard Version of the Bible)
Which persons did Jesus say should be baptised? He said, “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them."
A disciple is a learner, a follower. The King James Version translates: “Go and teach all nations." A disciple is one who has been taught. The one who is baptised must first be taught the gospel of Christ.
Mark records the Great Commission in these words: “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved, but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.'" (Mark 16:15-16)
First there must be preaching of the gospel. Then the one who believes and is baptised shall be saved. Preaching is first, belief is second, then baptism.
Where is the baby? It cannot be taught, it cannot be preached to, it cannot believe. The baby is left out of the Great Commission! Jesus spoke only of the one who believes.
Jesus then ascended back to heaven (Acts 1:9) and a few days later baptised the apostles with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). When the people heard the great sound they ran together to see what was happening, and Peter and the eleven preached to them. Peter’s sermon is recorded in Acts 2:14-36. When he finished, the hearers were “pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37) Here is Peter’s answer:
“Repent, and let each of you he baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)
Peter spoke nothing which could include babies. He spoke to those who were pierced in their hearts by the words he had spoken and told them to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of their sins. No one was included in his command except those who believed and repented.
The story continues: “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:40-41)
Out of those three thousand not one was a baby! How do we know? The ones who were baptised were “those who had received his word." If they received his word, they repented of their sins. No baby can receive the words of Peter and repent, therefore no baby was baptised.
Some months later the church in Jerusalem was scattered because of persecution, and one of those who went preaching in other places was Philip. “And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them." (Acts 8:5)
Philip’s preaching had great power. “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike." (Acts 8:12)
Look at that verse carefully then answer this question: “Who were baptised?” The answer is, “‘They’ were baptized.” Right, but who are “they”? “Those who believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”. The ones who believed were baptised!
Look again at Acts 8:12. How are those who believed and baptised described? They are called “men and women alike”. Is that how babies are described? In the city of Samaria there were no babies baptised! In that great crowd only those who believed the preaching of Philip, both men and women, were baptised.
Some years later Peter wrote a letter to Christians. In it he said: “And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. (1 Peter 3:21)
The act of baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience." Only the believer can be baptised as an appeal to God. Baptism is an act of the willing believer, appealing in that act of obedience to God to cleanse his conscience through Jesus Christ. This cannot be done by a baby.
Those who advocate infant baptism usually appeal to the accounts of households where all were baptised. They say without evidence that there must have been babies in those households, therefore we should baptise babies today.
Such reasoning is like a drowning man grasping at a straw. They suppose something then build their practice on their supposition. If this is the way one treats the Bible, he can suppose anything he likes and justify anything.
However, in the Bible accounts of the household conversions there is clear evidence that there were no babies baptised. Look at the verses.
Cornelius – “A devout man and one who feared God with all his household”. (Acts 10:2) Whoever made up his household, they all feared God! No babies there.
Lydia – “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized . . . “ (Acts 16:13-15) There were women assembled. No others are mentioned. Lydia may not even have been married and her household may have consisted only of her servants.
The jailer – “And after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household’. And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptised, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household ”. (Acts 16:30-34)
The two phrases which are underlined show clearly that there were no babies in the jailer’s household. Paul spoke the word to all who were in his house and they all believed.
The reason infant baptism began is that men came to believe that babies are born guilty of the sin of Adam. This “original sin” was thought to damn the baby unless the sin was forgiven, therefore the baby was baptised.
This doctrine is doubtful from the beginning. Surely Jesus knew all about the spiritual condition of babies, yet He did not say anything about saving them, either by baptism or in any other way. Why did Jesus leave them out of His plan if they are born guilty of sin?
When little children were brought to Him He blessed them, and He used them as examples of what a person must become in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-4). Little children are not sinners. They are not lost. They are innocent and do not need saving!
There are some poetic passages which have been twisted to mean that man is born a sinner (see Psalm 51:5), but they do not necessarily mean that. Other passages show that man does NOT inherit sin. Read the following:
“The person who sins will die. The son will not hear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will he upon himself”. (Ezekiel 18:20)
Paul wrote about himself in this way; “And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died." (Romans 7:9) The only way to understand this verse is to understand that Paul was alive to God (not a sinner) while he was a child because he was “apart from the Law”. No law condemns a small child because a child cannot know to choose the good from the evil (See Isaiah 7:15-16). But when Paul became old enough to choose, he sinned and died (was cut off from God because of his sins). This is how all of us die. When we are old enough to choose, we sin and therefore need to be saved. When we are babies, we are “alive apart from the Law.”
FIRST – Alive (apart from the Law)
THEN – Commandment came, Sin became alive, I died
The “one baptism” is for believers who repent, not for babies who can do neither. It is for sinners, not for innocent children. It is an appeal to God for a clean conscience – an appeal made by one who wants his sins forgiven.
Therefore when someone takes his baby to a minister or priest, the baptism it receives is not from God. What happens when the priest puts water on the head of the child is not what Jesus commands.
Should babies be baptised? Not if we are concerned with following Jesus, and Him only. The only authority for infant baptism is human tradition, a thing which Jesus warns against (Matthew 15:1-7).
The one who wants to please God will do only what Jesus and His apostles have commanded in the New Testament. Human practices such as baby baptism will not be a part of the life of the true follower of Jesus.