Many churches practice infant baptism. I argue that infant baptism is missing from Scripture, and even harmful.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is more than the water. Just because a person eats a grape jelly sandwich for lunch does not mean that he is partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Only when he eats the symbols with faith, for the purpose of remembering His sacrifice, does he partake of the Supper.
Likewise, just because a person gets wet does not mean that he is experiencing Christian baptism.
Baptism is a person’s faithful response to the preaching of the gospel, “not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Pet. 3:21). It is a reenactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:3-7). Through baptism, a person is buried with Him into His death, and raised up to new life (Col. 2:12). Baptism is a spiritual rebirth (John 3:1–8), that puts away the old man of sin and creates a new man in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
To be baptized, a person must have awareness of his sins and his need for a Savior, repenting of his actions (Acts 2:36–38; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). He must hear the word of God (Matt. 28:18–20; Rom. 1:16; 10:14–17) and believe its testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30–31, Mark 16:16) who died on the cross and was raised from the dead to provide redemption for mankind (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6–10). He must confess this belief publicly (Rom. 10:9, Acts 8:26-40).
A baby is incapable of doing these things. A baby taken by his parents to be baptized is not a Christian baby, just a wet baby. An actual baptism has not occurred. Baptizing a baby with the notion of making it a child of God reduces baptism to no more than a work. Mere works absent of faith cannot save. Moreover, it is a work performed on an individual by a third party, without his consent, or even his knowledge.
Many who practice infant baptism believe in “original sin”; that when Adam sinned in Eden, the guilt of sin tainted the souls of every human that would ever be born. Though a baby may be sweet to gaze upon, original sin teaches that his soul is as black as a criminal’s. Baptism is required to remove the stain of Adam’s sin. If the baby dies in an unbaptized condition, he is lost. (The Protestant doctrine of “total hereditary depravity” is similar, though does not always require infant baptism to remedy).
“Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God… The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1250–52; 403).
“Infants, unless regenerated unto God through the grace of baptism, whether their parents be Christian or infidel, are born to eternal misery and perdition” (The Council of Trent).
This is contradicted by Scripture. Jesus said that adults must “become like children” (Matt. 18:1–6) to whom “the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matt. 19:14). Why would Jesus use children as a model of godly innocence, if instead they are damned?
Children become sinful later, as they learn the difference between right and wrong, and choose to do wrong (1 John 3:4). “God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Eccl. 7:29). Each person shares in Adam’s condemnation not because Adam is his great-grandfather (Ezek. 18) but “because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Simply put, infants have no sin until they learn to practice it. Since the purpose of baptism is to wash away sin (Acts 2:38; 22:16), it is meaningless to baptize an innocent baby. Sadly, few individuals who are baptized as babies ever come to realize that they have never really been baptized, in faith, for the remission of their sins.
But even more convincing is the fact that there are simply no examples of infant baptism in Scripture. Every person baptized is a penitent believer. The only possible exceptions are the “households” of Acts 16:15 and 16:33, but the word “household” does not demand that babies were present. Many, many families do not include babies. Often, the notion of “household” included servants (Phil. 4:22).
What about Circumcision?
Often, proponents of infant baptism will point to circumcision of babies in the Old Testament for support. It is true that the Law commanded Jewish males to be circumcised on the eighth day (Gen. 17:12; Luke 1:59) to be included in the covenant to Abraham. But, this has little to do with Christ and His church today. The Old Law has been replaced by the New Covenant in Christ (Gal. 3:24–25; Heb. 8:13). One might just as well argue for making animal sacrifices, observing the Sabbath, abstaining from pork, or not baptizing females, as argue for infant baptism.
Jews became Jews by birth alone, and Gentiles were by birth “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:12). Today, individuals enter covenant relationship with God by virtue of choice rather than birth. —John Guzzetta