Q&A–Why Do We Baptize Babies?
Written by Jenn Arman | September 28, 2012
What is with baby baptisms? Why are they done?
My personal opinion on baptism is that it’s something better experienced when you are old enough to understand the decision you’re making. I was baptized as a baby in the Catholic Church. I don’t remember the experience, but there is a photo of my parents with me in the arms of a priest; I’m red-faced and screaming my head off, but everyone else looks happy.
Infant baptism is a complicated issue–those for it believe strongly and those against it believe just as strongly. We know that we’re saved through faith in Jesus Christ, but the Bible is very clear that baptism is a necessary part of our Christian life.
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 28:19-20).
Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized 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).
Just to be clear, baptism is not what forgives our sins–God does. In the verse in Acts, Peter is addressing a crowd of people who “were pierced to the heart;” they believed in the Lord because of Peter’s testimony and Peter is telling them the next steps to take: repent and be baptized.
In the Bible, baptism always follows either a declaration of faith or the repentance of sins. Since infants cannot choose to believe in Jesus Christ or repent for any sin, infant baptism may seem like a meaningless tradition. Some denominations practice infant baptisms and others don’t. People have been arguing over whether or not to baptize infants for more than 500 years!
According to my research, neither infant baptism nor a specific age for baptism is ever mentioned in Scripture. It’s my understanding that those in favor of infant baptisms may have one of the following reasons for what they believe:
- Infant baptism mirrors the Old Testament requirement of circumcision. In the OT, Jewish boys were circumcised at 8 days old to enter into the covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14). Those in favor of infant baptism view water baptism the same way–they see it as the way the child enters into the New Covenant of grace.
- Infant baptism has more to do with the parents than the child.
The Rite of Baptism for Children emphasizes the importance of faithfulness on the part of parents when it says to parents: In asking to have your children baptized, ‘you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith.’ That word practice is crucial; it calls for Christian modeling on the part of parents (AmericanCatholic.org).
Those denominations that don’t practice infant baptism have this reason at the heart of their argument: Baptism always follows belief. People don’t get baptized before choosing to believe in Christ, they’re baptized after making that choice. Since an infant can’t choose to believe, they shouldn’t be baptized. These denominations may substitute the practice of infant baptism with something like a baby dedication.
In a baby dedication, the parents bring the child before the congregation and the pastor or some elders (sometimes both) pray over the child and the parents. The parents then promise to raise the child according to the will of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6) in the presence of the church. This promise to God in front of witnesses is so that God’s people keep the parents accountable to fulfill their promise.
I see nothing wrong with infant baptism or baby dedications, if they’re done as a public commitment by the parents to raise their child according to God’s will. Once children are old enough to choose salvation for themselves, they are welcome to be baptized again if they choose. I do believe baptism is a requirement for the Christian faith, as it was both commanded and completed by Christ, but I do not believe that baptism alone allows entrance into the New Covenant promises of God–faith in Jesus Christ does that.
PI girls, what are your thoughts on infant baptisms?
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).