Infant Baptism

by Andrew A. Das

 I opened our time together telling you about my discussions in college with the lady I was dating at that time. I'd like to tell you a little more about that relationship all those years ago. The most difficult aspect of our interdenominational encounter was not so much the charismatic gifts, but infant baptism. The real issue was what to do should we ever get married and have children. From her perspective, infant baptism was a meaningless ritual since infants didn't have the faith that was necessary to benefit from the baptism.

To placate me, we could baptize them as babies but only provided we baptized them again later on when they were old enough to believe for themselves. But you can imagine that while this provisional two-baptism plan was a fine compromise in our discussions at the time, neither of us felt right about it.

The infant baptism book that I wrote, Baptized Into God's Family, sprang out of these discussions on the topic. It began initially as a 4-page list of reasons for infant baptism. She read through the four pages and sent them back to me with all sorts of comments on them, mainly along the lines that none of the passages spoke about infant baptism and babies simply didn't have faith.

I then wrote a 16-page revision, but she only read the first four pages and decided that they were no better than the four-page original. We never got any further than that. After that encounter, I considered it truly a blessing these last few years when I met the wife that the Lord truly had in store for me.

But the Lord used this situation to move me to try to put together a resource for pastors and parents involved in these sorts of interdenominational situations, for people who need an accessible biblical defense of why we baptize babies. Within a few years the Lord saw fit to bring about this book on infant baptism.

For my last hour with you, I'd like to focus on infant baptism. Some of what I have to say may be obvious to you as pastors who are regularly teaching the Scriptures. My prayer is that this hour will offer you at least an additional insight or two to supplement your teaching.

But please bear with me as we talk about this very precious topic, as we talk about the waters that bring salvation to our infants and small children. What greater topic could there be than this? That mere water could save our beloved children and babies.

Let me begin by giving you a brief overview of where we've been and then where I'd like to go. In our first three sessions we looked at several texts. We looked at baptism all throughout the book of Acts. We then looked at 1 Peter 3:21, John 3:5-8, Gal. 3:28 and, briefly, Rom. 6:1-6 and 1 Cor. 12:13. We saw in Acts that Luke clearly ties together the reception of God's forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit with water baptism.

1 Peter 3:21 indicated that baptism actually saves through the power not of the individual but of the resurrected Christ. John 3:5-8 indicated that the effects of being in the flesh could only be countered by water and Spirit, by a baptism that brings with it the power of the Spirit. Gal. 3:28 likewise spoke of the putting on of Christ that happens in and through baptism. Similarly Romans 6 indicated that one participates in Christ's death through baptism.

Throughout the New Testament, over and over again, as we have seen, the effects of sin and the flesh are clearly countered by the rite of baptism. While faith is certainly necessary in the New Testament for the new life in Christ, these passages are striking for the way in which they single out the necessity of baptism.

But that naturally leads to this hour's topic: If baptism is the means by which sin is countered, what of infants? In our society and culture, it is difficult to conceive of a baby as a sinner. Nevertheless, Scripture is very clear about the matter. Job 14:1 says: "A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble." Or in Ps. 58:3: "the wicked go astray from the womb; they err from their birth, speaking lies." Rom 3:23, that famous verse from the catechism: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

The problem is that the situation does not get any better as we get older, as we reach the infamous age of accountability. It seems to only get worse. In 1 Cor. 15:50: "… flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." Likewise in 1 Cor. 2:14: "Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." In Rom. 8:7-8: "For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, and those are in the flesh cannot please God."

In other words, sin is a genuine dilemma that requires a miraculous solution.

God has simply promised that baptism will resolve that dilemma. It is much like that story in 2 Kings 5. Elisha instructs the leprous Naaman to go wash in the Jordan seven times and he would be clean. Naaman grows angry with these instructions. In v. 11: "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy." But Naaman's servant spoke to him in v. 13: "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, "Wash, and be clean?"

We have the same dilemma in our modern culture today. Many of us have a hard time believing in the possibility of genuine, supernatural miracles. They just aren't part of our everyday experience. And yet according to Scripture that is precisely what baptism is—a MIRACLE.

How different is this from Naaman's situation to be faced with mere water as the conveyer of the miracle of healing and salvation. But Naaman is one thing. The rub in it all is when we come to infants. How can an INFANT have the faith that Scripture speaks of that is part of salvation? The tragic irony is that we begin to assume that our conscious faith is somehow the product of our own acceptance or decision. But we lose track of the fact that faith throughout the New Testament is always a miracle of God.

Let me illustrate this point with three New Testament witnesses: Luke, John, and Paul. Luke tells us over and over again that we must repent in order to receive the kingdom of God. Acts 2:38 says REPENT and be baptized. Similarly, take a look at Luke 5:32. Jesus says: "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners TO REPENTANCE."

Now take a look at Mark 2:17. There's not a word about repentance (unless you're looking at the KJV). It's not in Matthew either (Mt. 9:13). On the other hand, repentance is a central motif in Luke's writings (e.g. 24:47; Acts 3:19; 5:31; 26:18-20). So how can a mere baby repent?

But there's more to Luke's emphasis on repentance. Take a look at Acts 5:31: "God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that HE MIGHT GIVE REPENTANCE TO ISRAEL and forgiveness of sins." And Acts 11:18: "When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, 'Then God HAS GIVEN even to the Gentiles THE REPENTANCE that leads to life." For Luke, it is God who "GIVES" repentance. In Luke 3:3, baptism is FOR the forgiveness of sins. In Luke 3:6, John interprets his baptismal message as the dawning of the salvation OF GOD. This is an era that was not possible apart from God. As impossible as it may seem for infants to repent, Luke explains that repentance is equally impossible for adults as well. Repentance is simply a gift or miracle of God.

This is a major motif in John as well. In John 15:16: "You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…."Even in John's programmatic prologue, in vv. 12-13: "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, NOT OF BLOOD OR OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH OR OF THE WILL OF MAN, BUT OF GOD." The words of the prologue here prepare for the introduction of several characters in John's narrative who just can't quite get it, and yet their misunderstanding is entirely "natural." Jesus will call his flesh true food and his blood true drink in John 6. Understandably the people listening think he is talking about cannibalism. I mean what would you think if you heard all this? It really forces us to realize how incredible it was that anyone could have believed in Jesus, from a human standpoint, that is.

In Eph. 2:9-10. By grace we are saved… it's not of works…."This is where the Lutheran understanding of predestination comes into play. In Eph. 1:4-5: "… he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of HIS WILL."

Another powerful passage is in Rom. 10:14-15,17: "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' … So FAITH COMES FROM WHAT IS HEARD, and what is heard through the word of Christ." Thus faith is a miraculous result of the Word of God.

In fact, in Gal. 3:2, 5: the translations often botch this phrase in the Greek, akoes pisteos. It's not the "hearing of faith." Rather, Paul is referring to the message that EVOKES faith. In v. 6 Paul goes on about Abraham's faith, his believing (pisteuo). So "pistis" in 3:2 and 5 should be taken as believing faith (and NOT "the" objective faith).

Then in 3:1 we have the objective message of Christ crucified. Now "akoes" can mean "hearing" or "message." After the objective presentation of Christ crucified in 3:1, "akoes" is most likely "messag,." i.e. the message of 3:1 of Christ crucified. Putting all this together we end up with "the message that EVOKES faith."

Or for another example, consider Rom. 9:16: "So it depends not on HUMAN WILL or exertion, but on God who shows mercy." Or in Phil. 2:12-13: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to WILL and to work for his good pleasure."

Given these strong motifs all throughout the New Testament, we can see that it is no more possible for an adult to receive faith than it is for an infant. As the disciples asked Jesus in Matt. 19:25: "Who then can be saved?" Jesus answers in v. 26: "'For mortals this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.'" What seems humanly impossible is possible only for GOD.

But even more than that, we find throughout Scriptures that God holds up infants and small children as our examples as to how to receive faith. In Matt. 18:1: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" Here are the disciples jockeying over their status as disciples. Then in vv. 2-3 Jesus places a child in their midst: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus is admonishing his DISCIPLES, and he tells them that children are our EXAMPLES for how to enter the kingdom of heaven. Adults must become LIKE CHILDREN. Then Matt. 19:13-15 the disciples again rebuke parents bringing children to Jesus. Jesus responds: "'Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.'" And again, it is in the context of such discussion of little children that we have in Matt. 19:26: "'For mortals this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.'" Luke 18:15-17 is the parallel account of this. Notice Luke's language in v. 15: they were bringing INFANTS to Jesus! "For it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." So we should not be surprised that throughout the Scriptures, infants are ascribed believing faith, believe it or not.

In Matthew 18 after speaking about small children as our examples of how to receive the kingdom of God, Jesus refers in v. 6 to "these little one, which BELIEVE in me." These little ones BELIEVE in Jesus! This is a real stumbling block for those who do say that babies cannot believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Or in the words of Ps. 71:5-6: "For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother's womb." Or in Matt. 21:15-16: "But when the chief priests and scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' they became angry and said to him, 'Do you hear what these are saying?' Jesus said to them, 'Yes, have you never read, "Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself?"'" In Luke 1:15, it is said of John the Baptist: "…even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit." Then in v. 41: "When Elizabeth heard May's greeting, the child leaped in her womb." Elizabeth exclaims in v. 44: "For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy."

But faith is also the ONLY way to be saved according to Eph. 2:8-9 and Rom. 10:9-12, 14: "…because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The Scripture says, 'No one who believes in him will be put to shame.'" … 'For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'"

But all this raises a problem. How can we know which baby to baptize? Which one has the faith necessary for baptism? What Jesus tells us in Matthew and Luke about infants and small children provides a wonderful response to this question. If Jesus offers infants and small children to us adults as our examples as to how to receive the kingdom throughout Matthew, then we can be absolutely certain that they will receive the grace offered in baptism, even more so than an adult. After all, they're our examples for how to receive God's kingdom.

Now all this does not get us out of the responsibility as adults that our infants are to be subsequently brought up in the faith. Eph. 6:4 tells us that our responsibilities don't end with infant baptism. What began as an infant faith must mature even as the person matures. Children are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The danger is that an infant's faith would not mature, and the infant could fall away from faith. An infant faith must mature even as the rest of the child. The child needs not only physical food to grow up.

An infant falling away from faith sounds drastic, but several passages warn of believers falling away: In Matt. 13:5-7, 18, 20-22 we read in the parable of the sower, and I ask you to listen to this from the perspective of falling away from faith: "Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. . Hear then the parable of the sower. … As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing."

Lest there by any doubt about falling away, keep a hand in Matthew and then look at how Luke explains the parable of the sower in Luke 8:13: "The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they BELIEVE only for a while and in a time of testing fall away." We know that this is saving belief from the prior verse: "The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not BELIEVE AND BE SAVED." Thus, believers can fall away from their faith. Similarly in 2 Pet. 2:20-22: "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have KNOWN THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS than, AFTER KNOWING IT, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, 'The dog turns back to its own vomit,' and 'The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud.'"

Falling from the faith is a repeated motif all throughout Hebrews. For example, in Heb. 6:4-6: "For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been ENLIGHTENED, and HAVE TASTED THE HEAVENLY GIFT, and HAVE SHARED THE HOLY SPIRIT, and have TASTED the goodness of the word of God and the POWERS OF THE AGE TO COME, and then having fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and holding him up to contempt. Heb. 10:26-27: "For if we willfully persist in sin AFTER HAVING RECEIVED THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries."

Now I have really emphasized this because many of the same people who deny infant baptism often affirm the view that once you become a Christian you can never fall away. And when they look at the poor witness of many baptized as babies, they deduce that infant baptism never really saved them.

Thus Eph. 6:4 admonishes parents to bring their children up in "the discipline and instruction of the Lord. "Deut. 6:7 instructs the Israelites to teach their children the way of the Lord. Even adults need to be reminded and taught the meaning of their baptism.

In Rom. 6:3-4 Paul finds it necessary to even remind the Roman adults about the meaning of their baptisms: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

Quite apart from baptism's ability to create faith in the infant, baptism is also commanded in Matt. 28:18-20. As we have seen, infants figured prominently all throughout Matthew's narrative. We saw this in Matthew 18 and 19, and then 21.

Along with all the other "non-people" who receive faith throughout the narrative and are welcomed into the kingdom, we find infants being welcomed into God's kingdom

So by the time we get to Matthew 28's command to baptize all nations, everyone, it is very clear who Jesus had in mind for inclusion into God's kingdom.

Along with Christ's command, there is also the parallel Paul sees between baptism and circumcision in Col. 2:11-13: "In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses…." How could anyone read this when infants were the primary recipients of circumcision and not think of baptizing infants? And yet Paul does not qualify his remarks.

Further, adults receiving baptism after coming to faith would mirror Abraham's receiving circumcision as a sign of his faith. But we always remember that circumcision, this sign of faith, was for the infants in Abraham's household as well.

One last point: the households in Acts. It is common to talk about how infants and children were included in the ancient concept of the household and so when the Bible talks about households getting baptized that would have to include the infants.

I would like to take line of reasoning one step further to even firmer ground.

As we read through the baptism of households in Acts, it is a recurrent motif that salvation and baptism were intended for EVERYONE in the household. Listen to how Acts 11:14 describes the conversion and baptism of Cornelius' household. The angel had proclaimed that Peter would come to their household and "what he will… and EVERYBODY… "he will give you a message by which you and your ENTIRE household will be saved." In the baptism of the jailer's household in Acts 16, listen to vv.30-31 and then 33: "Then he brought them outside and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' They answered, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.' … At the same hour of night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his ENTIRE family were baptized without delay."

Acts 18:8 tells of the baptism of Crispus' household: "Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with ALL his household…." This constant emphasis on ALL the household being baptized makes Luke's point about baptism. It is simply intended for ALL. Whether there were infants present in these specific instances in Acts or not is irrelevant. Luke unequivocally describes the concern as for EVERYONE. There would have been no question in antiquity about who should be included.

Although we must admit that the presence of infants and small children was likely given the size of the ancient household which included also the slaves and their children. The earliest church fathers accepted infant baptism without any question or debate. When debate does show up in the evidence, those disagreeing with the practice of baptizing infants, such as Tertullian, fully admit that it had been the practice since the apostles. It had simply been assumed up to that point.

When I wrote Baptized Into God's Family, I put together a summary on pp. 109-113 that I hoped pastors and parents could use for a quick overview of the reasons for infant baptism with friends and non-Lutherans as a basis for discussion. I refer you to that discussion.

I hope that you will find this a helpful resource, especially as you counsel parents prior to the baptism of a baby so that the parents and family will understand exactly what God is doing in infant baptism and what it all means for the child. Or that you would have a quick resource to offer non-Lutherans who are questioning the doctrine. At the time, I wish I had had something like this when I was in college. But alas, God always has His own timing, and in retrospect we realize that His timing is always the best timing. I'm sure my wife would agree.

Thank you again for letting me come and speak with you. I have enjoyed being in your midst and you all have been a great blessing to me and my wife. Thank you!

Dr. Andrew Das is Assistant Professor of Theology and Religion at Elmhurst College.

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