Why Baptize Infants?

Is Infant Baptism Found in the Bible?

Since the Reformation much ink has flowed from the pens of writers discussing the pros and cons of infant baptism. The main argument has centered on what the Bible does or does not teach. This is a fallacious
contention for the simple reason that the New Testament canon was not established for all practical purposes until well into the fifth century. Even after this there were those who still disputed the use of all twenty-seven books.

During those early centuries the Church fathers were arguing what should be included in the New Testament, let alone using it for sole authority in settling theological questions. Therefore the emerging Church presuming the guidance of the Holy Spirit, made its rules dealing with some pastoral problems apart from the New Testament as they were encountered. The Seventh Day Adventists who observe the Jewish Sabbath challenge we who observe the Christian Sunday to show them in the New Testament where permission has been granted to abandon the seventh day of rest. We cannot for the simple reason that the Church in Rome made this as a binding law in the mid second century to commemorate the first Easter. However, while there are no explicit directions on baptizing children, there are implicit guidelines in the Scripture.

The first example of apostolic preaching in the New Testament is Peter’s Pentecost sermon. He is asked what must one do to be saved? “You must reform (repent: NIV) and be baptized each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ that your sins will be forgiven then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). This sermon is directed to adults as was true of all New Testament preaching. There is no explicit concern at this time for the spiritual welfare of children.

Paul’s Solution to the Problem

The letters of St. Paul written in the fifties apparently dealt with this problem for the time being. He writes that where one of two parents is a believer: “the children are holy” (1 Corinthians 07:14). Obviously it follows where both parents are believers this would also be true.

On the other hand where pagans came into the Church there are New Testament texts dealing with baptism that can be interpreted to include children and even infants. The use of the “household formula,” St. Paul writes (50s): “I baptized the household of Stephanus” (1 Corinthians 01:16). In Acts where Lydia was Paul’s first convert in Europe it says, “She and her household was baptized” (Acts 16:15). When the jailer in Philippi became a believer “he and his whole household was baptized” (Acts 16:33). It is hard to believe that in these households there were no children below the age of moral accountability or no infants.

The scene of Jesus blessing the children is another text pointing to infant baptism (Mark 10:13-16 and parallels Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17). “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to such as these that the kingdom belongs” (Mark 10:14). The Lukan version is more specific. “They even brought babies to be touched by him...Let the little children come to me. Don’t shut them out” (Luke 18:15-16).

How did one come to Jesus? It was through baptism. We are united to the body of Christ. Paul says: “It was in one spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Being added to the body of Christ, the Church, is a free gift from God. It is not through our own act or merits that save us. Salvation comes through God’s grace. Thus infants as well as adults can be objects of God’s grace.

John’s Gospel written in the nineties has these forbidding words in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus: “solemnly assure you that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being begotten of the water and the spirit” (John 03:05). This obviously refers to baptism.

The Church Fathers and Infant Baptism

In the writings of the Church Fathers, the Didache recognizes baptism by immersion and infusion (Pouring). Irenaeus writing in the late second century says “He came to save all through himself. All through him who are reborn in God—infants, children, youths, and old men.”

How did Paul define being born again? “Through baptism into his death, we were buried with him, so that just as Christ was raised from dead by the glory of the Father, we too, might have a new life” (Romans 06:04).

By the time of Hippolytus of Rome in his Apostolic Tradition (ca AD 215) infant baptism was very much part of the life of the church. He writes how it is to be done. “Prayer shall be offered over the water. Baptize the children first, and if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. If not, let their parents or other relatives speak for them. Next the men and then the women.”

Origen, an Eastern father, writes (AD 2440: “The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism, even to infants. Why? Because sin is in them.”  “ Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalms 51:03). Augustine in response to the Pelagian heresy that denied the doctrine of original sin and also said it was possible for one to live without sin, emphasized the fact of human solidarity that goes back to Adam. The Church’s practice of infant baptism was the key point in his argument because of original sin.

The Church came out of Jewish origins where circumcision took place on the eighth day after birth. Paul likens baptism to circumcision which was the entrance rite into Israel (Colossians 02:11-12).

Baptism in the Church Today

Vatican II in the document on the Church teaches that baptism incorporates us into the Church, orients us to the worship of God, and gives us a rebirth as sons and daughters of God.

The Church has always taught that baptism is necessary for salvation. However it has also taught that those who through no fault of their own were not baptized, are saved through the baptism of blood or desire.

The first would be cases where the person was martyred for their faith in Christ. The baptism of desire would be when one loves God above all things and desires to do all that is necessary for their salvation.

Infant baptism ideally takes place at mass in the presence of the parish. The parents and godparents make a profession of faith for the child. They pledge to see that the child is brought up in the faith. They have the serious responsibility to rear the child in a home that is governed by Christian values. The child will learn how to pray, reverence life, and grow into full Christian maturity through the example set by parents and godparents.

When that child reaches the age of moral responsibility he or she must then make their own personal commitment to the Lord.

Adult Baptism

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) provides a period of catechesis and exposure to the faith for the un-baptized adult. They are known as catechumens. They will make their own profession of faith (Acts 2:37-38). There are three steps that lead up to baptism which in most cases will take place at the Easter Vigil service which has its rites oriented to their reception.

The first step consists of inquiry on the part of the candidate and of evangelization and the precatechuminate on the part of the Church. It ends with the rite of acceptance into the order of the catechumens.

The second period includes catechesis and the rites connected with catechesis. Here they become acquainted with the Christian way of life and are helped by the example of and support of sponsors, godparents and the entire Christian community. The right of the enrollment of names occurs here. It comes to an end on the day of election.

The third and a much shorter period, ordinarily coincided with the Lenten preparation and enlightenment and includes the celebration of the scrutinizes, presentation of the creed and Lord’s prayer. The final rites are on Holy Saturday morning with baptism and first communion taking place at the Vigil service.

After baptism during the Easter season there is the post baptismal catechesis or mystagogy, marked by the new experience of sacraments and community.

Receiving Those Baptized in Other Churches into the Catholic Church

The status of these inquirers differs from that of the catechumens because through baptism they are already members of the Church and children of God. A program of training, catechesis suited to their needs, contact with the community of the faithful, and participation in certain liturgical rites are needed in order to strengthen them in the Christian life. There is the rite of the welcoming of the candidates. This process may take place anytime throughout the year at a time suited to the local parish.

"Why Baptize Infants?" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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