While Lutherans (and other subscribers to paedobaptism--another name for infant baptism) believe that we are conceived with Original Sin present from that very first moment that sparks life, we also believe that because faith comes through hearing, that faith, too, can follow at a very early age--perhaps even before birth. Who are we to say what God may or may not be able to accomplish? There is no "age of accountability (for that denies Original Sin being from conception), nor is there a need for a believer's baptism.
Now that I'm expecting again (14 weeks now!), it has been on my mind once more. At least in our Lutheran synod (LC-MS), the Pastor blesses the children who are not receiving communion with a remembrance of their baptism. I was so moved yesterday while we celebrated the Lord's Supper. Perhaps I've just never noticed this, or perhaps it is something that not all Pastors do, but my Pastor also blessed my unborn child, asking for God to guard it and bring it safely to His promises in baptism. What an incredible statement of our beliefs and our faith that even the littlest among us may also be worked upon by the Holy Ghost to be brought to faith!
I was two weeks old when I was baptized, and I do not remember a single day when I didn't have faith. For me, it was never a question of when I had faith, but perhaps when didn't I? I certainly can't remember.
When I was younger (maybe 7-8 years ago), I started writing a paper on why infant baptism is Biblically sound doctrine. I've since updated it several times, and it only seems to get longer every time I look at it. However, since 50-ish pages in a word document do not translate well into a blog post (particularly when there are lengthy appendices), I'm simply going to share some of the highlights here (mostly related Bible Verses and Early Church Father quotes). If you'd like to see the whole thing, feel free to comment or shoot me an email and I'll send it your way.
The issue of baptism, or more specifically, infant baptism, often boils down to three simple questions. First, what is the purpose of baptism? Second, can an infant, who cannot make a “choice”, have faith? Third, can a “choice” to believe bring salvation to you, and if so, what is the role of the Godhead in this “choice”? (note: those are the basis for the rest of the paper)
- Genesis 7:1-9:17; Exodus 14:13-31; Numbers 20:1-13; Joshua 3-4; 2 Kings 5:1-19; Ezekiel 36:22-29; Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:4-9; Luke 3:3-18 and 1 Corinthians 10:2, 11—the promises of water connected with the house of Israel (including John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Israel’s redeemer) are used to save and destroy, a dichotomy shown distinctly in baptism through the drowning of the Old Adam and birth of regeneration baptism gives; also showing the promise to all people of God.
- Psalm 51:2; Isaiah 1:16; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 12:2-3; Ezekiel 36:22-29 and Zechariah 13:1—the Old Testament points to salvation through baptism.
- Isaiah 32:15-17; Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Ezekiel 39:29; Joel 2:28-32; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16; Luke 11:13; Luke 24:49; John 1:33; John 4:10-14; John 7:37-39; John 14:16-17; John 15:26-27; John 16:7-14; Acts 1:4-5, 8; Acts 2:1-21, 32-39; Acts 10:43-48; Acts 11:15-18; Acts 15:7-9; Romans 8:11-13; Romans 14:17 and Ephesians 3:16—the promise of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament; the promise of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is fulfilled through the rest of the Testament and through our baptism into Christ.
- 1 Peter 3:20-21—baptism actually redeems not through the power of the individual but of the resurrected Christ.
- John 3:5-8 and Galatians 3:27-28—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.
- Romans 6 and Hebrews 2:14-15—one participates in Christ's death through baptism.
- Job 14:1; Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; John 3:5-6; Romans 3:20, 23; Romans 5:12, 18; Romans 8:6-8; Ephesians 2:1 and 1 John 1:10—speak of original sin and the necessity of baptism for ALL.
- 1 Corinthians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 15:50 and Romans 8:6-8—we cannot, of our own will, submit to God. The Holy Spirit, through the Word, causes faith in us.
- Luke 3:3, 6—baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, for salvation.
- John 15:16; Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 and Ephesians 2:9-10—we are predestined to faith, that is, it is not the work of man but of God by which we are atoned.
- Romans 10:14-15, 17—faith comes from what is heard - faith is a miraculous result of the Word of God.
- Romans 9:16 and Philippians 2:12-13—salvation cannot come by the hands of any man, but through the work of God in you.
- John 4:14; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 10:9-12, 14 and James 2:14-19—faith is the only way to salvation.
- Matthew 14:22-33—we come to Christ on (in) the water.
- Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-27; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Matthew 13:5-7, 18, 20-22 and Luke 8:13—we can fall away from our faith, once saved is not always saved.
- Colossians 2:11-13—baptism is the new circumcision.
- Exodus 4:24-26—the importance of circumcision and of obedience to God’s commands.
- Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-39; Acts 11:14, Acts 16:14-15, 30-31, 33; Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16-17 and Colossians 2:11-12—who is to be baptized - whole households, which includes infants, were baptized.
- Joshua 8:35—infants have always been included in the Biblical understanding of family and nations.
- Psalm 8:2; Psalm 22:9-10; Psalm 71:5-6; Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 18:1-6; Matthew 21:15-16; Luke 1:15, 41, 44; Luke 18:15-17—infants can (and do) have faith.
- 2 Timothy 3: 14-16—Timothy had faith from infancy.
- Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:14; Luke 10:21; Luke 18:15-17; Acts 11:14; Acts 16:15, 33 and 1 Corinthians 1:16—the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children.
- Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-39; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-10; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:25-28; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 2:11-14; 1 Peter 3:20-21 and Titus 3:5—the blessings of baptism.
Adapted below from two article (found here and here) are just a few examples from early church fathers (many more exist), showing how infant baptism has been practiced since the inception of Christianity.
- Polycarp (69-155), at his martyrdom, said, “Eighty and six years have I served the Lord Christ.”
- Justin Martyr (100 - 166) stated that, “Many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples since childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years.”
- Irenaeus (130 - 200) wrote in his Against Heresies II 22:4 that Jesus “came to save all through means of Himself - all, I say, who through Him are born again to God - infants and children, boys and youth, and old men.”
- All 66 bishops at the Council of Carthage in 254 stated that, “We ought not hinder any person from Baptism and the grace of God... especially infants... those newly born.”
- Origen (185 - 254), in his Commentary on Romans 5: 9, said that “For this also it was that the church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants. For they to whom the divine mysteries were committed knew that there is in all persons a natural pollution of sin which must be done away by water and the Spirit.” He continues: “The Church has received from the apostles the custom of administering baptism even to infants. For those who have been entrusted with the secrets of divine mysteries, knew very well that all are tainted with the stain of original sin, which must be washed off by water and spirit.” Origen also stated in his Homily on Luke 14, that “Infants are to be baptized for the remission of sins.”
- Cyprian (215 - 258) writes, “In respect of the case of infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man... Spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision... we ought to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins - that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.”
- The Sixteenth Council of Carthage in 418 unequivocally stated: “If any man says that newborn children need not be baptized... let him be anathema.”
- Augustine (354 - 430), declared in De Genesi Ad Literam, X: 39, that, “If you wish to be a Christian, do not believe, nor say, nor teach, that infants who die before baptism can obtain the remission of original sin.” And again, “Whoever says that even infants are vivified in Christ when they depart this life without participation in His sacrament (Baptism), both opposes the Apostolic preaching and condemns the whole church which hastens to baptize infants, because it unhesitatingly believes that otherwise they cannot possibly be vivified in Christ.” In Enchiridion, Augustine declares, “For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none who in baptism does not die to sin.”
As we can see, just from this, infant baptism is not only the Biblically accurate doctrine on baptism, but it has been in practice since the beginning of Christianity (I would especially point out Polycarp, one of the Apostle John’s disciples—look how long he lived (86 years) and how long he had been a faithful servant of the Lord Christ (86 years)—coincidence? I think not…). Believer’s baptism, relatively speaking, is a new idea that was developed during the reformation by protestants. There is simply no Biblical or historical precedent to show that it was practiced in any way prior to then. Now, obviously, adults were baptized, but those are instances of conversion, which is an entirely separate matter. We notice that when God says confess with your mouth and be baptized, that there is not a priority in it, no need for one always to come before the other (particularly if you understand Greek). As long as you confess and believe, you are justified, sanctified and atoned for. Why would you deny baptism to the believers when God commands that all His children be baptized?
There was only ONE major opponent to infant baptism can be found before the 1520s. From the second article linked above:
“In the 1,500 years from the time of Christ to the Protestant Reformation, the only bonafide opponent to infant Baptism was Tertullian (160 - 215), bishop of Carthage, Africa. His superficial objection was to the unfair responsibility laid on godparents when the children of pagans joined the church. However, his real opposition was more fundamental. It was his view that sinfulness begins at the "puberty, of the soul," that is "about the fourteenth year of life" and "it drives man out of the paradise of innocence" (De Anima 38:2). This rules out the belief in original sin. Tertullian’s stance, together with other unorthodox views, led him to embrace Montanism in 207. Montanism denied the total corruption and sinfulness of human nature. With its emphasis upon the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, it was the precursor to the modern Charismatic Movement.”
The Lutheran Confessions (Book of Concord) address Baptism (in general) and Infant Baptism (in specific) numerous times.
- Augsburg Confession: Article IX: Of Baptism.
- Apology to the Augsburg Confession: Article IX: Of Baptism.
- Smalcald Articles: V. Of Baptism.
- Small Catechism: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
- Large Catechism: Holy Baptism. and Of Infant Baptism.
- Visitation Articles: Concerning Holy Baptism.