Why Baptize An Infant?
Delivered on May 16, 2004
The Rev. Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
9 Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come.
10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner-- those who are not your offspring.
13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.
13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
14 Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
Why do we baptize infants?
Have you ever thought about that?
Baptism is one of the most important experiences in a Christian’s life. It is, in fact, the Sacramental ceremony through which we announce to the world that we have become Christian.
And yet, for the infants we baptize, there is no decision to become a Christian.
There will be no memory of this very important day.
There is no understanding of what this event means.
But still, we baptize infants.
Why do we baptize infants?
1. The Love of God
One obvious reason is because God loves children.
You don’t have to be an old man, a college graduate, an accomplished musician, a wise person, or good person. You don’t have to prove your worth at all. God loves us freely – whether we deserve it or not makes no difference.
I remember the first time I met my son. He was brand new in the world and I fell in love with him instantly. This was before he uttered those famous words, “Daddy.” This was before he created any of those artistic masterpieces that hung on our refrigerator door. This was before his first report card, his first homerun, his graduation from high school or his enlistment in the Air Force Reserves. It was even before his first diaper change. I loved my son instantly and freely. He didn’t have to earn my love, or work for my love, or deserve my love.
And that is the way God loves us.
We don’t have to work for his love, earn his love, or wait for his love.
The baptism of infants is a powerful demonstration that God’s love is freely given.
Some people don’t believe in infant baptism because they don’t believe children need to be baptized, which is a symbolic washing away of sins. They say children are innocent. People who say this, and who claim that children are innocent, obviously have never had children.
There is no creature more self-centered than a baby. They scream when they are hungry, they demand attention, they are the center of the universe. And we love them for that.
Of course, we get tired of that when they are teenagers and we realize they are still self-centered, still scream when they are hungry, and still think they are the center of the universe.
We need to baptize infants because they need to be symbolically washed from sin as much as any of us.
Human sinfulness is not something that comes to us between the time we learn to walk and the time we learn to drive a car. It is with us from the beginning. It is our nature.
This is taught to us in the Bible. In the Old Testament Psalm, Psalm 51 verse 5, the writer says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Note: Genesis 8:21, Psalm 58, Romans 5:18)
In his New Testament letter to the Romans, Paul said, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23-24)
Notice that is says everyone. It doesn’t exclude children. It doesn't say that they're exempt until they reach an age of accountability. Everyone stands condemned.
Everyone is in need of salvation, even children.
So these different passages all tell us that children are guilty of sin. They, therefore, do have a need for baptism.
Another thing about children – not only are they are they sinful and stand in need of the Sacrament of Baptism – they can also believe.
A person does not have to wait until he or she is an adult in order to believe. In fact, I know a lot of very young children who have faith far greater than adults.
How many adults here have taught children in a Sunday School class only to soon discover that the children had a profoundly deep faith beyond that of the teacher?
In the Old Testament, the Psalmist wrote, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! … From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.” (Ps 8:1-2)
When does a baby know that Mom or Dad loves that child? Ask any new mother if her baby understands he or she is loved, and Mom will probably insist that the baby knows from the first moments of life that Mom and Dad love that child.
And pity the person who would argue with a new mother about her baby!
Children can know the Lord. They may not understand the Lord. They may not comprehend the Trinity. They may not fully understand Salvation.
But how many adults can say they fully understand the Lord?
The Apostle John wrote in his first New Testament Letter, “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.”
At every age in life, we can know the Lord.
2. The Mandate of the New Testament
Another important reason why we baptize infants is that Jesus has commanded us to baptize "all nations." And children are part of “all the nations.”
We introduced our baptism service a few moments ago with a reading from Matthew’s Gospel, in which Jesus instructs us “Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28:20). Children are certainly a part of "all nations."
When Jesus commanded us to teach and baptize all nations, He didn't make any exceptions. He didn't exclude the children.
People will sometimes oppose the baptism of infants by pointing out that the Bible does not specifically describe the baptism of an infant. However, throughout Scripture, it seems to be an assumption that infants as well as older children and adults were to be included in the Covenant of Christ.
In the Book of Acts, Peter preached a sermon on Pentecost Day. At the end of it, people asked, “What shall we do (to be saved)?”
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children.” Acts 2:38-39
Later in the book of Acts, Paul and Silas are in prison and they convince the guard of the prison of the truth of the Gospel of Christ. The guard asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-- you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31)
This is not the only time that a household, and entire family was baptized. (I Corinthians 1:14-16)
It can be safely assumed there were children in some of these households, otherwise the Bible would have said, “you and your wife” rather than “you and your household.”
This may sound like we are assuming a lot. But not in light of the background of the Old Testament.
3. The Concepts of the Old Testament
We don’t see baptisms taking place in the Old Testament times. The Covenant ceremony was not baptism, but circumcision. And we do see very clearly that infants and children were presented for circumcision.
In our Old Testament lesson, God instructs Abraham that he and his descendents are to present every male child for circumcision when the child is only 8 days old.
Children were always included in the community whenever the Covenant with God was renewed. In Deuteronomy, the nation reaffirms its relationship with God, and we read, “All of you are standing today in the presence of the LORD your God-- your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives… You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the LORD your God.” (NIV)
In the Old Testament, the covenant was expressed through the act of circumcision, the cutting away of skin as a symbol of the cutting away of sin.
In the New Testament, the covenant is expressed through the act of baptism, the washing away of sin.
If children received the sign and seal of the covenant in the Old Testament, then it would stand to reason that children receive it in the New Testament.
4. The traditions of the church.
This was the understanding of the Christian Church through most of its history.
For over a thousand years, Christian Churches practiced Infant Baptism without any significant challenge that baptism should wait until one became an adult.
Irenaeus was one of the earliest teachers and writers of the Christian Church. He was a student of a man named Polycarp, who in turn was a student of the Apostle John of the New Testament.
Shortly before his death, not quite two hundred years after the birth of Christ, Irenaeus wrote about baptism and said, “For the Lord came to save everyone who would be born again – including the infants, and the small children, and the boys, and the mature, and the older people."1 In other words, no matter what your age, God invites you into a covenant relationship. From his statement, it seems quite apparent that infant baptism was commonly practiced in the earliest years of the church. Adv. Haereses II, 22,4
Origen was another of the earliest teachers and ministers of the church. Writing less than 3 centuries after the birth of Christ, Origen wrote "The church received from the apostles the tradition to give even little children to baptism."2 Again, an indication that from the earliest years of the church, infant baptism was commonly practiced. (Comm. In Epis. Ad Romanos, lib. V.)
In fact it really wasn’t until the Christian Church was over 1,500 years old that people began to seriously question the baptism of infants. During the Protestant Reformation, when the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalian and other churches were splitting from the Roman Catholic Church, one group called the Anabaptists began opposing infant baptism in favor of adult, or believer’s baptism. (P 635 Berkof
But we, and most of the Christian Churches, continue to baptize infants. Why?
Because God loves them.
Because Scripture mandates it.
Because church history affirms it.
Several years ago, I had a couple in my church who were childless, and who wanted desperately to have children. They went through all of the scientific and technological possibilities, and nothing. Then they tried to adopt, and nothing.
Until one day they stumbled into a unique opportunity.
Only it wasn’t one child – it was a set of 4 siblings. Four sisters ranging in age from a few days old, to 13 years. Four sisters with the same mother, but each with a different father. The oldest had been in and out of trouble, and had experienced abuse that no child, or adult, should have to endure. The youngest child, a very tiny baby, still had a blood system full of illegal drugs because of her mother’s use of drugs throughout her pregnancy. The middle children were difficult to manage and had been shuttled from one foster home to another.
I was in the courtroom the day these four children were adopted by their new parents. Their mother had given up custody, and now the judge proclaimed that they were now members of a new family.
That Sunday, the family gathered in the church for a baptism service. All four were baptized. The Sacrament of Baptism, which is described on occasion in the New Testament as adoption into God’s family. (Galatians 4:4-5)
The 13 year old who had been a prostitute.
The middle children who had been so difficult they had been shuffled from one foster home to another.
The infant whose screams were from the withdrawal from drugs her mother had taken before the child was born.
In the courtroom, that new mother and father promised to love those children, whether they deserved it or not. Whether they were easy to love or not. Whether they would be pleasant children or not.
And later that week, around the baptism font, God promised to love those children -- again, whether they deserved it or not.
Why do we baptize infants? Because the love of God doesn’t wait. The love of God is freely, and quickly given.
And so we celebrate with joy and thanksgiving, the baptism of infants.
Copyright 2004, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.