Infant baptism (also called paedobaptism and pedobaptism), the baptism of the infant children of believers, is an ancient custom of much of Christianity, including the Roman Catholic church, the Orthodox churches, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists, to name a few. Churches with the name "Baptist" in their titles usually practice Believers baptism.
Pedobaptism as status of membership
Since baptism is the rite of initiation into the church, pedobaptists recognize that the children of believers are both members of their nuclear families and members of the church to which their parents belong. The alternative would be to treat them as mere unbelievers or inquirers. Pedobaptism also recognizes that membership in the church is not just a matter of intellectual understanding and assent. It is thus much easier for churches that practice pedobaptism to include people who are mentally impaired and may never be capable of intellectually understanding the creed, but nevertheless practice their faith and participate in the church as they are able.
Supporters and opponents of pedobaptism
Pedobaptists point to a number of passages where reference is made to baptising a person and their household – the households of Lydia, Crispus, and Stephanas are mentioned by name Acts 16:14-15, 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16. Pedobaptists argue that one's household would include one's children, even infants, and add that this is how the Church has traditionally understood baptism throughout its history. In addition, pedobaptists point to Psalm 51, which reads, in part, "surely I was sinful from birth," as indication that infants are capable of sin and thus in need of salvation.
When children are baptized, the ritual consists of two parts, separated by a few years. The first is when the parents act on behalf of their child, the second part (known as confirmation), is when the child accepts the baptism and takes responsibility for his or her own soul. Eastern Christian practice differs from this in that baptism and chrismation (the equivalent of confirmation in Eastern Christianity) are celebrated at the same service when infants are admitted into the church.
It is a well established Biblical precedent that parents must act on behalf of their children until they are of age. Christian infant baptism is analogous to circumcision in the Jewish covenant. (Also see Joshua 24:15.) Among Methodists, infant baptism is seen as a celebration of prevenient grace, that gift of God which precedes any human effort toward the divine or toward salvation.
Opponents of pedobaptism state that the baptism of infants is unbiblical. Baptists and some other denominations do not accept infant baptism as valid, and Christians who transfer membership to denominations that practice believers' baptism are generally required to be rebaptized. It is also controversial because it requires that the child be baptized in a religion without its consent.
Covenant theology and baptism
Covenant theology is a style of theology held by many (if not most) Reformed churches which, among other things, allows for the baptism of infants. A notable exception to this are Reformed Baptists who naturally adhere to Believers Baptism.
Put simply, this theology sees that God's covenants recorded in the Bible are all one in the same (although with different emphases). God's covenant with Israel (via Abraham, Moses, Solomon and others) is transferable to the present with regards to the church. Covenant theologians see in Old Testament Israel the people of God (the church) before Christ was born. For the Covenant theologian, therefore, there is only one people of God - the church.
This idea is important when taking Baptism into account. According to the New Testament book of Hebrews, much of Israel's cultic worship has been replaced by the person and work of Christ. Moreover, important festivals in the Old Testament find a replacement in the New. The Passover festival, for example, was replaced by the Lord's Supper (or Eucharist).
Covenant theologians point out that the external sign of the covenant in the Old Testament was circumcision. Circumcision was performed upon the male children of Israelites to signify their external membership in God's people, not as a guarantee of true faith; the Old Testament records many Israelites who turned from God and were punished, showing that their hearts were not truly set on serving God. So while all male Israelites had the sign of the covenant performed on them in a once off ceremony soon after birth, such a signifier was external only and not a true indicator of whether or not they would later exhibit true faith in Yahweh.
In the New Testament, circumcision is no longer seen as mandatory for God's people. However there is compelling evidence to suggest that the Old Testament circumcision rite has been replaced by baptism. For instance: "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism." (Colossians 2:11-12a)
In this sense, the analogy of baptism to circumcision seems to correctly point to children, since the historic Israelite application of circumcision was to infants, not to adult converts, of which there were few. Covenant theology, then, identifies baptism less as statement of faith as an assumption of identity; that is to say that infant baptism is a sign of covenantal inclusion.
Denominations Opposed to Pedobaptism
Among the denominations opposed to pedobaptism on theological grounds are Anabaptists, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Latter-day Saints. The last of these bases its opposition to the practice in the belief that one is not accountable for sin before reaching the age of eight. This is expounded in the Book of Moroni, chapter 8,which states:
- "[T]he baptism of your little children" is a "gross error" and a "solemn mockery".
- "[L]ittle children need no repentance, neither baptism . . . are whole . . . are not capable of committing sin . . . cannot repent . . . are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law."
Baptism and faith
Many pedobaptists view baptism as the place where a believer receives the Holy Spirit and thus mark it as the beginning of faith, whereas practitioners of believers baptism view baptism as an act of faith.
Lots of articles about Infant Baptism and Believer's Baptism from a Reformed and Protestant Perspective
Last updated: 05-07-2005 03:33:24
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04