Was infant Baptism in the early Church?
In the Bible, is there evidence of Baptism of entire households? Can Jesus affect a child before the age of reason? Is there any reference to Baptism in relation to salvation in the Bible? Did the early Church Fathers deny infant Baptism?
A Baptist Minister once said to me, "The reason we don't baptize children is because they didn't do it that way in the Bible." I informed him that they did baptize children because Paul baptized entire households and no where does Paul exclude children from these households "After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation" (Acts 16:15). He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once.(Acts 16:33). I baptized the household of Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16). He went on to say that Jesus wasn't baptized until age thirty; but then age shouldn't make that much difference and he then changed the subject entirely. I was left wondering, didhe really not know that Paul baptized entire households?
It is a common misunderstanding among Anabaptists that a child may not be baptized before the age of reason because a confession of faith must precede and not follow baptism. Obviously, infants cannot confess their own faith. After
all, how can a small child come to Jesus, a child doesn't know right from wrong;
a child really can't experience Jesus. Well that's not how Jesus saw it; "Let the
children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of
heaven belongs to such as these" (Mt 19:14).
Anabaptists would suggest that this would refer only to older children. However,
there is a parallel text that says, "People were bringing even infants to
Him that he might touch them" (Lk 18:15). Protestant versions use the
word babies. (NIV), (NAS) Even though infants were brought to Jesus,
there is the belief that Jesus cannot affect them; in other words original sin
(Rom 5:12) cannot be removed because they have not made a formal confession
of faith. If it is impossible for God to remove original sin by baptism, then there is
no point in baptizing an infant.
The question here is, can an infant be affected by God before a confession of
faith? The Anabaptist would suggest that this confession is required; however,
this type of thinking cannot be substantiated in Scripture. In fact, the converse is
true. Jesus says, "Then children were brought to him that he might
lay his hands on them and pray" (Mt 19:13). If infants cannot in any
way be affected, then why did Jesus lay hands on them and pray? As
you can see Jesus did not require that infants have the intellectual ability to
make a confession of faith before they were brought to him.
Not only children, but also infants in the womb can be affected by God, and here
are some examples: "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant
leaped in her womb (Lk 1:41); Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you
(Jer 1:5). Though like a father, God has reared me from my youth,
guiding me even from my mother's womb" (Job 31:18). If an infant
cannot be affected, then how is it possible that God should guide
Job in his mother's womb?
Nowhere in the New Testament is there the faintest suggestion that adults only
could be baptized. The doctrine of the Anabaptists that forbids infant Baptism
is not in the Bible; it comes from their own teaching tradition. This tradition
is based on an assumption and is not in the Bible but. The assumption is that
infants cannot be affected by God until they are old enough to make a
confession of faith; therefore, infants cannot be baptized. The ultimate problem
with this is that it is not in the Bible; it is contrary to the Bible and it limits God,
"For nothing will be impossible for God" (Lk 1:37).
Not all Protestant groups reject the Biblical and historical notion of infant Baptism.
For example Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, Episcopalians and many others
retain the Biblical understanding of infant Baptism. Rejection of infant Baptism is
the minority position among non-Catholics.
The Anabaptists did not believe in infant Baptism, and those who were previously
baptized as infants were baptized again. The word Anabaptist means those who
baptize again. Not only the Catholic Church but also the Protestant reformers:
Luther, Calvin, and Zwingly, all considered the Anabaptists to be in error. Luther
had moved away from the Catholic Church, and Calvin and Zwingly had moved
progressively further still.
However, the Anabaptists had gone too far; what they were doing was considered a
great heresy. As a result, the Anabaptists were persecuted by Catholic and Protestant
governments. For example, "Zwingly ordered the drowning of a group of men in
Zurich who insisted on rebaptizing adults and who taught that only an adult Baptism,
or a believer's Baptism was valid" (History of the Catholic Church, p. 66, Alan Schreck).
This was one of many actions taken against the Anabaptists. Baptist, Mennonite, and
other churches that rebaptize often consider the Anabaptists to be part of their tradition.
I find it ironical that many Evangelicals of today, who refer to themselves as Calvinists
are not aware that John Calvin would have been one of their persecutors.
It is interesting to note that many people who have Anabaptist belief today are aware
of Catholic persecution of the Anabaptists but are seemingly unaware of persecution
by the major Protestant reformers. One such minister by the name of Bart Breuer*
speaks in glowing terms of Martin Luther, "That great Holy man of God," and yet if he
had lived at the time of Luther he would have been on the run from Luther.
One very anti-Catholic book, Fox's Book of Martyrs, mentions the Anabaptists and
Luther, "---Luther persisted in carrying out the work of the reformation, as well as by
opposing the Papists, as by combating the Anabaptists and other fanatical
sects; which, having taken the advantage of his contest with the Church of Rome,
had sprung up and established themselves in several places---" (p. 164). Foxes Book
of Martyrs is a corrupt document sometimes cited by Evangelicals against Catholics.
I wonder how many of these Evangelicals, who cite this book, realize that this same
book refers to them as fanatical sects.
Martin Luther in response to the Anabaptists had this to say; “The church, could
not have been permitted by God to remain in error for so long a time.”
He pointed out that the agreement of the e entire Church about infant Baptism is
a special miracle. To deny it is to deny the Church itself. This teaching of Luther
about infant Baptism is clearly stated in the Confession of Augsburg, 1530. There
the Anabaptists were condemned because they repudiated infant Baptism and
asserted that children are saved without Baptism. The error of the Anabaptist was
also clearly rejected by the Council of Trent (The Catholic Encyclopedia).
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient
while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in
which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured
baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an
appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who
has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and
powers subject to him (1 Peter 3:19-22).
The Anabaptists accused Zwingly of abrogating the principle of SOLA SCRIPTURA (the
Bible alone is your guide), and then they abrogated this same principle by believing
things that were not in the Bible. For example, they believed that a confession of faith
must precede and not follow Baptism, and they also repudiated infant Baptism;
however, neither of these statements are in the Bible. They accused Martin Luther
and other reformers of not having a scriptural basis for infant baptism when they were
the ones without the scriptural basis. "---Hope of finding some scriptural basis for
infant baptism subsequently led him (Menno Simons) to the writings of Luther, of Bucer,
and finally of Bullinger. ---'When I noticed from all these that writers varied so greatly
among themselves, each following his own wisdom, then I realized that we were
deceived in regard to infant baptism" (The Anabaptist Story, p. 177).
Someone asked me if the early Fathers of the church practiced and recommended
infant Baptism. Some people were saying to her that they did; others were saying that
they didn't. There is an excellent three volume work put out by William A. Jurgens
called, The Faith of the Early Fathers and it clearly tells us that the early Church
Fathers practiced infant Baptism.
IRENAEUS [A.D. 180-199] Against Heresies:
He came to save all through Himself, all, I say, who through Him are reborn in
God, infants and children and youths and old men. Therefore He passed through
every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for
children sanctifying those who are of that age,---(vol 1, p. 87).
HIPPOLYTUS of Rome [A.D. 215] The Apostolic Tradition: Baptize first the
children; and then if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. Otherwise,
let their parents or relatives speak for them (vol 1, p. 169).
ORIGEN [Post A.D. 244] Homilies on Leviticus:
The fact that in the church, baptism is given for the remission of sins; and
according to the usage of the church, baptism is given to infants. And indeed
if there were nothing in infants which required a remission of sins and nothing
in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would be superfluous
(vol 1, p. 207).
ORIGEN [Post A.D. 244] Commentaries on Romans:
The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving Baptism even to
infants. For the apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine
mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must
be washed away through water and the Spirit (vol 1, p. 209).
These are just four of many quotes by the Fathers that show infant Baptism to
be the rule in the early Church and that it had been received directly from the
Apostles. Assertions by Hubmaier, Estep and others that the early Church
Fathers were opposed to infant Baptism and that infant Baptism was not
practiced in the early church are incorrect.
What's more, the Fathers are not the only written record that we have of the
practice of infant Baptism. "In the ancient catacombs of Rome the
inscriptions on the tombs of infants make mention of their having been
baptized. One such inscription reads: 'Here rests Archilla, a newly-baptized;
she was one year and five months old; died February 23rd.'" (The Catholic
Church has the answer, Paul Whitcomb) It is very clear that both infant and
adult Baptism was practiced in the early Church. The only discussion among the
Fathers of the church was not whether infants should be baptized but when
infants should be baptized.
CYPRIAN [A.D. 251-252] Letter to Fidus:
As to what pertains to the case of infants: you said that they ought not be
baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the old law
of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think
that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his
birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the
course which you thought should be taken. Rather we all judged that the mercy
and the grace of God ought to be denied to no man born (vol 1, p. 233).
AUGUSTINE [A.D. 415] Letter to Jerome:
The Blessed Cyprian was not issuing a new decree but was keeping to the most
solid belief of the Church in order to correct some who thought that infants
ought not be baptized before the eighth day after their birth, when he said
that it was not the flesh but the soul that was [in danger of] being lost; and
he agreed with certain of his fellow bishops that a child is able to be duly
baptized as soon as he is born (vol 3, p. 9).
KRISTINE GAUER SAYS: You get baptized after you become saved or born
again. Once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior then you schedule your
baptism there is not one without the other so not sure why you think this?
LENNY ALT SAYS: Kristine, for all of your good intention, your quote is not
from the Bible, but your own tradition. Little children do not have the intellectual
capacity to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and yet Jesus said; "Let the
children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven
belongs to such as these" (Mt 19:14). Jesus did not refuse the infants even
though they could not as yet accept him as Lord and Savior. The prohibition
of infant Baptism is coming from your tradition, not the Bible. Indeed, Paul
Baptized entire households.