The Evangelical church at large today seems to often misrepresent and misunderstand Infant Baptism in a number of ways. This list should not be seen as comprehensive or extensive. It is really just a cursory look at some of the common misunderstandings. It should also not be seen as a diatribe against any particular position, though the views and biases of the author, a committed Presbyterian, will certainly be seen in how I interact with some of these myths.

 

1) It’s a Roman Catholic practice

Many evangelicals automatically associate infant baptism with the Roman Catholic church. Because of this it can seem strange when they encounter Protestant brothers and sisters who have what seems to be very similar theology as them who also baptize infants. This (like many of the other myths) stems from the fact that infant baptism is a practice that predates the institution of the Roman Catholic church. Reformed churches and Catholic churches share this practice because they both recognize it’s historicity, though they have very different theological rationales for it.

2)  It washes away Original Sin

Those who associate infant baptism with Roman Catholicism might also mistakenly associate it with the Roman Catholic doctrine of Original Sin. In their minds, infant baptism may serve to remove original sin from the baby allowing the child to start with a proverbial moral blank slate. This is not the historic Reformed position on baptism. To the Reformed, baptism is not so much a literal washing away of sin, but a sign and a seal that points to the ultimate washing away of sin in Christ.

3) It is a heretical practice

People in evangelical circles like to throw the “H word” around a little bit too loosely and sometimes claim that infant baptism is heresy. However, there has never been any historic church council that has condemned it as such and it has no real logical or practical ties to any recorded heresy. If someone is going to call infant baptism heresy, the only real justification they could have for doing so is that they just really want to consider it as such.

4) It represents Baptismal Regeneration

Some also associate Infant Baptism with Baptismal Regeneration. They think that in Infant Baptism’s theological system, the baptizing of the infant makes the baby saved. This is simply not true. According to historical Reformed theology, baptism has never marked the actual salvation of the infant.

5) Credo-Baptism is the standard position

In the current state of affairs, it certainly does seem that baptist theology is the standard position of the church and that those who hold to Infant Baptism are the outliers. It should be noted, however, that throughout history this was not at all the case. From the earliest days of the church up until around the Reformation, baptist theology did not exist. Even after the Reformation, it did not come to prominence until it spread in North America. Historically speaking, the standard position of the Church regarding baptism was always Infant Baptism.

6) The Burden of Proof is on the Paedo-Baptist

With that being said it should also be noted that when talking about baptism the burden of proof should be on the credo-baptist to show why their position should be adopted in the face of such historic and pervasive opposition.

7) It is based only on tradition

One might then bring the argument that Infant Baptism is based solely in tradition and that historicity does not necessarily ensure that a doctrine is true. However throughout Church history, there have been many exegetical investigations into the Biblical precedent for Infant Baptism. The tradition of the doctrine in this instance is built upon Scripture.

8) There is no Biblical Precedent for it

Along with the previous myth is the myth that there is no actual Biblical precedent for Infant Baptism. This is quite false indeed. There may not be any proof-texts that outright say “baptize your babies” but the Church has historically recognized that infant baptism fits in with God’s dealing with whole nations, peoples, and families in redemptive history. It notices a continuity of the way in which God deals with his people from the Old Testament context to the current day in light of New Testament developments.

9) It has nothing to do with circumcision

Opponents of infant baptism might deny that there is any correlation between the Old Testament practice of Circumcision and the New Testament practice of baptism. This is where the continuity between Old and New Testament is most focused for the advocates of Infant Baptism. Paul Connects the two in Colossians 2:11-13. What needs to be recognized is that in the Reformed conception, both circumcision and baptism are signs and seals of the same thing. The signs are different but the thing signified is the same. The thing signified is Christ’s redemptive work. Peter says that baptism is not a removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clean conscience. It is appeal to something greater, an appeal to a greater washing. Circumcision likewise is an appeal to the redemption of Christ as well. As God revealed overtime, baptism became the clearer sign, a preliminary fulfillment of Circumcision.

10) Since we don’t see any infants being baptized in the Bible we shouldn’t baptize infants.

Just because we don’t see many explicit baptisms of babies in the New Testament doesn’t mean that that was not the practice of the New Testament church. In Acts 18:8 we see a whole household (which most likely contained children) being baptized. We see this again in 1 Corinthians 1:16 and again with the Phillipian jailer in Acts 16:30-34. We also see in Acts 2:38-39 that Peter even goes so far as to say “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Don’t miss that the promise is for you and for your Children. Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 10:2 that all who passed through the Red sea were baptized in the cloud and in the sea… including the children.

Share:

Comments

  1. Frank Turk (@Frank_Turk)

    Well, it was all fine until #4, and then it went down-hill from there. While I agree that these may be loopholes in Presbyterian paedo-baptism, it’s not hardly a uniform belief that baptizing an infant doesn’t cause saving faith. Lutherans would have a word with you, at least.

    To the rest, the fact that there is a Lutheran/Presbyterian divide on what the meaning of baptism is ought to, at least, make one suspicious of the kind of argument being put forward in #5-6-7-8-9-10.

    However, I’ll grant you’re not a heretic. 🙂 Just disobedient.

    1. Brandon Smith Article Author

      Yes, there is a plethora of sacramental theologies out there. The three camps of the reformation represented by Zwingli, Calvin, and Luther have more or less been carried down into the Baptist, Reformed, and Lutheran denominations respectively, but that could just as much be an apologetic against any of the three camps. Presbyterians agree some with Baptists and some with Lutherans, it seems strange to fault us for that.

      I’m not sure as to why the Lutheran/Presbyterian distinction would make one suspicious of the rest of the list though. It seems like my Lutheran brothers and sisters wouldn’t take much issue with anything on this list with the exception of maybe #4. Even still they would probably want to qualify what they meant by baptism actually saving the child.

      What both the Lutherans and the Presbyterians agree on though, is the fundamental unity between Old and New Testaments, and that seems to be where the Baptists falter.

      1. Frank Turk (@Frank_Turk)

        Yes, I think you don’t understand my objection to point #4 and it’s impact on the items which follow it.

        Your claim in #4 is “According to historical Reformed theology, baptism has never marked the actual salvation of the infant.” This statement is simply false because there is not one uniform “refomational” view, and the earliest reformational view (Lutheranism) does in fact say that baptism is the place where a child is saved. Because this is true, for example, saying, “Historically speaking, the standard position of the Church regarding baptism was always Infant Baptism,” is misleading at best — because it begs the question “which theology of infant baptism?” Further, it also mistakes the majority view 1500 years after the death of Christ with the majority view, for example, in 200 AD.

        Because #4 is not (at best) biased and incomplete, it influences the other conclusions here to their detriment.

        1. Brandon Smith Article Author

          Frank, I think I understand your objection, I just don’t think it holds water. What it seems like you are doing is conflating two distinct strands of “reformational” theology. Notice the capital “R” that I used in Reformed theology. I am referring to the historic Reformed tradition of Calvin, Bucer, and Knox (whose tradition, If I’m laying my cards on the table, I am a beneficiary of). I am talking about that reformed tradition that consists of the Continental Reformed and Presbyterian denominations who subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards respectively.

          With that said, the point still stands that, though there were disagreements as to what was happening in Baptism, the introduction of Credo-baptism is a 16th century novelty, not rooted in the ancient Church of the first century.

          I also fail to see how the alleged bias of #4 necessarily entails the falsity (or at least suspicion) of what follows.

    2. Nathaniel Gray Sutanto

      Just got a message from Carl Trueman to pass to Frank Turk: “Tell him I know where he lives and where his kids go to school.”

  2. Nathaniel Gray Sutanto

    Well!

    We’re ‘happy’ enough to have the infamous Frank Turk of Pyromaniacs comment on our website. I’m sure Prof. Carl Trueman would be delighted to hear this. And you can tell them that no, you were not ignored at our blog. The pyromaniac blog, too, is a fun read.

    Point granted though. This was definitely written from a narrowly Presbyterian position, addressing Baptistic evangelicals. A follow-up post would definitely need to take into account the Lutheran position.

  3. Jason Van Bemmel

    Frank, the Christian Church (Church of Christ)/Disciples of Christ tradition believes that salvation happens at the time of baptism by immersion. Does this disagreement among those who practice baptism by immersion mean that you are wrong? 😉

    I used to be a Baptist and now I’m a PCA pastor. I’ve wrestled deeply with this question and both sides can be guilty of over-simplifying and condemning the other.

  4. Jeremy W.

    “Salvation by Decision” = “Believers Baptism Only”

    “Salvation by Predestination” = “Believers Baptism and Household Baptism”

    A persons views of baptism are typically effected by their view of salvation.

    1. Daniel Blanche

      Well, you could rephrase that as:
      “salvation by faith”=”believers’ baptism only”
      “salvation by grace”=”believers’ and household baptism”

      But then, we all believe both of those things, right?

  5. Josh Hoban

    11) Paedo Baptism is fully supported by covenant theology and retains the organic connection with the Old Covenant.

    The Old Covenant principles (racial distinction, a national theocracy, racial perpetuity, and federal headship), which were identified by infant circumcision, do not correspond with the nature of the new covenant. To transfer infant circumcision to baptism is to transfer old covenant natural principles, which have been abolished, into a new and spiritual covenant in which they do not fit. The new covenant is better in that there is no racial distinction, no national theocracy, no racial perpetuity, and no old covenant federal headship (Jer. 31:29).
    Under the old covenant the physical seed of Israel by birth were automatically included in the Mosaic covenant, a covenant of works not of grace as the Presbyterians assert. Circumcision made them liable to keep the whole law (Gal. 5:3). Under the new covenant Christians receive the righteousness of Christ as our federal head, but this does not transfer to our children. We enjoy the benefits of the new covenant by virtue of being spiritually baptized into Christ. The old covenant continued by means of carnal generation; the new covenant is sustained by means of spiritual regeneration.

    1. JB

      Thanks Josh, but make sure you leave room for Isaac!

      “Now you,brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.”

      I think it might be helpful if you distinguish your view of circumcision from Dispensationalism and Paul K. Jewit in order for this to be a fruitful discussion.

      1. Josh

        The focus is on Abraham’s circumcision, not his children’s circumcision. Abraham’s circumcision was different from the circumcision of his children. He was circumcised after he believed.

        Romans 4:11 shows how Abraham’s circumcision signifies that he is the father of spiritual Israel, rather than simply the father of national Israel. Abraham’s circumcision, unlike infant circumcision, shows how Abraham’s spiritual seed can be declared righteous without being circumcised in the flesh

        By explaining the order of Abraham’s faith in relation to Abraham’s circumcision, Paul proves that circumcision is not necessary for the imputation of righteousness. This is the difference between Abraham’s circumcision and infant circumcision. Abraham’s circumcision can illustrate how a person can be justified by faith apart from the act of circumcision, infant circumcision cannot signify this truth.

  6. Drake

    #8 is comical. There is no infant baptism in scripture. Then you proceed to run around the point send say “the church says” while ignoring the questions.

    Babies can’t believe. Every time Jesus or Paul mention baptism it is in connection with belief. Again, babies can’t believe = paedo baptism is for the parents benefit, not the baby who will eventually have to accept Christ on his/her own. Ergo infant baptism only has meaning for covenant theology parents, not the infant pooping its diaper.

    1. Brandon Smith Article Author

      Drake, I never said “The Church says”… I said The Church recognizes what Scripture says, not in simplistic exegesis and proof-texting but in the context of the whole counsel of God as it is progressively revealed in redemptive history.

      Also, as I demonstrated, Luke records two occasions in Acts where people are baptised without making credible professions of faith. We see Paul affirm the same thing in 1 Corinthians and we also see Peter affirm that Baptism ought to be a sign given to children as “the promise is for you and for your children and for your children’s children.”

      Your straw-man there at the end is quite comical, though probably not for the reasons which you intended. What is downright comical is to claim that being raised in the context of instruction in the Word of God, in the Church of God, as a part of the covenant family of God, bears no benefit for the child, but only for the parents.

  7. Ted Bigelow

    I was good until…. #1 – ” infant baptism is a practice that predates the institution of the Roman Catholic church.”

    Well, not as the RC’s define their institution, so that really should be said with wink, or at least an asterisk. You’re busting a modern myth by creating another in your favor, at least, as an RC sees it?

    And c’mon, play the ancient church card, lose by the ancient church card. The writings affirming in the early church fathers connect the practice of infant baptism to regeneration almost 100% of the time, thus showing a epic disingenuity with #4. OK, not epic. How about mythical?

    Presbys come along over a millenium after the Fathers and tell them IB is a sign and seal, and that makes the baptizes the better? (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    Or go a step further. Presbyterians accept RC infant baptisms as valid Christian baptisms, knowing that during the rite, the priest was specifically teaching a heretical “baptismal-regeneration” theology.

    Uh oh. The H-word. Now the myth exposed is the myth embraced!

    1. Brandon Smith Article Author

      Ted,

      There is nothing disingenuous about noting the historicity of Infant Baptism when we rightly distinguish between false understandings of those Church Fathers who were in error. The reason I point to the historicity of Infant Baptism is to show it’s foundation as being in the first century Church. Wether or not subsequent generations got it wrong is inconsequential to this point. What they did not get wrong was that they noticed a unity between Old and New Testaments. Whether their understanding of Infant Baptism was theologically precise or not does nothing to establish Credo-Baptism as anything other than 16th century novelty.

  8. Mike Bull

    Josh’s comments above are spot on. Baptism is not a replacement for circumcision. It made both circumcision or uncircumcision redundant because it is about circumcision of heart. Baptism is not about generations but regeneration.
    Paedobaptism is “Abrahamic.” All its proof texts were spoken to Jews, including Acts 2:39, which was spoken to the last generation of Abraham’s children according to the flesh.
    Also, while Presbyterians do understand Covenant Theology, they wrongly import that understanding into the New Covenant, which is not a document or legal agreement but a Person: Jesus Christ.
    At the risk of breaking online etiquette, here’s a couple of links concerning the difference between the sons of Abraham and the sons of God, and also on why the “Covenant” terminology used by many Presbyterians is just legalism in disguise:

    Children of Heaven http://bitly.com/1tGpRi4
    A Man Without Genealogy http://bitly.com/1AEGNst
    and some satire: The Case For Covenantal Animal Baptism http://bitly.com/18OskYY

    Blessings.

    1. Brandon Smith Article Author

      Mike,
      You are right to say that it is not a replacement for circumcision. It is a sign that points to the same thing that circumcision pointed to in a more full, realized way. Circumcision of the heart and baptism of the heart are the same thing.

      Also, for Paul, the question isn’t are we children of Abraham or are we children of God. The question is are we children of Abraham in the likeness of Isaac, or are we children of Abraham in the likeness of Ishmael. The distinction is not between Child of God and Child of Abraham. It is between Child of promise or Child of the flesh. To be a Child of promise is to be a true child of Abraham. To be a child of God is to be a child of Abraham as we are united to the true and greater Child of Abraham, Jesus Christ, in whom the promises of God to Abraham are fulfilled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Security Question * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.