First of all, a reader’s daughter that I’ve been in dialog with has decided to come back home to the Catholic Church from the Church of Christ (CofC)! Very cool! One topic that she was struggling with is Infant Baptism, so this post is overdue. I’ve been asked this question a few times now, so I’ve decided to commit my thoughts to a post rather than just emails. It will most likely beg a future question about proper baptismal modes, so I’ll dig up an essay that I’ve written on that subject for a future post.
A better question would be, “Why doesn’t the Church of Christ baptize infants?” After all, Christians have been baptizing infants ever since Peter preached Baptism, and only recently in history have some Protestants decided to replace the sacrament (such as with “Baby Dedications” for Evangelicals) or force new parameters on Baptism altogether (such as the CofC denying Baptism for young children). Interestingly, “Bible only” communities cannot allow the “Bible only” to offer the last word on whether or not Infant Baptism is Jesus’ intent, because the “Bible alone” cannot satisfy the debate in any pro-Protestant way.
Catholics believe that the Bible explicitly and implicitly reveals truth. An example is how Paul’s Galatian audience had a foreknowledge of Cephas, which implies Peter’s catholic (universal) position. In comparison, The CofC uses a hermeneutical formula (a means of interpreting scripture—a means not found within scripture) called “CENI”. It stands for Command, Example, and Necessary Inference. Necessary Inference (NI), however, is the subjective “putty” that can fill any theological hole. The CofC presents the formula as a means of discovering “Biblical truths” but in reality it supports its needed allowance for filling gaps that are not provided by explicit “Commands” or “Examples”.
The NI that CofC members use to suggest that Infant Baptism is not “biblical” is not an inference gleaned from the Bible, it is gleaned from their preferred theology. The CofC has pre-determined theologies that force them to conclude that the Bible does not imply that young children were baptized—their NI has nothing to do with the Bible. Before illustrating the CofC’s erroneous theologies, let us look at the scriptures.
“Repent, and be baptized, every one of you…” (Acts 2:38 Revised Standard Version). “Rise and be baptized…” (Acts 22:16). “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:16). What results from such obedience, is a washing of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit (as the verses read). The audience of the commands, of course, consisted of adults. And such an audience is expected because there were no “cradle Catholics” with infants—the Church had just begun and every convert would be, of course, an adult. So for adults, the commands make most sense, but fail to indicate in any way that Infant Baptism is not part of the original Deposit of Faith. The Catholic Church believes that faith precedes Baptism for its adult converts, just as she did in Bible times. And just as in Bible times, Catholics today are responsible for what they know, and babies cannot have faith—but the lack of an infant’s faith does not prohibit Catholics from bringing their children to Jesus. In fact, it is the faith of the parents, just as it was with Mary who brought Jesus to the Temple, which carries their babies to Jesus in the waters of Baptism. When moved beyond using proof-texts that consist only of adult (convert) audiences, and towards verses that point towards the Church’s understanding of the commands, it becomes clear that the remainder of the New Testament points towards the Catholic position.
In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul remarks that Baptism replaces circumcision. Under the Old Law, the faith of the parents brought their infants to the Temple, and adult converts (although rare) were circumcised. The New Covenant, as with all covenants in the Bible, is a broadening covenant—a means of bringing more people into God’s gathering (ekklesia) than the prior covenant. It then makes sense that Paul would liken a rite that is acceptable for children under the Old Law with a rite that is at least equally acceptable for children under the New Law. It would certainly be strange if Paul used the comparison if he intended for his audience to believe that Infant Baptism is unacceptable.
Jesus said that no one can enter heaven unless he has been born again of water and the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:5). Jesus also said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them…” (Matthew 19:14). Matthew’s parallel text in Luke 18:15 is embedded within a context that illustrates how “letting the children come” includes infants—children that must be carried; not able to go to Christ on their own. As such, one might expect other New Testament scriptures to support the implication that infants are able to participate in sacramental grace, and the New Testament certainly does.
Unless one’s biblically-derived NI is trumped by a pre-determined belief that Infant Baptism is, as the Church of Christ often preaches, “nowhere in the Bible,” then the Bible’s implication that infants might have been baptized is ignored. In Acts 16:15, Lydia was converted to Christianity (= Catholic Christianity; there was no other game in town at the time). She and her “household” were baptized. So, here’s the question: Should a Christian believe that the Bible does not imply that infants were baptized (as the CofC does), or should a Christian allow for the possibility that infants were baptized? It is not honest to insist that Lydia’s “household” did not include infants—nobody knows. And if her household included infants, then nobody can say they were not baptized—especially when we now know that the New Covenant allows for parents to carry their infants to Jesus. Statistically, a household would include infants; and statistically, when two other “households” within the Biblical text are shown to be baptized as well, Christians can be fairly certain that infants were indeed involved.
One of those other two occurrences is found in Acts 16:33. A jailor who was converted by Paul and Silas was baptized. According to the text, he was “baptized at once, with all his family”. The third occurrence is found in 1 Corinthians 1:16 where Paul remembers how he baptized the “household” of Steph’anus. As the examples add up, it becomes more and more realistic to conclude that infants were baptized, but there is wriggle room for some Protestant doubt because the Bible does not overtly read, “Baby Tommy was baptized.” But if the doubter were honest, using only the Bible, he would also need to admit that the Catholic position is most plausible.
There is other history to consider. If the nascent Church were more like the Protestant Church of Christ and less like the Catholic Church of Christ, then ancient commentary of any sort would be expected to support the CofC’s position. There is no such commentary. What we do have, however, supports the Catholic position. Unknown to most CofC members, the Christian Church, throughout history, convenes to discuss issues and define dogma. The first council of Carthage (A.D. 253) entertained the topic of Infant Baptism. There was no debate over its validity; the discussion concerned which day infants should be baptized. In other words, there was no hint that Infant Baptism was not valid; its validity was already well-established. In fact, the CofC is unable to present any early protests to Infant Baptism, and the reason is clear: there weren’t any. What we do find, however, is unanimous consent for the Catholic position—a position that was already being practiced without contest.
The Church’s bishops (successors of the apostles) and her theologians offer commentary that CofC Christians are willingly ignorant of. Such writings are not “inspired” so the CofC gives as much attention to them in theological matters as they would Gulliver’s Travels. But for people who wish to understand how the apostle’s teachings were actually understood by the early Church, the Early Church Fathers offer continuity and communion with Catholics of this age. Examples include Erenaeus (A.D 189), Hippolytus of Rome (A.D. 215), Origen (A.D. 248), Cyprian of Carthage (A.D. 325), and more.
But the Protestant Church of Christ disregards scriptural and historical context (reality) when it interferes with its “Necessary Inference”. Instead of entertaining the Bible’s clear implication that infants were most probably baptized, and instead of admitting that early Christianity believed in Infant Baptism, they insist that the the Catholic Church’s practice is wrong. The charge is based on their soteriologal method (formula for becoming saved). Like Evangelicals, the CofC believes that a saved person must have a “conversion experience”—a moment that one can say, “I got saved at such-and-such a time and at such-and-such a place.” Evangelicals pinpoint their “conversion moment” (or “born again” moment) to when they accept Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior”. Although Evangelicals deny the substance of what includes a valid “born again” experience (baptism), CofC Christians still believe in baptismal regeneration. However, it is nonetheless the “born again” experience that is intrinsically necessary to be considered a true Christian.
The CofC’s conclusion is not derived from the Bible. It is not derived from studying the early Church. Though they do believe that Baptism “now saves” (cf. 1 Peter 3:21), and that it’s result is the remission of sins (cf. Acts 2:38b), they deny it to their young. In other words, the CofC has developed a theology with a Catholic/Evangelical hybrid fingerprint—a unique sect that has decided that Original Sin is not real. CofC Christians find no necessary rush to baptize their young because their hamartiology is, well, infantile. The CofC embraces a mantra that all sins are equal. It reveals the reality of the CoC’s lack of understanding of sin. Not only is there no attention to the dichotomy of venial and mortal sins, there is no acknowledgement of Original Sin—only Actual Sin (the sin a person actually commits). Original Sin is a reality that is clearly presented in both Testaments, but probably most succinctly summarized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” But the CofC does not bring their children to Jesus to be “made alive”—they wait to bring their children to a mutilated book.
The CofC’s Necessary Inference is transparent. One Church has historical support. One sect has none. Within historical Christianity, Infant Baptism washes away Original Sin, and adult Baptism washes away Original Sin and Actual Sin. The CofC’s methods wash away the sins of only its members who have attained the nebulous (and scripturally absent) “age of accountability”. The Catholic Church believes that its infants share in the New Law, and are joyously carried by the faith of their parents to Jesus. (Even if such faith is only the size of a mustard seed.) The Protestant Church of Christ, by it’s own self-proclaimed authority, has taken a portion of the Catholic Church’s Bible, parsed it in ways to support pre-determined theologies, and have created a model that hinders its children from going to Jesus.