The scriptural passages, Repent and be baptized, every one of you (Acts 2:38), Rise and be baptized (Acts 22:16), and He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 22:16) all have specific audiences: candidates for adult conversion. So is it not dishonest for the Protestant Church of Christ to teach that infants are ineligible candidates for Baptism when it utilizes scriptural passages as proofs that address adult conversion?
The Protestant Church of Christ searches the Scriptures for commands, examples (precedents), and necessary inferences1 (degrees of CENI; which the Bible never teaches) to reveal what it, by its own self-given authority, ascribes as Jesus’ intent; and what it believes it has found are examples (acts) of only adult Baptisms. Your group then suggests that the absence of a biblical example of an infant’s Baptism is a kind of proof that infants should not be baptized. Your group is incorrect when it forces that conclusion, because the Bible does not reveal the ages of all who were baptized, but rather, implies that some were most likely infants. So instead of forcing preferred ages upon the thousands of un-named baptized people in the Bible as a means to remain faithful to a hermeneutical model (CENI) with an NI-forced conclusion (invalid Baptisms for infants), the Catholic Church of Christ, I have found, recognizes a more cohesive bond between the subject’s scriptural and theological contexts.
But before I begin, you should admit that the Bible does not make clear the ages of all who were baptized. So beginning with the truth that God’s written word does not explicitly reveal (by command/example) the proper ages for eligible candidates for Baptism, we must refer to what the Bible implicitly reveals.
Of course, the Catholic Church of Christ has never believed in the modern tradition of sola Scriptura/“Bible-only” Christianity (the Church pre-dates the Bible), so Catholic Christians consult the body Christ gave the Spirit of truth that would guide her into all truth (John 16:13) for a correct interpretation of her Scriptures. (The Catholic Church is the body that wrote the New Testament, discerned its contents, joined it with the Old Testament, and called the entire library “the Bible”.) So even if a person adheres to the Protestant paradigm by divorcing oneself from the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church of Christ, the Bible remains a most “Catholic” book; she created it. In other words, the “Bible alone”, if read without preconceived preferences and anti-Catholic tendencies, should lead you to the realization that infants are eligible for Baptism, and that your group’s insistence that infants are not eligible for Baptism is merely a modern tradition of men that shuts the kingdom of heaven against men, and denies those who would enter to go in (Matthew 23:13). Conversely, the Catholic Church brings its children to Jesus.
And for the remainder of this chapter, I now ask you to focus on the matter at hand and not allow off-topic objections to derail your thought; to consider your group’s claims and balance them against the Catholic Church’s, and then make a responsible assessment of which group’s approach to Scripture is more honest.
It is true, as your group argues, that the New Testament never illustrates an overt (detailed) example of a child being baptized; yet your group is blind to the fact that the New Testament never illustrates, in even the slightest way, a child raised in a Christian home who eventually chooses to become baptized once she attains the “age of accountability”. What the New Testament does reveal, however, is that the children of Christian homes are assumed to have already been baptized into Christ (cf. Romans 6:3)—an assumption that certainly describes the Catholic Church of Christ, but certainly does not describe any household within your community. So the Bible alone, in this case, does not explicitly state whether children were baptized or not, but the Bible implicitly reveals that children were baptized, unless of course, you insist that households, apparently, never include children—which is often your tradition’s needed “Necessary Inference”.
Who in the world, and in what society other than modern pro-contraceptive Protestantism, could demand that every household would never include children? And who could suppose that an older culture that valued children more than how modern Protestantism values children would not define their households as families full of children? (The early Church, because she was Catholic, recognized contraception as grave sin, which I will address in the next chapter.)
And there were other households that were baptized as well. In the Bible, we read of Lydia’s conversion to Christianity, and she was baptized, with her household (Acts 16:15). In this case, is it reasonable to believe Lydia’s household did not include children? The Philippian jailor was also baptized with all his family (Acts 16:33). Again, is it reasonable to believe the jailor’s household did not include children? St. Paul mentions in his greetings to the Corinthians that he did baptize also the household of Steph’anas (1 Corinthians 1:16). Again, is it reasonable to believe there were no children in Steph’anas’ household? Are you willing to bet the Bible never reveals in any way that infants were validly baptized, even though:
A) A letter to the church of Rome implicitly reveals that Christian households baptized their children,
B) when there is no explicit nor implicit example of a child reaching “the age of accountability” and then choosing to be baptized,
C) when Lydia’s household was baptized,
D) when the jailor’s household was baptized,
E) and when St. Paul baptized Steph’anas’ entire household?
The New Testament cannot offer a conclusive answer if whether any of the mentioned households included children or not, so the preceding examples are doctrinally neutral even though they are, together, statistically clear in what they communicate; and a reasonable person would surmise that infants were most likely among the households, and therefore, most likely baptized. The inadequacy of the New Testament’s detail is supplemented, however, by its overall theological context which includes: household Baptisms, a command to bring children to Jesus, a broadening covenantal promise, a pattern within the rites of initiation, vicarious sanctifying faith (intercession), and the authoritative teachings of a Church, which is the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). As such, “households” becomes a word that resembles the recipients of St. Peter’s promise that Baptism’s effect is to you and to your children (Acts 2:39).
The pattern of New Testament household Baptisms is one that the Protestant Church of Christ refuses to imitate. It would seem that within many Protestant sects, “households”, evidently, are always and without exception (in regards to the subject of Baptism), childless homes; which is denial, and contradictory and misrepresentative of the popularity of engraved plaques that hang on the front doors of happy Protestant child-filled homes, which read, As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15). Your group overrides the statistical improbability of its preference and dresses it as “biblical”, and therefore, “true” Christianity.
There are two additional patterns the Protestant Church of Christ refuses to acknowledge, and it is in relation to circumcision and covenants. St. Paul explains that Baptism replaces circumcision; he calls the rite of Christian initiation the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11). 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). And therefore, it makes sense that St. Paul would reference 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 and misleading if St. Paul used the comparison if he intended for his audience to believe that infants were not eligible for Baptism! In other words, if infants were not eligible, St. Paul would not have drawn the comparison.
In the Old Testament, a man who wanted to become a Jew had to believe in God and also be circumcised. In the New Testament, an adult who wants to become a Christian must believe in God (Jesus) and be baptized. St. Paul’s comparison beautifully illustrates the similarities (pattern) regarding children as well. In the Old Testament, children born into Jewish households could be circumcised in anticipation of the Faith that his faithful parents would raise him in; and in the New Testament, children born into Christian households can be baptized in anticipation of the Faith, and with the vicarious faith (intercession) of her parents, that they would raise her in—like Mary and St. Joseph who brought the infant Messiah to the Temple. And like the mother of the Church and her most chaste spouse, Catholic Christians bring their children to receive the rite of initiation.
Covenanted parents are to bring their covenant infants to Jesus for His blessing, and Jesus rebuked His disciples for trying to prevent people from doing so: Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14), and unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of God(John 3:5). Are not young children capable of entering His kingdom, and does “capability” not resemble “eligibility”?
St. Luke records Jesus’ words as well, and he provides a context that reveals how Jesus was not speaking of children who have attained any “age of accountability”, but rather, of infants unable to walk or make any profession of faith on their own: Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God (Luke 18:16). We know Jesus was referring to infants because they were even bringing infants to him (v. 15). The Greek word for “infant” is brephe, which is a word for children who are so young they must be carried—must be brought to Jesus to receive His blessing. Clearly, Jesus was not communicating that people should not restrain ambulatory children, but rather, we should not restrain ourselves from carrying our infants to Him.
The history of Christianity is Catholic and not Protestant, so one should expect history to reveal Catholic beliefs—continuity from the earliest days of the Church to the present, and that is precisely what the record reveals. Where was your group, or your “remnant”, that protested the practice of baptizing children? Was there ever a council or authoritative meeting by any group sympathetic to your theology that condemned the practice that matter-of-factly saturated the early Church?
Many members of the Protestant Church of Christ are not aware that the Christian Church has held councils throughout the centuries to exercise its Christ-given responsibility to maintain orthodoxy. The first council—the Council of Jerusalem—is recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, where the first Pope, St. Peter, determined proper orthodoxy in regards to Gentile converts; and the Council’s decisions were binding. Why has your group broken the pattern of recognizing the authority of the councils?
There was one council that actually did address the subject of Baptism for infants in A.D. 253. The Council of Carthage did not convene to decide if Baptism for infants is orthodox, but rather, to discuss the best day a newborn baby should be baptized. In other words, the determination of this particular Council of Carthage was not in regards to whether infants are eligible for Baptism, but if Christians should wait eight days to perform the already-ancient and established sacramental practice.
Where was your group? Where were the “true” Christians? Where is your paper trail—evidence for some pre-Medieval faction that might have sympathized with your group’s preference, and with whom you would find communion? As with the New Testament, surviving commentary by St. Cyprian regarding the Council of Carthage reflects the worldwide Church’s acceptance of Baptism for even its infants.2
Even earlier than the Council, Origen recalled the ancient apostolic teaching of granting Baptism to infants:
The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism to infants. The apostles . . . knew there were in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).
Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin . . . . In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 [A.D. 248]).4
The “wickedness and sin” Origen preached about was not any volitional sin (actual sin) on the part of the infant, but of the stain of original sin. St. Cyprian, the “voice of the Council” of Carthage, expounded:
No one is denied access to baptism and grace. How much less reason is there then for denying it to an infant who, being newly born, can have committed no [actual] sins. The only thing that he has done is that, being born after the flesh as a descendant of Adam, he has contracted from that first birth the ancient contagion of death. And he is admitted to receive remission of his sins all the more readily in that what are being remitted to him are not his own sins but another’s.5
Even earlier than Origen, St. Hippolytus of Rome taught:
Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them (The Apostolic Tradition 21 [A.D. 215]).6
St. Irenaeus lived earlier than St. Hippolytus of Rome; he was born in a Christian home around year 140 in Smyrna. He was probably baptized at that time by the Bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp, a personal disciple of the Apostle John, who still heard the echoes of the Apostles’ teachings. He taught:
He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men . . . (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).7
I understand the Protestant Church of Christ disregards the teachings of the early Church other than what can be found and shaped to support Restorationist theology, even though every teaching I just shared with you pre-dates the formation of the Christian canon, but my point is made: the Catholic Church of Christ has a history, and there is continuity from its earliest days through the present; and your group, and your group’s theology, cannot be found within the historical record—and part of that record is the Bible itself.
1 Necessary Inference (NI) is subjective and normally subordinate to preconceived theologies; it is always capable of providing a forced (necessary) exegesis (inference) to support any preferred belief. For example, it is often “necessary” for strict immersionists to conclude that every person that was baptized in the Bible was an adult (at or beyond the “age of accountability”).
2 St. Cyprian, Letter 64:2. As provided: Quasten, Johannes., Burghardt, Walter J., and Lawler, Thomas Comerford, eds. Ancient Christian Writers, vol 46 (New York: Newman Press, 1986), 110.
3 Jurgens, William A., The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1970), 209.
4 ibid., 208.
5 St. Cyprian, Letters 64 5:2. As quoted in Quasten, 112.
6 Jurgens, 169.
7 ibid., 87.