Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Calling All Protestants to Embrace Infant Baptism

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Does “water” here refer to baptism? For those of you who are dismayed by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Churches of Christ who deem baptism as absolutely necessary for salvation, your dismayal causes you to reject such an interpretation. Further, many of you do not believe God will use water to grant entrance into the kingdom of God. Water is a created element. Why would God use water to grant entrance into His kingdom? Additionally, many of you claim that baptism is simply an outward affirmation of an inward change. Therefore, the water in baptism does not do anything. But is this all true? Let us take a look at what the Scriptures say without imposing our own assumptions.

First, the Pharisees refused to be baptized (Luke 7:30). Jesus here does not simply tell Nicodemus that he must be born of a human being (some argue that “water” refers to natural birth). If I were to ask an academic advisor at a university what it would take to get into the school, would he respond by saying, “First you have to be born.” Such an interpretation of John 3:5 is untenable. Jesus here was telling Nicodemus to be baptized with water since that is what he rejected.

Secondly, “water” and “spirit” go hand in hand with baptism in the Scriptures.

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Water and Spirit show themselves to be inseparable from each other according to the Scriptural references. In the Book of Acts, when people were baptized with water, they received the Holy Spirit as Peter declared in Acts 2:38.

Thirdly, the church has always interpreted John 3:5 to be referencing Christian baptism. Such examples are Irenaeus, Fragment 34 [A.D. 190]; Origen, Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]; Ambrose, Abraham, 2, 11:79 [A.D. 387]. No one prior to the Mennonites (also known as the Ana-Baptists) interpreted John 3:5 as not referencing Christian baptism. Of course, you can take your Bible and interpret it how you want to, but you are being divisive and not respecting Christians who have gone before you.

Now that I have shown that it is not insensible to interpret John 3:5 as a reference to baptism, what does Jesus say about infants? In John 3:5, Jesus says that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is baptized with water and the spirit. In Luke 18:15-18 he declares that infants are eligible for such entrance. Luke writes,

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (18:15-17).

Here we see that infants belong to the kingdom of God. And in John 3:5 we see that entrance into the kingdom requires baptism with water and the spirit. Some have said that infants are already of the kingdom of God when they are born. These people do not realize what they are saying. First, why would Jesus need to correct the disciples who were rebuking those bringing infants to Jesus? If infants are already of the kingdom of God, then why do the Psalms declare:

“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers or of the cunning enchanter. O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD” (58:3-6).

If infants are born “innocent” why does God declare that they “speak lies,” have “venom of a serpent,” and call them “young lions.” If God does not hold infants accountable for their sin, then why does the Prophet David tell God to “break their teeth?”

Further, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley all interpreted Luke 18:15-18 as supporting the church’s doctrine of infant baptism. So for those of you who are rejecting this interpretation, you are not only rejecting the pre-Reformation church, but you are rejecting three of the most influential Reformers.

In conclusion, God does hold all who are born of the flesh of Adam accountable for their sin (John 3:6; Romans 5:12-21; Eph. 2:1; Romans 8:7). And God has appointed baptism as a means or instrument of grace (1 Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5). And Peter declared that the promise of baptism and the Holy Spirit was for “you and your children” (Acts 2:39). And whole households were baptized showing the familial nature of the New Covenant (I Corinthians 1:16; Acts 11:14, 16:15, 33, 18:8). And Paul parallels baptism with circumcision (Col. 2:11-13). Why would the Apostles declare that baptism was for children and baptize households if they rejected the baptism of infants? Why would the Apostle Paul parallel baptism with circumcision if he rejected the baptism of infants? If the Apostles rejected infant baptism, they sure have a curious way of showing it.

And finally, the Apostolic Fathers show that they believed in the idea of being a “Christian since infancy” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9 [A.D. 156]; Justin Martyr, First Apology, 15:6 [A.D. 110-165]; Polycrates, Fragment in Eusibius’ Church History, V:24:7 [A.D. 190]. And the disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John, Irenaeus wrote:

"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]).

Irenaeus was a defender of the apostolic deposit against the Gnostics and the Docetists. He was in regular contact with churches which had been planted by the Apostles. In the next century, Origen would declare,

“For this also it was that the church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants. For they to whom the divine mysteries were committed knew that there is in all persons a natural pollution of sin which must be done away by water and the Spirit [John 3:5]” (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).

And the great Church Father, St. Augustine declares the same thing early in the 5th century:

“The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic" (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).

Of course, you could do away with the church Fathers and the early church and interpret the Bible the way you want. But that is divisive and disrespectful towards the body of Christ who existed before you.

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