by Pastor Kenneth Daniyel Willis
From whichever direction one desires to examine the practice of infant baptism or paedobaptism, they will be confronted with the plain truth that even Luther and Calvin recognized the word baptism in Scripture is by immersion. So after reading from Calvin’s own writings that such a notion is not set forth in Scripture, and that the Reformers’ battle cry was Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone, how is it that some Reformed voices cry so loudly for the practice’s Scriptural validity? Paul Washer went so far as to label infant baptism as “the golden calf of the Reformation”. How can such a novel concept with no Scriptural support be held up with such authority? In Reformation times, the doctrine was so staunchly defended that Baptists and anyone preaching against it were persecuted and executed by Reformed parties. Calvin was such a fierce opponent of believer’s baptism that he encouraged drowning Baptists, saying he was giving them their beloved “second baptism”. Make no mistake, the issue of infant baptism has evoked sharp division and sadly violence throughout Church History. But why? How can men that claim the name of Christ defend such a teaching? How can one justify from the Scriptures such a man-made, and as John MacArthur calls it, “an absurd off the wall practice that is totally meaningless and worthless.”?
We could examine the shaky history of the “church fathers” and the mixing of Origen, Augustine and Roman Catholic doctrine with that of the Reformers. That would give great insight into paedobaptism’s origins, but we can summarize the origins as heretical and a pragmatic solution to a need for ecclesiastical and even political solidarity. In short, infant baptism was the answer to Rome’s need to control the religious and political field. By inducting all baptized into their diocese’s authority, it only made sense to recruit from birth and induct newborns into the ranks of the Catholic Church. The theology of it was concocted to fit the scheme and as the Roman Catholic Church normally does, it did not fail to twist and add to Scripture to justify the baseless practice of baptizing infants before the child even had the mental capacity to repent of sin and confess Christ alone as LORD. It is sad enough the Catholic Church came up with such heresy; it is sadder still that by and large the Reformers bought into it..
There are two arguments Reformed folks use to validate what is otherwise an off the wall concept as baptizing a child before they even have the mental capacity to repent of their sins and confess Christ as their Lord and Savior.
First, there is the argument of the replacement of physical male circumcision with male and female infant baptism. Second, there is the argument that the New Testament implies infant baptism. I do not seek to offend anyone who practices infant baptism, but if and since the Scriptures alone are my authority, I must profess that paedobaptism is so far out and off the wall that it is a complete embarrassment to regulative Biblical hermeneutics. It is such poor interpretation and grandiose extrapolation, I causes my face to turn red to even have to address it within the Church of Jesus Christ. But for obvious reasons we must examine these two arguments.
The First Argument: Infant Baptism Has Replaced Circumcision
This is an astounding claim nowhere taught in Scripture. No Reformer in history could or can find anywhere in Scripture that makes this claim. First of all, the idea that circumcision is equated with baptism is incorrect. Circumcision was an outward sign of a Jewish male’s ethnic identity. It carried zero weight on his spiritual condition. Christ and Paul echoed this. If it had replaced baptism, why did Paul encourage Timothy to be circumcised if it was obsolete by a new covenant sign? We may receive answers to these problems, but none can validate this absurd quantum leap from Scripture that is being properly applied in context and interpreted through regulative Biblical hermeneutics. To even have a remote possibility of applying Scripture to this argument, you must be a Replacement Theologian, and that is to dive even farther down the cliff of theological error.
The Second Argument: The New Testament Implies Infant Baptism
This assertion is much better than the first argument, yet still flounders hopelessly in the waters of reality. We are going to examine each “proof text” offered in the argument that the New Testament implies the baptism of infants. There are two aspects of this argument. First, that Christ taught it and second, that the Apostles taught and practiced it.
Alleged To Be Taught By Christ
(Matthew 18:1-6) 1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Also in these verses:
(Matthew 19:14) But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
(Mark 10:14) – But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
(Luke 18:16) – But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
The only mention of water in these verses is that of offenders of children being drowned in the sea. These verses speak of the attitude one must have to come to faith in Christ. He or she must have childlike humility. Nowhere in these verses does one ounce of any Greek word have anything to do in any universe with baptism, let alone infant baptism. This is embarrassingly poor handling of Scripture. No Bible scholar would ever find infant baptism here unless his extra-biblical theology dictated it be there. As John McArthur notes concerning paedobaptism and those who defend it, “Friedrich Schleiermacher, the German theologian wrote, ‘All traces of infant baptism which are asserted to be found in the New Testament must first be inserted there.’”.
Alleged To Be Taught And Practiced By The Apostles
This is another astounding claim that rests on a bridge of invisible materials over a tempestuous river of Biblical contradiction to the fact. What Peter did preach in Acts 2 was “repent and be baptized”. Therefore as we will conclude, repentance always precedes baptism–therefore making infant baptism heresy and completely oppositional to everything Scripture teaches concerning baptism and salvation.
These are the texts from which Reformed folks try to substantiate their claim.
(Acts 10:44-48; Acts 11:14-18) – 44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. 14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. 17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? 18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
Unless of course your theology demands these verses to, you will find no mention of infants or infant baptism in this passage. It is clear from Peter’s interaction with Cornelius and report to his brethren that all those in Cornelius’s house heard and received the Gospel and repented of their sins. The fact that Peter said the whole house would be saved is a testament to the need for them to hear the Gospel. An infant cannot hear the Gospel, let alone repent and believe. This is a ludicrous assertion. The order of salvation and baptism must always be and is here that one hears, believes, repents and is then baptized.
(Acts 16:14-15) – 14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
(Acts 16:31-34) – 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. 34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
(Acts 18:8) – And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.
Again in each passage there is no mention of infants, infant baptism or anything other than those who heard the Gospel, believed then were baptized. Any other interpretation is pure fantasy.
(I Corinthians 16:15-16) – I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) 16 That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.
This passage presents a huge problem to the argument because the household is credited with being actively involved in the ministry. I hardly imagine infants were engaged in ministry. This is absurd to entertain as evidence of infant baptism.
(I Corinthians 7:12-14) – 12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
This passage has nothing to do with baptism, let alone that of infants. It simply means that a godly life will spill over into an unsaved life and the family of a saved person will be influenced for good and exposed to the truth of the gospel. Paedobaptism in this verse, as with all other, is a dangerous leap of hermeneutics, interpretation and doctrine.
(Acts 2:38-39) – 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Again, it is made overwhelmingly clear that one must hear, repent and then be baptized. The promise here is not that if you baptize your infant, God will bring the child into the Covenant as sealed through baptism. That is not Biblical, in the Bible or even close to what the Bible teaches. It is nothing but a worthless human invention. It is meaningless, but more so it is dangerous.
The teaching of infant baptism has no basis in Scripture or reality. It is a dangerous heresy that creates a third class of spirituality. The Bible teaches there are the saved and the unsaved. Yet paedobaptism creates a class of unsaved people who are inside the Covenant of God–something no Reformed teacher can explain, let alone substantiate by Scripture. The greater danger of this synthetic doctrine is that it leads people to believe their child or they themselves have inherited something from God that He has not. It is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:15. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”.