Infant baptism

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Water is poured on the head of an infant held over the baptismal font of a Roman Catholic church

Infant baptism[1][2] is the practice of baptising infants or young children. In theological discussions, the practice is sometimes referred to as paedobaptism or pedobaptism from the Greek pais meaning "child". The practice is sometimes contrasted with what is called "believer's baptism", or credobaptism, from the Latin word credo meaning "I believe", which is the religious practice of baptising only individuals who personally confess faith in Jesus, therefore excluding underage children. Infant baptism is also called christening by some faith traditions.

Most Christians belong to denominations that practice infant baptism.[3] Denominational families that practise infant baptism include Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and other Reformed denominations, Methodists and some Nazarenes,[4] and the Moravian Church.


The exact details of the baptismal ceremony vary among Christian denominations. Many follow a prepared ceremony, called a rite or liturgy. In a typical ceremony, parents or godparents bring their child to their congregation's priest or minister. The rite used would be the same as that denomination's rite for adults, i.e., by pouring water (affusion), or others by sprinkling water (aspersion). Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions normally practise total immersion and baptise babies in a font and this practice is also the first method listed in the Baptismal ritual of the Roman Catholic although pouring is the standard practice within the Latin branch of Catholicism. Catholic and Orthodox churches do not sprinkle. At the moment of baptism, the minister utters the words "I baptise you (or, 'The servant of God (name) is baptised') in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (see Matthew 28:19).

Although it is not required, many parents and godparents choose to dress the baby in a white gown called a christening gown for the Baptism ceremony. Christening gowns often become treasured keepsakes that are used by many other children in the family and handed down from generation to generation. Traditionally, this gown is white or slightly off white and made with much lace, trim and intricate detail. In the past, a gown was used for both boys and girls; in the present day it has become more common to dress children in a Baptismal outfit. Also normally made of white fabric, the outfit consists of a romper with a vest or other accessories. These clothes are often kept as a memento after the ceremony.

It is a naval tradition to baptise children using the ship's bell as a baptismal font and to engrave their name on the bell afterwards. Tracking down and searching for an individual's name on a specific bell from a ship may be a difficult and time-consuming task. Christening information from the bells held by the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt Museum has been entered into a searchable data archive that is accessible to any interested web site visitors.[5]


Scholars disagree on the date when infant baptism was first practiced. Some believe that 1st-century Christians did not practice it, noting the lack of any explicit evidence of paedobaptism.[6] Others, noting the lack of any explicit evidence of exclusion of paedobaptism, believe that they did,[7] understanding biblical references to individuals "and [her] household" being baptised (Acts 16:15, Acts 16:31–33, 1 Corinthians 1:16) as well as "the promise to you and your children" (Acts 2:39) as including small children and infants.

The earliest extra-biblical directions for baptism,[8] which occur in the Didache (c. 100),[9] are taken to be about baptism of adults, since they require fasting by the person to be baptised.[10] However, inscriptions dating back to the 2nd century which refer to young children as "children of God" may indicate that Christians customarily baptised infants too.[11] The earliest reference to infant baptism was by Irenaeus (c. 130–202) in his work Against Heresies.[12] Due to its reference to Eleutherus as the current bishop of Rome, the work is usually dated c. 180.[13] Irenaeus speaks of children and infants being "born again to God."[14][15] This reference has been described as "obscure."[12] Three passages by Origen (185–c. 254)[16] mention infant baptism as traditional and customary.[17] While Tertullian writing c. 198-203 advises the postponement of baptism of little children and the unmarried, he mentions that it was customary to baptise infants, with sponsors speaking on their behalf.[18] The Apostolic Tradition, sometimes attributed to Hippolytus of Rome (died 235), describes how to perform the ceremony of baptism; it states that children were baptised first, and if any of them could not answer for themselves, their parents or someone else from their family was to answer for them.[19]

From at least the 3rd century onward Christians baptised infants as standard practice, although some preferred to postpone baptism until late in life, so as to ensure forgiveness for all their preceding sins.[20]


Agreements among paedobaptists

Based on their understanding of New Testament passages such as Colossians 2:11–12, paedobaptists believe that infant baptism is the New Testament counterpart to circumcision. In the Old Testament, all male converts to Judaism, male infants born to Jewish parents, and male servants were circumcised as ceremony of initiation into the Jewish community.[21] Paedobaptists believe that baptism has replaced Old Testament circumcision and is the religious ceremony of initiation into the Christian community.

During the medieval and Reformation eras, infant baptism was seen as a way to incorporate newborn babies into the secular community as well as inducting them into the Christian faith.[22]

Differences among paedobaptists

Baptism by submersion in the Eastern Orthodox Church
(Sophia Cathedral, 2005).

Different Christian denominations who practice infant baptism attach different meanings to the sacrament and explain its efficacy in different ways.

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church considers baptism, even for an infant, so important that "parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks" and, "if the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay."[23] It declares: "The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole 'households' received baptism, infants may also have been baptised".[24] It notes that "when the first direct evidence of infant Baptism appears in the second century, it is never presented as an innovation", that 2nd-century Irenaeus[25] treated baptism of infants as a matter of course, and that, "at a Synod of African Bishops, St. Cyprian stated that 'God's mercy and grace should not be refused to anyone born', and the Synod, recalling that 'all human beings' are 'equal', whatever be 'their size or age', declared it lawful to baptize children 'by the second or third day after their birth'".[26] In the 17th and 18th centuries, many infants were baptised on the day of their birth as in the cases of Francoise-Athenais, Marquise de Montespan, Jeanne Du Barry and Marie Anne de Cupis de Camargo. Infant baptism is seen as showing very clearly that salvation is an unmerited favour from God, not the fruit of human effort.[27] "Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called . . . The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth".[28]

The Church has no official teaching regarding the fate of infants who die without Baptism, and theologians of the Church hold various views (for instance, some have asserted that they go to Limbo, which has never been official Catholic doctrine). "The Church entrusts these infants to the mercy of God."[29]

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued on 20 October 1980 an instruction on infant baptism, whose purpose was "to recall the principal points of doctrine in this field which justify the Church's constant practice down the centuries and demonstrate its permanent value in spite of the difficulties raised today". The document then indicated some general guidelines for pastoral action.[30]

The document recalled that infant baptism has long been considered of apostolic origin and that the first direct evidence of its practice, dating from the 2nd century, does not present it as an innovation. It then responded to objections that baptism should follow faith, that the person baptised should consciously receive the grace of the sacrament, that the person should freely accept baptism, that infant baptism is unsuitable in a society marked by instability of values and conflicts of ideas, and that the practice is inimical to a missionary outlook on the part of the Church.[31]

The instruction then gave guidelines for pastoral practice, based on two principles. The major principle is that baptism, as the sign and means of God's love that precedes any action on our part and that frees from original sin and communicates divine life, must not be delayed. The subordinate principle is that assurances must be given that the gift thus granted can grow by authentic education in the faith and Christian life. If these assurances are not really serious, there can be grounds for delaying baptism. If they are certainly absent, the sacrament should even be refused.[32]

Accordingly, the rules for involvement on the part of practising Christian parents must be supplemented with other considerations in the case of "families with little faith or non-Christian families". If these request that a child of theirs be baptised, there must be assurances that the child will be given the benefit of the Christian upbringing required by the sacrament. Examples of such assurances are "the choice of godparents who will take sincere care of the child, or the support of the community". If there is satisfactory assurance, i.e. "any pledge giving a well-founded hope for the Christian upbringing of the children", then "the priest cannot refuse to celebrate the sacrament without delay, as in the case of children of Christian families". If there is insufficient assurance, "it will be prudent to delay baptism", while keeping contact with the parents in the hope of securing the required conditions for celebrating the sacrament. As a last resort, enrollment of the child in a course of catechetical instruction on reaching school age, can be offered in lieu of immediate celebration of baptism.[33]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Since Baptism signifies liberation from sin and from its instigator the devil, one or more exorcisms are pronounced over the candidate".[34] In the Roman Rite, the wording of the prayer of exorcism is: "Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness and bring him into the splendour of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him (her) free from original sin, make him (her) a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her). Through Christ our Lord."[35]

Other ancient Christian Churches

The Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and the Assyrian Church of the East also insist on the need to have infants baptised as soon as is practicable after birth. For them too baptism is not merely a symbol but actually conveys grace. Baptism is a sacrament because it is an "instrument" instituted by Jesus Christ to impart grace to its recipients. Infants are traditionally baptised on the eighth day,[36] recalling the biblical injunction to circumcise on the eighth day. However, this is not mandatory. In many of these churches, the Sacred Mystery of Chrismation (Confirmation) is administered by the priest immediately after baptism. Holy Communion, in the form of consecrated wine and bread, is also given to infants after they are baptised.[37]

Christening photograph showing the oil moment and Baptism in Greek Orthodox Church.


German reformer Philipp Melanchthon baptizing an infant

Lutherans practice infant baptism because they believe that God mandates it through the instruction of Jesus Christ, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)", in which Jesus does not set any age limit:

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The command is general. It includes infants, women, men, and teenagers, even though none of these groups is specifically named. Each of these groups is included in "all nations."[38]

They also cite other biblical passages such as Mark 10:13–15, Mark 16:16, John 3:3–7 and Acts 2:38–39 in support of their position. For example, in the Acts of the Apostles Saint Peter's teachings on Pentecost included children in the promise of Baptism, "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. The promise is for you and your children" [38]

For them baptism is a "means of grace" through which God creates and strengthens "saving faith" [39][40] as the "washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5) in which infants and adults are reborn (John 3:3–7): "baptismal regeneration". Since the creation of faith is exclusively God's work, it does not depend on the actions of the one baptised, whether infant or adult. Even though baptised infants cannot articulate that faith, Lutherans believe that it is present all the same.[41] Because it is faith alone that receives these divine gifts, Lutherans confess that baptism "works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare".[42] In the special section on infant baptism in his Large Catechism Luther argues that infant baptism is God-pleasing because persons so baptised were reborn and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.[43]

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Lutherans believe that babies are conceived and born sinful (Psalm 51:5) and therefore need to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5-6). Through Baptism the Holy Spirit works rebirth (Titus 3:4-7), creates faith in them, and saves them (1 Peter 3:21). Although some deny the possibility of infant faith, the Bible clearly teaches that babies can believe (Mark 9:42, Luke 18:15-17).[38]

Methodist churches

Methodists contend that infant baptism has spiritual value for the infant. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, held that baptism is a means of grace, but it was symbolic.[44] Methodists view baptism in water as symbolic and believe that it does not regenerate the baptised nor cleanse them from sin.

Wesley's own views of infant baptism shifted over time as he put more emphasis on salvation by faith and new birth by faith alone. This has fueled much debate within Methodism over the purpose of infant baptism, though most agree it should be continued. Wesley and the Methodists would agree with the Reformed or Presbyterian denominations that infant baptism is symbolic.

Infant baptism is particularly illustrative of the Methodist doctrine of prevenient grace. The principle is that The Fall of Man ruined the human soul to such an extent that nobody wants a relationship with God. In order for humans to even want to be able to choose, God must empower their will (so that they may choose Christ) which he does by means of prevenient grace. Thus God takes the very first step in salvation, preceding any human effort or decision. Methodists justify infant baptism by this principle of prevenient grace, often arguing that infant baptism is God's promise or declaration to the infant that calls that infant to (eventually) believe in God's promises (God's Word) for salvation. When the individual believes in Jesus they will profess their faith before the church, often using a ritual called confirmation in which the Holy Spirit is invoked with the laying on of hands. Methodists also use infant baptism symbolically, as an illustration of God approaching the helpless. They see the ceremony additionally as a celebration of God's prevenient grace.

It should be noted that Wesley was an Anglican minister. Not all Anglicans in Wesley's time were Arminian. Augustus Toplady, John Newton, and George Whitefield were all Anglican ministers and Calvinists. They interpreted the Anglican formularies of the 39 Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Second Book of the Anglican Homilies from a Calvinist perspective and would have been more in agreement with the Reformed churches and the Puritans on the issue of infant baptism. The Catechism in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer shows that baptism was an outward sign of an inward grace. Prevenient grace, according to the Calvinist Anglicans, referred to unconditional election and irresistible grace, which is necessary for conversion of the elect. Infants are to be baptised because they are children of believers who stand in surety for them until they "come of age" and are bound to the same requirements of repentance and faith as adults.

Presbyterian and Reformed churches

Presbyterian and Reformed Christians believe that baptism, whether of infants or adults, is a "sign and seal of the covenant of grace", and that baptism admits the party baptised into the visible church.[45] Being a member of the visible church does not guarantee salvation; though it does provide the child with many benefits, including that of one's particular congregation consenting to assist in the raising of that child in "the way he should go, (so that) when he is old he will not turn from it". Elect infants (those predestined for salvation) who die in infancy are by faith considered regenerate on the basis of God's covenant promises in the covenant of grace.[46]

Presbyterian and many Reformed Christians see infant baptism as the New Testament form of circumcision in the Jewish covenant (Joshua 24:15). Circumcision did not create faith in the 8-day-old Jewish boy. It merely marked him as a member of God's covenant people Israel. Likewise, baptism doesn’t create faith; it is a sign of membership in the visible covenant community.

Presbyterian and Reformed Christians consider children of professing Christians to be members of the visible Church (the covenant community). They also consider them to be full members of the local congregation where their parents are members and members of the universal Church (the set of all true believers who make up the invisible church) unless and until they prove otherwise. Baptism is the mark of membership in the covenant of grace and in the universal church, although regeneration is not inseparably connected with baptism.[47]

Contrasts between infant and adult baptism

The disagreement about infant baptism is grounded in differing theological views at a more basic level. Christians disagree about infant baptism because they disagree about the nature of faith, the role of baptism, the means of salvation, the nature of grace, and the function of the sacraments. Pedobaptism and credobaptism are positions which bubble up from theological views at a more fundamental level of one's theological system.

  • If baptism is a sign that a person is a member of God's covenant community, and if the children of believers are members of that community, it follows that the children of believers should receive the sign that they are members of God's covenant community by being baptised, as an infant is entitled to a passport that indicates the child as a member of a particular country.[48]
  • Believers and the children of believers become members of God's covenant community (or church) through baptism.[49]
  • It is believed by some Christians that in the heart of a baptised child, faith as a gift or grace from God, as distinct from an act by the person, is made present.[50]
  • It is believed by some Christians that baptism is not merely a symbol and that it has a real effect, conveying divine grace.[51]

Arguments for infant baptism

Paedobaptists do not completely agree on the reasons for baptising infants, and offer different reasons in support of the practice. Among the arguments made in support of the practice are:

Argument based on parallel with circumcision

Some supporters of infant baptism argue that circumcision is the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham and should be received by all the members of his covenant.[52] The children of members of Abraham's covenant are themselves members of Abraham's covenant.[53] Christians are members of Abraham's covenant [54] Therefore, the children of Christians are members of Abraham's covenant.[55] Since baptism is the New Testament form of circumcision,[56] the children of Christians should receive the sign of the covenant by being baptised.

Covenant theology

Presbyterian and Reformed Christians base their case for infant baptism on Covenant theology. Covenant theology is a broad interpretative framework used to understand the Bible. Reformed Baptists are in many ways Reformed yet, as their name suggests, adhere to Believers Baptism.

According to Covenant theology God makes two basic covenants, or agreements, with humans. The first one, the Covenant of Works is an agreement that bases man's relationship with God on human obedience and morality. The covenant was made with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam broke this covenant so God replaced it with a second more durable covenant—the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace is an agreement that bases man's relationship with God on God's grace and generosity. The Covenant of Works failed because it was based on human performance. The Covenant of Grace is durable because it is based on God's performance.

All the covenants that God makes with humans after the Fall, (e.g. with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David) all extend the Covenant of Grace to its logical conclusion in Jesus Christ. In Covenant theology, however, there is a long-standing understanding that the Mosaic Covenant is also a republication of the Covenant of Works, which required obedience to receive its benefits. The underlying Covenant of Grace extends through the whole Old Testament, which suggests that two covenants are in play throughout the history of Israel. Consequently, Covenant theologians see that the Church, or the people of God, existed in the Old Testament. These are the people who placed their faith in Christ in advance, and they are saved in the same way Christians are. Not every Israelite is in the Church (or elect), many exist under the Covenant of Works and its strict unattainable requirements, but not under the Covenant of Grace.

According to Presbyterian and Reformed Christians, this theological framework is important to the Biblical case for infant baptism because it provides a reason for thinking there is strong continuity between the Old and New Testaments. It provides a bridge linking the two Testaments together.

Covenant Theologians claim that the New Testament book of Hebrews demonstrates that much of Israel's worship has been replaced by the person and work of Christ. The result is that some important forms of worship in the Old Testament have New Testament equivalents. The Passover festival, for example, was replaced by the Lord's Supper (or Eucharist).

It is across the bridge of Covenant Theology that the sign of Abraham's covenant, circumcision, walks into the New Testament. The sign of the Covenant changes its external form to reflect new spiritual realities. It was a bloody sign in the Old Testament but because Christ has shed His blood, it has been transformed into a bloodless sign, i.e. washing with water. Passover was a bloody form of Old Testament worship and also transitions into the New Testament in the bloodless form of bread and wine.

Covenant theologians point out that the external sign of the covenant in the Old Testament was circumcision. Circumcision was performed upon the male children of Israelites to signify their external membership in God's people, not as a guarantee of true faith; the Old Testament records many Israelites who turned from God and were punished, showing that their hearts were not truly set on serving God. So while all male Israelites had the sign of the covenant performed on them in a once off ceremony soon after birth, such a signifier was external only and not a true indicator of whether or not they would later exhibit true faith in Yahweh.

In the New Testament, circumcision is no longer seen as mandatory for God's people. However, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the Old Testament circumcision rite has been replaced by baptism. For instance: "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism." (Colossians 2:11–12a)

Some paedobaptists, then, think the analogy of baptism to circumcision correctly points to children, since the historic Israelite application of circumcision was to infants, not to adult converts, of which there were few. Covenant theology, then, identifies baptism less as a statement of faith than as an assumption of identity; that is to say that infant baptism is a sign of covenantal inclusion.

Corroborating evidence

Paedobaptists point to a number of passages in the New Testament which seem to corroborate the above argument.

Household baptisms

In the Old Testament, if the head of a household converted to Judaism, all the males in the house, even the infants, were circumcised. Some paedobaptists argue this pattern continues into the New Testament. Reference is made, for example, to baptising a person and their whole household—the households of Lydia, Crispus, and Stephanas are mentioned by name Acts 16:14–15, 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16.

Paedobaptists challenge credobaptists on this point: Why would a whole household be baptised just because the head of the house had faith? Shouldn’t they baptise each member of the family as they come to individual faith? Household baptism implies that the rules for membership in Abraham's covenant have continued into the New Testament, the main difference is the sign of the covenant.

Credobaptists counter with verses such as John 4:53, Acts 16:34 and Acts 18:8 in which entire households are said to have "believed". As such, the paedobaptist assumption is that household baptisms mentioned in the Bible involved infants, presumably incapable of personal belief.

Original sin

Paedobaptists also point to Psalm 51, which reads, in part, "surely I was sinful from birth", as indication that infants are sinful (vid. original sin) and are thus in need of forgiveness that they too might have salvation.

Credobaptists would admit that infants are in need of salvation but paedobaptists push the point a step further by arguing that it makes no theological sense for infants to need salvation but for God to make no provision for them to be saved (See 1 Cor 7:14 where Paul says that the children of a believer are holy—separated—and therefore, perhaps, would not need baptising even if baptism saved). Some Credobaptists who agree to the Psalm 51 interpretation, argue that even though infants are sinful they are not accountable, because of the "age of accountability". Although many theologians would argue that an "age of accountability" is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.

An alternative viewpoint of some credobaptists is that since all Christians are predestined to salvation (John 15:16, 1 Cor.1:27, Eph.1:4, 1 Pt.2:4), God will not allow his elect to die before receiving their need, even if they are in old age (Luke 2:25–35), an argument whose relation to baptism whether of infants or adults is unclear, unless it means that infants who die without coming to explicit belief and baptism are not among God's elect.

Another Credobaptist position is called predispositionalism. This suggests that baptism is only a mature response to eternal life, and that infants generate their inner response to God's presence, i.e. those who warm to him would, if dying in infancy, be with him eternally; contra-wise those who chilled to him. This aligns to the idea of individual faith/welcome (Jhn.1:14). Its point of determinism predates the age of evangelism, which it holds is still valid in crystallising predisposition into maturing faith in this life. It considers shades of meaning in the keyword salvation. Other approaches to death in infancy are in John Sander's No Other Name, and include postmortem evangelism.

Words of Jesus

In John 3:5, Jesus says, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,"[57] which, according to some religious groups, means that an infant who dies without being baptized cannot enter heaven and may go to limbo instead.

Peter's speech

According to the Book of Acts, "Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptised, 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.'" (Acts 2:38–39, NIV–UK, emphasis added)[58] The United Methodist Church argues that the phrase "every one of you" recalls the use of the same phrase in Deuteronomy 29:10–12, where there is explicit mention of the "little ones" present; and it takes the phrase "and your children" to mean that Peter included children in the covenant community.[59]

Credobaptists counter that only those who believe, and children who believe are recipients of the promise. Otherwise, all children of Adam would be saved.[citation needed] Caleb Colley says that, also, Peter's first instruction was to repent, and since repentance requires an awareness and understanding of sin, baptizing an infant is pointless, because they are not capable of such awareness and understanding.[60]

Early Christian practice

Several early Church Fathers seem to have taught that infant baptism is proper; Origen states that the practice of baptising infants is of apostolic origin.[61]

Arguments against infant baptism

  • Circumcision was a sign and seal of physical birth into the Jewish nation, and baptism is a sign and seal of new birth (born again).
  • John the Baptist baptised people who were also required to be circumcised.
  • Baptism in Scripture always has the prerequisite of repentance and faith, which are impossible for an infant.
  • Infants can not outwardly express faith.
  • The Lord's Supper and Baptism are both sacraments or ordinances and are the same sign and seal, since the Lord's Supper may not be given to unbelievers, neither should baptism.
  • The New Covenant is not purely an expansion of the Old Covenant because the Pharisees and all who did not have faith in Jesus are excluded from the New Covenant, but were acceptable under the old.
  • Some claim that there is no evidence that the early church performed (or excluded) paedobaptism, and only that it performed credo baptism by immersion.
  • Baptism represents more than just physical washing, but being clean and good standing before God, and therefore regenerate (Romans 6).
  • Baptism is for the remission of sins, and infants are not capable of repenting. (Luke 3:3, Mark 1:4, Acts 13:24, Acts 19:4)

Some opponents of paedobaptism point out that Jesus himself was baptised at the age of 30. They also point to the two (out of five) Great Commission passages that speak of baptism. They see Matthew 28:18–20 as giving exclusive instructions about who is to be baptised: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (verses 19–20, NKJV). They interpret this as referring to three successive stages, with baptism following on becoming a disciple (which is beyond the power of an infant), and instruction following on baptism, not preceding it.

The Mark 16:15–18 Great Commission passage speaks of believing: "He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (verse 16, NKJV). This, they say, excludes infants, whom they see as incapable of believing. If pedobaptists accept this text as canonical, they can still point out that the second clause mentions believing, but not baptism. Therefore, one could be baptised and still not be a believer. They argue that this may not exclude infant baptism, but rather corroborate it, since it indicates that one baptised as an infant who rejects the faith is not saved against their will. Pedobaptists who accept this passage may also point out that although belief and baptism are both mentioned, there is no order implied. In return, opposers declare that baptism is for those who already believe and are able to state their belief, which infants cannot do. In Peter's address to adults, "Repent and be baptised" Acts 2:38, they see repentance as a prerequisite, and this requires a mature understanding of sin and a decision to turn away from sin. However, St. Peter was speaking to those who were already adults, not to infants. Pedobaptists claim that it would follow that his instructions are meant for adults and not for infants. Indeed, adult candidates for baptism are required by most branches that practice pedobaptism to make a confession of faith before baptism. Some point to Deuteronomy 24:16 or 1 Peter 3:21 as evidence that each individual must make a mature decision regarding baptism. See Believer's Baptism.

Some oppose baptism of children as ostensibly incorporating them into the church without their own consent. This, however does not absolve the responsibility of biblical parents to raise their children in the training and admonition of the Lord within the cultural context of the church.

Denominations that do not accept infant baptism as valid generally require those who join them, after being baptised as infants elsewhere, to be "rebaptised," or rather to be baptised for the first time. They deny that they in fact rebaptise, saying that Christians are to be baptised only once, but as believers, and they reject the term "Anabaptist" (i.e. Rebaptiser) as a description of them.

Denominations and religious groups opposed to paedobaptism

Trinitarian Christian denominations that oppose infant baptism include the Assemblies of God, Association of Vineyard Churches, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), Calvary Chapel, Community Churches, Baptists, Gnostic Churches, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and Churches of Christ as well as other Nondenominational Churches, International Churches of Christ, International Christian Church,[62] Foursquare Gospel Church. Church of God in Christ, Church of God of Prophecy, Anabaptists such as the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Amish, Schwarzenau Brethren/German Baptists, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, some Methodists and most Pentecostals.

Several nontrinitarian religious groups also oppose infant baptism, including Oneness Pentecostals, Christadelphians, Jehovah's Witnesses, United Church of God, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[63] and the Community of Christ.

Religious groups that oppose infant baptism have sometimes been persecuted by paedobaptist churches. During the Reformation, Anabaptists were persecuted by Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican and Catholic regimes. The English government imposed restrictions on Baptists in Britain and Ireland during the 17th century. The Russian Orthodox Church repressed Baptists prior to the 1917 revolution, and sought restrictions on Baptists and Pentecostals after being re-established after the fall of Communism.

B.R. White describes the motivations behind persecution of the Anabaptists during the Reformation as follows:

Other Christians saw the baptism of each new-born baby into the secular parish community and close links between church and state as the divinely-ordained means of holding society together. Hence many other Christians saw the Anabaptists as subversive of all order. Consequently, from the earliest days, they were sharply persecuted and leaders were soon executed.[64]

Note: Christian Scientists, Quakers, the Salvation Army, and Unitarians cannot be classified as specifically opposing infant baptism, since they generally do not observe baptism in any form.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) completely rejects infant baptism.[63] Little children are considered both born without sin[65] and incapable of committing sin.[66] They have no need of baptism until age eight,[67] when they can begin to learn to discern right from wrong, and are thus accountable to God for their own actions.[68] However, the LDS Church performs a non-saving ordinance to name and bless children, customarily performed on infants.[69]


For Roman Catholics, Confirmation is a sacrament that "confirms" or "strengthens" (the original meaning of the word "confirm")[70] the grace of Baptism, by conferring an increase and deepening of that grace.[71]

For some other Christians the ceremony of Confirmation is a matter not of "being confirmed" but of "confirming" the baptismal vows taken on one's behalf when an infant. This is the essential significance of the Lutheran non-sacramental ceremony called in German "Konfirmation," but in English "affirmation of baptism" (see Confirmation (Lutheran Church)).

In Eastern Christianity, including the Eastern Catholic Churches, the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred immediately after baptism, and there is no renewal of baptismal promises. In the Latin-Rite (i.e. Western) Catholic Church, the sacrament is to be conferred at about the age of discretion (generally taken to be about 7), unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is danger of death or, in the judgement of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise (canon 891 of the Code of Canon Law). The renewal of baptismal promises by those receiving the sacrament in the Western Catholic Church is incidental to the rite and not essentially different from the solemn renewal of their baptismal promises that is asked of all members of this Church each year at the Easter Vigil service. Only in French-speaking countries has there been a development of ceremonies, quite distinct from the sacrament of Confirmation, for young Catholics to profess their faith publicly, in line with their age.[72]

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer requires that all who are to be confirmed should first know and understand the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and be able to answer the other questions in the Church Catechism. Confirmation enables those who have been baptised as infants, when they are of age to do so, openly before the church, to take upon themselves and confirm the promises made on their behalf by their godparents.

Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, confirmation or "the laying on of hands" is an essential part of the baptismal ordinance, and to receive baptism without confirmation is to leave the ordinance incomplete.[73] Confirmation is the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost as a constant companion.[74] To confirm means to “make more sure” and the ordinance of confirmation stands as a witness of the individual becoming a member of the LDS Church and not just an acceptance of Jesus.[73]

See also


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  3. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church: 1,100,000,000 (about half of all Christians); the Eastern Orthodox Church: 225,000,000; 115,000,000 members of the Anglican churches; Lutherans and others (Religious Bodies of the World with at Least 1 Million Adherents; Major Denominational Families of Christianity). See also Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-1995
  4. So... You Want to Be Baptized? Leaders’ Guide
  5. Christening bells
  6. Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 528
  7. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.; Jordan Bajis,
  8. "the Didache, the earliest surviving 'pastoral manual' of the Christian church" (Fuller Seminary Bookstore)
  9. "Chapter 7, "Concerning Baptism."
  10. "Before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before" (Didache, 7)
  11. The 1980 Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states that "Many inscriptions from as early as the second century give little children the title of 'children of God', a title given only to the baptised, or explicitly mention that they were baptised: cf., for example, Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, 9727, 9801, 9817; E. Diehl, Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres (Berlin 1961), nos. 1523(3), 4429A."
  12. 12.0 12.1 Walker, W. (1919). A History of the Christian Church. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. p.95
  13. Schaff, Philip (2001) [c. 1885] "Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies", Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, Against Heresies, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  14. "For He came to save all through means of Himself—all, I say, who through Him are born again to God—infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also, and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, He came on to death itself, that He might be “the first-born from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence,” the Prince of life, existing before all, and going before all." Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 391). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
  15. Against Hereses, 2.22.4.
  16. The three passages identified by scholars are Homilies on Leviticus 8.3.11; Commentary on Romans 5.9; and Homily on Luke 14.5. They are mentioned, for instance, in the following sites: 1, 2, 3 4, 5, 6 and, of course, in the sites that give the full texts of Origen on Leviticus and Luke.
  17. The first passage cited has: "Baptism according to the practice of the Church is given even to infants"; the second has: "The Church had a tradition from the Apostles, to give baptism even to infants"; the third has: "Infants are baptised for the remission of sins . . . That is the reason why infants too are baptised".
  18. "The delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children. For why is it necessary . . . that the sponsors likewise should be thrust into danger? . . . For no less cause must the unwedded also be deferred—in whom the ground of temptation is prepared, alike in such as never were wedded by means of their maturity, and in the widowed by means of their freedom—until they either marry, or else be more fully strengthened for continence" ([1] 18).
  19. "The children shall be baptised first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family. After this, the men will be baptised. Finally, the women" (The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome 21.4-5).
  20. Infant Baptism: Scriptural and Reasonable; What does the Bible teach about the subject of baptising of infants? by Don Matzat; Infant Baptism in Early Church History; Christian Heresies of the Sixteenth Century
  21. Genesis 17:10–14.
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  23. Code of Canon Law, canon 867.
  24. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1252
  25. Against Heresies, 2.22.4
  26. Instruction on Infant Baptism
  27. "The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1250).
  28. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1250
  29. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261
  30. Instruction on Infant Baptism
  31. Instruction, Part II
  32. Instruction, 28
  33. Instruction, 30-31
  34. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1237
  35. Rite of Baptism of Children, 86
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  40. Colossians 2:11-12, quoted by Otto, Joel D., Alive in Christ, p9-11
  41. See "Baptism and Its Purpose"
  42. See "Luther's Small Catechism"
  43. See "Luther's Large Catechism" subsection "Of Infant Baptism"
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  45. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 28, Section 1.
  46. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 10, Section 3.
  47. Westminster Confession, Chapter 28, Section 1 and especially section 3. Baptised infants and adults are considered part of the covenant of grace by faith unless they prove otherwise by committing apostasy.
  48. Calvin asked: "If the children of believers are partakers of the covenant without the help of understanding, there is no reason why they should be barred from the sign merely because they cannot swear to the provisions of the covenant" (Inst. 4, 16, 24, quoted in John Calvin: Infant Baptism)
  49. "If baptism was demanded of the Jews as a prerequisite of church membership, we may reasonably conclude that the Gentiles were not admitted to the privilege except on the same condition" (Baptism a Condition of Church Membership).
  50. "When an infant is baptised God creates faith in the heart of that infant. This faith cannot yet, of course, be expressed or articulated, yet it is real and present all the same (see e.g., Acts 2:38–39; Titus 3:5–6; Matt. 18:6; Luke 1:15; 2 Tim. 3:15)" (The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod).
  51. "The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptised sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:
    • Enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;
    • Giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
    • Allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1268)
  52. Gen. 17:10-11
  53. Gen 17:7, Dt. 7:9, 30:6, 1Ch 16:15, Psa 103:17, 105:8
  54. Galatians 3:6–9 & Galatians 3:26-29; Romans 11.17–24; Rom. 4:16; Eph. 2:11–13; Eph. 3:3–6; Rom 2:28–29; 1 Peter 2:9; Gal. 6:16; Phil 3:2–3).
  55. 1 Cor. 7:14; Acts 2:38
  56. Col. 2:11-12
  57. John 3:5 (KJV)
  58. Acts 2:38–39
  59. Baptism in the United Methodist Church: A Scriptural Explanation to Common Questions
  60. Did Peter Authorize Infant Baptism?
  61. "The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9, quoted, for instance, in W. A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Liturgical Press 1970 ISBN 9780814604328), vol. 1, p. 209).
  63. 63.0 63.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  64. Eerdman's Handbook to Christian Belief, William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1982.
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  70. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (2000)
  71. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1302-1303
  72. cf. article entitled Redonner tout son sens à l'initiation chrétienne : un défi à relever in Lumière et Vie 270 (June 2006), proposing the establishment of as many as seven such occasions
  73. 73.0 73.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  74. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links



Brunson, Hal. 2007 The Rickety Bridge and the Broken Mirror: Two Parables of Paedobaptism and One Parable of the Death of Jesus Christ. ISBN 0-595-43816-4