The whole issue of infant baptism is a contentious topic amongst Christians. Many Christians believe that only adults can be baptised. Whereas many other denominations such as Catholics and Anglicans believe that infants can also be included. For the sake of debate, let's look at the way Anglicans and Baptists take it.
Before delving in, let’s ask some obvious questions. What do Anglicans teach about Infant baptism? What do Baptists believe about baptism? What does the word baptism mean? Does the Bible record any children being baptised? This article will explore these questions, and a number of major controversies surrounding the issue.
INFANT BAPTISM - TRADITION OR TRUTH?
Anglicans belong to the Church of England which uses an important historical document called ‘the 39 articles of religion.’ These articles were conceived in 1562 and then reprinted by King Charles 1 with a royal declaration instructing all church members to observe them. Article 27 of the Thirty Nine Articles states;
‘The Baptism of young Children is…to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.’
Many reformed Anglican paedobaptists (those who practice infant baptism) also believe that baptism now replaces circumcision in the New Covenant. They justify this with passages like Colossians 2:10-12:
‘And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 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, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.’
In a nutshell, circumcision was originally given as a sign of the covenant of promise for the Jewish people and was practised on infants (Gen 17:9-12). It was to show that they were part of the community of faith. Similarly, many Anglicans believe that infant baptism shows that children are now included in the church family because of their parents faith.
ARE CHILDREN SAVED BY BAPTISM?
Some traditionalist Anglicans might maintain that infants are saved by baptism. Others believe it is simply a starting point which is later affirmed by faith in adulthood.
But consider this statement from the C of E’s ‘Book of Common prayer’ which is read aloud during The Public Baptism Of Infants:
‘ALMIGHTY and immortal God, the aid of all that need, the helper of all that flee to thee for succour, the life of them that believe, and the resurrection of the dead: We call upon thee for this Infant, that he, coming to thy holy Baptism, may receive remission of his sins by spiritual regeneration.’
BAPTISTS ON BAPTISM
The essential doctrines of the Baptist church on Baptism can be summed up as follows:
- Baptism is the first act of obedience to the Lord (Matthew 3:13-15)
- Baptism is a physical picture of a spiritual truth (Romans 6:1-7)
- Baptism is the commencing ceremony of our discipleship to Christ (Acts 19:3-5, 1 Cor 1:12-15)
- Only those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour can be baptised. (Acts 8:26-39)
- Baptism must be by full immersion
It should be noted that many Anglicans would agree with these points when it comes to adult baptism.
WHERE THEY CLASH
One obvious problem with infant baptism is that the word baptism actually means immersion. It does not mean sprinkling (a common method used on infants). The Book of Common Prayer does also mention dipping but Baptists would argue that baptism should always be by full submersion without exception.
Moreover, nowhere in the Old or New Testament does the Bible explicitly record any infants being baptised, only adult believers who have put their faith in Christ.
However, Anglicans would argue that passages like Acts 16:30-34 (AV) implicitly state that children should also be baptised.
‘And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.’
The big controversy surrounding this passage concerns the phrase, ‘and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.’ It is inferred by some Anglicans to mean that the promise of salvation was applied to the man’s house after he put his faith in Jesus. Verse 33 says everyone in his house was baptised and that would have had to include children. But did he have any? That’s a tough question for both parties to answer.
Moreover, what was the nature of the promise? Was it conditional upon the faith of those in the man’s household or not?
Another point of contention is whether or not Colossians 2 is referring to spiritual baptism i.e. ‘being born again.’ See (1 Corinthians 12:13, Rom 6:3-5). This is a tough point since the alternative would suggest that we are somehow saved through water baptism (or baptismal regeneration).
CHOOSE A SIDE
So as you can see, there are many controversies surrounding the topic. Perhaps the major dividing line concerns the means of salvation. But ‘is it wrong for children to be baptised?’ How you answer the question will largely depend on which side of the fence you fall on.
What side do you think you fall on? DO YOU think it’s wrong to baptise your children?
Share your comments below:
Adam Brennan is a Digital Producer at Premier
See Question 74 in the Heidelberg Catechism:
Essential Baptist Doctrine's courtesy of 'Crossroads Baptist Church - Discipleship 1 Course'
βάπτισμα ‘baptisma - immersion, submersion’ (Strongs G908)