CHRISTIAN NEWS MAGAZINE FOR KERALA MALAYALEE CHRISTIANS FROM INDIA AROUND THE WORLD
FEBRUARY 2009 ARTICLE
VOL:08 ISSUE:02

THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
By V. REV. K. MATHAI COR-EPISCOPA, PHILADELPHIA

Since the beginning of Christianity Baptism has been considered and practiced as an essential means of Grace and Salvation. This article mainly deals with two topics - necessity of baptism for salvation and genuineness of child baptism.

A. THE NECESSITY OF BAPTISM FOR SALVATION

Baptism is an initial step to eternal life and it is the last commandment of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When commissioning his disciples for a world mission, Jesus said to them, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (St. Mathew 28:19). Also, He said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (St. Mark 16:16). To Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit” (St. John 3:5). These instructions emphatically given by Jesus show how inevitable the Sacrament of Baptism is for the salvation of mankind!

The early church followed the Lord’s command and practiced it in their church life.

  1. On the Day of Pentecost those who assembled in the upper room and spectators believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Immediately, St. Peter called them for baptism, and said, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2: 38). Three thousands were baptized on that day though it was a hard and tedious task that took a long time to complete. If baptism had not been of great importance, the Apostles would not have administered it. They would have said to the crowd, ‘brethren, since you have accepted faith, you have attained salvation; go now, this is enough and God’s blessing will be with you.’ Instead, they took time to baptize the whole crowd of believers.

  2. The Ethiopian eunuch believed in Jesus Christ hearing the Words of God from the Apostle Philip. In the end of the Apostle’s speech, the eunuch asked Philip to baptize him immediately, which the Apostle did. The eunuch went his way rejoicing (Acts 8:36).

  3. Saul of Tarsus (later St. Paul), after being called by Jesus in a vision, and believing in Jesus as the saviour, was baptized to wash away his sins. He heard the call for baptism, as the Biblical text indicates, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

  4. The Jailer who guarded Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi, happened to believe in Jesus Christ and was baptized immediately with his entire family without delay (Acts 16:23).

  5. Lydia, the dealer of purple clothes, believed and was baptized with all her household (Acts 16:15).

  6. When Cornelius accepted faith in Jesus Christ, St. Peter baptized him. When Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit came upon the hearers of the Word of God. Then Peter said to the people there, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:44, 47).

B. GENUINENESS OF CHILD BAPTISM

Child baptism is a disputed subject among the Christian denominations. The traditional churches, such as Catholic, Orthodox and Marthoma, practice infant baptism, while some protestant groups deny it for children. The protestant insist on the necessity of confession of faith prior to being baptized. They base their argument on the Lord’s words, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”, (St. Mark 16:16). They say that faith is essential before being baptized, and children are not capable of accepting faith and understanding what goes on in baptism.

However, the traditional churches insist on baptizing children based on the following reasons:

  1. In the early church both adults and children were baptized. The baptism in the New Testament was mainly in reference to the baptism of the grown up. The adults were baptized only when they believed in Jesus Christ, according to the Lord’s Words “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (St. Mark 16:16). But, children are baptized based on the Lord’s Words “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” (St. Mathew 19:14). The church still keeps practicing both adult and infant baptism.

  2. Baptism is given to children because of a concern about their eternal life. Our Lord Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (St. John 3:5). Therefore, how can we prevent children from baptism since the Lord had not exempted them based on the age?

  3. Baptism is an initiation into the membership of the church and thus as the part of the Body of Christ. By becoming a part of the Body of Christ through baptism, children are given the opportunity to practice church life and Sacraments, through which they derive God’s grace in their lives. Thus we prepare them practically for the life of faith. If we exclude them from the church life, we will be depriving them of the means of grace and faith.

  4. Regarding faith children are still far from doubting, inquiring and reasoning which adults do. They accept every thing in faith without rejection or resistance. Nothing passive deprives them of the Kingdom of God. Baptizing them conforms to the principle of “Free Salvation” which the Protestants believe in and strongly proclaim.

  5. If faith is a pre-condition for salvation and say children are of no faith, what will be the destiny of the children not baptized? Will they be saved without baptism, according to the Lord’s words, ““Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (St. John 3:5)? The question remains without answer.

  6. In the Holy Bible there are implicit references to the baptism of whole family members regardless of the adults or children. Several examples can be cited for and they are given below:

    1. The baptism of the Jailer of Philippi, to whom St. Paul and St. Silas said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household” (Acts 16:31). This means that the jailer’s belief would be the first step which would lead his household to salvation. The subsequent verses (32-33) say, “Then they spoke the Word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house…then immediately he and all his family were baptized.” The words “he and all his family” indicate that children also are included.

    2. In the case of Lydia, the dealer of purple clothes, “she and the members of her household were baptized..” (Acts 16:15).

    3. St. Paul said “I also baptized the household of Stephanos” (1 Cor. 1;16).

    It is unreasonable to think that all those families were without children. Further, the Holy Bible did not mention that there were no children among those who were baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2)

  7. Baptism of children was practiced since olden times as evident from the letters exchanged between St. Augustine and St. Jerome. They had a strong disagreement on the origin of the soul whether it is born with the human being or it is created in human after the birth. St. Augustine said it is born with the human being, whereas St. Jerome said it is created after. St. Augustine said, if the soul is created, it means that it does not inherit the sin of Adam. Why then do we baptize children? St. Jerome could not give an answer to this question. This is a credible reference to the practice of infant baptism in their life time of fourth century AD.

  8. There is no single verse in the Holy Bible forbidding infant baptism.

  9. A child is baptized according to the faith of his/her parents. This principle is well evident in many examples in the Holy bible:

    1. Circumcision is a symbol of baptism. The circumcised became a member of God’s people. God said to Abraham, “You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised…” (Genesis 17:11-12). The child of eight day old does not understand about the covenant between God and Abraham. They have no idea about the membership to the community of God’s people. Undoubtedly, babes knew nothing about the covenantal relationship with God; however they were circumcised according to the faith of their parents. By the faith of their parents, their also received the privileges of being the members of God’s people and became eligible to inherit the blessings promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    2. The crossing of the Red Sea was another symbol of baptism. According to St. Paul, it was a baptism in itself. He says, “…that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the clound and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). The passage through the Red Sea was the salvation for Israel from the servitude of Pharaoh. It foreshadowed the salvation of the baptized from the servitude of sin, Satan and death, as the Apostle puts it.

      The sea was crossed by grown up people. They were aware of God’s promise to Moses the Prophet; they knew how hard their servitude under Pharaoh was; they understood how they got saved from it and crossed the sea (i.e. baptism). But what about the children who were carried by the mothers or fathers across the sea? The children were certainly saved from servitude and were baptized according to the faith of their parents although they were not aware of what was going on.

    3. A third example strongly points to the salvation of the children by the faith of their parents is the protection given to the first-born of the men (children) and animals of Israel from the rage of angel in Egypt. According to the commandment of God, Moses asked all Israelite families in Egypt to slaughter a one-year old male goat or sheep and put the blood on the sides and tops of the door frames of their houses. God told them through Moses, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). The blood of the Passover lamb was a symbol of the blood of the Lord Christ by which we obtained salvation. St. Paul says, “For indeed Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:7).

      Again, a question is asked - what was the role of faith of the children in their salvation through the blood of the Passover lamb? How far did they know about the covenant between God and Moses? No doubt, the children knew nothing, but they were saved from death by the faith of their parents in the power of the blood of the Passover Lamb and their obedience to what God told them to do through Moses.

      However, those children of Israel, who were circumcised, and saved by the blood of the Passover lamb and saved by crossing the Red Sea, knew the meanings of all these events when they grew up. In their childhood they received salvation freely through the faith of their parents who believed in God’s promises and covenants with the people, and when they grew up they accepted their parents’ faith as their own.

  10. Children are capable of realizing divine presence and receiving God’s grace. Example cited is the scene of the visit of Virgin Mary after the angel Gabriel’s message to her relative Elizabeth who was pregnant for six months. When, Mary greeted Elizabeth “the baby leaped in her (Elizabeth’s) womb” (St. Luke 2: 40). Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; the fetus of six months in her womb also was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Looking at all these reasons the infant baptism is genuine and supported by the Holy Scriptures.

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