INFANT BAPTISM ACCEPTABLE OR FORBIDDEN? [A STUDY]
During the public mission of our Lord Jesus Christ and during the Apostolic Age and further in the Sub-Apostolic Age, Child Baptism was not a matter of controversy or dispute. But now it has become a complex topic of discussion. During the apostolic age and thereafter believers came to the Church as family, the adults and children both were baptized and gathered to the holy Church. When the children were brought for baptism, it was essential that at least one of the parents must be a Christian. The early Church taught that these children also should be considered as saints. Parents endorsed that their children will be nurtured in faith and grace of God. However, for the adults, such type of endorsement was not necessary. The adults used to proclaim themselves the true faith to forsake the evil and to receive Jesus Christ, at the time of baptism. Eastern Churches and other Episcopal Churches continue this rich tradition of early church. For example, all Orthodox Churches, Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Church of South India [CSI], Church of North India [CNI], Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church, Marthoma Church etc. continue to follow this early age Christian Church tradition. It is malicious and heretical to question this noble tradition and to denounce same as unbiblical. With this background, We, the weak servant of God, trust in God to discuss the evidence of Child Baptism in the light of Bible and traditions, after a short description about baptism.
A SHORT DESCRIPTION OF BAPTISM:
In John 3:5, Jesus elucidated to Nicodemos, '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.' Our Lord is very emphatically exhorting us about the great importance of baptism and the spiritual gifts a believer receives while taking baptism. Holy baptism is a rebirth. Through the rebirth, Lord adopts us and makes us heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. [Romans 8:14-17] Look for more evidences from the Bible. St. Paul had very clearly written in his epistle to Romans; 'Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For, if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.' [Romans 6:3-5] So, in order to unite with Jesus, baptism is an essential. While taking baptism, we are buried into His atoning death, so that we emerge out to a new life from the baptizing tub, even as the Messiah himself rose from the dead. So St. Paul teaches us that it is more apt to say that we are ‘baptized into Christ’ than saying ‘baptized in Christ’.
In Titus 3:6-7, it is written; 'according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.' In addition to these, St. Paul had articulated his idea about baptism in Gal. 3:26,27; 4:6-7; Col 2:12. As per Acts 2:38; '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.' Here, St. Peter undoubtedly affirms that remission of sin and receipt of the gifts of Holy Spirit is gained by baptism. 1 Peter 3:20, 21 should also be learned along with this. 'Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh and I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.' This was the prophecy of Prophet Ezekiel about baptism.
So, baptism was not an incidental act. Baptism is well according to the commandment of Lord and it is a devotional act to receive the grace of God. The sacrament of baptism is established by our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us now think about Infant Baptism.
In the Gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 16:9-20 is bracketed in its root language, Greek version and in the original translated version to English. This signifies that when the original script of the Gospel was received, this portion was not included in it. It is generally believed that this portion was annexed later by Holy Fathers for its fullness. As per the early age Christian writings, it is inferred that this portion was inserted by an early father named Ariston. In some of the recently obtained Armenian texts, it is corroborated that Pappias [A.D. 130] had stated that Father Ariston was a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Matthew had witnessed in his Gospel about the authoritative directives of our Lord Jesus Christ, about baptism. 'And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.' [St. Matthew 28:18-20] Here, we notice one very important point. 'Go, baptize them and teach them to observe the commandments of Lord.' Teaching and advices are the continuing and enduring essentials after baptizing. We observe that this part of scripture had more clear, firm and convincing concept than that in the Verses of Mark 16:9-20.
As per these referred Bible verses, the contention against child baptism is derisive and unfair. For receiving the eternal life it necessitates both faith and baptism. Infants are incapable to believe and then get baptized. In short the forbidders of child baptism are closing the door of Kingdom of God for children till a certain age and depriving them of the eternal life. In other words, they articulate; ‘Children, you will never go to heaven; you will definitely be condemned to hell.' This forbiddance of heaven is their faith and religion. Is this the faith, religion or doctrine, our Lord had established? The one who rebuked the forbidders of children and told; 'Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’, cannot tolerate this misconception. Dear brethren, we, the weak servant of God, beseech you to repent about your misunderstanding.
In both above Bible references, it relates to the tradition of baptizing and enrolling to the holy church of the heathen adults. When we refer about baptism of infants, we should keep in our mind that we are speaking of the children born to believing Christian parents. They are dissimilar from the normal children born to unbelieving heathen parents. The holy Bible witness to us, that these children had great importance in the early church.
[Genesis 22:18] 'In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.' This was the covenant God had made with Abraham. This blessing is inherited by his children. By their seed, the people of all families of all nations are being blessed. We should learn this in correlation with Acts. 3:25. "It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
'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.' [Acts 2:39] Here the root Greek word used is 'Tois teknois' which signifies very young aged children. Read also the verse Deuteronomy 29:13-14. In all these we see that through the faith and dedication of parents, the children are blessed. [1 Corinth. 7:14] 'For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.' As per this verse, the child born to a believing non-Christian husband and believing Christian mother is blessed and holy. Then how much more the children of both believing Christian parents will be blessed and holy? Is it not a sin that we forbid such clean, holy and blessed children to get baptized?
When Apostle St. Paul wrote the epistles to the various churches, he generally saluted them as 'saints'. He was addressing the whole church of a province by this salutation. Examples: 1 Corinth. 1:2; 2 Corinth. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Philippi. 1:1; Colossi. 1:1. It is a very painful proposal that St. Paul was addressing the church 'saints' by excluding children from them. Holy Church is a big family of Christ. The concept of the Apostle about the Church was 'all inclusive' of the congregation irrespective of age. It is noteworthy to look into the salutation of St. John to address the young children in 1 John 2:12. 'I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake.' Here also, Apostle uses the word 'Tekna' which signifies very young aged children. We have already seen that baptism is the remission of sin. When the most beloved Apostle and the one who sensed the heart beat of his master says, 'your sins are forgiven for the sake of name of Jesus Christ', he meant the young children of the early church who were baptized.
In spite of all these, when we ponder on Mark 16:16, if one consider the faith as the essential prerequisite of the baptism, when will a person will attain the assigned level of faith? We can never see equality in spiritual faith of one to another. If the grace is given in proportion to the faith, the grace of God is to be considered as proportional. Even St. Paul proclaims himself, 'O wretched man that I am!' [Romans 7:24] Our Lord Jesus Himself told that No one is good except God alone. So, we, the weak servant of God, tenderly exhort you in the name of Jesus, to abandon this type of imprudent ideas.
Can infants receive the blessings of God?
Circumcision was a Godly covenant given to Israelites from the time of Abraham by a perpetual ordinance unto the Lord God. The commandment of the Lord was, every man-child of eight days old should be circumcised. It is self-apparent that the child of eight days is at his infancy. Lord commanded Abraham that every male among his household, old, young and infants should undergo this holy proceeding of circumcising the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day at the earliest. It is very evident from this act that it is the clear will of God that the infants can receive the blessings from God. ‘In Him, we are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.’ [Colossians 2:11]
In Scripture portion St. Mark 10:13-16; St. Luke 18:16-17, we see Jesus blessed the children. Here we see that Jesus was indignant and rebuked those who forbade the children to come near Him. He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them. If the children cannot receive the blessings, is it not a misapprehension what Jesus had exposed there? Let no Spirit of man dare to support this idea!
Angel of the Lord acted upon the donkey and in turn Lord opened the mouth of the ass and the dumb ass started speaking with man's voice to forbid the madness of the prophet, Balaam. If so, don't the Spirit of God does not dwell and imbue in the children born to the saintly parents?
In Genesis 1:2, we read that the Spirit of God was pervading over the surface of the waters. As an effect of that, a new creation was formed. When the hen sits over the eggs and hatches them, it is crushed to break out into a chicken. In the root language [Hebrews] a similar term is used in this context. If the Spirit of God could hatch and form a new creation from lifeless material without form, and void; how much more the Spirit of God can work upon His living handiwork? While we think in this direction, the God who fed Elijah by the ravens [1 King 17:4], saved Israelites by the fiery serpent [Numbers 21:8], did wonders by the rod of Moses [Exodus 4:2-4], granted healing of the sick by the shadow of Apostles [Acts 5:15], did miracles with simple handkerchiefs or aprons [Acts 19:11-12], do fail to act through the saintly children? If we think so, it is nothing but unbiblical and blasphemous. [Please compare and study along with 1 Corinth. 3:16-17; Isaiah 44:3-5]
Children can, not only receive the grace and blessings of God but also they are the body center of His mightily works. Let us now think of this particular idea.
In Judges 13:25, we read that Samson was chosen as a Nazarite to God from the womb of his mother. In 1 Samuel 1:27; 3:1-14, child Samuel born by the wondrous work of God was dedicated to the Lord for his whole life. Lord called and separated child Samuel to equip him to foretell about the calamities waiting for the Israelites.
Job very confidently asserted that God had made and fashioned him in the womb of his mother. [Job 31:15] Psalmist mentioned: 'You are He who brought me forth from the womb, You made me trust when upon my mother's breasts. Upon You I was cast from birth; you have been my God from my mother's womb.' [Psalms 22:9-10] [Read Psalms 139:13 along with this] King David had well reported that he considered himself as in similitude and in resemblance with God and enjoyed and rejoiced in the great grace and protection of Lord from his mother's womb, at his birth and everywhere and for all the time.
Isaiah 44:1-2: It is recorded that Jacob the servant of God was made, formed and chosen from his mother's womb.
From Isaiah 49:1-2, we know that Isaiah was called from his mother's womb and he was named while he was with body of his mother. The call of Jeremiah is recorded like this: 'Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you were born I sanctified you, and I ordained you as a prophet unto the nations...You shall go everywhere I send you and whatsoever I command you, you shall speak.' [Jeremiah 1:5-7] Here we perceive a God who sees us before we are born and sanctify and consecrate us in our mother's womb and commission us with His mission immediately after we are born. These all incidents proclaim us the position of children in the mission of God. Is it not a great sin to forbid them from the grace of God?
In St. Luke 1:41, Mary carried with our Lord Jesus in her womb visited and saluted her cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard the greetings of Mary, John the forerunner of our Lord, leaped and rejoiced in his mother's womb filling with Holy Spirit. How wondrous is the God's divine illustration of the filling of Holy Spirit to a fetus of mere six month old?
St. Paul wrote to Galatians that God had pleased to set apart and call him by the grace of God from his mother's womb. [Galatians 1:15] The author of the Epistle to Hebrews witness that Levi son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham was still in the loins of Abraham when Melchizedek met him. So the author reiterate that Levi also, who received tithes, paid tithes along with Abraham. Here it reveals an establishment in which the existence of man of forth generation is looked along with Abraham of the first generation.
In short, the Scriptures witness very authentically that children can receive the grace and blessings of God and above all, they are chosen, separated and equipped for the special mission of God. In spite of all these facts, to forbid children from receiving the grace of baptism is not a Godly attitude.
Next, let us think about the question whether a person can receive blessings of God in proxy and by intercession.
When we baptize infants, church appoint a godparent [Faith sponsor] in addition to the child's own parents. This type of nomination is being severely questioned by the opponents of the infant baptism. We can see many instances in the Bible where a person had received the blessings from God by the faith of the intercessor.
St. Mark 2:5. 'And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, Son, your sins are forgiven.' Here the faith of the paralytic was not instrumental for the healing, on the contrary the faith of the carriers had paved the way for the healing of this paralytic. [Study St. Matthew 9:12 along with this]
In the Bible verses St. Matthew 8:5-13 an incident is recorded that while Jesus was in Capernaum, the faith of the centurion had caused to heal his servant who lay paralyzed and fearfully tormented.
St. Matthew 15:21-28: the faith and prayer of her mother healed the daughter of Canaanite woman. It is an un-debatable fact that the grievously demon-possessed daughter cannot believe of her own and get healed by her self-faith.
St. Mark depicts the incident of raising the little daughter Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. Here it was not by the faith of the dead girl that she was raised from the dead. The ardent faith of Jairus was helpful to receive blessings from God for his daughter. Again, the boy with dumb and deaf spirit received the blessings for his healing from the foul spirit by the faith of his father. [St. Mark 9:24-25]
During the great event of raising Lazarus from dead, it was not the faith of Lazarus, which caused for the miraculous rebirth of Lazarus who was already been in the tomb for four days. It was the faith of his sisters, which permitted the grace for this miracle. [St. John 11] Jesus felt compassion at the deep sorrow of the widow from Nain and He touched the bier. The dead man sat up and began to speak. [St. Luke 7:11-17] Here also the faith of the mother had caused for the compassion and Jesus to act.
Like this, if a person can receive the grace of God in abundance by the faith and intercession of other, why not the children of the faithful parents receive the blessings, if the parents dedicate their children and pray for them? By forbidding this grace, are we not provoking the justice of God? Is it not a sin?
Yet another thought about the Infant Baptism: Are there instances of baptism of children in the Bible?
Though there is no special mention of any child baptized in the Bible, there is no mention that any child is not baptized because of their young age. In addition, there are many instances described in the Bible that the families inclusive of children as a whole believed in Jesus Christ and got baptized.
The whole family of Cornelius believed in Jesus Christ and got baptized by St. Peter. [Acts 10:48] The woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard the word of God from St. Paul, believed in Him and her whole household got baptized by St. Paul. [Acts 16:33-34]
Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and got baptized. [Acts 18:8] It was St. Paul who baptized the household of Stephanas. [1 Corinth. 1:16]
When these events are described in the Bible, it does not specify any children were omitted for giving baptism. If there were no children in any family, the usual reference of such family by the scripture writers were noticed as 'they both' or 'couple'. For instance before John was born to Zacharias and Elizabeth, they were referred as: 'they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.' [St. Luke 1:6] In spite of all these, the word used for the family in the root language was 'Oikos' which pointed to the institution of husband, wife, children and servants. When God commanded for the circumcision of the household of Abraham, He was envisaging all male of the family of Abraham including his servants and slaves. [Genesis 17:12-24] Here also the children were not forbid from this holy tradition.
St. Paul proclaim to the Corinthians about the exodus of the forefathers of Israelites to the land of Canaan. On their way, as a great group [multitude], all baptized in the cloud and in the sea. Who can establish that there were no children among their group? Let the opponents of infant baptism understand this truth.
Witness of the early Church fathers:
Irenaeus, an early church father who lived in A.D. 133-203 witness that child baptism was a tradition of the second century.
Polycarp who embraced martyrdom, told his persecutors, 'Eighty and six years have I served Christ, nor has He ever done me any harm. How, then, could I blaspheme my King who saved me?'. Polycarp who died in 168 A.D., if he accepted Messiah 86 years back, in A.D. 82, we can infer that when he was an infant, received baptism and joined the church.
St. Clement of Alexandria exemplified Christians as 'Children drawn out of water'. Origen [185-254], the great theologian, was a person got baptized at his infancy. He had written in his theological works that the infant baptism was the routine tradition of early church.
Early church apologist, Justin Martyr who died approximately in A.D. 156 had lived more than eighty years and was baptized at his infancy. He had recorded in his ecclesiastical works that he had come across many Christians who got baptized in their childhood. If a person of 80 years old and died in 156 A.D, he might have received baptism in between A.D. 70 and 80. What additional proof is needed to ascertain that the child baptism was a tradition of the first century Christianity?
In his historic works 'Apostolic Traditions', written around A.D. 215, Hippolytus had recorded that young children should be baptized first at the function of a mass baptism. Cyprian, an early church father had written that at any cost the children should not be deprived of baptism and blessings from God.
Many later church fathers and the Synod of Carthage in 215 A.D. had repeatedly confirmed the holy church tradition of Child Baptism. So the antagonists towards the Infant Baptism are reducing and diminishing the Holy Scriptures, church traditions and teachings of early church fathers. This is a form of negativity towards the holy Church of God.
Let us further think of another logical idea: As per the establishment of God, children are formed and born without their own knowledge or self-intimation. He is omnipotent for the procreation of the generation through the divine parents. It is not at all logical to argue that God can act upon these children only with their faith or consciousness. It is also a type of questioning and challenging attitude towards the might and power of God almighty. This type of challenges against the power of God is not divine, but they are profane. Child Moses, a mere three months old infant was taken out of the Nile River and adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter and eventually equipped to lead the Israelites from their slavery with out any intimation or information of Moses. [Exodus 2:1-10]
Dearly beloved in Lord, We should learn very earnestly about this subject. Me, the weak servant of God, advice you in the name of God, not to entangle in the misinterpretation of the Scriptures and aberrations from the true faith of the holy church. Listen to the words of St. Paul: 'But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.' [Galatians 1:8] How strictly St. paul is warning us about the heretic teachings. St. John also reminds us the very same thing: 'If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, and do not give him a greeting' [2 John 1:10] 'For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.' [St. Matthew 24:24] [Learn St. Luke 2:18; 1 John 4:1 also along with this]
Dear brethren, we are involved in a true faith and true Church with live and active great cloud of witnesses surrounding us which include Mother Mary, Holy Apostles, and as enumerated by the author of the Epistles to Hebrews it also includes faith heroes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac Jacob, Esau, Sara, 12 patriarchs, Moses, Rahab, Gedeon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David also, Samuel, and the noble prophets etc. etc. So do not be afraid as we are in the holy church of God with Christ as the cornerstone and Apostles, and saintly men and women as its pillars. So be valiant, resist and refute the evils and sanctify your life. Let us all forsake our impurity and wear the apron of holiness. Our Lord is holy. Those who are holy join with Him and become the partakers of the Kingdom of God. We should well remember that a drunkard, thief, infidel, deceit or guile would never inherit the Kingdom of God. Any type of uncleanness let it not be once named among you. Our Lord will come again. My dearly beloved, let us all rejoice together in the name of our Lord, till He come again.
'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.' [St. Matthew 5:8]
[From a series by the name 'Viswasa Deepam' published from Quilon Aramana in 1990]
|[Original in Malayalam. Translated for LOL by Editor Dr. Rajan Mathew Philadelphia, USA]
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